Tag Archives: forgiveness

Third Sunday of Easter

Restored to Glory

Peter had betrayed the Lord Jesus, the one he loved more than anything in the world. Saul, who was truly zealous for the house of God, had betrayed the real house of God, the body of Christ. How could these men get so far off?

Peter and Saul were very dissimilar. Peter was following Jesus and Saul was persecuting Jesus. Yet they were alike in some ways. Both fell under the tyranny of an hierarchical power structure of church or state. There was little difference between these two structures. They demand that we follow them or they will punish us. Peter knew that he might be destined for punishment, maybe even tortured like Jesus. Saul was on the side of punishers. That was the best insurance policy against punishment.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.”   (John 21:1-19)

Christian discipleship is not about pleasing people or the power structure. If we are receiving any opposition to our faith, then perhaps we should examine our our hearts.

The destinies of both Peter and Saul were about to change. Peter would become the leader of the true Church, the body of Christ. Saul would become Paul, the great missionary to the Gentiles, and author of two-thirds of the New Testament. Both were hit received forgiveness from God and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Peter had the teaching and preparation directly from Jesus. Jesus would tell him he would no longer be in control of his life. Rather, he would feed the sheep at all costs. Saul was not have the same history. But he had a great zeal for Judaism and the interpretation of the Jewish leadership. He was a brilliant student of Torah, but he was misguided by his teachers. Jesus confronted him:

Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”   (Acts 9:1-6)

Saul was physically blinded. But when his sight was restored he received his spiritual sight. Saul became Paul, the great missionary to the Gentiles, who wrote two-thirds of the New Testament.

Do we live under fear of corrupt authority, often motivated by evil intentions? Jesus said:

“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.   (Luke 6:26)

If that is our hope for protection from harm, must realize that these authorities do not have our best interests in mind. The psalmist wrote:

I will exalt you, O Lord,
because you have lifted me up
and have not let my enemies triumph over me.

O Lord my God, I cried out to you,
and you restored me to health.

You brought me up, O Lord, from the dead;
you restored my life as I was going down to the grave.   (Psalm 30:1-3)

God is our source of protection. But Christians are are in a war zone. We need to put on the full protection of God:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.   (Ephesians 6:10-11)

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.   (Ephesians 6:13-17)

Tye Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy to encourage him:

7God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.   (2 Timothy 1:7)

We are not called to live in fear. In John’s First Epistle we read:

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.

God is our protection. He is o9r source of strength. He is the one who builds us up in love so that we may not live in fear. We no linger have to hide ourselves in falsehood and tyranny of this fleeting world. Let us lead a life hidden in Christ. The Apostle Paul wrote:

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.   (Colossians 3:1-4)

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Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday

Crucified with Christ

The Liturgy of the Palms

The Liturgy of the Word

It was the best of times. Jesus entered triumphantly into Jerusalem. From Luke’s Gospel we read:

After telling a parable to the crowd at Jericho, Jesus went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.'” So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,

“Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!

Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!”

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”   (Luke 19:28-40)

It was the worst of times. How could the Jewish people, in less than a week, go from “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” to “Crucify Him?” Crucifixion was reserved for the worst criminals of the state. Jesus, the triumphant leader, became Jesus, the criminal whom they wanted to crucify.

“How could the people change so quickly?” we ask. In defense of those who got caught up in the frenzy, we must remember that the chief priests and religious leaders of the day had much to do with inciting the crowd. Truth is the first casualty with tyrannical leaders. Propaganda and lies were used to sway the people. The government, and even the synagogs, were the last places to discover the truth. In fact, both church and state were perpetuating a false narrative on purpose, Their agenda was to obscure what was really true.

When manipulation and control supplant faith and proclamation, the people are deceived and confused. Betrayal of God’s purposes becomes the order of the day. Does that ring a bell for us today?

Even Jesus’s most loyal disciples would leave him as Jesus had foretold:

“Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” And he said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me.”   ()

Why did Peter betray his Lord when Jesus said that Peter would be the rock? Perhaps Peter did not understand the crucifixion. We remember when Jesus foretold of his death on the cross:

Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”   (Matthew 16:22-23)

The new creation in Christ only comes through crucifixion. Before there is new life there must be death.

Today, we need to look upon the cruel death or our Lord:

Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again; but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” A third time he said to them, “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no ground for the sentence of death; I will therefore have him flogged and then release him.” But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed. So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted. He released the man they asked for, the one who had been put in prison for insurrection and murder, and he handed Jesus over as they wished.

As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus. A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. But Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are surely coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us’; and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

Two criminals hung on the crosses with Jesus, one on either side. What follows is a prime example of the new creation:

One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”   ()

This second criminal had not kept the commandments of God. He had not been baptized by the church. He had not been formally taught and trained as a disciple. But he was accepted by Jesus. The criminal had confessed his sin. He had given up justifying himself. He had an idea who Jesus might be and what he hoped Jesus would do for him.

Through the cross., Jesus won the victory over sin and death for all os us. In some ways we are all criminals who should have hang a cross. We can only win our over victory over sin and death by identifying with the victory of Jesus.

We may be praising Jesus like many of the Jews did as he rode into Jerusalem. But are we are able to go the distance and not deny him in troubling times? Jesus said:

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”   (Matthew 16:24-25)

As Jesus strengthened Peter, so will he strengthen us. But we must die to ourselves. Like the criminal on the cross, we cam no longer justify ourselves.

The Apostle Paul wrote:

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God,[a] who loved me and gave himself for me.   (Galatians 2:19-20)

The flesh does not want to understand the cross. The cross is where we die to the flesh. We need the mind of Christ, not the carnal mind. The Apostle Paul wrote:

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)

The best of times for us is when we empty ourselves, pray, and worship God. The message of the cross and resurrection is the power of God to set us free from the way of sin and death. The Apostle Paul wrote:

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.   (1 Corinthians 1:18)

The worst of time is when we follow the wisdom of this world.

See Crucified with Christ.

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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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Third Sunday in Lent

The Heart of God

Moses encountered God at the burning bush that would not consume. There he was given an assignment by God, a very big assignment: Reading from Exodus:

The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.”   (Exodus 3:9-12)

Moses was reluctant. Then he became impatient with God’s plan due to the way the children of Israel were responding. We remember the numerous plagues God brought against Pharaoh and Egypt, the many signs and wonders he performed through Moses.

Moses learned to trust and be patient. God’s timing is not always our timing. But his timing is perfect. He brought a great victory. He delivered his people from bondage in Egypt and brought everyone out safely while their enemy was destroyed.

How did they respond. The Apostle Paul writes:

I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.   (1 Corinthians 10:1-5)

Israel had seen more signs and wonders of God than anyoney. How could so many of them rebel against God? They misjudged the character and heart of God. For them, God had become the cause of all their problems. How do we relate to the Israel in the wilderness?

At times we find ourselves in our own wilderness? When things do not go the way we wanted, we may grow impatient with God. God’s timing is perfect. His plans for us may be better than our plans.

Let us look a little deeper. What might be the first words out of our mouths when, suddenly, an unanticipated attack or offense comes our way?  Do we blame God? We may say “no” but our initial words may have sounded life a “yes.” The enemy wants to make us believe that the evil deeds he is doing is God’s evil.

Reading from Today’s Gospel:

At that very time there were some present who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them–do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”   (Luke 13:1-5)

The question must have grieved Jesus. He responded by going directly to the heart of the matter: repentance. Imagine how God fells when we blame him for all the tragedies in this world. That may far surpass taking God’s name in vain.

The psalmist wrote:

You are good and do good;
    teach me your statutes.   (Psalm 119:68)

Is it loving God’s desire to destroy the ones he has made in his own image for eternal companionship? Do we really think that?

God does allow our faith to be tested:

No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.   ( 1 Corinthians 10:13)

And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.   (1 Peter 5:10)

If we misunderstand God and become angry at him, then it is a good indication that we need emotional healing. We may have been wounded in our souls. God wants to heal us, and he will if we allow him.

There is a limit on how many times one rejects God. Jesus told this parable about a fig tree:

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'”   (Luke 13:6-9)

The fig tree stood for Israel. It also stands for us. Do we wish God’s tender care in order that we may bear fruit?

God wants to heal us and forgive us. Repentance is the key. When we find ourselves hating God and blaming him for every tragedy and atrocity that we see, we need his healing and deliverance from the lies of the enemy. Here is the good news:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.   (John 3:16-17)

This should establish our love relationship with God. He loves us enough to give of his all.

Today, Jesus i9s calling us to his altar:

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.   (Matthew 11:28-29)

He wants to make us whole in him.

See Healing the Soul.

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