The Reverend J. Howard Cepelak
Pentecost IV – 10 July 2011
Genesis 25:19-34, Psalm 119:105-112, Romans 8:1-11, Matthew 13:1-9
From the Book of Genesis:
Esau despised his birthright.
From Psalm 119:
The wicked have laid a snare for me, but I do not stray from thy precepts. Thy testimonies are my heritage forever, yea, they are the joy of my heart.
From St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans:
The apostle wrote, For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death… If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you.
And From the Gospel According to St. Matthew:
After teaching the Parable of the Sower, Jesus concluded with these words; He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
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,
One might very well say that the Bible, in its entirety, is one great big proclamation from God to mankind in which God says, Listen up! Literally, from beginning to end, the Bible contains the accounts God speaking His Word to His people to get their attention to call, challenge, comfort, confront, direct, command, invite, judge, teach, instruct, inspire, correct, reprimand, encourage, lead, guide and warn His children from whom He has been alienated.
Scripture consistently teaches that the separation between God and man – the alienation of man from God – comes from us – not from Him. It comes because although God may say, Listen up! we so frequently do not.
Right from the beginning, God had spoken and told His first children, Adam and Eve, that the whole world belonged to them and that they could eat anything except the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He said, Listen up, Adam! Listen up, Eve! You can eat anything but don’t eat of that tree.
But the serpent said, Don’t listen to Him. He didn’t really mean it. Here, have a taste – it’s good. Take a bit. He won’t mind. And besides you shall become as gods yourselves. Well, you know the rest of the story. They ate. We fell. They listened to, heard and obeyed the wrong voice.
How much better it would have been if they had simply listened to and obeyed God. Were they not conscious of the power of evil in the world? Perhaps not, although the commandment itself indicated the possibility of danger. The Psalmist knew of evil’s power and presence. He sang, The wicked have laid a snare for me, but I do not stray from thy precepts.
Now even as I say that God speaks but we fail to listen, I can think of exceptions when some or maybe even many actually do listen, hear and obey. Remember Jonah? God sent him to proclaim the divine Word to the City of Nineveh calling the people to repent and turn to the One True God. Now, Jonah himself listened to God and heard the Lord’s command. But he did not obey. He avoided doing what God had commanded, ran away as fast as he could, and only after he had been swallowed up by a giant fish and then coughed up did he decide to obey the Lord and do as commanded.
Jonah finally obeyed God. He called Nineveh to turn to God and the entire city listened, heard and obeyed. Yet such as scenario is rare. Generally, the people may listen but if they listen they do not hear, that is, get the message. And if they hear, they may very well not obey. Even when the people listen to God’s Word spoken through His prophets – men like Moses, Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah and even John the Baptist – the people may listen, hear and sometimes obey only to ignore the Lord’s precepts at the first opportunity. Every evangelist – even men as successful as Billy Graham – have spoken about so many who have come to Christ only to depart soon after. They turn away, fall away or simply go away.
Scripture also tells us that God speaks to the whole world but speaks primarily through His chosen people. He chose Abraham to be the father of many nations whose offspring would be so numerous as to be like the stars of the heavens. Abraham’s son, Isaac, and Isaac’s son Jacob would be the founding fathers – the patriarchs – through whom God would fulfill this promise.
A quick look at Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, tells us that he was a reluctant candidate for God’s work. Like Jonah, he was slow to do what God commanded. Like Jonah, he eventually did as he was instructed. But right from the beginning he was more concerned about himself than about anyone else, seeking his own advantage, even over his brother, Esau. Jacob took advantage of his older twin brother and wrangled the birthright from his him.
Now birthright means a lot less today that it did in previous generations. In ancient times and for most of human history, the first-born son received the birthright – that is the right to claim the inheritance upon the father’s death. Birthright not only involved property rights, it also meant that he who had the birthright had power and privilege. Others would owe him allegiance and obedience.
Now, I said that Jacob wrangled Esau’s birthright away from him. But it didn’t take much. Esau gave it up in exchange for a hot meal. Hence, scripture says, Esau despised his birthright.
Now, it’s possible – and indicated in Scripture – that some people simply cannot hear when God speaks. They do not have ears to hear.
Jesus said as much when he taught about the nature of the Kingdom of God by speaking in parables. When His disciples asked Him why he spoke in parables He said, To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. Our Lord then quoted Isaiah who had said, and I paraphrase – that some will hear but never understand – see but never perceive – for they have closed their ears to God’s Word. They will never have the eyes to see the vision of His Kingdom.
