Tag Archives: trust in God

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 13

Track 1: Wrestling with God

Genesis 32:22-31
Psalm 17:1-7,16
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:13-21

Jacob was on his way home, getting ready to face his brotherEsau. In today’s Gospel reading we pick up on the story:

The same night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.   (Genesis 32:22-31)

Jacob’s wrestling was a physical one with God. He was just getting to know God on a more spiritual level. We remember Job from the Old Testament. His wrestling was a more spirirual one. Job stood head and shoulders above his contemporaries in terms of righteousness. Yet Job was under a severe test. He had lost everything that he had owned and even his body was inflicted with loathsome sores. Job did never cursed God as Satan had said he would. But he could not understand why he was experiencing such pain and loss. God’s answer was a surprise:

And the Lord said to Job:

“Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty?
Anyone who argues with God must respond.”

Then Job answered the Lord:

“See, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?
I lay my hand on my mouth.
I have spoken once, and I will not answer;
twice, but will proceed no further.”   (Job 40:1-5)

Have we ever been faultfinders with God? Life does not always seem fair. We may wonder why God has allowed us to undergo certain tribulations or persecutions, although Jesus warned this disciples that they would come.

Ultimately,Job achieved a breakthrough with God:

Then Job answered the Lord:

“I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
‘Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you declare to me.’
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.”   (Job 42:1-6)

Our wrestling with God will change us. It will not leave us in the same condition before the encounter. Jacob’s name was changed to Israel. His hip was put out of joint. But he was able to meet his brother Esau, and receive his forgiveness. What is more telling is how he settled in Cannan:

Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, on his way from Paddan-aram; and he camped before the city. And from the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father, he bought for one hundred pieces of money the plot of land on which he had pitched his tent. There he erected an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel.   (Genesis 33:18-20).

For Jacob, now Israel, the God of Abraham and Isaac had become the God of Israel.

Where do we stand with God today? He is the creator of the universe and the God and Father of us all. But is he our God? If we do not give up, if we keep on wrestling with God, he will bless us. Jacob and Job did not give up  They came to know God on a much deeper level. That is where God wants to meet us. He loves us so much.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.   (John 3:16-17)

 

 

Track 2; Loaves and Fishes

Isaiah 55:1-5
Psalm 145: 8-9, 15-22
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:13-21

In today’s Gospel reading we have the feeding of the five thousand:

Jesus withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.   (Matthew 14:13-21)

Notice that Jesus asked his disciples to do something that was impossible for them. He said: “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” When God calls us to do something we know it is of God when it is beyond our means to do it. God called Moses to do the impossible. He asked him to go and lead the children of Israel into the Promised Land. Moses was afraid that no one would believe:

“But suppose they do not believe me or listen to me, but say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you.’” The Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A staff.” And he said, “Throw it on the ground.” So he threw the staff on the ground, and it became a snake; and Moses drew back from it. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Reach out your hand, and seize it by the tail”—so he reached out his hand and grasped it, and it became a staff in his hand — “so that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.”   (Exodus 4:1-5)

To Moses his staff was just a rod, to God it was an instrument for miracles. If we wish to do ministry we must begin somewhere. God asks us to begin with whatever we find in our hands. Say, for instance, you are a carpenter. You want to do something in the name of Jesus for the sake of the Gospel. Perhaps you could help build houses for the poor and homeless. This could be monumental task.Habitat for Humanity had a very small and humble beginning. But look how God has blessed this ministry.

The Prophet Zechariah had a vision:

The angel who talked with me came again, and wakened me, as one is wakened from sleep. He said to me, “What do you see?” And I said, “I see a lampstand all of gold, with a bowl on the top of it; there are seven lamps on it, with seven lips on each of the lamps that are on the top of it. And by it there are two olive trees, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.” I said to the angel who talked with me, “What are these, my lord?” Then the angel who talked with me answered me, “Do you not know what these are?” I said, “No, my lord.” He said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord of hosts. What are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain; and he shall bring out the top stone amid shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!

Moreover the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also complete it. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel.   (Zechariah 4:1-10)

We should not despise small beginnings. Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord of hosts.

All of us have limitations, but God is not limited. When we work in partnership with him, when we put our trust in him, when we believe what he is telling us, when we exercise our faith, all things are possible.

The psalmist wrote:

The Lord is near to those who call upon him,
to all who call upon him faithfully.

He fulfills the desire of those who fear him;
he hears their cry and helps them.

The Lord preserves all those who love him,
but he destroys all the wicked.

My mouth shall speak the praise of the Lord;
let all flesh bless his holy Name for ever and ever.   (Psalm 145:19-22)

Let us begin any ministry with praise to God. Let us call upon him for help and support. Let us listen carefully to what he tells us todo. Jesus gave his disciples instructions. When they followed them five thousand men, besides women and children, were fed.

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Fourth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 8

Track 1: The Lord Will Provide

Genesis 22:1-14
Psalm 13
Romans 6:12-23
Matthew 10:40-42

Today we have the account of Abraham being severely tested. It speaks to us in so many ways.

God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.” Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.   (Genesis 22:1-8)

Abraham was a man of faith. What that meant is that he was faithful to the Lord. Truth faith produces faithfulness. It is easier to be faithful to God in good times. What about tough times? God was about to put Abraham through a severe test.

The prophets of God had difficult tasls. Jeremiah often complained about them. The messages which God gave his prophets to speak were not always welcomed by the people. People want to hear messages of good news. Has anything changed? From the Old Testament:

The prophet Jeremiah spoke to the prophet Hananiah in the presence of the priests and all the people who were standing in the house of the Lord; and the prophet Jeremiah said, “Amen! May the Lord do so; may the Lord fulfill the words that you have prophesied, and bring back to this place from Babylon the vessels of the house of the Lord, and all the exiles. But listen now to this word that I speak in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people. The prophets who preceded you and me from ancient times prophesied war, famine, and pestilence against many countries and great kingdoms. As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes true, then it will be known that the Lord has truly sent the prophet.”   (Jeremiah 28:5-9)

What Jeremiah seems to be suggesting to Hananiah is that all prophecy needs to be tested, especially prophecy of good news. Easy times and hard times – the hard times are more difficult. Will we be faithful to God in hard times?

God wanted to know just how far Abraham would go in following his instructions. Abraham had the choice of following those instructions or rejecting them, justifying his decision for any number of reasons. Following them required a tremendous trust in God.

When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and he laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the alt on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”   (Genesis 22:9-14)

How did Abraham endure this severe test? He knew his  son Isaac was the child of a promise. God had told his that many nations would be blessed through his child. Thus Abraham trusted god to do what he promised.

The tests of faith which we face serve a purpose, perhaps many purposes.. We learn a lot about ourselves, our strengths and weaknesses. More importantly, we learn more about God. The psalmist wrote:

But I put my trust in your mercy;
my heart is joyful because of your saving help.

I will sing to the Lord, for he has dealt with me richly;
I will praise the Name of the Lord Most High.   (Psalm 13:5-6)

This is how we should approach God? From Hebrews we read:

Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.

By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.   (Hebrews 11:6-7)

Our whole approach to God must be by faith. We must learn to trust him. Our very salvation depends upon our trust in his gift of mercy and grace. Abraham was asked to give up his son. God did give up his Son. That should be enough for us to put our whole trust in God, He only asks us to do the things that will brings us blessings. Will we follow him in the good times and the bad?

Abraham called that place where he was going to sacrifice his son “The Lord will provide.” The Lord did provide. He provides his Son to stand in for us on the cross. He provides for us every day. Do we put our full faith and trust in him? Do we trust the plans that he has for us as did Abraham?

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you.   (Jeremiah 29:11-12)

 

 

Track 2: A Cup of Cold Water

Jeremiah 28:5-9
Psalm 89:1-4,15-18
Romans 6:12-23
Matthew 10:40-42

The Apostle Paul writes about spiritual gifts and callings within the Church in more than one place. I like this list because it includes the ministry of helps,

And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues.   (1 Corinthians 12:28)

It has been my experience in churches that, in the minds of some in the congregation, there is a hierarchy of positions in leadership. People often seem to jockey for positions. The Apostle Paul attempted to put this kind of thinking to rest”

Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.   (1 Corinthians 12:14-26)

Jesus explained that anyone who helps a prophet receives that same reward of a prophet:

Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple — truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”   (Matthew 10:40-42)

How wonderful it is for the clergy to receive the ministry of helps. Believe me the clergy need all the help they can get. Our attitude in helping others has a bearing on how God will judge us. Jesus spoke these words about separates the sheep from the goats on judgement day:

Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”   (Matthew 25:41-46)

The ministry of helps is perhaps the most important ministry of all. How do we stand in this category?

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Second Sunday in Lent

The Journey of Faith

Abram was set out on a journey. It was a journey that was quite unexpected:

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.   (Genesis12:1-4)

Notice that Abram was 75 years old. We are never too old to begin a new journey that may change our entire lives.

Nicodemus was on a quest. He was not yet on a journey. He just wanted to know what Jesus was all about. From today’s Gospel:

There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”   (John 3:1-6)

What was Jesus saying to Nicodemus? Was he not saying that Nicodemus needed to change directions? Nicodemus needed to follow the wind wherever it would take him. The wind of the Holy Spirit that would guide him and empower him. But he would need to let go of the past. He needed to reborn, so to speak. He needed to be born from above and not be bound by this world

Abram became Abraham, because he obeyed God, became the father of all who would put their trust in God.. The Apostle Paul writes:

What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.   (Romans 4:1-5)

Abraham left his home, family, and support system. He set out on a journey whose destination was unknown to  him. But Abraham believed in what God was saying and trusted God to lead him. That was his response to the call of God. God then justified Abraham as only God can do. If Nicodemus wanted to be justified by God, he would need to have the same faith of Abraham. He would have to begin a new journey and stay the course.

Are we on God’s journey? It requires us to believe and trust in God. But what does that mean?

Charles Blondin, a famous French tightrope walker, became the first person to walk a tightrope stretched across the Niagara Falls. A large crowd gathered and the buzz of excitement ran along both sides of the river bank. The crowd “Oohed and Aahed!” as Blondin carefully walked across – one dangerous step after another – pushing a wheelbarrow holding a sack of potatoes.

Blondin suddenly stopped and addressed his audience: “Do you believe I can carry a person across in this wheelbarrow?”

The crowd enthusiastically yelled, “Yes! You are the greatest tightrope walker in the world. We believe!”

“Okay,” said Blondin, “Who wants to get into the wheelbarrow.”

Have we gotten in?

The journey will not always be easy. It was not for Abraham. It was surely not for Nicodemus.

But we are not alone. God is with us. The psalmist wrote:

The Lord himself watches over you;
the Lord is your shade at your right hand,

So that the sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The Lord shall preserve you from all evil;
it is he who shall keep you safe.

The Lord shall watch over your going out and your coming in,
from this time forth for evermore.   (Psalm 121:5-8)

John concludes the matter in today’s Gospel:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.   (John 3:16-71)

Our job is to believe in Jesus enough to trust him and follow him. Jesus justifies the ungodly. He will change us from glory to glory if we let him. Are we on the journey with him?

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