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Lindemann on Septuagesima

by revalkorn ~ February 14th, 2011

SEPTUAGESIMA

The Liturgy calls the faithful to turn their eyes to the center of the Church Year and to prepare for Easter, when they are to rise with Christ to a new life and to become new men once more. We must realize again that we are ruined and hardened by original sin and become deeply, conscious of our failings and weaknesses. Honest self-examination must issue in the cry: “The sorrows of death compassed me, the sorrows of hell compassed me about.” But we are not hopeless. “Out of the depths have I cried unto Thee, O Lord.” “They that know Thy name will put their trust in Thee. Thou, Lord, hast not forsaken them that seek Thee.” “In my distress I called upon the Lord, and He heard my voice out of His temple.” We “are justly punished for our offenses, but for the glory of Thy name” we are “mercifully delivered.” By God’s grace we have received an invitation to enter His vineyard. We must follow this call. But the call is for laborers, not for idlers. The Christian’s life is hard work in the heat of the day, a hard battle and a hard race in the stadium. The work has its reward, the battle its victory, the race its triumph. It is the denarius of eternal life, the unfading crown of victory in heaven. At the entrance to the time of preparation for the renewal of life, the Church has a warning: You are now being led into the sacrificial life of the Church. Holy Baptism and the Holy Communion stand in the center of the coming days. Woe unto you, if your life does not correspond to God’s will. The last will be first, and the first last. Your lot will be that of the fathers in the wilderness. They, too, received a baptism and supernatural food, yet they died in the wilderness and did not see the Promised Land.

The Introit. “The sorrows of death compassed me, the sorrows of hell compassed me about. In my distress I called upon the Lord, and He heard my voice out of His temple. I will love Thee, O Lord, my Strength. The Lord is my Rock and my Fortress.”

Note the great difference between last Sunday’s and this day’s Introit. Then we had the joyous note of the Epiphany, now we have the solemn introduction to the time of penitence. In the distress of original sin and saddened by the consciousness that we have offended the holy God by many violations of His Law, we utter a deep wail. We have sinned, thrown God away to go our own way, and we have come to realize the end of that choice. Here is a description of sin not intended for the worldling but for those who see themselves in the light of the Man of Sorrows. “The cords of Sheol entangled me, the snares of death confronted me.” But we do not despair. “In my distress I called upon the Lord.” We know the way back and the reception that awaits the penitent. “He heard my voice out of His temple.” He mercifully delivered me, through Jesus Christ, for the glory of His Name, to glorify His reputation as the God who is my Rock and my Fortress, in whom I take refuge. Therefore “I love Thee, O Lord, my Strength! ” Here we have a glimpse of Easter. The Introit characterizes the whole Season of Lent. All is grace. We are not able to find the way back to God by any means of our own nor to discharge the debt, to earn sufficient merit even to mitigate the just and due punishment.

The Collect. “O Lord, we beseech Thee favorably to hear the prayers of Thy people, that we, who are justly punished for our offenses, may be mercifully delivered by Thy goodness, for the glory of Thy name.”

This prayer is most suitable for the opening Sunday of the Lenten Season. The keynote for the whole period is heard in the two phrases “justly punished for our offenses” and “mercifully delivered by Thy goodness.” Here is a confession of sins and a prayer for absolution. We confess that we are under punishment. Perhaps we would prefer the word “affliction.” As children of God we receive the suffering as affliction, visitation, as a discipline of love for future glory. We confess that there are offenses, sins that stand out in darkest contrast against the holiness of Him who has home our griefs and was wounded for our transgressions. Our punishment is just, deserved, merited. But we are “Thy people” and our merciful deliverance will reflect more glory on the reputation of the Godhead than our punishment.

The Epistle (1 Cor. 9:24-10:5). In this Epistle the Church gives the faithful, who are to rise to a new life at Easter, the program for Lent. The life of the Christian is not the life of a sluggard, but a race and a contest, filled with temptations and overcoming, with suffering and effort. Two fight for the soul, Christ and the devil. Christ must be the Victor. Lent is a time of battle. At Easter another portion of the final victory must have been won. The divine David enters the arena to defeat the hellish Goliath. Our victory is included in His. In the coming days, Holy Baptism and the Holy Communion will stand in the center. In them the Church will rejuvenate herself. The Epistle warns against misuse of them. Abuse of Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper through neglect of a God-pleasing life leads to destruction.

The Gradual. “The Lord also will be a Refuge for the oppressed, a Refuge in times of trouble. And they that know Thy name will put their trust in Thee, for Thou, Lord, hast not forsaken them that seek Thee. For the needy shall not alway be forgotten, the expectation of the poor shall not perish forever. Arise, O Lord, let not man prevail.”

The Tract. “Out of the depths have I cried unto Thee, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice.” (If preferred, verses 2b to 4 of Psalm 130 may be added.)

With this Sunday the Alleluia disappears from the Liturgy, not to reappear until Easter. The Tract is added, which on this day is the De Profundis, most appropriate at the beginning of the season of penitence.

The Proper Sentence. “Christ hath humbled Himself and become obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”

The Gospel (St. Matt. 20:1-16). The Christian is to practice self-denial as a racer and boxer, and he is also to be a toiler and laborer. The Epistle is directed against a life of ease, the Holy Gospel against a life of selfishness. We are on this day solemnly invited to labor in God’s Kingdom. The parable of the laborers teaches that we do not acquire merit when we serve God. We are doing our duty, and no more. It is not our merit that moves God’s mercy, but our need. It is His answer to our necessity. For those who would acquire merit there is the warning: “The last will be first, and the first last.”

The Proper Preface. “Who on the tree of the cross didst give salvation unto mankind that, whence death arose, thence life also might rise again; and that he who by a tree once overcame likewise by a tree be overcome, through Christ, our Lord; through whom with angels,” etc.

OUTLINE FOR SERMON ON THE EPISTLE

Epiphany leads on to Lent, for if we have the Epiphany hope, we must purify ourselves, even as He is pure (1 John 3:3). The vision must be realized in daily life, in spite of inward and outward conditions of trials and difficulty. In the Pre-Lenten Season we address ourselves therefore to the conquest of sin. On the three Sundays of preparation for Lent, our Church instructs us as to the necessity of self-discipline, its possible dangers, and its fruitful motive. Today we speak of

Christian Effort

A. The Christian Race. The Christian life is a race.
(1) It looks forward to a prize, compared with which all earthly prizes are fading and corruptible, a condition of glory fitly represented by the figure of a crown. The Christian runs with the crown ever before him, to win, as though one alone could receive the prize, and he intends to be that one.
(2) The race demands continuous effort. A chief consideration is the length of the race. It lasts as long as life. It needs, therefore, determination and fixity of purpose that we run “not aimlessly,” by fits and starts. The race is not to the swift but to the enduring and demands in the runner the same qualities possessed by the winners of all long races: denying oneself every indulgence that might lessen the chance of victory, wise and steady calmness, a shrinking from no exertion, but, above all, a steady perseverance to the end. No bodily race is like this for difficulty. The spiritual runner must learn to run wisely, not wildly, not as certain of victory, but making victory certain.

B. The Christian Fight. St. Paul says not only “I run” but also “I fight.” The Christian is not only a racer but also a prize-fighter and wrestler. The race is the pursuit of holiness, the fighting is the conquest of evil. Here the consideration is not so much the length as the severity of the struggle. The Christian must not only run patiently but fight desperately, with strong and stern determination, with straining effort, with concentrated exertion, with wakeful and vigilant watching for opportunity. The spiritual fighter must learn his lesson from the bodily fighter, and not shrink from the stress of conflict, for no bodily fighting with flesh and blood is, for severity, like this fighting. The Christian must plant his blows where they will tell, and not fight “as one beating the air.” He is not engaged in a mere show or exhibition. Not a play to the galleries or impressive posing is wanted, but the reality: sin bruised, Satan beaten off; not the pummeling and vanquishing of extinct Satans but of our besetting sin. Therefore the need of self-examination and of confessing not only our sin but our sins. Therefore the need of self-discipline and strengthening weak spots. We are to acquire mastery over the body. Not mastery over our depraved nature, for that is to be treated worse, is to be crucified and suffer the penalty of death. The body is to be enslaved, lest it hinder the freedom of the soul.

OUTLINE FOR SERMON ON THE HOLY GOSPEL

The Epistle teaches us that the Christian is to be a racer and a fighter, ever in pursuit of all good and in constant conflict with all evil. The Holy Gospel tells us that he is to be also a laborer and toiler in regard to others. The Epistle is directed against a life of ease, the Holy Gospel against a life of selfishness.

Christian Toil

A. The Necessity of Labor. As Christians we are called to labor. We are called to enter the vineyard, to labor there with others and for others. To stand idle in the market place is bad, but immeasurably worse to stand idle in the vineyard. The call to enter is the call to work. No admittance but on business. The salvation of the individual soul is to be worked out not in isolation but in communion with others. Personal religion can unfold itself only in the social sphere, in sympathy of mutual giving and receiving.

B. The Spirit of the Laborers. The toil of the Christian is to be a labor of love, not of selfishness. He is to race, wrestle, and fight, but not for personal gain. He must imitate the earnestness of worldly men, but not their worldliness. He may not compare himself with others, lest he spoil his work and, thinking himself the first, become the last. The spirit of the market place must not be found in the vineyard. Length of service is important. No less important is to bear the burden of the day and the scorching heat. But more important than either length or amount of service is the spirit in which we serve. He who has worked one hour for God is better than he who has worked twelve for himself.

C. The Reward of Labor. The reward truly resembles the mind and will of the householder. Just as the reward of learning is knowledge and the reward of diligence is ability, so the reward of virtue is to be virtuous and of godliness to be like God. There may and will be other rewards, but this is the very life eternal, the great reward to be given when the evening is come and the Householder calls His laborers to give them wages (John 4:36). There is the danger of selfishness, that it makes the laborer unlike the Householder, so that he cannot enter into the joy of his Lord. In this way the Church gives her first caution as to the spirit of Lenten discipline.

THE HOLY COMMUNION

Our coming to the Lord’s Table is a confession that the sorrows of death compass us, that we are justly afflicted for our offenses. We come to be mercifully delivered and take refuge in our Rock and Fortress. We proclaim the Lord’s death for us and declare that we would be hopelessly lost if our Lord had not purchased forgiveness, life, and blessedness by giving His body and shedding His blood for us. By eating and drinking we declare: “He delivered me by suffering the punishment of my offenses. He purchased me at great cost to be His own and to live under Him in His Kingdom. By grace He called me to be a laborer in His vineyard. By every bond of fairness and honesty, I am bound to serve Him.” We eat and drink in remembrance of Him, to be reminded to re-member how wholeheartedly He devoted Himself to the business of the Kingdom. Always it was to Him the most important thing in His life. Remembering Him, we labor and bear the burden of the day and the scorching heat. Life in His Kingdom is a race for an unfading crown, a fight against our besetting sin, requiring the mastery over self and our natural appetites. In the Lord’s Supper, we receive strength by vividly calling Him to remembrance, by making our very own all He won for us, by recalling His self-denying devotion to the cause of our salvation. Here we receive in advance the wreath of victory, a down payment of the heavenly denarius.

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