The Reverend J. Howard Cepelak
Pentecost XXI – 21 October 2012
Isaiah 53:4-12, Psalm 91:9-16, Hebrews 5:1-10, Mark 10:35-45
From the Book of the Prophet, Isaiah:
Speaking of the suffering servant, the prophet eloquently wrote, he has born our griefs …carried our sorrows…was wounded for our transgressions…[and] bruised for our iniquities….
[And also,] All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
From the Epistle to the Hebrews:
Speaking of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, the author wrote, Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.
From the Gospel According to St. Mark:
James and John, the sons of Zebedee said to Jesus, Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.
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,
Many of us can remember the day – a cold, breezy day but despite the cold, bright with the winter sun shinning in a clear blue sky. The scene was Washington, D.C. – the day – January 20th 1961 – the occasion – the inauguration of the newly elected President, John F. Kennedy.
It was most certainly quite the occasion – very formal in contrast to the more casual inaugurations of late – top hats and morning coats constituted the dress code for the day. The President elect attended a prayer service at Trinity Roman Catholic Church just before he went to the capital to be sworn in. God, Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, prayer and church involvement were assumed and highly valued in those days – not challenged and minimized as they are now. But, I digress.
Probably the most memorable words spoken that day came from JFK’s inaugural address – simple and straight-forward – an admonition, really -President Kennedy said, Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country. Inspiring words; a challenge to a higher quality of citizenship, a more noble involvement in society and a call to a greater goodness.
Well, as we all know, his presidency never really got going, assassinated not even two full years into his term. His death made Lyndon Johnson president and from that moment on, President Kennedy’s words were set aside.
Johnson’s Great Society and The War on Poverty
somehow made selfishness and entitlement acceptable – even honorable or somehow noble. Everyone was asking – even demanding – of the country, What are you going to do for me? JFK’s enlightened wisdom had morphed into an ignorant and dangerous foolishness.
We have been paying the price ever since. Now, nearly half a century later, as we have run out of money, many people simply will not acknowledge that fact. So they still ask, What are you going to do for me? Every special interest group demands special attention – special financial attention.
Such is human nature. For those who do not believe in original sin – or in any quality of sin for that matter – this is most certainly a wake up call to the Truth – spelled with a capital “T” and Sin spelled with a capital “S”. The fact is that human nature has fallen from any state of original righteousness to a degradation of self-interest pursued at any cost – that cost being best paid by someone else. I want what I want when I want it – and you will pay for it.
From the first moment after the fall in the garden, mankind – and womankind, just to be inclusive – have sought and continue to seek for themselves the honor, glory and power. Before man and woman showed up on the scene, another creature sought for himself all the honor, glory and power. We know his name – Lucifer, now Satan. Thrown out of heaven because of his arrogant attitude of entitlement – he wanted to be God – he began his work on earth. Well, under his inspiration, human nature fell as well. All he had to say was, If you eat this forbidden fruit you will be like God yourself.
It’s in all of us – this tendency towards special entitlement as if we deserved it – to a greater or lesser degree. Make no mistake – it can come out even in the most saintly persons of whom we can think, under the right circumstances. No room for self-righteousness here. The sin is original, fundamental and essential – built in.
We can see it in two men who were – and are – most certainly saints – Sts. James and John, the sons of Zebedee referenced as the sons of thunder for the quick tempers. Traveling along the road to Jerusalem, they said to Jesus, Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.
And then they asked for the honor and the glory of being seated at the Lord’s right and left hands when He would come into His glory – in other words, they wanted the most prestigious places in the Lord’s kingdom.
Such a request seems odd since Jesus had just told them that the Son of man would be despised, mocked humiliated, spit upon and killed – but would rise on the third day. Well, I guess they heard the rise on the third day part – and wanted their places of honor promised to them before the mockery, humiliation, torture and death part might ensue.
As I said, such is human nature. All of us share in that nature – even such illustrious men as Sts. James and John. They followed their first – and yes, sinful – impulse to secure a place of honor for themselves.
I do not believe that they really understood –
I do not believe that they really got the message that what they wanted required a price –
and they were not willing to pay that price –
and furthermore could not pay the price because the price was too high –
but the price would be paid –
and paid by the man of whom they were asking for their fair share of the honor and glory –
as if they were entitled to it –
honor and glory that would come so unfairly at the cost their master’s life –
a gruesome price to be paid for their self-interested honor and glory.
These two men knew their scriptures. They knew of Isaiah’s prophecies that the Son of man, the suffering servant, the true Messiah would function in a totally unique manner in this life.
He would take unto Himself all human sin. He would have no sin in and of Himself but would take on ours, and in His suffering – in His humiliation, mockery, torture, and death, He would purify Himself of that sin – which was – and is – and will be until the end of time, our sin – and set us free from its power. Free from sin’s power, He would defeat death as well. And eternal salvation would be won for all who would believe in Him.
You see, the suffering servant would accomplish in His life, death and resurrection what the priesthood in the Temple – and any priests of any religion practicing anything in any temple or at any altar – could not accomplish – the defeat of sin and death.
He would do it – and He did do it – because He offered Himself as the one pure, perfect and all sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world as He presided over that sacrifice as the one perfect, great high priest – greater than the Levitical priesthood – a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. Hence, the one, true and perfect high priest officiating at the one, true and perfect sacrifice; perfect priest – perfect victim – the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.
The prophet Isaiah wrote, all we like sheep have gone astray and we have turned – everyone- to his own way. Nothing new in this. The prophet’s words were true when he wrote them and remain true today, some 2,400 years later. Everyone doing his own thing, thinking only of himself and what he can get without working for it, without making a sacrifice for it and without literally paying for it. I will say it again – I want what I want when I want it and you will pay for it – just one more way of saying the same thing; one more expression of original sin all the worse because it’s now honored an d glorified as if it were righteous.
Well, the price has been paid. Our fallen human condition has been redeemed. Our sorry, sin-sick souls have been saved. God did it for us because we could not do it for ourselves. The promised saviour of all mankind has come in our history. He suffered, died and rose from the dead. And yet He continues to be mocked, rejected and ridiculed by those forces in this world who do not receive Him -let alone obey Him.
And even some who claim Him will follow another messiah – a false messiah who promises everything and delivers nothing – who promises hope but delivers despair. It’s the story of the ongoing battle for power manifested in every generation. Although seen in every generation, there are better times and worse times – better generations and worse generations.
In that power struggle, the worst of the politicians will sacrifice other people’s lives on the altar of their own honor and glory – comfort and entitlement. Rather than obey the One True God, they demand our obedience.
They will require that the ordinary man pay the price in both taxes and in blood. To the arrogant and entitled mind of the unredeemed soul, everyone exists so that he – or she – can get what he wants when he wants it – as if entitled to it. Such men will re-distribute your meager wealth – to themselves. Theft – as simple as that.
Well, here we are 50 years after JFK spoke those inspiring words. How refreshing it would be if we heard from our leaders noble and inspiring words that called all of us up to a higher level of life lived in greater integrity.
How great it would be if those of us who believe in The One True God would unashamedly proclaim His honor and glory throughout this once great nation that from the beginning acknowledged and honored Him as their Creator and Sustainer.
Shame on us that we have allowed His degradation. Shame on us that we have failed to defend His cause in our nation, states, courts, schools, cities, towns and neighborhoods – and even in our homes. His churches have replaced His saving grace with self-serving, self-centered programs of self-esteem.
But we are at the edge of a new age for the re-establishment of ancient time tested Truth. God is calling us in our time to worship, serve, honor and obey Him as The Way, The Truth and The Life – so that in this world, a good life can be realized, once again, for the honest and the true.
The choice is – as always – ours.
And instead of asking, O Lord, what are you going to do for me?, we will ask, O Lord, what can we do for you?
Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, grant that in our generation we may see a revival of your Truth, a realization of your redeeming mercy and a full appreciation of your saving sacrifice. Deliver us from false messiahs, from empty promises and arrogant demands, and bless us with greater faith in you, higher hope in you and deeper obedience to you and to you alone.
We ask this in the name of and for the sake of your Son,
the crucified and risen Saviour of the whole world –
the One who paid our price,
Jesus Christ the Lord,