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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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Confession of Saint Peter

The All-Important Question

In today’s readings, we examine the most important question in the world. From the Gospel of Matthew:

When Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”   (Matthew 16:13-16)

How fitting it is to have the Confession of Peter observed within the Season of the Epiphany. Peter was the first among the apostles to confess that Jesus is the Messiah. The Apostle Peter’s earthly testimony compliments the heavenly one. At the baptism of Jesus God, the Father, spoke from heaven, testifying that Jesus is His beloved Son.

Peter’s testimony was quite remarkable. At a time when there was much confusion and speculation about who Jesus was, Peter had come to a clear and concise conclusion about Jesus’ identity. He did not do so by his own reasoning alone, however:

And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.  (Matthew 16:17)

We remember that Peter not only confessed Jesus as the Messiah but later he also denied Jesus. Just before the crucifixion, Peter proclaimed that he would never leave or forsake Jesus. But Jesus knew better. He understands the frailties of human beings:

Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”  (Luke 22:34)

Jesus gives us this warning concerning our confession:

Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.  (Matthew 10:32-33)

Peter discovered that he could not continue in the Faith on his own strength. He needed the strength that only God could provide. We remember that Jesus forgave Peter and restored him after the resurrection.

Throughout his ministry Peter’s testimony was bold and clear:

“There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”  (Acts 4:12)

Today many people are confused about who Jesus is and what may be His place in history. Many biblical “scholars” have disputed the person and the ministry of Jesus. Yet, we have God’s testimony, Jesus’ testimony, and Peter’s confession recorded in Holy Scripture.

What will be our recorded confession? Our confession is all-important in keeping the faith. Even more, our continued confession is all important. From the Book of Revelation:

 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming,

“Now have come the salvation and the power
    and the kingdom of our God
    and the authority of his Messiah,
for the accuser of our comrades[b] has been thrown down,
    who accuses them day and night before our God.
But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb
    and by the word of their testimony,
for they did not cling to life even in the face of death.   (Revelation 12:10-11)

At a time when Christians are being persecuted, we will need God’s help to build and strengthen our faith as He did for Peter. This will be all the more true for the troubling days ahead. But with God’s help, we will remain faithful to our testimony. Just as we have benefitted from Peter’s bold testimony, so many others may benefit from ours. Salvation is at stake.

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First Sunday after Christmas

The Word, the Spirit, and the Will

The Gospel of John does not have an Infancy narrative as do the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Rather, John speaks of a time before the birth of the Christ Child. He writes of the One who pre-existed the world and was the very agent of all creation:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.   (John 1:1-5)

Many of His own Jewish people did not comprehend who Jesus was when they were privileged to see him in person:

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.  (John 1:10-11)

Though the Gospel of John does not speak of an infancy narrative, it does speak of our infancy narrative:

But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.   (John 1:12-13)

We are reborn as children of God in Jesus. The Apostle Paul writes:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.   (Galatians 4:4-7)

The Prophet Isaiah wrote:

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
to spring up before all the nations.  (Isaiah 61:10-11)

The remarkable thing is that the creator God entered the world of His own creation on our behalf. In Jesus, God made himself vulnerable to humankind, in order to reveal his true nature and heart:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.  (John 1:14)

He did so, that we may have that same heart. he paid the price of our sins in order to grant us his righteousness by faith in him, and what he has done for us. we must receive the Spirit of his Son into our hearts. The Spirit is the power we need to become the children of God.

God’s children receive God’s love and forgiveness. But children need to fully grow to become joint heirs with Christ. The Book of Hebrews warns:

You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness. 1But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil.

Therefore let us go on toward perfection, leaving behind the basic teaching about Christ and not laying again the foundation: repentance from dead works and faith toward God, instruction about baptisms and laying on of hands,   (Hebrews 5:12-14; 6:1-2)

How do we grow up as disciples of Christ? Let us remember we are disciples of the Word of God made flesh. Jesus Christ our Lors. He tells us

“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”   (John 8:31-32)

Only the Word of God will set us free from the power of sin, Jesus has given us the way that we may truly interpret his word:

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.   (John 16:13-14)

The Holy Spirit guides our reading and meditation on the scriptures, but we must do the reading and meditation. The Apostle Paul reminds us that we must continually do so:

As you, therefore, have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.   (Colossians 2:6-7)

Satan will try to distract us. Circumstances we encounter in life may erode our faith, This is all the more reason to stay in the Word:

Faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.   (Romans 10:17)

Through the Spirit, Jesus has given special gifts to the Church, the Body of Christ:

He himself granted that some are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.   (Ephesians 4:11-16)

The Church has been established to teach us the Word of God and help us grow into the Word. We want to be sure that we are in a community of believers that seek the whole truth of God’s Word. This is where Church leadership is vitally important.

But let us not disregard, perhaps, the most important ingredient for spiritual growth, our desire. The Apostle Paul wrote:

This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.   (Philippians 3:13-14)

Are we willing to let go of the past? We all fall short in our spiritual lives.

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)

Let us not lose heart, but continually put our trust in God:

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence but much more now in my absence, work on your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.   (Philippians 2:12-13)

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Fourth Sunday in Lent

I Have Removed Your Disgrace

Let us begin by looking at a very significant event in the life of Israel. Reading from Joshua:

The Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.” And so that place is called Gilgal to this day.   (Joshua 5:9)

The children of Israel had just crossed over the river Jordan into the promised land. The place they walked onto was called Gidgal. Gilgal was more than the name of a place. The meaning of the word in Hebrew is circle. When the priests carried that Ark of the Covenant across the Jordan the river parted so that they walked on dry ground. Twelve of the stones which the priests stepped on in the middle of the river were gathered up and placed in a circle at the landing site. Here they celebrated what God had done for them and renewed their covenant with God.

There were other Gilgal’s for Israel. Reading from 1 Samuel:

Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us go to Gilgal and there renew the kingship.” 15 So all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul king before the Lord in Gilgal. There they sacrificed offerings of well-being before the Lord, and there Saul and all the Israelites rejoiced greatly.   (1 Samuel 11:14-15)

Gilgal was a place and time of celebration of God restoring Israel and providing for their future.

In today’s Gospel reading we have another Gilgal moment, so to speak.

“There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”‘ So he set off and went to his father.   (Luke 15:11-19)

This son had disgraced himself, and he was no longer able to continue living without the help of his father. Fortunately, his father was more than eager to forgive him and restore him:

But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe–the best one–and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.   (Luke 15:20-24)

The father removed the disgrace of his prodigal son just as God had removed the disgrace of Egypt from Israel. Not only that, but he celebrated a new beginning for his son. Gilgal is a celebration of both forgiveness and renewal.

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)

Gilgal is not jsut celebrating what God has done, but moving on to what God still wants to do. The Apostle Paul wrote:

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!.   (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Are we in need of a Gilgal today? Every thing becoming new does not stop for us. God is still working in us. Paul wrote:

Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own;[c] but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly[call of God in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 3:13-14)

Apparently, the oldest son in the parable was in need of a Gilgal moment. He complained to his father about celebrating the return of the youngest son when he had never been given a celebration for doing the right thing.

For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’” (Luke 15:29-32)

The eldest son was keeping score on how he was doing compared to his brother. Love does not keep score.

It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.   (1 Corinthians 13:5 NIV)

We cannot grow when we are holding on to the past. We all have some disgrace and must be willing for God to remove it.

We cannot remove it ourselves. God has removed it for us through the blood of the Lamb. He is like the father in the parable. He wants to kill the fatted calf. He wants to celebrate our new birth in Christ Jesus. We simply need to repent of our sins and go home to God. He has removed our disgrace.

Are we dead or are we alive? If we are alive in Christ then we are growing in him. Each day can be a new celebration for us. As we continue our covenant in Christ he is  removing our old self and making all things new. Amen.

See Gatekeepers and Healing the Soul.

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