I said unto the fools, deal not so madly…and…
Set not up your horn on high, and speak not with a stiff neck. For promotion
cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor yet from the south.
And why? God is the Judge; he putteth down one, and setteth up another.
(Ps. lxxv. 5-8)
We have said that Trinity tide is all about spiritual growth, fertility, and progress. In this season we are called into a state of sanctification and redemption that ensures our safe and eventual passing through things temporal that we finally lose not the things eternal. (Collect)And one of the chief obstacles that frustrates our mystical journey is judgment, or judging. Jesus tells us this morning, Judge not and ye shall not be judged (St. Luke vi. 37).God is the Judge, as our Psalmist reminds us, and God’s Judgment is offered to believers as a severe mercy which makes them into vessels of His desire for all men’s salvation. Once we begin to measure ourselves by God’s Judgment, we begin to feel that the sufferings of this present time, the fruits of God’s severe mercy, are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us. (Romans viii. 18)
Yet if you are a healthy Christian, one who tries to live by the principles of Holy Scripture, you might be on the edge of your seat fortified with a series of Buts!But, you are thinking, we are living in a society that is not interested one bit in God’s judgment or God’s will for human life.But, you protest, would it be too much to ask for a bit of God’s judgment and even wrath to pierce and singe a few of our neighbors, smarting and startling them into some recognition of His Almighty desire and power?After all, this very nation that we inhabit is calling “good” “evil” and “evil” “good”, and to make matters worse, it imparts this diabolical confusion to our children. God’s judgment and will don’t seem to figure even remotely into the way people are thinking and acting these days. It seems as if people are getting away with so many sins! And, of course, you are right about all of this. An honest assessment of our present situation would have to conclude that the Western world is not interested at all in God’s judgment for wrongdoing since there is no such thing as wrongdoing. Judge not, you ask? How can we hope to do this, if we are bidden as Christians to abhor that which is evil, and cleave to that which is good? (Rom. xii. 9)
And I am here to tell you that your frustration is not entirely inappropriate. Our Saviour never asks us to forsake or ignore God’s Judgment of human life. He tells us to be perfect as our Heavenly Father in Heaven is perfect. (St. Matthew v. 48)He nowhere tells us that we should not judge between the principles of good and evil, right and wrong, or vice and virtue. This we must do if we hope to be saved. And He promises us that there will be Judgment for every man. But in order to best surrender to and live under the ruling and guiding light of God’s Judgment then, He insists that we had better stop judging other people now.
No doubt you have heard that old adage love the sinner and hate the sin. Well, this is our Saviour’s teaching, who knows [only too well] what is in [the heart] of man (St. John ii. 25)and the disastrous consequences that result when we confuse the two. John Calvin tells us, difficult or not, if we don’t distinguish between the two, we might very well be weaving our own ruination. Calvin observes that all men [tend] to flatter themselves, and every man passes a severe censure [or judgment] on others. There is hardly any person that is not tickled with the desire of inquiring into other people’s faults. (Harm. of Gospels, xvi.)Men do this habitually, without any thought of dividing and separating the sin from the sinner.
Yet this separating out of the sinner from his sin is precisely what Christ intends for us to do if we will be counted very members incorporate in His Mystical Body. Why? Because He has done this very thing in relation to us. Prior to this morning’s Gospel reading, St. Luke tells us that Jesus had been teaching His disciples the Beatitudes. He concludes with a warning, telling them that if they do not need the mercy, love, and forgiveness that He brings to the world from the Father, they should not expect to be saved. But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you… For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same.... But 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: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.(St. Luke vi. 27-36)
Rather than rendering evil for evil, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, Jesus reminds His disciples that they need to focus on the mercy of God which will overcome all of their sins. And knowing full well that His own friends will soon become His enemies in His darkest hour, He impresses upon them the forgiveness that they will not grasp until He rises from the dead. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (Romans v. 10)As the Apostles and disciples came to experience, a sinner today might become a saint tomorrow through the mercy of God’s forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time His righteousness: that He might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. (Romans iii. 23-26)God has judged that we can be made right with Him through the forgiveness of sins expressed by His unjustly crucified Son. Our Heavenly Father’s mercy is so great that His justice allows that His Son should die unjustly, that in and through this death man might begin to live.
Is there injustice in the world? Absolutely. But where is it found most profoundly? In the unjust death of the Holy One of God who suffered at the hands of man’s injustice. Sin is always an act of injustice since through it sinners disobey God’s law. Yet the same man expects justice to be mercy from an all forgiving God. We don’t tend to want either God or other men to be unmerciful, unkind, and unforgiving to us. And yet how quick we are to play God in judging others. How swift we are to say I cannot forgive that man his trespass against me. Dietrich Bonhoeffer says that By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.
Today Jesus reminds us that if we judge and do not forgive, we shall be judged and not forgiven. God judges and forgives. We shall be rewarded in so far as God’s merciful justice is alive in our hearts. And so the more we begin to subdue and conquer this vice of judging others with determined effort, the more likely the forgiveness of our sins through Jesus Christ will become a reality in our lives. What we need to search out and find is not the mote that is in [our] brother’s eye, but the beam that is in [our] own eye. (St. Luke vi. 41)We do tend to be adept at discovering other people’s particular sins mostly because we have had such long acquaintance with them as at least temptations in ourselves. The sins of others that most distract, dismay, and disconcert us are those that most tempt us. So we must spend much time pondering our own vices, sins, and failures. Having identified them, we must confess them and embrace the forgiveness of sins, Jesus Christ, in our hearts and souls. If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 St. John i. 9)
In closing, we must remember that the forgiveness of sins is just the beginning of the new life that we ought to find in Christ. The forgiveness of sins is ours to embrace as what will bring our sins to death. If they are truly dead, then the forgiveness of sins longs to become the ground of the new life of virtue that makes us good. Our focus must be on this process of dying to sin and coming alive to righteousness. And it is for this reason that we do ourselves great harm when we judge others. To be sure, we must judge specific sins as wrong. But we ought to try to identify and sympathize with our fellow sinners. If they are not suffering in their sins, then we ought to pray for their conversion. If they are converted but are struggling to die to certain sins that so easily beset them, then we ought to offer our patient and prayerful help. We ought never to condemn or sentence them. Rather we ought to find ways to welcome them into a struggle with sin that is part of every Christian’s spiritual suffering. St. Paul tells us this morning that we ought to remember that the whole creation groaneth and travailleth in pain together until now. (Romans viii 22) He means that we are not yet what we ought to be. We are all in this together. We are not yet whatwe ought to be or wherewe ought to be. St. Paul says that must we undergo our present sufferings for the sake of future glory. If we suffer inour daily struggle against sin, we shall be better suited to help others in the same. One thing is certain: We cannot help others out of their sins if we have not discovered what a struggle it has been to die to our own!
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 Him. So we have those who are interested in and even need what Jesus has to offer, and then 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. But of course, 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) Zoologists tell us that sheep are selfish animals which congregate towards a safe center. (Flock and Awe….) Every once in a while one errs and strays from the way of the shepherd, and so the shepherd must set out to find it. There is no indication that the ninety and nine or whatever number of those who physically 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 then rejoices when he finds it. 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 -spiritually lost Jews. 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 or 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 persistently seeks him out, mercifully rescues and then 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, is 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 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 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, and no friend who cared enough for their spiritual wellbeing to find and rescue them. But in Jesus they find one who loves them, hopes for them, sews the seeds of conversion in their hearts, stirs them to repentance, and promises them the joy of His Kingdom. 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 sinner. 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 sin. 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. We will not grow spiritually if we look upon the world as full of publicans and sinners who, unlike us, are beyond the pale of salvation. We will grow spiritually if, with the publicans and sinners of old, we draw near to Jesus. We will flower if we remember that God resisteth the proud, and giveth Grace to the humble. (1 Peter v. 5) We 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) We 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. Let us remember 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.
Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the Kingdom of God.
St. Luke xiv. 15
The liturgical season of Trinity is all about virtuous and godly living. In this season we are called to translate and convert our vision of Christ the Way, the Truth, and the Life into habits of holiness and righteousness. In this season we are called to apply what we know to our hearts. From our hearts, we must will the good that Christ, through the Holy Spirit, teaches us. And the good that we are focusing on in this beginning of Trinity-tide is charity. On both last Sunday and this we have been called to contemplate God’s charity towards us, our reception and perfecting of it in our hearts, and then from its surplus, our impartation of it to all others. Last Sunday’s parable warned us of what happens in the hereafter when we do not share God’s love here. Dives began to love only in Hell. The absence of love for our brothers is an absence of God’s love in the human heart. This Sunday’s parable warns us of what happens when we trifle with the love of God. Perhaps we do not always reject the love of God like Dives, but then maybe we fritter away and squander our love on lesser things.
Every claim of God’s love on our souls requires that we submit to His rule and governance. God’s love is far greater than any other kind of love we might experience in creation. His love is boundless, limitless, colossal, monumental, and stupendous. Jesus likens it not only to something in itself but something that is intended for others. God’s love is unselfish and wholly benevolent. Jesus compares it to the bread that we shall eat in His Kingdom. But He uses common images and situations to convey the meaning that He intends to impart. So we read that A certain man made a great supper, and bade many….The certain man is God. His supper is great because both its quality and quantity surpasses our wildest imaginings. The supper is comprised of spiritual nourishment and fulfillment that will be the reward of those who sit down to eat in the Kingdom of Heaven. God’s love is wide and so He invites many. Many is a large number and probably intended to include as many as will accept His gracious invitation. The parable is given to us in the past tense since Jesus intends that we realize that the invitation has been made already. We have been invited to this feast of Grace from the dawn of time. It is a feast that is meant to begin now and continue into the future. It begins in Christ’s Church and extends well beyond into Heaven. Beginning here and now, we can begin to be nourished and grown up into those who have accepted the invitation and intend to persist as guests at this great feast. If we accept the invitation, we are to begin to enjoy the things that God hath prepared for them that love Him. (1 Cor. ii. 9)
So we, along with the rest of the world, have been invited by God, through Jesus Christ, to embrace the Spirit that seats us at the great supper of Heaven. Yet, how many refuse to come to this feast? Perhaps, even, we are not really present. Being present in body is one thing but being attentive and focused in spirit is quite another. Those who are truly present at the great supper that Jesus has inaugurated must be awake, alert, and attentive to the nature of the feast and the feeding. So many make excuses as to why they cannot come to the feast. The same excuses define the nature of those who are present but are not feeding truly on the spiritual fare that the Lord offers. In both cases, they are really pre-engaged to another feast and its earthly fare. Whether absent or present in body, their souls are taken up with other loves and the sustenance that they provide. They are moved far more by the riches of this world, busied with its cares, and enamored of its delectations and delights. There is room at the feast but no room in their hearts for the loving intention of the host and his provision. (The Harmony of the Collects, Epistles, and Gospels, M. Scott, 154) And so they forfeit those greater and lasting riches that will make earthly life and its rewards pale in comparison.
Notice that the man in the parable or God does not waste His time with those who are careless and insouciant regarding heavenly and eternal verities. We read that the master or God is angry. When God’s love is rejected it will be felt and perceived as wrath, ire, and rage. Abused mercy turns into the greatest wrath. (M. Henry, Comm.) Yet, God quickly turns back to being Himself and thus to share His love with those who will humbly and gladly receive His affection. Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind. (Ibid, 21) The great supper of the Lord is intended first for those who have been specially called to know and love God. Literally, the parable intends for us to think of the Jews, God’s chosen people and the apple of His eye. Spiritually the parable intends for us to think of Christians who, having received the great fulfillment of God’s promises in Jesus Christ, nevertheless make excuses for not being presently alert, awake, and attentive to the services of the Church and the means of God’s Grace. In either case, should Jews or Christians neglect to cultivate the love of God in Jesus Christ in their hearts and in the Church, they will be dropped and damned. It is as simple as all that.
The master in the parable -God, turns His attention to others. The parable takes a turn and twist for the purpose of emphasizing those who will be called and rewarded. Note that those who end up at the feast and staying for eternity will be the poor, maimed, halt, and blind. (Idem) Those who should have known Christ, accepted Christ as the Father’s Ambassador and Emissary, and as their own Saviour and Redeemer, refused Him. They had no felt need for Jesus Christ. And so now those will be invited who have a clearer view and experience of their own weakness, frailty, fallenness, sinfulness, and alienation. They know their need and are ready to come. They may be literally poor, maimed, halt, and blind or they may be the equivalent in a spiritual and psychological manner. It matters not. The parable is for all ages and the temptation comes to all to think themselves too rich, too busy, or too happy to be good. We cannot taste the supper until we have a taste for it. The penalty of refusal is rejection and our heaviest punishment will be what we shall miss. They, too, who have accepted the invitation, and have taken their seats at God’s board, must have a care that they really partake. (Scott, p. 155) To really partake, we must be spiritually poor, halt, maimed, and blind and thus in need of God’s riches, motion, health, and illumination!
The pride and business of the world or the pleasure of earthly pastimes might prevent us from coming to the Lord. What it amounts to is the undue love of earthly things. And so we must become spiritually poor, halt, maimed, and blindin order to discover our real need for the healing love that only God can give. Yet, there is more. What do we read next? Not only are those who come those in physical and spiritual need of God’s love and mercy. Notice what the parable says: And the servant said, Lord, it is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room. (Ibid, 22) There is room for a deeper felt need for what God promises to give us through His love. Not only must we be self-consciously poor, maim, halt, and blind, but in addition we must more fully aware of our own unworthiness. And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. (Ibid, 23) We must be compelled to come by the love of God.
What this means is that God must beseech, intreat, and urge us to come to the supper. This word compelmust mean to desire passionately for our inclusion in this healing feast of God’s mercy. Of course, faith cannot be forced. And so this compelling must mean that strong and earnest exhortation, which…Christ will address to [His] fellows. (Trench, Parables, Ch. xxi)This is that love of God that forever desires our communion with Him. This is that love that never counts the cost but always considers it the greatest treasure to have one more man in everlasting habitations. This is the love that will die so that we might live with Him forever. The invitation must appear compelling also to our hearts as what alone can ensure our presence at that feast whose sustenance brings joy without ceasing. Although we are unworthy of it, we must learn the compelling need for it and then the desire to ensure that it shall inform our thoughts, words, and works all our days.
Jesus says to us today:
All things are now ready, now is the accepted time; it is now, and has not been long; it is now, and will not be long; it is a season of grace that will be soon over, and therefore come now; do not delay; accept the invitation; believe yourselves welcome; eat, O friends; drink, yea drink abundantly, O beloved. (M. Henry)
Christ has not left us for long. Christ will not leave us for long. In fact, Christ is with us and for us through the Holy Spirit now. The Feast has begun and we are called. We must not delay. We must be seated. We must be present. We must concentrate. The virtues with which the great supper feed us begin here and now. We must be concentrated on the Giver and His gifts. The gift is His love. His lover will open us to a world of sanctifying righteousness that begins to yield great joy and mirth. The virtues of Love will fill us. The virtues of Love can be shared with all others so that they too must come to the Feast and find salvation. Let us close with the poet’s discernment of God and His gifts.
How many unknown WORLDS there are
Of comforts, which Thou hast in keeping!
How many Thousand Mercies there
In Pity’s soft lap lay a sleeping!
Happy He who has the art
To awake them
And to take them
Home, and to lodge them in his heart. (R. Crashaw)
And so, we love Him because he first loved us. (1 John 4. 19)
Trinity tide is all about the moral life rooted in the vision of truth that we see in God. Today I will speak about the friendship of God and man. Throughout the seasons of the liturgical year you and I have been illuminated progressively by the knowledge of God so that we might come to find friendship with Him. If Eastertide might be called the season of vision and knowledge, Trinity tide is one of activity, experience, and living. To know God through vision, as He reveals Himself in the historical life of Jesus Christ, is not enough. Vision is knowledge, but knowledge for the Christian is the perfection of that belief that must bear fruit in our lives.
Satan tempted, distracted, and tormented Christ in order to extricate Him from His first Love and mission which was to save us, precisely because he knew that He was the Holy One of God, the Son of the Most High, who came down from Heaven to reestablish our Love for God and our neighbor. So Satan had a real knowledge of what Jesus Christ intended to do for all mankind, and he opposed Him. Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life of God made flesh. Knowledge of this reality is not sufficient to save a man. Knowledge must be translated into the desire for virtue. And what I mean to suggest is not that one must not have intellectual virtues like wisdom, understanding and prudence, but that it is moral virtue that reveals man’s participation in and application of what he knows to be God’s will for his life.
But how can a man find this truth, let alone allow it to govern his entire existence? In this morning’s Epistle, St. John reminds us that no man hath seen God at any time (1 John 4. 12).So how can we possibly know of any love or friendship approximating the Love of God? For the natural man, God is the great unknown—the imperceptible beyond, the mysterious principle or definer of all existence, which speaks haltingly and obscurely in the world’s great religions. In the best of them He rules and governs the created order through the rational principles of His design. And yet such a God seems impersonally uninterested in the struggle and ordeal of human existence. A metaphysical understanding of this God becomes feasible and yet friendship with Him seems an unrealizable dream. Like the best of the ancient pagans, man knows Him, and yet cannot discover a way to become His friend. Man seems no better off and might even be worse. Because what he knows of Him does not touch him personally, at best he resigns himself to Stoic apathy or at worst he surrenders to Epicurean despair.
But St. John tells us this morning that Christians ought to know better. God is more, it turns out, than an operative principle or mechanical engineer of the universal patterns and laws that man’s mind discerns in nature’s ever-changing existence. God is Love. God is one who desires and longs for, seeks out and finds a common ground of friendship with man. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4. 10) So, we love Him because he first loved us. (1 John 4. 19) God is Love, and that Love not only makes, creates, orders, defines, governs, beautifies, and harmonizes all of nature, but He also comes to His human sons and daughters in order to redeem and reconcile them to Himself.
To know this is to begin to see and grasp a new way of living. It is to perceive and embrace a new heaven and a new earth (Rev. xxi. 1), being made by God Himself, who through Jesus Christ proclaims, behold I make all things new. (Ibid, 5) St. John tells us that every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. (Idem, 7,8) We are not then called to be children of knowledge only, but children whose knowledge reveals God’s love for us in His Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. We have been touched by Him in the life of His Son. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. (1 John 4. 9) And here is the operative difference between those who live naturally in and through the world and us. God sent His only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. The knowledge that we have and the truth which we confess is nothing short of new life, life in communion with our Heavenly Father through the Son by the real and present operation of the Holy Spirit. Our knowledge of Jesus Christ is meant to form a new moral character in our lives, through which, as members of His Mystical Body, we become the new sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father.
And yet we cannot have any of this until what we know and see becomes what we desire and love. In other words, we must make an act of will that surrenders completely to Jesus Christ by forfeiting and foregoing all rights to ourselves. God is Love, and He loves us in and through His Son. This is the only true Love that can lastingly convert and carry a man back to his destiny in friendship with God the Father. We can be like most men of the world, good enough, but loving and living only for the here and now. They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. (1 John 4. 5) We can be like Dives - the rich man in today’s Gospel, who was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day, (St. Luke xvi. 19) whose earthly life was mollycoddled and cosseted by comfort, ease, frivolous recreational pastimes, and amusements. Or, perhaps if we are not moved and defined by the kinds of riches that characterize those full of tongue and weak of mind (R.Hooker, E.P., i. viii. 2), we might be like Dives in another way - perhaps we count ourselves rich spiritually. We feast sumptuously on Christ’s Body and Blood each week, we pay our tithes and live fairly moral lives, and count ourselves blessed.
But being like Dives may mean that we are either material or spiritual hoarders. In this morning’s Gospel, Dives walked over Lazarus, who was laid at his gate, full of sores and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. (Ibid, 20, 21) The literal interpretation of Dives’ moral character was that he was uncompassionate, uncaring, cheap, mean, and parsimonious with his earthly treasure. The spiritual interpretation is that Dives could have cared less for the spiritual welfare of this poor beggar Lazarus who found love only from the dogs [who] came and licked his sores. (Ibid, 21) In either case the Love of God was not alive in Dives’ heart. Friendship with God was of little worth when compared to his earthly desire and happiness. And so in the end, his soul is parched and tormented because he rejected the Love of God. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; and in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. (Ibid, 22,23) Dives might have known God, but his knowledge had not been converted into Love of Him or his neighbor.
Unlike Lazarus who had nothing here but longed for the more that only God can give, Dives is left with the dried fruit of a self-love that rejects God’s offer of loving friendship to man through Jesus Christ. Had Dives received the Love of God in Jesus Christ, he would have given liberally of his material means to poor men like Lazarus and others because he would have loved him as a spiritual brother, one worthy not only of his material bounty but also of his prayers and spiritual hopes. In other words, the Love of God in Jesus Christ would have so filled his heart that he could not help but share so great a gift and treasure with any and all of his neighbors. When the Love of God is alive in the human heart, giving to others becomes an unselfconscious expression of what lives to be passed out and on to all others.
St. John invites us this morning into the real and present operation of God’s Love. The Love he knows is both a Love received supernaturally and then a Love shared with others naturally and instinctively. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? (1 John 4. 20) If a man does not love his brother whom he sees and knows with his natural eyes, then the invisible power of God’s Love ceases to move him, stops reaching out, and thus dies within a heart that is too cold for continued existence. And if this is the case, we might find ourselves with Dives in Hell when we die, where all access to Heaven is now impossible ‘because the gulf is too great’ and the time for our awakening to the Love of God has ended.
In closing let us consider this. Today we are called to be touched by the Love of God in the real and present life of Jesus Christ. The knowledge of that Love must move us to respond. Here is where Hope comes in. The Love we know, we desire as what alone can touch, change, and transform us. For it is only through God’s prior Love for us that we have Hope and confidence that that same Love can change us. We pray for that Love. And we know that it has transformed the ground of our souls when the same Love becomes Hope in us for all others. Then our knowledge and vision expand to include our neighbors. What we see and know in every other person is the vision of one whom God’s Love desires to touch and transform also. Then the Love of God and the Love of Man become one in us. Short of this double operation of Christ’s Love in us, we shall not be saved. Then with Dives we shall cry out for a Love ignored, untried and untested in our own lives, the only Love that could have made us the friends of God because we knew that it was given to us in order to touch and fill the hearts of all other men.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons: