Tag Archives: wilderness

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 24A

Track 1: The Glory of God

Exodus 33:12-23
Psalm 99
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Matthew 22:15-22

We are living in the last days. Jesus said that we will not know the day or the hour in which he returns, but we should know the season. What will his return be like? Jesus said in the Gospel of Matthew

Then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.   (Matthew 24:30)

Why would some people mourn at his coming? Because he is coming with power and great glory. Encountering the glory of God can be unnerving. It was for the children of Israel in the wilderness. At Sinai God spoke to his chosen people directly:

These words the Lord spoke with a loud voice to your whole assembly at the mountain, out of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, and he added no more. He wrote them on two stone tablets, and gave them to me. When you heard the voice out of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, you approached me, all the heads of your tribes and your elders; and you said, “Look, the Lord our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the fire. Today we have seen that God may speak to someone and the person may still live. So now why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the Lord our God any longer, we shall die. For who is there of all flesh that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of fire, as we have, and remained alive? Go near, you yourself, and hear all that the Lord our God will say. Then tell us everything that the Lord our God tells you, and we will listen and do it.” (Deuteronomy 5:22-27)

The children of Israel worried that the fire of God would consume them. They were not too far from the truth in their thinking. The Prophet Malachi forecast the coming of the Lord, but warned that his presence might be hard for many to endure:

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap.      (Malachi 3:1-2)

God is a holy God. His glory and presence exposes sinful hearts. Though the children of said that they would do whatever God asked them to do trough Moses, history did not prove that they were honest. They were unwilling to obey God’s law. They, in fact, knew that about themselves, so they could not stand to be in God’s presence.

Are we like the children of Israel today? Or are we like Moses. Moses wanted to be in God’s presence. He sought ever more of God. He asked God to reveal to him his glory:

Moses said, “Show me your glory, I pray.” And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.” And the Lord continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”   (Exodus 33:18-23)

What made Moses different from the others? He approached God from a very different perspective. Though he was not perfect, Moses had a heart for God. He loved God more than the cares of this world. He wanted to please God. He wanted to fellowship with God.

Because God was displeased with the children of Israel he told Moses to lead them to the promised land without his accompaniment. But Moses would not head Israel to the promised land without God’s presence. He realized that God’s very presence was worth more than anything in this world. He would rather remain in the wilderness with God than lose his presence.

As Christians, God has opened to door for us to enter directly into his presence. We have the right to enter into his glory. On the cross Jesus paid the price for our sin in order that the gates of heaven would be open to us. In Matthew we read:

Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised.   (Matthew 27:50-52)

The gates have been opened. Will we enter into his presence? We will if we love him more that this world. We will if we are willing to be honest about our sin. We will if we approach him with a humble and contrite heart. But if we are holding on the sin that we do not wish to release to God, then our hearts will convict us whenever we are aware of his presence.

Jesus is returning with all his glory. Will we be glad to see him or will we be ashamed? Jesus said:

Those who are ashamed of me and of my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.   (Luke 9:26)

Will we be able to say, as did the Apostle Paul?

I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him.   (2 Timothy 1:12)

Track 2:  Honoring Authority

Isaiah 45:1-7
Psalm 96:1-9, (10-13)
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Matthew 22:15-22

Roman rule was hated by the Jewish people. They despised having to pay taxes to the Roman emperor. Knowing this, the Pharisees though they had found a perfect trap for Jesus. They would trick Jesus, in front of a crowd of people, by making him appear to favor Rome in a dispute over taxes:

The Pharisees went and plotted to entrap Jesus in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.   (Matthew 22:15-22)

Jesus did not dismiss the practice of paying taxes to Rome. He simply put it into proper perspective. We are to honor governing authorities. The Apostle Paul wrote:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority[a]does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing. Pay to all what is due them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.   (Romans 13:1-7)

We are living in a rebellious time in the country. Some do not like the outcome of the last Presidential election. For some, anarchy is the solution. Defeat the current government by any means necessary. It this the Christian thing to do?

The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.   (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

Our goal is to tell others about the saving act of Jesus Christ, not to create a climate of chaos. Chaos is a very large distraction to the spread of the Gospel. If we do not honor governmental authorities we are not fostering “a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.”

The One who has established all authority is to receive the greatest honor.  The psalmist wrote:

Ascribe to the Lord the honor due his Name;
bring offerings and come into his courts.

Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness;
let the whole earth tremble before him.

Tell it out among the nations: “The Lord is King!
he has made the world so firm that it cannot be moved;
he will judge the peoples with equity.”   (Psalm 96:8-10)

Jesus said: “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” God is the ultimate judge. He, alone, determines our ultimate destiny. Soon the Lord Jesus will return to the earth with all his glory. What will he find? Will he find us giving honor where honor is due? Again, Paul wrote:

Pay to all what is due them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.   (Romans 13:7)

The God of all is due the greatest honor. Again, the psalmist writes:

I am the Lord, and there is no other;
besides me there is no god.
I arm you, though you do not know me,
so that they may know, from the rising of the sun
and from the west, that there is no one besides me;
I am the Lord, and there is no other.   (Psalm 96:5-6)

We honor him by keeping his commandments and following his Word.

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Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 23A

Track 1: Interceding for the Nation

Exodus 32:1-14
Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23
Philippians 4:1-9
Matthew 22:1-14

Back to the wilderness, we pick up where we left off. Moses is up on the mountain with God when God reveals to him the sin of the people:

The Lord said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt! The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.”   (Exodus 32:7-10)

Fortunately for Israel Moses was able to dissuade God from what he wanted to do. The psalmist extolls the importance of Moses as an intercessor for Israel:

Israel made a bull-calf at Horeb
and worshiped a molten image;

And so they exchanged their Glory
for the image of an ox that feeds on grass.

They forgot God their Savior,
who had done great things in Egypt,

Wonderful deeds in the land of Ham,
and fearful things at the Red Sea.

So he would have destroyed them,
had not Moses his chosen stood before him in the breach,
to turn away his wrath from consuming them.   (Psalm 106:19-23)

[O America, how much your intercessors have provided covering for your idolatry!]

The psalmist also hints at the underlying cause of Israel’s idolatry. The people forgot who they were. They were made in the image of God and did not come from other forms of life. Now they were acting like a godless nation. They also forgot who brought them out of Egypt. How could they go so wrong so quickly? The answer lies in today’s reading from Exodus:

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”   ()

God sometimes delays what he is going to do in order to test our faith. Do we have faith in him in all circumstances, or do the circumstances overcome our faith? The Apostle Paul wrote:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.   (Philippians 4:4-7)

Though we may not always be aware of it, God is near. He is with us. He is Emmanuel. Paul is suggesting that prayer will keep us from despair. If we lose faith, we are in danger of going back to our old idolatries and familiar spirits. What have these ever accomplished for us? They only lead us further astray without providing any lasting satisfaction or peace.

The Apostle Paul reminds us that there is spiritual exercise we can do while we wait upon the Lord. We can count our blessings:

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.   (Philippians 4:8-9))

Perhaps it is time to turn off the 24 hour news cycle. Perhaps it is time to focus on what is good. Let us not so easily give up the lessons and wisdom which God has imparted to us. As Christians, the world is looking to us for hope and light, whether people realize it or not. We are the salt of the earth. It is no time to lose our savor.

We are living in the last days. Jesus told the parable about the wedding banquet. Many were invited but were distracted by the cares of this world. Then there was the guest who made it in the door but was later thrown out because he was not wearing a wedding garment. Is that not the casual Christian who does not understand the requirements of living for Christ? Is that any of us here today?

 

 

Track 2: The Wedding Garment

Isaiah 25:1-9
Psalm 23
Philippians 4:1-9
Matthew 22:1-14

The Prophet Isaiah was also a psalmist. Today we read one of his eschatological psalms. He writes about a feast that will be celebrated at some time in the future, presumably in Jerusalem:

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.

And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.

Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.   (Isaiah 25:6-8)

Isaiah writes about a time when death will no longer be a factor. This sounds very much like a celebration of the millennial reign of Jesus. As Christians we should be waiting in expectation for this prophecy to be fulfilled. Those who are waiting for this event are, according to the prophet, will be the ones in attendance:

It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.   Isaiah 25:9)

Jesus tells a parable in today’s Gospel reading which highlights this very same theme:

Once more Jesus spoke to the people in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.   (Matthew 22:1-10)

Notice who the guests were – ordinary people, both good and bad. God calls all who will listen. He is no respecter of persons. The people who would not come were too occupied with worldly cares. Some were even hostile to the point of killing those servants who were offering the invitation. This is very much the day in which we are living. The culture is now hostile to Christians.

Where do we stand today? Are we waiting for the return of our Lord Jesus with great expectation? This is not the time for being a causal or nominal Christian. There may be those who think that they have had their ticket punched. They are members of a church. They have been baptized. Of this group, there are those who thought they had a license to live however they liked without consequences. The parable addresses their condition at its conclusion:

“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”   (Matthew 22:11-14)

Everyone is called by God for the messianic banquet. Not everyone is listening. Some hear the invitation but are distracted by other things more important to them. Some do not want an invitation because they are at odds with God. While still others believe they can get in the door at the last minute with the least amount of commitment. Jesus has provided us a robe of righteousness, but we must wear it.

The true Christian will be waiting with great expectation out of love for the Lord of hosts:

It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.   (Isaiah 25:-9)

Is that true of us?

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Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 21A

Track 1: Is the Lord among Us or Not?

Exodus 17:1-7
Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 2t1:23-32

In today’s Old Testament we once again read how the children of Israel lost faith, even when God almighty performed signs and wonders in their midst:

The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”   (Exodus 17:5-7)

Before we become too hard on the children of Israel let us ask ourselves how many times we have asked the same question about God when the challenges of life seemed to overwhelm us. It is altogether too easy to become blind to what God is doing when our faith is chanllenged. Faith is our spiritual sight. In Hebrews we read:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.   (Hebrews 11:1-3)

God, again, caused Moses to perform a miraculous sign to help restore the faith of the Israelites. The psalmist writes:

He split open the sea and let them pass through;
he made the waters stand up like walls.

He led them with a cloud by day,
and all the night through with a glow of fire.

He split the hard rocks in the wilderness
and gave them drink as from the great deep.

He brought streams out of the cliff,
and the waters gushed out like rivers.   (Psalm 78:13-26

How much does it take for us to believe that God is with us? What if God chose to show up in person? He did! He became Emmanuel – God with us. His Son left his throne in heaven to share our human nature – to live and die as one of us. Paul writes:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death–
even death on a cross.   (Philippians 2:5-8)

Jesus has become part of us. We are inseparable, provided that we have accepted his unconditional love and sacrifice. Have we done so?

Paul continues:

Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,

so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under theand every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.   (Philippians 2:9-11)

When we make him Lord of our lives we become as much a part of him as he becomes of us. There is no longer the question: “Is the Lord among us or not?”

Moses struck the rock in the desert and water flowed out. Jesus was struck in the side while he was hanging on the cross. Both blood and water flowed out. For those who believe, however, out of his side flowed rivers of living water as well. We have that living water, the Holy Spirit of God, living within us. Thanks be to God!

The question of whether or not God is with us needs to be changed. Are we with God? Have we given our life to Christ? If so, he is our deliverer, redeemer, healer, and friend. Amen.

 

 

Track 2: Repentance

Ezekiel 18:1-4,25-32
Psalm 25:1-8
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32

“He is making a list, he is checking it twice. He is going to find out who is naughty or nice. Santa Clause is coming to town.” This well known song is not a version of the Gospel. It is a perversion. It may be cute but it is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the clever false gospel of the fallen angel Satan. The song may be cute, but there is nothing truthful about it.

Satan attempts to warp our minds when it comes to sin. He tempts us into sin and then accuses us of being sinners. Satan’s tricks are very subtle. He works on the margin of truth. We should follow the laws of God, but without God’s help we cannot.

God wants to liberate our theology about sin. The Prophet Ezekiel gets at the very core of Satan’s deception:

You say, “The way of the Lord is unfair.” Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair? When the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity, they shall die for it; for the iniquity that they have committed they shall die. Again, when the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life. Because they considered and turned away from all the transgressions that they had committed, they shall surely live; they shall not die. Yet the house of Israel says, “The way of the Lord is unfair.” O house of Israel, are my ways unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair?   (Ezekiel 18:25-32)

Satan wants us to believe that we can store up points with God when we do good. God is saying through Ezekiel that our standing with God has to do with the condition of our hearts and not with our “good works.” Good works do not erase our sins. Good works do not restore us to God when we sin. God requires one thing only: repentance. He is looking for our change of heart.

Jesus illustrated this point with today’s parable from Matthew:

“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.   (Matthew 21:23-32)

The Pharisees were the gatekeepers. They were the scorekeepers. They decided who entered the Kingdom of God and who did not. The very ones they ruled out of the Kingdom God rules in. Tax collectors and the prostitutes who repented from their ways, who had a change of heart, who chose to live a new life in Christ, met God’s requirement. They repented of their sins and sought to lead a new life with God’s help.

If we are still keeping score on others or even on ourselves, then we do not understand the Gospel. The message is simple: “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” It is also: repent and keep on repenting. In John’s First Epistle we read:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.   (1 John 1:8-9)

Jesus has paid the price for our sin on the cross. He has freed us from the power of sin. Nevertheless, if we go on sinning it is because we are unwilling to confess our sins. We are unwilling to repent. We are saying that we accept the cross of Christ but we are unwilling to carry our own cross and follow him.

The Apostle Paul struggled with sin as do we all. In Romans he wrote:

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)

 

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