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Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 20B

Track 1: Greatness

Proverbs 31:10-31
Psalm 1
or Wisdom of Solomon 1:16-2:1, 12-22
James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a
Mark 9:30-37

The readings appointed for today brought back memories of my parents. The reading from Proverb honors a certain type of woman:

Strength and dignity are her clothing,
    and she laughs at the time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
    and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
She looks well to the ways of her household,
    and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her happy;
    her husband too, and he praises her:
“Many women have done excellently,
    but you surpass them all.”
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Give her a share in the fruit of her hands,
    and let her works praise her in the city gates.   (Proverbs 31:25-31)

This was my Mother. She was very beautiful indeed, but her beauty had as much to do with her character as it did her physical beauty. She could called a housewife, which might also be a fitting description for the woman in Proverbs. Do we still honor women who are simply housewives? We should.

Mother was also good at providing moral support to my Father when he came under verbal attack. Although my Father had done no wrong, he might have given up the good thing he was doing because of political pressure. Mother said: “Stay on course, regardless.” Her advice proved correct.

When I read James I could not help but think of my Father. One of his sayings was this: “Show me a successful man and I will tell you about the people upon whom stepped on his way up.” As a child, I though this statement might be a little too extreme, but the reading from James seems to imply that there might be some truth to it:

Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts.   (James 4:1-2)

Dad was a man of character and integrity. He was right out of the reading from James{

Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.   (James 3:13-18)

Dad was a successful man but he was concerned about the wellbeing of others. He particularly looked out for his friends. I remember when one of his friends lost his position and came under condemnation, Dad was quick to help by finding him work and offering him consolation. Dad was also good at galvanizing others to do community projects free of charge.

Were my parents supper successful? They were to me, but not necessarily by the world’s standards. They were like many parents of their generations who have set a very high standard for generations to come.

Jesus spoke about such people. From today’s Gospel reading:

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”   (Mark 9:33-37)

Do we want to be great? Then we must be servants to all. Do we want to be the greatest? That title is reserved for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

 

 

Track 2: Deception

Jeremiah 11:18-20
Psalm 54
James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a
Mark 9:30-37

We live in an age of deception. People say one thing and do another. Deceitful acts are plotted but also carefully concealed. Disinformation and distractions are the weapons of the day. It is difficult for us to defend ourselves when .We are often blindsided at a time that has been calculated in advance to cause us maximum harm.

Has this type of attack ever happened to us? If not, we must ask: Why not? This is how Satan attacks those who stand in his way. Jeremiah was under such an attack, but did not realize it. Jeremiah writes:

It was the Lord who made it known to me, and I knew;
then you showed me their evil deeds.

But I was like a gentle lamb
led to the slaughter.

And I did not know it was against me
that they devised schemes, saying,

“Let us destroy the tree with its fruit,
let us cut him off from the land of the living,
so that his name will no longer be remembered!”

But you, O Lord of hosts, who judge righteously,
who try the heart and the mind,

let me see your retribution upon them,
for to you I have committed my cause.   (Proverbs 31:10-31)

In situations like this, God is our only defense. He is our protection, provided that we are living for him. Evil cannot be fought by our strategy and strength. God has a better plan. God has a wisdom and power far exceeds that of the workers of darkness.

People plot evil. They may also plot what they conceive as good. This was true of some of the disciples of Jesus. From today’s Gospel reading:

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest.   (Mark 9:33-34)

Why did the disciples keep this hidden from Jesus? They were afraid to talk about their plans. Could it be that in their hearts they knew what they were talking about was wrong? From the Book of James we read:

Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.   (James 3:13-18)

Selfish ambition does not lead to peace and harmony. Righteousness is the worthy goal for Christians. Any thing that is done in secret in order to conceal ones motives and desires is clearly wrong. It is more than wrong. It is evil. That is how Satan works.

We are living in the last days of the Church age. Things that have been hidden are now being exposed. People are plotting and scheming more than ever. But they will be found out. Jesus said:

“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.   (Matthew 10:26-27)

God warned Jeremiah that he was under attack. He is now warning us. God is revealing the truth to all those who are willing to see it. If we are unwilling to see then we are in grave peril. The Apostle Paul writes:

 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, but only until the one who now restrains it is removed. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus[d] will destroy with the breath of his mouth, annihilating him by the manifestation of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is apparent in the working of Satan, who uses all power, signs, lying wonders, and every kind of wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.   (2 Thessalonians 2:7-10)

Wicked deception is at play. Only God’s truth will save us:

“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. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.   (John 3:16-18)

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Eighth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 10B

Track 1: Set Free in Christ

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
Psalm 24
Ephesians 1:3-14
Mark 6:14-29

It was a time of great celebration. The Ark of the Covenant was at one time in the hands of the Philistines, but now King David had rescued it and having it carried into Jerusalem for the first time. David was so joyous that he was dancing before the Ark. But not everyone was celebrating. From the Second Mood of Samuel we read:

David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing; and when those who bore the ark of the Lord had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. David danced before the Lord with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet.

As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart.   (2 Samuel 6:12-16)

The glory of God radiated from the Ark of the Covenant. David’s wife Michal did not see the glory. She saw her husband the King acting in an undignified way. He was not conforming to the accepted norms of the day.

The Apostle Paul wrote about conforming to this world:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.   ().

David had little awareness of what was going on around him that day. He was celebrating the presence of the glory of God.

We are treated to the wonderful Davidic psalm today:

Lift up your heads, O gates;
lift them high, O everlasting doors;
and the King of glory shall come in.

“Who is this King of glory?”
“The Lord, strong and mighty,
the Lord, mighty in battle.”

Lift up your heads, O gates;
lift them high, O everlasting doors;
and the King of glory shall come in.   (Psalm 24:7-9)

David knew the Lord as the King of Glory. He was in love with an awesome God, a God of majesty and glory. And David also realized that we are invited by God to partake of his glory. Paul wrote about the honor of being selected to live in the glory of God:

In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.   (Ephesians 1:11-14)

When we attend a sporting event do we get emotionally excited by the play and for our team? No one needs to tell us when to cheer and when not to cheer. If it is alright to become emotional at a sporting event, why are we not allowed to cheer and celebrate the glory of God. At a sporing event we may have a passion for the game. David had a passion for God.

God is calling us into a passionate relationship with him. He is calling us out of this world. We may still be living in the world but Jesus said that we would not be of this world. Our present world has put us in an emotional straight jacket, so to speak. We must say and do this. We cannot say and do that. Many will despise our passion for God. They will despise our lively praise and worship. God does not despise us. He loves us and wants to share his love with us. Do we want to get to know him as David did?

Which do we choose – listening to God or the falsehood of this world – eternal life or eternal damnation? Paul wrote to the church in Galatia:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.   (Galatians 1:3-5)

 

 

Track 2: Truth or Self Justification?

Amos 7:7-15
Psalm 85:8-13
Ephesians 1:3-14
Mark 6:14-29

Today we read about King Herod who allowed himself to be placed in a difficult position. He has arrest John the Baptist. He liked to listen to him preach. He knew that there was something special about John, but now he was forced to make a difficult and unpleasant decision. From today’s Gospel we read:

For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother.   (Mark 6:17-28)

Herod beheaded John the Baptist even when he knew it was wrong. Why did he do it? Perhaps he did not want to lose face. He made a promise and his guests might be upset if he did not keep it. He did not want to look bad in front of others so he did something very bad. Does the world dictate our behavior today? It does if we need to justify ourselves. We may need the approval of others to feel that we are accepted. This is the trick of the Devil, of course. He tells that we will not be accepted unless we do certain things. And then when we do those things he accused us for doing them.

There is no real peace in the world. We cannot really get approval from the world. Justification and approval comes from God alone through the blood of Jesus Christ.

To whom are we listening? The psalmist wrote:

I will listen to what the Lord God is saying,
for he is speaking peace to his faithful people
and to those who turn their hearts to him.

Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him,
that his glory may dwell in our land.

Mercy and truth have met together;
righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

Truth shall spring up from the earth,
and righteousness shall look down from heaven.   (Psalm 85:8-11)

We have a choice to make. Do we listen to the world around us and value what people will say, or do we listen to God. One way leads to destruction and the other way leads to eternal life in God’s heavenly kingdom. In his sermon on the mount Jesus clearly explained our choices:

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”   (Matthew 7:13-14)

What advantage do we gain for doing what the world considers correct when it is actually wrong. God determines truth and correctness. His way is correct. Jesus said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” If we choose his way, truth will spring up from the earth. We will understand what is right and what is wrong. Moreover, Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth. But we must first chose him over this world

At a time of great falsehoods how much we need the truth today! The truth is that God loves us and that he has approved us because he has taken all our sins away. They were nailed to the cross of his Son Christ Jesus.

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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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