Verse of the Day

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sexagesima Sunday

The Propers for today are found on Page 120-122, with the Collect first:

The Sunday called Sexagesima, or the
second Sunday before Lent.
The Collect.

 LORD God, who seest that we put not our trust in any thing that we do; Mercifully grant that by thy power we may be defended against all adversity; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Ryan Hopkins read the Epistle, which came from the Eleventh Chapter of Saint Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians beginning at the  Nineteenth Verse. Paul reminds us salvation, honor and glory come not from what we do or have done, but rather from God.  Paul, who as Saul, had been a super star on his way to being the number one rabbi in the Hebrew nation, he was more learned, more vigorous in following the law, more vocal in all things.  When he “saw the light” and converted, he took that same approach to Christianity.  No one was more in any thing than he.  He had been the best of the worst and the best of the best.  Now he was aware of how short he himself fell.  More importantly, he was keenly aware of the saving perfection of Christ.

No one did more than Paul, yet he counseled all to take comfort and pride in God, not themselves.  Do your best and look towards God.

E suffer fools gladly, seeing ye yourselves are wise. 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. I speak as concerning reproach, as though we had been weak. Howbeit whereinsoever any is bold, (I speak foolishly,) I am bold also. Are they Hebrews? so am I. Are they Israelites? so am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I. Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not? If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not.

Deacon Striker Jack Arnold read the Holy Gospel for today which came from the Eighth Chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke beginning at the Fourth Verse and tells the well known Parable of the Sower, which might be better referred to as the Parable of the Four Soils, for the seeds were all alike.

A sower scatters seed on to four different types of soil.

·      Hard ground
·      Stony ground
·      Thorny ground
·      Good ground

Hard ground “by the way side” prevents the seed from sprouting at all, and the seed becomes nothing more than bird food. Stony ground provides enough soil for the seeds to germinate and begin to grow, but because there is “no deepness of earth,” the plants do not take root and are soon withered in the sun. Thorny ground allows the seed to grow, but competing thorns choke the life out of the good plants.  Good ground receives the seed and produces much fruit.

Jesus explains the seed is The Word. 

Hard ground represents someone so hardened by sin that though he hears he cannot understand the Word.  Thus, Satan can pluck the message away, keeping the heart dull and preventing the Word from making an impression.

Stony ground represents those who hear and express delight in The Word, but do not change to live The Word.  When trouble arises, they abandon their faith.

Thorny ground represents one who hears and receives The Word, but who does not connect to it and whose heart is full of riches, pleasures, and lusts.  The effort that should by rights given The Word are given to the things of this world and he has no time for The Word.

Good ground represents he who hears, understands, and implements The Word.  Thus, The Word can work its wonders in his life and that person gains salvation.

The Word is there.  We may hear it.  We may take it in our heart.  The benefit comes only when we take it in our heart and act on it.  At that point, The Word is acting in our lives and salvation is in hand.

HEN much people were gathered together, and were come to him out of every city, he spake by a parable: A sower went out to sow his seed: and as he sowed, some fell by the way-side; and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it. And some fell upon a rock; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprang up with it, and choked it. And other fell on good ground, and sprang up, and bare fruit an hundredfold. And when he had said these things, he cried, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. And his disciples asked him, saying, What might this parable be? And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand. Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. Those by the way-side are they that hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away. And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection. But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.

Sermon – Time and Action
Today’s sermon brought the Collect, Epistle and Gospel together and is partly  contained in the forewords above. 

 Consider these words from the Collect:

…put not our trust in any thing that we do; Mercifully grant that by thy power we may be defended against all adversity …

In the Collect, we tell God we put our trust for eternal life not in our actions, but in His Power.  If we do this, then we must do as He asks us.  For, to make trust in His Power rational, we must follow His Direction.

This squares with what Paul tells us, that is salvation, honor and glory come not from what we do or have done, but rather from God.  Paul, who as Saul, had been a super star on his way to being the number one rabbi in the Hebrew nation, he was more learned, more vigorous in following the law, more vocal in all things.  When he “saw the light” and converted, he took that same approach to Christianity.  No one was more in any thing than he.  He had been the best of the worst and the best of the best.  Now he was keenly aware of how short he himself fell.  But even more importantly, he was keenly aware of the saving perfection of Christ.  Thus he counseled all to take comfort and pride in God, not themselves.  Do your best and look towards God.

This brings us right in to the well known Parable of the Sower, which might be better referred to as the Parable of the Four Soils, for the seeds were all alike. 

Like the seed sown by the sower, The Word is spread throughout the world for all to hear and act on:

·      Yet, some will not even hear The Word (Hard ground);
·      Others will hear, act quickly and abandon God’s help at the first sign of adversity (Stony ground);
·      Still others will hear The Word, but The Word is overtaken by the “pleasures” of this world and is choked out by them.  Like the line from the Bible, where your money is, that is your worldly effort, there is the evidence of your heart.  The temptation of this world is great, the reward from God should be greater, but you have to look long term;
·      Finally we come to those who accept and act on The Word, like the one seed planted growing into a great plant bearing its fruit, the rewards are manifold, though the effort is also great, the end reward far greater.  For the seed to grow to full fruition and glory, with its manifold blessings, it must have the ground prepared, carefully tended against encroachment of the evil weeds, it must be continually watered by the life blood of those around it.  There is much effort required on our part, but the ultimate reward is so much greater.

While we are on the subject, consider the issue of weeding.  Is this not part of the reason for the Church, that is to say the body of believers, to exist.  We cannot often pull our own weeds, but we can help others and they can help us.  Christianity is not a religion of hermits, it is a social religion where we can help each other. 

So, think about this, we need to understand eternal life and indeed on a shorter term, happiness in our life here, comes not from our self directed actions, but those of God and our action following His direction.  We put our trust in Him and follow His commands.  Do your best and look towards God for the Light to illuminate your path.  If you prepare your heart, as the farmer prepares the field, root out the forces of this world as the farmer roots out weeds, cultivate the good given by God, water your heart with His Water, your life will be manifold.

Bishop Ogles’ Sermon
We are oft fortunate to get copies of Bishop Jerry’s sermon notes.  Today is one of those Sundays.  Today we get a brilliant and inspiring sermon based on the Collect for this week:

Sexagesima Sunday
12 February 2012 Anno Domini

The Sunday called Sexagesima, or the
second Sunday before Lent.
The Collect.

 LORD God, who seest that we put not our trust in any thing that we do; Mercifully grant that by thy power we may be defended against all adversity; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

     The COLLECT for today focuses our attention on the ultimate power in all of Creation – The Lord of Heaven. Our hands are slowly wrenched by God from those concerns that are penultimate of the physical existence to those that have their ultimate residence in Him. The moment that our souls inhabit a body of flesh and blood, we fall victim to the curse of Adam and begin to die. Our footing is tenuous and incapable of sustaining us for more than a fleeting second of eternity.

     As we grow and mature, we realize more and more that we have no power at all to live apart from that sustaining Hand of God that continuously preserves us, body and soul, from the inevitable demise to which flesh is heir to. Life itself is a time of decision. It is the Valley of Decision, and the duration is always uncertain. So we gradually let go of those confidences that seemed to satisfy us in our youth and look to that great Savior who is every whit deserving of the title to save us from our hopeless circumstance.

     We look about the swirling waters of life and realize that we are without help in the arm of flesh. It is as if we were in the Niagara River headed for the Falls. Every branch and limb, every other human soul, in that Flood is alike headed for the precipice to destruction. We do not profit by grasping a floating bit of deadwood, for it suffers the same fate and is headed for the same doom. So is life. But life comes from life, and Life Eternal is the grant of our Father in Heaven. When our last earthly hope is gone, there He stands at the Gate ready to grant pardon and forgiveness. He will save us from the impending death if we will call upon Him in our time of trouble.

     The Collect reminds us that our works are nothing but cinder wood and ashes. We can do no good at all apart from Christ working in and through us. If we cannot trust our own solitary heart, how can we trust that of another? "It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man." (Psalms 118:8) This same truth is repeated in the New Testament: "We ought to obey God rather than men." (Acts 5:29)

     So, in the final analysis, we have no hope but that hope which springs eternal in Christ alone.  We are ready to admit that there is only One Power, and that Power resides in God who created heaven and earth. Being unworthy in our own right, we must plead a mercy from One who can both grant the mercy, and is willing to grant that mercy. Resting on His grace and mercy, we shall be defended against every adversity (and every adversary). God is just and will not abide sin; however, we have a Mediator with the Father – the Son Jesus Christ who died for our Redemption. Now that we are IN Christ, the Father looks upon the righteous merits of His Son when He looks upon us and we are admitted to His Kingdom of eternal life and joy.

 1 Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days. 2 Give a portion to seven, and also to eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth. 3 If the clouds be full of rain, they empty themselves upon the earth: and if the tree fall toward the south, or toward the north, in the place where the tree falleth, there it shall be. 4 He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap. 5 As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all. 6 In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good. (Eccl 11:1-6)

     This morning I picked up a photo from a pile of old photos on my desk and it was one taken of me when I was in the first grade. The photo was black and white and somewhat faded (it has every right to be after sixty-two years.  That photo is perfect representation of me when I was so young and full of life. Compared to photo of myself today, the differences are not all that complimentary. Age is a process of dying. The photo will float around my office, to be seen only by friends and family, until that body which it depicts will be dust and ashes. It will then disappear somewhere on the ash heap of history – forgotten by man – but not by God.

     How fragile is life! How temporary and uncertain. We sometimes sink into moments of despair in contemplating the coming tragedy. But for the Christian disciple, life does not get forlorn or hopeless. We look forward to seeing the Face of our dear Father in the same way we anxiously awaited the home coming of our earthly fathers from a long trip. When our fathers returned from battle during the Second World War or some other great endeavor, we knew all was well with the world, and…. with us. We had a provider and a protector. We still have a Father far greater than that earthly father to provide our every need and protection.  But we must know Him to Love Him.

    What have we done in our Father's delay in coming to make Him happy with us as His cherished children? Have we been silly and wasteful of our time? Have we been good scholars of His Word and stewards of His blessings to us? Or have we squandered away our time and blessing so that there is no difference between us and orphan children of the street?

     We may have fallen very short in the labors of our hands, but He is yet our Father, and He will forgive us if we call on Him. But how much greater blessing to hear that magnificent voice speak "Well done my good and faithful servant."

1.      Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days. This is a full representation of faith and charity. In casting our bread upon the waters, we know not where their benefit will be enjoyed, nor the beneficiary of the bread. We do it in a great general love that mimics that Love of God in providing for all of His Creation. He makes it to rain upon the wicked as well as the just. "45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? 47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? 48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. " (Matt 5:45-48)

     Have we made our charities investments instead of freehold grants? Do we look, perhaps subconsciously, for some benefit to ensue to us from our giving? We must give out of a joyful heart for a joyful heart expects no recompense.

     The waters are free flowing and always descend down to the lowest part. If we are abundant blessed, or even scarcely so, all blessings flow DOWN to us from the Father of Lights. Shall we be the Dead Sea of Souls and therefore retain every refreshing water that flows into us? Or shall we be as the Sea of Galilee in abundance of life because we share the same waters we have received from the heights of Mt Hermon?

     2 Give a portion to seven, and also to eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth. (Eccl 11:2) This means that we must not limit that which we give while we still have the ability to give. A fountain continues its flowing because the water it provides is shed about the head as life-giving waters. If it flows into a jug or bottle, it can flow no more once the bottle is stopped. Let us not be stopped bottles.  The Dead Sea gives up none of the waters it receives. The waters are precisely the same as that which feeds into the Sea of Galilee. So why is the Dead Sea dead? Because it gives nothing and takes all. If water is not moving, it becomes putrid and sedimentary. Our souls are the same. If we hoard every blessing solely for our own sake, we will become dead and unfit for man or beast.

    3 If the clouds be full of rain, they empty themselves upon the earth: and if the tree fall toward the south, or toward the north, in the place where the tree falleth, there it shall be(Eccl 11:3) It is the principle in nature to always give when full. Clouds do, rivers do, seeds do, etc.  It is natural for clouds to give up their waters.  Why is this so? God made clouds, and God made the science of meteorology. As the warm clouds pick up more and more moisture, their warm nature causes them to rise. As they rise, they grow cooler. Cool air cannot hold as much moisture as warm air, so the clouds release their moisture upon the earth. As our souls, full of blessings, are lifted up higher and higher to God, it will be natural for us to share the blessings God has given us.

     Once the rain is given, it falls where it may. Once given, it cannot be called back. Let us not be those clouds that promise water for a parched earth and then withhold the promise: "These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear: clouds they are without water, carried about of winds; trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots; 13 Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever. Jude 1:12-13 (KJV)

    No man has ever spoken with such beauty and imagery as the Almighty in His Word!

     4 He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reapNo one stops or starts the winds. They come at go at their own pleasure. If we delay our sowing until the conditions are perfect, the season will be past ere we get the seed into the ground. The same is true of watching the weather with inordinate anxiety. If we wait for days of cloudless weather, it may be the winter of our harvest.

     We are to offer our charity in faith not evaluating always the means and gratitude of reception.  At Christmas of 1972, my wife and I, who used to drive a desolate rural highway from south Alabama to Ft. Benning, Ga regularly, had often commented on an old wooden cabin off the road and among the trees. The yard was always full of children. There was no paint on the walls, and no care in the yard. There was an older couple who always seemed to be on the porch watching the children play. My wife and I had no Christmas plans.  So we decided to take a TV, several bags of groceries (including a turkey), candies and fruits, and some small gifts for children. I had not the nerve to go to the door for embarrassment. But my wife did go. She took the groceries and children came out to help. The light in their eyes and on their faces told the whole story. I shall never forget that one Christmas when we took ten minutes to make a family so very happy. The waters of blessing gushed back upon us and we still drink of those waters.

      5 As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all.   Yes, our charities are without discretion!  God has formed us in our mother's womb and according to His perfect plan. Our DNA is evidence that God designed us from conception. If our dependence was totally upon His loving Fingers in the womb, at what point did we become independent of His Favor?

     6 In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good. We sow in the morning, and continue in the evening of our lives – both while we are young AND old. "Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the LORD, till he come and rain righteousness upon you. 13 Ye have plowed wickedness, ye have reaped iniquity; ye have eaten the fruit of lies: because thou didst trust in thy way, in the multitude of thy mighty men(Hosea 10:12-13)

As God has loved and bless us, we must love and bless one another.

Bishop Dennis Campbell’s Sunday Sermon
As is oft the case, we are honored to present Bishop Dennis’ Sunday sermon presented to his parish.  Dennis has an excellent command of scripture and is able to present it in a manner which is completely understandable to the rest of us.  This year’s sermons are being drawn from the book of Psalms, or, as it is known by Anglicans, "The Psalter" which begins on page 343 of the Book of Common Prayer.  But, today he moved to drawing the propers together in a far different sermon than Hap’s and adding in the psalm for this Sunday, Psalm 71.  We think you will really enjoy it!

Sexagesima Sunday
 12 February 2012

LESSED 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."
Psalm 71. In te, Domine, speravi.

N THEE O Lord, have I put my trust; let me never be put to confusion, * but rid me and deliver me in thy righteousness; incline thine ear unto me, and save me.
2 Be thou my stronghold, whereunto I may alway re- sort: * thou hast promised to help me, for thou art my house of defence, and my castle.
3 Deliver me, O my God, out of the hand of the ungodly, * out of the hand of the unrighteous and cruel man.
4 For thou, O Lord God, art the thing that I long for: * thou art my hope, even from my youth.
5 Through thee have I been holden up ever since I was born: * thou art he that took me out of my mother’s womb: my praise shall be alway of thee.
6 I am become as it were a monster unto many, * but my sure trust is in thee.
7 O let my mouth be filled with thy praise, * that I may sing of thy glory and honour all the day long.
8 Cast me not away in the time of age; * forsake me not when my strength faileth me.
9 For mine enemies speak against me; * and they that lay wait for my soul take their counsel together, saying,
10 God hath forsaken him; * persecute him, and take him, for there is none to deliver him.
11 Go not far from me, O God; * my God, haste thee to help me.
12 Let them be confounded and perish that are against my soul; * let them be covered with shame and dishonour that seek to do me evil.
13 As for me, I will patiently abide alway, * and will praise thee more and more.
14 My mouth shall daily speak of thy righteousness and salvation; * for I know no end thereof.
15 I will go forth in the strength of the Lord God, * and will make mention of thy righteousness only.
16 Thou, O God, hast taught me from my youth up until now; * therefore will I tell of thy wondrous works.
17 Forsake me not, O God, in mine old age, when I am gray-headed, * until I have showed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to all them that are yet for to come.
18 Thy righteousness, O God, is very high, * and great things are they that thou hast done: O God, who is like unto thee!
19 O what great troubles and adversities hast thou showed me ! and yet didst thou turn and refresh me; * yea, and broughtest me from the deep of the earth again.
20 Thou hast brought me to great honour, * and com- forted me on every side:
21 Therefore will I praise thee, and thy faithfulness, O God, playing upon an instrument of music: * unto thee will I sing upon the harp, O thou Holy One of Israel.
22 My lips will be glad when I sing unto thee; * and so will my soul whom thou hast delivered.
23 My tongue also shall talk of thy righteousness all the day long; * for they are confounded and brought unto shame that seek to do me evil.

As we saw last Sunday, Septugesima 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 emphasizes 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.
tR. Dennis Campbell
Bishop of Diocese of Virginia
Rector, Holy Trinity Anglican Orthodox Church
Powhatan, Virginia

Commentary on Sexagesima Sunday's Gospel
from Expositions Of Holy Scripture by Alexander MacLaren
Courtesy of Rev. Geordie Menzies-Grierson, AOC UK


Luk 8:4 - Luk 8:16.

Luke is particular in dating this parable as spoken at a time when crowds resorted to Jesus, and the cities of Galilee seemed emptied out to hear Him. No illusions as to the depth or worth of this excitement beset Him. Sadly He looked on the eager multitudes, because He looked through them, and saw how few of them were bringing ‘an honest and good heart’ for the soil of His word. Just because He saw the shallowness of the momentary enthusiasm, He spoke this pregnant parable from a heavy heart, and as He tells us in His explanation of it to the disciples {ver. 10}, uses the parabolic garb as a means of hiding the truth from the unsusceptible, and of bringing it home to those who were prepared to receive it. Every parable has that double purpose of obscuring and revealing. The obscuring is punitive, but the punishment is meant to be remedial. God never cheats men by a revelation that does not reveal, and the very hiding is meant to stimulate to a search which cannot be vain.

The broad outstanding fact of the parable is tragic. Three failures and one success! It may be somewhat lightened by observing that the proportion which each ‘some’ bears to the whole seed-basketful is not told; but with all alleviation, it is sad enough. What a lesson for all eager reformers and apostles of any truth, who imagine that they have but to open their mouths and the world will listen! What a warning for any who are carried off their feet by their apparent ‘popularity’! What a solemn appeal to all hearers of God’s message!

I. Commentators have pointed out that all four kinds of soil might have been found close together by the lake, and that there may have been a sower at work within sight.

But the occasion of the parable lay deeper than the accident of local surroundings. A path through a cornfield is a prosaic enough thing, but one who habitually holds converse with the unseen, and ever sees it shining through the seen, beholds all things ‘apparelled in celestial light,’ and finds deep truths in commonplace objects. The sower would not intentionally throw seed on the path, but some would find its resting-place there. It would lie bare on the surface of the hard ground, and would not be there long enough to have a chance of germinating, but as soon as the sower’s back was turned to go up the next furrow, down would come the flock of thievish birds that fluttered behind him, and bear away the grains. The soil might be good enough, but it was so hard that the seed did not get in, but only lay on it. The path was of the same soil as the rest of the field, only it had been trodden down by the feet of passengers, perhaps for many years.

A heart across which all manner of other thoughts have right of way will remain unaffected by the voice of Jesus, if He spoke His sweetest, divinest tones, still more when He speaks but through some feeble man. The listener hears the words, but they never get farther than the drum of his ear. They lie on the surface of his soul, which is beaten hard, and is non-receptive. How many there are who have been listening to the preaching of the Gospel, which is in a true sense the sowing of the seed, all their lives, and have never really been in contact with it! Tramp, tramp, go the feet across the path, heavy drays of business, light carriages of pleasure, a never-ending stream of traffic and noise like that which pours day and night through the streets of a great city, and the result is complete insensibility to Christ’s voice.

If one could uncover the hearts of a congregation, how many of them would be seen to be occupied with business or pleasures, or some favourite pursuit, even while they sit decorously in their pews! How many of them hear the preacher’s voice without one answering thought or emotion! How many could not for their lives tell what his last sentence was! No marvel, then, that, as soon as its last sound has ceased, down pounce a whole covey of light-winged fancies and occupations, and carry off the poor fragments of what had been so imperfectly heard. One wonders what percentage of remembrances of a sermon is driven out of the hearers’ heads in the first five minutes of their walk home, by the purely secular conversation into which they plunge so eagerly.

II. The next class of hearers is represented by seed which has had somewhat better fate, inasmuch as it has sunk some way in, and begun to sprout.

The field, like many a one in hilly country, had places where the hard pan of underlying rock had only a thin skin of earth over it. Its very thinness helped quick germination, for the rock was near enough to the surface to get heated by the sun. So, with undesirable rapidity, growth began, and shoots appeared above ground before there was root enough made below to nourish them. There was only one possible end for such premature growth-namely, withering in the heat. No moisture was to be drawn from the shelf of rock, and the sun was beating fiercely down, so the feeble green stem drooped and was wilted.

It is the type of emotional hearers, who are superficially touched by the Gospel, and too easily receive it, without understanding what is involved. They take it for theirs ‘with joy,’ but are strangers to the deep exercises of penitence and sorrow which should precede the joy. ‘Lightly come, lightly go,’ is true in Christian life as elsewhere. Converts swiftly made are quickly lost. True, the most thorough and permanent change may be a matter of a moment; but, if so, into that moment emotions will be compressed like a great river forced through a mountain gorge, which will do the work of years.

Such surface converts fringe all religious revivals. The crowd listening to our Lord was largely made up of them. These were they who, when a ground of offence arose, ‘went back, and walked no more with Him.’ They have had their successors in all subsequent times of religious movement. Light things are caught up by the wind of a passing train, but they soon drop to the ground again. Emotion is good, if there are roots to it. But ‘these have no root.’ The Gospel has not really touched the depths of their natures, their wills, their reason, and so they shrivel up when they have to face the toil and self-sacrifice inherent in a Christian life.

III. The third parcel of seed advanced still farther.

It rooted and grew. But the soil had other occupants. It was full of seeds of weeds and thorns {not thorn bushes}. So the two crops ran a race, and as ill weeds grow apace, the worse beat, and stifled the green blades of the springing corn, which, hemmed in and shut out from light and air, came to nothing.

The man represented has not made clean work of his religion. He has received the good seed, but has forgotten that something has to be grubbed up and cast out, as well as something to be taken in, if he would grow the fair fruits of Christian character. He probably has cut down the thorns, but has left their roots or seeds where they were. He has fruit of a sort, but it is scanty, crude, and green. Why? Because he has not turned the world out of his heart. He is trying to unite incompatibles, one of which is sure to kill the other. His ‘thorns’ are threefold, as Luke carefully distinguishes them into ‘cares and riches and pleasures,’ but they are one in essence, for they are all ‘of this life.’ If he is poor, he is absorbed in cares; if rich, he is yet more absorbed in wealth, and his desires go after worldly pleasures, which he has not been taught, by experience of the supreme pleasure of communion with God, to despise.

Mark that this man does not ‘fall away.’ He keeps up his Christian name to the end. Probably he is a very influential member of the church, universally respected for his wealth and liberality, but his religion has been suffocated by the other growth. He has fruit, but it is not to ‘perfection.’ If Jesus Christ came to Manchester, one wonders how many such Christians He would discover in the chief seats in the synagogues.

IV. The last class avoids the defects of the three preceding.

The soil is soft, deep, and clean. The seed sinks, roots, germinates, has light and air, and brings forth ripened grain. The ‘honest and good heart’ in which it lodges has been well characterised as one ‘whose aim is noble, and who is generously devoted to his aim’ {Bruce, The Parabolic Teaching of Christ, p. 33}. Such a soul Christ recognises as possible, prior to the entrance into it of the word. There are dispositions which prepare for the reception of the truth. But not only the previous disposition, but the subsequent attitude to the word spoken, is emphasised by our Lord. ‘They having heard the word, hold it fast.’ Docilely received, it is steadily retained, or held with a firm grip, whoever and whatever may seek to pluck it from mind or heart.

Further, not only tenacity of grasp, but patient perseverance of effort after the fruit of Christian character, is needed. There must be perseverance in the face of obstacles within and without, if there is to be fruitfulness. The emblem of growth does not suffice to describe the process of Christian progress. The blade becomes the ear, and the ear the full corn, without effort. But the Christian disciple has to fight and resist, and doggedly to keep on in a course from which many things would withdraw him. The nobler the result, the sorer the process. Corn grows; character is built up as the result, first of worthily receiving the good seed, and then of patient labour and much self-suppression.

These different types of character are capable of being changed. The path may be broken up, the rock blasted and removed, the thorns stubbed up. We make ourselves fit or unfit to receive the seed and bear fruit. Christ would not have spoken the parable if He had not hoped thereby to make some of His hearers who belonged to the three defective classes into members of the fourth. No natural, unalterable incapacity bars any from welcoming the word, housing it in his heart, and bringing forth fruit with patience.

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