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Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 21

Track 1:  The Courage of Queen Esther

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22
Psalm 124
James 5:13-20
Mark 9:38-50q

The Book of Esther to explain how the feast of Purim came to be celebrated by the Jews. Esther, the beautiful Jewish wife of the Persian king Ahasuerus, and her cousin Mordecai persuade the king to retract an order for the general annihilation of Jews throughout the empire. The massacre had been plotted by the king’s chief minister, Haman, and the date decided by casting lots (purim).

It took great courage for Esther to approach the king with a personal request. This was unprecedented. She risked her life to do so. She told the king that she had prepared a banquet for the king and his servant Haman. Fortunately, the kihg responded favorably. Reading from Esther:

The king and Haman went in to feast with Queen Esther. On the second day, as they were drinking wine, the king again said to Esther, “What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.” Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have won your favor, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me– that is my petition– and the lives of my people– that is my request. For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have held my peace; but no enemy can compensate for this damage to the king.” Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has presumed to do this?” Esther said, “A foe and enemy, this wicked Haman!” Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen.   (Esther 7:1-6)

The king was enraged. Reading from Esther:

Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs in attendance on the king, said, “Look, the very gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, stands at Haman’s house, fifty cubits high.” And the king said, “Hang him on that.” So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the anger of the king abated.   (Esther 7:9-10)

Is Queen Esther’s story our story? We are living in treacherous times. There are many Haman’s. They are smooth abd cunning, but in their hearts they are corrupt and oppose the plans of God. They are liars and their god is thye father of lies. Behind the scenes they plan our destruction.

God is going to turn the tables on them, What is required on our part is an act of courage. Where does that courage come from? The psalmist wrote:

If the Lord had not been on our side,
let Israel now say;If the Lord had not been on our side,
when enemies rose up against us;

Then would they have swallowed us up alive
in their fierce anger toward us;

Then would the waters have overwhelmed us
and the torrent gone over us;

Then would the raging waters
have gone right over us.

Blessed be the Lord!   (Psalm 124:1-6)

Our courage comes from our faith in God. He did not spare his only begotten Son so that we might be saved. He alone is our help and strength. He is waiting for us to call upon him in a day of trouble. The Apostle Paul wrote:

For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.   (Romans 10:13)

 

Track 2: Suggestion

Numbers 11:4-6,10-16,24-29
Psalm 19:7-14
James 5:13-20
Mark 9:38-50

These readings seem to be about a question concerning our authority in God. In the Old Testament, God distributed his Spirit among the elders:

So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again.

Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, stop them!” But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”

A similar situation occurred in the New Testament:

John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.   ()

Spiritual jealousy is at play.

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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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Saint Mary the Virgin

Trusting in God’s Promises

The prophets of old foretold the Messiah and His ministry, but who could grasp all that they were saying? From Isaiah:

Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.  (Isaiah 53:1-3)

Mary understood that God had made promises to Abraham and she believed that He would keep them. She lived through terrible circumstances but never gave up her hope and trust in the Lord. Her God was full of love and mercy. Her reverence and humility before God are without question.

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
For He who is mighty has done great things for me,
And holy is His name.
And His mercy is on those who fear Him
From generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm;
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
And exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich He has sent away empty.
He has helped His servant Israel,
In remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and to his seed forever.”   (Luke 1:46-55)

Mary did not always understand the ministry of her son, however. There was a time in the early ministry of Jesus when Mary was asking her son to come home.Like a good mother, she was concerned for the wellbeing of her son. She had not yet grasped how his ministry was unfolding and how it was fulfilling the promises of God.

We cannot fault Mary for her concern. There was no one ever like Jesus, either before or since. Again, from Isaiah:

Surely he has borne our infirmities
    and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
    struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
    crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
    and by his bruises we are healed.   (Isaiah 53:4-5)

As the prophet Simeon foretold, her heart would be pierced and she would gain a greater understanding.

“Indeed, this child is destined to cause the fall and rise of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be opposed— and a sword will pierce your own soul—that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”  (Luke 2:34-35)

Our hearts must be pierced also if we are to understand the ministry and message of Jesus. How closely we follow Jesus in our lives will telegraph what we truly believe. Will we go the distance with Him as did His mother Mary? Mary was at the cross when most of Jesus’ disciples fled. She could not turn away. Her love for God was so great. She walked in the steps of Abraham who was willing to sacrifice his own son if that were required by God.

It was after the cross and resurrection that Mary, along with the disciples, understood the ministry of Jesus. She rejoiced along the psalmist of old:

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
my whole being shall exult in my God;

for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,

as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.   (Isaiah 61:10)

What is our witness today? We may not understand all that is going on. We may not fully grasp the miracle that God is working out. Nonetheless, we can still believe and trust in the promises of God as did Mary. Let us pray for grace to endure the pain while eagerly anticipating our Lord’s victory with patience and endurance? Mary did this and so much more. Her enduring faith and courage has inspired the Church down to this day.

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Fifth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 8

Track 1: Reaching out in  Faith

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27
Psalm 130
2 Corinthians 8:7-15
Mark 5:21-43

In today’s Gospel reading a leader of a synagogue named Jairus had asked Jesus to come and pray for his daughter who was at the p0int of death. Along the way something remarkable happened:

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”   (Mark 5:24-34)

What is so remarkable about this woman? She had been ill for a lengthy time and nothing seemed to help. No doubt her faith had been tested. She may have lost hope in a conventional cure. She was desperate, but she had not given up on God. The psalmist wrote:

Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord;
Lord, hear my voice;
let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.

If you, Lord, were to note what is done amiss,
O Lord, who could stand?

For there is forgiveness with you;
therefore you shall be feared.

I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him;
in his word is my hope.

My soul waits for the Lord,
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.

O Israel, wait for the Lord,
for with the Lord there is mercy;

With him there is plenteous redemption,
and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.   (Psalm 130:1-7)

She believed that God could and would heal her. She could have easily blamed God for all of her troubles, but she did not, The enemy loves to tempt us in this way. “Why doesn’t God help me?”

There is another temptation that Satin uses. He tells us that we are not worthy. This woman must have believed in God’s mercy and redemption. She believed in the goodness of God. She believed that healing was her God-given birthright.and she was not going to let anything get in her way of seeking his help..

Did this woman know that Jesus was God? We do not know. But apparently she knew there was something in Jesus that would bring her back to health. She said: “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” She must have believed that there was a life-giving power in Jesus.

Sometimes it takes despair to grasp both our need and desire for God.  Many of us have been touched by God. But have we reached out in faith to touch hm?

Today, are we ready to touch the hem of his garment? God has more for us. He has healing for us.

O Israel, wait for the Lord,
for with the Lord there is mercy;

With him there is plenteous redemption,
and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.   (Psalm 130:6-7)

 

Track 2; Suggestions

Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15; 2:23-24
Lamentations 3:21-33
or Psalm 30
2 Corinthians 8:7-15
Mark 5:21-43

The readings seem to focus on death and the resurrection. From the Wisdom of Solomon we learn that God did not make death. He created us for incorruption.

“but through the devil’s envy death entered the world,
and those who belong to his company experience it.”

Our lives have to do with whom we identify. This has to do with the age old struggle. Part of that struggle if often the question of whether or not we see God as good. Do we see him as good? How about absolutely good?

What caused the devil to envy? What causes us to follow him? There are two worlds. One has death and the other has life, eternal life. Which one will we choose. For this world the resurrection of Jesus is required.

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