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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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Christ the King

Track 1: The Lord Is Our Righteousness

Jeremiah 23:1-6
Luke 1:68-71
Colossians 1:11-20
Luke 23:33-43

Today we celebrate “Christ the King” Sunday. Jesus is King of King, and Lord of Lords. But his earthly ministry had very humble beginnings. That was necessary. The Hebrew people were not ready for his message.

John the Baptist needed to be the forerunner of Christ, to prepare them to hear the message of the Gospel, and the coming New Covenant. Zechariah prophesied over the infant John:

You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,

To give his people knowledge of salvation
by the forgiveness of their sins.

In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,

To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.   (Luke 1: 76-79)

John was the last of the Old Testament prophets. Although we are reading about him in the New Testament, the New Covenant had not been established at this point. (That would take the cross).

Jeremiah prophesied that this New Covenant was coming:

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”   (Jeremiah 23:5-6)

What was new about this covenant? God would do what humankind was unable to do, fulfill the righteous requirements of the old one. Jesus, the King of Kings, was also the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of this world. Again, Zechariah prophesied

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel;
he has come to his people and set them free.

He has raised up for us a mighty savior,
born of the house of his servant David.

Through his holy prophets he promised of old,

that he would save us from our enemies,
from the hands of all who hate us.

He promised to show mercy to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant.

This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham,
to set us free from the hands of our enemies,

Free to worship him without fear,
holy and righteous in his sight
all the days of our life.   (Luke 1: 68-75)

Do we worship Jesus as King? He is not our King; he is not our Lord, he is not our Savior, unless we honor him as the Lamb. The Apostle wrote:

May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.   (Colossians 1:11-14)

Has Jesus rescued us from the powers of darkness. He has if we have acknowledged our sin and laid it before the cross. We have no righteousness, except by faith in the saving act of Jesus. As prophesied through Jeremiah: The LORD is our righteousness.

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All Saints’ Day

Saints of God

Daniel 7:1-3,15-18
Psalm 149
Ephesians 1:11-23
Luke 6:20-31

Today we celebrate saints, those who have gone before us and who may be considered living saints now. Who is a saint?

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus described people who are blessed by God:

Jesus looked up at his disciples and said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.

“Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.

“Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.

“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.”

“But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.

“Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.

“Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.   (Luke 6:20-25)

It appears that mostly needed people are blessed by God.

Jesus also spoke about those who were warned of judgment to come. 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)

The false prophets of the Old Testament had the kings ear. They were telling him what he wanted to hear, and they were being rewarded. The Pharisees of the New Testament followed right in line. Jesus said of the Pharisees:

for they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God.   (John 12:43)

It has been recently polled that Christianity is the most persecuted of all the world’s expressions of faith in God. How do we fit in? Do we hide in the current day secular culture rather than standing out as a radicle disciple of Christ? We may not fear for our lives, yet, as people do in other countries across the world. But we do have a cross to bear. Jesus said: 

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

How we react to the world today will depend on how much we need for Christ Jesus, How needy are we? The adjectives Jesus used – poor, hungry, weep – describe a people who do not know God. They are spiritual words. This is ho people feel, deep down, when they are missing the unconditional love of Christ Jesus. Jesus tells us he fulfills all our needs when We seek him. But we must seek him.

The things we need to live in this world, God will provide. Jesus said:

Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the gentiles who seek all these things, and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.   (Matthew 6:31-33)

The psalmist wrote:

For the Lord takes pleasure in his people
and adorns the poor with victory.

Let the faithful rejoice in triumph;
let them be joyful on their beds.   (Psalm 149:4-5)

So how do we qualify ourselves to be saints. We cannot. It is God who qualifies us. The Apostle wrote:

In Christ we also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:11-14)

Jesus qualifies us. Have we come to the cross?

I remember my first ministry assignment after I was ordained. I visited a hospice where some of our parishioners were dying. Thee I met an elderly Roman Catholic priest. He had been a priest of his church all his adult life. Since I was just starting an ordained ministry, I asked him what wisdom he could provide me to help me in the ministry. He said to me this prayer:

Lord, be merciful unto me, a sinner.

God promises us his blessings when are poor in spirit, when we hungry and thirsty for him.

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and all that is within me,
    bless his holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and do not forget all his benefits—
who forgives all your iniquity,
    who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the Pit,
    who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good as long as you live[a]
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.   (Psalm 103:1-5)

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Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 16

Track 1: Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 71:1-6
Hebrews 12:18-29
Luke 13:10-17

Let us begin with the Old Testament reading:

The word of the Lord came to me saying,

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But the Lord said to me,

“Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you,
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,

says the Lord.”   (Jeremiah 1:4-8)

God watches over our lives from a very early age, beginning in our mother’s womb. King David understood this when he composed this psalm:

Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked,
from the clutches of the evildoer and the oppressor.

For you are my hope, O Lord God,
my confidence since I was young.

I have been sustained by you ever since I was born;
from my mother’s womb you have been my strength;
my praise shall be always of you.   (Psalm 71:5-6)

How much does God have to do with our birthing? The psalmist wrote:

For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.   (Psalm 139:13-16)

Let us examine the call by God on the Prophet Isaiah. When did that call begin?

Listen to me, O coastlands,
    pay attention, you peoples from far away!
The Lord called me before I was born,
    while I was in my mother’s womb he named me.
He made my mouth like a sharp sword,
    in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me a polished arrow,
    in his quiver he hid me away.
And he said to me, “You are my servant,
    Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”
But I said, “I have labored in vain,
    I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity;
yet surely my cause is with the Lord,
    and my reward with my God.”

And now the Lord says,
who formed me in the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him,
and that Israel might be gathered to him,
for I am honored in the sight of the Lord,
and my God has become my strength—
he says,
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to restore the survivors of Israel;
I will give you as a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”   (Isaiah 49:1-6)

Where would we be without the great prophets Jeremiah and Isaiah? How many prophets have we aborted in the womb?

The Church should be the moral compass. Are we not speaking out that abortions are wrong? But what if the life of the mother is at risk? How often does that occur? Enough to justify the killing of millions of babies? Is not abortion, for the majority, just a convenient form of brith control? And murder of children?

The Church is always under pressure not to tell the truth, or not to do the right thing. This is not new. Jesus was under that pressure:

Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.   (Luke 13:10-17)

The religious rulers were trying to place shame on Jesus. When Jesus did and spoke the truth, the shame fell back on his opponents.

Religious leaders do not always have the right motives. Let us recall what the Apostle Paul was facing:

Some proclaim Christ from envy and rivalry but others from goodwill.   (Philippians 1:15)

What are our motives today in the Church? Is it about membership numbers? Or my doctrine is more right than hour doctrine? If we preach and teach and act from a heart that loves God, then we will keep his commandments. Just before his ascension Jesus gave the great commandment to his disciples:

Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.   (Mark 16:15)

We are his disciples today. Let us speak up. Let us speak out. And let us tell the truth in love. The are called to change the world. The world should not be changing us.

 

 

Track 2: From Bondage to Freedom

Isaiah 58:9b-14
Psalm 103:1-8
Hebrews 12:18-29
Luke 13:10-17

In today’s Gospel reading we have this wonderful healing of the crippled woman:

Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.”   (Luke 13:10-14)

Jesus answered him:

“You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.   (Luke 13:15-17)

Satan’s desire and plan is to put many people as possible into bondage. He wants to keep us from experiencing the healing, freedom, and love which God extends to everyone who blesses his Holy Name. Jesus came to defeat the works of the Devil.

How do we respond to such a healing and deliverance? Do we believe Jesus is still miraculously healing people today? Or are rules, regulations, and doctrine standing in the way?

The psalmist wrote:

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me, bless his holy Name.

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits.

He forgives all your sins
and heals all your infirmities;

He redeems your life from the grave
and crowns you with mercy and loving-kindness;

He satisfies you with good things,
and your youth is renewed like an eagle’s.   (Psalm 103:1-5)

Why would anyone want to keep people in bondage? God warned Israel through the Prophet Isaiah:

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,

if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,

then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.   (Isaiah 58:9-?)

God is telling those in authority: quit the speaking of evil against people, quit pointing the finger at others, quit placing a yoke around the necks of people to hold them back. He is saying: If you think you are righteous, start doing righteous acts.

Jesus called out the scribes and Pharisees:

They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others, but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.   (Matthew 23:2-4)

The heavy burdens, alone, would be punishment enough. Except, it gets worse. Jesus, declared:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in you stop them. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.   (Matthew 23:13-15)

Are we bound in the our church today? Are we locking people out of the kingdom of God by laying religious burdens on them? The Apostle Paul wrote::

If with Christ you died to the elemental principles of the world, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations, “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings. These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence.   (Colossians 2:20-23)

These burdens have a way of creeping into our churches. This was happening at the Church in Galatia. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Church:

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.   (Galatians 5:1)

False teachers had entered this church, saying that faith in Jesus’ Crucifixion and Resurrection was not enough for salvation. Unbelief of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the cause for any bondage. People want to step in and make u the difference that they believe is lacking in the Gospel.

What is the solution? What is the correction? Paul clarifies:

We have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by the faith of Christ and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law. But if, in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! But if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 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 the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.   (Galatians 2:16-21)

We need Jesus. We need his sacrifice o the cross. We need his teaching. We need his Word. Jesus said:

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

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