God’s Servant is Here!

Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
December 7, 2014
Advent II

Isaiah 40:1-11, Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13; 2 Peter 3:8-15a, Mark 1:1-8

From the Prophet Isaiah:
A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

From the Second Letter of St. Peter:
Therefore, beloved, since you wait for these, be zealous to be found by him, without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the forbearance of our Lord as salvation.

And from the Gospel of St. Mark:
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins…I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.

Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.

Sometimes, when you hear the same thing all the time, it starts to become less and less meaningful. For example, right now, at this time of year, the newspaper, the TV, and the radio are all saying the same thing: “There is a special sale going on right now. JC Penny is having a special, one-day only sale. Sears is having a special, three hour sale, Saturday only, from 7AM until 10AM. Kohl’s is having a yellow dot sale – some things are marked down 50 to 70 percent off! You better get there fast, because there are incredible deals at these sales. This is a once is a lifetime opportunity for you, and you don’t want to miss it.” When you see these commercials or read these ads, you feel a sense of urgency. At first, you think, “Wow, I really don’t need anything, but it sounds too good to miss.”

But after awhile, this kind of advertising becomes less and less meaningful. You start to realize that JC Penny has one-day-only sales all the time. The Saturday only, three hour sale at Sears will happen again, there’s no doubt about that. And when you go to Kohl’s yellow dot sale, you see that most of the items with yellow dots are things you really don’t want. The advertising, the sales, all become less and less meaningful. And the reason why is because we have become saturated with advertising language. It all sounds the same.
I wonder if this is how it is as people think about the spiritual aspect of Christmas. What is the real meaning of Christmas? I wonder if our society has become saturated with the same clichés, the same spiritual sappy-talk you hear every December. So much talk about love and sharing and caring and singing and hugging! Christmas: A time for family; a time for charity. Every day you hear this, in between the advertising for sales at local stores. And then all the churches jump on the bandwagon and say the same sorts of things. Come to our church, they all say. We are the friendliest. We have the best Sunday school. We have the best worship services. Come to us, and you will experience all the love and sharing and caring and hugging and sappy-talk during the month of December.

And then you meet John the Baptist, and you realize right away that he is different from all the others. I don’t think you’d see him at any of those one-day sales at JC Penny – we’re told that he wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt, probably homemade, around his waist. Instead of Thanksgiving turkey, we’re told that he ate locusts and wild honey. He probably would have done well on the television series Survivor. But he probably would have been the first one voted off the island, because of the things he said – his message. He doesn’t use that spiritual sappy-talk you hear every December. He doesn’t use all those clichés about caring and sharing and family and giving and hugging and singing that you hear this time of year. You can tell right away that he’s not a salesman – John the Baptist will not try to sweet talk you into anything. And he’s certainly not a politician, trying to match his words to whatever the popular opinion of the day is. He’s a breath of fresh air. This guy doesn’t care what people say or think about him. And his message is one that hits you in the heart.

What would it be like to meet John the Baptist? If John the Baptist sat across from you at your kitchen table, what do you think he would say to you? That is what we are going to talk about on this second Sunday of Advent season. How do we prepare? How do we get ready? John the Baptist has words to share with you this morning.

The first thing John the Baptist would do is pull out his credentials. “I’m not just another guy trying to get you to come to church,” John would say to you. He had a special job – the prophet Isaiah talks about John when he wrote, “I will send a messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way, a voice of one calling in the desert, Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.” John had been spoken about in the Old Testament. His job was to prepare people for the coming of the Messiah. That’s what John the Baptist would do to you if you talked to him face to face – he would work on preparing you to celebrate Christ’s birth. And he would work on preparing you for the second coming of Christ. His credentials? He had been mentioned in the Old Testament hundreds of years earlier. He would prepare you for God’s Servant; God’s Son, Jesus Christ.

What would be his message? Would he tell you: “Don’t forget about sharing and caring and loving as you prepare for Christmas?” What would John the Baptist say to you? The scriptures give us the answer: “And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance.” John would tell you that you need to repent. There is something wrong with you, John would say. And it’s time to change.
How would you respond? Maybe you’d think to yourself – “What does this guy know? I’m fine the way I am. I work hard. I take care of my personal responsibilities. I’m not perfect, but I’m OK.” But that’s the problem – we’re not perfect. And the Bible makes it very very clear that God is not satisfied with anything except perfection. God wants you to be the perfect husband, the perfect wife, the perfect son or daughter. You need to be a perfect worker on your job. You need to be perfectly loving, perfectly patient, perfectly kind, perfectly generous, not just in your actions, but in your thinking. You need to be a perfect Christian, a perfect person of prayer, a perfect worshiper, and a perfect student of the Word of God. You need to have perfect priorities. Jesus Christ says, “Be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.”

But you and I know that this isn’t the case. We are not perfect. And, according to the Word of God, if you’re not perfect, then you’re sinful. That’s why John the Baptist would say to you, repent. Do you remember what it means to repent? There are three “R’s” to repentance, the first one being recognizing your sin. Verse 5 tells us that this is what those first century Christians did: “The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins…” Recognize your sin. Where have you been less than perfect in your life? Look back on your conversations, on the way you have dealt with the people around you. Think about your relationship with God. Think about your thoughts. Where have you been less than perfect? Recognize your sin, and confess your sin to Christ.

After that first “R” of repentance, then comes the second “R,” and that is receiving forgiveness from God. Verse 4 talks about a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” The Lord God almighty forgives you for all your imperfections. Because of Christ, your sins are gone. God holds no grudges, keeps no record of wrongs. He forgives you completely. The people that came out to John received God’s forgiveness through the Sacrament of Baptism. Today, you also receive that same forgiveness, when you were baptized, and every time you hear God’s forgiveness spoken to you. That is the second “R” of repentance, receiving God’s forgiveness.

The final “R” is reforming your life. That means that after you have been forgiven for being so impatient, you become patient in your life. After you have been forgiven for having a bad temper, you become gentle. After you have been forgiven for being so greedy, you become generous. After you have been forgiven for disobeying God and making excuses, you begin to obey God, not because you have to, but because you want to. You change from a self-centered worshiper of pleasure to an others-centered worshiper of God. The final “R” of repentance is when your life is reformed, changed, from how it was before.

But how do I do this? How do I find courage to confess all my sins to God? How do I know that I am really forgiven? Where can I find strength to change, to reform my life? How does this take place? What would John the Baptist say to you? He would say, “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.” Back then, that was the job of a slave. I’m not even worthy to do that, John says. Someone is coming. Someone greater than you, greater than I.
He is the one who will give you courage to confess all your sins to God. He is the one who will take every single one of your sins away. He is the one who will strengthen you and change you into a new person, a new creation. John said, “I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Someone greater, more powerful, more compelling, more amazing than anyone that has ever lived, someone is coming. He will demonstrate his power in all kinds of ways: His miracles; His resurrection; His gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. And his gift of the Holy Spirit and faith and hope and love to you.

One thing I’ve noticed recently is that there are a lot of holiday recipes being shared: A special recipe for eggnog, a special recipe for the perfect Christmas dinner. This is the time of the year not only for sharing our love, but also our recipes. Obviously, John the Baptist didn’t have a lot of recipes people would have been interested in, unless you’re planning to eat grasshoppers and wild honey for your Christmas dinner. But what would John the Baptist say to you, if you were to ask him, “What is the recipe for a successful Christmas?” According to our text this morning, John would tell you that there are two main ingredients – the recipe for a successful Christmas is this: a heart full of repentance, and a heart full of Christ. Practice the three “R’s” of repentance, and ponder the mystery and majesty of Jesus Christ – those two ingredients make up the recipe for a successful Christmas, regardless of your circumstances. You can be living by yourself out in the desert, with nothing to eat but grasshoppers and wild honey. But even for you, your Christmas will be successful, as you repent and focus on Christ.

Let your Christmas preparation be a time that is filled with more than just a series of advertising and empty clichés. Caring and sharing and family and giving and charity are all good things, not just for Christmas, but all year round. These things cannot be truly enjoyed or carried out until you first understand that Christmas is a time for repentance, and a time for Christ. It is a time to rejoice that someone has come, someone greater than John the Baptist, greater than you or I, someone has come who brings real meaning to this special time of year. He is God’s Servant; God’s Son, Jesus Christ.

Let us pray:

Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

He Is Coming!

Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
November 30, 2014
Advent I

Isaiah 64:1-9, Psalm 80:1-7, 1 Corinthians 1:3-9, Mark 13:24-37

From the Prophet Isaiah:
O that thou wouldst rend the heavens and come down that the mountains might quake at thy presence-

From St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians:
Even as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you – so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.

And from the Gospel of St. Mark:
And then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.

The alarm clock went off just like any other morning, but instead of turning it off; Mary and Tom leaped out of bed and rushed to the bathroom. Tom quickly shaved and Mary hastily put on her make-up. Their movements were quick, intentional, and efficient. Their usually sluggish morning routine had turned into an Indy style pit stop. They were awake and alert because they were on a mission. It was the day after Thanksgiving otherwise known as Black Friday and they were headed to the mall to participate in the annual shopping spree to inaugurate the holiday season. How many of you can relate to this?

Shoppers across America woke up early on Friday morning in hopes of finding bargains by the cart-full. Many stores even opened on Thanksgiving Day in New Hampshire this year. Even in my family, a couple of the younger generation took off to the malls in New Hampshire as soon as they finished eating their dinner.

Computers and other electronic gadgetry were in big demand and marketing executives made sure that their store had plenty of enticing lures throughout the departments. This required some shoppers to develop intricate strategies to maximize their shopping time. Mary and Tom had it all planned out. Tom was assigned the purchase of a 50” flat screen TV and Mary’s job was to acquire the home computer system.

I wonder if Mary and Tom sprang out of bed this Sunday morning with the same enthusiasm and intentionality that propelled them to the mall on Black Friday. I wonder if they waited all night at the front door of their church, to reserve a seat up front, close to the pulpit. Ironically, when we have the proper motivation, we will do extraordinary things. Our bodies pump adrenalin through our muscles driving out even the faint touches of dreariness. We will rush from store to store after having gotten only a few hours sleep but on most Sunday mornings after a good night’s sleep, some people barely have enough staying power to keep awake through the Prayer of Confession and Scripture Lesson.

If a pastor doesn’t schedule a hymn from time to time in the service, and require people to stand up and stretch their legs, people may not make it through the sermon. We say our spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, but I wonder if the temptation for physical sleep is not an indication of another state of weariness.

The writer of Mark inserts this morning’s Scripture passage at the end of a rather lengthy teaching session. A disciple comments about the beauty of the Temple and Jesus uses the remark to remind his band of followers of the coming judgment of God against that house of worship. Stunned by his words, the disciples want to know more information. They want dates and places. They want a time line. Tim Lahaye and his Left Behind readers are not the first believers to be interested in the conclusion of history.

Jesus provides his disciples with a rather vivid and detailed description of those events. He speaks about the coming siege and the destruction of Jerusalem. He is telling them of the pending terror so that when they notice the first signs of the pending doom they will respond immediately. A crisis is coming and they must be ready.

He also warns his disciples that they will be persecuted for their faith. Jesus never attempts to sugar-coat the life of discipleship. They chose the hard way. They will not be able to later say that they had not been warned.

Jesus then reminds his followers that his message will be misinterpreted by many. They will attempt to lead people astray. They will offer creative ways of understanding his message. Their teaching will be attractive. It will fill in the gaps that seem to be missing. It will provide easy answers to difficult questions, but the disciples are not to be fooled by these so called teachers.

St. Paul encountered this at Corinth. Corinth was a very proud and philosophical city, with many itinerant teachers promoting their speculations. Unfortunately, this philosophical approach was applied to the Gospel by some members of the church, and this fostered division.
The congregation was made up of different “schools of thought” instead of being united behind the Gospel message. Of course, when you have proud people, depending on human wisdom, adopting the lifestyle of the world, you are going to have problems.

Jesus concludes his instructions to His disciples by drawing on imagery used in the Old Testament to describe the coming Day of the Lord. The event will be preceded by the increase of wars, earthquakes and famines.

All creation will be shaken but in the midst of all this social, political, and ecological turmoil, they are to “be on guard,” “be alert” and “keep watch.” If we use a literal translation of the Greek text, his words appear very strange. The Greek term directly relates to the physical act of staying awake by not falling asleep. Literally, he seems to be saying, “When the heavens experience a cataclysmic upheaval; when the whole world is collapsing all around you, do not worry or panic and especially do not fall asleep.”

This is not the only time Jesus warns his disciples about succumbing to the temptation of sleep. On the night of his betrayal and arrest he uses the same term to encourage them to resist the feelings of weariness. In the darkness of the Garden, the use of the term appears more natural and appropriate. The disciples had endured a long week. They had walked many miles to come to the Holy City of Jerusalem. They had spent many long tension filled hours listening to Jesus answer the challenges and questions of the Pharisees. They were tired. They had just completed a Passover meal and their bodies wanted rest to digest the meal. They wanted to sleep, but Jesus asks them to keep watch, to stay awake.

The use of the term “to stay awake” on the night of his arrest fits the setting but using it right after he tells his disciples about the coming destruction of civilization as they knew it, appears out of place. How could a person even think about sleeping with the world in such a state of chaos? How could a person quietly lay there, with their head on a pillow and gently close their eyes with such a threatening catastrophe looming?

His warning is more easily understood if we consider that even in the Garden, Jesus used the term “to stay awake” more for its figurative meaning than its literal. To understand the significance of this interpretation, we need to consider these questions: Why warn the disciples to stay awake if he was only using it in a literal sense? What difference does it make if they are awake when the soldiers come? He does not want the disciples to fight the soldiers. He does not want his followers to organize an escape plan. Jesus knows that the soldiers are to arrest him. So what does he mean by the term “to stay awake?”

By his admonition, Jesus indicates that he wants his disciples to be more than just mentally and physically awake. He wants them to be spiritually awake so that they understand the reality that is exploding around. He knows that they cannot control it. They do not have any influence upon it but he wants them to understand the theological meaning of the events that are about to transpire.

On the night of Jesus’ betrayal, the disciples were physically, mentally and spiritually asleep. They did not understand anything that was happening even though Jesus had explained it to them many times. They may have been awakened from their physical sleep by the sounds of marching soldiers, but they were still slumbering in a spiritual sleep. Unable to comprehend the events; their faith collapsed into a sea of fear and they deserted Jesus.

The words of Jesus do not warn us to keep a physical vigilance but a spiritual one. His message warns us to resist the weariness of the world around us. We are not to become so enmeshed in the cultural values and lifestyles of our neighbors, friends and even family that we fall asleep to the spiritual reality that is unfolding before us. His message should compel us to discover the complex truth of living in the world but not being of it.

God’s coming will not be preceded by economic prosperity. God’s coming will not inaugurate a period of peace and the cessation of wars. God’s coming will not be marked by the eradication of hunger and disease. C.S. Lewis once wrote:

God will invade. But I wonder whether people who ask God to interfere openly and directly in our world quite realize what it will be like when He does. When that happens, it is the end of the world. When the author walks onto the stage the play is over. God is going to invade, all right; but what is the good of saying you are on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else – something it never entered your head to conceive – comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left?

Why must we stay alert? It is because nobody knows when Jesus Christ will return. When He was on earth in His humiliation, Jesus did not know the day or hour of His coming again. Even the angels do not know. The unsaved world scoffs at us because we continue to cling to this “blessed hope,” but He will return as He promised (2 Peter 3). Our task is to be faithful and to be busy, not to speculate or debate about the hidden details of prophecy.

Watchfulness has nothing to do with going to heaven. It is purely a matter of pleasing Him, hearing His loving commendation, and receiving His reward (Matt. 25:14-30). There is no suggestion here that, when He returns, Jesus will take only the faithful to heaven and leave the others on earth to suffer the Tribulation. His family is one, and He is now preparing a home for all of them, even the least worthy (John 14:1-6). We go to heaven because of His grace, not because of our faithfulness or good works (Eph. 2:8-10).

The Christians who read Mark’s Gospel eventually had to face intense persecution from Rome (1 Peter 4:12ff), and this particular message must have brought comfort and strength to them. After all, if God is able to help His people witness during the Great Tribulation, the worst persecution of all, then surely He could strengthen the saints in the Roman Empire as they faced their fiery trial.

While Christians today will not experience the terrible sufferings described in this chapter of Mark, we will have our share of persecution and tribulation in this world before the Lord returns (John 16:33; Acts 14:22). But the warnings of this message in Mark 13 may be applied to our own lives: “Take heed that you are not deceived” (Mark 13:5, 23); “Take heed that you do not become discouraged and quit” (Mark 13:9); “Take heed, watch and pray” (Mark 13:33).

“And what I say unto you, I say unto all, ‘Watch’” (Mark 13:37).

Let us pray:

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Inherit the Kingdom

Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
November 23, 2014, Pentecost XXIV
Thanksgiving Sunday – Christ the King

Ezekiel 34:11-16, Psalm 100, Ephesians 1:15-23, Matthew 25:31-46

From the Prophet Ezekiel:
I myself will be a shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the crippled, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will watch over; I will feed them in justice.

From St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians:
…having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power in us who believe, according to the working of his great might which he accomplished in Christ when he raised him from the dead and made him sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.

And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
“When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne…Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…’”

Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation!

Some weeks ago I was watching the Health Channel on TV. They showed and described different types of plastic surgery procedures. I was amazed at the things that plastic surgeons can do today. A tug here and a lift there and presto: a new you.

The show got me thinking. Why would people want to go through the suffering involved in cosmetic surgery? Recovery from some of the procedures is downright painful. Why would people want to endure all that? In most cases, these procedures are elective, so why do people do it? Some say vanity. Perhaps they thought that they didn’t quite measure up.

Do you measure up? Well, I guess it depends on what the subject is. If you feel you don’t quite fit in; not one of the crowd, then your answer might be ‘no.’ If you feel you are not as handsome or pretty than someone else, then your answer might be ‘no.’ If you feel your attire is not quite in fashion, then your answer might be ‘no.’ And the litany of not quite good enough – not measuring up – plagues people for a lifetime. Into this whole mix come Jesus’ words which we find in our Gospel message today where Jesus as shepherd will separate the sheep from the goats. Which group do you think you will be put in?

This can be one of the most disconcerting texts in scripture. It leaves us wondering, “Do we measure up?” Am I one of the sheep or one of the goats? You see, in this text Jesus speaks about what will happen when the world as we know it, ends. He speaks about the coming judgment – a judgment where the eternity of all people will be determined. He speaks about a time when all that we value: high cheekbones, popularity, designer wardrobes, a great career – won’t mean anything. The only thing that will matter is: will I be on Jesus’ left – a goat? Or will I be on Jesus’ right – a sheep? Do I measure up?

The people to Jesus’ left were shocked to learn that they had missed the boat. They didn’t have a clue that they didn’t measure up. They couldn’t know because they never took the time to notice. They lived self-satisfied lives in the face of human suffering and need. They were judged because they did not trust Jesus Christ and give evidence of that faith by caring for His brethren. When Jesus’ said to them, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels,” they were blown away. But why Lord? How can this be, Jesus?

But we find a surprising Jesus here. No longer the kindly servant who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey; no longer the suffering Messiah who died on the cross – but the Judge Who says: “Depart from me – go into eternal fires.” You lived only for yourselves. You never raised a finger for the needy. You had no compassion for the hungry and naked. Those languishing in prison never entered your minds. You’ve lived as if life was all about you – your contentment. When God called on you, you turned away. When it came time to serve others, you said things like, “I’m busy. I don’t have time. I go to church, what more do you want? I gave money.”

“But that doesn’t cut it – that doesn’t measure up,” the Lord will say. How could you go on living that way – thinking – thinking that you were a Christian? How can the love of Christ be in you while you chose to ignore the need of your brother or sister?

At first glance, it appears that the basis for the judgment of Jesus was on how those on his left treated the poor. This passage is consistently misinterpreted and misapplied this way. But this is not the case. People often twist this text to teach that Christians are to earn their way into heaven by serving the poor. It’s comforting to think about it this way because it prescribes a formula. It suggests that you, on your own, can earn heaven. If you give to the poor, if you visit the sick, if you do this or that, then God will love you and give you salvation and eternal life.

But that is completely wrong! You see, these kind deeds are possible evidence, evidence of what’s in the heart, but not a ticket to heaven. Deeds of kindness occur because people want to show the same kind of love and mercy that God has shown them. And so when Jesus says that those on his left will not enter heaven because of their lack of kindness to the poor, the sick and needy, He is really referring to their cold, self-centered hearts. Lack of compassion is evidence that saving faith isn’t present. Anyone can be a “good” person.

It’s scary to think about the possibility that we might be in this group. It is scary because each and every one of us has neglected to do the good that we should have at one time or another. It is scary because we have passed by the person that was begging and we thought to ourselves, “Get a job, man.” It is scary because we’ve all heard about a brother or sister that was sick, and we didn’t even bother to call.

But listen to the words Jesus speaks to the sheep – to the people on his right: “Come, take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you.” Now, again, if we’re not careful, it would seem that Jesus is saying, “You will receive the kingdom because you visited those in prisons; you gave food to the hungry; you gave clothes to the needy; you tended to the sick.”

But the Bible teaches that people can’t earn their way to heaven. “By grace through faith,” is how salvation comes. You see, even the sheep were surprised at Jesus words. They asked Him, “Lord, when did we do these things for you? The sheep were not even aware that their acts of kindness honored Jesus. They didn’t know that their faith measured up.

So what gives here? You see, the key to this is in verse 34. Jesus said to these folks, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father.” The sheep inherit the Kingdom not because of what they’ve done. In fact, they really didn’t measure up. They no more deserved the Kingdom than did the goats on Jesus’ left. None of us do! But because the sheep are blessed by the Father – heaven is theirs. God offered forgiveness and salvation and those with saving faith grasped it! And from this blessing and the Holy Spirit filling their hearts – the good deeds follow. These acts of charity and kindness become the evidence that they have saving faith.

Those on Jesus’ right are surprised to learn that they’ve done so much to honor their Lord. They were not trying to work their way to heaven. They didn’t have a clue that they measured up. You see, sheep run on automatic pilot. The Lord brings them forgiveness and faith. The Spirit living in them guides them to works of kindness and mercy. Because they’re connected to the True Vine, Jesus Christ – they bear fruit.

Being kind doesn’t require superhuman strength – just faith in Jesus. Doing good is not a burden or something that sheep get sick and tired of doing. They don’t quit because they don’t get honored or get their way. They don’t get bored of being kind. When sheep aren’t thanked, they keep right on serving. This is so, because you see, they don’t do the works out of selfish ambition – it is Christ in them. It is Christ’s love that drives them. It is Christ that fills them. And so, in the end, Jesus will call them and tell them: “Here, you blessed of my Father, stand at my right – enter into my Kingdom.”

By making us His inheritance, God has shown His love. By promising us a wonderful future, He has encouraged our hope. St. Paul offered something to challenge our faith: “the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe” (Eph. 1:19).

The power is seen in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Much more was involved than merely raising Him from the dead, for Christ also ascended to heaven and sat down in the place of authority at the right hand of God. He is not only Savior; He is also Sovereign (Acts 2:25-36). No authority or power, human or in the spirit world, is greater than that of Jesus Christ, the exalted Son of God. He is “far above all,” and no future enemy can overcome Him, because He has been exalted “far above all” powers.
The sheep will be ushered into the kingdom to share in Christ’s glory. The church will be reigning with Christ, and Israel will enjoy the fulfillment of the promises made through the prophets. All of creation will share in the glorious liberty of God’s children (Rom. 8:19-21). Jesus Christ will rule from David’s throne in Jerusalem (Luke 1:30-33), and peace will reign for 1,000 years (Isa. 11).

Jesus said, “You are mine…you do measure up…I made sure that you did. My death on the cross was for you, my beloved. My resurrection is yours. My Father has blessed you by giving you the faith to grasp it through His Word. And the Holy Spirit has changed you into sheep on automatic pilot – people who serve God and often don’t even know it! You are blessed and you are mine.”

Let us pray:

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Amen. †

Profitable Servant

Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
November 16, 2014, Pentecost XXIII

Judges 4:1-7, Psalm 123, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, Matthew 25:14-30

From the Book of Judges:
Now Deborah, a prophetess said, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you, ‘Go, gather your men at Mount Tabor, taking ten thousand from the tribe of Naphtali and the tribe of Zebulun. And I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the river Kishon with his chariots and his troops; and I will give him into your hand.’”

From St. Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians:
For God has not destined us wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we wake or sleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.

Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation!

There was a man from the Boston area who had always dreamed of owning a cattle ranch and had finally saved enough money to buy his dream spread in Wyoming. His best friend flew out to visit and asked, “So, what’s the name of your ranch?” His buddy told him that he had a really hard time coming up with a name that he liked. He and his wife couldn’t agree on what to call it, so they combined all the names together and settled on, “The Double D Lazy Horse Lucky 7 Diamond Ranch.”

His friend was really impressed and then asked, “So where are all the cows?” To which the new rancher replied, “We had quite a few at first, but none of them survived the branding!”

As Christians, we should always be striving to improve our service to God, but allow me to suggest this morning, that it’s possible to get so caught up in what we call our spiritual gifts that we might not survive servanthood. The key is not so much to identify what we have but to use what we’ve been given. 1 Peter 4:10: “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”

Last week in our Gospel reading, Jesus compared His coming to the eastern custom of a bridegroom arriving in the middle of the night. He concludes Chapter 25 by saying in verse 13: “Therefore, keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” This chapter ends with the separation of the sheep and the goats. Sandwiched in-between is the parable of the talents: our Gospel reading for this morning.

Notice in verse 14: “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey…” The word “again” indicates that Jesus is using yet one more parable to explain future events. The man going on a “journey” is Jesus. Jesus is the Master and He is entrusting us to carry on His work here on earth.

As we walk through this powerful passage this morning, we’ll see Seven Stewardship Lessons. Now some of you may think, why do we need a stewardship sermon if our church is closing? The fact is that you are giving to God regardless of where you worship. You are giving back to God based on what He has given you. So, next year you may be worshiping at a church down the street or across town; their finances may be more or less than ours, but your giving should be the same; because your giving is based on what God has given you. Remember, everything belongs to God. This is the first stewardship lesson.

So we have this Master who was getting ready for a journey and “called his servants and entrusted His property to them.” It was common in those days for wealthy men to take long journeys. Before they would leave, they would arrange to have someone pick up their mail and feed their animals. But even more than that, they would often delegate the control and multiplication of their wealth to trustworthy employees. They were expected to bring a return on what had been handed over to them. Given the uncertainties of transportation in those days, the time of return for even a well-planned trip was often open-ended.

There was no doubt in the minds of these servants that the property and money still belonged to the master. They were the possessors, but not the owners. Their job was to manage what they were given. Likewise, we must remember that everything we have has been given to us and is not really ours anyway. Psalm 24:1 says “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” Until we recognize this truth, we will not be good managers of what has been entrusted to us. Our days are in His hands. Our gifts and abilities are on loan from Him. Our money is an “advance” from the Almighty. Our houses, cars, clothes, and every possession we have doesn’t belong to us. We really don’t own anything.

The second lesson is that God gives us what we can handle. This master gave different amounts of money to each servant based on what he felt the servant could handle. A talent in those days was worth about twenty years’ wages. The man with much ability was given five talents; the man with average ability was given two talents; the man with minimal ability received one talent.

The talents represent opportunities to use our abilities. God assigns work and opportunity according to ability. We have been assigned our ministries according to the abilities and gifts God has given us. It is our privilege to serve the Lord and multiply His goods.

The three servants fell into two categories: faithful and unfaithful. The faithful servants took their talents and put them to work for their Lord. The unfaithful servant hid his talent in the earth. Instead of using his opportunities, he buried them! He did not purposely do evil. But by doing nothing, he was committing sin and robbing his Lord of service and increase. Think of it this way, how many of us are afraid to share our Christian faith with a stranger, for fear of rejection or harm? Do we “hide” or “bury” our faith from other people and thus deprive our Master of return?

God entrusts different stuff to different people according to His sovereign purposes. In other words, He knows what we can handle. Our job is to be faithful with whatever amount we have to work with. Do we trust God to know more about us, than perhaps we know more about ourselves?

The third lesson in this parable tells us that we should invest what we’ve been given. The two men who received the five talents and two talents, respectively, each worked hard and doubled their master’s portfolio. The third guy who received only one talent went off and buried his blessing. The practice of hiding valuables in the ground was quite common back then. It was one of the safest and least profitable ways of protecting possessions. Our potential is God’s gift to us. What we do with it is our gift to Him.

None of us want to be audited by the IRS, but the day is coming when we will be audited by the Almighty. This is the fourth lesson. We’ll have to give an account for how we’ve used what we’ve been given. Verse 19 says: “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them.” Jesus is coming again and there will be a day of reckoning. While we’ve all heard this before, we don’t always live with eternity in our hearts.

Friends, Jesus is coming again! Let’s be faithful in doing whatever He gives us to do. He’s invested something in each of us, and one day He’s coming back to claim it. Your job may be big or small, but whatever it is, do it to the best of your ability and you’ll be ready for your audit.

The fifth lesson is that God gives us a certain amount of talents and what we do with them reveals our view of God. The two servants that doubled their talents approached the time of reckoning with anticipation and excitement.
The master was thrilled with both of them because they demonstrated responsibility for their ability. And the master says to both of them, “Well done, good and faithful servants!”

The two servants put their money to work and each received the same commendation. It was not the portion but the proportion that made the difference. They started as servants, but their Lord promoted them to rulers. They were faithful with the few things so the Lord trusted them with many things. They had worked and toiled, and now they entered into joy. Their faithfulness gave each of them a capacity for greater service and responsibility.

