Sermon Archive

Sunday February 9, 2014
11:00 am - Saint Thomas Church
Preacher: Fr Mead

Isaiah 58:1-12
Matthew 5:13-20

A Leg Up on Lent

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

Lent is over three weeks away. The pre-Lent countdown which begins next Sunday, also called Septuagesima, is not yet – and yet today’s appointed lessons seem Lenten. Isaiah speaks to the question of fasting. Jesus in Saint Matthew speaks of our righteousness needing to exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees.

You may know me well enough to know that I perk up on Ash Wednesday. I love Lent – especially after feeling sated as a result of the Christmas-New Year festivities. I love not only the purple vestments of penitential expectation, but the spare simplicity, the Great Litany, the getting down to essentials in order to get closer to the Lord, involved in Lent and its anticipation of Holy Week and Easter. So please excuse my taking the opportunity afforded us this morning to get a leg up on the approach of the holy season which is unusually late – Ash Wednesday is March 5, Easter is April 20 – this year.

Isaiah sets us straight on what fasting is about. A certain sort of fasting is worse than nothing at all, says the prophet. If you sprinkle ashes on your head and make humble gestures, while at the same time exploiting your servants or fellow-workers, quarrelling and striving against your neighbors; then your “fast” is merely a disguise for sin – a costume of hypocrisy involving only outward signs with no inward reality.

This is the Lord’s fast: get rid of injustice; untie the yoke and free the oppressed; feed the hungry, shelter the stranger, clothe the naked – especially your own flesh and blood. But then all people, not just our immediate relatives, are our brothers and sisters, our flesh and blood. Fast, says the Lord, fast from cruelty and meanness, from finger-pointing and accusation, from grabbing and stealing, from malicious talk, slander and gossip. Fast from these, and then God will bless you, hear your prayer, and go before and after you as your leader and rear guard.

Jesus picks up Isaiah’s theme in today’s Sermon on the Mount passage. He speaks of his disciples as salt and light. Salt is both a seasoning and a preservative. Light lets us see clearly – and it exposes and disinfects what has been growing in the darkness. Then Christ teaches the true meaning of the Law. He came he says, not to abolish or destroy the Law but to fulfill it. Jesus’s life and teaching reveal the true, underlying purpose of the Law – namely to love and obey the Lord with all the heart, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself. This includes, as Jesus says of the Last Judgment, tending the sick, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the prisoner, giving drink to the thirsty, and welcoming the stranger. Again, echoes of Isaiah.

The righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees was sham and pretense, because it involved a heavy emphasis upon superficial and minor things, and a neglect of the weightier matters of justice, truth and charity. Were we to read further in his Sermon on the Mount, we would hear Jesus explain that anger, envy and hate are the roots of murder; that the lust of a wandering eye is the source of adultery; that God judges name-calling and vain swearing; and that our enemies are the children of God as much as we. Therefore love and justice extend far beyond what we normally imagine, and the poor are part of our own human family who need our attention.

So here are a few thoughts in advance of Lent. We can start with small, physical things which show our need of discipline while having an eye towards things we can do without – and which can even benefit us by being shed. Here are my “Four S’s” – seconds, sweets, salt and spirits (as in wine, not angels). Think about any one, any combination, or all together as something to fast from. Your body as well as your soul will feel better by Easter. You could even start on Septuagesima!

Then, more profoundly, think of fasting and abstaining from your sins. Think of Isaiah again. Proud, loud bearings and looks. Selfish, greedy habits. Foolish, scandalous or slanderous talk. Away with it! Take it to the dump. Then think of filling the holes created by these sins with kindness, generosity, and words and deeds of encouragement. You could help out in our Saturday Soup Kitchen, or go down to Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen any day.

Do you want to elevate your mind? I have a small readable Lenten Book for you: Three Days in Holy Week by Robert A. Gillies, which will be available soon in our Book Store. Bishop Gillies preached here in Holy Week, especially Good Friday, 2012. His words were riveting, and most of them are now published in this book. I commend it to you.

So it is that the Church commends prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. They all work together. The aim is to simplify, to cleanse and to clear out the rubbish; while at the same time to fortify, to strengthen faith through works of love. Earlier I mentioned Jesus’s summary of the Law, namely to love and obey the Lord with all the heart, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself. So this Lenten discipline aims at restoring our three greatest relationships: 1) with the Lord, 2) with our neighbors, and 3) therefore with and within ourselves.

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


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