Monthly Archives: October 2022

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 26

Track 1: Faith Patience Perseverance

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
Psalm 119:137-144
2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12
Luke 19:1-10

In today’s Old Testament reading we examine the complaint that Habakkuk had against God:

The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw.

Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not listen?

Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?

Why do you make me see wrong-doing
and look at trouble?

Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.

So the law becomes slack
and justice never prevails.

The wicked surround the righteous–
therefore judgment comes forth perverted   (Habakkuk 2:2-4)

The prophet’s complaint, though made centuries ago, could very much apply to our times. We see so much injustice and so little done to correct it. Will anybody ever be arrested? Will anybody ever be convicted of their crimes?

Habakkuk waited for God’s reply. He listened carefully to hear what God might say:

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.

So much of the answers we seek from God are dependent upon our willingness to listen. God answered Habakkuk:

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   (Habakkuk 2:2-4)

We may look for God to do something to correct injustice. But he has not moved in the time that we expected. God’s time is not always our time. But this much is true, God’s timing is perfect. He has an appointed time for everything.

God gives us a vision. It will come to pass. But God requires that we write it down, at least on our hearts. We should be in agreement with him. We should pray faithfully for it to manifest. In fact, we are to pray it into existence. Our prayers are prophetic when we pray the word that God has given us.

The psalmist wrote:

You are righteous, O Lord,
and upright are your judgments.

You have issued your decrees
with justice and in perfect faithfulness.   (Psalm 119:138)

God is faithful. How do we resond during the in-between period, while we wait? Do we disparage and doubt? Do we criticize and complain? These things are not done by people who humble themselves before God. God spoke to Habakkuk:

Look at the proud!
Their spirit is not right in them,
but the righteous live by their faith.   (Habakkuk 2:4)

We are to live by faith. Faith is trusting in God. It often requires patience. The Apostle Paul wrote:

For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope, for who hopes for what one already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:24-25)

The promises of God are received by faith. Let us not forget that the recipe for faith contains some  patience. and perseverance

 

Track 2: A Descendent of Abraham

Isaiah 1:10-18
Psalm 32:1-8
2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12
Luke 19:1-10

Today we have one of my favorite characters of in Gospel narratives:

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.”   (Luke 19:1-7)

Zacchaeus was a sinner indeed. He was a tax collector. Tax collectors were hated by the Jews. They worked for Rome, occupier of Israel. Not only that, but they often took advantage of people for their own personal gain. But Zacchaeus knew that he was missing something. He had heard about Jesus and he sought him out. And then he transformed by the unconditional love of Christ:

Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”   (Luke 19:8-10)

Calling Zacchaeus a son of Abraham was a shocking thing to say. It meant that anyone could be a son of Abraham. Most Jews believed that y0u could achieve that status only by birth. John the Baptist, however, preached:

and do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.”   (Matthew 3:9)

The kingdom of heaven is not made up of people who have the right credentials, attend the right church, or hold others in contempt. No, Jesus made it clear that the his kingdom was made up of sinners who repented. The psalmist wrote:

Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven,
and whose sin is put away!

Happy are they to whom the Lord imputes no guilt,
and in whose spirit there is no guile!

While I held my tongue, my bones withered away,
because of my groaning all day long.

For your hand was heavy upon me day and night;
my moisture was dried up as in the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
and did not conceal my guilt.

I said,” I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.”
Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin.   (Psalm 32:1-6)

Zacchaeus did more than verbally confess his sins. He took steps to correct the wrong that he had done. The Apostle Paul wrote the Church in Thessalonica:

To this end we always pray for you, asking that our God will make you worthy of his call and will fulfill by his power every good resolve and work of faith, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.   (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12)

Zacchaeus was a sinner, but he set an example for us. Are we sons of Abraham?

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Saint Simon and Saint Jude

st simon and st jude2Called to Preach the Gospel

In today’s Old Testament reading Moses declares:

Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak; let the earth hear the words of my mouth. May my teaching drop like the rain, my speech condense like the dew; like gentle rain on grass, like showers on new growth. For I will proclaim the name of the LORD; ascribe greatness to our God! The Rock, his work is perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God, without deceit, just and upright is he.   (Deuteronomy 32:1-4)

Moses knew that he was blessed by the Spirit of God. Thus, he realized that he had an obligation and responsibility to teach his word.

Saint Simon and Saint Jude were blessed by God. They were called by Jesus directly to preach and teach the Gospel. Some ancient Christian writers say that Simon and Jude went together as missionaries to Persia, and were martyred there. If this is true, it explains why they are usually put together. Little else is known of their ministry. Nevertheless, they were faithful to their calling. After all, the calling of God is not to speak about who we are but about what God has done for us in Christ.

Before He was crucified Jesus told His disciples that they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit so that they would be able to preach on his behalf. That is the work of the Holy Spirit does. Jesus said:

“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.”    (John 15:27)

Have we received the Holy Spirit? Have we also been called by to testify to the truth of the Gospel? The Apostle Paul wrote that Jesus came to reconcile the world unto Himself and that our testimony is important in that process:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.   (2 Corinthians 5:17-19)

The new creation that God has brought about in Christ brings reconciliation between all people. Paul writes:

Now in Christ Jesus you Gentiles, who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.   (Ephesians 2:13-18)

People are so divided today. Our responsibility is to bring unity in Christ because we have been given this “message of reconciliation.” We cannot do this on our own, but we have been given the Holy Spirit to guide us and direct us in this ministry. Let us follow the faithful example of men like Simon and Jude.

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Saint James of Jerusalem

Faith and Works

James, brother of our Lord Jesus Christ, leader of the Christian Church in Jerusalem, and author of the Epistle of James is still speaking to the Church today. Are we listening?

How important was James to the Early Church? The Apostle Paul writes about the people whom Jesus personally appeared to after His resurrection:

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.   (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)

It would be an understatement to say that James has not always been understood or appreciated. He is almost like a Rorschach test. People often project on him their own theology. We may be familiar with Martin Luther’s statement about the Epistle of James being an “epistle of straw.” Luther’s theology did not agree with the tone and tenor of James’ Epistle. At the risk of oversimplification, Luther emphasizes sola fide, “faith alone” whereas James states that “good works” demonstrates a genuine faith. James was writing from wisdom and experience and he did not want to proclaim an easy grace without accountability.

James was the leader of the Church in Jerusalem. A dispute broke out in the Early Church concerning whether or not Gentile converts to the Faith needed to follow Judaic Law. This dispute had the potential of dividing the Church. Accordingly, a council met at Jerusalem to consider what rules Gentile Christians should be required to keep. James helped formulate a consensus as to what the requirements for Gentiles should be:

Therefore I have reached the decision that we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God, but we should write to them to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood. For in every city, for generations past, Moses has had those who proclaim him, for he has been read aloud every sabbath in the synagogues.” (Acts 15:19-21)

Without this vital agreement the work of the Gentile Church would have been gravely hindered. We see that James was not locked in an ideology or his own peculiar theology. He was a traditionalist when it came to interpreting the Mosaic Law. Yet he was open and flexible. He sets the proper tone for the Church today. Are we divided over many doctrines or have we identified the crucial matters of the faith?

A Spirit lead ecumenical movement is once again emphasizing what is important (not the false spirit that wants to harmonize all religions). This ecumenical movement does not reduce the Church to the lowest common denominator. Rather, it stresses a need for agreement by leaders who will come together in prayer.

What James has taught us is that faith without works is dead. The Church needs to work together, trusting in the leading of the Holy Spirit. We must arise and take up the challenges that lie ahead of us.

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Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 25

Track 1: Freedom from Condemnation

Joel 2:23-32
Psalm 65
2 Timothy 4:6-8,16-18
Luke 18:9-14

Last Sunday we talked about the New Covenant, where God would write his laws on our hearts, Today, let us explore how God doer the writing that he promised.

Through the Prophet Joel, God spoke to Israel:

You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,
and that I, the Lord, am your God and there is no other.

And my people shall never again
be put to shame.

Then afterward
I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;

your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.   (Joel 2:27-28)

On the Day of Pentecost after Jesus’ ascension into heaven, the prophecy of Joel was fulfilled. The Apostle Peter preached by the power of the Holy Spirit of God, the Church of Christ was born, and the New Covenant was now in effect.

The key to the new covenant was the pouring out of God’s Spirit. Jesus for told that this would happen. In speaking to his disciples, he said:

“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me, yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. 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 16:4-11)

The New Covenant has to do with sin, righteousness, and judgment. Only the Spirit of God can establish the effectiveness of this covenant. God is a loving God, but he is a just God. He must punish sin. This he has done on the cross where his Son bled and dies. Jesus bore all our sin, and God the Father accepted his sacrifice for sin. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. On the cross a righteousness was established, a righteousness based on faith in Jesus and not on any of our good works. Our good works were not good enough. Lastly, and perhaps the most misunderstood part of the New Covenant is condemnation and judgment. The Apostle Paul wrote:

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son but gave him up for all of us, how will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ who died, or rather, who was raised, who is also at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will affliction or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword?.   (Romans 8:31-35)

There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. The condemnation belongs to Satan alone, and his minions.

The Apostle Paul goes on:

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.   (Romans 8:38-39)

We have not been condemned. The ruler of this world has been condemned, that Satan. He has been condemned for ever over what he has attempted to do. Satan is said to be the accuser of the “brethren.” He condemns us with his own condemnation. He trick is to say exactly the opposite of what is true and then convince us that what he says is true. Let us not fall for it.

When Satan thought he was victorious, he was defeated. When he was defeated, the power of sin was defeated.

What happens when we attempt to stop sin on our own? We run into a wall. The psalmist wrote:

Our sins are stronger than we are,
but you will blot them out.

Happy are they whom you choose
and draw to your courts to dwell there!
they will be satisfied by the beauty of your house,
by the holiness of your temple.

Awesome things will you show us in your righteousness,
O God of our salvation,
O Hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the seas that are far away.   (Psalm 65:3-5)

Our sins are stronger than we are? Have we experienced the great difficulty of ridding ourselves of sin? The Apostle Paul did:

For I know that the good does not dwell within me, that is, in my flesh. For the desire to do the good lies close at hand, but not the ability. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.   (Romans 7:18-19)

We cannot win any victory over sin on our own. We must put our trust and hope in the victory of our Lord Jesus Christ. When we do not accept his victory we are left still dealing with sin. This awareness of sin without the redemption of the cross caused twisted thinking to take place.

In today’s Gospel we are given a clear picture of this thinking:

Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, `God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, `God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”   (Luke 18:9-14)

The humble tax collector knew that he had no right to justify himself before God. Even though the second covenant had not yet been established, he was well on his way to understanding that he needed the mercy of God.

Where do we stand today? Are we free from condemnation or are we joining Satan in condemning others? The Apostle Paul wrestled with sin, but he came to this final conclusion:

Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.   (1 Corinthians 15:57)

 

Track 2: God’s  Strength Working in Us

Sirach 35:12-17
or Jeremiah 14:7-10,19-22
Psalm 84:1-6
2 Timothy 4:6-8,16-18
Luke 18:9-14

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus tells a parable about a Pharisee and a tax collector. Reading from Luke:

Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, `God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income,”   (Luke 18:9-12)

The Pharisee was comparing his walk with God with that of someone else. Why would be doing that? Perhaps he realized that his walk with God was less than it should be. from A Pharisee claimed perfection. A Pharisee wanted perfection. Realizing that he has not justified before God, he wanted to console himself by believing that he was, at least, ahead of someone else.

Sin was weighing on the Pharisee. Do we ever feel the weight of sin? The Apostle Paul did. In Romans we read:

I know that the good does not dwell within me, that is, in my flesh. For the desire to do the good lies close at hand, but not the ability. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.   (Romans 7:18-19)

The difficulty with sin is that we cannot do anything about. The Pharisee was relying on justification by his good works. But this left him feeling empty. His good works were not enough.

On the other hand, the tax collector in the parable had simply given up on defeating sin:

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, `God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”   (Luke 18:13-14)

The tax collector realized that he was not justified before God. But note, that in the parable Jesus says that the tax collector “went home justified.” How could that be? It has to do with the power and good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus is our justification before God through his death on the cross.

Giving up on justifying ourselves is the best thing we can do. Self-justification does not work. The tax collector was well on his way of understanding the good news of the Gospel. He threw himself on the mercy of God. This is what God needs to hear from us. Do we ask for his mercy? Dd we humble ourselves before God. Do we acknowledge our sin?

We need to give up trying to defeat sin. But there is a deeper step. We need God’s power to defeat sin. The psalmist wrote:

Happy are the people whose strength is in you!
whose hearts are set on the pilgrims’ way.   (Psalm  84:4)

As Christian disciples, we are on a pilgrimage. God wants to eliminate the power of sin in our lives, the very thing that ww cannot do. He is able to do that when we put our full trust in him for justification. We need to continually do that. As we do, God pours into our hearts the power to defeat sin.

The good news is that we can have victory over sin. But the victory is only when we identify with Christ’s victory. The Apostle Paul, who wrestled with sin and lost, came to the realization that Jesus has won the victory for us. Writing to the Church in Corinth, Paul joyfully exclaimed:

Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.   (1 Corinthians 15:57)

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