Live for an imperishable crown
A Homily for Septuagesima
January 31, 2021
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: 1 Corinthians 9:25
Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen
There was once a professor who would start his freshman classes with a little demonstration. Each year, he would take two vases and place them on the table. In the first vase he would take a tennis ball and drop it in. The tennis ball would take up a substantial part of the vase but there would still be plenty of room. Then he’d take a small bag of golf balls. These balls would appear to fill the vase.
Next, he’d take a baggie full of pebbles, gentle pouring them in, as he shook the vase and the pebbles would settled, the whole bag would fit into the vase. Yet gain, the vase would seem to fill the vase. Next, he would take a baggie of sand.
As he patiently poured the sand into the vase, gently shaking it the sand would settle in, and the whole bag would fit.
Now, it would seem the vase is full, but then he picked up a cup of coffee and would pour that in, so that finally the vase was full.
After this, he’d do the same thing with the second vase, but in reverse order – first he’d pour a cup of coffee in, then the sand, then the pebbles, but as he went to put the golf balls in a couple would tetter and then fall out bouncing across the floor of the lecture hall. Finally, he dropped a tennis ball on to the top of the mess, it would bounce once, and roll away, usually hitting the feet of one of the students in the front row.
The students would look at the professor puzzled, wondering exactly what they’d gotten themselves into. Was this man mad? Aren’t were here to learn about high-minded things and read great books?
The professor would finally smile and break his silence. And say, “you see, over the years I’ve noticed the young men and women coming through my classes are tremendously bad at time management. They prioritize all the wrong things but let me explain. If you prioritize the right things first, and then the things of lesser importance it is easier and easier to fit things into the jar.
‘If you put first your relationship with God, then your relationship with your family and church, then your schoolwork, then the extra-curricular things, you will find, you can still make time for a cup of coffee with a friend.
‘However, if you start with the fun things, parties, and coffee with your friends, you will soon run out of time for the important things, you will flounder, and lose the things that are important. I want to encourage each of you to strive to make time for the important things, and work to let everything else fall into place.”
How we discipline our mind is much the same as the example with the vase.
There are a thousand things in this world that may vie for our attention, a thousand distractions, a thousand voices saying, “I know you’re busy, but I demand your attention, and I demand it right now.”
It is easy to get sucked into these distractions, it is easy to let our minds meditate upon the wrong things, let the voices of this world stoke in us fear, stoke in us heartache, stoke in us the desire to do anything but focus upon God.
But this morning St. Paul tells us to run that we may obtain the prize – run that we may be so focused on heaven that we can trust with our whole hearts that God is sovereign and good, that God is overseeing all things, that God will see through, that all other things are dim and fleeting rewards in comparison to the Kingdom.
The prize which St. Paul tells us to run towards is the imperishable wreath – a crown of glory that will never fade. I’m not sure about you – but I’ve never been a big jewelry person, I’ve never been wild about wearing necklaces, or rings, and so perhaps it is hard for me to imagine an imperishable crown.
Yet – we see so much in this world that is perishable.
Perhaps, it might be more helpful for you to imagine your favorite baseball cap. You wore it every day, but eventually it fades, falls apart, and you can no longer wear it.
Men, myself included, are particularly bad about throwing away t-shirts when they grow old. They get a couple holes in them over time, and we tell ourselves, they’re still good enough, and we keep wearing them, until one day our wives or girlfriend or some female in our life looks at us and ask why we are still wearing those rags.
“Well, they’re comfortable,” or we recount some story about how we go this t-shirt and how it is such a prized thing to us.
Even jewelry of metal needs to be polished and repaired over time because of wear or carelessness.
We know all too well that things in this world fall apart, wear out, and breakdown.
We know this and grow sorrowful when significant objects fail us, break, or get lost.
So even if we cannot imagine what it would be like to earn an imperishable crown – we know how perishable things are – we know how temporary the things of this world are. We know how they fail.
But St. Paul invites us to run after an imperishable thing – crown that never fails.
A crown of glory, a crown that marks our citizenship in the kingdom of heaven, marks that we belong there, that our citizenship is that of the children of God in the kingdom of heaven.
He invites us to run towards heaven with all our might.
What does this look like?
First – let us be clear – that it would be easy to give you a bunch of rules, to tell you “my friends you must do these five things – and God will bless you.” It would be easy to give you a few rules and send you out the door to try to achieve these things, and the first time you failed for you to feel crushed, for you to feel as though some how you are not good enough for God.
But God calls us to turn our eyes upon Him, calls us to focus on him, because of His goodness, and because of His grace.
He calls us because his love is deeper than our sin, His love is greater than we could ever imagine.
He calls us first, and we respond, He sends His Holy Spirit to endow us with grace, he comes to us, draws us nearer, and we respond because of His grace – it is God that forms our mind, we let God create in us a new heart – and a new desire.
This means that we are formed by Him and His word and by His spirit.
To run the race set before us means that we are called to be in regular prayer – asking God for help to grow in His wisdom, to grow in knowing Him, to ask that his Spirit would draw you nearer and give you the conviction to run that you may obtain the prize.
Likewise pray that the Lord would teach you to meditate upon His word. What our mind is fixed about is what forms us.
We pray each time we come to the sermon for Sunday that the meditations of our heart would be acceptable in the sight of the Lord. I think so often when we hear of meditation we think of something neo-eastern, and we reject it.
But to meditate means to ruminate, and enjoy something, to let something settle in our mind. Consciously or unconsciously, we do this about our hopes and worries, our dreams and our failures. But God calls us to meditate upon his word.
One of the best mini-instructions in how we meditate upon God’s word comes from the collect for the Second Sunday in Advent, which reads:
BLESSED Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Lets take this time to think about what it looks like and the five things the collect reminds us to do.
First Hear His word.
Scripture was written in an oral culture, that is to say most people simply listened and responded orally – and as such scripture is written in a way to be heard.
Even in our liturgy – the word being proclaimed is designed that you are being called to Hear God’s word pronounced vocally to us. There is a goodness in hearing the word audibly proclaimed because hearing and reading engage our brains in different ways. So, even when we don’t come to corporate worship, one of the first things we can do when we sit down, not to study, but to meditate upon God’s word is to read it out loud.
Read it out loud to yourself, in your quest time of devotion.
Read it out loud to your spouse.
Read it out loud when your friends gather to study, to break bread.
Hear the word proclaimed – whether in public worship or at home. Hear it.
Next the collect tells us to read it. Again, reading the word of God engages a different part of your brain than hearing. The information now comes in through your eyes.
And much like you can be an active listener or a passive listener – reading the word of God calls us to be active readers – to ingest the words – ponder them, let them talk to us.
In the same way – we are called to read regularly – read daily. Delve deeply into the word.
Eat upon the word like a delicious piece of fruit, learn to delight in it, and look forward to the time of reading that you set aside.
Next Mark the word – we tend to have a nervous relationship with pens, pencils, and books – especially the Bible. We think “we best not mark this up, it is a holy object!” And certainly the word of God is holy, and certainly we should avoid marking up our precious family bibles that our grandfather passed on to our father, who then passed it on to.
But Go buy a journal Bible!
Go by a paperback Bible!
Go find a Bible that you use for your daily devotions and underline, make notes, mark it.
Mark where God moves you, mark where you learn something about God’s nature, about what God is doing for people. Mark what he is doing in your life. Don’t be afraid to write in the word – rejoice in the opportunity to mark the word diligently.
Next the collect tells us to Learn the word.
There are two things which this encourages – first – memorizing the word of God. I am not great at memorizing anything – but the more we memorize of it – the more it will come to mind when we need to find ourselves calmed.
The more it will come to mind when we need encouragement, when we need rebuking, when we need to hear from God.
So, take time and memorize the word.
Start small, perhaps memorize John 3:16 or some other verse that has been an encouragement to you, and then work on larger chunks of the word.
Second – in learning the word of God, we learn about who God is. We learn about His nature, his character, his love and grace and justice towards us.
When we read with diligence, when we mark with vigor – we do so not because of some benefit we may get it but because we desire to know God.
Think back to when you started dating your spouse or met your best friend or even made a new friend.
At first – you asked him or her about their hobbies, or their favorite color or their favorite food.
But eventually, if it is a true friendship, if it’s true love you wanted to know them – not just about them – what do they delight in, what gives them joy, what makes them sad and sorrowful.
When we read God’s word – we learn about God – we ask – what does this passage tell us about His nature, his character? Does it reveal anything about what he delights in? Does it reveal anything about what makes him sorrowful?
Reading God’s word – lets us come to know him more deeply – it is not simply and academic pursuit but a calling to come and know a friend – our best of friends better.
Finally, the collect tells us to Inwardly digest the word of God.
Christ rebukes the devil by quoting Deuteronomy and saying, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
Our life – our substance in one very real way is the word of God. It molds us – it forms us – it gives us the energy and encouragement to be able to run the race that is set before us, to run for the imperishable crown, to run without faltering.
It is interesting – when they Apostles wrote about affections – they wrote about the stomach – the affections, the things we long for are so often ruled by our stomachs.
But it is also a fitting remember – that when we devour the word of God – when we make it our substance it is how we are sustained. We are called to inwardly digest the word of God – making it our very food for the race that is set before us.
But more than that, the word of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, transforms us – it rebukes us, it corrections, it convicts us, it comforts us.
Meditating upon the word of God – taking time to really inwardly digest it allows us to grow in our ability to run after God, to run the race towards the imperishable crown.
But there are distractions as well – a thousand things vie for our attention, cry out to us, cry out and ask for us to be obedient to them.
This has always been the case – in the early church – the first monks fled lives in the city – and formed monasteries, formed hermitages where they could pursue God whole heartedly, where they could turn their backs on distraction – and yet even there, there were distractions.
C.S. Lewis also recognized these distractions in his book the Screwtape Letters, a fictional set of letters written between two demons, who sought to trip up a new Christian. In it, the senior demon writes the younger:
“you will find that anything or nothing is sufficient to attract his wandering attention. You no longer need a good book, which he really likes, to keep him from his prayers or his work or his sleep; a column of advertisements in yesterday’s paper will do. You can make him waste his time not only in conversation he enjoys with people whom he likes, but in conversations with those he cares nothing about on subjects that bore him.”
What captures your mind? What do you spend your time thinking about, meditating upon?
Do trite hobbies consume your thinking? Do old hurts fester in your soul? Do your own glories consume you? Do you spend your days thinking about politics? Thinking about what different pundits have said? Or perhaps the market or money fears?
Are you gripped by fear? Or lust? Or gluttony?
Or is your mind consumed with the glory of God? Do you find yourself meditating fully upon the word of God?
What you meditate upon, what consumes your mind – this is the crown you are chasing after.
Don’t trade eternal crowns of glory – crowns of glory that will shine through the ages of ages for crowns that will fail, crowns that are made of rubbish, that are made of dung.
My beloved friends – meditate upon God’s word, pray that God would form you by His Spirit, his word, his church, and his sacraments.
Do not run aimlessly but run towards these things.
My friends – place Christ at the center of your life, first make room for him and pursue that imperishable wreath, and pray that God would continue to transform you, continue to mold you into new creatures into people that reflect His glory.
My friends, learn what it means to be totally dependent upon him – and when you find that you are, when he is the central point of your life – then He will give you the wisdom to be a good husband, a good wife, a good church member, a good citizen, a good friend but seek ye first the kingdom of heaven – and then, and only then, the rest will be added unto you.
Pursue that wreath – pursue that kingdom – and all shall be well for we will finally see our true home – our home where all things have their place where we live in perfect harmony with the God who has pursued us from the first day.
Pursue the imperishable wreath – forsake the wreaths of the world, the wreaths of dung.
This morning, we are doing a different service, in a moment, I will close with a brief prayer – but then we’ll pause for a few moments. I will read the prayers that people have submitted over the last few weeks, and then we will have a few moments to pray from our hearts.
During this time, I invite and encourage you to pray for wisdom – wisdom in how God is calling you to grow, calling you to run the race, calling you to repent.
My friends – what a beautiful calling we have been given, by the grace of God let us run the race that is set before us that we might be crowned with a beautiful imperishable wreath.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.