St. Mary’s Anglican Church
Septuagesima – January 28, 2018
Canon Claude Schroeder
1 Corinthians 9:24; Matthew 20:1-16
Today we are shifting gears at St. Mary’s. Today marks the beginning of the season of pre-Lent in our liturgical calendar. We have the three Sundays of Septuagesima, Sexagesima, Quinquagesima. What fun these exotic sounding Latin names! Septuagesima, which stand for 70, Sexagesima which stands for 60, and Quinquagesima which stands for 50. We are symbolically counting down the days to the Great Fast and the 40 days of Lent leading up to Easter. If we are honest, the thought of Lent is probably the last thing on any of our minds, and our hearts are not in it. That’s OK. We have the next three weeks to ready our minds, and prepare our hearts.
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday which this year falls on February 14‘”, which also is Valentine’s Day. Sweet! St. Valentine, was a priest in Rome who in the year 269 suffered martyrdom, who gave up his life for his one true love. Lent is a kind of training for martyrdom, where we learn what it means for us to give our lives for our one true love. On Ash Wednesday, I will invite you in the name of the Church to the observance of a holy Lent, by self examination and repentance, by prayer, fasting and self denial, and by reading and meditating upon God’s holy word.
So guess when Easter falls this year? April 1st. April Fool’s Day! The joke is on us. You thought I was dead? Surprise!
I like to think of Lent in terms of a journey. The people of Israel journeyed for 40 years through the desert on their way to the Promised Land, after God set them free from their slavery in Egypt through the waters of the Red Sea. This was a time of testing for God’s people, where they had to learn what it means to listen to God’s voice, trust in His promise and trust His provision. The generation whom God set free failed the test, and end up dying in the desert.
Jesus entered into the experience of His people when at His Baptism he passed through the waters of the river Jordan, and promptly the desert wilderness of Judea where for 40 days he was tempted by the devil. Where the people of Israel failed, Jesus succeeded, overcoming temptation and showing Himself to be God’s true Son and the One who can save us in our time of trial and testing.
And what about us? We are still on our journey. It is for us a time of trial and a time of testing.
Where are we headed? We are on our way home, into the nearer Presence of God, and the peace and joy of the Holy Spirit. Our journey through Lent is a journey to Jerusalem, to share in his suffering and death, that we might also share the power of His Resurrection. The promise and hope of Lent is for spiritual renewal – a renewal of our faith and the power of love.
Our Epistle and Gospel today supply us with two further images for Lent. The first image is that of an athlete training for a competition. “Do you not know,” writes Paul, “that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize?
The Olympic Games in PyeongChang begin on Feb.9, and we will be cheering on our Canadian athletes, who in some cases have been training for years following a careful regime of diet and exercise in the hope of winning Olympic Gold. “Every athlete,” writes Paul, “exercises self control in all things “
it is no different for the Christian. “Run is such a way,” writes Paul, “that you may win the prize!”
What we are seeking to do in Lent and throughout our lives is bring our bodies into submission to our spirits and the prize is freedom, spiritual freedom. In sin, our spirits are subject to our bodies, and this is the very definition of slavery.
In ancient Greece, Olympic champions were crowned with a wreath on their heads. But how long does a person get to enjoy the title of Olympic champion? Only until the next Olympics. Paul writes, “whereas athletes train to receive a perishable wreath, we train to receive an imperishable wreath, lasting peace and lasting joy.” This only comes from exercising yourself, training yourself spiritually. The Christian life is a life of discipline.
The other image for Lent comes from today’s Gospel lesson. It’s this image of laboring or working in the vineyard. In the story which Jesus tells the vineyard owner goes out first thing in the morning to the marketplace and hires laborers to work in his vineyard. And at 9 o ‘clock, noon, and again at three o’clock he comes back, and seeing workers standing around doing nothing, hires them also. At 5 o’clock, one hour before quitting time, he goes back and seeing workers standing around idle, says to them, “Why have you been standing around all day, doing nothing? And they said, “Nobody has hired us.” The vineyard owner says, “ I’ll give you some work to do. Hope in the truck, let’s go!”
This story, says Jesus, is about the kingdom of heaven. What is the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven is the presence and power of God in your life, now. There are many ways to experience the presence and power of God in your life. God is everywhere present and fills all things. But today’s story highlights the experience of God’s Presence and Power in terms of the invitation to come and work in the vineyard, where we engage not in physical labor, but in spiritual labor.
People not only need something to do with their hands, they need something to do with their hearts, their minds, and their spirits. Love God…with heart, soul, mind ,and strength! This is the first and great commandment. Our coming to church on Sunday morning is a labor, a labor of love towards God. The technical term for this is “liturgy” which means the “work of the people.”
You know how people will ask “How are you doing?” they will often add, “Keeping busy?” And you will say, “Crazy busy. So much to do and so little time to do it.” That somehow is supposed to be a good thing? In the Christian life busyness, in and of itself, is not a virtue. Prudence is a virtue, temperance is a virtue, fortitude and justice are virtues, so are faith, hope, and love.
I think you all know, I want our Roman Catholic visitors from the Archdiocese to know, that the Anglican Diocese here, as well as the Anglican Church of Canada is in deep trouble. It may look to you that things are not as bad as they seem, but it is far worse! Some of us are more than a little concerned. But as I talk to colleagues in other churches l discover we are not alone. We are all in trouble. So what’s to be done?” Well, we can trim the budget, call in a fundraiser, close down parishes, and amalgamate Dioceses. But as Peter Funk, the Benedictine prior of Holy Cross Monastery in Chicago, writes, “Institutions can only function well and in proper subordination to practices if the members are virtuous. . .virtues are learned in practices, not in bylaws of institutions…” (On the Impermanence of Institutions and the Permanence of Virtue, Aug. 17, 2016)
The life of the Christian consists not in running around like a chicken with your head cutoff, but in the acquisition of virtue, which involves spiritual practices, including reading and studying the Scripture, prayer, and fasting, but also resting from our labors in keeping the Sabbath. This is the work and labor of the Christian life into which God calls us, which we seek to re-engage in the season of Lent.
it’s why it is quite possible to be “crazy busy” as they say, but actually to be spiritually idle, to be spiritually lazy. This is a huge problem for pastors. Who of us does not struggle with this? Finding and making time for Scripture and prayer? Well, we before we run, we need take baby steps…
Martin Luther famously said, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer,” suggesting that the busier we get, the more time we need for prayer. The point being that our work becomes an extension of our prayer, our Communion with God, and that through prayer we receive strength from God that keeps us from burning out.
Luther’s barber, Master Peter, once asked him for some advice on prayer. Luther wrote, “ a good and attentive barber keeps his thoughts, attention, and eyes on the razor and hair and does not forget how far he has gotten with his shaving or cutting. If he wants to engage in too much conversation or let his mind wander or look somewhere else he is likely to cut his customer’s mouth, nose, or even his throat. Thus if anything is to be done well, it requires the full attention of all one’s senses and members, as the proverb says, ‘Pluribus intentus, minor est ad singula sensus’—‘He who thinks of many things, thinks of nothing and does nothing right.’ How much more does prayer call for concentration and singleness of heart if it is to be a good prayer!
Here we see what a problem multi-tasking and distractions are for the spiritual life. This why in the service of young people in the Book of Common Prayer, the Minister begins the prayer, with the young people repeating after him, “Lord, teach us to pray. Lord, keep our thoughts from wandering. Lord, cleanse our hearts that we may worship thee in spirit and in truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” to which we might add, “on this earth.” But we who wrestle and struggle mightily with so many conflicting desires, follow “the devices and desires of our own hearts, and there is no health in us.” There is no blessing in this. Only sickness. In Lent we seek the healing and cleansing of our hearts, and have God transform our desires into a singular desire for Him.
Lent is a time for growth, growing in our knowledge and love of God, growing in the knowledge and love of neighbor. The more we get to know God, the more there is to love, and that is also true of our relationships with each other.
As we see in the parable, the labor is labor of grace, where both the work and the reward are gift. It’s not a question of earning anything. It’s a question of God’s mercy and grace. What is grace? Grace is our participation in the life of God, a life of self-emptying love, where that which is received is out of all proportion to what is given. In our story those who had worked one hour, were paid first, and were given a full day’s pay!
Some of us here today have been working a long time in the Lord‘s vineyard. You have served, you have prayed, you have worshipped, you have given… a lifetime! Others not so long. And yet others, are recent arrivals.
But as we see in the story, it matters not. We are all serving one Lord, and we are all seeking one reward. Grace would have us rejoice in God’s invitation to come and labor and in the generosity of His mercy and grace. What matters is that we give up our idle hands, and ourselves to the work at hand. Amen.