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 scarcely anything. 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. Unfortunately, we 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 had to change his intended theme of our common salvation to address the more pressing matters of Christian Morality. So perhaps this might be today’s theme! As many of you know, St. Jude’s Epistle speaks 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 by pervasive immorality that threatens to carry them away from the faith once delivered to the saints. (St. Jude 3) He exhorts them to contend earnestly for [this] faith to make place for the common salvation which they must embrace. (Idem) The common salvation is the work of Christ – the activity by which Christians embrace Christ’s work through the Holy Spirit in their daily lives. 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 is that his flock of Christians 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 flock is not vigilant against the kinds of sins that lead to perdition and everlasting fire. They may not be committing the sins themselves, but they are enabling others who acquiesce 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 brethren enough to pray for them and then find a way to communicate our spiritual concern over their spiritual negligence. 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 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 adultery, homosexuality, lesbianism, in transsexuality, and transgenderism, and join those who mock, deride, ridicule, and despise moral virtue that conquers all vice in human life, their reward will be 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 fulfill the purposes of God’s intention for their bodies. Their sin is sterile, lifeless, and barren. Their bodies have forsaken the Natural Law as their souls retreat to the law of despair that forever derides God’s good loving power to heal. 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, bellyaching, and bewailing their lot in life, flattering as they desperately attempt to secure a safe-space from what they conceive as 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) They have rejected the hope for conversion and have and have sinned against the Holy Ghost. (1 John v. 6) We must pray that in some great way God might slay them in the Spirit and, in His time, to offer some tangible help. St. Jude continues:
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)
St. Jude exhorts us to have courage and zeal. The zeal brings us back to St. Simon. Simon was called The Zealot. 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 with 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’. With St. Thomas Aquinas, this 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. We must tread carefully in association with them. Over-familiarity is of the Devil and threatens our commitment to Christ’s moral goodness. Still, we must pray for those who seem hell-bent on Satan’s possession. 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 of all sin. Our intense love for sinners’ salvation will be more likely to remove their opposition to God’s Desire in us if they see that we love them superficially. St. Jude and St. Simon spent their lives conquering the world courageously with the zeal of God’s love. In the end, both were martyred for the faith. Both were zealous for sinful man’s wholeness, the full activity of his moral and spiritual powers, gaining salvation here and now, looking to a future in a perfected supernatural life. (The Christian Year in the Times, p. 281) Let us join with them come what may. With John Henry Newman,
Let us seek this praise which cometh of God. Let us seek it, for it is to be obtained; it is given to those worthy of it. The poorest, the oldest, and the most infirm amoung us, but are despised and forgotten, who seem to answer no good purpose by living on, and whose death will not be felt even by their neighbors as a loss, these even may obtain our Saviour’s approving look, and receive the future greeting, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’
See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools,
But are wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
(Ephesians v. 15, 16)
In this morning’s Epistle, St. Paul exhorts the Ephesians and us to walk circumspectly. Circumspection comes to us from the Latin word circumspecere. It means to look around. St. Paul is urging his Greek audience to look around before walking. Of course, St. Paul uses the word walk in a spiritual manner. By walking, Paul means moving through wisdom and prudence so that Almighty God…through [His] bountiful goodness…may keep us from all things which may hurt us. (Collect, Trinity XX) We must walk circumspectly, being ready both in body and soul to cheerfully accomplish those things which [God] wouldest have done. (Idem) Otherwise, we turn into fools. Foolish men do not embrace the Divine Providence for their lives. They are swift to speak and slow to hear. (St. James i. 19) Consumed with the things of this world, they hang upon what is impermanent and uncertain. Fools do not see the world in and for God.
We are not called to be fools, but wise men. Wise men know that the world around us is full of temptations to gluttony and greed. Wise men see that the world is not theirs but belongs to God. Everything in it is to be used in His service for salvation. Utility forbids excess. Excess bespeaks idolatry. Thus, wise men learn how to redeem the time. Redeeming the time is the best use of this world in preparation for the next. Wisdom bids us to use our time in this creation chiefly for Heaven’s interest in us. Wise men can come to believe that the eternally begotten Son of God, who creates and informs all things, is the same Jesus Christ who longs to reconcile all men to God’s Providence. Wise men see that creation is God’s, man is God’s, and that both can be perfected through Christ’s redemption of the time.
St. Paul tells us this morning that we are called to be not unwise but understanding what the will of Lord is…and to be filled with the Spirit. (Ibid, 18) But what is the nature of this filling? Paul Claudel describes it this way:
It is the Holy Spirit –ardent, luminous, and quickening by turns –who fills man and makes him aware of himself, of his filial position, of his weakness, of his discontent in his state of sin, of his dangers, of his duty, and also of his unworthiness and the inadequacy of everything around him. Through man the world inhales God, and through him God inhales the world….and continually renews his knowledge of it.
The wisdom of God is Jesus Christ made present to us through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit enables us to remember ourselves in Jesus Christ. We come to understand our need for Christ and His Sacrificial Death, and for the ongoing work of His Resurrected Life. Yet the Holy Spirit desires to give us more than just wisdom or knowledge. Through the Holy Spirit, we can inhale God and begin to find ourselves in the habit and activity of God the Father’s Word, Jesus Christ, who possesses all meaning and definition for our human nature.
But how can we be inhaled by God and then inhale Him? It sounds strange to our ears. Claudel is using an image to illustrate how God’s Wisdom and Love can forever define our redemption of time.You see, the Holy Spirit desires that such wisdom should indwell our hearts and change our lives. God’s Providence reveals to us how He sees us and how He intends to redeem us.
We see another picture of the process in this morning’s Gospel Parable. In it, Jesus illustrates our end as a marriage feast that we should prepare to attend. The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son, and sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding….(St. Matthew xxii. 2) The king is God the Father who always prepares us, if we are willing, for the marriage feast of His Son, Jesus Christ, in the end times. The Son is the Holy Bridegroom, and He desires the Church to become His Bride. God, through the Holy Spirit invites all human beings to feast on His wisdom and His love. Through the Holy Spirit, God sends out invitations through His servants. Yet we read that they would not come. (Ibid) A second invitation is sent out. God never ceases in His determination to inhale us. But we read that those who were invited, made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise, and the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them. (Ibid, 5, 6)
The Parable really speaks first about those who are too busy to be inhaled by God’s Holy Spirit. It speaks also about those whose resentment leads them to violently reject it by slaying those who bring God’s gracious invitation. In response to their foolish obstinacy, we read that in the end times, God the Father will send forth his armies of angels to destroy [the] murderers and burn up their city. (Ibid, 7) The real fools are those who bring on their own destruction. Those who cannot be bothered with God, who have better things to do, or who resent the presence of God in His creation as their only true Redeemer, will be rewarded for their foolishness. They may be fair-weather Christians who are neither hot nor cold, lazy pagans who are spiritual but not religious, or they may be card-carrying Atheists who, for whatever reason, hate God for His love. At any rate, not wanting to be inhaled by God, their desire will be rewarded, and they shall be exhaled forever.
But before we get too excited about what this means for us –since, presumably, we come to church to inhale God, we had better read the rest of the Parable. What do we find? God’s wisdom and love are still alive in the hearts of His friends through the Holy Spirit. So, He sends them out again. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests. (Ibid, 9, 10) Down through the ages, the friends whom God has inhaled are always carrying His desire to the nations. To the marriage feast, they bring in men and women who are both bad and good. They are sinners submitting to God’s Grace, attempting to redeem the time, as they allow Him to work the bad out and work the good into their lives. They are not yet perfect but are daily dying to sin and coming alive to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans vi. 11) These are honest men and women who come to Church so that Christ can wash away their sins and fill them with His righteousness. But what do we read next?
And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: and he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. (Ibid, 11-14)
What is this business about the wedding garment? It seems that in the end, there must be a judgment between the bad and the good, those who have redeemed the time and those who have not. God always inhales the bad and the good but the bad had not reciprocated God’s love. St. Gregory the Great tells us that this wedding garment is charity, or the love of Christ offered to the Bride. Many come to church with faith but have not exhaled by putting on Christ with faith in His charity. (Hom. xxxviii) They have not the adornment of the new and spiritual man, as Archbishop Trench insists. (R. C. Trench, The Parables, The Marriage of the King’s Son.) Again, with Trench, they are despisers, counting themselves good enough in themselves, in the flesh and not the Spirit, to appear before God. (Idem)Because they have not exhaled God’s loving Providence in Jesus Christ, they have despised His Spirit, who alone can redeem the time in them. The wedding garment is that charity of God which adorns the soul with God’s Grace. Those who have faith but have not reciprocated God’s love are not clothed with wise circumspection and have not redeemed the time. Perhaps they have grumbled with discontent and ingratitude. Perhaps they expected special favors from the Divine Providence, always to be to His liking, saved from everything that brings hardship. (The Church Year in the Times, p. 200)
We are called today to inhale and exhale God. Receiving the Holy Spirit means surrendering all rights to ourselves (Oswald Chambers) with that capacity, that receptivity which no longer offers any obstacles to the will of its Creator. (Claudel, 179). The “I” must die; we must lose all self-importancethat stands between us and God. Walk in love, the Apostle says, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour. (Ibid, 1) Christ, the Bridegroom, has loved us; we are inhaled by God. If we inhale Christ by the Spirit, God’s wisdom will overcome our foolishness. In psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, we exhale God’s love for us in Jesus Christ with gratitude. In Jesus Christ, we are invited to suffer, die, and rise. Walking circumspectly, we conquer all sin and redeem the time through Jesus Christ. If we put on the wedding garment, we shall be given moral strength, with all that makes life honorable in service and worthy of character, ready to bear adversity cheerfully, suffering for duty’s sake gladly, giving us moral vigour and the truest self-respect. (The Church Year, p. 200) God intends to clothe us with it. If we are not clothed, we shall be left speechless. Then said the king to the servants, bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Ibid, 13)
Today we are invited to the marriage of the King’s Son. If we reciprocate the King’s love for us, in Christ, and by the Spirit, we shall begin to redeem the time. Many are called but few are chosen. (Ibid, 14) They are chosen who are clothed with righteous zeal for God, redeeming the time with exhaled reciprocal love. We pray with the poet:
Love, lift me up upon thy golden wings
From this base world unto thy heavens hight,
Where I may see those admirable things
Which there thou workest by thy soveraine might,
Farre above feeble reach of earthly sight,
That I thereof an heavenly hymne may sing
Unto the God of Love, high heavens king.
What is easier to say, ‘Thy sins be forgiven thee’ or ‘Arise, take up thy bed and walk’?
(St. Matthew ix. 4)
Simon Tugwell reminds us that the one and only comment on prayer that Christ gave to His Church is that if we do not forgive, we shall not be forgiven. (Matt. vi. 14, Prayer: Living with God, p. 80) We have not received the forgiveness of sins from Our Heavenly Father through Jesus Christ by the Holy Ghost if we fail to forgive others. When we do not forgive others, the forgiveness of sins does not govern us from the throne of our hearts. Then, we take it for granted that Our Heavenly Father will forgive us repeatedly and treat forgiveness of sins like some kind of entitlement benefit that we deserve for being card-carrying Christians. But this reveals that we do not treat sin, confession, forgiveness, or Christ’s command to Go and sin no more with much seriousness. Rather than seeing ourselves as those who need forgiveness and must work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. ii. 12), we are filled with pride over whatever supposed goodness we possess and are threatened by genuine goodnessfound in others.
So, let us ask ourselves if what stops us from receiving and extending the forgiveness of sins is our own pride? Do pride and hubris erect a barrier to the self-realization that the forgiveness of sins alone leads to new life? Is there an element of immature insecurity that quashes all hope for inner transformation? Does what others think about us fill us with despair over the truth of sin in our lives? Perhaps an impenetrable wall surrounds our past interior trauma to shield us from ourselves? Perhaps we spend our days trying to show the world that we are sane, sound, and successful. But inwardly and spiritually, we are broken, suffering, and enslaved to sin. Pride commands us to put on a good face; so, we move on appearing to be one thing while we are not. Pride tells us that we can hold it all together, fend for ourselves, and do perfectly well without anyone’s help. Yet, when we encounter goodness in others that we do not possess, our pride weakens, security teeters, and self-reliance collapses as we envy that goodness in others that we reckon is beyond our greatest effort to secure. Pride turns into envy. Dorothy Sayers, in her commentary on Dante’s Purgatorio, says this:
The sin of envy always contains an element of fear. The proud man is self-sufficient, rejecting with contempt the notion that anybody can be his equal or superior. The envious man is afraid of losing something by the admission of superiority in others, and therefore looks with grudging hatred upon other men’s gifts and good fortune, taking every opportunity to run them down or deprive them of their happiness. (D.C.: Purg. p. 170)
Envy fears the excellence in other men that threatens and devalues his own. Envy’s thoughts, words, and works aim to destroy his privileged neighbor, depriving him of any goodness. Envy thinks falsely that he can never secure the goodness he lacks, and he is determined that no other man should find it either.
Pride turns into envy and then the anger or wrath that kills the forgiveness of our sins and our forgiveness of others. This is a temptation for us all. Receiving God’s forgiveness of our sins is not easy, especially since our world defines good and evil by the changing and unreliable relative standards of feeling and emotion. Most of us, when left to the devices and desires of our own hearts, measure out forgiveness in so far as it enhances our narcissistic pride. Sometimes, from the perch of moral superiority, we assert with pride that we have forgiven others when they have not wronged us in any way. Their goodness unnerves us, and so we ascribe imagined evil to them. At other times, we claim that forgiveness costs too much because the sin was so great, and so we withhold it, twisting with envy and now even anger that our enemy doesn’t repent! Envy that cannot bear others’ goodness is enraged. If our unforgiveness has hurt another, we bask in pride’s power to enslave. His suffering is therapeutic. But in all three cases, pride and envy combined with anger hurt others because we have never truly discovered the Divine Mercy expressed in the forgiveness of our sins through detachment.
Those who are immersed in the world’s affairs must also learn how to withdraw from it if they would grasp the significance of what they are doing. (The Christian Year in The Times, p. 197) This is spiritual detachment. Detachment enables us to realize that pride, envy, and wrath must be destroyed by Christ’s virtues in this morning’s Gospel lesson.
Behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.
(St. Matthew ix. 2)
Jesus is determined to extend the forgiveness of sins to fallen man, rewarding humble faith with true healing. Forgiveness is always the primary end of Christ’s mission to men of humble heart. Humility and meekness are the virtues that stand against all pride, envy, and wrath. Christ comes into the world first to heal the sickness of the soul. As Archbishop Trench remarks
‘Son, be of good cheer’, are words addressed to one evidently burdened with a more intolerable weight than that of his bodily infirmities. Some utterance on his part of a penitent and contrite heart called out these gracious words which follow, ‘Thy sins be forgiven thee.’ (Miracles, p. 157)
The man sick of the palsy is more diseased in soul than body. Perhaps he is consumed with pride and enviously begrudges other men’s wholeness. Anger at God would not be surprising. He is so spiritually and physically paralyzed that he cannot ask. Thus, Jesus declares, Thy sins be forgiven thee. (Idem)
The Scribes become unhinged. Behold, certain of the Scribes said within themselves, This man blasphemeth. (Ibid, 3) Sin offends only God; God alone can forgive sin. What they did not see was that God was in Christ, reconciling, the world unto Himself. (2 Cor. v. 19) The Scribes were right if Christ as a mere man imparted forgiveness to another. But they had another problem. Christ’s glory stirred pride, envy, and anger in them as something they thought He could not and did not have because they did not. Again, with Archbishop Trench
Their sins were in that self-chosen blindness of theirs which would not allow them to recognize any glory in Him higher than man’s…and closed their eyes to all in their Scriptures which set Him forth as other than they themselves had resolved He should be. (Miracles: Ch. 9)
Jesus responds, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts? For whether is easier to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk? (Ibid, 5) Jesus knows there can be no tangible proof for the forgiveness of sins since it is inward, invisible, and spiritual. To be sure, it is easier to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee, than to say, Take up thy bed and walk. But because the Scribes have never known the forgiveness of sins as the gift of God’s love, Jesus heals the man’s body to reveal that forgiveness is Heaven’s power as love. But that ye may know that the Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith He to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house. And he arose and departed to his house. (Ibid, 4-7)
Today we learn of the healing power of the love that Christ brings to the man sick of the palsy. Through detachment, we see how Jesus conquers the sin and sickness of the soul. Now we turn to ourselves. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins….(1 St. John i. 9) Repentance is needed since our sinful flesh is always too ready to side with the cruel enemy of our souls. The things of this world press hard upon us, either to terrify us out of our duty, or humor us into our ruin. (Jenks, 221) The Great Physician bids us to search our hearts for our sins and confess them. We must not walk in the vanity of [our] mind[s], having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through…ignorance…because of the blindness of [our] hearts. (Eph. iv. 17, 18) The understanding is darkened when pride, envy, and wrath enslave us. Our Collect for Purityreads Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit….(Collect for Purity) We ask the Holy Spirit to purify not only our words and works, but the thoughts of our hearts. Withdetachment, with humility and meekness, we must see how our pride, envy, and wrath have killed the spirit of God’s goodness and separated us from our neighbors’ hearts. God’s Spirit must cleanse our motivations and intentions. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (ibid, 9)
With detachment, we take a long, hard look at ourselves in relation to God. We must remember that detachment is not necessarily found in the monk or mystic’s cell, cultivating a fugitive and cloistered virtue, potentially absorbing vanity. Vanity is the danger of asceticism. Detachment must give us the mastery of ourselves. (Ibid, p. 198) Detachment is found in the time and space that lead us from God to Jesus Christ. Detachment studies Christ’s parables, miracles, and his unjust and unmerited suffering in death on the Cross. Detachment stops here to find the height, depth, length, and breadth which God’s own Son and Word made flesh endures to save us. Detachment sees that Forgiveness is Divine forth-givingness, the free gift of a life which in the perfection of its spiritual power cleanses a man’s soul from the taint of evil and requickens it with new spiritual energies by which he is freed from sin. This forgiveness is offered to mankind through the Cross. (Ibid, Good Friday, p. 91) With detachment we become forever thankful for the redemption of the world by Our Lord Jesus Christ, for the means of Grace, and the hope of Glory. (G.T. BCP, p. 19) Detachment then leads to our being renewed in the spirit of [our]mind[s] as we put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. (Eph. iv. 23, 24) Detachment will give us true liberty in Jesus Christ, the freedom of soul found in the body of the man sick of the palsy, who jumped up, carried his bed, and marched before the gathered Biblical Critics. Because Jesus Christ alone had power on earth to be forgive sins, you and I can be freed from sin and not only forgive but also love all others in Him.
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 from last Sunday, you and I were bidden by our Master to take the lowest seats at any grand dinner, the place of least importance in the eyes of the world, and to embrace a character of humility and meekness to better situate ourselves in relation to God’s Grace. Our Lord, using the Parable of the Wedding Feast, intended to teach us that our Heavenly Father’s compassionate mercy alone can invite us to go up higher into His Kingdom. He elevates only those who are humble and meek, rather than the proud and hubristic who reckon that they have earned a high place in his presence. This is practical advice of the greatest spiritual value: God alone is above all and alone provides; God alone can lift man out of the lowliness of alienation from Himself and into the presence of His Eternal Love. Man should humble himself before God and know that he is not worthy to eat of the crumbs that fall from God’s table. Man must acknowledge with meekness that he cannot save himself and needs God’s coming down in Jesus Christ to redeem and save him.
This week, we continue to pray that our hearts and minds might be open to the Divine Condescension in Jesus Christ. God’s coming down in His own Son, Jesus Christ, is a hard truth for most of us to swallow. We believe that an all-perfect God would never sully or demean himself by taking on our frail and suffering human nature. We have trouble seeing how Jesus Christ can both be the Second Person of the Trinity, God’s eternally begotten Word, and the suffering servant who takes the lowest seat in creation by suffering and dying innocently for all of us, pouring out His blood to pay the price for our sin, to ransom and redeem us, and to reconcile us to our Heavenly Father.
And Jesus Christ seems to make matters worse by trying and testing our faith. Today, He asks the Pharisees, What think ye of Christ? Whose Son is He? (St. Matthew xxii. 41, 42) With the Pharisees most of us respond, the son of David (idem) -which is to say the Son of Man. Christ then pushes us harder. How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool? If David then call him Lord, how is he his son? (Ibid, 43-45) David calls Christ his Lord and yet it is prophesied that Christ shall also come out of his loins and be one of his sons. How can Christ be both the Son of God and the Son of Man? Of course, this union of contraries and opposites is hard for us mere mortals and frail flesh to imagine even ever being possible!
But our problem, no doubt, originates in our fallen world. 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 tempts us with promised treasure, only to confuse us with the incessant fear of its loss and suffering as a result. Prior to Jesus’ prophecy of His double-nature, as both God and Man, Jesus answers the Pharisees’ lawyer with man’s call to a double-love. If we would only believe God’s Love more fully, we would not find it difficult to see how Jesus is both God and Man. The lawyer had asked Him Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus answered,
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 neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Ibid, 36-40)
Perhaps, What think ye of Christ? Whose Son is he? is more easily believed if we begin to ponder the double-love that Christ exhorts us to embrace. Christ teaches us that the activity of God’s Love should be alive in the heart of Man. Christ is the eternally begotten Word of Love, spoken from the bosom of God the Father perfectly and forever. He is Simple, High, Perfect, and Supreme. But Christ is the same Word of Love made flesh that dwelt among us, that came down from Heaven to reveal God’s love in dying for us, redeeming us, making atonement for our sins, and longing to save us forever. He is the love of neighbor. In Jesus Christ the eternally begotten Love of God is made man.
Why should this surprise us? Hasn’t the Word of God’s Love always come down from Heaven to make and create a world full of wonder? Hasn’t God’s Word of Love made all things, informed all things, beautified all things, and moved all things to their appointed ends? Did not God’s Word of Love speak to the Ancient Jews of His Promised Return and Redemption? Hasn’t the Divine Love always come down and penetrated creation with the inspiration for souls that were alive to His descent? Both Plato and Aristotle have blessed us with what they discovered of God’s love penetrating human life. Why, then, do we have so much difficulty with the Word, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, made flesh who dwelt among us, and suffered and died for us? Is this not the fullest expression of the Spirit of Love? Are not our souls struck with awesome wonder at that Love that can become one of us, with us and for us, as He lives and dies to Love us back to God? Shouldn’t we be overwhelmed by the Word of God’s Love given to us absolutely, as He calls us, loves, forgives, and dies for us? Is this not even more and not less Divine? Isn’t this the Highest Expression of Divine Love that God’s Word comes down to the lowest level of man’s suffering sin, bears it, suffers from it, and then conquers it even in Death upon a Cross? Is this Love not far more Divine than if the Father had never sent His Son into the world to be made man for our salvation?
Dear Friends, today we study the life of Jesus Christ, the God-Man. He is the High and Supreme Word of God’s Love that has come down from Heaven to save us. He is the Love of the Father in the flesh that never ceases to come down to us. Because He is the High and Glorious Eternally Spoken Word of God’s Love, He alone has the Power to take the lowest seat and to reveal what our sin does to Him and to endure it all as we nail Him to His Cross. He alone has the Love and Determination to forgive our sins and hope for our future. His Love is the forgiveness of our sins made flesh. He is the redemption of our human nature made flesh. In Him alone, God and Man meet once again.
In His double-nature, Jesus Christ alone is the double-love for God and Man that is accessible once again to all mankind. In Jesus Christ, we find that Love for God the Father that is simultaneously the Love that does what He must to win back the love of His neighbor. Christ loves the Father with all His heart, soul, mind, and strength. This same Love is returned to Christ as the Father’s desire for all men’s salvation. The Word of God’s Love dies to Himself in earnest for all men’s salvation. All that is alive in Him is God’s Love. His Death is no barrier to His Love for us. All that is alive to Him is the Love of God for His neighbor, whom He invites into the death that only He can die. He alone dies perfectly to sin, death, and Satan, and He welcomes all men to share in His Victory. Loving God with all His being enables the Saviour to die to the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil for us. Such uninterrupted love for God will then soar into glorious Resurrection, Ascension, and Pentecostal Return. In Christ alone, we can find the double-nature that is the Word of Double-Love. In Christ, we too can begin to love God so fully and perfectly that we cannot be restrained from loving all men in God and God in all men.
Today, we long to embrace the reality of double-love made one in Jesus Christ, God and Man, whose double-nature is shared with us through the Holy Spirit. Romano Guardini has this to say about the double-love.
Love of neighbor and love of God belong together: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart…” and “thy neighbor as thyself.” By that same token: “And forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors” (Matt. 22:37–39; 6:12). The love Christ means is a live current that comes from God, is transmitted from person to person, and returns to God. It runs a sacred cycle reaching from God to an individual, from the individual to his neighbor, and back through faith to God. He who breaks the circuit at any point breaks the flow of love. He who transmits purely, however small a part of that love, helps establish the circuit for the whole. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Purity of heart means not only freedom from confusion through the senses, but a general inner clarity and sincerity of intent before God. Those who possess it see God, for he is recognized not by the bare intellect, but by the inner vision. The eye is clear when the heart is clear, for the roots of the eye are in the heart. To perceive God then, we must purify the heart; it helps little to tax the intellect. (The Lord)
The circuit of Love is found in Jesus Christ. He came down so that we might return to God in Him. Meekness and humility are the virtues that enable us to embrace the Love that finds rest in Him. With St. Paul, we shall have returned the circuit of Love to God.
I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ: that in everything ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge; even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: so that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them
that sit at meat with thee. For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased;
and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.
(St. Luke xiv. 11)
We open our sermon today with the host at a dinner party guiding his guest to go up higher, to sit at high table, and to be more honored. An invited guest always defers to the host for guidance as to where and with whom he should sit. Guidance is our theme for this 17th Sunday after Trinity. For Christians, guidance is sought out through the virtues of meekness and humility. Guidance then leads Meekness and humility to wisdom and justice. Wisdom and Justice are perfected only with gratitude for God’s Grace.
Of course, guidance is not much talked about these days. Our society thrives on self-will run riot. The situation is so bad that prerational children’s appetites are deemed more valid than parental supervision. But, as the author of the Christian Year in the Times writes, self-will run riot is inimical to that self-respect that is perfected when the true self acts with all its powers responsive to the will in the service of righteousness. (Christian Year, p. 187) Self-respect demands that meekness and humility search out guidance rationally to find the road that leads to Truth. Homer, the greatest of the Greek epic poets, called upon the heavenly muses for guidance. Virgil did the same. The Jewish prophets appealed for guidance from Yahweh Himself. Dante secured guidance from Virgil. Bunyan’s Good Will provided guidance to his Pilgrim. For Ancient and Medieval Man, the journey into Truth could never be found without humility and meekness’ surrender to rational guidance.
St. Thomas Aquinas writes that humility is a virtue that tempers and restrains the mind, lest it tend to high things immoderately…and strengthens the mind against despair [to] urge it on to the pursuit of great things according to right reason. (S.T. II, ii, 161, i.) For Saint Thomas, meekness mitigates the passions of anger and envy. Meekness combined with humility temper a man to pursue what he can as he can through reason and free will. The two virtues inspire the soul to seek God’s Goodness with due measure and in proportion to human life. If a man strives excessively and immoderately after high things in ways beyond his capacity and ability, he will fall flat on his face. Beware of the ancient Greek Daedalus, who constructed the Labyrinth for King Minos of Crete to imprison the Minotaur. Daedalus’ clever craftsmanship got the better of him when he used it to help Theseus, the King’s enemy, escape the Labyrinth. The King imprisoned Daedalus in the Labyrinth. Pasiphae, the Queen, released Daedalus who then made wings for himself and his son Icarus so that they could fly from Crete. Daedalus, with newfound humility and meekness, warned his son to fly midway between the sea and the sky. Should he fly too close to the water, the sea would engulf him. Should he fly too close to the sun, his wings would melt. In the end, Icarus became so enamored of the sun’s beauty that he forgot himself, ignoring his father’s guidance. He was doubly damned. His wings melted and he fell into the depths of the sea. Man is made to acknowledge that heights and depths are revealed to human nature to find the humble and meek mean between two extremes. If man pursues things beyond his nature, he will fall into the depths of misery and death. Humility is…a disposition to man’s untrammeled access to spiritual and divine goods. (Idem) Humility yields meekness. Meekness submits to God’s goodness as guidance.
Icarus was overcome by his own pride and daring. Pride attempts to exceed the limitations of human nature ignoring the wisdom of guidance. Pride defies the guidance of teachers, laws, and God. Pride ignores history. Pride flees justice and reaps the reward of self-destruction.
St. Anthony Abbott, the Founder of Monasticism, whose guidance helped to form the soul of the early Church, had his own version of Icarus’ fate. He writes that because of
pride of heart, the heavens were bowed down, the foundations of the earth were shaken…angels were cast down from glory and became demons because of their pride of heart…Because of this, the Almighty was angered, and caused fire to come forth from the abyss…made Hell, and its torments…. (On Humility and Deceit, Anthony Abbott)
In Scripture’s account, pride is an intellectual vice that finds its origin in Lucifer’s first rebellion against God. Prior to God’s creation of any other thing, angels were made to exist alongside God and to bask in the glory of His guidance. There was nothing to tempt or distract them away from God! They had God’s guidance. Of course, God’s guidance is His Power, Wisdom, and Love. Angels were made to submit thankfully to God’s guidance. The proud angels envied God’s nature and were angrythat He alone had it. Thus, they rejected God’s Grace-filled guidance that ensures everlasting felicity. So, they fell.
The humble man knows that he is not the creator of his own being and meaning. The humble and meek knows that he is lost in the dark wood of this life. Without help or guidance, he is lost. With St. Anthony, he knows that the deceitful man deceives only his own soul; for [as the Psalmist says]: His sorrow shall be turned on his own head: and his iniquity shall come down upon his own pate. (Ps. vii. 17; Idem) The humble and meek reject self-deception and self-will run riot knowing that these vices lead only to Hell.
The humble and meek seek guidance. They feel within themselves no small sense of powerlessness, futility, and failure in the face of sin. They are like the man with the dropsy in this morning’s Gospel reading. Dropsy is edema, a swelling caused by fluid in the body’s tissues. It renders a man incapable of movement. The humble and meek man identifies with the dropsical man and translate his fleshly powerlessness into the spiritual inability to move out of sin and into righteousness. He needs merciful guidance every day. The humble and meek finds little solace in the Pharisees’ stricture that Jesus shouldn’t be guiding men out of sickness and into health on the Sabbath. If they saved their own asses and oxen on the Sabbath Day, why shouldn’t Jesus stoop down to heal the dropsical sufferer? The humble and meek have taken the lowest seat. Jesus alone is the guide that invites us to come up higher, (St. Luke xiv. 10) The humble and meek humbles himself under the mighty hand of God. (1 Peter v. 6)
Today we pray for humility. G.K. Chesterton tells us that the problem with contemporary man is that he has become humble about truth and not humble about himself. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert–himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt – the Divine Reason [or Wisdom]. (Orthodoxy) Full of false pride, envy, anger, and sloth contemporary man desires no guidance. He is full of himself and nothing more. The humble and meek is like St. Paul in this morning’s Epistle, a prisoner of the Lord embracing alllowliness and meekness, with long suffering, forbearing one another in love endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Eph. iv. 1) His humility and meekness situate his soul to receive the wisdom and justice of God found on Christ’s Cross. Restraining impetuosity, humility and meekness go down to the Cross to submit to the guidance of Christ’s Sacrificial love, which alone can conquer sin and death. He is prepared to accept God’s gracious invitation to come up higher.
Taking the lowest seat is essential for those who hope to find God in Jesus Christ and the salvation He brings. We must identify with all lowly sinners who wait to be asked to come up higher onto the Cross of Jesus into His liberating death.
For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.(2 Cor. v. 14, 15) God’s humility and meekness in Jesus Christ will strengthen our minds against despair, and urge us on to the pursuit of great things…. (St. Thomas, Idem)
God’s humility and meekness in His Son Jesus Christ should overwhelm us. Therefore, is my spirit vexed within me, and my heart within me is desolate. (Ps. cxliii. 4). That Christ took the lowest seat of unjust suffering and shame should destroy our pride.…I remember the time past; I muse upon all thy works; yea, I exercise myself in the works of thy hands. (Psalm cxliii, 5) God’s work is the humility and meekness of Jesus Christ who stretches out His arms on the Cross to invites us to come up higher. God’s omnipotent power found in the weakness of His Son’s death will make us strong. St. Augustine asks, He who throws a stone at heaven, does it fall on heaven or on himself? (Meditation on the Humility of Christ) The proud throw stones up at God’s Son, hanging on the Tree, though in humility and meekness He comes down from Heaven to save us. The stones fall back upon us! Because Jesus guides us to the lowest seat of the Cross, the first step of ascent to God, we can become His friends and be asked [to] come up higher. (Idem)
Let us follow the guidance of Christ’s humility and meekness today as we confess our true nature and need. In patience, let us possess our souls. (Luke xxi. 19) Through it, we can accept God’s wisdom and justice with deepest gratitude. God’s wisdom is His justice – that one man should die for the people. (John xi. 50) Through it, we leave behind the exaggerated ego’s soaring pride to embrace what we need most. With the poet, we can be touched by Grace. Then,
That fair lamp, which useth to inflame
The hearts of men with self-consuming fire
Thenceforth seems foul, and full of sinful blame;
And all that pomp to which proud minds aspire
By name of honour, and so much desire,
Seems to them baseness, and all riches dross,
And all mirth sadness, and all lucre loss.
So full their eyes are of that glorious sight,
And senses fraught with such satiety,
That in naught else on earth they can delight,
But in th' aspect of that felicity,
Which they have written in their inward eye;
On which they feed, and in their fastened mind
All happy joy and full contentment find.
(Hymn to Heavenly Beauty, E. Spenser)
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons: