Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail,
they may receive you into everlasting habitations.
(St. Luke xi. 1)
In today’s Gospel lesson Jesus teaches a parable that has confused and befuddled the best of Scripture’s interpreters for centuries. So I will try to make some sense of this for all of us, but we must first understand that it must be grasped in the spiritual sense, as in the case of all of the parables. But we cannot get to the spiritual core or inner meaning of the parable before first confronting the outer and literal sense.
The parable that Jesus gives this morning is called The Parable of the Unjust Steward. What we have here is the tale of a man who was hired to be a steward or manager of a rich man’s treasure. What we learn is that he has been accused of wasting the rich man’s goods. As it turns out, he was not a very good steward, caretaker, or manager of the treasure that had been entrusted to him. The rich man summons his employee and says this: How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward. (St. Luke xvi. 2) The rich man seems to be surprised, but gives the man ample room for explaining what he has done. The employee is no doubt struck with immediate fear and trepidation over his fate, and he is worried to death about his future. He sees the writing on the wall, and so he says to himself, What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed. (Ibid, 3) The (now former) employee is a very worldly man. He is proud of his gifts and abilities, probably has a fairly good education, many talents and gifts, and so he is not about to take a job as a manual laborer. He will neither dig holes for his bread, nor will he reduce himself to begging. He is too proud to claim unemployment benefits, and he will not further demean and belittle his own worth. So with the ingenuity and industry that characterize his capacities, he knows what he will do. If he can no longer be employed by his Master, he will do what he can so that he can be taken care of by others, and so [be received] into their houses. (Ibid, 4)
So he makes a deal with other men who have taken out loans with his Master. He asks them what they owe the Master, and tells them to give him a portion of their debt that he may return it to his Master. The implication in the parable is that, at present, they cannot afford to repay the Master, so he will collect what he can from them, to show the Master that he has worked in earnest to recollect at least a portion of their debts. He ends up securing a promise for half of what one man owed, and eighty percent of what the other owed. He returns to his Master and gives him what he has collected. The Master seems rather merciful, for we read that, the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light. (Ibid, 8) Jesus tells his listeners that in earthly and worldly terms, here we find a man who used his prudence and worldly wisdom to make the best of a bad situation, and who was even a model for self-preservation and planning for the future. Jesus concludes the parable by saying: Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations. (Ibid, 9)
And so now comes the difficult part. What does Jesus mean when he says that the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light? And why in the world would he ever say that we are to make us friends with the mammon of unrighteousness? In another place he appears to say the opposite – that we cannot serve God and Mammon, (St. Matthew vi. 24) and this seems to contradict what he is saying here. So what is Jesus getting at? Well, for starters, the formulators of our lectionary readings might have done us no small service if they had included the lines which follow in the reading from St. Luke’s Gospel. After our closing Gospel line for today, Jesus says, He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. If, therefore, ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man's, who shall give you that which is your own? (Ibid, 10-12) The parable seems to suggest that Jesus means to commend his friends and disciples to a kind of prudence that can imitate that of the unjust steward. But it is not in imitating the earthly steward’s obsession with his future financial security that Jesus is interested. Rather he is interested in having his spiritual followers imitate true prudence and prepare for a spiritual future. But to do so they must be faithful first in unrighteous mammon. The Christian who is prudent in unrighteous mammon is the man who realizes that he is a steward of God’s treasure. More often than not he fails in his calling and vocation, and so is an unjust steward, or one who has not managed the gifts that God has given to him in the most productive and industrious of ways. God is the Master in the parable, and sinful man is the unjust steward. But there are countless others, indeed the whole host of men who live in this world, who owe God more than they can repay. So what the unjust [spiritual] steward does is to take his spiritual brothers and sisters where they are and help them to give back what they can, given their present spiritual conditions. That he is an unjust steward is simply a fact that reveals that he cannot ever live up to his calling and vocation. But this is no excuse for him not to work with what he has in helping others to begin to be made right with God. He may indeed have paid his tithe to God, but more is required. He must help others to do the same. And so he does this by giving what he has to help them. In the parable he makes an arrangement for others to lessen their debt to the Master. In the case of the disciple, he becomes one who prepares for his spiritual future by realizing that he must do what he can for his fellow brothers who are equally indebted to God. He then that is faithful in that which is least, is also faithful also in much. (Ibid, 10)
Now Christ makes it very clear in using this parable that most men are rather more creative, industrious, and enterprising in preparing for their earthly and worldly futures than his followers are in readying themselves for their spiritual futures. If spiritual men took as much time, care, and caution in preparing for salvation, as earthly men took in preparing for their retirements, the world might become quite a different place. And yet the connection with the parable has a more literal meaning. If the spiritual man used his money first to serve God, and then to help his neighbor, he would reveal what kind of treasure and riches he was really after. He would be liberal and generous with his earthly treasure, knowing that his chief concern and primary interest is with the heavenly gifts that should move and define him. Man’s relation to money and mammon must be spiritualized. What do I mean? If a man’s eyes are opened to his spiritual future, his ultimate salvation, and his final reconciliation with God, he will want to share what he has with others so that they too, being nourished, clothed, and housed may join with him in the spiritual journey to the kingdom. If there are men around us who are feverishly anxious about how to feed, clothe, and house their children, they will have scarce little time to consider the greater call to God’s kingdom. The rich like to quote another quotation of Jesus, when he says the poor always ye have with you, (St. John xii. 8), as if they embody some kind of permanent problem that cannot be helped. But Christ is suggesting those who are not rich towards God, and then to their neighbors, really are not much interested in true treasure. So if we share with others what we have, then when [we fail], (i.e. die)…they [will] receive us into everlasting habitations. (St. Luke xvi. 9) Who will receive us? The poor whom we have helped out of their material poverty, and who, curiously enough, have helped us out of our material obsessions, as we both together become fellow journeymen seeking the treasures of heaven.
So making friends with mammon of unrighteousness, (Ibid, 9) has, I think, a few different meanings for us today. First, we should emulate and imitate the passion, determination, and persistence with which the unjust steward secured his earthly future, into our own quest for the holy habitations of God’s kingdom. Second, we should know that we are all unjust [spiritual] stewards God’s mercies and gifts, and so we are in good company with a world full of men who also owe God much and can never repay what they owe him. And, third, realizing this, with whatsoever means we have, in earthly terms, we should help others with what we’ have got, so that they can join us on our spiritual quest. For, as Calvin warns us, Those persons…who act improperly and unfaithfully in the things of small value, such as the transitory riches of this world, do not deserve that God should entrust to them the inestimable treasure of the Gospel. (Harmony of the Gospels: Vol. xvi.) So let us then share our earthly treasures with others, that in so doing we may invite others into our conscientious quest for and determined pursuit of the treasures of God’s heavenly habitations. As Richard Baxter says, Stretch your purse to the utmost, and do all the good you can. For then we show where [our true] treasure is…[and] where our hearts are also. (St. Luke xii. 34) Amen.
For the very beginning of [wisdom] is the desire of her discipline; and the care
of discipline is love. And love is the keeping of her laws; and the giving heed
unto her laws is the assurance of incorruption. And incorruption
maketh us near to God.
(Wisdom vi. 17-20)
The Book of Wisdom is traditionally ascribed to Solomon, son of David and King of Israel. He lived some nine hundred years before the birth of Jesus Christ, and he is known for his wisdom. The First Book of the Kings tells us that he prayed for wisdom, so that he might have an understanding heart to judge [his] people…[to] discern between good and evil. (1 Kings 9) Solomon was granted his wish and petition, and became so wise that the rulers of the world came to sit at his feet in order to learn of the wisdom that God had given to him. Solomon was not wise in his own conceits; rather he knew that true Wisdom is a gift from God. And he reminds us also that without God’s Wisdom we cannot hope to be saved. So he exhorts his readers and listeners to pursue the instruction and discipline of Holy Wisdom. It is given to man to instruct him in the ways that lead to eternal life. Instruction is understood as the work of a loving God. When a man allows himself to be instructed in her ways, he realizes that he is being led forward into the reality of incorruption, and so he begins to love the ways of Wisdom or the virtues which she generates in the human heart. God’s gives his Wisdom to us to reveal his loving care; God expects us to respond to this attention with a deeper desire for the Wisdom that leads us to everlasting life.
Now you might be saying to yourselves, well, this all sounds all well and good, but what does it have to do with my life? And the preacher’s answer is: everything. Why, you ask? And the answer is, because we were made to know, to understand, and to love. This is why human beings were created. And not merely to know and understand the world around us, nor to love our fellow men. All of that is important enough. But the point is that we were made to know, understand, and love God. Solomon knew all of this, and this is why he goes to all the trouble of explaining it to us! Yes, indeed, we were made to know and to love God because he is the source, origin, and cause of all knowledge and love. And his knowledge and love are given to us that we might find that incorruption that brings us near to God. (Wisdom vi. 20)
So, you say, all right, but how do I find this knowledge and love? Well, if you are an inquisitive and conscientious student of the natural world, you can find a lot of God’s knowledge and love at work there. In nature you will find the principles of order, arrangement, relation, truth, beauty, and even goodness that you neither create nor control. If you take the time to be quiet and still enough, you will find God’s mind and heart at work. And what you should come away with is a deep sense of awe and wonder at the marvels of the created universe. Such an endeavor starts a man on the journey after wisdom. The wisdom that is found is clearly Divine. No man has made the vast universe that surrounds him, painted it with beauty, and combed it with the great goods that ensure his comfort; nor has he informed it with that truth that combines minute complexities into one harmonious and majestic whole. Nature itself, if we would only contemplate it, leads our minds to the fount and wellspring of God’s Divine Wisdom.
And yet there is more. While we are contemplating nature and discovering the principles of truth, beauty, and goodness in it, has it ever occurred to us just how we do this? We do it through the operation and activity of the soul. The 17th century Anglican Bishop William Beveridge tells us that we ought to marvel at this fact also. He says that he comes to know that he has a soul because he can reason and reflect. (W. Beveridge: Thoughts on Religion, 1) Other creatures have souls but don’t know it. They act, and know it not; it being not possible for them to look within themselves, or to reflect upon their own existence and actions. But this is not so with me, the good Bishop says. I not only know that I have a soul, but that I have such a soul which can consider, and deliberate on every particular action that issues from it. Nay, I can now consider that I am considering my own actions, and can reflect upon [my own] reflecting. (Ibid, 2) The Bishop continues and says that the same soul, through which he reflects upon his own reflecting, can move out of itself and examine and study the whole of the universe, mounting from earth to heaven, from pole to pole, and view all the courses and motions of the celestial bodies, the Sun, the Moon, the Stars; and then the next moment returning to myself again, I can consider where I have been, what glorious objects have been presented to my view, and wonder at the nimbleness and activity of my soul. (Ibid, 2,3) The good Bishop reminds us that we can move out of ourselves to consider the whole of the universe with our souls, and then return into our souls, and still reflect upon and study all that we have seen and heard through our remembering and recollection. What a marvel! Have you ever considered it? And more than all this, the same soul can move the body and all its parts, and even understand, consider, argue, and conclude; to will and nil; hope and despair, desire and abhor, joy and grieve; love and hate; to be angry now, love and appease.(Ibid, 3) What a miracle is this man that each of us is! And what does all of this mean if not that we are made to know and to love and to discover finally that God’s Wisdom is the source and cause of it all?
And yet there is this difficulty. Bishop Beveridge reminds us that we are not merely souls or spirits like angels, but are souls who inhabit bodies. And our bodies always tend towards corruption, disintegration, and death. Our souls and spirits are spiritual and incorruptible. But they are joined to flesh which decays, fades, and passes away. The place of the soul’s trial and testing, in the here and now, is with the body. The way and manner in which the soul and body cooperate will determine the eternal and incorruptible state of the whole human person, body and soul, in eternity. Should the soul seek God’s Wisdom, apply it to the whole person, then in the end times man will be saved. Should he refuse the rule and governance of God’s Wisdom in this life, he will be damned.
And this brings us back to the Wisdom of Solomon. In our opening quotation we read that the application of Wisdom to the soul and body demands our submission to instruction and education. God’s instruction and education reveal the love and care of Wisdom for every human being’s ultimate welfare and wellbeing. To submit to this Divine labor, the human soul must lovingly receive the instruction and discipline that Wisdom enjoins. Wisdom desires to direct the soul to order, govern, tame, and discipline the body. St. Paul says in this morning’s Epistle reading that we must not be debtors…to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if [we] live after the flesh, [we] shall die. But if [we] through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, [we] shall live. (Romans viii. 12, 13) When Wisdom is applied to the body, the whole person is right with God, for he is then moved and defined by the Spiritual Truth that God intends for the body and the soul. If Wisdom is not applied, then man faces spiritual death in which both soul and body shall live alienated and separated from God. St. Paul says that, They that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. (Ibid, 8-10) He says in another place that Christ [is] the wisdom of God, and the power of God. (1 Cor. i. 24) So to live according to God’s Wisdom, is to live in Christ. To live in Christ means to accept the instruction, discipline, and love that Christ’s Spirit brings to man’s life. As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. (Romans viii. 14) Life in Christ is an invitation to become the sons and daughters of God, whereby we [can] cry, Abba, Father. (Ibid, 15) To be able to call God Abba means that in and through Christ we can call the Father, Daddy, for this is what the word means. And this opens for us an intimate spiritual window with God whose Wisdom will enable us to love to keep [His] laws…bringing us near to incorruption…[with a] desire for [the] wisdom [which] brings us near to [His] kingdom. (Wisdom vi. 18-20)
So God’s Wisdom is something that we can find not only in nature but also in the life of Jesus Christ our Lord. In submitting and adjusting our lives to Christ’s pattern, we can begin not only to be moved by the Divine Wisdom, but can even reveal it to others. In this morning’s Gospel Christ tells us that by [men’s] fruits, ye shall know them. (St. Matthew vii. 20) A man’s spiritual value and worth is measured by the thoughts, words, and deeds that issue forth through his body from his soul. So man’s thoughts, words, and deeds are reflections of his rational soul’s relation to the Divine Wisdom. The soul and body are such precious gifts and tools, in and through which man can receive and apply God’s Wisdom to a life destined for eternal happiness. We can reach our end only if and when we pray for the instruction, discipline, and loving care that Christ, the Divine Wisdom, will apply to our souls as he generates the fruits of holiness that can be revealed through us. And as Solomon reminds us, it is a gift to be neglected only at our own peril. So, with Bishop Beveridge, without any further dispute about it, [let us] resolve, at this time, in the presence of Almighty God, that from this day forward, [we] will make it our whole business, here upon earth, to look after [our] happiness in Heaven, and to walk circumspectly those blessed paths, that God appointed all to walk in, that ever expect to come to Him (Ibid, 4), in the light of His Divine Wisdom, through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.
Graft in our hearts the love of Thy Name, increase in us true religion,
nourish us with all goodness, and keep us in the same…
(Collect Trinity VII)
You must have noticed that in addition to our Scriptural lessons appointed to be read each Sunday we read or pray something called a Collect. Wikipedia informs us that a Collect is a short general prayer of a particular structure used in Christian liturgy. In the Anglican tradition of Common Prayer the Collect gathers or sums up into one prayer the theme of the day or the focus of any given particular Sunday’s readings. You will have noticed that our Collects are carefully worded and beautifully crafted expressions of theological truth. And yet there is always a danger in them. One might be so swept up with the form that one forgets the content. Their visible and audible poetry and music might grab our aesthetical appreciation for too long so that we never move on to consider the theological desires and aspirations that they encourage. We might liken it to the harmony of a certain musical composition, through which one is swept away by a tune or sound while never taking the time to examine the meaning of the words or feelings that the composition expresses. Countless numbers of people have enjoyed certain songs or choruses, only to realize that, on closer examination, the ideas they encourage are positively evil. Think of Frank Sinatra’s I did it my way. We love the music, the sound, the beat, the combination of notes, and yet, if we examine the meaning, we find that the song is an exhortation to pure narcissism. I did it my way, he sang. Indeed, he did. He did it his way, and no one was going to get in the way of it! Here we have an excellent example of the indulgence of beauty at the expense of truth. The passions are stirred and moved, but finally separated from what is true, beautiful, and good.
But our Collects were formulated to do exactly the opposite. Their beauty and form were crafted to lead a man from the external and visible world into the ground of his soul. And from there they were meant to lift the soul up and into the presence of God. Listen, again, to the opening words of this morning’s Collect: Lord of all power and might, who art the author and giver of all good things.... The words flow beautifully; they are music to our ears. And yet what are they arranged to do? They lead and guide our minds into the presence of God. He is the Creator and Preserver of all good things. He is the author of all that is true, beautiful, and good. And more than that, He is the one who alone has power and might to bring about and generate all goodness in our hearts and souls. The goodness He desires to effect is our salvation. He longs to carry us out of bondage to the elements of this world, as St. Paul teaches. (Gal. iv. 3) He longs to free and liberate us from the world, the flesh, the devil, and yes, quite frankly, from ourselves.
So God’s power and might constitute simultaneously His unchanging desire and intention for us; for He is the author and giver of all good things. Having claimed and confessed that His power and might alone make all things good, right, and true, we pray for the Grace to love Him in return. Graft in our hearts the love of Thy name. God does not force or compel us to love Him. We must desire and long to be infused with a love for Him that excels and surpasses all other loves -i.e. from the false loves that tempt and distract us from the source and origin of our true and lasting happiness, our salvation, and the promise of eternal communion with the truth. So we pray that His Grace might infuse us with a desire for His love. Our Collect for today leads us logically and rationally through stages of encounter which will ensure our sanctification and redemption. We acknowledge God’s power and might; we see that they generate all manner of goodness. We know that goodness for man is salvation and reconciliation with the same God. And so we pray for the spirit and disposition that enflame a deeper desire and longing for Him.
And yet we cannot end here. We know that our love for God must never be a fly-by-night, temporary, occasional, and impermanent emotion or feeling. So we pray, Increase in us true religion. True religion is the flower and fruit of that instinct, passion, and desire for the power and governance of truth and goodness in our own lives. Without the Spirit of Divine Love, we shall never become accustomed or habituated to the virtues of truth and goodness that are the only ways and means to our salvation. William Law tells us that the Spirit of Love is not in you till it is the spirit of your life, till you live freely, willingly, and universally according to it. (The Spirit of Love) The Spirit of Love must be translated into the spirit of our lives, or the practice of true religion. True religion is a reflection and imitation of God’s holiness and righteousness – of his goodness, truth, and beauty. St. Paul tells us in this morning’s Epistle that when [we] were the servants of sin, [we] were free from righteousness.(Romans vi. 20) What he means is that before we came to our spiritual senses, we were in bondage or slavery to the elements of this life. We were the servants of sin. Like Frank Sinatra, we did it our way. And because of that we were headed for sin’s reward, which is death, spiritual death, and ultimate and final separation from God. But now we are being made freed from sin, [and are becoming] the servants of God.( Ibid, 22) Our Collect for today echoes Paul’s desire and hope for his flock. Increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness…. If we are fed and nourished with God’s goodness, with St. Paul we become the servants of God’s goodness, [having our] fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. (Ibid, 22) So desire for the love of God in our hearts makes us then practitioners and masters of true religion, goodness, and holiness in deed and in truth. (I John iii. 18) What we are praying for really then is freedom – liberation from bondage and servitude to all that is unclean, unholy, and unrighteous. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Ibid, 23)
So at the end of our Collect we pray that God of his great mercy might keep us in the same, through Jesus Christ our Lord. But, perhaps it is here that we come finally to the hardest part of the whole Collect or summary prayer for this Seventh Sunday after Trinity. We pray that God’s holiness and righteousness might become permanent fixtures of our knowing and willing. And this leads us to our Gospel for the day. In it we read of God’s ongoing response man’s desire for Him. In Jesus Christ we find the one who is with us and for us every step of the way in this difficult endeavor. Just as Jesus had compassion on the multitude then, so he continues to have compassion on us now. Then he fed a multitude of four thousand with seven loaves of bread and two small fishes. (St. Mark viii) We read that he had compassion upon them because they had a desire for the kind of life that our Collect reveals. He said then, [the multitude has] now been with me three days, if I send them away fasting to their own houses, they will faint by the way; for divers of them came from afar. (St. Mark viii. 2,3) Jesus took a small amount of food and multiplied it so that it could feed a multitude of people. Jesus is one with the Father. He is the Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things. Through His compassionate love, He begins to graft in [the multitude’s] heart the love of [God’s] name. Through his merciful power He begins to reveal how man can begin to increase in true religion, because he is being nourished with all goodness, and [kept] in the same by the Grace of God in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Divine power and might, love, and goodness extended to man from the heart of His Father.
Jesus offers to answer our prayers today. What we pray for in our Collect, Jesus provides. He knows that we grow weary and faint as we journey after salvation. He knows that we struggle to leave behind our servitude and slavery to sin – the world, the flesh, and the devil. He understands that our feeble powerlessness always threatens to overwhelm and overtake us. He understands that the music and beauty of our Collect might carry us away from its content and substance. And so he responds to us. Here and now, even today, He takes a few morsels of bread and a small portion of wine and makes them into his Body and his Blood. His Body and Blood are the spiritual power and might of God. In and through them He continues to be the author and giver of all good things. If we thankfully and gratefully receive them for what he says they are, they will increase in us true religion, nourish with all goodness, and keep us in the same.
But here is the rub. We must believe that what God offers to us in his Son Jesus Christ is nothing short of Himself. What he offers to us is the substance of His full and complete being. In making bread and wine into His Body and Blood, He responds to our deepest desire for the ways and means to our salvation. What we must receive, cherish, treasure, nourish, and grow in our souls from the author and giver of all good things, is the power and might, whose goodness will overcome all evil in our lives. What we must recognize and perceive in our frail souls are God’s real and present desire and love for us, to which we respond, Graft in our hearts the love of thy name. For in receiving the miracle of Christ’s Real Presence with us and for us, we desire not to sing I did it my way, but I am doing it God’s way. And God’s way is offered to us in the One who did it His Father’s way. Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life. (St. John xiv. 6) We come to the Father through Him alone, in the beauty of holiness, through the Spirit of love, as we sing a new song of purest desire for the inward and spiritual power and might that lovingly free us from all sin, making us the servants of God, who bear fruit unto holiness that, in the end, leads to everlasting life. (Romans vi. 22) Amen.
Pour into our hearts such love towards thee, that we, loving thee above all things,
may obtainthy promises, which exceed all that we can desire.
(Collect, Trinity VI)
I do not know how often we think of the promises of God. If we are like most men, we don’t. The full flowering of God’s intention and plan for us, then, does not impinge on our consciousness, does not affect us in our daily rounds, or dictate what we desire. We do tend to live in time and space, and as creatures possessed by this dimension, do not therefore ponder the eternal future. But ponder it we must, for truly that is our destiny and end. To consider the unsearchable riches of God’s love for us is something that we were made to think about; for if we do not, we might very well fall short of its possession in the eternity of God’s life. God has given himself to us, and if we hope to embrace that activity permanently, we must prepare for it. Eternity is, after all, a long time, and if we hope to experience it in God’s presence, we had better get to work on embracing it now.
And, yet, this seems to be the most difficult part. How do we become those upon whom God will, in the end, shower His promises? It seems beyond our reach; indeed it seems beyond all that we can desire, as our Collect for this morning reminds us. But being beyond all that we can desire, is no reason to stop wanting it. Indeed, what beyond all that we can desire means simply is that what will be given will exceed and surpass our deepest understanding and expectation of what it will be. Beyond all that we can desire means that our desire for God will be transformed into a love far beyond what we have ever known or experienced. The kind of love that God has in store for them that begin to love Him truly now, will then be wholly perfect, unthreatened, unbreakable, and lasting.
So here and now we are called to start getting used to His love. And getting used to that love is practicing the presence of his governance in our lives. In fact, St. Paul in this morning’s Epistle plots out the way to best receive and reflect this very love. And yet what a strange way he seems to encourage for going about it! To embrace God’s living love in our lives, the Apostle has us consider death. In fact he seems quite insistent that we shall never receive the promises that exceed all that we can desire unless and until we die. What is St. Paul talking about? When most people hear about death, their minds travel to one thing – that is, to the extinction and termination of physical life. But there is another death about which Christians speak and that is spiritual death. Most people imagine death as non-existence, a state in which man’s physical nature is shut down and all consciousness is lost. And because of this, they are full of fear and anxiety. But the death that St. Paul is getting at in this morning’s Epistle is spiritual and inward; it is the death that we must die here and now that is essential for salvation. It is a death to whatever separates us from the knowledge and love of God. This death is the necessary precondition to that new life that will begin to have a foretaste of the promises of God. And so it is no small wonder that so many men fear to undertake it. As G. K. Chesterton writes:
I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.
(Ballad of the White Horse)
This death will be difficult and will involve no small amount of inner spiritual contemplation. The man who will die to himself must look at himself, his sins, his temptations. He must look at his weaknesses and neuroses. At first it may seem overwhelming, and yet, in the end, it will not fearful because Christians believe that the most difficult aspects of this death have been endured and suffered already by another on our behalf. Know ye not, St. Paul writes, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? (Romans. vi. 3) You and I, as baptized Christians, have been initiated already into death, Christ’s death. Christ has taken on our sin. The one and all effective death has been endured by Jesus Christ himself. The spiritual death to sin, Satan, death itself, and its power has been accomplished for us by Jesus Christ. And it does not stop there. Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. (Romans vi. 4) Jesus Christ has died the spiritual death that we were not capable of dying. He has died for the sins of the whole world, and in his dying he has opened up to mankind the gates of everlasting life once again. The living love of God is revealed to the world in the death of God’s own Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. The living love of God in the heart of Jesus Christ reveals and manifests love as death, death to the self, death to all that is other than God. This living love, this dying death in Jesus Christ is truly the first and necessary opening to the kingdom of God. All men are invited into the reality of it through Baptism, that in and through Jesus Christ they might die to themselves and begin to come alive to God.
So Baptism is our first incorporation into the reality of the death of sin. Technically speaking, Baptism washes away the stain and corruption of Original Sin. But actual sin remains. The devil is not thwarted by the Sacrament of Baptism. And the hard work of redemption continues long after it is first administered to the believer. If we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. (Romans vi. 5-7) Life for the Christian in time and space is meant to be lived out as redemption from sin. St. Paul certainly speaks of future Resurrection when Christ shall come again to judge both the quick and dead. But in order to be counted worthy of salvation then, we must be dying constantly to sin now. This means that we must realize and know that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. (Romans vi. 6) Thus we are called in the here and now to ongoing repentance, self-conscious awareness of the sins that so easily beset us (Hebrews xii. 1), the determination to confess them, and turning to God…our refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble. (Ps. xlvi. 1) Dying to ourselves means our dying to sin and embracing God's living love.
This is why in this morning’s Gospel reading Jesus teaches us that there can be no place for division, discord, anger, envy, or covetousness. Jesus is God’s love and hope for all men’s salvation made flesh - to friend and foe alike. Jesus says, Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. (St. Matthew v. 21) If we envy, resent, or hate anyone from the ground of our hearts, then the love of God that was planted in us at Baptism has neither survived nor grown. Jesus – God’s love for us and all others, is, then, not alive. If we limit and kill that love for others, that love is as good as dead in us, and we are alive to sin and destined for a far more pernicious future death! If we limit and kill that love for others, hope too is as good as dead in us, since we are determined to deny that God’s love can heal the hearts of our worst enemies!
But, let us remember my friends, that when we were the servants of sin, we were free from righteousness, (Romans vi. 20)…but now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, we have our fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.(Romans vi. 22) For, Christ died for us while we were yet sinners. (Romans v. 8) In fact, Christ died for us while we were yet nailing him to the tree. Yes, and as he was dying for us, in and through his death, he was longing and desiring for our salvation. That kind of love should stir us to a deeper longing for union with Him. It should stir the desire for his new life of love in us now. This is the love that moves the stars and the sun, as Aristotle says. This is the love that stoops down from heaven to call all human beings into friendship with God. This is the love that never stops giving itself to us as the way and means our eternal communion with our Maker. Jean Mouroux reminds us that God is present to His creature not simply in virtue of the being He bestows on it, but also by the love He excites in the very heart of its existence; whence it is that the whole world is tense with one immense aspiration, quickening, and unifying, towards the First-Beloved. (The Meaning of Man, p. 183). This same love invites and calls all men to be the saints of God. And as Romano Guardini has said, the saints are those who penetrate into the existence of Christ; who lift themselves , not by ‘their bootstraps’ but by Christ’s humanity and Christ’s divinity. (The Lord, p. 447) It is only by dying in Christ and rising through Him that we begin to feel the immensity and power of God’s love for us. You see, it is his Grace, his work, his labour of love in our souls that transform our desire into longing love for God’s kingdom. So, then, dear friends, today let us realize that he has prepared for [us] who love Him such good things as pass man’s understanding, and that the only way to find them is by loving him above all things, [that we] may obtain…his promises, which exceed all that we can desire.(Collect) Amen.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons