The Kingdom

The Reverend J. Howard Cepelak

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
Pentecost VI – 24 July 2011

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

From the Book of Genesis:
Jacob asked his father-in-law, Why then have you deceived me?

From St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans:
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am certain that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

From the Gospel According to St. Matthew:
Jesus said, The kingdom of God is like a grain of mustard seed….

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,
Amen. E

I truly cannot count the number of funerals at which I have presided over the 39 years of my ministry. I have kept the records but have never taken the time to simply compile them and count them. I can guess that they would number between three and four hundred.
But there’s one thing of which I am certain; at all of them I quoted those most beautiful, comforting and inspiring words that St. Paul wrote to his fellow Christians in Rome, declaring our victory over sin and death in Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection as he boldly proclaimed that we are more than conquerors through him who loved us… and that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Truly, the only comfort that we have is our Lord’s blessed assurance that death does not have the last word. We know that, in and through Jesus Christ, all the suffering and misery of life do not prevail but are rather replaced by the perfection of joy. And we experience that perfect happiness as we live with the God who created us in His kingdom – the kingdom of heaven. We are, thus, more than conquerors through him who loved us. And nothing can finally separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Because He has conquered, we conquer. Because He lives, we live. Because He won the victory, we win the victory.
Now, when we talk about heaven – about the kingdom of heaven we discover that all of us have some kind of an idea about heaven, but none of us can really describe it. We all say when we’ve lost a loved one, Well, he’s in a better place. Or She’s in heaven with all her loved ones. But just what that better place means – just what actually constitutes heaven well, we really cannot speak about it all that much because perfection eludes us. Literally, heaven lies beyond our imaginations.
Furthermore, our Lord speaks about the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God metaphorically – He frequently says, The kingdom of heaven is like …… the use of either like or as makes the metaphor a simile. But now is not the time for a grammar lesson. Suffice it to say that specific descriptions of heaven or the kingdom of heaven of the kingdom of God are rare. In fact, I cannot think of even one. Our Lord speaks comparatively and metaphorically – usually in parables.
In this morning’s lesson He tells us that the kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed… Notice that He says like a grain of mustard seed. I did a little research on the mustard seed and apparently the mustard seed, one of the tiniest of all seeds, has an even tinnier grain in the center. Like a grain of wheat has what we call the germ in its center, so all seeds have an outer covering and an inner grain. The visible seed is the coating for the center that actually has the life-giving element. So however tiny a mustard seed is, the grain is even smaller – yet out of this tiny seed grows a huge plant.
Now, the mustard plants of the Middle East can be large, tree-like bushes, 9’ to 12’ tall, and thick with foliage – perfect for birds to make nests in and under which animals can find shade. And furthermore, the plants are strong, able to thrive in dry environments.
From this, what can we determine about the kingdom of heaven? Well. We know that the kingdom of heaven grows – that’s it’s not a static state of being forever set. Rather, it’s a dynamic, living place – alive in its own right and alive in us by virtue of our faith. And although it starts out small – in fact, tiny, it grows and we grow into the fullness of life that God intends.
Next, we can say that it’s possible that other creatures may live in heaven. We know about the heavenly creatures called cherubim, seraphim, angels, archangels, principalities and powers – even wheels. But is it possible that animals – earthly creatures – our pets – go to heaven? The issue remains debatable. Historically, theologians declare that because animals have no morally accountable souls then they cannot go to heaven – neither can they go to hell.
But maybe moral accountability is not always definitive for life – even for us who are morally accountable. Heaven is populated by redeemer sinners – not by people who have never sinned. If heaven were populated only by people who have never sinned, then only one person would live there – Jesus Christ Himself. Otherwise, no one else would qualify.
And that’s another point. He qualifies us. We do not earn heaven’s rewards, but we receive them as God’s great gift out of His love and mercy – underline mercy – and by His grace. We do not qualify for heaven – Christ by the quality of His mercy, by His saving sacrifice that manifests His saving grace, qualifies us.
Scripture clearly bears witness to this one great salvation reality – that we are saved by God’s grace operating through our faith. However important our good works may be – and they are important – our salvation rests solely upon God’s grace. Only by faith can anyone receive it.
Now, good works may not qualify us for heaven, but they remain important. They reflect the quality of our faith and it’s by our faith that we receive grace. It may not be that we score points but rather that we open gates.
One thing’s for sure, there’ no sin in heaven – nothing unholy. The kingdom of God offers ever-increasing goodness – hence, no room for sin.
One of this world’s greatest sins is that of deception. The Bible designates Satan himself as the grand deceiver. Deception is his way. Ironically, lies are his truth. He not only lives by deception but he cannot live without deception. Deception, when we place our faith in falsehood, kills our joy, breaks our hearts, causes endless suffering, pain and misery and gives us a bitter taste of hell.
Hence, we have the account of Jacob and how his father-in-law, Laban, deceived him. Jacob had fallen head over heals in love with Laban’s daughter, Rachel. He agreed to work for Laban for seven years to gain Rachel’s hand. He kept his part of the agreement. Because he loved her so much, the seven years seemed like nothing compared with the reward for his labor.
Upon his wedding day, Laban presented his daughter for marriage – but it’s his elder daughter, Leah, and not the promised Rachel. Deceived, Jacob is properly distressed and asks in righteous indignation, Why did you deceive me?
Now, deception is not new to Jacob. Remember, he tricked his older brother, Esau, into giving him his birthright. Although not technically deception, he nonetheless took advantage of Esau. But Jacob intentionally and deliberately deceived his aging father, Isaac, into giving him the blessing due to Esau. Jacob was no stranger to deception. When it served his purpose, deception was not a problem for him. But when he had been deceived, well he didn’t like it.
We know the rest of he story. Laban gives Jacob Rachel for his wife with the promise of seven more years of service. But this whole personal history of deception carries on into Jacob’s future with complicated and negative consequences – consequences that only God Himself can redeem. Hmmmmmm – sounds like the story of our lives.
And another important thing that we need to say about the kingdom of heaven. Scripture tells us that heaven is open to all repentant sinners. But nowhere does it say that everyone goes to heaven. The currently popular notion that when we die we all automatically go to heaven finds no foundation in the Biblical revelation.
If fact, St. Paul writes, We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined…and those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified. These words put an entirely new perspective on salvation and eternal life in the heavenly kingdom.
St. Paul’s teaching here in essence tells us that only those whom God has chosen will inherit eternal life and that God had made His choice perhaps even before those whom He called were even conceived or born. Predestined is the key word here.
I am not going to claim that I have definitive answers to the questions that arise from St. Paul’s words. I can say that the church has struggled with them from its birth. For if we are predestined then moral accountability plays no role. And if one is not predestined to inherit heaven, then why not just eat, drink and be merry and lie cheat and steal?
What I can say with confidence is that with God, ultimate truth may not make sense to our limited minds – that time has a different meaning when seen from the perspective of eternity and that God knows what He’s doing and we do not. Hence, faith remains the key to understanding and not understanding to faith. And faith just may come as a gift rather than acquired through experience – although Scripture bears witness to both.
What we do know is just this. That by virtue of God’s saving love, manifested on the cross of Jesus Christ, and by our faith in Him, the kingdom of heaven awaits. We do not and cannot earn it as a reward, yet our good works bear witness to the kingdom’s goodness and count as grace – especially as they manifest mercy. And we can also say with blessed assurance that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord – and that the joy of our salvation forever grows as we grow in joy – and death is not the last word; the last Word is Life.

Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, bless us with the fullness of grace and the fullness of faith. Deliver us from the deceptions of this world and give us eyes to see and ears to hear your truth. And in that truth, make of us the disciples you would have us be, that we may honor and glorify your holy name, the name of Jesus Christ our Lord,
your Son and
the world’s only Saviour,

Weeding Your Garden

The Reverend J. Howard Cepelak
Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
Pentecost IV – 17 July 2011

Genesis 28:10-19a, Psalm 139:1-12, Romans 8:12-25, Matthew 13:24-30

From the Book of Genesis:
God established a covenant with Jacob at Bethel saying, I am the LORD…by you and your descendents shall all the families of the earth bless themselves…. Jacob said, Surely the LORD is in this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.

From Psalm 139:
O LORD, thou hast searched me and known me!

From St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans:
When we cry, Abba! Father! It is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs…with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

And From the Gospel According to St. Matthew:
Regarding the wheat growing with the weeds in the garden, Jesus said, Let both grow together until the harvest; and at the harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”

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,

Over the past several months, I have been speaking at length with a young man who is what I call a true seeker and searcher. Having been casually raised in the church, his family was just that – casual about Christianity, so very typical of the present generation. They participated in church life only once in a while – for the life landmarks such as births, weddings and funerals with an occasional confirmation thrown in. Also, once in awhile Christmas Eve and sometimes Easter Sunday. Otherwise, other things occupied their time and attention.
Yet this young man has an innate curiosity – in fact, a genuine hunger – for knowledge about God. He enjoys reading about and discussing everything spiritual. Sincere in his search – one might even say, dedicated to it as an authentic avocation – his major problem is that he lacks focus. He jumps from one spiritual pillar to another spiritual post. This undisciplined searcher, though, seeks to be a disciple – but of what or of whom remains undetermined. Deep down, he wants to give himself to a faith, a teacher, and a saviour. He wants a rule for life. He’s just not there yet.
The Truth – with a capital “T” – continues to elude him – at least for now. If I have been of any value so far in our conversations, it has been to help him to focus at least to some extent, to direct his reading especially to the Bible – to read the Bible itself and not others commentaries on it – always, go to the original – and to recommend good churches – which sadly are few – as I witness in as un-obnoxious a way as possible to my spiritual journey.
My journey brought me to THE Truth in Him who was and is and will be forever, THE Way THE Truth and THE Life. He’s not ready for that kind of proclamation yet. He still sees conflicting claims to Truth as equally valid. Again, the currently popular notion of spiritual relativity.
This young man represents many young people in our times – seeking and searching – hungering and thirsting – and in the process being diverted from the Truth by what I call spiritual junk food – food that tastes good and temporarily satisfies the hunger but offers no ongoing nourishment. There are also spiritual junk beverages – soft drinks that taste sweet but do not and cannot satisfy one’s thirst. To say nothing of the adult version of spiritual junk beverages – distilled spirits – well that’s another story altogether. Being somewhat of a health and fitness enthusiast this will not be, for him, a major temptation. But spiritual intoxicants are – simply because they make one feel good about oneself.
This spiritual junk food and drink take the form of diverse appeals to one’s emotions – as I just said, the feel good emotions. This takes the form of an overly romantic notion of love, or to compelling calls to acts of compassion or the direct appeal to one’s self-interest in terms of self-improvement, self- advancement, self-gratification, self-glorification and self-indulgence. Most of these appeals attempt to get to mind through the heart.
We must always remember in this emotionally manipulative age what God has told us through His prophet, Jeremiah, The human heart is deceptive above all things. Remember also that the bad guys will always appeal to your heart, pulling on its strings to manipulate and control. That’s their purpose – manipulative control. For many, the easiest access to achieve this goal is the aforementioned heartstring pulling emotional appeal.
These false ideas and deceptive feelings are the weeds that grow in the gardens of our minds and hearts. They need to be weeded out – carefully weeded out – so that they do not choke out and destroy the good thoughts and right feelings.
Back to the young seeker. He has made progress in discernment. Having had his heart broken in a failed love relationship some time ago, in which he had placed too much faith in romantic love – again we must remember that God is love but love is not God – the idea of love being God just another kind of junk food to be weeded out of ones spiritual garden. He has a mature understanding and knew exactly what I meant when I spoke about this most important difference.
Now, even as I say this, I’m sure some of you are thinking, Didn’t he just read Jesus’ instruction that we must allow the wheat and the weeds to grow together and that Jesus will weed them out when He decides to reap the harvest?
You’re right – Jesus said that. But He’s referring to the final harvest – when He and He alone shall decide who is saved for eternal life in the perfection of heaven or thrown into the eternal fire bundled up with the other weeds. He is not referring to the development of our faith in Him that demands a discerning heart and mind – one that will believe exclusively in His Truth and not the false claims of the bad guys who seek to manipulate and control. We must weed out the falsehood. Jesus consistently calls others unto Himself. He says, Come, follow me. Not, Come, consider all the spiritual alternatives.
Jesus calls us. Anyone on an authentic spiritual quest is so because of God’s call. It just does not happen by coincidence. The divine call has functioned throughout history – from the beginning of time. Look at Jacob, one of the men through whom God established the foundation for Jesus Christ. God called Jacob. And Jacob was severely tempted by all kind of appeals to his own self-interest throughout his life. But God had called him. And eventually Jacob was able to discern the divine calling.
Such was the case at Bethel. God would make Jacob and his descendents a blessing to this world through which all families would bless themselves. God’s words fully registered with Jacob and caused him to proclaim that the place was surely the house of God and the gate of heaven. He named the place Bethel which literally means the house of God.
One advantage that this young man has over others is his ability to discern intoxicating romantic love from authentic love. This happened through the aforementioned heartbreak. Now I must say that when young people suffer from the inevitable broken hearts that are always a part of growing up, many people turn away from God believing that love – true love – conquers all and brings an easy happiness. That all spiritual junk food. That one’s of the most persistent weeds in any spiritual garden.
One of the characteristics of true love – divinely inspired true love – is that true love willingly suffers on behalf of the beloved. The entire life of Jesus Christ testifies to this great reality. Love suffers. Witness the cross. In that kind of love, we come close to God. We even come alive in God in this kind of love.
St. Paul bears witness to our closeness to God in and through this kind of love in his epistle to the Romans. We call God, Abba, Father – the endearing and familiar Hebrew designation for Father – really much more akin to Dad rather than the more formal Father – we live in that close relationship with God because we suffer with Christ in order that we may be glorified with him.
All who have truly loved know that this kind of love is true love indeed. And glorification comes when one loves in Christ. He has shown us the way of love because He was – and is – and will be forever – love’s only way because He was – and is – and will be forever the only way to love that brings us at last unto eternal life rather than into the profound hellish suffering of faith in falsehood that always breaks our hearts. Deception destroys. Truth delivers. And Jesus Christ is the living and eternal Truth.
God searches us and knows us. He knows the thoughts of our hearts before we do. True for Jacob, St. Paul – for you and for me. He knows us inside out and upside down as He seeks to lift us up.
For those who truly seek Him, He will find them. For those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, they will eat and drink true spiritual food – the food that is God Himself made flesh and blood for us – the body of Christ broken in the perfection of saving love and the blood of Christ shed for the same reason. Only this food and drink can satisfy the eternal hunger and thirst.
In the meantime, for those who seek and search having not yet arrived – and for those of us who have arrived but remain imperfect – that thus includes everyone – we still have to weed out the deceptions that delight, the good feelings that have nothing to do with goodness and the false promises of false messiahs who choke out anything that truly good and right.
And as we weed our spiritual gardens, we can be a blessing to everyone around us. In weeding our spiritual gardens, we do grow in ever increasing faith – in ever more holy hope – and in ever more perfect love – that in and through Jesus Christ – we can say, Abba! Father! and live forever.

Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, grant that each person present here this morning may be an ever increasing blessing to this world. Grant to us the discernment necessary to weed out the lies and deceptions in which so many place their faith and advocate for your cause, bear witness to your cross and serve as the faithful disciples of your Son,
our only Saviour –
the exclusive Redeemer of the whole world, Jesus Christ the Lord,
in whom and through whom
we may say, Abba! Father! forever.

Listen Up!

The Reverend J. Howard Cepelak

Trinity Church

Waltham, Massachusetts

Pentecost IV – 10 July 2011

Genesis 25:19-34, Psalm 119:105-112, Romans 8:1-11, Matthew 13:1-9

From the Book of Genesis:

Esau despised his birthright.


From Psalm 119:

The wicked have laid a snare for me, but I do not stray from thy precepts. Thy testimonies are my heritage forever, yea, they are the joy of my heart.

From St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans:

The apostle wrote, For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death… If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you.

And From the Gospel According to St. Matthew:

After teaching the Parable of the Sower, Jesus concluded with these words; He who has ears to hear, let him hear.


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 might very well say that the Bible, in its entirety, is one great big proclamation from God to mankind in which God says, Listen up! Literally, from beginning to end, the Bible contains the accounts God speaking His Word to His people to get their attention to call, challenge, comfort, confront, direct, command, invite, judge, teach, instruct, inspire, correct, reprimand, encourage, lead, guide and warn His children from whom He has been alienated.

Scripture consistently teaches that the separation between God and man – the alienation of man from God – comes from us – not from Him. It comes because although God may say, Listen up! we so frequently do not.

