March 31, 2011

Friday, Third Week of Lent, Day Twenty-one


 Lectionary
Morning - Psalm 95, Psalm 79, Genesis 42:1-26, 29, 35-38, 1 Corinthians 11:17
Evening - Psalm 86, Jeremiah 9:17-24, Mark12:1-12

Mark 12:1-12
And he began to speak unto them by parables. A certain man planted a vineyard, and set an hedge about it, and digged a place for the winefat, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country. And at the season he sent to the husbandmen a servant, that he might receive from the husbandmen of the fruit of the vineyard. And they caught him, and beat him, and sent him away empty. And again he sent unto them another servant; and at him they cast stones, and wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully handled. And again he sent another; and him they killed, and many others; beating some, and killing some. Having yet therefore one son, his wellbeloved, he sent him also last unto them, saying, They will reverence my son. But those husbandmen said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be ours. And they took him, and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard. What shall therefore the lord of the vineyard do? he will come and destroy the husbandmen, and will give the vineyard unto others. And have ye not read this scripture; The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner: This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes? And they sought to lay hold on him, but feared the people: for they knew that he had spoken the parable against them: and they left him, and went their way.

Commentary

Our Lord was no passive victim.  He rode into Jerusalem as a King to His Throne, and He took the battle to His enemies.  The parable of the vineyard is a direct confrontation and condemnation of the empty religion of the priests and Pharisees. They are the husbandmen and groundskeepers who tend the vineyard of the Lord, which is Israel.  But they have assumed ownership of the vineyard.  So when the Owner, which is God, sends servants, the prophets, to them to collect His due, they beat them and kill them.  Finally the Owner sends His Son, Jesus.  But rather than reverencing the Son, they kill Him and cast Him out of the vineyard.  Christ also spoke of the stone rejected by the builders, which becomes the chief cornerstone.  The religious leaders were building a building that was not of God.  When the Son came to them they rejected Him, but He became the chief cornerstone of the new Temple, the Church.  These parables refer to the crucifixion of Christ and show the determination and faith with which He embraced the cross, that we might be saved.


Devotional Thoughts

 Lent is a time of prayer.  And prayer is so essential to following Christ in holy living that we can say with certainty that to be a Christian is to be a person of prayer.  Yet many do not understand prayer, and it is to our shame that most Christians see prayer as a time to ask God for blessings, and as a way to manipulate God.  Actually prayer is much deeper than this.  Prayer is nothing less than acknowledging the presence of God.  It is, as The Homilies remind us, quoting St. Augustine, “a lifting up of the mind to God … a humble and lowly pouring out of the heart to God.” The same sermon, quoting Isidorus, calls prayer, “an affection of the heart and not a labor of the lips,”    It is, “the inward groaning and crying of the heart to God” (The Homilies, p. 234).  Real prayer is not so much seeking things from God, as it is seeking God Himself. 

This understanding of prayer moves beyond the mechanical, I ask-God gives, view of prayer.   It also answers the ancient question, “why pray?” Why pray?  We might as well ask why talk to a loved one?  How can we say we love someone, yet not want to converse with him?  What kind of relationship is conducted without communication, without communion?  Those who love God will long for Him, will enjoy pouring out their hearts to Him in prayer, will earnestly desire to acknowledge His presence. Indeed, if prayer were only asking for things, it would be an exercise in futility.  God knows all things. He knows our needs better than we know them ourselves.  But if prayer is anything like the descriptions above, we know why we pray.

March 30, 2011

Thursday, Third Week of Lent, Day Twenty


             Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 85, Genesis 41:25-40, 1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1
Evening - Psalm 80, Jeremiah 9:2-16, Mark 11:12-26

And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry: And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet. And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it.  And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple. And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves. And the scribes and chief priests heard it, and sought how they might destroy him: for they feared him, because all the people was astonished at his doctrine. And when even was come, he went out of the city. And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. And Peter calling to remembrance saith unto him, Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away. And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God. For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.

            Commentary

Again Scripture marks the progress of our Lord toward Jerusalem. Bethpage and Bethany are on the road that leads from Jericho to Jerusalem.  The Mount of Olives is on the east side of Jerusalem between Bethany and the city.  From there Christ could view the Temple, symbol of His presence and sacrifice.  To put the events in their proper sequence, Jesus travelled from Jericho through Bethphage to arrive in Bethany on the Friday before Passover, probably in the year 28.  He remained in Bethany for the Sabbath and went into Jerusalem on Sunday in what has been called "The Triumphal Entry" which is recorded in Mark 11:1-11.  The crowds who greeted Him with palm branches were the pilgrims traveling to or already in Jerusalem for Passover. The Triumphal Entry is a bold announcement that Jesus has come to Jerusalem.  It is also a bold acceptance of the fate that awaits Him.  He does not go in secret.  He does not hide in fear.  He goes into the city boldly, as a King to His Throne, and, at the same time, as a Lamb to the Slaughter. Having made His Triumphal Entry, Jesus returned to Bethany for the night.

The next day, Monday, Christ returned to Jerusalem.  On this day He saw the fig tree in leaf but having no figs.  This was an appropriate symbol of the decaying religion of the religious leaders of Israel.  Like the fig tree, they were luxuriant in appearance, but bore no fruit.  They were great in the appearance of Godliness, with their traditions and ceremonies, but their hearts were far from God.  The words of Christ withered the tree as the Gospel withers the pretence of faith in false believers. 

As He chased the moneychangers from the Temple Christ reminded the Priests of the true purpose of their calling (Mk. 11:17).  They were to lead the people of God into the very presence of God in worship.  Instead they had turned the House of Prayer into a den of thieves who robbed people of the very thing they were called to provide.

            Devotional Thoughts

We have been talking about Lent, and the things we do in this season of the Church Year.  I pray we have seen that it has never been our objective to simply add another season to the calendar or to create a pretty ritual or ceremony.  Our objective is to always to apply ourselves to holiness.  So, in Lent, we intentionally put aside some of the things that normally claim our attention, and apply ourselves to seeking God.  We turn aside from some of the pleasures of life. They may be good and lawful pleasures, but we lay them aside, not to say “I gave them up for Lent," but to spend the time we normally spend in those pleasures seeking God.  Of course we also spend the Lenten season in turning away from the ungodly things we have allowed into our lives.  For the first half of Lent we have talked about recognizing sin, confessing sin, and turning away from sin, and this is an essential part of holiness.  I sincerely pray that we have all applied ourselves to this during this time of Lent.  But holiness also means to embrace godliness.  Lent, then, is a time to apply ourselves to the positive actions and attitudes that are so much a part of holy living.  One of the most important of these is prayer

March 29, 2011

Day Nineteen


The Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 75, Psalm 76, Genesis 41:1, 8, 14-22, 1 Corinthians 10:14-22
Evening - Psalm 77, Jeremiah 8:4-13, Mark 10:46

 And they came to Jericho: and as he went out of Jericho with his disciples and a great number of people, blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the highway side begging. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out, and say, Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me. And many charged him that he should hold his peace: but he cried the more a great deal, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me. And Jesus stood still, and commanded him to be called. And they call the blind man, saying unto him, Be of good comfort, rise; he calleth thee. And he, casting away his garment, rose, and came to Jesus. And Jesus answered and said unto him, What wilt thou that I should do unto thee? The blind man said unto him, Lord, that I might receive my sight. And Jesus said unto him, Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole. And immediately he received his sight, and followed Jesus in the way.


Commentary

"And they came to Jericho" (Mk. 10:46) is a significant statement, for it marks Christ's progress toward Jerusalem.  He has been dwelling in Perea, from whence He has made journeys into Judea, Galilee, and other areas.   But this trip is different.  He is now going to Jerusalem to be the sacrificial Lamb of God.  On the way He demonstrates His authority yet again.  The blind son of Timeus calls to Him and pleads for his sight.  Bartimeus knows something about Jesus, for he calls Him, "Son of David," a name full of Messianic expectations.  Jesus is the Messiah who goes into Jerusalem to ascend to His throne, but the cross is the way to the throne.


Devotional Thoughts

Our natural unrighteousness is “sin,” but what is “a sin?” A sin is any thought, word, or deed that is inconsistent with the will and nature of God as revealed in Christ and recorded in the Holy Bible.  Obviously, the Bible speaks clearly about some sins.  The Ten Commandments and Moral Law of the Old Testament are the will of God for our lives, and any breach of their letter or spirit is sin.  In other places, God gives principles of righteousness.  The Bible cannot address every situation of every life, so God gives general principles of righteousness, which we are to employ in our daily lives and situations.  The Bible will not tell you who you should marry, but it gives many principles for choosing an appropriate spouse and living the married life.  The Bible does not tell you your calling in life.  It does lay down clear principles of godly business conduct and industry, which you must apply to your career choices and practices.  Failure to keep these laws and principles is sin.  Thus, anything that goes against the letter or spirit of the Bible is sin.

March 28, 2011

Tuesday, Day Eighteen

The Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 74, Genesis 40, 1 Corinthians 10:1-13           
Evening - Psalm 73, Jeremiah 7:21-29, Mark 10:32-45

Mark 10:32-45

And they were in the way going up to Jerusalem; and Jesus went before them: and they were amazed; and as they followed, they were afraid. And he took again the twelve, and began to tell them what things should happen unto him,  Saying, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be delivered unto the chief priests, and unto the scribes; and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles: And they shall mock him, and shall scourge him, and shall spit upon him, and shall kill him: and the third day he shall rise again. And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, come unto him, saying, Master, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire.  And he said unto them, What would ye that I should do for you? They said unto him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory. But Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask: can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?  And they said unto him, We can. And Jesus said unto them, Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized: But to sit on my right hand and on my left hand is not mine to give; but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared. And when the ten heard it, they began to be much displeased with James and John. But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all.  For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.

            Commentary

Again we see Christ's full knowledge of what awaits Him in Jerusalem.  He is going there intentionally to face the cross.  The disciples fear to go, but Christ faces the ordeal with calm assurance.  He has come to give His life as the ransom for many.  He will not turn away at this hour.

            Devotional Thoughts

Our hearts are so deceitful.  If we listen to them they will convince us that our sins are really virtues. They will lead us to spend our time on small issues and miss the major things in our lives.  They will attempt to make us focus intensely on one sinful action, and miss the general ungodly direction of our whole life.  We often spend too much time trying to remedy our sinful thoughts, words, and deeds, without working on their source; without changing the sinfulness in our nature that causes the sinful actions.  This is the cause of the failure of all human attempts to make the world a better place.  We try to educate people to do better, we use social engineering to redistribute wealth and equalize status and opportunity, and we pass laws enforcing peace and tolerance, only to find that people continue in the same old ways of oppression, greed, and strife.  Why? Because we have not changed their nature.  We have not dealt with the one issue that is the root and cause of all the others.  We have not made them righteous.  Indeed, we cannot make them righteous.  We cannot make ourselves righteous.  Only the Spirit of God can change the hearts of sinful people and give us the desire to dethrone ourselves and enthrone God.

March 27, 2011

Week of the Third Sunday in Lent

Monday, Day Seventeen
            The Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 68:1-19, Genesis 37:3-28, 36, 1 Corinthians 9:15      
Evening - Psalm 71, Jeremiah 7:1-15, Mark 10:17-31


 Mark 10:17-31

And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother. And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth. Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me. And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.  And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. And they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved? And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.  Then Peter began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee. And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life. But many that are first shall be last; and the last first.

            Commentary

The Gospel Reading for today turns to the Gospel of Mark, where we will continue for the next two weeks before returning to John.  Often called, "the rich, young ruler" the reading for today tells of a man who comes to Jesus professing his own righteousness.  He has obviously heard Christ teaching about eternal life, and has come to show that he deserves it through his keeping of the Law of God.  "All these have I observed from my youth."  But Jesus shows that his statement is false. The greatest commandment is to love God above all things, but this man loves his wealth and himself above God.  Therefore, he is not a good man who deserves Heaven.  He is a sinner, an idolater, and he is unworthy of the Heaven he claims to have earned.

            Devotional Thoughts

Lent is no big mystery.  It is simply a time of devotion to the serious practice of holiness.  The heart of Lent is repentance.  Before we can repent of sin we must find it in our lives, which is the process of self examination.  After we find sin we confess it.  That means we agree with God about our sin.  But we have left something out, have we not?  For how can we agree with God about sin, or find sin, or repent of sin if we do not first of all recognize sin?  And so we begin our devotional today by asking the question, what is sin? 

Sin is anything that is in any way less than 100% complete holiness.  Any failure to be or do 100% good is sin.  Sin is therefore, first of all a disposition of our being.  Adam and Eve were righteous at the start.  They became sinners when they chose to sin.  Their natural righteousness was distorted.  Their natural goodness was corrupted, and they became sinners in their beings as well as in their actions.  Since then, all people are born with the same corrupted being.  To return to the example of the castle and the throne, we are all born with ourselves on the throne.  This translates into an inborn, natural inclination to sin.  This inclination is itself sin.  So we are sinners before we actually commit a sinful thought, word, or deed.  We need God to both forgive our sinful deeds, and to incline our being towards righteousness.

Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent

Grace Makes the Difference
Ephesians 5:1-14
Third Sunday in Lent
March 27, 2011
Holy Trinity Anglican Orthodox Church
Powhatan, Virginia

            There is a difference between Christians and non-Christians.  Everyone recognises that the religious beliefs and practices of Christians are different from those of others.  But that is not the difference I am talking about.  The difference I am talking about encompasses the entire being of the Christian, and it is so deep, so profound, and so complete that the Bible uses radical language to describe it.  The Bible describes it as being born again, as dying to one life and being resurrected to a new life, and as being remade into a new kind of creature.  In Ephesians 5 the Bible describes it as being light instead of darkness. "Ye were sometime darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord."  That's radical language.

            Ye were darkness.  Notice the Bible does not say we were in darkness; it says we were darkness.  Yes, I know there are other verses in the Bible that tell us we were in darkness.  1 John 2: 9, for example, tells us those who hate their brother are in darkness.  But, I think a fair and honest look at such verses shows that they mean darkness is a part of the being and nature of people.  They are not just in darkness, the darkness is in them.  They are part of darkness, and darkness is part of them.

            We see an illustration of this truth in the relationship of our physical bodies to the earth.  We are made of chemicals, but where do the chemicals come from?  The earth.  That's why we need our vitamins and minerals, isn't it?  So, we do not simply live on the earth, we are part of it, and it is part of us.  We are on the earth and of the earth.  Surely this is part of the meaning of Genesis 2:7; "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground."

            Darkness, of course, is a spiritual word in the Bible, and it is a symbol of evil.  It means to be out of God, or away from God in your heart.  It means to be in opposition to God and goodness.  It means, sin.

            This teaching of the darkness of man is the key to understanding all of mankind and all of our endeavours.  It is the key to understanding history, art, psychology, philosophy, politics, economics, and, even religion.  Take the field of economics, for example.  Capitalism is the best economic system on earth.  Capitalism is taught in the Bible, and is, therefore, the way God intends the economies of all nations to operate.  But in no place or time in history has capitalism ever produced universal prosperity and happiness.  Why?  Many assume it is because there is a flaw in capitalism as a system.  They say capitalism panders to greed and creates a class system of the haves and the have nots.  But this argument contains its own refutation, for it admits that the problem is not capitalism, but human greed.  If people were not greedy, if people were not willing to corrupt and abuse the system, capitalism would have no problems.  But people are greedy, or, in a more Biblical term, people are sinners.  Therefore, capitalism must never be unbridled.  It must always be administered under a system of just laws, the purpose of which is to protect the rights of all people to go as far and high as their talents and legitimate hard work will take them.

            When we apply the Biblical teaching of the darkness of man to education, we easily see that education alone cannot change sinners; it only makes sinners more literate.  When we apply it to politics we see that political parties and platforms cannot end the crime and poverty and wars that plague us.  Even religion, for even religion is often corrupted and misused by people.  In fact, any hope that man can build a perfect home, community, nation, or world without first changing the nature of man himself is nothing more than a Tower of Babel.

            Now ye are light.  There was a time when we were just as foolish, just as misguided, and just as dark in our souls as the rest of them.  Maybe we didn't do the same things some of them do, and maybe we didn't believe the same things some of them believe, but we were just as out of fellowship with God, and just as ignorant of His ways as they are now.  But for those who are in Christ, all of that has changed.  "Ye were sometime darkness, but now ye are light in the Lord."  There has been a change in you.  You are different, and the difference is that now you want to know God, and exist in fellowship and unity with Him.  It is not simply that you want to be a good capitalist, or a good citizen, or even a good church member.  It is that now you want to be Godly.  Something inside of you has changed so that you now seek to live God's way.  Your "heart" has been changed.  Your desires have been changed.  You have become light.

