Tag Archives: wilderness

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 20

Track 1: Complaining against God

Exodus 16:2-15
Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45
Philippians 1:21-30
Matthew 20:1-16

The children of Israel had seen signs and wonders by God that no one else has even seen, either before or after. But they did not trust God. They weren’t sure that he was on their side. They complained to Moses about having to cross a desert without a food supply. God replied to them through Moses:

Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.’“ And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. The Lord spoke to Moses and said, “I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’“

In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.”   (Exodus 16:9-15)

The Israelites even complained about the food that God miraculously provided them. Moving on the the New  Testament, Jesus told a parable about people complaining:

“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’   (Matthew 20:1-12)

Do we seem to have difficulty understanding God’s ways? He does not always do the things we expect him to do. As a result, God often gets the label of being unfair. Our viewpoint is not God’s viewpoint. God spoke though the Prophet Isaiah;

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.   (Isaiah 55:8-9)

What is the beef of the disgruntle workers? Reading the landowner’s reply to his workers:

“‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”   (Matthew 20:13-16)

A good work ethic is commendable. But the kingdom of heaven is not about works. We want to earn our way and we resent others not having to work as hard as we have had to do. We compare ourselves to others to see how we measure up. Are we better than they are? This is the mindset of those who want to prove themselves worthy before God. They forget that God has already approved them, not by their works, but by his Son.

Perhaps the children of Israel did not want to be so dependent on God for their supply. They wanted to prove themselves worthy. Never mind the miracles. Miracles get in the way of those who want to do something on their own, by their own talent and strength. This mindset often cannot understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Moreover, it may extend to an actual unwillingness to receive the generosity of God even when it is extended. Receiving it means that they really do need his help.

The Apostle Paul has written:

For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.   (Romans 7:32)

We cannot justify ourselves before God. The sooner we can understand this, the sooner we can receive his great, with thanksgiving. In the Apostle Paul’s words:

Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!   (Romans 7:24-25)

Today, are we ready to receive te mercy of God? Are we ready to acknowledge our sins and our need for his forgiveness? Are we ready to receive our salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ? Or do we want to complain against a God who has paid all our debt to him? If so, we just like to complain more being set free. Jesus came to set us free from our bondage to sin. Often times that means being set free from the bondage of our own thoughts and attitudes. This is not the time for an attitude. Today is the day of salvation. Thanks be to God.

 

 

Track 2: Our Sense of Fairness

Jonah 3:10-4:11
Psalm 145:1-8
Philippians 1:21-30
Matthew 20:1-16

Jonah sent God to Nineveh to preach repentance he did not want to go. Nineveh was a notorious city, hated by the Jews. The last thing he wanted was to see the city spared. Reading from Jonah:

When God saw what the people of Nineveh did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?” Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.   (Jonah 3:10-4:11)

Jonah could not believe that God would spare Nineveh. They did not keep the law of Moses as he did. When we believe that life is unfair, this means, of course, that we think God is unfair. Jesus told this parable:

“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vinoseseyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standhere idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’    (Matthew 20:1-12)

The workers who went into the field early were disgruntled. The landowner had been unfair. They were keeping score. The landowner was not playing by their rules.

But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”   (Matthew 20:13-16)

The psalmist wrote:

The Lord is gracious and full of compassion,
slow to anger and of great kindness   (Psalm 145:8)

That i what made Jonah mad. God was stilll dealing with him:

The Lord God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”

But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.” Then the Lord said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not  be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”   (Jonah 3:10-4:11)

Let us ask ourselves, how fair was it for God to take the punishment for our sins? This is, perhaps, the most unfair act of all.

Do we want to judge and condemn people, as did Jonah? Let us compare this thinking with that of God:

“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)

Let us thank God that his fairness is so much more than ours.

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Second Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 6

Track 1: Our God Is Too Small

Genesis 18:1-15, (21:1-7)
Psalm 116:1, 10-17
Romans 5:1-8
Matthew 9:35-10:8(9-23)

We maybe familiar with God’s promise to Abraham. God would make him the father of many nations. When Abraham was nearly 100 years old God promised him a son. His wife Sarah, who had been barren,  was far beyond her child baring years.

In today’s Old Testament reading we pick up on God’s promise. Three strangers came to visit Abraham. Abraham must have recognized that there was something special about these men. He welcomed them and hastened to prepare a meal for them. While he watched them eat they eventually asked this question:

“Where is your wife Sarah?” And he said, “There, in the tent.” Then one said, “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?” The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.” But Sarah denied, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. He said, “Oh yes, you did laugh.”   (Genesis 18:9-15,)

It was difficult for Sarah to believe the men. Have we ever been in situations where it has been difficult for us to believe God? God is a God of miracles. It is a miracle that God speaks to us and we actually listen to him. When that happens, it is not so unusual that God calls us to go beyond our expectations and comfort zone.

Jesus sent his disciples to go out and preach the good news that the kingdom of heaven has come near. He asked them to do more than that – to heal the sick and raise the dead. From today’s Gospel reading:

The twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. [Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.   (Matthew:5-8)

It was clear from Jesus’ charge that his disciples had to exercise their faith and rely only on the provisions God would supply them along the way. The disciples had great success because the Spirit of the LORD was with them. Is God with us? Are we with him? How big is our God. In the Book of Hebrews we read:

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son,[a] whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains[b] all things by his powerful word.   (Hebrews 1:1-3)

Is Jesus big enough to do what he has promised, to do what he has called us to do? We will not find out unless we exercise our faith? God is preparing an end time revival to bring in a full harvest. Will we join him?

Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”   (Matthew 9:35-38)

Intercessors have prayed and asked God for the harvest. Now God is asking us to join his labor force. Jesus is our message and he is our supply. A part from him we can do nothing. In him and by him and through him precious souls will be saved.

 

Track 2: A Priestly kingdom 

Exodus 19:2-8a
Psalm 100
Romans 5:1-8
Matthew 9:35-10:8(9-23)

God called the nation of Israel his chosen people, of all the peoples of the earth. What did that mean? From today’s Old Testament reading:

The Israelites had journeyed from Rephidim, entered the wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness; Israel camped there in front of the mountain. Then Moses went up to God; the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.”   (Exodus 19:2-6)

Yes, God singled out Israel, but for a purpose. He wanted to use the nation as a way of reaching other nations and peoples. We are joined with Israel as ingrafted branches when we believe on the Lord Jesus and embrace him as Savior and Lord. The Apostle Paul writes:

Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.   (Romans 5:1-2)

We have been called to share the glory of God. Paul writes:

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.   (2 Corinthians 5:17=21)

Are we reconciled to God. If not, now is the time to be reconciled. Let us repent of our sins and ask Jesus to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Then God will empower us for his great commission. Jesus empowered his twelve disciples:

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.   (Matthew 9:35-38)

Jesus is ready to empower us. Many of our churches may be dead. But let us be alive in Christ. We will break the mold. We will get back to basics. Let us say by faith, the kingdom of heaven is near. Let us invite the Holy Spirit of God to flow through us. We have been chosen for this purpose. Time to get out of our privileged pews and proclaim the power and presence of God. Time to join the priestly kingdom.

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The Season of Lent

artprint77The Wilderness Experience

The Season of Lent is a time of fasting and prayer for the Church. It corresponds to the time of preparation that Jesus spent in the wilderness before beginning His earthly ministry. Scripture tells us Jesus was led there by the Holy Spirit for forty days of fasting and prayer. Thus, Lent begins with the service of Ash Wednesday and runs through Holy Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday. This time period is actually forty six days, because the six Sundays in between the beginning and end of the Lenten Season are not really part the days of fasting. Sundays are always days of celebrating the resurrection of our Lord.

Historically, in the Easter Church, Lent has provided a time in which new converts were prepared for Holy Baptism. This practice is still observed in many liturgical churches.

Why should we observe this time of preparation and what does it mean to each of us and the Church today? Clearly this observance is not required for salvation. The saving act of Jesus on the cross and our response to His loving sacrifice is required, followed by our endurance in the Faith with His help. Nevertheless, we cannot deny that life does present us with wilderness experiences.

What is false is a church that suggests that Christians should not have them. We do have them. Job stood head and shoulders above his peers as a righteous man in his day, yet he experienced a terrible wilderness experience. The false triumphalism found in some of today’s churches would have us believe that such experiences should not occur, bringing condemnation on those who go through them because they do not have enough faith.

If we have wilderness experiences as a matter of course then why designate an appointed time to go through one within the Church Year? Is not this appointed time artificial? It is my belief that the Season of Lent in the early church was very much influenced by the Holy Spirit. Perhaps it is better to observe a wilderness experience appointed by the Holy Spirit than the one that is unscheduled and catches us by surprise. We may still endure unscheduled ones but we might be better prepared for them, having benefited from the teachings and disciplines of Lent. Jesus required preparation in the wilderness through the Holy Spirit in order to begin His ministry on earth. He experienced other wildernesses as well, Gethsemane being one of them.

Our purpose for Lent should be the same purpose that Jesus had for entering the wilderness: to prepare for ministry. We all have a ministry if we are Christian believers. Lent should be a time of fasting and prayer, self-examination and repentance, and reading and meditating on God’s holy Word. It should be a time of setting aside the things of this world that so easily creep in and devote ourselves more to God and His Word.

What should Lent not be? It should not be about our attempt to impress God by what we are giving up for Him or ny what spiritual gymnastics we are putting ourselves through. The “giving-up” notion is fundamentally flawed. It makes us dread Lent. We then cannot wait for Lent to be over. That is why Mardi Gras or Carnival has such an appeal for many people.

Too often Lenten promises are like New Years resolutions. We make them but we don’t keep them and then we are under condemnation. Satan has a field day with us. He loves our false humility and piety. God does not want us to prove who we are. He wants to prove who we are, if we will allow him to do so. He is the author and finisher of our faith. We just need to submit ourselves to him.

It is said that we often grow through our struggles and trials. This may be true, but it is not necessarily true. A greater truth is that our struggles do teach us that we cannot get through life on our own strength alone. The struggles often drive us to God. It is God who then changes us and not our struggles. Why should we wait for a crisis to go to God? Why not go to Him early and often?

Perhaps the best observance of Lent would be to approach God with faith in the saving blood of Jesus, asking Him what He would have us discover about ourselves and about Him. Let Lent be a time of intentional fellowship with God in prayer, seeking His will and wisdom for our lives so that we might be better disciples of Jesus Christ and living examples of God’s love for the world.

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