St Mary’s Chapel, Nashotah House Theological Seminary

Almighty and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made, and dost forgive the sins of all them that are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we worthily lamenting our sins, and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.

May the words of my lips, and the thoughts and meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.


Lent is a bit of an awkward time.

We find ourselves sandwiched between the stress of mid-terms and assignments, and a desire to draw more deeply into the will of God.

We have pressure to balance the needs of classes, family, placements, friendships, bodily needs for food and, rest against a holy desire to turn ourselves over to God.

But we are reminded today that holiness is not just something for Lent. Not just preparatory for Easter. “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

We must each ask ourselves this question: does our righteousness exceed that of the Pharisees?

Well? Does it?

On Ash Wednesday we were invited to observe a Holy Lent, “By self-examination and repentance, by prayer, by fasting and self-denial.”

We are all doing that, to some degree.

Here at Nashotah, we spent our quiet day in self-examination and prayer. About five minutes after I finish this homily, we’re all going to pray the confession.

There. Prayer and confession. Holiness!

That seems a little superficial. This type of faith was described by one famous evangelical Anglican as “nominal Christianity.” He criticized nominal Christians saying they, “give no more than they dare not withhold they abstain from nothing but what they must not practice.”[1]

That is not the Christian faith. That is not what makes a Holy Lent. That is certainly not what makes for righteousness greater than the Pharisees.

Christ himself tells us that base adherence to the law is not sufficient.

The exhortation to a holy Lent is an exhortation to a renewed vigour in the Christian life, in Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit.

Christ’s Command

Christ is laying down a prescription of what it looks like to follow him.

Unlike the nominal Christian that does the barest minimum required, Christ is saying you need to do more. Christ doesn’t mean here Pharisees in that pejorative sense we might think of, but rather in the best possible sense of someone who was righteous under the law and who truly followed the law as best as they were able. [2]

We are called to a higher standard. We are called to a deeper discipleship.

“You have heard it said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgement.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgement; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire.”[3]

This sounds difficult. Perhaps that’s part of the point. A Holy Lent is not something that can be done lackadaisically.

A Holy Lent requires intention, it requires commitment, and most importantly it requires grace.

I said just a moment ago that the Pharisees Jesus refers to in the Gospel today are those who sought to follow the law as best as they were able.

As best as they were able.

By the grace of the Holy Spirit, we are far better able to submit ourselves to the will of God than anyone acting apart from the Spirit.


Call upon the Holy Spirit.

Ask for grace to enable you to pursue righteousness.

Ask for grace to keep you single-minded. Ask for grace to draw you deeper into the life of Christ, not just for Lent, but as part of your pursuit of spiritual progress and growth into unity with God.

A Holy Lent is not kept primarily by giving something up or taking something on.

A Holy Lent, by the grace of the Spirit, is kept by turning to Christ, and as the hymn says, offering “my soul, my life, my all.”[4]

[1] William Wilberforce, A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians

[2] S. John Chrysostom, Hom. Matt., 16.6

[3] S. Mt v. 21, 22

[4] “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” 474 (TEC 82 Hymnal)

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