The Counter-Reformation revived a late-Medieval tendency to adore the Lord Jesus Christ in the Reserved Host of the Altar. Anglo-Catholics of a certain stripe tend towards such devotions also. Prayer Book Anglicans tend to consider such practices as being beside the point. They are beside the point because Prayer Book Anglicans follow Archbishop Cranmer in his emphasis on the real meaning of the Holy Eucharist. The Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper is given to us so that we might come into Communion with God the Father, through Jesus the Son, and by the motions of the Holy Spirit. What is most important here is that we might be transubstantiated by God from sinners into saints. Archbishop Cranmer believed that we ought to focus on receiving Jesus Christ in our hearts and souls so that He might begin, continue, and end the good work of His Redemption in us. This business of surrendering to the Lord Jesus within is not easy. It takes time. We must eschew old bad habits or vices and acquire new good habits or virtues. Our focus must be on the sanctification of our souls through thoughtful and meditative surrender to the Lord within. Adoration is beside the point because it distracts us and keeps God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit on the outside of us and at a safe distance. Oh sinner, Jesus says, I am my Father long to come to you and to make our abode within you. (St. John xiv. 23) We are called to let Jesus in! We are called to focus on the inward and spiritual transformation that Jesus longs to bring about in us through the Holy Spirit. Let us let Jesus in that He might crucify us to the world, the flesh, and the devil! Let us let Jesus in that He might resurrect us into new life and holy virtue that leads us to God’s Kingdom! Let us prepare for His coming in to make His abode in us. Let us receive Him in the Holy Communion. Let us go out into the world with Him alive in us, alive in our thoughts, words, and works. Let us then thankfully sharing Him with all whom we encounter.
But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in
the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God,
looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. (St. Jude 20)
Today we celebrate the Feast of Saint Simon and Saint Jude. Both are of the original Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ. Of each, we know scarce little. Saint Simon is mentioned four times in the New Testament and then only in a list of the other Apostles. Saint Jude is mentioned six times –one of the twelve three times, as the half-brother of Jesus twice, and as the author of his own Epistle once. So, for my purpose of preaching, I have very little history upon which to establish a foundation for a theme. Our 1928 Book of Common Prayer revisers make it even more difficult since they replace the Epistle Lesson from St. Jude with that of Ephesians ii.
Of course, the reason that the revisers changed the Epistle in 1928 was that St. Jude’s Epistle is full of Hell Fire and Brimstone! So perhaps this might be today’s theme! As many of you know, this letter that St. Jude has written writes of the wrath to come for those who are willfully living in notorious sin. St. Jude writes in earnest to a community of Christians who are surrounded and perhaps infected by sinners that threaten to carry it away from the faith once delivered to the saints. (St. Jude 3) He exhorts them to contend earnestly for [this] faith so that they might be established in and grow up out of the common salvation. (Idem) The common salvation is the work of Christ, once offered and once completed to overcome, vanquish, and destroy the sins of the whole world. Again, perhaps we might join St. Jude today in studying the wrath to come for wicked sinners and the lukewarm saints who enable them!
What is worrisome to St. Jude that the flock of Christians he addresses is very much in danger of being swept up into the surrounding sins of a culture that is bent on its own idolatry. He even suggests that his brood has been negligent, distracted, unfocused, and not centered on the all-sufficient work of the dying Saviour! Why else would he say that there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ? (Ibid, 4) His congregation has been asleep at the spiritual wheel. Its members have not thought sufficiently on the nature of Christ’s sacrifice and the victory that His death has won for all men in all time. His members have not taken seriously the kinds of sins that lead to perdition and everlasting fire. They may not be committing the sins themselves but they are enabling or acquiescing in them by not calling their brothers and sisters to account at the Judgment seat of Christ. Who am I to judge? they might just as well have said. And in so doing, they miss the point of Gospel Truth. We are Christians is the answer. And we are to judge and detect and recognize sin for what it is.
Furthermore, we are to love our fellow brothers and sisters enough to pray for them and then to find a way to share our spiritual concern with them. It is not only Christian duty to call out sin for what it is but also to love and care for others enough that we earnestly attempt to help them out of it! If we do nothing for those about us who are living in notorious sin, we shall be called to account on the Great Day of Judgment for not having told the truth to our brethren.
Belief or faith for St. Jude calls Christians into the spiritual character of living that must never rest comfortably close to excessive and perverse sin. By way of contrast, St. Jude warns his flock about flirting with might very well be eternally contagious.
I will therefore put you in remembrance, though ye once knew this, how that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not. And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day. Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire. Likewise also these filthy dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities. Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee. (Ibid, 5-9)
Those who do not believe in deliverance from slavery to sin and sinners will be destroyed. Those who take their eyes off of God their Saviour, who are distracted and detained by sinners and their sin have in all truth left their own habitation (Idem) or their true spiritual home and the source of their nurture. They will be rewarded with the chains of slavery that will find no final liberation from darkness. If they dally and flirt with fornicators and those who go after strange flesh (Idem) in a strange way, and join those who mock, deride, ridicule, and despise virtue and the hope for its operation in human life, they will be rewarded with the vengeance of eternal fire. (Idem) And thus, to effectively disarm the enemy, St. Jude exhorts us to follow the example of St. Michael in rebuking Satan. The implication is that we must have the courage and determination to follow St. Paul’s advice in relation to all sin:
Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth…above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit….(Ephesians vi. 13-18)
St. Jude tells us that the sinners we should avoid speak evil of those things which they know not: but what they know naturally, as brute beasts, in those things they corrupt themselves. (Ibid, 10) He says that they have no fear of God before their eyes, are full of hot air that can neither fertilize, grow, nor nourish virtue. Their sexual sin can bear no fruit and cannot fulfil the purposes that God intends for their bodies. Their sin is at root sterile, lifeless, and barren. As their bodies have forsaken the natural law so their souls retreat to the law of despair that forever mocks and derides God’s good love and the power of its healing. These are murmurers, complainers, walking after their own lusts; and their mouth speaketh great swelling words, having men’s persons in admiration because of advantage. (Ibid, 16) They are full of gossip, tale-spinning and tale-spreading, belly-aching and bewailing their lot in life, lying, cheating, stealing, and flattering as they desperately attempt to secure a safe-space from what they forever suffer in spiritual oppression. We should be wholly disturbed by such sinners and their sins. My zeal hath even consumed me; because mine enemies have forgotten thy words. (Ps. cxix. 18, 139)
St. Jude exhorts us, in these last days, to separate ourselves from these mockers of Jesus Christ who walk after their own ungodly lusts. (Ibid, 18) He insists that we must do so since they have not the Spirit of God. (Ibid, 19) In rejecting the hope for conversion and transformation, they have quenched the Holy Spirit and sinned against the Holy Ghost. We can do nothing for them but pray that in some great and terrible way God might slay them in the Spirit and, if it be his will, in His time, to offer some tangible help. St. Jude says this:
But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And of some have compassion, making a difference: and others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh. (Ibid, 20-23)
In the end, St. Jude exhorts us to have courage and zeal. The zeal brings us back to St. Simon. Simon was called The Zealot. Some Bible scholars have said that Jesus chose him to countervail the influence of St. Matthew the Tax-collector. The Zealots stood wholly against Jews who worked for the Romans. Yet, Simon was called to love them still and desire their conversion. St. Jude gives him the principles of courage and charity on which to proceed.
Today we praise God for the loving courage of St. Jude and the zeal of St. Simon. St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that zeal is a derivative of ‘delos’ –to boil or ‘to throb with heat’. He tells us also that it is ‘a necessary effect of love’ and ‘the vehement movement of one who loves to secure the object of his love’. (S.T.A.: Summa Theoligica, i. ii, 28. Iv) Zeal arises from an intensity of love. (Idem) So, St. Jude doesn’t hate God’s enemies. He desires their salvation. But he wants us to tread carefully in association with them. Over-familiarity with sinners threatens our commitment to Christ’s moral goodness. Such is of the devil and must be rejected. But still we must pray for those who seem hell-bent on the possession of Satan. St. Thomas says also that it is evident that the more intensely a power tends to anything, the more vigorously it withstands opposition or resistance. Since therefore love is "a movement towards the object loved," as St. Augustine says (QQ. 83, qu. 35), an intense love seeks to remove everything that opposes it. (Idem) We must vigorously withstand the opposition that comes from sinners and their sins. Our intense love for their salvation will be more likely to remove their opposition to God’s Desire in us if they see that we love them truly and not superficially. St. Jude and St. Simon spent their lives trying to conquer the world courageously with the zeal of God’s love. In the end, both were martyred for the faith. Let us close with St. Jude’s final prayer:
Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to God our Savior, who alone is wise, be glory, majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen. (St. Jude 24-25)
There is none to plead thy cause, that thou mayest be bound up: thou hast no healing medicines. All thy lovers have forgotten thee; they seek thee not; for I have wounded thee with the wound of an enemy, with the chastisement of a cruel one, for the multitude of thine iniquity; because thy sins were increased.
(Jeremiah xxx. 13, 14)
Our opening verses come to us from the 30th Chapter of the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah is describing the spiritual man who suffers the punishment of sin on behalf of sinful Israel. He is treated as a leper, a Samaritan, an alien, and an outcast. Other men avoid him because they find nothing in him worthy of sympathy or identification. They shun him like the plague because they conclude that he must have done something that places him beyond the reach of any lasting forgiveness and mercy. They cannot see that he suffers because of their sins and that his spiritual state is really well advanced beyond their own immersion in a sin that they cannot recognize.
As Romano Guardini points out, forgiveness to them is a covering up, a looking away, a gracious ignoring….(The Lord, p. 131) Yet, God does promise in this morning’s Old Testament lesson to heal and cure the sinner of his wickedness. For I will restore health unto thee, and I will heal thee of thy wounds, saith the LORD; because they called thee an Outcast, saying, This is Zion, whom no man seeketh after. (Ibid, 17) The man who feels himself to be an outcast and alien, who remembers his sin, is the very man whom God promises to visit, to restore, and to redeem in the future.
