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Holy Cross Day

Day of Judgment

The Prophet Isaiah forecast a time when God would hold a court to judge humankind for sin. God was speaking to the nation of Israel, but Israel was a proxy for all the nations of the world:

Declare and present your case;
let them take counsel together!

Who told this long ago?
Who declared it of old?

Was it not I, the Lord?
There is no other god besides me,

a righteous God and a Saviour;
there is no one besides me.   (Isaiah 45:21)

We are asked by God to present our case to him. God is also saying that he is qualified to judge our case because he is creator and has established all life. There is no other god besides him. Furthermore, his very nature and character qualifies him. He will be fair because he is not only a righteous God, but he is also our Savior.

A righteous God must be fair, but he must also be just. He must declare the injustice caused by sin. Sin cannot be ignored or swept under the rug. How is God able to accomplish this most difficult task, that of being both compassionate and just?

Before his verdict of guilty and penalty of death, God provided a path of escape. He did so through his Son Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul reminds us of the cruel crucifixion of Jesus by his own choice and desire:

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.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,

so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.   (Philippians 2:5-11)

In today’s Gospel reading we see a link between the judgement of God and a route of escape:

Jesus said, “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.   (John 12:31-33)

On the cross the sins of the whole world were judged. Jesus bore our sins for us while hanging from a cross and receiving the Father’s judgement. The righteous One  became sin.  The judgement of sin was once and for all, for all who believe. The Apostle Paul’ wrote:

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”   (Romans 6:23)

Have we allowed God to judge our sins through his Son Jesus? If so, we must acknowledge it. We must turn towards Jesus. We must see him on the cross standing in for us.

God spoke through the Prophet Isaiah:

Turn to me and be saved,
all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.

By myself I have sworn,
from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness
a word that shall not return:

“To me every knee shall bow,
every tongue shall swear.”

Only in the Lord, it shall be said of me,
are righteousness and strength;

all who were incensed against him
shall come to him and be ashamed.

In the Lord all the offspring of Israel
shall triumph and glory.   (Isaiah 45:22-25)

Do we want triumph and glory? The only judgement of God that is left is the judgement of fallen angels. That judgement is not meant for us. Do we ignore such a great gift of salvation established on a Holy Cross? If Jesus humbled himself, why can we not humble ourselves? In Hebrews we read:

Therefore we must pay greater attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. For if the message declared through angels was valid, and every transgression or disobedience received a just penalty, how can we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? It was declared at first through the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard him, while God added his testimony by signs and wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, distributed according to his will..   (Hebrews 2:1-4)

The cross was very cruel instrument of torture and death. How can it be holy? We say that it is holy only because it can make us holy. We have been washed in the blood of Jesus. Thanks be to God.

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Tenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 13

Track 1: You Are the Man

2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a
Psalm 51:1-13
Ephesians 4:1-16
John 6:24-35

We continue with King David’s dreadful deceit. God instructed the Prophet Nathan to go to David and tell him this parable:

“There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.”   (2 Samuel 12:1-4)

David was very harsh in his judgement of the rich man:

He said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”   (2 Samuel 12:5-6)

It is easy for us to be critical of others. This was especially true for David in this case, for the rich man showed no pity. But we are not to be judgmental of others in any case. Jesus said:

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?   (Matthew 7:1-3)

When we judge others we often find that judgement coming back on us:

Nathan said to David, “You are the man!   (2 Samuel 12:7)

Perhaps we dwell on the sin of others to avoid looking ay out own sin. God wants us to recognize our sins and confess them.

God responded to David’s confession. Nathan said:

Thus says the Lord: I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun. For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.” David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”  Nathan said to David, “Now the Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die.”   (2 Samuel 12:11-13)

There are often consequences for sin, even when we confess it and have received God’s forgiveness.

Sin has ti do with an attitude of the heart. When he gained this understanding David wrote Psalm 51:

Have mercy o, O God, according to your loving-kindness;
in your great compassion blot out my offenses.

Wash me through and through from my wickedness
and cleanse me from my sinFor I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.

Against you only have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight.

 so you are justified when you speak
and upright in your judgment.

Indeed, I have been wicked from my birth,
a sinner from my mother’s womb.

For behold, you look for truth deep within me,
and will make me understand wisdom secretly.

Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure;
wash me, and I shall be clean indeed.

Make me hear of joy and gladness,
that the body you have broken may rejoice.

1Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.

Cast me not away from your presence
and take not your holy Spirit from me.

Give me the joy of your saving help again
and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.   (Psalm 51:1-13)

What can we learn from this tragedy and David’s confession? We may not have committed such vile crimes, at least not in in the physical. But we must look deep within our hearts:

For behold, you look for truth deep within me,
and will make me understand wisdom secretly.   (Psalm 51:7)

Perhaps we should be proactive in our confessions before God. The psalmist wrote:

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my thoughts.
See if there is any wicked way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.   (Psalm 139:23-24)

If we have an unforgiving and judgmental heart, we have lost the foundation of our faith. God’s kingdom is based on love and forgiveness. Without his love as our foundation we are severely handicapped in coping with our daily lives. The Apostle Paul wrote:

We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.   (Ephesians 4:14-16)

Jesus Christ is our head. He is our example. From the cross he forgave everyone. Are we able to follow his example? Yes, with his help, as long as we are able to look at our own sin. Our salvation is far greater than any false sense of self righteousness. We are righteous only by our faith, The blood of Jesus which washes away all of our sin, provided that we confess it.

Track 2: Suggestions

Exodus 16:2-4,9-15
Psalm 78:23-29
Ephesians 4:1-16
John 6:24-35

In today’s readings we have two miraculous feedings, one in the Old Testament and one in the Gospel:

The Lord spoke to Moses and said, “I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’“   (Exodus 1611-12)

In the Gospel, Jesus is teaching about the miracle of Holy Communion:

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”   (John 6:36)

Both feedings are from God. The manna given in the wilderness was vital to the health of the children of Israel. The body and blood of Jesus is vital to our spiritual health. The children of Israel had no choice. We have a choice. Our churches have a choice. Jesus said:

“Very truly, I tell youunless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.   (John 6:53)

 

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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.

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. 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.

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?

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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 Peter. This will be all the more true for the troubling days ahead. But with God’s help we will remain faithful. Our testimony.

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