Return on Investment

Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
August 4, 2013, Pentecost XI

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23; Psalm 49:1-12; Colossians 3:1-11, Luke 12:13-21

From the Old Testament:
What has a man from all the toil and strain with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of pain, and his work is a vexation; even in the night his mind does not rest.

From St. Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians:
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

And from the Gospel of St. Luke:
But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.

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 don’t know how many of you have been watching for the last several weeks, a show on TNT called The Hero. It was a reality TV show that sought to define what a hero was. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was the host and tested the strength, courage, and integrity of a diverse group of nine individuals. Each week, the contestants were tested physically, mentally, and morally, as they tried to prove which one truly deserved the title of “The Hero” and the life-changing grand prize that went with it. With temptations around every corner, America watched to see the contestants as they sought to overcome, undergo, and sacrifice on behalf of themselves and others.

The winner of The Hero challenge was Patty. What you may not know is the connection she has to this church. Patty is the daughter of Joe Hallowell, and the sister of Debi Hallowell.

Patty was asked, “What do you think it means to be a hero?” She answered, “A kind, selfless act or gesture that is given without the thought of receiving any praise or gratitude.” Patty proved that throughout the show.

In our Gospel reading today, a man in the crowd asked Jesus to settle a family dispute. Rabbis of that day were expected to settle legal matters, but Jesus refused to get involved. Why? Because He knew that no answer He gave would solve the real problem, which was covetousness in the hearts of the two brothers. As long as both men were greedy, no settlement would be satisfactory. Their greatest need was to have their hearts changed. Like too many people today, they wanted Jesus to serve them but not to save them.

During The Hero’s challenge, there were temptations around every corner. Every episode had at least one random offer to a contestant to take some money or put it into the grand prize “pot.” These offers were $35,000 and up. Two of the contestants took the offer, explaining that “their family could use it,” however, they were somewhat chastised for it by the other contestants. Patty was tempted five separate times for a total of $180,000, but each time she turned it down. She put the needs of the other contestants before her own.

Covetousness is an unquenchable thirst for getting more and more of something we think we need in order to be truly satisfied. It may be a thirst for money or the things that money can buy, or even a thirst for position and power. Jesus made it clear that true life does not depend on an abundance of possessions. He did not deny that we have certain basic needs (Matt. 6:32; 1 Tim. 6:17). He only affirmed that we will not make life richer by acquiring more of these things.

Jesus told this parable of the Rich Fool, to reveal the dangers that lurk in a covetous heart. How do you respond to the wealthy farmer’s dilemma? Here was a man who had a problem with too much wealth! If we say, “I wish I had that problem!” we may be revealing covetousness in our hearts.

Suppose you inherited a great deal of wealth, would it create a problem for you? Or would you simply praise God and ask Him what He wanted you to do with it? There is an expression, “Money is the root of all evil” and it’s true. When money is involved, a person’s true character may be revealed. When family inheritance is involved, especially if the distribution is not even, it can unite a family or tear it apart.

There are perils to prosperity (Prov. 30:7-9). Wealth can choke the Word of God (Matt. 13:22), create snares and temptations (1 Tim. 6:6-10; 17-19), and give you a false sense of security. People say that money does not satisfy, but it does satisfy if you want to live on that level. People who are satisfied only with the things that money can buy are in great danger of losing the things that money cannot buy. What is really important?

This farmer saw his wealth as an opportunity to please himself. He had no thoughts of others or of God.

How do you respond to the decisions of the rich man? One might say, “Now that was a shrewd business man! He had an abundant crop, so he decided to store it away for the future; perhaps he could even retire. Don’t we do something similar with our wealth?
If we are able, don’t we save for our retirement? Some of us have a pension, Social Security, IRA or 401k retirement plan, where we save for our retirement. This is not wrong, in fact, it is quite smart. So, why did Jesus see this man to be selfish in all that this man did, and proclaim that this man was a fool? It was because this man thought only of himself. It’s what we do with our wealth that determines our character and our relationship with God. It determines who the Hero is; and what return we receive on our investment; and where we spend eternity.

There is certainly nothing wrong with following good business principles, or even with saving for the future (1 Tim. 5:8). Jesus does not encourage waste (John 6:12). But neither does He encourage selfishness motivated by covetousness.

How do you respond to the farmer’s desires? Should we say, “This is the life! The man has success, satisfaction, and security! What more could he want?” But Jesus did not see this farmer enjoying life; He saw him facing death! Wealth cannot keep us alive when our time comes to die, nor can it buy back the opportunities we missed while we were thinking of ourselves and ignoring God and others.

Jesus made it clear that true life does not come from an abundance of things, nor do true success or security. This farmer had a false view of both life and death. He thought that life came from accumulating things, and that death was far away. On March 11, 1856, Henry David Thoreau wrote in his journal, “That man is richest whose pleasures are cheapest.” He also said, “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.” In other words, “the best things in life are free.”

There was one episode on The Hero where three contestants were brought to a bus “graveyard.” One contestant had to go onto a bus filled with bees to get the next clue. There was another bus where the contestant would be sprayed with tear gas. Patty was not one of the three contestants, but she was brought in and given a challenge and temptation. She could take the place of the contestant and be sprayed with the tear gas or receive $35,000. She chose to be sprayed with the tear gas, and she was so sick she was taken to the hospital. She chose to put another person’s health and well-being ahead of her own.

Patty was asked, “What three things you couldn’t live without?” She responded, “My family, who I adore, my friends who mean the world to me, and my lipstick!” Patty has a wonderful family, a husband and three children; and of course, we know other members of her family. It makes perfect sense why she earned the title “The Hero.”

Finally, how do you respond to the death of the boastful farmer? We are prone to say, “Too bad this fellow died just when he had everything going for him! How tragic that he could not enjoy his abundance.” But the greatest tragedy is not what the man left behind but what lay before him: eternity without God! This man invested in earthly things and lost everything in the heavenly things. The man lived without God and died without God, and his wealth was but an incident in his life. God is not impressed with wealth, in and of itself; it’s what we do with the wealth and gifts we are given, that matters.
What does it mean to be “rich toward God?” It means to acknowledge gratefully that everything we have comes from God, and then make an effort to use what He gives us for the good of others and the glory of God. Wealth can be enjoyed and employed at the same time if our purpose is to honor God (1 Tim. 6:10ff). To be rich toward God means spiritual enrichment, not just personal enjoyment.

“Life is filled with difficulties and perplexities,” King Solomon concluded, “and there’s much that nobody can understand, let alone control. From the human point of view, it’s all vanity and folly. But life is God’s gift to us and He wants us to enjoy it and use it for His glory. So, instead of complaining about what you don’t have, why not start giving thanks for what you do have – and be satisfied!”

Life without Jesus Christ is indeed “vanity and vexation of spirit” (Eccl. 1:14). But when you know Him personally, and live for Him faithfully, you experience “fullness of Joy [and] pleasures forever more” (Ps. 16:11).

King Solomon seemed to hate life, but he also hated the wealth that was the result of his toil. Of course, Solomon was born wealthy, and great wealth came to him because he was the king. But he was looking at life “under the sun” and speaking for the “common people” who were listening to his discussion.

Christ is our life. Eternal life is not some heavenly substance that God imparts when we, as sinners, trust the Saviour. Eternal life is Jesus Christ Himself. “He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life” (1 John 5:12). We are dead and alive at the same time – dead to sin and alive in Christ.

It has been said, “Life is what you are alive to.” A child may come alive when you talk about a baseball game or an ice-cream cone. A teenager may come alive when you mention cars or dates. Paul wrote, “For to me to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21). Christ was Paul’s life and he was alive to anything that related to Christ. So should it be with every believer.

We no longer belong to the world, but to Christ; and the sources of life that we enjoy come only from Him. “Hidden in Christ” means security and satisfaction. The Greek scholar, Dr. A.T. Robertson, comments on this: “So here we are in Christ who is in God, and no burglar, not even Satan himself, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:31-39).

The Christian life is a “hidden life” as far as the world is concerned, because the world does not know Christ. Our sphere of life is not of this earth, but heaven; and the things that attract us and excite us belong to heaven, not to earth. This does not mean that we should ignore our earthly responsibilities. Rather it means that our motives and our strength come from heaven, not earth.

Now in view of our wonderful identification with Christ, we have a great responsibility; “Seek those things which are above” (Col. 3:1). Through Christ’s death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, we have been separated from the old life of this world, and we now belong to a new heavenly life.

But how do we “seek those things which are above?” The secret is found in our Epistle reading: “Habitually set your mind – your attention – on things above, not on things on the earth.” Our feet must be on earth, but our minds must be in heaven; we must focus on the prize. This is not to suggest, as D. L. Moody did, that we become “so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good.” It means that the practical everyday affairs of life get their direction from Christ in heaven. It also means that we look at earth from heaven’s point of view.

In our Epistle reading, Paul mentioned several sensual sins: “fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col. 3:5). Covetousness is the sin of always wanting more, whether it be more things or more pleasures. The covetous person is never satisfied with what he has, and he is usually envious of what other people have. This is idolatry, for covetousness puts things in the place of God. “Thou shalt not covet” is the last of the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:17). Yet this sin can make us break all of the other nine! A covetous person will dishonor God, take God’s name in vain, lie, steal, and commit every other sin in order to satisfy his sinful desires.

Because we are alive in Christ, we must seek the things that are above. And, because we died with Christ, we must put off the things that belong to the earthly life of past sin. The result is that we can become like Jesus Christ! God wants to renew us and make us into the image of His Son!

We were formed in God’s image, and deformed from God’s image by sin. But through Jesus Christ, we can be transformed into God’s image! We must be renewed in the spirit of our minds (Eph. 4:23). As we grow in knowledge of the Word of God, we will be transformed by the Spirit of God to share in the glorious image of God (2 Cor. 3:18). God transforms us by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:2), and this involves the study of God’s Word. It is the truth that sets us free from the old life (John 8:31-32).

During the filming of The Hero reality show, these contestants sought to define for us, but also for themselves, what a Hero is. They were tested on courage, teamwork, trust, heart, honesty, endurance, and sacrifice. They invested eight weeks of their lives in a quest to find the answer to the question: “who is a Hero?” Although there was only one grand prize, most of the contestants came away with rich rewards. As Christians, we know where our riches are: they are in heaven.

Let us pray:
Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. AMEN!

If My People Will Pray

Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
July 28, 2013, Pentecost X

Hosea 1:2-10; Psalm 85; Colossians 2:6-15, Luke 11:1-13

From the Old Testament:
Yet the number of the people of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which can be neither measured nor numbered; and in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people, “ it shall be said to them, “Sons of the living God.”

From St. Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians:
For in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness of life in Him, who is head of all rule and authority.

And from the Gospel of St. Luke:
He was praying in a certain place, and when he ceased, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” [And He taught them the Lord’s Prayer.]

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

We are truly blessed to have a friend, a best friend; someone who is always there for us whenever there is a need; someone who will listen to us when we have a problem; and someone who will give us advice, even if we don’t think we need it.

All of us long to have a friend like that, someone who can identify with our circumstances and share in our day-to-day life. Prayer is just that – a personal experience and intimate connection with our loving Heavenly Father.

What is prayer? Prayer is our direct line with heaven. Prayer is a communication process that allows us to talk to God! He wants us to communicate with Him, like a person-to-person phone call. Cell phones and other devices have become a necessity to some people in today’s society. We have Bluetooth devices, blackberries, and talking computers! These are means of communications that allow two or more people to interact, discuss, and respond to one another. For too many people, prayer seems complicated, but it is simply talking to God.
We usually think of John the Baptist as a prophet and martyr, and yet our Lord’s disciples remembered him as a man of prayer. John was a “miracle baby,” filled with the Holy Spirit before he was born, and yet he had to pray. He was privileged to introduce the Messiah to Israel, and yet he had to pray. Jesus said that John was the greatest of the prophets (Luke 7:28), and yet John has to depend on prayer. If prayer was that vital to a man who had these many advantages, how much more important it ought to be to us who do not have these advantages!

John’s disciples had to pray and Jesus’ disciples wanted to learn better how to pray. They did not ask the Master to teach them how to preach or do great signs; they asked Him to teach them to pray. We today sometimes think that we would be better Christians if only we had been with Jesus when He was on earth, but this is not likely. The disciples were with Him and yet they failed many times! They could perform miracles, and yet they wanted to learn to pray.

But the greatest argument for the priority of prayer is the fact that our Lord was a Man of prayer. Thus far we have seen that He prayed at His baptism (Luke 3:21), before He chose the Twelve (Luke 6:12), when the crowds increased (Luke 5:16), before He asked the Twelve for their confession of faith (Luke 9:18), and at His Transfiguration (Luke 9:29). The disciples knew that He often prayed alone (Mark 1:35), and they wanted to learn from Him this secret of spiritual power and wisdom.

If Jesus Christ, the perfect Son of God, had to depend on prayer during “the days of His flesh” (Heb. 5:7), then how much more do you and I need to pray! Effective prayer is the provision for every need and the solution for every problem.

So when Jesus’ disciples asked Him to teach them to pray, it must have brought joy to Jesus’ heart. So Jesus taught them the prayer that has come to be known as The Lord’s Prayer, not because Jesus prayed it, but because Jesus taught it. There is nothing wrong with praying this prayer personally or as part of a congregation, so long as we do it from a believing heart that is sincere and submitted. How easy it is to “recite” these words and not really mean them, but that can happen even when we sing and preach! The fault lies with us, not with this prayer.

When I was a teenager in a church youth group, one day the youth director asked the group a question as part of an exercise. He asked us, “If there was something you could change about the worship service, then what would it be?” Well, there were a number of interesting suggestions. Then I raised my hand and said, “I think we should do away with all the repetitive things that we say by memory, such as The Lord’s Prayer or the Apostles Creed, because people just recite them and they don’t have any meaning.” Well the youth director responded very calmly and said, “Well, that may be that reciting prayers like The Lord’s Prayer have no meaning to some people, but how is it with you?” I learned a very important lesson that day. You get out of the worship service, what you put into it.

The Lord’s Prayer is a “pattern prayer,” given to guide us in our own praying. It teaches us that true prayer depends on a spiritual relationship with God that enables us to call Him “Father,” and this can come only through faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:14-17; Gal. 4:1-7).

President Lyndon Johnson’s press secretary, Bill Moyers, was saying grace at a staff lunch, and the President shouted, “Speak up, Bill! I can’t hear a thing!” Moyers quietly replied, “I wasn’t addressing you, Mr. President.” It is good to remind ourselves that when we pray, we talk to God.

The Bible says we should pray for each other. Jesus set an example for us on what to pray. He prayed for His disciples and for every generation to come that would follow Him. His prayer was that God protect and strengthen them as long as they were in this world. Jesus also prayed for those who would come to believe in Him through the Gospel message (John 17).

We should also pray with faith. “So, you see, it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that there is a God and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him” (Heb. 11:6).

And we should pray with worship and reverence. “Exalt the Lord our God! Bow low before His feet, for He is holy!” (Psalm 99:5).

True prayer also involves responsibilities: honoring God’s kingdom and doing God’s will (Luke 11:2). It has well been said that the purpose of prayer is not to get man’s will done in heaven, but to get God’s will done on earth. Prayer is not telling God what we want and then selfishly enjoying it. Prayer is asking God to use us to accomplish what He wants so that His name is glorified, His kingdom is extended and strengthened, and His will is done.

Jesus often shared the importance of prayer with His disciples. We often think of the Lord’s Prayer as Jesus’ model prayer, but He shared much more about prayer with His disciples.

Jesus told His disciples, “Until now you have asked for nothing in my name.” It is not as though the disciples had not learned to pray before this. Jesus prayed with them regularly and often taught them about prayer.

Curiously, before this Jesus had not suggested that the disciples pray in His name. The Lord’s Prayer includes no such statement. But as they stood at the threshold of a whole new life era, Jesus instructed them to pray in His name – to ask the Father on behalf of the Son. When they walked out the door of the upper room about fifty days later on Pentecost – their world would be vastly different. They would have entered into a whole new realm of spiritual warfare. The evil one, whose heel had been bruised at the cross, would escalate the spiritual conflict as the church of Jesus Christ was established on Pentecost with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus told them in the upper room that a radical change was coming in regard to prayer: “I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name” (John 16:23). Why will the Father give us what we ask in the name of Jesus? The answer is simple enough: he will do this if and when we are engaged in fulfilling the mission that Jesus gave us.

The process by which the Father will give us what we ask is directly linked to our appointment to go and bear fruit. The Father will give us what we need in order to accomplish this primary task of bearing lasting fruit for the kingdom of God. He will answer prayers in Jesus’ name when we are fulfilling Jesus’ mission – to help complete the purchase of people for God from every language and tribe and people and nation.

It is important for Christians to know the Word of God, for there we discover the will of God. We must never separate prayer and the Word (John 15:7).

Once we are secure in our relationship with God and His will, then we can bring our requests to Him (Luke 11:3-4). We can ask Him to provide our needs for today, to forgive us for what we have done yesterday, and to lead us in the future. All of our needs may be included in these three requests: material and physical provision, moral and spiritual perfection, and divine protection and direction. If we pray this way, we can be sure of praying in God’s will.

Also in our Gospel reading today, Jesus tells His disciples a parable, about going to a friend and asking to borrow three loaves of bread. In this parable, Jesus did not say that God is like this grouchy neighbor. In fact, He said just the opposite. If a tired and selfish neighbor finally meets the needs of a bothersome friend, how much more will a loving Heavenly Father meet the needs of His own dear children!

Jesus told us that the Father cares about us. We are, after all, more valuable than the birds of the air that He cares for, feeds, and clothes (Matt. 6:28-32). Paul instructs us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Phil. 4:6-7).

We have already seen that prayer is based on sonship (“Our Father”), not on friendship; but Jesus used friendship in this parable to illustrate persistence in prayer. God the Father is not like this neighbor, for He never sleeps, never gets impatient or irritable, is always generous, and delights in meeting the needs of His children. The friend at the door had to keep on knocking in order to get what he needed, but God is quick to respond to His children’s cries (Luke 18:1-8).

The argument is clear: If persistence finally paid off as a man beat on the door of a reluctant friend, how much more would persistence bring blessing as we pray to a loving Heavenly Father! It was the custom of the day to provide hospitality to strangers (Gen. 18:1ff). If a person refused to entertain a guest, he brought disgrace on the whole village and the neighbors would have nothing to do with him; so he got up and met the need.

Why does our Father in heaven answer prayer? Not just to meet the needs of His children, but to meet them in such a way that it brings glory to His name. “Hallowed be Thy name.” When God’s people pray, God’s reputation is at stake. The way He takes care of His children is a witness to the world that He can be trusted. Phillips Brooks was an Episcopal priest and Bishop in the early 1890’s. He was known for being the lyricist of “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” He said that prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance; it is laying hold of His highest willingness. Persistence in prayer is not an attempt to change God’s mind (“Thy will be done”) but to get ourselves to the place where He can trust us with the answer.

The power of prayer is not the result of the person praying. Rather, the power resides in the God who is being prayed to. 1 John 5:14-15 tells us, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of Him.” No matter the person praying, the passion behind the prayer, or the purpose of the prayer – God answers prayers that are in agreement with His will. His answers are not always yes, but are always in our best interest. When our desires line up with His will, we will come to understand that in time. When we pray passionately and purposefully, according to God’s will, God responds powerfully!

What are the promises for prayer? “Keep on asking…keep on seeking…keep on knocking.” In other words, don’t come to God only in the midnight emergencies, but keep in constant communion with your Father. Jesus called this “abiding” (John 15:1ff), and Paul exhorted, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thes. 5:17). As we pray, God will either answer or show us why He cannot answer. Then it is up to us to do whatever is necessary in our lives so that the Father can trust us with the answer.

The emphasis is on God as Father (Luke 11:11-13). Because He knows us and loves us, we never need to be afraid of the answers that He gives. If an earthly father gives what is best to his children, surely the Father in heaven will do even more.

The Word of God is full of accounts describing the power of prayer in various situations. The power of prayer has overcome enemies (Psalm 6:9-10), conquered death (2 Kings 4:3-36), brought healing (James 5:14-15), and defeated demons (Mark 9:29). God, through prayer, opens eyes, changes hearts, heals wounds, and grants wisdom (James 1:5). The power of prayer should never be underestimated because it draws on the glory and might of the infinitely powerful God of the universe!

You will know with confidence that God can hear you when you pray, so open that line of communication! Pray, knowing that no matter how far you roam, your connection with Him can never be lost!

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

Take Time to be Holy

Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
July 21, 2013, Pentecost IX

Amos 8:1-12; Psalm 52; Colossians 1:15-28, Luke 10:38-42

From the Old Testament:
Thus the Lord God showed me, behold, a basket of summer fruit.

From St. Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians:
To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man mature in Christ.

And from the Gospel of St. Luke:
Now as they went on their way he entered a village; and a woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.

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

We live in very busy, complex and exciting times. Our technology is expanding constantly. If we were to look at just the cell phone and what it can do; it’s just amazing. How can anyone exist without a cell phone? Today, you can call someone, text, email, and go on the internet; all from your cell phone. The cell phone has become the new addiction. Perhaps the new Messiah!

We quite often get caught up in the material things of this world; the “busy things” that stimulate us and bring us enjoyment and makes life easier. The television is another technology wonder; we have the ability via cable or satellite, to choose from hundreds of channels.

So then Sunday morning comes along and we have a decision to make: should we take one hour out of our busy schedule to attend a worship service? Should we take one hour or even 15 minutes a day to read and meditate on God’s Holy Word? What are our priorities? What would God want us to do?
Worship is at the heart of all that we are and all that we do in the Christian life. It is important that we are busy ambassadors, taking the message of the Gospel to lost souls. It is also essential to be merciful Samaritans, seeking to help exploited and hurting people who need God’s mercy. But before we can represent Christ as we should, or imitate Him in our caring ministry, we must spend time with Him and learn from Him. We must “take time to be holy.”

In our Old Testament reading, Amos proclaimed to the Jews that their deception included the desecration of the Sabbath and the religious holy days. The worship of God interrupted their business, and they didn’t like it. It was not surprising that the Gentile merchants would ignore the holy days (Neh. 13:15-22), but certainly not the Jewish merchants. Have we not done the same thing ourselves with the elimination of the Sunday blue laws? Are not stores opened for shopping on Sundays and holy days? Are not athletic events or practices scheduled on Sundays?

In the Old Testament, God’s people had an earthly inheritance, the land of Canaan. Christians today have a spiritual inheritance in Christ. Canaan is not a picture of heaven, for there will be no battles or defeats in heaven. Canaan is a picture of our present inheritance in Christ. We must claim our inheritance by faith as we step out on the promises of God. Day by day, we claim our blessings; talk with our Lord, and this makes us even more thankful to God.

God called the nation of Israel to be His people, He gave them His Law (including the priesthood and sacrifices), and He gave them a wonderful land. He promised them a King who would one day establish a glorious kingdom and fulfill the many promises made to Abraham and David.

We need spiritual intelligence if we are going to live to please God. We also need practical obedience in our walk and work. But the result of all this must be spiritual power in the inner man, power that leads to joyful patience and long-suffering, with thanksgiving.

God often used common objects to teach important spiritual truths, objects like pottery (Jer. 18-19), seed (Luke 8:11), yeast (Matt. 16:6, 11), and in our Old Testament reading, a basket of summer (ripe) fruit. Just as this fruit was ripe for eating, the nation of Israel was ripe for judgment. It was the end of the harvest for the farmers, and it would be the end for Israel when the harvest judgment came.

There comes a time when God’s long-suffering runs out (Isa. 55:6-7) and judgment is decreed. The songs at the temple would become funeral dirges with weeping and wailing, and corpses would be thrown everywhere and not given proper burial. It would be a bitter harvest for Israel as the nation reaped what it sowed.

The reason was simple: Israel had broken God’s law and failed to live by His covenant. The first table of the Law has to do with our relationship to God and the second table with our relationship to others, and Israel had rebelled against both. They did not love God, and they did not love their neighbors (Matt. 22:36-40).

Jesus Christ came to earth, was rejected by His people, and was crucified. He arose again and returned to heaven. Did this mean that God’s promised kingdom for Israel was now abandoned? No, because God had initiated a new program – His mystery – that was not explained by the Old Testament prophets. The mystery is that today God is uniting Jews and Gentiles in the church (Eph. 2:11-22). When the church is completed, then Jesus Christ will return and take His people to heaven (1 Thes. 4:13-18).

Imagine what this message meant to the Gentiles. They were no longer excluded from the glory and riches of God’s grace!

We who have grown up in Christian surroundings have a tendency to take all of this for granted. But think of the excitement this message must have generated in the Colossae church composed of new believers who had no background in the church. Once they were outside the covenants of God, but now they were members of His family. Once they were living in spiritual ignorance and death, but now they were alive and sharing in the riches of God’s wisdom in Christ. Once they had no hope, but now they had a glorious hope because Christ now lived within!

Man’s greatest problem is sin – a problem that can never be solved by a philosopher or a religious teacher. Sinners need a Saviour. Jesus Christ did not release us from bondage, only to have us wander aimlessly. He moved us into His own kingdom of light and made us victors over Satan’s kingdom of darkness.

In recent years, the church has rediscovered the freedom of forgiveness. God’s forgiveness of sinners is an act of His grace. We did not deserve to be forgiven, nor can we earn forgiveness. Knowing that we are forgiven makes it possible for us to fellowship with God, enjoy His grace, and seek to do His will. Forgiveness is not an excuse for sin; rather, it is an encouragement for obedience. And, because we have been forgiven, we can forgive others (Col. 3:13).

Paul wrote that Christ solved the sin problem on the cross once and for all. This means that one day God can bring together in Christ all people that belong to Him (Eph. 1:9-10). He will be able to glorify believers and punish unbelievers, and do it justly, because of Christ’s death on the cross.

Jesus made it clear that the Son is to be worshiped as well as the Father “that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent Him” (John 5:23-24).

The purpose of reconciliation between God and man is personal holiness. God does not make peace (Col. 1:20) so that we can continue to rebel against Him. He has reconciled us to Himself so that we may share His life and His holiness. We are presented to God “holy and unblamable (without blemish) and unreproveable (free from accusation)” (Col. 1:22).

Mary of Bethany is seen three times in the Gospel record, and on each occasion, she is in the same place: at the feet of Jesus. She sat at His feet and listened to His word (Luke 10:39), fell at His feet and shared her woe when Lazarus died (John 11:32), and came to His feet and poured out her worship and anointed Jesus’ feet (John 12:3). It is interesting to note that in each of these instances, there is some kind of fragrance: In Luke 10, it is food; in John 11, it is death; and in John 12, it is perfume.

Mary and Martha are often contrasted as though each believer must make a choice; be a worker like Martha or a worshiper like Mary. Certainly our personalities and gifts are different, but that does not mean that the Christian life is an either/or situation. Charles Wesley, the founder of Methodism said it perfectly in one of his hymns:

Faithful to my Lord’s commands,
I still would choose the better part;
Serve with careful Martha’s hands,
And loving Mary’s heart.

It seems evident that the Lord wants each of us to imitate Mary in our worship and Martha in our work. It would be great if we could balance both.

Consider Martha’s situation. She received Jesus into her home and then neglected Him as she prepared an elaborate meal that He did not need! Certainly a meal was in order, but what we do with Christ is far more important than what we do for Christ. Again, it is not an either/or situation; it is a matter of balance. Mary had done her share of the work in the kitchen and then had gone to “feed” on the Lord’s teachings. Martha felt neglected after Mary left the kitchen, perhaps a little jealous and she began to complain and to suggest that neither the Lord nor Mary really cared about her!

Few things are as damaging to the Christian life as trying to work for Christ without taking time to commune with Christ. “For without Me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5). Mary chose the better part, the part that could not be taken from her. She knew that she could not live “by bread alone” (Matt. 4:4).

One of my concerns since coming to Trinity Church is that our Sunday school meets at the same time as our worship service. Now, many churches are like that, so this doesn’t mean that it’s wrong. When I was a boy at a Methodist Church, we had Sunday school from 9:15 am to 10:15 am and then worship service at 10:45 am. This was so the Sunday school teachers were able to attend the worship service. I should also point out that most of the teachers were not parents.
There were also a number of parents that dropped off their children at 9:15 am and picked them up at the end of school. Even though we made the worship service available to all, that didn’t mean people would choose to come.

Since our worship service and Sunday school are at the same time, are we preventing our teachers and our children from communing with God? Teaching is a very important ministry and they do it well; but it is also important to teach our children the importance of worship. For if our children only experience Sunday school, they may think that that’s all there is to church. When they grow up, they may not value church or the worship service, because they have not experienced it or taught the importance of it.

Whenever we criticize others and pity ourselves because we feel overworked, we had better take time to examine our lives. Perhaps in all our busyness, we have been ignoring the Lord. Martha’s problem was not that she had too much work to do, but that she allowed her work to distract her and pull her apart. She was trying to serve two masters!
We can actually do that in the church. We fill up our days with “good works” by helping people, and then we don’t leave time to be with God. If serving Christ makes us difficult to live with, then something is terribly wrong with our service!

The key is to have the right priorities or the right balance: Jesus Christ first, then our neighbors, then ourselves. It is vitally important that we spend time “at the feet of Jesus” every single day, letting Him share His Word with us. The most important part of the Christian life is the part that only God sees. Unless we meet Christ personally and privately each day, we will soon end up like Martha: busy but not blessed.

On another occasion, after Lazarus was raised from the dead, Martha prepared a feast for Jesus, the Twelve, and her brother and sister – that’s fifteen people – and she did not utter one word of complaint! She had God’s peace in her heart because she had learned to sit at the feet of Jesus. She learned what it meant to “take time to be holy.”

If you were asked the question, “Tell me about your devotional life.” Would you be able to say that you read God’s Word every day? Do you pray daily? Would you be embarrassed because you don’t? Would you say something like, “I used to read the Bible, but I just can’t seem to find the time anymore.” We need make time. We need to “take time to be holy.”

Let us pray:
O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving kindness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and forever.


Who Is My Neighbor?

Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
July 14, 2013, Pentecost VII

Amos 7:7-17; Psalm 82; Colossians 1:1-14, Luke 10:25-37

From the Old Testament:
Then Amos answered Amaziah, “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’

From St. Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians:
And so, from the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, to lead a life worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

And from the Gospel of St. Luke:
A lawyer, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
[Jesus then told the story of the Good Samaritan, after which Jesus asked the question: Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?] He said, “The one who showed mercy on him. And Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

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 sure that we are all familiar with the story of the Good Samaritan. We might not remember all the details, but we know it has to do with helping another human being when no one else would.

We have a group of Jewish men: rabbis, scribes, etc. sitting around possibly inside the temple, discussing theological matters. A lawyer or scribe stands up and tries to trap Jesus, by getting him to say something that would turn the people against him. He says to Jesus, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “What is written in the Law?” The man answers, “You shall love your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus answered him, “You have answered right; do this and you will live.”

Our Lord sent the man back to the Law, not because the Law saves us (Gal. 2:16, 21; 3:21), but because the Law shows us that we need to be saved. There can be no real conversion without conviction, and the Law is what God uses to convict sinners (Rom. 3:20).

The scribe gave the right answer, but he followed it up with another question: “Who is my neighbor?”

This can be a very hard question to answer. To what extent are we responsible for another human being? If someone is homeless, are we responsible for providing shelter? Suppose he chooses to live on the streets. If a person is hungry, are we responsible for feeding him every day. Are all the people who go to soup kitchens in need of a meal or are they going because it is free? If a man is an alcoholic, sitting on the sidewalk, begging for money; are we responsible for picking him up and getting him treatment, assuming he would go? How much would it cost us to help? Would we be putting ourselves in danger by helping?

To help us answer this question, Jesus told a story: “A man was going down to Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was; and when he saw him, he had compassion, and went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring oil and wine; then he set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day, he gave the innkeeper two denarii to look after him, and told the innkeeper that he would be back in a few days and would reimburse him for any additional costs.

At the end of this story, Jesus asked the scribe, which of these three: the priest, the scribe or the Samaritan, do you think, proved neighbor to this man who fell among robbers? The scribe answered, “The one who showed mercy on him.” And Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Most of us can think of excuses for the priest and Levite as they ignored the victim. Perhaps the priest had been serving God at the temple all week and was anxious to get home. Perhaps the bandits were still lurking in the vicinity and using the victim as “bait.” Why take a chance? Certainly fear may have been a reason.

Anyway it wasn’t their fault that the man was attacked and left for dead. Besides, the road was busy, and eventually someone would come along and help the man. The priest left it to the Levite to help the man; the Levite left it to the Samaritan.

By using the Samaritan as the hero, Jesus disarmed the Jews, for the Jews and Samaritans were enemies (John 4:9; 8:48). It was not a Jew helping a Samaritan but a Samaritan helping a Jew who had been ignored by his fellow Jews! This Samaritan risked his own life, spent his own money, and did not expect anything in return.
What the Samaritan did helps us better understand what it means to “show mercy” (Luke 10:37), and it also illustrates the ministry of Jesus Christ. The Samaritan identified with the needs of the stranger and had compassion on him. There was no logical reason why he should rearrange his plans and spend his money just to help an “enemy” in need, but mercy does not need reasons. Being an expert in the Law, the scribe certainly knew that God required His people to show mercy, even to strangers and enemies (Ex. 23:4-5); Lev. 19:33-34; Micah 6:8).

See how wisely Jesus “turned the tables” on the scribe. Trying to evade responsibility, the man asked, “Who is my neighbor?” But Jesus asked, “Which of these three men was neighbor to the victim?” The big question is, “To whom can I be a neighbor?” and this has nothing to do with geography, citizenship, or race. Wherever people need us, there we can be neighbors and like Jesus Christ, show mercy.

How would we act if we came across a man on the side of the road who had been stripped, beaten, robbed and left for dead? In this day and age, it would be quite simple. We would just dial 911 on our cell phone and the police and ambulance would arrive and the man would be taken to the local hospital where his needs would be taken care of.

We may read this passage and think only of “the high cost of caring,” but it is far more costly not to care. The priest and the Levite lost far more by their neglect than the Samaritan did by his concern. They lost the opportunity to become better men and good stewards of what God had given them. They could have been a good example to the town. The Samaritan’s one deed of mercy has inspired sacrificial ministries all over the world. Never say that such ministry is wasted! God sees to it that no act of loving service in Christ’s name is ever lost.

Although we may not be confronted with a situation like the Good Samaritan, there are many instances when there is a need around the world and in our community that we could and do respond. We as a church give money, food and clothing to The Salvation Army here in Waltham. Last Thanksgiving we gave 50 turkeys to the Salvation Army to distribute to the needy. Recently, we raised money to send 3 or 4 children for a week at the Salvation Army’s summer camp. We support Samaritan’s Purse, the organization founded by Franklin Graham and which takes its name and mission from the Good Samaritan story.

Samaritan’s Purse sponsors Operation Christmas Child, where we fill shoeboxes with school supplies, toys, etc. and these boxes go around the world to needy children who receive not only our love, but the love of Jesus Christ. We are a small congregation, but when a need is brought to our attention, we respond!

When we think of being a Good Samaritan, we think of providing for the physical needs of the person: food, shelter and clothing. We should also be concerned with the spiritual needs as well. Do we ignore sharing our Christian faith with our neighbor or do we minister to him by sharing the love of Jesus Christ?
St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians dealt with the spiritual needs of the person. We need this letter today, just as they needed it back in 60 A.D. when Paul wrote it.

Colossae was located about 100 miles inland from Ephesus. This area was a meeting point of East and West because an important trade route passed through there. At one time, it was a growing and prosperous city, but gradually Colossae slipped into a second-rate position or small town. Yet the church there was important enough to merit the attention of the Apostle Paul.

All kinds of philosophies mingled in this cosmopolitan area, and numerous religious beliefs abounded. There was a large Jewish colony in Colossae, and there was also a constant influx of new ideas and doctrines from the East. It was fertile ground for religious speculations and heresies; A battleground for the Christian faith.

The Good News of the Gospel was not native to the city of Colossae. It had to be brought to them; and in their case, Epaphras was the messenger. He was himself a citizen of Colossae (Col. 4:12-13), but he had come in contact with Paul and had been converted to Jesus Christ.

Once Epaphras had been saved, he shared this thrilling news with his relatives and friends back home. That’s how he built up the church; that’s how we can build up this church by inviting our friends and family to attend worship. Are we not caring for our neighbors, at least spiritually, when we share our faith in Jesus Christ with them?

There is a good lesson for us here: God does not always need an apostle, or a “full-time Christian worker” to get a ministry established. Nor does He need elaborate buildings and extensive organizations. Here God used laymen to start ministries to reach out and share the Gospel.

Just like our Old Testament reading this morning about Amos. Amos was a herdsman and a cultivator of sycamore trees when the Lord called him to be a prophet. He lived in Tekoa, about eleven miles from Jerusalem, during the reigns of Uzziah in Judah (790-740 BC) and Jeroboam II in the Northern Kingdom of Israel (793-753 BC). Amos was a “layman,” a humble farmer and shepherd who was not an official member of the Jewish religious or political establishment. He was called to be a prophet and announce God’s judgment on the nations. Any one of us could be called by God for some reason; we need to be ready to answer the call: Yes God, send me!

It is important as Christians that we are strong in our faith, so that when we come in contact with other beliefs, we won’t be influenced by them.

Epaphras did not simply lead the Colossians to Christ and then abandon them. He taught them the Word and sought to establish their faith. These new believers were in danger of turning from the truth and following the false teachers. Paul reminded them that it was Epaphras who led them to Christ, discipled them, and taught them the Word.

We should never forget that we need to care for new Christians. Just as the newborn baby needs loving care and protection till he can care for himself, so the new Christian needs discipling. The Great Commission does not stop with the salvation of the lost, for in that commission Jesus commanded us to teach converts the Word as well (Matt. 28:19-20). That is what the fellowship of the local church is all about.

The Word of God is a seed (Luke 8:11). This means the Word has life in it (Heb. 4:12). When it is planted in the heart, it can produce fruit. “All over the world this Gospel is producing fruit and growing” (Col. 1:8). When God’s Word is planted and cultivated, it produces fruit. Faith, hope and love are among the first fruits in the spiritual harvest. Faith comes through the hearing of God’s Word (Rom. 10:17). Love is the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. Hope is the assurance of eternal glory in heaven.

It is important to the help our neighbor and provide for his needs. Not just the physical needs of food, clothing and shelter, but also his spiritual needs by introducing him to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. But first, we need to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We need to be strong in our knowledge, understanding and faith in Jesus Christ, before we can be the “Good Samaritan” who ministers not only to the physical needs, but also the spiritual needs of our neighbor as well.

Let us pray:
O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.