Warrior Angels

Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
September 28, 2014, Pentecost XVI

Daniel 10:10-14, 12:1-3; Psalm 103:19-22, Revelations 12:7-12, Luke 10:17-20

From the book of the Prophet Daniel:
The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, so I left him there with the prince of the kingdom of Persia and came to make you understand what is to befall your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come.

From The Revelation to St. John:
Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they were defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven.

And from the Gospel of St. Luke:
And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall hurt 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.

“We’re at war!” Those are horrible words. But for millions of people around the world they are true. Jesus warned us about these wars! He told us that there would be wars and rumors of wars until He comes again. And so it is. We live in a world that seems to be at war all the time, at least somewhere in the world.

There was World War I, which was called the war to end all wars; that had over 37 million casualties. Then twenty years later, World War II made WWI look like child’s play; over 60 million people perished. Since then, we have witnessed wars in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, just to name a few. And that’s just the recent wars that the United States was involved with.

And who could forget September 11, 2001, that forced us to realize that we are at war with Muslim extremists – Terrorists. They are known by many names: Al-Qaida, ISIS, Khorasan, Taliban, Hamas, Muslim Brotherhood, and Hezbollah, just to name a few. War is no stranger to our world.

“We’re at war!” We see war, not only in our world, but also in our personal relationships. Jesus warned us about these wars too! We have marriages ending in divorce; children rebelling against their parents; and neighbors not always neighborly.

“We’re at war!” Sometimes we are at war with ourselves: a battle rages within our hearts and souls; some people battle addictions, depression, doubts and fears. These wars are perhaps the scariest, because they often stay with you your entire life, and no one knows about them except you.

Behind every one of these wars, stands Satan. His long war against God plays itself out in our world, in our homes, and in our hearts. World War II pales in comparison to the cosmic battle between the devil’s forces of darkness and the Angelic Army of Light – led, Scriptures teaches, by the archangel Michael. Human hatred at its vilest is child’s play compared to the devilish disgust that Satan has for the Lord and His church. The darkness in our hearts that fights against saving faith is child’s play compared to the devilish darkness of hell!

Do I have your attention? Good. Because God wants you to know something: We’re at war and the enemies are awful; we’re at war, and our allies are awesome; we’re at war, but fear not, because our victory it total!

Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they were defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world – he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. (Rev. 12:7-9)

Every war has an enemy. Who is our enemy today? Is it Muslim extremists? Is it poverty or global hunger? Is it global warming? Is it addiction or divorce? The Bible pulls no punches and names who is responsible: The devil is the great enemy who stands behind evil thought, word, and deed.

Do we think of the devil that way? Often the devil is pictured in some cartoon, dressed in red holding a pitch fork. Who would take that man seriously? Well-meaning people may scoff at the idea of demonic forces and good and evil angels, but the fact remains that this is biblical. The Holy Scriptures depict him as a dragon, a serpent and even a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. When Satan rebelled against God and was judged, some of the angels fell with him and became the demonic evil angels that oppose Christ and obey Satan (Matt. 25:41). One thing is certain, he wants you; and he wants your soul. The devil and his demons are enemy number one and he is awfully good at what he does!

But God is even better at what He does! The devil is an awful enemy. But we have the Lord and His protecting angels as our allies. Who is our ally? God himself is in our corner. God Himself went toe to toe with the devil and He won! Salvation, power, and authority are ours in the name of Jesus Christ. The devil may be good at pointing out our sins, but the Lord is even better at forgiving our sin and soothing our hearts with the Lamb’s precious blood. That’s God’s SALVATION.

The devil may be good at stirring up trouble in this sinful world as the prince of darkness, but the Lord is even better at ruling heaven and earth for the good of His people, for the good of His church. That’s God’s POWER.

The devil may be good at pushing people around to get his dirty work done, but the Lord is even better at equipping and sending His people out with His Good News to accomplish His saving work. That’s God’s AUTHORITY.

Jesus says in Matthew: “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matt. 28:18:20)

How did Jesus win the battle? He won big – through what seemed like a big loss. Jesus came to us as a simple infant boy; grew up and spent 40 days in the wilderness, where He was tempted by Satan. Jesus didn’t waver. The people rejected Him, and when Jesus hung on the cross, the devil must have thought that he had won. But the cross and empty tomb became the final two Holy-nails in the devil’s coffin. Through Jesus, the Lamb, our sin has been paid for; our death has been defeated, and the devil’s power has been destroyed.

We’ve got other allies too. The Bible calls them the angels! And their leader is the archangel Michael. And what humorous caricature do you picture when you think of angels? You probably think of a cute pudgy smiling baby-faced creature with wings. Michael’s warrior angels are holy, spiritual creatures of God that shout His praises in heaven’s throne room. At times, angels have served as the Lord’s messengers at key points in salvation’s history. Do you remember an angel called Gabriel, who brought the good news that Mary was going to have a son named Jesus? Angels are powerful spiritual creatures that the Lord created to assist Him in protecting mankind. And God used His warrior angels to defeat Satan for good!

We’re at war, but the future is looking bright, because we have awesome allies – Christ and the whole company of heaven – in our corner!

I am not sure who said it first, but you need to identify your enemy, before you can defeat him. Satan is the terrorist; Satan is the home-wreaker; Satan destroys people’s lives.

The Bibles says: And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Rejoice then, O heaven and you that dwell therein! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” (Rev. 12:11-12)

The devil’s power is broken through the blood of the Lamb. No one doubts that we have lost our battles with temptation and have plenty of sin stored away. If it came to winning the crown of life by ourselves, we would have burned up in the fires of hell long ago. But because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, that’s not going to happen. We aren’t going to share in the devil’s destruction, because our victory in Jesus Christ is total. Total forgiveness. Full forgiveness. Free forgiveness. A forgiveness that is poured out upon each and every one of us through the blood of the Lamb.

John says it well: “My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1-2).

Christ’s shed blood gives us our perfect standing before God (1 John1:5-2:2). But our witness to God’s Word and our willingness to lay down our lives for Christ defeats Satan as well. Satan is not equal to God; he is not omnipotent, omnipresent, or omniscient. His power is limited and his tactics must fail when God’s people trust the power of the blood and of the Word. Nothing Satan does can rob us of “salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ’ (Rev. 12:10), if we are yielded to Him. God’s great purposes will be fulfilled!

The devil’s power is broken. And his pitiful little kingdom takes a pounding, each and every time God’s Word is put to use. Let no one say that the Good News of Jesus Christ isn’t powerful. Faith comes from hearing the message of Jesus Christ – the word of their testimony. And where faith is, the devil must retreat. Every time a child is baptized, Satan looses a slave. Every time a sermon is preached, the devil’s lies are exposed. Every time a Bible is read, doubts are subdued. Every time a “Glory be to God on High” is sung, the devil is exposed to be a pitiful creature of darkness – a cowardly, weak, sniveling terrorist. Hang onto the Word of God, because when you hang onto that true Word of testimony, the devil must let go!

We’re at war. Sin and temptation is still around us. Don’t let the devil fool you! He’s the one who is suffering, not ruling. The war has already been won! Jesus sits securely on His throne. The Lord’s angels protect us. The Lord’s testimony is proclaimed to you – right here, right now.

Believers in any age or situation can rejoice in this victory, no matter how difficult their experiences may be. Our warfare is not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of the wicked one; and these have been defeated by our Saviour (Eph. 6:10ff).

May Jesus Christ bless you on this St. Michael’s and all angels Day, as together we join Michael and all the hosts of heaven in celebrating Jesus’ victory! Hosanna in the Highest!

Let us pray:

Everlasting God, you have ordained and constituted in a wonderful order the ministries of
angels and mortals: Mercifully grant that, as your holy angels always serve and worship
you in heaven, so by your appointment they may help and defend us here on earth;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, and the Holy Spirit, one
God, now and forever. Amen. †

Gracious Gift of Eternal Life

Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
September 21, 2014, Pentecost XV

Exodus 16:2-15, Psalm 105:1-6, Philippians 1:21-30, Matthew 20:1-16

From the Book of Exodus:
And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud.

From St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians:
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If it is to be life in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.

And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard…So the last will be first, and the first last.”

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.

Yesterday, our church had a fundraiser on the city common for Waltham Days. Once again we sold popcorn, soft drinks, water, and juice boxes. As with other fundraising events, some people worked hard all day; some came in the morning and had to leave; others came in the afternoon; while others just came to help clean up and take down the tables and other equipment. Regardless of how long a person helped on the fundraiser, everyone got the same “reward.” Everyone who helped on the fundraiser will be thanked and mentioned during announcements in the worship service. Is that fair?

This is similar to the parable that’s mentioned in our Gospel reading this morning. Jesus used parables when describing something that was almost incomprehensible to the people around Him. Jesus used parables to teach about heavenly realities. When you read a parable that Jesus taught, there is always one main teaching behind that parable. Jesus used today’s parable to focus people on His grace and on His mercy.

When Jesus tells this parable to those around Him, He continually focuses His discussion around the wage. In this parable, the wage that He gives is not based upon what you do, but upon what He wants to distribute. And there were actually two kinds of workers hired that day: those who wanted a contract and agreed to work for a penny a day, and those who had no contract and agreed to take whatever the Landowner thought was right.

For instance, the wage He discussed with the workers early in the morning was presented to the workers and agreed upon. The Landowner states that the wage, or payment, for working in the vineyard is a denarius, which is a standard day’s wage. In the morning, these men were quite happy with that agreement, but as the day went on the agreement began to sour. At nine o’clock in the morning, noon, and three o’clock in the afternoon, the Landowner again went out into the marketplace and offered a wage that the Landowner would decide. One last time, at five o’clock in the afternoon, the Landowner goes into the marketplace and seeks workers for His vineyard. Again, He tells them that He will pay them a wage that is right. In other words, the Landowner tells the workers hired from 9:00am through 5:00pm that the wage will be right, but the wage is up to my discretion.

At the end of the day, the Landowner told His steward to call the laborers, starting with the ones hired last, and pay them all one denarius. From an outsider looking in, we can plainly see that this landowner is very generous. However, when He paid all of the workers the same wage, even though some of them put forth more effort, He angered the ones that had been there longer. Even though Holy Scripture does not provide us with the response from all of the workers, it is not difficult to imagine that each group hired earlier than another (and therefore laboring more) were somewhat envious of that earlier group and dissatisfied with their payment. However, the Landowner paid to each group hired what He believed was just and right. This really hits home for all of us today.

For example, think about the lives of the apostles. Jesus came to them and said, “Follow me” (Matt. 4:19). They dropped what they were doing to be with Jesus. Some of the apostles walked away from a prosperous, family fishing business. When Jesus called, they dropped their nets and followed Him. Still, other apostles had occupations and livelihoods, which they walked away from just to be with Jesus. They gave up everything they had and yet when it comes to the Kingdom of heaven, who is raised higher? Who is mightier? Who receives the better wage, the apostles or the thief on the cross? Did the thief being executed for living a horrible life, worthy of punishment by crucifixion, receive greater wages than the apostle that walked with Jesus after walking away from the family business?

Do the apostles have a right to be upset? After all, they gave up everything they owned and worked longer in the mission field with Jesus. The answer is, NO. The apostles received a just and right wage. You may say that the apostles worked harder than the thief on the cross. Yet, it is Jesus who decides what the payment is, and in this case the payment is extremely generous.

The lesson for Christ’s disciples is obvious. We should not serve Him because we want to receive an expected reward, and we should not insist on knowing what we will get.
God is infinitely generous and gracious and will always give us better than we deserve. We must trust Him unreservedly and believe that He will always give what is best.
Some of you have been Christians all of your life. Some of you have been brought into the fold much later in your lives. However, the Holy Spirit found you all standing in the marketplace, idle, and invited you into the vineyard to receive a just and right wage. That wage is the gracious gift of eternal life, which is not based upon how long you worked or how hard you worked, because the gift is nothing other than grace and not based upon your works.

Another interesting point of this parable concerns the sovereignty of God. In the parable, the Landowner pays wages, not only in the amount, but also to whomever He pleases. Of course the Landowner has a concern for having His vineyard tended to, but the Landowner also persistently goes out again and again inviting workers into the vineyard. Even at the very last hour, the Landowner seeks workers for His vineyard. This is precisely how God works in our day and age. He never gives up on seeking workers for the Kingdom.

As we pray for the people in our community; we pray that the Holy Spirit will one day break their hearts and we will see these people at worship. We grow frustrated with the task. However, God does not! He continually sends His Holy Spirit into the marketplace and the community seeking workers for He has a wage of eternal importance to the people. Only the Holy Spirit has the power to break the hearts and minds of unbelievers and He is very persistent. As a matter of fact, we ought to thank the Holy Spirit on a daily basis that He did not give up on any of us. Actually, once we are in the vineyard, the Spirit continues to work in our lives driving each worker to become, even more so, a child of God.

This parable contains another important message. The workers who came early in the morning, as well as those who came later in the day, worked. They did not simply come to the vineyard and stand around. They worked and I am certain they worked hard. Have you ever considered how difficult it is to work in a vineyard? How easy it is for us to purchase a bottle of wine and not realize all the man-hours that went into producing it.

The soil needs to be tended and the grapes need to be planted. Once the plants grow, they must be trained to grow up the trellis and then pruned occasionally. The grapes need to be picked at a certain time before the cold rains or hot sun rays destroy the flavor. The grapes must be pressed and crushed and then mixed with the correct ingredients to cause fermentation. Once the fermentation process has completed, the wine is bottled and aged before a single bottle is ready. Each and every bottle has a great deal of work upon it and the labor is not easy. In fact, it is quite intense.

The labor in the kingdom of God is also not easy. It is difficult. In fact, it also is quite intense. God’s kingdom needs people to plant seeds and He needs people to water and help the vines grow. All of this labor is difficult and each of you has been given certain gifts from our Creator that is perfect for a particular job in the growing Kingdom.
Matthew writes in his gospel that Jesus said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few” (Matt. 9:37). How true it is for our small congregation. As a congregation, we are all workers called into the vineyard and the Landowner, Jesus, has an expectation that each of us will work at different jobs while we are in the vineyard.

Lastly, Christ points out in His parable that envy will not be tolerated. Be happy with what you have received. Beware of the danger of watching other workers and measuring yourself by them. “Judge nothing before the time,” Paul warns in 1 Corinthians 4:5. We see the worker and the work, but God sees the heart.

I appreciate how the Landowner of the parable has a very friendly tone towards His ignorant workers. The workers who came first expected something more. Perhaps they were standing in line expecting a bonus for the hard and lengthy work they contributed. That is not what they received. They received exactly what they agreed upon with the Landowner. When they became angry and quarrelsome, we hear these beautiful words, “Friend.” It is so lovely the way the Landowner begins the conversation with the angry workers. Friend, what is the problem? Am I being unfair? It is very easy for us to say here today, no. Of course, in our place of employment, I would expect to hear you all say, “Yeah! I worked my tail off! You have given the other workers the same wage you have given me, this worker arrives later than I do and he leaves earlier. In fact, he does not put the same amount of effort in that I do.”

We cannot allow ourselves to think in this manner, especially about the work in the Kingdom. In the Kingdom, our wages are not based upon what we do. In fact, praise God that we are not given what we deserve. Instead, we have a generous Landowner in Jesus Christ. In the parable, Jesus tells us that the wages He has He gives freely to whom He desires. His payment comes from His grace and if the Landowner desires to give freely, who are we to question His generosity?

We must beware of criticizing God and feeling that we have been left out. Had the early morning workers trusted the Landowner and not asked for an agreement, the Landowner would have given them much more. He was generous, but they would not trust Him. They did not rejoice that others received more; instead, they were jealous and complained. The goodness of the Landowner did not lead them to repentance (Rom. 2:4). It revealed the true character of their hearts.

Our payments will be received, each and every one of us, paid in full upon our death. We will be welcomed into that beautiful vineyard, the gates of heaven, and we must receive generously the gifts that Jesus has given to us and rejoice in the same generosity shown towards others.

Let us pray:

Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Amen. †

Seventy Times Seven

Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
September 14, 2014, Pentecost XIV

Exodus 14:19-31, Psalm 114, Romans 14:1-12, Matthew 18:21-35

From the Book of Exodus:
Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the seashore.

From St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans:
Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” So, each of us shall give account of himself to God.

And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him, as many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.”

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.

How many of you have been to your college reunion? Well, two guys, who were college roommates, sat in the reception hall of the hotel all night talking, drinking and reminiscing. They knew they would be in trouble with their wives, but at the time it didn’t matter. The next day they happened to see each other. One asked: “What did your wife say when you got to your room last night?” The other said, “I walked in the door and my wife got historical.” “Don’t you mean hysterical?” “No, historical; she told me everything I ever did wrong since she met me.”

Have you ever met people like that; ones who seem to rehash the past forever? The ones who can’t seem to get past some issue, some hang-up, some roadblock in their past? It’s as if they are still chained to something that happened years ago. I am sure that all of us have been hurt or wronged by someone in our past. And because of this we know firsthand how easy it could be to stay angry and to grow bitter to a person. The question is: did you resolve the matter with forgiveness or does it continue?

When we start living in an atmosphere of humility and honesty, we must take some risks and expect some dangers. Unless humility and honesty result in forgiveness, relationships cannot be mended and strengthened. Peter recognized the risks involved and asked Jesus how he should handle them in the future.

But Peter made some serious mistakes. To begin with, he lacked humility himself. He was sure his brother would sin against him, but not he against his brother! Peter’s second mistake was in asking for limits and measures. Where there is love, there can be no limits or dimensions (Eph. 3:17-19). Peter thought he was showing great faith and love when he offered to forgive at least seven times. After all, the rabbis taught that three times was sufficient.

Our Lord’s reply: “Until seventy times seven” (490 times) must have startled Peter. Who could keep count for that many offenses? But that was exactly the point Jesus was making: Love “keeps no record of wrongs” (Cor. 13:5). How many marriages would be saved, if we didn’t keep score? By the time we have forgiven a brother that many times, we are in the habit of forgiving.

But Jesus was not advising careless or shallow forgiveness. Christian love is not blind (Phil. 1:9-10). The forgiveness Christ requires is on the basis of the instructions He gave in our Gospel reading. If a brother is guilty of a repeated sin, no doubt he would find strength and power to conquer that sin through the encouragement of his loving and forgiving brethren. If we condemn a brother, we bring out the worst in him. But if we create an atmosphere of love and forgiveness, we can help God bring out the best in him.

The parable in our Gospel reading illustrates the power of forgiveness. It is important to note that this parable is not about salvation, for salvation is wholly of grace and is unconditionally given. This parable deals with the forgiveness between brothers, not between lost sinners and God.

There are many misconceptions about what Biblical forgiveness really is. Many people’s ideas of forgiveness have been shaped by the world and not by the Word; therefore there is a grave danger that many Christians are unfairly holding onto anger or bitterness that they should have let go of.

The first misconception is that “I will forgive, but not forget.” Many people say they will forgive, but they make sure that people know that they will never forget! Remember the wife at the college reunion. She was “historical” when her husband finally came to bed. She probably forgave her husband over the years for the things he did wrong, but she never forgot them. That is not healthy in a marriage or in any relationship; and it’s not healthy for you. If you do not forget the wrong, then it is not true forgiveness. Every Sunday we say the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” We are told to forgive, as we want to be forgiven, and the Scriptures tell us that not only does God remove our sins, but also He forgets them and He remembers them no longer.

How would we like God to tell us upon our repentance that He will forgive, but not forget? What chance would we have in entering heaven and receiving eternal life? Fortunately for us, He does; He wipes the slate clean! And He expects us to do the same. Biblical forgiveness keeps no record of wrongs and does not hold a person’s sins over their head.

The second misconception is that “I have a right to be angry!” Many people, who have been hurt, feel they have a right to be mad and stay that way. We want to remain the victim; we want sympathy. There may be no doubt that what someone did to you may have hurt you, but to believe that you have a right to be mad and stay mad is a lie from the Devil. If we are to forgive, as we want to be forgiven, we do not have the right to remain mad no matter what someone has done to you. I am not suggesting that it is always easy to let go and forgive people that have caused you pain, but the Scriptures make one thing clear and that is that we do not have the right to stay mad and hold a grudge.

The third misconception is that “things will never be the same.” Again, we say the words, “I forgive,” but things will never be the same. There is one problem with that, the purpose of forgiveness is not just forgetting and overlooking someone’s faults, but it is restoring a relationship back to the way it was before the wrong took place, it is reconciliation. This is what we talked about last week. This is exactly what God does with us, not only does He forgive our sins, but He restores our relationship to the way it was intended to be. As a matter of fact, after we have sinned and wronged God; and after we receive His forgiveness, we are placed in a better relationship than before.

I am not saying that naturally some trust may have been lost, but if we are going to forgive than we need to forgive. The slate needs to come clean, otherwise there is not true forgiveness. We cannot hold a person’s wrongs over their heads and use their mistakes against them. If a person comes to you and asks for your forgiveness, you have a duty to attempt to restore that relationship that may have been damaged.

Our Gospel reading today has another parable for us to learn from. The main character in this parable went through three stages in his experience of forgiveness: he was debtor; he was a creditor; and he became a prisoner.

This main character, a servant, was brought before the king. This servant owed 10,000 talents, which was probably equivalent to over $10 million. That same servant begged for a chance to pay back the debt, and the king forgave him. That servant then went out and saw one who owed him about 100 denarii or less than $20. He had the man put into prison for the small debt that he owed. Then when the king learned of this he was not happy because he expected that the servant should be willing to show mercy to someone else since he was shown mercy. The same should be said of us, shouldn’t it? What right do we have to hold onto anger and to hold a grudge since we have been forgiven by God; we too should forgive others who wrong us.

It is inevitable that we will be wronged at some point in time, but we do have a choice in how we will respond. The same is true of our attitude. There are many circumstances, which we cannot help, or control, but we can choose our response and our attitude. How will you respond when someone wrongs you? There are several different options, which many people choose. Some people choose to retaliate; an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth (Ex. 21:24). They forget the call from the Word of God to not repay evil for evil, but to repay evil with good (Matt. 5:38-42). They forget that vengeance is the Lord’s. Other people may choose to harbor malice, hatred and anger in their hearts towards someone that has wronged them. The longer you harbor bad feelings in your heart the harder it is to remove them from your heart and the more hardhearted a person becomes.

It almost goes without saying that Jesus is the best example of forgiveness. He not only preached it, but He also lived a life of forgiveness. Some of His last words before His death on the cross was, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

The parable that Jesus taught explained it well. It taught that since we have been relieved of such a great debt, then we should be willing to forgive. We owed a debt that we could not pay and Jesus paid a debt that He did not owe. When you read this parable you think, how ridiculous that this man who had just had a debt removed would refuse to do the same on a lesser level with someone else. This is exactly what we do when we refuse to forgive and hold onto bitterness and a grudge. We sometimes fail to realize how greatly we wronged God and what we deserve. The forgiveness that is shown to us is so great, however, if we do not forgive we will not be forgiven (Matt. 6:12-15).

We read in St. Paul’s letter to the Romans: Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” So each of us shall give account of himself to God (Rom. 14:10-12).

Holding onto an offense against someone is like being a jailer, while the offending party is in the jail. You’re keeping them in there for good. You alone have the key to let them out, but you just won’t, because of what they did to you. The problem is, since you’re the jailer, you’re stuck there too. Oh, the person might be behind bars, but you can’t go anywhere either. So, in a sense, you are a prisoner too. The only way to set yourself free, is by letting them go, too.

I believe that many people are carrying around burdens upon themselves that they do not need to carry. People are bearing spiritual and emotional burdens that Jesus offers to relieve. People also are carrying around the burden of anger and bitterness that they simply should let go of. Bitterness is a burden. When you are angry or bitter at someone, you are carrying around an awful burden that is going to hurt you in every way. We are called to run the race with perseverance, but it is hard to run a race held down by a great burden.

We are called to carry our cross daily, but it is hard to carry a cross when we are bogged down with bitterness. It takes more effort to stay mad than it does to forgive. It is amazing how much time and energy one can spend nursing bitterness towards someone, and the longer we hold onto it the stronger it gets and the harder it becomes to forgive. Many people are carrying an unnecessary burden around in the sin of un-forgiveness.

In Ephesians 4:26-27 we read, “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” In other words un-forgiveness is giving the Devil a foothold in your life for other things. As a person harbors bitterness and anger in their heart, their heart begins to become hard.

Un-forgiveness can also hinder your relationships with other people. We learn in Scripture that not only is God concerned with our relationship with Him, He wants and expects us to be in good relationship with others. “Love one another, as I have loved you” (John 13:34).

Our Lord’s warning is serious. He did not say that God saves only those who forgive others. The theme of this parable is forgiveness between brothers, not salvation for lost sinners. Jesus warned us that God cannot forgive us if we do not have a humble and repentant heart. We reveal the true condition of our hearts by the way we treat others. When our hearts are humble and repentant, we will gladly forgive our brothers. But where there is pride and a desire for revenge, there can be no true repentance; and this means God cannot forgive.

In other words, it is not enough to receive God’s forgiveness, or even the forgiveness of others. We must experience that forgiveness in gentle and forgiving toward others. The servant in the parable did not have a deep experience of forgiveness and humility. He was simply glad to be “off the hook.” He had never really repented.

“And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32). “Forbearing one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Col. 3:13).

Let us pray:

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world unto himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Amen. †

Reconciliation Through Love

Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
September 7, 2014, Pentecost XIII

Exodus 12:1-14, Psalm 149, Romans 13:8-14, Matthew 18:15-20

From the Book of Exodus:
“This day shall be for you a memorial day and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as an ordinance forever.”

From St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans:
The commandments are summed up in this sentence: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

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

I am going to tell you about another Peanuts comic strip. In this one, Lucy demands that Linus change TV channels and threatens him with her fist if he doesn’t. “What makes you think you can walk in here and take over?” asks Linus. “These five fingers,” says Lucy. “Individually they’re nothing but when I curl them together like this into a single unit, they form a weapon that is terrible to behold.” “Which channel do you want?” asks Linus. Turning away, he looks at his fingers and says, “Why can’t you guys organize like that?”

You and I are connected in covenant and relationship with one another through Jesus Christ. Our connection with the Father affects and governs our relationship with each other, and our relationships with each other affect our relationship with God.

In our Gospel reading today, notice in verse 15 the word “brother.” This is addressed to Christians. This is dealing with believers who are in conflict.

It is so important that you and I have a right relationship with each other that Jesus said in Matthew 5:23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” In fact, the last thing that Jesus prayed for His church was that the Father would make us one as Jesus is one with the Father!

We are all familiar with the many beautiful scripture verses on love such as: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12) or “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law” (Rom. 13:8) or “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deut. 10:12). As believers, we do not live under the Law; we live under grace. Our motive for obeying God and helping others is the love of Christ in our hearts.

How are we to “walk in love” or “love one another” if there is conflict with each other? What conflict? Certainly not in the church! We are human and from time to time there is conflict. Whether it is intentional or unintentional, we can have conflict. It is how we handle conflict that determines the level of our spiritual maturity.

The truth of the matter, is that relationships can be strengthened through conflict, if we handle them correctly. What makes or breaks relationships; and what makes or breaks churches, is what they choose to do in conflict. We must learn how to walk in love while dealing with conflict. We must have the right attitude.

At the beginning of the 18th chapter of Matthew, Jesus sets the stage for His teaching on resolving conflict by saying that we need to become as little children. Granted we’ve all seen Christians act like little children when it comes to getting their way. Over the years, I have attended many church meetings; and I have even seen someone stand up, stomp their feet, bang on the table, yell and scream, and threaten to leave the church if they didn’t get their way; but that is not what Jesus is talking about. Jesus is talking about humility. We are to humble ourselves like a little child.

To humble means to bring low. And that is the opposite of what the flesh wants to do in conflict. The flesh seeks to exalt itself, to justify itself, to prove itself right. If that is how we approach a conflict, the conflict will only grow.

When we are dealing with conflict with another person, the goal is reconciliation, not justification. In other words, our hope is to mend the relationship, not to choose sides and declare a winner. If only one person wins, everybody loses.

We must ask the Lord to search our hearts before we ever deal with a conflict. We must ask ourselves, “Am I walking in and motivated by love?” If not, get your heart right first, and then deal with the problem at hand.

Jesus gives us a very simple four step plan on how to handle conflict. Sometimes we make things so complicated, but Jesus makes it SIMPLE! We would save ourselves a lot of heartache and would show Jesus to the world much more effectively if we would simply: Follow the Directions!

The first step is to go to the person who you feel has sinned against you. This means that we do not go to our friends, our church family, our pastor, but rather to the person with whom there is a problem. It is possible that he does not even realize what he has done. Or, even if he did it deliberately, your own attitude of submission and love will help him to repent and apologize. Above all else, go to him with the idea of winning your brother, not winning an argument. It is possible to win the argument and lose your brother.

You need to do this as soon as possible. Don’t put off the conflict for weeks or months in the hopes that it will go away. It won’t. It will only get worse as the anger and bitterness takes root in your soul. The offense tends to get blown out of proportion the longer it sits unaddressed. Remember what Jesus said about leaving your gift at the altar. The reason it is so urgent to the Lord is because of the damage it can create if gone untreated. If we had a broken leg, wouldn’t we want the injury repaired as soon as possible? Offenses are far more devastating to the soul and spirit, and eventually to the body, than a broken leg. We must have a spirit of meekness and gentleness when we seek to restore a brother or sister (Gal. 6:1). We must not go about condemning the offender, or spreading gossip.

If someone comes to you, and tells you of a problem they have with another person, the first thing you need to ask them: “Have you addressed this problem with that person?” If not, you need to encourage them to do so. It has been my experience, people will either come to you for advice, which is wise or they want your sympathy and for you to take their side in the matter.

So, you need to meet with the person face to face. Jesus said, “Go and show him his fault.” Conflict resolution should not be done by an email, or a phone call or a letter. Anything less than a face to face conversation places a barrier between the people involved. This can be very hard and could require a lot of courage, depending on the situation and the people involved.

You need to affirm your relationship with the individual. Let the person know that you are seeking to resolve the matter and not assign blame. Let the person know just how much they mean to you.

Once you have given your side of the matter, allow the other person to respond. There may be things that you are not aware of. Nine times out of ten this is where the problem lies. When the other person is responding, keep your ears open and your mouth shut. Don’t interrupt! Let them finish.

If this first step does not resolve the conflict and bring reconciliation, you should ask for help from someone else; someone who both parties trust and respect. We are talking about a mediator; A neutral person. Someone who can keep emotions in check and help clarify the issues. It is possible that you are both wrong.

When sin is not dealt with honestly, it always spreads. What was once a matter between two people has now grown to involve four or five people. No wonder Jesus and Paul both compared sin to leaven (yeast), because leaven spreads. Yeast is an image of sin; it’s hidden; it works silently and secretly; it spreads and pollutes; and it causes dough to rise.

If the second step does not work or the parties are not interested, then the third step is the most drastic. Jesus says to take it to the church. This does not mean that the pastor is going to “make an announcement from the pulpit,” although if the matter is splitting the church, it may be necessary. In 1 Corinthians 6:1-8, we are to gather some wise men from the church. This is where the Deacons, the saints, the people from the church should get involved. Let’s remember, the goal is reconciliation.

What if these three steps don’t work? There are some conflicts that will never be resolved. If that is the case, step four is to break off the relationship. If you cannot reach agreement or even agree to disagree, then separation is called for.

If you have someone who has refused to reconcile with you, you need to ask yourself these questions, “Do I want the matter to be reconciled?” “Do I still act in love with this person?” If so, then you are doing your part. It is now up to the other person. The result will be the right atmosphere. If however, you say, “Well, he won’t apologize, so I won’t forgive him.” That is the wrong attitude and maybe you are the problem.

Some of you may feel that these four steps do not deal with reality. How many people,
who are in conflict, would willingly go through each of these four steps? Keep in mind that Jesus is talking about mature Christians: People who are in the will of God and not in the will of the flesh.

When we deal with conflict appropriately, we see positive results in our lives and in our church. There must be fellowship (Matt. 18:20). The local church must be a worshiping community, recognizing the presence of the Lord in their midst. The Holy Spirit of God can convict both the offender and the church, and He can even judge sin in the midst (Acts 5). Each step needs to be approached in an atmosphere of prayer.

Right after this teaching, Peter asks Jesus about forgiving others. That is the key to resolving most conflicts: Forgiveness. We have been forgiven much by God, and therefore we must forgive others who wrong us. Even if the conflict is not resolved, we need to forgive the person, turn the matter over to God, and move on; only then will we walk in love and be at peace.

It is said that Leonardo da Vinci, when painting the Last Supper, painted Judas’ face as the face of someone with whom he was angry. But he found that he could not paint the face of Jesus until he changed the face of Judas. Remember the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”

We trust Christ that we might be saved from our sins by His sacrifice, but we must also feed on Christ in order to have strength for our daily pilgrim journey. As we worship, meditate on the Word, pray, and believe. We feed on the spiritual nourishment as we grow in the knowledge and grace of Jesus Christ.

Let us pray:

Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Amen. †

The Kingdom of Heaven

Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
July 27, 2014, Pentecost VII

Genesis 29:15-28, Psalm 105:1-11, Romans 8:26-39, Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

From the Book of Genesis:
Then Laban said to Jacob, “Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing?

From St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?

And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
Jesus said to His disciples: “Have you understood all this?” They said to him, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.

The thirteenth chapter of Matthew records the events of a crisis day in the ministry of Jesus Christ. He knew that the growing opposition of the religious leaders would lead to His crucifixion. This fact He had to explain to His disciples. But their logical question would be, “What will happen to the kingdom about which we have been preaching?” That question is answered in this series of parables. So, He first explained the truth concerning the kingdom, and then later explained to them the facts about the Cross.

In this series of parables, Jesus explained the course of the Gospel in the world. If Israel had received Him as King, the blessings would have flowed out from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. But the nation rejected Him, and God had to institute a new program on earth. During this present age, “the kingdom of heaven” is a mixture of true and false, good and bad, as pictured in these parables. It is “Christendom,” professing allegiance to the King, and yet containing much that is contrary to the principles of the King.

The seven parables describe for us the spiritual course of “the kingdom of heaven” in this present age. The first two were covered in the last two Sunday sermons: The Parable of the Sower and the Parable of the Wheat and Tares.
The first parable in our Gospel reading today states: “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in this field; it is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

The mustard plant of Palestine was very different from the mustard plant which we know in this country. In the East, the mustard seed symbolizes something small and insignificant. It produces a large plant, but not a “tree” in the strictest sense. However, the plant is large enough for birds to sit in the branches.

Since Jesus did not explain this parable, we must use what He did explain in the other parables to find its meaning. The birds in the Parable of the Sower represented Satan (Matt. 13:19). Passages like Daniel 4:11-12 and Ezekiel 17:23 indicate that a tree is a symbol of a world power. These facts suggest that the parable teaches an abnormal growth of the kingdom of heaven, one that makes it possible for Satan to work in it. Certainly “Christendom” has become a worldwide power with a complex organization of many branches. What started in a humble manner today boasts of material possessions and political influences. The New Testament warns us of a growing decline in the ministry of the Gospel as the end of the age draws near.

The second parable states: “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”

The mustard seed illustrates the false outward expansion of the kingdom, while the leaven illustrates the inward development of false doctrine and false living. Throughout the Bible, leaven is a symbol of evil. It had to be removed from the Jewish homes during Passover (Ex. 12:15-19; 13:7). It was excluded from sacrifices (Ex. 34:35), with the exception of the loaves used at the Feast of Pentecost (Lev. 23:15-21). But there the loaves symbolized Jews and Gentiles in the church, and there is sin in the church.

The kingdom of heaven began with the sowing of the Word of God in the hearts of men. Much of the seed did not bear fruit; but some was fruitful. Satan opposed the work of God by sowing counterfeit Christians, by encouraging a false growth, and by introducing false doctrine. It would seem that Satan is winning, at least in New England. But the test is at the end of the age, not during the age.

The next parable in our Gospel reading states: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

At the close of this age, God will have three groups of people: the Jews (the hidden treasure), the church (the pearl of great price), and the saved Gentile nations who will enter into the kingdom (the dragnet).

Once again, we need to look to the Old Testament to help us understand the symbolism in this parable. The treasure is the nation of Israel (Ex. 19:5; Ps. 135:4). That nation was placed in the world to bring glory to God, but it failed. It became a nation hidden, a treasure not being invested to produce dividends for God. Jesus Christ gave His all to purchase the whole world in order to save the nation (John 11:51). On the cross, Jesus died for the whole world; but in a special way. He died for Israel (Isa. 53:8). The nation suffered judgment and seeming destruction, but in God’s sight it is “hidden” and will be revealed again in glory.

There is, then, a future for Israel. Politically, the nation was reborn on May 14, 1948. But the nation is far from what it ought to be spiritually. God sees Israel as His treasure, and one day He will establish her in His glorious kingdom.

The next parable is known as the pearl of great price. It reads, “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

The pearl represents the church. The Bible makes a distinction between Jews, Gentiles, and the church (1 Cor. 10:32). Today, the church, the body of Christ, is composed of believing Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 2:11ff). Unlike most other gems, the pearl is a unity – it cannot be carved like a diamond or emerald. The church is a unity (Eph. 4:4-6), even though the professing church on earth is divided. Like a pearl, the church is the product of suffering. Christ died for the church (Eph. 5:25) and His suffering on the cross made possible her birth.

A pearl grows gradually, and the church grows gradually as the Spirit convicts and converts sinners. No one can see the making of the pearl, for it is hidden in the shell of the oyster under the waters. No one can see the growth of His church in the world. The church is among the nations today, and one day will be revealed in its beauty.

So, in spite of Satan’s subtle working in this world, Christ is forming His church. He sold all that He had to purchase His church, and nothing Satan can do will cause Him to fail. There is but one true church, a pearl of great price, though there are many local churches. Not everyone who is a member of a local church belongs to the one church, the body of Christ. It is only through repentance and faith in Christ that we become a part of His church.

The next parable in this series states: “the kingdom of heaven is like a net which was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind; when it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into vessels but threw away the bad. So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.”

The preaching of the Gospel in the world does not convert the world. It is like a huge dragnet that gathers all kinds of fish, some good and some bad. The professing church today has in it both true and false believers; good and bad.
Remember last week’s parable about the wheat and tares. At the end of the age, God will separate the true believers from the false and the good from the bad. When Jesus Christ returns to earth, to fight the battle of Armageddon (Rev. 19:11ff), He will separate believers and unbelievers already on the earth. These are living people who are not a part of the church (which was already in heaven) or Israel. These Gentiles will be dealt with in righteousness: the saved will enter into the kingdom, but the unsaved will be cast into the furnace of fire.

When Jesus had completed this series of parables, He asked His disciples if they understood them, and they confidently replied, “Yes, Lord.” Understanding involves responsibility. To explain this, the Lord added a final parable (Matt. 13:51-52) to remind them of their responsibilities.

Jesus said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

The scribes began as a noble group under the leadership of Ezra. Their purpose was to preserve the Law, study it, and apply its truths to daily life. Over the years, their noble cause degenerated into a routine task of preserving traditions and man-made interpretations, and adding burdens to the lives of the people (Luke 11:46-52). They were so wrapped up in the past that they ignored the present! Instead of sharing living truth from God’s Word, they merchandised dead doctrines and “embalmed” traditions that could not help the people.

As believers, we do not search after truth, because we have truth in God’s Son (John 14:6) and God’s Word (John 17:17). We are taught by the Spirit of Truth (John 16:13) who is truth (1 John 5:6). We search into truth that we might discover more truth. We are scribes – students – who sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to His words (like Mary, sister of Martha). One joy of the Christian life is the privilege of learning God’s truth from God’s Word. But we must not stop there.

The scribe emphasizes learning, but the disciple emphasizes living. Disciples are doers of the Word (James 1:22ff), and they learn by doing.

It is difficult to keep our lives balanced. We often emphasize learning at the expense of living. Or, we may get so busy serving God that we do not take time to listen to His Word. Every scribe must be a disciple, and every disciple must be a scribe.

The scribes preserved the Law but did not invest it in the lives of the people. The treasure of the Law was encrusted by man’s traditions. The seed was not planted so it could bear fruit. The “spiritual gold and silver” was not put to work so it could produce dividends. As Christians we should be conservative but not preservative.

The steward guards the treasure, but he also dispenses it as it is needed. He dispenses both the old and the new. New principles and insights are based on old truths. The new cannot contradict the old because the old comes out of the new (Lev. 26:10).
The new without the old is mere novelty and will not last. But the old does no good unless it is given new applications in life today. We need both.

The Lord over and over again is showing us what the kingdom of heaven is like and those who will attain it. Imagine what could happen in people’s lives if they first sought the kingdom of God. Imagine what would happen in marriages, workplaces, and people’s lives, if they first sought the kingdom of God. Oh yes, it’ll start small (like the mustard seed) as we’ve learned, but grow into something magnificent and it’ll impact others.

He gives us victory and more victory! We need not fear life or death, things present or things to come, because Jesus Christ loves us and gives us the victory. This is not a promise with conditions attached. This security in Christ is an established fact, and we claim it for ourselves because we are in love! Believe it – and rejoice in it!

We are free from judgment because Christ died for us and we have His righteousness. We are free from defeat because Christ lives in us by His Spirit and we shall share His life. We are free from discouragement because Christ is coming for us and we shall share His glory. We are free from fear because Christ intercedes for us and we cannot be separated from His love.

No condemnation! No obligation! No frustration! No separation!
Only eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven!

Let us pray:

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

Amen. †