From Your Heart

Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
February 16, 2014 – Epiphany VI

Deuteronomy 30:15-20, Psalm 119:1-8, 1 Corinthians 3:1-9, Matthew 5:21-37

From the Fifth Book of Moses, Deuteronomy:
“I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying His voice, and cleaving to Him; for that means life to you and length of days, that you may dwell in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.”

From St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians:
He who plants and he who waters are equal, and each shall receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.

And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

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 think it is safe to assume that none of you came to church today hoping for a good sermon on anger, adultery and divorce; especially since Friday was Valentine’s Day. But our church is committed to a common lectionary and so the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany we get Matthew 5 with its hard words from Jesus on these very topics.

Jesus took six important Old Testament laws and interpreted them for His people in the light of the new life He came to give. He made a fundamental change without altering God’s standards; He dealt with the attitudes and intents of the heart and not simply with the external action. The Pharisees said that righteousness consisted of performing certain actions, but Jesus said it centered on the attitudes of the heart.

Likewise, with sin: The Pharisees had a list of external actions that were sinful, but Jesus explained that sin came from the attitudes of the heart. Anger is murder in the heart; lust is adultery in the heart. The person who says that he “lives by the Sermon on the Mount” may not realize that the Sermon on the Mount is more difficult to keep than the original Ten Commandments!

Anger is a powerful force. Some have said that we are living in the age of anger. We see the power of anger all around us. We see road rage; people swearing; people with no patience.

Now not all anger is bad. Our Lord was often angry at the religious leaders of His time for the way they enslaved people under the burden of rules and requirements. We remember that moment when Jesus was outraged to find merchants selling animals and exchanging money in that part of the Temple that was reserved for non-Jewish people to worship. Jesus fashioned a whip from ropes and drove the money-changers out, a classic example of what we would call righteous indignation.

But that is not the anger our Lord is addressing in today’s Gospel. He is talking about the kind of anger that is ego-driven, the kind of anger that is filled with jealousy and resentment, the kind of anger that wills and often causes pain and suffering for those whose only offense is that they displease us.

Jesus speaks about adultery and divorce this morning. I doubt any of you need those terms defined. There is a lot of it going around America today. In fact, many couples are foregoing the legal contract of marriage because of the possible financial cost if the marriage doesn’t last. I am sure all of us know someone whose marriage ended in divorce, perhaps even you. I myself am a product of a second marriage.

But I would encourage us to think of the many ways, beyond the destruction of a marriage covenant, that moral compromise can cause serious damage. The word adultery means literally to make something impure…to pollute what should be clean. How tempted we are everyday to abuse a variety of trusts we have. All of this Jesus wants us to know, undermines our relationship with others and ultimately our relationship with God.

Relationships…I am convinced that this is what our Gospel lesson is really addressing. We create a precious trust when we enter into a meaningful relationship with another…within our family and circle of friends, at our workplace, and certainly within our congregation.

In many ways this lesson from Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount is one of the most difficult texts for us to understand. Matthew sticks our nose directly into the Ten Commandments, that ancient collection that most of us would prefer to ignore or, at best, think of as The Ten Suggestions. But our Lord ratchets up the weight of these requirements by insisting that we cannot sidestep them and the ideals they contain. He makes this clear in verses that immediately precede our text (Matthew 5:17-18):
Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets. I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. Truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass away from the law until all is accomplished.

So begins Jesus’ powerful commentary on what it means to live as a citizen of God’s kingdom. Our Lord speaks about the importance of making peace with those around us and not allowing conflict to define us or to get out of hand. He addresses the danger of unbridled personal hungers that can easily lead us in a direction that is personally harmful and generally destructive to the welfare of those around us. Finally, Jesus identifies the peril of degrading the honor that should be associated with that unique connection of two people that we call marriage.

A sign of the times in which we live is the reality that most people want to be their own priest or minister. We do not want any religious middle man looking over our shoulder. We want to form our own relationship with God, unfiltered by any churchly intermediary. In short, we want to be our own pope or bishop: the final authority on what is right and wrong for us. Most of us are convinced that all we need to do is live by the simple creed: Love Jesus and do whatever you want.

But how can we rationalize such a relaxed approach to ethical decision-making with these hard and clear words from Jesus captured in Matthew’s Gospel? Traditionally, this powerful text has been interpreted in two quite different ways:

One interpretation would claim that Jesus is urging us to take the law far more seriously than we’d ever imagined. In reality, this view would claim that Jesus is establishing a new law that both exceeds and extends the Ten Commandments. This approach takes the ethical demands of Christianity most seriously, and would argue that faith in Jesus is a kind of spiritual steroid that allows us to do what pious Jews in Jesus’ day could not. I don’t favor this interpretation.

The second approach goes in a different direction. This view would claim that Jesus is taking the law to an impossible extreme to show us that we cannot fulfill its demands. Thus, we cannot point to our accomplishments but rather must see that we are wholly dependent on the grace of God. This interpretation can easily encourage us to believe that if we cannot fulfill the law, so why bother trying; it really does not matter what we do. While I think this interpretation is a little closer to the mark, I still find it wanting as well.

So, if neither of these interpretations is totally satisfactory, what do we do with Matthew 5? I am not convinced that Jesus’ greatest concern was that we pour ourselves into obeying every law, rule, and commandment. Instead, I think our Lord’s greatest concern was that we strive to put God first in our lives. Our Lord spoke more about the Kingdom of God than He did about the laws of God. And the first thing to remember is that when we are taking about God, we are taking about relationships.

I would challenge you to think about the law of God not in terms of doing a certain number of impossible things before breakfast, but in terms of being in the right relationship…with God and with those around us. It is not about your need to do the right thing, color within the lines, keep your nose clean; no, it is about loving your neighbor as yourself, controlling your anger, modifying your drives for personal fulfillment, all to the end that you might be an instrument for deepening and strengthening the community in which you live.

When we properly read the Ten Commandments, I think we will see that their purpose is not to limit our lives but to expand and enrich them. The first Three Commandments address our relationship with God, an essential step toward living the good life. The second section, Commandments Four through Ten, speak to our relationships to other people. Understood this way, the whole law is actually a way to challenge us to honor those that we are in a relationship.

The danger, I believe, is for us to forget about the importance of relationships, striving instead to be spiritual decathlon athletes, competing in endless categories with a determination to excel in our righteous achievements.

But as soon as we do that we fall prey to the second danger. When we live to fulfill the law, we can all too easily wind up being judgmental of others, who may not be able to achieve what we can. Jesus addresses this danger when He says: Judge not, least you be judged.

So let us be of good cheer. The genius of the Sermon on the Mount is not that it places before us the model of the perfect Christian life we ought to live or even the challenge of an unattainable goal. No, the genius of the Sermon on the Mount is that it brings us face to face with Jesus Christ; and realization of how much we need God’s forgiveness and grace. For when we know Jesus, we discover how we should live for God and for others in this world. Show love from your heart!

Let us pray:
O God, the strength of all who put their trust in you; Mercifully accept our prayers; and because in our weakness we can do nothing good without you, give us the help of your grace, that in keeping your commandments we may please you both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen!

God’s Recipe

Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
February 9, 2014 – Epiphany V

Isaiah 58:1-9a, Psalm 112:1-9, 1 Corinthians 2:1-12, Matthew 5:13-20

From the Prophet Isaiah:
Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteous and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God.

From St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians:
Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.

And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men.”

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 this Peanuts cartoon which showed Peppermint Patty talking to Charlie Brown. She said, “Guess what, Chuck. The first day of school and I got sent to the principal’s office. It was your fault, Chuck,” He said, “My fault? How could it be my fault? Why do you say everything is my fault?” She said, “You’re my friend, aren’t you, Chuck? You should have been a better influence on me.”

While Peppermint Patty was seeking to pass the buck and not take responsibility for her actions, she does raise an important issue and in a sense she could be correct. We should be a good influence on our friends, our co-workers and our families. We can have an influence on others, for good or bad.

Our Gospel reading today starts out by saying, “You are the salt of the earth.” This is a continuation of last week’s sermon on “The Sermon on the Mount.” The theme of that great sermon was how people of the kingdom of heaven are to live; to achieve true righteousness. That true and vital righteousness begins internally, in the heart. It reflects a person’s true character and the influence or witness we have on others.
At this section of “The Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus says that, “You are the salt of the earth.” He is comparing you to salt. In fact, salt that has infinite value. When we think of salt today, it is very inexpensive. We use it to flavor our foods; many recipes call for salt to be included. We are also cautioned by our doctors, not to use too much of it, because it might be harmful to our health (according to some studies). So, when Jesus says that we are the “salt of the earth”; is that a compliment?

We have to look at what this phrase meant back in Jesus’ time. Because salt was a necessity of life in ancient times and thus great value was attached to it. Salt was so important that it was sometimes used in place of money. The Roman soldiers of Jesus’ day were at times paid with it. In fact, our word “salary” comes from the Latin word salarium which referred to the payments to the soldiers with salt. We still use the phrase saying that someone either is, or is not, “worth their salt.” We don’t think much about salt today because we can get as much of it in pure form as we want. It is just that little bottle with holes in the top on the table. But when you are completely dependent on salt to preserve your food, and when it is so valuable that it is used in the place of money, you get a completely different perspective on salt.

Because we live in a part of the world where we have an abundance of food, we don’t understand the monotony of the diet of those who live in Jesus’ day and for most of those who live in third world countries even today. In a great portion of the world rice is the common food, three times a day. In part of Africa today the subsistence food is corn meal, at every meal. In fact the Swahili word for corn meal is “posha” meaning daily ration.

Salt in Jesus’ day was important for survival, because it was the only way they had to preserve meat. Obviously, they did not have refrigerators back in Jesus’ time, so salt became very important in their ability to preserve their food. The salt was rubbed into the meat before it was stored. Salt was to arrest or at least slow the process of decay, so too Christians are given the task of arresting the decay of our world.

Christianity has in fact had a profound positive effect on the world. The most dramatic impact of Christianity on the world is that it has attached new value to human life. Christianity stopped human sacrifice. Prior to Christianity infanticide, and abandonment of children was a common practice. Hospitals as we now know them began through the influence of Christianity. The Red Cross was started by an evangelical Christian. Almost every one of the first 123 colleges and universities in the United States has Christian origins, founded by Christians for Christian purposes. The same could be said of orphanages, adoption agencies, humane treatment of the insane, and the list goes on and on of dramatic impact of Christianity around the world.

But we have our work cut out for us; many of these same colleges and universities have abandoned their Christian roots in favor of secular and humanistic diversity. Instead of orphanages and adoption agencies, there has been an explosion in the number of abortions.

Christians, however, continue to have a positive benefit on our world. As a moral antiseptic, Christians keep the corruption of society at bay by opposing moral decay by their lives and their words. Do you believe this? I do believe that if we were to remove Christianity and God completely out of our society, then literally “all hell would break loose.” But the reality is, Christianity and God are under attack in our country and around the world. God is being removed from our society by nonbelievers and even our courts! And we are letting it happen.

We also need to ask ourselves: are we as Christians any different from non-Christians? Do our friends, co-workers and family know we are Christian? They might know that we go to church on Sundays, but do they know we are Christians by the way we live; by our character? Or have we assimilated into the secular world where society can’t tell the difference?

The fundamental moral and ethical difference that Christ can make in how we live is fast disappearing. When our teens claim to be saved, but then get pregnant or do drugs at the same rate as the rest of society – when Christians cheat in business, or lie, steal, or cheat on their spouses, at the same rate as non-Christians – something is horribly wrong. Where is our witness?

If we as Christians lose the qualities of Christ that make us distinct and become like the rest of society around us, we no longer have a positive impact. We become a hindrance instead of a preservative.

In 2 Thessalonians 2:7 we read, “For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way.” One day prior to our Lord’s return the Church will be removed from this world, and when Christians are finally removed from the world scene, all Hell literally breaks loose.

The other thing about salt, is that is makes you thirsty. In an arid climate or athletic competition, salt is used to promote thirst. Christians are to make Christ attractive and desirable. In Titus 2:9 the Apostle Paul tells Christian servants that they must act in such a way “that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things.” The idea here is that Christian servants have the power through their exemplary behavior to make Christian life and faith beautiful to those outside.

Whenever we as Christians are introduced into a setting, whether it is social or work related, the unbelievers should see evidence of the difference that Jesus Christ makes in our lives. They should be able to look at us and say, “I don’t know what you have, but I want it.”

What happens when salt loses its flavor? According to our scripture reading, “it is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men.” Technically speaking, salt cannot lose its saltiness; sodium chloride is a stable compound. But in the part of the world where Jesus lived, salt was collected from around the Dead Sea where the crystals were often contaminated with other minerals.
These crystallized formations were full of impurities, and since the actual salt was more soluble than the impurities, the rain could wash out the salt, which made what was left of little worth since it lost its saltiness. When this happened, the salt was thrown out, since it was no longer of any value either as a preservative or for flavoring. When the salt was leached out it still looked like salt, but it lost its taste. The essential difference can be leached out of a Christian’s life by the constant flow of the world’s values through our lives.

When Mahatma Gandhi was the spiritual leader of India, he was asked by some missionaries, “What is the greatest hindrance to Christianity in India?” His reply was, “Christians.” It wasn’t the message, it was the witness.

The peculiar property of salt is that even though it may have lost its pungency, it still retains a very devastating potency. This rare and remarkable material can still…destroy plant life on the land…the same principle applies in the case of the Christian. Either our lives are counting for God and for good or our lives are counting for evil and the enemy. The way we live, the things we say, the attitudes we have, the lifestyle we adopt… are continuously producing either positive or negative results in our society; in our lives, whether we are aware of it or not, we either count for God or against Him.

Lastly, you need to use salt for it to have any benefit. As we have already noted, the Christian is to be a preserving force in the world wherever God has placed them. But the salt never did any good when it was sitting on a shelf and the meat was somewhere else. To be effective, the salt had to be rubbed into the meat. In a similar way Christians are to allow God to use them wherever He has placed them. It does the Christian or a church no good, if their salt is stored in a warehouse or on a shelf, you must use it and make contact in order for it to have an effect.

Jesus did not say, everyone is the salt of the earth. Jesus said to His followers, “YOU are the salt of the earth.” As a Christian, you and you alone are the salt of the earth! To be salt, we do not have to be spectacular; to be salt, we do not have to be sensational; to be salt, we do not have to be successful (at least by the world’s standards); to be salt, we just have to affect our little corner of the world; To be a witness for Christ to those around us; to have that extra ingredient that sets us apart for God.

Let us pray:
Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen!

Blessed Are You

Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
February 2, 2014 – Epiphany IV

Micah 6:1-8, Psalm 15, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, Matthew 5:1-12

From the Prophet Micah:
He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

From St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians:
He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption; therefore, as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast of the Lord.”

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.

What does it mean to be happy? To be fortunate? To be blessed? Who are the ones we as people regard as the lucky ones; the fortunate; the blessed ones? What do we think of? We tend to think of those with money; people who have acquired the material things of this world. They never have to worry about paying their bills. We think of those who can afford a nice home, a nice car. When they travel they fly in first class. It could also be people who are attractive; the beautiful people. How about people who have power or access to privilege and status? They are the rich, beautiful, powerful people: The fortunate ones, the lucky ones, the blessed ones. People like pop stars, movie stars, sports stars, and yes, even some politicians.

Why do we desire these things? Perhaps we think that if we had these things, it would make us happy, fortunate and blessed. But are these the things that bring true happiness? Are these the things that bring lasting, eternal, happiness? And most importantly, are these the things that Jesus regards as the true hallmarks of happiness?
We only have to look at the downward spiral of Justin Bieber lately, where he keeps getting in trouble with the law, to see that money and fame, does not bring happiness. It can actually bring destruction.

Today’s gospel reading is on the Sermon on the Mount which is commonly known as the Beatitudes. This is one of the most misunderstood messages that Jesus ever gave. One group says it is God’s plan of salvation, that if we hope to go to heaven we must obey these rules. Another group calls it a “charter for world peace” and begs the nations of the earth to accept it. Still a third group tells us that the Sermon on the Mount does not apply to today, but that it will apply at some future time, perhaps during the Tribulation or the millennial kingdom.

What is the one word that is repeated verse after verse? It is the word “blessed.” Jesus describes those who are happy or blessed. And He turns our idea of happiness and fortunate on its head.

We think happiness is to be rich. Jesus says “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” We say happiness is one who is not sad. Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” We say it is the powerful that are happy. Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.” “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” We say those who are able to indulge in whatever vice they want and get away with it that are happy. Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

We think we are happy when we are popular and everyone thinks we are wonderful and everyone looks up to us. Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”

Wow, what a difference. What sort of happiness is this? What sort of blessedness is this that welcomes persecution, poverty and humility?

If we look at Matthew 5:20, it might give us the key to this important sermon: “For I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” The main theme is true righteousness. The religious leaders had an artificial, external righteousness based on Law. But the righteousness Jesus described is a true and vital righteousness that begins internally, in the heart. The Pharisees were concerned about the minute details of conduct, but they neglected the major matter of character. Conduct flows out of character.

Being a master Teacher, our Lord did not begin this important sermon with a negative criticism of the scribes and Pharisees. He began with a positive emphasis on righteous character and the blessings that it brings to the life of the believer. The Pharisees taught that righteousness was an external thing, a matter of obeying rules and regulations. Righteousness could be measured by praying, giving, fasting, etc. In the Beatitudes and the pictures of the believer, Jesus described Christian character that flowed from within.

Imagine how the crowd’s attention was riveted on Jesus when He uttered His first word: “Blessed.” This was a powerful word to those who heard Jesus that day. To them it meant “divine joy and perfect happiness.” The word was not used for humans; it described the kind of joy experienced only by the gods or the dead. “Blessed” implied an inner satisfaction and sufficiency that did not depend on outward circumstances for happiness. This is what the Lord offers those who trust Him!

So, Jesus came to fulfill all righteousness, to do away with sin. And so He came to usher in God’s rule, His kingdom. When Jesus died on the cross and rose again, He defeated Satan and sin and death and inaugurated His kingdom. However when Jesus came the first time, He only inaugurated His kingdom and we, at this point in time in history, still await the time when Jesus will return again, sometime in the future, when we will live directly under God’s perfect rule. In that time there will be no sin, no disease, no sickness, no injustice, we will be living fully in the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.

But in the meantime, in this time period that we are in now, we live in the time when God has inaugurated His Kingdom in Christ, but we still wait for the full outworking of Christ’s rule. But when we come to God by repenting of our sins and trusting in Christ for our salvation, the Holy Spirit comes and lives in us, and we experience in part the Kingdom of God in our own lives right now as a foretaste of the fullness of the kingdom which is coming.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus describes the people He is looking for, who count as nothing the things of this world. The people who do not strive after the earthly things, man-made kingdoms, but instead have their eyes set on the coming reign of God.

The person who is attuned to God’s purpose will realize that the root cause behind the world’s problems is our sin. But in the Kingdom of Heaven, when a person submits to God’s rule in their life, and in a fuller sense, when Christ returns and establishes His Kingdom in all its totality, there will be no more oppression, injustice, poverty, disease and death, because there will be no sin.

What will this Kingdom of Heaven look like? When Christ returns and ultimately sets up His eternal kingdom, it is not just a kingdom in the clouds, but as Revelation 21:1 reminds us: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.” That is God’s future kingdom is not just heavenly, but is a totally renewed creation – heaven and earth.

What does it mean to hunger and thirst for righteousness? It means that when you sin, it creates a hunger and thirst in you that you won’t sin again. Think for a moment what it’s like when you don’t eat or drink for a while. Perhaps you were busy and went right past lunch. Or perhaps you had to fast because of some medical test.
At a certain point, having something to eat is all that matters. You hunger and thirst for food. Do you have that hunger for righteousness?

When we become Christians, and when we allow the Holy Spirit to fill us and change us, we change. And one way we change is that we despise our own sin. So that when we do sin, we know something is wrong, we feel it. Have you ever experienced that? Perhaps you shouted at your spouse in anger? You exaggerated your deductions on your tax return. You yelled an obscenity at a driver who cut you off. How do you feel after you’ve sinned? Do you shrug it off, or does it bother you that you sinned? Do you think, well, everyone does it, so what’s the big deal? Or do you have a hunger not to sin; to do God’s Will. That’s what it is to hunger and thirst for righteousness. And in the Kingdom of God, as we come under Christ’s rule now, we will sin less. And when Christ’s kingdom comes in its fullness, we will sin no more. Our hunger for righteousness will be satisfied!

Let’s review for a moment some of the characteristics that Jesus considers blessed:
Poor in spirit mourning meek merciful pure in heart
Hungering and thirsting for righteousness peacemakers

Are these the things the world values? Are these the things that characterize the beautiful people in our society, those we tend to look up to? No they aren’t. If anything, they are the opposite. It is not easy to be a dedicated Christian. Our society is not a friend to God or to God’s people. Whether we like it or not, there is conflict between us and the world. Why? Because we are different from the world and we have different attitudes and values.

As we read the Beatitudes, we find that they represent an outlook radically different from that of the world. The world praises pride, not humility. The world endorses sin, especially if you “get away with it.” The world is at war with God, while God is seeking to reconcile His enemies and make them His children. We must expect to be persecuted if we are living as God wants us to live. But we must be sure that our suffering is not due to our own foolishness or disobedience.

How does the Sermon on the Mount, the beatitudes apply to our life today? Jesus introduces a whole different way of viewing the world. Who does the world regard as happy, fortunate, and blessed? Is it the rich, beautiful, strong, famous, and powerful? But who does Jesus say? If you look at each of these beatitudes, Jesus is looking for people who are the opposite of what the world is looking for.

He is looking for the poor in spirit – for those dependent not on themselves, but on God for everything.

He is looking for those who mourn – for those who aren’t happy with the world the way it is and mourn at those who are lost in sin.

He is looking for those who are meek – those who are humble and don’t think of themselves as more important than others.
He is looking for those who hunger and thirst after righteousness – those who are intensively dissatisfied with their own sin and long for the day when they will be perfected in righteousness and no longer sin.

He is looking for those who are merciful – taking pity on those who are in need, and willing to forgive those who sin against us.

He is looking for those who are pure in heart – those who are pure on the inside, not just on the outside.

He is looking for the peacemakers – those who will bring the message of peace to others.

And He is looking for those who will endure persecution and reviling and slander on account of His name. He is looking for those who will die to self, and who will shun temporary happiness in this world, in order to receive eternal happiness in His coming eternal kingdom. What are your values of happiness, of blessedness? Are they the values of this world – which will only last a short time? Or are they God’s values – which will last for eternity?

Let us pray:
Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen!

Repent and Be Baptized

Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
December 8, 2013 – Advent II

Isaiah 11:1-10, Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19; Romans 15:4-13, Matthew 3:1-12

From the Prophet Isaiah:
In that day the root of Jesse shall stand as an ensign to the peoples; him shall the nations seek, and his dwellings shall be glorious.

From St. Paul’ Letter to the Romans:
Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse shall come, he who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles hope.”

And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
John the Baptist says, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

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.

This is the second Sunday in Advent, as we prepare ourselves for the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. The prophet Isaiah foretold His coming. He looked beyond his people’s trials to the glorious kingdom that will be established when Messiah comes to reign (Is. 11:1-9). David’s dynasty was ready to end, but out of Jesse’s lineage, the Messiah would come (Rom. 1:3). A godly remnant of Jews kept the nation alive so that the Messiah could be born.

When Isaiah looked at his people, he saw a sinful nation that would one day walk the “highway of holiness” and enter into a righteous kingdom. He saw a suffering people who would one day enjoy a beautiful and peaceful kingdom. He saw a scattered people who would be re-gathered and reunited under the kingship of Jesus Christ.

Over 400 years had passed and the nation of Israel had not heard the voice of a prophet. Then John the Baptist appeared on the scene and a great revival took place. But who was this John the Baptist? Why was he so significant? What was this John the Baptist like?

When we read about John the Baptist, we see he was a straight talker, said it like it was and wasn’t afraid to offend people in order to tell them the truth. He was a true prophet. John’s preaching centered on repentance and the kingdom of heaven. The word, repent means “to change one’s mind and act on that change.” But why repent? It’s because the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. The Kingdom of heaven, that is God’s kingdom, God’s reign, God’s rule, is at hand. But what does all this mean?

All kinds of people came to hear John preach and to watch the great baptismal services he conducted. Many publicans and sinners came in sincere humility (Matt. 21:31-32), but the religious leaders refused to submit. They thought that they were good enough to please God; yet John called them a “generation of vipers.” Jesus used the same language when He dealt with this self-righteous crowd (Matt. 12:34; 23:33).

The Pharisees were the traditionalists of their day, while the Sadducees were more liberal. The wealthy Sadducees controlled the “temple business” that Jesus cleaned out. These two groups usually fought each other for control of the nation, but when it came to opposing Jesus Christ, the Pharisees and Sadducees were united.

John’s message was one of judgment. Israel had sinned and needed to repent, and the religious leaders should have led the way. The ax was lying at the root of the tree; and if the tree or Israel did not bear good fruit, it would be cut down. If the nation repented, the way would be prepared for the coming of the Messiah.

John fulfilled the prophecy given in Isaiah 40:3, “A voice cries: In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” In a spiritual sense, John was “Elijah who was to come” for he came in the “spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:16-17). He even dressed as Elijah did and preached the same message of judgment (2 Kings 1:8). John was the last of the Old Testament prophets (Luke 16:16) and the greatest of them (Matt. 11:7-15).

And what was he saying? What was his message? It was to prepare the way for the Lord, to make his paths straight. That is, John’s role was to prepare people for Jesus, the salvation that Jesus was bringing: The Gospel – the good news – of the Kingdom of Heaven. That Jesus would shortly be proclaiming. The Good News that the war is over, peace is coming, because the people’s sin has been pardoned. That’s what John did, he prepared people’s hearts for the coming of Jesus the Messiah, by preaching and telling people to repent.

The Jews baptized Gentile converts to Judaism, but John was baptizing Jews! His baptism was authorized from heaven (Matt. 21:23-27); it was not something John devised or borrowed. It was a baptism of repentance, looking forward to the Messiah’s coming (Acts 19:1-7). His baptism fulfilled two purposes: it prepared the nation for Christ and it presented Christ to the nation (John 1:31).

Baptism is always a voluntary thing on the part of the person being baptized. And what came with the baptism – confession of sins. You know, one of the biggest problems we face with evangelism in our modern culture is that people don’t think they are sinners. It’s always someone else. We are under the impression that as long as I am a “good” person; then I am okay. People don’t realize they have offended God; that they have rebelled against God.

Remember our ancestors Adam and Eve. God told them not to eat of a particular fruit in the Garden of Eden; and they did anyway. They thought they knew better than God. It was the same with the Pharisees and Sadducees and it is the same today. We think we know best. That’s what sin is. It’s a kind of arrogance. It’s when we write our own rules. It’s when we ignore God. It’s when we don’t put Him first in our lives. Sin is the belief by a person that he knows better than God or that we don’t need God. You’ve heard the expression: move over God, there’s two of us.

And so the first step towards coming to God, is we need to acknowledge our sin. And that’s what these people were doing at John’s baptism. They were confessing their sins. And if you haven’t confessed your sins, then you are still separated from God. But the Good News is, that if you do confess your sins and repent, then God can and will forgive you.

Now we have some distinguished visitors arriving at John’s baptism. It doesn’t say that they were baptized, but perhaps they just came down to the waters see what was going on. These people were two Jewish religious groups: the Pharisees and Sadducees. Although the Pharisees and Sadducees were quite different to each other, they had the reputation of being very religious, and they thought they were right with God. So, does John welcome them with open arms; No! He called them a “brood of vipers!” In other words, he called them “offspring of snakes.” Why did John say that to them?

The problem is two-fold. First, John is saying that they need to “bear fruit” in keeping with repentance. That is, if you repent of your sins, if you confess your sins, turn to God, then there must be something to show for it. It MUST affect the way you live.

Second, the Pharisees and Sadducees thought they were okay, that they were right with God, simply because they were Jews, descendents of Abraham. This happened in Isaiah’s time. Isaiah proclaimed repentance and the Jews wouldn’t listen and they were exiled and punished for their sins. And now in John the Baptist’s time many of the Jews had the same attitude.

So, John is preparing the way for Jesus – that it is not just good enough to be born into the right race, the right family, but there must be repentance – and not just a repentance of words, but a repentance of action, of a changed life, of good fruit.

Are we Christians any different? Do we not preach “forgiveness of sins;” that God loves us and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. The problem is, we forget the repentance part.
Did God did say, go forth and do whatever you want, because I will forgive you? No! John the Baptist’s cry is the same today, “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

We all need to examine ourselves and our relationship with God. John the Baptist warns people that they were not okay with God simply by virtue of their birth or that they were from a religious family; or that they did the right rituals. Now many of us are in a similar boat. We have grown up in Christian homes. We have grown up in the church. We come to church each week (most of the time). Most of us are members of this church. So, because of these things, we call ourselves a Christian, because that’s what we’re supposed to do, that’s what our parents did. And because of that, we think we are right with God.

Now don’t get me wrong. It’s great to be brought up in a Christian home; it’s great to have the things of God taught to you from an early age through the Sunday school, and that’s what we are doing with our kids. But unfortunately, being brought up in at Christian home won’t save you. Going to church every Sunday won’t save you. Just because you were baptized, won’t save you. These circumstances can certainly help, but they won’t guarantee that you will be saved. You can’t rely on your upbringing, your Christian heritage, or just calling yourself a Christian. You must decide for yourself to follow Jesus Christ, and live it.

You see, every one of us must decide for ourselves to follow Christ or not. And if you decide to follow Christ, as John the Baptist says so clearly, then you must do it properly. 100%. You must be honest about it. You must show fruit of your repentance. It must be obvious from the way you live, that God is number one. As far as God is concerned, there is no such thing as Christianity Lite. What are the priorities in your life? Do you put God first?

Is serving the Lord with your time, your abilities, your money, the number one priority in your life? Do you make the proclamation of the Gospel the priority of your life? Does your behavior towards others show that Christ lives in you? Are you kind, generous, thinking of others ahead of yourself, helping those in need, the poor? Do you spend time each day in prayer and Bible reading, soaking up the Word of God? When you talk with people, email them, post on your Face book wall, do you talk about the things of the Lord? Have you made Jesus the priority in your life?

John mentioned two other baptisms: a baptism of the Spirit and a baptism of fire (Matt. 3:11). The baptism of the Spirit came at Pentecost (Acts 1:5). Today, whenever a sinner trusts Christ, he is born again and immediately baptized by the Spirit into the body of Christ, the church (1 Cor. 12:12-13). In contrast, the baptism of fire refers to the future judgment.

Jesus will come again and He will sort out the wheat from the chaff. He will sort out those who truly are His, and who show it in their lives. The wheat he will gather into His silo, and the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire. He came to bring Good News of forgiveness, but it is only good news for those who recognize their sin, repent, and turn to God, who then have their sins forgiven and who show fruit of that repentance.

Thus, John the Baptist bore witness to Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and also as the Lamb of God (John 1:29). Because of John’s witness, many sinners trusted Jesus Christ (John 10:39-42). The word “trust” can also mean “hope.” Not only do believers have hope, but they also have joy and peace and power (Rom. 15:13). As we prepare for His coming, may we bear witness to the saving grace of 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.

Return on Investment

Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
August 4, 2013, Pentecost XI

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23; Psalm 49:1-12; Colossians 3:1-11, Luke 12:13-21

From the Old Testament:
What has a man from all the toil and strain with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of pain, and his work is a vexation; even in the night his mind does not rest.

From St. Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians:
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

And from the Gospel of St. Luke:
But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.

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 don’t know how many of you have been watching for the last several weeks, a show on TNT called The Hero. It was a reality TV show that sought to define what a hero was. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was the host and tested the strength, courage, and integrity of a diverse group of nine individuals. Each week, the contestants were tested physically, mentally, and morally, as they tried to prove which one truly deserved the title of “The Hero” and the life-changing grand prize that went with it. With temptations around every corner, America watched to see the contestants as they sought to overcome, undergo, and sacrifice on behalf of themselves and others.

The winner of The Hero challenge was Patty. What you may not know is the connection she has to this church. Patty is the daughter of Joe Hallowell, and the sister of Debi Hallowell.

Patty was asked, “What do you think it means to be a hero?” She answered, “A kind, selfless act or gesture that is given without the thought of receiving any praise or gratitude.” Patty proved that throughout the show.

In our Gospel reading today, a man in the crowd asked Jesus to settle a family dispute. Rabbis of that day were expected to settle legal matters, but Jesus refused to get involved. Why? Because He knew that no answer He gave would solve the real problem, which was covetousness in the hearts of the two brothers. As long as both men were greedy, no settlement would be satisfactory. Their greatest need was to have their hearts changed. Like too many people today, they wanted Jesus to serve them but not to save them.

During The Hero’s challenge, there were temptations around every corner. Every episode had at least one random offer to a contestant to take some money or put it into the grand prize “pot.” These offers were $35,000 and up. Two of the contestants took the offer, explaining that “their family could use it,” however, they were somewhat chastised for it by the other contestants. Patty was tempted five separate times for a total of $180,000, but each time she turned it down. She put the needs of the other contestants before her own.

Covetousness is an unquenchable thirst for getting more and more of something we think we need in order to be truly satisfied. It may be a thirst for money or the things that money can buy, or even a thirst for position and power. Jesus made it clear that true life does not depend on an abundance of possessions. He did not deny that we have certain basic needs (Matt. 6:32; 1 Tim. 6:17). He only affirmed that we will not make life richer by acquiring more of these things.

Jesus told this parable of the Rich Fool, to reveal the dangers that lurk in a covetous heart. How do you respond to the wealthy farmer’s dilemma? Here was a man who had a problem with too much wealth! If we say, “I wish I had that problem!” we may be revealing covetousness in our hearts.

Suppose you inherited a great deal of wealth, would it create a problem for you? Or would you simply praise God and ask Him what He wanted you to do with it? There is an expression, “Money is the root of all evil” and it’s true. When money is involved, a person’s true character may be revealed. When family inheritance is involved, especially if the distribution is not even, it can unite a family or tear it apart.

There are perils to prosperity (Prov. 30:7-9). Wealth can choke the Word of God (Matt. 13:22), create snares and temptations (1 Tim. 6:6-10; 17-19), and give you a false sense of security. People say that money does not satisfy, but it does satisfy if you want to live on that level. People who are satisfied only with the things that money can buy are in great danger of losing the things that money cannot buy. What is really important?

This farmer saw his wealth as an opportunity to please himself. He had no thoughts of others or of God.

How do you respond to the decisions of the rich man? One might say, “Now that was a shrewd business man! He had an abundant crop, so he decided to store it away for the future; perhaps he could even retire. Don’t we do something similar with our wealth?
If we are able, don’t we save for our retirement? Some of us have a pension, Social Security, IRA or 401k retirement plan, where we save for our retirement. This is not wrong, in fact, it is quite smart. So, why did Jesus see this man to be selfish in all that this man did, and proclaim that this man was a fool? It was because this man thought only of himself. It’s what we do with our wealth that determines our character and our relationship with God. It determines who the Hero is; and what return we receive on our investment; and where we spend eternity.

There is certainly nothing wrong with following good business principles, or even with saving for the future (1 Tim. 5:8). Jesus does not encourage waste (John 6:12). But neither does He encourage selfishness motivated by covetousness.

How do you respond to the farmer’s desires? Should we say, “This is the life! The man has success, satisfaction, and security! What more could he want?” But Jesus did not see this farmer enjoying life; He saw him facing death! Wealth cannot keep us alive when our time comes to die, nor can it buy back the opportunities we missed while we were thinking of ourselves and ignoring God and others.

Jesus made it clear that true life does not come from an abundance of things, nor do true success or security. This farmer had a false view of both life and death. He thought that life came from accumulating things, and that death was far away. On March 11, 1856, Henry David Thoreau wrote in his journal, “That man is richest whose pleasures are cheapest.” He also said, “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.” In other words, “the best things in life are free.”

There was one episode on The Hero where three contestants were brought to a bus “graveyard.” One contestant had to go onto a bus filled with bees to get the next clue. There was another bus where the contestant would be sprayed with tear gas. Patty was not one of the three contestants, but she was brought in and given a challenge and temptation. She could take the place of the contestant and be sprayed with the tear gas or receive $35,000. She chose to be sprayed with the tear gas, and she was so sick she was taken to the hospital. She chose to put another person’s health and well-being ahead of her own.

Patty was asked, “What three things you couldn’t live without?” She responded, “My family, who I adore, my friends who mean the world to me, and my lipstick!” Patty has a wonderful family, a husband and three children; and of course, we know other members of her family. It makes perfect sense why she earned the title “The Hero.”

Finally, how do you respond to the death of the boastful farmer? We are prone to say, “Too bad this fellow died just when he had everything going for him! How tragic that he could not enjoy his abundance.” But the greatest tragedy is not what the man left behind but what lay before him: eternity without God! This man invested in earthly things and lost everything in the heavenly things. The man lived without God and died without God, and his wealth was but an incident in his life. God is not impressed with wealth, in and of itself; it’s what we do with the wealth and gifts we are given, that matters.
What does it mean to be “rich toward God?” It means to acknowledge gratefully that everything we have comes from God, and then make an effort to use what He gives us for the good of others and the glory of God. Wealth can be enjoyed and employed at the same time if our purpose is to honor God (1 Tim. 6:10ff). To be rich toward God means spiritual enrichment, not just personal enjoyment.

“Life is filled with difficulties and perplexities,” King Solomon concluded, “and there’s much that nobody can understand, let alone control. From the human point of view, it’s all vanity and folly. But life is God’s gift to us and He wants us to enjoy it and use it for His glory. So, instead of complaining about what you don’t have, why not start giving thanks for what you do have – and be satisfied!”

Life without Jesus Christ is indeed “vanity and vexation of spirit” (Eccl. 1:14). But when you know Him personally, and live for Him faithfully, you experience “fullness of Joy [and] pleasures forever more” (Ps. 16:11).

King Solomon seemed to hate life, but he also hated the wealth that was the result of his toil. Of course, Solomon was born wealthy, and great wealth came to him because he was the king. But he was looking at life “under the sun” and speaking for the “common people” who were listening to his discussion.

Christ is our life. Eternal life is not some heavenly substance that God imparts when we, as sinners, trust the Saviour. Eternal life is Jesus Christ Himself. “He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life” (1 John 5:12). We are dead and alive at the same time – dead to sin and alive in Christ.

It has been said, “Life is what you are alive to.” A child may come alive when you talk about a baseball game or an ice-cream cone. A teenager may come alive when you mention cars or dates. Paul wrote, “For to me to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21). Christ was Paul’s life and he was alive to anything that related to Christ. So should it be with every believer.

We no longer belong to the world, but to Christ; and the sources of life that we enjoy come only from Him. “Hidden in Christ” means security and satisfaction. The Greek scholar, Dr. A.T. Robertson, comments on this: “So here we are in Christ who is in God, and no burglar, not even Satan himself, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:31-39).

The Christian life is a “hidden life” as far as the world is concerned, because the world does not know Christ. Our sphere of life is not of this earth, but heaven; and the things that attract us and excite us belong to heaven, not to earth. This does not mean that we should ignore our earthly responsibilities. Rather it means that our motives and our strength come from heaven, not earth.

Now in view of our wonderful identification with Christ, we have a great responsibility; “Seek those things which are above” (Col. 3:1). Through Christ’s death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, we have been separated from the old life of this world, and we now belong to a new heavenly life.

But how do we “seek those things which are above?” The secret is found in our Epistle reading: “Habitually set your mind – your attention – on things above, not on things on the earth.” Our feet must be on earth, but our minds must be in heaven; we must focus on the prize. This is not to suggest, as D. L. Moody did, that we become “so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good.” It means that the practical everyday affairs of life get their direction from Christ in heaven. It also means that we look at earth from heaven’s point of view.

In our Epistle reading, Paul mentioned several sensual sins: “fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col. 3:5). Covetousness is the sin of always wanting more, whether it be more things or more pleasures. The covetous person is never satisfied with what he has, and he is usually envious of what other people have. This is idolatry, for covetousness puts things in the place of God. “Thou shalt not covet” is the last of the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:17). Yet this sin can make us break all of the other nine! A covetous person will dishonor God, take God’s name in vain, lie, steal, and commit every other sin in order to satisfy his sinful desires.

Because we are alive in Christ, we must seek the things that are above. And, because we died with Christ, we must put off the things that belong to the earthly life of past sin. The result is that we can become like Jesus Christ! God wants to renew us and make us into the image of His Son!

We were formed in God’s image, and deformed from God’s image by sin. But through Jesus Christ, we can be transformed into God’s image! We must be renewed in the spirit of our minds (Eph. 4:23). As we grow in knowledge of the Word of God, we will be transformed by the Spirit of God to share in the glorious image of God (2 Cor. 3:18). God transforms us by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:2), and this involves the study of God’s Word. It is the truth that sets us free from the old life (John 8:31-32).

During the filming of The Hero reality show, these contestants sought to define for us, but also for themselves, what a Hero is. They were tested on courage, teamwork, trust, heart, honesty, endurance, and sacrifice. They invested eight weeks of their lives in a quest to find the answer to the question: “who is a Hero?” Although there was only one grand prize, most of the contestants came away with rich rewards. As Christians, we know where our riches are: they are in heaven.

Let us pray:
Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. AMEN!

If My People Will Pray

Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
July 28, 2013, Pentecost X

Hosea 1:2-10; Psalm 85; Colossians 2:6-15, Luke 11:1-13

From the Old Testament:
Yet the number of the people of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which can be neither measured nor numbered; and in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people, “ it shall be said to them, “Sons of the living God.”

From St. Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians:
For in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness of life in Him, who is head of all rule and authority.

And from the Gospel of St. Luke:
He was praying in a certain place, and when he ceased, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” [And He taught them the Lord’s Prayer.]

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 are truly blessed to have a friend, a best friend; someone who is always there for us whenever there is a need; someone who will listen to us when we have a problem; and someone who will give us advice, even if we don’t think we need it.

All of us long to have a friend like that, someone who can identify with our circumstances and share in our day-to-day life. Prayer is just that – a personal experience and intimate connection with our loving Heavenly Father.

What is prayer? Prayer is our direct line with heaven. Prayer is a communication process that allows us to talk to God! He wants us to communicate with Him, like a person-to-person phone call. Cell phones and other devices have become a necessity to some people in today’s society. We have Bluetooth devices, blackberries, and talking computers! These are means of communications that allow two or more people to interact, discuss, and respond to one another. For too many people, prayer seems complicated, but it is simply talking to God.
We usually think of John the Baptist as a prophet and martyr, and yet our Lord’s disciples remembered him as a man of prayer. John was a “miracle baby,” filled with the Holy Spirit before he was born, and yet he had to pray. He was privileged to introduce the Messiah to Israel, and yet he had to pray. Jesus said that John was the greatest of the prophets (Luke 7:28), and yet John has to depend on prayer. If prayer was that vital to a man who had these many advantages, how much more important it ought to be to us who do not have these advantages!

John’s disciples had to pray and Jesus’ disciples wanted to learn better how to pray. They did not ask the Master to teach them how to preach or do great signs; they asked Him to teach them to pray. We today sometimes think that we would be better Christians if only we had been with Jesus when He was on earth, but this is not likely. The disciples were with Him and yet they failed many times! They could perform miracles, and yet they wanted to learn to pray.

But the greatest argument for the priority of prayer is the fact that our Lord was a Man of prayer. Thus far we have seen that He prayed at His baptism (Luke 3:21), before He chose the Twelve (Luke 6:12), when the crowds increased (Luke 5:16), before He asked the Twelve for their confession of faith (Luke 9:18), and at His Transfiguration (Luke 9:29). The disciples knew that He often prayed alone (Mark 1:35), and they wanted to learn from Him this secret of spiritual power and wisdom.

If Jesus Christ, the perfect Son of God, had to depend on prayer during “the days of His flesh” (Heb. 5:7), then how much more do you and I need to pray! Effective prayer is the provision for every need and the solution for every problem.

So when Jesus’ disciples asked Him to teach them to pray, it must have brought joy to Jesus’ heart. So Jesus taught them the prayer that has come to be known as The Lord’s Prayer, not because Jesus prayed it, but because Jesus taught it. There is nothing wrong with praying this prayer personally or as part of a congregation, so long as we do it from a believing heart that is sincere and submitted. How easy it is to “recite” these words and not really mean them, but that can happen even when we sing and preach! The fault lies with us, not with this prayer.

When I was a teenager in a church youth group, one day the youth director asked the group a question as part of an exercise. He asked us, “If there was something you could change about the worship service, then what would it be?” Well, there were a number of interesting suggestions. Then I raised my hand and said, “I think we should do away with all the repetitive things that we say by memory, such as The Lord’s Prayer or the Apostles Creed, because people just recite them and they don’t have any meaning.” Well the youth director responded very calmly and said, “Well, that may be that reciting prayers like The Lord’s Prayer have no meaning to some people, but how is it with you?” I learned a very important lesson that day. You get out of the worship service, what you put into it.

The Lord’s Prayer is a “pattern prayer,” given to guide us in our own praying. It teaches us that true prayer depends on a spiritual relationship with God that enables us to call Him “Father,” and this can come only through faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:14-17; Gal. 4:1-7).

President Lyndon Johnson’s press secretary, Bill Moyers, was saying grace at a staff lunch, and the President shouted, “Speak up, Bill! I can’t hear a thing!” Moyers quietly replied, “I wasn’t addressing you, Mr. President.” It is good to remind ourselves that when we pray, we talk to God.

The Bible says we should pray for each other. Jesus set an example for us on what to pray. He prayed for His disciples and for every generation to come that would follow Him. His prayer was that God protect and strengthen them as long as they were in this world. Jesus also prayed for those who would come to believe in Him through the Gospel message (John 17).

We should also pray with faith. “So, you see, it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that there is a God and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him” (Heb. 11:6).

And we should pray with worship and reverence. “Exalt the Lord our God! Bow low before His feet, for He is holy!” (Psalm 99:5).

True prayer also involves responsibilities: honoring God’s kingdom and doing God’s will (Luke 11:2). It has well been said that the purpose of prayer is not to get man’s will done in heaven, but to get God’s will done on earth. Prayer is not telling God what we want and then selfishly enjoying it. Prayer is asking God to use us to accomplish what He wants so that His name is glorified, His kingdom is extended and strengthened, and His will is done.

Jesus often shared the importance of prayer with His disciples. We often think of the Lord’s Prayer as Jesus’ model prayer, but He shared much more about prayer with His disciples.

Jesus told His disciples, “Until now you have asked for nothing in my name.” It is not as though the disciples had not learned to pray before this. Jesus prayed with them regularly and often taught them about prayer.

Curiously, before this Jesus had not suggested that the disciples pray in His name. The Lord’s Prayer includes no such statement. But as they stood at the threshold of a whole new life era, Jesus instructed them to pray in His name – to ask the Father on behalf of the Son. When they walked out the door of the upper room about fifty days later on Pentecost – their world would be vastly different. They would have entered into a whole new realm of spiritual warfare. The evil one, whose heel had been bruised at the cross, would escalate the spiritual conflict as the church of Jesus Christ was established on Pentecost with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus told them in the upper room that a radical change was coming in regard to prayer: “I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name” (John 16:23). Why will the Father give us what we ask in the name of Jesus? The answer is simple enough: he will do this if and when we are engaged in fulfilling the mission that Jesus gave us.

The process by which the Father will give us what we ask is directly linked to our appointment to go and bear fruit. The Father will give us what we need in order to accomplish this primary task of bearing lasting fruit for the kingdom of God. He will answer prayers in Jesus’ name when we are fulfilling Jesus’ mission – to help complete the purchase of people for God from every language and tribe and people and nation.

It is important for Christians to know the Word of God, for there we discover the will of God. We must never separate prayer and the Word (John 15:7).

Once we are secure in our relationship with God and His will, then we can bring our requests to Him (Luke 11:3-4). We can ask Him to provide our needs for today, to forgive us for what we have done yesterday, and to lead us in the future. All of our needs may be included in these three requests: material and physical provision, moral and spiritual perfection, and divine protection and direction. If we pray this way, we can be sure of praying in God’s will.

Also in our Gospel reading today, Jesus tells His disciples a parable, about going to a friend and asking to borrow three loaves of bread. In this parable, Jesus did not say that God is like this grouchy neighbor. In fact, He said just the opposite. If a tired and selfish neighbor finally meets the needs of a bothersome friend, how much more will a loving Heavenly Father meet the needs of His own dear children!

Jesus told us that the Father cares about us. We are, after all, more valuable than the birds of the air that He cares for, feeds, and clothes (Matt. 6:28-32). Paul instructs us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Phil. 4:6-7).

We have already seen that prayer is based on sonship (“Our Father”), not on friendship; but Jesus used friendship in this parable to illustrate persistence in prayer. God the Father is not like this neighbor, for He never sleeps, never gets impatient or irritable, is always generous, and delights in meeting the needs of His children. The friend at the door had to keep on knocking in order to get what he needed, but God is quick to respond to His children’s cries (Luke 18:1-8).

The argument is clear: If persistence finally paid off as a man beat on the door of a reluctant friend, how much more would persistence bring blessing as we pray to a loving Heavenly Father! It was the custom of the day to provide hospitality to strangers (Gen. 18:1ff). If a person refused to entertain a guest, he brought disgrace on the whole village and the neighbors would have nothing to do with him; so he got up and met the need.

Why does our Father in heaven answer prayer? Not just to meet the needs of His children, but to meet them in such a way that it brings glory to His name. “Hallowed be Thy name.” When God’s people pray, God’s reputation is at stake. The way He takes care of His children is a witness to the world that He can be trusted. Phillips Brooks was an Episcopal priest and Bishop in the early 1890’s. He was known for being the lyricist of “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” He said that prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance; it is laying hold of His highest willingness. Persistence in prayer is not an attempt to change God’s mind (“Thy will be done”) but to get ourselves to the place where He can trust us with the answer.

The power of prayer is not the result of the person praying. Rather, the power resides in the God who is being prayed to. 1 John 5:14-15 tells us, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of Him.” No matter the person praying, the passion behind the prayer, or the purpose of the prayer – God answers prayers that are in agreement with His will. His answers are not always yes, but are always in our best interest. When our desires line up with His will, we will come to understand that in time. When we pray passionately and purposefully, according to God’s will, God responds powerfully!

What are the promises for prayer? “Keep on asking…keep on seeking…keep on knocking.” In other words, don’t come to God only in the midnight emergencies, but keep in constant communion with your Father. Jesus called this “abiding” (John 15:1ff), and Paul exhorted, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thes. 5:17). As we pray, God will either answer or show us why He cannot answer. Then it is up to us to do whatever is necessary in our lives so that the Father can trust us with the answer.

The emphasis is on God as Father (Luke 11:11-13). Because He knows us and loves us, we never need to be afraid of the answers that He gives. If an earthly father gives what is best to his children, surely the Father in heaven will do even more.

The Word of God is full of accounts describing the power of prayer in various situations. The power of prayer has overcome enemies (Psalm 6:9-10), conquered death (2 Kings 4:3-36), brought healing (James 5:14-15), and defeated demons (Mark 9:29). God, through prayer, opens eyes, changes hearts, heals wounds, and grants wisdom (James 1:5). The power of prayer should never be underestimated because it draws on the glory and might of the infinitely powerful God of the universe!

You will know with confidence that God can hear you when you pray, so open that line of communication! Pray, knowing that no matter how far you roam, your connection with Him can never be lost!

Let us pray:
O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. AMEN!

Take Time to be Holy

Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
July 21, 2013, Pentecost IX

Amos 8:1-12; Psalm 52; Colossians 1:15-28, Luke 10:38-42

From the Old Testament:
Thus the Lord God showed me, behold, a basket of summer fruit.

From St. Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians:
To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man mature in Christ.

And from the Gospel of St. Luke:
Now as they went on their way he entered a village; and a woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.

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 live in very busy, complex and exciting times. Our technology is expanding constantly. If we were to look at just the cell phone and what it can do; it’s just amazing. How can anyone exist without a cell phone? Today, you can call someone, text, email, and go on the internet; all from your cell phone. The cell phone has become the new addiction. Perhaps the new Messiah!

We quite often get caught up in the material things of this world; the “busy things” that stimulate us and bring us enjoyment and makes life easier. The television is another technology wonder; we have the ability via cable or satellite, to choose from hundreds of channels.

So then Sunday morning comes along and we have a decision to make: should we take one hour out of our busy schedule to attend a worship service? Should we take one hour or even 15 minutes a day to read and meditate on God’s Holy Word? What are our priorities? What would God want us to do?
Worship is at the heart of all that we are and all that we do in the Christian life. It is important that we are busy ambassadors, taking the message of the Gospel to lost souls. It is also essential to be merciful Samaritans, seeking to help exploited and hurting people who need God’s mercy. But before we can represent Christ as we should, or imitate Him in our caring ministry, we must spend time with Him and learn from Him. We must “take time to be holy.”

In our Old Testament reading, Amos proclaimed to the Jews that their deception included the desecration of the Sabbath and the religious holy days. The worship of God interrupted their business, and they didn’t like it. It was not surprising that the Gentile merchants would ignore the holy days (Neh. 13:15-22), but certainly not the Jewish merchants. Have we not done the same thing ourselves with the elimination of the Sunday blue laws? Are not stores opened for shopping on Sundays and holy days? Are not athletic events or practices scheduled on Sundays?

