Category Archives: Epiphany

Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

Choose This Day

In our Old Testament reading today we find Moses preparing the children of Israel to enter the promised land:

Moses said, “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess.   (Deuteronomy 30:16-18)

Life is about choices. This was true for Israel and it is true for us today. Blessings from God have to do with our obedience to God. The psalmist wrote:

Happy are they whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the Lord!

Happy are they who observe his decrees
and seek him with all their hearts!   (Psalm 119:1-2)

And again:

Happy are the people to whom such blessings fall;
    happy are the people whose God is the Lord.   (Psalm 144:15)

There is the other side of the coin. Moses said:

If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.   (Deuteronomy 30:16-18)

Obedience to God is vital. Why did you not Isreal obey God? Why do we not obey God? Adam and Eve sewed the seeds of rebellion. They believed what the enemy of God’s creation lied about – that created beings can be on the same playing field as God. Unfortunately, many people still believe that, despite the evidence to the contrary.

Our flesh, carnal nature, and prideful mind still want to test the premise that we can think like God. Within our souls, a spiritual battle is taking place. The Apostle Paul wrote:

For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I who do it but sin that dwells within me. 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 7:14-19) 

History has proven that the flesh cannot win the battle for righteous living. The law of God taught us what is sinful. Paul wrote that the direction was spiritual. It was from God, but it was powerless to free us from sin.

If we love God then we do not want to sin, but we still do despite our efforts. What is the problem? What is the solution?

Let us look at the Sermon on the Mount in today’s Gospel.

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.   (Matthew 5:21-2)

Jesus is talking about the law. He is making it clear that there is no way for us to get around the law. We cannot water it down, so to speak. We cannot so narrowly define it so that we can say that we have followed it without fail. What else is left? Maybe we can eliminate the law in some way?

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.   (Matthew 5:17-18)

We cannot abolish the law because Jesus did not abolish the law. It is still on the books. The penalty for not keeping the law is still the same,  to this day. The Apostle Paul explains:

For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law.   (Galatians 3:10)

Something must be done to remove the curse. Only God could do that. He did so through his Son. Jesus came, not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. Paul explains:

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.   (Romans 8:1-4)

Jesus took our punishment so we could partake of his righteousness. We do that by faith in what he has done for us. That is the beginning. Now we have a choice. Life is about choices. How do we walk? According to the flesh or according to the Spirit?

Will we wander around in the wilderness of Christendom or will we go in and possess the land that Jesus has purchased for us? Will we leave the fleshpots of Egypt behind us and trust the leadership of the Spirit? The Apostle Paul explains:

Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want.   (Galatians 5:16-17)

Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.   (Philippians 3:12-14)

Now is the time for us to choose whom we will serve and worship. In fact, each day we must choose. Life is about choices. Blessings and curses. Life and death. Let us choose life. Let us worship the Lord.

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The Presentation

bellini2Purification

Today we celebrate The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple by Joseph and Mary. From the Gospel of Luke:

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, the parents of Jesus brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”  (Luke 2:22-24)

Let us look at this event as if it were part of a three-act play. This was the first act of purification – a ceremonial purification. Mary was considered unclean at the birth of her child, according to Jewish law. After a waiting period of about forty days, she and Joseph were required to offer up their son to God. Mary would then be considered pure and her child would be declared holy before God.

A ritual of ceremonial purification was not without meaning or significance. It was a rehearsal of a spiritual purification that was to come. Today, in many churches, parents present their children to God with the expectation that these children will be raised in the Christian Faith.

At the time of Jesus’ presentation the prophet Simeon blessed the family of Jesus and said to Mary:

“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35)

This prophecy foretold the second act of purification – a purification of the Law of God. Simeon prophesied that Jesus would bring about major changes in Judaism. Jesus said he did not come to set aside the law but fulfill it. The essence of the Law had to do with loving God and neighbor, but it had become merely an elaborate set of rules to follow. As the Word made flesh, Jesus demonstrated by his life the true righteous requirements of the law. God requires transparency and truth. We cannot cover up our sins with our “good deeds.”

Joseph and Mary were presenting Jesus to God in the Temple. Jesus would soon change the whole temple worship by becoming the temple himself. He would become the new Temple by satisfying all the requirements of the old one. His blood spilled on the cross, would become the atoning sacrifice for all our sins, once and for all.

From Hebrews we read:

Since God’s children share flesh and blood, Jesus himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.   (Hebrews 2:14-15)

The last act of purification has to do with the purification of the saints. We read in Malachi:

For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.   (Malachi 3:3-4)

The Apostle Paul writes that Jesus, by his atoning sacrifice, can present us pure before the Father:

And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him — provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven.   (Colossians 1:21-23)

Mary and Joseph presented Jesus as holy to God. Jesus turned the tables. He gives Mary and Joseph and all saints as holy to God. Mary and Joseph offered up their son before God. God, the Father, offered His Son as a sacrifice for us all that we may be made holy before him. The Presentation of Jesus becomes our presentation. Jesus presents us spotless before the Father. He is the only one who can do that because he is the one who paid the price for our sins.

Our cleansing is not a ceremonial cleansing. No, we must allow Jesus to change and direct our hearts. God gave us this promise through the Prophet Ezekiel:

I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.   (Ezekiel 36:25-27)

The Apostle Paul wrote:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, 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 renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.   (Romans 12:1-2)

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Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Walk Humbly with Your God

Micah prophesied that a day was coming when we would walk with God:

In days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s temple
shall be established as the highest of the mountains
and shall be raised up above the hills.
Peoples shall stream to it,
and many nations shall come and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”   (Micah 4:1-2)

God has called all of us to walk with him. God wants our companionship. He wants our friendship. From Micah we read:

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?   (Micah 6:8)

There was a time when a walk with God was standard for each day.  We read in Genesis:

They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

Adam and Eve rebelled against God. Yet God still wanted to walk with them. However, Adam and Eve now found their sin would be exposed to God and they hid from him. (We can hide, but God sees everything at all times. Nothing escapes his vision.) Because of their sin, Adam and Eve bore great shame. They did not feel worthy to stand in God’s presence.

The psalmist asked:

Lord, who may dwell in your tabernacle?
who may abide upon your holy hill?

Whoever leads a blameless life and does what is right,
who speaks the truth from his heart.    (Psalm 15:1-2)

To walk with a holy God we must be holy. How does one do that? Are we able to make ourselves holy? Are we able to cleanse ourselves from all our unrighteousness? No! But there is good news. God can do it. We read in 1 John:

 If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.   (1 John 1:9)

Adam and Eve did not have the benefit of the cross. We can approach God because of the atoning sacrifice of his Son Jesus. In Hebrews we read:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested[a] as we are, yet without sin. 1Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.   (Hebrews 4:15-16)

If we have access to God, are we walking with God? Walking with God is more than believing in God. It has to do with our seeking God. We read in Hebrews:

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would approach God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.   (Hebrews 11:6)

Do we seek God daily? Do we seek him with all our hearts? Do we desire to be with him more than anything in this life?

You will seek the Lord your God, and you will find him if you search after him with all your heart and soul.   (Deuteronomy 4:29)

Do we seek God daily? Do we seek him with all our hearts? Do we desire to be with him more than anything in this life? Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount:

Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.    (Matthew 6:33)

Jesus also said in the same sermon::

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.   (Matthew 5:3)

How could people who are poor be rich? They are the people who know that they need God every moment of their lives.

The Apostle Paul wrote:

Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”   (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)

If we boast that we walk with the Lord then we are not walking with him. Micah again reminds us:

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?   (Micah 6:8)

Walking with God is being in a friendship with God. Being in fellowship with God is obeying God. Jesus prayed for his disciples:

Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words, and the word that you hear is not mine but is from the Father who sent me.   (John 14:23-24)

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.   (John 15:12-14)

Have we laid ourselves down? That is the only way we can keep God’s commandments. We cannot do it on our own. The New Covenant with God in Christ is a covenant only God can fulfill. Striving is no longer required. What God asks us to do is what God empowers us to do.

The Apostle Paul asked God to remove a weakness he found in himself. God answered:

but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.   (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

Shall we walk with the Lord? Shall we abide in his presence? To “abide” is to live, continue, or remain; so, to abide in Christ is to live in Him or remain in Him.

Now by this we know that we have come to know him, if we obey his commandments. Whoever says, “I have come to know him,” but does not obey his commandments is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist; but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. By this we know that we are in him: whoever says, “I abide in him,” ought to walk in the same way as he walked.   (1 John 2:3-6)

Let us walk the way Jesus walked with the Father. He was never out of touch with God.

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Conversion of Saint Paul

the-conversion-of-saint-paul-bartolome-esteban-murilloFrom Darkness to Light

Saul was on the road to Damascus to arrest Christian believers. While en route he experienced one of the most dramatic conversions recorded in the Bible. In his own words:

“I was traveling to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, when at midday along the road, your Excellency, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and my companions. When we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, `Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.’ I asked, `Who are you, Lord?’ The Lord answered, `I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But get up and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and testify to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you. I will rescue you from your people and from the Gentiles– to whom I am sending you to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ ”  (Acts 26:12-18)

Well, that was Saul. He was persecuting Christians. Do we have any zealous people in the Church today who are crushing their fellow parishioners? Well, that is another story.

What about those who have grown up in the Church? Do they need a conversion experience? We need to understand that the Apostle Paul did grow up in the Church. He grew up in Judaism which was the only church in his day. The rest of the world was pagan. He was living by the rules. He was educated in the best rabbinic tradition. Here is how he described himself:

Circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.  (Philippians 3:5-6)

I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.  (Galatians 1:14)

We understand, of course, that this was the way Saul described himself before his conversion. How did he express himself after his conversion?

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.  (Romans 7:15-19)

Paul goes on to say:

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)

Conversion opened Saul’s eyes to reality. His religion had failed him. He needed more than religion. His Lord Jesus Christ did not fail him:

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.  (Philippians 3:7-11)

Saul became the great Apostle Paul who wrote two-thirds of the New Testament. Does his testimony speak to us today? What is our testimony? Are we merely rules enforcers or are we ambassadors for Christ? The lost in this world are counting on us to witness the love and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul was a rules enforcer who grew to understand God’s mercy and loving-kindness. He prayed for the Church in Ephesus:

I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.   (Ephesians 3:16-19)

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