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Sermon for 3rd Sunday After Pentecost

First Reading: Exodus 19:2-8

 2{The people of Israel} set out from Rephidim and came into the wilderness of Sinai, and they encamped in the wilderness. There Israel encamped before the mountain, 3while Moses went up to God. The Lord called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: 4‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” 7So Moses came and called the elders of the people and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. 8All the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And Moses reported the words of the people to the Lord.


Psalm 100

 1Be joyful in the Lord, all you lands; serve the Lord with gladness and come before his presence with a song. 2Know this: The Lord himself is God; he himself has made us, and we are his; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture. 3Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise; give thanks to him and call upon his Name. 4For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his faithfulness endures from age to age.


Second Reading: Romans 5:6-15

 6For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7For one will scarcely die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — 8but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. 12Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned — 13for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. 15But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.


Gospel: Matthew 9:35-10:8 [9-20]

 935Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 36When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” 101And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. 2The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; 3Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. 5These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ 8Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay.” 9Acquire “Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, 10no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. 11And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. 12As you enter the house, greet it. 13And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. 15Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town. 16Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. 19When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”


Holy Unto The Lord

“You shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mime, and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:5b-6a).  God spoke these words to His chosen people, and by extension to us, as one’s redeemed by the blood of His Son.  Think about that, God’s treasured possession; what an amazing promise!  All God asks of us, in return, is for us to walk blamelessly before Him and to be holy.  But what does it mean for us to walk blamelessly and to be holy?

What does it mean when the Holy Spirit, through St. Paul, tells us that we’re expected, as His chosen people, to “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life” (Philippians 2:14-16a).

Or, when king David asks and answers these questions, “Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent?  Who may live on your holy mountain?”  [It’s] “The one whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from their heart; whose tongue utters no slander, who does no wrong to a neighbor, and casts no slur on others; who despises a vile person but honors those who fear the Lord; who keeps an oath even when it hurts, and does not change their mind; who lends money to the poor without interest; who does not accept a bribe against the innocent.”  And the promise: “Whoever does these things will never be shaken” (Psalm 15).  These passages, among so many others, help us to understand what it means to live an upright and holy life before God.  But this isn’t an easy task, is it?

The challenge of every faithful disciple is to live a holy and righteous life.  Ralph P. Martin has defined holy as, “That person or thing that is separated from all that is profane, common, or defiling.  Yahweh alone is ‘the Holy One.’  Those persons, places, or things that belong to God are holy — they are sanctified by God for divine use, or they manifest God’s presence or activity.”  In other words, the one who experiences a holy life has, out of necessity, their life connected with God.  And that connection to God for the Christian, is made through Jesus Christ.

I Peter chapter 1, verses 15 and 16 read, “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: Be holy, because I am holy.”  Once again, the Old and New Testaments are in harmony as Peter quotes Leviticus 11:44(b), 45(b).  God is declaring His mandate for us to live righteous and holy lives.  God, in Christ, is the holy One, and is our supreme example of what it means to be holy.  Therefore, we’re called to be like Jesus, thus, we’re called to be holy and righteous.

In Exodus 15:11 we read, “Who among the gods is like you, O Lord?  Who is like you — majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?”  Stop and consider what it means to be like God who is majestic, who is awesome, and who is working wonders.  God calls us to be holy like Him in all that we say or do.  We’re challenged to strive toward living righteous and holy lives, not just on Sunday morning, but day in and day out, week in and week out, year in and year out.  And to be like God, we must spend time in the presence of God.  Our lives must be wrapped up in humility, as we come into God’s presence.  We must show our righteousness in outward appearance as well as inward attitude.  We must meet God on God’s terms and not ours.

In the very familiar hymn, Reginald Heber, almost 200 years ago, wrote, “Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty, Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee.  Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty, God in three persons, blessed Trinity!  Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide thee, though the eye of sinful man thy glory may not see, only thou art holy; there is none beside thee, perfect in power, in love and purity.”  The prophet Isaiah declared, the words of the seraphs, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory… (Isaiah 6:3 NIV).”

Then, in the book of Revelation, we read another version of the same declaration, as the four living creatures kept saying night and day, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come…” (4:8).  All these Biblical writers are seeking to declare the same message.  Only God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is truly holy, and this same God, is challenging us to be holy as He is.  And because we’re challenged to be likewise holy, it’s important that we consider three significant factors surrounding the reality of God in the affairs of history.

The first factor surrounding the reality of God, in the affairs of history, is that God sends a great announcement.  Now for most people, a well-designed and printed card invitation, mailed to selected friends, would suffice to announce a marriage or any other festive occasion.

There was a retired couple who one day purchased cards announcing a birth.  They filled out the blank spaces and gave all the descriptive details.  They told about the name, the date of birth, the weight, and the color of eyes.  To the surprise of those who received the card, this announcement wasn’t for their baby boy or girl, but rather, their baby cat.  The joy of this retired couple was just as great over the birth of their baby cat as the joy of human parents having given biological birth.  For them, this was a great announcement.  But God’s announcements aren’t like our announcements.

God doesn’t send a card or a telegram.  God doesn’t send a letter or make a telephone call.  The great announcement, in Exodus chapter 19, came when God spoke to Moses from the mountain.  The attention of all of Israel had been appropriately secured.  And with the announcement, the agenda of God can be shared.  Anytime God speaks, whether it’s by His voice, the voice of His Son, the voice of scripture, or through His representatives, such as prophets, apostles, teachers, and pastors, God demands our attention when we’re addressed.

In the case of the newly freed nation of Israel, God spoke in another way.  If you were to turn back a few verses in chapter 19, particularly in verse 16, we read, “On the morning of the third day, there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast.”  Now pause here for a moment to connect two significant events of the Bible that occurred on the third morning: God speaking to His people from Mt. Saini and the resurrection of our Lord.  Both of these important historical events happened on the third day morning.  God had already informed Israel that a message was to be delivered to them on the third day, and He always fulfills His promises.

In Judges chapter 5, the song of Deborah begins to declare the intensity of God’s announced presence.  “O Lord, when you went out from Seir, when you marched from the land of Edom, the earth shook, the heaven poured, the clouds poured down waters.  The mountains quaked before the Lord, the God of Israel… (5:4-5).”  There at Mt. Saini, God revealed Himself and His presence on the mountain and made it holy, thereby excluding it as a place of habitation or occasional use by ordinary people.  Likewise, God revealed Himself and revealed His presence on Resurrection morning.  Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount said, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:47).  The Bible is consistent in its call for us to be righteous in our thoughts, words and deeds and to be set apart, that is God’s holy people.

The Scribe Ezra, who also has a book by his name, wrote in 2 Chronicles, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land… (7:14).”  God wants to be with us.  God wants to help us.  God wants what’s best for us.  And God wants to bless and prosper us.  Therefore, the announcement is made, and the challenge is for us to respond positively to God: to receive all the promises of God and His blessings we must live holy and righteous lives.  The second significant factor surrounding the reality of God, in the affairs of history, is found in the mystery of God.

Following a dramatic announcement of the coming of God, God appears on the mountain in fire amidst the smoke.  But because God is absolutely holy and perfect in righteous, God Himself remains hidden.  And because the people were unworthy to see God face to face, they were denied the opportunity to see God or be in His presence.  Consider how the people must have felt.

It’s natural for us, as humans, to be excited when a long awaited “star” arrives and appears on stage.  For example, whenever the Pope is scheduled to appear in a given place, thousands of people gather to hear and see this church leader.  All other speakers are secondary.  The people would have come to hear and see the Pope.  Their goal is only accomplished when the Pope rises to speak, and the people are able to see and hear him.  The presence of God was hidden from the people then, but now God has revealed Himself in the person of Jesus Christ.

Babe Ruth had remained the home run king of baseball for many years.  Then history produced Hank Aaron, who broke the record that many had declared was unbreakable.  Babe Ruth’s record had been tied by Hank and then in Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium, this young upstart from Alabama came to the plate.  As the pitcher released the ball, Hank moved the bat to meet it just over the plate.  A loud cracking sound could be heard in the stands and over the airwaves.  The ball began to soar like an airplane on takeoff, and it landed in the stands.  The people in the stadium rose to their feet, put their hands together for an unrehearsed applause.  Hank Aaron had just hit home run number 715, breaking Babe Ruth’s old record of 714.  The people came to the stadium because they wanted to be present when Hank Aaron broke the record.  They came to see the man.

The people of Israel came to the mountain to see God, but God said no!  In the experience of Israel, the people knew of God’s arrival.  The elements of the universe had formed a symphonic chorus to announce the arrival of God.  But, for whatever reason God chose to remain behind the curtain, closed by smoke.  The person of God was not revealed.  God would choose to remain veiled for another 1500 years until He came to us in the incarnation of Jesus.  One reason for why God would choose to veil Himself may be revealed in St. John’s gospel: “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and truth… (John 4:24 NIV).”

God and His presence, has no limitations.  In other words, the presence of God was not only on the mountain, but also at the foot of the mountain where the people were.  We, therefore, encounter God on a spiritual level wherever we are, because God is.  And as we recognize who God is, we must also recognize that God is also a mystery.  Finally, the third significant factor surrounding the reality of God, in the affairs of history, is found in the existence of a dialogical, or dialog based, relationship.

God speaks to whomever He wishes.  Moses was an unexpected choice to be in dialogue with God.  He had no prior claim to leadership skills.  Furthermore, he was not a fluent speaker.  Yet God chose him for a significant position of leadership in the life of Israel.  It was Moses who spoke first, as the text declares, “The voice of God answered him” (Exodus 19:19).  A spiritual voice spoke from the mountain in reply to Moses.  They were not strangers to each other.  God and Moses’ goal was the same, they were invested in the deliverance of God’s people.

God wanted to have a dialog with His people.  He wanted to make a covenant with them, and be in a relationship with them, and He chose to communicate through Moses.  And this gives you and me hope; if Moses could be in conversation with God, then we can too.  If God was willing to hear and respond to Moses, then God will hear and respond to us.  You and I both know that we can always talk to God in prayer.  Jesus even taught us to refer to God as our heavenly Father when He taught us how to pray.  Prayer is the avenue that allows us accessibility to God.  It’s the door that grants us entrance into the very presence of God our Father.

Our challenge today is to be holy as God is holy, to walk blamelessly before God.  Therefore, we must immerse ourselves in God’s word, developing an understanding as well as an appreciation of His word; acknowledging that the word of God is a light upon our pathway.   It’s a light that keeps us from stumbling in the dark.  Further, we’re challenged to listen for the voice of God.  And if we do listen to God’s voice, it will give us direction even in this confused world.   Anytime we listen and obey God’s voice, we too can then join with the angelic chorus in singing the threefold “Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty.”  The Lord our God is absolutely holy and upright in every way, and we, as His chosen people, are called to be perfect like He is perfect.


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