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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Grace, Favor and Our Response

“Grace, Favor and Our Response”
1st Sunday in Lent 2012
Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church

From the Epistle selection for the day from the Holy Communion lectionary, we read in 2 Corinthians 6:1: “We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain.”

Permit me to read this section of Scripture to you, from 2 Corinthians 6:1-10:
“We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain. 2 (For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.) 3 Giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed: 4 But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, 5 In stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings; 6 By pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, 7 By the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, 8 By honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report: as deceivers, and yet true; 9 As unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; 10 As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.”

With this scripture in mind, what is grace? It is something all of us speak of, maybe without grasping the whole meaning of it, if that is possible. In my own case, the term came up one year at the family dinner table, as my parents debated its meaning. At the time, being young and rebellious, I thought it complete nonsense. That is, why should anyone spend valuable time discussing such a nebulous thing? Grace? What is grace?

Well, looking back on that conversation, now many, many years in the past, I am struck by my foolishness and what’s more, my sheer spiritual deadness at the time. In simple terms, I just didn’t “get it” then. In fact, my obstinacy really had the savor of death about it, rather than the sweet-smelling, life giving savor of Christ. As I look back on it, I have to say that there are some benefits of age. One of them is to marvel how much of a fool one was when young.

What then, is grace? One source gives us these definitions:
• Divine love and protection bestowed freely on people.
• The state of being protected or sanctified by the favor of God.
• An excellence or power granted by God.

Another source says that “Grace in this (Christian) context is something that is God-given, made possible only by Jesus Christ and none other. It is God's gift of salvation granted to sinners for their salvation”, and “The Christian teaching is that grace is unmerited mercy that God gave to us by sending his son to die on a cross to give us eternal salvation.”

Grace is certainly all of these things. It seems that St. Paul has a particular concern that this excellence, this power, and this favor granted by God is not received in vain, or said another way, wasted. To emphasize his point, the apostle Paul paraphrases a line from the 48th chapter of Isaiah when he says,” I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” In Isaiah we actually read, Isaiah 49:8 “Thus saith the LORD, In an acceptable time have I heard thee, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee: and I will preserve thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, to establish the earth, to cause to inherit the desolate heritages;”. The concept of grace is clear in both passages, as they speak about the help, succor, and salvation of God extended to His people. Thus, we might learn from this that God has helped us, loved us and cares deeply for us. How should we respond?

We actually have two examples of our response to grace in the Holy Scriptures presented to us today. First, in the Epistle selection appointed for this Sunday, St. Paul speaks of his positive response to grace. This can be summarized in his toleration of sufferings, stripes, imprisonments, tumults, and labors. In a less violent way, he has fasted, been pure, taken knowledge by the Holy Ghost, expressed genuine love, and has spoken the word of truth. Also, he has known the power of God, has taken up the armor of righteousness, has had both honor and dishonor given to him, and has even been accused of being a deceiver. Finally, although chastened, he still lives and though he experiences sorrow, he can always rejoice. He is poor, yet he dispenses riches to many. He has nothing, yet he possesses all things.

If this is not a complete response to grace, then what is? He has seen and felt the worst the world put upon him, yet he is joyful. Paul has allowed grace to fill him completely, even to the point that he withstands all of these things.

On the other hand, we also have a negative example of the response to grace given us from the lesson written in Isaiah. Here, we may see the concern of St. Paul coming to light. Isaiah 58 clearly shows us how the favored people of God have responded to grace. Here we have the Chosen People of God, who are the very ones who received the Law and Prophets, acting in a way that does not bring them favor in the eyes of God. Isaiah speaks of a people who act as if they truly delight in knowing God and following his laws. The people act as if they want to approach God and be his people. Evidently, they work very hard at it by fasting, worshipping and sacrificing. Yet they wonder why God seems to take no notice of all their religiosity. All of their effort in looking holy seems to be for nothing.

Indeed. The prophet tells us the whole affair is a sham. They fast, not to heard by God or to be acknowledged by Him, but for contention and strife. Fasting actually gives them pleasure because they can feel holy and self-righteous while doing it. All of their religion is to look good before God, while they do what they want to do. The New American Standard translation makes this very clear as it says: “ Behold, on the day of your fast you find your desire, And drive hard all your workers.” They are tough, demanding employers who ask too much of their employees. Also, keep in mind that many Israelites also prayed to pagan gods and goddesses while they were performing Temple worship.

To top it off, this is not the fast God had in mind. Outward manifestations of holiness and self-imposed physical afflictions are not what God wanted from his people. Instead, he wanted a fast from unrighteousness and from wickedness. He wanted his people to be truly righteous, fair, and just to all. They should not oppress those who work for them, nor should they deceive those with whom they do business. They should be true and generous to those who need help and should freely give to those in need. If they do these things, the Israelites would be the people in whom God delights.

On this first Sunday in Lent, we can take a lesson from both these passages. They can help shape our Lenten experience and help us determine our own response to grace. Will we have the positive response to grace like St. Paul's? Will our response to God’s call be one of joy unfeigned and of the knowledge of God’s ever-present help? Will we take this Lent to use God’s grace in a constructive and edifying manner? That is, will we be better for it after this Lenten season? Or, will we in some way emulate the ancient Jews, by engaging in outward worship while resisting real, inward change? God forbid.

God forbid that this Lent be anything else but a time of somber spiritual refreshment. Let our souls and being be flooded with our positive response to grace, so much so that we are the better people for having gone through it. Unlike the sinners of old, let us use our worship time together to build each other up, while experiencing great spiritual refreshment ourselves. There is no better time, and there certainly is no better place to do this.

In Christ, we are the new chosen people of God. Let our response to His grace be always praiseworthy to Him, and edifying to us in this blessed and holy season of Lent.

2 Corinthians 6:1-2: “We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain. 2 (For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.)”

Glory be to God the Father, and to God the Son and to God the Holy Ghost, now and forever. AMEN

Friday, February 17, 2012

The greatest of these....

"The greatest of these..."

Quinquagesima 2012
"And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”

1 Cor. 13:1-3
"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
1Co 13:2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. 1Co 13:3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing."

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ! It is my distinct honor and privilege to speak to you about this passage from I Cor. 13:1-13, which is the Epistle for today, Quinquagesima. As you know, Quinquagesima is the fancy term for 45 days before Easter. When I was preparing for this homily, it took me aback a little, because we are already moving into Lent. Already, time moves on with alacrity.

We are indeed privileged to think about 1 Cor. 13:1-13 together today, because in my humble opinion, it is one of the most important passages in the epistles of St. Paul. It is certainly one of the most moving. Why and how could this preacher make such a sweeping statement? Simply because the apostle says so himself in the last verse of the epistle, when he says, “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”

The word “charity”, when it is understood in all its fullness actually encapsulates the entire Christian religion. That is, it should underscore everything that we do as Christians. It is the very bedrock of Christianity, because from charity springs the very root and essence of our religion.

To begin to understand this, let us retreat a bit and explore what “charity” means in the context of the epistle for the day. Instead of the modern thought of “charity”, which is usually understood as providing material sustenance, it must be that the classical sense of charity is something more. Let us not, however, downplay the importance of helping those less fortunate than us with such things such as money, or food, or clothing. There are indeed many fine charitable organizations such as the Red Cross, United Way, UNICEF, or the very worthy Salvation Army.

While these are good and worthy expressions of charity, we will submit for your consideration that giving “things” to people doesn’t do justice to what “charity” really means. The true expression of charity should extend to everything we do, say and think. It should, in fact, be a governing principle in our lives.

Let me explain. First, St. Paul wrote this passage: “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” The Reformers picked up on this thought and asked in the Collect for the Day for the Holy Ghost to “pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of charity” They weren’t just talking about the ability to sustain people in a material way. They were realizing a universal concept and attitude of charity as being a guiding light and a way to live in harmony with other people on this earth.

When St. Paul wrote this epistle, he had in mind, I believe, the word “caritas”, which is a special kind of love, one marked with one special attribute: the ability to look favorably and kindly on everything around one. When the Reformers spoke about “charity” they were speaking about this same quality, which is the gracious means to treat other people and situations without scorn, ridicule or mockery. Charity, as they meant it, is to see the world through Christ’s eyes and bring all situations under his Lordship. That is, while Christ certainly saw the evils, foibles and sinful nature of man, he also could look beyond them and love men despite what they were.

So, permit me to say that seeing the world with charitable eyes is to bathe the world with love and kindness in spite of what it is and says and does. In financial planning, the planner is urged to see his clients with “unconditional positive regard.” It is exactly the same now that this priest is in the teaching field as my secular employment. As teachers, we must regard our students with unconditional positive regard. In a similar vein, if we are maximizing our Christian behavior, we are to be charitable in our outlook, our actions and our speech. We are to be charitable in our giving and in our receiving. We are to be charitable in our speaking and behaving. We are to be charitable in our feelings and attitudes to one another, especially with those of the house of faith. Of course, the church should be the very expression of charity in thought, word and action, but alas, that is oftentimes not very true, due to our fallen human nature. Just look how Christians have treated other Christians in history. It is very, very, bad.

Sometimes, scorn and the spirit of ridicule get hold of us, sometimes we look down on those less fortunate than ourselves, and sometimes we even allow our annoyance with people or situations to engender within us a spirit of anger or resentment. All of these do not foster the spirit of charity, but rather the reverse. In Galatians 5, St. Paul gives us one of his laundry lists of human misbehavior:
“Now the works of the flesh are clearly revealed, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lustfulness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, fightings, jealousies, angers, rivalries, divisions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkennesses, revelings, and things like these; of which I tell you before, as I also said before, that they who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”

Now, of course, these are the results of our fallen human nature run rampant. They all stem from the lack of charity in our souls. When charity does not rule in our hearts, we become servants of all these other fallen traits, and we lose mastery of our behavior and ourselves. This is why, I believe, St. Paul said in 1Cor 13:13: “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”

No doubt, you are aware that some modern translations substitute the word “love” for “charity” in this passage. While that is OK, it is not complete. Charity is certainly a form of love; but it is not the whole totality of love. It is, however, a precise application of love in our everyday lives to all around us. So, in my humble opinion, “charity” is a more precise and accurate way to say what St. Paul wanted to say.

Returning to our Epistle, St. Paul says: “Charity has patience, is kind; charity is not envious, is not vain, is not puffed up; does not behave indecently, does not seek her own, is not easily provoked, thinks no evil. Charity does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices in the truth, quietly covers all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Charity never fails.”

Thus, charity is the universal virtue. When one expresses charity in their life, one is truly living the Christian religion.

One last point about the fundamental nature of charity: earlier, we mentioned that “from charity springs the very root and essence of our religion.” How can this be? What one monumental charitable act separates Christianity from all other religions?

This should be an easy one, of course, for us Christians. The one monumental charitable act that sets Christianity apart from every other religion is God’s gift of Jesus Christ to the world. It was the most excellent, supreme act of giving ever done or that ever will be done. Despite what God the Father knows about us, and despite what we have done, and what we are, He performed the most charitable act possible by redeeming us from sin and eternal death. How? Through the most precious thing that He had, His holy and eternal Son. Beloved, if that isn’t charity, then what is?

This is why St. Paul says in 1Co 13:12: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall fully know even as I also am fully known.” He is describing the eternal experience in Heaven, as we, who on earth now can only see only a little glimpse of God’s eternal purpose for us, but once in Heaven will be able to see the fullness and beauty and perfect-ness of salvation.

Then we won’t see God “through a glass, darkly; but then face to face.”
We shall behold the majesty and glory of the Beatific Vision in all its completeness. And, we will know God even as He knows us.

What a glorious thought!

1Co 13:13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sexagesima 2012

Sexagesima 2012
Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
February 07, 2010

2 Corinthians 11:19 " For ye suffer fools gladly, seeing ye yourselves are wise."

Thus opens this particular passage from II Corinthians, as the Apostle Paul now finds himself under attack from the very congregations he planted so laboriously at Corinth. I say “congregations” because Corinth turned out to be one of St. Paul’s very successful church plantings, resulting in several congregations, actually house churches of various sizes, all over the city. Recall how that in 1st Corinthians, Paul complained that the church at Corinth was threatening to break into factions, some following Paul, others following Apollos, and others Cephas. Thus, it seemed that that the church had growth problems, which lent themselves to bickering over leadership and other issues.

Evidently, the church at Corinth had something else, too: pride. As you know from your church history, Corinth was a prosperous city with a strong economy. Its strategic location lent was the major factor for this prosperity. One source says that Corinth was located south of the Corinthian Gulf, on the Peloponnesian side of the Isthmus of Corinth. Evidently there were two harbors which accommodated the city's position of control over the isthmus between two seas. It comes as no surprise that the city derived income from its control of the isthmus, because it imposed a charge was imposed for boats or cargo hauled on a platform across the isthmus. It seems that they actually hauled boats and ships across this narrow strip of land for a fee.

It must also be noted that Paul’s Corinthian congregation was varied and diverse, including not only the middle class off Corinth, but also working men, slaves and freedmen. This diversity naturally led to a rich, but heterogeneous church congregation. The mix of peoples, occupations and incomes such as this expressed itself in many differing views and opinions, no doubt some of them very strongly felt, and many of them concerning the Apostle himself. This is the position in which he found himself when he penned the second Corinthian epistle.

As they were prospering economically, the Corinthians had another problem, pride which led to a misdirected sense of leadership. When Paul says: “For ye suffer, if a man bring you into bondage, if a man devour you, if a man take of you, if a man exalt himself, if a man smite you on the face. ”

How could this be? What situation in the early Church could have triggered such a statement? Simply, it was the fact the early Church was soon found herself dealing with a host of many false preachers and religious charlatans. These men approached the early congregations. Speaking wonderful words and projecting a holy and pious presence, these men, many of them rank heretics, appeared at many of the meeting places and sought to sway the congregations. Taking advantage of both the simplicity and generosity of the early Christians, these religious con men sought not only hospitality, but wages as well. This is in stark contrast this to Paul’s claim that he sought nothing from them but their earnest faith in God. He emphasized that he supported himself, as he told us in “I have coveted no man's silver, or gold, or apparel. 34 Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me.” Paul also states that he”robbed other churches” to help support the Corinthian mission effort. By this he obviously meant that he used general church funds to subsidize them. Contrast that with the openly avaricious itinerant preachers descending on the Corinthians.

It we examine the situation of the early Corinthians, we may see some value and even a parallel to our own lives, especially as regards to our faith.
What is being presented to us is a choice, a dichotomy, if you will. This dichotomy is the choice of two paths, ultimately. One path is the tried, true, ancient, and honorable doctrine and beliefs of traditional Christianity. The other is the lure of the new, the sensational, and the exciting “new frontiers” that mankind constantly seeks. For example, this preacher is always amazed, even in his own life, how one can ignore the counsel of those very close, and instead give credence to outside counsel more readily. The Corinthian Church chose to ignore St. Paul’s teaching and doctrines, while settling on the leadership of various other leaders who didn’t have Paul’s apostolic credentials. They thought of themselves as too wise to heed the teachings of one who had seen the risen Christ on the Damascus Road. Instead they were running after other, more spurious doctrines that have been more attractive or seemed fresher than Paul’s

It may have been because they did not have Paul’s steady hand on their theological tiller on a daily basis, or that they were simply swayed by smooth talking, charismatic heretics. They were in danger of going off into the theological weeds, so to speak. Hence, St. Paul is alarmed and even feels that he must upbraid them for their foolish behavior. Although it occurred in the Epistle to the Galatians, recall Paul’s cry of “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you?” One could certainly say, “O foolish Corinthians, who hath bewitched you?”

There is no doubt that the newest ideas try to take us captive, if we allow them to sway us. In modern society, perhaps we too are like the ancient Athenians of the Book of Acts, who St. Paul accused of always seeking to hear something new. Yet, new things are not always good. The one exception may be in the field of technology. Old beliefs, burnished with age, may be battered and besieged, especially by the onslaughts of the New Morality; yet they stand. The New, while claiming to be something fresh, is usually just simply the old traps laid out by Our Enemy below. Those souls, bereft of Gospel armor, are usually easy prey. We see examples of this every day, as many people seek the newest and the most advant garde, rather than those concepts that are tried and true.

Let us return to the Corinthians and draw a lesson from their situation. The Corinthians had a choice. They could continue to honor the teachings and moral example of their apostle and founder, St. Paul, or they could embrace the new, fresh, and erroneous teaching of the new voices in their midst. This is exactly why St. Paul upbraids the congregation by telling them that they must be wise, because they put up with fools. John Calvin says this: “For ye bear with fools willingly. He calls them wise -- in my opinion, ironically. He was despised by them, which could not have been, had they not been puffed up with the greatest arrogance. He says, therefore- "Since you are so wise, act the part of wise men in bearing with me, whom you treat with contempt, as you would a fool." Hence I infer, that this discourse is not addressed to all indiscriminately, but some particular persons are reproved, who conducted themselves in an unkind manner.” Thus, here they have the greatest Evangelist known to the Christian world, the one that lovingly planted this congregation and even fed them with other churches’ funds, only to be vilified and dismissed as a fool. This is, once again, a fine example of fallen human nature at work.
The extent of St. Paul’s sense of injury is so immense that he even proceeds to rehearse his qualifications for the Corinthian church. He is “compelled” to boast, as he later tells us, of his sufferings for Christ. They are immense, only to be described as incredible to anyone who had not the irresistible conversion experience that St. Paul underwent on the Damascus Road. To sum up his sufferings, he was beaten five times with the requisite 39 stripes, he was beaten with rods three times, stoned once, and suffered shipwreck three times.
He suffered hunger, thirst, privation and danger, both from the Gentiles and the Jews. He was exhausted, sometimes sleepless, and constantly harried on many fronts.
On top of these external dangers and troubles, Paul had the daily pressure of care for the churches. Sometimes, when I feel a bit stressed, I read this passage and realize that it is all very, very good. As I may have related before, the only time I personally have shed blood for our Lord was during a church cleaning session when an old sanctuary lamp shattered in my hands! I daresay there is no comparision….
What we are talking about is not a new or even novel message in any way. It is, in the words of our Presiding Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Leonard Riches, not even old-fashioned enough to please our Lord. Once, he addressed the presbyters and delegates in that fashion, saying that it could be a problem if we are not that old-fashioned.
Rather than run after the effervescent, even nebulous directives, whims and fads of a lost society, let us hold to the old, the tried, the true, and the tested. Our Lord doesn’t change; He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. We need to be the same.
Refresh yourselves in the old and rich. Read the Scriptures every day. At least once a year, read the Thirty-Nine Articles to get a flavor of the strong intellectual underpinnings and vibrant faith of the Anglican Fathers. Meditate on your salvation with uplifted heart and eyes. Give thanks that God has chosen you, despite your sins and failings, to enjoy life with Him forever. Never let that fade from your heart.
We Christians are a blessed people. We are fortunate beyond our deserving. We are saved without merit, forgiven beyond measure, and strengthened beyond belief for a life of love and service.
This is not a new message. It is as old as Christianity itself, and yet as fresh as the purest sunrise in the first days of spring, when all the Earth celebrates the ever-present Glory of God.
Glory be to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost, now and for ever. AMEN

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Fairness and Grace - Septuagesima 2012

Septuagesima 2012
Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
Feb. 5, 2012

Fairness and Grace

Mat 20:1-2
"For the kingdom 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."

Matthew 20, from which our Gospel selection comes,is a powerful and purposeful statement about God. It tells us, in a way that is counter to our earthly mindset, how God operates. It also gives us a hint of the unspeakable glory and mercy of God. It may remind one of Isa. 55:8, when the LORD informed Israel: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.” In fact, if a person does not possess the enlightening Spirit of God, it is possible that one might be tempted to judge God according to our standards, rather than the opposite.

In the parable, Christ tells us about the “the Householder” who hires workers for his vineyard. He hires some early in the morning, agreeing with them for a denariius, which was the standard daily wage in ancient times. He then returns to the marketplace and hires others until he has hired workers for the entire day, even up to the last hour of the day. Each time he hires workers, he tells them “Whatsoever is right I will give you.”

It was the custom in ancient Israel for the landowner or employer of day labor
to settle up, or pay his workers at the end of each day. If one did not to do so, this was considered a grievous offense. Even the prophets decried those who kept back the laborers due by defraud, or waited until the morning to pay their help. Recalling that most workers were living literally hand-to-mouth, this daily wage would provide funds for supper or for lodging for that day. Being unfair here was not only deceitful, but it was also cruel as an unjust employer might deprive his workers of their daily food.

Christ often used parable language to teach, as we all know. He did that so those for whom His word was designed would speak to their soul, while others, who did not have a mind for God, would simply disregard his message. I’m sure there is a message about predestination here somewhere, but that is a discussion we need not engage in at this time. Thus, as always in the parables, we need to examine the various characters in the story in order to gain the maximum understanding of it. We will also realize the genius of God’s Word and its ability to communicate with us on several levels simultaneously.

First, we recognize that the “Householder” is God, who manages his “vineyard” with great care, even seeing to its administration personally. This parable is proof text that tends to invalidate the concept of the Deist God. Recall that this idea, which was very popular in the 18th century, claimed that God created the world and then let it run, like a watch, while He gazed on it with benign indifference. We believe that this parable rather shows the opposite, as we see God intimately involved with the details of His world. Note however, that it still allows for the mysteries of free will at the same time.

Some time ago I went on a Thomas Merton reading binge. Merton, you will recall, was a prolific Anglican writer who became a Trappist monk. He wrote extensively about his own spiritual biography and the mysteries of faith. Early in his writing career, he also wrote about Mankind’s cooperation in this work of God through prayer. When he was a new monk and still very enamored with the monkish life, he wrote of the monk in his abbey supporting the world in a web of prayer. He thought that prayer works mysteriously with God’s sovereign grace in upholding the work of creation. There are many, like this preacher, who also shares a similar opinion, that somehow our prayers are caught up in the Mind of God to influence or carry out His outcome for reality. Be that as it may, our God cares about His Creation and about us. He is not some dispassionate deity, like the Buddha, but rather exhibits the kind of tender love that caused Him to give His only son as a sacrifice for our wretchedness.

We also note that the vineyard symbolizes this world. It also symbolizes, or at least encompasses, Israel. Our Lord often used the concept of vineyard allegorically to represent Israel, as in the two vineyard parables in Matthew 21. which also echo the first chapter of the prophet Isaiah. In Matthew 21, our Lord told the parable of the two sons assigned to work in the vineyard, and then He related the parable of the vineyard, created by a tenant king, who later sends his servants to receive its fruit.

The idea in presenting Israel as a vineyard was to demonstrate that it was something special and precious to the Lord, and it presented a stark contrast of Israel’s ingratitude in return. You all are aware of the great amount of work it takes to run a successful vineyard, as the grapes must be planted, pruned, tended and nurtured to maturity. After that, comes the laborious harvest and the processing of the grapes into juice. Then, the fermentation process and the long aging process which eventually produces drinkable wine. Obviously, it is very labor intensive and time intensive. Eventually, with good management and good stewardship, good wine is produced, the fruit of the vintner’s labors. Of course, we Christians see the obvious analogy to our lives. God the Great Vintner or Husbandman plants us, prunes us, and matures us over time with His Holy Spirit.

If we are “good soil”, we are expected to produce good fruit, which is expressed in not only the time, treasure and talent we return to God in His Church, but in our daily outliving of the Christian existence here on earth.

The crux of the parable occurs when the time comes to “settle up.” In this case, each worker comes for his wage and each receives a penny. From the ones hired first to the ones hired last, each receives the same amount.

Here is where the parable runs exactly counter to our expectations as humans and our preconceived notions of justice. We all can identify with the workers hired first, as they have worked all day and yet see the ones hired in the last hour paid the same as they. They feel a burning sense of injustice and thus begin to rail against the householder. In the calm, immutable way of those who are just, the householder says to them, in Mat 20:13-14: “But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee.”

Here, the householder does two things: first, he confronts the workers with the just agreement that they made with him at the beginning, “didst not thou agree with me for a penny?” Next, he declares his sovereignty over the situation by saying: “Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?” This statement declares that God will do what He wishes with His Creation. As the great Victorian wit, Lord Acton, once said, “Man proposes, God disposes.”Thus, here we have man’s ideas of fairness contrasted with God’s benevolent despotism. That is, man creates ideas of justice, while God dispenses actual justice.

Looking deeper into this parable, it goes much farther than this. This story speaks to us about the very nature of grace and salvation itself. If it were not so, those who labor in the Christian way all their life and lead blameless lives would expect more salvation than those called in old age, or even on their deathbed. We must avoid that mindset, because we know that our works do not save us, only the mediating work of Jesus Christ. God in His mercy grants to all those called in His Grace and those who hear Him eternal salvation through Jesus Christ. As Christians, we must marvel at the fact that God does not merely mete out justice, but grants us true mercy. For, if God were to treat all of us fairly, even according to our own standards, Hell would be very, very, full indeed! Instead, through the merits and mediation of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are granted mercy and forgiveness to become not only inhabitants of heaven, but even called sons and daughters of the King.

This fact is amazing, that God calls us, even us, poor, wretched workers who have worked but one hour in his vineyard, into full fellowship with Him, forever. Beloved, this fact should baffle and amaze you, while at the same time filling you with joy and peace. If it does not, perhaps it is time to take a spiritual inventory. It is the fundamental truth of Christianity that we don’t earn our salvation, but that it is a fact accomplished solely by God’s Grace. We have a God who desires, deeply, fellowship with His Creatures. He is willing to live with us for all eternity.

On this Septuagesima Sunday, we are now on the threshold of that blessed and solemn season of Lent. There is no better time to get our spiritual house in order.
We have passed through the joyous and busy times of Christmas and Epiphany, celebrating the Incarnation and Birth of our Lord and Savior. Now, it is time to reflect on the deep mysteries of Christ’s ministry of salvation for us, accomplished on the Cross. We will reflect on our own unworthiness as well, while prayerfully making progress towards the solemn days of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.

Thus, let us not be like the workers who, having agreed with God for a just wage murmured against Him when they saw others compensated likewise. This emotion and similar feelings of “fairness” often have the nature of sin about them. Rather, let us be like those, who having escaped a sinking ship early, now welcome other late swimmers into the lifeboat. It is not us who save ourselves, but God’s overwhelming Grace and Mercy that grants us safe passage into Paradise. There is a good reason why we Anglicans call this sanctuary a “nave”, from the Latin Natus, or ship. The Church is our helper, ordained by God, to bring us safely into the calm waters of Heaven.

As Christ Himself promised us in John 16:33 “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” Peace is this world is an illusion. Life is a struggle. Yet, in the midst of all of it, we Christians can have peace, true, deep abiding peace, because He who is greater than we has already won the battle. In Him is our confidence, our joy, our rest and our eternal salvation.

Mat 20:16: “So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.”

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to Holy Ghost, now and for ever.