Tag Archives: Sin

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Walk Humbly with Your God

Micah prophesied that a day was coming when we would walk with God:

In days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s temple
shall be established as the highest of the mountains
and shall be raised up above the hills.
Peoples shall stream to it,
and many nations shall come and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”   (Micah 4:1-2)

God has called all of us to walk with him. God wants our companionship. He wants our friendship. From Micah we read:

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?   (Micah 6:8)

There was a time when a walk with God was standard for each day.  We read in Genesis:

They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

Adam and Eve rebelled against God. Yet God still wanted to walk with them. However, Adam and Eve now found their sin would be exposed to God and they hid from him. (We can hide, but God sees everything at all times. Nothing escapes his vision.) Because of their sin, Adam and Eve bore great shame. They did not feel worthy to stand in God’s presence.

The psalmist asked:

Lord, who may dwell in your tabernacle?
who may abide upon your holy hill?

Whoever leads a blameless life and does what is right,
who speaks the truth from his heart.    (Psalm 15:1-2)

To walk with a holy God we must be holy. How does one do that? Are we able to make ourselves holy? Are we able to cleanse ourselves from all our unrighteousness? No! But there is good news. God can do it. We read in 1 John:

 If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.   (1 John 1:9)

Adam and Eve did not have the benefit of the cross. We can approach God because of the atoning sacrifice of his Son Jesus. In Hebrews we read:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested[a] as we are, yet without sin. 1Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.   (Hebrews 4:15-16)

If we have access to God, are we walking with God? Walking with God is more than believing in God. It has to do with our seeking God. We read in Hebrews:

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would approach God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.   (Hebrews 11:6)

Do we seek God daily? Do we seek him with all our hearts? Do we desire to be with him more than anything in this life?

You will seek the Lord your God, and you will find him if you search after him with all your heart and soul.   (Deuteronomy 4:29)

Do we seek God daily? Do we seek him with all our hearts? Do we desire to be with him more than anything in this life? Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount:

Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.    (Matthew 6:33)

Jesus also said in the same sermon::

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.   (Matthew 5:3)

How could people who are poor be rich? They are the people who know that they need God every moment of their lives.

The Apostle Paul wrote:

Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”   (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)

If we boast that we walk with the Lord then we are not walking with him. Micah again reminds us:

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?   (Micah 6:8)

Walking with God is being in a friendship with God. Being in fellowship with God is obeying God. Jesus prayed for his disciples:

Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words, and the word that you hear is not mine but is from the Father who sent me.   (John 14:23-24)

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.   (John 15:12-14)

Have we laid ourselves down? That is the only way we can keep God’s commandments. We cannot do it on our own. The New Covenant with God in Christ is a covenant only God can fulfill. Striving is no longer required. What God asks us to do is what God empowers us to do.

The Apostle Paul asked God to remove a weakness he found in himself. God answered:

but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.   (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

Shall we walk with the Lord? Shall we abide in his presence? To “abide” is to live, continue, or remain; so, to abide in Christ is to live in Him or remain in Him.

Now by this we know that we have come to know him, if we obey his commandments. Whoever says, “I have come to know him,” but does not obey his commandments is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist; but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. By this we know that we are in him: whoever says, “I abide in him,” ought to walk in the same way as he walked.   (1 John 2:3-6)

Let us walk the way Jesus walked with the Father. He was never out of touch with God.

2 Comments

Filed under Epiphany, homily, Jesus, lectionary, liturgical preaching, liturgy, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon development, Year A

Fourth Sunday of Advent

O Come O Come Emmanuel

Last Sunday we mentioned the Holy Way, In this, the fourth and last Sunday of Advent, we will delve more into what is meant by the Holy Way. We could not have a better illustration of what it doesn’t mean than King Ahaz of Judah. Reading from Isaiah:

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.”   (Isaiah 7:10-16)

Ahaz was the twelfth king of Judah. Immediately upon his accession, he had to meet a coalition formed by northern Israel, under Pekah, and Damascus (Syria), under Rezin. These two kings are the ones that Isaiah said Ahaz was in dread. They wished to compel him to join them in opposing the Assyrians, who were arming a force against the Northern Kingdom.

Speaking through Isaiah, God told had Ahaz that the two kings were plotting against him, but that said he would protect Ahaz if he stood strong in faith. God knew that Ahaz’s faith was weak, so he offered him a sign. Ahaz waved him off.

Why did Ahaz do that? I don’t really know, but I do know why I have done that in the past. I wanted to do something on my own. I wanted to get credit for solving the problem. I wanted to keep things under my control because I was not sure God would do what I wanted. How about you?

Through Assyria’s intervention, and as a result of its invasion and subjection of the kingdom of Damascus and the Kingdom of Israel, Ahaz was relieved of his troublesome neighbors; but he felt beholden to Assyria. He brought into the temple of Jerusalem the worship of the foreign god Moloch. This so called “god” of Assyria required the sacrifice of Ahaz’s son by fire. Fortunately, God protected his son.

Though Ahaz refused him, God did give Ahaz a sign. His sign moved well beyond Ahaz. The Gospel of Matthew lists Ahaz of Judah in the genealogy of Jesus. The sign of the virgin’s birth was revealed to Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus. Reading from today’s Gospel:

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”

which means, “God is with us.”   (Matthew 1:18-23)

Joseph, unlike Ahaz, responded to God’s message with great faith:

When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife but had no marital relations with her until she had given birth to a son, and he named him Jesus.   (Matthew 1:24-26)

God was going to do something that had never been done before and that no human being could ever do. All he asked Joseph to do was simply believe and accept the prophecy.

