Mercy, Faith and Goodness

The Reverend J. Howard Cepelak
Trinity Church

Waltham, Massachusetts
Pentecost VIII – 7 August 2011

The Sacrament of Holy Communion

Genesis 37: 1-4, 12-28; Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22; Romans 10:5-15, Matthew 14:22-44

From the Book of Genesis:
Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his children….when his brothers saw that their father loved him more…they hated him….

From St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans:
The apostle summarizes the essence of the Christian faith and religion in these simply words, if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For man believes with his heart and so is justified and he confesses with this lips and so is saved.

From the Gospel According to St. Matthew:
Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water…but when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, Lord, save me.

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,

The account of Peter’s attempt to walk on water has to be one of the most telling of all the stories about the chief disciple. It reveals so much not only about Peter, but also about human nature in general. And most importantly, it tells us about the Divine Nature – about how God works in our lives.

First of all, there’s humor in the story. Peter’s name in Greek means rock. His original name had been Simon. But Jesus gave him a new name when he first confessed that Jesus was the Son of the living God. Jesus said, Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys to the kingdom of heaven….

Peter’s faith made him solid as a rock – so solid that the Lord established boldly expressed faith in Him as the foundation of the church. Peter the rock of faith. So when he saw Jesus walking on the water out to the fishing boat, Peter, in his perpetual enthusiasm, walked out to meet the Lord.

He successfully walked on the water – walking by faith and in faith – to meet his Lord, but then he got scared. Momentarily, this most devoted man lost his faith and sank like a stone. Faithful, the rock could walk on water. Faithless, Peter – the rock – sank like a stone; a little sardonic humor here.

The lesson though is clear – by faith and in faith, one can do anything – even walk on water. But without faith, one sinks.

Now faith has power. Any faith has power – good faith or bad faith – both have power. Miraculous faith healings exist in every religion. Miraculous works happen among the Buddhists and Hindus as well as among Christians and Jews. Miraculous goodness even blesses atheists who neither believe in miracles nor in the author of miracles. That simply testifies to God’s great goodness. But it’s also true that great accomplishments can be achieved – even virtually impossible accomplishments – by persons of bad faith who have placed their faith in evil powers.

Many have believed in evil men – or evil women for that matter. And yet they accomplished great things. My job is not to recount these bad faith accomplishments other than to say that great empires have been built, huge obstacles have been overcome and even great goodness has resulted – from people who have placed their faith even in bad things. The point is that faith is powerful for better or for worse.

But I do want to say that any of these great accomplishments – and most certainly the miraculous accomplishments – by and through men and women of faith who believed in the wrong persons, philosophies of life or any other evil always bears witness to God’s great goodness – to His redeeming mercy. The power of God’s goodness can be manifested even in the greatest of evils – so great and so good is our God in His mercy – in His redeeming mercy. And redeeming mercy is the key.

We have one of the Bible’s most magnificent stores that bears witness to God’s redeeming mercy working through sinful man. The account of Joseph and his brothers has inspired believers for millennium for the account manifests the redemptive power of the Divine mercy.

We read the passage this morning that tells of how Israel loved his son Joseph more that he loved his other children. We should stop right there and comment on this. All of us are sinners. Even great men like Israel through whom God had established a great nation, sinned – in fact, sinned greatly. He loved some of his children more than the others. He loved Joseph the best and showed that by giving Joseph the best of everything.

It’s no wonder that all the rest of Israel’s children were jealous. That, too, is just a part of being human – a dangerous part, but a part of our human condition nonetheless. It leads to great evil. In fact, jealously is so bad that being covetous – covetousness being jealously on steroids – is condemned in the Ten Commandments. God tells us – unequivocally, Thou shalt not covet anything that belongs to thy neighbor. Yet we do. And when we do, bad things happen.

In their jealously, Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery and told their father that the boy had been killed by wild animals. The brothers believed in their lie and placed their faith in deception. And they got away with it – for a while.

Well, you know the rest of the story. Even though Joseph had been betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery and cast into prison, he kept the faith. In his faithfulness, God redeemed the evil done to him. Blessed with interpretative powers, Joseph successfully interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams. So very impressed was the King, he made him the prime minister of all Egypt.

When famine hit his homeland, his brothers went to Egypt where there was ample food due to Joseph’s wise administration. Although the brothers failed to recognize Joseph, Joseph eventually revealed himself to them – forgave them of their offenses against him and established his entire family in a good life in Egypt. God manifested His redeeming mercy in and through the faithful Joseph – a mercy extended even to sinners – men of bad faith who had done great evil. Joseph, in great goodness, showed the miracle of mercy and life was restored in its fullness even to his sinful brothers.

Now, just a few moments ago, I said that redeeming mercy is the key. It is. God’s redeeming mercy is the key to eternal life.

Our job as Christians is to bear witness to this great saving truth – that God’s redeeming mercy is the key to eternal life. Our job would be so much easier if God’s mercy were shown only to those who believe in Jesus Christ and not to others. We could simply point this advantage out to non-believers and, just out of self-interest, they would believe. But that’s not the case. God is just too good not to show His mercy even to non-believers as well as to those who even believe in actual evil.

But scripture bears witness to a reality – a harsh reality – that His great goodness, His redeeming mercy – must be received if one is to inherit eternal life in the kingdom of heaven.

Hence, when Peter confesses his faith in Jesus as the Son of the living God, so that bold confession becomes the foundation for the church – the church being the company of those who believe in Jesus Christ as the crucified and risen Savior of all mankind – who boldly confess with their lips that Jesus Christ is Lord and believe in their hearts that God raised Him from the dead.

This bold confession of faith becomes our justification. It’s the key that unlocks the kingdom. As Jesus blessed Peter with the keys to the kingdom, so also by faith in God’s mercy, we too are blessed. We too can walk through that unlocked gate into the perfection of eternal joy.

When people boldly confess their faith in Jesus Christ as the Savior of the whole world, evil cannot prevail. As our Lord said to St. Peter, even the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Brothers and sister in Christ – we are so wrong to compromise this great revealed truth. We are so wrong to say, as we sometimes do, that all roads lead to God or that all religions result in salvation. They do not. Only faith in Jesus Christ, boldly confessed, can open the gates of heaven. Faith in God’s redeeming mercy is the key that opens the gate. Simple as that.

Our job is to proclaim it boldly even in this day and age in which – at least in this part of the world – you may be ridiculed for your faith. So be it. Even in that evil, God’s great goodness will prevail. It did for Joseph. It did for Peter. It did for Paul and it will for you and for me.

When Jesus instituted His Great Sacrament of Eternal life, he said of the broken bread, This is my body, broken for you. And He said of the wine, Drink ye all of this; for this is my blood of the New Testament shed for you and for many for the remission of sins. Remission and redemption. Synonyms meaning forgiveness. My blood shed for you and for many for the redemption of your souls through the forgiveness of sins.

So we come to this memorial of the sacrifice of our Lord for the sake of our salvation. We come to receive His broken Body and to drink His shed blood knowing that He and He alone is the gate of heaven and that by faith, we hold the key of His redeeming mercy.

One last word. As it has become popular to say that everyone is saved regardless of their faith – that all go to heaven when they die – well, we as Christians cannot say that. Our Lord said, This is my blood of the New Covenant shed for you and for many for the remission of sins – shed for you and for many – not for you and for all.
By our faith we receive God’s redeeming mercy – and His redeeming mercy is the key to the kingdom. And by faith, even the gates of hell shall not prevail against us.

Let us pray.
Deliver us, Good Lord, from the temptation to compromise your Word or our faith in the face of those who do not believe. Bless us with the courage of our conviction that we may boldly proclaim the saving mercy of your saving grace revealed in and through your Son,
our Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Savior of the whole world
in whose holy name we both live and pray.

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