The Sunday called
Crousetown, Broad Cove; February 4 AD 2007
9:24-27 St. Matthew 20:1-16
we beseech thee favourably to hear the prayers of thy people;
that we, who are justly punished for our offences, may be
mercifully delivered by thy goodness.
Septuagesima Sunday, we are about 70 days from Easter. The Epiphany
season, the season of the manifestation of God in Jesus Christ is
over – and yet, we are really continuing the theme of manifestation,
the clearer and clearer manifestation of God’s love, as we follow
Jesus to Jerusalem and to His passion and death upon the Cross.
In these three
Sundays before Lent, we are being called to join in with Jesus in
His pilgrimage, in His suffering, that we, with Him, may rise to
Our Collect, the
prayer for today, speaks about our present suffering when we sin,
and about our deliverance through the mercy of Christ – we pray that
we, who are justly punished for our offences, may be mercifully
delivered by thy goodness.
The language of
the prayer seems harsh to our modern ears. The punishment being
spoken about is not at final judgement but in this present life – it
says we, who are justly punished. We probably don’t
think of ourselves as being daily punished by God for our offences,
but it is so. When we stray outside the bounds of love, we don’t
“get away” with anything, there is a divine justice at work to meet
us. Those of you who came to the Dante poetry reading last summer
may understand this better:
Mt. Purgatory, the punishment of the proud is illustrated by the
poetic image of men carrying large stones on their shoulders which
forces them to bend their necks down. Surely it is the case that,
in our lives, when we are proud we find ourselves experiencing
opposition at every step, we seem to be fighting all the time
against all those who would challenge our authority – we are
justly punished for our offences.
that mountain, the envious have their eyes sewn shut. Surely it is
the case that, when we are always envying what others are or have,
we become blind to their goodness, we cannot share in their joy, we
cannot learn, we can only weep that we don’t have what they have –
we are justly punished for our
wrathful experience thick black smoke. Is it not the case that when
we are angry, we loose our ability to reason well, our sense of
justice and proportion are lost, and life is brooding and
bitterness? surely a punishment for our offence.
When we stand
idle in the journey to heaven, we find ourselves bored, then easily
carried away, busy doing nothing, and it leads to despair. When we
covet, we suffer because our eyes are focused only on the things of
this earth and we can no longer even catch a glimpse of heavenly
treasure. When we fall for gluttony, we starve ourselves of
spiritual nourishment. When we break the bounds in seeking sexual
pleasure, we burn and are not satisfied.
Do you know any
of these punishments? God’s punishments in our lives? It is the way
that God has justly ordered the world to respond to our injustice,
to prod us, so that we might turn from our wickedness and live. It
is the thorns and thistles we know in this fleeting world that we
can so easily make into a veil of tears [Gen 3].
St. Paul, says
to us today,
Every man that
striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things.
St. Paul gives
the examples of runners who, even then, ran to win races – they are
temperate, disciplined – careful about getting the right amount of
food and drink and sleep – not too much, not too little. (Morgan,
at St. James', and her parents, know this well!)
so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the
air: but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection, lest
that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should
be a cast-away.
continuing to battle against love and experience outwardly God’s
just punishments, St. Paul tells us to engage in the work of that
inward battle between the flesh and the spirit – not to destroy the
flesh but to bring it into subjection to the spirit, that our desire
will not keep missing the mark, but rather, when rightly directed,
receive that incorruptible crown – that God so desires to give.
At Christmas we
celebrated with great joy, the birth of our Saviour. We have been
born again by our baptism and faith. Now we are going up to
Jerusalem with Jesus. Will we leave him now? will we be idle? will
we be unshriven, preoccupied? will we be fall by the wayside?
understand St. Paul’s fear? He had seen Jesus, had been given great
visions of things unspeakable, knew something of the breadth, and
length, and depth and height of the love of God in Jesus Christ—and
yet, or perhaps because of this, he had a right fear lest he
should be a cast-away.
Fathers and Mothers of the early Church knew something of this
fear. In the 4th century these men and women, concerned
that something of the rigor and discipline, the striving for the
imperishable crown, was being lost in the Church, went into the
desert to strive for the mastery, to avoid worldliness, easy
pleasure, and to intensify the battle with the flesh that they might
have, by the mercy of Christ, the mastery. They knew the
allure of their own flesh, and were afraid of being a cast-away.
This morning, if
we cannot understand anything of their fear and of their impulse to
flee from a life of ease, we cannot understand these lessons. But
if we do understand this fear, we needn’t all go into the desert or
enter the monastic life, to avoid being a cast away. As we
begin to follow Jesus to Jerusalem, to the Cross, the Church is
asking us to reflect on our lives, understand better in what way we
are suffering needlessly God’s just punishments for overstepping the
bounds, and, trusting in the mercy of God, to become temperate in
Perhaps we think
that it is too late for us, that maybe if we were young it would be
time to do that spiritual work with vigour. Maybe we have some
regret that we seem to have been standing idle for a while now,
maybe even for many years. Maybe our regret is heightened in the
face of the example of St. Paul – maybe we feel discouraged. [Isaac
In our Gospel
today Jesus encourages with a story about what the kingdom of heaven
of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out
early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when
he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them
into his vineyard.
keeps going, at the third hour, the sixth hour, the ninth hour and
the eleventh hour to work in his vineyard– that is, God is calling
us no matter where we are in our lives – infants, teenagers, the
middle aged, the late in this life.
No matter when
the labourers enter into that work on the vineyard, they receive the
same wage – the penny, the incorruptible crown, the gift of eternal
life. There is no-one here this morning, no matter what our age,
who is not being called this morning to the labour of looking at our
soul, God’s vineyard, and striving to be temperate in all things.
Someone who is
hesitating here today to enter into this labour, might say, “Maybe
I’ll wait—if I get the same reward whether I enter into the labour
at the end of my life as if I entered into it at the start, maybe I
will just wait until then.”
If that is what
you’re thinking, you are forgetting what we considered at the
beginning of today’s sermon – the way in which we are punished
justly in this life for our intemperance. Would you like to
continue with your pride, experiencing opposition everywhere you
go? Would you like to continue being blind to the goodness of God
in others, and live in fear and sorrow? Would you like to continue
suffering smouldering rage? Or to be preoccupied doing nothing? or
to be so fixed on earthly pleasure that you fail to hope for, or to
taste, or to be embraced by, the love of heaven?
What is it we
are really holding on to when we chose to stand idle in the
marketplace until the eleventh hour? Is it not the just punishment
for our offences?
Instead, let us
no longer stand about the marketplace idle, but enter into the
labour Jesus is calling us to, that is, to go with Jesus to
Jerusalem, to the heavenly city, by the way of the Cross.
O LORD, we
beseech thee favourably to hear the prayers of thy people; that we,
who are justly punished for our offences, may be mercifully
delivered by thy goodness, for the glory of thy Name; through Jesus
Christ our Saviour, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy
Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.