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Day of Pentecost, Year B

Send Forth Your Spirit

The Day of Pentecost is traditionally a celebration of the birth of the Church. Perhaps the church in America needs more of a rebirth than a birthday celebration.

The nation of Israel needed a rebirth. It had fallen so low that it appeared Israel would never recover. The people were in exile with little hope of ever returning to their homeland. What was sad for them is that they remembered their homeland and how wonderful it was when they were under the protection and blessing of God. But they moved away from God just as many in our nation have done the same. When this happens there are consequences.

Fortunately, God intervened in their moment of complete despair. He spoke to his prophet Ezekiel:

The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”   (Ezekiel 37:1-6)

Notice that Ezekiel did not have the answers to God’s questions. Nonetheless, God would put the answers in the prophets mouth. God was doing a new thing, but Ezekiel must declare it to make it happen. I believe that God is ready to do a new thing for America and for the church in America. Are we listening and are we ready to speak?

Apart from God we can do nothing. In fact, there is no life at all apart from God, only death. Life begins when God breathes upon us the Spirit of life. The psalmist wrote:

You hide your face, and they are terrified;
you take away their breath,
and they die and return to their dust.

You send forth your Spirit, and they are created;
and so you renew the face of the earth.

May the glory of the Lord endure for ever;
may the Lord rejoice in all his works.   (Acts 2:30-32)

When life was first formed we read that the Spirit was hovering over the waters:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.

God breathed his Spirit and  life became possible. We need him to breathe on us again. The Apostle Paul wrote:

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.   (Romans 8:22-25)

Have we given up hope on our country? Have we given up hope on our church? Paul tells us that in hope we were saved. it is time to put our salvation into practice. We must not give up. Rather, we must speak out. That is what Ezekiel did:

So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.   (Ezekiel 37:7-10)

The Day of Pentecost is a reminder that God started the Church. The disciples did not do it. We cannot do it. The promised Holy Spirit of God came upon the followers of Jesus and breathed into them new life. In the Old Testament, the Spirit would fall upon certain prophets. By his  death and resurrection Jesus prepared the way for everyone to receive his Spirit. In today’s Gospel Jesus is speaking to his disciples about his Spirit:

Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.   (John 16:7-11)

The world was wrong about three things: sin, righteousness, and judgment. This is still true today. The Church should not be governed by this false understanding. Yet much of it has been captured by the world. First, sin is real and sin brings death. We must confess it. Secondly, we are not righteous except by the blood of Jesus. Yes, we are saved by grace through faith, but without the shedding of the blood of Jesus there would be no cleansing on sin. We must still confess the blood of Jesus. And thirdly, the world is under judgment to this day. America is under judgment because it is governed by wicked leadership which the church has not challenged. We are starting to see some of our wicked leaders fall, both in the government and the church. Are we ready to move out from being under this corruption?

A great awakening is occurring. We cannot afford to be silent any longer. We must speak out and declare the new life in Christ that God is offering our nation?

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.   (Ezekiel 37:9-10)

Let us pray: “Send Forth Your Spirit and renew the face of the earth.”

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Monday in Easter Week

phariseesSelected Truth

As we know, unlike the men, the women were quick to believe in the resurrection. The Jewish leaders realized the danger of such belief and they took extraordinary steps to prevent this from happening:

Suddenly Jesus met Mary Magdalene and the other Mary and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. After the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, telling them, “You must say, `His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story is still told among the Jews to this day.  (Matthew 28:9-15)

The tomb was empty. That was a fact. What was needed was a plausible explanation that the people might believe. Does this sound like today’s political games? Why must so much effort be made to obscure the truth? Because the truth is dangerous.

Peter was not known for political correctness:

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed the multitude, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know– this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.  (Acts 2:14,22-25)

Where is the bold leadership that we need as a people today? As people of God let us be filled with the Spirit and set free from the fear of worldly people. Let us proclaim the truth of the Gospel with boldness. Jesus is risen from the dead. Truth is on the side of Christians. Only God’s word is true. Lies are a sign of unbelief and the falsehood of this world is quickly passing away.

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Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year B

The Cost of Covenant

God has given us a New Covenant to live under. It is better than the older one which governed the children of Israel. It is a covenant full of grace and mercy. But we must remember that it came out of the Old Covenant and is mentioned in the Old Testament of our Bible.

In Jeremiah we read:

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.   (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

God was going to do something he had not yet done and then this covenant would be established. What was God going to do and what did he actually do? He poured out his unmerited favor. He offered such unconditional love that is beyond our human understanding. But it cost God something. It cost him a great deal.

As he was facing the cross, we read the Gospel of John, Jesus explained to his disciples what God was about to do and why it was necessary. He used an analogy of the grain of wheat and how it produces growth. He said:

Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.   (John 12:24-26)

What was Jesus saying? New life comes out of death. The old way has to die before the new can come. When the grain falls to the earth it must die so that new wheat is formed. Jeremiah prophesied that new life would be coming for the people of God. Jesus explained that this new life would be impossible without the death of the old.

The temple worship would have to die so that Christ might become the new temple. The sacrifice of the lamb for Passover would have to end so that he might become the spotless lamb of God who was sacrificed for the sins of the whole world. Jesus was, in fact, the grain of wheat of which he spoke. He would have to die so that he might be resurrected from the dead.

The Book of Hebrews goes into great depth concern the cost of this new covenant:

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.   (Hebrews 5:5-9)

This covenant cost Jesus his life. Hebrews also explains that it will cost our lives as well. If God is to write his law upon our hearts so that we can obey, something must happen. The Old must die before the new comes.

We are also the grain of the New Covenant. King David, in his prayer of repentance, spoke about his inner  being:

For behold, you look for truth deep within me,
and will make me understand wisdom secretly.

Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure;
wash me, and I shall be clean indeed.

Make me hear of joy and gladness,
that the body you have broken may rejoice.

Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.   (Psalm 51:7-11)

God looks for his truth deep within us. He must change our hearts. In order for him to change our hearts the old heart must die away. David said: “Create in me a clean heart.”

There is a price to pay for this New Covenant. I cost God the sacrifice of his only begotten Son. We, also, must die. Not a cruel death, but a liberating death which brings new life, and abundant life that only God can provide for those who put their trust in him. The Apostle Paul wrote:

Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.   (Romans 6:1-11)

Has God written his law on our hearts? That depends on whether or not we are still holding on to our grain of wheat. Jesus tells us to let it go. He let everything go for us.

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