You Are Witnesses

Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts

May 20, 2012, Easter VII – Ascension Sunday

Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53

From The Acts of the Apostles:

“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end
to the earth.”

From the Letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians:
The immeasurable greatness of his power in us who believe, according to the working of his great might which he accomplished in Christ when he raised him
from the dead and made him sit at his right hand in the heavenly places.

And from the Gospel of St. Luke:
“Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached
in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
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
A few weeks ago, I received a Summons for Jury Service from the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts. I could be called to serve
as a Juror at any time during a fifteen day period. So, I called the court on Friday evening as instructed and found out that I was not needed for this
coming week, however, I was instructed to call next Friday to find out if I was needed for the following week.
I am sure that all of us have received a similar summons in the mail to serve as a juror. Sometimes we get picked to serve on a court case and other times
we spend the day reading a good book.

About five years ago, I received a summons from this same court and I was picked to serve on the jury. I don’t need to go into the details of the case, but
I would like to talk a little about the process.
The prosecution and defense calls witnesses to the stand. The witness is asked, “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth,
so help me God?” And the witness should answer, “I do!” This can be a challenge for a witness to remember all the details, since many cases do not come to
court until several months, if not a year after the alleged crime has been committed.

A witness is somebody who sincerely tells what he has seen and heard. When you are a witness on the witness stand in court, the judge is not interested in
your ideas or opinions; he only wants to hear what you know. So, the jury listens to one witness after another as they testify as to what they know about
the alleged crime. Some witnesses are helpful in getting at the truth, while others may be considered “hostile” and very little information is obtained
from them. Then the jury will deliberate; discuss and sometimes argue as they attempt to piece together the truth of what happened and render a verdict.

As Christians, we are not judges, juries or prosecuting attorneys sent to condemn the world. We are witnesses who point to Jesus Christ and tell lost
sinners how to be saved.

After Jesus’ resurrection, He remained on earth for forty days and ministered to His disciples. We all know the chain of events: Jesus was crucified, dead
and buried and on the third day He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. Today is Ascension Sunday, approximately forty days after Easter. Some of
us may think that when Jesus rose from the dead He immediately went to heaven, but He didn’t. He stayed on earth and ministered to His disciples for forty
days. Why? Because He had more to teach them before they went out and became His witnesses.

Jesus had already opened their minds to understand the Old Testament message about Himself (Luke 24:44-48), but there were other lessons they needed to
learn before they could start their new ministry. After all, the believers were not being sent into the world to share their own personal experiences but
to share the truths of the Word of God. Today we cannot touch and feel the Lord Jesus, nor is it necessary that we do so; but we can rest our faith on the
Word of God (1 John 1:1-5). We need to feed on His Word; read the Bible, seek the truth and call on the power of His Holy Spirit and become effective
witnesses for Jesus Christ. How great it would be if five or ten more people would make the commitment and attend our Bible study!

Jesus not only enabled them to understand the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms, but He also reminded them of what He had taught them, and He explained how
it all fit together. Now they began to understand the necessity for His suffering and death and how the Cross related to the promise of the kingdom.

Jesus appeared and disappeared during those forty days, and the believers never knew when He might show up. It was excellent preparation for the church
because the days were soon coming when He would no longer be on earth to instruct them personally. It’s somewhat similar for us Christians today; we never
know when our Lord will return.

The message of the Gospel rests on the death of Jesus Christ and His resurrection (1 Cor. 15:1-8). The Apostles were sent out as witnesses of His
resurrection (Acts 1:22), and the emphasis in the Book of Acts is on the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This explains why Luke climaxed his book with a report of some of the appearances of Jesus after He had been raised from the dead. He first appeared to
Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18), then to the “other women” (Matt. 28:9-10), and then to the two men on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-22). At some time, He
also appeared to Peter (Luke 24:34) and to His half brother James (1 Cor. 15:7).

One evening, He appeared to the Apostles (Luke 24:36-43), but Thomas was not with them (John 20:19-25). A week later, he appeared to the Apostles again,
especially for the sake of Thomas (John 20:26-31). He appeared to seven of the Apostles when they were fishing at the Sea of Galilee (John 21). He appeared
several times to the Apostles before His ascension, teaching them and preparing them for their ministry (Acts 1:1-12).

The Lord taught His disciples several important lessons during those forty days. To strengthen their faith, He gave them “many infallible proofs,” which
St. Luke did not explain. We know that when Jesus met His disciples, He invited them to touch His body, and He even ate before them (Luke 24:38-43).
Whatever proofs He gave, they were convincing.

Faith in His resurrection was important to the church because their own spiritual power depended on it. If Jesus were dead, the church would be speechless.
Also, the official Jewish position was that the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body from the tomb (Matt. 28:11-15), and the believers had to be able to refute
this as they witnessed to the nation.

These believers were chosen to be special witnesses of Christ’s resurrection, and that was the emphasis in their ministry (Acts 1:22). Most of the people
in Jerusalem knew that Jesus of Nazareth had been crucified, but they did not know that He had been raised from the dead. By their words, their walk, and
their mighty works, the believers told the world that Jesus was alive!

When you read the four Gospels, you discover that the Apostles had a strongly political view of the kingdom. Being loyal Jews, they longed for the defeat
of their enemies and the final establishment of the glorious kingdom under the rule of King Messiah. They did not realize that there must first be a
spiritual change in the hearts of the people.

Jesus did not rebuke them when they “kept asking” about the future Jewish kingdom (Acts 1:7). After all, He had opened their minds to understand the
Scriptures (Luke 24:44), so they knew what they were asking. But God has not revealed His timetable to us and it is futile for us to speculate. The
important thing is not to be curious about the future but to be busy in the present, sharing and witnessing the message of God’s spiritual kingdom.

Our Lord’s ascension into heaven was an important part of Jesus’ ministry, for if He had not returned to the Father, He could not have sent the promised
gift of the Holy Spirit (John 16:5-15). Also, in heaven today, the Saviour is our interceding High Priest, giving us the grace that we need for life and
service (Heb. 4:14-16). He is also our Advocate before the Father, forgiving us when we confess our sins (1 John 1:9-2:2). The exalted and glorified Head
of the church is now working with His people on earth and helping them to witness and accomplish His purposes (Mark 16:19-20).

Next Sunday we will be celebrating Pentecost. On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon the church and empowered them to preach the Word (Acts 2).
After Pentecost, the Spirit continued to fill them with great power.

The power is seen in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament, people measured God’s power by His creation (Isa. 40:12-27) or by His miracle
at the Exodus of Israel from Egypt (Jer. 16:14). But today, we measure God’s power by the miracle of Christ’s resurrection. Much more was involved than
merely raising Him from the dead for Christ also ascended to heaven and sat down in the place of authority at the right hand of God. He is not only
Saviour; He is also Sovereign (Acts 2:25-36), No authority or power, human or in the spirit world, is greater than that of Jesus Christ, the exalted Son of
God. He is “far above all” powers.

How does this apply to us? St. Paul explains that because we are believers, we are in the church, which is Christ’s body – and He is the Head. This means
that there is a living connection between you and Christ. Physically speaking, the head controls the body and keeps the body functioning properly. Injure
certain parts of the brain and you handicap or paralyze corresponding parts of the body. Christ is our spiritual Head. Through the Spirit, we are united to
Him as the members of His body. This means that we share His resurrection, ascension, and exaltation.

Witnessing is not something that we do for the Lord; it is something that He does through us, if we are filled with the Holy Spirit. There is a great
difference between a “sales talk” and a Spirit-empowered witness. “Simon Peter came to Jesus because Andrew went after him with a testimony.” We go forth
in the authority of His name, in the power of His spirit, heralding His Gospel of His grace.

If we are to be witnesses for Christ, we must grow in the knowledge of God. To know God personally is salvation (John 17:3). To know Him increasingly is
sanctification (Phil. 3:10). To know Him perfectly is glorification (1 Cor. 13:9-12). Since we are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-28), the better we
know God, the better we know ourselves and each other. It is not enough to know God only as Saviour. We must get to know Him as Father, Friend, Guide, and
the better we know Him, the more satisfying our spiritual lives will be and the better witnesses we will be.

Court is in session. The jury has been assembled. Will your testimony convince the jury that you are a disciple of Jesus Christ? Your honor, guilty as

Let us pray:

O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: Do not leave us comfortless, but send
us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Saviour Christ has gone before. Teach us what we need to know, so that we may be
your witnesses to a lost world and bring glory to you. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives, and reigns with you and the Holy
Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting.


Pruning Yields Better Fruit

The Reverend J. Howard Cepelak

Trinity Church

Waltham, Massachusetts

Easter VI – 6 May 2012 – The Sacrament of Holy Communion

Acts 8:26-40, Psalm 22:25-31, I John 4:7-21, John 15:1-8

From the Book of the Acts of the Apostles:

Under the influence of the Holy Spirit, Philip encountered the Ethiopian eunuch reading Isaiah’s account of the suffering servant. He asks Philip, About
whom, pray, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?

From the First Letter of St. John:

In an eloquent discourse on the nature of holy love, St. John wrote, In this is love perfected with us, that we may have confidence for the day of
judgment…There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment….

From the Gospel According to St. John:

Jesus said, I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear
fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples.

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


Although I have entitled this morning’s homily, Pruning Yields Better Fruit, obviously taking these words from the assigned Gospel lesson, the message
concerns itself not only with pruning – a painful kind of trimming or cutting back – but also with suffering in general, its meaning and purpose.

Why we suffer in this life remains a central question entertained by both theologians and philosophers and nearly every one else for that matter. This is not new, yet it seems that every generation thinks of itself as the first to deal with this essential issue of human life. Yet the issue is, in fact, as
old as time itself.

The Book of Job, perhaps the oldest story in the Bible and found in the sacred writings and folklore of other ancient civilizations, deals precisely with
the issue of suffering – especially when a good man suffers unjustly. And this story, in one form or another, is just about as old as human history.

In the current malaise of secular humanism, the question virtually haunts those who do not believe in the divine sanctification of suffering – a
sanctification that can be found exclusively in Jesus Christ. Without the cross, the meaning and purpose of suffering never comes clear. No matter how much
thought, speculation and intellectual conversation one may indulge, no satisfactory answer ever arises. The ancients failed to come to a satisfying answer
and contemporary thinkers fail as well. Hence, the modern humanist experiences the void of meaninglessness that in the extreme can be a living hell.
Imagine an empty, angry, futile and meaningless life.

Without the cross on which our Lord unjustly suffered and died so that we could live – without that divine reference point, suffering in this life can only
lead to that state of bitterness and despair – a condition from which they flee taking refuge in sex, drugs, reckless thrill seeking and even in violence.
But I am ahead of myself. Let’s look at our lessons.

When the Holy Spirit led Philip to the Ethiopian eunuch, a servant to the Queen Mother of his nation – for Candace is the title given to the Nubian Queen
Mother – he is reading aloud from the writings of the prophet Isaiah. In fact, although a gentile, he finds himself attracted to Judaism. No reason is
given for his interest. He just is.

When he meets up with Philip, the eunuch is returning to his home country after having just visited Jerusalem to worship in the Temple – or near the Temple
for gentiles were not permitted in the inner courts of the Temple. But just being close to the Temple, the center for the worship of the One True God in
the ancient world, apparently, was enough for him. He found something compelling in the religion of The One True God as opposed to the religions of his own
country involving many divinities.

Whatever the case, he was reading Isaiah – the part about the unjust suffering of the servant of the Lord. Meeting and conversing with Philip, he asked the
apostle if Isaiah is refereeing to himself or to someone else. Philip then explained how the prophet was speaking of the Lord’s servant and how this
prophecy had been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. With that explanation, the eunuch requested baptism and Philip, led by the Holy Spirit, baptized the man.

Now, I think that it’s safe to say that for the Ethiopian, like most people of his time, suffering meant that one had incurred the disfavor of the gods and
was being punished. Sin brought punishment. People feared the divine wrath.

In fact, the fear of suffering in all of its forms from physical illness to a condition of blindness or paralysis or suffering inflicted by someone else
like a beating from a thief or torture at the hands of one’s enemies – all of it meant that somehow and in some way, you had sinned- either intentionally
or unintentionally – it didn’t matter – the result was the same; the gods were angry with you. You were being punished.

Fear of calling down the wrath of the gods served as a prime motivating factor in most religions. (It continues today in one major world religion. Fear of
the wrath of God motivates grotesque behavior.) Hence, in order to avoid angering the gods, one offered sacrifices of appeasement. Worship, being primarily
the offering of such sacrifices had very little to do with the divine and holy love of God for His creatures but much more so with the fear of suffering.

The idea of divine and holy love of which St. John so eloquently writes – a love so perfect as to cast out fear – well such a love had no place in the
gentile religions.

Again, I want to emphasize that Christ’s suffering on the cross for the sake of our salvation changed – and changes – everything. His suffering proves
God’s perfect love. His suffering takes onto Himself the punishment due to fallen mankind. His suffering saves because His suffering is the only perfect
intersection of God and man – of the divine and the human – of holy love casting out human fear – the only intersection that can save.

After the cross, suffering can no longer be thought of as just a punishment for sin. Jesus taught us this most important lesson in the healing of the man
born blind. His disciples asked Him, Who sinned this man or his parents that he was born blind. And Jesus answered that it was not an issue of sin but
rather an opportunity for the works of the Lord to be made manifest in this man’s suffering through his healing. Holy love once again trumps human fear.

Yet suffering can be a consequence of sin. Sin carries with it it’s own punishment – at least in some cases. And when we, as the children of God, do bad
things, God, because He loves us, disciplines us. This discipline – which often hurts – is our pruning so that we will become better people, bearing better
fruit of salvation and bringing honor and glory to the God who loves us with a perfect and holy love.

If we think about it, some of our lives’ most important lessons – lessons well learned -resulted from our sufferings. We learn to avoid danger because it
hurts. Playing with matches can burn. Burning hurts. Hence, we learn how to use matches rather than play carelessly with them.

His love – not our fear -saves us. And He proves His love by taking on our suffering, sanctifying it. And when I say He takes on our suffering, I mean that
He takes on the totality of our suffering – the suffering that we experience as part of our human condition as well as the suffering that we bring onto
ourselves because of our own willful and bad behavior. You get the point.

He who had no sin became sin to remove sin. So says St. Paul. He takes our sin and redeems it. And in the redemption, He removes it as a barrier to
salvation. And salvation means eternal life in an ever increasing joy resulting from God’s perfect love.

With God the Father’s self-sacrifice in God the Son – on the cross – He ends – once and for all – the felt necessity to offer any sacrifice for appeasement
or expiation. His broken body makes us whole. His shed blood redeems the soul. He was – and is – and will be forever – the one full, perfect and all
sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. All blood sacrifice ends with the shedding of Christ’s blood – His blood shed for the remission of

And I feel compelled to say to all those who in their secularism and in their humanism do not believe in the redeeming nature of Jesus Christ, that they
can be set free from their anger, meaninglessness an despair by a simple act of faith in the power of God. Like the Ethiopian eunuch, they can find the
truth – if they will accept it.

And if anyone should believe that Christ’s saving sacrifice is not important in this world, please look at another world religion that believes that by
shedding Christian and Jewish blood- as well as pagan blood – they can cleanse themselves from their sin and gain eternal reward in heaven. By killing the
so-called infidel, they gain the remission of their sins – so they erroneously believe. A religion based on the fear of divine wrath, they murder in a
divine name. Believing they gain heaven, they inherit hell.

Like Philip – and St. John as well as all the other disciples and apostles, our job is to proclaim the eternal Truth of the redemption available only in
and through the broken body and shed blood of Jesus Christ. Nothing else can save us. Nothing else can save anyone else. Simple as that.

Proclaiming this message – boldly -constitutes the bearing of the good fruit that God expects from His people. It honors and glorifies God.

As He offered Himself on the cross for the sake of our salvation, so He continues to nurture us as we receive this great Sacrament of Salvation.

So come to this sacred table – not because you must but because you may – and eat the bread of heaven and drink of the cup of salvation.

Let us pray.

Heavenly Father, bless your church on earth with the full conviction of the Truth of your saving grace. Bless all who believe with the courage to proclaim
this to those who do not believe that in our proclamation, innocent lives may be saved from ungodly killers. Grant the full realization of your kingdom and
deliver us from all evil – both now and forever. We ask this in the name of

and for the sake of

your Son, Jesus Christ,

the only Saviour of the whole world,