But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts,
and be ready always to give an answer to every man
that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:
(1 St. Peter iii. 15)
Our Trinity V lections this year coincide conveniently with yesterday’s Feast of St. Peter the Apostle. We have said that Trinity Tide is all about spiritual growth and fertility. And today we are invited to examine some aspects of St. Peter’s life that will better enable us to fertilize and grow the spiritual soil of our common Christian life together. St. Peter’s conversion and sanctification are nothing if they are not difficult, toilsome, and even painful. And so I hope that we might find something of ourselves in the trial of his faith that we read about this morning.
So let us turn to today’s reading from St. Luke’s Gospel. In it we read that the people pressed upon [Jesus] to hear the Word of God…by the lake of Gennesaret. (St. Luke v. 1) Jesus is crowded about by a throng of people, but sees clearly that if he is to be heard he will have to make some space between himself and his listeners. The Galillean fishing industry in Jesus’ time was economically thriving, and so the ports were always thronging with buyers and sellers, importers and exporters. Jesus needs to find a pulpit. The fishermen have just come in from the sea after a long night of fruitless fishing, and are cleaning their nets. So Jesus boards Simon Peter’s boat, and asks him and his companions to launch out a little from the land. From there he preaches to the people. We have no record of what he taught them. What is recorded is what Jesus did, and this will speak far more powerfully than words. So Jesus commands Peter and his friends to launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. (Ibid, 4) The request is curious since the best time for fishing is the night, which is now long over. Peter responds by saying, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing. (Ibid, 5) His own human effort, ingenuity, and craft have yielded him nothing, yet he obeys and says, nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net.(Ibid) Peter has derived something from Christ’s preaching, and so now Christ will derive something from Peter’s occupation. And we should not forget that all this is demanded of Peter and his friends, who are by now exhausted, having fished all night, and so, probably had their minds set on sleep. (Matthew Henry: Commentary Luke’s Gospel) But Peter, though he is just beginning to follow Jesus, knows that when his Master calls, he must follow. So, they let down their nets, And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake. And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink. (Ibid, 6,7) Peter and his friends, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were astonished. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord. (Ibid, 8) Peter is overwhelmed by the power of God that he experiences in Person of Jesus Christ. He is so conscious of the radical otherness of God that he witnesses, that he can only feel the distance and difference between himself and his Lord. This is, of course, a dangerous feeling to have. It might lead a man to despair, recognizing as Peter does, that he is wholly unworthy and undeserving of such a presence and power. But on the other hand, it could lead also to spiritual growth and fertility. The first step towards a right relationship with God is the fear of the Lord. For, it is the beginning of wisdom, as a man learns humility and meekness in the presence of the Divine power. Father Mouroux reminds us that man must realize that [he] is dust and ashes before his God; however much he abounds he is always a poverty-stricken thing hanging on the Divine Mercy, and however much he may be purified he is still a sinner face to face with Holiness. (The Meaning of Man, p. 217) And so Peter’s spiritual journey begins with an abrupt and decisive recognition of God’s power in the actions of his Master. Peter finds himself in the presence of what seems to be a great contradiction, where the supernatural touches and transforms the world of nature, and where God is present to the experience of man. His Jewish soul must be overwhelmed as he remembers the words of his people in the Book of Exodus, Let not God speak to us, lest we die. (Ex. 20. 18) Or the words of his forefathers in the Book of Judges, We shall surely die, because we have seen God. (Judges 18. 22) And yet what Peter will come to see is that Grace does not destroy nature but redeems and transforms it. Peter does not die fully and completely, and yet something inside of him does begin to recede, shrink, and peter out in the presence of Christ.
Of course our Gospel lesson records only the first baby steps that Peter makes into the conversion and transformation that Jesus will bring to his life. Peter will go through so much more as he learns, the hard way, that his own good intentions, enthusiasm, and determination to follow Christ will avail him nothing by way of redemption and salvation. Peter, perhaps more than all others, save St. Paul, will come to experience the distance that prevails between himself and Jesus, before he will be fully overtaken and remade by the radical otherness that Jesus will infuse into his heart and soul. And make no mistake; Peter follows Jesus to the very end of his Master’s life and ministry. And yet progressively and increasingly Peter runs up against the powerlessness and ineffectiveness of his own zeal and passion to become a disciple of Jesus. Just prior to his crucifixion, Jesus says to his disciples, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad. (St. Matthew xxvi. 31) Peter’s response is this: Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended…Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee. (St. Matthew xxvi. 33, 35) Jesus assures Peter that, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. (Ibid, 34) Of course, the very same came to pass, and Peter wept bitterly. (Ibid, 75)
Now returning to today’s Gospel, Jesus said to Peter, following the miraculous draught of fishes, Fear not; from henceforth, thou shalt catch men. (St. Luke v. 10) Peter has always been acknowledged as the chief and head of the Apostles of Jesus. Peter began to catch men through his own response to Jesus, beginning with today’s miracle and throughout all the trials and tribulations which his own faith endured to Calvary and beyond. The other Apostles and Disciples followed Peter not merely because of his zeal and passion, but also because of his truly human and honest relation to Jesus Christ. Peter, after all, is always fighting tooth and nail to be Jesus’ friend. For, despite his slow learning curve, he longs desperately to be faithful to his Master. Yet perseverance and persistence, zeal and passion can find their perfection only if and when they are received as the gifts of God’s Grace in man’s heart and soul. Peter could become a true friend and disciple of Christ only when he discovered the futility of his own good works and intentions, and allowed himself to be caught up in the net of Christ’s draught.
So what does it mean to be caught up in Christ’s net? It does not mean that Peter is any the less overawed by his Master. For, as Father Mouroux reminds us: his love is always penetrated with the great wave of adoration that comes from the depth of his being, and is [still] clothed in pure and holy fear before the Majesty of Him who loves him…, (The Meaning of Man, p. 217) who says, with St. Francis of Assisi, ‘O blest beloved Lord and Master, what I am I compared with thee.’ And yet now it is through his membership in the Body of the same Master that he lives, and moves, and has his [new] being. Now he realizes that he is being uplifted in thankfulness for the unspeakable gift of the mighty God, [through] the charity which passes the thought, desire, and capacity of [his] created spirit…[so that] he cannot but overflow with praise and benediction. (Ibid, 217) And so the word of Christ dwells richly in him. (Col. iii. 16) Or, to put it another way: It is not [he] who lives, but Christ who lives in [him]; for the life that [he] now lives in the flesh, he lives by the faith of the Son of God. (Gal. ii. 20) Thus he commands the fish that he has caught in Christ’s net to do the same. To be of one mind, having compassion one of another, [loving] as brethren, [being] pitiful, [being] courteous: not rendering evil for evil, nor railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing…[eschewing] evil, doing good, seeking peace, and ensuing it. (1 St. Peter iii. 8-11) In other words, he exhorts his fish to live in and through Christ Jesus who has loved us and given himself for us. (Gal. ii. 20) Realizing that he has been caught up into the net of Christ, he cannot help but catch others up in the same net. And that net is the safe and secure enclosure that rescues men from the deep waters of human sin, and secures and establishes them in the uninterrupted and persistent love, forgiveness, generosity, and hope that Christ offers to all men.
In closing, this morning, let us follow the example of St. Peter who discovered painfully who he was to become as the chief among Christ’s fishers of men only by being caught up and into the net of Jesus Christ. Let us grow and become fertile spiritually with St. Peter by allowing Christ to catch us up into the net of his desire for us. The Divine Love that we find in Jesus Christ can flourish and bloom [only if] it is welcomed; it can act [only if] it is activated, [for] all the infinitude of its power comes from the adoring passivity in which it lies open to God.(Mouroux, p. 217) To be caught up in Christ’s net means that we must, with St. Peter, forsake all and follow Jesus. (St. Luke v. 11) To forsake all means, too, that through the desire of his mercy and the strength of his power, Jesus will ignite our souls to a new kind of fishing, real fishing, the fishing for men to be caught up in his net, even here at our Church of St. Michael and All Angels. Amen.
That thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through
Things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal.
Trinity season is all about growth and fertility. And from the time of the ancient Christianity until our own, in the churches which retain the ancient lectionary - or calendar of readings, the faithful have sought to grow from strength to strength, in the knowledge and love of God, as they make their way towards God’s kingdom. For traditional Christians, the core essence of the faith has never changed, and so you and I are invited today to continue with the saints of all ages towards heaven. And the Scriptural lessons which we read for this Fourth Sunday after Trinity enable us to understand better what is essential for that growth in God’s truth which will ensure that so passing through things temporal…we finally lose not the things eternal. Our destination is Heaven and the glory which shall be manifested through us, and today our Collect, Epistle and Gospel aid us in this endeavor.
Let us begin with the Gospel lesson for this morning. In this morning’s Gospel lesson our Lord Jesus Christ situates our souls in that proper disposition which enables us to make our journey towards God’s kingdom. Jesus says, Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father is also merciful. (St. Luke vi. 36) And, judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven. (Ibid, 27) And these hard sayings all follow upon His command: love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest. (Ibid, 34) It all must have seemed rather too much for his listeners to hear! Men commonly say that certain sins are unforgivable, and that giving should be conditional. The unforgivable sins and the controlled giving, however, are forbidden by our Lord precisely because, as he will show, those who act in such ways have never really embraced God’s forgiveness of their sins nor appreciated adequately His superabundant giving and what that entails for us as His disciples.
So Jesus, as usual, resorts to using a parable. He says Can the blind lead the blind? Shall they not both fall into a ditch? (Ibid, 39) Are you also blind, He asks us today? Open your eyes, and begin to see what I bring to you, He suggests. What I bring to you from the Father of Lights is a release from blindness. He goes on. The disciple is not above his master. But every one that is perfect shall be as his master. (Ibid, 40) If I am your master, Jesus tells his hearers and us, then you must be filled with the Light moves and defines me. If you will be perfect, open your hearts and souls to the Light that shines out from my heart to yours. Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Either how can thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? (Ibid, 41,42) Has my Light not reached you? Are you blind to the Light that perfects and binds all who love God together? Do you not see that this is the true light which ligtheth ever man that cometh into the world? (St. John i. 9)Do you not see that you need the constant presence of God in your heart and soul? Do you not see that you need forgiveness as much if not more than even your worst enemies? And who are your enemies; conflicts always involve at least two parties, and, besides, the fault most often resides somewhere in the middle! Thou hypocrite, says Jesus, cast out first the beam that is in thine own eye, and then thou shalt see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye. (St. Luke vi. 42) See that what you need, first and foremost are God’s mercy and compassion, His strength and power which alone can heal you and enable you to share His love with others. See, Jesus suggests, that what you need, I alone can give to you. Know yourself, and see that the love which I bring to you, you have not deserved or merited, could never have produced or created, and for this reason God has visited you with the Light of His love. And that love I bring to you, if it fills you, will move and define you as it moves and defines me. Then you will be able to do nothing less than give it out to all others, as I have given, and continue to give it to you. That love will be felt in you and by you as forgiveness. This is the nature of the love I bring to you, says Jesus. Receive it gratefully and humbly, and its otherwise inconceivable and unimaginable nature will become your instinctive inclination as you offer it to others.
This is what our Gospel teaches us today. It sounds so logical in a way. But it runs against the grain of our habitual and usual natures. Father Jean Mouroux is precisely correct when he describes the chief center of opposition to the receiving and giving of love and forgiveness. There is a conflict, he says, not between two principles, between soul and body, but a conflict within the interior of one and the same “I”, between two selves of opposing orientation; a carnal self, solidly rooted in the most elementary and violent instincts, and a spiritual self solidly rooted in the deep mystery and radical dynamism of the Spirit. (The Meaning of Man, p. 73) Father Mouroux says that the two forces are locked and engaged in battle within us; one is love of self, which is elementary to all men, and the other is an intuition that there is something more than self to be loved. It is always a struggle. St. Paul, long since having given himself over to Christ, reminds us that still the good that he wishes to accomplish, he doesn’t, and the evil that does not want to do, he does. (Romans vii, 19) And so Christians will be able to love other people, to forgive them, only if they realize that they need the forgiveness of their own sins, do not deserve it, but nevertheless are offered it always through the all merciful Christ. To follow Christ means to receive the forgiveness of sins. But there is more. To follow Christ means to make a choice which is at once an act of renunciation and a gift; a renunciation of all that hinders, and a gift of himself to all that goes with [realizing and attaining] communion with [God’s]being. (Ibid, 72) Renunciation means denial, the denial of any desire, thought, word, or work that hinders the receiving of God’s forgiveness and love. What we must renounce is our right to judge. What we must accept is the inestimable love of God the Father in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the forgiveness of sins. Renunciation of the self means that the Christian places himself in the hands of Christ –into the perfect activity of the forgiveness of sins as the first principle of entry into the new life.
In our Collect for today we ask the Lord to increase and multiply upon us [His] mercy, that [He] being our ruler and guide, we mass pass through things temporal that we finally lost not the things eternal. This is the same thing. If we are truly passing through things temporal on the way to things eternal, then in this world which surrounds us the old man must die, as the new man comes alive. And so to pass through to things eternal, we must die to the habits and traditions of the world we inhabit. We must learn to forgive, and not judge. Judge not, Jesus warns us this morning. We are not to judge because when we do so, we do not forgive, love, and hope. It is not because there is no difference between right and wrong, but simply because at the end of the day God is the judge of all human life, and as far as we are concerned, we must use all the time we’re given in seeing to it that his forgiveness and love of us are transformed into good desire and hope for all others. For, if God’s forgiveness of our sins has been embraced truly in our hearts, they must be alive and growing. Forgiveness that is alive is forgiveness that grows; forgiveness that grows is forgiveness that is offered to all others. If God were to judge us rather than forgive us, it would be the worse for us. So with thankful and grateful hearts, we praise and magnify our good God who desireth not the death of a sinner, but that he may turn from his wickedness and live.(Ez. xxxiii. 11)
My friends, God desires that we should not only live, but live well. And living well means to live as people of hope. Forgiveness and mercy comprise the fire and heat of God’s burning love for us that must be converted into hope. They come alive when we embrace the deep mystery and dynamism of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and souls. So we must forgive now so that we might be forgiven. Jesus says, For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.(St. Matthew vi. 14-15) Will the process hurt? Of course. The birth of good things always involves pain. But the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us, (Romans 8. 18) We suffer, we wait patiently, we hope, we look forward, and we move on. Simon Tugwell says, living by faith, hope and love means suffering a first kind of emptiness, but one within which God is creating from the raw material [and pure potentiality] something new and vibrant. (The Beatitudes, p. 48)The newness and vibrancy that God creates ensure that we are not [going to] lose things eternal, because we are passing through things temporal with the forgiveness and love that are converted into earnest expectation, desire, and hope for the redemption of the whole creation. Amen.
To be a Disciple is to be a devoted love-slave of the Lord Jesus. Many of us who call ourselves Christians are not devoted to Jesus Christ. (Oswald Chambers)
I have opened this morning’s sermon with these words of Oswald Chambers because I believe that the dangers of false Discipleship are everywhere present in this morning’s Gospel lesson. In it we read that Then drew near unto [Jesus] all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. (St. Luke xv. 1,2) What we have, it would seem, are the publicans and sinners huddled around Jesus eager to hear his words, and the Pharisees and Scribes standing off at a distance murmuring and judging what they see and hear. So we have those who are interested in and even need what Jesus has to offer, and then against them the self-righteous Jews judging both Jesus and the company he is keeping. Nestled in between the two groups are, as always, the Apostles. Now Jesus knows exactly what the religious and pious Jewish Elders are thinking and saying, and so he offers two parables. The truth of these parables is not specifically addressed to the publicans and sinners but to the Scribes and Pharisees and even to the Apostles. What Jesus teaches is always meant for all, that whosoever hears his words might become a true Disciple.
So Jesus asks, What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. (Ibid, 4-6) An Australian scientific study done in 2012 concludes that sheep are selfish animals which congregate towards a safe center. (Flock and Awe….) Every once in a while one strays and errs from the way of the shepherd, and so the shepherd must set out to find it. There is no indication that that ninety and nine, who do not end up getting themselves lost, detect that one of their members is missing. Provided they are safely fenced in by the sheepfold, they are content and satisfied. The one who does miss the lost sheep is the shepherd, who when he finds his lost sheep rejoices. Jesus suggests that the Pharisees and Scribes are more like the ninety and nine safe and contented sheep than like the shepherd. The untold dangers associated with seeking out the lost sheep are paralleled with the Pharisees’ fear of ritual pollution through contact with publicans and sinners, for, as Archbishop Trench remarks, they had neither love to hope for the recovery of such men, nor yet antidotes to preserve and protect themselves while making the attempt. (N.O.P’s. p.286) The publicans and sinners are clearly more like the lost sheep in need of the shepherd’s courageous and loving care. The shepherd values the lost sheep so much that he leaves the ninety and nine. Why? Because one lost sheep is like a repentant sinner who needs to be rescued and saved. Jesus says, I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance. (St. Luke, Ibid, 7) Clearly then, the truth found in Jesus’ parable rebukes the self-righteous, selfish contentedness of the Pharisees, who are neither true shepherds nor potential disciples but self-interested sheep. A true Disciple of Christ will not be like self-interested sheep, but like the lost sheep, and lost sheep are like the publicans and sinners, whose straying and wandering cry out for a shepherd.
Jesus continues with another parable. Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it? And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost. (Ibid, 8,9) The light symbolizes Christ and the woman images Mother Church. By the light of Christ the woman sweeps the house – the Church, and seeks diligently until she finds the lost coin – sin-sick souls whom she has negligently lost. Again, as with the first parable, the woman rejoices when she finds what she has lost, and so there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth. (Ibid, 10) The true Disciple of Christ will learn that he is like the lost coin. As such, he is like the publican or sinner who knows his sin but has felt neglected and thus lost by the Pharisees and Scribes – or the religious authorities in any age, who have judged him to be of little worth or value, but who is now being found by Christ who comes to sanctify and redeem his life. As a lost coin the true Disciple finds his worth and value in the one who mercifully rescues and delivers him from his life of sin.
Of course for the Pharisees and Scribes the truth contained in Jesus’ parables fell on deaf ears, and not because they were wholly devoid and destitute of holiness and goodness. In so far as they followed the Law, they were obedient unto God. But the problem for them, and the threatening danger for the Apostles and Disciples of Christ, was their indifference to the cost of discipleship – for Christ tells them that they ought to be like the Good Shepherd who searched for the lost sheep or the woman who swept the house in search of the coin she had misplaced. Jesus tried to point out to them that the Scribes and Pharisees were not paying the price or cost of discipleship. For they refused to move beyond the confines of their law and tradition, out of the comfort and security of the treasure they thought they possessed, in order to risk it all for the riches to be found in the conversion of one sinner. But the Scribes and Pharisees could not be good shepherds, precisely because they had never confessed that they were like lost sheep or the lost coin, or like the publicans and sinners. For the cost of discipleship is identification with the publicans and sinners. What do I mean? Well, what Jesus seems to be suggesting is that before anyone can become a shepherd, he must first have become a sheep. And before becoming a sheep, he must have become a lost sheep. This doesn’t mean that a man should try to get lost. A man cannot try to get lost, for then he is not lost but just hiding and concealing himself. What Jesus means is that a man must realize that in relation to God he is very much like a lost sheep or coin because by reason of his sin he is spiritually lost and so needs to be found by Christ.
Jesus says, Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven. (St. Matthew v. 20) Now, clearly, what the Pharisees and Scribes exhibited, and what every true Apostle and Disciple of Christ should avoid, is pride in one's own perfection. Pride breeds division, exclusivity, hatred, and variance. Pride measures its own goodness against others men’s sins. It has no need of redemption or salvation because it considers its goodness to be far greater than the sins of others. But the publicans and sinners flocked to Jesus because they knew that they had no goodness to claim. Until Jesus’ coming, they had found no mercy, no tender compassion, no friend who cared enough for their spiritual wellbeing to help them out of their sin. But in Jesus they find one who loves them, hopes for them, and sees in them the seeds of conversion, the kernels of new life, the stirrings of repentance, and the victory of God’s love. Jesus sees in them the makings of true disciples; in them he finds those who learn that they are lost and now desire to be found. You can’t be found until you know that you are lost. No man is born a saint, nor does he make himself a saint. The world has too few saints because there aren’t more sinners.
So the true Disciple of Christ will be a man who once was lost, but now is [being] found. With St. Peter in this morning’s Epistle, he will be subject to his fellow men, and clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. (1 St. Peter v. 5) The true Disciple of Christ will humble [himself]…under the mighty hand of God, that God may exalt [him] in due time. (Ibid, 6) True humility reveals man’s utter dependence upon God’s caring love and healing power that come through Jesus Christ alone. The truly humble man identifies with all men because as he shares the same dreadful disease of sin, he knows himself to be in equal need of redemption. St. Peter says, Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist steadfast in the faith, seeing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. (Ibid, 8,9) The true Disciple of Christ will see himself as a publican in need of being rescued like a lost sheep from this world of confusion, madness, and irrationality. The true Disciple of Christ will see himself as a sinner to be found like the lost coin, revalued and redeemed by the Lord’s accounting.
My friends, let us study closely the cost of discipleship that Christ teaches in his parables. Our church will not grow if we look upon the world as full of publicans and sinners who, unlike us, are beyond the pale of salvation. Our church will grow if, with the publicans and sinners of old, we draw near to Jesus. Our church will grow if we remember that God resisteth the proud, and giveth Grace to the humble. (1 Peter v. 5) Our church will grow if we know that we were as sheep going astray, but have now returned unto the Shepherd and [Bishop] of [our] souls. (1 St. Peter ii. 25) Our Church will grow because then we, like the woman in today’s Gospel, will search the world diligently for the lost coins of great value, Christ’s hidden treasures, our future brothers and sisters, who will join us as equals in one drama of repentance and redemption. For let us never forget that there will be joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth…than over ninety and nine just persons who have no need of repentance. (St. Luke xv. 10,7) And, as St. Bernard of Clairvaux reminds us, the tears of all penitents is the wine of the angels. Amen.
We love Him because he first loved us.
(1 St. John iv. 19)
Trinity Tide is the season of green. The Churches of Christendom are draped in green, the sacred ministers don the same color, for it symbolizes green and fertile growth, fecundity and new life that the soul first finds imaged in nature and then wishes to imitate in the spiritual life. This is the season in which we focus specifically upon the growth of the virtues in the human soul.
Now prior to this season we have witnessed the appearance and growth of God’s Word in the sacred humanity of Jesus Christ. From Advent to Trinity Sunday we have observed God at work in the particular, individual, human life of Jesus Christ. Following Pentecost and moving towards Trinity Sunday we observe that something has changed. What we see is that the glorified Risen life of Jesus Christ, having fulfilled the Father’s will and purpose completely and fully in the Ascension, now turns around and opens up once again as He expands to create a new Body out of faith in His Grace. We are, in other words, invited into the life of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. We are beckoned to become members of Christ’s new Body, the Church, which he forms and molds from the Heaven of his unity with the Father. And so, salvation is not a matter for the future, but rather a process that must begin here and now if we hope to find ourselves at home with God on judgment day. Christ is our yes to God. We say yes to God in Christ, and if this be the case, that yes must become our yes to God as we begin to embrace the virtues that the Holy Spirit engenders.
So from our Epistle today we are taught about what it means to make our yes to God inwardly and spiritually. St. John, the beloved disciple, tells us in his First Epistle that our yes to God is all about receiving what God and His Son Jesus Christ truly are. God is love (1 St. John iv. 8), and what we are to receive first and foremost is the love of God, and what that love is. Our definitive and determined yes to God means saying yes in our hearts and souls to the virtue of His love. And what we say yes to is a love that has come to us, visited us, even insinuated itself into our own human nature and condition in order to save us. In this was manifested the love of God towards us, because that God sent his only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. (Ibid, 9) God is love, and he sent His Son Jesus Christ into the world that we might live in His love. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent his Son to be a propitiation for our sins. (Ibid, 10) Love is God’s true nature. We are called to say yes to God because He is that love that has come out of Himself, down from His own perfection, to reconcile us with Himself. In Jesus Christ we have been visited by the infinite love of God. Jesus Christ is that perfect yes to God and the yes to man. His yes to God combines perfect love for the Father with uninterrupted obedience. His yes to us is a perfect love for all men expressed as His uninterrupted desire for our salvation. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. (Ibid, 12) If we say yes in Jesus Christ, we shall begin to love and obey the Father, and then love our neighbors and desire their salvation. Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us; because he hath given us of his Spirit. (Ibid, 13) His Spirit is the love that enables us to love both God and our fellow men. If we say yes to his Spirit, we say yes to the virtue of His love. God is love, and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God and God in him. Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as he is, so are we in this world. (Ibid, 16)
St. John tells us more. Perfect love casts out all fear. (1 St. John iv. 18) Fear of people, places, and situations threatens to kill the birth of all virtue in the soul, and especially love. Fear hath torment. (Ibid, 18) Fear is characteristic of one who has not embraced the forgiveness of sins, has not cherished the priceless treasure of Christ’s merciful love in his heart. What is there to fear if God in Jesus Christ calls us out of our no to him, no matter how great our sin, and into the new yes to his power, his wisdom, and his love? We love him, because he first loved us. (Ibid, 19) We love him because his love has destroyed our division and separation from himself. He makes the first move. He comes to us to destroy our sin and death. He comes to offer to us the priceless treasure of his life, that we might live through him. (Ibid 9)
Yet still, if we will embrace the love that is God, then we must acquire other virtues that ensure our habitual yes to it. First we must embrace the courage and fortitude that God’s Grace generates. God says this morning to Joshua, Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper withersoever thou goest. (Joshua i. 7) Courage and fortitude are gifts from God that enable the soul to focus exclusively on God, to trust in Him, and to keep his commandments. Courage invests a man with the strength to face adversity in the knowledge that God is our hope and strength, a very present help in times of trouble. (Ps. xlvi. 1) When we say no to God, and fail to keep his commandments, neglect the fear of the Lord, dismiss the courage and fortitude that he lends to us, we consume away in [God’s] displeasure, and are afraid at [His] wrathful indignation. For when thou art angry all our days are gone…. (Ps. xc. 7,9) Preliminary to the reception of God as Love is the preparation necessary to the soul’s purification. From God this comes first in the form of tough love. Tough love demands that the soul ready itself for the deeper in-presencing of God’s merciful healing and transformative power. Tough love then demands that we confess seriously the soul’s fallen condition, that we repent with sorrow over lingering sins, and that finally we reach out to the Lord for healing and relief. The penitent is always a man poor in spirit who reaches out for the mercy and healing touch that God alone can give. Show thy servants thy work; and their children thy glory, (Ps. xc. 16) we cry, for we know that without them we are doomed and damned.
This brings us to the Gospel parable for today. The parable is really all about what follows if we decide to say no or yes to God. What we learn from it is that an habitual no to God ends up revealing our separation from God because we think we have no need for His mercy and love. Because it says no to God’s love, it says no also to the love of neighbor. In the parable we read of a certain rich man [who] was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. (St. Luke xvi. 19-21) What we conclude is that the rich man stepped over and disregarded poor Lazarus, as he came and went in his luxurious living. We do not read that Lazarus ate of the crumbs that fell from [the rich man’s] table, but that he was left to the sympathy of the dogs whose tongues assuaged the smart of his wounds. The rich man had clearly never felt the need for God’s love. He that loveth not, loveth not God. (1 St. John iv. 8) So the one of whom all may have spoken well, who dwelt at ease, avoided all pain and pursued all pleasure (A’d. R.C. Trench, N.P.’s p. 346) died, went to hell, and was tormented. We should not conclude that the rich man was a glutton, winebibber, or notorious liver, but that he loved neither God nor his fellow man. (Ibid) His sin was not in being rich. Rather it lies in his indifference to the love of God and thus the love of neighbor. And so, in the end, he finds himself in hell, separated from the beggar…who was carried into Abraham’s bosom. (St. Luke xvi. 22) Lazarus was saved because he desired to be fed with the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. (Ibid, 21) While Lazarus virtuously realized his need for mercy, the rich man's vice lay in his supposed ability to take care of himself. What is essential is the desire for mercy because to desire mercy is to desire God. The need for mercy says yes to God. God’s mercy is his love, and without the demand for it and the expression of it in our lives, we are doomed and destined for hell.
Meister Eckhart says this about the difference between those rich in this world’s goods but spiritually destitute, and the poor. The poor man, by taking a handout, gets closer to God than he who gives one hundred dollars ‘for God’s sake’. The rich giver is glad to be so good natured and proud of what he does, but the poor taker has to subdue his feelings and despise his status. The rich giver is much courted for his gifts whereas the beggar is despised and rejected for being a taker. (M.E. Fragment #6) Lazarus, the poor man, is saved because he sees that he cannot be self-sufficient, and is thus wholly dependent upon the mercy of another. No man is an island, John Donne has said. Lazarus is saved because he needs mercy, compassion, pity, forgiveness, and the love of God. Lazarus has no possessions, no riches, not so much as a morsel of food; he is sick, wounded, and abandoned. He has neither strength nor power. And so he cries out to be possessed, to be loved, to be helped, and to be healed. And in the end he was, and so becomes a model for our own needful poverty of spirit. For we shall not be saved unless and until we become truly needy for what God alone can give to us.
My friends, today let us all become poor like Lazarus in the Gospel. The name Lazarus means God is my help. Let us need God’s help and mercy, let us receive and cherish his forgiving love, let us courageously embrace it in the fear of the Lord. We love Him, because he first loved us…and sent his Son to be a propitiation for our sins. (1 St. John iv. 19, 10) God loves us with a love that we neither desire nor deserve. In value and worth it is a treasure whose worth far surpasses all the earthly happiness that man’s money can buy. Besides, earthly happiness may cost us our eternal salvation. For the priceless gift of God’s love for us, if received sincerely and thankfully, cannot help but overflow into the lives of others. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. (1 St. John iv. 121 And, God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. (Ibid, 16) Amen.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons