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Saint Thomas, Apostle

jesusthomasdoubt1The Righteous Will Live by Faith

Saint Thomas the Apostle is remembered as “Doubting Thomas.” That may be a little unfair. To be sure, he was a skeptic concerning the resurrection of Jesus:

Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with the other disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “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 20:24-25)

On the other hand, Thomas was faithful as a disciple. He was willing to sacrifice for what he believed was the cause of Christ. As Jesus was speaking about going to Jerusalem, which proved to be his last trip there, Thomas was aware of the danger involved:

Then Thomas said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”   (John 11:16)

Following Jesus is not easy. Many churches preach a grace that has little cost to it except for Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. We must be prepared to make sacrifices if we are to live out the faith in our day. This is especially true in our nation today. Are we willing to go the distance? Thomas was willing.

From today’s reading from Hebrews:

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.

You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.For,

“In just a little while,
he who is coming will come
and will not delay.”

And,

“But my righteous one will live by faith.
And I take no pleasure
in the one who shrinks back.”   (Hebrews 10:35-38)

During times of test and trials, are we will to stand our ground for the Lord? We will if we have a vision that God has given us to embrace. If we do not have a vision then we must ask God for one. It is in the difficult times that our vision is most clarified, provided that we seek God and His Word, and provided that we are willing to wait on His response.

From today’s Old Testament reading:

I will stand at my watchpost and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint. Then the LORD answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets , so that a runner may read it. For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay. Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.   (Habakkuk 2:1-4)

Living by faith is trusting in God without seeing around the next corner. Jesus has gone ahead of us and He is leading us. Are we willing to follow. Thomas was willing. When he realized that Jesus had risen from the dead he said: “My Lord and my God!”

Do we believe that Jesus has risen from the dead? Is Jesus our Lord and our God? The Apostle Paul wrote the Church in Rome:

If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.   (Romans 10:9-10)

According to Eusebius’ record, Thomas and Bartholomew were assigned to Parthia and India. Saint Thomas was allegedly martyred at St.Thomas Mount, in Chennai, in 72 A.D July 3rd, and his body was interred in Mylapore. It was said that his ministry led to numerous conversions to Christ. He had been transformed from doubt to great faith and works of the Gospel. The challenge is to live by faith regardless of the circumstances.

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Third Sunday of Advent, Year A

Believing in His Promises

On of the greatest expressions of faith, if not the greatest, was made by Mary the mother of Jesus. On her visit to her cousin Elizabeth she proclaimed:

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,

my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.

From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.

He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.

He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.

He has come to the help of his servant Israel,
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,

The promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever.   (Luke 1:46-55)

Mary believed in the promises that God made to his people Israel. Israel had not heard a prophetic word from God for over four hundred years. They nation of Israel was under foreign occupation, yet Mary still believed in God’s promises. She believed so strongly in them that she was willing to surrender all of herself to God’s providence.

Because he was now in prison and ostracized from the significant events that were occurring, John the Baptist began to have doubts about the one he had proclaimed as the Messiah. From today’s Gospel reading:

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”   (Matthew 11:2-6)

Notice how Jesus answered John. He did not do so directly. Rather, he proclaimed that the promises of God were being fulfilled. Jesus, by his very works, was fulfilling the prophecy of old concerning himself. From the Prophet:

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;

then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.   (Isaiah 35:5-6)

Do we believe in the promises of God? Circumstances around us can cause us to doubt them if we are not careful. Often times, the timing of the fulfillment of God’s promises is problematic. God’s timing may not be our timing. Yet, his timing is perfect. From the Book of James we read:

Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.   (James 5:7-10)

Mary was patient. Mary was trusting. She was willing to wait upon the Lord, even though what God promised to do through her was beyond anything imaginable. How willing are we to believe in God’s promises today? In some ways, it may appear that the promises of God are losing ground. That is all the more reason for us to put our entire trust in him. We cannot take matters into our own hands. Only God can bring about his glorious word.

Let us remember that we are not alone on our Christian journey. We have our brothers and sisters in the faith to offer us encouragement:

For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.  (1 Thessalonians 5:9-11)

We also have a traveling companion who is our greatest encouragement. He is Jesus. He has established a road map for us. Isaiah prophesied:

For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;

the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water;

the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,
the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

A highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Holy Way;

the unclean shall not travel on it,
but it shall be for God’s people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.   (Isaiah 35:1-10)

Many are unwilling to travel this highway. But this is the only highway that leads to he absolute fulfillment of the promises of God. Jesus said:

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”   (John 14:6)

Those who hold on to the promises of God shall not be disappointed:

And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
and come to Zion with singing;

everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.   (Isaiah 35:6-10)

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Second Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 7C

Track 1: God Has Greater Plans

1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a
Psalm 42 and 43
Galatians 3:23-29
Luke 8:26-39

Elijah was just coming off his great triumph over the priests of Baal. But now his life was threatened. Reading from 1 Kings:

Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there.   But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”   (1 Kings 19:1-4)

From the thrill of victory to the agony of defeat in one day! How did this happen? Elijah was running and hiding. Yet he was not alone. God was with him and asked him this question:

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Elijah replied:

“I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”   (1 Kings 19:9-10)

Jezebel was ruthless. She was relentless in exercising her destructive power over everything that was good. We still have her spirit operating in our government today, and even in our churches. Fear can confuse us and make us lose track of what is essential and true. The psalmist wrote:

Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul?
and why are you so disquieted within me?

Put your trust in God;
for I will yet give thanks to him,
who is the help of my countenance, and my God.   (Psalm 42:6-7)

We are not alone in this world. God is with us. The psalmist also wrote:

Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
    and pay your vows to the Most High.
Call on me in the day of trouble;
    I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.   (Psalm 50L14-15)

We can have our victories in life. Elijah had a great one. But must remember that only God separates some either victory or defeat. Apart from him we can do nothing. The victory over Baal was God’s victory, not Elijah’s. Perhaps Elijah forgot that?

Evil has its plans. It wants to destroy all of God’s work and creation. From John’s Gospel:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.   (John 10:10)

Jesus has other plans for us. In whom do we put our trust. Fear is faith in Satan. It causes us to lose focus and distracts us from our ministry. God still had plans for Elijah:

Then the Lord said to Elijah, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”   (! Kings 19:15-18)

God has plans for us. Our task is to put our trust in him. The Apostle Paul wrote Timothy:

God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.   (2 Timothy 1:7)

The power we have comes from God alone. Let us pray in the name of Jesus to accomplish those things which God has asked us to do. Are we ready for the front lines? Or will we shrink back in fear? Everyone is subject to fear, even the great prophet Elijah. Elijah was redirected and empowered to continue his ministry when he heard God speak to him. God has greater plans. Let us stop running and choose to listen to the voice of God.

 

 

Track 2: Deliver Us from Evil

Isaiah 65:1-9
Psalm 22:18-27
Galatians 3:23-29
Luke 8:26-39

During his ministry on earth, Jesus was often directly confronted by evil forces. From today’s Gospel reading from Luke:

Jesus and his disciples arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me” — for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.)   (Luke 8:26-29)

Can we relate to this strange scene today? Some might say that we need a more up to date medical explanation of what was going on. But perhaps we should return to scripture itself to see if still speaks to us concerning demons and evil. In today’s Old Testament reading God spoke through the prophet Isaiah:

I held out my hands all day long to a rebellious people,

who walk in a way that is not good,
following their own devices;

a people who provoke me
to my face continually,

sacrificing in gardens
and offering incense on bricks;

who sit inside tombs,
and spend the night in secret places;

who eat swine’s flesh,
with broth of abominable things in their vessels;

who say, “Keep to yourself,
do not come near me, for I am too holy for you.”   (Isaiah 65:2-5)

Who are these people who who “sit inside tombs and spend the night in secret places?” Perhaps it could be some of our political leaders. Does Skull and Bones right a bell. President John F. Kennedy spoke about the dangers of secret societies and how they could be a threat to democracy. It should be common knowledge that members of secret societies sit on both sides of the aisles of Congress. But it is not. This part of our government is kept under wraps.

This type of leadership is not confined to our government leaders. It is found, shockingly, in our churches as well.  Jesus warned about a certain kind of leadership:

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles?   (Matthew 7:15-16)

“Ravenous wolves” is an expressing that connotes those who are hungry for power over us. They are not people looking out for yhr good go others. Rather, they are looking out only for themselves at the expense of others. The demons wanted to dwell in the demoniac not to do him good. They wanted to torment the man for their own desires. Notice, the key words are secrecy and deception. Those possessed by demons do not want to be exposed. Isaiah explained that they do not want to come near to the holiness of God.

Do we have leaders both in our government and in our churches who consult evil spirits in secrecy? Yes, we do. It is time that we wake up. The Apostle Paul the Church in Corinth:

Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is not strange if his ministers also disguise themselves as ministers of righteousness. Their end will match their deeds.   (2 Corinthians 11:14-15)

We are in a spiritual war. We always have been. We are in the same spiritual war that Jesus found himself in during his earthly ministry. Evil is real. It cannot be explained away by modern science.

What can we do about it? We can pray for discernment. But alone, we can do nothing. Jesus, however, is still delivering people from evil. His victory over evil and the grace can be our victory if we so identify with him in the Faith. We can call upon his name. The demons will still flee, for many of us have seen this happen numerous times. Jesus can replace this evil with himself for those who accept him as Savior and Lord.

There is another type of bondage found in church leaders that is a little more subtle than that which the demoniac had. Jesus spoke about these leaders:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.   (Matthew 23:27-28)

Again, we have the mention of tombs. These tombs could be ones of our own making. They have been whitewashed to look beautiful on the outside. But this is a cover. They are “full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”

Maybe we do not belong to wicked, secret societies. However, we could still be bound by another form of evil which is working on the inside of us. We cannot judge and control others. It is not our place. We can pray for them. We can set an example for them. We may be able to speak the truth in love to them. But we cannot think that we are nay better than they are. Because we are not, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

Is God too holy for us? Are we willing to expose ourselves to the holiness of God? Only then can we be truly delivered from evil. God is a God of love and forgiveness. He is also a God of deliverance.

We tend to keep quiet about deliverances. They may embarrass us. This is the wrong approach. Reading further from Luke:

The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.   (Luke 8:38-39)

We need to expose evil and give testimony to the power of God. Satan works best in darkness. We need to bring everything to the light of Christ.

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