The third guy had a wrong view of the master and had his mind made up even before he received his talent. He looked at him as someone who was hard and harsh, instead of loving and gracious. A.W. Tozer was right when he said that what we think about God is the most important thing about us. If we view God as a tyrant then we’ll filter everything through this lens. Perhaps you blame God because he did something or didn’t do something that you think He should have. As a result, your view of Him is skewed. Your preconceived notions prevent you from seeing Him as a God of grace, and as a result you refuse to serve Him with what He’s given you. When we blame God we end up burying our blessings.

One of the reasons the third guy hid his talent was out of fear. If you’re struggling with fear today, the best antidote is to further your understanding of the character of God and ask Him to grow your faith. Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is moving ahead in spite of your fears.

This third servant also showed that he was unfaithful and therefore was unrewarded. Because this man was afraid he might fail, he never tried to succeed. He feared life and his responsibilities. This paralyzed him with anxiety, so he buried the talent to protect it. The least he could have done was put the money in a bank and collect some interest. There was no real risk in that.

It is possible that the one-talent man thought that his one talent was not really very important. He did not have five talents, or even two. Why worry about one? It was because he was appointed as a steward by the Lord. Were it not for the one-talent people in our world, very little would get accomplished. His one talent could have increased to two and brought glory to his master.

The sixth lesson teaches us that if we don’t use and invest what God has given us, we will lose it. In fact, the master was quite upset with this third servant. We read in verse 26, the master says: “You wicked and slothful servant!” Wickedness and laziness partner together to keep many people from full surrender and service. While the other two servants were busy and working hard, this selfish servant dug a hole, little realizing that he was digging it for himself! A selfish heart coupled with an unwillingness to do anything about it, will take many people on the path of destruction that can lead to the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Because this third guy did not use what he had been given, he lost it according to verse 28: “Take the talent from him and give it to the one who had the ten talents.” It’s the “use it or lose it” principle. Friend, don’t hold what you have. Develop it, invest it, and multiply it by using what you’ve been given.

The seventh and last lesson of this parable, is that it is important who you know and what you do, that will lead to either abundance or agony in the next life. In verse 29, we learn that those who are faithful with the little things will have abundance, or excess: “For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have abundance.” Those who have given themselves in full surrender and selfless service to the Lord will be given even more opportunities.

On the other hand, those who bury their blessings will face agony. Jesus concludes this parable by saying that the worthless servant will be thrown “outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Some commentaries feel that this unprofitable servant was not a true believer. But is seems that he was a true servant, even though he proved to be unprofitable. This darkness is quite often referred to hell. The man was dealt with by the Lord, he lost his opportunity for service, and he gained no praise or reward. That could also refer to outer darkness.

Those who don’t know God don’t serve Him. That’s why Jesus referred to him as “worthless.” A believer has worth because of his faith in Christ.

The three parables in Chapter 25 of Matthew encourage us to love His appearing, look for His appearing, and labor faithfully until He comes. We should be watching, witnessing, and working. We may not be successful in the eyes of men, or even popular with others. But if we are faithful and profitable, we shall receive our reward.

Let us pray:

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior, Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.

Amen. †

Be Prepared

Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
November 9, 2014, Pentecost XXII

Exodus 32:1-14, Psalm 106:1-6, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Matthew 25:1-13

From the Book of Exodus:
“Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou didst swear by thine own self, and didst say to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’”

From St. Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians:
For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord.

And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation!

Ever since Jesus Christ told His followers that He would return, there have been predictions as to when that would be; Even though, Christ Himself said “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matt. 25:13).

A well known Christian wrote, “The last days are upon us. Weigh carefully the times. Look for Him who is above all time, eternal and invisible.” That was not written by a modern prophecy expert. It was written by a man named Ignatius about 110 A.D., just a couple of decades after the apostle John wrote the Book of Revelation.

Another Christian wrote, There is no doubt that the Antichrist has already been born. Firmly established in his early years, he will, after reaching maturity, achieve supreme power.” That was written by an influential Christian named Martin about 375 A.D.

The years surrounding the year 1000 were filled with predictions about the imminent return of Christ – to the point where Christians didn’t plant crops for the next year, buildings weren’t repaired and the details of daily life were ignored.

In the 1500’s, Martin Luther wrote, “We have reached the time of the white horse of the Apocalypse. This world will not last any longer…than another hundred years.”

A little known fact of the life of Christopher Columbus is that he was a student of biblical prophecy. He wrote a volume called “The Book of Prophecies,” in which he predicted that the world would end in the year 1656. He even wrote, “There is no doubt that the world must end in one hundred fifty-five years.”

In the1800’s a man named William Miller predicted the return of Christ. He laid down the date of somewhere between March 1842 and March 1843. The hopes of the Millerites were dashed when it didn’t happen. Their hopes were down but not out. In New Hampshire, in 1844, one of the brothers stood up and declared His return would be in the seventh month of the current Jewish year. More fervently than ever, the Millerites set out to warn the world. They pronounced that October 22nd that the world would end. In ten weeks, the great day was at hand. In a Philadelphia store window his sign appeared, “This shop is closed in honor of the King of Kings who will appear about the 20th of October. Get ready friends, to crown Him Lord of all.” A group of about 200 left the city. They waited – the days passed – and nothing happened. Five years later, another date was set, and another date passed.

These predictions continue to this day. With all the evil in this world, it’s not hard to think that maybe the end is near. This was the very thing Jesus was trying to prevent, and yet Christians persist in trying to predict His return. In our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus gave us another parable to help us to understand His return.

A wedding in that day had two parts. First, the bridegroom and his friends would go from his house to claim the bride from her parents. Then the bride and groom would return to the groom’s house for the marriage feast. The suggestion here is that the groom has already claimed his bride and is now on his way back home. However, we must not press the image of the church as a bride too far, because much of this truth was not revealed until the ministry of Paul (Eph. 5:22ff).

Notice that in this story, it is the groom who is the center of attention. That was the way it was in Jesus’ day. Times have certainly changed. Now it’s the bride who is the center of attention. Everyone waits for her arrival. Everyone stands when she enters the room. Everyone stares at her beautiful dress. The groom is just the guy sweating next to the preacher – the one lucky enough to have won the heart of the beautiful bride. But in Jesus’ day, it was the groom for whom everyone waited with bated breath. Part of the wedding celebration was a feast that followed the actual wedding ceremony. That is what Jesus speaks of here. It was traditional for the bridesmaids to wait at a home together for the bridegroom to negotiate with the bride’s family about a gift to give them in return for their daughter.
Often, the negotiations would be delayed by the bride’s parents as a way of communicating that they thought their daughter was worth much more than the groom had gestured by his initial gift. That would cause a delay in the wedding feast. In Jesus’ story, the bridesmaids are waiting through just such a delay. In such a delay, they were to be ready at any moment for him to arrive and escort them to the feast. Five of them, however, were not ready. They had time to get the extra oil they needed, but they did not feel the sense of urgency to do it right away. Their procrastination caused embarrassment when the groom came and they had to run to the store for more oil. The problem was that when they returned and sought entrance to the feast, they were considered no different than other uninvited seekers. The feast had begun and the doors were locked. It was too late. And Jesus says His return will be like that.

Be prepared – the bottom line of this story – whether the oil represents your faith, the Holy Spirit, Christian character – it doesn’t really matter. Why? Because each feeds the other. It could be any or all three that Jesus had in mind – the message of James. The main message is to be ready, prepared, all the time!

We read in 1 Thessalonians 5:2-4, “For you yourselves know well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When people say, ‘there is peace and security,’ then suddenly destruction will come upon them as travail comes upon a woman with child, and there will be no escape. But you are not in darkness, brethren, for that day to surprise you like a thief.”

Many years ago, I used to watch the TV show MASH, which first aired on September 17th, 1972 and ended on February 28th, 1968. I remember one episode where Hawkeye is called out to the front lines due to a shortage of doctors there. When he arrives, there are bombs and bullets flying all around. He suddenly realizes that his own life is in danger. So in the few spare moments he has there, he takes time to write out his last will and testament. Eventually, another doctor arrives at the front and Hawkeye is able to return to the 4077 MASH. He arrives late in the evening, enters the office, sits down at the desk and works on the conclusion of his will. Klinger comes in and sees him and asks what he’s doing. Hawkeye tells him and Klinger responds by saying, “no paperwork is so important that it can’t wait until tomorrow.” Hawkeye looks at him thoughtfully and says, “I used to think that way too, but not anymore.” It was not until Hawkeye had experienced his close encounter with death on the front lines that he had come to realize the great importance of being prepared for death and living each day to the fullest; that you never know when the end is coming.

The church has known for 2,000 years that Jesus is coming again, and yet many believers have become lethargic and drowsy. Some people may have given up waiting. They are no longer excited about the soon-coming of the Lord. As a result, there is little effective witness given that the Lord is returning.

Like many of the parables Jesus told, He emphasized gracious invitations, offers of mercy, and that’s the way this story starts, but then there are those words – “and the door was shut.” That’s so final. And Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is like this story.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd – He wants to find every last sheep. But there is an end to the window of opportunity, and it comes at death or the second coming, whichever comes first for you.

This story is not somehow a contradiction to grace. This story does not teach that you are saved by good works – as if that were the oil in the lamps. But if you receive the grace of God by faith, you will be changed, transformed, continually, over time. That’s what happens when you receive Christ by faith. The Holy Spirit does a number on you…unless you resist, unless you didn’t really have faith to begin with…unless you think you have a plenty of time to come to Christ. So are you prepared?

So how do I keep plenty of oil in my lamp?
If you have never placed your faith in Jesus, that’s where you have to start. When you become a Christian, you receive the indwelling gift of the Holy Spirit. He gives you a new nature. You begin to draw from that never-ending well to change your life from the inside out.
If you have already placed your faith in Jesus as Savior and Boss of your life, then you daily seek to freshen and deepen that relationship through prayer, study of God’s Word, fellowship with other Christians and by cooperating with the Holy Spirit as He guides you.