In the Old Testament, God’s people had an earthly inheritance, the land of Canaan. Christians today have a spiritual inheritance in Christ. Canaan is not a picture of heaven, for there will be no battles or defeats in heaven. Canaan is a picture of our present inheritance in Christ. We must claim our inheritance by faith as we step out on the promises of God. Day by day, we claim our blessings; talk with our Lord, and this makes us even more thankful to God.

God called the nation of Israel to be His people, He gave them His Law (including the priesthood and sacrifices), and He gave them a wonderful land. He promised them a King who would one day establish a glorious kingdom and fulfill the many promises made to Abraham and David.

We need spiritual intelligence if we are going to live to please God. We also need practical obedience in our walk and work. But the result of all this must be spiritual power in the inner man, power that leads to joyful patience and long-suffering, with thanksgiving.

God often used common objects to teach important spiritual truths, objects like pottery (Jer. 18-19), seed (Luke 8:11), yeast (Matt. 16:6, 11), and in our Old Testament reading, a basket of summer (ripe) fruit. Just as this fruit was ripe for eating, the nation of Israel was ripe for judgment. It was the end of the harvest for the farmers, and it would be the end for Israel when the harvest judgment came.

There comes a time when God’s long-suffering runs out (Isa. 55:6-7) and judgment is decreed. The songs at the temple would become funeral dirges with weeping and wailing, and corpses would be thrown everywhere and not given proper burial. It would be a bitter harvest for Israel as the nation reaped what it sowed.

The reason was simple: Israel had broken God’s law and failed to live by His covenant. The first table of the Law has to do with our relationship to God and the second table with our relationship to others, and Israel had rebelled against both. They did not love God, and they did not love their neighbors (Matt. 22:36-40).

Jesus Christ came to earth, was rejected by His people, and was crucified. He arose again and returned to heaven. Did this mean that God’s promised kingdom for Israel was now abandoned? No, because God had initiated a new program – His mystery – that was not explained by the Old Testament prophets. The mystery is that today God is uniting Jews and Gentiles in the church (Eph. 2:11-22). When the church is completed, then Jesus Christ will return and take His people to heaven (1 Thes. 4:13-18).

Imagine what this message meant to the Gentiles. They were no longer excluded from the glory and riches of God’s grace!

We who have grown up in Christian surroundings have a tendency to take all of this for granted. But think of the excitement this message must have generated in the Colossae church composed of new believers who had no background in the church. Once they were outside the covenants of God, but now they were members of His family. Once they were living in spiritual ignorance and death, but now they were alive and sharing in the riches of God’s wisdom in Christ. Once they had no hope, but now they had a glorious hope because Christ now lived within!

Man’s greatest problem is sin – a problem that can never be solved by a philosopher or a religious teacher. Sinners need a Saviour. Jesus Christ did not release us from bondage, only to have us wander aimlessly. He moved us into His own kingdom of light and made us victors over Satan’s kingdom of darkness.

In recent years, the church has rediscovered the freedom of forgiveness. God’s forgiveness of sinners is an act of His grace. We did not deserve to be forgiven, nor can we earn forgiveness. Knowing that we are forgiven makes it possible for us to fellowship with God, enjoy His grace, and seek to do His will. Forgiveness is not an excuse for sin; rather, it is an encouragement for obedience. And, because we have been forgiven, we can forgive others (Col. 3:13).

Paul wrote that Christ solved the sin problem on the cross once and for all. This means that one day God can bring together in Christ all people that belong to Him (Eph. 1:9-10). He will be able to glorify believers and punish unbelievers, and do it justly, because of Christ’s death on the cross.

Jesus made it clear that the Son is to be worshiped as well as the Father “that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent Him” (John 5:23-24).

The purpose of reconciliation between God and man is personal holiness. God does not make peace (Col. 1:20) so that we can continue to rebel against Him. He has reconciled us to Himself so that we may share His life and His holiness. We are presented to God “holy and unblamable (without blemish) and unreproveable (free from accusation)” (Col. 1:22).

Mary of Bethany is seen three times in the Gospel record, and on each occasion, she is in the same place: at the feet of Jesus. She sat at His feet and listened to His word (Luke 10:39), fell at His feet and shared her woe when Lazarus died (John 11:32), and came to His feet and poured out her worship and anointed Jesus’ feet (John 12:3). It is interesting to note that in each of these instances, there is some kind of fragrance: In Luke 10, it is food; in John 11, it is death; and in John 12, it is perfume.

Mary and Martha are often contrasted as though each believer must make a choice; be a worker like Martha or a worshiper like Mary. Certainly our personalities and gifts are different, but that does not mean that the Christian life is an either/or situation. Charles Wesley, the founder of Methodism said it perfectly in one of his hymns:

Faithful to my Lord’s commands,
I still would choose the better part;
Serve with careful Martha’s hands,
And loving Mary’s heart.

It seems evident that the Lord wants each of us to imitate Mary in our worship and Martha in our work. It would be great if we could balance both.

Consider Martha’s situation. She received Jesus into her home and then neglected Him as she prepared an elaborate meal that He did not need! Certainly a meal was in order, but what we do with Christ is far more important than what we do for Christ. Again, it is not an either/or situation; it is a matter of balance. Mary had done her share of the work in the kitchen and then had gone to “feed” on the Lord’s teachings. Martha felt neglected after Mary left the kitchen, perhaps a little jealous and she began to complain and to suggest that neither the Lord nor Mary really cared about her!

Few things are as damaging to the Christian life as trying to work for Christ without taking time to commune with Christ. “For without Me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5). Mary chose the better part, the part that could not be taken from her. She knew that she could not live “by bread alone” (Matt. 4:4).

One of my concerns since coming to Trinity Church is that our Sunday school meets at the same time as our worship service. Now, many churches are like that, so this doesn’t mean that it’s wrong. When I was a boy at a Methodist Church, we had Sunday school from 9:15 am to 10:15 am and then worship service at 10:45 am. This was so the Sunday school teachers were able to attend the worship service. I should also point out that most of the teachers were not parents.
There were also a number of parents that dropped off their children at 9:15 am and picked them up at the end of school. Even though we made the worship service available to all, that didn’t mean people would choose to come.

Since our worship service and Sunday school are at the same time, are we preventing our teachers and our children from communing with God? Teaching is a very important ministry and they do it well; but it is also important to teach our children the importance of worship. For if our children only experience Sunday school, they may think that that’s all there is to church. When they grow up, they may not value church or the worship service, because they have not experienced it or taught the importance of it.

Whenever we criticize others and pity ourselves because we feel overworked, we had better take time to examine our lives. Perhaps in all our busyness, we have been ignoring the Lord. Martha’s problem was not that she had too much work to do, but that she allowed her work to distract her and pull her apart. She was trying to serve two masters!
We can actually do that in the church. We fill up our days with “good works” by helping people, and then we don’t leave time to be with God. If serving Christ makes us difficult to live with, then something is terribly wrong with our service!

The key is to have the right priorities or the right balance: Jesus Christ first, then our neighbors, then ourselves. It is vitally important that we spend time “at the feet of Jesus” every single day, letting Him share His Word with us. The most important part of the Christian life is the part that only God sees. Unless we meet Christ personally and privately each day, we will soon end up like Martha: busy but not blessed.

On another occasion, after Lazarus was raised from the dead, Martha prepared a feast for Jesus, the Twelve, and her brother and sister – that’s fifteen people – and she did not utter one word of complaint! She had God’s peace in her heart because she had learned to sit at the feet of Jesus. She learned what it meant to “take time to be holy.”

If you were asked the question, “Tell me about your devotional life.” Would you be able to say that you read God’s Word every day? Do you pray daily? Would you be embarrassed because you don’t? Would you say something like, “I used to read the Bible, but I just can’t seem to find the time anymore.” We need make time. We need to “take time to be holy.”

Let us pray:
O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving kindness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and forever.