Tag Archives: Jerusalem

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 21

Track 1: A Future with Hope

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16
1 Timothy 6:6-19
Luke 16:19-31

The Prophet Jeremiah was experiencing turbulent times:

At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and the prophet Jeremiah was confined in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah, where King Zedekiah of Judah had confined him.   (Jeremiah 32:2-3)

The future did not look bright. Jerusalem would be destroyed and a remnant would be carried off to captivity in Babylon. How could anyone be optimistic about the future of Judah? But  God spoke to Jeremiah:

Jeremiah said, The word of the Lord came to me: Hanamel son of your uncle Shallum is going to come to you and say, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours.” Then my cousin Hanamel came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the Lord, and said to me, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself.” Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord.   (Jeremiah 32:6-8)

Jeremiah went to great length to protect his purchase:

I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy; and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard. In their presence I charged Baruch, saying, Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.   (Jeremiah 32:11-15)

God told Jeremiah that, even though he was seeing destruction all around him, he would have a future. Jerusalem would have a future. God was going to protect Jeremiah through all of it. The psalmist wrote:

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High,
abides under the shadow of the Almighty.

He shall say to the Lord,
“You are my refuge and my stronghold,
my God in whom I put my trust.”

You shall not be afraid of any terror by night,
nor of the arrow that flies by day;

Of the plague that stalks in the darkness,
nor of the sickness that lays waste at mid-day.

Because he is bound to me in love,
therefore will I deliver him;
I will protect him, because he knows my Name.

He shall call upon me, and I will answer him;
I am with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and bring him to honor.

With long life will I satisfy him,
and show him my salvation.   (:1-2,5-6, 14-16)

When we are bound to God in love, He will protect us from all harm. God is our shelter, He is our refuge and stronghold, in whom I put my trust.

Times are difficult now for many of us. But our future is bright when we put our trust in him

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you.   (Jeremiah 29:11-12)

 

 

Track 2: The Rich Man and Lazarus

Amos 6:1a,4-7
Psalm 146
1 Timothy 6:6-19
Luke 16:19-31

God spoke through the Prophet Amos:

Alas for those who are at ease in Zion,
and for those who feel secure on Mount Samaria.

Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory,
and lounge on their couches,

and eat lambs from the flock,
and calves from the stall;

who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp,
and like David improvise on instruments of music;

who drink wine from bowls,
and anoint themselves with the finest oils,
but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!   (Amos 6:1,4-6)

It was not just that certain people were rich. They did not care about the welfare of others, Jesus told a parable to illustrate this point:

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, `Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ But Abraham said, `Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’   (Luke 16:19-26)

The rich man did not care about Lazarus. He did nothing to help him, although he was well aware of this poor man’s condition. The price the rich man paid was very high. He was now in Hades. He called out for some relief from his suffering. No relief was possible. So be began to think of others:

He said, `Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house– for I have five brothers– that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, `They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ He said, `No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, `If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'”   (Luke 16:27-31)

When Jesus rose from the dead, did all Jerusalem repent? No. The minds and hearts of the people had been so warped by false teaching. False piety. Even when there was hope that things could improve for their great benefit, they were stuck in a world that the rulers said was better. They lied and they knew they lied, but they did not want to lose control. The psalmist wrote:

Put not your trust in rulers, nor in any child of earth,
for there is no help in them.

When they breathe their last, they return to earth,
and in that day their thoughts perish.

Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help!
whose hope is in the Lord their God;

Who made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them;
who keeps his promise for ever;

Who gives justice to those who are oppressed,
and food to those who hunger.

The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind;
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;

The Lord loves the righteous;
the Lord cares for the stranger;
he sustains the orphan and widow,
but frustrates the way of the wicked.   (Psalm 146:4-8)

Which of the two worlds do we want to believe in? Which of the two worlds do we want to live in? One is very controlled, but oppressive. We must create our own happiness in some way, even when what we do has little thought about the feelings and needs of others.

The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy:

Those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.   (1 Timothy 6:9-10)

Then there is the other world, a happy one. Again: “Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help, whose hope is in the Lord their God.”

We have a Savior who died, but who rose from the dead and made all things new. Do we believe in this world? Do we want to live in this world? In this world we feel the love of God so strongly that we want to share his love with everyone

Of course, the enemies of Christ want to drag us back into their dark world. One of the primary ways is through financial wealth. Wealth is not necessarily bad. It may come on its own. Paul writes Timothy?

As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.   (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

If we are missing something in our hearts, Go0d will fill them with his love and presence. We do not need to seek anything but him. Nothing else will ever satisfy us except him. All we need to do is turn to him.

When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart.   (Jeremiah 29:13)

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Day of Pentecost

The Gathering of the Spirit

Today we celebrate the Day of Pentecost. The importance of Pentecost cannot be overstated. We observe Pentecost as the birth of the Church. It is certainly that. But it also has to do with birth and rebirth of all humankind.

Let us go back to the beginning. Reading from John’s Gospel:

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.   (John 1:1-4)

Our lives began with the Word of God. God spoke us into being. Jesus Christ was and is the incarnation of this Word:

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him, yet the world did not know himHe came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept himBut 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 1:10-13

We were created in his very image. We were made like him, but many did not recognize him or accept him as one of us. But those who did, received his breath and power to become more like him. Pentecost is about receiving God’s breath and power. The psalmist wrote:

You hide your face, and they are terrified;
you take away their breath,
and they die and return to their dust.

You send forth your Spirit, and they are created;
and so you renew the face of the earth.   (Psalm 104:30-31)

Pentecost is about rebirth. This rebirth comes only by the power of the Holy Spirit. We need that rebirth to restore our fellowship with God. Jesus, the agent of creation, became the agent of recreation. His sacrifice has purified us for rebirth.

But many did not want rebirth. They did not want fellowship with God. They did not want his power. They want fellowship with one another without God. They want to exercise their own power. Babel was a prime example. Reading from Genesis:

Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” The Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. And the Lord said, “Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore it was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.   (Genesis 11:1-9)

Babel was about human power triumphing without any restraint. It was about building a community that excluded God and his purposes. It was a rejection of the power and presence of God. This has been the dream of Satan and the one he wants to sell us.

God stopped the experiment of Babel because he had another vision for us. His vision was God living with us in a community of righteousness, peace, and joy – the Kingdom of God (Romans 14:17). This community could only be formed by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit:

When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.   (Acts 2:1-4)

God calls us to gather in his name. He calls us to anticipate his presence and power. He refines us and prepares as we offer him our prayers and praise. Then he pours out his power and establishes a taste of his Kingdom on the earth. He unifies us and offers us a Holy language, the reverse of Babel.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs– in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”   (Acts 2:5-12)

The witness of the Church began at Pentecost. A powerful community was being built. It attracted people from all corners of the earth. Are we still building upon the outpouring of God’s power. What is our witness today? Do we just celebrate the birth of the Church on the Day of Pentecost? Or do we seek rebirth through the power of the Holy Spirit.

On the Day of Pentecost, Peter preached:

No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
    and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
    and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
    in those days I will pour out my Spirit,
        and they shall prophesy.’   (Acts 2:16-18)

God is still pouring out his Spirit. Peter makes it clear that Pentecost includes us:

Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”   (Acts 2:38-39)

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Fifth Sunday of Easter

A New Commandment

Abraham descendants were God’s chosen people, but they misunderstood the full meaning of their covenant. They added many human traditions to God Commandments, losing sight of how the Commandments were to impact their daily lives and conduct. Something was missing. The human traditions had watered down the Commandments to a set of rules that the religious leadership  would determine how to keep. The scribes and Pharisees imposed all of this on the people, while they, themselves, failed to follow them. Jesus continually pointed out their hypocrisy.

Jesus was the living example of keeping the Commandments of God. In his Sermon on the Mount he 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)

His fulfilling the Law and the Prophets was done on a cruel cross. On the night he was betrayed, Jesus attempted to prepare his disciples of what would follow:

“Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”   (John 13:33-35)

This was the most important instruction that Jesus would give to his disciples before he faced the cross. “New” in the New Testament Greek Kainen (καινὴν) implies freshness, or the opposite of “outworn” rather than simply “recent” or “different.” Jesus had loved them without reservation and without limit. He wanted his disciples to do the same for others. His cross would illustrate the breath and depth of God’s love for us.

The Apostle Peter, as we see in today’s reading from Acts, gained a greater understanding of what Jesus was saying. Peter had gone to the home of Cornelius, who was centurion of the Italian regiment. Cornelius feared God, gave generous offerings to the people, and was a devout man of prayer. God was moved by Cornelius’ devotion. The Holy Spirit directed Peter to the house of Cornelius in an unusual way where a very extraordinary event took place. Peter shared the good new of the Gospel and Cornelius and his whole household believed on the Lord.

This brought repercussions, however. Reading from Acts:

Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?”   (Acts 11:1-3)

Judaism of the day, even in the Early Church, required Gentiles to undergo a man-made conversion ritual of circumcision, baptism, and offering a sacrifice before he could be counted as being ‘saved’. Gentiles were considered unclean and it was unlawful to enter the house of Gentiles and eat with them. This, however, was not God’s law, but Jewish tradition.

In answering the circumcised believers. Peter had to justify what he had done:

Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners, and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord, for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven.  (Acts 11:4-10)

Peter was unsure what the dream meant at first. The dream was not really about Jewish dietary laws. It was saying that God alone is the one who determines who or what is is clean or not. It had to do with how Jewish people looked upon Gentiles.

Peter went to the home of Cornelius. While he was preaching the Gospel, something remarkable happened. We read from Acts:

And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, `John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”  (Acts 11:15-18)

By a sovereign act of God, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Gentiles made it clear that Gentiles were not unclean to him, even if they were not circumcised. This was radical Judaism. But it was not radical to God. This act was just a fresh understanding of God’s love for the Early Church leaders to witness. It reflected what Jesus was saying to his disciples on the night of his betrayal: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another just as I have loved you.”

God’s love must always be new to us. It is doing extraordinary things right before our eyes. In the book of Revelation, the Apostle John heard this promise from God:

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them as their God;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”   (Revelation 21:1-5)

Can we grasp what God is telling us today, or are we stuck in the old, determining what is clean and unclean? God wants to expand our understanding of his love. Our theology and church doctrine can often stand in the way if we are not careful. Let us meditate on the new commandment that Jesus has given us.

The Apostle Paul wrote:

Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.   (Romans 6:4)

Can we love others that way Jesus loves us? We can if we are able to let go of the old and embrace all the new that God is teaching and sharing with us.

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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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