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Lindemann on Sexagesima

by revalkorn ~ February 28th, 2011

Apologies for posting this a week late. My little computer people went on strike.

SEXAGESIMA

Last Sunday’s Propers invited us to battle and labor. This Sunday’s emphasize the warning against “trusting in anything that we do.” The intrusion of self in any form will spoil our Lenten discipline. The spirit of self-seeking, or of self-trust, or of self-righteousness will taint our sacrifice and render it unacceptable, for the sacrifice of self must be offered to God and not to self. The Sower sows the seed and brings it into contact with the soil. Growth depends on the soil. There is scarcely a Sunday when the Church reminds us so urgently that the human race groans under the burden of natural depravity. The seed of grace perishes because of human weakness and obstinacy. St. Paul shows us an escape: the power of grace reaches its fullness in the weakness of inherited sinfulness. So the Church joyfully declares: “I will all the more gladly boast of my weakness that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” Viewed as a whole, this Sunday is the expression of the Christian’s true condition. In spite of his sinful weakness he feels the growth of grace.

St. Paul, a sower of the Word, stands before us. He incorporates faith. Then Christ, the Sower of life, meets us and brings grace. St. Paul is our teacher, who sows the Word. Today he spreads before us his life in the service of Christ, in its breadth, height, and depth. Christ is the actual Sower. He is Sower and Seed at once in the Holy Communion. In this way the Church directs us to the great means of renewal in Lent. The divine Sower walks over His field. Now is the springtime of the soul. He sows His seed, which is Himself, into the hearts of men. Our responsibility is to be receptive soil, not a path over which the whole world travels, not the stony ground of fickle inconstancy, not brambles of passion and of delight in this world, but good soil, that God may sow in the flesh by overcoming of self and stern discipline, into the spirit by training and faith, and into the soul by the seed of grace.

The Introit. “Awake, why steepest Thou, O Lord? Arise, cast us not off forever. Wherefore hidest Thou Thy face and forgettest our affliction? Our soul is bowed down to the dust. Arise for our help, and redeem us. We have heard with our ears, 0 God; our fathers have told us what work Thou didst in their days.”

This penetrating cry expresses the soul distress of the Church. At the en-trance to the house of God, at the beginning of our worship, we raise this lamentation. But we close on a note of trust and confidence. Last Sunday’s Collect ended with “to the glory of Thy name.” So today we base our hope of deliverance on the reputation the Lord established in the days of the fathers. This Introit con-tributes a note of the persevering, hopeful soul’s humble, persistent, pleading voice.

The Collect. “O God, who seest that we put not our trust in anything that we do, mercifully grant that by Thy power we may be defended against all adversity; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord.”

This prayer is an example of how the Church of the Reformation purified rather than eliminated. The ancient Collect (Sarum) contained an appeal for St. Paul’s protection. “Mercifully grant that by the protection of the Teacher of the Gentiles we may be defended against all adversity.” This Collect was not cast aside but revised and retained, for its teaching is one stone in the mosaic of this day’s lesson. It continues most harmoniously the two aspects of this Sunday, the exhortation to activity and the warning against self-righteousness, or what a Christian may not trust in and what he must trust in. The Holy Gospel pictures clearly the adversities against which we must learn in these days to guard: the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil; the occupied, and the shallow, and the divided heart. We know the one source of guidance and safety: the power of God unto salvation, the Gospel.

The Epistle (2 Cor. 11:19-12:9). This is the longest Lesson of all the year, but its length must not deter from preaching on it. It offers an illustration of what our Lord meant when He said: “Having heard the Word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.” Last Sunday’s Epistle taught self-denial, today’s teaches zeal of service and suffering for Christ’s sake. Next Sunday’s “Song of Love” teaches that self-denial and zeal and suffering and discipline and self-sacrifice are nothing and profit nothing without the fervor of love. Today St. Paul speaks to the Church with all fervor but also with all his deep humility. Glory? He? “I will rather glory in my infirmities that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

The Gradual. “Let the nations know that Thy name is Jehovah. Thou alone art the Most High over all the earth. 0 my God, make them like a wheel and like chaff before the wind.”

The Tract. “Thou, O Lord, hast made the earth to tremble and hast bro-ken it. Heal the breaches thereof, for it shaketh. That Thy beloved may be delivered, save with Thy right hand.”

Ps. 83:13 reads in the Revised Version: “O my God, make them like whirling dust, like chaff before the wind.”

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

The Gospel (St. Luke 8:4-15). The seed is a picture of grace. It has, let us say, inward sacramental power. What does our Lord mean by “the Word of God”? The Word is the expression of God’s will. It is God’s revelation. For us men it is that means through which the thoughts, the feelings, the will of another are revealed. What God thinks, feels, and wills regarding us, He declares by His Word. God speaks to us today: 1. In the Holy Scriptures. They are the direct Word of God, and the Holy Gospel is the sublimest Word. 2. By His ministers (Luke 10: 16). The proclamation of the minister in sermon, lections, and Holy Sacraments is God’s speaking. 3. By the words proclaimed in administering the Holy Sacraments. These are uttered in the power and name of God.

Seed is a most remarkable thing, neither a living substance nor a stone nor a plant. It does not grow nor multiply, but is like dead (John 12:24). By itself it is not alive, yet it has in it the power to live. If it finds the right soil, the dormant power of life becomes alive. The seed becomes a plant, with leaves, flower, and fruit. Our Lord compares the Word to such a wonderful thing. In it slumbers the God-filled life of grace. It has the inward power of life. If the heart is not receptive, the seed does not grow and bring forth fruit to perfection. God’s Word has no magical power. When men reject it and refuse it entrance into their heart and life, it will not grow. But when not rejected, it is sacramentally effective, brings forth life, has the power of grace and life. Christ speaks of hundredfold fruit. Rich and abundant is the life and fruit of God’s Word.

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

In the Epistle St. Paul is brought before us as the great example of one who, while doing everything for Christ, trusted in nothing that he did and exhibited the very spirit of the day’s Collect.

A. A Life of Deep Humility. The boastfulness of partisan rivals forces St. Paul to turn his pen to self-defense. He feels that it is a fault, yet not a fault of his but of those who regard self-praise as a confession of strength and take his humility as a sign of weakness. He speaks of himself as a fool and of his self-assertion as folly, but for it asks the pardon of those who have made it necessary by showing that they regard it as a virtue. If any assertion of self was folly in St. Paul, how much more so in us! We may speak of ourselves only when silence would do more harm than speech. When gentleness is taken for weakness, self-control for indifference, humility for inferiority, it may become our duty, not merely to ourselves but to others, that we assert not ourselves but our office, lest our work suffer loss.

B. A Life of Intense Effort. (1) Varied danger. Five Jewish and three Roman scourgings; three shipwrecks; the passage of bridgeless rivers; scenes among wild robbers; everywhere Jewish hate and heathen enmity; dangers in crowded towns and desolate wildernesses; sea perils short of absolute wreck; the time-serving of false brethren. (2) Constant self-denial. The willing endurance of weariness and pain; nightly wakefulness; starvation; voluntary fastings; cold and nakedness, his clothes worn out and torn. (3) Crushing burdens. In the midst of all, fearful inward burdens, “the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches,” a burden made the heavier by his intense sympathy with the weak id and his burning indignation against those who turned as’ e others from Christian duty. This burden was made still heavier by personal infirmities which made all life a trial.

St. Paul combined the fullest activity with the deepest humility. Even special visions and revelations did not cause him to be self-reliant. He trusted in Christ to do all for him, in him, and by him; and Christ did it. He did his best, yet not he, but Christ who lived in Him. St. Paul is a fitting example both of Lenten effort and of Lenten humility.

OUTLINE FOR SERMON ON THE HOLY GOSPEL

Last Sunday’s Holy Gospel taught us that God calls men to labor in His Kingdom. Today we learn wherein this work consists.

A. The Need of Effort. The characteristic work of the present dispensation is sowing. Christ was the first Sower, and without Him all others sow in vain. He has His instruments, His undersowers, and by these He works, and these must work. The whole Church of Christ is intended to be one great machine for sowing the heavenly seed, by every possible agency and effort. This is the object of her existence and the purpose of her continuance. Our work is to sow continually, remembering that in the seed itself lies the promise and potency of life.

B. The Manifold Dangers of the Christian Life. This seems the point of connection with the general teachings of this Sunday. Our position of danger makes necessary the deepest humility. As we learn from the parable of the sower, each stage of the Christian life has its special dangers. (1) The danger of careless hearing. This lies at the threshold of the Christian life and prevents even the entrance of the good seed. The Word enters the ear but never reaches the heart and quickly passes even from memory, being caught away by the spirit of evil or crushed by fresh tramplings of worldliness. (2) The danger of trial. Trial and temptation mark a crisis in the Christian life and, like the fierce sunshine, scorch the shallowhearted, while they ripen the deep-rooted. By these the principles of all are tested, but especially those of the young. Youth, the time of receptivity and of promise, is also the season of most deadly temptation. (3) The dangers of prosperity. These come with the cares, riches, pleasures of later years, even when the seed has found lodgment and the blade has given promise. The plant of grace cannot grow in a thicket of worldliness that shuts out God’s light and air. These dangers are found as men “go on their way,” and against them we pray in the Litany, “In all time of our wealth, Good Lord, deliver us.”

Our Lord’s closing words seem to favor the interpretation given of the various stages of life and their special dangers. We need not ask which state of ground is ours, for we may resemble all in turn. There are no hearts that are good ground by nature. The hearts that are, have been made so by the plow-share of God’s grace, by His deepening of our shallow soil, by His cleansing process. Also the hearers growing in good ground should advance in fruitfulness. They will, like the bending ear, become even more humble as they ripen. Here is, therefore, reason both for earnest effort and constant humility that we may hear, hold fast what we have heard, and bring forth fruit with patience.

THE HOLY COMMUNION

In the Holy Sacrament, the heavenly Sower sows His Seed. He is both Sower and Seed. We who are His undersowers likewise sow. St. Paul tells us that as often as we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death. In preaching His death, we preach Christ, for at no time was He more conspicuously Himself than in His death. This was only the climax of a life lived for sinful men. We cannot proclaim the Christ who died without including all He did and said and suffered, as He labored through the years for man’s redemption. When we preach the Gospel, we preach Christ, for He is the Gospel. He is our Anchor and Stay, our Hope in life and death. All this we proclaim as we eat and drink. We declare that we “put not our trust in anything that we do,” but we glory only in our infirmities that the power of Christ may rest upon us.

Sometimes we forget this. Christ is crowded out, and something is substituted in His place. We may become engrossed in some project of the Church, while all the while our Christ recedes into the background. Then the Sacrament speaks and brings us face to face with Him who alone is to be the object of our affection and the center of our life. The Sacrament also preaches an unselfish life. Hearing our Savior’s words “For you,” we call to remembrance the greatest proof of devotion to others which this world has ever seen. We are preaching Christ in the hour of His supreme greatness. For He was greatest in His sacrifice, and His sacrifice was greatest in His death. The best thing about Him was His unselfishness, that He came not to be ministered unto but to minister and to give His life a ransom for many.

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