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Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 21B

1102016075_univ_cnt_2_xlTrack 1: Courage

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22
Psalm 124
James 5:13-20
Mark 9:38-50

When we think of the courageous leaders of the Old Testament how can we ignore the tremendous courage of Queen Esther? Though she was favored by the king, the odds were stacked against her. She was Jewish, though the king did not realize this. The wicked Haman, an important man in the kingdom, instigated a plot to kill all of the Jews of ancient Persia. He attempted to convince King Ahasuerus to order the killing of Mordecai and all the Jews of the lands he ruled. (Mordecai had helped save the kings by informing him of a plot to kill him, unbeknownst to Haman). Haman’s beef with Mordecai is that he would not bow down to him. As a devout Jew, Mordecai could not bow down to anyone except God alone.

Esther was placed in a very difficult position. Mordecai was able to pass the word to Esther of this upcoming event. Unfortunately, she could not approach the king without his permission under threat of her life. What was she to do? She devised a plan, no doubt with God’s help, to inform the king of Haman’s threat. It would take great skill and cunning along with consummate courage.

She invited both the king and Haman to a banquet she prepared. This was a very risky move on her part. After waiting to find favor with the king, she then revealed the plot against her people to him. From Esther we read:

Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs in attendance on the king, said, “Look, the very gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, stands at Haman’s house, fifty cubits high.” And the king said, “Hang him on that.” So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the anger of the king abated.   (Esther 7:9-10)

No matter what form of government we may consider, it is clear that it has great power over the people. Moreover, it should also be very clear that there are powerful people within the government that have their own personal agenda that is not always in the beset interest of the people, or a certain group of people. The Jews of Esther’s day were under threat of annihilation, That is still true in many places today. What is also true is that Christians have become more vulnerable to numerous threats, even in so-called “Christian” nations.

What can we do about this? How can we contend with an all-powerful government? Without God’s help we can do little. We need his wisdom and understanding. Satan uses his weapon of fear to silence us and paralyze us. We need the courage of Esther. God will fight for us, but we must be willing to put our trust in him alone and wait on his timing.

We are seeing many Haman’s of our day being exposed by the hand of God. This is happening in every nation, even in the United States of American. As Christians we must pray for the protection of the saints. We must pray for our leaders to make wise decisions. And we must pray that many more Haman’s will be revealed and that justice may be served.

The psalmist wrote:

If the Lord had not been on our side,
let Israel now say;

If the Lord had not been on our side,
when enemies rose up against us;

Then would they have swallowed us up alive
in their fierce anger toward us;   (Psalm 24:1-3)

The plans and plots against God’s people are now being turned on the perpetrators. What happened to Haman may be the fate of many of them.

God moves in mysterious ways. His timing is not always our timing. But his timing is perfect. From Psalm 27:

Do not fret because of the wicked;
    do not be envious of wrongdoers,
for they will soon fade like the grass,
    and wither like the green herb.

Trust in the Lord, and do good;
    so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.
Take delight in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.   (Psalm 37:1-4)

Nonetheless, we need to do more than applauding the exposure of  evil. James reminds us that, as Christians, we have a responsibility in helping to save the lost.

My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.   (James 5:19-20)

Jesus tells us that we should pray for our enemies. We want justice to be done. We want the evil Haman’s to be apprehended. Nevertheless, the greatest justice of God is when people repent and turn their lives over to him. This is the justice of the cross. Let us not forget in our zeal for justice that we need to pray for sinners, all sinners.

 

 

 

Pentecost - Acts 2:1-4

Track 2: Outside the Tent

Numbers 11:4-6,10-16,24-29
Psalm 19:7-14
James 5:13-20
Mark 9:38-50

Moses had been struggling to govern a large group of some very unruly people, the Children of Israel. He pleaded with God for help. In today’s Old Testament reading we have God’s answer:

So the Lord said to Moses, “Gather for me seventy of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tent of meeting, and have them take their place there with you.

So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again.   (Numbers 11:16, 24-25)

From this we can observe that elders of the Church might be appointed by ecclesiastical authority, but they will not be under Godly authority unless he pours out his Spirit upon them.

How important are Church elders? Very important! Unfortunately, their position and function within the Church is often misunderstood. They may be overlooked and ignored when people are seeking spiritual help and healing. The author of the Book of James did not want this to happen:

Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.   (James 5:13-16)

Elders are key to the healing ministry within the Church. This ministry is too big for one person. Nevertheless, elders must be true elders anointed by God. They must be properly trained. They must be righteous people operating under the Spirit of God. They must live transparent lives before God.

When Moses appointed elders in the wilderness, they were required to meet him at the test of meeting. A certain event outside the tent occurred which might have seem a disruption to the proceedings. From Numbers we read:

Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, stop them!” But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”   (Numbers 11:26-29)

The danger with sharing ministry is that competition and jealousy can be stumbling blocks. Joshua son of Nun was concerned that protocol must be followed. In today’s Gospel reading we have another Joshua son of Nun named John:

John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.   (Mark 9:38-41)

There is this notion that ministry must be done within the Tent. The tent represents the approved and sanctioned ministry of God. But God cannot be contained within a tent. He is larger than any of our tents.

Revival is coming to the Church. It certainly is needed. But it may not come as many anticipate it. The Azusa Street Revival was a historic revival led by William J. Seymour, an African-American preacher. It began with a meeting on April 9, 1906, and lasted for many years. But many “church authorities” and theologians thought that it was outrageous and unorthodox, and therefore, not legitimate. Yet many people were saved, healed and delivered. In many cases, people were repenting on the street before they ever got to the tent of meeting.

God’s power and authority cannot be contained in a tent. If we wish to experience all that God has prepared for us then we must be prepared for the Eldad’s and Medad’s of our day. Perhaps you are an Eldad or Medad? Be open to what the Lord is doing in your life. Your ministry is needed in the Church. If you are discouraged it may be time to change churches. Our ministry must be done under Godly authority, but all authority is not Godly.

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Second Sunday of Easter, Year B

Attitude of Disbelief or Fellowship of the Spirit

Thomas had an attitude. The other disciples of Jesus had seen their risen Lord, but Thomas was not with them at the time. He was skeptical, saying:

“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”   (John 20:25)

What was Thomas’s problem? Unbelief was one. Perhaps Thomas thought he was right and everyone else was wrong. He had not been on  the scene when Jesus first appeared to his disciples. Yet he must have believed that he knew more than those who saw Jesus alive. Do we see anyone in our churches like that today? They just know more than the rest of us.

Maybe we are being unfair to Thomas, He had been faithfully following Jesus. The whole experience of the cross, perhaps, was just too much for him to take in. He must have questiioned: Why did the Messiah have to go through that?

Our human understanding has limitations – grave limitations! People who are caught up in this world fai to understand that they are living in spiritual blindness. Without the light of Christ we cannot see. In his first letter the Apostle John wrote:

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.   (1 John 1:1-2:2)

If we are to fully participate in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit and the body of Christ, which is the Church, we must be willing to be exposed by the light of Christ. Only if we walk in the light, John says, do we have fellowship with one another. We are all sinners. No one is more important than another. We have not arrived. We must be willing to confess our sins. Only then can God forgive us and cleanse us.

There is no unity when we are score keepers of others. There is no unity when we think we are better than others or know more than them. If we are transparent, if we are humble, if we are lovers of God and lovers of our neighbors, then and only then is true fellowship possible.

Here is Luke’s description of the Early Church:

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.   (Acts 4:32-33)

Are we willing to be of one heart and soul? This cannot be legislated by any government. True sharing and mutual affection is from the heart – the heart of God. Thomas was outside the group, not just in a different location. He was outside of fellowship of his fellow believers because he could not accept their testimony.

Jesus forgave him. He forgives us all. But we must be transparent. We must be willing to confess our sins. It is time to check our attitudes. It is time to take off our masks. We are not better than any other believer, nor or we worse. In the Book of James we read:

Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.   (James 5:16)

A healthy community of believers is made up of grateful, humble people who believe in the gifts and grace of God. They are too excited about telling the good news of Christ’s love to others than to allow the circumstances of this life and the attitudes of the flesh to get in the way.

The psalmist wrote:

Oh, how good and pleasant it is,
when brethren live together in unity!   (Psalm 133:1)

Our churches must be a place of refuse, a place of acceptance, a place where we find forgiveness and the mercy of God. Are we going to stand in the way of that just because we have the Thomas attitude? That attitude is more than must doubt. It is one of a false sense of superiority and a blindness to one’s own faults.

The Apostle Paul wrote to his young protégé Timothy:

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

 

who, though he was in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God
    as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
    taking the form of a slave,
    being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
    he humbled himself
    and became obedient to the point of death —
    even death on a cross.   (Philippians 2:1-8)

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Palm Sunday & the Passion, Year B

He Emptied Himself

The Liturgy of the Palms

The Liturgy of the Word

It was the best of times. Jesus entered triumphantly into Jerusalem. From John’s Gospel we read:

The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord— the King of Israel!” Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written: “Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.   (John 12:12-16)

It was the worst of times. How could the Jewish people, in less than a week, go from “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” to “Crucify Him?” Crucifixion was reserved for the worst criminals of the state. Jesus, the triumphant leader, became Jesus, the crucified. Of course, the chief priests and religious leaders of the day had much to do with inciting the crowd. Truth is the first casualty when it comes to tyranny. Little has changed over the years.

Nevertheless, such a quick desertion of Jesus was remarkable. Even Jesus’s most loyal disciples would leave him as Jesus had foretold. We read from Mark’s Gospel:

When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. And Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters; for it is written,

‘I will strike the shepherd,
    and the sheep will be scattered.’   (Mark 14:26-27)

Peter was no exception. We read again from Mark:

While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant-girls of the high priest came by. When she saw Peter warming himself, she stared at him and said, “You also were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth.” But he denied it, saying, “I do not know or understand what you are talking about.” And he went out into the forecourt. Then the cock crowed. And the servant-girl, on seeing him, began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” But again he denied it. Then after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean.” But he began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know this man you are talking about.” At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him, “Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.   (Mark 14:66-72)

In the face of such betrayal, Jesus seemed remarkably calm. The wonder of it all is that Jesus so willingly gave up himself. He endured such horrendous suffering. We read in Isaiah:

I gave my back to those who struck me,
and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;

I did not hide my face
from insult and spitting.   (Isaiah 50:6)

Let us place ourselves in the story. Have we ever gone from glorifying Jesus to denying Jesus in a short span of time? We celebrate him in church. What about outside of church? That is becoming increasing more difficult to do in our pluralistic society. Or should we say “atheistic society?”Have you noticed how the media looks upon Christians today?

If we are still concerned about what others may say about us, then it is time for us to die to ourselves. The Apostle Paul wrote:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death–
even death on a cross.   (Philippians 2:5-8)

There is a price to pay in following Jesus. The chief priests were unwilling to surrender their gatekeeper positions. Pilate was unwilling to go against the crowd. It was too big a risk for him. At times, have we forsaken Jesus and been unfaithful to him because the price was too high?

Jesus paid the ultimate price for our sins. He gave up his life on a cruel cross that we might become free from sin. God literally tore himself apart where the Son was separated from the Father for a moment, because our sins were on the back of Jesus. We read again from Mark:

When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”   (Mark 15:33-39)

Jesus has promised us that he will never leave us or forsake us. He forgave Peter and restored his ministry. Do we need his restoration today? He surrounded his all for us. He was obedient even to the point of death on a cross. For this reason he is able to pour out his Spirit upon us all. Where we are weak he is strong. Walking together with Jesus in his Spirit. we will be able to stand for the truth of the Gospel no matter what the challenging might be. Amen.

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