            Light is a spiritual word too.  And if darkness means to be away from God, light means to be united to Him.  If darkness means to be in opposition to God, light means to be in accord with Him and on His side.  If being darkness means evil and sin are a part of you, being light means that righteousness and goodness are now a part of you.  If being darkness means you are in the darkness and the darkness is in you, then being light means you are in the light and the light is in you.  And the Light is God.

            What causes this change that brings us out of the darkness and into the Light?  It is a long and somewhat complicated process, as we have been seeing in our studies in the Book of Romans.  Suffice it to say for now that it is a change wrought in us by God Himself.  He works in us, by His Word and Spirit, bringing us to realise that we need Him as Lord and Saviour.  By His Spirit, He enables us to believe in Christ, as He is offered to us in the Gospel, and those who believe are forgiven of their sin and have eternal peace with God.  And, by His Word and Spirit this transformation from darkness to light takes place in our souls.  We are radically re-oriented.  The course of our lives is changed.  We become more and more concerned about living God's way, and less and less about living our way.  We learn to love God more and more, and we learn to love His ways more and the ways of sin less.  This is called growing in Christ. It is also called growing in holiness.  It is what Peter meant when he wrote, "desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby" (1 Pet. 2:2), and it is what Paul meant when he wrote, "We beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more" (1 Thess. 4:1).  What we are talking about in this sermon, and what the Apostle was writing about in our reading from Ephesians is grace.  It's all about grace.  The Apostle wrote some very intense and very hard words in this passage.  He wrote, "no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and of God.  Let no man deceive you with vain words; for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience."  We don't live in isolation; we see the rampant sexual immorality and the sorrows of life lived in the gutter.  We see the results of drug abuse and people abuse, and alcohol abuse.  We see the greed and the almost absolute lack of concern for God in the lives of people around us, and we can sometimes become proud and judgmental of them.  But we need to remember it is only by the grace of God that we're not just like them.  It isn't our superior wisdom that brought us out of sin and into God.  It isn't our superior goodness that keeps us away from the destructive ways of sin.   The grace of God has placed us in the Light and the Light in us.  Thanks be to God.

March 25, 2011

Saturday, March 26, Day Sixteen

The Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 63, Genesis 35:1-7, 16-20, 1 Corinthians 9:1-14
Evening - Psalm 72, Jeremiah 6:9-21, John 11:45

John 11:45-57

 Then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him. But some of them went their ways to the Pharisees, and told them what things Jesus had done. Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many miracles. If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation. And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad. Then from that day forth they took counsel together for to put him to death. Jesus therefore walked no more openly among the Jews; but went thence unto a country near to the wilderness, into a city called Ephraim, and there continued with his disciples. And the Jews’ passover was nigh at hand: and many went out of the country up to Jerusalem before the passover, to purify themselves. Then sought they for Jesus, and spake among themselves, as they stood in the temple, What think ye, that he will not come to the feast? Now both the chief priests and the Pharisees had given a commandment, that, if any man knew where he were, he should shew it, that they might take him.

            Commentary
                             
Will Jesus come to the feast?  This question is on the lips of all in Jerusalem as they prepare for the Feast of the Passover (Jn. 11:56).  The chief priests and Pharisees are there, along with the devout Jews from Israel and the all Roman Empire. The conflict of the priests and Pharisees with Jesus, and their intent to take Him is well known (Jn. 11:57).  It is also known that Jesus has been staying in Perea on the east side of the Jordan, and that He has made trips into Israel, as He did to raise Lazarus.  Caiaphas' words show the deadly intent of the religious leaders (Jn. 11:50). John 11:53 shows their unanimity of purpose.  Thus, for Jesus to come to the Feast is to face certain death.  It is to accept the cross, or, more correctly, to embrace it.  The moment He crosses the Jordan His fate is sealed, and He knows it.

            Devotional Thoughts

One of our great problems is our ability to look at ourselves and say, “I’m not so bad. My sins aren’t so bad. I’m really O.K.”  You may be familiar with the parody of that great Gospel song, “Love Lifted Me.”  You recall that the song begins with the words, “I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore.”  The parody says, “I was sinking deep in sin, yipeeee!”  This makes sin something to be joked about and winked at.  It carries the assumption that it really isn’t sin.  Today many reject the idea of sin.  Even clergy and denominations say sin isn’t sin.  It sometimes seems that the only “sin” left is to call sin “sin.”

By contrast, confession agrees that sin is sin.  Confession agrees that God hates sin, I hate sin, and I hate my sin.  If sin is as wicked as the Bible portrays it, we should not be surprised to learn that the One who is of purer eyes than to look upon it hates sin.  He hates it for all the suffering and death it has caused.  He hates it for putting children to bed at night in fear and hunger.  He hates it for making the streets of our cities crime-filled death traps.  He hates it for the abuse it causes, and for the way it causes us to use and discard people like paper plates.  He hates it for the wars and oppression, and crime, and hate, and grief and loss it has caused through the blood stained millennia of human history.  Do we not hate this sin?  And do we hate, not just sin in general, but our own sins in particular?  Can we not say with tears the General Confession of our Communion Service, “the remembrance of them is grievous unto us; the burden of them is intolerable?”  Repentance is not complete until we confess, and confession is not complete until we learn to hate our sin as God hates it.  God help us to confess our sin.

March 24, 2011

Friday, Day Fifteen

The Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 95, Genesis 32:22-31, 1 Corinthians 8
Evening - Psalm 69, Jeremiah 6:1-8, John 11:28-44

John 11:28-44

And when she had so said, she went her way, and called Mary her sister secretly, saying, The Master is come, and calleth for thee. As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly, and came unto him. Now Jesus was not yet come into the town, but was in that place where Martha met him. The Jews then which were with her in the house, and comforted her, when they saw Mary, that she rose up hastily and went out, followed her, saying, She goeth unto the grave to weep there. Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled, And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see. Jesus wept. Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him! And some of them said, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died? Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it. Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days. Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God? Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me. And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.

            Commentary

John 11:37 voices the question that was on everyone's mind as they gathered at the grave of Lazarus.  "Could not this man [Jesus] ... have caused that even this man [Lazarus] should not have died?"  Jesus had healed the sick, caused the blind to see and made the lame to walk, why didn't He keep Lazarus alive?  This reminds us of the question, if God is so good, why does He allow suffering and death?  The answer is that the only way to prevent suffering and death is to create unthinking robots following a given program.  Freedom requires the ability to make wrong choices, and do wrong things, and to suffer the consequences of them.

But Jesus allowed Lazarus to die for a much greater reason. Lazarus died so Jesus could show that His power is much greater than simply the ability to heal the living.  He can actually raise the dead.  He can give life to a decaying corpse as easily as He can multiply bread and fish, or still the storm, or heal the blind.  He is the Lord of Life, and if He can raise the dead, He can surely keep Himself alive.  Thus His crucifixion is an intentional act of self sacrifice.  He lays down His life; no man takes it from Him.  He lays it down for us.
 
            Devotional Thoughts

Confession means to agree with God that our sin makes us worthy of the wrath of God.  We acknowledge that we deserve to be punished, and that God is righteous when He judges us guilty.  King David was told a story about a thief who stole the single lamb of a poor man.  David became livid with righteous indignation.  He wanted to execute justice on the thief.  Then the prophet said to the King, “Thou art the man.”

David saw that the sins of the thief deserved punishment, and was willing to be the hand of God to deliver the thief unto death.  When he learned that he was the thief he had to admit that his guilt made him worthy of death, and of the wrath of man and God.  All of us, when we are honest, agree that certain acts require restitution and retribution.  If this is true of our sins against other people, should our crimes against the Righteous and Holy King of Heaven go unpunished?  Confession admits that we are sinners, and that our sins alone have justly placed us under the wrath of God.

March 23, 2011

Thursday, Day Fourteen


            The Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 62, Genesis 29:1-13, 18-20, 1 Corinthians 7:1-17
Evening - Psalm 66, Jeremiah 5:20, John 11:17-27


Then when Jesus came, he found that he had lain in the grave four days already.  Now Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off: And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother. Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him: but Mary sat still in the house. Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee. Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.
                                                                                              
            Commentary

Verse 17 is the proof of Lazarus' death.  He was in the tomb four days.  We will find this proved again when they open his tomb and know the truth of Martha's words, "he stinketh."  Jesus wanted everyone to know without doubt, "Lazarus is dead."  If he is not dead, Christ's words in John 11:25 are meaningless.  What power is required to wake a man that is merely sleeping?  Cannot any mere mortal do that?  But to restore life to this stinking, rotting corpse requires power no mortal can possess.  He is the resurrection and the life.  Therefore, those who believe in Him, though they were dead in their souls as well as their flesh, will live, and those who live in their souls through His gift of eternal life, will never die.

            Devotional Thoughts

We are experts at justifying our actions.  If we are disrespectful to someone, we convince ourselves he deserved it. If we fail to seek God in prayer and Bible study we convince ourselves we just don’t have time.  If we fail to worship God, we say Sunday is my only time to rest, or play, or _____ (fill in the blank).  If we fail to keep the spirit or the letter of God's commandments we tell ourselves we have some special excuse, or convince ourselves it is the commandments, rather than ourselves, that are wrong. 

In stark contrast, true confession admits that sin is sin.  Confession agrees with God that my sin is disobedience to God.  My sin causes hurt to others.  My sin wrecks my relationship to God and prevents me from experiencing the full joy of Christ.  My sin embarrasses the cause of Christ on earth.  My sin brings shame on the name of Christ’s Church.  My sin is a stumbling block to others.  My sin contributes to the general malaise of this sin-sick world, and because of my sin I am as much a cause of the problem as any other person, and apart from the grace of God in Christ, there is in me no good thing.

March 22, 2011

Wednesday, Day Thirteen

            The Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 56, Genesis 27:46-28:22, 1 Corinthians 6:12
Evening - Psalm 65 and 67, Jeremiah 5:10-19, John 11:1-16

John 11:1-16
Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. (It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.) Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick.  When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.  Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.  When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was.  Then after that saith he to his disciples, Let us go into Judaea again.  His disciples say unto him, Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee; and goest thou thither again? Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world.   But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because there is no light in him.  These things said he: and after that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep.  Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well.  Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep.  Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead.  And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him.  Then said Thomas, which is called Didymus, unto his fellowdisciples, Let us also go, that we may die with him.

            Commentary

John 11 finds Jesus going back into Judea.  He had left the area to stay in Perea, east of the Jordan River, though He travelled widely during this time, making trips to Galilee and Judea.  Much of this time was spent teaching the Twelve, but He also took time to preach and teach the multitudes that followed Him.  In today's reading, He crosses again into Judea to raise Lazarus, showing that He has power over death.  This is an important step on Christ's journey to the cross.  He has already said that He lays His life down of His own accord and no man can take it from Him (see Jn. chapter 10).  Now He shows His power over physical death.  There is no doubt about Lazarus' death (11:14). Our Lord waited for him to die before going to him because He wanted to show His authority one more time before going to the cross. In a sense, Lazarus represents the spiritual condition of all people apart from Christ.  We are as dead toward God as Lazarus was toward this world.  And we are as unable to give life to our souls as Lazarus was to give life to his flesh.  Christ came to give us life by laying down His own for ours.  In another sense, the raising of Lazarus is proof that Jesus lays down His life of His own free will.  If He can raise Lazarus, He can keep His own flesh alive, and no human treachery or power is able to take His life from Him.  This will be important for His disciples to remember when He is dead and in the tomb.  He gave His life. He allowed this to happen to Him.  This was an intentional act on His part.  We must never read the raising of Lazarus without also remembering the tenth chapter of John's Gospel.

            Devotional Thoughts

What do we do in Lent? Lent is simply a time of seeking God.  It is simply a time of intentional holy living.  This requires that we turn away from sin and turn to God.  We generally call this process repentance.  We cannot repent of sin unless we first find the sin in our lives.  We find sin through an intense process of self examination.  We simply put our lives under the microscope of God’s word to discern where we are missing the mark.  Once we find our sin, we must admit it.  The Bible's term for this is confession, which simply and profoundly means to agree with God.  In confession we agree with God about our sin.  We agree that we are sinners.  We agree that we have sin in our lives.  We don’t cover it up.  We don’t ignore it.  We admit it is there, and we face it.  Without this, repentance is impossible, and without repentance we have no part in Christ.

March 21, 2011

Tuesday, Day Twelve


            The Lectionary                       

Morning - Psalm 41, Genesis 27:30-40, 1 Corinthians 6:1-11         
Evening - Psalm 51, Jeremiah 5:1-9, John 10:22-38

John 10:22-38
And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon's porch. Then came the Jews round about him, and said unto him, How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly. Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father's name, they bear witness of me.  But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand.  I and my Father are one.  Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him.  Jesus answered them, Many good works have I shewed you from my Father; for which of those works do ye stone me?  The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God.  Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?  If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken;  Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?  If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not.  But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him.
                       
 Commentary

John 10:22 finds Jesus in Jerusalem for the Feast of Dedication, known to us as Hanukah.  The "Jews" of this passage are the religious leaders who live in Judea and who oppose Jesus because He is a threat to their power and money.  Two things stand out in this passage.  First, Jesus gives eternal life to His sheep (10:28).  Jesus is stating again His reason for coming to this planet.  He came to lay down His life for His sheep, so we can have eternal life in Heaven with Him.  We see His face set boldly toward the cross, never faltering, never turning aside, always moving toward it with faith and determination.  Second, we see a clear statement of His Divinity.  He calls The Father "My Father," and says, "I and the Father are one" (10:30).  The Jews understood this as what it was, a direct answer to their question, and a claim to be nothing less than God Himself (10:31).  Again it is stated that His sheep hear His voice and follow Him, while those who are not His sheep do not hear Him or believe in Him (10:26).  Let us hear His voice.


            Devotional Thoughts

We have not completed our self-examination until we have also given serious attention to our motives for doing what we do, for our motives are at least as important as the things we do.  The Pharisees spent hours in prayer and fasting, and gave extravagantly to the Temple and synagogue, yet Christ had no praise for their actions (Mt. 23:14).  Why?  Their motives were wrong.  They did it to be known for doing it, rather than for God.  James tells us one reason God refuses to give what we ask in prayer is that we ask amiss, for the wrong motives, that we may consume it upon our own lust, rather than for the glory of God (Jas.4:1-3).  Simon wanted power to bestow the Holy Ghost, but his motives were impure (Acts 8:18-21).  It is difficult to honestly examine our motives, yet we cannot really begin to confess and repent until we know what motivates us in our daily activities.

March 20, 2011

Week of the Second Sunday of Lent, Monday, Day Eleven


            The Lectionary
                                          
Morning - Psalm 39, Genesis27:1-29, 1 Corinthians 5  
Evening - Psalm 50, Jeremiah 4:23, John 10:11-21

John 10:11-21

I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.  But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth; and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep.  The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep.  I am the good shepherd, and  know my sheep, and am known of mine.  As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.  And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.  Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it up again.  No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself.  I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.  This commandment have I received of my Father.  There was a division therefore again among the Jews for these sayings.  And many of the said, He hath a devil, and is mad; why hear ye him?  Others said, These are not the words of him that hath a devil.  Can a devil open the eyes of the blind? 

            Commentary

The Good Shepherd is Jesus who gives His life for His sheep.  Jesus knows His fate and walks without hesitation toward the cross.  People have tried to reduce Jesus to a mere social/religious reformer who was killed for His efforts.  But Jesus makes it clear that His death was an intentional sacrifice for us.  No one took His life from Him; He laid it down of His own accord to bring His people into one fold, which is His Church.  We must not read verses16 and 18 without also reading verses 4 and 5.  Christ came to lay down His life for His sheep.  His sheep know His voice, follow Him, and will not follow another.  These aspects of God's sacrifice and human response are essential elements of the Gospel of Christ.

            Devotional Thoughts

Self examination is an honest look at the whole tenor of our lives.  We have looked at the way it includes attitudes and thoughts, now we finally look at the self examination of our actions.  Are they sinful?  Do they honor God?  Do we sin by inaction; by failing to do what we know we should?  In more Biblical language, do we hear and follow the voice of Christ? Do we flee from the hirelings, the thieves and the predators?  Or do we happily follow them to our doom?