Human Demands – Divine Response

The Reverend J. Howard Cepelak

Trinity Church

Waltham, Massachusetts
Pentecost VIII – 22 July 2012

Jeremiah 23:1-6, Psalm 23, Ephesians 2:11-22, Mark6:30-34, 53-56

From the Book of the Prophet, Jeremiah:
Jesus said, Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! Says the Lord…. You have scattered my flock, and have driven them away….

From the 23rd Psalm:
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…and…I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

From St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians:
Concerning the reconciliation between Gentiles and Jews, the apostle wrote, So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone…

From the Gospel According to St. Mark:
…Immediately the people recognized him, and ran about the whole neighborhood and began to bring the sick people on their pallets to anywhere they heard he was

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,

In 1969, the band known as The Who made rock and roll history when they released the first rock opera entitled, Tommy. The story for the opera centers on a deaf, dumb and blind boy named Tommy who is somewhat of a cult figure because, despite his afflictions, he becomes a pinball wizard. Although a pinball wizard, he remains afflicted and wants to be healed.

One of the most touching songs in the opera is entitled, See Me, Feel Me. In this song, the afflicted Tommy pleads in a kind of prayer, See me, feel me, touch me, heal me. Note that I said in a kind of prayer; sadly Tommy does not address this quasi-prayer to God, but rather offers it up to anyone or anything that just might be out there.

There’s an old joke about the Unitarians who worship an impersonal life force, or something similar. They address their prayers, To whom it may concern. All too many people in our generation offer up quasi -prayers to whoever or what ever just may be out there. I know one man who characterizes himself as an agnostic but who believes in prayer. When I questioned him about why he prays when he doesn’t really believe in God, he said, I pray just in case there’s something out there; kind of like a spiritual insurance policy.

Now, I am going to be bold enough to say that I believe that the One True God hears any and all prayers offered up from an honest and sincere heart. Yes, many non-believers do indeed have honest and sincere hearts even though their minds have not accepted the reality of God and they have not committed themselves to Him, Father, Son and Holy Ghost in heart, mind, body and soul. Yet I believe that God hears those honest prayers and often answers in the affirmative, granting the petition, intercession or supplication.

He does so because He loves His children and He wants His children to love Him – love Him freely, having chosen to love Him not because He brow beats them into submission – not because He gives them everything that they ask for as a kind of bribe, but because He wants them to know Him, to experience His goodness, His grace, His mercy and His peace – and in so doing, come to faith in Him.

God wants all of us to know Him – intimately. That’s why He, God the Father, condescended to take on human flesh and reveal Himself to us in God the Son, entered into human history as fully human and as fully divine in an incomprehensible, mysterious, divine miracle and then sacrificed Himself for His children for the sake of their salvation.

He came to us in Jesus Christ who spoke of Himself as the Good Shepherd who knows His sheep and whose sheep know Him. His sheep know His voice and hear His voice. And when they hear His voice, they follow. He will defend his sheep from the wolves – even to the point of laying down His life for His flock.

Yet, even the sheep who know Him will go astray – either by simply wandering away or by deliberately seeking what they believe to be greener pastures or a better shepherd. But we also know that the Good Shepherd will seek out the lost sheep and will bring them home. If they continue to wander, well, that’s a different story. Unlike real sheep, we, as sheep, have free will and can choose to finally separate ourselves from the Good Shepherd and from His flock – His flock being His true church. When that’s the case, the wolves move in and, literally, all hell can break loose.

Our Lord, the Good Shepherd, does have sheep in other folds. His sheep in those other folds are there for a purpose – a mystery to us but not to Him. He knows what’s He’s doing. They do know Him in a different way that do we who believe, but they live within the larger fold made up of all those who truly love Him.

Perhaps these sheep serve as His agents in flocks currently claimed as belonging to another shepherd – shepherds who are not the Good Shepherd but who may very well be wolves in shepherd’s clothing. These kinds of bad shepherds intentionally lead the sheep astray with false promises of the aforementioned greener pastures.

The apostle Paul knew that our Lord had sheep in other folds. That’s why he became the apostle to the Gentiles – to the Greek and Roman pagans who worshipped other gods and goddesses but who were really and truly – honestly and sincerely seeking the Lord but looking in the wrong places.

St. Paul enjoyed great success in his mission to those sheep. He brought thousands into the fold as he established churches all over the ancient world. He addressed them in his letter to the congregation at Ephesus saying, you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God built upon the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, Christ Jesus being the cornerstone in whom the whole structure is joined together…. St. Paul brought our Lord’s sheep from other folds into the fold of the True Good Shepherd.

One wonders why some responded – and continue to respond in our generation – to God’s call offered through St. Paul or offered through legitimate evangelists today – and others did not. One can only speculate that in they had and have ears to hear the Good Shepherd’s voice, recognized it and follow Him.

We also know that the bad shepherds continue to preach a false gospel, deliberately leading astray members of our Lord’s flock. They may be the one’s who promise health wealth and happiness as the benefit of claiming Christ – or the one’s who denounce Jesus Christ as the one and only exclusive Savior of all mankind – or the one’s who seek to gender bend our Lord, His Father and in so doing compromise the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of Truth into a Spirit of deception.

These bad shepherds have been preaching from the beginning of time seeking to damage both the flock and the Good Shepherd. Such was the case in Jeremiah’s generation – some 600 years before the coming of our Lord.
Thus the prophet proclaims, Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! Scripture is consistent that a harsh judgment falls upon those who deliberately attempt to lead others astray.

One very effective method to lead others astray is to undermine the efficacy of prayer. They will claim that prayer is futile, that either there is no God who hears or if he / she / they / it hears, will not respond.

Surely some prayers are not heard – of if heard are not received. These are what one can call the human demand prayers – prayers offered up as a demand rather than a request – prayers that function consciously or unconsciously as an effort to make God into an instrument of the person’s will rather than in the spirit of submission to His will. That’s why our Lord’s words, offered in His prayer of supplication and petition at Gethsemane, Thy will, not mine, be done.

Such exploitive demand prayers meet rejection. God will never abandon His authority as the Shepherd and give it to any of His sheep. The demand prayers are either rejected or answered with a definitive and absolute No!

All of us share in Tommy’s affliction – we’re often deaf to God’s Word, dumb in our proclamation and blind to His vision. All of us can petition, See me, feel me, touch me, heal me. We can – and we should. Right from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, people flocked to Him seeking healing. He could not escape the crowds.

Surely, the victims of the shooting in Aurora, Colorado last week have offered up that prayer. Such a horrible event causes even the doubters, the non-believers and those who sense that there just might be someone out there – to pray. But never should any of us seek to make Him the instrument of our wills. That’s when the supplication – the petition – becomes a demand.

For those who know that Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd – the only Good shepherd – they also know that they shall not want of anything essential for salvation. They know that His pastures are the greenest and that the pastures that seem to be greener are Astroturf. Furthermore, they know, because the Good Shepherd has indeed laid down His life for His sheep, that they shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. And that’s the whole point.

Let us pray.

Heavenly Father, grant that we may be faithful sheep in your fold. Deliver us from the temptation to wander away or to run away from your rod and your staff. Comfort us, O Lord, and keep us safe from the wolves in shepherd’s clothing who seek to separate us from you. And make of us men and women who hear your voice, speak your Word and see the glory of your grace – and live our lives so as to bring honor and glory to your Son,
our only Savior
and the One True Good Shepherd
of all mankind,
in whose name we offer this
and all our prayers.

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