More On Power

The Reverend J. Howard Cepelak

Trinity Church

Waltham, Massachusetts
Pentecost VII – 15 July 2012

Amos 7:7-15, Psalm 123, II Corinthians 12:2-10, Mark 6:1-13

From the Book of the Prophet, Amos:
Speaking to the prophet, the LORD said, Behold, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel…

From St. Paul’s Second Epistle to the Church at Corinth:
Regarding the thorn in his flesh, the apostle wrote, Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me; but he said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

And from the Gospel according to St. Mark:
Many of the people who had heard Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue in his home town and having heard of his great deeds in other places, they asked, Where did this man get all this? What is the wisdom given to him? What mighty works are wrought by his hands!

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

This morning’s sermon is somewhat of a continuation of my sermon of July 1st in which I spoke about the power of God moving in and through history. In that sermon, I specifically referenced the founding of the United States of America by men open and receptive to serve as instruments of the divine providence – a favorite expression among our Founding Fathers – as God worked in their historical time period to establish this nation.

God working out His will in human history has been true, of course, from the first moments of creation. From the Garden of Eden to the Garden of Gethsemane, He moved powerfully in this world in and through His chosen people. He judged men and nations. He established and brought down men and nations. And He called out and built up men and nations. He anointed kings and judged them. All by the power of His will working in human history.

For you and for me, living two thousand years after Gethsemane, we bear witness to His most powerful intervention in history – the crucifixion and resurrection of His Son, the world’s only Savior, Jesus Christ. On the cross and out of the tomb, we see God’s power most perfectly manifested.

His resurrection power – the only power that can bring life from death – the creative and re-creative power in which we literally live comes from God. But other powers remain present in this world – unholy powers that seek death and destruction.

The question for us is how do we tell the difference between the powers of goodness and life – Christ power, and the powers of death and destruction? Since the evil powers always decorate themselves as good powers, how do we know the difference?

Well, God has given us a plumb line – a plumb line being the line dropped by the stonemason or a builder to establish the straight line so that he can build the wall or the building straight and strong. The plumb line sets the standard.

The prophet Amos proclaimed this message to the people – that God has given a plumb line – a standard against which all things could be measured. For them, the plumb line was the divinely revealed law combined with the prophetic message that revealed all that’s good and right and true.

Amos lived at a time in history in which the Hebrew people enjoyed great prosperity and peace. Fat and happy, so to speak, they began to indulge themselves, believing that these great blessings were an entitlement and wanting – indeed, demanding – more and more of life’s greatest pleasures. The politically powerful used – rather abused – their power – always a divine trust and hence subject to the divine judgment – to further their own interests, increase their own wealth, insure ever increasing comforts and pleasures all at the expense of the common people.

And regarding the common people, well, many of them enjoyed a good life as well. Some poorer people were exploited for sure, but many common people lived well. Everyone wanted more.

What they did not want was the law of the One True God. That law, the plumb line for goodness, did not serve their purposes. The gods and goddesses of the pagans offered them what the wanted – license to indulge self-gratification as if it were a divine entitlement. So the went pagan.

The unrestrained fulfillment of self-gratification, which looks so attractive on the surface, leads to the downward spiral of the quality of life with ever increasing suffering and pain resulting in the aforementioned death and destruction. True then. True now.

Amos called for authentic justice in society as well as for personal honesty and integrity. The King would bear the greatest judgment because he had been given the greatest power. All those who abused that power would face condemnation if they failed to repent. But repentance would bring on a new age of goodness, righteousness, blessing and truth. God made the offer. He left the king and the people free to choose to either accept or reject that offer.

So, another question for us. Do we see God’s hand moving powerfully in our present history? Or, as so many today believe, has He abandoned us to our own devices? Has He withdrawn His righteous power from our power plays, from our politics? And, will we see no other manifestations of His power until he comes again to judge the world at the end of time – the ultimate judgment of all the power brokers since the Lord will return as the King of Kings?

In most cases, we do not even talk about the will of God regarding political issues or about the will of God regarding the politicians. We avoid this – at least most of the time -since devoted friends can become bitter enemies when it comes to discussions in this realm. Committed to his or her own choice of candidates, both might believe that God favors the one over the other – that God intends that one be elected and the other defeated and that God’s power will bless the politician’s power.

But more likely, people select their candidates without regard for God’s will. I fear that most people really believe that God plays no role in the process whatsoever. Believing this, they fail to turn to God for help when the bad choices bit back and they fail to give thanks when the good prevails.

Regardless of our positions on the issues and on the candidates, I believe that God may have sent one to reveal a greater goodness and a higher truth and the other to manifest the true nature of political and social corruption, deception, evil and sin. If we will but open our eyes – if we will simply measure against God’s plumb line, then we will be able to discern the good one from the bad one.

God still does move in our history. But no politician can be our savior. God has already sent the Savior – the one and only Savior of the whole world as well as the one and only Savior of each of us. No other saviors will be coming. But the one and only Savior will come again.

Yet those who do not truly believe in Jesus Christ as the only Savior of all mankind or who believe in Him conditionally – well they continue to seek a savior and of all people are the most to be pitied. For in every case they will have placed their faith and their hope in a deceiver and they will become bitter and hopeless.

Two last thoughts. St. Paul placed all of his faith and all of his hope in Jesus Christ. For this apostle, Jesus Christ, the plumb line, gave him the strength and the courage to confront some of the most powerful forces in the ancient world. And in that struggle, Paul knew his own weakness. He knew that he was not a savior but that Jesus was – and the power of the Christ was perfected in the weakness of Paul. In Paul’s weakness, God’s grace sufficed.

And the very last thought. When Jesus taught in His hometown, the people marveled at his wisdom and at His mighty works. And they asked, Where did he get this wisdom and this power? Is this man not Mary’s son, the carpenter? Did he not grow up in this town? We know the family, his brothers and sisters. He’s noting special- just a regular guy like you and me. But the wisdom and the mighty deeds – Where does His power come from?

We know – as did a few of them – that His power came from God. Yet most of the people could not get out of themselves and into what was actually happening right before their eyes. Blind by lack of faith, they set themselves outside the realm of His redemptive power. His wisdom and His mighty works did nothing for them except to confuse them.

The moral to this story is just this. God has set the plumb line – Jesus Christ. God’s hand still moves powerfully in human history. His hand is moving now. He has set before us the ways of life and death. He wants us to choose life. But he leaves us the choice. Yet He will judge, measuring us against THE plumb line.

And one man is better than the other. Judge by the plumb line, Jesus Christ.

Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, bless all of us with eyes to see your truth and ears to hear your saving word. Use us for your purposes in this world and grant to us the willingness to serve you exclusively, to boldly proclaim the saving power of your Son and find your strength in our weakness.
We ask this in the name of your Son, the only Savior of all mankind, Jesus Christ the King,

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