26. A Reflection on Matthew 26:63-65

The high priest said to [Jesus], “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Anointed One, the Son of God.” “You have said so,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the “Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy.

I will begin with these opening thoughts. The world did know him. He came to his own, and his own did not receive him (Jn 1:10-11). For several years, Jesus had practiced a sincere form of Judaism and pious Jews are often referred to as sons of God. However, the Jewish Sanhedrin questioned his piety and other activities, especially the Chief Priest. They had been monitoring him and had become concerned about his apparent contempt and a lack of reverence for the Mosaic Laws, which were given to a man by God. The Chief Priest was convinced that the time had come, to have him brought before the entire Sanhedrin to answer questions about a variety of charges against him. To ensure his presence, Jesus was arrested and brought before the assembly. The most troubling charges against him was his habit of working on Sabbath Days, telling people their sins were forgiven, and assault and damage in a Temple court. On these charges and others, Jesus was found guilty of blasphemy. When rendering the verdict, Caiaphas had this to say about what Jesus had taught over the last few years, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses?” Then he looked at the entire members of Sanhedrin, and said, “Look, now you have heard the blasphemy” (so be it). With these words, Caiaphas adjourns the meeting of the Sanhedrin. Now I will begin my reflection.

I have read this chapter many times, I read commentaries written about these verses, and I have heard many sermons based on this Biblical text. However, for reasons unknown to me, no one has approached these verses from the stand point of the history of the Roman Empire and I am not sure why? Because the Chief Priest was acting as a protector of the people and his appointment as Chief Priest was approved by the Roman Empire. Therefore, he is clearly acting in the best interest of both Israel and the Roman Empire.

Now let us look at his question, but from a Roman point of view, “Tell us if you are the Anointed One, the Son of God?” The kings and prophets of Israel where anointed and here we have a very popular rabbi being asked if he had been anointed. I do not think Caiaphas is asking if he had been anointed to perform his acts of ministry, although that is a possibility. Because the question is phased as a title, I do not think Caiaphas is addressing Jesus as a pious Jew. If he was to address Jesus in such a manner, he would say something like, blessed son of God, are you anointed?

I believe this question is political in nature and not a religious one, because Jesus did claim to be a king in a very a subtle and quiet way. During this period in history, all things political always found themselves in the presence of Roman authority and culture. It has been two-thousand years since this meeting of the Sanhedrin took place and the words of this question require us to take a trip backwards, into the history of the Roman Empire. When a Roman or someone under the authority of Rome uses the words Son of God in a title, what does it mean? It was part of the title of Caesar Augustus, his official title was “Emperor Caesar Augustus, son of god.” Although he had been dead and buried before this meeting of Sanhedrin, the title lived on. Now the question of Caiaphas is becoming clear, the Roman emperors saw themselves as gods and when someone, like Caiaphas, says to you, “are you the anointed one, son of god?” You must be very careful with your answer, because you are being asked, have you been anointed king, a son of god. If you say yes, you are challenging the authority of Rome and if you say no, you are denying you are a king. If Jesus had said yes to the question by Caiaphas, he would be seen by the Sanhedrin as declaring himself as king of Israel, which would be an open challenge to the reign of Herod. Adding the “son of god” phrase to the title had nothing to do with Jewish piety, it was a political ploy to place Jesus in the center if the wrath of Rome. Jesus, was very aware of the environment he was in, he also knew a simple yes would be a confirmation of everything Caiaphas had been saying about him, much of which were lies and distorted truths. In this context, Jesus could not say yes or no, so he returned the question Caiaphas.

“A son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.” Daniel 7:13.

After refusing to directly answer the question, I believe Jesus was silent for a minute or so, then he most likely looked right at Caiaphas and paraphrased the quote from Daniel, “You will see the | son of man | sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and | coming on the clouds of heaven.” Jesus added, “sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One.” The right side of someone is a place of privilege and authority and by adding this to his quote from Daniel, Jesus was saying in a subtle way to Caiaphas, I have privilege, authority, and I am a better Jew than you are.

In ways that were both direct and subtle Jesus had exposed Caiaphas and was about to face his jealous anger. When egomaniacs are exposed and their hidden activities brought to light, they can be very dangerous and Caiaphas was no exception. I am not curtain if Caiaphas would call this tit-for-tat inquisition an offense against God, unless he believed it to be a form of insubordination towards the supreme authority of the Chief Priest, which his ego just might do. Nonetheless, Caiaphas did have a list of charges against Jesus, ranging from working on the Sabbath to assault in the temple. He saw Jesus as someone who habitually displayed contempt and a lack of reverence for God through continuous activities that were contrary to the religious laws (blasphemy). He had been patient for several years and now he felt the time had come for punishment. Therefore, regardless if it happened at this meeting or somewhere else, Caiaphas had enough and declared Jesus was guilty of blasphemy.

In Closing: Although Jesus never engaged in the anti-Roman behavior of the Zealots, Caiaphas was most likely telling people in his inner circle that Jesus was a descendant of King David and as such he could convert his religious renewal movement into a militia group and attempt to seize the throne in Jerusalem and attempt to remove the Romans from Israel. In this context, Jesus posed a political and an economical threat to the wealthy societies of Jerusalem and it would be beneficial if Jesus would disappear. Therefore, the kinds of statements that were being made by Caiaphas would get the attention of Rome. Jesus was aware of what was being said about him, that is why he said, “You have said so,” Clearly Jesus had no desire to give any credence to what Caiaphas had been saying about him. Nonetheless, when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and this entrance into the city was praised by many, he was silently saying, I am the promised messianic king. This action by Jesus confirmed to others what Caiaphas had been saying and this silent proclamation by Jesus signed his death sentence. Therefore, Caiaphas declared Jesus guilty of blasphemy and found circumstantial evidence for a charge of sedition against the Roman Empire. It should be noted that Pilate, the Roman Governor, did not agree with the assessment of Jesus by Caiaphas, he did not see Jesus as a Zealot who wants to be a king. In fact, the reposts Pilate had received from the Roman army, would cast a favorable light on Jesus. At this moment, Pilate did not realize this, but that reason why Jesus did not want to be king, was because he was already king.

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Written by Dave Pflueger March 20, 2017 (c) copyrighted by Pflueger. Dave is a former Correctional Chaplain of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department and certified for mental health peer counseling.

18. A Sermon on Matthew 11:16–19&25–30

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The original version of this sermon was presented at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church E.L.C.A. in Tacoma, Washington on the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (July 6, 2014)

THE PREFACE OF THE SERMON

The Prayer: Almighty God, send your Spirit upon me, so that the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.

The Text: A reading from the Gospel of Matthew 11:16–19 and 25–30. “To what can I compare this generation? It is like children playing a game in the public square. They complain to their friends, ‘We played wedding songs, and you did not dance, so we played funeral songs, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”
At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

The congregation is seated … “Please be seated.”

The Greeting: Grace and peace of your Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

If appropriate acknowledgements of individuals.

The Title: Beware of your own self

The Subject: Our subject on this day of the Lord, is the sin of pride and the invitation of Christ.

The Reason (purpose): The reason why I am preaching on this matter is so that we may challenge ourselves and resist anything that separates us from Christ.

The Points: 1. The Invitation 2. Pride and Humility. 3. The Father and the Son. 4. Come unto Christ

THE INTRODUCTION 

I will begin this introduction with this thought, how willing are we to make adjustments in our lives and in our relationship with God?
Saint Francis of Assisi was a son of a successful merchant and had all the privileges that came with a successful family. As a young man he volunteered for military service and was sent into battle. The horror of war and the conditions that came with being a prisoner of war broke his health, but waken his soul. After being released from prison he returned home and found that the privileges of wealth and success no longer appealing. Instead, he was drawn to a simpler life of service and dedication to the Gospel of Christ. Francis heard the invitation of God and adjusted his vision.
Saint Teresa of Calcutta was a teacher and principle of a school for daughters of the wealthy class in India. By all accounts, she had a very successful carrier as a nun and as an educator. In 1946 she took a trip and while on the train she heard God speak to her. Soon she was awakening to an invitation by God to serve the very poor of Calcutta and she changed her vocation to that of a missionary. Like Francis before her, Teresa adjusted her vision.
Throughout our lives, sometimes we get so carried away with what we think is decent or proper that we are unable to see God working in our lives and in the lives of others. It is at these times that we need to walk away and reflect more upon the Gospels and less on our own convictions. We need to listen to what that voice deep within hearts, not our minds, is saying and adjust our vision accordingly. The Gospel lesson today is about self-reflection and making necessary adjustments to our vision of God. It is about looking honestly at out lives and taking a true inventory of ourselves.
The Gospel lesson is also about God being careful about who he reveals himself to; God does not what to reveal himself to individuals who will only reject the revelation and walk away. Therefore, God only wants to reveal himself to those who will trust him in the way a child will trust a parent. This is the true relation between God and humanity, father and child.
Now let us explore the Gospel lesson and what it has to offer our lives.

THE BODY OF THE SERMON 

The First Point: The Invitation

Jesus spoke against the attitude of the people of his day, because no matter what he said or did they took the opposite view. He looked right at them and did not allow them to soften or re-direct the message of the Torah or the Prophets. Because of this they were cynical and skeptical towards him because he challenged their comfort zones and self-centered lives.

Jesus compared them to children playing in a public square, who invited others to come and join them, but they ignored the invitation and went on playing their own games. To encourage their participation, they sung festive songs, but they simply would not come over to sing and dance. They sung memorial songs, but they would not participate in the memorial. The people of his day, like the second group of children in the square, were unresponsive and ignored the invitation by both John the Baptist and Jesus.

God wants us to heed the invitation he offers us and come to him. He does not call out to us in a demanding voice nor are his words are harsh or demeaning. God calls out to all of us to come over to his table and take comfort from our long journey and listen to his words of wisdom. Yes, sometimes his instructions to us are unpleasant, but that is because God is not going to hide the truth from us, even if it makes us unconfutable. After all, do we want to be around someone who is going to be honest and open with us or do we want to be around someone who is going to hide the truth (so that we can be comfortable) or have hidden agendas?

Sadly, today there are so many individuals who simply do not heed the invitation from God to come to his table and participate in the assembly that encircles the table. These individuals are so caught up in their own lives and self-sufficiency that they cannot hear God gently calling to them and their busy life styles hinders their ability to give the invitation a serious reflection. For these individuals praising what has been created, such as mountain ranges and open prairie in the spring, is easier than taking time to properly praise the Creator who made them. Jesus taught us, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today (Mt 6:34).” But these busy individuals would respond to this by saying something like, I have an important meeting in three days and I must prepare for it, so don’t bother me with an idea like that. Nonetheless, Jesus still calls out to them and invites them to the table of good fellowship.

In light of this passage, our challenge is to ensure that we are able to hear the “still small voice (I Kings 19:12 RSV) of the living and eternal God. There are times when God is calling to draw us near to him and other times God is attempting to guide us on a matter. Therefore, the first step in this listening process is to make ourselves available to God through prayer, especially prayer during quite times.

Now let us turn to “wisdom” in this matter. Wisdom is shown to be correct though its results. In other words, actions speak louder than words. In this context what else can be said about wisdom? Listen to the Book of Proverbs. In the eighth chapter we read this about wisdom, “I, Wisdom, live together with good judgment. I know where to discover knowledge and discernment. All who fear LORD will hate evil. Therefore, I hate pride and arrogance, corruption and perverse speech (12-13).” This passage from Proverbs confirms that good decision making is grounded on knowledge and discernment. Making good decisions requires that we first step away from ourselves and then look at a matter from all sides and opinions. The people whom Jesus was addressing had their own understanding of what was a good decision and it was grounded in their very narrow view. They did not hear that still small voice in their hearts and this led them to ignore the invitation they were offered. Rather than intellectually engaging John and Jesus, they engaged in throwing insults at them. They said John was possessed by a demon and Jesus was a drunk. Although they had seen and heard both John and Jesus, they did not allow themselves to be spiritually awaken. Instead they allowed their pride and arrogance to be awaken, they had no desire to adjust their vision.

The Second Point: Pride and Humility

Jesus said in his prayer, “I thank you, Father, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent.” Listen to the commentary written by Don Schwager about this verse, “Jesus’ prayer also contains a warning that pride can keep us from the love and knowledge of God. What makes us ignorant and blind to the things of God? Certainly intellectual pride, coldness of heart, and stubbornness of will – shut out God and his kingdom. Pride is the root of all vice and the strongest influence propelling us to sin. It first vanquishes the heart, making it cold and indifferent towards God. It also closes the mind to God’s truth and wisdom for our lives. What is pride? It is the excessive love of oneself at the expense of others and the exaggerated value of one’s own learning and importance.”

Jesus was grateful that true spiritual wisdom was kept hidden and not revealed to those who would not properly receive it. He knew that those who were filled with intellectual pride would not be able to hear his words and understand his teachings. No matter what John and Jesus said and no matter how dire their warning, these cold hearted intellectuals would not adjust their vision. Pride is the ultimate expression of self-centeredness, when I was a younger man we called it “me, myself, and I.”

There are seven deadly sins, sometimes called cardinal sins. They are wrath, greed, laziness, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony; and many theologians consider pride as the worst of the seven, because it makes the heart cold and indifferent towards the living God. There is a kind of blindness associated with pride, it is mentioned in the Book Proverbs, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall (6:18).” There are individuals who are so full of pride and confidence that they believe it is in possible for them to make a mistake. When they do make a mistake, rather than admitting it and adjusting their vision, they often make it appear that someone else did it.

The simple message of the gospel which Jesus proclaimed was being understood and joyfully received by the common everyday person in the market place. But the sophisticated intellectuals who should have recognized it immediately, dismissed it. They may have done so because of its lack of complexity or their unwillingness to associate with those who are not as sophisticated as they were. Regardless of what excuse was used, it would still be an expression of a haughty spirit.

Jesus offered praise to his Father for keeping spiritual wisdom hidden from those filled with intellectual pride, and revealed it to those who are child-like. This brings to mind what was written in the Gospel of Mark, “Anyone who does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it (10:15).” There are two characteristics of childhood that are of great spiritual value, they are humility and simplicity.

To be child-like is to accept the words of your Father without question or hesitation. It means that you will not only listen to what the Father has to say, but you will listen attentively. This is how we are to listen to the Scriptures and that gentle call from God. Responding to God our Father in the manner of a child is an act of humility and it demonstrates that we are willing to be taught by the Scriptures and the Spirit. Those who walk with pride and a haughty spirit cannot respond to God in humility and they find it very difficult to approach God in a child-like manner.

This leads us to a reflection upon humility. Humility is not just placing others first, but it is also the practice of placing oneself on the lower step. Humility is the opposite of our human nature. Human nature wants to focus on its own self, first and foremost, for all to know and see. Human nature does not want to think of others, but instead wants others to think of it. While humility is content to wear colors that do not draw attention to itself, human nature wants to wear the bright and unmistakable color that boldly proclaim its presence. Time and time again Christ teaches us place others first, and his entire life among us was a sacrifice that placed mankind before himself. When we practice placing ourselves on a lower step we will be walking humbly with our God.
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Saint Francis was born into wealth and entitlement, he did not have a need and those around him served him without question. However, the Holy Spirit wakened his soul and it became humble and “filled with renewed joy from LORD [and he understood that] the poor will rejoice in the Holy One (Isa 29:19).” Once that wakening broke forth from his soul, Francis dedicated himself to walking humbly with God. At the end of his life he understood that “humility and reverence of LORD [has its own kind of] wealth, honor, and life (Prov 22:4).”

The Third Point: The Father and the Son

Let us begin this review with verse twenty-seven of the Revised Standard Bible, “All things have been delivered to me by my Father.” Jesus now changes gears and speaks to the people, but now tenderly, like a Rabbi with his students. In the Gospel of John Jesus clearly stated his union with the Father when he said that we must always believe that he is in the Father and the Father is in him (14:11). Here in verse twenty-seven Jesus clearly states his relationship to the Father, and makes three unmistakable claims to having a special union and relationship with God. They are: The Father has delivered all things to him, his relationship with the Father, and the ability to reveal the Father. Jesus has a strong and very personal relationship the Father, and he is very knowledgeable of his true Father.

Listen to how The One Volume Commentary explains this verse: “Jesus now declares that the same authority belongs to Himself, because all created things have been delivered to Him by God. This supreme authority over the universe, which was delivered to Him. Such power could not be given to just any creation, and the possession of it by Christ can only be explained by assuming that He is, as the Gospel of John and the Epistles represent Him as being, both the creator and sustainer of the universe.” This is confirmed in verse three of the first chapter of the Gospel of John, it reads, “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” The first chapter of Colossians also confirms this in verse sixteen, it says, “In him all things in heaven and earth were created, things visible and invisible … all things have been created through him.” Indeed, all things in heaven and earth have been delivered to Christ; and this means that Christ has full and complete authority over everything.

This universal authority of Christ is recognized by both the apostles and demons. In the Gospel of Luke, a demon says to Jesus, “I know who you are, the Holy One of God (Lk 4:34)” and in the Gospel of John, Peter says to Jesus, “You are the Holy One of God (Jn 6:69).” While demons and apostles are generally opposed to each other and have very different agendas, they both clearly agree on one thing, that Jesus is the Christ and the Holy One of God!

Before moving onward to my next point, I am going to say a few words about the Kingdom that has been delivered to Christ. The Kingdom of Heaven is realized in this present world, among the human community. In his book Jesus the Jewish Theologian, Brad Young has this to say about this realm, “For Jesus, the Kingdom of Heaven is: 1. The Power of God – that is, God doing what he wants. 2. The People of God – that is, people doing what God wants.” Simply put, God commands and the people obey by doing it. With this in mind, it is only natural for someone to ask, what are the principle commandments that Christ wants us to obey? The Gospel of Mark answers this for us, in chapter twelve it is written, “What commandment is first of all? Jesus answered, “Hear, O People: LORD is our God, LORD alone. You shall love LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There are no other commandments greater then these (12:28-31).” Therefore, as the Father loves the Son, and has placed all things in his hands (Jn 3:35), we are to love God and humanity.

Now let us explore the statement, “No one knows the Son except the Father.” A Father, like any parent, knows his children; he knows their habits, their dislikes, and their strengths. A father knows these because he was there before the child was born and once the child came into the world, the Father witnessed every little detail of the development of the child. For an example, he not only knows the child does not like strawberries, but has witness from the beginning how this dislike evolved into what it is. With this in mind, we have an understanding that no one really knows an individual except the parents.

The relationship between Jesus and God is truly a Father-Son relationship. Like an obedient child, Jesus does nothing without first presenting the matter before God the Father. By living in this manner, Jesus found great favor with God, his Father, who acknowledged this favor at the Baptism of Jesus by saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, whom I am well pleased with (Mt 3:17).” The communion we see in the Gospel stories between the Father and the Son is the core of their relationship; and this union between them points to their unity in the Trinity. Their shared divine knowledge also points to their shared divine nature; as the Gospel of John stated, Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in Jesus. Needless to say, this is a great mystery.

The degree in which Jesus was obedient to God the Father was both deep and profound. His desire to please his Father not only meant that he did nothing without first presenting matter before the Father, it also meant a life of self-sacrificing, placing the requests of God before his own wants and needs. This is confirmed in the Gospel of John, when Jesus said, “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of Him who sent me. And this is the will of Him who sent me, of all those He has given me I shall lose none of them, but raise them up at the last day. For the will of my Father is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day (Jn 6:38-40).”

In this context Jesus is the example we have concerning our own faith journey. God is to be at the very core of who we are and what we do. We are to bring everything to God, through prayer, and lay it before him. We are to avoid the arrogance and pride of the sophisticated intellectuals, and submit our hearts and walk according to the will of God and not ourselves.

The Fourth Point: Come unto Christ

In verse 28 we read about a gentle call from Jesus to his followers and apostles, the words of this call are some of the most compassionate words found in the Christians Scriptures. Here we clearly see the pastoral nature of Jesus and his desire to serve humanity as a shepherd and not as an overlord. Listen to what the Life Application Commentary has to say on this verse, “These words focused on Jesus’ care and concern for his followers his promise of guidance and presence, and the ultimate future rewards. Jesus said, ‘Let me teach you.’ Jesus, their leader and example, was also the ultimate servant, humble and gentle. His path of humble service is the pattern for us to follow.”

In these comforting words of Jesus we also find a harness (the yoke). Here Jesus wants to remind those who welcomed him and received his good news about God are “yoked to his message and his life style.” Through embracing him they are now associated with him and carry his yoke. For many Christians today the yoke is a neckless with a cross and for clergy and preachers the stole is sometimes referred to as a yoke. If you look closely at your lives, you will notice he is not the one placing burdens and heavy yokes upon your life, instead you are. Christ wants us to freely accept him and freely place his yoke upon ourselves. Throughout the Gospel stories Christ invites us into relationship with him, but he does not demand it. We are free draw near to Christ or to separate ourselves from Christ. It is completely our choice, to choose either to come closer to the Light of Christ or to walk away from him. Regardless of what we choose, Christ will always call out to us and invite us. The arrogant sophisticated intellectuals of the story decided to walk away, may we not follow their example.

Now for a final thought on comfort and I will begin with a quote from Billy Graham, “God does not comfort us to make us comfortable, but to make us the comforters.” Saint Francis makes a similar statement, “O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console.” While God indeed wants to offer us comfort and rest, he does not want us to be in full communion with the soft and comfortable chair nor does he want us to become disconnected from both the pain and the joy of humanity. He wants us to respond to is Word that gives us comfort and spiritual renewal by going forth and serving those who are in most need of our talents and his Word, our Master.

THE CONCLUSION 

In our Gospel lesson today Jesus is challenging our attitudes and wants to make any necessary adjustments to our vision. Christ does not what us to become so focused on what we think is decent or proper that we ignore his invitation and any possible relationships with our neighbors. God is always inviting us and stirs that small voice in our hearts. What we may experience as an annoyance or inconvenience may well be our heavenly Father trying to get our attention. When we think that God wants our attention we need to say, speak Lord, your servant is listening. Finally, I encourage each and every one of us to develop a strong and healthy relationship with our heavenly Father, for as Christ made his relationship with the Father the center of his life, we should do the very same. Amen.

Written by Dave Pflueger July 6, 2014 © copyrighted by Pflueger

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14. Holy Oil

Then you shall take the anointing oil, and anoint the tabernacle (place of worship) and all that is in it, and consecrate it and all its furniture, so that it shall become holy. Exodus 40:9 NRSV
This shall be my holy anointing oil throughout your generations. It shall not be used in any ordinary anointing of the body, and you shall make no other like it in composition; it is holy, and it shall be holy to you. Exodus 30:31-32 NRSV
Samuel took a vial of oil and poured it on his head, and kissed him; he said, “LORD has anointed you ruler over his people Israel.” 1st Samuel 10:1 NRSV
I have found my servant David; with my holy oil I have anointed him. Psalm 89:20 NRSV

An Overview

Beginning with the Covenant with the Hebrew people and by the divine plan of the Holy, the first formalized hosts where the presence of God would dwell among the Jewish people would be the Bread of the Presence and the Sacred Oil.
These two hosts and the practices that surrounded them are some of the oldest sacred activities in which the Living God becomes present among the faithful individuals through the prayers and ritual of the clergy and the assembly of the faithful. These rites and practices were instituted by God in the establishment of the Covenant with the Hebrew people through Moses and they continue to this day in both Judaism and Christianity.

The concept of using oil for religious purposes has been around for as long as humankind has had desired for formal rites. Many cultures throughout the world have used oil for ritual purposes and the Hebrew community through the Mosaic Covenant has used Sacred Oil for healing, anointing kings, objects, priests, as well as for other events in the life of the Jewish people for centuries.

In both the Jewish and Christian communities an object or individual becomes sacred when anointed with oil by an appropriate person. In this context the act of placing hand(s) on a person is the act of consecration (commissioning) and the Spirit of God within the oil makes the object or person holy (Exodus 40:9).

The Early Christians

In light of their Jewish background it is no surprise that the apostles of Jesus the Anointed would recognize the Sacred Oil as a host of the Spirit of God and continue the practice of using it for ceremonial purposes (especially in the Christian Mikvah of Conversion and in healing rites).

Like the early Christians of yesterday, Christians of today consecrate the oil as a host of the Holy Spirit by a bishop or for Protestants a presbyter/elder on Thursday of Holy Week and afterwards is presented in containers to appropriate clergy for use in their ministries. While these Christian leaders may consecrate oil at other times throughout the year, Holy Thursday is the traditional date to do so.

Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. James 5:14 NRSV

In the Christian ceremonies in which the anointing the oil is used, a cleric uses the oil to make a cross upon the forehead of the recipient of the rite. While throughout the history of Christianity this anointing has produced healing and even miracles, the healing of the body is not the initial purpose of this anointing. The primary purpose of this anointing is to strengthen and comfort the soul of the individual who is weak and ill, so that the soul may become strong and whole through the comfort and sacredness of the Spirit of God.
Modern medical professional acknowledge that for an individual to properly heal they first need a strong and healthy spirit (soul) within their being and therefore treating the soul provides a person with a foundation for either human healing or for the ultimate healing – our union with the Living God (death).

When Consecrating a Priest. You shall take the anointing oil, and pour it on his head and anoint him. Exodus 29:7 NRSV

When ordaining clergy, Christians follow the basic concepts of the Mosaic Covenant and the teaching of Jesus the Anointed One, in that the leadership lays hands upon the candidate (the commissioning) and then the candidate is anointed (making sacred), therefore setting the person apart for the ministry of Word and Sacrament (presbyters).

From these two examples we can see that Christianity of today has an unbroken link to the Mosaic Covenant and a bond with the apostles of the Anointed One. From this foundation, Christian clerics can present the sacred for times of celebration and for those times when an individual is personally in most need of it.

In Closing

The Sacred Oil has been used for the benefit of the faithful for centuries and has strengthen many through receiving the comfort that comes from the Spirit of the Living God. While the Sacred Oil does not nourish and sustains our souls, because that is the Mystery of the Bread and Wine, it does offer our souls comfort and renewed sanctification through the union of humanity and the Sacred. Thanks be to God!

An Old Family Recipe: You shall make it an oil of Holy ointment, an ointment compound after the art of the perfumer: it shall be a Holy Anointing Oil. Exodus 30:25
You shall make holy anointing oil. Twelve pounds of liquid myrrh. Six pounds of cane. Six pounds of cinnamon. Twelve pounds of cassia. One gallon of olive oil. Exodus 30:23-24

Written by Dave Pflueger April 6, 2011 © copyrighted by Pflueger

10. A Sermon on Micah 6:6-8

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This sermon was presented at Covenant Bible Seminary in Lakewood, Washington during the autumn of 2013.

THE PREFACE OF THE SERMON

Please stand if you are able to do so.

The Prayer:  Almighty God, send your Spirit upon me, so that the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.

The Text:  A reading from the Prophet Micah 6:6-8, “With what shall I come before LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I bring the year old calves to burn as offerings to him? Will LORD be pleased if I bring him thousands of sheep or with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer him my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? No, he has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

The congregation is seated … “Please be seated.”

The Greeting: Greetings everyone – May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

If appropriate acknowledgements of individuals.

The Title: Our subject on this day of the Lord, is “What the LORD requires.”

The Reason (purpose): The reason why I am preaching on what the LORD requires is so that we may better understand what a walk with God is.

The Points (theme): From the Prophet Micah I receive these points: 1. Act Justly. 2 Love Mercy. And 3 Walk with God.

THE INTRODUCTION TO THE SERMON

My introduction begins with a question, “What shall we bring and place before LORD and bow down before the exalted God?” Lord has shown us that he does not want burnt animal sacrifices given out of habit nor does he want burnt child sacrifices of the pagan religions created by mankind; instead God desires us to be obedient to his will and to what is written in the scriptures. Applying them to everyday life, not just with hallow actions and empty words, but with a sincere heart-felt faith. The ministries of the prophet Micah happened during a time in history when both Israel and Judah could be characterized by moral and religious corruption, in other words actions that are completely contrary to the ways of God, not unlike what we find in our society today. Micah had to deal with people who could speak from the scriptures, but few were willing to apply the scriptures to their actions, not unlike what we find in ecclesiastical communities today.

THE BODY OF THE SERMON

This brings us to our first point, which is … Act Justly.

Being obedient to God and someone who listens carefully to the voice of LORD our God and doing what is right in his sight (Ex 15:26) is not always easy and in fact it can be very dangerous. Standing up and clearly stating what you believe is right will not win you a popularity contest and more often than not, you will not gain friends and influence the right people. However, it will make you known as a person with strong religious convictions and someone who does not worry about being politically correct.  Being disenfranchised and isolated is often a result of listening to God and obeying his commands and keeping all his decrees; this is especially true when we witness Christians acting inappropriate. When we see a Christian “brother or sister acting immorally, desiring what does not belong to them (coveting), engaged in idolatry, using abusive language, intoxicated, or swindling others, such individuals no one is to even a share a meal with them.” (1 Cor 5:11)  We are also directed to not act like hypocrite; for an example, suppose you see a Christian who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well.” But then you do not give that person any food, clothing, or at the very least lead them to a program that could provide basic services (James 2:15-17)  would you be acting justly? Certainly not!  We must never forget that we are our brother’s keeper.  Therefore, to act justly is to put the spiritual principles of the Bible into applied application, this simply means do not merely [read and] listen to the Word, and so deceive yourselves. [Just] do what it says. (James 1:22)  In other words, we are to move from “knowing” what the Bible says to actually “doing” what it says.

My second point is … Love Mercy.

While there are several concepts that comprise mercy, I will focus on compassion and forgiveness.  We are disciples of our Lord and as such we are to care for others with the tender compassion of Christ Jesus. (Phil 1:8) Therefore, either as individuals or as a collective we are to offer the fast that LORD wants, that is, to free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. Share food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help. (Is 58:6-9)  Therefore, since God loves us and has chosen us to be a holy people, we must clothe ourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. We must make allowances for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends us. Remember, the Lord forgave us, so we must forgive others. Above all, clothing ourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in our hearts. For as members of one body we are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. (Col 3:12-17)

Now let us review forgiveness.

Forgiveness is the central theme of the Gospels of Christ and within their pages we read, “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” (Matt 6:14-15)  This statement comes immediately after the disciples were taught the Lord’s Prayer and is very clear on what our spiritual responsibility is; and that is to forgive, and failure to do so will deeply effect our relationship with God in a negative way.  This statement should also remind us of the principles set forth on the Book of Leviticus were it reads, “We are not to nurse hatred in our heart, but instead we are to confront people directly so we will not be held guilty for their sin; and we are not to seek revenge or bear a grudge against someone, but instead we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.” (Lev 19:17-18)  Is Christ asking us to do something that is easy? No, he is not! Forgiving someone goes against many human emotions and even personal convictions, but Christ does not want us to focus on a brewing kettle of emotions, instead he wants us to focus on him and leave revenge and the final judgment to God alone. Our heavenly Father does not what us to get caught up in the economy of hatred and revenge, you can say that God wants us to engage in some reverse psychological warfare with spiritual benefits. With this in mind, listen to what Christ taught, “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven.” (Matt 5:11-12) Also, listen to what St. Paul wrote to the Romans in his letter, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” (Rom 12:20) In light of this, we can see that through forgiving others we gain the upper hand and receive the spiritual benefits.

This leads us to my final point … Walking with God

Walking humbly with God and being obedient to him is not always an easy task, just look at St. Peter. While St. Peter was a devout disciple of Christ, he was known for placing himself before Christ. On the other hand, the Prophet Samuel had no trouble keeping the cart behind the horse. Another example comes from the military march, in such a march everyone knows their place and everyone follows the general. Regardless of the image we use, the message it the same, we are the ones who are to humbly walk with God.  When one is walking humbly they are moving in a manner that is the opposite of walking with pride. This kind of walk requires every thought and desire within oneself to be brought into submission and obedient to the will of God. This means that our movements are to be reflections of what the Lord our God requires of us and out of our greatest sense of respect towards the sacred, we are to have the highest degree of reverence for the Lord our God.  Therefore we are to walk according to the ways of the Lord and unconditionally love God; this means we are to love LORD our God with our entire heart, soul, mind, and with all of our strength.  (Mark 12:30)  Our walk with God must be a total commitment to his ways and an openness of our hearts to Christ and his will for us. We must minimize and contain our self-will and human attitudes, because they are contrary to the will of God; so that the Spirit of God may come into our lives and dwell in our hearts.  Our walk continues throughout our life and if our hearts are humble and open to the Spirit of God, he will guide us on the path until that day when we close our eyes for the last time. Therefore, let us not waste a single minute on cutting our own path and walking according to our own will, but instead walk humbly before our God.

THE CONCLUSION OF THE SERMON

In conclusion, are you acting justly towards mankind? Are you being merciful to your neighbor? Are you in a proper relationship with the Lord and walking humbly with God? In other words, are you being obedient and walking in love, as Christ loved you and gave himself for you, an offering and sacrifice to God? (Eph 5:2). If you are, then give God the glory for giving you the ability to do so, but if you are not, then I say stop and seriously evaluate your spiritual journey.

In light of this, we should never forget that our daily offering is not only just studying the sacred scriptures, but also to continually offer to God the sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of voices that acknowledge his name; and not neglecting to do good things and share what you have. For such sacrifices are pleasing to God.  (Heb 13:15-16)

Written by Dave Pflueger October 2013 © copyrighted by Pflueger

7. A Reflection on Easter – 2012

We have all heard it before, why did Jesus have to die? We have also heard all the theological and ecclesiastical answers to the questions; and I must confess that I embrace a few of them. But today I want to explore this question on a bit of a different path.

Jesus was born in the must humble means, his birth brought God into the everyday realities of humanity. Jesus was raised by a common ordinary Jewish family; with a blue-collar father and a mother who devoted herself the responsibilities that surrounded the home. In spite of all this commonality, Jesus was nonetheless God; but because of his external appearance and nature those who should have recognized the deity that was hidden behind human flesh and bones either could not or simply refuse to do so.

The compassion that Jesus had towards all of humanity, his ability to suspend the laws of nature, and his ability to heal diseases and disabilities should have been enough for people to be convinced of his divinity. However, Jesus meet the same fate that all the sages and prophets of old did, in that the people had their vision of God and were not willing to conform to the divine direction because it required them to embrace something that they did not what. Jesus gave them every kind of evidence of who he really was, but because he was not their image of God they ignored him and did their best to distance themselves from his compassion. Every time Jesus did a common miracle they wanted an even bigger symbol that he was God or at the very least an earthy king; and because of this he knew that he would have perform something grand and powerful for them to realize that he was God.

So now we come to the proverb, be careful of what you ask for. Jesus was going to give them a miracle that would be on one hand the grandest thing that humanity would ever witness and on the other hand would confounded humanity to no ends. As humanity understands things, a miracle or wonderful act comes about because someone performs it in an external manner; such as reaching out and touching something or moving an object from one place to another. Jesus was about to perform an action that would profoundly proclaim that he is God and leave no doubt of his identity. What Jesus was about to do was not to perform a miracle upon someone else, but to perform a miracle upon himself; under normal circumstances this does not sound like an event worthy of a notation in history. However, the miracle that Jesus was going to do would go far beyond curing himself of a common form of influenza or even a common form of suspension of natural science. Like I said, be careful of what you ask for.

Jesus allowed the citizens and authorities of Palestine and Jerusalem to set the stage for this miracle and put things into motion; he allowed them to be as abusive as they desired and even was passive towards them as they caused great and unmentionable harm towards him. In other words, he allowed them to think and believe that they were in control and masters of the moment. By dying through an ugly form of death Jesus proved that he was completely human and subject to every joy and pain that humanity was created with. Through proving beyond any doubt that he was human he was setting the stage to prove that he was divine. By dying disgracefully he allowed them to mock him and prove that he was truly abandoned and very dead. Again, he allowed them to believe that they were masters of the moment.

From a human stand point, dead people cannot perform miracles, the body is lifeless and void of personality. In other words it cannot do anything and is worthless. Therefore on one hand Jesus was dead and in the other hand the stage had been set for a great miracle. Now Jesus was buried in a nice place and to ensure that his body would remain safely and secured in the tomb a unit of Roman soldiers were assigned to guard it. Some of these soldiers witnessed the body of Jesus being placed into this grave and once the tomb had been closed they placed a seal on it. Jesus could not be more dead and buried.

A couple of days later the morning detachment assigned to guard the grave were going through the normal routine when things quickly went from very normal to very abnormal; these brave and strong Roman guards went from confident individuals to being scared beyond their wildest imagination. These warriors whom the known world feared and respected were witnessing the power and authority of the living God in a way that very few throughout history have. At first they may have thought that a strong earthquake had happened, an earthquake would rattle the nerves of these Romans, but it would not scare them. From their stand point, the earthquake caused the stone to move in a way that opened the grave; this would be an easy fix and they could seal the grave once the repairs were done. However, what happened immediately after the grave was opened was anything but normal. As it turned out, the grave had been opened because of an authority within it and a dead person whom some or all recognized, not a ghost, walked out of this grave. The person who was dead an hour ago was now very much alive and most likely said to them in a very human voice, peace be with you. Needless to say, these mighty warriors were reduced to a fear that resemble insanity and their only response was to run away (could you blame them?).

Now who was the master of the moment? Jesus had performed a great miracle and had proven that he was the living God. He had awakened himself from death in a manner that resembles a human being awakening from a deep sleep. No human or heavenly being came and caused him to awake from this sleep; he did it on his own and had highly creditable witnesses, Roman soldiers. In time they would not be the only witness, but these Gentiles were the first human witnesses of this great awakening. Jesus, the Holy Anointed One of God, was alive and doing just fine. Glory be to God on high and peace to the people upon the earth. Amen.

Written by Dave Pflueger April 16, 2012 © copyrighted by Pflueger

4. A Reflection on Luke 22:66-71

Divi-Filius

Not long after sunrise, the Council of elders of the people assembled, both chief priests and scribes, and they led him away to their council chamber. A spokesperson said, “Are you anointed? If you have been, for what purpose have you been anointed?” Tell us! But Jesus said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I ask you a question, you will not answer.” However, I will say this, ‘Behold, I suddenly saw one like a son of Adam coming from the heavenly clouds. He went up to the Ancient of Days, who said to him, from now on be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” Then the spokesman said, “Are you the son of god?” And he said to them, “Yes, I am.” Then they said, “What further need do we have of testimony? For we have heard it ourselves; from his own words.”  Then the whole body of them got up and brought him before Pilate.

While this is not a literal translation of Luke 22:66-72, this version of the meeting is more likely a more realistic presentation of the actual interaction between the council and Jesus.

I will begin with a quote from the book “Jesus the Jewish Theologian by Brad H. Young, “It is highly doubtful if Jesus ever appeared before the Sanhedrin. Leaders like Gamaliel would never have allowed such unfair proceedings in a trial. The Greek word ‘sunedrion’ is the term used for council. Sometimes it has wrongly been understood to mean the prestigious high court of the Sanhedrin. During the trail of Jesus, it becomes clear that this was ‘their council,’ that is, the council of the Sadducean priests (Luke 22:66).”  Brad H. Young put the spotlight the Sadducean priests and he also penned, “Jesus’ death was political rather than theological.” The Sadducean priests were closely aligned with the Roman Empire and through this alliance they controlled the Temple. Over the last couple of years the council of Sadduccean priests had been looking for ways to rid itself of two messianic movements that had merged into one, John of the Mikvah and the Jesus community. These two groups merged after the death of John and become one large messianic movement that was centered in spiritual renewal. The Sadduccean priests and their closest associates saw this new movement as a threat to their political and economic realities, because they knew the messianic convictions of the Jews were closely watched and strongly oppressed by the Roman Empire.

There is something here that the modern day reader might miss, but those governed by the Roman Empire would not. I am talking about the title Divi Filius, which translates as the “son of god. This is one of the titles of the Roman emperor. When a Roman or a subject of the Roman Empire heard the title “son of god” mentioned, they immediately thought you were referring to the emperor and no one else. We cannot forget the fact that Roman emperors were very jealous and defensive of their titles, and they would never share their titles with a non-Roman such as Jesus. When Jesus was asked, are you the son of god, the question was not theological but instead it was political. When the Roman trained ears of the council heard Jesus say “yes I am” there was only one translation for his response, and that was this “I am an emperor (a king).”

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus only referred to himself as the Son of God in the context of the third person. He never directly used the title “son of god.” He knew if he publically called himself “son of god” it would be an open invitation to be arrested by the Romans. This is why you never read in the Gospels Jesus addressing a public gathering like this, I am the son of god and I would like you to listen to what I have to say. Before his death, Jesus wanted to avoid conflicts with the Roman title Divi Filius.

At the end of this hearing the council has evidence that could be used to charge Jesus with creating a rival kingdom, something that the Romans would not tolerate. Since Jesus agreed with the council that he was the “son of god” he could be charged with sedition, over-throwing the Roman state and establishing a new kingdom with him as the emperor. This is the target of the council. It would not only bring the death penalty for Jesus, but it would spread suspicion upon his entire movement and open any of his followers to Roman persecution. Most likely, the council of the Sadducean priests was hoping to stand before the Roman authorities and use the response given by Jesus as a declaration for an insurrection. By doing so they were hoping to invoke a defensive response from them and therefore the council could use the self-preservation nature of the Roman government to do their dirty work.

There was one barrier to the plan that the Sadducean priests had created and it was called Pilate, the Roman Governor. As we read onward, we will see that he saw right through this dastardly plan and clearly saw the hypocrisy of this council. Although Pilate had a responsibility to monitor and repress all Jewish messianic individuals and their followers, Pilate knew Jesus represented a different and unusual kind of messiah. In all likelihood he was well aware of Jesus and his activities, but since Jesus avoided any attempt to be called emperor and instead focused on teaching, healing, and living in harmony with God and mankind he did not present a military threat against Rome. In this light, Pilate would also be aware of the respect and compassion that Jesus had shown towards Roman soldiers and other non-Jews in the region over the last few years; and this would have separated him from the Zealots, a known terrorist’s organization that sought to overthrow the Roman authority over the Hebrew people. So when the counsel of the Sadducean priests informed Pilate of the statement that Jesus made he did not believe that Jesus posed a real threat to the empire. However, Pilate was convinced that Jesus could be punished for disturbing the peace for acting inappropriately.

The council of the Sadducean priests knew what they would be facing when they confronted Pilate with Jesus. They knew if they wanted Jesus to die they would have to control the environment of the trail before Pilate and use their followers to convince Pilate to fulfill their desires. Through controlling the environment they would be able to convince Pilate that Jesus was a leader of terrorist movement and send a message to everyone who might threaten the religious establishment of the temple. Since Pilate was not going to be easily convinced that Jesus was a serious threat against the Roman state, they would have to ensure that the trail would happen in a place they could control. Therefore, in all likelihood the two times that Jesus appeared before Pilate probably occurred in the strong fortress of Antonia in the northwest corner of the temple complex. The majority of the group that gathered in that fortress was probably Sadducean priests and those of the general public who supported them. It is worth noting, that while Sadduceans and their followers were putting Jesus before Pilate, most people in Jerusalem were at home and focused on the celebration of the Passover.

In closing, how often have we lost jobs and other opportunities because we threaten someone’s comfort zones? I fear this happens all too often in our world that has grown to demand passive individuals who do not threaten anyone in anyway. In this story Jesus is clearly teaching us that we are to stand firm in matters of personal and institutional religious convictions. He is also making it very clear that we are to do this regardless of what the authorities or mob might do to us. After stating his case before his emperor and other authorities, Martin Luther looked right at them and gave them a look of defiance and said, “It is neither right nor safe for one to go against their conscience. Here I stand, God help me. Amen!” Archbishop Oscar Romero challenged the political authorities of El Salvador and they martyr him while he elevated the chalice during the Eucharistic Prayer. This is the very kind of spiritual strength that Christ wants us to have and live by; and for Christian clergy Martin Luther would add … “they must have teeth.”

Written by Dave Pflueger March 17, 2012 © copyrighted by Pflueger

1. A Sermon on the Lord’s Prayer

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This sermon was presented at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church E.L.C.A. in Tacoma, Washington on July 28, 2013.

THE PREFACE OF THE SERMON

The Prayer: Direct us, O Lord, in all our doings with your most gracious favor, and further us with your continual help. That throughout our study of the Scriptures, which begins, continues, and ends in you, we glorify your holy Name, and finally, by your mercy, obtain everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Text: The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke (11:1-13). He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.” And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

The Greeting: Greetings everyone – May the grace of our Lord Jesus [Christ] be with you.”

The Title: Our subject on this day of the Lord is “The Lord’s Prayer.”

The Reason: The reason that I am preaching on the Lord’s Prayer is so that we may understand the prayer in a more meaningful manner

The Points: 1. Our Relationship with God. 2. God: Sustainer and Provider. 3. Our Relationship with God and Our Neighbor. 4. Avoiding Separation from God.

THE INTRODUCTION OF THE SERMON

I will begin this introduction with a tradition that was common for a rabbi. It was a custom of a rabbi to teach his disciples how to pray and the prayers that a rabbi taught his disciples often reflected the core values of the rabbi. Jesus continued this custom by offering his disciples the prayer we know today as the Lord’s Prayer. On one hand it is a short and easy prayer to memorize and in the other hand it is a profound message that proclaims a very personal relationship with God. With this in mind, let us explore this prayer.

THE BODY OF THE SERMON

The First Point: Our Relationship with God.
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It is both a great mystery and a fact that the creator of the entire universe is our beloved Father. Our Father is almighty and holy beyond the imagination of our human minds; but our creator is also personal and loving like any father; with this in mind we should always remind ourselves to walk away from our busy lives for a moment and spend it with our heavenly Father.
Our Father, the living and eternal God of all, rejected the concept of sovereign and minion and instead embraced the concept of Father and his children, who inherit the realm that belongs to him.
We do not know why God did this and I am certain the reason is completely beyond our limited ability to comprehend; but the almighty Father of all and source of all wisdom would rather be our Father then a dictator, whom we have no relationship with.
Furthermore, God created us with the ability to act like any child towards their Father. We have ability to draw near or to be rebellious and separate, we have been given the ability to praise and honor our Father and we have the ability to ignore or even reject our Father. Regardless of how we treat our eternal Father, he is always faithful and loving towards us. His relationship towards us does not change, if change happens it comes from us. So like the prophets and sages of old, let draw near to the living God who is our loving Father.

Before moving onward, here are some quotations from the Old Testament that I would like you to reflect on:
From Deuteronomy: Is this the way you repay LORD, you foolish and senseless people? Is He not your Father who has created you? He has indeed made you and established you.
From the Psalter: You are my Father, my God, and the rock of my salvation.
From Isaiah: O LORD, You are our Father; we are the clay and You are our potter. All of us are the works of Your hand.
Also from Isaiah: You, O LORD, are our Father, our Redeemer.

Now let us reflect on respecting and hallowing the name. In his catechism, Martin Luther wrote this about hollowing the name, “In this petition [of the Lord’s Prayer] we ask for exactly the same thing that God expects of us in the second commandment: You shall not take the name of LORD your God in vain. Therefore, we are not to misuse his name by using it to swear, curse, lie, deceive, and so on, but use it properly to praise and honor God.”
In light of this, Christians have the responsibility to honor the holy name through their words and deeds. Therefore, when we say hallowed be your name we are not only praying for the name of God to be honored among humankind, but also that we may never forget the commandment: You shall not take the name of LORD your God in vain (Deut. 5:11).
The greatest form of honoring our Father and his sacred name is to live according to his will and guidance. By living and walking according to the will of our Father we grow in our own sacredness and become a light that shines the Gospel of Christ upon humanity.
Another word for this kind of living is called “sanctification.” According to Oswald Chambers in his book “My Utmost For His Highest, “Sanctification means to be intensely focused on God’s point of view. It means to secure and to keep all the strength of our mind, body, and soul, for God’s purpose alone.” This follows what Martin Luther said, “How does sanctification take place? Sanctification takes place when we occupy ourselves with the Word of God and focus on spiritual exercises.”
Chambers said we are to be focused God’s view point and Luther mentioned we are to occupy ourselves with the Word. Both are telling us that God should be first and foremost in our lives; in that we should make the Word, God’s view point, the cornerstone of our lives and by doing so we respect the name of God and hallow his holy name.

Your kingdom come, your will be done. In our modern world the word “kingdom” can be sometimes confusing, because when we hear the word kingdom we think of a geographic place that can be found on a map or a globe. However, a kingdom is more than just a geographic territory, it is the king himself; therefore, wherever the king is – so is the kingdom.
John the Forerunner announced that the kingdom is at hand and we better prepare ourselves to receive the kingdom when he comes among us. When Jesus comes and knocks on our door, are we prepared to invite the King of Kings into our lives? Are we ready to devote our entire life to the King? When Christ the King comes, he will want us to do is will and serve him alone. Can we do this? These are questions we should not only reflect on, but also answer. Because when we open our doors to Christ, we allow his kingdom to come into or hearts and allow his will to be our command. So when our hearts hear Christ knocking on the door, we should be prepared to open the door and give Jesus an answer.

Some might ask, what is the will of God requiring us to do? The words of the prophet Micah clearly explain the will of God, “What does LORD require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God (6:8).” Finally, always remember that Jesus is both the king and the kingdom, may we serve him with honor and praise.

The Second Point: God: Sustainer and Provider

At first read this sounds like a clear and simple request; however, throughout history the Fathers of Christianity have pointed out that the message behind this simple request is complex and multi-layered. With this in mind, let us listen to two commentaries on this petition of the Lord’s Prayer.
From the Life Application Commentary: When we pray “Give us today our daily bread” we are acknowledging that God is both our sustainer and provider. It is a misconception to think that we provide for our needs ourselves. We must trust God daily – to provide what he knows we really need.
From Martin Luther: This petition includes everything that belongs to our entire life in the world, for this is the only reason why we have to have daily bread. Now, life is not just a matter of having bread, food, clothes, and all the other things our bodies need. It also includes our need to get along in peace and harmony with all the people with whom we live and spend time with in our circumstances.
As you can see from just these two commentaries this petition has a lot more to it than the simple words that comprise it.
This petition reminds us that our Father knows what our needs are and he knows the priorities of our needs; therefore, our heavenly Father knows what is best for us and acts accordingly. With this said, we also must bear in mind that not all needs and concerns will be address in a way that makes us comfortable or can be immediately understand. There are times that our Father will answer our prayers in a way that makes us take a deeper look at our lives and our spiritual journey.
Now let us turn our attention to our relationships with God and humanity. Our relationship with God directly affects our relationship with humanity. If we have a healthy relationship with God and walk according to the will of God our interaction with humanity will generally be more positive. In promoting positive relationships with our neighbors we face many barriers, such as personal comfort zones, cultural differences, and political views. Therefore, it is very important that we take all our concerns and fears and place them before our Father.
We also have to remind ourselves that our ancient foe is the one who makes our fears grow, question other cultures, and hinders our ability to make compromise with others. The devil knows all too well if humanity follows the wisdom of God and works to live in harmony with each other he grows weak and the darkness he sows becomes light. In other words, our ancient foe cannot stand it when we take our fears and concerns and place them before our heavenly Father.
Now for a final reflection on this petition. Bread is the principle food of those who live in poverty throughout the world, in the Old Testament bread is the host where the presence of God resided, and in the New Testament bread was offered at the feedings of the multitudes. For Christians bread is also a part of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, the bread of the very presence of the living and loving Christ among us.

The Third Point: Our Relationship with God and Our Neighbor

Concerning sin, I have always enjoyed what the Book of Common Prayers says about it: “What is sin? Sin is the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God, thus distorting our relationship with God, with other people, and with all creation.”
Our Father is more than willing to forgive those who realize that they made a mistake and further realize the need to make amends and take responsibility for their actions, regardless if the mistake was by word or deed.
With this said, our greatest challenge to our obedience to God is Self-Will. Our Father created us with Self-Will, the freedom to have self-determination. Therefore, we have to make a decision at every sunrise; that is, to either be self-centered or to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). Because we have the responsibility for self-determination, which path will we choose?

Now let is review the challenges we face when forgiving others. Let us begin by turning again to the Anglican Book of Common Prayer: “How does sin have power over us? Sin has power over us because we lose our liberty when our relationship with God is distorted.”
The biggest stumbling block to forgiving our neighbor is our basic human nature and our emotions. When our nature and emotions get involved one of the first things that often gets ignored is the path of God, especially when it involves our emotions. It is human nature to seek revenge or the strongest form of justice when we have been wronged or extremely harmed; but this distorts our relationship with God.
Through Moses God has spoken about human relationships and how we are to deal with matters concerning our neighbors, this is especially true in the book of Leviticus: “Do not do anything that endangers the life of your neighbor. Within your heart do not hate your brother. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but instead love your neighbor as yourself (18:1).” This can be very challenging to our sense of right and wrong and our position of what is justice.

One of the things that God is trying to tell us is this, that he is the ultimate judge and he alone will decide the ultimate fate of each and every individual, regardless of what we say or what action we take. For he alone knows both our hearts and the real truth.
When we find ourselves struggling to forgive someone, let us reflect upon Jesus of Nazareth. He has insulted and grieved while he taught the sacred path, he was whipped and beaten, and finally he was slowly, painfully, and inhumanly killed. If anyone had the right to take revenge and seek the harshest form of justice for such cruelty and insensitivity, it was Jesus. However, rather than dispensing strong and terrifying justice upon those who most deserved it, he forgave them and by his resurrection, brought on by a most inhumane death, he brought salvation to humankind.
Therefore, when we are reflecting on something bad that has happen to us, let us keep the life and death of Christ in the forefront of our thoughts and do not allow it to leave (especially when the pain can still be felt); and remember that he forgave all of humanity and expects us to forgive those individuals who sin against us.
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The Fourth Pont: Avoiding Separation from God
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Now let us turn our attention toward temptation.
There are two kinds of temptation that I will address today: the devil and our human nature. One tempts us externally and the other tempts us internally. I have always thought this petition of the Lord’s Prayer should have been written as, lead us away from all kinds of temptation. Regardless if the source of the temptation, the devil or our human nature, the result is the same, a broken relationship with God. With every crack in that broken relationship the devil celebrates and dances with glee.

With that said, let us turn to the one who tempts us externally, that is, the devil. When we disobey our Father the devil is the one who benefits the most when temptation is successful. In the Gospel of John, the true character of the devil is explained very well: “[The devil] was a murderer from the very beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies (8:44).”
Deception and death are the hallmarks of the devil, or in other words temptation and brokenness. I can think of no better warning about the devil then this, the devil is a master of the gentle touch and the silent approach; once you realize that you are in one of the devil’s traps it is too late and you have been compromised. In my youth a theologian once said to me, that I should become more aware of my weaknesses and the emotions that are the strongest within me, because the devil and his associates will do their best to use them against me.

Now let us address that which tempts us internally, our human nature. Humanity was created in the image of God and this means individuals have the ability to make choices. We are free to choose to walk closer to God or to walk away from God (corruptibility). Because the temptation to walk away and live according to ourselves is so strong, Jesus encouraged his disciples to ask God to lead them away from temptation and deliver them from that which is evil.
Adam and Eve were the first human beings to misuse their freedom of choice and self-determination, when they consumed the Fruit of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The fruit not only gave them a greater intelligence, it allowed them to teach this knowledge to others. While the gift of knowledge can enlighten and greatly enhance an individual, it can also bring rebellion and the temptations of lust, gluttony, greed, laziness, envy, pride, wrath, and any other vice that separates an individual from God. Like a father wanting to protect his children, God was trying to keep Adam and Eve away from this kind of advance knowledge, so God warned them not to eat the Fruit of Knowledge. However, they did eat the fruit and through this disobedience they received a knowledge that was much greater than that of a child. From this knowledge came an inclination and a curiosity towards those things that are contrary to living in harmony with God. What was the punishment for the rebellion of Adam and Eve? They were removed from the garden and in the pages Byzantine Christian Study Bible we find this written about the consequences of their mistake, “The sin of Adam and Eve caused mankind to become subject to death. While this is often seen mainly as a punishment, or penalty, the emphasis concerning God’s judgment on Adam and Eve at the fall is best understood in terms of His mercy. For an example of this, concerning man’s mortality, St. Gregory the Theologian states, “Yet here too provides a benefit – namely death, which cuts off sin, so that an evil may not be everlasting. Thus His punishment is changed into mercy.” Since God did not withhold punishment from Adam and Eve, then we will also face a judgment of our hearts.

Now about that curiosity. It is a troubling seed that comes upon us and can cause us no end of hardships. Through this seed we are tempted and rebel through our freedom of choice. We should always be watchful in the environment of our lives, because a curiosity for something that we should avoid can be planted and from deep within our being this curiosity is cultivated until it becomes so tempting that we simply cannot resist it and then we let go of all the sacred wisdom and embrace it.

From a careful examination of the temptations of the devil and our human nature we can learn and become aware of both the internal and external means which can entice us. Our only hope is a merciful God who can lead us away from temptation through inspiring us to move another direction or make a better decision. Therefore, we really need to be open to the Holy Spirit and its gentle voice and the wisdom that comes from sacred Scripture so that we can stand firm against that which wants to separate us from God our loving Father.

THE CONCLUSION OF THE SERMON

In Closing, let us give the glory to our Father who enriches and benefits our lives through giving us good gifts. We should never forget to say, thank you heavenly Father, for the gifts that he brings to our lives and the blessing he bestows upon us. Our Father has bestowed upon each and everyone us talents and skills that are not only meant to benefit our lives, but also humanity as well. Therefore, as another means of giving God the glory, let us first give back to God what the Holy has first given to us, ourselves, our time, and our talents. Amen!

Written by Dave Pflueger July 28, 2013 © copyrighted by Pflueger