Septuagesima – Recreation

The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
[Genesis 1:2-4]

Winter is with us for a few more weeks, but we are beginning to enjoy the lengthening of days, and the appearance of Spring flowers and the sound of songbirds.  It is a kind of recreation.

And to mark that transition, there is a change in the season of Church year.  We have been looking, during Advent, Christmas and Epiphany seasons at the coming of the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, and of that Word manifested in our own souls.  Now we turn our minds towards Easter and the salvation Jesus brings us through his ministry, his passion, death and resurrection.

Today and the next two Sundays are meant to help us to enter into a pilgrimage, through Lent, to follow Jesus to Jerusalem. 

One commentator has noted that [Crouse],

“In the early days of the Church, Septuagesima was actually the beginning of Lent, the day on which catechumens – new converts to Christianity – were first in church to begin their preparation for baptism at Easter.  Think what today’s lessons must have meant for them.”  And if we are baptised, we can think about how these readings relate to the renewing of our baptismal vows.

The first chapter of Genesis speaks of the creation of the world. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness.

This image of the Spirit of God hovering over the waters and of the bringing forth of light in the darkness, it is very much an image for Christians of Holy Baptism.

In our baptism, we are recreated.  Baptism fonts are traditionally 8 sided (as ours is here at Holy Trinity) to symbolize the 7 days of creation plus the 8th day of recreation.  We are washed and cleansed from sin, the image of God in us, which was lacking form, is reformed, and the Spirit gives us light inwardly, illuminating the soul, giving us self-knowledge, strengthening and leading us in time to the restoration also of the likeness of God.

In nature we have cycles of birth and death and rebirth, as we are witnessing around us.  But a tree doesn’t just gain leaves each year and then lose them, it also grows.  Likewise for us, it is not just a cycle, returning each Lent to the same place we started last year, but we are building on the past foundation, growing, maturing, and ascending.

But how does that change in us come about?  That is what is spoken about in the Epistle – Paul reminds us that self-discipline is necessary in the Christian life.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize?  So run that you may obtain it.  Every athlete exercises self-control in all things.  They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.  So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.  But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

As another preacher has said well:

“Christian life is a life of discipline – discipline of mind, discipline of heart, discipline of will.  We must train ourselves and shape our lives in ways consonant with our calling:  in humility, in thankfulness, in charity, in temperance, and so on; mindful of our goal.  We dare not run erratically, nor waste our time and energy beating empty air.  We must concentrate our task – that is what the discipline of Lent is all about.” [Crouse]

Self-reflection, prayer, fasting, acts of charity, acts of service, Bible reading, the Sacraments, Christian fellowship – we cannot stand by the side of the road idle, or sit on a fence waiting for greater clarity – greater clarity may never come to us until we commit ourselves to follow wholeheartedly and enter into the disciplines.

We must be engaged in our salvation, as Paul says elsewhere: work out your salvation in fear and trembling.  Work.  It is not something easy – it’s especially painful at the start.

The Gospel confirms this message that we are not to stand idle.

The kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard….

going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’

Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’

So the first point that is being commended to us by God today both in the Epistle and Gospel is to work, to engage in a disciplined life – that is our calling, that is how we will grow, that is where meaning and fruitfulness will be found.  This Lent would be a good time to reflect on our spiritual disciplines and decide what could be improved.  The message about discipline being essential probably doesn’t strike us with joy.   It will help if we see such actions, as the movement of love, of exercising our hearts to love God in very practical ways.

The second point from the readings is that for all our work and struggle, the gift of salvation is a free gift from God.  It is counter intuitive: having been told to work hard in disciplining ourselves, we want more reward the more we labour, but that is not how the Kingdom of God works.

We know that from our baptism, described in Genesis 1 – we simply went under the waters, but it was God who saved us – reforming us by joining our souls with His Son and reforming us with the illuminating grace of His Holy Spirit.  This was all a free gift.

And that is what is meant in the Gospel by the fact that all receive the same wage whether we enter into the vineyard, engage in the work of God, at the beginning of our life or at the 11th hour – all receive the single denarius or coin of the Gospel – that wage is eternal life, and that is the imperishable crown spoken of by Paul in the Epistle.  It is the same for all and it is in every case God’s gracious gift. 

We are to be fully engaged in our salvation, and it is fully God’s work.  A strange paradox, one of many in the Kingdom of Heaven.

This morning if we want to receive God’s grace freely, Jesus calls on us to come to him, to confess our sins, and to eat the bread of Heaven and drink from the Cup of salvation.  You see there is the call and promise of God, a free gift, and the need for our response; there is the wage freely given, and the action on our part to receive. 

Let us not stand idle here this morning, but enter into the vineyard, into the work of the Lord.

Amen +