Signs and Wonders

Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
December 2, 2012, Pentecost XXVII – Advent I

Jeremiah 33:14-16, Psalm 25:1-10, 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36

From the Book of the prophet Jeremiah:
Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring forth for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.

From the First Letter of St. Paul to the Thessalonians:
And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all men, as we do to you, so that he may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

And from the Gospel of St. Luke:
And there will be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and upon the earth distress of nations in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, men fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world; for the powers of heaven will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.

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 here in New England are blessed with four wonderful seasons. When we see buds bursting with color and flowers blooming; we know that it is spring. When the temperature climbs to 80 or 90 degrees we know that it’s summer. As the leaves on the trees explode in colors of red, orange and yellow; we know that it’s fall. And like yesterday, when we see the white fluffy snow; we know it is winter. These are signs and wonders of the seasons. These signs help us to know what is about to happen. Now we New Englanders can predict with almost 100% certainty that we are going to have these four seasons.

The Secular Christmas season is off and running with people hurrying to get the best bargains. The signs of the season are getting earlier and earlier, this year even before Halloween. Advent is a time of preparation, but preparation for what? Hopefully, by December 25th Christians will be able to settle down and realize the true meaning of Christmas. Christmas is a time that we celebrate the coming of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. There were signs of His first coming. The Prophets foretold of His coming; and when Mary gave birth to Jesus, there was a sign: A star in the East, which directed the shepherds in the fields and the Magi to the place of Jesus’ birth.

As foretold by the prophet Jeremiah: ‘In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch, sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: The Lord Our Righteousness.’

The greatest blessing of all will be the Jews’ promised King reigning in righteousness! This certainly didn’t happen when the Jewish exiles returned to rebuild their temple and their city. Therefore, this promise is for the latter days. Then when people call Jerusalem “the Holy City,” the name will be appropriate.

But there will be signs and wonders of His second coming too. One only needs to read the book of Revelation to know the signs of Jesus’ coming again. As we all know, the book of Revelation is not necessarily the easiest book to understand. The book of Revelation, or Apocalypse, is a fitting close of the Holy Scriptures, for its final chapters depict the consummation toward which the whole Biblical message of redemption is focused. It may be described as an inspired picture-book which, by an accumulation of magnificent poetic imagery, makes a powerful appeal to the reader’s imagination.

Throughout the centuries the Apocalypse has been the object of widely divergent systems of interpretation. The book of Revelation comprises the substance of many visions which repeat with variety certain great principles of God’s just and merciful government of all his creation. Though the key to understanding some of these symbols has been lost, in other cases a comparison with the prophetic symbolism in the Old Testament, especially Daniel and Ezekiel, sheds light upon the author’s meaning.

Chapters 15-19 in the book of Revelation, describes the frightening judgment signs that God will send on the earth during the last half of the “time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer. 30:7). This phrase describes the time of tribulation that will come upon the earth (Matt. 24:21-31). A frequent biblical symbol of suffering is a woman in labor (Jer. 30:6), and this image is used to describe the Tribulation in the end times.

When these things occur, it will be evidence that the Lord’s coming is near. The image of “waves roaring” describes nations rising and falling like waves in a storm (Rev. 17:15). It will be an awesome time, and the population of the earth will tremble with fear, but men will not repent of their sins and turn to God by faith (Rev. 9:20-21; 16:9-11).

Matthew (24:29) informs us that the sun and moon will be darkened and the stars will fall (Isa. 13:10; 34:4). He further states that “the sign of the Son of man” will appear in heaven. We do not know what this “sign” is, but it will produce fear among the nations of the earth. However, then Jesus Christ will appear, and every eye will see Him (Rev. 1:7). The nation of Israel will at last recognize their Messiah, repent, believe, and be saved (Zech. 12:10-14).

These awesome signs will bring terror to the lost people of the world, but hope to those who have trusted the Lord during the Tribulation period (Rev. 7), for these believers know that the Lord’s coming will be soon. Believers today look for the Saviour, not signs. However, as we see “coming events casting their shadows,” we believe that the Lord’s return is near.

Christ’s appearing will be sudden, glorious, and with great power (Luke 21:27). The image here is taken from the book of Daniel (7:13-4), which reads: “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” This was a messianic passage that must have been familiar to the disciples. The angels promised that Jesus would return to earth in the same way He departed.

We read in the book of Acts that after Jesus told His disciples that it is not for them to know the times and dates that the Father has set for future things to come, “he was taken up before their eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.’”

There are those who ignore and even ridicule the doctrine of the return of Christ. After all, the church has been waiting for the Lord’s return for 2,000 years, and He has not returned yet! But Peter pointed out that God keeps His promises whether we believe them or not, and that God measures time differently from the way men measure it. Furthermore, the reason He waits is so that unsaved sinners may repent, be saved, and be ready when Jesus comes. While His seeming delay is a trial to the church, it is an opportunity for the lost. Jesus is the good shepherd, and He wants every possible lost sheep back in the fold.

Before Jesus left His disciples, He imprinted a message on their hearts: “Know!” and Watch!” Know the signs, know God’s Word. And Watch for the signs, Watch and be ready for His coming and pray. As believers, this message applies to us today. The Word of God and prayer should go together.

The Prophet Samuel told the people of Israel, “God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you: but I will teach you the good and the right way” (1 Sam. 12:23). Peter said, “But we the Apostles will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the Word” (Acts 6;4).Paul had the same emphasis: “And now, brethren, I commend you to God in prayer, and to the Word of His grace, which is able to build you up” (Acts 20:32).

Jesus prayed for His disciples, just as Paul prayed for the Thessalonican Christians, that their faith would not fail (Luke 22:31-32). Paul prayed that his converts might stand blameless and holy before God at Christ’s return. Since all believers will be transformed to be like Christ when He returns (1 John 3:2), we will never face our sins in heaven, for they are remembered against us no more (Rom. 8:1; Heb. 10:14-18).

As we come to your most sacred table Lord; we remember Thy Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ; we remember His birth, death and passion; we are partakers of His most blessed Body and Blood; that this Bread and Wine are signs of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ; that we may evermore dwell in Him and He in us, until His coming again.

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


Faith and Gratitude

The Reverend J. Howard Cepelak

Trinity Church

Waltham, Massachusetts

Pentecost XXV – 18 November 2012

Joel 2:21-27, Psalm 126, I Timothy 2:1-7, Matthew 6:25-33

From the Book of Joel:
Fear not….You shall know that I, the Lord, am your God and there is none else…

From St. Paul’s 1st Letter to Timothy:
For there is one God and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ, who gave himself as a ransom for all….

From the Gospel According to St. Matthew:
Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ said, Do not be anxious about your life…O men of little faith, do not be anxious….

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,

As has been the case for the past several years, we at Trinity Church combine Stewardship Sunday with Thanksgiving Sunday. The relationship between faithful stewardship and gratitude to God for His countless blessings is obvious. He has given us literally everything that we have as well as all that we are – the very fact that we live bears witness to His grace, His mercy and His love to say nothing of His creative power. Thus, we give to God because we’re thankful for all that He has given to us – including the gift of life itself.

Last Sunday the Gospel lesson was the account usually referred to as The Widow’s Mite – one of the best illustrations of faithful stewardship. The widow put into the Temple treasury literally all that she had – everything – her entire retirement account so to speak – out of her devotion to God. As faithful Jewish women of her time, she probably knew of the requirement of the tithe – the 10% of everything that one has – given annually to the Temple. We can assume that she knew of God’s promise, that if the people will faithfully tithe, He will open the windows of heaven and pour down an overflowing blessing.

She went so far beyond the tithe – she gave everything. And yet some in human history gave even more.

Let’s shift gears for a moment.

As last Sunday was Veteran’s Day Sunday, there has been a lot on the Internet regarding soldiers, sailors and airmen – their various experiences in our various wars and conflicts. Reading these accounts, one comes across some deeply moving stories of service and of sacrifice; especially of the ultimate sacrifice made when courageous warriors laid down their lives in defense of their families, friends, and countrymen in the divinely ordained cause of freedom.

On the Korean War Memorial in Washington, D.C. these words are inscribed – Freedom is not free…. How profoundly true. Freedom is most certainly not free. Your freedom – my freedom and everyone who enjoys freedom in this country does so because someone else has suffered and died to insure our liberty. We’re free because hundreds of thousands of defenders, over the years, gave their lives.

One man, an army veteran and now an ordained minister, wrote about his first visit to Omaha Beach in Normandy, France where on June 6th, 1944, thousands of our brightest and our best stormed that beach – and lost their lives in the effort to defeat the Nazi totalitarian, socialist threat to western civilization. Freedom eventually won. You and I share that legacy – and inheritance to which we are heirs and for which they died. Freedom won, given to us free of charge because so many others paid the price.

His visit to Omaha Beach happened in 1977 while he was stationed in Germany as a helicopter pilot. He, his wife and two friends traveled to Normandy. They were deeply moved by what they saw. He said that they had to wear shoes while walking along the beach – fragments of shells, casings, rusted parts of tin, C -ration cans, bits and pieces of rusted metal from exploded landing craft as well as so much other debris of that brutal and bloody battle literally littered that beach in those days.

But what really got to him was not the beach itself, but the scene at the top of the steep hill. There, in sharp contrast to the beach, was a garden like plain of manicured grass punctuated by 9,000 crosses – crosses making the graves of the courageous, self-sacrificing men who lost their lives in that place at that time. He could not speak being so overcome with emotion, sadness and the impact of what had happened there – and that he lived in freedom because these men died for freedom.

30 year later, he returned. But he returned a different man. He had become a Christian and saw the scene through Christian eyes. Jesus’ words, Greater love hath no man than this – that a man lay down his life for his friends – instantly came to mind as he contemplated the sacrifice.
The image of God in which these dead soldiers had been created somehow came through in their self-sacrifice for the sake of a profound and somehow holy love. Looking at the scene from the perspective of faith, he was grateful. Faith and gratitude.

Keep this in mind as we talk about the Pilgrim founders of this nation. 324 years prior to the Normandy invasion, a very different sort of landing happened just a few mile down the road in Plymouth – the landing of the Mayflower with 103 refugees from the religious war going on in England in those days. These brave men and women sailed across the Atlantic in a tiny ship – about 100’ long – to attain freedom – freedom from government control of their Christian faith and religion and freedom to worship and live as they believed God intended for them to worship and to live.

I will not once again rehearse their story so very familiar to us, other than to say that their faith brought them to these shores and in faith they gave thanks to God for their new life in a new world – a new world of freedom. Faith and gratitude characterized their journey, arrival and settlement in the years that followed. But it’s so important to remember that the first thing that they did was to kneel in prayer to thank God.

We also know that while still on board the Mayflower, they wrote and signed a governmental document called the Mayflower Compact. This document became the foundation for the greatest governmental document ever written in all of human history – the United States Constitution. Both recognize the ultimate authority of God.

And so we have this astounding combination – indeed, convergence of forces – faith in the One True God, an opportunity for a new life of freedom, the acknowledgment of God as the ultimate authority and power in and of life and the establishment of a governmental covenant to establish a way to live an orderly life.

Our Pilgrim Fathers knew their Bibles. They used the Geneva Bible. The King James Bible was too closely associated with the state religion of England to which they were opposed. They knew what Joel, as well as so many others, had proclaimed; that the faithful should not be afraid. God said, Fear not…. You shall know that I, the Lord, am your God and there is none else. Well, we know that perfect love casteth out fear.. But we can also say that perfect faith does so as well. So long as we know that the One True God is The One True God, then we need not be afraid. But if we depart from that faith, we will fall into degradation and we will feed on fear rather than be fed by faith.

What an act of courage for our Pilgrim founders to leave behind them everything that they had including family and friends and set out to establish their new life in the new world. They knew that it would be tough. During that first winter, over half of their number died. But nonetheless they came together in the following autumn to thank God for His providential care, for the blessings that they had received and for their new life of freedom. Joined by ninety native Indians, the three day celebration honored and glorified God.
Heirs to their legacy of faith and of the love of freedom, we celebrate Thanksgiving.

Back to Omaha Beach.

We don’t know the hearts and minds of all those brave souls who hit the beach in Normandy in 1944. But we know that most of them were Christians of one sort or another and that their faith played a significant part in their lives. I am certain that in the heat of battle, even the most casual of believers turned to God.

Most of us cannot imagine what happened that day. The minute those soldiers hit that beach they knew that most of them would die. Wave after wave of young men did just that. Were they afraid? Of course. Courage is not the absence of fear – it’s the force that overcomes fear. And authentic courage always comes as a gift from God – even when a non-believer courageously does the right thing in the face of fear and makes a sacrifice – even and especially, the ultimate sacrifice.

And yet, in that generation, we know that most people participated in their faith – much more so that we do today.
And one must ask, are we losing the legacy? Have we been faithful to their memory and their sacrifice? Have we so far departed from our Pilgrim Founders love for and obedience to God that we will willingly surrender our liberty to false promises of a humanitarian utopian world – a world without faith in God but rather faith in a faulty, eternally corrupt and forever greedy government?

I recall the woman who spoke to us at the Divinity School at Cambridge University when I returned there in 2000 on sabbatical. She and her husband served on the Ethics Committee advising the developing European Union. Her comments were striking. She said that

The European nations as well as England, Ireland and Scotland were implicating every aspect of the Nazi agenda that the previous generation had fought and died to defeat. Yet bit-by-bit and piece-by-piece, Hitler’s agenda was being implemented with the loss of freedom to the people. And she said it was primarily because most Europeans and had departed from The One True God. She was – and is – right. Depart from God and you’re lost. Humanitarianism always fails. Faith in God empowers all that’s good and right and true to prevail.

Well those 9,000 crosses in that beautiful cemetery at Normandy bear witness to those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Freedom is not free. They paid the price.

But those crosses bear witness to the One Cross on which the Prince of Peace, the King of glory, the incarnate Son of God – and the only Lord and Savior of all mankind – made His ultimate sacrifice so that we could live – forever – free from the powers of sin and death.

Jesus said, and I summarize and paraphrase – Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will wear or about anything else for that matter – but live by faith and God will provide. He will provide in the here and now. He will provide in eternity as well. But you must believe. And if you love me you will keep my commandments. Do so and live – forever.

You see it all fits together – freedom, faith, gratitude to God and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ who was – and is – and will be forever the ransom price paid for every freedom.

The church of Jesus Christ is the only institution in the world that has as its primary purpose to proclaim Christ crucified and risen – to proclaim the Good News of the Salvation of all mankind and to call those who do not believe into the ultimate and exclusive Truth of this faith and religion.

At the present moment, we have a free church – free from governmental control – although that is currently threatened for the first time in our history. Your faith – and my faith in Christ and our commitment to Him will be tested.

Hence, God’s call to faithful stewardship of all that we have, or all that we do – and of all that we are – to bear witness to Him and to His only Son – the only Lord and Savior of all mankind – and to do so powerfully remembering the legacy of His cross and those who died for the legacy of salvation. It all fits together. And we fit into it as well.

Faithful self-sacrificing stewardship out of deep gratitude for our salvation accomplished on the cross of Christ our Savior. Our Stewardship letter will be going out right after Thanksgiving. Pray about your gift. Study the scriptures and make your pledge. Support the cause of Christ.

Let us pray.

Heavenly Father, let your Holy Spirit move powerfully in this nation that we may return to you. Deliver us from believing in the prevailing deceptions. Bless us with a full appreciation of our Pilgrim Founders, their faith, their gratitude and their legacy. Grant that we will remember the sacrifices made on the battlefields of freedom. And most of all, keep us faithful to and thankful for the cross of our salvation given in and through the sacrifice of your Son, our only Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord,

Setting the Example

The Reverend J. Howard Cepelak

Trinity Church

Waltham, Massachusetts

Pentecost XXIV – 11 November 2012 – 11 / 11 / 12 – Veterans’ Day

I Kings 17:8-16, Psalm 127 Hebrews 9:24-28, Mark 12:38-44

From the Book of 1st Kings:
God’s prophet, Elijah, commanded the widow who had only a handful of flour and a bit of oil for both her and her son, to prepare a cake for her family but first make me a cake of it and bring it to me…. For thus says the Lord the God of Israel, “The jar of meal shall not be spent and the cruse of oil shall not fail….”

From the Epistle to the Hebrews:
And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

From the Gospel According to St. Mark:
Speaking of the poor widow who contributed only a penny to the Temple treasury while some rich people gave large sums, Jesus said, For they contributed out of their abundance; but she out of poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living.

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,

One of the several preachers whose sermons I read on the Internet is a young preacher – and by young I mean in his late 30s – who, although a very sophisticated individual, nonetheless has a tell it like it is and, at times, almost confrontational preaching style. I enjoy reading his sermons – his doctrine is exact, he always makes a good point and I very much appreciate his candor and lack of any pretentiousness.

So I am going to preach this morning in his kind of style – or at least make an attempt at it – to just lay it out and tell it like it is. So here goes. He often begins with My friends – so that’s how I shall begin….

Well, my friends, we have three scripture lessons here that demand our attention. The Gospel lesson tells the story usually called The Widow’s Mite. It’s usually kept for stewardship Sunday, but we can preach on it any time – so with stewardship Sunday coming up, now is as good a time as any to talk about it.

Now, being poor she put in two coppers coins, each worth about ½ a cent. Permit me a little bit of Bible humor here – she didn’t even get her two cents in – the two coppers made one cent – oh well, get it?

The point is – she gave all that she had. She gave everything in her poverty putting to shame those who gave much more – but proportionally much less – than she since they gave out of the abundance. She set the example of perfect faithfulness. The rest of the people look like a bunch of cheapskates by comparison.

Her faith allowed her to take the risk to put in all that she had for the sake of devotion to her God. But she was not the first widow to set such an example of faithfulness. Nope!

About 800 years before her, the prophet Elijah met up with the widow of Zerephath. She had it tough just like the other widow. She had it so tough that she had just one measure of flour and one small jug of oil left to make a cake to feed both herself and her son; that’s all she had – when that was gone, so was life. You cannot live without food. End of story.

And it would have been the end of her story – literally – had she not met up with Elijah. Before she met him, she had decided that she would make this one last cake for her son and for herself – eat it – and then die.

That’s just how it was for her – and for many others in the country as well. Life was hard and short. Might as well accept it. I guess that there’s some comfort knowing that you’re not alone in your misery.

Now, there had been a drought in the country impacting the availability of food especially for poor people – and that meant pretty much everyone. You see, in that kind of society a few ruling class people had all the money, the rest of the people just had a bad lot – constant struggle.

The government was a monarchy. Yes, politics always plays the major role in the ongoing wealth / poverty debate. When a monarch – or anyone by any title – of any style – even a President who functions as a dictator – has direct access to the money of the people, they will take it. Simple as that. Always happens.

Free markets solve this economic problem but the rich rulers want no part of that. Never have. Never will. Well, back to this poor widow and Israel’s rich ruler – the king.

You see the new King of the country was a fellow named Ahab – He loved to spend everyone else’s money on himself and on his great looking, self-indulgent- spoiled brat wife. Oh, he had lots of ladies in his life but this one – well, she was special. No one cold ever measure up to Jezebel.

She was a super-pagan; in fact, a super duper pagan – the pagan of pagans. She loved all her gods and goddesses because they let her do whatever she wanted to do. They blessed her selfishness and self-indigence. And now, married to the wealthy King of Israel, she had even more power and even more money to live on her own terms.

Although the King was supposed to set the example for being a faithful Hebrew King, serving the One True God, he gave in to get out – he gave in to her paganism to get out his satisfaction. Or, you might say, he went along to get along. You see, his beautiful wife had a real bad temper – explosive; don’t get on her bad side. Ahab might have said to himself – you know, to keep the peace at home – These foreign gods give you what you want – why bother being faithful to a God who sets high standards for living and doesn’t let you do anything that you want to do.

Well, we know that Ahab was a fool -a stupid fool. Don’t get me wrong – He was an intelligent man, but he went stupid for a beautiful woman – for a
willful wife. Not the first time that has happened in human history; and most certainly not the last. Intelligent people so often do really stupid things. It works both ways. Smart women go stupid for the wrong man as well.

This bad King compromised his relationship with God for a relationship with this Phoenician princess- now his queen who was totally in love with herself. She believed that she was entitled, because she had been a princess of Phoenicia and now the queen of Israel – well, she should get what she wanted when she wanted it and have the people pay for it. If that impoverished the people, tough for them. Too bad. The gods made me the queen – not them. So there!

Sure glad this attitude does not exist among anyone today in our society. It’s wonderful how all of our nation’s leaders – and their wives – set great examples of self- sacrificing giving. Surely no first lady of this nation would spend extravagant amounts of taxpayer money on herself – you know, clothes, travel, gifts for friends, lavish parties, multiple vacations – multi-million dollar taxpayer paid for indulgences. Pardon my sarcasm – but the more things change the more they remain the same. You can fill in the blanks. (Just a note. Jezebel came to a bad end – something about dogs and stuff. Lord have mercy!! That’s all I can say……………………….. and, Nice doggy.)

You see we’re all pagans to some extent or another. Not one of us automatically rises above self-centeredness of the worst sort – self love, self-devotion, self-worship, self-gratification, self-interest and selfishness. All of us want what we want when we want it. Sort of built into our nature – it’s just, after all, human nature.

But we do have a few people who are different in the way they live their lives – men and women who live their lives following the good examples set by the widow in the Temple and the widow of Zarapheth. Such people most certainly share in the essential corruption that characterizes all men and women – but they rise above it because they hear a prophetic word coming from the One True God and – most important – they obey that Word. They obey God’s word rather than their own baser impulses. They have the ability to tell the difference between the truth and a lie – or the God’s absolute TRUTH and the big lie.

Only a few people in any generation have that ability to see through the deception and get to the truth. And these authentic truth tellers – following the tradition of God’s great prophets – men like Elijah – well, they’re usually not very popular especially among the rich and powerful who get rich and powerful off the backs of the people.

But the basic human nature of essentially corruption – that’s called original sin – that sinful nature is no longer definitive for us. God has taken dramatic action in human history to allow you and me and everyone else who will respond to His prophetic Word. God took His Word and made it into human flesh in the Word made flesh to dwell among us full of grace and truth.

The Word made flesh was – and is – and will be forever – God Himself who came to us in our history as God the Son and who lives with us now as God the Holy Spirit. The Word made flesh was – and is – and will be forever Jesus Christ.

He came for everyone but not everyone will go to Him; only those who can hear the Truth and then tell the Truth.

Only those will go to Him who want Him – truly and deeply want Him – who want to know Him – who want to love Him and who want to serve Him. And in order to know, love and serve Him, you must obey Him. That’s the key word missing from most of our speaking and most of our living – obedience. We MUST OBEY HIM – if we are to be blessed with salvation.

In the Epistle to the Hebrews, the writer – probably St. Paul – a man who knew the Lord and loved Him and served Him because he obeyed Him – told his reader and tells all of us that God has come to us once to remove the barrier of sin from our relationship to and with Him. He died on the cross. He gave everything – including Himself – to reconcile all of us who have sinned against Him.

As we say in the Communion liturgy, he presented Himself as the one, full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world – a sacrifice once offered meaning offered just once. IT WILL NOT BE OFFERED AGAIN.

The next time He comes – and He will come again – the next time He comes will be to save those who eagerly await Him. Those eager souls will be the ones who have received Him – who do love Him – and serve Him – and here’s that word again – OBEY Him.

Remember St. Paul’s words – It is appointed for men to die once – and after that comes judgment…. Obedience. Judgment. – Two unpopular words – but two words essential to eternal salvation.

God sent us examples of faithful men and women who set the highest standard. People like the two widows – like Elijah, the other prophets, and men – the true saints – men like St. Paul and so many, many others. They set the example.

But more than, He sent His Son to live for and to die for your sins and my sins. In Him and in Him alone can we live forever for only in His blood can our sins be washed clean.

He sacrificed Himself once. It will not happen again. The next time, judgment.

Take it or leave it. Simple as that.

Well, I don’t know how successful I have been in imitating that Internet preacher’s style – I’m sure I fell back into my own. In fact, I know I have minced words that he would not; he’s just bolder that I. But I can imitate him and do a better job because he has set a standard. All of us need to be bolder because we’re living in dangerous and anti-Christian times. It’s going to get much worse in every way before it gets better – if it gets better.

So hope in the Lord. Believe in His Truth in a world of lies. Love Him. Serve Him. OBEY Him.

Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, bless us with the courage necessary to face the lies with your Truth. Raise up leaders from among your people to challenge the deceivers and defeat them. Deliver us from compromise with the evils that you deplore. As you have granted to us an eternal victory, grant also that we will be obedient to You and in that obedience change this world for your sake until you return to reign.
In the meantime, make of us your disciples.
We ask this in the name of
and for the sake of your Son,
Jesus Christ the only Saviour
of the whole world.


The Reverend J. Howard Cepelak

Trinity Church

Waltham, Massachusetts

The Sacrament of Holy Communion

Pentecost XXIII – 4 November 2012 – Memorial Sunday

Deuteronomy 6:1-9, Psalm 146, Hebrews 9:11-14, Mark 12:28-34

From the Book of Deuteronomy:
Hear O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might…these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; …teach them diligently to your children.

From the Epistle to the Hebrews:
Regarding the perfect sacrifice who was – and is – and will be forever, Jesus Christ, the writer said, For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ…purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

From the Gospel According to St. Mark:
When asked which commandment is the first of all, our Lord said, Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one; and you shall love him with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.

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,

Without a doubt, all of Holy Scripture bears witness to the greatness – to the goodness – to the holiness – and to the perfection of God. All of Holy Scripture instructs us that our love for Him must be unconditional – that He and He alone must be our highest priority.

All of the law – all of the prophets – and the Gospels themselves – as well as the instruction – the commandment – of our Lord Himself say the same thing. Set God first. Give to Him – and to Him alone – all the glory – all the honor – and all the power – all of your love, commitment, faith, hope, adoration, devotion, praise, and in short, worship.

Everything else comes after that – and what comes after will be determined by that priority. Faithfulness to Him brings with it the blessing of abundant life. God has revealed this to us in His Son, that when God is our priority we will receive the perfection of eternal life. That’s the reward for our faithfulness. Unfaithfulness brings despair and destruction and an eternity of abject, unimaginable misery.

Without God as the priority, we become radically open to the power of evil as it operates in this world and in our hearts, minds, bodies and souls. If the evil takes hold, and when, under the control of that perverse power, we begin to call evil good and good evil, see vengeance as justice, love as hatred, family and friends as instruments of self- interest and self – gratification and death as life. We loose the opportunity for the full reception of the power of the One True and Living God who alone loves us – so much so as to die for us to defeat both sin and death.

The blessed assurance of eternal life in the glorious presence of God Himself, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, has been achieved in the sacrifice of God the Son. Under the Law – which had as its priority the unconditional love for God – nonetheless commanded the ongoing offering of animal blood sacrifices to insure God’s blessings and to atone for our sins.

God instituted the New Covenant of Salvation by ending the sacrificial system that offered the blood of animals to atone for the guilt of a defiled people. With the divine sacrifice of God the Son, the one, full, perfect and all sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world has been offered. Only in the shedding of divine blood can the divine blessing of the perfection of mercy be achieved. Only His perfect divinity – combined with His perfect humanity – is powerful enough to save us.

It happened once in human history, 2,000 year ago. It happened once and only once. It will not happen again. His cross stands as our history’s fulcrum. Everything before our Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection looked forward to it. And everything after it looks back at it – either to accept it and live forever or reject it and – well, you know what happens then.

This one great historical event in time from beyond time comes to living memory as we celebrate the Sacrament of Holy Communion, the Sacrament of Eternal Life. In this great Sacrament of His saving love, we receive Him into our selves so that He will receive us into Kingdom. Jesus said, (paraphrase) You must eat my flesh and drink my blood to live forever.

As we observe Memorial Sunday today, we carry on a practice that originated in the second century. Variously designated as the Remembrance of the Faithful Departed, Feast of All Saints, Remembrance Sunday or Memorial Sunday we remember the lives of those who died to this life to be born again to life eternal. We remember before God, those who set God as their highest priority, knowing full well that no one does that perfectly but that some do it better than others. Those who do and did it well are the true saints. The rest of us are the lesser saints in greater need of the saving grace.

In the second century, those remembered were mostly the martyrs of the faith who died at the hands of the pagan Romans. They kept the faith in all conditions of life and even under persecution and death. Hence, they fulfilled their part of God’s new covenant established in and through Jesus Christ. Having set the example of true faithfulness, they set a standard to be emulated as their memory is venerated. They had proved themselves worthy of our admiration.

The age of martyrdom ended in 313 when the Emperor Constantine issued the Edit of Milan prohibiting the persecution of Christians.

In church history, remembering the martyrs accomplished what the Old Testament Law required – that we teach diligently the priority of God to our children and throughout the generations. The martyrs became the heroes and heroines of the faith, – men and women to whom the upcoming generation could look for inspiration and courage when adversity would come in their lives. Hence, as the Deuteronomist instructed, set God as your priority and teach this to your children.

Over the centuries, the Feast of All Saints broadened to include remembering those who set good examples including those who had not been martyred. Eventually, especially after the Protestant Reformation with the emergence of the free churches, all those who clamed Christ could somehow be included.

Although not saints with a capital “S” there were most certainly lesser saints, indeed, saintly sinners who sought the Lord and loved Him however imperfectly. They sought His mercy and desired His saving grace. In other words, the salvation of the sinner / saint – and that includes all of us here as well as most people in any generation of Christians – availed themselves of the benefits of Christ’s sacrifice and trusted in the divine mercy manifested on His cross and offered to us by His grace – received by faith and celebrated in this most Holy Sacrament.

That’s why we’re here today – because God set us as His priority for the sake of our redemption and did – for us and for those whom we love – and whom God loves – what we, in our sin, could not – and cannot – do for ourselves.

With this in mind, let us pray.

Heavenly Father, grant us the grace to set you as our highest priority that we may avail ourselves of your redeeming mercy and saving grace. Grant that we may so love you in all that we say, in all that we do and in all that we are, that we may prove ourselves worthy of your sacrifice, offered for us on the cross of your Son, our only Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord.