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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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Nativity of St. John the Baptist

The Path of Peace

When John the Baptist was eight days old he was brought to the temple to be circumcised as was the Jewish custom. His father the priest then prophesied over him:

And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.” (Luke 1:75-79)
The path of peace theme is also echoed in the prophecy of Isaiah:

Comfort, O comfort my people,
    says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
    and cry to her
that she has served her term,
    that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
    double for all her sins.   (Isaiah 40:1-2)

There is only one way to peace and Jesus is that way. He is the Prince of Peace. Today, we are hearing about another peace. It is said that a peace will be provided by a new world order and a one world government and a one world religion. How much should we trust this peace? Paul writes to the Church in Thessalonica:

For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief.   (1 Thessalonians 5:2-4)

When John grew into his ministry he preached that we must repent of our sins and seek the real Messiah. John prepared the way for Him. Jesus has prepared the way for us to approach God the Father.

Thomas, the disciple of Jesus was confused about the identity of Jesus:

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.   (John 14:5-6)

There are no alternative ways of peace? John the Baptist’s message was very simple. Repent and seek Jesus. His whole ministry was to point us to Jesus. Nonetheless, in the world today there are many distracting voices. These distractions lead to dead ends, literally. Jesus said:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.   (John 14:27)

The world promises peace but delivers persecution. Again Jesus said:

I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”   (John 16:33)

Peace will only come to the world during the millennial reign of Jesus. The message of John the Baptist was quite simple. He was not the Messiah. Jesus is the Messiah and true path of peace. All we need to do is repent and believe.

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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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Saint Mark, Evangelist

saint-mark-1621Repent and Believe

The evangelist Mark was a traveling companion of Peter. He recorded Peter’s sermons and stories found in the Gospel of Mark. It is clear that Mark’s Gospel was written by a masterful storyteller. Though short, this Gospel has great impact and clarity. In the opening of his Gospel he gets right to the point:

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”  (Mark 1:9-15)

Notice that Mark’s Gospel is an action Gospel. It moves quickly and it asks us to move along with it.

Mark was an evangelist who got right to the point. The Apostle Paul gives us a perspective on the importance of evangelism when he lists God’s gifts to the Church:

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some 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.   (Ephesians 4:11-13)

The evangelist follows the apostles and prophets in importance. Often times they are thought of as shallow or not very sophisticated. For Mark, the Gospel was simple: Repent and believe. That was the message of John the Baptist. That was the message of Jesus on the earth. It is the starting point for every Christian and should be the essential message of the Church. Too many of today’s “seeker” churches have forgotten the repentance part of the message.

Mark was willing to risk everything for the sake of telling the Gospel message. Ultimately, he paid the price with his life. What are we willing to risk today? Jesus told His disciples:

“Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”  (Mark 16:15-20)

Are we prepared to join Mark? What will the Lord say about our feet?

How beautiful upon the mountains
    are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
    who announces salvation,
    who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices,
    together they sing for joy;
for in plain sight they see
    the return of the Lord to Zion.
Break forth together into singing,
    you ruins of Jerusalem;
for the Lord has comforted his people,
    he has redeemed Jerusalem.
The Lord has bared his holy arm
    before the eyes of all the nations;
and all the ends of the earth shall see
    the salvation of our God.   (Isaiah 52:7-10)

We are living in the last days. Evangelism is of paramount importance. There is little time for frills. At the very least we can earnestly pray for the rescue of all lost souls. The rescue of souls was Mark’s ministry because it is the ministry of Jesus, then and now.

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