High and Lifted Up

The Reverend J. Howard Cepelak
Trinity Church

Waltham, Massachusetts

St. Michael and All Angels – Pentecost XV – 25 September 2011

Isaiah 6:1-7, Psalm 103:19-22, Revelation 12:7-12, John 1:47-51

From the Book of the Prophet, Isaiah:
Recounting his heavenly vision, Isaiah said, I saw the Lord seated upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim; each had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet and with twain he did fly.

From the Revelation to St. John:
St. John proclaims his vision of the great War in Heaven in which St. Michael the Archangel defeats Satan, and the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, who is call the Devil and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world – he was cast out into the earth and his angel were cast out with him.

And From the Gospel According to St. John:
Speaking to the guileless Nathaniel, our Lord said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.

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,

You may have noticed that I used the King James Version as I quoted from this morning’s lessons assigned for the celebration of St. Michael and all Angels. I did so simply as a way to honor the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible – one of the most, if not THE most, popular and successful versions of Scripture ever produced. I have written about this in the October issue of the Steeplecock News where you can find a more comprehensive account of the history of the Bible’s translations.

Although more recent translations have made significant corrections – and yes, improvements – and offer more readable renditions, the King James remains overall the most beautiful translation in our language. For instance, the New International Version translates the passage regarding the seraphim standing above the Lord’s heavenly throne saying, with two wings they covered their faces, with two wings they covered their feet and with two wings they were flying. Well, that’s OK. Accurate. But not especially inspiring.

But it cannot compare with the King James that with inspiring beauty proclaims with twain he covered his face, with twain he covered his feet and with twain he did fly. Verbal aesthetics here bring the Word forward with both power and grace, most certainly lacking in the NIV. The language itself is high and lifted up just as is the Lord is high and lifted up upon His heavenly throne.

And that’s the point that I want to make this morning – a point not so much about language – although it most certainly applies – but much more so about the Christian faith and religion as it is currently practiced.

And my point is this. Our generation has abandoned the true nature of Christianity, which is inherently high and lifted up and replaced it with a lowest common denominator religion the glorifies human nature as if it were divine and it profanes the divine nature as if it were, at best, an instrument for human accomplishment.

The troubles – social, political and economic troubles – and do not make the mistake that the true faith has nothing to do with real, material life – the troubles that we’re experiencing in the United States of America today is because both our leaders and far too many of the citizens of this once great nation have abandoned the true faith and gone lowest common denominator. They see themselves as somehow equal to God – or see themselves as gods themselves – that their will – not God’s will – will be done – and that Christianity and religion in general is a man-made phenomenon to be used for their purposes.

The same applies to Europe – but even more so there. Moral and ethical accountability, especially when it comes to the stewardship of wealth – but also as it applies to every aspect of life – has virtually evaporated since consciousness of divine judgment has been ignored. Without accountability, literally all hell can – and will break loose – unless we turn this around.

The prevailing religion in the West has become self- adoration replacing adoration of the One True God. We’ve talked about this so often before- self-gratification, self-realization which in nothing other than self-worship – humanism in its most dangerous form. Even true spiritual realities – to the extent that they are acknowledge – are seen as important only to the extent that they serve one’s purposes.

Hence, as we speak of angels this morning, the prevailing belief – for those who believe at all – is that they exist to help us get what we want. Noting could be further from the Biblically revealed truth – they exist to accomplish what God wants.

When God called Isaiah the priest to a prophetic ministry, Isaiah said Woe is me! for I am undone because I am a man of unclean lips and dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King…. In contemporary practice, very few would say I am undone – a totally humble acknowledgement of one’s inherently unclean, sinful nature. Rather they would celebrate themselves not humble themselves.

Furthermore, seeing God as King – the true reality proclaimed in Scripture over and over again – that Jesus is the Lord of Lords and the King of Kings as well as the King of Heaven and the King of Angels – well, too many of us see Him as a good buddy who has no expectations of accountability. No so.

I don’t know how to express this in any other terms except Biblical terms; that unless and until one finds himself – or herself – completely undone in the face of the divine presence, acknowledges one’s absolute need for redemption – in the full knowledge that no one can do this for himself – and receives the burning coal on one’s lips – in fact, deep in one’s soul – until that happens then one has not yet come to know the Lord. (Re: The burning part of the burning coal – remember, the flames of the Holy Spirit burn but do not consume – they purify, give light and energize.)

The world, to use the words of a devout friend of mine who has committed himself to a rigid discipline of daily worship, says that we are under divine chastisement. The events of the times – now as has always been true throughout human history reflect our faithlessness to God. Faithfulness brings good times. Faithlessness brings trouble. When people move away from God’s Holy Spirit, the space gets filled with unholy spirits.

And the world is filled to overflowing with unholy spirits. The account of the Great War in Heaven in which the Archangel Michael throws out the rebellious Lucifer who then becomes known as Satan, the Devil and the Great Deceiver – well, the devil and his angels land on earth.

Their job is to fill in any space not occupied by holy spirits and the Holy Spirit in particular. The battle, invisible unless one has eyes to see, rages. It’s ongoing and will continue until the end of time when Michael accomplishes Satan’s defeat on earth as he has already done in heaven.

Now, in Isaiah’s vocational vision, the seraphim, the seraphim being angelic beings from the highest order of purity, holiness, light and power – a seraph takes the burning coal from the altar. This imagery may at first escape us. We don’t have altars with burning coals. Isaiah references the altar of incense in the heavenly temple – just like the altar of incense in the Jerusalem Temple with which Isaiah was so familiar. He was, after all, a priest. He knew all about the purpose and function of incense as a manifestation of the presence of God.

We should remember another priest at the altar of incense – a priest who lived some 750 years later, Zechariah, father of John the Baptist. The burning coals cause the incense to release the fragrance of holiness. The burning coal that the seraph touched to Isaiah’s lips released him from his uncleanliness – from his iniquity – so that holy prophecy could be released from his lips.

Well, as I have said in so many sermons over the years, humility remains the first and most important mark of the rue Christian. Humility means the opposite of self-aggrandizement and stands over and against every form of deception. That deceptiveness that pervades so much of our unredeemed society is guile – the desire to manipulate and control through deception.

When Jesus saw Nathaniel, our Lord said, Behold, an Israelite…in whom is no guile. Our Lord found in Nathaniel, a humble, honest man. And that’s what He seeks in us and in everyone today even as He did two thousand years ago.

An honest humility opens one’s eyes to see an ultimate and transcendent reality that transforms this material reality. Jesus said that Nathaniel would see angels ascending and descending on the Son of man. Angels – the spiritual beings through whom God sends His Word – who function as agents of healing, encouragement, grace, mercy, comfort, strength and power; and who wage war and fight on our behalf in the ongoing battle between good and evil for which the earth is the battlefield.

The degree to which any of us is authentically honest and humble – that is, free from guile – is the degree to which we are open to God’s holy angels, to transforming spiritual realities that can and do change our material lives – and change this world for the better as we anticipate the world yet to come.

But it’s not only angels that descend from heaven and ascend back to heaven, it’s God Himself. He descends – condescends – leaving His heavenly throne to take on human flesh and human nature in the Son of man who is also the Son of God. He descends to the lowest common denominator of a humiliating death due to human arrogance, deception and guile. Sinful man lifted Him up on the cross so that the holy God could lift us up from the depth of sin and death. High and lifted up, He will lift us high – to the heights of the gates of heaven – if we humbly acknowledge our sin and receive His saving grace.

Right now, there are a few signs of a turn around. The Roman Church is currently lifting up the Mass from the often grotesque, comic degradation to which it has fallen since Vatican II. We see some resurgence of devotion in Europe.

Protestant worship still, for the most part, reflects a self-centeredness that will destroy it. But here and there holy worship does exist as believers offer themselves to God in response of His offering of Himself to us on the cross of our salvation.

And that’s our job – to offer ourselves to Him to serve with His angels in the righteous cause of His saving grace – and to lift Him up on high in our hearts, minds and souls – and in our conversations, actions and in every aspect of our material living – so that He can lift us up to heaven.

Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, we pray that your Holy
Spirit will powerfully move through this world to open the eyes of those who delight in deception, who manipulate, deceive and destroy all that’s good and right and true. Grant to us, whom you have called, the courage to fight in your army, to advance your cause, to speak your truth, to rise up and lift up those cast down and bring honor and glory to the most Holy name of your Son,
our only Saviour,
Jesus Christ the King,

Begrudged Generosity?

The Reverend J. Howard Cepelak
Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
Pentecost VIV – 18 September 2011

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

From the Gospel According to St. Matthew:
In response to the complaint of some of the workers, the master replied, Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give this last as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity? 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,

I am always amazed at the human capacity to compartmentalize various aspects of life. With regard to the Christian faith and religion, compartmentalization often functions at full tilt.

By compartmentalization, I mean taking an aspect of life and treating it as if it had no relationship whatsoever with any other aspect of life. An example. All church people – and most of non-church people as well – know the Ten Commandments. They may not be able to recite them in the proper order but almost everyone knows most of them. Thus shalt not steal – well everyone knows that this is one of the Ten Commandments. And people will believe in it, be outraged should someone steal from them or from a loved one and generally take a strong stand against theft in any form.

But in both the business world and in government one might very well suspend this commandment, and many other moral or ethical considerations for that matter, in an effort to attain success. Many otherwise good men and women will make all kinds of dubious and deceptive deals never believing themselves to be thieves. Somehow, the commandment given by God does not apply in this aspect of real life. Hence, in the compartment of religion, the commandment applies. But in the compartment of business, it does not.

Surely this most certainly applies to Thou shalt not bear false witness. We hate it when someone lies to us. Yet we all know that everyone – or nearly everyone – lies when it serves his or her purpose. Again, we’re angered when due to false advertising we buy a product that fails to do what it claims to do or when we elect an official who deceived the voters to get the position only to do the opposite of what was promised. When a lie is personal and more intimate, we’re not only angered, but also heartbroken. Yet, depending on the circumstances, we apply truth telling to perhaps most aspects of our lives, but not to those parts when deception serves our purposes.

Despite the church’s historical teaching and the testimony of all of Holy Scripture, most church people compartmentalize Biblical instruction separating spiritual life from practical life. The Bible is, in fact, all about real life – home life, family life, social life, business life, recreational life, political life and economic life as well as eternal life. The Bible does not teach about spirituality separate from life but rather a spirituality that saturates all of life – in fact, without the spiritual, nothing physical or material can exist at all. Yet we separate the spiritual from the material and the material from the spiritual as convenient.

Now, this morning’s Gospel lesson illustrates this point. Jesus uses the parable of The Workers in the Vineyard to instruct His us about the nature of the Kingdom of God – a spiritual reality spoken of in very material terms with both spiritual and practical applications intertwined.

The parable tells of the landowner who hires men to work in his vineyard. Some men work all day, others work about half a day, others a little less and another group works for just an hour at the end of the day. The landowner had contracted with the men that they would be paid one denarius, the typical wage for a day’s work in the Roman empire in those times.

Those who had worked all day felt it was unfair that those who had worked only for an hour got the same wage as they did. Not fair!, they said. We worked all day long – out in the hot sun! We deserve more than those guys who only worked for an hour! The landowner spoke directly and unapologetically to the grumbling worker.

Addressing him as Friend, he said that he had paid the agreed upon amount. No one was deceived. Furthermore, it was his money to pay out as he chose. And finally, he paid everyone the same amount because of his generous heart and not based upon the time worked.

With this, the landowner then asked the clincher question – a kind of gotcha moment. He asked, Do you begrudge my generosity?

Well obviously, our Lord was teaching about the Kingdom of God. He wanted to make certain important points. For instance, no one earns his way onto the kingdom – we enter by the grace of God who invites us, calls us into His domain. All anyone has to do is say yes and the kingdom becomes their reward.

The yes is of course, placing one’s faith in Jesus Christ. Although that’s not a part of the parable, it is the Lord’s consistent teaching. He wants everyone to know that the reward for those who do so early in life is the same as for those who do so later in life. (This does not mean that everyone is equal, i.e., the same, in the Kingdom. Scripture indicates otherwise.) Salvation comes by faith not by works. Although that may seem unfair, justice in this case is not the central point. The point is that the Lord our God is a generous God. He wants us to rejoice with Him even if we come late to the party. And we must not begrudge His generosity.

Nothing that our Lord tells us stands alone as a spiritual teaching without the real life application. All of His parables use real life situation to make the spiritual points. And the spiritual lessons, as I have said, apply to the practical application. And you will notice that in all of Jesus’ teachings, one or several of the Ten Commandments is either directly or indirectly referenced.

Another example. Thou shalt not covet anything that belongs to thy neighbor. If we really think seriously about this commandment we can see how, if we could overcome covetousness, we’d all live in a better world. In fact, covetousness stands over and against generosity. Generosity is a quality of the very heart of God. Covetousness functions as one of the bad guys most powerful motivations.

We hear a lot about social justice in our mainline churches. Now justice – both personal and social -is a great good. But the social justice movement often has little or nothing to d with justice and everything to do with restructuring society based upon covetousness. Someone has more than someone else. We want what he’s got. We want it so much that we take it from him. In this case, covetousness, a sin in of itself, leads to theft. And if the owner of what we want does not willingly give it to us, and we push him far enough, the covetousness can lead to murder.

Hence, the forced re-distribution of wealth is always a great evil. Theft in any form never has a place in the realm of goodness. It’s also important to note that whenever such a system is instituted, those in charge of the redistribution become astoundingly wealthy while everyone else shares unequally in an ever-increasing poverty. The justice makers practice gross injustice, satisfying their own covetousness as they deceive, steal and, if necessary, kill.

One might well ask then, What is the best manner for a wealthy man – or anyone of any means whatsoever – to handle his money? The Parable of the Talents gives us a lesson. Although it seems unfair that the master gives one man five talents of money, to another two talents and to the third one talent – each according to his ability. Notice that the master gives to each according to his ability and not according to his need. This stands over and against the Marxist principle, From each according to his ability – to each according to his need.

Well, the parable tells us that the master is pleased when the first two – blessed with greater wealth – increase their wealth through investment. The only one who gets the sever reprimand is the one talent man who literally buried the money in the ground.

We may be jealous of a wealthy person. We may resent that some people are born into rich families and we were not. We may criticize them for their seeming lack of generosity. Chances are we would be wrong. For the only detrimental thing that a wealthy person can do with his money is to bury it in the ground – unless, of course, he spends it on something evil. These, it does no good whatsoever.

When a wealthy person gives freely to a noble cause, well such authentic charity bears good results. When he invests his money even just in a savings account, the money then serves others who can borrow – at a fair rate of interest – the money necessary for him to better his life through opening his own business or buying a house.

Furthermore, when a rich person spends his money – even on something as seemingly unnecessary in life as a yacht or a private jet, he is employing countless people who build yachts and planes, who have a talent for boat building or aircraft design and construction – or those who make a living as boat and aircraft mechanics. By spending his money, he increases the wealth of those whom he employs. Surely, greater justice and a better society results.

God blesses each of us variously in this world. You will not often hear me speak these words positively, but we can say that God celebrates our diversity. He builds diversity into His creation. He does so with a purpose often difficult for us to see – but there nonetheless. He knows what He’s doing with us. Our job is faith and trust. Our job is to live according to His commandments to both avoid evil and to accomplish goodness.

In all of it, God calls us unto Himself. By virtue of His astounding generosity, He gives Himself to us and for us on the cross of our salvation so that, because He loves us, we can be with Him for eternity.

Our job is to remain faithful to Him and to His commandments. Jesus said, If you love me, you will keep my commandments. Our job is to love Him and keep His Word. Simple as that.

And until the Kingdom comes, when He defeats all evil and establishes His kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, our job remains the same – to faithfully keep His commandments as we love Him with all our mind, heart and strength and as we rejoice in His generosity.

Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, deliver us from all covetousness, deception and abuses of your most Holy Word. Help us to apply your teachings to every aspect of our lives. Instill your Spirit in us and cause us to fight for your cause in deep faith, high hope and in true and holy love.

We ask this in the name of and for the sake of your Son,

our only Saviour,

Jesus Christ the lord,


Forgiveness Goes Both Ways

The Reverend J. Howard Cepelak
Trinity Church

Waltham. Massachusetts

Pentecost XIII – 11 September 2011 – Remembering 9 / 11

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

From St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans:
The apostle writes,
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…so each of us shall give account of himself to God.

From the Gospel According to 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 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,

This morning, in churches all over America, the faithful are remembering – before God – all those who died in the Muslim terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001. Nearly three thousand people died in the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center as well as those who perished in the crash of Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania and in the Pentagon as well. Like the attack on Pearl Harbor, 9 / 11 has taken its -place in history as a[nother] day of infamy.

As we remember those who perished, we do so from the Christian perspective of our faith in Jesus Christ as the only Saviour of all mankind. This is important. No matter how much some of the powers that be want us to believe that the attacks and the conflict that has followed is not a religious war, the stark reality is that it most certainly is a religious war. We have to be clear about this. The truth is the truth; even when we, for any reason, wish it were not the truth.

Although we would be wrong to say that all Muslims are united in their hatred for non- Muslims, nonetheless, a large number of Muslims are not only united in that hatred, but they also see their salvation linked to the destruction on the infidels – infidels being all non-Muslims, especially Christians and Jews.

For them, the Jews and the nation of Israel represent the Little Satan while Christians and the United States of America represent the Great Satan. The militant Muslim believes that he has to prove his faith and his worthiness to receive mercy. And one of the most powerful ways to offer such proof is to wage war on the infidels. Such proof brings the bestowal of mercy and eternal.

And from the perspective of the most militant, if one dies as he seeks to kill either Christians or Jews, then he becomes an instant martyr, by-passes all judgment and is blessed with great rewards in paradise.

Christianity, Judaism and Islam all teach about the divine judgment. But we teach it from radically different perspectives. As St. Paul wrote in his epistle to the Romans, all of us will stand before the judgment seat of God to give an account of ourselves. Judaism teaches the same. But in the judgment, the killing of non-Jews or non-Christians violates the will of God. For Christians – commanded, as we are to love our enemies – which most certainly means that we do our best not to kill them unless in self-defense – well, the divine judgment comes for precisely the same behavior that Islam teaches is rewarded by God. In other words, these two religions each opposite roads to salvation -one through love the other through death.

We need to know this, have it written on our hearts and minds and deeply inscribed in our souls. Salvation comes only in and through Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God. Salvation comes because Jesus Christ died for our sins, because of our sins and to set us free from our sins. He was and is and will be forever the only pure, full, all-sufficient and perfect sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. The shed blood of non-believers cannot win salvation. In fact, it can bring condemnation. Only the shed blood of Jesus Christ can save. Simple as that.

Hence, true Christians will never fly planes into anyone else’s buildings, will never become suicide or homicide bombers and will never take another’s life under any circumstances – except of course, in self-defense. Otherwise, what some religious call righteousness is in fact sin.

Islam teaches the opposite. And the conflict that we are experiencing now is just the continuation of the war begun in the 7th century that will continue until the end of time.

Now, at the very center of our Christian faith and religion lives the power of the Divine mercy. I say lives the power of the Divine mercy because God’s mercy is alive – a living force that gives eternal life to those who will simply receive it. God’s mercy comes, not through any kind of proof of one’s faith, but simply by faith. Our faith opens up the doors and windows of our souls to the full light of His mercy.

We talk so much especially today about God’s love; that’s good – and we should always talk about His grace; that’s powerful – but it’s His mercy that opens us up to both His love and His grace by removing the barrier of sin. In order for God’s love and grace and mercy to function for the sake of our salvation, sin must be removed – His mercy breaks through that barrier.

God, in His incarnation in Jesus Christ, removes the barrier of sin through His self-sacrifice on the cross. Nothing that we can do can destroy sin. Only God has that power. And He accomplishes that on the cross. Hence, St. Paul can proclaim that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord; nothing except, of course, our rejection of His free gift of salvation.

In this morning’s Gospel lesson, Peter asks Jesus about the nature and practice of forgiveness. At this point in their relationship, Peter knew Jesus as his rabbi or teacher, as a beloved friend, as a miraculous healer, and also as the Christ, the Son of the living God. Peter had made that essential confession of faith before he asked Jesus this question. Jesus had spoken about forgiveness and practiced it. But forgiveness had yet to be fully manifested.

Peter did not yet know just what it meant to be the Christ, the Son of the living God. Although Jesus had told him that the Christ must suffer, be killed at the hands of sinners and then rise from the dead, that reality had yet to register with Peter. In fact, this dreadful reality did not hit Peter until the night of our Lord’s betrayal. Then he knew that his master’s crucifixion would in fact happen. And when the resurrected Christ manifested Himself to Peter and to the other disciples, then Peter knew the full nature of the Divine Mercy.

For the Christian, forgiveness is not just a part of life; it’s a way of life as well. The value of forgiving someone who has wronged you – has sinned against you – lies in the blessed release from the burden of anger, hatred and malice that comes with such an offense. Forgiveness sets us free from those destructive emotions and attitudes.

Furthermore, it releases us from the full impact of the injury. A failure to forgive allows the impact, damage and pain of the offense to happen over and over again literally fro the rest of one’s life. Sometimes, the older we get and the more we relive the injury, the more it hurts. It diminishes our lives. It cripples our ability to experience joy and happiness – it reduces our capacity to both give and receive love. Forgiveness cleanses our souls and sets us free for joyful and fulfilling living. That’s the self-interest part of forgiveness. There’s more.

We are set free when we forgive. But what if the offender has not repented? Repentance, when it comes to God’s mercy, is the condition upon which we are able to receive it. Yet regardless of whether or not those who offend us repent, we still must forgive. Many an offender sees the error of his or her ways and repents. But many do not. That does not matter. God still calls us to forgive.

Furthermore, as Jesus taught us how to pray, giving us the prayer that we know as The Lord’s Prayer, He said, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Trespass, of course, references the original trespass in the garden when Eve crossed the line set by God regarding the knowledge of good and evil and ate the fruit of that tree. She, with her husband following, trespassed. Sin is always a trespass onto God’s territory.

But the important point here is that Jesus indicates that forgiveness is reciprocal – that we are forgiven when we forgive. Our forgiveness comes from God as we forgive those who trespass against us. God’s mercy fills us as we empty ourselves of bitterness, anger, hatred and the failure to forgive. When God’s mercy fills the spaces once occupied by anger, hurt, hatred and malice, He fills us to overflowing with the joy of our salvation.

Hence, we can say that there’s a kind of reciprocity between God and ourselves when it comes to mercy. As we give it, so we receive it.

And finally, from another angle, forgiveness operates best when both parties forgive each other – when forgiveness goes both ways. Sometimes there is just one offender. But frequently, there are two offenders. This happens when one is offended and then he or she returns an offence in an attempt at retribution. A vicious cycle of hurt and pain results. If one party forgives and the other party follows, then the cycle of viciousness is broken and goodness will flourish.

Let me conclude with this simple, unique and eternal Truth. God the Father has shed His mercy on the whole world through His own shed blood – the shed blood of God the Son. In and through His self-sacrifice, He paid the price and set us free. Free from sin, we can live and love in the fullness of life, forgiving others as we have been forgiven with the great blessing of joy, both in this life and in the life yet to come.

Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, grant to us the grace to receive and to give the forgiveness necessary for the salvation of the world. Make of us instruments of your peace, courageous agents of your mercy and strong practitioners of our faith. Help, save, guide, guard and defend us from our enemies and grant us the victory won
in and through Jesus Christ,
the only Saviour of the whole world,

A Sacrificial Lamb

Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
September 4, 2011 Pentecost XII

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

From the Book of Exodus:
The blood shall be a sign for you, upon the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall fall upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.

From St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans:
For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed; the night is far gone, the day is at hand.

And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained a brother.”

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. †

Our Old Testament reading today was on the Passover. We don’t usually talk about the Passover during the summer months; we think of the Passover at Maundy Thursday, followed by Good Friday and Easter. But it is very appropriate to talk about the Passover for the Sacrament of Holy Communion.

Passover marked a new beginning for the Jews and bound them together as a nation. When the Lord liberates you from bondage, it’s the dawning of a new day and the beginning of a new life. Whenever you meet the words “redeem” or “redemption” in the New Testament, they speak of freedom from slavery. There were an estimated 60 million slaves in the Roman Empire. Jewish believers would immediately think of Passover and Israel’s deliverance from Egypt through the blood of the lamb.

The Jewish nation in the Old Testament had two calendars, a civil calendar that began in our September – October, and a religious calendar that began in our March – April. New Year’s Day in the civil year or Rosh Hashanah fell in the seventh month of the religious calendar and ushered in the special events in the month of Tishri:
the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles. But Passover marked the beginning of the religious year, and at Passover, the focus is on the lamb. Our sacrificial lamb is Jesus Christ.

Isaac’s question “Where is the Lamb?” when he was about to be sacrificed, introduced one of the major themes of the Old Testament as God’s people waited for the Messiah. The question was ultimately answered by John the Baptist when he pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” (John 1:29). That the Passover lamb is a picture of Jesus Christ is affirmed in the New Testament by the Evangelist Philip (Acts 8:32-35; Isa. 53:7-8) as well as by the Apostles Paul (1 Cor. 5:7), Peter (1 Peter 1:18-20), and John (Rev. 5:5-6; 13:8).

The lamb was chosen and examined on the tenth day of the month and carefully watched for four days to make sure it met the divine specifications. There is no question that Jesus met all the requirements to be our Lamb, for the Father said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). During the days preceding Passover, our Lord’s enemies questioned Him repeatedly, waiting for Him to say something they could attack. During His various trials and interrogations, Jesus was repeatedly questioned, and He passed every test. Jesus knew no sin (2 Cor. 5:21), did no sin (1 Peter 2:22), and in Him there was no sin (1 John 3:5). He’s the perfect Lamb of God.

On the fourteenth day of the month, at evening, the lamb was slain (Ex. 12:6a-7; 12-13, 21-24). And its blood was applied to the lintel and side posts of the doors of the houses in which the Jewish families lived. It wasn’t the life of the lamb that saved the people from judgment but the death of the lamb. “Without shedding of blood there is no remission” (Heb. 9:22; Lev. 17:11). Some people claim to admire the life and teachings of Jesus who don’t want to deal with the cross of Jesus; yet it’s His death on the cross that paid the price of our redemption (Matt. 20:28; 26:28; John 3:14-17). Jesus was our substitute; He died our death for us and suffered the judgment of our sin (Isa. 53:4-6; 1 Peter 2:24).

However, to be effective, the blood had to be applied to the doorposts; for God promised, “When I see the blood, I will pass over you” (Ex. 12:13). It isn’t sufficient simply to know that Christ was sacrificed for the sins of the world (John 3:16; 1 John 2:2). We must appropriate that sacrifice for ourselves and be able to say with Paul, “The Son of God loved me, and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20), and with Mary, “My spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46). Our appropriation of the Atonement must be personal: “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).

The Jews dipped flimsy hyssop plants into the basins of blood and applied the blood to the doorposts (Ex. 12:22). Hyssop was later used to sprinkle the blood that ratified the covenant (Ex. 24:1-8) and that cleansed healed lepers (Lev. 14:4, 6, 49, 51-52). Our faith may be as weak as the hyssop, but it’s not faith in our faith that saves us, but faith in the blood of the Savior.

The lamb was roasted and eaten and the eating was done in haste, each family member ready to move out when the signal was given. The meal consisted of the roasted lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs, each of which symbolized an important spiritual truth.

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 appropriate the spiritual nourishment of Jesus Christ and grow in grace and knowledge.

Along with the lamb, the Israelites ate bitter herbs and unleavened bread. Tasting the bitter herbs would remind the Jews of their years of bitter bondage in the land of Egypt. For us, it reminds us of the bondage of sin and death. Their bread was unleavened or without yeast for two reasons: there wasn’t enough time for the bread to rise (Ex. 12:39), and leaven was a symbol of impurity to the Jews.

Yeast is an image of sin: it’s hidden; it works silently and secretly; it spreads and pollutes; and it causes dough to rise or be “puffed up.” Both Jesus and Paul compared false teaching to yeast (Matt. 16:6-12; Mark 8:15; Gal 5:1-9), but it’s also compared to hypocrisy (Luke 12:1) and sinful living (1 Cor. 5:6-8). Paul admonishes local churches to purge out the sin from their midst and present themselves as an unleavened loaf to the Lord.

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained a brother” (Matt. 18:15). When sin is not dealt with honestly, it always spreads. What was once a matter between two people can grow to involve four or five people. This is why both Jesus and Paul compared sin to leaven, because leaven spreads.

If any meat was left over from the feast, it had to be burned. The lamb was so special that is couldn’t be treated like ordinary food. In a similar way when the Israelites were in the wilderness, the manna was special and couldn’t be hoarded from day to day, except for the day before the Sabbath (Ex. 16:14-22).

Though there were many Jewish households in the land of Goshen, God saw all of them as one congregation. When local Christian congregations today meet to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, God sees each individual assembly as part of one body, the church. That’s why Paul could write about “the whole building.. the whole family..the whole body” (Eph. 2:21; 3:15; 4:16). Israel was one nation because of the blood of the lamb, and the church is one fellowship because of Jesus Christ.

“Love one another” is the basic principle of the Christian life. It is the “new commandment” that Christ gave to us (John 13:34). When we practice love, there is no need for any other laws, because love covers it all! If we love others, we will not sin against them. 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.

We have come a long way in our reasons for obeying the law: from fear to conscience to love to our devotion to Jesus Christ! As His servants, we want to be found faithful when He returns. The completion of our salvation is near! The light is dawning! Therefore, we must be ready! The Christian wears the armor of light, not the deeds of darkness.

Jesus Christ is the sacrificial lamb! He is the perfect and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. As we remember the Passover, let us remember the body of Jesus Christ, broken for you; let us remember the blood of Jesus Christ shed for you. May the precious Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, assure us of His grace and a place in His everlasting kingdom.

Let us pray:
O Lord, most merciful and gracious God, who art the strength of all who put their trust in thee. May we love others as you have loved us. Give us the courage to proclaim your saving grace which has been made possible in the broken body and blood of your only begotten Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, in whose name we live and pray.