In our Gospel lesson for this morning we find a similar situation, but something new has transpired since the days of Jeremiah. One Jesus of Nazareth has come upon the scene of human existence carrying with Him the fulfillment of God’s promise. We read of a man brought to [Jesus], sick of the palsy, [and] lying on a bed. (St. Matthew ix. 2) Any man in Jesus’ time who was sick of the palsy, afflicted with paralysis or any other physical impediment, would have been judged as one who was being punished for his sins. Yet in this morning’s lection we find that the man has friends who sympathize and identify with his sickness and with that spiritual sadness that accompanies his disease. The man could not move and was wholly aware that his physical handicap was frustrating his spiritual growth. But in this case the friends of the sick man share his pain and suffering. Unlike those in the Old Testament lesson, who were bereft of compassion, here we find a communal faith that reaches out to Jesus for healing. And though St. Matthew doesn’t mention it, both St. Luke and St. Mark tell us that when Jesus performed this miracle, He was in a house thronged by so many people that the sick man’s friends, determined to bring him to Jesus, let him down through the roof. (St.Mark ii. 2-4; St. Luke v. 18,19) Archbishop Trench writes that, In them we see a faith that overcame hindrances, and was not to be turned aside by external and physical impediments. (Miracles, p. 157) Both the sick man and his friends see something in Jesus that promises to heal and relieve the miseries of this world. So Jesus, who knows what is in [men’s] hearts (St. John ii. 25), brings God’s compassion to the man sick of the palsy. Notice that Jesus will always respond to those whose faith is determined to triumph over the weakness of the flesh. Son, be of good cheer, (Ibid) He insists at first. St. John Chrysostom says, O wondrous humility. Despised and weak, all his members enfeebled; yet [Jesus]calls him ‘Son’ whom the priests would not deign to touch. (Catena Aurea, 180) The paralyzed man is welcomed as one of God’s own children. And lest the man might wrongly conclude that Jesus came to heal his body alone, Jesus says, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee. (Ibid) Jesus responds always to that faith which persistently seeks to procure the better benefit. First and foremost, what faith seeks out is God’s spiritual power. Jesus sees into the palsied man’s heart. There He finds sadness and sorrow for sin. Perhaps the man had cursed God for his handicap; maybe he felt too sharply the blow of God’s wrath against his resentment and bitterness. Maybe he was teetering on the verge of despair. What Jesus sees most is one inwardly and spiritually wounded, bruised, troubled, confused, and weak. Archbishop Trench tells us that, In the sufferer’s own conviction there existed so close a connection between his sin and his sickness, that the outward healing would have been scarcely intelligible to him, would hardly have brought home to him the sense of a benefit, till the message of peace had been spoken to his spirit. (Idem, 158) The sick of the palsy suffers as a fallen man in a fallen world. First his soul must be healed by Jesus.
But what follows is truly remarkable. No sooner does Jesus speak God’s forgiveness into the man’s heart than the miracle is interrupted. The Scribes have a real problem with what Jesus has said and done. What they hear, they call blasphemy. Their point is that God alone can forgive and that any man who claims to offer God’s forgiveness is dangerously identifying himself with God. Who does this man Jesus think that He is, presuming to offer God’s forgiveness to another, and not conditionally, but absolutely? Forgiveness, it would seem, is a theoretical concept to the minds of the Scribes. If it is offered at all, it is conditional upon the customary sacrificial ritual and offerings of the Jewish priests in the temple. And even then, when the Jewish clergy dispense it, it can only ever be God’s covering up or looking away from sin. (Idem) In other words, forgiveness, as the Scribes would have it, cloaks a sin but does not eliminate it fully. For them, forgiveness is a looking away or a covering up but not what confronts and overcomes evil. Cynically they think, Who can forgive sins but God only? (St. Mark ii. 7)
Herein lies the problem. The Scribes live in a world where God looks away or covers up so that man might become good enough. For all practical purposes there is neither a working out of sin nor a working in of righteousness. Thus, the Scribes convinced themselves that their relationship to God was as perfect as it gets. They thought that they were made to be of assistance to God –to judge where evil was and to what extent forgiveness was a looking away and a covering up of evil.
Yet, when man constrains God’s goodness in this way, he can never be spiritually satisfied or healed. Man knows that he must be judged by God. His sin is only too real and thus cries out for a power that can overcome it and make him better. Man longs that God’s forgiveness might come with the power to go and sin no more. But then he finds that while he longs to be forgiven, he has trouble forgiving others. Along with the Scribes, Fallen Man says that only God can forgive (St. Mark ii. 7). He says this because he doesn’t really know how to forgive. The power of others’ offences seems too strong; his memory of them is so fresh that it still enflames his breast with ill will and bitterness. At best, he feels resentment and at worst he feels contempt. He cannot allow Jesus to forgive since he cannot imagine that power can persist in human society.
Jesus, however, insists that the forgiveness of sins is the foundation of all healing that God brings to man. What man is most in need of from God is the healing of his soul. The fallen soul is far sicker than the body and is the cause of man’s division from God’s will and way. The fallen soul is therefore the root that brings all other sickness and death into the world. What separates us from God is a spiritual disease. Jesus comes to restore the love of God as the forgiveness of sins into our lives. The forgiveness of our sins is the first moment of reconciliation with our Maker. Without man’s reception of it, all the bodily health in the world will never save a man from damnation.
For God’s perfection of our souls through forgiveness to proceed, our hearts must erect no conditions or barriers to its free operation. Nothing must stand in the way of God’s forgiveness taking root downward and growing upward in us. If we would be saved, God’s forgiveness must overcome the hold that sin has on us. Sin must die. As Romano Guardini suggests, God intends to render sinners sinless. Between the state of sinfulness and sinlessness there lies a death, a destruction in which the sinner is submerged, in order to be lifted from it into a new existence. (The Lord, p. 131) In Jesus Christ the forgiveness of sins blends love for the sinner with hope for his perfection. God forgives us an infinite number of times because it might just take that amount for us to repent and believe, to be healed and sanctified, and to be made slightly better instead of abominably worse. The forgiveness of sins is extended to us in order that it might be cherished and perfected, knowing that if it does not move and define us, we will die on the vine of a life that has rejected God’s love.
We must add that the forgiveness of sins is a spiritual state that can be shared with others in prayer, though seldom in person. Most of our fellows are about as spiritually mature as the Scribes, and so they respond to our forgiveness of their sins as an insult to their pristine perfection. Thus, they are made all the worse by a pride that refuses to accept what they so desperately need. No matter, we, for our part, must forgive all men their trespasses against us from the ground of our hearts and souls. To expect mutual and reciprocal forgiveness from others can only ever be a fringe benefit to our mercy. To die to self is to come alive to God’s transformative love, as forgiveness gives birth to hope that abounds. And, as William Blake reminds us, Death is part of the Divine Loving that makes and saves:
Jesus said. Wouldest thou love one who had never died
For thee or ever die for one who had not died for thee?
And if God dieth not for man & giveth not himself
Eternally for Man, Man could not exist. For Man is Love:
As God is Love: every kindness to another is a little Death
In the Divine Image nor can Man exist but by Brotherhood. (Jer 96:23-28)
The Ancient Greeks became convinced that the balanced life was essential to the mind’s discovery of Divine truth since it conditioned the body and soul to the service of God. Of significant importance was the virtue of temperance or moderation- sophrosone, sometimes translated as self-control. We think of that virtue specifically in relation to food, wine, and sex but the Greeks meant something more all-encompassing than that. They taught of a moderate disposition in relation to all things, which is to say that they were thinking of a broader harmony achieved when the body, spirit, and soul related rightly to everyone and everything.
The harmony which the Greeks pursued was a means to an end in which every part of the human nature was doing its job well. The soul’s role was the highest, and so its function was meant to govern both the body and the spirit. The body then was to be tamed and acclimated through the spirit’s willful desire, which in turn was moved by the soul’s vision and understanding of the Divine. So what the soul would come to know of God would then be willed in spirit for the body.
Of course, the Greeks had no conception of the radical meaning of life which Christians would later discover through the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. What I mean to say is that they could not conceive of a kind of life that would be moved by the kind of love that Jesus revealed. No doubt, the Greeks did come to know God and many of his necessary attributes. They learned that he was uniquely Almighty, Everlasting, Unopposed, Impassible, Infinite, Pure, and Perfect. They would even discover his Wisdom, Reason, or Logos -also called his Word, as the principle that rules and governs the universe. They would then attempt to translate what they learned of his Wisdom into a practical prudence and utility that could establish Justice and harmony in the human community . Thus what they gleaned from the Divine Maker’s rule and governance of the universe, they taught should be applied to individual life and then to the common life of the polis or the city. Both the self and the community were called to temperance and moderation that enabled man to imitate the Divine life both individually and collectively.
We did say that the Greeks did not discover through human reason the radical nature of Divine love as it was revealed to man by Jesus. This is not to say that they did not discover that God is love. Aristotle says that God, or the First Mover, is the love that moves the sun and the stars. He and other ancient pagans did discover God’s love and passion as what moves all things, enlivens and quickens them, and leads them to their appointed ends and destinies. So it would be unfair to say that the Greeks did not see and even thankfully appreciate God as Love.
The point is that the love of God which the Greeks found was, as it were, limited. This was not their fault- they were after all only human. And human reason is confined to its own created limitations. They employed human reason to find out as much as was humanly possible about God. That they found as much as they did is testimony to the capacity of fallen man to pursue and discover God. Remember, the Greeks believed that all of human life was moved by Divine power and inspiration and that the human mind could not find and discover truth without God. What they could not find was a way to God forever. Having come to know God from a distance –as it were, they could not bridge the gap between the God they knew and the men that they were. They could not save themselves. This the best of them knew. This the most humble of them endured. This, perhaps, the most loving of them used as a reason to hope to obtain from God what their own reason could never produce.
Thoughtful Prayer Book Anglicans believe that The 39 Articles of Religion ground them in the fundaments of the Christian religion and faith. They believe that they are written to guide the Anglican mind towards God and to retain its undivided attention. They do not tolerate the distractions of a spiritually immature Medievalism that is forever obsessed with incidental minutiae and beside-the-point theater. They insist that the Anglican mind give its complete and undivided attention to God in Himself, salvation, and the means to it. They draw the Anglican mind into the subjective acquisition of Objective Truth. The subject’s participation in the Divine Object’s motivation is all-important for the success of sanctification. The extreme ritualist attempts at reassertion of division and alienation from God through the idolatry of contrived difference is wholly discouraged. What is of the moment is the need to embrace God’s movement towards His Church and her believers by way of His Original Intent.
Lord we beseech thee, grant thy people grace to withstand the
temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil; and with pure
Hearts and minds to follow thee.
(Collect Trinity XVIII)
In the Gospel for Trinity XVII you and I were advised by our Master to take the lowest seats in the community of men, spiritual spaces of little interest to people of the world, and a disposition or character of lowliness and humility in an effort to better situate ourselves in relation to God’s Grace. What our Lord meant to teach us was that our place in relation to Him, expressed through the image of the Wedding Feast, is always His to give. And, more than this, that He gives not to those who work and think that they have earned it, but rather to those who think themselves unworthy of it. God alone is above all; God alone provides; God alone can move man out of the lowliness of alienation and division from things Divine and up into the presence of His Eternal Love. Yet he must be full of all humility and know that he can never deserve, merit, or earn anything but just punishment for his offences against the most High God. So we were encouraged to wait upon the Divine condescension of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ, and thus found ourselves experiencing one element in the story of God’s love for us.
This week we continue to pray that our hearts and minds might be open to the continuation of God’s story, the story of Incarnational love in the world that He has made and longs to redeem and save. What this means is that just as God’s story was told long ago in the earthly life of Jesus Christ, so too should the story continue to be read in the hearts and minds of you and me. Through the Holy Spirit you and I are meant to become Sons and Daughters of God the Father –His children, the brothers and sisters of Jesus –members of His Mystical Body, and those whose lives communicate and tell the story of God’s redemptive work in the world. So, to that end today we pray that we might be granted Grace to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil, and with pure hearts and minds to follow…the only God. (Idem)
But what are these temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil and how are we meant to respond to them? First, there is the temptation to be drawn away from the soul’s good and into the world. The world tempts us with the possibilities of becoming a part of another story. And that story is one of man’s journey into a far country well removed from the governance, protection, love, and care of God. St. Thomas says that the world tempts us either by attaching us to it in prosperity, or by filling us with fear of adversity. (T.A.:The Creed, What is Faith?) The world is what is closest to our senses, and thus what provides a natural home from which to write the story of our lives. She promises us the stars and rewards us with the moon. She gives and takes away surreptitiously, treacherously, and abruptly. And yet think about how many men are addicted to her fickle and coquettish manner! She provides an ongoing stream of information about nothing. She invents truths and false gods to distract our minds from the absolute truth of God. She fills our senses with images and sounds that desensitize our hearts from the love of the good. She bombards our lives with corruption and evil to such an extent that they become the norm and habits. And all the while she remains unaccountable, innocent, free, and transcendent. She tells us that nature, physics, biology, anatomy, and physiology alone account for truth. And yet when anyone seeks their verifications and proofs, she insists that we must only believe. Her meaning is relative and so reason and free will are suspect. We believe her because it is easier for slothful minds to blame someone or something rather than to take responsibility for the real cause of their actions. So we are tempted to worship the world as a false god.
In addition there are the temptations that are closer to our passions. We pray that we may resist the temptations of the flesh. And here, of course, we mean not only the alluring objects of carnal concupiscence, but really anyone or anything by which the self or the ego realizes the fulfillment of a good independent of God’s will. And so we find ourselves tempted not only by sexual desire divorced from God’s creative purposes, but into gluttony and drunkenness, and also greed and covetousness. We live in a world of unimaginable creaturely comfort that is only ever a fingertip away from our mind’s seduction by the forces of evil.
Finally there is the temptation to be as God. We pray to resist the temptations of the devil, which is to say that we must resist the temptation to determine what is good and what is evil on our own. This is the sin of the ancient Greek sophists, and of the cultural relativists in our own day. It is a recipe, in the end, for true spiritual anarchy and the end of civilization. For it leads, as Thomas Hobbes said long ago, to a state of war where everyman is at war with every other. Hereby it is manifest that during the time men live without a common Power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called War; and such a war as is of every man against every man. (Leviathan) It is a state into which the devil lures us away from and lasting principles and the permanent things. Here he tries to convince us that life has no meaning. He insists that we can be independent of God and spiritually autonomous. He maintains that God neither loves nor cares because He takes so long to heal, sanctify, and work His redemption into our hearts. Thus, He builds up our resentment and bitterness and so turns us against God and our neighbor.
Against this, we Christians must find the divine inspiration that contravenes and overcomes such madness and irrationality. God has written His story into the life of Jesus Christ and longs to write the same story into our hearts and souls. In Jesus Christ, God has taken on our condition, and from His heart longs to bind us to our Heavenly Father through the Holy Spirit. Christ longs that His story should never end. Christ longs that we all should become respective pages and even chapters in the new Book of Life that He has become. This Book of Life written is meant to be read still in the lives of the redeemed, in the heart of you and of me.
In today’s Gospel we read of a lawyer who tempts Jesus. The lawyer is bright and thinks that he possesses all that is needed to tell God’s story. He asks, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? (St. Matthew xxii. 36) Jesus answers him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neigbour as thyself. (Ibid 37, 38) Jesus seems to give two answers. But in reality He gives one. The point is that God has never ceased to write one story into the hearts of faithful men. This is the one love that is doubly expressed in the life of Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ we find the story of a love for God that is so complete that it simultaneously translates into love for neighbor. Christ loves God with all of His heart, soul, mind, and strength. The story of the same love is then revealed as the Father’s desire for all men’s salvation. The love of God is the love for man that will love to the point of death, death upon a cross. All that is alive in Christ is God’s love, which will make His death the first step into new life. All that is alive to Christ are those neighbors whom He invites into the death that only He can die. He alone dies perfectly to the world, the flesh, and the devil (Idem), and He will love willing men into His death. Loving God with all of His being enables the Saviour to die to the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil for us. Loving God with all of His being enables Him to rise up into glorious Resurrection and Ascension. In Christ we can find a story of love that begins and ends with God. In Christ we too can begin to love God so fully and perfectly that we cannot be restrained from loving Him in all others.
Because the double Love that ascends back to the Father now comes down once again through the Holy Spirit to us, we can love God and our neighbor. Hans Urs Von Balthasar describes the spiritual motion in this way:
The Holy Spirit is signified by in Latin by the little word in (Credo in Spiritum) that is, I give myself over, in belief, into the sacred and healing Mystery of the Spirit…Into an incomprehensible Some-One, who is someone other than the Father and the Son, and whose characteristic task will be to work in a divinely free way from within the humanly free Spirit, revealing to our limited minds the depths of [God’s love] that only He has explored…To him, the most delicate, vulnerable, and precious one in God, we must open ourselves up, without defensiveness, without thinking that we know better, without hardening ourselves, so that we may undergo initiation by Him into the Mystery that God is love. (Credo, p. 76)
When we give ourselves over in belief, into the sacred and healing Mystery of the Spirit we begin sense, feel, and ingest the depths of God’s love. Through Him, God makes us the words, sentences, paragraphs, and chapters in the story that will impart His love to all others. This love comprises an habitual dying to sin and rising to righteousness. In us, the world should be able to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest that God’s Word made Flesh is the love that enables us to die to the world, the flesh, and the devil and with pure hearts and minds to follow the only God. In us, they should read what St. John writes: Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. Amen.
