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Bring Your Firstfruits to the God of Your Liberation

From the First Sunday in Lent and based upon the readings from Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Romans 10:8b-13 & Luke 4:1-13, Fr. Ballentine encourages the faithful to give thanks to God for keeping them safe in the wilderness, by bringing their firstfruits to Him.

A More Convenient “Truth”

Day 32 – Exodus 31-33

Golden CalfIn the reading for this 32nd day of the Bible Challenge, here in the Diocese of Southeast Florida, we are presented with readings from Exodus 31-33.  The appointed selection begins with Moses receiving his final directives from the Lord on how he is to establish the Law that would become the foundation for the people of Israel.  The selection ends with Moses ordering the slaughter of those who disobeyed the will of God!

The largest section of this selection from Exodus is Chapter 32.  Folk may be familiar with this passage, as this is where the people of Israel coerce Aaron to build them a golden calf.  The people found themselves in the wilderness, and their leader had been delayed in returning.  They found themselves in a confusing place, and their guide was not with them.

In their anxiety and lack of patience, they commanded Aaron to make a “god” for them to worship.  Aaron capitulates, takes gold from the people, and constructs the golden calf.  This is just what the people want, and they are in a euphoric state.  Aaron is elated that he has quelled the complaints of the people – so pleased with himself that he proclaims the next day to be “a festival to the Lord!”

But this is not what the people need.  In the wake of the dancing and feasting of the people, God sends Moses with haste to the people.  The Lord is ready to destroy the people for their idolatry.  Yet, Moses begs for the people and spares them God’s wrath.  Upon seeing the scene firsthand and hearing of Aaron’s capitulation (Ex. 32:19-26), Moses loses his own cool and instructs the Levites to “kill everyone.”  Three thousand people died that day.

In analysis of this passage, we find the people seeking a more convenient “truth” than the God of their salvation.  With Moses being on Sinai for such a long time, the people felt absent from God.  Rather than wait on the Lord, the people took matters into their own hands and literally made God in their own image.

Think: a people who God had made in His own image and who God had liberated and redeemed, endeavored to make God in their own image then attempted to confine and profane God by their desires.

The people were searching for a more convenient “truth.”  They wanted a god that would respond to them as their servant.  They sought a god who would answer to them and adjust himself to suit their needs.

God, through Moses, had instructed them to wait.  They grew tired of waiting on a God that was distant to them.  They didn’t see the purpose of waiting on and worshiping the God Who they couldn’t see.  They wanted something tangible…a “god” that fit in with their human conceptions.

But their desire isn’t too far from our desire.  We ourselves are in a confusing place.  And, there exists a crisis in leadership that leaves us fending for ourselves.  At times, and we see in Society, we try to create God in our own image.  We make God – and the Word of God (i.e. Jesus Christ) – relative and situational.  We turn the Unconditional Love into a conditional one…we try to make God more convenient for us to obey or ignore.

This reading reminds us that God IS.  And, He expects something from us: obedience.  We can create God in our own image if we like.  But, we will ultimately only be erasing our names from the Lord’s record (Ex. 32:33).

So, rather than seeking a more convenient truth, let us wait on the Truth!  Let us not capitulate to our personal and communal anxieties!  Let us exercise control and patience!  Let us be obedient to God and to His call upon our lives!  May God give us the strength to endure and to stand firm in The Way!  Amen.

How will the world know the Coming One?

Bible Challenge                Day 12 – Genesis 31-33; Psalm 11; Matthew 11

In the reading from the Gospel of St. Matthew, appointed for today through the Bible Challenge, we encounter two of John’s disciples questioning Jesus.  Upon answering their question, He then addresses the crowd – challenging them to consider what they themselves believe about John, and thus about Him.  He warns them by presenting them with His condemnation to those who failed to hear the prophecy of the Kingdom and repent.  Finally, he concludes by exhorting the multitudes to come to Him and submit themselves to the Kingdom of God that they might find that which their souls are seeking.

Many people are confused by this question because modern translations make it seem as if the question came from the Baptist.  As such, it seems as if John the Baptist – who prophesied of the Messiah and declared himself unworthy to baptize Jesus – was confused as to the identity of the Christ.  The Church Fathers state that John sent his disciples to Jesus in order to point them to Jesus: for as the Baptist said in the Gospel of John, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”  He sent his disciples to Jesus that they might become followers of Christ.  In their skepticism (and distrust of their master, the Baptist), they pose the question.  They are then challenged to return to return to the Baptist and bear witness to Christ.

In this time of denominational decline, people are skeptical – yet seeking those who represent the Coming One.  They approach the Church and ask: “Are you those who represent the Coming One, or do we look for another?”  How can we answer – how must we answer?

We are confronted by Jesus’ answer, and we must ask ourselves: “By our witness, do the blind see and the lame walk?  Have those deemed unclean been cleansed…do the deaf hear?  Are the spiritually, emotionally, socially dead raised up and have the poor had the true good news preached to them?”

It’s no wonder the masses don’t find in us an authentic witness…it’s no wonder they “look for another.”

And as they walk away from the Church, our Lord compels us to ask: “What do we go into the wilderness to see?  What do we go into the Concrete Jungle everyday to see?”

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vbcC0VF7xNo]

Truly, beloved, the living out there is hard!  And amidst this violence, the Kingdom itself breaks through “violently” (Matt. 11:12, 10:34).  We, therefore, ought act with force against the powers that assault the people of God, “exerting all earnestness and desire to enter the reality of the Kingdom.  For this martyrs shed their blood, making their confession of faith, being ‘made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men’ (1 Cor. 4:9).  The Kingdom of Heaven belongs not to the sleeping or lazy.  Rather, the violent take it by force.”  May we be diligent in our fight to usher in the Kingdom of God that His children might recognize the Coming One!  Amen!

Cry Out in the Wilderness

A sermon from the Second Sunday of Advent, in preparation for the Incarnation, the text is taken from the Gospel of Luke 3:1-6.  In this sermon, Fr. Ballentine encourages the faithful at St. Thomas Episcopal in Coral Gables, to be odd – as John the Baptist was odd and to Cry Out! in the wilderness around us…proclaiming the Glory of the Incarnate Lord!