The message given in the Parable of the Sower says the same thing. God’s Word is broadcast – spread out – all over the world. Some people are like the rocky ground and His word never takes hold. Others have shallow soil. The Word takes hold but when anything challenges it, they give it up.
And others are like fertile soil. God says, Listen up! and they do. They listen, they hear – they understand and they internalize God’s living Word and do not give it up. They listen, hear and obey. Like the Psalmist, they live by God’s precepts and His Word is the joy of their hearts. God’s Word is their heritage. Unlike Esau, they will never exchange it for anything else.
Well, the more things change, the more they remain the same. We live today in just the same atmosphere, as did all previous generations. Surely, far too many people today either ignore God’s voice when He says, Listen up! – or listen but do not understand – or listen and understand but do not obey.
We live in a secular age, in a secular city. The faithful of previous generations have faded. Their heritage – a kind of birthright for their children – has been discarded – given up for the approval of non-believers or because it’s just the thing to do right now. The wicked have set their snares and trapped so many who think of themselves as enlightened, modern and up to date.
One of he most enticing snares is that one that tells us in our generation that God’s Word cannot be true. So many who believe themselves to be enlightened will say, Times have changed. We need new solutions to new problems. How can anything 2,000 or 3,000 years old have any relevance to our situation today? We know so much more.
On those grounds, many people – and probably the majority in this part of the world – completely disregard the Bible, the accumulated and time tested wisdom and truth found on and in its pages and go their own way. Amazingly, most of those who reject it or consider it irrelevant have never read it! Having eaten of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and convinced that they do indeed really know the difference between good and evil – well, they know that God’s Word is most certainly not definitive for the modern, open minded and well educated individual. God’s Word simply does not stand up to Darwin’s word, Karl Marx’s word or the currently popular words of John Maynard Keynes.
How interesting. Darwin never determined the true origin of the species, Marxian economics have consistently failed and Keynesian theory bankrupts the nations. Yet the Bible’s wisdom and God’s commandments work every time they’re tried. And Christ’s saving power – well, there’s just no other.
Such individuals will say, They didn’t have computers 2,000 years ago. Neither did they have reliable birth control – or convenient international travel – or access to the teachings of so many other great thinkers from other cultures and religions. Or the benefits of science, space exploration, or modern biology and chemistry. So how could anyone who lived 2,000 years ago have anything important to say to us in our generation? It’s just irrelevant.
Rejecting the heritage of faith passed on to them as a kind of birthright, and having given it up for the approval of their unbelieving friends, they place their faith n failed ideas and false Messiahs. Deaf to God’s Word and blind to the vision of His kingdom, they either cannot or will not listen and see. In their ignorance – the ignorance that they call enlightenment – they judge God as irrelevant. On the Last Day, He may very well judge them as they have judged Him.
Our job remains the same – to keep the faith that has been passed on to us as our heritage – to live our lives alive in God’s saving Word and to do so joyfully, courageously and without compromise.
Our best example remains St. Paul. When God said to him, Listen up! Paul listened. When God asked him, Why do you persecute me? Paul had no good answer. He heard God’s voice. He understood God’s message. And he dramatically changed. Yes, he listened, heard and obeyed.
St. Paul like the other original evangelists knew and proclaimed the saving power of God. Paul’s words are perfect when he wrote, For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death.
St. Paul knew the devices of this world, the world of the flesh. When he writes of the flesh we must not think just in terms of the physical body with its various desires and needs but of everything material in the fallen creation – everything from the human heart, mind, body and soul to the earth itself and the universe beyond. So he wrote, For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh… those persons set on the material world without God – well, those people are indeed lost. Their minds are hostile to God. They do not and cannot submit to God so they submit to sin and death. Incidentally that’s the only choice; one or the other. And they do so as if they were intelligent, have superior knowledge, insight and wisdom and that they have the secret to life.
But the secret is just this. There is no secret. The secret to life and to eternal life hung on a cross two thousand years ago when the incarnate God allowed the powers of sin and death to kill Him – but what those powers did not know was this – that in His death they would die and He would live – and even more than that, all those who believe in Him will live forever. That’s the secret that’s no secret at all.
So, Listen up! If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you.
Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, grant to us ears to hear and eyes to see. Indwell in our hearts, minds, bodies and souls. Grant to us the courage to defend and proclaim our heritage of salvation that we may speak your truth to those who set for us and for all snares of entrapment. And grant that we may so live our lives that we will inherit eternal life
given in and in only in your Son,
our only Saviour,
Jesus Christ the Lord