Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.
(1 St. Peter v. 6,7)
Trinity tide is all about participating in the life of God the Holy Trinity. In the season of Trinity, we are exhorted to return to God the Father, through Jesus Christ the Son, and by the effectual sanctification of the Holy Ghost. What we are invited to participate in is nothing short of the eternal dynamism of the Triune God. This eternal dynamism was intended for us in our creation. Man was created to live in and through the Father alone, by obeying His Word, through the indwelling of the Spirit. But man can find God, know his Truth, and walk in His Way, only by way of that humility. Humility alone teaches us that we are lost and about to be found by Jesus the Good Shepherd.
But in Adam because of sin all are lost, fallen, and have died to God. In Jesus Christ alone can all be found, purified, and made of worth to God once again. To do so, we need to discover the humility that conquers the pride that makes us the children of Adam. Prior to the Fall, Adam possessed the virtue of humility. The virtue reveals what we know and how we can will the good that God intends for us. St. Ambrose tells us that this morning’s Gospel helps us to begin to acquire both.
In the teaching of our Lord which preceded [today’s] Gospel reading you learned that we are to put away all carelessness, to avoid conceit, to begin to be earnest in religion, not to be held fast to the things of this world, not to place fleeting things before those that endure forever. (St. Ambrose: Exposition of the Gospel)
St. Ambrose teaches us to be careful about holy things, the things that matter and lead to our salvation. He tells us to avoid conceit since an overinflated sense of self-satisfaction will inflate us with a pride that forgets God’s nature as our Creator and Redeemer. He tells us to be earnest in religion because we must pursue that humility that situates us under the mighty hand of God. The things of this world cannot save us. They are creatures and yield only impermanent satisfaction. We must set our mind’s vision and our heart’s affection on God’s desire to find and redeem us.
So, we must find ourselves to be in the company of those who are without conceit and pursue Jesus in earnest. Today, we read of the publicans and sinners who draw near to Jesus to hear Him (St. Luke xv. 1) because they have a greater need for what Jesus offers. They have been rejected by the religious people of their day. The publicans were Jewish tax-collectors working for the Roman overlords. They were judged as traitors by pious Jews. The sinners in Jesus’ time were marked out by the religious establishment, the pharisees and scribes, as notorious livers –drunkards, prostitutes, and lepers. They had little reason to be arrogant with conceit and thus draw near to Jesus to hear Him because He finds them and longs to save them. Jesus finds the publicans and sinners because they were ripe for conversion. They seemed most open to what moved Jesus because He did not condemn them but wanted to help them. They knew that they were lost and they knew that Jesus desired to find them.
But no sooner do we find Jesus communing with the publicans and sinners, than we find thatthe Pharisees and Scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. (St. Luke xv. 2) More often than not, religious people think that Christ is for other people, for the notorious livers that live on the outskirts of their goodness. They pride themselves in being right with God because they do good works and are self-satisfied and contented with the level of goodness they possess. Externally and visibly they give off the appearance of a goodness that they want neither questioned or challenged. Thus, they measure themselves in relation to others and conclude that they are good and others are not. We do this also. Listen to Thomas Merton:
I have what you have not. I am what you are not. I have taken
what you failed to take and I have seized what you could never
get. Therefore, you suffer and I am happy; you are despised and I
am praised, you die and I live; you are nothing and I am something,
and I am the more something because you are nothing. And I thus
spend my life admiring the distance between you and me…
(The Seeds of Contemplation, pg. 33)
Such is the spiritual condition of those who cannot identify with today’s publicans and sinners. When men live in this way, they have lost all sense of their own sinfulness. They do not know that they are lost because they measure themselves not by Jesus but by others. They behave like the Scribes and Pharisees because they are filled with spiritual pride. Thinking that they are moving up in the world, they are really straying down and away from God like lost sheep. They forget that they are the sheep of God, always in danger of erring and straying from His ways. They ignore the words of Jeremiah: Hear the word of the Lord, O ye nations, and declare it in the isles afar off, and say, He that scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him, as a shepherd doth his flock. (Jer. xxi. 10)
Identifying with the publicans and sinners is a good way to begin our journey into the life of God the Holy Trinity. Only those who are broken, despised, abandoned, and forsaken by their fellow men can know and feel the need for God’s saving power. Jesus uses today’s two parables to show us the nature of our spiritual condition and His remedy for it. In the parable of the lost sheep, Jesus shows that He has compassion on those who have foolishly and unwittingly ended up being spiritually lost. Sin is oftentimes an ignorance. (Trench: Parables, p. 288) St. Paul tells us that he was once a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did itignorantly in unbelief. (1 Tim. i. 13) How often have we sinners fallen into sins that we thought were forms of goodness or remedies to an already too painful life? How often do we settle for a good that is less because have not believed that Jesus the Good Shepherd intends us to have so much more than the righteousness of the scribes and pharisees?
In addition, how often do we mistake our sin for lesser goods never realizing that we are precious sheep in the Heart of a Loving God who sends His Good Shepherd to find us? How often do we forget that He longs to find us because we are made in His Image and Likeness? How often have we thought that we have no value, meaning, or worth? How long is it before we discover that we are made to be a royal people whose very natures are minted in the treasury of a great King? How long is it before we discover that we are like the lost coin of a woman who lights a candle, sweeps the house, and searches diligently until she finds it? (Ibid, 8)
Jesus spake these parables to publicans and sinners because they were nearest to the Kingdom of Heaven. They are closest to His Kingdom because they know that they have erred and strayed foolishly from God’s ways. Jesus knows that they feel lost and that they sense that they have no true meaning and worth. He knows them and so lovingly moves out to find and redeem them. Their fellow men have ostracized and demeaned them. But now they find one who will do all that He can to find them and bring true value to their lives. He will enter into their dark sadness and loneliness. He will not stop searching for them even if it costs Him His own suffering and death. He will find them and save them even from the Cross of His Forgiveness. This Good Shepherd would lay down His life for His sheep. (St. John x. 15)
Are we publicans and sinners? We can discover their humility only when we realize that we are lost and need to be found. St. Bonaventure, the great 13th century Minister General of the Friars Minor, wrote this of his founder, the great St. Francis.
From [St. Francis’] entrance into religion even
unto the end he loved and cherished humility. Humility compelled
St. Francis to leave the world.
Humility drove him in beggar's garb through the streets of Assisi.
Because he was humble, he served the lepers. For the same reason,
when preaching he made public his sins. His humility caused him to
ask others to upbraid him for his faults.
St. Francis came from an upper-class merchant family in Assisi. He became a notable warrior for his city-state. He was taken prisoner and was held captive in prison for a year. In prison he became sick and his conversion began. At last he was returned to the comfort of his family home. Still he was sick in body, unsatisfied in soul, and restless in spirit. His family’s riches could not comfort and relieve him. He had to leave their world. So, he began to walk the streets of Assisi only to find in the gutters of the city the beggers and lepers whom the good Christians of Italy had forgotten and forsaken. There he found the lost sheep of the Jesus Christ. There he found those who had been judged to be without value. He who was lost found the lost. He who was without value found God’s treasure of great worth. In them, he saw God’s Image and Likeness. In all humility, he fell down before Jesus. In the ecstasy of joy, through his new friends Jesus had found him and began to redeem him. In the lepers, publicans, and sinners, he began to find the righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and pharisees. Then, he repented and believed. They ministered to him and he ministered to them. Then, as G.K. Chesterton has said, expecting nothing, he found everything. Jesus the Good Shepherd had found His sheep. Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth. (Ibid, 10) So, as we pray today’s Collect, let us likewise live out St. Peter’s teaching of humility by taking hold of Christ’s care for us in the power of the Trinity that the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
And so, we love Him because he first loved us. (1 John 4. 19) 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 moral activity. 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 also Truth that bears fruit in the good life.
We find our vision of God in Jesus Christ. The knowledge of God in Jesus Christ is what we have been working through from Lent to Ascension Tide. We have come to the knowledge of what God thinks like, sounds like, and acts like in the Sacred Humanity of Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. What we see in Jesus Christ is the Wisdom, Power, and Love of God the Father perfectly at work in the human life of Jesus. St. Paul tell us, For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich. (2 Cor. viii. 9) St. Paul hopes that we might find the knowledge or vision of God in His Son that [our] hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ; in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Colossians ii. 2-4) St. Paul teaches us that Jesus Christ sets aside the treasure and plenitude of His Divine state in order to become poor for our sakes. The Wisdom, Power, and Love of God are the only treasure that ought to interest every earthly man. Jesus possesses this treasure forever as the only-begotten Son of the Father. He has always intended that it should be what moves us most in all of our lives. Adam was made to be moved and defined by this gift of invaluable worth. Jesus returns it to us by becoming poor in relation to Heaven so that we might become rich in the experience of everlasting joy and felicity because we can come to know and love God forever in His Kingdom. How does Jesus become poor? He takes on our frail, weak, suffering human nature. He takes on our sin and subjects Himself to it. He reveals how the Omnipotent Word of God made Flesh responds to sinful man’s attempt to mock it, deride it, torture it, and kill it in Man. He reveals how, as God’s Word in the Flesh, He will die to all earthly knowledge and covetousness to conquer it. He subjects Himself to His own Law when he said, What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops. And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (St. Matthew x. 27, 28)
In this morning’s Epistle, St. John reminds us that no man hath seen God at any time (1 John 4. 12). But he tells us also that God is love. (Ibid, 8) God is one who desires and longs for, seeks out and finds a common ground of friendship with us in Jesus Christ our Lord. 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 is expressed in His Word. His Word is His Son. His Son not only creates, orders, defines, governs, beautifies, and harmonizes all of creation, but He also comes to all men whom He has made in order to redeem and reconcile them to Himself. To know this is to begin to see how the Word of God made flesh in Jesus Christ became poor for our sakes. 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) 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 as we follow Jesus back to God the Father.
And yet we cannot have any of this until what we know that we must follow Jesus from poverty into the riches and treasures of His Kingdom. 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 Love who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. (Philipians ii. 7,8) 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 was rich in earthly things, lorded it over others, and cared little for that deeper Mercy and Love that stoops down to lift up the poor and needy of this world. Or if we are rich like those who are 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, hoping all the while that this might earn us our salvation!
Being like Dives or the rich man 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 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 Dives did not know God, love God, or love His neighbor. Friendship with God too great seemed too costly a price to pay for a man who was possessed with earthly treasure. So, in the end, his soul is parched and tormented forever because he rejected the knowledge of God and the love that it necessarily implies. 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 God 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 narcissistic arrogant self-love that rejects God’s offer of loving friendship with man. Had he received the Love of God in Jesus Christ, he would have emptied himself of his riches in order to stoop down and lift up those who were materially and spiritually destitute. St. John tells us this morning that 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 has seen with his natural eyes, then he does not know God’s love for everyman. With Dives, we shall find ourselves in Hell forever where there is a great gulf fixed…an eternal separation, a yawning chasm, too deep to be filled up and too wide to be bridged over. (Trench, Parables…)
Today we come to know about the friendship of God and Man in Jesus the Word of God, who lives out the Summary of the Law: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, soul, strength, and mind. And thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. In the Love of Jesus, we find the Father’s rich spiritual treasure come down from Heaven to all of us. This Love that became poor in the flesh for us alone can make us right with God and rich with His treasure. Through our knowledgeof God’s Love in Jesus Christ we must become poor, so poor that in Jesus we die to the world, the flesh, and the devil. Thus, we must know that if our neighbors are poor materially, they will be forever vexed with anxiety over earthly things -ironically enough, like Dives. Without the Love of God and neighbor, with Dives we shall find ourselves in a state of eternal spiritual poverty. And so in today’s Collect we pray, O God…because through the weakness of our mortal nature we can do no good thing without thee, grant us the help of thy Grace, that in keeping of thy commandments we may please thee both in will and deed. As elucidated so beautifully in our Epistle and exhorted so plainly in our Gospel, let us share God’s love for us and love poor neighbor, welcoming him to join us in pursuit of Heaven’s treasure. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. (1 St. John iv. 16)
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons