For our conversation citizenship is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour,
the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our vile body, that it may be
fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby
he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.
(Phil. iii. 21,22)
Perhaps the hardest challenge that Christians face in the postmodern world is that of disentanglement. Disentanglement means prying or freeing oneself from the world in order to serve God. The problem is as old as the Gospel itself, and it is not made any easier by Jesus himself who, prior to His Ascension, prays to the Father: I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. (St. John xvii. 15) Here, Jesus looks as though he is strongly affirming the world in this passage. Jesus has no intention of carrying His friends with Him at that time, literally and physically, to Heaven. Had that been his plan, there would have been no evangelization of the nations. Rather he prays that they may be disentangled from the world so that they might carry Heavenly redemption into it. Disentanglement is a quality of soul that enables the Christian to be in the world but not of the world. So St. Paul says, in our opening quotation, that our citizenship or conversation ought to be in heaven. (Ibid)
And I don’t mean to suggest that disentanglement is easy. To the mind of ancient man the problem came down to this: How can I live in this world and be happy, knowing that only God is happy? Putting this another way, they asked: how can spirit and matter, or even heaven and earth coexist in an ordered way? To the ancient mind, God was the source of human existence yet did not share anything with man. And we know that the tension between the two dimensions bothered St. Paul. In our opening passage he makes it clear that he will be all too happy to greet the day when he gets rid of his pestiferous and lowly body, so that he can put on a glorious body that will be immune to sin and reconciled or one with God. St Paul is struggling to explain that new relationship between earthly and heavenly as revealed in Christ. In fact, human life, redeemed or not, does seem to require the unhappy and difficult co-existence of the spiritual and the natural, the heavenly and the earthly.
The problem of disentanglement is nicely illustrated in this morning’s Gospel reading. We read that, Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle Jesus in his talk. And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians….(St. Matthew xxii 15, 16) The Pharisees were the keepers of God’s Law, and yet as a religious sect of Jews were also always a political force uncomfortably positioned under the foreign and alien rule of the Roman Empire. Their service to God was everywhere monitored by Caesar’s threatening eye. And if this entanglement wasn’t bad enough, they decided to join forces with their enemies the Herodians in order to attack Jesus. The Herodians were the servants and soldiers of Herod, who was himself a creature of entanglement. The Herods' blood had been polluted through intermarriage to pagans. To the Pharisees, the Herods were not full Jews spiritually since through their acquiescence and submission the Romans ruled the Jewish nation. So two political forces came, together to tempt and provoke Jesus –to entangle him His talk. (Ibid)
Here is what they say: Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men. Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Cæsar, or not? (Ibid, 16, 17) The Pharisees saw human life only in terms of either/or and not both/and. They thought within themselves that if Jesus answered that it was lawful to give tribute to Caesar, His fellow Jews would consider Him a traitor to the nation of Israel. On the other hand, should He say it is not lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, the Roman occupiers and their Herodian supporters would judge him to be a potentially subversive insurrectionist or a revolutionary. So they were determined to entangle Jesus in an unsolveable dilemma.
But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? (Ibid, 18) The Herodians were known to have been rather cynically disposed towards the truth, and the Pharisees claimed that they already possessed it. Their real motivation was envy and invidiousness. Jesus’ manner and message threatened their respective power-bases. He says: Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. (Ibid, 19) Christ knows always exactly what He is doing. And this instance is no exception. If you wish to speak about taxes and tribute to Tiberius Caesar, let us examine the matter closely, lest we make a mistake in so important a matter. [So] he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto him, Cæsar’s. (Ibid, 20) Christ wishes to disentangle Caesar from the plotting of the Pharisees and Herodians. The image on the coin is that of Tiberius Caesar, the ruler of the, then, civilized world. The coinage, minted in silver and gold, was used for, among other things, paying taxes. The image of Caesar was the image or symbol of Roman authority and governance. Then saith Christ unto them, Render therefore unto Cæsar the things which are Cæsar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s. (Ibid, 21) Jesus helps the Herodians and Pharisees to distentangle the two worlds so that they can honor and respect both. Since Caesar is your earthly king whose armies protect your borders, keep the peace, and enable you to live in safety, pay your taxes. It is a small price to pay for the freedom from external and visible threats to your bodily existence. And besides, if you render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s (Ibid) no more, and no less, you will be better enabled to render unto God the things that are God’s. And this kind of disentanglement is really what alone will generate a good and holy life.
Rendering unto God the things that are God’s really sums up the life and mission of Jesus Christ and all who would follow Him. The problem with the Herodians and the Pharisees is that they are consumed with the things that are Caesar’s even though both think that they have found a way to overcome it. What I mean to say is that both groups are obsessed with Caesar, this world, earthly life, politics, and even economics. The Herodians are obsessed with serving Caesar through Herod, and have staked their lives and destinies on the good things that can come out of it all. But the Pharisees are equally obsessed with Caesar, in a negative way. They resent the Roman occupation, and look for deliverance from foreign occupation. They do not recognize their Saviour because their idea of the one who should save and deliver them looks more like Caesar than God. In other words, their Messiah will be all too human. Both sides are so rooted and grounded in this life, in the human nature that Caesar personifies and symbolizes, that they haven’t the slightest perception of God’s presence when it is standing right in front of them in the Person of Jesus Christ. They are so entangled with each other and with Caesar that they have no idea of how to render unto God the things that are God’s.
So disentangling what is God’s from what is Caesar’s is essential to the way that Jesus brings to all men. Knowing God must be man’s end. Of course, in truth, everything is God’s, including Caesar. But if what is Caesar’s is separated from God’s will and way, it will only and ever be the means to earthly goods and worldly happiness. Caesar’s life and rule come and go like governments. And Christ isn’t much interested in that precisely because he wants to teach us how to render unto God the things that are God’s.
So rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s is only possible when we know that God is the providential ruler of all things. You see Caesar is only on the throne because God placed him there, just as we are only here today because of God’s providential love. For our citizenship [or conversation] is in heaven. (Phil. iii. 20) And what this means is that we are called to give our true selves, our souls and bodies, over to God each and every day for sanctification and redemption. If we would follow Jesus, we would be far more concerned with the things that belong to God, namely our eternal destiny and salvation. With St. Paul we would learn to have our conversation…in heaven; from whence we learn to look for the Saviour (Phil. iii. 20). We would be vigilant and acutely aware of the dangers associated with the commerce of false gods. With St. Paul we would be wary of me with ungodly ways, who are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things. (Phil. iii. 18) And he has in mind those who have rendered [too much] unto Caesar and this world, and not enough unto God and the other. Rather than disentangling themselves from this world in order to pursue their salvation, they have relapsed into worldly and natural entanglements, and so are moved more by this world than the desire for God and His kingdom.
But we, with Caesar, are stamped with the image and likeness of Christ. In the end we must disentangle what is Caesar’s from what is God’s, but only for the sake of clarity. What this means is that the one must serve the other. That Caesar neither knew nor served the one true, living God is not important. For our purposes, life in the earthly city is meant to serve the pursuit of God’s kingdom. This means that our earthly lives can and will be sanctified and redeemed if we put first things first, God before Caesar, heaven before earth, the soul before the body, and heavenly treasure before mammon. Christ calls us to redemption that leads to salvation. Christ invites us into that Love which will redeem and save both the body and the soul. His intention is nicely summarized in a portion of T. S. Eliot’s poem The Four Quartetets:
Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter.
Old men ought to be explorers
Here or there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
…In my end is my beginning.
“The Evidence of Things that Appear Not.”—But someone will say that it is foolish to believe what is not seen, and that one should not believe in things that he cannot see. I answer by saying that the imperfect nature of our intellect takes away the basis of this difficulty. For if man of himself could in a perfect manner know all things visible and invisible, it would indeed be foolish to believe what he does not see. But our manner of knowing is so weak that no philosopher could perfectly investigate the nature of even one little fly.
Belief is the proper and honest disposition of any intelligent soul in the presence of reality. Reality is a complexity of substances and operations that forever escape our knowledge and understanding. Humans cannot come to know the whole of reality or the intricate mystery of its multifarious parts. Humans cannot hope to understand or know the effects or the causes. Humans cannot hope to comprehend creatures in themselves and as they are known by God. Creation is a summary of effects that can be traced back to God. If we cannot know perfectly what is closest to us in the created effects, how can we claim to know their First Cause. Faith is the disposition of intellect that trusts and believes in the whole truth that is awaiting our discovery. Faith seeks out meaning and the possibility of explaining it. Faith believes in order to continue to study, ponder, explore, investigate, and discover what it never yet comprehended fully. The effects are full of truth waiting to be discovered. The First Cause is full of truth waiting to be discovered. Faith believes in the infinite depths that forever reveal and manifest truth and yet simultaneously recede beyond our reach, tempting us to follow further and to wade deeper so that we might know something in addition! Faith seeks and comes to know in part. The partial nature of knowledge demands a return to faith so that the mind’s journey into creation and Creator might continue. I believe in order to understand, and yet with all my understanding, I know that I understand so little. Thus, I must return to faith, believing fully that there is so much more to discover. Faith is that profoundly rational state of the soul through which a man knows himself and in knowing himself is properly positioned to discover what is forever more and more beyond him. Faith believes that there is an inexhaustible depth of content waiting to be discovered in God and His works.
We even read that a certain philosopher spent thirty years in solitude in order to know the nature of the bee. If, therefore, our intellect is so weak, it is foolish to be willing to believe concerning God only that which man can know by himself alone. And against this is the word of Job: “Behold, God is great, exceeding our knowledge” [Job 36:26]. One can also answer this question by supposing that a certain master had said something concerning his own special branch of knowledge, and some uneducated person would contradict him for no other reason than that he could not understand what the master said! Such a person would be considered very foolish. So, the intellect of the Angels as greatly exceeds the intellect of the greatest philosopher as much as that of the greatest philosopher exceeds the intellect of the uneducated man. Therefore, the philosopher is foolish if he refuses to believe what an Angel says, and far greater fool to refuse to believe what God says. Against such are these words: “For many things are shown to you above the understanding of men” [Sir 3:25].
Faith is also necessary for opening the human soul or mind to what lies above it by reason of its frailty, weakness, and finite nature. Man knows that he cannot save himself. Man knows that he has no formula for any such desire. Man knows that he cannot generate mediation sufficient to reconcile him to God. Man knows that he cannot produce redemption and salvation for his sorry and lost fallen state. Faith believes that God’s wisdom, power, and love can save him. Faith believes in what God does to generate salvation for his fallen nature. Faith believes that God’s Word has been revealed to fallen man and that the record of this communication is found on the pages of Holy Scripture. Faith believes that God’s Word has sought out his people in order to lead them into salvation. Faith believes that God’s Word alone can save and that in the peculiar and unique mission and ministry of Jesus Christ, God’s Word has been made flesh and has become man’s salvation. Faith believes that God alone knows how to save, in what way to save, and in whom to save. Faith believes in what is above and beyond man’s understanding and yet in what comes down to man’s level in order to be understood. Faith submits itself humbly to God’s instruction because only then can it begin to learn and understand of the way, the truth, and the life which, while above it nevertheless gets behind and beneath it in order to lift it up again into Heaven’s embrace.
The fourth effect of faith is that by it we overcome temptations: “The holy ones by faith conquered kingdoms” [Heb 11:33]. We know that every temptation is either from the world or the flesh or the devil. The devil would have us disobey God and not be subject to Him. This is removed by faith, since through it we know that He is the Lord of all things and must therefore be obeyed. “Your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goes about seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, strong in faith” [1 Pet 5:8].The world tempts us either by attaching us to it in prosperity, or by filling us with fear of adversity. But faith overcomes this in that we believe in a life to come better than this one, and hence we despise the riches of this world and we are not terrified in the face of adversity. “This is the victory which overcomes the world: our faith” [1 Jn 5:4].The flesh, however, tempts us by attracting us to the swiftly passing pleasures of this present life. But faith shows us that, if we cling to these things inordinately, we shall lose eternal joys. “In all things taking the shield of faith” [Eph 6:16].We see from this that it is very necessary to have faith.
We are studying the effects of faith in order to desire to explore, discover, and find its attractiveness and appeal. We have said already that its effects are alluring because through it the soul is brought into union with God, that such a union incorporates us in the eternal life of Heaven, and that we thus find the right direction for lives to be lived with God as our end and destiny. What a wonderful set of effects that whet our appetite in deepest affection for faith. Faith is then not only a cause of virtue and goodness but is also the means to hope for eternal happiness and joy.
Now we come to the fourth effect of faith which is to overcome our temptations. That we must overcome temptations should not surprise us. The Devil and his unhappy friends spend all the time that is left to them in trying to distract us from God with many temptations. Their chief end is that we ought not to be wholly and sincerely intending to reach God’s Heaven by the means of faith. Faith requires that we should obey God in all things if we hope to reach His Kingdom. This is most displeasing to the Devil. He tries to convince us that obedience and service to God constitute servile slavery and sorry sycophancy. He would have us fear the loss of ourselves, our integrity and our independence. But the Devil cannot bear that God is pure wisdom, love, and power. The Devil cannot stand that the same wisdom, love, and power promise to redeem, remake, and save us. The Devil cannot abide the delight that we might find in discovering a dependence that brings all manner of astonishing excitement, joy, and happiness. He cannot see that rather than being beaten down and trodden underfoot we might gratefully embrace the honor and dignity afforded in being asked to come up higher by our noble Lord and Ruler and King. Faith helps us to say no the Devil and to say yes to God. Faith teaches us that God is the Ruler of the Universe and that to obey Him is the gift that lies within the reach of free-willing creatures whose perfection is found in their Maker.
Faith teaches to resist the temptations of the world also. The world threatens us with the loss of prosperity in adversity. Faith teaches us that the loss of Heaven’s riches is far more dangerous than earthly adversity. Faith enables us to suffer all losses in this world because our faith, hope, and love are secured already in Heaven. Faith enables us to embrace the rich treasure of God’s Grace as work in our hearts.
The temptations of the flesh are also quite alluring. They are exacerbated by long-standing practices and bad habits. We must fight them with all our faith. Our faith in God must seek out a remedy to vanquish and overcome them. Our faith in God gives us hope for the power that alone can surmount and subdue them. Our faith in God teaches us that we must rather pursue the pleasures of His presence, the satisfaction of keeping His laws, and the adventurous felicity that soars into the exploration of His Wisdom and Love.
Then said Jesus unto him, Except ye see signs and wonders,
ye will not believe.
(St. John iv. 48)
It does seem that most men tend to call upon God when they are in trouble and to leave Him alone when things are going well. Francis Chan has said that The irony is that while God doesn’t need us but still wants us, we desperately need God but don’t really want Him most of the time. God doesn’t need us since He requires nothing in addition to Himself to be pure and perfect. Yet He wants or desires us. We, on the other hand, being finite, frail, and fallen, really do need God all of the time but only turn to Him when we are in what we think is a desperate situation. And man’s definition of being in a desperate situation usually means being in bad health, teetering on the edge of financial ruin, or discovering that our reputations might be less stellar in the eyes of our fellow men. The problem is that we are so defined by temporal prosperity or adversity that we neglect, ignore, and forsake our desperate spiritual condition that cries out for redemption.
This is not the case for those whom Jesus leaves behind when He confronts us in this morning’s Gospel lesson. Jesus had just finished spending time with a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well and then with a great number of her own people. You will remember that the Samaritan woman had come to believe that Jesus was the Messiah because of what He told her – she had said that she had no husband, and Jesus agreed since she had had five husbands, was now cohabiting with a sixth live-in-lover, and thus was far removed from her first and only husband. Second, her own people believed what she had told them about Jesus. And, third, because of it, her people desired to see and hear Jesus themselves, and when they had done so, believed that He was the Messiah because of His Word. They sought neither sign nor wonder. They felt a need that became a desire, and that desire generated the miracle of faith in their hearts. So the observant Apostles had witnessed the birth of belief in an alien people who were converted because of how Jesus spoke to their desperate spiritual condition.
[But] after two days Jesus departed thence, and went into Galilee. For Jesus Himself testified, that a prophet hath no honour in his own country. (Ibid, 43, 44) Now Jesus returns to His own people well aware that there He will find a faith that honors Him only because of the miracles, signs, and wonders that He had done. What will greet Him at first believes with great joy and enthusiasm in the presence of a miracle, but later wilts, fades, dries up, and dies in the face of earthly adversity because it has no root. This is the kind of juvenile faith that hangs upon God’s immediate, curative response to the disruption of earthly comfort, peace, and ease. This is the faith that does not believe until God removes all bodily and emotional pain. This is the kind of faith that thinks that no man should ever suffer in any way. It is immature because anyone who has ever accomplished anything knows that for goodness and truth to be obtained, a man must suffer and die to their contraries. The aliens and outcasts believed Jesus because of His Word and were willing to suffer and die in the face of the Truth that Jesus revealed about them. Jesus must return to Cana, where He made water wine, in order to grow and perfect a faith that is much less mature.
Then when Jesus was come into Galilee, the Galilæans received Him, having seen all the things that He did at Jerusalem at the feast: for they also went unto the feast. (Ibid, 45) Again, Jesus’ own people honor Him because of the miracles He had performed. They are consumed with what He did – how he relieves a desperate earthly situation, and not with what His Word said to them about their desperate spiritual condition. We read on: So Jesus came again into Cana of Galilee, where He made the water wine. And there was a certain nobleman, whose son was sick at Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus was come out of Judæa into Galilee, he went unto Him, and besought Him that he would come down, and heal his son: for he was at the point of death. (Ibid, 46, 47) The Jews are full of the old wine of Jesus’ miracle in Cana of Galilee. Their faith seems to be at the beck and call of inconvenient or desperate earthly situations alone. One of their own, a Jewish nobleman, nicely summarizes their faith: he believes in order to benefit in an earthly way. Jesus responds: Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe. (Ibid, 48) Jesus does not condemn the man’s sadness over the terminal illness of his son, but judges that the desperate situation that cries out for out a miracle is not as serious as the sickness of his soul. The nobleman’s faith desperately and persistently seeks out Jesus for a remedy to his own potential selfish loss rather than for what His Word and teaching can do both for his son’s soul and his own.
Yet notice what Jesus says: Go thy way, thy son liveth. (Ibid, 50) Jesus is going to test the man’s faith in relation to His Word. The nobleman can either trust in Jesus’ Word or abandon it altogether. One thing is certain, with regard to physical healings, Jesus grows impatient of immature faith. The nobleman must find faith as he is commanded to follow the invisible promise of Jesus’ Word back to the state of his son. The first miracle that Jesus will perform is on the soul of the nobleman. The man must first believe, trust, and follow Jesus’ Word if he is to find and discover what the same Word can effect in human life.
So slowly but surely the nobleman must discover what faith in Christ’s Word really means. As the nobleman had persisted feverishly in his pursuit of an earthly cure for his son, so now, whether he liked it or not, he would be required its spiritual source. [But] the man believed the word that Jesus had spoken unto him, and he went his way. (Ibid, 50) He leaves with nothing more than belief. So faith and trust in Christ can either increase or decrease. Notice that he does not rush back to his home. The promise of Christ’s Word has overcome and overtaken him. He is beginning to see that faith is about so much more than the destiny of his son and a remedy to a desperate earthly situation. Archbishop Trench reminds us that His confidence in Christ’s word was so great that he proceeded leisurely homewards. It was not till the next day that he approached his house, though the distance between the two cities was not so great that the journey need have occupied many hours; but ‘he that believeth shall not make haste.’ (Trench, Miracles, p. 93). As St. John Chrysostom says, His narrow and poor faith is being enlarged and deepened, (Ibid) in his leisurely journey home. The Word of God in Jesus has stopped him in his earthly tracks. The truth of his own desperate spiritual situation impedes the progress of all earthly endeavors. And as he was now going down, his servants met him, and told him, saying, Thy son liveth. Then enquired he of them the hour when he began to amend. And they said unto him, Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him. So the father knew that it was at the same hour, in the which Jesus said unto him, Thy son liveth….(Idem, 51-53)
Jesus’ Word had healed the nobleman’s son instantaneously. But a far more telling miracle is wrought in the soul of the nobleman. Christ’s Word had startled him into a serious consideration of its power and nature. He believed with the other Jews that the power in Christ that made water wine had already healed his son. This power now convicts him of his own sin. Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe. (Ibid, 48) The desperate determination to find physical healing for his son nearly disappears as he persistently pursues the new meaning of faith in Christ’s Word that his sin has engendered. Christ has caught him out in a desperate spiritual situation.
You will notice that the nobleman did not end up seeing any miracle, sign or wonder; he was merely told that the fever began to leave his son at the seventh hour, the same hour in the which Jesus said unto him, Thy son liveth. (St. John iv. 53) And he believed. We read that he and his whole house believed. (Ibid, 54) With them what we need is the miracle of faith, which though slow in coming on the heels of trust and obedience, will hear Christ the Word, and trust Him at the distance that prevails between Heaven and here. Then the power of God will be felt inwardly and spiritually, in spiritual proximity to a desperate spiritual condition. The nobleman, like the Samaritan woman, teaches his people all about what Jesus’ Word has come to mean in his life. The miracle of his son’s healing is the reward of faith that takes God at His Word in Jesus. Paul Claudel reminds us that wherever Jesus passes, nothing remains the same. The whole structure of our ‘desperate earthly situation’ threatens to collapse. Society has been dealt a blow by Jesus; logic has been dealt a blow; common sense has been dealt a blow. Jesus says, Now I must teach you not to make use of your eyes to see me, nor of your ears to hear me, nor of your legs to reach me: but of your hearts to love me. (I Believe, p. 84) The nobleman comes to love Jesus for the Word that not only heals his son but rather addresses his own desperate spiritual situation.
Today Jesus commands our obedience, trust, and belief. Let us place our souls in the hands of His Word. This is the miracle we seek, not that He might jump down into our every desperate earthly situation, but rather that He might transform earthly desperation into heavenly hope. Christ intends to grow a faith in us that continues to be perfected by His Grace. What should bother us most is the desperate spiritual situation that threatens our eternal destiny. When, where, why, and how people die earthly deaths are really not that important. What is important is whether faith in God’s Grace is lifting us up into salvation. If it isn’t, then earthly tragedy will pale in comparison to the reward of an unfaithful heart that neglected to attend to its first love.
St. Thomas Aquinas On the Creed:
The third good that comes from faith is that right direction which it gives to our present life. Now, in order that one live a good life, it is necessary that he know what is necessary to live rightly; and if he depends for all this required knowledge on his own efforts alone, either he will never attain such knowledge, or if so, only after a long time. But faith teaches us all that is necessary to live a good life. It teaches us that there is one God who is the rewarder of good and the punisher of evil; that there is a life other than this one, and other like truths whereby we are attracted to live rightly and to avoid what evil. “The just man lives by faith”[Hab 2:4]. This is evident in that no one of the philosophers before the coming of Christ could, through his own powers, know God and the means necessary for salvation as well as any old woman since Christ’s coming knows Him through faith. And, therefore, it is said in Isaiah that “the earth is filled with the knowledge of the Lord” [11:9].
St. Thomas encourages us to embrace faith or right belief through an examination of its effects. Effects inspire the soul to long for their causes. Faith and right belief are the causes we seek as means to good and holy living. The third good is the right direction that faith gives to our lives. Faith seeks the knowledge and love of God. Faith believes that God’s being, knowing, and loving ought to be molding, informing, and defining human life. Right direction is the effect that results from knowledge of living rightly. Living rightly comes to us by way of revelation in Scripture. It might also come by way of reason, but then only after a long, hard, and exhausting search for it. Faith believes that Holy Scripture reveals the content of living rightly.
First, faith believes that there is one God who rewards the good and punishes evil. Man is made to know the good and to will it into his life. He is made to see the evil and to avoid it. Goodness comes from God and conveys its own reward. Evil is the absence of God’s goodness and punishes a man with the effects of alienation from the God’s goodness. When a man embraces the goodness of God, he is cleansed, purified, and perfected by God’s being. When a man embraces the goodness of God, he submits to God’s knowing and wisdom and is enlightened. When a man embraces the goodness of God, he aligns his life with God’s will and desire and is thankfully looked after. Man who believes in the one true God will be benefited by God’s goodness since it alone generates true knowledge and happiness in man’s life.
Faith teaches us also that there is life other than this one. Faith embraces God’s goodness as what will move a man from earth to heaven, from the creation back to the Creator, and from a world full of temptation to one absolutely free of it. Faith teaches man that man is made to be reconciled to God not only in this life but even forever. So faith teaches man to begin to get right with God through repentance and amendment of life since without this process of assimilation to God’s Wisdom and Love a man will be punished with eternal damnation.
Faith believes in the content of Holy Scripture’s revelation. Therefore, faith believes mostly in that revelation which redeems and saves fallen and sinful man. Faith believes and is made just by the righteousness of God’s Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. Faith believes in what man cannot do. The philosophers did not come to the knowledge of God the Father, in the Son, and by the Spirit. They had no knowledge of the salvation which can only and ever be the loving work of God in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ reveals God’s work of salvation for sinful man. Jesus Christ reveals Himself to be God’s work of salvation. Faith believes in what it cannot be, cannot rationally discover, cannot ingeniously produce, and cannot attain to. Faith believes in God’s Grace in Jesus Christ. The faith of any old woman is greater than the rational knowledge of God possessed by a philosopher. Why? The philosopher’s knowledge does not and cannot save him. His knowledge is limited to fallen human nature. He may know God from a distance, but he cannot bridge the gap between himself and God, between creation and the Creator, or between earth and heaven. The faith of any old woman submits to Christ without philosophy. Such faith must bind us all together in one Body as we all submit in belief to what our reason could never obtain. The faith of any old woman is the pattern and model of the Christian’s union with God the Father, through the Son, and by the Spirit. Such faith in God’s good work alone can save and reconcile all men to God. Faith discovers what reason can never find.
The second effect of faith is that eternal life is already begun in us; for eternal life is nothing else than knowing God. This the Lord announced when He said: “This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you sent.” [Jn 17:3].This knowledge of God begins here through faith, but it is perfected the future life when we shall know God as He is. Therefore, St. Paul says: “Faith is the substance of things to be hoped for” [Heb 11:1].No one then can arrive at perfect happiness of heaven, which is the true knowledge of God, unless first he knows God through faith. “Blessed are they who have not seen and have believed” [Jn 20:29].
We discover the nature of faith through its effects. Its effects can be found in our own lives. Yet, for the sake of appreciating its true universal nature, it is better when we find it in the lives of others. The horizontal proof of God the Holy Ghost’s vertical intrusion into human life is found in the lives of others. Of course, I speak not only of the famous Saints whom the Church has canonized, but of the saints whom we encounter in the common drudgery of human existence.
The second effect that we find in their lives is eternal life. To be more precise, we find that they are already beginning to live eternal life here and now. We perceive and sense this because they know God and they are doing His will. Thus, we find traces of their knowledge and love of God in the habits of their lives. Their knowledge is not yet a certain and sure possession. Thus, in faith they seek to know more and more about God and His will for them. They hope for perfect knowledge and love of God in the future. In the meantime, they faithfully submit their lives to God’s eternal life, truth, and love and to as much as they now have learned about Him. So, they are in transit to the kingdom. Faith is the necessary character of their relation to God since they continuously seek to know and understand more and more. They obtain glimpses and hints of God’s knowledge and love here and now. But their vision is clouded and their understanding of God is imperfect. Thus, in faith they seek to know and love God in incremental steps of progress. With all their knowing, they know that they know nothing in comparison to God’s knowledge and love, and thus they resort always to the faith that believes there is so much more to learn.
Not yet seeing, grasping, holding, and comprehending God necessitates the humble disposition of faith. This disposition opens them up to the Eternal life of the Father, known through Jesus the Son, by the motion of the Holy Spirit. The eternal life that they seek is communion with God’s being, knowing, and loving. In the lives of the saints we find that this faith is forever journeying after the knowledge and love of God. Today, let us embrace this same faith. Let us believe in order to journey and continue our pilgrimage to God and His Kingdom. For the little knowledge that we are afforded, let us be perpetually grateful. Before us stands eternal life. In faith, let us embrace its truth and goodness by submitting to its rule and governance in our lives beginning here and now.
What is Faith?
The Nature and Effects of Faith –The first thing that is necessary for every Christian is faith, without which no one is truly called a faithful Christian. Faith brings about four good effects. The first is that through faith the soul is united to God, and by it there is between the soul and God a union akin to marriage. “I will espouse you in faith.” (Hosea ii. 20) When a man is baptized the first question that is asked him is: “Do you believe in God?” This is Because Baptism is the first Sacrament of faith. Hence, the Lord said: “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved.” (St. Mark xvi. 16) Baptism without faith is of no value. Indeed, it must be known that no one is acceptable before God unless he have faith. “Without faith it is impossible to please God. (Hebrews xi. 6) St. Augustine explains these words of St. Paul, “All that is not faith is sin. (Romans xiv. 23), in this way: “Where there is no knowledge of the eternal and unchanging truth, virtue, even in the midst of the best moral life is false.”
St. Thomas teaches us that without faith, we cannot hope to understand the Apostles’ Creed since its enumerated articles are not accessible to certain knowledge but belief. Faith or belief relates to the disposition and faculty of soul that is closest to God. God is an invisible Spirit. He cannot be grasped, held, known, or understood by the human mind. He cannot be pinned down and contained within the human mind. And thus, the most honest means by which we can know and hold on to God is by faith. This is the faith that seeks both to understand and to commune with God. Faith is on the way to both but in possession of neither. Thus, given human finitude and fallenness, man relates best and most honestly to God by faith. Faith is on the way back to God. I say back because we come from God and are made to return to Him.
So, we must look at the effects of faith. We come to know things first by their effects and only thereafter in their causes. The first effect of faith is union or communion with God. What binds me to God is faith. By faith and belief, I come into communion with the Maker. How or in what way is rather beyond me. I believe in God must first mean that I am with God and God is with me. We are united. I cannot prove or demonstrate this truth by way of tangible evidence –that I might, say, put in a test-tube or lay out before your senses for perception. I believe in God is a trust and confidence that I have at the outset as I begin to articulate my faith. I believe that ‘if I go up into heaven, thou art there, and if I go down into hell, thou art there also.’ (Psalm ciiiix. 8) This is because I believe that God is being, knowing, and loving. God is Father, Word, and Spirit. God is that being that knows all things and loves all things in immediate proximity to them. I believe in God –the God who makes and creates all things, who has made and created me, and who even now makes and creates a creature like myself who can have faith and believe.
My faith in God involves not only trust and confidence but an entrusting of myself to Him, much like the entrusting of a man to a woman or a woman to a man in Holy Matrimony. With this ring, I thee wed. With my body, I thee worship. And with all my worldly goods, I thee endow. (1662 BCP, Solemnity of Holy Matrimony) A man gives his body, soul, and spirit to his lady. His lady returns the favor to her lord and both become one flesh. The same pertains with God. I give myself wholly to God. God gives himself wholly to me. And we become one spirit.
I believe also that our union will produce pure goodness and joy. My desire for unending goodness and joy is founded on my faith in God, His Son, and His Spirit. I believe that I need to be saved. I desire to be saved because I believe that it alone will bring me true knowledge and love of God’s goodness with unending joy. I believe that this reality can come to me through the Church alone and her Sacraments. I believe that the first Sacrament to bind me God, through Christ, and by the Spirit, is Holy Baptism. In Holy Baptism, I believe that I was incorporated into Christ’s Body. In Holy Baptism, I believe that others lifted me into that body by their belief and sponsorship of my soul as Godparents. I reaffirmed my belief in Holy Confirmation when I came into possession of the faith –that was mine only by substitution until that time. Holy Baptism is mine today because I believe that God the Father has incorporated me into the body of Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension, and glorification through the Holy Spirit. Holy Baptism is mine today because my faith in God the Holy Trinity is alive and productive of virtue. Faith in God alone generates goodness and virtue of the kind that leads back to God’s kingdom. All that is not faith is sin. Faith believes in order to embrace salvation. Without faith man tends only towards death –first towards temporal death and then towards that death that is dead to God forever in Hell. Virtue and good works can only ever have merit, value, and worth if they are consecrated by the man who believes in order to know and who knows in order to love. Without knowledge of the eternal and unchanging truth, virtue is limited and constrained to serve earthly and selfish ends that lead to damnation.
Among all the truths which the faithful must believe, this is the first— that there is one God. We must see that God means the ruler and provider of all things. He, therefore, believes in God who believes that everything in this world is governed and provided for by Him. He who would believe that all things come into being by chance does not believe that there is a God. No one is so foolish as to deny that all nature, which operates with a certain definite time and order, is subject to the rule and foresight and an orderly arrangement of someone. We see how the sun, the moon, and the stars, and all natural things follow a determined course, which would be impossible if they were merely products of chance. Hence, as is spoken of in the Psalm, he is indeed foolish who does not believe in God: “The fool said in his heart: There is no God” [Ps 13:1].
The Creed is a summary of our faith. It is not contained as such in Holy Scripture. It is a conclusion drawn from it. In the briefest possible way, it condenses our beliefs for the purposes of meditation. Christians Creeds begin with God the Father, move through God the Son, and are concluded by the Holy Spirit. The order is logical. We begin in Heaven with God the Father, we come to know Him historically through God the Son, and we embrace His will inwardly through the Holy Spirit. We begin with the Father beyond all, we continue through the Son who is with all, and we end with the Holy Spirit who is in all. And yet, our end is our beginning. The Holy Spirit returns us to the Father in the joy of unbreakable union.
The threefold movement is imaged in the human soul. We begin with being, we come to know it, and we will it. Being, knowing, and willing are three faculties of soul that image God the Holy Trinity. Another way of putting it is I am, I know, and I will. Or better yet, I exist, I understand, and I love. Loving and willing are synonymous. When I will, I choose what I desire. I desire what I love. To will and to love are the same. I am, I comprehend, and I desire. To desire God is the highest expression of loving. I desire the source, origin, and cause of all my loves. In loving God, I love the creator and maker of all loveable and lovely things. In Loving God, I love the creator and making of my loving. In loving God, I love the creator and maker of all things that can be known. In loving God, I love the creator and maker of my knowing. In loving God, I love the creator and maker of all things that exist or participate in being. In loving God, I love the creator and maker of my being. The being, knowing, and loving that I actualize in my discovery of all things and myself lead me to discover God’s being, knowing, and loving at the heart of it all. For this I am truly grateful.
From God’s being, knowing, and loving I discover that all things exist, having meaning, and are cared for. God the Father makes all things, defines all things, and loves all things as he tends to their wellbeing. God does not merely give all things existence and meaning; he also provides and cares for all things. Without the latter, we could discern no love and desire for the creature by the Creator. Without the latter, we could find no affection and goodwill extending from the Maker to the made.
He who believes that all things come into being by chance does not believe that there is a God. Chance is accidental and not intentional. Chance shows no reason, cause, or care for the meaning and being of creatures. What happens by chance has no real cause. What happens by chance is not intended by another. But God is the cause of all else. He intends that all thing that exist should be, should have meaning, and should be loved. How do we know? We know because all things that come to be, that participate in God’s being, have meaning and are looked after according to loving laws. Loving laws are the rules that govern creatures and ensure preservation and wellbeing. Loving laws reveal patterns and norms that bring creatures to their perfection. Respective perfections may be temporal for some and eternal for others.
Man’s key to eternal perfection lies in his discernment of being, meaning, and purpose. Through reason he comes to discern that the universe is ordered and arranged according to certain laws. These laws enable him to live and to live well. Through reason he comes to grasp his relation to the ordered universe and to the rules that govern his body and soul. The unity of the two will ensure his wellbeing. But first, he must realize that the universe is not made by him, not rationally ordered and given meaning by him, and not lovingly cared for by him. He must realize that the being and meaning of all things is intended by another. Man must come to see that the whole of the universe, including the miracle of his psychosomatic being, is derived from and dependent upon God. This humble admission is faith’s first submission to God the Father, known in God the Son, and loved through God the Spirit.
After this I beheld, and lo, a great multitude, which no man could number
Of all nations and kindreds and peoples, and tongues, stood before the
Throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, palms
In their hands, and cried with a loud voice saying, Salvation to our God
Which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.
Today we find ourselves in the Octave of All Saints Day. The Octave is a period of eight days that follows the Feast of All Saints, which we celebrated last Wednesday. In the Octave, we are called first to remember with thanksgiving the lives of the Saints. Second, we are called to imitate them. And third, we are exhorted to desire that Christ should move us now that we might join them in the Kingdom when our journey here on earth is done.
Of course, thanking God for the life and witness of the Saints requires that we begin to have a sense of who and what they were. Strictly speaking, our English word Saint comes to us from the Latin, Sanctus, meaning holy, virtuous, confirmed, or set apart. The word in Greek is Hagios, which, in the ancient sense, means full of awe, sacred, hallowed, and devoted to the gods. From our Epistle lesson for All Saints Day, we learn that the Christian Saints are they who came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. (Rev. 7.14) These are they that came out of great suffering, toil, labor, and pain. Chiefly, they suffered through the process of dying to sin and coming alive to righteousness. Their suffering was spiritual. What is most important to remember is that they were enduring crucifixion in order to embrace resurrection. They were washed in the blood of the lamb of God, Jesus Christ, and made white or pure as His virtue replaced their vices. So, they are set apart, made sacred, and hallowed by the struggle, toil, and work that leads them into victory over sin. They have come out of great tribulation. This is to say that they plumbed the depths of their own being to discover that sin which God’s excellence and goodness alone could overcome. When we thank God for the life and witness of the Saints, we are expressing deepest gratitude for those who allowed Jesus Christ to come alive in their hearts and souls. We thank God the Father that Christ so came alive in them through the Holy Spirit that His victory over sin, death, and Satan was complete. In other words, Christ’s redemption was so effectually worked into their hearts that they were enabled to reflect and manifest His excellence and goodness to the world.
Next, we must examine our imitation of the Saints. The key to our inspiration will rely upon both need and desire. First then, we must come to discover our need to become Saints. That need can come only when we begin to do our duty to God. Our duty to God is nicely summarized in today’s Psalm. Blessed is the man that hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners,*and hath not sat in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the Law of the Lord; *and in his law will he exercise himself day and night. (Ps. i. 1,2) The Saint is well aware that all excellence and goodness come from God and that their acquisition is impossible without His gifted Grace. The Saint knows also that we first come to know ourselves in the light of God’s excellence and goodness through the Law. The Law here is the Jewish Law or the Ten Commandments that God reveals to His people. Because God has revealed His Law, Jewish man and then all men come to see their sins. St. Paul tells us that the Jewish Law reveals that None is righteous, no not one. There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way. They are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. (Romans, iii. 10-12) The Saint knows too that the best of men become the most frustrated when the goodness and excellence they seek is beyond their ability and capacity. The Saint is one who has found his own poverty of spirit or his own inability to will the good and excellence that he has discovered. The Saint is one who is then overwhelmed by the excellence of God the Father, the goodness of His Word, and the power of His Spirit.
The Saint is a man whose faith hangs always upon God’s Grace. As Archbishop Trench writes, the Saint is:
the wise and happy builder…who counts and discovers that he has not enough, that the work far exceeds any resources at his command, and who thereupon forsakes all that he has, all vain imagination of a spiritual wealth of his own; and therefore proceeds to build, not at his own charges at all, but altogether at the charges of God, waiting upon Him day by day for new supplies of strength. (R. C. Trench)
The Saint in the Old Testament faithfully awaits the fulfillment of God’s promise to save him in the future. The New Testament Saint faithfully embraces God’s promise as fulfilled in Jesus Christ. God promises His wisdom, love, and power to the Old Testament Jew. God reveals and imparts His wisdom, love, and power to the New Testament Jew and Gentile in Jesus Christ. The Saints know that God alone can save man from sin.
Yet, if we hope to imitate the Saints we must embrace more than knowledge of what God has done in Jesus Christ. Knowledge is not virtue. The vision must be translated into action. The spiritual object must come alive in the willing subject. Together All Saints form a Communion or community of individuals who spent their lives trying to embrace the goodness and excellence of God in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. Together All Saints comprise a body of brethren who share the goodness and excellence of God in Jesus Christ with others through the same Spirit. They are the friends of Jesus as members of His Body, friends of one another, and our friends too. They do not tend to see a difference between sinners and saints or between themselves and others since they would admit that they are the worst of sinners and so far from being anything like the best of Saints. They treat all men alike and yearn from the depths of their hearts that every man they encounter might join them in the quest to embrace God’s gracious excellence and goodness.
So what do their Sainted natures look like? Are they those who have left the world, entered their closets, and therein found God in a kind of Plotinian ecstasy? Well, yes and no. Yes, in that they have found God personally and individually. No, in that if they remain alone with God, they will have failed to express and reveal the Christian truth. The inward and spiritual vision of God in the Wisdom of Jesus through the ecstasy of the Spirit must be shared with others. Their inward and spiritual vision must lead them to manifest and disclose Christ’s real presence to the world. As we learn in this morning’s Gospel, the Saints are as sheep who have been separated from the goats. (St. Matthew xxv. 32) For joy Jesus endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews xii. 1) The sheep of Christ are those who have done the same. How they do it is reflected in the most basic acts of generosity, liberality, kindness, and mercy. Jesus has given Himself completely to the Saints for their sins and they must imitate Him. Jesus will say, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. (St. Matthew xxv. 34) But they will be welcomed into the Kingdom as saved Saints only if they have fulfilled Christ’s conditions. For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger and ye took me in; Naked, and ye clothed me; I was sick and ye visited me; I was in prison and ye visited me. (Ibid, 35, 36) The proof that sinners have been made Saints is found in the simplest acts of liberality and kindness. This is the evidence that reveals that Christ’s all saving mercy is moving sinners out of death and into new life as Saints. They need not die on a cross. They need not perform heroic feats in martyrdom. They need to die to themselves and come alive to others. They can do this by becoming merciful in the smallest and simplest of ways. Then there is proof that Christ is alive in them through the Spirit that He shares with the Father. Our need for Christ will have become our desire to share Him with the world.
On this Feast of the Solemnity of All Saints, we remember that the Saints are not dead but alive to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Today we desire that God will do with us what He did in them. We remember them especially in these late, dangerous, and dark days when men have failed to desire God’s excellence and goodness. Their communion and fellowship ought to inspire us to see how God’s Grace can make sinners into Saints by bringing good out of evil. The excellence and goodness that they embraced ought to overcome us with a vision of how God can convert and translate His eternal truth into temporal love. In them may we find inspiration for the pursuit and final possession of what God has in store for us.
The Communion of Saints is a fellowship of life and faith that brings men closely together in the bond of the Eternal Spirit which comes from God. It does not depend merely on the Saints’ interest in their fellow men’s welfare, or in our appreciation of their Saintliness. We greet them as the heroes of the world, but our fellowship with them is founded neither on our reverence for their goodness nor on their sympathy with our struggles and our failures, but on that Divine Spirit which has made them what they are and would make us fit to be numbered with them in glory everlasting. When we learn to reverence the Saints, we are on the way to become like them. They witness that this is possible for all. Our appreciation of their goodness endorses that testimony. The Saints of God come out of every kindred and tongue and people, and their fellowship is complete and permanent because all live in Him. (The Christian Year in the Times, p. 284)
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons: