February 12, 2012

Sermon for Sexagesima Sunday

Trust in God
II Corinthians 11:19-31, Luke 8:4-15, Psalm 71
Sexagesima Sunday
February 12, 2012

"Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ." In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

As we saw last Sunday, Septugasima Sunday is the third Sunday before Lent and the ninth Sunday before Easter. Sexagesima Sunday, then, is the second Sunday before Lent and the eighth Sunday before Easter. It is the Sunday nearest to the sixtieth day before Easter. So we are reminded again that we are beginning to leave that part of the year in which we celebrate the Saviour's birth, and entering the time in which we remember that tremendous Sacrifice by which He accomplished His great work of the forgiveness of our sin and the Redemption of our souls.

Sexagesima Sunday emphasises trust in the work of Christ alone, rather than in our own attempts to be good or to please God. The Collect clearly declares that we trust not in anything that we do, but cast ourselves on the mercy of God to defend and keep us by His power. The Collect is already looking toward the fasts and prayers of Lent. It reminds us that these are acts of self-discipline and dedication, not things that make us worthy of Heaven, and it reminds us that we are not to put our trust in them to make us acceptable to God. We fast, we pray, and we discipline ourselves not because we think we can make ourselves acceptable to God by such "good works," but because Christ has already made us acceptable to God. These things are part of our response to His mercy, not the cause of it.

The Epistle recalls the afflictions of St. Paul, who vigorously maintained that even his work and tribulations in the service of Christ did nothing to make him acceptable to God. Even he received his acceptability as the gift of grace through faith, not by anything he accomplished for God (see Titus 3:5).

Today's Gospel reading is the Parable of the Sower, in which Christ's work of Redemption is the good seed and our hearts are the soils in which it is planted. As differing soils have different responses to the seed, different people have different responses to the Gospel. So the parable implies the question, what kind of soil are you? What are you doing to make your heart ready to receive Christ, and to continue in Him now and forever?

The Psalm for this morning continues the theme of trust in God. It begins with a declaration, "In thee, O Lord, have I put my trust; let me never be put to confusion."
At the most basic level, it means to trust God with our cares in this life. It means to trust God to provide for our basic needs of food, water, and shelter. St. Paul was often homeless and hungry in the service of Christ. Sometimes his "shelter" was a prison, sometimes his only shelter from heat or cold or rain or snow was a tree beside a road. Often he had nothing to eat or drink. Yet he thanked God for providing for him, and wrote that if we have enough food, water, and shelter to survive we have enough. So this thing of trusting God for the things of this life includes trusting Him in the way He chooses to provide them. He may give plenty at some time and scarcity at another. No matter. Like Paul we must learn to be content "in whatsoever state I am" (Phil. 4:11-13), and "in everything give thanks: for this is the will of God" (1 Thes. 5:18).

One of the most basic cares of this life is health, and trusting God also means trusting Him with it. St. Paul must have had terrible health. The beatings, the prisons, the shipwrecks, the hunger and heat and cold he suffered in his travels must have left him in chronic pain and illness. Yet the Paul who wrote about suffering much affliction, lack of necessities, distress, beatings, imprisonments and hunger (2 Cor. 6:4-5), also wrote, "in everything give thanks." So, trusting God for our health also means trusting Him when He chooses to allow us to suffer illness as well as when He allows us to enjoy good health. So the author of Psalm 71 professes great boldness of faith that trusts God in all of these things. He trusts God when evil people wrong him. He trusts God in the adversities of life (19), and he trusts God in old age and weakness (8, 17).

There is another way in which we must trust in God. We must trust Him for the life of the soul. Most people will think I am talking here about Heaven, and, in a sense I am, for that is the ultimate life of the soul. Heaven is only gained by trusting in Christ to forgive your sin and dress you in His righteousness so you are fit to be in that Holy place which is the immediate presence of God. But I am also talking about the life of the soul now in this world. Many people, including Christians turn to things for their real meaning and comfort in the soul. These can be good things, like community service or helping professions. They can be amusements and recreations we think we need to help us deal with our stress and problems. I have to be careful here, for I do not want you to think such things are evil. I think God has given such things to us for our enjoyment, and they are good things. But even good things can be misused, and we misuse these things when we turn to them instead of to God for the life of the soul.

It is possible to go through life with a belief in God and a certain amount of faith and intention to live a moral life, yet trust in other things to provide your meaning, purpose, and help in life. So instead of seeking God in prayer and worship and Scripture, you run to your favourite pastime when things get tough. Instead of seeking God's help to be content in your circumstances, you run to your amusements to help you forget your discontentment for a while. I think this might be especially true of our over stimulated, over-amused, distraction-addicted generation. We rush from one distraction to the next, from TV to cell phones to computers to stereos to malls and hobbies, always looking for another rush, or, at least, another distraction. Have we forgotten how to trust God with our happiness? Have we forgotten how to be still before God? Have we forgotten how to enjoy God who is the life of the soul?

The Psalmist has not forgotten. He writes about praising God and His faithfulness. He means to honour God with our lips and with our lives by living in fellowship with God and in loving obedience to His will. He means to live in thanksgiving. This is what the Psalm means in verses 21-23, and this is what I mean by the life of the soul, It is not a passing emotional experience, it is a way of thinking and a way of living, to be able to say what David wrote in verse 4, "For thou, O Lord, art the thing that I long for; thou art my hope" (4).

In the Psalms, and indeed, in all of Scripture, you can hear the story and experience of Christ. In some places it is shouted from the house tops. In this Psalm it is a low whisper. You can hear it in verses 9 and 10, "For mine enemies speak against me; and they that lay wait for my soul take their counsel together, saying, God hath forsaken him, for there is none to deliver him." How tragically this sounds like Matthew 27:1, "all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put Him to death." Look at verse 19, "O what great troubles and adversities hast thou showed me! and yet didst thou turn and refresh; yea, and broughtest me from the deep of the earth again." How very much like the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ this sounds. There is more, but this is enough to show how we can often see Christ in the Psalms.

Let us close the sermon with a final exhortation to trust in God. Let us determine in our hearts that we will be able to say with confidence what Psalm 71 says so triumphantly at its very beginning: "In thee, O Lord, have I put my trust." Amen.

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