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Sunday, February 12, 2017
The Sunday called Septuagesima, or the third Sunday before Lent
Sermon – Reverend Jack Arnold - Time and Action
Church of the Faithful Centurion
Today’s sermon brought the Collect, Epistle and Gospel together and is partly contained in the forewords above.
Consider these words from the Collect:
… we, who are justly punished for our offences, may be mercifully delivered by thy goodness …
In the Collect, we ask God who knows we should be “…justly punished for our offences, may be mercifully delivered by thy goodness, for the glory of thy Name; through Jesus Christ our Saviour …” To get into heaven we need to be accounted as perfect. Yet, we cannot be “cured” of sin nor “improved” to perfection. So how do we solve this irregularity? We are imperfect creatures with free will, the most confounding combination ever created for salvation. We know we ourselves cannot solve our dilemma. Who can? There is a solution for us! Consider the words of John Newton near the end of his life, “Although my memory's fading, I remember two things very clearly: I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior!” The answer lies in the latter part of Newton’s quote. Our sins are justly punished by eternal damnation, yet there is hope in our Lord.
What Paul speaks of in his Epistle is the great reward we receive for holding steady to the course God has set for us. For eternal salvation is the delivery promised to each of us by Jesus. This is the great reward for the race we run daily here on Earth. Make no mistake, like a marathon, this run requires frequent training in the Scriptures and acting upon the concepts in Scriptures. And like marathon runners, we receive a wonderful prize. However, it is for a more valuable prize than any monetary or asset gift that one could receive here on Earth The prize is for the promise of an eternal, unending life, to be spent with our Lord and Savior Jesus. It is for the promise of a world unaffected by the tarnish of sin, unblackened by the sinful deeds of imperfect beings. It is an unshadowed world. It shall be true happiness at last, to meet with our beloved family, our Christian heavenly family, friends and beloved pets.
Eternal salvation is a far more valuable prize than anything we could possibly acquire here on Earth. It is in fact a priceless treasure, truly priceless, except for the death of our Saviour and resurrection. That is the only price involved with our eternal freedom. As the saying goes, there is no free lunch. Eternal life does not come to us without cost. The cost was Jesus’ one time sacrifice for all time for all mankind. We have to keep this foremost in our thoughts as we continue to run the race set before us! We need to bear in mind the reward for our race run is not one we have earned, but is a gift freely given by God’s grace, by His Love for us, He sent His Son to purchase eternal life for us by his death and resurrection. Keep the eyes on the prize, as it were! As my grandfather was fond of saying, “Keep your eye on the doughnut, not the hole.” That means keeping the important things in sight at all times, excluding the unimportant.
Particularly when things get hard, we must keep our end goal fixed firmly in our mind’s eye in order to stay on the path. In order to stay focused on the path, we must always remember the end, the arrival in Heaven will outweigh all of the sacrifices, blood, sweat and tears we shed in this life. Paul assures us our efforts will give us a reward greater than even our pitiful minds can imagine, if we but stay the course.
Our eyes should be focused on the finish line, not our “competition.” The only thing which counts is that we each cross the finish line. Does the competition matter in the scheme of things? After all, each person needs only be concerned with doing God’s will and his eternal destination, not others destinations. For only you have an input in which area you will go. Not a final input, but an input none the less.
So how do we run the race?
With our eyes focused tightly on the finish line, not on those around us, wondering are they doing better than we are? That is not a useful question.
The useful question is, “Am I doing the best I can?” And, remember this is a Team Effort. We have to want to win, and in order to win the race set before us; we have to perform actions. We need to act upon the Word of Scripture, the message, which is to promote the Gospel of Jesus Christ and preach it to all nations, as in the Great Commission. But we must first start with our neighbors and work our way outward. It must be a team effort, we cannot all do it alone. It is not as the Army motto says “An Army of One”, but the Church is an “Army of Many.” Each person in God’s army has a specific talent and task assigned to them to complete their assigned mission here on Earth. We need support along the way, especially when things get tough, we need our Christian buddies to give us moral support and encouragement from the Word. We want the Christian Team to win. If an outsider joins, they join the team fully from then on. We need to give each team member all the help we can. A deathbed conversion gains the same prize in the end as a life long Christian. The life long Christian will have had the more rewarding life here on earth, but eternity is a long time after that. So, with that in mind, we must DO our best and not just say it, and we do that by acting upon the Word, not just reading it, but acting.
We are all so far from perfect that Holier than Thou is pretty damning praise. Don’t even go there. The best you can really do is not to be as evil as another, even that is pretty doubtful. But, we can do our best for our Lord and that is what really matters.
The Gospel for today, the very important parable of the vineyard, also gives us very good advice on the conduct of our daily lives and contains a crucial key to happiness. There is the lesson that the deathbed conversion gains the same prize of eternal life as the lifelong follower, but there is a lot more in it for every day life. That a person that comes to Christ late in life, receives the same eternal benefits as a person who followed Christ from the age of reason.
It is a fine lesson in “buyer’s remorse” or coveting of jobs or similar concepts. If you got a good deal, it does not change because someone else got a “better” deal. Take what you got, go forth and be happy. Don’t complain because somebody else got the same deal as you did sooner. Other meanings abound. For a very direct application, what this means is “cradle” Christians are no more likely to go to heaven than this morning’s convert. They just get to enjoy the Christian experience longer. So, let us not begrudge those who are newly converted, but let us rejoice that they have been saved! As Christ said, we should rejoice that one sinner has repented of his ways! One note, if you wait until the last minute to join the gang, your time here might end before you get around to it. So, don’t wait until tomorrow to act, do it today while you still have time!
Sometimes people act like being a Christian is an unpleasant experience that they will do when they get a round TUIT. It is not. Christians aren’t perfect, they just have more fun being imperfect and imperfectly trying to improve!
Christ gave us eternal life. But, we have to accept it. Once you accept it, start living as if you will live forever. You will and you will have to live with your actions for ever! So, Act early and Act often!
There is but one way to heaven.
That easy to find, easy to follow, easy to hike path does not lead to the summit where eternal life in the real world awaits. Open your heart to the Holy Ghost, use His Power to follow our Lord to God who awaits in heaven.
Heaven is at the end of an uphill trail. The easy downhill trail does not lead to the summit.
The time is now, not tomorrow. The time has come, indeed. How will you ACT?
It is by our actions we are known.
Be of God - Live of God - Act of God
 Of course, you must consider that overshooting a deathbed conversion will result in no conversion, thus no eternal life. Convert earlier than needed rather than later than needed. My dad talks of a bombing range in England, Cowden, on the edge of a cliff. If you dropped short, you got a score. If you dropped long, you missed the whole country. Same idea here.