Christianity is not about being destroyed by the confusions and concussions of
The time; it is about being discovered.
Hugh E. Brown
Presumably, the reason that we Christians are here today is that we long to be discovered. Why, you ask, is this the case? Well, because Christians seek to get right with God, to discover their true natures, and to realize their potentials as creatures who have a divinely intended purpose and destiny. Christians believe that they were made by and for God. And reading the Bible is the way that Christians discover who and what they ought or ought not to be. What Christians discover in reading the Bible is themselves. They find that the Bible is their story. And they read it in order to identify with its cast of characters in order to be discovered or found out. They do this all the more because they understand that the Bible is about God’s Word, as it addresses, summons, corrects, punishes, prepares, and transforms man in a process of reconciliation with himself. The Bible is a dialogue between God and man, in and through which man can, if he so chooses, not only be discovered , but be changed and transformed into a creature who is made to be moved progressively towards his created end.
So let us see if we can apply these truths to our journey together today. This morning we find ourselves at the home of one of the Pharisees on the Sabbath-day. Or to put it into our contemporary context, we find ourselves at church. The Sabbath-day is made for man, and not man for the Sabbath-day (Mark ii.27), and so we are here today to find ourselves, or, again, to be discovered. In this morning’s Gospel, we find that Jesus is an invited guest. And, indeed, just as Jesus was an invited guest two thousand years ago on the Jewish Sabbath, so too must he be our invited guest on ours. For, if we have not invited him to be a part of our Sabbath, we shall never be discovered. Remember, as Christians we desire to be discovered or found out in relation to God’s Word. Jesus is God’s Word made flesh, and so our lives must be measured and judged according to his presence. So as we welcome him to this morning’s feast or supper, let us be sure that we are welcoming him with an open heart, intending completely to discover and find not only who and what he is, but who and what we are in relation to him.
If we would find and discover who we are in relation to God this morning, then we are struck by an immediate interruption to the Sabbath-day dinner which Jesus attends. Remember, the interruption is all important and revealing for what it should say to us. Remember also, Jesus writes straight, with crooked lines. The Sabbath is made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.(Mark ii.27) Before Jesus was a certain man who had the dropsy. (Luke xiv.2) At the feast, is a man who is afflicted with what we would call edema, or a case of excessive fluids in the body which could lead to or cause congestive heart failure. Dropsy makes one unable to move about and function in any normal ambulatory way, and so is a severe handicap. At any rate, this man is clearly very sick. And he is in need, and so presumably has come to the Sabbath-day dinner for healing. And before Jesus does anything, he asks his hosts a question. Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath day? And they held their peace. (Luke xiv.3) What is the point of the Sabbath-day? Jesus asks. Why are you here on the Sabbath-day? No doubt to celebrate the glory of the Lord. But how are you celebrating? And what is his glory? Is the glory of the Sabbath-day not thanksgiving for and rejoicing in the power and presence of God? And what is this power and presence, if it is not the hand of God which approaches to heal, change, and transform you, taking you away from the confusions and concussion of these times, in order to reconcile you once again to God himself? Who are you and why are you here? Jesus asks.
Jesus proceeds to heal the man afflicted with the dropsy. The man in need is offered the place of prominence on the Sabbath-day. Who is he? He is one whose condition cries out for the presence and power of God on this day. His need reveals who and what he is, and who and what he needs. Jesus will give to him what God bestows most fully on the Sabbath-day, the glorious healing power to those who know their need. Jesus continues, Which of you shall have an ass, or an ox, fallen into a pit, and will not straight-away pull him out on the Sabbath-day? (Luke xiv.4) Each and every one of you, Jesus says, will instinctively rescue his ass, his ox, his dog or cat from any harm on the Sabbath-day. So what does God do for you on the Sabbath day, O ye of little faith? You are here on the Sabbath-day, to find and discover yourselves, to admit and confess what you find, and to open your souls to the glory of the Lord, in his healing power. You are in a place away from the confusions and concussions of the time, with those whose worship of God sets them apart for the apprehension of his glory, his merciful response to sinful condition. You are here, first and foremost, to be discovered and found out in relation to God. And today, Jesus says, you can see yourselves in the man with the dropsy. You shall see in him all of your physical, mental, and spiritual handicaps. In this man, if you open your eyes, you will see an outward and visible manifestation of your own inward and spiritual helplessness and frailty. You shall see that you are here to be healed and transformed.
But how seldom is this the case. The Pharisees in today’s Gospel lesson cannot answer Jesus a word. So can neither you nor I. We are silenced. We read in the Gospel that he put forth a parable to those which were bidden when he marked how they chose out the chief seats, saying unto them, When thou art bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in the chief seat; lest a more honorable man than thou be bidden of him; and he that bade thee come and say to thee, Give this man place; and thou begin with shame, to take the lowest place. But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest place; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto to thee, Friend go up higher…(Luke xiv.7) We begin to see ourselves more commonly in those described by Jesus in the parable. We come to the Sabbath-day dinner seeking out the chief seats. We are here sated by our own pride and conscious of the good that we think we are doing for God. We act as if we are entitled to be here - to scope out the space, to take our pride of place, and to cleave to our notions of right order, good conduct, and proper religion. We come here to prove that we are religious, to seek out our own glory, importance, and prominence. If we are not enraged that some stranger has taken our seat, we are irritated and distracted by another whose external and visible behavior does not conform to our notions of proper church ritual. We remain caught up in the confusions and concussions of the time because its habits and mores are carried by us into the church.
I hope that in our silence, with the Pharisees this morning, we are here to be discovered and found out by God in Jesus. I pray that we learn that prior to any great feast, be it the Jewish Sabbath or the Christian Eucharist, we remember that like the man with the dropsy we are dangerously ill, and like the ox and the ass terribly lost. I pray that we are here for the mercy of God precisely because we have been discovered and found out as those who need what Jesus alone can bring and do. I pray that we might remember that he that exalteth himself shall be abased, and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. (Luke xiv.11) I pray that in reading of the man and the animals who cannot help but be humbled, we might find ourselves, be discovered by the Saviour, who will then say to us, Friend go up higher. (Luke xiv. 10) I pray that we shall realize that being asked to come up is a liberation from that arrogant ignorance that refuses to be discovered and found out. But, remember, if and when we are discovered, there is a way out. For, after all, in making the Sabbath-day for man, and not man for the Sabbath-day, (Mark ii.27) Christ has every intention of humbling himself to heal us, that we might then be exalted. Amen.
Jesus did not come to explain away
suffering, or to remove it.
He came to fill it with His presence.
Trinity tide is full of examples taken from Scripture that lead the faithful pilgrim into the experience of the Real Presence of God. And I am not speaking of somehow feeling God in the way that we feel the cold or heat, feel the pressure of another body against our own, or feel anything sensibly or tangibly. I am speaking of a kind of spiritual feeling, whose power and strength assure the mind, fortify conviction, and infuse man’s being with the stable and unchanging determination of God’s power. I am talking about an inward and spiritual faith that encounters God’s presence in the uncertain and changing here and now, only to carry it progressively into the permanent realm of truth, beauty, and goodness. In layman’s terms, I am trying to describe the belief that opens itself up to the Jesus, who desires to begin the salvation process now as he leads us slowly but surely to his kingdom. And I hope to show why belief in the spiritual truth is to be preferred to despair over earthly and mundane matters.
So let us travel back in time and find ourselves with Jesus in about the year 30 A.D. We find ourselves in the city of Nain. Nain is a place barren of any civil society. Dean Stanley tells us that on a rugged and barren ridge, in an isolated place, sits the ruined village of Endor. No convent, no tradition marks the spot. (Trench: “Miracles”) The place, to this day, is lifeless, empty, and void of any future. Its external and visible characteristics show little sign of promise. It is into just this kind of place that Christ’s presence is drawn. The Lord’s presence will yield a new kind of harvest in this barren place. Now when Jesus came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow: and much people of the city was with her. (St. Luke vii. 12) As nature has been robbed of any sign of life, so too has this widow been deprived of her only pride and joy. The widow is weeping, her tears the only expression and communication of an untellable inward and spiritual pain. This pain is not historical in nature. We all know someone who has suffered the tragedy of losing a child. There is no pain like it, and many have lost their faith crying, How could a good God let this happen to me? There seems to be no consolation, no hope, and no possible joy in the future. All the sacrifice and effort that has gone into rearing a child were for nought. With the psalmist this morning she cries inwardly and spiritually: The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow. (Psalm cxvi. 3) Into this pain and agony of soul, Christ comes, with much people.
And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not. And he came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise. And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak.”(St. Luke vii. 13-15) The crowd that surrounds the woman can offer no words to console, no reason to explain what she must endure, for as yet they have no faith. She who is truly alone can only weep. And so when Jesus approaches, all are still. He as much says, with St. Paul this morning, I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory. (Galatians vi. 11) Christ comes into this situation to bear the burden. His presence will extend a compassion that neither she nor the mourners have ever experienced. His words may be few, but his power will be great. The operation of mercy has its way, and the dead man is brought back to life. The Word is spoken, and the spirit of the dead obeys. The only words that emerge out of this situation come from the resuscitated youth. His words reveal to us the compassionate effect of the Lord’s present touch. With the psalmist he sings: The Lord preserveth the simple: I was brought low, and he helped me. Return unto thy rest, O my soul; for the LORD hath dealt bountifully with thee. For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling. I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living. I believed, therefore have I spoken…(Psalm cxvi 6-10) The young man speaks and mirrors the thoughts of his mother’s heart. He has new life; so too does she. The Word made Flesh has given him words - words of new life, words of resurrection, words of joy that come from the Word. And only then do the others react. And there came a fear on all: and they glorified God, saying, That a great prophet is risen up among us; and, That God hath visited his people. (St. Luke vii. 16)
The point of this morning’s Gospel runs far deeper than the surface-level specifics of an historical event. Surface level experiences and historical events must find their respective meanings elsewhere, through the Spirit that reveals their deeper significance. Think about the widow who recently lost her ambassador husband to a terrorist attack. Think about the man who is told he has three months to live because of inoperable cancer. Think about the widow of Nain. Each of these people is confronted with a spiritual problem; on the one hand they can mourn, despair, give up on life because there is no meaning now, though, clearly, there had been spiritual meaning before, or, on the other hand, they can believe that there was goodness and there was joy, and, presumably, that goodness and joy can be found again because they transcend and conquer all threats to their persistent presence. The point is this: suffering and loss on a human and earthly level always provide opportunities and occasions for deeper awareness and appreciation of God’s presence. The widow of Nain found this in the miracle of her son’s resuscitation. In all probability the majority of sufferers today will not experience an earthly miracle, but they can experience a spiritual one which is just as real and has as much impact. They may find it when they search for and seek out the spiritual gain to be gleaned from the evidence and effects of a limited and fragile, uncertain and unpredictable earthly existence. Through it all the real miracle that each of us may seek, with the widow of Nain, her son, and the much people that witnessed the event, is the birth of faith.
But, you ask, and rightly so, how do I find this faith today? Well, we might begin by identifying with the dead, only child of the mourning mother. What do I mean? The dead man is a sign and symbol of the kind of person that we are meant to become. But, you protest, I am not dead but alive. Yes, you are physically alive, and that is only too clear! You are alive to the physical happiness, creature comforts, good food, fine wine, the economy, the hustle and bustle of political madness, and otherwise superficial accoutrements of what we called last week, mammon. But are you spiritually alive? Are you conscious that you possess a soul that alone enjoys the limited forms of happiness that define your life? Are you conscious of a soul that experiences joy, happiness, and pleasure and then sadness, grief, and pain? Are you aware that your soul seems to be immersed in things and situations that are uncertain, unpredictable, unstable, impermanent, and quite frankly perishable - be they human or inanimate? And if you are conscious and aware, have you ever thought of pursuing something better, nobler, truer, and surer, whose stability will transcend this world of decay and death? And while we are at it, if you have been alert to the call of the spiritual, have you thought of how Christians believe that God is always with us and for us, enabling us to endure the experience of the earth in order to find the Divine? Paul Claudel, again, has said, Jesus did not come to explain away suffering, or to remove it. He came to fill it with His presence. For the Christian, Jesus Christ comes into a suffering and otherwise sad human condition in order to wash and cleanse, purify and fit it for its eternal destiny. The only requirement is faith. Jesus says, Be not afraid, only believe.(St. Mark v. 36) Faith is the key that unlocks the door and alone leads a man from spiritual death into new life.
Jesus says also, Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. (St. Matthew v. 4). St. Paul says, Therefore I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.”(Eph. iii. 13) Both Jesus and Paul suffer and mourn over those who are spiritually dead. But both also persist in the prayer of hope, that the same people may discover faith and pursue love. To love is to suffer, many have said. The love that suffers all manner of human weakness, rejection, cruelty, torture, and even death confronts us this morning. That love is with us and for in Jesus Christ, longing -still and ever, because it is Divine - that faith might be born in the soil of our souls. In one way, for certain, it will have touched us, if with St. Paul we embrace it and share it as we look out into the world towards our neighbors and say, For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height, to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Eph. iii. 14-19) Jesus suffers in the hearts of his saints as they long for all men’s new life, knowing this might provide us with our first step out of death. Amen.
But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation,
a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light…
(1 St. Peter 2. 9)
You might be wondering this morning how exactly I plan to weave the words just quoted from St. Peter’s first Epistle into this morning’s lections. St. Peter seems to be speaking of something rather grand, elevated, and regal, or of a reality that is radically disjointed from the usual flow of human life. He talks of a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people. He speaks, in other words, of a world that seems light-years away from the one described in this morning’s Gospel. For there we are reading about a leper colony, a place and space of deathly sickness, a sign and symbol of sin and death, a reality, on the face of it, far removed from the true, the beautiful, and the good. On the one hand we think of reconciliation with the kingdom of God, while on the other we are reminded of a pain or suffering that precludes its possibility. But Jesus is the master artisan who can buttress the gap, unite the two, and so enable us to move from the one to the other. Jesus has a funny way of showing us that what we thought were mutually exclusive and radically opposed conditions of existence, end up being essentially interdependent and united in the journey to the kingdom. Jesus will show us this morning, that the chosen generation, royal priesthood, holy nation, peculiar people –in other words the Church, had better become a leper colony.
So Jesus is on his way to founding or establishing the Church. We read that it came to pass, as Jesus went to Jerusalem, that he passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. (St. Luke xvii. 11) Jesus is passing through the middle divide of two cities or two earthly communities. The one is full of Samaritans and the other full of Jews. In neither place will he find the conditions suitable to his spiritual work. Neither those on the left nor those on the right can offer much by way of healing and salvation. Earthly people are taken up with worldly idols and false gods; it doesn’t matter much what their philosophies are. Jesus knows that the road to the kingdom must cut between and lead above both. And that road is peopled by those who need and desire what he has come down to bring.
And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off: And they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. (St. Luke xvii. 12, 13) Leprosy in the ancient world was viewed as a spiritual malady earning its carriers exile from the city of man. The physical manifestations were deemed so hideous by healthy men, that it was judged a sign of punishment for sins, both by the God of the Jews and the deities of the Gentiles. In any case, the leprous were unwelcome in both communities, and so lived on the borders of both as aliens to all. And it is one such group that we encounter this morning. We meet them because Jesus chose not to take the common and safer route for Jews making pilgrimage up to Jerusalem, but to go through the midst of this dangerous border between them and the Samaritans. Jesus chooses, in other words, a mostly no man’s land, from which to teach us about the nature of his kingdom and the Church that leads to it. So these alienated and shunned lepers stand on the outskirts of the village, and they cry out for help from one whom they trust will hear their plea. These men are in a ditch of a predicament and do not merely need help but want it. There is no diabolical if thou be the Son of God, prove it here. They are not tempting Christ, but desperately seeking what they believe he alone can offer. Their friendship together is a companionship in misery; they seek the power of one whose mercy can heal their pain. Knowing most acutely a common disease, they urgently seek a common cure. So, as Archbishop Trench reminds us, they do have hope that a healer is at hand, and so in earnest they seek to extort the benefit. (Comm.Par. 262) And so they cry, Jesus, Master, have mercy upon us. (St. Luke xvii 13)
And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go show yourselves unto the priests. (Lev. 14.1-32) And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed. (St. Luke xvii 14) Note that the infant leprous Church must move on faith that flowers into obedience. These are not men who seek a physical cure by earthly medicines. They do not question Jesus’ authority or qualifications. Rather they believe, and so follow his command. They do not ask when and where they will be healed. Neither do they ask how? They do not so much as ask if they will be healed. In fact, they question none of it at all! What they do, is obey, and then follow. For in trusting Jesus’ command, they are led by the spirit, at least, that is, for a time. An outward and visible spiritual disease has led these men to an inward and spiritual pain and suffering. Their plea emerges from within and so is verbalized. And so, only words here- Jesus words, are needed. The implications of Jesus’ words Go shew yourselves unto the priests are trusted inwardly and so operative outwardly. As they went, they were cleansed. (St. Luke xvii 14) Notice that nothing more was needed for one kind of healing in this case. The men were physically healed and so they continue on. But is this the end of the matter? Is this miracle about healing the physical disease of leprosy only? Does this miracle teach us that faith and obedience, going to the temple to show ourselves to the priest, moving externally and visibly to receive a blessing, are all that are needed?
No. What is clear from the miracle that we read about this morning is that this process of healing that Jesus inaugurates is indeed about spiritual transformation. We read of one man who alone turns back to lead us into the truth. He is the one whose cure has startled his conscience. Far from experiencing only the effects of a new lease on physical living, this man senses a kind of health and power that invades his innermost consciousness. For it was there that he felt most deeply the pain of alienation and separation from other men, and thus from that place and space that this new contact, this Jesus, had touched him. There in his soul he had felt the pain, from the depths of his spirit he had longed for a friend, and so it is from that space that he knows the power. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. (St. Luke xvii 15,16) This outsider, this alien to Israel’s promises alone turns back. No doubt he knew that the Jewish priests would offer him no blessing at Jerusalem. But more importantly he turns back to the source of all healing and health. He not only turns back, but he glorifies God; he not only praises God, but he falls down at the feet of God’s presence and power. And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger. (St. Luke xvii 17,18) This Samaritan is a stranger to God and his promises. But it is this stranger who perceives and knows Jesus most truly. His faith has grown into spiritual thanksgiving. He heart is enlarged, his soul expands as he discovers the spiritual gift of this unknown Giver. His knowledge is startling and profound. His healing will run deeper that any physical cure to the disease of leprosy. Jesus says to him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole. (St. Luke xvii 19) This man alone, amongst the ten, has been healed inwardly and spiritually.
The question that we ask ourselves this morning, is, where do I find myself in this morning’s Gospel miracle? Have I begun to sense that I am one of the ten lepers? Am I a part of a community that is marked by a debilitating disease that that desperately requires the cure that God alone can give? Is the leprosy in this morning’s Gospel an image of the sin that, I know, has oppressed my life? And is the community of lepers a picture of the church that comes together outwardly and visibly to acknowledge a common disease and to seek a common cure? Having received the promise of Jesus, and trusting in his word, does our community then image the response of the nine who proceed to move on, or does it rather imitate the turning of the one who returns to give thanks? In other words, having taken Jesus at his word, what effect do his promises have upon our lives? Are we here to be healed outwardly and visibly only- in word alone? Or are we here to be healed also in deed and in truth? And if the latter is the case, are we turning and thanking God for the good work that he has begun in us already as a community, desiring from our hearts its completion, individually, in the inner man? For if we desire more than group therapy and communal healing, we had better turn and return to the source of our wellbeing. In so doing, with the Samaritan in this morning’s Gospel, we shall have allowed the Lord to touch us where we were most in need of healing. And there, beginning to feel and know the power of God, we shall love and thank him all the more. Then and there, with the alien and outcast, the Samaritan, and with St. Peter – a leprous sinner also, we shall begin to become a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people;…showing forth the praises of God who hath called us out of darkness into his marvellous light…Amen.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons