Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 19

Track 1: The Vital Questions of Life

Proverbs 1:20-33
Psalm 19
James 3:1-12
Mark 8:27-38

Today we explore the most important question of all. Jesus asked it to his disciples. Reading from Mark’s Gospel:

Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.   (Mark 8:27-30)

Peter knew who Jesus was. God, the Father, had revealed him to Peter. But Peter was not expecting what Jesus would say next. Again, from Mark:

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”   (Mark 8:31-33)

Peter knew that Jesus was the Christ, but he did not understand his mission of Christ. He did not understand the cross. Jesus began teaching what that meant:

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.   (Mark 8:34-35)

Jesus was speaking about two crosses, his and ours. They are not unalike. In Philippians 12 the Apostle Paul writes:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God
    as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
    taking the form of a slave,
    being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
    he humbled himself
    and became obedient to the point of death—
    even death on a cross.   (Philippians 2:5-8)

In Romans 12 the Apostle Paul writes::

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.   (Romans 12,1-2)

On the cross, Jesus paid the price of our sin.But he also made it possible to be free from sin. Our conversion to Christ is not complete until we submit our souls and bodies to him for his cleansing.

The psalmist writes:

Who can tell how often he offends?
cleanse me from my secret faults.

Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins;
let them not get dominion over me;
then shall I be whole and sound,
and innocent of a great offense.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my
heart be acceptable in your sight,
Lord, my strength and my redeemer.   (Psalm 19:12-14)

As we grow in Christ, more and more we love him and we love his Word. Do we love Jesus enough to give ourselves fully to him? This is the second most important question of all.

Who do we say Christ is? Who do we love and serve above all else?

 

Track 2:

Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 116:1-8
James 3:1-12
Mark 8:27-38

Both James and Isaiah are writing about teachers. Isaiah writes:

The Lord God has given me
    the tongue of a teacher,[b]
that I may know how to sustain
    the weary with a word.
Morning by morning he wakens—
    wakens my ear
    to listen as those who are taught.  (Isaiah 50:4)

James writes:

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle.   (James 3:1-12)

In some ways all of us are teachers. What type of teachers we are has to do with what words we speak. James writes:

How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue– a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.   (James 3:1-12)

What comes out of our mouths reveals what is in our hearts. The Gospel tells us that God can can cleanse our hearts

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Labor Day

The Dignity of Work 

Ecclesiasticus 38:27-32a
Psalm 107:1-9 or Psalm 90:1-2, 16-17
1 Corinthians 3:10-14
Matthew 6:19-24

God is our creator. He is the master craftsman of the universe. We are made in his image. Thus, a large part of our life on earth is the discovery of the God-given talent and creativity which he has placed within us. This discovery gives us joy but also contributes to the wellbeing of others.

King Solomon wrote about the skills of the potter:

He molds the clay with his arm and makes it pliable with his feet; he sets his heart to finish the glazing, and he takes care in firing the kiln. All these rely on their hands, and all are skillful in their own work. Without them no city can be inhabited, and wherever they live, they will not go hungry.   (Ecclesiasticus 38:29-32)

We are familiar with King Solomon. He was the wisest and the most wealthy ruler of his time, or perhaps of any time. Yet, Solomon found that all that material wealth was “vanity and striving after wind.” It did not satisfy. Again he wrote:

So I saw that there is nothing better than that all should enjoy their work, for that is their lot; who can bring them to see what will be after them? (Ecclesiastes 3:22)

Solomon was saving the our work itself should provide us satisfaction. The doing is more rewarding than the wages and what they can provide. Thus, whatever we do, let us do it unto the Lord, offering him praise and thanksgiving.

This Labor Day let us pause and rest. But let us also enjoy and appreciate our work and that of others. If we are still on the discovery to find our God-given vocation, we should not give us. God is with us. The psalmist wrote:

May the graciousness of the LORD our God be upon us; prosper the work of our hands; prosper our handiwork.   (Psalm 90:17)

There is great dignity in any kind of work. All work if for the betterment of society. To not work is a drag on society and on others. The Apostle Paul warned:

For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work.   (2 Thessalonians 3:7-11)

While on the earth Jesus never stopped working:

“My Father is still working, and I also am working.”   (John 5:17)
We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”   (John 9:4-5)
We need to follow his example. Soon the darkness will come upon us. We want to be working up to that day in the Kingdom of God. Then we will be prepared to work for him in his millennial reign.
Today, let us pause and give thanks for all our workers and citizen saints who keep us going.

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Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 18

Track 1: Favoritism

Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23
Psalm 125
James 2:1-10, [11-13], 14-17
Mark 7:24-37

Today we are blessed with wisdom writings from both the Old and New Testaments. We will start with the New Testament. Reading from the Book of James:

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?   (James 2:1-7)

How does what James writes apply to the way we greet new people in church?

Let us look at an apparent act of favoritism on the part of Jesus in today’s Gospel reading:

Jesus set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.   (Mark 7:24-30)

Was Jesus saying to the Syrophoenician woman that he only came to save the Israelites? Not when we read other texts in the New Testament. From the First Epistle of John:

And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world.   (1 John 4:14)

Notice that the Syrophoenician woman was not discouraged by what Jesus said to her. She had faith in him or she would not have pursued him. She must have have understood his mission because, by her remarks, she humbly included herself as one to whom he would minister.

Jesus tested he faith and she passed. The Apostle Peter wrote:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.   (1 Peter 1:3-7)

This much we knew. God shows no favoritism. Reading from Matthews Gospel:

What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.   (Matthew 18:12-14)

God desire is to save the whole world. Is it our desire that he do so? If so, then all favoritism on our part is ruled out. Let us celebrate with God the saving of each soul.

 

Track2: Suggestion

Isaiah 35:4-7a
Psalm 146
James 2:1-10, [11-13], 14-17
Mark 7:24-37

Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophecy from Isaiah:

Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
‘Be strong, do not fear!

Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,

with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.’

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;

then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.

For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;

the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water;   (Isaiah 35:4-7)

In the NewTestament reading Jesus heals the deaf man with the speech impediment Those who witnessed this miracle said:

“He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”   (Mark 7:37)

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Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 17

Track 1: Loving God with All Your Heart

Song of Solomon 2:8-13
Psalm 45:1-2, 7-10
James 1:17-27
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Reading from today’s Gospel:

So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,

‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;

in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”   ()

How did the scribes and Pharisees get so far away from the commandments of God with their rituals and traditions? What was missing? They really did not know or understand God. The Apostle John understood who Jesus was and what he was about. Reading from his First Epistle:

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.   (1 John 4:7-11)

The scribes and Pharisees did not know the love of God. Thus, they did not know God because God is love. Why should rules, doctrines, and traditions take the place of love?

The Pharisees must have known deep down that they did not measure up to what God required. Thus, they laid heavy burdens on others. In that way, they could at least say to themselves that they were better than other people. Why? Because they followed the rules better? In fact, they made up the rules, but Jesus told them that they did not even follow their own rules.

The Apostle Paul wrote:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.   (1 Corinthians 13:4-5)

For the rules keepers, perhaps it it time to get to know God. The psalmist wrote:

You are the fairest of men;
grace flows from your lips,
because God has blessed you for ever.

Your throne, O God, endures for ever and ever,
a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of your kingdom;
you love righteousness and hate iniquity.   (Psalm 45:2,7)

And the Book of James:

Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.   (James 1:17-18)

God made us to shower his love upon us. Can we simply accept his love and love him back? God is wooing us.He wants fellowship with us. Jesus is the bridegroom and we are his bride. Jesus speaks to us: these words:

“Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away.”   (Song of Solomon 2:13)

 

Track 2: Suggestion

Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9
Psalm 15
James 1:17-27
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Mose cautions the Israelites not to add to or distract anything from God’s commandments:

Moses said: So now, Israel, give heed to the statutes and ordinances that I am teaching you to observe, so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. You must neither add anything to what I command you nor take away anything from it, but keep the commandments of the Lord your God with which I am charging you.   ()

This is exactly what the Pharisees did. Jesus said of them:

“Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
    their teachings are merely human rules.’[b]

You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”   (Mark 7:6-8)

Do we do that today?

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