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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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Filed under homily, Jesus, lectionary, Lent, liturgical preaching, liturgy, Palm Sunday, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon preparation, The Passion, Year B

Ash Wednesday

ash-wed-pictureRemember That You Are Dust

Ash Wednesday is traditionally a day of fasting and repentance. In many liturgical churches ashes are placed on the foreheads of each participant. Ashes were a sign of penitence in the Ancient Near East, particularly in Judaism.

Recall this example from the Old Testament. Jonah preached to Nineveh that God was going to destroy the city and the people listened:

So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water: But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.  (Jonah 3:5-8)

Notice that the King of Nineveh decreed that the people must turn from evil. God is never impressed with meaningless rituals.

Jesus said, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.   (Matthew 6:1)

As a campus minister I remember a particular Ash Wednesday service when a school official who wanted to know at what precise time I would be doing the “imposition of ashes” (making the customary sign of the cross in ashes on a person’s forehead). She did not want to sit through the scripture readings, homily, or prayers. The mere sign of the cross on her forehead would prove that she had done her religious duty.

Let us consider these instructive words of Jesus?

And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:16-18)

We cannot impress God with our rituals or our piety. Why should we try to impress others who must also stand before His throne, as we are required? God is calling us to a holy fast – one in which we come before Him in true repentance.

Yet even now, says the Lord,
return to me with all your heart,

with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
rend your hearts and not your clothing.

Return to the Lord, your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,

slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
and relents from punishing.  (Joel 2:12-13)

The Ash Wednesday service serves as a reminder of who we are and whose we are. Man was created out of dust by the hand of God. Our lives are sustained by His very breath. One day His breath will be taken away and we will have to give an accounting to Him of how we lived our lives.

Ash Wednesday is a check to the triumphant Christians who have arrived and no longer need to acknowledge their sins before God. It questions the “once saved, always saved” mentality.

Meaningless ritual? It might be for some. The act of fasting and repentance was not meaningless to the King of Nineveh. Jesus did not say that we should not fast. He said that we should not make a show of it. If we do, we may receive approval by some, but not by God. God looks at the heart.

If we say that we have given our heart to Jesus and yet deliberately sin, how should our God judge our act of contrition? The Book of Hebrews has the answer:

For if we willfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.   (Hebrews 10:26-27)

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