THE SUNDAY CALLED SEPTUAGESIMA
There is absolutely nothing static about the Christian life and this is because the Lord of time, the author of existence, has chosen to set history in motion with a beginning, a present, and a future. Time is not abstracted reality but grounded in the Logos, in the Divine wisdom and reason of God, therefore, time has intention and purpose. Every passing moment is filled with meaning and significance. The Lord of time ordains, sustains, and speaks through each moment.
He has gifted his image bearers (those who experience time) with memory, an ability to recollect moments gone by. At any given time the mind can return to the past, inhabiting and reliving a god-painted sunrise, a lovers embrace, a time of sorrow, or past joys. In the same way, we inhabit the future, projecting ourselves into an idealized vision of an occasion that will but has not yet occurred. God has given the capacity (although limited) to simultaneously exist in the past, present, and the future.
We find security in memories because they are historical events, things that actually happened. Even when time begins to erode the facts just a bit, we are assured that what we are remembering did actually happen. But the future operates differently. projections of the imagination fall under the categories of desire and hope for’s I can see in the mind’s eye a future moment: my wife and I are well into our years, the Thanksgiving table surrounded by grandchildren, their parents trying to keep their little hands out of the mashed potatoes or from stealing another dinner roll… something which hasn’t yet occurred seem so real...
Future hopes and dreams come without any guarantee of ever coming to fruition; they are the deepest longings of the heart but time bears out all things. And yet, not every future event of the imagination is a mere pipe dream. For to the Christian has been given a vision of future hope, a sure and promised hope of eternal life, forever united with Christ who is the eternal light which lights up the cosmos, the tree which forever feeds and nourishes the nations. The hope of Christian salvation is a future reality awaiting every faithful person. It is the incorruptible prize awarded to those who “fight a good fight, who finish their course, who keep the faith” (2 Tim 4:7). This is no dream nor mere fantasy, but a sure and future reality for all who persevere in faithfulness: for as the writer of Hebrews proclaims, “he that has promised is faithful” (Heb 10:23).
In this mornings Gospel the householder calls his servants to “go into his vineyard” for it is time to labor in the kingdom. We are compelled by the salvific grace of Epiphany to take up our Lenten labor. The disciplines and spiritual work of Lent, our ‘striving’, is to take hold of that which has taken hold of us by putting sin to death, the sin which besets and impedes the path to Christ. Epiphany grace will now be evidenced by good works: by producing the fruit of kingdom; fruit in keeping with repentance which is the fruit of righteousness born of self-denial and self-discipline. With great resolve, let us determine to master the moral life.
The moral life should be of great concern to every Christian who longs for the beatific vision, for “blessed is the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” The pursuit of holiness the prime directive for every child who desires to please his father, “if you love me keep my commandments.” Therefore we strive (to use the Apostles term), we work for holiness. Now some may recoil at the idea of “work” in relation to anything pertaining to the Christian life. But let us not be deceived, with baptism comes duties and responsibilities. With the gospel call comes the works of the kingdom.
Beloved, let us not be fooled by any who make much of the free grace of the Gospel but deny that any work is enjoined to it! Yes, we must have grace BEFORE work in order TO work! But as surely as grace is conferred on us, so surely is a work enjoined by our Lord. I refer you to the beautiful sermon he preached on the Mount of Beatitude by first blessing/gracing his hearers before giving them commands: “blessed are those, blessed are you…” Only after blessing does he then command them to, o and reconcile with your brother before going to worship; do not commit adultery, in fact, don’t even lust after another in your heart… when you fast do this, and when you pray, pray in this way, etc… Grace always precedes the work of the kingdom.
These peddlers of falsity teach that works were only required under the Law, and grace comes instead under the Gospel: but the true account of the matter is this, that yes, the Law enjoined works, but the grace of the Gospel fulfills them; the Law commanded, but gave no power; the Gospel bestows the power. Thus the Gospel is the counterpart of the Law. Christ says, "I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill." The Gospel does not abrogate works, but provides for them. "Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labour" from the morning of the world to its evening. From Adam in paradise, Noah in the morning, Abraham at the third hour, chosen Israel at the sixth and ninth, and us Christians at the eleventh—all, so far as the duty of work, we share in one common religion.
And thus, says St. Paul, "Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid! Yea, we establish the law" (Rm 3.31). Again, he the Apostle tells us, "that as sin hath reigned unto death, even so" grace reigns "through righteousness," not without righteousness, "unto eternal life." And again, "The righteousness of the law is fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." And to the Ephesians, "We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works" (Eph. 2. 10). And to the Philippians, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God which worketh in you, both to will and to do, of His good pleasure" (Phil. ii. 12, 13).
Do we by our works earn salvation? Do we earn any merit or favor with God? No! The grace of God appeared in Jesus Christ and by grace we are saved through faith; in Him we rejoice! But a view of grace that is received without any response or duty on our part is incomplete and unscriptural. Faith is evidenced by its works, manifested through a life in pursuit of holiness, goodness, and faithfulness; the necessary and preparatory work for all who will receive the risen Lord of Easter.
And, at the same time, a holy life serves as a witness to a corrupt and dying world the sure hope of redemption to all who believe and follow the commandments of God. Therefore let us listen to the Apostle Paul who victoriously ran that ‘heaven-ward’ race, persuaded on to works of penitence and holy mortification that we may obtaining an everlasting crown.
Through a metaphor, Paul likens the Christian life to that of a race, with a beginning and end; a race that will have victors and losers; some will finish and some will not; either from lack of endurance or by disqualification. And what we see is his holy intention to win the prize which is an ‘incorruptible crown’. Now this incorruptible crown spoken of by the blessed apostle is none other than eternal life, the great prize awarded to faithfulness, fidelity, and perseverance.
St. Paul writes, “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize?” We must ‘run’ as though only one will obtain the prize. In other words, we are to compete at the highest possible level, give it our all, run with the intention of winning. For the crown of everlasting life is obtainable by all who would run. And this we learn from the Parable of the Vineyard: whether called at the first or the eleventh hour, every laborer receives an equal wage. “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.” There is equality in Christ. And this is a most important point of emphasis: God esteems not the diversity or duration of our labor, but he does have respect unto faith. St Augustine says,
a poor man which doth his business in faith, is as acceptable unto God, and has as good a right to the death and merits of Christ, as the greatest man in the world. So go through all estates: whosoever applieth his business with faith, considering that God willeth him so to do, surely the same is most beloved of God.
In that hire then shall we all be equal, and the first as the last, and the last as the first; because that denarius is life eternal, and in the life eternal all will be equal. For although through diversity of attainments the saints will shine, some more, some less; yet as to this respect, the gift of eternal life, it will be equal to all. Or in the word of St. Paul “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). However, mere running on the course does not ensure the prize, simply being in the company of those striving for the crown does not ensure its attainment. And so let us “Run, that we may obtain.”
Friends, if we are to compete well for the faith then we need to cultivate virtue of temperance. “And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things.” For if all of the virtues ultimately serve humility, than temperance is the much needed governor of vice. Temperance brings ease to self-mastery and joy in leading the morally good life. It enables the virtuous man to freely practice the good. The mastery over sin, concupiscence, and vice will not occur without temperance.
This moral virtue moderates our unholy attractions and godless pleasures and helps balance our use of God’s created goods. It ensures the will's mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable, right, and good. By it we maintain a healthy discretion. We should heed the exhortation of St. Paul to the young Bishop Titus: that we should "live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world” (Titus 2:12).
“So fight I, not as one that beateth the air: but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection.” Whoever would run the race of holiness must practice self-control and continence in all things; far from sensual indulgences; eating and drinking in a manner conducive to the prize in view; mindful to not become so engulfed by the business and pursuits of this life but rather, exercising himself, at all times, for the one end to which he is devoted: through prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and service.
Well, perhaps all of this ‘work’ sounds unbearable or even unattainable. It is unbearable apart from love and removed from grace. But when we contemplate the great love with which Christ has loved us, our Christian duty not only becomes bearable but joyful, a work we happily face at the rising of the sun and rejoice over at the setting of the same. Consider the implications of being called into the vineyard! Would you rather be standing idle in the hopelessness of your sins?
What grace, what love we have received from the householder who has called us out of darkness and into his marvelous light- praise be to God! And what does he ask of us? To live a life in accordance with the calling we have received, to walk in holiness and righteousness all our days, so that at the last, we might obtain that incorruptible crown, that sure and promised hope. For we do not “run our race with uncertainty.” Our labor is not in vain but promises to be rewarded with an heavenly prize. So let us run to win and having won may our words be those of the blessed Apostle,
I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).