From His position in Heaven Jesus continues to exercise his magnetic
power on all creatures; all feel deep within themselves His summons,
His injunction to ascend.
(Claudel, ‘I Believe…’)
Trinity tide is all about the flow of God’s Grace into the hearts of faithful souls who desire to ascend ultimately back to God the Father. In this season our Collects, Epistles, and Gospels help us to acquire this Grace. Grace is essential and necessary for our salvation and it is given to be embraced here and now that we might always be moving towards the Kingdom in our earthly lives. Grace is not only about a benefit or gift that will be bestowed upon us in some future then, but it is the very means by which we are moved now as God’s love for us becomes the usual and familiar motivation of our every intention. Christians desire now is to be so moved and defined exclusively by God’s love in a magnetic way that knits the human heart to God through Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit.
Again, none of this will come to pass unless we begin to embrace the Grace of God in the here and now. This is why we pray in this morning’s Collect that God’s Grace may always prevent and follow us, and make us continually to be given to all good works…(Collect Trinity XVII) The word prevent here is used in the old English sense of to come before. So we ask that the Grace of God should come or stand before us. Before us then we should have a conscious awareness of God’s antecedent desire to lead, guide, and direct us in all good works. Before us we should see and perceive that power whose strength and might alone can embolden us, a wisdom whose brightness and illumination alone can inspire us, and a love whose concern and care alone can sanctify us. God is before us to draw us forward into communion with Himself.
We pray also that this Grace might follow us. God’s Grace preventing us or coming before us seems safes enough; it is an aspiration that we follow as we move forward. Aristotle says that God is the final end that draws all things back to Himself. God causes all movement through love and draws created beings to Himself by being loved. (Met; 1072b4) So a man looks out into nature and as he searches for the causes of all being and meaning, he is moved finally to rest in God the First Cause. God comes before man and draws him back to Himself. Or, in the case of God’s fullest and final revelation and manifestation, we believe that God comes before us in Jesus Christ and gives us the Grace to follow Him to the Kingdom. The author of Hebrews writes: Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of Grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebr. iv. 16)
But the idea that God’s Grace may always…follow us, or get behind and beneath our sinful selves doesn’t seem as easy to grasp. Getting behind and beneath the human condition seems strange to us. Like Aristotle, we tend to want God to present Himself to us in a straightforward way, by drawing us forward logically, step by step, into His Grace. We prefer to be doing the following rather than being followed. And yet, if we do not allow God’s Grace, particularly in the person of Jesus Christ, to follow us, I fear that we shall never let ourselves be found and then healed by the Grace that alone can transform and save our souls. What I would like to suggest to you today is that we should not only follow God’s Grace but must be followed always by God in Jesus Christ so that He might reveal to us the true nature of our spiritual lives in relation to Himself.
We have a nice illustration of the reality I describe in today’s Gospel Lesson. In it, we read that as Jesus went into the house of one of the chief Pharisees to eat bread on the Sabbath day, that they watched Him. (St. Luke xiv. 1) At the outset, we seem to have an example of God in Jesus Christ coming before us. Far from being followed by Jesus, it would appear that the Pharisees are following Jesus’ every move and word, for they watched Him. (Idem) But Jesus doesn’t waste any time in changing their direction. He knows what the judgmental and censorious religious elders of the day are up to and so He reveals how He follows them. They think that man is made for the Sabbath and not the Sabbath day for man. Jesus knows that they believe that the rules and laws that govern the Lord’s Day are non-negotiable, binding, and inviolable. They follow the form of worship strictly in an outward and visible way but they do not allow its substance and meaning to turn back on them, to address them, to follow them, and thus confront and provoke them into holiness. So, they follow Jesus hoping that His behavior might fall short of following their law.
But what do we read next? And, behold, there was a certain man before him which had the dropsy. And Jesus answering spake unto the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath day? And they held their peace. (Ibid, 2-4) It just so happens that there is a man who had been following Jesus and who is sick with the dropsy. Dropsy is what we would call edema, a condition in which the body is full of excessive fluids that could lead to congestive heart failure. Dropsy is a severe handicap that prevents a man from functioning in any normal ambulatory way. So, on the celebration of the Lord’s Day, prior to the normative feasting, we find a man who follows Jesus in order to be found. Jesus takes the man, heals him, and lets him go. (Ibid, 4) Then He asks the assembled guests, Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the Sabbath day? And they could not answer him again to these things. (Ibid, 5) The Pharisees and lawyers are rigorous and uncompromising when it comes to following the directives of the Lord’s Day. Yet, while they follow the Law, and while they have time to show mercy upon the brute beasts, they will not extend God’s compassion to their fellow men.
Before them is a man whose body is full of excessive fluids that threaten immanent cardiac arrest. He knows that he is sick and diseased and so follows Jesus in pursuit of what God’s mercy can bestow upon him. And, from the other side, Jesus follows him, gets beneath and behind his condition, and heals him with the power that reveals the Sabbath’s real meaning! Ironically enough, these Pharisees and lawyers are full a worse disease than the dropsical man. St. Augustine interprets Christ’s condemnation of these hypocritical Jews. You grudge that I should deliver this man on such a day from the water that is choking [his heart]; yet if the same danger from water threatened one of your asses or oxen you would make no scruple of extricating [or saving] it on the Sabbath day. Why then do you not love your neighbor as yourselves? Why are you unwilling that this sick man should receive the help which you would not refuse to your own brute beasts? (Quaest. Evang. ii. 29) Jesus Christ not only follows and understands the predicament of the sick man, but He follows the spiritual sickness of the Pharisees. With the Jeremiah this morning He says, I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings. (Jer. xvii. 10)
But Jesus tells a parable to reveal more fully how He follows and comprehends the sins of most of us. When thou art bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in the highest room; lest a more honourable man than thou be bidden of him; and he that bade thee and him come and say to thee, Give this man place; and thou begin with shame to take the lowest room. But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee. (Ibid, 7-10) Our Lord Jesus here rebukes not only the behavior of the Pharisees but that of all religious people who will not allow Jesus to follow them, find them and get beneath and behind their spiritual sickness to administer His cure. Jesus exhorts us all to sit in the lowest room with all humility and meekness. He urges us to identify with the dropsical man. With him we should know our sickness and that the Sabbath Day is made for man, and not man for the Sabbath day. (St. Mark ii. 27) Jesus is following us to trigger the need for His merciful healing of our sinful nature.
Today we come to church with the knowledge that Christ is following us and that He knows us better than we know ourselves. Today we come to pray for the humility that will open our hearts to His healing mercy. We should never run away because God in Jesus Christ is following us. He does this because He loves us and longs to exercise His magnetic power over us. And as we humbly confess that we have not been open to what He reveals to us about ourselves, we should not fear His correction. We should all feel deep within themselves His summons, His injunction to ascend. (Idem) With St. Anthony Abbott, we must beware of Pharisaical pride: Because of pride of heart the fiery chariots were made, the torment of burning flames, the coals of living fire. Because of pride of heart all things are troubled and thrown into disorder, and men war against each other, and from this came tyranny. (On Humility and Deceit: Anthony Abbott) For though, as St. Augustine says, we have often thought to escape God when we lifted our heads in pride, [we should] humble them and fly to Him…For He is good when He spares [us] and when He chastises [us]; for everywhere He is truly merciful. (Meditation on the Humility of Christ) And then because whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted (Ibid, 11), with Jeremiah we shall earnestly pray, Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved: for thou art my praise. (Jer. xvii. 14) Amen.
THERE was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon;
and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not;
neither was their place found any more in heaven.
(Rev. xii. 7)
Today is the Feast of St. Michael & All Angels. It is our Patronal Feast. And, evidently, our Patron and His angelic compatriots are soldiers of war. We don’t tend to think of angels –and St. Michael is a sainted angel, as being at war at all. Because of the modern psychologizing of Christianity, Christ, His Saints, and His angels have been reduced to props in a modern melodrama of despair where God must affirm a dysfunctional creation because it has no hope beyond its own disease. Think about it, our Christ, the Saints and Angels tend to be treated as those who must make us feel good about ourselves. They come to assure us that we are ok just the way we are. They demand no change, no alteration in spirit, no transformation of heart, and certainly no conversion to the high expectations of the old Christian God. Of course, this Christ, these Saints, and Angels are actually Satan and his soldiers in disguise and the ones whom St. Michael and His Angels are chiefly bound to confront, conquer, and vanquish in our hearts and souls so that we might be made right with the real Christ.
Angels are intellectual substances. The word angel comes to us from the Greek aggelos, and it means messenger, envoy, or one who is sent. Because they are pure spirits, they have no bodies. Like everything else that God has created, they are good by nature. The canonical Scriptures tells us of two angels, Michael and Gabriel. The Apocryphal Tobit mentions Raphael. The Book of Enoch tells us of Uriel and Phanuel. An anonymous company of angels visits the Shepherds prior to Christ’s birth and another warns the Wise Men not to return to King Herod. One angel exhorts St. Joseph to take Mary and Jesus into Egyptian exile and then again to return to Galilee. Others minister to Jesus after His temptations in the wilderness. One strengthens him at His agony in the Garden. Another rolls back the stone of the sepulcher to allow for Jesus’ Resurrection. Two are present to ask the women why they seek the living among the dead. Two more rebuke the Apostles for trying to follow the Ascended Christ into Heaven when their work on earth was just about to begin. Angels liberate both Peter and Paul from their respective imprisonments. For the future, Christ promises to send angels to herald His Second Coming. An angel bids Cornelius call for St. Peter and another angel sends St. Philip on his mission to the Ethiopian Eunuch.
But we also know from Scripture that some of the angels declared war on God at the beginning of the Creation and out of pride, envy, and treachery cast off God’s light and embraced the darkness. When St. John tells us that there was war in heaven (Rev. xii. 7-9), he is speaking of the original spiritual combat that commenced at the dawn of creation when the Angels of Darkness tried to conquer the Angels of Light and to usurp God’s nature and power. That there could have been any desire to challenge God’s authority illustrates that all rational creatures have free will. Heaven is, to our minds, mostly that place where there is no struggle, strife, or division, where there is only peace, joy, and loving union with God. But St. John reminds us that this reality was the effect of a hard-won battle. Sin originated in Heaven’s presence and sought to overcome God’s rule and governance. St. Augustine tells us that Moses had a vision into the cause of sin on the First Day of Creation. And God said, Let there be light, and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: And God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. (Gen. i. 3,4) God had no sooner made the first light than it became necessary for Him to separate it out from the rebellious and contrary darkness. This was not physical light that God created since He had not yet made the sun and the moon. Augustine insists that this is the spiritual light. The good angels, then, are the created partakers of the eternal light which is the unchangeable Wisdom of God…who are created to become spiritual light and to become the first Day of God’s new creation. (D.C.D. xi. 9) God divided the light from a darkness that the bad angels chose to become. The darkness is the bad angels’ willful rejection of the eternal Light of God that informs the life of the good angels. Because the good angels live in the Light of God, they are commissioned to be the created light of God’s first spiritual Day. The bad angels are called the darkness and so are banished from Heaven into the spiritual Night of everlasting darkness. (D.C.D. xi, xii)
So, from the very beginning of their creation, angels have been involved in a spiritual war. The better part become God’s messengers and warriors of light; the contrary part become God’s enemies and the carriers of darkness. Satan and his friends’ sin were full of pride and envy. St. John tells us that the bad angels envied God’s wisdom, power, and love. Not content to be those who were made to receive and reflect the Light of God’s truth, beauty, and goodness, the bad angels rather wanted to be God. Unable to rejoice in the gift of God’s goodness, they belligerently war against the need to embrace its truth, beauty, and goodness with a humble and submissive heart. Their intent is to prevent others from discovering God’s loving determination to create and redeem all creation.
Against them stands Michael and the Good Angels who never cease to surrender themselves to the Divine Fatherhood with all gratitude, humility, and obedience. Michael and the Good Angels are forever inspired and moved by God’s desire to make and to redeem. They are over-awed by the beauty of God’s Wisdom, the Power of His Grace, the Love of His heart. The Love that they embrace is the Light that fortifies them against Lucifer and his friends and protects those who would be faithful to God.
So today we honor and venerate our Patron Saint Michael and All Angels. Michael is the chief of all the angels. The name Michael means he who is like God. The Greek Church refers to him as Archistrategos or God’s Chief Angel. We honor St. Michael and All Angels not merely because of his past victory. The parable of Michael’s victory has real meaning for us today. For, as we know, there is always war in Heaven. Of course, it may not be readily apparent to earthly men whose spiritual senses are dulled by sentient saturation. Far from fighting off demons in order to cleave to God’s will, our world seems superficially sunk in slavery to them! Truth is relative, it grunts and groans. The human body and its carnal cravings are all that there is to human perfection. Hope for any psychic and spiritual healing is mostly unbeknownst to our society since most men don’t ever get around to discovering that they have souls in the first place. The Devil says that looking for the root causes of sadness, despair, depression, anxiety, and sloth might threaten immanent unnecessary and uncomfortable warfare. The Devil wants us to believe that all of life is genetically predetermined. The Devil desires to destroy any confidence we might have in reason and free will. The Devil promises us a peace and comfort that need not involve either of them. The Devil wants to enforce conformity to sameness in idiocy, irrationality, and imbecility. Differences are evil. The Devil knows that the pursuit of higher ends lifts you above the mundane, mediocre, and moronic mass of most men!
Thus, we are encouraged by Satan to trust that there is hope for betterment and perfection. Although, curiously enough, his spiritual conclusions will not lead to any unity in the end but chaos, anarchy, and real warfare. Satan knows this and loves to surprise people with the effects of their stupidity. Against all of this, angels are Christ’s ministering spirits and they long to assist us in our battle against all demons who divide us from God and one another. They long to carry purification, illumination, and unification to us. (Hier. Coel. ix. 2, op. cit. Danielou; The Angels and Their Mission) From Jesus, they carry the Heavenly power to purify our souls, illuminate our minds, and unite us with God and neighbor in love. The good angels long to couple us in lasting communion with God; the bad angels yearn to divide, disjoin, and dissever us from God and one another.
Let us remember that there is always war in heaven. Nothing that is good and true can be won or retained without a struggle. The good must always hold their heritage at the price of ceaseless vigilance. He who would attain and keep truth and prove himself faithful to it must be prepared to engage in constant battle…Every attempt to make earth more in harmony with heaven will be challenged. (The Christian Year in the Church Times, p. 274) Michael and his Angels are fighting constantly for the victory of right over wrong, good over evil, and light over darkness Their battle extends from Heaven’s throne to our earthly abyss. Their vocation or calling is to lift us up into the realm of God’s truth, beauty, and goodness. They long to situate us in that Light from which emanates the truth that reveals who we are and what we need from our God.
Today, my friends, let us remember that we stand at the gates of heaven. There was war in heaven. (Idem) May good St. Michael and All Angels alert us to the devil and his temptations. May they bring us vigilance, acuity, and alert. May they strengthen us with Christ’s might in the inner man so that we might obey and serve God alone. May they equip us with self-mastery and help us to courageously confront and fight evil with God’s goodness in the warfare of a lifetime. May they stir in us watching and waiting with circumspection as we learn to embrace the courage that joins in Christ’s final and ultimate victory over Satan and His Sin. With the poet, let us wonder:
Is there care in heaven?...Is there love
In heavenly spirits to these creatures base,
That may compassion of their evils move?
There is:—else much more wretched were the case
Of men than beasts: but O the exceeding grace
Of Highest God! that loves his creatures so,
And all his workes with mercy doth embrace,
That blessèd angels he sends to and fro,
To serve to wicked man, to serve his wicked foe!
(E. Spenser: F.Q. ii. 8)
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons