Back to Basics

Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
October 28, 2012, Pentecost XXII – Reformation Sunday

Jeremiah 31:7-9, Psalm 126, Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-53

From the Book of the prophet Jeremiah:
For thus says the Lord: “Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise shouts for the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, ‘The Lord has saved his people, the remnant of Israel.’”

From the Epistle to the Hebrews:
For it is fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens.

And from the Gospel of St. Mark:
And Jesus said to him, “What do you want Me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Master, let me receive my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.

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 Reformation Sunday. The Protestant Reformation was a major 16th century European movement aimed initially at reforming the beliefs and practices of the Roman Catholic Church. Its religious aspects were supplemented by ambitious political rulers who wanted to extend their power, such as King Henry VIII of England, and control at the expense of the church. The Reformation ended the unity of Christianity and, in the eyes of many historians, signaled the beginning of the modern era. A weakening of the old order was already under way in Northern Europe, as evidenced by the emergence of thriving new cities and a determined middle class.

In 1517, Martin Luther, a German Augustinian monk, posted 95 theses on a church door in the university town of Wittenberg. That act was common academic practice of the day and served as an invitation to debate. Luther’s proposition challenged some portions of Roman Catholic doctrine and a number of specific practices.

I don’t think that Martin Luther wanted to split the church. He and others had concerns about the direction of the church and he wanted to bring about debate and to redirect the church; to get it back on track; to get it back to basics.

The movement, however, quickly gained adherents in Germany, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Scotland and portions of France. Support came from sincere religious reformers, while others manipulated the movement to gain control of valuable church property.

Unfortunately, reforming the Roman Catholic church failed, and the “protestants” as they later came to be called, separated from Roman Catholicism resulting in Lutheran churches in Germany, Scandinavia and some eastern European countries, the Reformed churches in Switzerland and the Netherlands, Presbyterian churches in Scotland, and the Anglican church in England, and other diverse elements all of which have evolved into the Protestant denominations of today.

It’s a perfect battle strategy: divide and conquer. A perfect battle strategy for Satan: Divide the church into many denominations; have numerous ideologies and doctrines; A perfect way to water down the scriptures and Christian beliefs; and turn people away from God through Jesus Christ.

After World War II, and especially since the 1960’s, the world was in turmoil. The youth were rebelling against the Vietnam War, their parents and society in general. They wanted the freedom to do whatever they wanted; whether it was drugs, sex, etc. So, the Christian Church felt it needed to change “to keep up with the times” and attract the youth. This was the belief of both the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant churches. Churches felt they needed to water down church doctrine or not preach it at all. It was all about feelings and “feeling groovy.” [I’m dating myself] Contemporary music was brought into the churches, such as guitars and drums; to entertain the people. People were given the option to believe whatever they wanted and still be considered “Christian.” It was “ok” to believe that Jesus was just a man and not the incarnation of God. It was “ok” to believe that it was a “spiritual” resurrection of Jesus Christ and not a “bodily” resurrection, even though the scriptures say otherwise. This is how it’s done. The truth is distorted ever so slightly, but in the process it changes everything so completely.

Inclusive language was brought into churches by feminists to supposedly bring equality between the sexes. Feminist felt the only way to bring about equality between a man and a woman was the elimination of man. So, any reference to man was removed. Hymnals and liturgy had to be rewritten. We all know the hymn, “Rise up, oh men of God.” This was changed to “Rise up, oh people of God.” Grace Chapel in Lexington had a very successful Men’s Ministry, where sometimes 700 men came together from all over New England once a month to break bread and hear a message. This ministry was cancelled because it discriminated against women, yet all the women’s ministries were allowed to continue.

Did any of these changes work? No. In fact they were disastrous. Yet there are still people today who still cling to this belief.

It may have attracted the youth for a short period of time, but these changes only alienated the faithful. People have been leaving the churches, especially the mainline churches by the thousands. We only have to look around at our churches, especially in New England, to see the results. And it can get worse with each generation, because if the parents don’t have a solid Christian foundation, then it’s all the harder for their children to have one. If parents don’t see the value in Christian worship, then how will their children?

The theology of the Reformers departed from the Roman Catholic Church primarily on the basis of three great principles:
1) Sole authority of Scripture
2) Justification by faith alone, and
3) Priesthood of the believer

The Sole authority of Scripture doctrine maintains that Scripture, as contained in the Bible, is the only authority for the Christian in matters of faith, life and conduct. The teachings and traditions of the church are to be completely subordinate to the Scriptures. Roman Catholicism, on the other hand, holds Scripture and Tradition to be the same inspired Deposit of Faith.

The prophet Jeremiah died an old man, probably in Egypt, and like the grave of Moses, his burial place is a mystery. The brave prophet has long turned to dust, but the words that he wrote are still with us, because God’s Word endures forever.

Jeremiah wrote a long and difficult book, however, you can’t help but glean from his life and ministry some clear and important lessons that apply to all of God’s people today.

In difficult days, we need to hear and heed the Word of God. Since hindsight always has twenty-twenty vision, it’s obvious to us that the leaders of Judah did a very stupid thing by resisting what Jeremiah told them to do. Judah had sinned its way into trouble and judgment, and they thought they could negotiate their way out, but it didn’t work. What they needed was faith in God’s Word and obedience to God’s will. Had they confessed their sins, turned to God, and submitted to Nebuchadnezzar, they would have saved their lives, their temple, and their city.

The Justification by Faith Alone doctrine maintains that we are justified before God and thus saved by faith alone, not by anything we do, not by anything the church does for us, and not by faith plus anything else. It was also recognized by the early Reformers that Faith Alone is not rightly understood until it is seen as anchored in the broader principle of Grace Alone. Hence the Reformers were calling the church back to the basic teaching of Scripture where the apostle Paul states that we are “saved by grace through faith and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8).

As a master Teacher, our Lord used many different approaches in sharing God’s Word: symbols, miracles, types, parables, proverbs, and paradoxes. A paradox is a statement that seems to contradict itself and yet expresses a valid truth or principle. “For when I am weak, then I am strong” is a paradox (2 Cor. 12:10). There are times when the best way to state a truth is by means of a paradox; and our Gospel reading this morning is just that.

A large crowd of Passover pilgrims followed Jesus and His disciples to Jericho, about eighteen miles from Jerusalem. There were actually two cities named Jericho: the old city in ruins, and the new city a mile away where Herod the Great and his successors built a lavish winter palace.

There were two blind beggars sitting by the road as referenced in Matthew, one of whom was named Bartimaeus. Both Gospels of Mark and Luke focused attention on him since he was the more vocal of the two. The beggars heard that Jesus of Nazareth, the Healer, was passing by; they did their best to get His attention so that they might receive His merciful help and be healed.

At first, the crowd tried to silence them, but when Jesus stopped and called for the men, the crowd encouraged them! Bartimaeus threw off his garment so it would not trip him, and he hastened to the Master. No doubt some of the pilgrims or disciples helped him.

Jesus said to him, “What do you want Me to do for you?” That seems like a strange question to ask a blind man. But Jesus wanted to give the man an opportunity to express himself and give evidence of his own faith. What did he really believe Jesus could do for him?

When Bartimaeus called Jesus “Lord,” he used the title Rabboni, meaning “my Master.” The only other person in the Gospels who used it was Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb, when she recognized Jesus (John 20:16). The beggar had twice called him “Son of David,” a national messianic title, but “Rabboni” was an expression of personal faith.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Matthew tells us that Jesus was moved with compassion and touched their eyes (Matt. 20:34), and immediately they were healed. Out of gratitude to Jesus, the men joined the pilgrim band and started toward Jerusalem, following Jesus. This is the last healing miracle recorded in Mark, and it certainly fits into Mark’s “Servant” theme. We see Jesus Christ, God’s Suffering Servant, on His way to the cross, and yet He stops to serve two blind beggars! What love, what mercy, and what grace!

The third great principle of the Reformation was the Priesthood of All Believers. The Scriptures teach that believers are a “holy priesthood” (1Peter 2:5). All believers are priests before God through our great high priest Jesus Christ. “There is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). As believers, we all have direct access to God through Christ, there is no necessity for an earthly mediator.

The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox concept of the priesthood was seen as having no warrant in Scripture, viewed as a perversion and mis-application of the Old Testament Aaronic or Levitical priesthood which was clearly fulfilled in Christ and done away with by the New Testament.

If you were asked to name the most important people in the Old Testament, I doubt that Melchizedek’s name would be on your list. He appeared once, in Genesis 14:17-24; and he was referred to once more, in Psalm 110:4. You could hardly call this “top billing.” But the Holy Spirit reached back into the Old Testament and used those two passages to present a most important truth: the priesthood of Jesus Christ is superior to that of Aaron because “the order of Melchizedek” is superior to “the order of Levi.”

The Jewish nation was accustomed to the priesthood of the tribe of Levi. This tribe was chosen by God to serve in the tabernacle (Ex. 29; Num. 18). Aaron was the first high priest, appointed by God. In spite of their many failures, the priests had served God for centuries; but now their priesthood was ended!

The reason God changed the order of the priesthood from that of Aaron to that of Melchizedek, was because the priesthood and the Law were imperfect; being imperfect, they could not continue forever; and God had sworn by His oath that the new order would be established.

Not only was the priesthood imperfect, but it was also interrupted by death. There were many high priests because no one priest could live forever. In contrast, the church has one High Priest, Jesus the Son of God, who lives forever! An unchanging priest means an unchangeable priesthood, and this means security and confidence for God’s people. “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8).

We are prone to sin daily, even hourly; and we need to be able to turn to Him for spiritual help. As our High Priest, Jesus Christ gives us the grace and mercy that we need not to sin. But if we sin, He is our Advocate at God’s throne (1 John 2:1-2). If we confess our sins to Him, He forgives us and restores us (1 John 1:9).

We are a “holy priesthood” and a “royal priesthood.” This corresponds to the heavenly priesthood of our Lord, for He is both King and Priest. In the Old Testament, no king in Israel served as a priest. Our Lord’s heavenly throne is a throne of grace from which we may obtain by faith all that we need to live for Him and serve Him (Heb. 4:14-16).

In the Old Testament period, God’s people had a priesthood; but today, God’s people are a priesthood. Each individual believer has the privilege of coming into the presence of God (Heb. 10:19-25). We do not come to God through any person on earth, but only through the one Mediator, Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 2:1-8). Because He is alive in glory, interceding for us, we can minister as holy priests.

As a result of these principles, the Reformers rejected the authority of the Pope, the merit of good works, indulgences, the mediation of Mary and the Saints, all but the two sacraments instituted by Christ (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper), the doctrine of transubstantiation (the doctrine that the bread and wine of the Eucharist are transformed into the true presence of Christ, although their appearance remains the same), the mass as a sacrifice, purgatory, prayers for the dead, confessions to a priest, the use of Latin in the services, and all the paraphernalia that expressed these ideas.

In general, evangelical Protestants see the Reformation as simply a call back to biblical Christianity; back to basics. We need that now more than ever.

We need to feed on His Word. God’s Word has life, gives life, and nourishes life. We should have appetites for the Word just like hungry newborn babes. We should want the pure Word, unadulterated, because this alone can help us to grow. We need to develop a faith in God, knowing that Jesus Christ sacrificed Himself once and for all, that through faith in Him we are saved by grace. As God’s priests today, we must work together at the direction of our Great High Priest. Each ministry that we perform for His glory is a service to God.

Let us pray:
Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us a thirst for your Holy Word, a deepening and strengthening of our faith, a yearning to do your will, and humbling of our souls to the realization of your salvation by grace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives, and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever


What Are You Going to Do For Me?

The Reverend J. Howard Cepelak

Trinity Church

Waltham, Massachusetts

Pentecost XXI – 21 October 2012

Isaiah 53:4-12, Psalm 91:9-16, Hebrews 5:1-10, Mark 10:35-45

From the Book of the Prophet, Isaiah:
Speaking of the suffering servant, the prophet eloquently wrote, he has born our griefs …carried our sorrows…was wounded for our transgressions…[and] bruised for our iniquities….
[And also,] All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

From the Epistle to the Hebrews:
Speaking of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, the author wrote, Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.

From the Gospel According to St. Mark:
James and John, the sons of Zebedee said to Jesus, Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of 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,

Many of us can remember the day – a cold, breezy day but despite the cold, bright with the winter sun shinning in a clear blue sky. The scene was Washington, D.C. – the day – January 20th 1961 – the occasion – the inauguration of the newly elected President, John F. Kennedy.

It was most certainly quite the occasion – very formal in contrast to the more casual inaugurations of late – top hats and morning coats constituted the dress code for the day. The President elect attended a prayer service at Trinity Roman Catholic Church just before he went to the capital to be sworn in. God, Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, prayer and church involvement were assumed and highly valued in those days – not challenged and minimized as they are now. But, I digress.

Probably the most memorable words spoken that day came from JFK’s inaugural address – simple and straight-forward – an admonition, really -President Kennedy said, Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country. Inspiring words; a challenge to a higher quality of citizenship, a more noble involvement in society and a call to a greater goodness.

Well, as we all know, his presidency never really got going, assassinated not even two full years into his term. His death made Lyndon Johnson president and from that moment on, President Kennedy’s words were set aside.

Johnson’s Great Society and The War on Poverty
somehow made selfishness and entitlement acceptable – even honorable or somehow noble. Everyone was asking – even demanding – of the country, What are you going to do for me? JFK’s enlightened wisdom had morphed into an ignorant and dangerous foolishness.

We have been paying the price ever since. Now, nearly half a century later, as we have run out of money, many people simply will not acknowledge that fact. So they still ask, What are you going to do for me? Every special interest group demands special attention – special financial attention.

Such is human nature. For those who do not believe in original sin – or in any quality of sin for that matter – this is most certainly a wake up call to the Truth – spelled with a capital “T” and Sin spelled with a capital “S”. The fact is that human nature has fallen from any state of original righteousness to a degradation of self-interest pursued at any cost – that cost being best paid by someone else. I want what I want when I want it – and you will pay for it.

From the first moment after the fall in the garden, mankind – and womankind, just to be inclusive – have sought and continue to seek for themselves the honor, glory and power. Before man and woman showed up on the scene, another creature sought for himself all the honor, glory and power. We know his name – Lucifer, now Satan. Thrown out of heaven because of his arrogant attitude of entitlement – he wanted to be God – he began his work on earth. Well, under his inspiration, human nature fell as well. All he had to say was, If you eat this forbidden fruit you will be like God yourself.

It’s in all of us – this tendency towards special entitlement as if we deserved it – to a greater or lesser degree. Make no mistake – it can come out even in the most saintly persons of whom we can think, under the right circumstances. No room for self-righteousness here. The sin is original, fundamental and essential – built in.

We can see it in two men who were – and are – most certainly saints – Sts. James and John, the sons of Zebedee referenced as the sons of thunder for the quick tempers. Traveling along the road to Jerusalem, they said to Jesus, Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.
And then they asked for the honor and the glory of being seated at the Lord’s right and left hands when He would come into His glory – in other words, they wanted the most prestigious places in the Lord’s kingdom.

Such a request seems odd since Jesus had just told them that the Son of man would be despised, mocked humiliated, spit upon and killed – but would rise on the third day. Well, I guess they heard the rise on the third day part – and wanted their places of honor promised to them before the mockery, humiliation, torture and death part might ensue.

As I said, such is human nature. All of us share in that nature – even such illustrious men as Sts. James and John. They followed their first – and yes, sinful – impulse to secure a place of honor for themselves.
I do not believe that they really understood –
I do not believe that they really got the message that what they wanted required a price –
and they were not willing to pay that price –
and furthermore could not pay the price because the price was too high –
but the price would be paid –
and paid by the man of whom they were asking for their fair share of the honor and glory –
as if they were entitled to it –
honor and glory that would come so unfairly at the cost their master’s life –
a gruesome price to be paid for their self-interested honor and glory.
These two men knew their scriptures. They knew of Isaiah’s prophecies that the Son of man, the suffering servant, the true Messiah would function in a totally unique manner in this life.

He would take unto Himself all human sin. He would have no sin in and of Himself but would take on ours, and in His suffering – in His humiliation, mockery, torture, and death, He would purify Himself of that sin – which was – and is – and will be until the end of time, our sin – and set us free from its power. Free from sin’s power, He would defeat death as well. And eternal salvation would be won for all who would believe in Him.

You see, the suffering servant would accomplish in His life, death and resurrection what the priesthood in the Temple – and any priests of any religion practicing anything in any temple or at any altar – could not accomplish – the defeat of sin and death.

He would do it – and He did do it – because He offered Himself as the one pure, perfect and all sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world as He presided over that sacrifice as the one perfect, great high priest – greater than the Levitical priesthood – a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. Hence, the one, true and perfect high priest officiating at the one, true and perfect sacrifice; perfect priest – perfect victim – the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.

The prophet Isaiah wrote, all we like sheep have gone astray and we have turned – everyone- to his own way. Nothing new in this. The prophet’s words were true when he wrote them and remain true today, some 2,400 years later. Everyone doing his own thing, thinking only of himself and what he can get without working for it, without making a sacrifice for it and without literally paying for it. I will say it again – I want what I want when I want it and you will pay for it – just one more way of saying the same thing; one more expression of original sin all the worse because it’s now honored an d glorified as if it were righteous.

Well, the price has been paid. Our fallen human condition has been redeemed. Our sorry, sin-sick souls have been saved. God did it for us because we could not do it for ourselves. The promised saviour of all mankind has come in our history. He suffered, died and rose from the dead. And yet He continues to be mocked, rejected and ridiculed by those forces in this world who do not receive Him -let alone obey Him.

And even some who claim Him will follow another messiah – a false messiah who promises everything and delivers nothing – who promises hope but delivers despair. It’s the story of the ongoing battle for power manifested in every generation. Although seen in every generation, there are better times and worse times – better generations and worse generations.

In that power struggle, the worst of the politicians will sacrifice other people’s lives on the altar of their own honor and glory – comfort and entitlement. Rather than obey the One True God, they demand our obedience.

They will require that the ordinary man pay the price in both taxes and in blood. To the arrogant and entitled mind of the unredeemed soul, everyone exists so that he – or she – can get what he wants when he wants it – as if entitled to it. Such men will re-distribute your meager wealth – to themselves. Theft – as simple as that.

Well, here we are 50 years after JFK spoke those inspiring words. How refreshing it would be if we heard from our leaders noble and inspiring words that called all of us up to a higher level of life lived in greater integrity.

How great it would be if those of us who believe in The One True God would unashamedly proclaim His honor and glory throughout this once great nation that from the beginning acknowledged and honored Him as their Creator and Sustainer.

Shame on us that we have allowed His degradation. Shame on us that we have failed to defend His cause in our nation, states, courts, schools, cities, towns and neighborhoods – and even in our homes. His churches have replaced His saving grace with self-serving, self-centered programs of self-esteem.

But we are at the edge of a new age for the re-establishment of ancient time tested Truth. God is calling us in our time to worship, serve, honor and obey Him as The Way, The Truth and The Life – so that in this world, a good life can be realized, once again, for the honest and the true.

The choice is – as always – ours.

And instead of asking, O Lord, what are you going to do for me?, we will ask, O Lord, what can we do for you?

Let us pray.

Heavenly Father, grant that in our generation we may see a revival of your Truth, a realization of your redeeming mercy and a full appreciation of your saving sacrifice. Deliver us from false messiahs, from empty promises and arrogant demands, and bless us with greater faith in you, higher hope in you and deeper obedience to you and to you alone.
We ask this in the name of and for the sake of your Son,
the crucified and risen Saviour of the whole world –
the One who paid our price,
Jesus Christ the Lord,

Barriers to Salvation

The Reverend J. Howard Cepelak

Trinity Church

Waltham, Massachusetts

Pentecost XX – 14 October 2012

Amos 5:6-7, 10-15; Psalm 90:12-17, Hebrews 4:12-16, Mark 10:17-31

From the Book of the Prophet, Amos:
They hate him who reproves in the gate, and they abhor him who speaks the truth. Seek good and not evil, that you may live, and so the Lord of hosts will be with you….

From the Epistle to the Hebrews:
We have a great high priest…Jesus, the Son of God,…one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin…. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace that we may receive mercy ….

And From the Gospel According to St. Mark:
Speaking to the rich young ruler who had asked Jesus, What must I do to inherit eternal life, Jesus, looking upon him loved him and said…You lack one thing; go sell all that you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me.

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 of the most fascinating books of the Old Testament are the books of the various prophets. Although most of them proclaim God’s harsh judgment on both the nation and especially upon the leaders of the nations; Israel in the north and Judah in the south, they also call for repentance – for turning away from evil to embrace righteousness. In so doing, the prophets would offer true hope for a good life.

The judgment usually focuses on the kings and their administrators – after all, they were supposed to lead the people in faithfulness – but the prophets call the people to accountability as well. No one is innocent. All have fallen away. All will pay the price.

Such was the history of God’s chosen people – that in the good times, the kings and the people turned away from God – and in the bad, they would turn to Him making promises of faithfulness only to depart when everything started to go well again. In those good times, when everything was going well, they forgot about their Lord. But not only that, they also worshipped the false pagan gods and goddesses who blessed every form of self-gratification.

There was a price to pay for that self-gratification. These deities demanded a human blood price – usually but not always, of the first-born son. That child’s blood would insure the continuance of the deity’s approval so that the people could continue in licentiousness – or so they believed.

Then, when everything would fall apart, they returned to the Lord – usually in response to a prophetic call, with all kinds of promises of faithfulness – only to turn away again. This cycle characterized all of their history.

How interesting that in the ancient world, all of the pagan religions demanded human sacrifice – all except one – the authentic faith and religion of the Hebrew people. In ancient Judaism, the One True God had put an end to human sacrifice, as Abraham was about to sacrifice his son, Isaac. God stopped the sacrifice and from that moment on, human sacrifice ended for the chosen people – that is, until they departed from The One True God. Then they once again practiced this abomination.

In all cases, the prophets spoke from God’s perspective. God revealed to each of these astounding men what He wanted them to say. Hence, their words were God’s words – not their own.

You will remember that the prophet Isaiah began his prophetic ministry in the year that King Uzziah died. Amos preceded him, prophesying during Uzziah’s reign. At that time, everything, both in Judah and in Israel, was going great. A period of prosperity the likes of which had not been known in the nations since king Solomon’s glorious reign some 250 years earlier, the kings and the people took it for granted, believed that God had blessed them because they deserved it – a kind of entitlement – and indulged idolatry, political corruption, astounding injustice and personal licentiousness.

Interestingly enough, the prophets Elisha and a little later, Jonah, had predicted that this time of peace and prosperity would come only a few decades before. Their prophecies came true – which always distinguishes the true prophet from all the false prophets. False prophets abounded in those days as they do today. False prophets say what the people want to hear rather than proclaim the Word of God that would challenge them to humble repentance.

True prophets as they speak on behalf of God, always find some following. But generally, they are abhorred, ridiculed and rejected by most of the people. True then. True now.

Enter stage right – Amos – a man called to proclaim the divine judgment to the kings and the people of both nations because they had abandoned the true faith and religion to embrace the ever popular, self-indulgent paganism. Sadly, too many people were more than willing to sacrifice a child to insure their self-indulgence. But those sacrifices were in vain. The One True God would not stand for it. The kings and the nations would fall. Assyria would make of these great nations, slave nations. And the good times would end.

Amos emphasized the injustice done to the poor. There was no free market competitive capitalism in those days. Born poor, you would remain so unless you cooperated with the wealthy government by ingratiating oneself into the circle of power – if you could. Then you had a chance.

But even if you were able to get ahead, the government would tax you back into poverty. The adage, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer really did apply in those days. The rich got richer by taking what little the poor had. An early form of the redistribution of wealth.

So the prophet was literally abhorred as he prophesied at the city gate – a place where everyone would pass through – as he spoke truth to power admonishing all who heard, to quote Amos, to seek good and not evil, that you may live, and so the Lord off hosts will be with you…

Probably the best way to summarize Amos’ prophetic message would be, turn away from your false beliefs and your false religions – and also from your self indulgence and then humbly worship and serve the One True God, seeking justice and loving kindness – to paraphrase the prophet Micah. In so doing, without killing your child or killing anyone else for that matter, God will bless you.

Fast forward about 700 years. Jesus was walking along a road, somewhere east of the Jordan River, and a man rushed up to him, fell on his knees and asked, Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? Identified as a rich young man in Mark’s gospel, Luke speaks of him simply as a ruler. The rest of Luke’s account tells us that he was also wealthy.

Jesus responds with you know the commandments – keep them. The young man says, I have observed them from my youth. And then Mark reveals something amazingly beautiful about our Lord, he wrote; And Jesus looking upon him loved him….
Mark offers no further commentary. He gives no explanation as to why Jesus loved the wealthy young man.

I will be bold and offer this possibility. This man had been playing by the rules of his religion faithfully since his youth. Unlike so many young men during Amos years of ministry who had abandoned God’s commandments, this fellow had not. One might assume, then that everything would be just fine.

We can assume that for this man, everything was just fine – a good house in which to live, good food, status in society and the benefits of wealth. Or so it seemed.

Yet he went to Jesus because, deep down inside, the man continued to hunger and thirst for a quality of righteousness, of goodness, perhaps even of love and joy that he knew was somehow available, but not a part of his life despite his adherence to his faith. He may have had an impulse, as aspiration or yes a hope that there must be something better, something greater, something that went deeper and rose higher than the righteousness under the law. What I believe he was seeking was the higher righteousness of the divine grace as he sought eternal life.

If so, he went to the right man when he met with Jesus. And he took the right position before him, the humility of kneeling. But one thing still kept him away from the grace that he so very much wanted – his wealth. The only barrier to the saving grace was his wealth.

Jesus thus said, Sell all that you have given the money to the poor and – the most important words, come, follow me. Selling all that he had and giving the money to the poor would remove the barrier. But following Jesus would open the door to the saving grace. Just removing the barrier – by doing a good work, however honorable and important that might be – in and of itself, was not the key that would unlock the door. No – following Jesus was.

Well, this rich man – so very poor – let me use Mark’s words, his countenance fell and he went away sorrowful for he had great possessions. One might say, he crashed and burned. The account ends here. We do not know what became of this rich young man. He wanted the fullness of salvation, but in order to get it he had to remove the barrier to it.

Perhaps he went away sorrowful, but later came to himself. Jesus loved him. Perhaps, later, he received that love, followed Jesus instruction and found his salvation, as he became a follower of Christ. Perhaps, later – after he heard of the crucifixion of this man who loved him and after he had heard of that man’s resurrection – perhaps then, he followed. Let’s hope so. He wasn’t a bad man. He just had that one barrier.

We also know, that some will not believe even if God should raise a man from the dead. And furthermore, we know that selling all that we have and giving it to the poor will not end poverty. Jesus said that we will always have the poor with us.

Yet we can hope in the saving grace -and mercy – of God in Christ. That whole human sacrifice syndrome – well, God ended that with Abraham. But people did not believe in what God had revealed to the Father of many nations. They continued the practice.

As we do today. The sacrifice of the first-born son – or the sacrifice of any unborn child – well, you can complete that sentence. Human sacrifice is human sacrifice no matter what form it may take – most certainly a barrier to salvation. And one major world religion claims that the killing of an infidel honors and glorifies God. That god is not the One True God, make no mistake.

God looked upon his people and on the whole world. He knew that they people would continually go astray. So He took definitive action to end this practice. He became man in His Son and sacrificed Himself to finally – once and for all – end that that dreadful evil – which today is offered not necessarily on the altar of some identifiable pagan deity, but on the altar of convenience – its own kind of idol or from a perverted idea of holiness.

In Jesus Christ, God offered the one full, perfect and all sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the world and in so doing, offered then – and offers now – the breaking down of every barrier to salvation leaving just one – and that’s the choice that He gives to us to receive it by faith and then follow Him. He paid the price for His people.

His sacrifice – fully human since he was tempted just as we are – and perfect because he was without sin does what we cannot do. It removes the barrier of sin in any form for this sacrifice is the perfection of the divine mercy.

In His mercy we can confidently draw near to the throne of grace. The only thing we have to do – the only thing that we can do – is receive it.

With this in mind, let us pray.

Heavenly Father, we pray that you will bless us with the grace to receive your redeeming mercy. Remove any
barrier that anyone may have to your great gift of salvation and grant us the further grace to follow you – that in all that we say, in all that we do and in all that we are, so as to honor and glorify your Son,
the crucified and risen Savior of the whole world.
We ask this in His name,

Angels and Demons – Righteousness and Salvation

The Reverend J. Howard Cepelak

Trinity Church

Waltham, Massachusetts

Pentecost XIX – 7 October 2012
The Sacrament of Holy Communion

Job 1:1, 2:1-10; Psalm 26, Hebrews 2:5-12, Mark 10:2-16

From the Book of Job:
There was a man…whose name was Job; and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God, and turned away from evil.

From the 26th Psalm:
Prove me, O Lord, and try me; test my heart and my mind.

From the Epistle to the Hebrews:
For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come….
And speaking of the son of man,
Thou didst make him for a little while lower than the angels, thou hast crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet.

And From the Gospel According to St. Mark:
And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife? He answered them, What did Moses command 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,

On April 3rd, 1965, Paul Harvey – one of the most beloved radio personalities of our time, presented a radio broadcast of his 1964 column entitled, If I Were the Devil. The broadcast had been a revision of the original column but conveyed essentially the same message. More recently, in 1999, another revised version circulated all over the internet. Although updated to be even more relevant to the times, the essential message remained the same.

And that message is just this. If I were the devil I would set God’s people against Him so that I could take His place. And I would do it by convincing the people that all that’s good and right and true is bad and wrong and false.

I would love to read to you all three versions – one is as good as the other – and all are excellent documents reflecting Harvey’s deep Christian conviction – but time this morning simply does not permit. I encourage you to google it and read – or listen to – all three. The radio broadcast can be found on YouTube. You will be inspired for sure as well as impressed by this man’s faithful perception.

Harvey most certainly had the divine gift of discernment. He could – almost instinctively – tell good from evil, right from wrong, truth from falsehood. This gift – the gift of discernment – must not be undervalued.

We know that evil always masquerades as good resulting in the deception of multitudes of otherwise decent people. They will place their faith in the deception. They will believe – and believe in – the deceiver. Regardless of how they may characterize their faith, the deception becomes their religion. So completely deceived, many people who would identify themselves as Christians will not realize that they have actually devoted themselves to the anti-Christ lie.

The lie looks so good – sounds so good – and appeals so powerfully to human self-interests, primal desires as well as to one’s highest hopes and greatest aspirations that many – even a majority – will simply believe; believe without thinking, without evaluating, without questioning, without demanding full disclosure. Such blind faith prevents them from putting the deceiver to the test.

At the same time, those captivated by the lies and by the liar, will put everything that God has done, everything that God has said (the Word of God) – and especially His supreme and perfect revelation in Jesus Christ – to the test. Critical of Christians on the grounds of blind faith, they cannot see their own blindness.

So be it. Evil happens all the time – and from the beginning of time – from that first deception in the Garden of Eden when the devil told Eve that she – and her husband – could become as gods themselves if they but ate of the forbidden fruit – the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God had given Adam and Eve everything – except that forbidden fruit. He commanded, Thou shalt not eat…. But rather than obey God, Eve believed Satan’s lie. She believed in him more than she believed in God.
She obeyed him and disobeyed God. And Adam did as well, following her into sin. The rest is history – the history of the whole world. Devil’s disciples abound in every generation.

Paul Harvey’s work expresses the basic, Biblically revealed, methodology of how the devil works in this world; the Satanic modus operandi.

But before we go into his methods, let us review Satan’s history. Satan, originally named Lucifer, which means the son of light, is generally referenced as an archangel. But he actually fits into the higher order of the seraphim. The seraphim burn with God’s light – hence his name. He was once the greatest, most intelligent, most powerful and most beautiful of all of God’s creations. So in love with himself – the supreme narcissist – he wanted to take God’s place. So he led a rebellion against God in Heaven.

St. Michael the Archangel – his name means he who is like God – defeated Lucifer – and all of the angels that had joined in the rebellion – and they were cast out of heaven. Lucifer became Satan – that name meaning the accuser of God, the Lord of the Flies, the Father of Lies, the Prince of Darkness – and his angels became demons. They fell from heaven and landed on earth as a part of the one third of all creation that they were able to take with them as they fell.

And here – on earth – Satan began his mortal deception – a deception that will continue until the end of time. Both the Bible and our friend, Paul Harvey – and every other true theologian – as well as every other true believer – know that the first place that the devil does his evil is to place enmity between the man and the woman resulting in enmity between all men and all women. He then expands his this to parents and children, brothers and sisters, beloved friends – and finally, to all mankind and God. Separated from God, we become the devil’s dinner.

The devil’s first battleground was the first man and the first woman. Being an agent – actually, the agent of death, he chose the only relationship in this world that participates in God’s creative power. The Lord has blessed us as male and female with pro-creative power – the power of life itself. The marriage covenant takes on primal importance.

Caution. We do not create – only God can do that. But we can pro-create because God has given us that power – perhaps the most abused power in this world – for the sake of life. Hence, the sanctity of life. Anything sacred becomes a target for Satan’s work. Life, being of supreme sanctification, remains the deceivers favorite battlefield.

He has won many of those battles. Witness mankind’s long history of heartbreak, deception in love affairs, his ongoing attack on marriage, the perpetual temptation to adultery in all its forms – and the frequency of both murder and suicide usually – not always – but usually – resulting from deception and heartbreak.

When the Pharisees attempted to test our Lord by asking Him the question, Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?, they go directly the devil’s favorite battlefield. The divinely established relationship between a man and a woman in marriage – best designated as holy matrimony – has always been one of the most difficult challenges in this life. The human heart – which Jeremiah declares to be deceptive above all things – at one time filled to overflowing with love – can change. Love and lust get so terribly confused. That love can turn to animosity even hatred – always a win for the devil. He despises love s much as God delights in it.

Given those circumstances, divorce entered in so as to dissolve the broken relationship. Under the Law of Moses, divorce was possible under certain circumstances – those circumstances being that a man would find some form of uncleanliness in his wife.

In the first century, many religious leaders interpreted uncleanliness as anything that might displease the husband including any manifestation of disobedience. Then as now, people debate the nature of those circumstances. But with this finding, a man could write a certificate of divorce and that was that.

So Jesus answered the question with a question. He asked these experts in the law, What did Moses command you? They answered with the issuance of a certificate of divorce. Jesus responded, For your hardness of heart, he gave you this commandment. With these words, Jesus acknowledged the sadly fallen human estate.

Our Lord then went on to say regarding this sacred covenant, What God has joined together, let no man put asunder. He then elaborated with His disciples that although divorce is possible, remarriage is not. In Matthew’s account, He elaborates further as He does in Luke’s gospel.

Although Jesus acknowledges the fallen condition of harness of heart, He does not endorse it. In His kingdom, holy love would prevail. Holy love would apply in marriage as well as in all forms of human relationships. He underscores this when He taught that the first and great commandment was to love God above all else and then love thy neighbor as thyself. And most certainly holy love would be the foundation of mankind’s relationship with God – the supreme marriage covenant.

The marriage covenant with God is eternal. Earthly marriage is temporal. Remember, He taught that in the resurrection, no one is either given or received in marriage, but are like the angels in heaven.

Satan also works with great success on the battlefield of life’s sufferings, particularly physical sufferings. He has filled this world with illness, afflictions and disease – an attack on the sacred human body – the body, created in the divine image – that belongs to God although entrusted to us.

The story of Job tells us that physical afflictions can be a test of our faithfulness. We all know Job’s story – a righteous man unconditionally faithful to God. Being righteous, he was, of course, a prime target for the devil. Satan’s purpose was to so afflict him with the loss of everything – his wealth, his family and his health, that Job would curse God and die.

Even Job’s wife – surely heartbroken for her husband’s suffering, wants him to end it by doing just that – the first recorded attempt at mercy killing. But Job remains faithful having successfully endured the test of his faith. Job personifies the psalmist words, Prove me O Lord, and try me; test my heart and my mind.

So many people throughout time turn away from God when physically afflicted. They say, How can there be a good God if He allows such things to happen? Well, the problem is not in the asking of the question – it’s in how one answers it.

God answers the question. The answer can only be found on the cross. Tried and tested, God the Father proves His holy love in His self-sacrifice in God the Son. The Son, who reigned – and reigns – in Heaven as the King of angels, became lower than the angels so as to share in the full human condition. He, like Job, was physically afflicted.

Although tempted to sin in every way, He never sinned in any way. He took our sin unto Himself so as to set us free from that Satanic power. Only His shed blood could remove sin’s stain. Only His broken body could break the tempter’s power. Only the Truth of His perfect love could expose the deceiver’s lie.

And only the full light of His resurrection – the manifestation of His victory over death itself – could enlighten those who dwell in the land of deep darkness – under the power of the Prince of Darkness who once had been the Son of Light.

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was – and is – and will be forever, the light of light since He was – and is – and will be forever, very God of very God – true God of True God. In God the Son, God the Father took on the fullness of the fallen human condition – even the worst part – suffering and death itself – to show and to prove the perfection of His love.

In Him and in Him alone can we participate in a righteous relationship with God, for exclusively in His sacrifice and victory can mankind find salvation for eternal life.

Hence, the supreme marriage covenant, the covenant of faithfulness that God has established with all mankind, does not end with a divine certificate of divorce. It should because of mankind’s perpetual adultery. It should – but it doesn’t.

God offers us an alternative. God has chosen not to divorce us but to die – and live – for us so that we can die to death and live in Him. It’s the death and resurrection of the groom for the sake of the salvation of His dearly beloved bride.

We are His bride – as well as all who truly believe in Him. Despite our unfaithfulness, He offers us a whole new marriage – one that will last forever.

God has made His choice. We have to make ours. We have to choose over and over again to remain faithful since the devil tempts us over and over again. We have to choose to reject the liar’s deceptions. We have to choose the perfection of God’s Truth. He leaves us free to divorce Him even though He will not divorce us. But, at the end of time, He will accept our final choice.

And one last though.
The devil feeds on the souls he has captured. He lives off the perpetual death of his victims, sacrificed on the altar of his deception.

Contrast this with the eternal wedding feast in Heaven. We, if we have made the right and righteous choice for salvation – we, the true church being the bride of Christ joyfully dine at the wedding banquet that the groom, Jesus Christ has set before us.

This great Sacrament of Eternal Life, presented in these simple and humble elements of bread and of wine, tastes of that heavenly banquet. The bread, His broken body – and the wine – His shed blood become heavenly food for us – right her and right now – in this world – as we anticipate the world yet to come.

The choice remains. Heavenly food in the body and blood of our Lord willingly broken and shed for our salvation – or devil’s food – our bodies and souls willingly given to the Father of Lies.

Choose well.
Choose righteousness.
Choose life – now and forever.

Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, deliver us from the deceptions that so often delight us. Grant that we may properly discern your goodness from that Satanic deception. Bless us with the will to make the right and righteous choice that we may so live in this life as to inherit eternal life and feast at your banquet table forever.
We ask this in the name of the groom,
your Son our only Savior,
Jesus Christ the Lord.