Tag Archives: repentance

Second Sunday of Advent

The Root of Jesse

Judah was in darkness. They had not heard from a prophet of God for four hundred years. They were no longer in control of their own government, having been conquered by Rome. Although Rome allowed them to have some freedom in practicing Judaism, they were heavily taxed by Rome. The Jewish people had little hope for the future.

The question is: Was there any hope for things to get better? Without hope, despair can take over. This is especially true for those who feel cutoff from God. The devout Jews knew that they were cutoff from God, because Judah had not kept the Mosaic Convent. They had not properly observed the Commandments of God, Although the Jewish religious leaders went through the motions to demonstrate that Judaism was still surviving, the devout Jews knew it was essentially dead.

Suddenly, things changed for Judah. Malachi, the last Old Testament prophet wrote:

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?   (Malachi 3:1-2)

This prophecy referred tp John the Baptist. He would be the messenger of the New Covenant. His ministry was to prepare the people for the coming of their Messiah. But, as foretold in Malachi, not everyone was able to “endure the day of his coming.”

Reading from Today’s Gospel:

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.’”   (Matthew 3:1-3)

John preached a baptism of repentance. His ministry was to prepare the people to receive their Messiah. Reading from today’s Gospel:

Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.   (Matthew 3:4-10)

Many of the religious leaders were not able to receive John’s message. They thought of themselves as children of Abraham by birth. How many of us today see our Christianity as a birthright?

In today’s prophecy from Isaiah, we read about a tree that was cut down, but still was able to produce fruit. This tree was Judah. They had rebelled against God and he had struck them down. Nonetheless, God, in his mercy, would  restore it. It would require the birth of the Messiah and the establishment of new covenant. Reading from Isaiah:

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.

The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.   (Isaiah 11:1-2)

Only the Messiah would give the people hope. Devout Jews longed for their Messiah. They looked for a signal from God. The sign was the root of Jesse

On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.   (Isaiah 11:10)

Jesus is the root of Jesse. He was born in the ancestry of King David, Jesse being his father.

Today, many of us may need a sign from God. Do we need a “root of Jesse?” Perhaps we may feel abandoned by God. Many of us may feel this way about our nation, or even our church.

The stump figuratively represents this feeling. But out of the stump grows a small root. It may not be noticed at first. But God is not trough with us. He is not trough with our nation.

The Apostle Paul wrote:

and again Isaiah says,

“The root of Jesse shall come,
    the one who rises to rule the gentiles;
in him the gentiles shall hope.”

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.   (Romans 15:12-13)

Now is not the time to lose hope. Is our focus on circumstances or on Jesus. The circumstances may be difficult, but Jesus is greater than them. Jesus said:

In the world you face persecution, but take courage: I have conquered the world!   (John 16:33)

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Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 26

Track 1: Faith Patience Perseverance

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

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

The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw.

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

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

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

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

So the law becomes slack
and justice never prevails.

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

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

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

I will stand at my watchpost,
and station myself on the rampart;

I will keep watch to see what he will say to me,
and what he will answer concerning my complaint.

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

Then the Lord answered me and said:

Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so that a runner may read it.

For there is still a vision for the appointed time;
it speaks of the end, and does not lie.

If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
it will surely come, it will not delay   (Habakkuk 2:2-4)

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

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

The psalmist wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Track 2: A Descendent of Abraham

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Holy Cross Day

Day of Judgment

The Prophet Isaiah forecast a time when God would hold a court to judge humankind for sin. God was speaking to the nation of Israel, but Israel was a proxy for all the nations of the world:

Declare and present your case;
let them take counsel together!

Who told this long ago?
Who declared it of old?

Was it not I, the Lord?
There is no other god besides me,

a righteous God and a Saviour;
there is no one besides me.   (Isaiah 45:21)

We are asked by God to present our case to him. God is also saying that he is qualified to judge our case because he is creator and has established all life. There is no other god besides him. Furthermore, his very nature and character qualifies him. He will be fair because he is not only a righteous God, but he is also our Savior.

A righteous God must be fair, but he must also be just. He must declare the injustice caused by sin. Sin cannot be ignored or swept under the rug. How is God able to accomplish this most difficult task, that of being both compassionate and just?

Before his verdict of guilty and penalty of death, God provided a path of escape. He did so through his Son Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul reminds us of the cruel crucifixion of Jesus by his own choice and desire:

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.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,

so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.   (Philippians 2:5-11)

In today’s Gospel reading we see a link between the judgement of God and a route of escape:

Jesus said, “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.   (John 12:31-33)

On the cross the sins of the whole world were judged. Jesus bore our sins for us while hanging from a cross and receiving the Father’s judgement. The righteous One  became sin.  The judgement of sin was once and for all, for all who believe. The Apostle Paul’ wrote:

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”   (Romans 6:23)

Have we allowed God to judge our sins through his Son Jesus? If so, we must acknowledge it. We must turn towards Jesus. We must see him on the cross standing in for us.

God spoke through the Prophet Isaiah:

Turn to me and be saved,
all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.

By myself I have sworn,
from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness
a word that shall not return:

“To me every knee shall bow,
every tongue shall swear.”

Only in the Lord, it shall be said of me,
are righteousness and strength;

all who were incensed against him
shall come to him and be ashamed.

In the Lord all the offspring of Israel
shall triumph and glory.   (Isaiah 45:22-25)

Do we want triumph and glory? The only judgement of God that is left is the judgement of fallen angels. That judgement is not meant for us. Do we ignore such a great gift of salvation established on a Holy Cross? If Jesus humbled himself, why can we not humble ourselves? In Hebrews we read:

Therefore we must pay greater attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. For if the message declared through angels was valid, and every transgression or disobedience received a just penalty, how can we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? It was declared at first through the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard him, while God added his testimony by signs and wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, distributed according to his will..   (Hebrews 2:1-4)

The cross was very cruel instrument of torture and death. How can it be holy? We say that it is holy only because it can make us holy. We have been washed in the blood of Jesus. Thanks be to God.

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Independence Day

John Trumbull's painting, Declaration of Independence, depicting the five-man drafting committee of the Declaration of Independence presenting their work to the Congress.

A More Perfect Union

On our Independence Day, as we celebrate our great heritage as a nation, let us compare our nation with another great nation. In biblical times, this nation was given a great promise and covenant from God. This is the nation of Israel. Today, both of these nations are in a great struggle.

The founding fathers of these two nations had at least one thing in common, they trusted in and relied upon God for their formation and mission. One nation was to be a great missionary nation. The other was commissioned by God to be a holy nation and royal priesthood.

Let us look at America first. The delegates, who signed the Declaration of Independence, took on great personal risk. They were fighting for what they thought was a higher cause, greater than any personal gain they might achieve. As written in the Declaration, they affirmed:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

As part of this Declaration, they made a pledge:

we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

They did so, realizing the danger this pledge might bring to them personally. Nevertheless, they did not look back. They fully gave themselves to the cause.

The cost was steep. Five signers of the Declaration were captured by the British as traitors and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons serving in the Revolutionary Army, another had two sons captured. Nine of them fought and died from wounds or hardships from the war.

Perhaps, without realizing it, they were following the example of Abraham and his descendants. Abraham entered into a covenant with God. When he did so he entered into unknown territory. The Book of Hebrews tells us:

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.   (Hebrews 11:8-10)

Abraham did not look back. He endured hardship, not only for the promise which God had made to him personally,.but for the benefit of all the generations who would follow him. Those who followed endured great hardships as well. From Hebrews we read:

All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.   (Hebrews 11:13-16)

The hardships were for a reason. God had chosen Israel for a divine purpose. At Mount Sinai, God spoke to Moses concerning their mission: 

‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.”   (Exodus 19:4-6)

Over the years, God had been shaping Israel. It has not yet become a holy nation or a royal priesthood.  Nonetheless, what is impossible for humankind is possible with God. Nonetheless, we are indebted to Israel for our faith which leads to salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.

After the terrible battle of Gettysburg, which cost so many lives, Abraham Lincoln spoke these words in his famous address:

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

We have not fulfilled these words. Despite our efforts, we have fallen short of the dream that our forefathers had for America. We are not yet that one nation under God, which provides freedom and liberty to all its citizens. Nor or we the great missionary nation which God has called us to be. This does not mean that we should stop striving. Without God the dream would not even be possible.

Our nation is now under attack, both from without and from within. There are people and forces who wish to destroy America as we know it in order to build their Utopia. While they strive to tear down our institutions, erase our history, and work to destroy the family, they tell us to put our trust in them. They will save us, promising peace without the Prince of Peace. The Apostle Paul write:

When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape!   (1 Thessalonians 5:23)

In today’s Old Testament lesson we read:

You shall fear the Lord your God; him alone you shall worship; to him you shall hold fast, and by his name you shall swear. He is your praise; he is your God, who has done for you these great and awesome things that your own eyes have seen.   (Deuteronomy 10:20-21)

Moses was reminding the people of the true architect of the nation of Israel. Perhaps we need the same reminder?

God is calling us to perfection, but we must be willing to follow him. He is our perfection. In today’s Gospel Jesus speaks about perfection:

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”   (Matthew 5:43-48)

How will we ever achieve this perfection? We certainly cannot do it on our own. We need divine help. The hope for perfection is fulfilled by faith in Jesus Christ alone. It will take the Millennial Reign of Jesus on the Earth before that perfection fully comes.

Israel will one day be a holy nation. Since we are the ingrafted branches, the American dream and experiment will also be consummated as Christians believers the world over join the new Jerusalem. In the meantime, we must press on. God is for us and with us. He has extended his grace once more for the purpose of a last great harvest to usher in lost souls.

Let us follow the example of thr faithful ones who have gone before. Let us not despair. Others have made great sacrifices. Now is our time for sacrifice. Now is our time to come under the rule of God.

Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
The people He has chosen as His own inheritance.   (Psalm 33:12)

Only with God can we become a more perfect union.

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