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The Rev. Dr. Robert Crouse: “A Sermon for Sexagesima Sunday”

February 8, 2021

This past Sunday being Sexagesima Sunday, here is another sermon by the late Rev. Dr. Robert Crouse, titled A Sermon for Sexagesima Sunday. This message, preached in Halifax in 1988, contains an excellent exposition of the Epistle and Gospel lessons for the day:

Now, today’s lessons instruct us further in the meaning of this undertaking. In the Epistle Lesson, St. Paul speaks of those perils which impede us and distract us from our goal: not just external things; not just “weariness and painfulness”; but, “besides those things which are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches”. Not just external circumstances, but our legitimate cares and duties, and our own inner weaknesses. “Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is offended, and I burn not?” It’s not easy for any one of us, but the trials and infirmities are to be embraced as the very stuff of glory: “If I must needs, glory” says St. Paul, “I will glory in the things which concern my infirmities”.

The Gospel Lesson for today explains all this further, by way of one of Jesus’ parables: a story which uses visible and tangible, familiar things symbolically to draw our minds to consider spiritual truths. In today’s story, God is himself the sower, who spreads far and wide the seed, which is His word: by the wayside, on the rocks, and among thorns, as well as on the ploughed field. His word goes forth, freely and generously, into all the world, to the Jews and to the Gentiles; he is manifest to the shepherds and the wise men; his word is everywhere proclaimed; the good seed is broadcast everywhere.

Some falls upon the wayside, the hard unbroken ground, trodden on by the feet of all who pass. So the word of God is preached to hardened souls; whose sterile and unyielding minds and hearts will not open to receive a divine or sacred word, whose wills are stubbornly committed to all the demons – all the fads and fancies, all the manifold preoccupations – of the present age.

Some seed falls on rocky ground, where it finds no root, and quickly withers. These are those who hear the word, and receive it superficially, but will not give it roots of understanding and commitment, and there cannot persevere through difficulties.

Still other seed falls among thorns, which, Jesus tells us, are the “cares, and riches, and pleasures of this life”, which can choke and suffocate the spirit’s life within us. The tender plant needs space in which to grow. The word of God cannot thrive as just one concern among others, but must be cultivated and tended as the central focus of our lives.

And so, we are called to make good the soil of our own souls, to cultivate the word of God within us, with understanding and devotion – deeply, and not just superficially; to practice our religion with steadiness of purpose, and thus “to bring forth fruit with patience”. Renewed attentiveness to the word of God, renewed commitment to the practice of religion, to prayer and works of charity: that is the challenge of today’s scriptures, and that is precisely the challenge of the Lenten season for which these lessons are intended to prepare us. Next Sunday’s lesson will complete the prescription, reminding us that all our striving, all our struggles, without charity are nothing worth, and setting before us the charity of Christ as he sets out for Jerusalem to die and rise again. But just now, for this week, the emphasis is on the conflict and the perils that beset our spiritual quest, and I think that seems a particularly timely consideration to many of us in the church these days.

This is a good message for our day, some thirty-odd years later.

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