The Reverend J. Howard Cepelak
Trinity Church

Waltham, Massachusetts

Pentecost XVI – 16 September 2012

Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 116:1-9, James 3:1-12, Mark 8:27-38

From the Book of the Prophet, Isaiah:
…the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been confounded; therefore I have set my face like a flint and I know I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near.

From the Letter of St. James:
Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness.

And From the Gospel According to St. Mark:
Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ said, …whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.

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,

Of all the prophets I think that I love Isaiah the most. Practical in his prophecy and powerfully poetic in his expression, this man knew human nature better than any contemporary psychologist. He knew that human beings are at once created in the image of God and also fallen into the dreadful state of sinful disobedience to the very God who had created them in His own image.

He also knew, better than anyone else of his time, the divine nature as well. Although God was – and is – and will be forever unknowable other than to the extent that He chooses to reveal Himself -and His most perfect revelation being His Son our only Savior, Jesus Christ – nonetheless some 750 years before God became man in Jesus Christ, Isaiah knew God.

This prophet had been the beneficiary of a unique revelation when God called and commissioned him to a prophetic ministry. Unashamedly, Isaiah spent the rest of is life proclaiming the message entrusted to him.

For Isaiah, God was in no way a good buddy. The Lord was – dare I use the word – awesome in holiness beyond description. In his vision, presented in chapter 6, Isaiah described the Lord in some of the most beautiful and inspiring words of scripture – a testimony to God’s awesome nature. This passage is worthy of memorization. Isaiah wrote,

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, seated upon a throne, high and lifted up and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim: each had six wings. With twain he covered his face, with twain he covered his feet and with twain he did fly.

And one cried unto another and said, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts: The whole earth is full of his glory. And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said, Woe is me for I am undone for I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!

Note that in his vision, he saw the Lord seated upon a throne in the heavenly temple. Isaiah was a priest, fully familiar with the great Jerusalem temple. As a priest, he knew God to be the King above all kings and that King’s throne room was the temple – the heavenly temple of which the glorious Jerusalem temple was but a faint imitation.

The vision continues to testify to the glory and awesomeness of God in that the seraphim – the highest order of angelic beings in the nine fold hierarchy of heavenly beings – stood above the throne to bear witness to the same divine glory. So intense was the divine presence, that these greatest of all angels covered their faces for even they could not gaze upon Him. So powerful was the divine presence that all they could say was, Holy! Holy! Holy!

God’s burningly intense presence is further veiled by the smoke of the incense burning as it always did in the earthly temple – so too in the heavenly temple – indicating ultimate divinity – God as both the great high priest and King.

The incense further denoted the burnt offering – the blood sacrifice offered in Jerusalem to God for the purification of sinful man – and prefiguring the sacrifice of God Himself in the form of His Son to whom frankincense was offered when the pagan kings worshipped the infant King. The infant King of the Jews would become the full, perfect and all sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the all the people.

All of this fits together so magnificently telling us that this prophet was the real thing. And confirming that, Isaiah said, I am undone, for I am man of unclean lips…. Humility, the first and most important mark of any authentic man of God. Humble before God; yet bold and unashamed in his proclamation of God’s word.

All prophets – that is all authentic prophets – see life and the world from two perspectives at the same time – from our sinful human perspective and from the perfection of God’s holiness. Being thus blessed, they can see the whole picture; they can connect all the dots.

Most people cannot do that. Only true prophets can. And that is precisely what Isaiah did. He saw the whole picture of the time in which he lived -with all of its apostasy, with the people having fallen away from their God – indeed willfully turning away from their God as they assumed their own importance, indulged their own wills and grew arrogant in their own degradation. They gloried in their sins but were ashamed of God.

He saw the heavenly King but also the earthly kings. He knew five of Judah’s kings.
Uzziah a good king who sought to serve the Lord – Jotham who served faithfully as well fortifying the walls of the city and of the temple -
Ahaz a bad king who worshipped false gods, desecrated the temple and murdered his own son –
Hezekiah ardent in his devotion he purified the temple and called the people back to faithfulness to the law -
and Manasseh, a bad king who indulged idolatry.
Yet even the best of them remained imperfect and the worst of them were horribly corrupt, self-centered, self-important and self-consumed as well as idolatrous. Isaiah prophesied to all of them except, of course, Uzziah who died in the year of the prophet’s call.

The contrast between the divine perfection and the human corruption emboldened him to his unashamed words, as he always remained humble, knowing his own uncleanliness. His sin, purged as it had been by the burning coal from the alter fire as the seraph touched his lips, nonetheless, Isaiah remained fully human – fully human with a divine vocation but never divine himself.

Blessed with both human and divine perception, he might well have gone crazy – especially when his words from God judged the bad kings. Dangerous words. Yet he remained faithful. In the passage set for this morning, the third of his four Servant Songs, the prophet wrote, the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been confounded; therefore I have set my face like a flint and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Unashamed.

Keep thin in mind as we fast-forward in time 3,700 years.

Last week, Neil Armstrong died. The media covered his accomplishment of having been the first human being to have walked on the moon and thus on anything other than planet earth.

But one thing that we did not hear about was reported in The Guardian, a British newspaper and testified to by Buzz Aldran who also walked on the moon on that same mission, was the fact that he had taken the Sacrament of Holy Communion to the moon and shared it on the moon. Neil Armstrong, a devout Christian and member of the Webster Presbyterian Church in Houston, Texas, had been given – at his request – the elements of bread and wine to take with them. Upon landing on the moon, they took a moment to recite a passage from the Gospel of St. John and shared the consecrated elements.

[Correction - Buzz Aldrin, a member at Webster Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX., brought the sacrament and shared it with Neil Armstrong. Although Armstrong shared in the sacrament on the moon, he apparently was not an active churchman. Aldrin was most certainly unashamed of his faith. The nature and content of Armstrong’s faith is barely discussed on the Internet. I have included the correction in the original text of my sermon in parentheses.]

Armstrong (Aldrin) wanted to have this broadcast but NASA blacked it out due to the fact that the atheist Madelyn Murray O’Hara was suing the agency because Biblical passages had been read on other occasions. Due to the lawsuit, the sacrament remained unknown until months later.

Unashamed of the Gospel, (Aldrin) Armstrong made history, properly honoring God. A humble man as evidenced by his words, One small step for a man – one giant leap for mankind, he nonetheless honored and glorified God in his life. Part of The Westminster Confession, which we, as Congregationalists, affirm in our own document, The Savoy Declaration – almost identical to the Confession – proclaims that the purpose of life is to honor and glorify God. (Buzz Aldrin and) Neil Armstrong did just that.
Back in time some 2,000 years.
St James warned his followers that not too many of them should become teachers since God holds the teachers of the faith to a higher and stricter standard. People should be careful so that they, in their teaching, might not dishonor Christ or use the name of Jesus to glorify themselves.

Heeding that warning, all of us are, nonetheless, to some degree or another, teachers of the faith. (Buss Aldrin) Neil Armstrong was just such a teacher but, again in this adulterous and sinful generation, we apologize for the faith and fail to teach it even to own children. We now have a generation of young people the majority of whom have not been educated in the faith, know nothing of its saving truth, and who believe as the anti-Christian culture has taught, that Jesus was just one more religions figure among many. And worse yet, even our schools blame Christianity for all the evil in the world as they glorify secular culture and teach the moral equivalency of evil religions.)
All I need to say about that is just read about what is happening in the Middle East, in Egypt and Libya. Members of a militant religion are persecuting Christians and Jews. Yet the media never identifies this as a religious war and fails to cover the ongoing persecution.

Jesus told us that if we are ashamed of Him He will be ashamed of us as well when we stand before the judgment throne of God. The false teachers who currently lead most of our major denominations – including the Roman church as well as the various Protestant variations – teach that God automatically forgives everything, that there really is no such thing as sin and that there is – and never will be – a judgment. Truly, these false teachers will be surprised when they sand before that throne – the same throne that Isaiah saw in his glorious vision of God. Will their lips – the lips that proclaimed the disgrace of God – be purged?

The present generation honors and glorifies those who dishonor Christ and censor those who do. Even our government has attempted to force faithful Christians into sin by requiring, under the law, that the Roman Catholic Church provide insurance to cover birth control and abortion to those employed by that organization. And just as bad, the powers that be compromise with, speak honorably of and encourage those who seek to destroy us.

Sadly, we are reaping what we have sown. So many of my friends, as they had children, did not educate them in the church because they wanted their children not to be pressured into belief but left free to make up their own minds. If I have heard that once, I have heard it a thousand times. Lacking exposure to the true religion, the secularists in our schools and in the culture have educated – indoctrinated – them in anti-Christianity.

We have given in to the bad guys because we’re somehow embarrassed and ashamed of our faith and the truth it reveals. Given the blessed assurance of the divine mercy, those who abuse His saving grace and His redeeming power will not share in the blessing.

Following the example of those who, like Isaiah, like St. James and like all the other apostles and the countless Christian martyrs who, over the ages, unashamedly proclaimed the crucified and risen Savior, Jesus Christ – our job is to do the same. For He and He alone is our only hope. And this is most important as the powers of this world promise hope but deliver despair.

We have the blessed assurance. And unashamed of the Gospel, we must stand up and challenge those perverse powers. Victory will come, but only if we honor and glorify God, perfectly revealed in the one and only Savior of all mankind, Jesus Christ.

So don’t be confounded. Set your face like a flint and proclaim the Gospel – boldly and unashamedly -giving Him the honor and the glory.

Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, purge our lips with the burning coal of your sacred fire – the fire that burns and purifies but does not consume. Humble before your throne, bless us with boldness in the face of the prevailing evil. Deliver us, we pray, from that evil, and grant to us a new day of all that’s good and right and true – given to us in and through the sacrifice of our Son,
Our only Savior,
Jesus Christ the King.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>