Tag Archives: salvation

Conversion of Saint Paul

the-conversion-of-saint-paul-bartolome-esteban-murilloFrom Darkness to Light

Saul was on the road to Damascus to arrest Christian believers. While en route he experienced one of the most dramatic conversions recorded in the Bible. In his own words:

“I was traveling to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, when at midday along the road, your Excellency, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and my companions. When we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, `Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.’ I asked, `Who are you, Lord?’ The Lord answered, `I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But get up and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and testify to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you. I will rescue you from your people and from the Gentiles– to whom I am sending you to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ ”  (Acts 26:12-18)

Well, that was Saul. He was persecuting Christians. Do we have any zealous people in the Church today who are crushing their fellow parishioners? Well, that is another story.

What about those who have grown up in the Church? Do they need a conversion experience? We need to understand that the Apostle Paul did grow up in the Church. He grew up in Judaism which was the only church in his day. The rest of the world was pagan. He was living by the rules. He was educated in the best rabbinic tradition. Here is how he described himself:

Circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.  (Philippians 3:5-6)

I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.  (Galatians 1:14)

We understand, of course, that this was the way Saul described himself before his conversion. How did he express himself after his conversion?

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.  (Romans 7:15-19)

Paul goes on to say:

Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!   (Romans 7:24-25)

Conversion opened Saul’s eyes to reality. His religion had failed him. He needed more than religion. His Lord Jesus Christ did not fail him:

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.  (Philippians 3:7-11)

Saul became the great Apostle Paul who wrote two-thirds of the New Testament. Does his testimony speak to us today? What is our testimony? Are we merely rules enforcers or are we ambassadors for Christ? The lost in this world are counting on us to witness the love and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul was a rules enforcer who grew to understand God’s mercy and loving-kindness. He prayed for the Church in Ephesus:

I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.   (Ephesians 3:16-19)

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Christmas Day: Selection III

The Word Made Flesh

The Gospel of John does not have an Infancy narrative as do the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Rather, John speaks of a time before the birth of the Christ Child. He writes of the One who pre-existed the world and was the very agent of all creation:

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. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.   (John 1:1-5)

The reading from Hebrews echoes this same theme:

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.  (Hebrews 1:1-4)

Do we know Jesus beyond the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes? Many of His own Jewish people did not comprehend who he was:

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.  (John 1:10-11)

The remarkable thing is that the creator God entered the world of His own creation on our behalf. In Jesus, God made himself vulnerable to humankind in order to reveal his true nature and heart. Those who believe in him are given that same nature and heart:

But 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 1:12-13)

As children of God we are empowered to live as Jesus lived on this earth. We cannot do it on our own. The good news is that Jesus remains with us:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.  (John 1:14)

As prophesied by Isaiah, God has revealed his gift of salvation to the whole world:

The Lord has made bare His holy arm
In the eyes of all the nations;
And all the ends of the earth shall see
The salvation of our God.   (Isaiah 52:10)

God made himself visible that all the world might see his glory. However, we are now living in an ever darkening world. It has become incorrect to celebrate the birth of Christ. We are not to pray in our schools. We are told not to give a testimony. Jesus must be folded into other religions in order to be acceptable. Why is that?

The world wants us to hide the glory of God and his plan for salvation. That is because they are hiding from God. They know he sees their sin, but they do not want to admit their sin. Are we to hide from God as well?

Now is the time for what may be the greatest missionary work of all. Are we up to the task? We are not alone in carrying out this mission. God is Emmanuel. In the Incarnation, God took on our flesh. He is with us in our struggles. God became flesh for us so that we might become part of his Spirit. Let us join him in newness of life. The Apostle wrote:

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

And let us proclaim the greatest message of all. Let us celebrate the Incarnation of God. God joined us and he is among us. He is on our side and our salvation is secure in him. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our LORD JESUS CHRIST.

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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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Resurrection Sunday: Principal Easter Service

A New Heaven and a New Earth

From the Gospel of John we have this wonderful account of the first witness to the resurrection of Jesus:

Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, `I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.   (John 20:11-18)

It was fitting that Mary Magdalene, whom Jesus had cast out seven demons, was the first witness to the resurrected. (Luke 8:2). Jesus said:

But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”   (Matthew 9:13)

Mary was faithful to Jesus when many of his disciples deserted him. She had come to his tomb early in the first day of the week. She was not prepared for what she saw. She had a close relationship with Jesus. But he had changed. She did not recognize Jesus at first. When he spoke to her she wanted to reach out to him. Jesus, then said a curious thing: “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father.”

What did this mean? Something remarkable happened to change the whole world. Jesus had risen from the dead. He was not the same as before. He had a glorified body. And his mission had changed. He needed to ascend to the Father before he could meet again with his disciples.  Even his disciples would not be able to hold on to the Jesus they knew.

Jesus had changed. The whole world was about to change. God spoke through the Prophet Isaiah:

For I am about to create new heavens
    and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
    or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
    in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
    and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
    and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
    or the cry of distress.
No more shall there be in it
    an infant that lives but a few days,
    or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
    and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.   (Isaiah 65:17-20)

This surely does not sound like the world we live in now. We will never live in any utopia in this current world. God is preparing a new world, a new earth, a new heaven. We are destined to be a part of it. But we must choose to enter.

The psalmist wrote:

Open for me the gates of righteousness;
I will enter them;
I will offer thanks to the Lord.

“This is the gate of the Lord;
he who is righteous may enter.”

I will give thanks to you, for you answered me
and have become my salvation.

The same stone which the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone.

This is the Lord‘s doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes.

On this day the Lord has acted;
we will rejoice and be glad in it.   (Psalm 118:19-24)

On the day of the resurrection Jesus opened the gates of righteousness. The righteous may enter but they must enter through the gate that God has provided.

Jesus said:

 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.   (John 10:9)

Our salvation comes through faith in the saving power of the cross. The Apostle Peter preached:

 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”   (Acts 10:39-43)

The message of the resurrection of is that the lives of all who believe have been changed. Not only that, but a whole new world awaits us, the Millennial Reign of the Lord Jesus Christ. We must no longer live as though we are a part of this world. This world is passing away. The Apostle John wrote in his Epistle:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever.   (1 John 2:15-17)

Today, like Mary Magdalene. Jesus is calling each of us by name. He is telling us not to hold on to the past. This world is passing away. Walk through the gate that leads to a whole new world.

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