|Advent 2, Year A – the Rev. Deacon Carey Connors||December 8, 2019||Advent 2, Year A||Matthew 3:1-12|
|Advent 1, Year A||December 1, 2019||First Sunday of Advent, Year A||Isaiah 2:1-5, Psalm 122, Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 24:36-44|
|Last Pentecost, Year C||November 24, 2019||Last Pentecost, Christ the King||Luke 23:33-43|
|Pentecost 23, Year C||November 17, 2019||Pentecost 23, Year C, Proper 28||Luke 21:5-19|
|Pentecost 22, Year C||November 10, 2019||Pentecost 22, Proper 27, Year C||Job 19:23-27a, Luke 20:38|
|All Saints, Year C||November 3, 2019||All Saints’ Sunday, Year C 2019||Luke 6:20-31|
|Pentecost 20, Year C||October 27, 2019||Pentecost 2, Proper 25, Year C||2 Timothy 4:6-8|
|Pentecost 19, Year C||October 20, 2019||Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 24||Luke 18:1-8|
|Pentecost 18, Year C||October 13, 2019||Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||Psalm 111, Luke 17:11-19|
|Pentecost 17, Year C – Rev. Deacon Carey Connors||October 6, 2019||Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||2 Timothy 1:1-14,Luke 17:5-10|
|Season of Creation 5, Year C||September 29, 2019||Season of Creation 5, Year B||Proverbs 8:22-31, Ephesians 1:3-10, Luke 24:13-35|
|Season of Creation 4, Year C||September 22, 2019||Season of Creation, Year C, Week 4||Luke 16:19-31, Amos 8:4-8|
|Season of Creation 3, Year C||September 15, 2019||Season of Creation, Week 3, Year C||Deuteronomy 11:10-17, Luke 15:1-10|
|Season of Creation 2, Year C||September 8, 2019||Season of Creation, Week 2, Year C||Genesis 1:26-2:3, I Timothy 6:6-19, Luke 12:22-31|
|Season of Creation 1, Year C||September 1, 2019||Season of Creation 1, Year C||Genesis 1:1-25, Revelation 22:1-5, John 1:1-5, 14|
Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C
Sermon Date:January 27, 2019
Scripture: Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10 1; Corinthians 12:12-31a;Luke 4:14-21
Liturgy Calendar: Third Sunday after Epiphany
Great Isaiah Scroll from Qumran
“Grace under Pressure” – Phil Fitzhugh
Good Morning Saints of St. Peter’s
Let’s revisit our powerful collect for today.
Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works.
About 10 years before I was born, the entire known world convulsed in what we now call World War II. Some estimate 85 million people, or 3% of the worlds population, died. 85 Million is a lot of people. My uncle Philip Hiden was one of the Air Force casualties in 1944. It was a horrible conflict between people who thought themselves good against those they imagined as pure evil.
Each coalition prepared their troops for victory. My uncle left Dartmouth University and Uncle Sam trained him to fly a bomber over Germany, clothed him in a uniform, issued him a sidearm, and equipped him with a helmet, knife and parachute. He was ready to fight for democracy and freedom. because of his ultimate sacrifice, and that of millions of others, the history of the world changed forever.
That was then. A time when the visible enemy was fought with weapon fire, ration stamps and incredible personal sacrifice. I am concerned that the Church of God is now under attack perhaps not to the same level of physical violence as in 1939, but certainly with the same amount of vitriol. ………
Let’s look at today’s Gospel in the context of the other readings and current events to clearly understand.
In Luke’s early chapters 1-4 he is presenting the case for Jesus’ divinity. Jesus’ birth is surrounded by supernatural events. At 12 years old Jesus says, when his parents find him in the temple, “Didn’t you know I should be in my father’s house?” At about 30 years (the Biblical number for maturity) John the Baptist points him out as the Messiah, and the Holy Spirit descends in the form of a dove and remains upon him. Luke even details Jesus’ genealogy all the way back to Adam.
In Luke 4 Jesus, full of the spirit of God which had remained since his baptism, begins to encounter opposition. Luke 4:1 describes Jesus’ 40 day fast and satan’s three temptations to place himself above Gods calling to bring his Kingdom to earth. Jesus refuses to turn stones into bread, worship satan, or leap from a building. These temptations were real conflicts because Jesus was fully human. It is a fundamental human impulse to place our interests above those of the King of the Universe.
At each temptation Jesus refers to the Word of God to counter satan’s suggestions. Satan retreats to await the crucifixion event. Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, goes to Galilee to teach in the synagogue and his fame spreads. The Kingdom is being proclaimed.
In today’s Gospel Jesus has now returned to his hometown synagogue and is handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He reads, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, he has anointed me to bring hope to poor, freedom for the brokenhearted, new eyes for the blind, and to preach to the prisoners, freedom.” As was the custom of itinerant preachers, they would read the scriptures in Hebrew and then paraphrase or expand on the reading in Aramaic. He says, “today this scripture came true for you. Initially everyone loves him. And then they question who was he to speak as a prophet; they knew him as a child growing up. They find a reason to discount his wonderful words.
So Jesus addresses their underlying resistance to his message. He says, “Please accept it as true and respond with joy and obedience. Or God will move out from your Jewish community to the Gentiles.” He reminds them that Elijah blessed a widow in Sidon. Elisha healed Naaman the Syrian. God is not limited in his love to the Jewish community. Jesus says, “God blesses wherever people are willing to love Him. Are you?” They are so infuriated they forcibly escort him from the synagogue, from the city, up a hill to kill him.
Thankfully he walks through the crowd leaving them stunned.
Jesus’ ministry had begun. In the very next verse, before it is cast out of a possessed man, a demon identifies Jesus as God’s Holy One. Immediately Jesus’ ministry is full on preaching the Good News, casting out demons and healing the sick. That’s what the Apostle Paul calls “fully preaching the Gospel.” Not just with words and deeds, but also with Holy Spirit power.
Coincidentally, our OT reading recalls Nehemiah reading the Torah to the people of Jerusalem. The Jews had been warned for centuries to follow the heart as well as the letter of the Torah in order to accurately portray Gods goodness, love and faithfulness to the nations. They had placed themselves above God and therefore the Northern Kingdom fell to Assyria (722BCE), and the Southern Kingdom fell to the Babylonians (586BCE). The Persian Empire allowed some Jews to go home (444BCE) . Nehemiah engineered the great feat of rebuilding Jerusalem’s wall. Then he and Ezra read the Book of Moses to all who could understand, both men and women. The people realized their error and wept when they heard the words of the law. (Again, the power of the Word of God.)
But God did not leave the people in this state of remorse for their failure. Nehemiah said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep. Yes, you sinned, and here is the chance to follow God lovingly as the lovers He wants and not just as law followers. Know that the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Just as Jesus used the Word of God in his confrontations with satan and his homeboys, Nehemiah uses the Book of Moses to the same effect. The word is guidance for a joyful life.
The Kingdom of God was initiated by Jesus. And Jesus taught his disciples how to expand the Kingdom by “fully preaching the Gospel.” Jesus so believed in his followers fully preaching the Gospel that he taught them to do so and released them into the world for that purpose. For instance, the 12 and the 70 followers he sent out came joyfully reporting how God worked powerfully through them. And we see the Apostle Paul write to the Roman Christians, “I speak of what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obedience by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, and by the power of the Spirit of God. Thus, I fully proclaim the gospel of Christ.”
And in his letter to the saints in Galatia, Paul writes. “Does God lavish His Spirit on you and work miracles among you because you practice the Law, or because you hear and believe?” Coincidentally today’s Epistle to the Corinthians describes the gifts we have been given to fully preach the Gospel; gifts of wisdom, service, worship, discernment, healing, prayer, and prophecy, just to name a few. All these are needed and at our disposal to advance the Kingdom of God.
We now have the Holy Spirit residing in us 24/7, not just visiting and then leaving us bereft. Jesus told us in John 20:21, “Peace to you. As the Father sent me, I’m now sending you. Taking a deep breath, he blew on them and said, Receive the Holy Spirit. I send you to preach the forgiveness of sins.” Mark adds in his Gospel, “preach openly the wonderful news of the Gospel to the entire human race. Whoever believes the Good News and is baptized will be saved. And supernatural signs will accompany those who believe; they will drive out demons and lay hands on the sick and heal them.” With a deeply grateful heart, I tell you I have seen that happen even in my lifetime. Christians still fully preach the Gospel to a lost and hurting world.
I really believe the world-wide Christian church is still under attack from demonic forces influencing ignoble self-will. In 197AD Tertullian wrote the “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church,” an observation that appears still very true. According to Save the Persecuted Christians (STPC), “More Christians have been persecuted in the last 100 years than in all previous centuries since Christ combined.” Persecution extends to such horrors as: forced expulsions from their homes and communities, rape, beheadings, torture, enslavement, the destruction of their churches and holy sites, crucifixion and murder on a large scale.”
And organization called Open Doors released research findings which indicate that throughout the world, approximately 215 million Christians experience high, very high or extreme persecution for following Jesus. Nearly one of every 12 Christians in the world lives in an area, or in a culture, in which Christianity is illegal, forbidden or punished.” The most oppressive countries include North Korea, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Iran, and India. Persecution in most countries can be attributed to Islamism, communism, or nationalistic policies.
Our own nation is not immune to the spiritual chaos that resists the advancement of the Kingdom of God. You only have to tune into CNN or FOX news to see the discord and rancor in what is called factual reporting. We are now recovering from a partial government shutdown over a sharply divisive issue. I continue to pray for full resolution of that issue.
Recently I was saddened to learn that one State passed into law a Reproductive Health Act that allows abortion of a viable human being up to the day prior to birth for any reason related to the physical, emotional or mental health of the prospective mother. Curiously that same state abolished the death penalty. I am reminded of the Canaanite god Molech to which Israelite children were sacrificed, and I see some similarity in the two activities. In Leviticus God spoke strongly against the offering of Israeli babies to Molech.
Attacks against the Kingdom of God are driven primarily by demonic influences upon human self-will. In some arenas of US life, religion has been relegated to irrelevance. People have attempted to remove God from schools and courtrooms. The post-modern generation has given way to the post-Truth generation. Now the only truth is what I want to be true. Yet in such delusion is great risk to become homo-centric and miss the plans the God who formed you has for you.
The people to whom Nehemiah read the Book of Moses wept bitterly. They had lost hope that Jerusalem’s walls would ever be rebuilt and the city protected. And they had forsaken their God. Yet God sent Nehemiah to say, like Jesus said in today’s Gospel, today the promise has come true. God promised to return them to Jerusalem and He did. Jesus said the promise Isaiah delivered about a coming Messiah had come true. Jesus was He. God continues to prove he is loving, gracious and faithful.
The people of Nehemiah’s day discovered the situation in the world is never bigger than God. The same is true today. Jesus’ death allows us direct access to our powerful, loving Father. And yes, we should act like Christians and do good works to combat evil, poverty and injustice. Many times that may be all that is needed.
But I want to suggest that the Holy Spirit outfits us, just like Uncle Sam did for my uncle, more than adequately with weapons of spiritual warfare. In 1 Cor 12:1 Paul writes, “Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed…there are different kinds of gifts, 5 there are different kinds of service. 6 there are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge, 9 to another faith to another gifts of healing, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues,[a] and to still another the interpretation of tongues.[b] 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.”
Fully preaching the Gospel is multifaceted. It means telling those you meet of the wonderful Savior and God you have residing within you. It means praying for your family, church, rector, community, the nations and the church universal believing that your prayers make a difference. And they do.
Fully preaching the Gospel includes praying for healing or deliverance, and affirming Christians in their faith walks.
It is a very powerful exciting walk with the Holy Spirit. Anticipate his daily presence and he will guide and empower you.
As you fall more in love with Jesus you will naturally encounter opposition as did many of the saints of old. The opposition to the Kingdom is primarily spiritual and is most effectively countered with spiritual weapons. It is not the people, God tells you to love them. It is the lies they believe about themselves or about the God that loves them so incredibly much.
I encourage you to rejoice in and put to good use the armor and weapons that the Holy Spirit has bestowed upon you. He does not send us out as defenseless lambs but as more than conquerors.
In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen