The Reverend J. Howard Cepelak
Pentecost IV – 17 July 2011
Genesis 28:10-19a, Psalm 139:1-12, Romans 8:12-25, Matthew 13:24-30
From the Book of Genesis:
God established a covenant with Jacob at Bethel saying, I am the LORD…by you and your descendents shall all the families of the earth bless themselves…. Jacob said, Surely the LORD is in this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.
From Psalm 139:
O LORD, thou hast searched me and known me!
From St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans:
When we cry, Abba! Father! It is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs…with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
And From the Gospel According to St. Matthew:
Regarding the wheat growing with the weeds in the garden, Jesus said, Let both grow together until the harvest; and at the harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”
Let us pray.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation,
Over the past several months, I have been speaking at length with a young man who is what I call a true seeker and searcher. Having been casually raised in the church, his family was just that – casual about Christianity, so very typical of the present generation. They participated in church life only once in a while – for the life landmarks such as births, weddings and funerals with an occasional confirmation thrown in. Also, once in awhile Christmas Eve and sometimes Easter Sunday. Otherwise, other things occupied their time and attention.
Yet this young man has an innate curiosity – in fact, a genuine hunger – for knowledge about God. He enjoys reading about and discussing everything spiritual. Sincere in his search – one might even say, dedicated to it as an authentic avocation – his major problem is that he lacks focus. He jumps from one spiritual pillar to another spiritual post. This undisciplined searcher, though, seeks to be a disciple – but of what or of whom remains undetermined. Deep down, he wants to give himself to a faith, a teacher, and a saviour. He wants a rule for life. He’s just not there yet.
The Truth – with a capital “T” – continues to elude him – at least for now. If I have been of any value so far in our conversations, it has been to help him to focus at least to some extent, to direct his reading especially to the Bible – to read the Bible itself and not others commentaries on it – always, go to the original – and to recommend good churches – which sadly are few – as I witness in as un-obnoxious a way as possible to my spiritual journey.
My journey brought me to THE Truth in Him who was and is and will be forever, THE Way THE Truth and THE Life. He’s not ready for that kind of proclamation yet. He still sees conflicting claims to Truth as equally valid. Again, the currently popular notion of spiritual relativity.
This young man represents many young people in our times – seeking and searching – hungering and thirsting – and in the process being diverted from the Truth by what I call spiritual junk food – food that tastes good and temporarily satisfies the hunger but offers no ongoing nourishment. There are also spiritual junk beverages – soft drinks that taste sweet but do not and cannot satisfy one’s thirst. To say nothing of the adult version of spiritual junk beverages – distilled spirits – well that’s another story altogether. Being somewhat of a health and fitness enthusiast this will not be, for him, a major temptation. But spiritual intoxicants are – simply because they make one feel good about oneself.
This spiritual junk food and drink take the form of diverse appeals to one’s emotions – as I just said, the feel good emotions. This takes the form of an overly romantic notion of love, or to compelling calls to acts of compassion or the direct appeal to one’s self-interest in terms of self-improvement, self- advancement, self-gratification, self-glorification and self-indulgence. Most of these appeals attempt to get to mind through the heart.
We must always remember in this emotionally manipulative age what God has told us through His prophet, Jeremiah, The human heart is deceptive above all things. Remember also that the bad guys will always appeal to your heart, pulling on its strings to manipulate and control. That’s their purpose – manipulative control. For many, the easiest access to achieve this goal is the aforementioned heartstring pulling emotional appeal.
These false ideas and deceptive feelings are the weeds that grow in the gardens of our minds and hearts. They need to be weeded out – carefully weeded out – so that they do not choke out and destroy the good thoughts and right feelings.
Back to the young seeker. He has made progress in discernment. Having had his heart broken in a failed love relationship some time ago, in which he had placed too much faith in romantic love – again we must remember that God is love but love is not God – the idea of love being God just another kind of junk food to be weeded out of ones spiritual garden. He has a mature understanding and knew exactly what I meant when I spoke about this most important difference.
Now, even as I say this, I’m sure some of you are thinking, Didn’t he just read Jesus’ instruction that we must allow the wheat and the weeds to grow together and that Jesus will weed them out when He decides to reap the harvest?
You’re right – Jesus said that. But He’s referring to the final harvest – when He and He alone shall decide who is saved for eternal life in the perfection of heaven or thrown into the eternal fire bundled up with the other weeds. He is not referring to the development of our faith in Him that demands a discerning heart and mind – one that will believe exclusively in His Truth and not the false claims of the bad guys who seek to manipulate and control. We must weed out the falsehood. Jesus consistently calls others unto Himself. He says, Come, follow me. Not, Come, consider all the spiritual alternatives.
Jesus calls us. Anyone on an authentic spiritual quest is so because of God’s call. It just does not happen by coincidence. The divine call has functioned throughout history – from the beginning of time. Look at Jacob, one of the men through whom God established the foundation for Jesus Christ. God called Jacob. And Jacob was severely tempted by all kind of appeals to his own self-interest throughout his life. But God had called him. And eventually Jacob was able to discern the divine calling.
Such was the case at Bethel. God would make Jacob and his descendents a blessing to this world through which all families would bless themselves. God’s words fully registered with Jacob and caused him to proclaim that the place was surely the house of God and the gate of heaven. He named the place Bethel which literally means the house of God.
One advantage that this young man has over others is his ability to discern intoxicating romantic love from authentic love. This happened through the aforementioned heartbreak. Now I must say that when young people suffer from the inevitable broken hearts that are always a part of growing up, many people turn away from God believing that love – true love – conquers all and brings an easy happiness. That all spiritual junk food. That one’s of the most persistent weeds in any spiritual garden.
One of the characteristics of true love – divinely inspired true love – is that true love willingly suffers on behalf of the beloved. The entire life of Jesus Christ testifies to this great reality. Love suffers. Witness the cross. In that kind of love, we come close to God. We even come alive in God in this kind of love.
St. Paul bears witness to our closeness to God in and through this kind of love in his epistle to the Romans. We call God, Abba, Father – the endearing and familiar Hebrew designation for Father – really much more akin to Dad rather than the more formal Father – we live in that close relationship with God because we suffer with Christ in order that we may be glorified with him.
All who have truly loved know that this kind of love is true love indeed. And glorification comes when one loves in Christ. He has shown us the way of love because He was – and is – and will be forever – love’s only way because He was – and is – and will be forever the only way to love that brings us at last unto eternal life rather than into the profound hellish suffering of faith in falsehood that always breaks our hearts. Deception destroys. Truth delivers. And Jesus Christ is the living and eternal Truth.
God searches us and knows us. He knows the thoughts of our hearts before we do. True for Jacob, St. Paul – for you and for me. He knows us inside out and upside down as He seeks to lift us up.
For those who truly seek Him, He will find them. For those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, they will eat and drink true spiritual food – the food that is God Himself made flesh and blood for us – the body of Christ broken in the perfection of saving love and the blood of Christ shed for the same reason. Only this food and drink can satisfy the eternal hunger and thirst.
In the meantime, for those who seek and search having not yet arrived – and for those of us who have arrived but remain imperfect – that thus includes everyone – we still have to weed out the deceptions that delight, the good feelings that have nothing to do with goodness and the false promises of false messiahs who choke out anything that truly good and right.
And as we weed our spiritual gardens, we can be a blessing to everyone around us. In weeding our spiritual gardens, we do grow in ever increasing faith – in ever more holy hope – and in ever more perfect love – that in and through Jesus Christ – we can say, Abba! Father! and live forever.
Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, grant that each person present here this morning may be an ever increasing blessing to this world. Grant to us the discernment necessary to weed out the lies and deceptions in which so many place their faith and advocate for your cause, bear witness to your cross and serve as the faithful disciples of your Son,
our only Saviour –
the exclusive Redeemer of the whole world, Jesus Christ the Lord,
in whom and through whom
we may say, Abba! Father! forever.