Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent, 10:30am service

“Your name shall no more be called Jacob but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed”

It is one of the most outstanding statements in the whole of the Jewish or Hebrew Scriptures, in what Christians know as the Old Testament. It marks and establishes the real meaning of Judaism and its further fulfillment, dare I say, in Christianity, or at least, in Jesus Christ in the Christian understanding. Nowhere does the striving with God and man appear more completely and more concentrated fashion than on the way of the Cross, the way of our Lenten pilgrimage.

The tragedy of our age lies in our ignorance, wilful and otherwise, of this understanding and perspective. We have become so accustomed and cynically inured to the endless posturing and manipulations of power politics, on the one hand, and the defeatist mentality of victim and entitlement politics, on the other hand, that we have little or no capacity to grasp the transcendent truths that the Scriptures constantly open out to us. We are, I fear, as dead to metaphor as we are to metaphysics (read God). And yet, these stories, by virtue of their being proclaimed, speak to our need and our situation.

Jacob is the deceiver, the trickster, the supplanter, a clever fellow, we might say, perhaps too clever by half and, no doubt, that view of things has influenced the whole tradition of anti-Jewish sentiment and bias which, in turn, issues in the hideous realities of anti-Semitism and racism signalled so graphically and so disturbingly in the unforgettable horrors of the Holocaust. The Jews of Europe, after all, were betrayed by the culture which betrayed itself. Such things are the very spectacle of deceit and betrayal. But that is not, ultimately, who he is.

This is, I think, what makes the story of Jacob so compelling. It is the picture of a soul who in his struggle persists in the quest to understand and be faithful to what is understood such that there is a remarkable transformation. Indeed the transformation of Jacob into Israel complements the Eucharistic gospel for this day, where the Canaanite woman shows herself to be a true Israelite, indeed, precisely because of her tenacity of intellectual spirit in holding on to what she has rightly perceived as the truth of God in Jesus Christ. She will not be put off and her struggle, akin to Jacob’s, is the great struggle, the great struggle of faith that reveals the true nature of Israel. It is accomplished in its fullness and truth on the Cross.

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Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent, 8:00am service

“O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt.”

There is a wonderful devotional prayer in our Prayer Book Communion Liturgy that is known as The Prayer of Humble Access. I won’t go into how it has been mocked and derided by the literalism of some liturgical scholars, who being tone deaf to the nuances and beauty of poetry, suppose that the last phrases attribute one power to the Body of Christ and another to the Blood of Christ with respect to our bodies and our souls, having forgotten the doctrine of concomitance, it seems, namely, that the sacrament is whole in each of its parts. The prayer works doctrinally as well as devotionally. It is profoundly sacramental.

The prayer says it all, however:

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 is always to have mercy…

We pray this as a necessary part of our preparation and approach to the Sacrament. The prayer echoes explicitly the Gospel for this day, the story of the Canaanite woman who approaches Jesus so resolutely, so determinedly and yet so humbly.

Two words stand here in a complementary relation. They are the words “humble” and “access.” Humility is the condition of our access to God. What the prayer expresses is a fundamental attitude of Faith. It is not our presumption, our “trusting in our own righteousness,” but our humility, our trusting in the “manifold and great mercies” of God. Against everything that is thrown at her, she has a hold of this one thing, namely, the mercies of God in Christ Jesus. To have a hold of that is humility. She presumes upon nothing else and it is this that gains her access to the heart of Christ.

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Week at a Glance, 1-7 March

Monday, March 1st
4:45-5:15 Confirmation Class – Rm. 204, KES

Tuesday, March 2nd
6:00pm Prayers & Praises – Haliburton Place
6:30-7:30pm Brownies/Sparks – Parish Hall
7:30pm Holy Communion & Lenten Programme: “The Creeds” – II

Thursday, March 4th
1:30-3:00pm Seniors’ Drop-In
7:30pm West Hants Historical Society: Fr. Curry, ‘Flora’s Winter in Windsor‘ (Flora MacDonald)

Friday, March 5th
2:00pm St John’s Presbyterian Church, Women’s World Day of Prayer

Sunday, March 7th, Third Sunday in Lent
8:00am Holy Communion
10:30am Holy Communion
4:30pm Evening Prayer at KES

The Second Sunday in Lent

The collect for today, the Second Sunday in Lent, from The Book of Common Prayer (Canadian, 1962):

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.

The Epistle: 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8
The Gospel: St Matthew 15:21-28

Colombe, The Canaanite WomanArtwork: Jean Colombe, “The Canaanite Woman”, from Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, 1485-89. Illumination (double miniature, upper part), Musée Condé, Chantilly.

George Herbert

The collect for today, the commemoration of George Herbert (1593-1633), Priest, Poet (source):

King of glory, king of peace,
who didst call thy servant George Herbert
from the pursuit of worldly honours
to be a priest in the temple of his God and king:
grant us also the grace to offer ourselves
with singleness of heart in humble obedience to thy service;
through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord,
who liveth and reigneth with thee,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The hymn, “Let all the world in ev’ry corner sing”, was originally a poem by George Herbert, published in The Temple.

George HerbertLet all the world in ev’ry corner sing,
My God and King.

The heavens are not too high,
His praise may thither fly:
The earth is not too low,
His praises there may grow.

Let all the world in ev’ry corner sing,
My God and King.

The church with psalms must shout,
No door can keep them out:
But above all, the heart
Must bear the longest part.

Let all the world in ev’ry corner sing,
My God and King.

George Herbert was born to a wealthy family in Montgomery, Wales. Educated at Westminster School and Trinity College, Cambridge, he appeared headed for a prominent public career, but the deaths of King James I and two patrons ended that possibility.

He chose to pursue holy orders in the Church of England and became rector at Bemerton, near Salisbury, in 1629, where he died four years later of tuberculosis. His preaching and service to church and parishioners contributed to his reputation as an exemplary pastor. He did not become known as a poet until shortly after he died, when his poetry collection The Temple was published.

He is buried in Saint Andrew Bemerton Churchyard.