Sunday Lent 2 Homily

  1. Introduction
    1. As we observe our Second Sunday in Lent, we are well underway in our respective efforts to engage in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. To that end, we should pursue a deeper season of prayer, while tempering satisfaction of our appetites through fasting, and finally making the most of every opportunity to consider others who have needs and could potentially benefit by our almsgiving. And yet, how often do many of us struggle to grow spiritually during this season of Lent. The Rev. Melville Scott, Vicar of Castlechurch, Stafford analyzed the Liturgical calendar, by summarizing themes for each of the days of the Church Year, all contained in a volume titled, “Harmony of the Collects, Epistles, and Gospels,” which is based on the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.
    2. According to Rev. Scott, Pre-lent begins with Septuagesima: Christian Discipline; Sexagesima: Christian Humility; Quinquagesima: Christian Love; Ash Wednesday: Repentance; Lent 1: Temptations of the Devil; Lent 2: Temptations of the Flesh; Lent 3: Temptations of the World; Lent 4: Refreshment by Grace; Lent 5: The Doctrine of the Cross. Today we will focus on overcoming the temptations of the flesh in our sanctification.
    3. As we consider this aspect of our faith and apply it to our 40 day journey in Lent, let us remember that we are powerless to engage in such disciplines without the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through us, as we prayed in the collect, “ALMIGHTY God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves; Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
  2. Let’s turn to our Epistle reading, 1 Thessalonians 4:1. (page 127 BCP)
    1. Paul begins this pericope as a paraenesis, whereby he aims to instruct or exhort the audience. In Pauline style, paraenesis typically follows doctrinal instruction, or in this particular epistle, commendation for the Thessalonians’ faith and example, followed by a description of St. Paul’s ministry, how he longs to see them again, and St. Timothy’s encouraging situation report. We pick up at chapter 4, verse 1, page 127 BCP
    2. Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more (1 Th 4:1).
    3. To walk from the Greek present, active, infinitive verb περιπατέω: to conduct one’s life, comport oneself, behave, live as habit of conduct. He acknowledged that they had been conducting their lives to please God and urged them to continue in that pattern. The apostle acknowledges that they have already been walking to please God and to keep doing what they have been doing, and yet needed to remind them to live lives of obedience to the instructions in the Lord Jesus Christ that he already imparted to them.
    4. What were the instructions? Keep in mind the audience. The Thessalonians were delivered from paganism after Paul, Timothy, and Silas embarked on the Second Missionary Journey following the Council of Jerusalem and changed course. They had planned to travel south into the province of Asia and north into Bithynia, and a vision appeared to St. Paul at night. We read in Acts 16:9–10, “And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”
    5. In chapter 16 we read about the conversion and baptism of Lydia, and her household, St. Paul and Silas’ imprisonment, how they were freed by the power of God as they sang hymns. As a side note, that’s yet another good reason to sing hymns. “And Can it Be,” by Charles Wesley comes to mind. And the conversion and baptism of the Philippian jailer, and his household.
    6. What were the instructions? In Acts 17:1–4 we read, ”Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” (The significance of these instructions is that they were antithetical to the understanding of the Jews in the Thessalonian synagogue where they preached. They rejected the messiahship of Jesus and incited a rent-a-mob against them.) And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women.” These were the converts that formed the core group of that church.
    7. Likewise, some of us are adult converts or converted as teenagers. Others are cradle converts, but each of us have been delivered from the wrath and curse of God, which we all deserved because of original and actual sin. As such, all of us are called to conduct ourselves in a manner that pleases our Lord.
    8. We continue in verse 3 of our Epistle “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality;” Sanctification or ἁγιασμός in the Greek denotes the process to become Holy. In Hebrews 12:14, we read, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” In earlier Greek literature, the word was used to describe consecration to some religious purpose, but in the epistolary use, the apostle connects the noun to a much stronger ethical sense and includes the command to abstain from sexual immorality. Why?
    9. The apostle taught chastity as not the entirety of sanctification, but an important element in it, in part because it was one of the three canons that came out of the Council at Jerusalem, along with not requiring circumcision of Gentiles, and not eating meat sacrificed to idols. In Thessalonica, this needed to be stressed in their Gentile Greco-Roman culture. Sexual immorality, or πορνεία in the Greek, means unlawful sexual intercourse, prostitution, unchastity, or fornication. From the outset, the Christian faith has taught that sexual activity must remain within the bonds of Holy Matrimony between a man and a woman, and reserved for none other, much like our Judaic antecedents. This was considered strange to the Greco-Roman culture that allowed for and even encouraged men to have mistresses, concubines, or encounters with ritual prostitutes in the local cult of Cabiri. St. Paul further elaborated when he wrote in verses 4–8, “that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.”
    10. In our Second Sunday of Lent, the theme is temptations of the flesh. For the Thessalonian Church, St. Paul had to emphasize the complete breach with accepted cultural mores. How history repeats itself in our own culture, where the boundaries of marriage have been completely obliterated by the anything goes mentality. However, when it comes to sexual ethics, we must remember that God created us for a purpose, which is “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever,” as we read in the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Just because the culture says it’s okay, doesn’t mean it’s okay. What God has designed to be beautiful, we have no right to desecrate or trifle with.
    11. Sadly, Sexual scandal has rocked the Church of Jesus Christ, and this scandal knows no denominational boundaries. We must remember that we are temples of the Holy Spirit, and thus must honor God with our Bodies and give no provision to the flesh and its carnal appetites. To do otherwise injures our soul, and brings shame to the Body of Christ. Remember, the First Church Council decreed that we should abstain from sexual immorality.
    12. Paul commanded elsewhere that we should flee from it in his first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 6, verses 16-20, “But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”
    13. In Hebrews 13:4 we read, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.”
  • Application
    1. There are those among us who may carry guilt and shame, or feel as though we fall short, in part because of past sins, current struggles, or because we take seriously how our Lord Jesus Christ defined adultery, in St. Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter 5, beginning in verse 27, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
    2. Based on that definition, there are many more among us who have failed to live up to the sexual ethical standard. If that’s the case, do not lose heart and do not lose faith. Our Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins and has empowered us with the Holy Spirit to live holy lives.
    3. Let’s reflect on the Prayer of Humble Access, which reminds us of our Gospel reading today, WE do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property (or, character in the ACNA standard text) is always to have mercy:
    4. Today when you come to the rail, the intersection of time and eternity, where we partake of the body and blood of our Lord, reflect on His tender mercies, which are new each day. Regardless of how we may struggle with the various temptations of the flesh, just remember that our sinful bodies are made clean by His body, and that our souls are washed through His most precious blood, so that we may evermore dwell in Him and He in us. Amen.
    5. Lastly, when it comes to overcoming the temptations of the flesh, let us remember that Jesus Christ did not leave us as orphans who must fend for ourselves in the struggle over the flesh, but rather He has given us the spirit of adoption.
    6. RC Sproul once wrote, “The grand paradox or supreme irony of the Christian faith is that we are saved both by God and from God.” The Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of adoption, which is a great comfort to us particularly as we fight sin. Outside of Christ, we are in a state of fear. Despite our best efforts to suppress the truth, every sin provokes terror, for we know our end is hell. Once we are in Christ, however, we know God will never kick us out of His family. The Spirit does a sweet work of conviction in Christians. In the process of sanctification where He brings us to the place of repentance for our sin, He assures us that we are still His.
    7. Beloved, if any of us feel sorrow, be encouraged that we wouldn’t feel such sorrow if it weren’t for the Holy Spirit working in us to engender godly sorrow that leads to repentance. Receive the Lord’s pardon today, and walk in newness of life. Walk in faith as you journey in Lent. Amen?
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