Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost: Proper26

Track 1: Your God Shall Be My God

Ruth 1:1-18
Psalm 146
Hebrews 9:11-14
Mark 12:28-34

Elimelech, his wife Naomi, an Israelite family from Bethlehem – and their sons Mahlon and Chilion – emigrated to the nearby country of Moab to escape a famine in Judah.  Elimelech died, and the sons married two Moabite women: Mahlon married Ruth and Chilion married Orpah.

After about ten years, the two sons of Naomi also died in Moab. Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem. She told her daughters-in-law to return to their own mothers and remarry/ Reading from Ruth:

“See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.”   (Ruth 1:15)

Orpah reluctantly left. However, Ruth said,

“Do not press me to leave you
or to turn back from following you!

Where you go, I will go;
Where you lodge, I will lodge;

your people shall be my people,
and your God my God.

Where you die, I will die—
there will I be buried.

May the Lord do thus and so to me,
and more as well,

if even death parts me from you!”   (Ruth 1:16-17)

Clearly, Ruth loved Naomi. She saw something in Naomi that she did not have. The Moabites had a culture of sacrificing their children to false gods. They  practiced incantations and curses. Ruth did not know the God of Naomi, but she was willing to seek him.

In today’s Gospel, a scribe saw something in Jesus that attracted him. He had seen the way Jesus had handled the questions of the Saducees. Most of the scribes dismissed Jesus altogether. But this scribe called Jesus “teacher.” He asked Jesus: “Which commandment is the first of all?”

Jesus answered, reading from Mark’s Gospel:

“The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”   (Mark 12:28-34)

The scribe was excited about the answer that Jesus gave:

Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’ —this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”   (Mark 12:32-34)

This scribe was seeking the kingdom of God. He had the Word made flesh to inspire him. God has promised us:

“When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart,”   (Jeremiah 29:13)

Seekers, however, need evidence that there is something more than this current world has to offer. Some of us may think that we do not do evangelism, but we do it every day with our lives. Do people see something in us that they want? Are we the Naomi’s of our day? The Holy Spirit will do his job. But has our Christian witness drawn people near to the kingdom of God?

If so, they will say:

Where you go, I will go;
Where you lodge, I will lodge;

your people shall be my people,
and your God my God.

 

Track 2: Suggestion

Deuteronomy 6:1-9
Psalm 119:1-8
Hebrews 9:11-14
Mark 12:28-34

In the wilderness.Moses commanded the children of Israel, before they entered the promised land, to obey the commandments of God. He summarized the Law in this way:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.   (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)

The key was keeping the Law in one’s heart.

When the scribe asked Jesus what is the first commandment of all, Jesus answered:

“The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’ —this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”   (Mark 12:29-34)

The scribes and Pharisees had added many legalistic requirements to the law of Moses, things they failed to keep themselves, making it burdensome for the Israelites. Do we need a clarification of the Law today? How many of us judge others based on our interpretation of the Law?

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Saint Simon and Saint Jude

st simon and st jude2Called to Preach the Gospel

In today’s Old Testament reading Moses declares:

Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak; let the earth hear the words of my mouth. May my teaching drop like the rain, my speech condense like the dew; like gentle rain on grass, like showers on new growth. For I will proclaim the name of the LORD; ascribe greatness to our God! The Rock, his work is perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God, without deceit, just and upright is he.   (Deuteronomy 32:1-4)

Moses knew that he was blessed by the Spirit of God. Thus, he realized that he had an obligation and responsibility to teach his word.

Saint Simon and Saint Jude were blessed by God. They were called by Jesus directly to preach and teach the Gospel. Some ancient Christian writers say that Simon and Jude went together as missionaries to Persia, and were martyred there. If this is true, it explains why they are usually put together. Little else is known of their ministry. Nevertheless, they were faithful to their calling. After all, the calling of God is not to speak about who we are but about what God has done for us in Christ.

Before He was crucified Jesus told His disciples that they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit so that they would be able to preach on his behalf. That is the work of the Holy Spirit does. Jesus said:

“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.”    (John 15:27)

Have we received the Holy Spirit? Have we also been called by to testify to the truth of the Gospel? The Apostle Paul wrote that Jesus came to reconcile the world unto Himself and that our testimony is important in that process:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.   (2 Corinthians 5:17-19)

The new creation that God has brought about in Christ brings reconciliation between all people. Paul writes:

Now in Christ Jesus you Gentiles, who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.   (Ephesians 2:13-18)

People are so divided today. Our responsibility is to bring unity in Christ because we have been given this “message of reconciliation.” We cannot do this on our own, but we have been given the Holy Spirit to guide us and direct us in this ministry. Let us follow the faithful example of men like Simon and Jude.

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Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 25

Track 1: The Miracle of Seeing

Job 42:1-6, 10-17
Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22)
Hebrews 7:23-28
Mark 10:46-52

Today, let us compare and contrast two very different people in the Bible. One was a very rich man who stood above his peers before God and the other was a blind beggar.

Let us first look at Job first. Though he was an honored man, God allowed Satan to severely test Job. When he complained to God, God answered him with this question: “Where were y9u when I laid tye foundation of tye earth?” His eyes were opened to the greatness of God, and Job responded:

“I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’

Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.

‘Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you declare to me.’

I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;

therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.”   (Job 42:1-6)

Job was a great man, but he did not quite understand who God was and is. God healed job and restored his fortunes twofold.

Now let us look at the blind beggar. Reading from Mark’s Gospel:

Jesus and his disciples came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.   (Mark 10:46-52)

What is remarkable about Bartimaeus is that he had some understanding of who Jesus was. He knew that Jesus had descended from King David and was a promise from God. He also realized that Jesus could heal him. Thus, he did not complain about his blindness. He called Jesus “my teacher.” How many of the religious leaders of the day did that?

Bartimaeus was not rich, but he was rich in faith. Jesus said to him: “Go; your faith has made you well.”

Job and Bartimaeus were different, but they had something things in common. Though they were both afflicted, but they did not curse God. They both exercised their faith and followed the teachings of God. Bartimaeus followed Jesus on the way. Job forgave all his so-called friends ajd pra7ed for them.

How many of us who have been afflicted in some way, have grown stronger in our faith? How many of us have casts all our cares on Jesus? How many of us follow him more closely than ever. His way is the way to everlasting life.

Track 2: Suggestion

Jeremiah 31:7-9
Psalm 126
Hebrews 7:23-28
Mark 10:46-52

In the Old Testament and Gospel readings we have two events where God took the blind and gave them sight and then set the on the right path. First from Jereiaih:

See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north,
and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth,

among them the blind and the lame, those with child and
those in labor, together;
a great company, they shall return here.

With weeping they shall come,
and with consolations I will lead them back,

I will let them walk by brooks of water,
in a straight path in which they shall not stumble;

for I have become a father to Israel,
and Ephraim is my firstborn.   (Jeremiah 31:8-9)

In the Gospel Jesus heals Bartimaeus:

Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher,[a] let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.   (Mark 10:51-52)

Bartimaeus was blind but was made to see. When he saw he followed Jesus on the way, Jesus is the way, and the truth, and the light. The days are dark. We heed the light of Christ to follow, otherwise we are spiritually blind and and scattered as was Israel.

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Saint James of Jerusalem

Faith and Works

James, brother of our Lord Jesus Christ, leader of the Christian Church in Jerusalem, and author of the Epistle of James is still speaking to the Church today. Are we listening?

How important was James to the Early Church? The Apostle Paul writes about the people whom Jesus personally appeared to after His resurrection:

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.   (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)

It would be an understatement to say that James has not always been understood or appreciated. He is almost like a Rorschach test. People often project on him their own theology. We may be familiar with Martin Luther’s statement about the Epistle of James being an “epistle of straw.” Luther’s theology did not agree with the tone and tenor of James’ Epistle. At the risk of oversimplification, Luther emphasizes sola fide, “faith alone” whereas James states that “good works” demonstrates a genuine faith. James was writing from wisdom and experience and he did not want to proclaim an easy grace without accountability.

James was the leader of the Church in Jerusalem. A dispute broke out in the Early Church concerning whether or not Gentile converts to the Faith needed to follow Judaic Law. This dispute had the potential of dividing the Church. Accordingly, a council met at Jerusalem to consider what rules Gentile Christians should be required to keep. James helped formulate a consensus as to what the requirements for Gentiles should be:

Therefore I have reached the decision that we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God, but we should write to them to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood. For in every city, for generations past, Moses has had those who proclaim him, for he has been read aloud every sabbath in the synagogues.” (Acts 15:19-21)

Without this vital agreement the work of the Gentile Church would have been gravely hindered. We see that James was not locked in an ideology or his own peculiar theology. He was a traditionalist when it came to interpreting the Mosaic Law. Yet he was open and flexible. He sets the proper tone for the Church today. Are we divided over many doctrines or have we identified the crucial matters of the faith?

A Spirit lead ecumenical movement is once again emphasizing what is important (not the false spirit that wants to harmonize all religions). This ecumenical movement does not reduce the Church to the lowest common denominator. Rather, it stresses a need for agreement by leaders who will come together in prayer.

What James has taught us is that faith without works is dead. The Church needs to work together, trusting in the leading of the Holy Spirit. We must arise and take up the challenges that lie ahead of us.

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