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Centurio Sempronius & the Martyrs of Sabaste

In the winter of 320 AD, the Emperor Licinius ordered all Roman soldiers to offer a sacrifice to the Roman gods. Licinius was persecuting Christians at this time. His edict reached the Thundering Legion at Sabaste, and the order was passed down to the legionaries. Forty Christians in the legion refused to obey the edict, choosing instead to obey a higher authority: "You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them"

In retaliation, the legion marched the men to a frozen lake where they were ordered to remove their armour and clothing and stand naked, as a form of torture to death, on a frozen lake. The legion lit a large fire on the shore with a warm bath and food to tempt the Christians to make the pagan sacrifice, renounce their Christian faith, and save their lives. The men began to pray,

"O Lord, 40 wrestlers have come forth to fight for Thee.
Grant that 40 wrestlers may gain the victory!"

One legionary eventually did succumb to the temptation and left the ice for the warm house that was guarded by a centurion named Sempronius. On the ice, the remaining Christian legionaries continued to cry out, "O Lord, 40 wrestlers have come forth to fight for thee. Grant that 40 wrestlers may gain the victory!" In response, Centurion Sempronius confessed Jesus as Christ, removed his armor, weapons, and clothing, and joined the 39 remaining Christians on the lake. The next morning the Forty Martyrs of Sabaste were found on the ice and forever recorded their faithful resistance in the annals of history.

Almighty God, Commander of the Host, who strengthened the Martyrs of Sabaste to keep the faith, and inspired the Centurion Sempronius to join the Christians in their trial of faith; strengthen us to resist evil and the false gods of our day, while ever proclaiming your sovereignty; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Sprit, one God, for ever and ever, Amen.

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Ash Wednesday
Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 , Psalm 51:1-17, 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the liturgical season of Lent in which there has traditionally been an emphasis on confession, contrition, and penance for our sinfulness. In the coming days, the Church asks you to closely examine yourself, and to exercise self-discipline as a form of preparation for the Feast of The Resurrection on Easter Morning – the feast that reminds us that Christ died for us for the remission of our sins.

Fasting has been a part of God’s plan from the beginning. The reading tonight from Joel reminds us of that, for the prophet says: “turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil." Note that along with the physical fasting, the Lord calls us to “rend our hearts, and not our garments” How can we tear apart our hearts? Only by opening up to the Lord, by pulling down all the barriers, by tearing away every vanity and pretence, by acknowledging and feeling the pain of our sin.

God is not satisfied with a mere show of piety. Coming before the altar and receiving ashes is merely a symbol of what must be a much deeper spiritual remorse and devotion. Do you recall the story of the Priest and the Sinner praying in the temple from the Gospel of Luke?
“The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted
[Lu 18:12]. The striking of the chest, over the heart, is a symbol of the rending of heart and penitence. This custom is still observed today as you will see many Christians strike their chest as the say the words: “Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world….have mercy on us …”

Our Lord Jesus also told us there would be a time of fasting. In Matthew (9:15) when asked by the Pharisees why his disciples did not fast he said: “Can the children of the bridechamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast.”

In Ecclesiastes, the teacher tells us To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance. The days of fasting and contrition are upon us now.

This day, Ash Wednesday, marks the beginning of the Lenten season. It lasts 40 days, and we are called to remember the 40 days our Lord fasted in the wilderness after his baptism, when he was tempted of Satan and prepared himself for his ministry. (The season actually has 46 days, with the six Sundays being feast days) During this period, the Church has traditionally fasted by abstaining from certain foods and by reducing the amount of food consumed. This period has also been one of special devotion, sometimes marked by special teachings to help us in our period of preparation and contrition.

And what are we to do? Again the scriptures give us an indication of what God desires. When David’s sin had been exposed by the prophet Nathan, he confessed his sin, and we have available his confession in the form of Psalm 51. In it King David admits that he has sinned against God, and says that God’s desire is for a broken spirit and a broken and contrite heart. Before we celebrate that wonderful Feast of the Resurrection, we have the opportunity to address the sin and mistakes in our lives, but that can only occur when we have humbly confessed our sin before God, repented, and asked for God’s forgiveness. Repentance has three elements: Contrition – or sorrow for sin, Confession of all known sin, and Satisfaction and Amendment of life. The satisfaction may be something you do because of the sin, such as apologizing to one you have hurt, or restitution for some loss you have caused another, or some act of devotion and discipline. Amendment is the cessation of doing what is evil – sin. One cannot continue to indulge in sin and expect forgiveness.

Tonight then, let us look at the sins that the Church has considered to be mortal sins.

1. PRIDE: This is putting yourself before God. When you become self-centered rather than God centered. Jesus’ admonition in the Gopsel clearly pointed to the pride of the Pharisees who paraded their piousness before men. Pride is closely related to the First Commandment: Thou shalt have none other gods but me. Pride is the most dangerous of all of these sins, and the most prevalent in our society. In a culture that worships Secular Humanism, and believes that we are not created by an all-powerful God, but are the result of some accidents in chemistry and biology, pride in man’s ability and science are leading us down a very precarious pathway. St John wrote in his first epistle: “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” Pride may include:

 Irreverence (failure to recognize and observe the sacredness of God)
 Sentimentality (being satisfied with merely coming on Sundays and singing the hymns without really following God),
 Presumption (that is depending on yourself rather than on God)
 Distrust (refusal to recognize God’s Wisdom, Providence, and Love)
 Disobedience
 Impenitence (refusal to admit our sins – self justification)
 Vanity
 Arrogance
 Snobbery

2. ANGER: This is open rebellion against God or our fellow creature including retaliation and revenge. Remember in the Sermon on the Mount -- when Jesus expanded on the Sixth Commandment – Thou shalt do no murder - and told his listeners that if they harbored hate for their neighbor they had committed murder in their hearts. Anger includes:

 Resentment - which includes transference of our dissatsifaction, cynicism, and annoynace.
 Pugnacity – that is an attack upon others – combativeness – argumentative and rudeness.
 Retaliation – getting even for a perceived wrong.

3. ENVY – this comes from the Latin word “invidere” meaning “to look at askance” or with disdain. In the Gospel of Mark it is written that Jesus knew the chief priests had stirred the crowds against him before Pilot for “envy”. Envy includes:

 Jealousy – offence at the good fortune of others
 Malice – slander, gossip, reading false motives into others actions
 Contempt – Scorn of another, prejudice.

4. COVETOUSNESS – inordinate accumulation of material things, using people for one’s personal advantage. In the 12th chapter of Luke Jesus said, “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.”

 Inordinate Ambition
 Domination
 Prodigality – Extravagance, waste,

5. GLUTTONY – i.e., overindulgence. Jesus spoke of this in the false accusations against him by the Pharisees when he said in the 7th chapter of Luke, ‘The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners’

 Intemperance – Overindulgence in food and drink. Fastidiousness. Excessively high standards. The condemnation of some natural things, like alcohol, and attempting to prohibit their use rather than abuse.
 Lack of Discipline – Failure to keep ourselves in shape

6. LUST – the misuse of sex for personal gratification. In Matthew Jesus says, “But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”

 Unchastity - Violation of the Church’s marriage laws – this was the sin of David that related to his prayer in Psalm 51, and which led to so many consequences in his house.
 Immodesty - attire, actions, words, and reading – consider our society today and its love of the sensual sensation .
 Prudery - the fear of sex – the repression of sex
 Cruelty – deliberate infliction of pain – in this I am reminded of the Reality shows which I find repulsive, where we are asked to watch as peoples emotions are seemingly, and really, torn and placed on display for our entertainment, and Hollywood’s enrichment.

7. SLOTH is the refusal to respond to our opportunities for growth and service. In the 25th chapter of the Gospel of St. Matthew, Jesus tells the parable of the Good and Faithful Servant, and condemns he who buried his master’s coin by saying: Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strowed”: Sloth, next to pride, is perhaps the most dangerous of the mortal sins. Jesus gave us the Summary of the Law where he said, “ Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and soul and mind, and love thy neighbor as thyself.” Sloth directly relates to the latter command, while Pride relates to the former includes:

 Laziness – indolence in performing spiritual, mental, and physical duties; neglect of obligations, procrastination of tasks we don’t like.
 Indifference – unconcern, neglect, ignoring social injustice, the needy

You are invited to self-examination, confession, repentance, and throughout the Lenten season to a period of discipline and self-denial. The imposition of ashes is a sign of your contrition and repentance. Consider your sins through self examination this night and in the weeks of Lent ahead, and remember the words of St Paul as he said, “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” [1 Jo 9-10]

and of St Paul how he said, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” [1 Cor 2:12]
Let us pray:

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen [BCP]

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David - God’s Anointed Warrior

In the 16th Chapter of 1st Samuel, begins the remarkable story of David - God’s Anointed Warrior. David was the youngest of the family of Jesse. He was a handsome, ruddy, lad; hardly the image of a king. Unlike King Saul who stood head and shoulders above the Israelites, David was not remarkable for his bearing. Samuel, in obedience to God’s will, anointed David and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came upon David in power. This was the first recorded instance in the Scriptures where God’s spirit was given to a man and remained with him permanently.

Not long after, David went to visit his brothers who had joined King Saul’s army to defend against the Philistines. The champion of the Philistines, a giant called Goliath, had defied and challenged any man of Israel to meet him in combat. The entire Israelite army was terrified. David, however, was not impressed, and rebuked the men for their fear of the pagan warrior who threatened the Army of the LORD. Saul heard of David and called him to his headquarters. David, full of the Spirit of the LORD, assured Saul that he would dispatch the Philistine as he had the lion and the bear that attacked his flocks.

David went out to meet Goliath in the Valley of Elah. Goliath ridiculed the handsome young man armed only with his shepherd's staff and sling. He cursed David and swore to kill him that day. David responded that he came in the name of the LORD, and that:


Now David had with him his sling and five smooth stones. As a shepherd, he was charged with protecting his flock from wild animals. The sling of that day was capable of delivering a projectile 180 yards at a maximum velocity of 160 miles per hour. That is quite a lethal weapon in the hands of a marksman. As the Philistine approached, David ran toward him, took the stone from his shepherd’s bag, loaded his sling, and cast the stone square between the eyes of the giant. The stone was buried in the Goliath's forehead and he fell. David took Goliath’s sword and severed his head. The Philistines fled the field in terror, and the Israelites pursued and slew them.

David continued in the service of Saul as his servant and companion. Saul, possessed by an evil spirit, resented David’s success in all things, and tried to kill him on several occasions. Eventually Saul took his own life in battle, and David became king. He brought Israel from a loose group of tribes to a mighty nation. He, however, broke God’s Commandments by his adultery with Bathsheba, and by the murder of Bathsheba's husband Uriah. When confronted by the prophet Nathan, David confessed his sins. God removed David’s sin from him; however, David suffered the consequences of his actions. God struck the illegitimate son of David and Bathsheba, and David was faced with strife from within his house from that day forth.

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Gideon – Reluctant Warrior

Gideon, whom the Angle of God called a Valiant Warrior, was reluctant to act on God’s calling. Once convinced that the Lord had chosen him to lead the Army in the valley of Jezreel, he obeyed his charge and the Lord delivered Israel from their oppressors.

The story begins in the 6th Chapter of the Book of Judges. The Israelites had taken up worship of Baal and were living sinful lives. They pushed God out of their lives for the false gods of the land. The Midianites came up and ruled over them for seven years. The Israelites lost all and withdrew to the mountains to live in caves and crags – and they called out to the Lord for salvation. The Lord sent a prophet to convict the Israelites of their apostasy, and call them into repentance.

Then the Lord sent his angle to Gideon, who was a poor farmer, the least of his kin. After giving a sure sign as requested by Gideon, the Lord commanded him to destroy his father’s altar to Baal and Ashterah. Gideon did so, and the Lord sent his Spirit upon Gideon to strengthen him.

A massive army (135,000) of the Midianites, along with the Amalekites, gathered in the valley of the Jezreel to wage war on Israel. Gideon gathered a large army (32,000) from the tribes to meet the Midianites, but he was still not confident in his ability. He called upon the Lord for two more signs before he accepted his charge. Finally, Gideon was ready, but the Lord ordered Gideon to reduce his assault force. First he discharged all those who feared the Midianites and 10,000 remained. Then the Lord selected by trail only 300 men for the assault force in order to show His strength and sovereignty. Armed with horns, torches, and vases to hide the torches he sent Gideon to surround the Midianites in their camp at night. In order to embolden Gideon; he gave him yet another sign. He sent Gideon and Purah into the Midianite camp where they heard of a dream that Israel would prevail.

As the Lord had instructed, Gideon leading his 300 men in three companies surrounded the camp. On Gideon’s command, they blew the horns, broke open the vases, and waved the torches shouting:


The Lord so confused and terrorized the Midianites that they panicked and slew one another in their fear and confusion, and those that were left fled the field. Gideon pursued and slew them, and rid the land of the oppressor.

Gideon, the Reluctant Warrior was indeed Valiant. The Israelites called him to rule over them, but he refused saying that the Lord would rule Israel. After his death, Israel again played the harlot and prostituted herself with false gods.

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