The Twenty-third Sunday after Trinity
Primus Pilus on Isaiah - MMVI
from Sunday Morning Prayer, 1st Set of Lessons 23rd Trinity Home
O GOD, our refuge and strength, who art the author of all godliness; Be ready, we beseech thee, to hear the devout prayers of thy Church; and grant that those things which we ask faithfully we may obtain effectually; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
We all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.
Isaiah 64OH THAT thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence, As when the melting fire burneth, the fire causeth the waters to boil, to make thy name known to thine adversaries, that the nations may tremble at thy presence! When thou didst terrible things which we looked not for, thou camest down, the mountains flowed down at thy presence. For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him. Thou meetest him that rejoiceth and worketh righteousness, those that remember thee in thy ways: behold, thou art wroth; for we have sinned: in those is continuance, and we shall be saved. But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee: for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities. But now, O LORD, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand. Be not wroth very sore, O LORD, neither remember iniquity for ever: behold, see, we beseech thee, we are all thy people. Thy holy cities are a wilderness, Zion is a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation. Our holy and our beautiful house, where our fathers praised thee, is burned up with fire: and all our pleasant things are laid waste. Wilt thou refrain thyself for these things, O LORD? wilt thou hold thy peace, and afflict us very sore?
Matthew xxiii. 1-12
Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.
Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Today as I contemplate the words of Isaiah, I wonder what the lesson has to say to us in the 21st Century. One message is that of humility. It is emphasized in the words our Lord in today's New Testament Lesson as well. Isaiah says, "we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away." Another is perserverance of the faithful. I am put in mind in reading this passage that Israel tended to fall away from God's law repeatedly. Each new generation would rise up and forget the lessons of the past. I think also of the motto "Ever Vigilant" which is near to my heart these days. That motto has a very important message for all Christians. Do you remember how our Lord admonished the Apostles? Those very men who were close to him heard the parable of the Ten Virgins, five of whom whose oil was replenished and whose lamps were prepared, but five who were not and were left out of the marriage banquet. In another place Jesus told them, "Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees." That is, beware, keep watch, be ever vigilant. In anticipation of his departure from this world, he warned them to stay alert, to watch and to pray, for they knew not when the Master would return.
Anyone who has served in the military can certainly appreciate this watchword of "ever vigilant." Indeed, in my own country the events come to mind of the Revolutionary War. General Washington executed a magnificent night river crossing on Christmas Eve for a pre-dawn attack against the garrison at Trenton that routed the British Hessians. It was when Washington thought Trenton might be least prepared that he executed his attack. On early Sunday morning, December 7th 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese, and most recently on a busy workday morning on September 11th, 2001, the New York World Trade Center Towers were attacked at the beginning of the workday by Islamic terrorists. I think of our own in harms way; including my son who serves in Iraq with the US Forces. My daily prayer for him since his deployent has been that he would remain ever vigilant, saying the wathchword of the Vietnam era in the 60's, "stay alert, stay alive." The lesson is clear, there is no time when we may put down our guard. There is always the possibility our adversary will strike. We are called the Church Militant for a reason. There is no time in this world, when a Christian is not engaged in that struggle, for Satan prowls about constantly to see who he might devour.
The point is that we cannot let down our guard. We must remain ever vigilant - ever ready to recognize the threats that confront us. Ever ready to struggle for that which is good and right. We must recognize the threats. We must understand the nature of our enemy, of his ways and means. If we do not attend to God's rule in our heart, we will surely go astray like lost sheep, following too much the devices and desires of our own hearts, offending against his holy law and trespassing on our neighbors, leaving undone those things which ought to do, and doing those things which we ought not do. Like the Israelites of Isaiah's day, we have no natural spiritual health in us. So what may we do?
There is a remedy, and that is through faith and cooperation with the Holy Spirit that God gives to all that are in him. Look at our collect today. We call on God to be our refuge and our strength, and beseech him to be ever vigilant, ever prepared, to hear our call and render to us his divine help. He has promised to be with us. He promised to have mercy on us, and to forgive those who confess their faults. He promised to restore those who were truly penitent according to the promise which he gave the world in our Lord Jesus Christ. He calls us to learn from our mistakes, and to continually improve in our service to him. In that family of God, where we abide, ever vigilant, he will confirm and strengthen us in all goodness so that we might withstand the temptations that cause us to stumble, to endure hardship, to arm ourselves against the enemy, to be ever vigiant, and to live a godly and righteous lives before him.
How is this to be accomplished? Let us return to Isaiah. He calls on the LORD to change his people through his power. We are the clay, God is the Potter. He has the power create in us new beings who follow his desire. But it is a work that he will not do without our cooperation. We must desire to follow his lead, and he will surely guide us. We must seek his grace, and he will not hesitate to give it. We must invite him to rule our lives, and he will enter in. The Church Militant is God's chosen vessel for his grace on earth. It is in that "calling out" of the faithful that God has, since the days of old, given the strength to the people called by his name to practice that call of "ever vigilant" to keep that faith that was the watchword of old Israel, and the motto of my country, "In God be our trust"
Now a special means to that grace of God is through God's holy word and sacraments, and especially the Lord's Supper where the two are joined. In obedience to his ordinance that he gave to us on the night in which he was betrayed, we return time and again to that Holy Table to hear of his great love, to remember his passion, and to abide in his peace. So that, as the Potter, he may mold us into that which he desires. In those moments of communion we may remember the words of Isaiah, "O come down LORD God, that the mountains might flow down at your presence, as when the melting fire burns, the fire causes the waters to boil, to make your name known to your adversaries, that the nations may tremble at your presence! and of John and Paul and all the saints who cry, Come Lord Jesus.
Let us Pray..
O God, inspire all who love thee to follow thee continually, to watch and pray, to be ever vigilant and ever struggling, to fear thee and do what is right, so that we may remain in thy favour and walk in thy ways to the glory of thy holy name; Through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen
The Reverend Mark Carroll, MMVI