Category Archives: Gospel

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

God’s Calling in the Womb

Let us begin with the calling of God for the Prophet Jeremiah:

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 had a great calling. He had a great purpose. He was a prophet to all the nations. He was a prophet to our nation. He was a prophet to our very souls. We read his inspired word from God even today. God speaks through his prophets. Are we listening.

In today’s Gospel we read about the highest calling of God. Jesus Christ of Nazareth had the highest calling and the highest purpose of God, to save a nation and the  whole world. His earthly ministry began in the womb of the virgin Mary when he was conceived by the Holy Spirit. His purpose and calling was established far earlier than that. Reading from the Gospel of John:

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)

Jesus grew up in Nazareth. His first act of ministry in his hometown was to speak in the synagogue. He spoke in the about his purpose and calling. Reading  from the Prophet Isaiah, he said:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
        to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
        to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”   (Luke 4:18-19)

Jesus then said:

Jesus began to speak in the synagogue at Nazareth: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”   (Luke 4:21)

Jesus knew that the people would not listen. Prophets are not held in high esteem, even in many churches today. Jesus said to them:

“Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers[a] in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.   (Luke 4:24-30)

The calling of God is not easy. In the case of Jesus, it cost him his very life on a cruel cross. He paid the ultimate cost for our sin, a price that we should have paid. Jesus died and rose again from the dead so that we might have life in him and enter the kingdom of God.

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,[c] and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.   (John 1:10-12)

Each one of us has a calling from God. Each one of us has a Godly purpose. This was determined by God when we were born. From our youth God has been training us for his purposes. The psalmist wrote:

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 76:5-6)

Are we listening to God? Do we hear our calling? We are all important to God. Our calling is part of his vital plan of salvation for the world. Each one us can reach certain lost souls that no other person can do. How will we espomd to God?

To step into our calling requires faith. It takes courage and perseverance. We will not be able to do it on our own. It will require the strength  and direction from almighty God. But the good news is that he is with us. God spoke to the nation of Israel through the Prophet Isaiah:

But you, Israel, my servant,
    Jacob, whom I have chosen,
    the offspring of Abraham, my friend;
you whom I took from the ends of the earth,
    and called from its farthest corners,
saying to you, “You are my servant,
    I have chosen you and not cast you off”;
do not fear, for I am with you,
    do not be afraid, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
    I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.   (Isaiah 41:8-19)

He is speaking to each one of us today. “Fulfill your calling, for I am with you. Be bold! Be courageous! Moses spoke these words to all Israel as they prepared to enter the promised land:

Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread of them, because it is the Lord your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you.”   (Deuteronomy 31:6)

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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 in 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 persecuting 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 describe 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 give a witness to 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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Third Sunday after the Epiphany

The Hearing of the Word

When the remnant people, in Persia, returned from exile to rebuild Jerusalem, the book of the law of Moses was read publicly to encourage them. Reading rom Nehemiah:

All the people of Israel gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had given to Israel. Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month. He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law.

The public reading often invokes a response from the listeners. It has a powerful effect on those who were returning to Jerusalem. They were receiving a blessing from God through Ezra and were in an attitude of worship. This helped open their hearts to the message. Again from Nehemiah:

Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. Then Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.   (Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6)

In many liturgical churches it is customary to read the appointed scriptures of the lectionary during the worship service. This was an ancient tradition in Judaism. It was true in the time of Jesus. From today’s Gospel reading::

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.   (Luke 4:14-20)

How did these two public readings of God’s word compare? Let us see. It is clear that the listeners in the synagogue were attentive to what Jesus read. From Nehemiah we read that “the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law.” But how did the response of the listeners compare between the two Group? Again, reading from Nehemiah:

Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”   (Nehemiah 8:9-10)

The people wept when they heard the law. They understood that they had forsaken the law of Moses and they were grieved. The power of the word of God is beautifully addressed in the Book of Hebrews:

Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.   (Hebrews 4:12-13)

God’s Word is truth. God reveals our innermost being. He is a just God. But he is also loving and forgiving. The psalmist wrote:

The statutes of the Lord are just
and rejoice the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear
and gives light to the eyes.