If you knew that tomorrow was your last day on earth, how would you live differently? Would you spend time with your family? Would get drunk and carouse all night? Would throw a party for yourself and invite your family and friends? Or would you confess your sins? Would you decide to accept God’s offer of forgiveness in Jesus? Would you talk to God more in prayer? You know the expression, “Don’t put off to tomorrow, what you can do today.” Well, what if today is your last day!

Just as the bridesmaids eagerly awaited the bridegroom, we should be prepared and eagerly await the return of Christ. We read in Revelation 16:15, “Lo, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is he who is awake, keeping his garments that he may not go naked and be seen exposed!”

The Christian doctrine of resurrection assures us that death is not the end. The grave is not the end. The body goes to sleep, but the soul goes to be with the Lord (Phil. 1:20-24). When the Lord returns, He will bring the soul with Him, will raise the body in glory, and share His glory forever.

Ask yourself this question: Do you anticipate His return or are you distracted by other things of this world? Perhaps you feel that, “well, I don’t know when it’s going to be, so I’m not going to concern myself.” Jesus ended this parable with the warning He had uttered before: “Watch” (Matt. 24:42; 25:13). This does not mean standing on a mountaintop gazing at the heavens “to stay awake and be alert!” (Matt. 26:38-41). It means to always be ready – to be prepared; it means to walk in His way; to be lead by His Holy Spirit.

“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. Behold, I shall make all things new” (Rev. 21:3-5).

If we really believed and trusted Jesus to prepare a place for us that beats anything here on earth, then we should be prepared for His return.

Let us pray:

O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God, and heirs of eternal life: Grant that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves as he is pure; that, when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom, where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.

Amen. †

Great Is Your Reward!

Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
November 2, 2014, Pentecost XXI – All Saints Day – Memorial Sunday
The Sacrament of Holy Communion

Revelation 7:9-17, Psalm 34:1-10, 22; 1 John 3:1-3, Matthew 5:1-12

From the Book of Revelations:
“For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

From the First Letter of St. John:
See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God;

And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation!

Today is All Saints’ Sunday, and as we remember those who have died in the faith, and especially those who have died during the past year, we turn to John’s vision of the Kingdom.

As we open the book of Revelation, we ought to understand a few things: John wrote this book under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to the seven churches of Turkey: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. They were experiencing the wrath of Nero, and John wrote this letter to them to be an encouragement to them – and all Christians. The book of Revelation is not a horror story – it is not meant to scare us – the point of the book is to comfort. John wanted to assure the churches that no matter how horrible the persecution was or could become, there was no reason to fear Nero and his troops – or any evil – because Jesus is our Victorious Savior.

If you believe that God came to earth in the Person of Jesus, died for your sins, physically rose from the dead, and ascended back to the Throne of the Son, the worst possible thing that you can imagine ever happening to you, will be nothing compared to the hope and the joy that we can confidently believe is coming.

Jesus said, “So have no fear of them [the devil and his demons], for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, utter in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s will. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:26-33).

And Paul wrote, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).

This hope – that John shows in the book of Revelation – is the hope we have for all those who have died believing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Death is not the end, and those who believe in Jesus Alone for salvation will be raised to life imperishable – life in Glory.

God tells us about our rewards in heaven frequently as a reminder to fix our hope on the life to come. In this life, we will not experience the fullest of blessings and rewards of sacrifices made for His Kingdom, but Jesus knows every gift of love and will reward you. God’s rewards for you are a hundredfold larger than anything you can imagine in this life, not temporal things of this age that will pass away (Isa. 65:17).

One more thing we need to recognize as we look at the book of Revelation – it is written in code. John did not want the Romans to get and understand the book, so he wrote it in code using first century Jewish symbolism. The symbols of Revelation must be interpreted in light of first century Jewish symbolism or we will come up with something other than what God is revealing.

What is the revelation in the book of Revelation? Jesus has already won. And no matter how many battles seem to be lost in this life, we are eternally safe in Jesus. He is completely victorious and will not lose even one of His people.

John sees a great multitude from every nation and tribe and people and language – and these people are standing before the Throne and the Lamb – these people have also believed in the saving grace of Jesus. These are the non-Jews – the Gentiles – you and me – all those who have no biological heritage in Israel, yet claim Jesus as their Savior.

The promise that God made to our father Abraham was that “I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give to your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves” (Gen. 26:4). From the beginning, salvation was not just for the Jews – it was first to the Jews – but also to all people – anyone of any nation or tribe or people or language who believed in Jesus as Savior. We read in the Holy Scriptures that from Creation, until Jesus, almost all of those who profess faith in the Savior were Israelites – only a few were non-Jews.
But after Jesus came, most of those who believed in Him are non-Jews, though Jews still come to faith.

As we come into the sanctuary, we join together as the Church to worship God – we stand before His Face right now – but in the Kingdom, we will see Jesus face-to-face, and the right response in seeing Him will be for us to fall on our faces – in wonder and awe and thanksgiving and praise. If worship is truly “accomplished” in our sanctuaries, we will “see” God and cry out in praise and thanksgiving for Who He is. Worship is not first and foremost about us becoming better people or feeling better about ourselves or life or whatever or “getting something” – the purpose of worship is for us – like the beings of Heaven – we fall before God – at least in our hearts – and say, “You’re amazing – thank you for being God.”

The good news John had for the churches in Asia was if they were put to death – or in any way persecuted for Christ – “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:14b).

Because Jesus was put to death in the flesh, all those who believe in Him for Salvation have been cleansed of their sin – they have been forgiven for all of their sin. If you have believed in Jesus Alone for salvation, you have been washed in the Blood of Jesus; you are wearing white robes which have been washed in the Blood of Jesus. All of your sins, past, present, and future, including your sin nature, is forgiven and purified in Jesus.

For the Christian, ultimately, death is not a problem. Most of us don’t desire to be sick or to go through the process of death, but in a very real sense, we look forward to death, because death is all good. The late Larry Norman was a pioneer of Christian rock music. He was asked if he had any goals and he said, “Yes, I want to die.” The reason he could say that is because he was a Christian and knew that his dying would bring him into the presence of Jesus, our God and Savior.

Because of the suffering that Jesus endured on the cross for our sins, we Christians have a sure hope, that death is deliverance from everything broken and marred and evil and sinful.

Although we mourn those who have died in the faith, because we are separated from them for a time, we have the blessed assurance and hope. Paul wrote, “But we have this treasure [the Gospel] in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but in you gives us life.

“Since we have the same spirit of faith as he had who wrote, ‘I believed, and so I spoke,’ we too believe, and so we speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:7-18).

Still God graciously gave John a glimpse of the eternal to give peace and hope to the churches of Asia and all those who see Christians die in the faith and for the faith: those who have died are safe, well, pure, and holy. They are in the presence of their God and Savior. And they are worshiping: “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night within his temple” (Rev. 7:15a).

And this is the condition they are in: “and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat” (Rev. 7:15b-16). Those who have died in faith and for the faith are protected by God and all suffering and pain has been removed from them. This is not the end of the story – there is still the resurrection to come when Jesus returns. But all those who have died believing that Jesus Alone is the Savior that God sent are with Him, healthy and at peace, waiting for the Day of Resurrection.

“For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev. 7:17).

Jesus, the Lamb, is the Shepherd, Who cares for His Sheep – and has died for them: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want; he makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters” (Psalm 23:1-2).

Jesus guides each one of His sheep to the Living Water who is Himself: “Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14).

And God makes crying a thing of the past. “Thou dost show to me the path of life; in thy presence there is fullness of joy, at your right hand are pleasures for evermore” (Psalm 16:11).

The first century churches in Asia were suffering persecution, and they were being put to death by the armies of Caesar Nero. John sent the letter of Revelation to the churches to put them at peace and reinforce and encourage their hope. Yes, they were suffering the worst persecution ever known to the people of God, and it will continue until Jesus returns. However, all those who have died in the faith, and all those who will die in the faith, are received into Paradise. They are free of sin – forgiven. They are joyfully worshiping God. And they are whole, healthy, at peace, waiting for Jesus’ return, when we all who believe in Jesus Alone for salvation will be raised from our graves and reunited with one another to live eternally in the Kingdom of our God and Savior.

Let us pray:

Almighty God, who is sovereign over life and death, we thank you for the love of life and the Creation that you have given to us. Thank you for giving us, not only this life, but the life to come, with Jesus, perfected and made holy like Him. We ask that you would minister to us and give us your grace as we receive the bread and the cup. Help us to hold fast to that hope that we can mourn the death of our loved ones and yet hold on with unshakable confidence to your promise that they are well, they shall be raised, and we will all be together in your Kingdom. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray.

Amen. †

Whose Son Is He?

Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
October 26, 2014, Pentecost XX – Reformation Sunday

Deuteronomy 34:1-12, Psalm 1, 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8, Matthew 22:34-46

From the book of Deuteronomy:
And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, none like him for all the signs and wonders which the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt.

From St. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians:
For you yourselves know, brethren, that our visit to you was not in vain; but though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the face of great opposition.

And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think of the Christ? Whose son is he?”

Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation!

What would you say was the most significant question ever asked in the history of the world? I will give you a hint: it had to do with the events that occurred in the Jewish temple, just a few days before our Lord Jesus Christ went to the cross for us.

While teaching in the temple, He was confronted by the Pharisees and Sadducees and scribes – the religious leaders of the people. They pressed Him with questions that were designed to trap Him and discredit Him before the people. But Jesus answered each question with great wisdom; and He exposed the hard-hearted unbelief of His opponents in the process. In the end, all they succeeded in doing was discrediting themselves.

So, after Jesus answered all of their questions – it’s then that we find our Lord asking them a question. But before we get to that, let me suggest to you that the greatest question you could ask would have to be one that deals with the greatest theme ever proposed. And there is no greater theme in the universe, than the one we find in the Gospel of John.
John 1:1-5 says,
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.”

And this affirmation continues at verse 14, where is says,
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

The Gospel of John presents Jesus Christ to us as this divine Person; and the greatest proposition ever made is this; that the second Person of the divine Godhead, who is the Son of the Father, has become “flesh” and walked among men; that He has revealed Himself to men as “full of grace and truth,” and has so communed with men as to enable them to report to the world that they behold His glory “as of the only begotten of the Father.”

What a great thing to propose to the world! – that the Son of God, in a point of time, has become a man like us; that He has lived in the midst of sinful humanity; and that He has revealed the grace of His Father toward those who believe on Him! Can there be a greater thing to consider than that? If it is a proposition that is true, then great hope has been introduced into this dark and fallen world! If it is true, then people such as you and me – broken and wounded as we are by sin – can be forgiven, washed clean, and restored to a relationship with the One who made us for Himself! If it is true, then there really isn’t anything else that matters by comparison!

And if that great theme is true, then the greatest question that can possibly be asked – the one question that most reveals what is in the human heart, and that most determines one’s eternal destiny – would have to be this: “What do you think about Jesus Christ?”

Jesus had already asked His disciples a similar question earlier, “who do you say that I am?” and Peter answered Him, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). And now, as we come to our passage this morning, we find that Jesus asks this ‘great question’ again, only this time to His opponents.

Jesus asks the question of the religious leaders: “What do you think of the Christ? Whose Son is He?”

Now to understand this question, you have to put yourself, as it were, in the ‘sandals’ or shoes of the ones who heard it. We have the advantage; we know that Jesus is the Christ. But when Jesus asks the religious leaders about “the Christ,” they understood Him to be asking about the great expectation of the Messiah, promised in the Old Testament Scriptures. They would have answered: “The Son of David.”

Did you notice that Jesus didn’t debate that answer? It was the right answer (as far as it goes); because, in terms of His earthly lineage, that’s what Jesus was: the biological offspring of King David.

But then, Jesus goes on to show that that answer alone was only half-correct. A half-correct answer to the most important question of all is not an answer that will lead to salvation.

Jesus follows up with another question: “How is it then that David, inspired by the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, till I put thy enemies under thy feet.” This is a quote from the first verse of Psalm 110 – a psalm that all Jewish leaders would have recognized as referring to the Messiah. This psalm was written by King David, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In it, David looks ahead and expresses worship toward God for the promise of the Messiah that would one day be born from him.

If King David is speaking of his promised Offspring, how can he also refer to him as Lord? Jesus was presenting His opponents with a puzzle. But it wasn’t intended to trap them and confuse them – as they had been trying to do to Him. He was trying to help them to realize that He was the Messiah promised in the Old Testament Scriptures.

You see, these religious leaders expected a strictly human Messiah. They expected someone to arise from the lineage of King David; and to, like David, be a mighty, conquering king in their own day. They expected a conquering Messiah – but a Messiah that was only a mere man.

But Jesus, though fully human, had been presenting Himself to the people as more than a mere man. He had healed the sick, the lame and the blind. He had cleansed the lepers, and had cast out demons. He had demonstrated that He had authority to command the wind and the sea waves. He had raised people from the dead. He had fed the multitudes with a few loaves of bread and a few fish. He had taught and spoken to the people as no man had ever taught and spoken before. He had proved to them – over the three and a half years of His earthly ministry that He was more than mere man alone.

The words of King David, requires that the Messiah be understood as a divine Person. Here, we see God speaking to another Person in a way that He spoke to no mere man: “Sit at My right hand…” To sit at the right hand of a mighty ruler was to sit in the position of greatest possible honor and exaltation, and to share in that king’s glory. God would never speak in this way to a mere created being. But before He went to the cross, Jesus prayed, “And now, Father, glorify thou me in thy own presence with the glory which I had with thee before the world was made” (John 17:5).

And finally, these words also require that the Messiah be recognized as God’s appointed judge. In them, God says to David’s Son, “Sit at My right hand, till I make your enemies your footstool.”
And again, didn’t Jesus once say of Himself, “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him; then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats” (Matt. 25:31-32).

If we were to take David’s words and the miracles that Jesus performed, there should be only one conclusion. The only way that David could speak to his own human offspring and call Him “Lord” would be if his offspring was more than a mere man. He would have to be both human and divine. He would have to be the God-Man; the Son of God, sent to this earth to be born into the human family to be our Savior.

In just a few short days after this encounter, Jesus would be proven to be the Messiah. He would be proven to be, as Paul the apostle said in the very first few words of the Book of Romans, “born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:3-4).

Matthew writes that, after Jesus finished asking His question, “no one was able to answer Him a word, nor from that day on did anyone dare to question Him anymore” (v. 46). They found that they could not answer Him. All that they could do was put Him to death.

And they did. And then, He rose from the dead.

The great question that the Lord Jesus asked of those unbelieving religious rulers back then is still the greatest question of all today: “What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?” It’s a question that puts each of us on the crossroads of a decision. What will we do with Him? What conclusion will we come to about Him? And the only conclusion that the testimony of the Scriptures allows us to come to is that He is both fully God and fully man; with both natures together – unmixed and unmingled – in one Person.

And what should we do with this? Let me suggest that, in proper response, we should first worship and adore Him. What a wonder He is! He is the eternal Son of God; the second Person of the triune Godhead; the very King of Heaven! And yet, in loving obedience to the Father, and in mercy to us in our sins, He set His heavenly glory aside for a season, was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and was born into the human family. He didn’t at any time cease to be the holy Son of God; but rather humbled Himself, forever took the nature of true humanity to Himself, tasted death in our place on the cursed cross, and rose from the dead in power and glory. He did this for us! How we should love Him in return!

Another proper way to respond would be to believe on Him. The testimony that Jesus has both a fully human nature and a fully divine nature in His one, single person is not a trivial detail of faith. You and I cannot be saved unless that is true, and unless we put our faith in it! You see, we are sinners – fallen because of the sin of Adam, and guilty because of our own personal sins.
And unless the Son of God had truly taken full humanity to Himself, He could not rescue us from our sins. And if it were a mere man that had volunteered to take our sins upon himself and die in our place on a cursed cross, being only a man, he couldn’t do us any good. As a member of the human race – cursed by the sin of Adam as much as the rest of us – he’d have his own sins to pay for. The only way that we can be saved is by the righteous, sinless Son of God taking full humanity to His Person and dying as a sinless substitute in our place. He who knew no sin must become ‘sin’ for us as one of us; or else we cannot become ‘righteous’ before God by faith in Him. But Praise God; He has! And the only right response on our part is to believe on Him as both fully human and fully divine; and trust that His righteous sacrifice on the cross is the payment for our sins.

One more thing; we should respond by having hope in Him. Because the Son of God took full humanity to His own Person forever, and because He partook of death for sins in our place as one of us, and because He rose from the dead in glory as the great Conqueror over death on our behalf, then we can be assured that we will rise in glory with Him. The Son of God didn’t become one of us and die for us, only then to leave us in the condition that He found us. Rather, He condescended to come down to where we are, in order to raise us up to where He is – so that where He now is, we who trust in Him will one day be also! The promise of the Bible is that, if we have been united to the likeness of His death, we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection.

The testimony of the Bible is that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God who – without ever ceasing to be God – took full humanity to Himself, became one of us, and died on the cross in our place. Have you placed your trust in Him as “the Christ, the Son of the living God?” Have you responded to Him accordingly? Do you express your love and worship for Him? Do you declare Him to be the One you trust in for salvation before God? Do you affirm Him to be your hope for future glory?

What do you say about Christ? Whose Son is He?

Let us pray:

Almighty and merciful God, it is only by your gift that your faithful people offer you true and laudable service: Grant that we may run without stumbling to obtain your heavenly promises; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives, and reigns with you, and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.
Amen. †

God’s Image – God’s Treasure

Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
October 19, 2014, Pentecost XIX

Exodus 33:12-23, Psalm 99:1-5, 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10, Matthew 22:15-22

From the book of Exodus:
And the Lord said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.”

From St. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians:
And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit; so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.

And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
“Tell us then, is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the money for the tax.” And they brought him a coin. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.

Before the Civil War, about 15% of the US money in circulation was fake. At that time there were approximately 10,000 different currencies. One expert said, “People had a hard enough time remembering what the different currencies were supposed to look like, let alone recognizing counterfeits.”

Today only a tiny fraction of our currency is counterfeit, but our Government is constantly trying to stop criminals from passing off phony money. For example, a few years ago the US Treasury department redesigned the $5 bill because counterfeiters loved the $5 bill. They could bleach it and then reprint it as a $100 bill because it shared the same security marks as $100 bills.

So, how did the Treasury change their design of the $5 bill? They changed the IMAGES on the bills. Things like watermarks, micro-printing and changing Lincoln’s image on the front to be larger. It’s those IMAGES on our bills that guarantee that your money is legitimate.

Now let’s look at our Gospel reading this morning. Jesus has been preaching, teaching and healing for about 3 years now. Large crowds have gathered to listen to Him and there was beginning to be talk about making Him the new king of Israel. Look at His qualifications:
1) He could inspire huge crowds with His words.
2) He could feed thousands with very little food.
3) He could heal the sick, the lame and the insane.
4) He even had the power to raise people from the dead.

If Jesus was their King, there’d be no power on earth that could stand against Israel. Not even the hated Romans could hold them back. Israel would once again be a great nation!

There’s one small problem. Judea already has a king by the name of Herod. He’s the one who beheaded John the Baptist. Herod’s followers were called Herodians, and they were quite happy with their king; they were not interested in Jesus or anyone else taking his place.

The Pharisees and the Herodians were enemies; but their common foe, Jesus, brought them together. The Pharisees opposed the Roman poll tax for several reasons: 1) They did not want to submit to a Gentile power; 2) Caesar was revered as a god; and 3) they had better uses for the money than to give it to Rome. Since Herodians were the party supporting Herod, they were in favor of the tax. After all, Herod’s authority was given to him by Caesar; and Herod would have had a difficult time staying in power without Rome’s support.

Palestine was an occupied nation, and the Jews had no special love for their conquerors.
Every tax the poor people had to pay was another reminder that they were not free. The Zealots, an “underground” organization of Jews, often staged protests against Rome. They would oppose any Roman tax.

Think of our American revolution. In the beginning, the colonies were proud to be British. There were small instances of Parliament’s control that bothered the colonists, the Currency Acts of 1751 and 1764. But when the French and Indian War took place (1754-1763), King George III lost a great deal of money due to buying expensive supplies for his army and the colonies. In order to pay off his debt, he imposed taxes on the colonies without their consent.

It is easy to see why the Pharisees and Herodians chose the poll tax as the bait for their trap. It appeared that no matter which side Jesus took, He would create problems for Himself and His ministry. If He opposed the tax, He would be in trouble with Rome. If He approved the tax, He would be in trouble with the Jews.
Jesus immediately saw through their scheme. He knew that their real purpose was not to get an answer to a question, but to try to trap Him. They were only acting a part, and this made them hypocrites. On this basis alone, He could have refused to answer them. But He knew the people around Him would not understand. Here was an opportunity for Him to silence His enemies and, at the same time, teach the people an important spiritual truth.

Each ruler minted his own coins and put his own image on them. The “penny” (denarius) had Caesar’s image on it, so it belonged to Caesar. “Give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar,” was His reply. “And give back to God what belongs to God.” In this simple, but profound reply, Jesus taught several important truths.

The image on our money declares WHO those bills belong to. Look at any bill you have and you’ll see these words: “Federal Reserve Note. The United States of America” Those words on those bills declare WHO those bills belong to.

So, then, what do I give to God? Where do I find God’s image? Genesis 1:26 says, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness.’” We were made in God’s image and likeness. You and I need to give what belongs to Him – back to Him. I need to give ME to God.

Now how do I do that? How do I give myself to God?

First, I need to BELONG to Him, which means I need to believe in Jesus Christ. Ephesians 1:13 tells us, “Having believed (in Jesus), you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.” He puts His image inside us that says we belong to Him.

So, when our faith in Jesus leads us to belong to Him, God expects us to repent and be baptized. Some people think that this faith/repentance/baptism thing is like car insurance.
They make their monthly payments and they think they will be protected against an accident.

Let’s say you go to an insurance agent to buy some car insurance or homeowners insurance. You sign some papers, pay a deposit and set up an automatic withdrawal from your checking account to pay the bill. You might go back to your insurance agent maybe twice a year on Christmas and Easter (oh, that’s church). Actually, you may never need to back to your agent and they know that.

There are people who treat salvation in Jesus that way. They sign up (join a church), pay their bills (pledge) and then show up only once in a while, if that. But Jesus said: Give to God that which belongs to Him. So, do you really belong to Him, or are you only “pretending” to be His?

A hypocrite is someone who “pretends” to be something they’re not. They’re counterfeiters. A hypocrite tries to look like the real thing, but they had no intention of actually BEING the real thing.

There is an expression: “you can tell what a person’s priorities are by looking at their checkbook.” Jesus said: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt. 6:21)

Some people say they have a personal relationship with God. Jesus says your relationship with God is not just “personal”…it’s “purse and all.”

Here’s an illustration: Not everyone plans ahead when they come to church. We come to the part in the worship service when the offering plate is being passed. So, you take out your wallet and discover you have two $20s and a $5 bill. Now you’re faced with a split second decision: “Do I give the $5, one of the$20, the $20 and the $5, both $20s…or ALL of it. Gee, I wanted to go out to dinner after church. And so you do the math and you give God $5.

Do you know what you’ve done? You’ve given God your leftovers because your heart isn’t focused on God…it’s focused on your treasure. Proverbs 3:5-10 tells us, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight…Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.”

So everyone take out your wallet, or at least imagine in your mind. When you made Jesus the Lord of your life, you died to your old life and now you live for Jesus Christ. Everything belongs to Him. So, look in your wallet. Do you see money in there? If you’re a Christian, whose money is it? That’s right, it belongs to God. Isn’t it appropriate, that our money has the words printed on it: “In God We Trust.” In a few short moments, you will be putting a portion of your money in the offering plate; a portion of your money to God… but it is ALL His. Every bill, every coin; It’s all God’s. Whatever you spend your money on, you’re spending God’s money. Everything about us, belongs to Him.

There was a man by the name of Emil Mettler. He owned a restaurant in London and was a close friend of Albert Schweitzer. Mettler was known for the fact that he would never allow a Christian worker to pay for a meal. One day he was opening his cash register in the presence of the Secretary of the London Missionary Society. As Mettler was making change for another customer, the Secretary happened to notice a six-inch nail among the bills and coins. “What is this nail for?” he asked. Mettler explained, “I keep this nail with my money to remind me of the price that Christ paid for my salvation and of what I owe Him in return.”

We were created in the image of God. We are His special treasure. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him, should not parish, but have eternal life (John 3:16). May we so live our lives that we reflect the image of God through His Son, Jesus Christ; that our witness brings others to Him; that through faith, repentance and baptism we may claim heaven’s guaranteed reward.

Let us pray:

Almighty and everlasting God, in Christ you have revealed your glory among the nations; Preserve the works of your mercy, that your Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives, and reigns with you, and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.
Amen. †

They Rejected the Holy Spirit

Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
October 12, 2014, Pentecost XVIII

Exodus 32:1-14, Psalm 106:1-6 Philippians 4:1-9, Matthew 22:1-14

From the book of Exodus:
And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down; for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves; they have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them; they have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt!’”

From The Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians:
What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you.

And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a marriage feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the marriage feast; but they would not come.”

Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.

I’d like you to think for a moment about the most special invitation you ever received. Has anyone been invited to a reception at the White House? I am sure all of us have been invited to a wedding or to a wedding anniversary party.

So how did you feel when you received that invitation? Did you feel honored, proud, or maybe a little bit nervous? Or did you simply say, “I really don’t want to go that party, so I’ll make up some excuse.” Of course not. You wrote down the date in your appointment book; made an appointment with the hairdresser or barber, and most importantly, you responded that you were coming. From that point on, you spent the next few months looking forward to that event, planning, preparing, and even dreaming of what the event was going to be like.
I want you to think about this whole theme of invitation as we come to our reading from Matthew’s gospel this morning. It is the story of a king who, as we read in verse 1, has prepared a wedding banquet for his son. Who is this king? On one level the king is the sort of political leader the crowds hearing this story would have been very familiar with – petty tyrants who get upset and are quite happy to burn down cities when their will is refused. That was what politicians were like in those days.

But on another level the king in the story stands for none other than God Himself. We know this because on many occasions Jesus talked about life in God’s kingdom as a feast, a banquet, a party. Indeed Jesus Himself often spent time in people’s home sharing food and drink, talking and laughing and telling those stories that would later be written down as great pearls of wisdom called parables.

This parable in our Gospel reading must not be confused with the Parable of the Great Supper (Luke 14:16-24) even though they have elements in common. Again we meet the Father and the Son is alive and has a bride. The suggestion is that the Lord Jesus and His church are depicted (Eph. 5:22-33). The period described in this parable must be after His resurrection and ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Throughout the Old Testament, we read countless stories of the Jews and their relationship with God; a relationship that wasn’t always smooth. We look at the time of Moses and his delight in God on the mountaintop, which was interrupted by deep disappointment with his people. It was one of the most heartbreaking experiences in his entire career, and yet it brought out the best in him, which is what always happens when we love God and live by faith.

At least three times during the months at Sinai, the Jewish people had promised to obey whatever God told them to do. The Lord knew that it wasn’t in their hearts to keep their promises (Deut. 5:28-29), and the tragedy of the golden calf proved Him right.

Moses called what they did “a great sin” and his assessment was accurate. It was a great sin because of who committed it: the nation of Israel, the chosen people of God; His special treasure. They had promised to obey God’s law, but in making a golden calf and indulging in a sensual celebration, the nation broke the first, second, and seventh commandments. It was a great sin because of what they had already experienced of the power and mercy of God: the judgments against Egypt, the deliverance at the Red Sea, the provision of food and water, and the gracious leading of God by the pillar of cloud and fire. What they did was rebel against the goodness of the Lord. It’s no wonder their sin provoked God to anger (Deut. 9:7).

Israel’s lust for idols was born in Egypt and still worked in their hearts (Josh. 24:14). Aaron fed that appetite by giving the people what they wanted. They thought they needed an idol, but what they really needed was faith in their great God who had revealed Himself so powerfully to them. Israel exchanged the glory of the true and living God for the image of an animal (Ps. 106:19-23).

In spite of their bumpy history, in spite of what they did to His Son, the Father is still inviting the people of Israel to come. When we study the first eleven chapters of Acts, we discover that the message is still going to the Jews (Acts 2:5, 10, 14, 22, 36). “To the Jew first” was God’s plan (Acts 3:26; Rom. 1:16). How did the nation’s leaders respond to the ministry of the Holy Spirit through the Apostles? They rejected the Word and persecuted the church. The same rulers who permitted John the Baptist to be killed, and who asked for Jesus to be killed, and Stephen to be killed! Later, Herod killed James (Acts 12:1ff).

How did the king in the parable respond to the way the people treated his servants? He became angry and sent his armies to destroy them and their city. He then turned to other people and invited them to come to the feast. This is a picture of God’s dealing with Israel. They rejected the Father when they refused to obey John the Baptist’s preaching. Israel rejected the Son when they arrested Him and crucified Him. In His grace and patience, God sent other witnesses. The Holy Spirit came on the early believers and they witnessed with great power that Jesus was alive and the nation could be saved (Acts 2:32-36; 3:19-26). The miracles they did were proof that God was at work in and through them.

But Israel also rejected the Holy Spirit! This was Stephen’s indictment against the nation: “You do always resist the Holy Ghost” (Acts 7:51). With the stoning of Stephen, God’s patience with Israel began to end, though He delayed the judgment for almost forty years. In Acts 8 we read that the message went to the Samaritans, and in Acts 10 we read that it even went to the Gentiles.

This final rejection, some say is the awful “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” that Jesus spoke about in Matthew 12:31-32: “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.” This was a national sin, committed by Israel. When they rejected John, they rejected the Father who sent him; but there remained the ministry of the Son. When they rejected the Son, they were forgiven because of their ignorance (Luke 23:34; Acts 3:17). No sinner today can be forgiven for rejecting Christ, for this rejection is what condemns the soul (John 3:16-22).

But there remained the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit came on the church at Pentecost, and the Apostles performed great signs and wonders (Acts 2:43; Heb. 2:1-4). The rulers rejected the witness of the Spirit, and this brought final judgment. They had rejected the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, and there were no more opportunities left.

This “sin against the Holy Spirit” cannot be committed today in the same way as Israel committed it, because the situation is different. The Spirit of God is bearing witness through the Word to the person and work of Jesus Christ. It is the Spirit who convinces the world of sin (John 16:7-11). The Spirit can be resisted by unbelievers (Acts 7:51), but nobody knows that crisis hour (if there is one) when the Spirit stops dealing with a lost sinner.

The king welcomed everyone in both good and bad. And that’s what God still does today. He doesn’t care whether you think of yourself as good or bad. His generous invitation to life with Him still stands and it really is for everyone. How many times do I hear things like: “I’m not worthy enough to receive God’s love” I’m not good enough” “I’ve done too many bad things”.

None of us are good enough for God. God is totally pure, totally true, and totally honest. None of us can match us to His standards. There are no VIP tickets into His party for the good, the famous or the wealthy. All anyone of us can do is say: “Yes, Lord, I’ve messed up. I don’t understand why you love me. But I thank you that you love me anyway, and have sent your only Son, Jesus to die in my place for my sins.” And when we do that, whoever we are, whatever we have done, God our Heavenly Father comes to meet us and says: “Welcome home. I’m so glad you’ve come back to me.”

That, simply put, is the heart of the Christian faith. Whether you think of yourself as good or bad, whether you are young or old, whether you are male or female, whether you have lots of qualifications or none at all, God is still out there looking for you. Because how God sees you is as one of His precious creatures who needs to come back to Him. And the way back to Him is open because this Jesus not only told about God’s great love for us, but showed it by dying for each and every one of us upon the cross and conquering the forces of sin and death and evil.

So, yes, there is bad news in this story for those who ignore or reject God’s invitation. But there is also very, very good news for those who have the faith to respond, to say “Yes.”

Matthew 22:11-14 states: “But the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment; and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.” This seems like an appendix to the parable, but it is vitally important. The wedding garment was provided by the host so that everybody was properly attired and the poor did not feel conspicuous. Salvation is personal and individual. We must accept what God gives to us – the righteousness of Christ – and not try to make it on our own.

We know that this man had responded to the invitation and come in, indeed the king calls him His friend. But this invitation had made no impression on this man’s life. It wasn’t simply the fact He hadn’t changed his clothes. He hadn’t changed his attitudes or his behavior.

The point Jesus is making here is that saying “Yes” to God’s invitation must be more than saying the right words, or maybe coming to church service. We have to let Jesus be our King, to take control of the way we think and act and do. With the help of His Holy Spirit we have to get rid of our old habits, our old ways of doing things, and become the person that Jesus wants us to be.
So what is your response? A shrug of the shoulders? Walking off in the other direction? Or is it a “Yes” that’s more than just words, but a new attitude of heart and mind and will as you give your life to Him? That is the question each one of us needs to know how to answer. Not later, when it may be too late; But now.

I am the Bread of Life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty (John 6:35). Say “YES.”

Let us pray:

Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.
Amen. †

They Rejected the Son

Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
October 5, 2014, Pentecost XVII
The Sacrament of Holy Communion

Isaiah 5:1-7, Psalm 80:7-15 Philippians 3:8-14, Matthew 21:33-46

From the book of the Prophet Isaiah:
For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, a cry!

From The Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians:
Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

And from the Gospel of St. Luke:
Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it.”

Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.

We now enter the fourth major section of Matthew’s Gospel, “The Rejection of the King.” In this section, the Lord Jesus revealed the sins of Israel and explained why the religious leaders rejected Him and His message.

In our Gospel reading this morning, the parable takes us once again to the vineyard. This parable is based on our Old Testament reading Isaiah 5:1-7. Jesus tells this very interesting and provocative story about a landowner and some farmers to whom he rented his land. In Jesus’ story, the landowner does all the work in the beginning. The land is his, and he plants a vineyard. He digs a winepress where the grapes can be trampled and the juice extracted. He builds a wall and a watchtower so the crop will be protected and guarded. Everything is in order for a great crop of grapes. The twist in the story is that the landowner then leases the vineyard out to a group of tenant farmers and goes away.
The landowner does not leave because of a lack of interest, for the tenants understand that he will return. However, he gives them a great deal of freedom and will not be there to watch over their every move. The farmers are simply to tend to the crop and the land, and when it is time, gives him his share of the harvest. It is a simple plan and everyone wins. The landowner gets what belongs to him, and the tenants are provided for and get what they have earned.

But the problem arises when there is a rebellion among the farmers against the landowner. There is no mention that he has treated them unfairly or has wronged them in any way. That is not the issue. The problem is that they get greedy. They no longer want to be tenants of the vineyard, they want to own it. They want it all – all the crop and all the land as well. So when the landowner sends his servants to collect his rightful share of the fruit, the tenants mistreat and beat the servants, even killing some of them. This happens several times until the landowner finally sends his son, expecting that they will respect him and give the landowner what is his due. But the farmers conspire even against the son. They say to each other, “This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance. The land and the crops and everything else will be ours.” Then they took him outside the vineyard and killed him.

Let’s look at the parable piece by piece. What Jesus is doing is telling the world’s story and predicting His own death due to the rebellion of God’s creation. God is the landowner. He has made the world and everything in it. He planted all the trees and plants that give us food. He gives the world to us, and makes us His tenants. We are renters, stewards, not owners. However, we are provided for very well. But the landowner seems to be away on a journey somewhere. That is to say, God is out of sight. He is still the owner, even though it seems like He is not visibly present. We have been given a good world and a great deal of freedom. The land is fruitful and we are blessed to have been given the privilege of being tenants here. God has been good to us. But a problem has arisen.

A rebellion is fomenting among the tenants. We, first of all, want to claim the Master’s land and everything on it as our own, and want him to stay out of it. We abuse those who come and remind us that this world is not our own. We refuse to recognize God’s ownership of the world. Since the time that He appears to have gone on a journey, we have forgotten Him and gotten used to the idea that all of this is ours. And, secondly, we do not want to give to God what rightfully belongs to Him. So when God sent the prophets to call the people of the world to recognize God’s ownership and to give Him what He is due, we not only became hostile to God, we killed His messengers. As they say, “If you don’t like the message, kill the messenger.” This has happened throughout the history of the world, and is still happening now. In many places of the world today (especially the Middle East), to preach the good news of Jesus openly is to face the possibility of imprisonment or even death.

But God was serious about having His ownership recognized and acknowledged. In the end, He sent His Son to call the world to acknowledge the kingdom of God and recognize that God is the King of that kingdom. But we rejected God, and we rejected God’s Son. We treated Him worse than the prophets who went before him. We took Him outside of the gates of Jerusalem and killed Him. We do not want to be held accountable to anyone but ourselves. We don’t want someone telling us what to do, or what kind of people we ought to be, even if that someone is God. As far as we are concerned the world belongs to us, and we convince ourselves that He may not exist after all. Our lives belong to us. We want to be free. In our thinking, to be free means to be free from God and free from any rules. We say “it is my body and my choice. It doesn’t matter if the baby within me wants to live.” We want sex as recreation, instead of creation and commitment. We forget that the Bible says, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world, and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1).

This is a story of our Christ-rejecting world. It is how we treat the Landowner. And the interesting thing is that, it is the religious folk who reject Jesus, and the people, follow like sheep. The Bible says that the Pharisees knew that He was talking about them. Even in the arena of religion God is not welcome. He is too radical. He is too awesome. His person and power are overwhelming. We prefer a god we can understand, control, and even manipulate.

This is a story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The parable of Jesus begins here where they are the tenants of the world God has made. They live in a wonderful garden paradise. But He goes away for awhile and they are easily convinced that is not enough to be a tenant. It is not enough to be a friend of God, they want to be God. Like them, we begin to question the goodness of God, and we want to taste our independence. We begin to look around us and we decide we want to be in control. We throw off the control of God and cast aside restraint. We stop worshiping the Creator and begin worshiping creation. We kill the Giver and take His gifts. We claim the vineyard as our own.

One of the interesting things about the parable is that the landowner does not demand everything, He only asks His share. He would have treated the tenants fairly, more than fairly, but they did not want equity, they wanted it all. God has been rejected and His Son has been killed. They have been thrown out. But Jesus quoted the scripture that said, “The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes” (Psalm 118:22-23); Matthew 21:42). So Jesus gives us the real end of the story. It does not end in defeat, but victory. The very stone, this One who has been rejected and killed outside the city, will return and become the foundation of a new kingdom. The end of the story is found in the book of Revelation: “Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever’” (Revelation 11:15).

And this cornerstone, this Rock of Ages, there are only two ways of approaching it – falling on it, or having it fall on you. Jesus said, “He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed” (Matthew 21:44). Fall on it and you will be broken to pieces. Have it fall on you and you will be crushed. Fall on it and your pride, your stubbornness, your self-will shall be broken to pieces.
You will have to come in humility and submission, recognizing that the world and everything in it, including your personal life, are the property of God. You will have to acknowledge His ownership and give Him what He is due. That is one approach. The only other approach is to resist and ultimately have the rock fall on you and crush you – that is what it will be like at the judgment.

The Pharisees told Jesus what they thought the landowner in the parable would do to those who refused to recognize his leadership and kill his son: “He will put those wretches to a miserable death” (Matthew 21:41). They felt he would kill them as they had killed his son. But God, the real Landowner, would do the exact opposite. He would use the death of His Son as an atoning sacrifice so that He might forgive the rebels and ultimately give them a land that was beyond anything they had ever known. The Bible says, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him?” (Romans 8:32).

This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.

Let us pray:

Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we are to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you, and the Holy Spirit, one
God, forever and ever. Amen. †