Ray Of Hope Church Of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Inc.
The Church in Central New York founded and consistently fostered by the GLBTQIS community. October 31, 2018 was the 35th Anniversary in our 36th year in Ministry.
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Sermon for Epiphany, January 7, 2001
Conversion Of Heart

The following are the Scripture readings as scheduled in the "Revised Common Lectionary," an ecumenical schedule of readings of Holy Scripture. Our sermons are based on these readings.

Isaiah 60:1-6
Epiphany (Year C)

1 Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
2 For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the LORD will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.
3 Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
4 Lift up your eyes and look around;
they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from far away,
and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.
5 Then you shall see and be radiant;
your heart shall thrill and rejoice,
because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you,
the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
6 A multitude of camels shall cover you,
the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD.

This is the Word Of The Lord; Thanks Be To God.

Psalm 72

1 Give the king your justice, O God,
and your righteousness to a king’s son.
2 May he judge your people with righteousness,
and your poor with justice.
3 May the mountains yield prosperity for the people,
and the hills, in righteousness.
4 May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
give deliverance to the needy,
and crush the oppressor.
5 May he live£ while the sun endures,
and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.
6 May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass,
like showers that water the earth.
7 In his days may righteousness flourish
and peace abound, until the moon is no more.
8 May he have dominion from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
9 May his foes£ bow down before him,
and his enemies lick the dust.
10 May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles
render him tribute,
may the kings of Sheba and Seba
bring gifts.
11 May all kings fall down before him,
all nations give him service.
12 For he delivers the needy when they call,
the poor and those who have no helper.
13 He has pity on the weak and the needy,
and saves the lives of the needy.
14 From oppression and violence he redeems their life;
and precious is their blood in his sight.
15 Long may he live!
May gold of Sheba be given to him.
May prayer be made for him continually,
and blessings invoked for him all day long.
16 May there be abundance of grain in the land;
may it wave on the tops of the mountains;
may its fruit be like Lebanon;
and may people blossom in the cities
like the grass of the field.
17 May his name endure forever,
his fame continue as long as the sun.
May all nations be blessed in him;
may they pronounce him happy.
18 Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel,
who alone does wondrous things.
19 Blessed be his glorious name forever;
may his glory fill the whole earth.
Amen and Amen.

Epiphany (Year C)
Epesians 3:1-12

1This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for£ Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles 2 for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given me for you, 3 and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, 4 a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. 5 In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: 6 that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

7 Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given me by the working of his power. 8 Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, 9 and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in£ God who created all things; 10 so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him. 13 I pray therefore that you£ may not lose heart over my sufferings for you; they are your glory.

This is the Word Of The Lord; Thanks Be To God.

Matthew 2:1-12
Epiphany (Year C)

1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage." 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6

‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.’"

7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage." 9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Reader: This is the Gospel of the Lord; Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

Sermon by Brother Benedict, for Epiphany, 2001

January 7, 2001

Isaiah 60:1-6
Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14
Ephesians 3:1-12
Matthew 2:1-12

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany Of The Christ, Jesus to the Gentile people announcing salvation to all people.

For the last five years we have been emphasizing the definition of the word "epiphany" as being "the showing, or the manifestation." Specifically, it is the showing or manifestation of the Christ to all nations of the world. The first reading said: "Nations shall come to your light." (Isaiah 60:3) God promised Abraham that somewhere in his posterity a child would be born who would be a blessing to all nations. There are numerous verses in the Hebrew Scriptures that prophesy that Christ would be the light of salvation to all nations. Here are just two of them.

Isaiah 42:1 "Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One, in whom my soul delights! I have put my Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles."

Isaiah 42:6 "I, the Lord, have called You in righteousness, And will hold Your hand: I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people, As a light to the Gentiles...."

Christ came to save people of every nation, in him all nations would be blessed. The Scripture verse 2 Peter 3:9 is rarely quoted as support for the doctrine that Christ came to all nations, but it does provide another avenue to examine this doctrine from. 2 Peter 3:9 "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance."

The emphasis is on the universal ministry of Jesus, and the fact that Jesus wants everyone to be saved, "all should come to repentance." Here are two of the strongest verses for this doctrine: Romans 10:13 "For whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved."

John 3:14-17 "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. 16For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved."

This "whoever," clearly means people from every nation and every language shall be saved. According to the Book Of Revelation, the day is coming when Jesus will be handed the scroll to open in Heaven, and we will hear the following song according to Revelations 5:9: "You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, And have made us kings and priests to God And we shall reign on the earth."

This was the message of the epiphany event we are celebrating this weekend. For when the magi came to see Jesus they were representing the Gentile nations of the world, "out of every tribe and tongue and people."

The importance of the magi, Persian Zoroastrian priests, coming to visit God in the flesh, Jesus the Christ, is that it was God who attracted them to God's Anointed for their salvation. God used unusual astrological signs in the stars to get their attention so they would travel to see the cause of these astrological events.

As we know, many of the Jewish People had missed the fact that their own Scriptures clearly declare salvation would be through them to all the nations of the world. Many of the Jews, even during the time of Christ, believed Salvation was TO the Jews only, to the exclusion of all others, but this is not what God had spoken through the prophets. The Chosen People in Jesus' day missed the hundreds of clues in prophecy as to who He was, otherwise they would have recognized the time at hand and the events that were unfolding before their eyes.

The Hebrew Scriptures announced salvation to the Gentiles for sure. Of course the Hebrew Scriptures are indispensable for Gentiles to study and know. However, God needed to add revelation for the new age of The Church, which is simply a Greek word equivalent to the Hebrew word Synagogue, meaning the Holy People, or more exactly holy group. In our second reading, Ephesians 3, Paul explains God commissioned him (Paul) to be the Apostle to the Gentile people in the Christian dispensation, the Age Of The Church, to reveal a mystery unknown to all the previous prophets. That mystery is that salvation is for all people, and specifically that the Jews and all people were being formed into one new people, the Body Of Christ, the Church of God.

For us today, this may not seem like much to be excited about because like so many other things in life we have become desensitized to power of this revelation. Paul powerfully declares it when he writes: "that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel...... it was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places." (Ephesians 3:6, 8b-10)

Last week we spoke at length about what it means to be co-heirs with Christ, to whom all things in Heaven and Earth have been given.

God brought all into the Body Of Christ "... so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made know to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places." (Ephesians 3:10) This is a marvelous endorsement for rich diversity in the church. God called all people into one Body, one church that simply means one synagogue, one congregation literally, to underscore the limitless and boundless riches and variety of God's revealed self. This should help us appreciate our constant efforts to embrace all the diverse expressions of God's love in our Church.

We also see here a very high calling. Paul declares the role of the Church is to proclaim "the news of the boundless riches of Christ,….so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known." (Epesians 3:8,10) The Church cannot be about the business of showing the "boundless riches of Christ" and "the wisdom of God" if we are bound up with non-spiritual tasks and worldly works. This is why I continue to say the key to growth is not fund-raisers and the like. The key to growth is evangelizing and witnessing to people and inviting them to Church or inviting them to read the website. We will grow if we are doing the Will Of God, which is to declare the "boundless riches of Christ" and the "wisdom of God" to a world that is constantly searching for "riches" and "wisdom" in all the wrong places. The world offers temporary satisfaction rather than eternal riches, and human advice rather eternal Divine Wisdom. The Church, however, offers God's riches and God's wisdom.

1 Corinthians 2:14-16 14Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God's Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else's scrutiny.
16 "For who has known the mind of the Lord
so as to instruct him?"
But we have the mind of Christ.

Only the heart that is converted and full of the real presence of the living God, Christ, and Holy Spirit can appreciate the power of being in this One Body.

This brings us to saying a word about King Herod, who obviously was not converted, not willing to appreciate God's diversity, God's wisdom, and not willing to be obedient to the Will Of God.

First, we do not know who told the magi that Jesus had been born as the king of the Jews. We do hear clearly that Herod was threatened that these foreigners might perceive that someone other than himself would be born to be king. Herod was completely centered in the riches and wisdom of this world, not on Divine wisdom and Divine riches. Further, not only was Herod immediately jealous, and frightened, but most significantly, Herod was not converted in heart and therefore was not able to rejoice to hear Messiah was born. In fact, Herod intended to kill any male child who might be perceived as a challenge to his throne. Herod eventually was guilty of slaughtering hundreds if not thousands of children who might be this child the magi were referring to. Matthew 2:16-18 records this terrible result of the human mind not sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

Matthew 2:16-18 "When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

18 "A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more."

Instead of being personally converted by hearing God's Gospel that Messiah Christ had been born, Herod sent the magi on to find the Christ and to report back to him when they found him. Here is our pastoral lesson from this Gospel reading today.

We can never send someone else to Christ for us. Our conversions must be personal and complete. No one can be converted in another person's place. Each person must face the true condition of their own heart's desires honestly and alone. When we, like the magi, are willing to walk to the ends of the universe to bring the Christ homage, we will have begun the journey of life-long conversion and transformation.

The wise magi of the East came to Christ, they believed, and were circumcised in their hearts, they experienced conversion. Herod stayed in his self-made comfort zone and rotted away - body and soul, full of fear, full of hatred, and full of murders.

We have almost completed seven weeks in the seasons of Advent and Christmas. Now, is the hour to ask ourselves, are we walking away from this rich banquet of Advent and Christmas 2000-2001 closer to Christ, closer to the Blessed Trinity then when we entered in a few weeks ago?

Like the magi and the shepherds, have we come into this encounter with Messiah Christ in one spiritual state and are we going leave in a converted state? Conversion is the real objective behind our yearly emphasis on the events of preparation, and manifestation of Christ in His birth. Conversion of heart is the primary purpose for our yearly celebration of the Nativity. Each year we intensely review the event to experience the remembrance afresh so we can move on in our personal conversion of heart. Pray for your own conversion to Christ to be ever deepened. Pray for the conversion of every person who attends here.

Any time you come to the persons serving Holy Communion at Ray Of Hope Church Of Our Lord Jesus Christ, you may ask them to hold communion and to pray with you as you give your life to Christ. Every time we say the Table Of the Christ is open and persons are ready to serve you may walk up to any one of them and say you are there to give your life to Christ. The person serving will pray with you as you dedicate your life, heart, mind and soul Christ. This is traditionally called an "Altar Call" and at our Church the "Altar" is always open to receive the prayers of the new Christian. Having said this, I must emphasize that we each give our lives to Christ ONE TIME in our lives. Do not use the "Altar Call" as your place to confess your sins, or repent, or grieve your backsliding and re-dedication of your life to Christ. This is done at the beginning of each worship service we have. The "Altar Call" is for new Christians only. Confession, repentance, restoration, renewed commitment take place at the beginning of each worship service. The "Altar Call" is specifically for new converts and we always are open and welcoming to pray with any person who is ready to accept the benefits of salvation into their lives.

The process of Christian conversion is something that is life long and we must not let it rest. Like the wise sages, let us seek Christ continually, praying in the Spirit on every occasion, and always seeking God's Will until we are brought into the Father's House.

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