This is how God works. He will call us to do things that we cannot do, but we must believe that he can. Often times, to help our belief, he will give us a sign. This happened to the Apostle Paul in a rather drastic way. As you remember, Paul was on the road to Damascus to arrest Christian believers. Jesus struck him down with blindness while Paul was enroute. In this case, the sign of blindness left Paul little room to ignore. He was captured for ministry to the Gentiles. Paul had to accept a total revamping of his theology and undergo years of training.

Is God calling us for ministry? This is what Paul wrote to the Church at Rome:

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,   (Romans 1:1-6)

Paul is writing about the power according to the spirit of holiness. This is the Holy Way of the New Covenant. God offers the New Covenant relationship with everyone who will believe in the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. He asks us to believe and Jesus asks us to join him along the path of the Holy Way. Jesus is on that path. He is that path. The path leads to righteousness, peace, and joy. We simply have to embrace what he has destined for us.

We are asked to go on an exciting journey to which nothing in this world can compare. We are not being asked to gain credit for salvation. Salvation is a gift. The Holy Way is an extension of salvation. It is the promise of salvation. It is the path of salvation. Yes, it is a test for some of us. Do we love the things of this world more than the gifts of God?

Do we want to control our own destiny? Apparently, Ahaz did. His plans lead him away from God. He set up idols and images of foreign gods and committed abominations by worshipping these gods (2 Chron. 28:2-3). He even worshipped the god Molech by offering his children. In Leviticus 20:1-5, God pronounced the death sentence against all who worshipped this god.

Ahaz died at the age of 36 and was succeeded by his son, Hezekiah. Because of his wickedness he was “not brought into the sepulchre of the kings” (2 Chronicles 28:27)

God’s ways are higher than our ways and his thoughts are greater than our thoughts. The path he gives us is an everlasting path, one that leads to eternal life in the new heavens and new earth. The Season of Advent reminds us that our hearts are being prepared for the coming of the Christ Child. We are also being prepared for the second coming of Jesus, when God moves his heaven to earth. We do not want to miss that.

If our faith is weak, then God will give us a sign. Are we willing to ask him for one?

Leave a comment

Filed under Advent, homily, Jesus, lectionary, liturgical preaching, liturgy, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon development, Virgin Mary, Year A

Ash Wednesday

Remember That You Are Dust

Ash Wednesday is traditionally a day of fasting and repentance. In many liturgical churches ashes are placed on the foreheads of each participant. Ashes were a sign of penitence in the Ancient Near East, particularly in Judaism.

Recall this example from the Old Testament. Jonah preached to Nineveh that God was going to destroy the city and the people listened:

So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water: But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.  (Jonah 3:5-8)

Notice that the King of Nineveh decreed that the people must turn from evil. God is never impressed with meaningless rituals.

Jesus said, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.   (Matthew 6:1)

As a campus minister I remember a particular Ash Wednesday service when a school official who wanted to know at what precise time I would be doing the “imposition of ashes” (making the customary sign of the cross in ashes on a person’s forehead). She did not want to sit through the scripture readings, homily, or prayers. The mere sign of the cross on her forehead would prove that she had done her religious duty.

Let us consider these instructive words of Jesus?

And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:16-18)

We cannot impress God with our rituals or our piety. Why should we try to impress others who must also stand before His throne, as we are required? God is calling us to a holy fast – one in which we come before Him in true repentance.

Yet even now, says the Lord,
return to me with all your heart,

with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
rend your hearts and not your clothing.

Return to the Lord, your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,

slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
and relents from punishing.  (Joel 2:12-13)

The Ash Wednesday service serves as a reminder of who we are and whose we are. Man was created out of dust by the hand of God. Our lives are sustained by His very breath. One day His breath will be taken away and we will have to give an accounting to Him of how we lived our lives.

Ash Wednesday is a check to the triumphant Christians who have arrived and no longer need to acknowledge their sins before God. It questions the “once saved, always saved” mentality.

Ash Wednesday, meaningless ritual? It might be for some. The act of fasting and repentance was not meaningless to the King of Nineveh. Jesus did not say that we should not fast and repent. He said that we should not make a show of it. If we do, we may receive approval by some, but not by God. God looks at the heart.

What is the fasting part? That can be done in many ways. Some may have trouble giving up eating food do to a medical condition. The fasting is taking our minds off the world and its comforts so that we might focus on God, seeking his comfort and presence in our lives. Setting aside time for extended prayer and meditation upon God’s Word. This, too, is fasting. It may be difficult to find time to do. Our flesh or carnal nature never wants us to do it. It continually makes demands on us. The Apostle Paul wrote:

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.   (Romans 7:15-20)

Can we imagine the Apostle Paul having such a struggle? It is a common struggle that we al face. Paul goes on to write:

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)

If we deny the flesh for a season, we will discover a new victory in Christ. Jesus will do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Soon, we will discover the joys of fasting. The Lord Jesus is so much more exciting and refreshing than anything in the flesh.

What about the repentance? If we say that we do not need any formal type of confession because our sins are washed in the blood of Jesus, we may be missing the point of confession. From the First Epistle of John:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.   (1 John 1:8-9)

If we say that we have given our heart to Jesus and yet deliberately sin, how should our God judge our act of contrition? The Book of Hebrews has the answer:

For if we willfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.   (Hebrews 10:26-27)

Ash Wednesday offers us an opportunity for fasting and repentance. Perhaps we should take it?

SaveSave

Leave a comment

Filed under Ash Wednesday, Holy Day, homily, Jesus, lectionary, Lent, liturgical preaching, liturgy, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon development, Year B