The fear of the Lord is clean
and endures for ever;
the judgments of the Lord are true
and righteous altogether.   (Psalm 19:8-9)

How we respond to the Word is all important.

After Jesus read the appointed scripture from Isaiah, He made this bold statement to his hometown people of Nazareth who knew him as the carpenter’s son:

Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”   (Luke 4:21)

The word “today‘ jolted the listeners. It is one thing to hear scripture with piety and feigned reverence, but it is quite another to understand the scripture is always now. To be sure, Jesus proclaimed a powerful fulfillment of prophecy. His listeners were not prepared for this, but neither were they in worship as the exiles. We remember that they wanted to throw Jesus off a cliff and kill him.

How do we respond to the reading of scripture? Or how do we respond to the sermon? This may make us feel uncomfortable. It often leads to sorrow, but also joy when we repent. Without repentance the Word of God cannot be fully active in our lives.

With an attitude of worship and humility before God great things can transpire. The returning exiles rebuilt the walls around Jerusalem and the new temple. Equally as important, if not more so, their faith in God was restored.

Reading from the Book of Acts, The Apostle Paul spoke to the Ephesian elders:

And now I commend you to God and to the message of his grace, a message that is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all who are sanctified.   (Acts 20:32)

What is our destiny?  What is our inheritance? It is dependent upon our hearing of the word. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans:

As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” But not all have obeyed the good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.   (Romans 10:15-17)

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Confession of Saint Peter

The All Important Question

In today’s readings we examine the most important question in all the world. From the Gospel of Matthew:

When Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”   (Matthew 16:13-16)

How fitting it is to have the Confession of Peter observed within the Season of the Epiphany. Peter was first among the apostles to confess that Jesus is the Messiah. The Apostle Peter’s earthly testimony compliments the heavenly one. At the baptism of Jesus God the Father spoke from heaven, testifying that Jesus is His beloved Son.

Peter’s testimony was quite remarkable. At a time when there was much confusion and speculation about who Jesus was, Peter had come to a clear and concise conclusion about Jesus’ identity. He did not do so by his own reasoning alone, however:

And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.  (Matthew 16:17)

We remember that Peter not only confessed Jesus as the Messiah, but later he also denied Jesus. Just before the crucifixion Peter proclaimed that he would never leave or forsake Jesus. But Jesus knew better. He understands the frailties of human beings:

Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”  (Luke 22:34)

Jesus gives us this warning concerning our confession:

Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.  (Matthew 10:32-33)

Peter discovered that he could not continue in the Faith on his own strength. He needed the strength that only God could provide. We remember that Jesus forgave Peter and restored him after the resurrection.

Throughout his ministry Peter’s testimony was bold and clear:

“There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”  (Acts 4:12)

Today many people are confused about who Jesus is and what may be His place in history. Many biblical “scholars” have disputed the person and the ministry of Jesus. Yet, we have God’s testimony, Jesus’ testimony, and Peter’s confession recorded in Holy Scripture.

What will be our recorded confession? Our confession is all important in keeping the faith. Even more, our continued confession is all important. From the Book of Revelation:

 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming,

“Now have come the salvation and the power
    and the kingdom of our God
    and the authority of his Messiah,
for the accuser of our comrades[b] has been thrown down,
    who accuses them day and night before our God.
But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb
    and by the word of their testimony,
for they did not cling to life even in the face of death.   (Revelation 12:10-11)

At a time when Christians are being persecuted we will need God’s help to build and strengthen our faith as He did for Peter. This will be all the more true for the troubling days ahead. But with God’s help we will remain faithful to our testimony. Just as we have benefitted from Peter’s bold testimony, so many others may benefit from ours. Salvation is at stake.

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