‘Cast all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.’

The Collect for the Third Sunday after Trinity:

O Lord, we beseech thee mercifully to hear us; and grant that we, to whom thou hast given an hearty desire to pray, may by thy mighty aid be defended and comforted in all dangers and adversities; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A homily preached at Holy Communion on the Third Sunday after Trinity, Sunday 6 July A.D. 2014.

1 Peter 5:5-11; Luke 15:1-10

Introduction

Our prayer of the day is all about prayer; and it assumes that praying  is something we want and need to do – something on which we depend, something we enjoy, and something we do often.

According to this prayer – the collect for the Third Sunday after Trinity – God has ‘given us an hearty desire to pray.’

But is this really true? How much, or how deeply, or how often, do you really desire to pray? Ask yourself that question.

As a priest, prayer is my job; and even I must confess that my desire to do so is not always there; and even when it is, it’s not necessarily ‘hearty’ or strong.

So, then, is today’s collect simply wrong? Maybe it should say that God has given us, not ‘an hearty,’ but rather, an occasional desire to pray; or, a desire to pray on an as-needed basis. Wouldn’t that be more accurate?

Well, it might be more honest about our day-to-day experience; but it can’t possibly be true.

It cannot possibly be true that God would have given us a weak or defective desire to pray. Our Creator has hard-wired into our souls a deep, strong, and hearty desire to pray; the problem is that this good desire is suppressed by something bad – something that tells us we don’t really need to pray.

And that something is pride. Our pride tells us that our life is our own, that we’re in control and that we can manage it well enough on our own.

If that were really the case, then no, we would not need to pray.

But if we’re honest with ourselves – and if we think back to our past and remember the hard times we’ve been through – then I think we’ll see that we really did not and cannot manage on our own. We simply cannot deal with all the things life throws at us through our own strength and wisdom.

So then, we really do have this hard-wired, hearty desire to pray; but that desire is choked by the grip of our pride; and it’s only through suffering that our pride can be gradually chipped away throughout our lives. Only then can our soul’s hearty desire for prayer breathe again.

That’s why our prayer of the day asks God to comfort and defend us in all dangers and adversities – not from them.

Suffering is actually good for us in so far as it breaks down our pride and delusion of self-sufficiency and reminds us of our dependence on God, who, as we heard, cares for us and will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish us.

1 Peter 5:5-11; Luke 15:1-10

Those were the words of Peter from our first lesson – a lesson that encourages us in the way of humility, the very opposite of pride.

As Peter says, Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, ‘For God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’

As we said earlier, pride suppresses our desire for honest prayer – it discourages us from communicating with God. So you can see why He would oppose it:

Pride keeps us from God, who wants to be close to us.

That’s why Peter encourages us to humble ourselves […] by casting all our anxieties on Him.

To pray honestly and openly; to express our needs to God; to beseech Him mercifully to hear us; to ask that His ‘mighty aid’ would defend and comfort us ‘in all dangers and adversities’; to draw near to God and pray in this way is an act of humility – the very opposite of pride.

We see this contrast between humility and pride play out in today’s gospel  reading:

The tax collectors and sinners – who are humbled by their guilt, shame and rejection – draw near to Jesus to hear Him. Meanwhile the proud Pharisees and scribes can only grumble and condemn Jesus and His humble audience.

In response, Jesus tells two parables: the shepherd who seeks and finds his lost sheep; and the woman who seeks diligently in her house to find her lost coin.

Jesus uses both of these parables to show how God seeks out lost people (like the tax collectors and sinners) and how God rejoices when such people repent.

So Jesus says these parables are about repentance.

Normally we think of repentance as something that we must do to restore our relationship with God.

It’s about stopping and turning around from going down a path of sin; and turning back to God. That’s true; but here, in today’s readings from Peter and Luke, we learn two prior things about repentance:

First, repentance is about being humbled and turning back to God in prayer.

The first and most basic step in repentance is to humble ourselves and cast all our anxieties on God. That’s because our pride is the first and most basic sin from which we must repent.

So that’s the first point: to repent is to humble ourselves before God.

But secondly, even though Jesus says these parables are about repentance, we don’t actually see any repentance taking place on the part of the lost objects.

The sheep and the coin simply get lost. They don’t find themselves and humbly turn back to their owner. No, the shepherd and the woman, respectively, seek them out and find them. The action is all on the part of the one who’s doing the seeking.

As Jesus says, repentance involves being sought out and found by God.

And as we learn from Peter, repentance involves turning from pride and prayerfully humbling oneself under the mighty hand of God.

So it seems that there’s something of a two-step cycle to repentance: God does His part – seeking and finding us; and we humans do our part – humbling ourselves and turning back to God. You need both steps, both directions, to complete the cycle.

Friends, the gospel, the good news, is that Jesus Christ accomplishes both of these steps and completes the cycle for us.

God the Father sent Jesus, not only to find us, who were lost in pride and sin, but He sent Jesus also to humble Himself in our place.

 Jesus ‘humbled Himself under the mighty hand of God, [He] entrusted Himself radically into God’s hand, and endured shame, suffering and death, in order that in Him, we might also humble ourselves and trust God (Harink)

Our humbling, repentance, our turning back to God, happens in Christ and through Christ.

Jesus initiated this in His life of perfect humility & obedience. He completed it in His death. And now He fulfills it in us  through His Resurrection and Ascension. Jesus prays for us at the Father’s right hand in heaven; and He sends upon us His Holy Spirit to give us a new, hearty desire to pray  with a humility full of joy and thanksgiving.

Conclusion

As Peter wrote earlier in his letter: You were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of you souls (1 Pet. 2:25)

Jesus Christ is the Great Shepherd, who was sent to seek and find us who had gone astray in pride and sin.

And yet this Great Shepherd humbled Himself completely by becoming the sheep who was lost in our place – lost even to death.

Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God who sacrificed Himself so that we could never be lost forever.

Friends, in just a few minutes, we will receive Holy Communion: the Lamb of God who grants us His peace by taking away the sin of the world and of our proud hearts. To receive this Communion is to turn from pride, from self-centeredness, from believing that we can manage our own lives. To receive this Lamb of God is to humble ourselves – to share in His glorious humility.

So as you prepare to do this, be sure to cast all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.

In this Holy Communion Jesus Christ makes good on His promise to Himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you.

For that, thanks be to God. Amen.

Sources consulted

Douglas Harink, 1 & 2 Peter (Brazos, 2009), p. 126.

Special Summer Services

St. Saviour’s, Birch Hills

  • Memorial service: Sunday 3 August, 3:00pm

Holy Trinity, Brancepeth

  • Wednesday nights in June, July & August, 7:00pm

St. Philip’s, Coxby

  • Sunday 24 August, 2:00pm

Epiphany, Glen Mary

  • Saturday 21 June, 2:00pm – CANCELLED
  • Saturday 19 July, 2:00pm
  • Saturday 16 August, 2:00pm (with Bishop Michael)

Holy Week schedule

Tuesday in Holy Week (15 April)

  • Morning Prayer – St. Mary’s, Birch Hills, 8:00am
  • Holy Communion – St. Alban’s Cathedral Chapel, Prince Albert, 12:10pm
  • Evening Prayer – St. Mary’s, Birch Hills, 6:30pm

Wednesday in Holy Week (16 April)

  • Morning Prayer – St. George’s / Zion, Kinistino, 9:00am
  • Holy Communion – St. Alban’s Cathedral Chapel, Prince Albert, 12:10pm
  • Evening Prayer – St. George’s / Zion, Kinistino, 4:00pm

Maundy Thursday (17 April)

  • Potluck supper and Holy Communion – Birch Hills Lutheran Church, 6:00pm

Good Friday (18 April)

  • The Solemn Liturgy of Good Friday – St. Mary’s / St. Anne’s, Birch Hills, 11:00am
  • The Solemn Liturgy of Good Friday – St. George’s / Zion, Kinistino, 3:00pm
  • Candlelight Way of the Cross – St. Mary’s / St. Anne’s, Birch Hills, 7:30pm

Easter Sunday (20 April)

  • Holy Communion – St. Mary’s, Birch Hills – 9:00am
  • Holy Communion – St. George’s / Zion, Kinistino – 11:00am
  • Holy Communion – St. James’s, Muskoday First Nation – 2:00pm

Entering the Passion

A homily preached on Palm Sunday, 13 April A.D. 2014.

Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew 21:1-11; 27:1-54

I speak to you in the Name of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Amen.

Introduction

On Palm Sunday we read our Passion Gospel as a script, with all of us playing different parts.

Except to put it that way is not quite right, because we were not merely acting or reading lines, but rather we entered into the story in a very real way.

Or another way to say it is this: We didn’t just read the story, but as I hope we’ll see today, the story reads us, and shows us who we really are and who we must become.

That is what today and this upcoming Holy Week are all about for us: Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh (John 1:14) and the author of our salvation (Heb. 5:9) draws us into the story of His final days and give us eyes to see ourselves  as He sees us.

Indeed, this Holy Week will be meaningless to us  if we fail to see ourselves in this story. So today I’d simply like to go through some of the key people we meet in this story and take a look at what each of them shows us about ourselves.

Matthew 21:1-11; 27:1-54

We begin with the crowd of people in our Palm Gospel. As the Lord of heaven & earth rides into Jerusalem on a humble beast of burden, the crowd spreads palm branches before Him on the road. Not only would these have made for a softer ride, but in ancient Israel palm branches were used as symbols of victory and celebration.

And as they wave these branches, they shout, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’ ‘Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord’ ‘Hosanna in the highest!’

This word ‘Hosanna’ means ‘Save us’ or ‘Help us now;’ And so to say ‘Hosanna in the highest’ is asking God to pull out all the stops, to use His highest and best resources to save & help us in the deepest, best  and most complete way possible.

So the crowd shows us that we here today who have come to Jesus to pray to Him often have a very strong yearning for Him to fulfill our deepest desires, to fix our biggest problems, and to heal our most painful wounds.

We may not always express this as boisterously as the crowd; we may not always know exactly what we’re asking, and we probably won’t realize at first that the real problem is within ourselves (as we’ll see), but I think we all have a hope and an expectation for God to save us and help us, or else we wouldn’t be here.

Let’s move on to our Passion Gospel. After the religious leaders hand Jesus over to the governor to be crucified, the first person we meet is Judas, His betrayer.

Does Judas show us anything about ourselves? As hard as it may be to accept, yes he does. He shows us two things: first, how we betray Jesus; and second, the unhealthy ways we deal with our guilt & shame.

First, to betray means to be disloyal; and in so far as we are all broken & imperfect and willingly give into temptation and do things we know to be harmful & wrong, we all betray something of the truth and goodness of the One who created us in His image. Simply put, we are disloyal to God, our Maker and our Master.

And when we become aware of our guilt, like Judas, we don’t always deal with it in a good way. Judas admits his wrong by saying, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.’ But he despairs,  presumably because he doubts the goodness and power of God to forgive him. He despairs because he fails to turn back to Jesus Himself.

But Judas is not the only one to blame for this. After all, he does go to the clergy (in the church) to confess his sin, but they are cold, uncaring and unhelpful, saying, ‘What is that to us? See to it yourself.’

The clergy fail to direct him into the loving and merciful arms of God, saying rather that it’s up to him to deal with his own guilt & shame, which of course, is something that none of us can do.

So here the message (and the warning) is not so much for you, but for me and all clergy. Religious leadership that is uncaring, harshly unforgiving, and more concerned with itself and its own power than with God, is particularly bad way to betray Jesus.

The next three people we encounter are Pontius Pilate, the governor, his wife, and Barabbas, the criminal who was freed instead of Jesus.

Pilate gives in to the murderous demands  of the crowd and the religious leaders and then proclaims his innocence. He reminds us of how we often go along with the crowd (the world) and fail to honour Jesus publicly with our words. Pilate shows us that we too try to deny our sin and stubbornly insist that we are innocent.

While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, ‘Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of Him in a dream.’

Pilate’s wife shows us that Jesus and His righteousness are relentless and inescapable. As much as we may try to get away from Him, and the right relationship with God that only He can offer, we simply cannot.

Next up is Barabbas; and I would say that of all the people on this list, he marks the turning point for us.

If Judas and the religious leaders show us our sin & betrayal; and if Pilate and his wife show us how we try to cover this up, but cannot, then Barabbas shows us very simply, that Jesus took our place and the punishment that we deserved.

Jesus, the innocent one, was condemned and killed, so that we, the guilty, could made righteous and free.

The last person in this story I want to look at is Simon of Cyrene, the one compelled to carry to cross of Jesus.

For us here today who can see and admit that like Judas, we are have betrayed Jesus; that like Pilate, we have denied this fact; that like his wife, we’ve found we cannot escape Jesus; and that finally, like Barabbas, Jesus has died for us – if we can see and admit these hard truths, then we are compelled to live the life of Christian discipleship. That is, we are compelled like Simon to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. We are compelled to carry the cross.

Earlier Jesus told His disciples, If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matt 16:24-5).

To take up the cross and so lose our life for Christ’s sake means to die to our old self-centered & destructive ways some of which we mentioned earlier: sin, betrayal, denial and so on.

Friends during this Holy Week, we journey with  Jesus to the Cross on Good Friday and to His glorious Resurrection on Easter Sunday. And the purpose of that journey for us  is to be led the place in our hearts  where we can say together with St. Paul: I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live,  but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.

Now I realize that crucifixion (and death) is a strong and shocking way to describe the change and transformation that’s meant to happen to us this week (and more generally as we come to faith in Christ).

But the more we focus on Jesus dying for us on the cross, the more our old self will die away; and the more our lives will be directed & strengthened day-by-day and moment-by-moment by the One who died and rose again so that we could find new, abundant, joyous and everlasting life in Him.

For that, thanks be to God. Amen.