Right from the beginning, God had spoken and told His first children, Adam and Eve, that the whole world belonged to them and that they could eat anything except the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  He said, Listen up, Adam! Listen up, Eve! You can eat anything but don’t eat of that tree.

But the serpent said, Don’t listen to Him. He didn’t really mean it. Here, have a taste – it’s good. Take a bit. He won’t mind. And besides you shall become as gods yourselves.  Well, you know the rest of the story. They ate. We fell. They listened to, heard and obeyed the wrong voice.

How much better it would have been if they had simply listened to and obeyed God.  Were they not conscious of the power of evil in the world? Perhaps not, although the commandment itself indicated the possibility of danger. The Psalmist knew of evil’s power and presence.  He sang, The wicked have laid a snare for me, but I do not stray from thy precepts.

Now even as I say that God speaks but we fail to listen, I can think of exceptions when some or maybe even many actually do listen, hear and obey. Remember Jonah? God sent him to proclaim the divine Word to the City of Nineveh calling the people to repent and turn to the One True God. Now, Jonah himself listened to God and heard the Lord’s command. But he did not obey. He avoided doing what God had commanded, ran away as fast as he could, and only after he had been swallowed up by a giant fish and then coughed up did he decide to obey the Lord and do as commanded.

Jonah finally obeyed God. He called Nineveh to turn to God and the entire city listened, heard and obeyed.  Yet such as scenario is rare. Generally, the people may listen but if they listen they do not hear, that is, get the message.  And if they hear, they may very well not obey. Even when the people listen to God’s Word spoken through His prophets – men like Moses, Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah and even John the Baptist – the people may listen, hear and sometimes obey only to ignore the Lord’s precepts at the first opportunity. Every evangelist – even men as successful as Billy Graham – have spoken about so many who have come to Christ only to depart soon after. They turn away, fall away or simply go away.

Scripture also tells us that God speaks to the whole world but speaks primarily through His chosen people.  He chose Abraham to be the father of many nations whose offspring would be so numerous as to be like the stars of the heavens. Abraham’s son, Isaac, and Isaac’s son Jacob would be the founding fathers – the patriarchs – through whom God would fulfill this promise.

A quick look at Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, tells us that he was a reluctant candidate for God’s work. Like Jonah, he was slow to do what God commanded. Like Jonah, he eventually did as he was instructed.  But right from the beginning he was more concerned about himself than about anyone else, seeking his own advantage, even over his brother, Esau.  Jacob took advantage of his older twin brother and wrangled the birthright from his him.

Now birthright means a lot less today that it did in previous generations.  In ancient times and for most of human history, the first-born son received the birthright – that is the right to claim the inheritance upon the father’s death.  Birthright not only involved property rights, it also meant that he who had the birthright had power and privilege. Others would owe him allegiance and obedience.

Now, I said that Jacob wrangled Esau’s birthright away from him. But it didn’t take much. Esau gave it up in exchange for a hot meal. Hence, scripture says, Esau despised his birthright.

            Now, it’s possible – and indicated in Scripture – that some people simply cannot hear when God speaks.  They do not have ears to hear.

             Jesus said as much when he taught about the nature of the Kingdom of God by speaking in parables.  When His disciples asked Him why he spoke in parables He said, To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. Our Lord then quoted Isaiah who had said, and I paraphrase – that some will hear but never understand – see but never perceive – for they have closed their ears to God’s Word. They will never have the eyes to see the vision of His Kingdom.

The message given in the Parable of the Sower says the same thing. God’s Word is broadcast – spread out – all over the world. Some people are like the rocky ground and His word never takes hold. Others have shallow soil. The Word takes hold but when anything challenges it, they give it up.

And others are like fertile soil. God says, Listen up! and they do. They listen, they hear – they understand and they internalize God’s living Word and do not give it up. They listen, hear and obey. Like the Psalmist, they live by God’s precepts and His Word is the joy of their hearts. God’s Word is their heritage.  Unlike Esau, they will never exchange it for anything else.

Well, the more things change, the more they remain the same. We live today in just the same atmosphere, as did all previous generations.  Surely, far too many people today either ignore God’s voice when He says, Listen up! – or listen but do not understand – or listen and understand but do not obey. 

We live in a secular age, in a secular city. The faithful of previous generations have faded.  Their heritage – a kind of birthright for their children – has been discarded – given up for the approval of non-believers or because it’s just the thing to do right now. The wicked have set their snares and trapped so many who think of themselves as enlightened, modern and up to date.

One of he most enticing snares is that one that tells us in our generation that God’s Word cannot be true. So many who believe themselves to be enlightened will say, Times have changed. We need new solutions to new problems.  How can anything 2,000 or 3,000 years old have any relevance to our situation today? We know so much more.

            On those grounds, many people – and probably the majority in this part of the world – completely disregard the Bible, the accumulated and time tested wisdom and truth found on and in its pages and go their own way.  Amazingly, most of those who reject it or consider it irrelevant have never read it!  Having eaten of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and convinced that they do indeed really know the difference between good and evil – well, they know that God’s Word is most certainly not definitive for the modern, open minded and well educated individual.  God’s Word simply does not stand up to Darwin’s word, Karl Marx’s word or the currently popular words of John Maynard Keynes.

How interesting. Darwin never determined the true origin of the species, Marxian economics have consistently failed and Keynesian theory bankrupts the nations. Yet the Bible’s wisdom and God’s commandments work every time they’re tried. And Christ’s saving power – well, there’s just no other.

Such individuals will say, They didn’t have computers 2,000 years ago. Neither did they have reliable birth control  – or convenient international travel – or access to the teachings of so many other great thinkers from other cultures and religions. Or the benefits of science, space exploration, or modern biology and chemistry. So how could anyone who lived 2,000 years ago have anything important to say to us in our generation? It’s just irrelevant.   

Rejecting the heritage of faith passed on to them as a kind of birthright, and having given it up for the approval of their unbelieving friends, they place their faith n failed ideas and false Messiahs. Deaf to God’s Word and blind to the vision of His kingdom, they either cannot or will not listen and see.  In their ignorance  – the ignorance that they call enlightenment – they judge God as irrelevant.  On the Last Day, He may very well judge them as they have judged Him.

Our job remains the same – to keep the faith that has been passed on to us as our heritage – to live our lives alive in God’s saving Word and to do so joyfully, courageously and without compromise.

Our best example remains St. Paul. When God said to him, Listen up! Paul listened.  When God asked him, Why do you persecute me? Paul had no good answer.  He heard God’s voice. He understood God’s message. And he dramatically changed. Yes, he listened, heard and obeyed.

St. Paul like the other original evangelists knew and proclaimed the saving power of God. Paul’s words are perfect when he wrote, For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death.

            St. Paul knew the devices of this world, the world of the flesh. When he writes of the flesh we must not think just in terms of the physical body with its various desires and needs but of everything material in the fallen creation – everything from the human heart, mind, body and soul to the earth itself and the universe beyond.  So he wrote, For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh… those persons set on the material world without God – well, those people are indeed lost. Their minds are hostile to God.  They do not and cannot submit to God so they submit to sin and death. Incidentally that’s the only choice; one or the other. And they do so as if they were intelligent, have superior knowledge, insight and wisdom and that they have the secret to life.

But the secret is just this. There is no secret. The secret to life and to eternal life hung on a cross two thousand years ago when the incarnate God allowed the powers of sin and death to kill Him – but what those powers did not know was this – that in His death they would die and He would live – and even more than that, all those who believe in Him will live forever. That’s the secret that’s no secret at all.

So, Listen up! If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you.


Let us pray.

Heavenly Father, grant to us ears to hear and eyes to see. Indwell in our hearts, minds, bodies and souls. Grant to us the courage to defend and proclaim our heritage of salvation that we may speak your truth to those who set for us and for all snares of entrapment. And grant that we may so live our lives that we will inherit eternal life

given in and in only in your Son,

our only Saviour,

Jesus Christ the Lord


Salvation’s Love Story

The Reverend J. Howard Cepelak
Trinity Church

Waltham, Massachusetts

Pentecost III – The Sacrament of Holy Communion
Independence Day Sunday

Song of Solomon 2:8-13, Psalm 45:10-17, Romans 7:15-25a, Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

From the Song of Solomon:
My beloved speaks and says to me, Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.

From St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans:
The apostle speaks for all of us when he confesses, I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do…. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.

From the Gospel According to St. Matthew:
Jesus said, Come unto me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. And my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

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,
Amen. †

Very rarely do we find a passage from the Song of Solomon cited in the lectionary. The Song is most certainly a love song – one that many Biblical scholars have found slightly embarrassing for sometimes candid descriptions of carnal desire. Most of us would feel uncomfortable reading some parts in public. But all of us can relate to the delight that young lovers, a bridegroom and his bride, take in each other. Such delight is pretty much a universally shared experience.
The Song has traditionally been interpreted on two levels; the first being the celebration of the love that a bride and groom can share, and the second, a symbolic celebration of the love of God for His people, of Jesus Christ for His church. Both interpretations are valid – one does not supplant the other.
The church, from its earliest days, has been characterized as the bride of Christ and our Lord as the bridegroom. Hence, the relationship between Christ and His church is the highest form of holy matrimony – a holy marriage established on the self-sacrificing love of the groom for His bride. It’s a holy marriage that lasts not until death do us part but rather through death so that we will never part. It’s an eternal love relationship – for the Lord our God loves us perfectly and wants our love freely given in return.
This constitutes salvation’s love story; God’s love seeking our love. The perfect and most holy love of God for His people is the force of life itself that created us in the first place and will deliver us at the last moment when He says, says, Arise, my love, and come away….
God is love – perfect in power and the greatest of all powers. But we need to remember that although God is love, love is absolutely not God. We must never let love occupy God’s place in our hearts, minds or souls.
It often does in this world. It’s one of the most seductive forms of idolatry and one of the easiest into which one can fall. It always leads to heartbreak. For human love, however wonderful and glorious it may from time to time be, cannot save. Only God’s perfect holy love – the love that went to the cross – can save.
If we are honest with ourselves – and the Lord requires that confessional honesty – we know that we do not deserve His perfect saving love. We know our faults and failings exercised in and by our own free will.
Even St. Paul, an obvious saint in the highest sense of that word, fully recognized his own sinful nature. Part of the saving grace imparted to him was his ability to honestly declare that sinful nature with neither pretense nor excuse. He claimed to be among the worst of all sinners. And he wrote with absolute candor when he told the church in Rome that the right that he both knew to be right and that he wanted to do, he would not do and the evil that he deplored he would do. In goodness, evil is always close at hand. (Paraphrase) True for him. True for you. True for me.
The glory of God, then, is that He loves us – always has and always will. The glory of God is that His perfect love went to the cross because we both cannot and will not love perfectly and yet, deep in the souls of some – perhaps deep in the souls of many (NOT all) – is the powerful desire to love Him even as He has loved us.
His love is the most powerful force in and beyond the universe, perfect in goodness and the only power to which we should give ourselves or to which we should submit ourselves. In His perfect power, he will not force our obedience neither will He make us submit. He wants us to freely choose to love Him – simple as that.
Contrast that with the powers of this world – especially the political powers of this world that deceivingly claim to care about us and seek to take care of us – the ancient lie that evil always speaks – the ancient lie we’re hearing again even as I, and other preachers, speak from various pulpits across the country this morning about the birth of this exceptional nation.
The great lie whose purpose is not liberty and freedom but domination and control – the seductive lie that says, Give yourself to me and I will take care of you. These kinds of politicians are like the deceptive lover – the cad or the gold digger – who deceives, abuses and steals to get what he or she wants and damages, discards or yes, even destroys, the one for whom they had declared love.
Tomorrow we celebrate the birth of the United States of America, the birth of a nation totally unique in all of human history including present human history. No other nation has ever existed like this one – no other nation currently exists comparable to this one.
Any other nation that has prospered and in which the citizens have enjoyed freedom derive from the example of this nation and the free markets that we have established in this world. We are totally unique. And for all of our faults, we have been a greater force for freedom, prosperity and general goodness that any other nation at any other time – in all of human history.
I will be bold enough to say that the founding of this nation is a part of the divine love story every bit as much as was the deliverance of the Hebrew people out of slavery in Egypt. The One True God moves in human history. He did not created the world and depart. He has always taken an active part in each individual’s life and in the lives of nations.
This nation did not come about spontaneously. It arose out of the divine inspiration in the hearts and minds of the Founding Fathers – all sinners – all men capable, like St. Paul, of both good and evil – of righteousness and sin – yet called at one point in human history to risk all that they had and all that they were to do what God wanted them to do – establish the first nation in the history of man that limited government’s power, that valued the people over and above the government and that held government accountable to the people. Even as elected persons have sworn to uphold the constitution, they have undermined it. Even as they vow to serve the people, they seek the service of the people. They ignore the founding principles.
These governmental principles have held until is the last few years. We have reached a turning point in human history. Over the last few years, slowly, incrementally, bit by bit and piece by piece, the government, through both deception and false promises, has taken more and more power for itself and away from us.
Claiming compassion and that they will take care of us, we have been foolish enough to believe in them – yes, to place our faith in them – our faith belonging exclusively to God but yet we violate that faith covenant to make a deal with deceivers. We have given too much of ourselves to corrupt powers. And the powers of this world in every nation and at all times are always corrupt. That’s why the Founders limited government’s power and made the government accountable to the people.
Our Lord and Savior said, Come unto me all ye who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you for my burden is light. Contrast this with the other powers who burden us to the breaking point and give us rest only when they have used us up and literally cast us off. That is the story of most people, in most places, in most of human history.
Examples of the government’s disregard for our essential human dignity, value and worth abound. Currently. Government policy is to treat every traveler as a terrorist rather than to profile those whom we know to be the most likely suspects. Claiming that they are doing it for our own good, 95 year old grandmothers find themselves literally personally exposed in abject humiliation and little girls as well. No citizen – male or female – young or old – should ever be violated in this manner. Yet, I am consistently amazed at so many who not only comply with but actually endorse such a personal invasion.
The government has literally laid claim to access to every citizen’s most private parts. From their perspective, no one has any right to even this most personal aspect of privacy. The worst part of this is that we have allowed them to do this.
To the best of my knowledge, no other nation uses this invasive procedure. And those nations that use criminal and suspect profiling have the longest and best track record of air safety. Witness the nation of Israel. And, bringing it home to you and men right here in our own city, the demand for criminal background checks on church volunteers to sell popcorn on the Fourth of July is just one more tiny example of ever increasing invasiveness and intimidation. Shame on them. Shame on us.
The test for integrity is always personal. For example, let’s look at those who demand the redistribution of wealth. Those who demand this redistribution of wealth must redistribute their own wealth first. Integrity. They, of course, will never do that.
We have seen that those who demand redistribution – a socialist principle implemented over and over and over again in history with a perfect record of failure – those who advocate it acquire ever increasing personal wealth. As they take our money, they keep the largest amounts for themselves and their friends before the tiniest amount goes to the poor whom they claim to protect.
Again, this happens every time it’s tried. Never has this had any other result except the exploitation of the citizen. Witness the former Soviet Union, China, Cuba, and any other socialist dictatorship. The only prosperity in any of these countries comes from the occasional opportunity to participate in free market capitalism outside of the socialist economy.
At some point I will preach a sermon that shows how free markets represent righteousness. In preparation for that sermon, I recommend reading John Calvin; but more than that, I recommend reading the Bible. It’s all there.
When our politicians divest themselves of their wealth – as have so many Christian saints throughout history – witnesses most recently Mother Teresa – not until they have impoverished themselves first should we give them a hearing. And with that hearing our job is to proclaim the principles – the Biblical principles – of our Founders and say, No! Remember, we, the citizens, employ them to serve us. In the USA, government is NOT the master. The citizens are.
Politicians do not love us. God loves us. Power politicians seek to eat us up and drain us of our time, energy, resources and wealth. (Nothing new in human history. Again, read your Bibles.) They claim loving compassion. But they lie.
God gives Himself up for us – He goes to the cross for us – and calls us to feed on Him even as the powers of this world feed on us. His broken body and shed blood prove His love. No one else – nothing else – is worthy of our love and devotion. So, Arise my love and come to His table – the wedding feast prepared for the Bride of Christ in His perfect love.

Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, at this most crucial time in human history, we pray that your hand will move powerfully to protect us from the powers that do not love. Us. Give us eyes to see your Truth and ears to hear your saving Word. And grant that, obedient to you and submitting to your righteous will, we will be forever free.
We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ,
the bridegroom
and only Saviur of the whole world.
Amen. †