The Reverend J. Howard Cepelak
Pentecost XII – 19 August 2012
I Kings 2:10-12, 3: 3-14; Psalm 111, Ephesians 5:15-20, John 6:51-58
From the First Book of Kings:
In response to King Solomon’s prayer for wisdom, the Lord said, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you will raise after you.
From Psalm 111:
Praise the Lord…he provides food for those who fear him…[and]
the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom….
From St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians:
The apostle wrote, Look carefully then how you walk…because the days are evil…do not be foolish…but be filled with the Spirit…always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the father.
And From the Gospel According to St. John:
Truly, truly, I say to you unless you eat the flesh of he Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you…he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life…for my flesh is food indeed and my blood in drink indeed.
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 lectionary lessons assigned for today continue the series on the true nature of the Sacrament of Holy Communion. All of them testify to the fact that our Lord Himself said, in no uncertain terms, you must eat my body and a drink my blood to inherit eternal life. As one bumper sticker, popular a few years read – The Bible – God said it. I believe it. That’s that! – well Jesus said it. I believe it and that’s that!
That’s why I teach the real presence of our Lord in the elements of bread and of wine – that He is really spiritually present to us in, on, over, under around and through those elements. I would not preach it if I did not believe it.
Amazingly, many denominations – some of them the most literalistic in their interpretation of the Bible, either ignore these unambiguous proclamations or interpret them in ways that they would not dare to interpret any other part of the Bible. If we are free to ignore His words, or to interpret them in any way that suits us, are we not free then to ignore other things we find difficult or disturbing or distasteful? If we interpret His words to mean that He really didn’t mean it, then what else did He NOT mean? You can easily see the problem.
Evangelical churches powerfully – and properly – emphasize being born again through baptism. Yet those very same churches almost never celebrate Holy Communion – sometimes only once a year or maybe quarterly – and when they do, they do so in a lack-luster manner.
When I attended the Robert Schuller Church Leadership Conferences in the late 90s, those conferences ended with the Sacrament of Holy Communion. The words of institution were spontaneous – made up as Dr. Schuller went along – as if the words had to, as they say, come from the heart – and as if coming from the heart would be better than the traditional words that proclaim the full meaning of the Sacrament as the Bible tells us.
The elements were offered casually – dramatically lacking in dignity, solemnity and reverence. And after the elements were dispensed, the disposable plastic communion cups were unceremoniously deposited in clear plastic garbage bags placed at the exit doors.
I do not have words to express how much I disdained the event, knowing as I do – and as does everyone who believes in our Lord’s words – that He spoke them because they were true – and are true – and will be forever true – so that we could take His Body into our bodies – that we might be made one body with Him – and He with us – and alive in His crucified and resurrected body, we can and we will – live forever – if we believe. If we do not believe, we’re lost.
Some may ask, How can you say that the bread and the wine are His body and His blood? I cannot – except for the fact that He said it. Back to the bumper sticker. He said it. I believe it. That’s that!
The Bible tells us that our Lord gave us two Sacraments – Christian Baptism and Holy Communion. Baptism, the Sacrament of entrance into the Christian faith, precedes Communion – it must. In the case of infant baptism, one must confirm that sacrament after having reached the age of reason. In the Rite of Confirmation, one literally confirms, by giving one’s voluntary consent, the Sacrament of Baptism. To properly receive Holy Communion, one must first proclaim one’s faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
We are wrong to think that Baptism is more important that Communion. Both have been given as the means of salvation. One is as important as the other, but with a big difference. We’re to receive Baptism once – but Communion continually. Both Sacraments require both the proper institution and reception. We cannot make them up as we go along and interpret them to suit us. Such practice leads to corruption of the Sacrament as various administrators alter the wording to suit their own theological agendas.
Baptism means being born again – being born into one’s new life in Christ. Yet, we all know that too many baptized individuals who fall away from their new life in Christ. Why?
Perhaps because being born again is not enough. That nee life requires nurture. It must be fed. It requires the nurture of the food – dare I say soul food – of His Body – and the drink of His blood to remain alive – now and forever. He will raise us up on the last day – if we eat that food. The Sacrament of Holy Communion nurtures and sustains the Sacrament of Baptism.
Well, we are saved by grace through faith – God’s grace given to operate in us and through us by virtue of our faith. And His grace, by His intention, is most fully available to us in and through His Sacraments.
But there’s also more to this. Salvation, although not achieved through works, nonetheless demands works as manifestations of the faith alive within us. As St. James so clearly taught, Faith without works is dead. He was right. Just believing and then living in a selfish, self centered, harmful manner – failing to keep our Lord’s commandments in an honest effort to do so, well, the way in which one lives one’s life either verifies or negates the believability of the faith.
Right and wrong – good or bad behavior – in other words, morals and ethics verify one’s new life, one’s new consciousness, in Christ. Good behavior bears witness to good faith. Bad behavior undermines the credibility of the faith.
St. Paul wrote about this in his letters to the various churches scattered around the ancient world. In this letter – better designated as an epistle due to the gravity and importance of the message – to the Ephesians, he urged them to good behavior saying, Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil.
The evil days of two thousand years ago continue to be evil today. If the first Christians were to be believed
in such a world, they had to live exemplary lives.
Obedience to Christ had to be visible in the pagan world if others were to come into the truth of this emerging religion. Such obedience, in this epistle, can be summed up in very simple admonitions. Treat each other respectfully, in kindness, forgiveness and in Christen love. Live orderly lives in gratitude to God. Be subject tone another out of reverence for Christ. Demonstrate that in your marriages because we, the church, are the bride of Christ.
Wisdom plays an essential role in all of this as well. Wisdom is one of Scriptures most highly valued
attributes. The Psalmist proclaims that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
We don’t like the fear part – so much so that in this sinful and adulterous generation so dramatically marked, even in our churches, with disobedience to God, even the word, fear has been virtually eliminated. Love has replaced it – but not the love of which Christ spoke but love in the soft, as I have said in so many other sermons – of the ooie- gooie, icky sticky kind rather than the hard love of obedience, self-restraint and self-sacrifice that characterizes authentic Christian love epitomized on the cross.
And wisdom for the Christian is not being wise in the ways of the world so as to practice those ways but rather wise in the since of King Solomon’s wisdom – to be able to discern good and evil and choose the good. We most certainly need to know the evil ways of this world – Jesus said, Be wise as serpents but innocent as doves – but not to practice them but to both avoid them and put into effect righteous ways to maximize goodness, kindness, and authentic godly love.
God richly blessed King Solomon because the king valued and asked for wisdom – for discernment. Solomon reigned and ruled in that wisdom. Yet even the great King Solomon indulged astounding foolishness. He allowed for the worship of his many wives pagan divinities. He honored and glorified those false gods and goddesses. Such a dramatic gap in his wisdom. Because of his foolishness – for all of his wisdom – he lost the kingdom for the future generations. Yes, disobedience has consequences.
Well, God sent us Himself in His Son, Jesus Christ – the one and only true King – the heavenly King present on earth to establish His kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. He has promised to return at the end of time to do jus that.
Back to the food for eternal life – the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Remember, that Sacrament is temporary given to us to continually nurture us in the One True Faith and Religion – to keep us alive in His life so that we can live forever. But we share in the Sacrament temporarily. It will end when He returns. The next time we celebrate Holy Communion notice how many times we say the words, until He comes again. When He returns we will not need the Sacrament for all of life will be the sacrament.
Hence the importance the proper institution of Holy Communion – as well as the proper administration of Baptism and Confirmation. It’s not just about how we may or may not feel – or even about what we may or may not think. Remember, thought is the higher power.
Part of the present evil is the glorification of feeling over thought – of emotion over reason. The prophet Jeremiah, are deceptive above all things. Yet we can indulge sinful rationality as well – the sins of the mind or the sins of the intellect.
Salvation is all about what God has given to us and our reception of His gift. The truly wise man knows this. And he walks in the love of and in the fear of the Lord because he knows the evil days of the present generation – the lies of self-aggrandizing and power hungry politicians, the indulgence of greed in both commerce and in government, lust and avarice in one’s more personal life – and the ease with which so many steal and kill – often in the name of their god – or gods – or goddesses. Wisdom with discernment – and most importantly wisdom and discernment in the One True Faith in the One True God opens the door to salvation.
One last word. One of the most dangerous characteristics of the corrupted church is the popular teaching that God is non-judgmental. That’s just a lie. God judges.
He knows our hearts, our minds and our deeds. He judges the entirety of our lives. We can fail the test. Or, trusting in the sacrifice of Christ, we can pass it. But the test of judgment remains a fearsome reality for those who do not – or do not want to – believe. Let us pray that fear will be the beginning of their wisdom. So be it.
Despite the evil in which every generation of Christians lives, the true believer nonetheless lives in joyful gratitude to God for the great gift of salvation given in and through the broken body and the shed blood of Jesus Christ – the food for eternal life. Baptized into His sacrifice, and sharing in His Great Sacrament, we can – and will live forever. So back to the bumper sticker – He said it. We believe it. That’s that!
Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, grant us the wisdom to live in obedience to the commandments of your Son, our only Savoir. Deliver us from the evil power brokers of this world and from the evil in our own hearts. Bless us with the power to discern good from evil and the desire to choose and to do the good. And grant that we may so live our lives that we will inherit life everlasting – in and through your Son, Jesus Christ the only Savior of the whole world. Amen.