Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sermon for Lent II
St. John’s – Moultrie, GA
February 28, 2010

Words are one of the most powerful tools of mankind. We’ve all heard the quotations, that the pen is mightier than the sword, or from the schoolyard, sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. If you were to ask an attorney if he spent a great deal of time pouring over the words he uses in his arguments, I’m sure that he will tell you that words are critical in making an argument. I’m sure that a poet will say that she spends incalculable amounts of time selecting the right words to express the depth of her emotion. Words are a part of who we are, and how we interact with other people.
It is no wonder that one of the biggest debates within our church today has to do with the words of Holy Scripture and their meaning for us in our lives as Christians and disciples of Jesus Christ.

This morning’s Gospel lesson has what I think is an interesting parallel to the story of Peter’s walking on water, which appears in the previous chapter in St. Matthew. This is a most familiar story which for me hinged on three words right in the middle – Lord, save me. When Peter began to sink under his own weight of self-dependence, he cries out to the only source of what he needed – salvation. He cried out to the one whose name means ‘The Lord is Salvation’ in his hour of darkness.

This passage about the Canaanite woman also seems to hinge on three words in the middle of the story when she calls out to Jesus with almost the same words that Peter uses when she says – Lord, help me. However, there is a difference that doesn’t resonate quite as clearly in our English translations.

I’m going to ask you think a minute and recall some of those English rules about verbs, and the fact that verbs convey different meanings when you speak about person, number, voice, mood, and tense. These attributes of verbs give clues about time, action, consequence, participants, and so on. With that in mind, I wish to delve into the two three word phrases that I just mentioned – Peter’s words from St. Matthew 14, “Lord, save me” and the Canaanite woman’s words this morning in St. Matthew 15, “Lord, help me.” In both instances the verb is an imperative meaning a command or a most urgent request. In English we recognize most imperatives because it is usually followed by an exclamation point. We certainly don’t have Peter’s voice inflection from the written text, but I’m sure that his plea to Jesus to save him would have had a string of exclamation points!

The woman in the story this morning cries out for help in the form of an imperative, but the verb tense is what truly tells the story. The way in which she asks for Jesus’ help is in a manner of a continuous action. Not only do her words say, “help me today” but they convey the meaning of “help me today, and tomorrow, and the next day, and continue to help me forever.” When Peter cries out to be saved, his plea is right then, and right now.
You may be sitting there going, what difference does all this make? What does the tense of some particular verb in a particular passage have to do with this story, with my life, with what I’m dealing with right now? Actually, it has more than meets the eye.

There is a reason why St. Matthew, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, recorded the woman’s words to Jesus in the person, number, tense, voice, and mood as we have them. There is a difference, and in this instance, her choice of words adds a degree of insight to the story that might otherwise get glossed over.

This encounter with the Canaanite woman is a very interesting piece of Jesus’ ministry. At first glance one might see Jesus, as portrayed in those words, as a heartless figure, who doesn’t seem to have time for the common man, and especially an outsider like this Canaanite woman. Of course, the disciples chimed in with similar words, and they too appeared cruel and haughty as well. We find here a woman who comes to Jesus in the form of utter humility, who knew her place as an outsider, and doesn’t just ask for help in the form of an exorcism of her daughter, but rather, asks for the continuous help of the Messiah, the son of David.

Her cry for assistance is slightly different what Peter asked when he began to sink. It’s not that one is better or worse than the other, but rather, that they are different. After all, this exact same difference occurs between Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer, and the one found in Luke’s Gospel. In Matthew, Jesus tells his us to pray to the Father to “give us our daily bread” in the sense that we need only ask for what we need today, and not worry about tomorrow. This makes perfect sense because the Lord’s Prayer is the center piece of the Sermon on the Mount, and Jesus stresses that same sentiment when he tells the crowds not to worry about tomorrow, for it will take care of itself. He also tells them not to worry about what they are to eat, and drink, or what they will wear because their Heavenly Father knows before they ask. As recorded in Luke, when we call upon the Father to “give us our daily bread” the word “give” has the connotation to keep on giving me my daily bread today, tomorrow, and forever. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, which one are we asking for? The answer is both! We are asking that we be fed today, and only with enough for our needs. Just like the manna in the wilderness, our Daily Bread isn’t to be hoarded, or saved for a rainy day. It’s for our consumption today. Tomorrow we will face new challenges, and we must receive the nourishment needed when the time comes. We also ask God to feed us tomorrow just like He did today. And Lord, after you feed me tomorrow, please feed me again the next day, and the next, and the next.

In a strange turn of events, a Canaanite woman provides an example for us all to follow. First, she approaches the Almighty with a spirit of humility and meekness. She is not hindered when obstacles appear in front of her. She was like the woman who believed in her heart that all she had to do was touch the hem of Jesus’ garment that she would be made clean. This Canaanite woman believed in her heart that she didn’t even have to feast at the banquet table, but only needed to eat the scraps and crumbs left over to receive the nourishment that would satisfy her forever. “We do not presume to come to this thy table O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table. But thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy.” Twice in the Prayer of Humble Access we reference God’s never ending mercy. That was what the Canaanite woman asked for in the very beginning. She cried out for mercy, and Jesus showed her mercy.

The story of this woman echoes the collect we heard at the beginning of the service when we rightly acknowledge that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves. Our help cometh only from the Lord, and she knew that trusting in her own devices led to more begging and pleading. Instead, she did what we so often do in our greatest times of need, cry out to God for help. I just wish I didn’t wait that long at times. I wish I would seek God’s guidance first rather than waiting until I’ve made mess of it on my own. After all, as we heard in the collect the stakes are real, and the consequences will last for eternity. Our greatest concern must be the strength to wage war against those evil thoughts which can both assault and hurt our soul. Many of the adversities which we encounter in our lives simply happen to the body. These, through God’s grace and protection, we are able to brush aside and bounce back from. However, once those adversities are turned to evil thoughts, then the mind is no longer in command to the thoughts, but the thought has turned the tables and we can come under its control. It is only a matter of time that the mind then begins to justify the things that the will begins to do once those evil thoughts become evil actions. A fib here turns into a whopper of a lie there. An innocent statement here turns into horrendous gossip there. A little fudge on my income tax return here turns into more and more dishonesty there. The evil thoughts which confront us every day soon begin to enslave us, and we are incapable of defending ourselves on our own. We need a source that can actually quench the flaming arrows of the enemy, and that source is God Almighty.

The Canaanite woman was not afraid to acknowledge her low estate to Jesus when she encountered him. We all too often think it immature, or beneath us to cry out for help. The temptation is always there to say, I can do this on my own. In reality, the only mature thing we can ever do is swallow our pride, fall down on our knees, and confess with the depths of our being, that we are in a constant state of need, and thanks be to God that we know where the source of living water is, that we might never thirst again. O God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, our shelter from the stormy blast, and our Eternal home.

With every fiber of our being, may we cry out to God in a spirit of true humility, Lord, Help Me!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Sermon for First Sunday in Lent
St. John’s – Moultrie
February 21, 2010

“Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”

From its origins, the Christian Church has been fraught with incorrect teachings and heresies, or as the Ordinal in any of the classic Books of Common Prayer call them “all erroneous and strange doctrine contrary to the God’s Word.” Many of these heresies arose over issues surrounding the person of Jesus Christ and how to handle his humanity and his divinity. One of the documents of the early church is printed in the Historical Documents section of the 1979 Prayer Book and is known as the Chalcedonian Definition of the Union of the Divine and Human Natures in the Person of Christ. This document was hammered out and defined by the Council of Chalcedon in the year 451 A.D. Of course our 39 Articles of Religion, Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, Athanasian Creed, and the Preface to the first Book of Common Prayer were also relegated to the Historical Documents section of the ’79 Prayer Book, but we’ll save that discussion for another day!

In light of our Gospel lesson, the traditional reading of the temptation of our Lord in the wilderness by Satan on this First Sunday in Lent, those words from the author to the Epistle to the Hebrews ring in our ears, that we do in fact have a Lord and Saviour who faced trials and temptations just like we did, and yet, did so without the spot of sin. That is a most significant and trustworthy statement; “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” so that we can rest in the assurance that our Saviour is not someone distant, remote, detached, and unconcerned with what confronts us each and every day of our lives. Quite the contrary. Jesus met and faced those temptations head-on, and did so with a singular focus – that His Father’s Will might be accomplished.

As we heard from Matthew’s account of the temptation narrative, Satan comes to Jesus after a time of fasting, prayer, and preparation, and finds Him at what would rightly be called a time of physical weakness. Our text says that after being driven out into the wilderness and fasting 40 days and 40 nights, that Jesus was “an hungered.” I don’t know about each of you, but for me just keeping the minimal fast on Ash Wednesday of no food during the daylight hours, and only after sundown a minimal meal, I was “an hungered!” I can only imagine what I might feel like after 40 days and 40 nights of fasting. Yet, this is the condition that Jesus was in when Satan came to him, and his first temptation was an appeal to the intellect. What Satan does is start with the assumption that Jesus’ fundamental need was physical and material, and thus, naturally ends up with a false conclusion. Taken to its extreme, if our Lord were to yield to this temptation we are left with the belief that the only true necessity in our life is that we have our physical needs met and beyond that everything else is simply gravy. In this case, the line from the Lord’s Prayer is simply to have God provide our edible daily bread, and not the double meaning that lies behind the word bread which also means food for the soul. Thus, our Lord answers Satan’s temptation with a quotation from Deuteronomy 8:3, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”

Satan then tries a different approach and moves from an appeal to the intellect and a materialistic angle and tries to chip away at Jesus’ defenses from another perspective. Since Jesus quoted Scripture to deflect Satan’s first temptation, it’s interesting that Satan begins by quoting Scripture. He says quite correctly from Psalm 91 that, “[The LORD] shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee in their hands, that thou hurt not thy foot against a stone.” However, there’s more than simply quoting Scripture. Satan makes an incorrect assertion that Jesus was here to merely meet some obscure utilitarian purposes, and that all we do is call upon God when we need him, like the proverbial genie in a bottle. God doesn’t work that way. We don’t pull God off of a shelf and simply sprinkle a little bit on our problems whenever all other avenues have been exhausted. Jesus answers in reply that this is merely a form of testing that begs the question, “God why do I need you except when I want something or need something?”

Ravi Zacharias relays a story which I think characterizes the utilitarian aspect of this temptation quite well. He speaks of a trip to the far east where he as shopping at an outdoor marketplace and stops to purchase a sermon case. He asks the young girl who is selling her wares the price of the case and she tells him that it costs 100 pesos. He then glances over at a picture on the wall, which happened to be one of the renditions of Jesus, and asks the girl, “Who’s that in that picture.” She replies that it was God. Ravi then says, “Ah good, you see, I work for him” at which point he asks her again, “now how much is that sermon case” to which she answers, “30 pesos.” What just happened here? With the drop of a name he talked the girl down from 100 to 30 pesos. He added a caveat to the story where he jokingly said, “I’ll bet if it had been thundering and lightning she would have told me, ‘here take the case as a gift.’” That’s the kind of utilitarian temptation that I believe Satan was using on Jesus; that Jesus could be called upon to simply exhibit his power and that people would follow him for that reason alone. Our Lord refuses to give in.

Ravi then makes a point here that he believes that this second temptation just might have been the weightiest of the three because in a way, this one would revisit him in other ways in his ministry. For instance, after St. Peter makes his confession that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, he then tries to remove the cross from Jesus’ ultimate destination when he pulls Jesus aside, rebukes him and says, “Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee.” If you remember what Jesus says next you’ll see why this temptation is confronting him yet again because he says to Peter, “Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.”

Those words of temptation return yet another time when Jesus is hanging in agony on the cross and the words of his detractors are hurled in his face again when they cried out, “Ah, thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, Save thyself, and come down from the cross. Likewise also the chief priests mocking said among themselves with the scribes, He saved others; himself he cannot save. Let Christ the King of Israel descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe.”

At the point in his life when our Lord was the most vulnerable his eyes are forever fixed upon His Father, even though in utter desperation his cries out, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” I think Dr. Zacharias is completely correct when he said, “I believe that Jesus uttered those words so that we would never have to.”

Finally, Satan tries things from one more angle and attempts to appeal to Jesus’ imagination when he takes him to a high mountain says that all of this could be his if only he would only bow down and worship him. Satan’s false assumption here is the temptation to place creation over the Creator, and thus Jesus tells Satan to be gone from him for it is written, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.”

I find it very easy to succumb to the temptation of believing in creation over the Creator. We so often seek pleasure in the things of this world as opposed to seeking delight and pleasure in the One that gave to us these things for us to enjoy.

Our world has been filled with people who have wrongly believed that Planet Earth is the final destination of Paradise, and that we can build a utopia apart from God Almighty. After all, wasn’t that ultimately what the Tower of Babel was all about? Society making a name for itself and man being the measure of his own success?

Malcolm Muggeridge in a series of lectures penned the following lines which were later compiled into a book entitled The End of Christendom. I end with these words for us to ponder during this season of Lent. May we spend these days in prayer and fasting as our Lord did that we might be attuned to and aware of those places where Satan comes to tempt our intellect with an appeal to materialism; our will with an appeal to utilitarianism; our conscience with an appeal to hedonism that we too might say as Jesus did, “be gone from me, Satan.”

“We look back upon history and what do we see? Empires rising and falling, revolutions and counter-revolutions, wealth accumulating and wealth dispersed, one nation dominant and then another. Shakespeare speaks of ‘the rise and fall of great ones that ebb and flow with the moon.’

“I look back on my own fellow countrymen ruling over a quarter of the world, the great majority of them convinced, in the words of what is still a favorite song, that, ‘God who’s made the mighty would make them mightier yet.’ I’ve heard a crazed, cracked Austrian announce to the world the establishment of a German Reich that would last a thousand years; an Italian clown announce that he would restart the calendar to begin his own ascension to power. I’ve heard a murderous Georgian brigand in the Kremlin acclaimed by the intellectual elite of the world as a wiser than Solomon, more humane than Marcus Aurelius, more enlightened than Ashoka. I’ve seen America wealthier and in terms of weaponry, more powerful than the rest of the world put together, so that had the American people desired, could have outdone an Alexander or a Julius Caesar in the range and scale of their conquests.

“All in one lifetime. All in one lifetime. All gone with the wind.

England part of a tiny island off the coast of Europe, threatened with dismemberment and even bankruptcy. Hitler and Mussolini dead, remembered only in infamy. Stalin a forbidden name in the regime he helped found and dominate for some three decades. America haunted by fears of running out of those precious fluids that keep her motorways roaring, and the smog settling, with troubled memories of a disastrous campaign in Vietnam, and the victories of the Don Quixotes of the media as they charged the windmills of Watergate.

“All in one lifetime, all gone. Gone with the wind.”

Dr. Zacharias adds a post-script to this quotation in one of his lectures when he says:

“Behind the debris of these self-styled, sullen supermen and imperial diplomatists, there stands the gigantic figure of one person, because of whom, by whom, in whom, and through whom alone mankind might still have hope. The person of Jesus Christ.”

***Much of the thought behind this sermon comes from Dr. Ravi Zacharias and his radio program "Let My People Think." In particular his talk on the temptation of Jesus can be found on program "Absolute Truth in Relative Terms." This has been removed from the archives section of his website but be ordered on CD or MP3 format.****

Friday, February 19, 2010

Sermon for Quinquagesima Sunday
St. John’s – Moultrie, GA
February 14, 2010

One of the rhythms of the Christian life is the marking of time. The monastics and early Christians lived a very simple and yet structured life using set cycles of prayer mapping out the hours of the day and months of the year in a quite orderly fashion. Many communities strictly adhered to the seven liturgies of the Divine Office each and every day. Our service of Morning Prayer stems from the ancient service of Matins and Evening Prayer is an adaptation of the service of Vespers.

We have now arrived at one of those junction points in our Church Kalendar as we move from Epiphany into the season of Lent. Over these past three weeks we’ve made the soft transition from Epiphany to the “gesima” Sundays known as Pre-Lent in preparation of the forty intentional days of Lenten Season. This is the time when we are especially called upon to take time to inventory our Spiritual health and seek God’s wisdom to open our eyes to those places where we need to make a change or strive to amend our lives.

The two stories from this morning’s Gospel speak to that very issue of blindness. The first is in a figurative sense and the other in a quite literal. It seems most fitting that we would hear these two stories from Luke together with the passage on love from I Cor. 13 as we begin the Lenten Season.

One of the things that I find most comforting when I read a passage like this one is that I am allowed to see the disciples as they truly were – confused, blinded by their own belief regarding who the Messiah was supposed to be, and generally speaking – clueless. The reason I say that is because the words of Scripture do not paint them as supermen, and yet, they were the ones who “have turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). This was the third time that Jesus explained to his disciples that he was heading toward Jerusalem in order to face death at the hands of the Gentiles where he will be mocked, scourged, treated spitefully, eventually crucified. This was the third time that they really had no idea what he was talking about. If you remember, it was after the first Passion prediction that Jesus had to rebuke Peter and cry out for Satan to get behind him. I should say that the disciples were blind yet again.

However, this was not at all the type of Messiah they were expecting. They knew the Psalms, and they knew the Prophets. The Messiah was supposed to set captives free. This meant kicking the Romans out of Jerusalem and living in the Promised Land not as slaves, but as free Hebrew nation. Isaiah proclaimed that the Promised One was going to sit on David’s throne and there would be peace which had no end, and he would rule with justice and righteousness. Of course they lived a few centuries before Handel, but basically, they had the lyrics of Messiah in their heads, and what Jesus was saying did not square with what they were thinking. They had their idea of how things should play out, and unfortunately, it did not exactly square with God’s.

I’ve heard it said before that if you ever want to give God a chuckle, just tell him the plans that you have are for your life. C. S. Lewis once said that there are two types of people in the world, those who say to God, Thy will be done, and another group that God will say to them, thy will be done, and if Hell has a theme song that will be played over the loudspeaker it will be “I did it my way!”

The disciples have heard the same story now three times over and they still do not understand. They eyes of their heart were blind to the revelation of Jesus and the road He had to travel. The only way that the crown of glory could be won was through the cross. Every day of Jesus’ ministry took him one step closer to Golgotha, and Lent is a time to bring that point into focus, and meditate more deeply upon the Cross of Christ.

The story of the disciple’s blindness is now set in contrast with a blind beggar near Jericho. Jesus is making his final trip toward Jerusalem and his route took him through this city. As was the custom of those who suffered from diseases or other afflictions, they would sit along the main road into town and beg for alms from those who passed by. Most likely, the man we encounter in this morning’s story would have been one of the many people whose entire livelihood depended upon the charity of others. As we hear from our lesson, the traffic along the road where he sat had increased greatly, and the man enquires of someone as to what the commotion is all about. The person replies that Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.

I mentioned earlier that the disciples had it in their minds that the Messiah was going to sit on David’s throne and one day rule as King. If you look again at the text from this morning’s lesson from Luke, notice the title the blind man uses to refer to Jesus. He does not call him Jesus of Nazareth, or use a formal title such as Lord or Teacher or Rabbi, but rather, he calls him Son of David. By using this title, the blind man truly sees Jesus for who he is, and the disciples are blind to this fact.

There is no way to know how the blind man knew who Jesus was, but we simply know that he cried out to the Messiah for mercy, and that is exactly what he received. Twice the man calls out to Jesus not for alms, but for the Lord’s mercy. He cries out the first time to try and get Jesus’ attention, but the second cry is quite distinct and significantly more emphatic. The words used are different and the second cry for mercy as William Barclay states is one of “ungovernable emotion, a scream, an almost animal cry. The word well shows the utter desperation of the man.”

This man wasn’t crying out just because of his physical blindness, he recognized his total blindness. He recognized that his physical condition was truly the epitome of the human condition. We are in need of mercy, and Jesus is the one and only source of that mercy. When Jesus stops and asks the man what he would have him do for him, the blind man asks to receive his sight. With only a few words spoken, the man received his sight and Jesus tells him that his faith saved him.

His faith saved him. Why that phrase? I believe that Jesus is intentionally giving the double meaning of the word which means save. Certainly in this context of physical blindness, the man is saved from a life of darkness in which he had lived prior to Jesus’ arrival. More than that his soul is saved from eternal darkness, and it is the man’s faith in believing that Jesus truly was the only source of mercy and healing that made the difference. The blind man made the leap that the disciples were unable to make until Easter and ultimately Pentecost.

Jesus knew where the road he was on ultimately led – the cross, and all of the darkness that it entailed. However, the only way in which we might live as a redeemed people, ones who could again live in harmony with God, is if Jesus paid the atoning sacrifice for our sins once and for all. The only way that we could strive to be holy as Christ is holy is for this to happen. Anglican preacher and theologian John Stott speaks of about this quite clearly in his Message on Romans:

“Crucifixion and holiness. There are, in fact, two quite distinct ways in which the New Testament speaks of crucifixion in relation to holiness. The first is our death to sin through identification with Christ; the second is our death to self through imitation of Christ. On the one hand, we have been crucified with Christ. But on the other we have crucified (decisively repudiated) our sinful nature with all its desires, so that every day we renew this attitude by taking up our cross and following Christ to crucifixion (Lk. 9:23). The first is a legal death, a death to the penalty of sin; the second is a moral death, a death to the power of sin. The first belongs to the past, and is unique and unrepeatable; the second belongs to the present, and is repeatable, even continuous. I died to sin (in Christ) once; I die to self (like Christ) daily.”

It is this second aspect of crucifixion and holiness that is ours to focus on this Lent. Let not our blindness hinder our ability to see that this is the road that leads to holiness and ultimately leads to life. Let our cry to Jesus be one in which we say with every fiber of our being and in a spirit of true humility, son of David, have mercy on me. Let his reply echo the words spoken to the blind man outside of Jericho, Receive thy sight: thy faith hath saved thee.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Sermon for Sexagesima
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
February 7, 2010

Last Sunday morning in our Adult Education time following breakfast we took a look these three “gesima” Sundays which bridge the gap between Epiphany and Lent. We come this morning to the second of those, Sexagesima Sunday, which means that we are approximately sixty days from Easter. If you remember one of the points I made about this season of Church Year was the fact that the Daily Office this week began our readings again through the book of Genesis. We heard the story of Creation re-told; the Fall of Man through our first parents Adam and Eve; enmity between brothers in the death of Abel at the hands of Cain; yesterday we heard of God’s covenant with Noah and the preparation of the destruction of the world for man’s wickedness. One of the rationales we discussed as to why these passages are assigned for this time of year was the fact that as we prepare to experience the unfolding of the New Covenant established through our Lord’s death and passion, we might hear again the words of the Old Covenant and ground ourselves in the faithfulness of God from the very beginning.

In the middle of the nineteenth century the Church of England was going through a major shift in its theology, and a group of clergymen began to recognize that the Reformation might very well have sacrificed a bit too much sacramental theology. No pun intended there on the use of the word sacrifice, but it both meanings certainly apply! Anglicans such as Edward Pusey, John Henry Newman, and John Keble were among group of men who became the key players in what has been called The Oxford Movement or the Tractarians. This group followed along the same route as the Caroline Divines who preceded them by about a century. The churchmanship here at St. John’s would resemble that of the Divines or Tractarians with a high view of the Sacraments and a Eucharistically centered theology.

I mention this because of a sermon preached by The Rev. John Keble on this same Sunday some 150 years or so ago. He makes what I think to be a most profound observation in our parable and one that I’ve never heard expounded upon before. His analysis of the text begins right from the outset, and I think you’ll see quickly how he ties this observation to our Daily Office readings from Genesis this week.

Keble opens with these words

THE Holy Gospel here tells us of the beginning of one of our Blessed Lord’s sermons. “Much people were gathered together, and were come to Him out of every city:” (St. Luke viii. 4.) and when they were all in expectation, thus He began, “Hearken.” You may imagine how they listened, how every eye, ear, and mind, in that great multitude was fastened on Him, wondering what He might be going to say. And can you not also imagine, that when He went on and just told them, “A sower went forth to sow,” they might for a moment or two be surprised, and begin to say in their hearts, What is this? What has this to do with faith and religion and the service of God? “A sower went forth to sow!” well, that is no new thing: of course the sower goes out at the usual time of year to get the crop into the ground: and if he did not, we all know that we must do without bread: but the kingdom of God which this Jesus of Nazareth is preaching, we have always understood to be something new and strange, and we cannot imagine why He begins speaking of such an ordinary thing as sowing seed. They might say among themselves what was once said by the hearers of the prophet Ezekiel, “Wilt thou not tell us what these things are to us, that thou sayest so?” (Ezek. xxiv. 19.)

So he opens with these probing words setting the stage for this observation that he makes, and I find to be a brilliant exposition of the Scriptures, for he continues and says

Our Lord we know expounded it all to His disciples. But without going on now to that explanation, which you heard in the Gospel of the day, I wish you to consider only those simple words, “Behold, a sower went forth to sow.” You will find a great deal more in them than you might at first think; deep knowledge, warning of heavenly truth.

In the first place, the mere act of putting the seed into the ground is a lesson from Almighty God, to put us in mind of the fall of our first parents, and our sad condition in consequence of it. Before Adam fell, as you know, the Lord God Himself planted the trees upon the fruit whereof Adam was to live; no need for Adam to sow or set them in the ground, God caused them to grow there (as men speak) of their own accord: “every tree that was pleasant to the sight and good for food.” Adam had indeed to dress and keep the garden, but it was not in the way of toil or hard work : it was rather, as we may believe, in the way of service done to Almighty God the Owner of the garden; it was pleasurable exercise, not wearisome trouble: and having so done, he had but to put forth his hand, and take of all trees but one, and freely eat. But when they had unhappily listened to the enemy—when lust had brought sin, and sin death—all this as you know was changed; the sentence went out immediately, “Cursed is the ground:” and ever since the rule of this world has been, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.” (Genesis iii. 19.) The ground, left to itself, as we all know, brings forth only thorns and thistles, nettles and all manner of weeds and rubbish: if you want good food out of it, “Wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man’s heart,” (Psalm civ. 15.) there must be ploughing, raking and harrowing, planting and sowing, fencing and weeding, and all the hard and anxious work of the farm and garden. And why should it be so? What reason is there in the nature of things, why a piece of ground left to itself should not bear wheat and barley, vines or good fruits, as well as nettles and brambles and all manner of weeds? You never can find any reason, but this one, that it so pleased God. It pleased God that the ground so left to itself without any sort of cultivation, should not ordinarily bring forth the food that is needed for man’s life. And why? For a token to us all how displeasing sin is to God: for a remembrance of His curse laid upon the earth for the first sinner’s sake. That curse is not worn out: this world indeed appears to grow on the whole, outwardly and bodily, more and more comfortable to live in, as fresh contrivances are found out, and civilization, as it is called, goes on: but still each new generation finds, as the former generation had done, that the old sentence remains, man’s life must be labour and sorrow. Earth, left to itself, will not feed him.

I hope that you see what Fr. Keble has done here with one phrase from Jesus’ parable. He has incorporated the two great themes Holy Scripture in one phrase. By saying that a Man goes out to scatter seed he incorporates for us the death/resurrection paradigm that is in fact the fundamental tenet of our faith. We who were dead and constantly die to sin are being raised to newness of life through the life of the one who scatters the seed. We who say our daily prayers, who come to this Holy Altar to receive again the life-giving Body and Blood of our Lord, who give for the work and ministry of the church, who share this gift with others are that good seed which has in fact fallen on good soil and begun to take root. In continuing to do those very same things we are being watered, nurtured, and nourished so that we might bring forth good fruit which is what we are called upon to bear.

Without the scattering of new seed, we are left to make it on our own, and this leads to one place only, death and destruction. Rather than being forced to confront a hopeless situation, we are given the lifeline that we desperately need, and the source of strength for us to be able to allow God to plough, rake, harrow, weed, and till within our own lives so that we can begin to follow in our Lord’s footsteps and start to sow those same seeds as his fellow sowers of the Word and stewards in his harvest.

Fr. Keble closes his sermon with a series of questions for his congregation then and are appropriate for us to hear this morning. He says

God’s tender love and favour [is] toward[] those who take an interest in [His crop]….Even the least little prayer and endeavour to promote the working of God’s word on your own and other men’s hearts, our dear Lord will take kindly; He will not forget it: in its way it will bring you a blessing. It is said to such, Ye “are labourers together with God.” (1 Cor. iii. 9.) What an honour is that, my brethren, and at the same time what a great thing to answer for! Think of it in this way! Most of you are labouring men : you work for this master and that: but remember that after all there are but two masters. Under which are you now working? Whose wages are you now earning?

He closes with those two daunting questions. They are daunting questions because the answer has eternal consequences. As we heard in the parable there were four types of soils, and only one of the four brought forth increase. 75% of the seed scattered fell on ground that was incapable of growth and fruit. Today, as we leave this altar, as we leave this service, as we prepare to embark upon the challenges which will confront us this week, may our prayer be one which seeks God’s grace to continue to prepare the good soil of our hearts to receive more and more of the seed that will produce the true vine which is Jesus Christ our Lord; that we might be grafted to that never failing source of life and nourishment; that we might accept with humility and joy the great benefit that is ours to be fellow labourers with God in this business of saying to the world, “Hearken: Behold a sower went forth to sow his seed.”

In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost. +

******Sermon text from The Rev. John Keble can be found at under the Sexagesima link**********