St Michael and All Angels

Observatory, Cape Town

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Sexagesima, 2016

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 Today is the Sunday called Sexagesima and we are in the middle of what we can call a mini-season in the Church’s year. We are actually in two seasons of the church at once this year, because next Sunday, which would have been Quinquagesima, we will keep Candlemass which ends the season of Christmass, which is the 40 day period from the birth of Jesus to his mother's purification in fulfilment of the Jewish Law and his presentation in the Temple. But even as we have been celebrating the Christmass season we have known that a change would be coming. We knew as we celebrated his birth that he was born for us so he could die for us.
 
At the end of the three Gesima Sundays we move into another 40 day period. Ash Wednesday, in ten days time, marks the beginning of Lent. The Biblical template for Lent is found in the forty days Jesus spent in the desert before he began his public ministry. During that time he would be tempted in a variety of ways. We will soon imitate those forty days in our own devotions through the season of Lent.
 
The church provides us, during the gesimas, with a transitional time between the first and second of its three great seasons. This transition moves us from the joyous events of Christmas and Epiphany, to the literally deadly serious reason why they happened, that is, sin and our redemption from sin.
 
We should remember that the Gesimas were probably introduced as part of the Western Liturgical cycle by Pope S Gregory the Great at a time of great distress, strife, and chaos in Italy. This sense of agony and helplessness can be glimpsed in the propers and lections we hear on these three Sundays. The point is that it was Pope Gregory who discerned a connection between a world ravaged and disordered by the Fall of Adam and the resultant sin and the realities of late sixth century Italy. The situation in which they were living was a direct result of the sin that surrounded them. The same can be said for our world today. So much of what we see around us is as a result of sin, whether acknowledged or not.
 
The emphasis therefore for us is on the need for a sense of sinfulness as we approach the penitential season of Lent. In his commentary on the lections for Sexagesima, Pope Gregory all those years ago, picked up the Lord's explanation of the parable found in the Gospel lection for today. The work of the Devil is to frustrate the Gospel Word sown in our hearts. It is this that becomes the basis of Gregory’s attempt to stir up within his congregation an awareness of their sins and the need to do penance.
 
To help us become aware of our sins we do well to take a look at the Book of Common Prayer, and what is contained in the exhortation to Confession, and the confession itself, which is provided for the Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer. In the exhortation we hear the officiant say, “DEARLY beloved brethren, the Scripture moveth us, in sundry places, to acknowledge and confess our manifold sins and wickedness”. There is no sloppiness or sentimentality here; the prayer book tells it like it is – we are a sinful people. 
 
The prayer book recognises that we need to acknowledge and confess our sins. The actual prayer of confession includes the following: “ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us.”
 
That is quite some list of the reasons why we sin: we have erred and strayed. God’s way of life is set out before us and we choose to do otherwise. We truly behave like lost sheep. Why do we do this? Because we follow too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We think we can behave as if we are independent. What we want becomes paramount. As a result we offend against God’s holy laws as we do things we should not, and conversely leave undone those things which we should be doing. The result is that there is no health in us.
  
Further definition of these sins is given in the BCP confession contained in the Mass. For some reason this parish does not use the full confession, but rather that provided in the South African Prayer Book for weekdays. Part of the reason might be that we do not like to take sin seriously in this parish. The original says, “Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, Judge of all men: We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we from time to time most grievously have committed, By thought, word, and deed, Against thy Divine Majesty, Provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us. We do earnestly repent, And are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; The remembrance of them is grievous unto us; The burden of them is intolerable. Have mercy upon us, Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; For thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ's sake, Forgive us all that is past; And grant that we may ever hereafter Serve and please thee In newness of life, To the honour and glory of thy Name; Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” 
 
The important part for us to consider today is, “Which we from time to time most grievously have committed, By thought, word, and deed,...”
 
There is about our sin the fact that we continue in sin. We do not sin once; it is a repeated aspect, ‘from time to time’, of our lives. Our sins of commission fall into three categories; thought, word and deed.
 
I am sure each one of us here in church can think of a sinful thought we have had today. You might even have been sinning in thought here in church, when any of the following might have gone through your mind: why does she insist on wearing those clothes; if I were God I would not let him into heaven; there is that dreadful person again; why doesn’t that noisy family go to another church? The list is really endless.
 
We do not only sin in thought, but also in word. What we say to people, or about people, can be deeply sinful. Don’t forget that simple Sunday School teaching which says that when we point at somebody else, we have three fingers pointing back at us. We should watch our words. Not only can they be sinful, they can also be hurtful.
 
All of us move beyond sinning in thought and word. We actually do the sin. We lie, we cheat, we swear, we blaspheme, we harm and we destroy. Not a pretty picture! If we could look at the picture of our sin, the ugliness of our sin would shock us.
 
God, however, gives us a way of dealing with this sin. We have to confess it and get it out of the way. Our pride and self-righteousness often prevent us from dealing with our sin. Lent will provide us with a vehicle through which we can sort out this problem.
 
May God bless you as you reflect on how you will deal with your spiritual life this Lent.
 
 

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