That thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through
Things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal.
(Collect, Trinity IV)
Trinity season is all about growth and fertility. And from the time of the Patristic Church until our own, in the churches which retain the ancient lectionary, the faithful have sought to grow from strength to strength, in the knowledge and love of God, as they seek to become participants in the life of the Holy Trinity. For traditional Christians, the essence of the faith is found in the life that God the Holy Trinity shares with us. And the Scriptural lessons which we read for this Fourth Sunday after Trinity enable us to understand better how Jesus Christ encourages us to participate in God’s life so that passing through things temporal, …we finally lose not the things eternal. Our destination is Heaven and its character our glory.
So let us begin with today’s Gospel lesson. Jesus tells us to be merciful as our Father also is merciful. He encourages us to judge not, lest [we] be judged. To condemn not lest [we] be condemned. To forgive that we might be shall be forgiven. (St. Luke vi. 36, 37) Christ is trying to help us to see that we are most in need of God’s mercy, compassion, and forgiveness. And if this is true, then we had better not be preoccupied with other people’s sins, weaknesses, and shortcomings. We have plenty of spiritual work to do in our own lives, and if God’s Grace is to make good with us, then we had better be turning our censorious monitor away from others and onto ourselves. Judging other men and refusing to forgive them are generally accurate indicators of our having failed to see the gravity of our own sins and to feel the need for God’s merciful forgiveness and deliverance from them. Jesus likens it to spiritual blindness. Can the blind lead the blind? Shall they not both fall into a ditch? (Ibid, 39) Other men might be blind, but we are called by Jesus to see. Jesus longs to open our eyes to our sins and then to the forgiveness of God in Him that alone can overcome them. Jesus is the embodiment of God’s mercy and forgiveness. He longs to impart that gift to us, that being illuminated by it, we might help others to see and thus not fall into the ditch and away from God. So Jesus calls us to see ourselves, to take a moral inventory of our vice, to confess our absolute need for God’s Grace, and to embrace His forgiveness. 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) Are you blind to your own sins, Jesus asks each of us today? Do you not see that you need forgiveness as much if not more than anyone else? Thou hypocrite, He concludes, 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. (Ibid, 42)See yourself, take a good, long, and hard look at who and what you are, our Lord insists. Know that what you need, first and foremost are God’s mercy and forgiveness, His love and compassion without which nothing is strong, nothing is holy. (Collect: Trinity IV) And know too that if you are not healed by God’s forgiveness, you cannot participate in God’s life and extend it to others.
I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, blessed are ye if ye do them. (St. John xiii. 17) St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that the virtue of mercy is grief over another’s distress…and it regards misery for one to be pitied. (S.T. II, ii. xxx, 3) He does not mean grief or misery that involves any kind of condescendingly arrogant pity for others. What he describes is that loving mercy in Jesus Christ that has already grieved over fallen man’s distress and desires to touch him with God’s pity. Jesus Christ grieves over our sinful state and longs to have pitiful mercy upon all of us. So if a man has been forgiven his sins and is conscious of having been filled with the undeserved and unmerited mercy of our Lord, he cannot help but be filled with thanksgiving for such a gift. Then he will wish and desire that all other men might be touched and changed by the very same love. Give, and it shall be given unto you. (Ibid, 38) God’s loving mercy intends to touch the penitent man in good measure, press itself down into his soul, be shaken together with the whole of his being, and to run over into all of his life. (Idem)
And yet, to be sure, it is not easy always to receive this gift. Good habits are hard enough to form in natural life, let alone in the spiritual life. They must be repeated over and over again until we are filled with God’s goodness. But the acquisition of Divine virtue requires a pleading for supernatural Grace: Increase and multiply upon us thy mercy; that thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal. (Collect) And St. Paul tells us that it won’t become the habit of our lives without suffering. He says that, the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. (Romans. viii. 22) By reason of man’s sin, the creation no longer exists in glorious harmony with its Maker. Matthew Henry tells us that, There is an impurity, deformity, and infirmity, which the creature has contracted by the fall of man: the creation is sullied and stained, much of the beauty of the world gone. (M. Henry, Comm.) Man must come to see and know that though he was made to return and reconcile all of created reality to God, he has ruptured it selfishly and sinfully from his Maker. So he must discover that only by intense and determined spiritual surrender to Divine Grace can he be returned to God with the rest of creation. St. Paul reminds us elsewhere that, We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. (Eph. vi. 12) And because of it, we must keep our eyes on our Lord, laying aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us,to run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of ourfaith (Hebrews xii. 1,2). Only then will we begin to measure and value the suffering, which we encounter in this present time, as nothing compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. (Ibid, 18)
As we suffer to surrender to Jesus, He will both correct and discipline, and acclimate and habituate us to His virtue, that we might not only see Him now by faith but also begin to realize the transformative power of His mercy and forgiveness. Bishop Morse used to teach: To love is to suffer. Suffering the love of God to take hold of us means that the Divine forgiveness will saturate our souls and then overwhelm us with its ever-expanding intention to make [us] new (Rev. xxi. 5). A love too Divine for any human imagining or creation, and thus one unconstrained by finite limitations, will begin to approach us in Jesus Christ, who longs to conquer all sin in our lives. And that is just one side of it. On the other side, He has a work for us to do through His Holy Spirit. It isn’t anything grand, of course. God reveals Himself in and through all of creation in the simplest and most commonplace of ways. How is that? Well, He longs to share His love with us and express it in our every thought, word, and deed. As His love was made flesh in Jesus Christ long ago, He longs to make it flesh in us today. And this doesn’t mean that His love should be revealed through us in occasional and random acts of kindness only, or, even better, in more habitual and customary tithes and almsgiving. These are merely the necessary natural effects of a deeper love. He wants us to groan and travail in pain together for the salvation and deliverance of the whole of creation. Jesus teaches us that, Everyone that is fully taught shall be as his master. (Ibid, 40) Jesus as Lord has groaned and travailed in pain for the deliverance of all creation, and He desires that we should do likewise. Isn’t this strange? God wants to love His perfection into our lives through the heart of His Son. This means that Jesus Christ’s love must be so alive in us that we never cease to suffer in prayer until all men come to the knowledge and love of God. Thus, for as long as we live we must do all that lies within us to forgive and love in order to hope for the salvation of the world. The disciple is not above his Master. (Idem)
This is a tall order. But with God all things are possible (St. Matthew xix. 26). Jesus has become the merciful love and forgiveness of God in the flesh so that we may so pass through things temporal that we finally lose not the things eternal (Idem). Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (St. John xv. 13) Christ has lovingly forgiven all of our sins and taken them into His death. We must then be dead to all sin, and most especially to the refusal to mercifully love and forgive all men. We must even pray that God’s mercy may come so alive in other men’s hearts that they will have pity upon us and thus assist us through their intercessory prayer. The sentiment is fittingly expressed in the humble petition of Pope Gregory the Great at the conclusion of his Moralia.
To great ones who can take pity on my weakness once they know of it, I open my heart to admit what they should forgive…I have not hidden my wounds and lacerations from [them]. So I ask that whoever reads my words should pour out the consolation of prayer before the strict judge for me, so that he may wash away with his tears every sordid thing he finds in me.
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 Word 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 sheepfold, and so the shepherd must set out to find it. There is no indication that the ninety and nine 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 forsaking their communal safety and 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 being found by the loving shepherd. The shepherd values the lost sheep so much that he leaves the ninety and nine. Why? Because to the shepherd every sheep is of great value, 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 a selfish sheep but like the lost sheep or like the publicans and sinners, whose straying and wandering cry out for the rescue-mission of the 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 to be of no value to the Pharisees and Scribes – or the religious authorities in any age, who have judged him to be beyond redemption. But if he follows Jesus, he knows that the Master will seek him out and redeem his value. As a lost coin, the true Disciple finds his worth and value in the One who persistently seeks him out, mercifully rescues him, and lends him new value and worth as He redeems and restores him.
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. The Scribes and Pharisees could not be good shepherds, precisely because they had never known themselves as lost sheep or the lost coin, or like the publicans and sinners.
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 been 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 lost coin because by reason of his sin he is spiritually lost and is of lost value to God and His Kingdom.
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 embrace are the virtues of humility and meekness. Pride, humility’s opposite, puffs a man up with a sense of his own importance and worth. Pride measures its own goodness against other men’s sins. It has no need of redemption or salvation because it does not embrace with meekness its utter dependence upon God to secure any worth or value. 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 and no friend who cared enough for their spiritual wellbeing to find and rescue them. But in Jesus they find one who lovingly finds them and promises them new worth and value by stirring them to repentance and the hope for salvation. Jesus sees in them the makings of true disciples; in them he finds those who know that they are lost and are now being 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, now being given new value and worth as Christ redeems his nature and carries him back to God.
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 tide 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 of Christ, that teaches Christ teaches us through the indwelling of the Holy Ghost. 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 profit to share it with all others. Last Sunday’s parable warned us of what happens in the hereafter when we do not share God’s charity here. Dives desired charity only in Hell. The absence of God’s love in the human heart spells eternal ruination. This Sunday’s parable warns us of what happens when we trifle with the charity 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 charity on our souls requires that with steadfast fear we submit to His rule and governance. God’s charity is far greater than any other kind of love we might experience in creation. His love is measureless, mammoth, monumental, and majestic. Jesus likens it not only to something in itself but something that is intended for others. God’s charity is unselfish and wholly benevolent. Jesus compares it to the bread that we shall eat in His Kingdom. 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 surpass our wildest imaginings. The supper is comprised of spiritual nourishment and fulfillment that will be the reward of those who sit down to eat with God in His Kingdom. God’s love is expansive and so He invites many. Many is a large number and shows that God intends 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 until the end times. 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, men in all ages have been invited by God, through Jesus Christ, to embrace the Spirit that invites us to the great supper of Heaven. Yet, how many refuse to come to this feast? Or, perhaps they come but 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 through history have made 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. Both groups’ minds and hearts are on other things. Whether absent or present in body, their souls are taken up with other loves and the happiness and comfort 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 reveal God’s Divine charity and how it promises to keep us under the protection of God’s good providence. (Collect: Trinity II)
Notice, however, that the master in the parable or God does not waste His time with those who are careless and insouciant regarding heavenly and eternal munificence. We read that the master or God is angry. When rejected, God’s love is experienced as ire and rage. Abused mercy turns into the greatest wrath. (M. Henry, Comm.) Yet, God is depicted as turning swiftly to share His love with those who will humbly and gladly receive His charity and good providence. 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 is first about the Jews, God’s chosen people and the apple of His eye. Then, the parable intends for us to think also of Christians who, having received the great fulfillment of God’s promises in Jesus Christ, nevertheless make excuses for not being present at the Lord’s Supper. In either case, should Jews or Christians stay at home or come with other intentions than embracing Jesus Christ in God’s Church, they will be dropped and damned. It is as simple as all that. They were invited to come and the implication is that they had knowledge of what had been being prepared.
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 brought to the supper. Note that now the servant bringsto the feast the poor, maimed, halt, and blind. (Idem) Those who should have believed and known the servant, Jesus Christ, the Father’s Ambassador and Emissary, and as their own Saviour and Redeemer, refused Him. They felt no need for Jesus Christ. Now those are brought who know their own frailty, fallenness, and alienation from both Divine and Human charity. They know their need and allow others to bring them to the supper. 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 made better. 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 loving in deed and in truth. (Idem)
To appreciate God’s loving us, in deed and in truth, we must realize that God is greater than our hearts and knoweth all things. (Idem) So, we must become spiritually conscious that we are all poor, halt, maimed, and blind in 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 must we be in physical and spiritual need of God’s love and mercy. 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 charity. 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) Those bidden to come did not. Others have been brought gladly accepted the invitation through persuasion. Now the servant compels even others still. God’s charity calls His own, persuades others, and now compels more still. This word compel must reveal God’s passionate and urgent desire to ceaselessly pursue all men to the salvation supper. Of course, this compelling must mean that strong and earnest exhortation, which…Christ will address to [His] fellows. (Trench, Parables, Ch. xxi) This is that charity of God that persists in having all men at His Supper. This is that love that never counts the cost but always considers it the greatest treasure to have never ceased until Christ has found all His lost sheep and has them forever. The invitation must appear compelling to our hearts as we perceive the true nature of Divine Charity in Jesus Christ. Although we are unworthy of it, we must learn the compelling charitythat forever desires it. Then, we shall understand that loving Him means keeping His Commandments. And this is His commandment, That we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment. (1 John iii. 23)
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. In fact, Christ is with us through the Holy Spirit now. The Feast has begun, and we should drink abundantly. We must not delay. We must be present. We must concentrate. The virtue with which the great supper feeds us begins here and now. We must be concentrated on the Giver and His gifts. The gift is His charity. His lover will fill us with the sanctifying righteousness that begins to yield great joy and mirth. The virtue of charity will fill us. The virtue of charity will move us to compel with urgency all others to 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)
Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst
thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things:
but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.
(St. Luke xvi. 25)
Trinity tide is all about belief that grows into Wisdom and Love. If Eastertide might be called the season of vision and knowledge, Trinity tide is about habituation to the Good that we know and its application to our lives. To know God through vision as He reveals Himself in the historical life of Jesus Christ is not enough. Satan himself knows that Christ is the Son of God and he believes and trembles (St. James ii. 19) with a resentful fury that drives him to carry as many men as he can down and away from the love of God. Knowledge of God’s goodness is one thing; but to love, cherish, grow, and perfect it in the human heart is quite another.
Now, as we all know, learning to love God’s goodness is no easy matter. In fact, we really do need to have a vision or knowledge of the Good if we hope to apply it to our lives. In the New Testament, an accurate illustration of what it is not is found in the lives of the Pharisees. Prior to today’s Gospel, Jesus had just warned His hearers that Ye cannot serve God and Mammon. (St. Luke xvi. 13) Mammon means both riches and possessions in both the Hebrew and Greek. It can also mean that in which one trusts. Archbishop Trench reminds us that while the Pharisees’ way of life was sparing and austere –many of them were ascetics…. their sins were in the main spiritual, (Par., 343) their real sin was covetousness. For they did not trust in God’s provision, were all rooted in unbelief, in a heart set on this world, refusing to give credence to that invisible world, here known only to faith. (Idem) They believed that their theological knowledge and ritual privileges were the closest that man could come to God. As a result, they enviously resented and maliciously sought to destroy God’s presence and power in the life of Jesus Christ.
So, Jesus recites a parable. There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day….(St. Luke xvi. 19) St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that the worship of Mammon is here illustrated in the prosperity of the wicked by way of temporal success. (St. TA: Hom. Trin. I) First, we read that the man was rich in earthly things. Second, that he was clothed in purple –the costliest of colors in the ancient world which clothed princes and kings. Third, in fine linen –secured only at a high price from the looms of Egypt. So, the rich man would have had a robe of princely purple and an inner tunic of the softest linen. That this was his customary attire we know since it is what he wore as he fared sumptuously every day. That he has no name is, according to the Archbishop, indicative of the fact that he is everyman or most men who live forever for this world and seldom with any thought for the next.
We read also that 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. (Ibid, 20,21) Those who are destined for the Kingdom have their names written in the Book of Life. The poor man’s name is Lazarus. His name is also translated as Eleazar and it means the one whom God has helped. That he is a beggar is clear. But because he was full of sores (Idem), in earthly life he was unable to walk and so was carried and laid him at the rich man’s gate (Idem) by those who, no doubt, prayed the rich man would have mercy upon him. That there was no relief for this man’s hunger is seen in his desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. That stray dogs came and licked his sores, reveals that he was ignored by his fellow man. The brute beasts had compassion and mercy upon Lazarus clothed in sores while the rich man and his associates clothed in purple and fine linen fared sumptuously. One had hosts of attendants to wait upon his every caprice; only stray dogs tended to the sores of the other. (Trench, 349)
So, we find a great contrast between the rich man and Lazarus. Lazarus’ sickness and poverty are external and visible signs of that inward spiritual illness and destitution that each of us must acknowledge if we hope to be saved. St. Thomas tells us that Lazarus reveals to us that adversity in this present life, though short-lived, characterizes the life of the saint in three ways. First, there is poverty of possessions –a beggar named Lazarus is a sign of spiritual indigence and that poverty of spirit that needs God more than anyone else. And fear not, my son, that we are made poor: for thou hast much wealth if thou fear God and depart from all sin and do that which is pleasing in His sight. (Tobit iv, 21) True riches are found when we fear God and depend upon Him for any and all manner of goodness that He might bestow upon us. Second, St. Thomas says, the life of a Saint is found in contempt of this world. ‘Lazarus was laid at his gate.’ ‘We are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.’ (1 Cor. iv. 13) If men follow Jesus, they will be ignored and abandoned at rich men’s gates, who step over them. Third, the saints will endure bitterness of tribulations and afflictions –‘Full of sores.’ Discipline and correction are the methods that our Heavenly Father uses to refine our faith, perfect our hope, and deepen our love for Him. For whom the Lord loveth, He chasteneth. (Hebrews xii. 6)
Next, we read, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom. (Ibid, 22) Lazarus is an image of the Saint who is taken to Paradise at the time of his death. We read also the rich man died and found himself in Hell whence he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. (Ibid, 23) St. Thomas reminds us, Lazarus was received with honor and glory by the Angels. The rich man was buried with honor and glory by unnamed earthly men...only to end up in Hell. (Idem) Lazarus is relieved of his suffering and pain and we hear no more from him because Heaven’s Mercy is now his treasure. The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God and there shall no torment touch them. (Wis. iii. 1) But the Rich Man, like the well-healed Pharisees, is left out. His soul and body are tormented because while he may have known God and fulfilled the religious duties of his own day, he did not love. To make matters worse, he looks up into Paradise and knows that Lazarus is in a better state, having been relieved of his earthly suffering and poverty. So, he cries, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. (Idem, 24) The Rich Man cries out for the relief of his earthly body’s torture because he is still very much the earthly man he has always been. His own sense of superiority even supplicates the services of his earthly inferior, Lazarus. Send Lazarus to me; surely he is now fit enough to wait upon me!
Now, Father Abraham reveals the hard truth of God’s Justice. Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. (Ibid, 25) O thou who trusted not in God but in earthly mammon, who trusted in perishable commodities and relied upon them solely to ensure your impermanent happiness, see what you have forsaken! Because you did not believe and trust in me, saith the Lord, you shall live with what you desired most forever in eternity! Men have one life to live, and at death they shall be judged. When a man dies, he is either taken up or cast down. If he is taken up, he cannot descend to help his lost brothers; if he is cast down, he cannot ascend up. At the end of life, every man’s faith or its absence shall be rewarded with Heaven or Hell. The rich man, with his eyes still centered upon earth, asks Abraham to rescue his earthly family. Send Lazarus to my brethren that he might serve up the truth to them (Ibid, 29), for if they see Lazarus risen from the dead, they will believe. (Ibid, 30) Abraham assures him that they will not be persuaded though one rose from the dead since they did not hear Moses and the Prophets. (Ibid) The knowledge of Heaven’s power seldom saves most men. Man is called to hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness. Desire for God’s bounty is needed. Besides, the Saints are with God, they can never descend to earth again, for they are where no torment touches them, consumed with God in joyful friendship and cannot be distracted from their First Love by the desires of those who chose Hell.
In this life, Lazarus was poor but now is rich in Paradise. The rich man is now poor but still believes that his earthly riches ought to earn him the provision of his cries. Notice how demanding he continues to be. His pride believes that he ought to be honored and served. His arrogance insists that God’s honor is still owed to him. The rich man is still his own god destined to live forever in the delusion of his own power and worth. He that loveth not, knoweth not God; for God is love. (1 John iv 8)
Today, my friends, by God’s Grace, let us make a moral decision to become poor like Lazarus, reaching out to God alone, knowing that we cannot pass through Heaven’s gate unless we obtain Heaven’s mercy, ‘hoping to obtain crumbs that fall from [God’s] table’. Lazarus, full of sores, like you and me, cried out for God’s love from the place of his poverty. We must lie there too and desire to eat of the crumbs that fall from [God’s] table. Like Lazarus, if I have no strength of will, no nobility of disposition, no excellence of character, Jesus says, “Blessed are you”, because it is through this poverty that I enter His Kingdom….I can only enter His Kingdom as a pauper. (O. Chambers, August 21)
After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter. (Rev. iv. 1)
Today is Trinity Sunday. So, following the traditional Western lectionary, we enter the season not of Pentecost but of Trinity Tide, intending no disrespect to the Holy Spirit, but acknowledging that our life in the Holy Spirit must never be severed or divorced from the Father and the Son. Trinity means three and Trinity Tide is an invitation into the trifold life of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Should we make the mistake that many post-modern churches do in abandoning the Trinity in favor a Spirit that is not accountable to the Being of the Father or the Wisdom of the Son, we shall be moved by spirits other than God’s Holy Spirit and by our own imaginations rather than Jesus Christ the express image of the Father’s person. (Hebrews i. 3)
Christianity is a religion founded on the facts of Divine Revelation. Its God is a God who wishes to be known. (The Christian Year, p. 142) Christians believe that God the Father created all things through His Wisdom, the Son, by the effectual operation of His Holy Spirit. Christians believe that the Father has never ceased to illuminate His people through His Word and strengthen them by His Spirit. In His Incarnation, Christ himself reveals the same Trinity when He obeys the Father through the Spirit, even unto death upon the Cross. (Phil. ii. 8) And following His Ascension, Christ invites all men into new life which He has won for them, promising to send…the Holy Ghost (St. John xvi. 26) whom the Father will send in [His] name that they may persevere in their journey to the Kingdom. God the Holy Trinity reveals Himself to His people, a door is opened, and man learns the way that leads home to Heaven.
A door is opened in this morning’s appointed Psalm. It is the Lord that ruleth the sea; the voice of the Lord is mighty in operation: the voice of the Lord is a glorious voice…. The voice of the Lord divideth the flames of fire; the voice of the Lord shaketh the wilderness…the voice of the Lord maketh the hinds to bring forth young…in His temple doth every man speak of His honor…the Lord remaineth a King forever. (Psalm xxix. 4,7,8,9) David understands that the Father’s voice or Word rules and governs nature and man’s understanding of it through the Holy Spirit’s inspiration. Isaiah is similarly overwhelmed as a door is opened to his soul also. He saw the Lord upon the throne, high and lifted up, [whose] train filled the temple…that above it stood the seraphims…. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. (Is. vi. 1-3) The power of the Thrice-Holy Trinity humbles the prophet. Woe is me! For I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts. (Ibid.5) Isaiah’s consciousness of his own sin humiliates him. But the Father sends one of the seraphim to purify the prophet’s tongue of all evil, and with the forgiveness, he receives he goes out to proclaim the will of the Lord. (The Church Times: Ibid) And, in this morning’s Epistle we learn that the same door in opened in Heaven to the Apostle and Evangelist, St. John, whose vision of God the Holy Trinity calls him to come up higher.
The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is not easy to understand. St. Augustine of Hippo, that great 4th century North-African Doctor of the Church, finds an image of it in the human soul: The human soul is – it exists; the human soul knows –it understands; and the human soul wills – it loves. So also God is, He knows, and He wills. God is pure being -I AM; God is pure knowing – He begets His Word and Wisdom eternally; and God is pure loving –His pleasure and will proceed as Spirit always. God is one substance who expresses His spiritual life through three Persons. (De Trinitate. Aug. RC summary) Man is one substance who expresses his spiritual life through three activities. Like God, Man lives, he knows, and he loves.
But God intends not only to be known in the abstract, but also grasped and embraced practically in the human heart. In fact, He wills to be known by humans, at first, through their encounter with His Son in the flesh, Jesus Christ. This morning’s Gospel illustrates the point nicely. For here we read that a Pharisee, a ruler of the Jews, named Nicodemus came to Jesus by night. (St. John iii. 1) Matthew Henry tells us that coming to Jesus by night is an act of prudence and discretion. For we should all come to be with Christ ‘when the busy world is hushed’ that we might then better learn from Him. Coming to Him by night shows [also] a greater zeal for truth since we are willing to forsake the evening’s pleasures for the sake of the truth. (Comm: John iii) St. Thomas tells us coming to Jesus at night symbolizes also that honest state of obscurity and ignorance or that self-conscious humble state of not-knowing that seeks to be enlightened by Christ’s wisdom. (TA: Comm. John iii.) So, in the night, Nicodemus approaches Jesus. Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. (St. John iii. 2) Nicodemus knows that Jesus’ teaching comes from God. And he asserts boldly that God is with Him because of Jesus’ miracles and wonders. Moved by Christ’s teaching and moral goodness, Nicodemus is nevertheless blind or still in the dark about the meaning and nature of Christ’s Person. Jesus says: Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God. (St. John iii. 3) He means that the mysteries of eternal salvation can be seen only through the cleansing of regeneration in the Holy Spirit, (Tit. iii. 5) in the righteousness of faith. (TA, Idem) Nicodemus is confused: How can a man be born again when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb? (Ibid, 4) The only kind of birth that Nicodemus understands is that of the flesh.
Jesus clarifies His response to help Nicodemus to understand. Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (St. John iii. 5-7) If man’s fallen corruption is not overcome by rebirth through water and the Spirit, he cannot be saved. The washing of the body with water is an external and visible sign pointing to the Holy Spirit’s inward cleansing, transforming, and rebirthing of the human soul. Man is born of the flesh, and so neither his body nor soul can save him. Jesus continues, Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. (St. John iii. 8) Jesus says that the wind comes and goes and seems to have no beginning or ending point. We inhale and we exhale, and without a thought ever consider whence our breath came and whither it goes. Jesus says, If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? (St. John iii. 12) Nicodemus is a religious ruler in Israel and in his pride has forgotten that God’s Word enlivens and defines all created life through His loving Spirit. Nicodemus, if you do not humbly believe and remember thankfully that the invisible Spirit animates your earthly life, how will you believe that He intends to birth you again inwardly and spiritually for a far better heavenly future?
God the Father’s Holy Spirit is alive and well in Jesus Christ. We speak of what we know, and bear witness of what we have seen. (Ibid, 11) But Nicodemus remains blind. He does not yet grasp thatno man hath ascended up to heaven, but He that came down from heaven, even the Son of Man, which is in heaven. (Ibid, 13) Man has fallen down from communion with the God of Heaven and Earth; he cannot ascend up again through his own reason or good works. The Son of Man must come down from heaven to open man’s spiritual eyes to his fallen condition that the desire of the Spirit might breathe new life into his soul. That which is born of flesh is flesh; that which is born of Spirit is Spirit. (Ibid, 6) And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have eternal life. (Ibid, 13-15) Man can begin to return to God the Father, only if the Holy Spirit lifts him up into Christ’s Death so that he might die in order to be born again. And as man begins to be born again, in heart and mind, the Holy Spirit will lift him into the Son’s Resurrection and then into the Ascension of return to the Father. Behold a door is opened and God makes all things new.
God the Holy Trinity desires for us to participate in His life. For ours is not a religion whereby man worships an external, distant, and unreachable deity. God is pure goodness, and with the same Spirit of goodness and generosity that creates and informs all of reality, He longs to redeem and save us. Our God desires that we should be born again every new day as the Holy Spirit brings the Word of God to life in our hearts. He longs that we should be as He is, to know as He knows, and to love as He loves. When we worship the Trinity, we find our Origin and End in God the Father, derive our Wisdom and Truth from God the Son, and practice the presence of His love through the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit. And then as born again sons and daughters of the Father, we shall sing out the Son’s Word of salvation to all nations, with the Spirit’s Love that alone makes Heaven and Earth one, in and through Jesus Christ our Lord –both flesh and Spirit perfectly blended to carry us home.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons