Sunday, March 3, 1996

Second Sunday in Lent - Year A - 1996

Second Sunday in Lent

O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious
to all who have gone astray from thy ways, and bring them
again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and
hold fast the unchangeable truth of thy Word, Jesus Christ
thy Son; who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and
reigneth, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

A reading from the book Genesis. Genesis 12:1-8
1 Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves.” 4 So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. 5 And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions which they had gathered, and the persons that they had gotten in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan, 6 Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7 Then the LORD appeared to Abram, and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him. 8 Thence he removed to the mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD.
The Word of the Lord.
33 Exultate, justi (Verses 12-22, begining at the bottom of page 626)

12 Happy is the nation whose God is the LORD! *
happy the people he has chosen to be his own!
13 The LORD looks down from heaven, *
and beholds all the people in the world.
14 From where he sits enthroned he turns his gaze *
on all who dwell on the earth.
15 He fashions all the hearts of them *
and understands all their works.
16 There is no king that can be saved by a mighty army; *
a strong man is not delivered by his great strength.
17 The horse is a vain hope for deliverance; *
for all its strength it cannot save.
18 Behold, the eye of the LORD is upon those who fear him, *
on those who wait upon his love,
19 To pluck their lives from death, *
and to feed them in time of famine.
20 Our soul waits for the LORD; *
he is our help and our shield.
21 Indeed, our heart rejoices in him, *
for in his holy Name we put our trust.
22 Let your loving-kindness, O LORD, be upon us, *
as we have put our trust in you.

A reading from the letter of Paul to the Romans. Romans 4:1-17
1 What then shall we say about Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to one who works, his wages are not reckoned as a gift but as his due. 5 And to one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness. 6 So also David pronounces a blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works: 7 “Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; 8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not reckon his sin.” 9 Is this blessing pronounced only upon the circumcised, or also upon the uncircumcised? We say that faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness. 10 How then was it reckoned to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. 11 He received circumcision as a sign or seal of the righteousness which he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised and who thus have righteousness reckoned to them, 12 and likewise the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but also follow the example of the faith which our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. 13 The promise to Abraham and his descendants, that they should inherit the world, did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression. 16 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants—not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham, for he is the father of us all, 17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.
The Word of the Lord.
The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John John 3:1-17
1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew.’ 8 The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit.” 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can this be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand this? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen; but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” 16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.
The Gospel of the Lord.

Second Sunday in Lent
Year A

Jesus answered him, "Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand this? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen; but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

I want to begin this morning by drawing your attention to irony. The set up for this was provided last Monday night on the ABC News show, Night Line. There was a man whose name I missed, but the title which was flashed on the screen across his chest was, "Spokesman for the Episcopal Church". There was no sign of a halo, so I was skeptical from the start.

I will do my best to quote him. This may not be verbatim, but it is as close as my memory allows. This spokesman said, "The Episcopal Church is not a church which requires any strict adherence to any Creeds."

My skepticism proved to be justified. The man said this just as the Church has entered the Season of Lent -- a time which is traditionally used for preparing those who are being taught the faith for baptism. The words of our collect this morning came to mind, in that we ask God to bring us to, "embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of thy Word, Jesus Christ" and those words seemed particularly relevant as I watched and listened the other night.

As an ordained priest in this Church, I too am a spokesman for the faith of the Church. And at my ordination, I gave my solemn vow that I would "be loyal to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as this Church has received them."

The doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as this Church received them can be identified as the Scripture, its interpretation through Holy Tradition and the Creeds (Apostles, Nicene, and Athanasian) which are the statements which represent the faith of the True Church. I am also bound to declarations made by ecumenical councils.

In addition to this, the Bishop asked me, at my ordination, if I "will endeavor so to minister the Word of God and the sacraments of the New Covenant, that the reconciling love of Christ may be known and received?" To which I answered, "I will."

Finally, the bishop prayed to the Lord over me, in part, these words, "Make him a faithful pastor, a patient teacher, and a wise councilor... that your people may be strengthen and your Name glorified in all the world." All of the people in the congregation responded, "Amen".

It for those reasons, in God's name, and in keeping with my ordination vows that I do not just remind myself of my own obligations as a preist but all of our obligations to God and his Church as baptized Christians.

In ancient times, Lent was the time in which those who were learning the faith of the Church underwent their final, rigorous catechism. In those days, the people not yet baptized nor confirmed were ushered out of the Church just before the Offertory because only those instructed in the faith and sealed by the bishop were allowed even to witness the Holy Mysteries which are to be celebrated here in a few minutes.

While the priest or bishop said Mass, those being instructed went to another place where their instruction would continue. They would be prayed for day and night, they would receive anointing of their ears so that they could hear and understand what they were being taught. They would have their lips anointed so that they could answer correctly the questions of the catechists. They were asked again and again if they were willing to leave behind them the world of their former life and enter into the new life in Christ Jesus. Their sponsors were asked if they could confirm that the catechumens had manifest a desire to receive the True faith and the Sacraments of the Church by amending their lives in accordance to the Church's teachings.

All of these things were done to insure that those who accepted the Sacrament of Baptism, and subsequently, the other Sacraments of the Church, would endeavor to be faithful members. Also, in the ancient days, to allow a non-believer into the Church was to put the faithful in jeopardy of being turned over to the authorities who had made Christianity illegal.

So little was known by the world of the faith and practice of the Church that rumor had it that we practiced cannibalism, and orgies. These were undoubtedly based upon whispers of the eating the Body and Blood of Christ, and the agape feasts, or love feasts as the Mass was then called.

But the Church was zealous, and sincere in teaching the faith, and the people were, as individual members equally zealous and sincere. And at the actual Baptism, the statement of faith required by all to be Baptized was the same as it is now.

If you were Baptized, as I was, under the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, you or your sponsors for you, were asked this question, "Dost thou believe all of the Articles of the Christian Faith, as contained in the Apostles' Creed?" To which the response was, "I do."

If you were Baptized under the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, you were asked directly if you believed in that Faith, and by answering, you and the bishop or priest recited the Apostles' Creed together.

In both Rites we were charged, and accented to the charge, to turn away from the enemy which is the World, the Flesh, and the Devil.

To believe in the Apostles Creed and to renounce the enemy requires that you know the faith of the Apostles, and that you recognize that the ways of the world, the ways of the flesh, and the ways of the devil are at odds with the way of new life to which we are to be born as Christians.

After Baptism, we can no longer look to our culture for what is right and what is wrong. We can no longer look to our society to solve our problems, we can no longer look to our own desires to determine our needs, and our duty. And we can no longer trust in our hearts to lead us to righteousness, because our hearts are subject to the temptation of the devil.

Therefore, we have only one recourse, and that is said well in the 1979 rite of Baptism:

Will you continue in the apostle's teachings and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?

The response to that is, "I will with God's help". Not just, I will, but I will, with God's help.

And if you have answered that, or had that answer given for you, then I charge you to remember that answer, and to be true to that answer, and attempt to live by that answer. We need to be reminded that our baptism did not complete the work of Salvation in us, but rather it only began the work of Salvation with in us, and with God's help, that work will be completed.

We must renew our zeal, we must know the true urgency of our state in life, and be aware of the consequences of not striving to keep those vows. And most of all, we must, in this season of Lent, prepare ourselves anew for the Celebration of New Life in Jesus Christ which is our joy and our hope to witness first in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

That "Spokesman for the Episcopal Church" may have spoken for an administrative branch of the Church, but he did not speak for Christ, nor the true Church, nor to the teaching of the Apostles, nor Scripture.

In our Book of Common Prayer are the three Creeds of the Church, declared as Truth by Ecumenical Council, and to which we are indeed strictly to adhere. But before we can adhere to these Creeds, we must know these Creeds. And to know these Creeds which are based upon Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition, we must also know what Holy Scripture says and what Holy Tradition says.

Therefore, this Lent, I urge you to pray over the vows of your Baptism, from whichever Book of Common Prayer they came, and then prayerfully determine what you need to be doing to be faithful to your vows and faithful to the Body of the Church of which Christ Jesus is the head.

The Epistle Lesson for this morning is the story of Abraham as understood by Paul and Inspired by the Holy Spirit. In it we learn that Abraham was declared righteous by God before he had any works of righteousness. Instead, Abraham had only faith at that time. Yet great works abounded through him, because of his faith, and because of the righteousness which God had accounted him.

So our duty does not end with our faith alone, but the expectation is that we are to live out our faith. I want to share with you a quote from the footnotes of a study Bible I use. It is called the Navarre Bible, and it is speaking of the Abraham story. It says:
The entire story of Abraham, especially the episode where God makes him the promise, is an example of how God goes about things: he draws the human soul out of its state of ignorance and then leads it on towards faith and moves it to accept a supernatural mission of unimagined scope.

God drawing our souls out of ignorance and then leading it toward faith may seem backwards. You may want to say that first comes faith, and only then does ignorance depart. But I believe that the two go together.

So often we think of God and His works as miraculous, and therefore, being miraculous, we should not expect them to make sense to us. But I believe that our faith, being holy and miraculous, is not beyond comprehension. Rather, I believe that our faith is perfect reason. I believe it makes since in a way that nothing else can. I believe it is the ultimate wisdom, and I believe that our attempts to learn it and understand it make us wise, and increase our understanding, and thus strengthen our faith.

If we strive to learn our faith, and endeavor to understand our faith, then our faith will lead our souls to, "accept a supernatural mission of unimagined scope." In other words, an informed faith, and a wise faith will lead us to be the miracle workers. It will allow God to work through us things unimagined, and supernatural.

And it is not just to declare us as righteous, that God seeks for us, but rather it to make us supernatural, and to make us better than we can imagine, and this we do following our Lord who while flesh, is also supernatural, and whose righteousness is beyond our imagination. It is to be like that we are called in our baptism, and it is to follow Him that we are charged.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Romans 4:3: Gen 15:6. And this is just after Melk. blessed Abraham after bringing bread and wine, and immediately after God first made the covenant with him. But Abraham’s faith was tried and purified through the offering of the blood of his son, and by many other works of faith. See v 10.
Romans 4:7: Psalm 32:1-2
Romans 4:10: Faith before circumcision. Thus stress is concerns works of the Law, as opposed to works of charity, works of a virtuous soul, works of repentance, works of devotion and works of piety (godliness). Romans 4:11: “reckoned”=counted up and concluded, as one would an inventory. This speaks of One who tallies what we have done, and said, and the grand total is such that Abraham won. It was faith that tilted the scales in God’s favor— they both won!
Navarre Bible: The entire story of Abraham, especially the episode where God makes him the promise, is an example of of how God goes about things: he draws the human soul out of its state of ignorance and then leads it on towards faith and moves it to accept a supernatural mission of unimagined scope. Romans 4:17: God’s Covenant is not a contract! As Peter Toon+ stressed, God’s Covenant is a declaration. I will be your God and you will be my people. There is no “if”. The “if” only comes in when His blessings are to be given or withheld. The “if” has to do with judgment, but the Covenant is not contingent upon man—it, like righteousness, is a gift, and one that is made by His, and only His, declaring it to be so.
Thus, the One who brings nothingness to existence with His Word, is the one who, gives us salvation, by faith, through His Word—that is Christ Jesus.

Copyright © 1996 W. Crews Giles

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