[Love-2.1-13] Had I an hundred Lives, I could with more Ease part with them, all by suffering an hundred Deaths, than give up this lovely idea of God. Nor could I have any Desire of Eternity for myself, if I had not Hopes, that, by partaking of the Divine Nature, I should be eternally delivered from the Burden and Power of my own Wrath, and changed into the blessed Freedom of a Spirit, that is all Love, and a mere Will to Nothing but Goodness. An Eternity without this, is but an Eternity of Trouble. For I know of no Hell, either here or hereafter, but the Power and Working of Wrath, nor any Heaven, but where the God of Love is all in all, and the working Life of all. And therefore, that the holy Deity is all Love, and Blessing, and Goodness, willing and working only Love and Goodness to every Thing, as far as it can receive it, is a Truth as deeply grounded in me as the feeling of my own Existence. I ask you for no Proof of this; my only Difficulty is how to reconcile this Idea of God to the Letter of Scripture. First, Because the Scripture speaks so much and so often of the Wrath, and Fury, and vindictive Vengeance of God. Secondly, Because the whole Nature of our Redemption is so plainly grounded on such a supposed Degree of Wrath and Vengeance in God, as could not be satisfied, appeased and atoned by any Thing less than the Death and Sacrifice of the only begotten Son of God.
The ‘lovely idea of God’ is that He is pure and perfect Goodness. This is the ‘Goodness’ that enables us to hope for Heaven as our final and eternal resting place. This hope alone lifts us above our own wrath, rage, ire, fury, and anger to partake of God’s Nature. This hope will lift us above ourselves to participate in the freedom of the will that desires only God’s Goodness. ‘An Eternity without this’ is an Eternity in Hell. Hell is defined by wrath, rage, ire, fury, and anger. The vice that stands chiefly opposed to God’s Goodness and Love is wrath that included resentment and bitterness. Such is the vice that actively resists God’s healing Goodness and Love. Thus, we must desire to conquer all wrath within us. We must desire to embrace God’s Goodness and Love because this is the Truth that saves and delivers us from our wrathful despair. And yet we cannot do it without God’s help. And so God sends His only-begotten Son into the world to conquer wrath with His Goodness. He takes the problem into Himself by moving through His Son to suffer man’s wrath and to overcome it.
[Love-2.1-14] Theophilus. I will do more for you, Theogenes, in this Matter than you seem to expect. I will not only reconcile the Letter of Scripture with the foregoing Description of God, but will show you, that every Thing that is said of the Necessity of Christ’s being the only possible Satisfaction and Atonement of the vindictive Wrath of God is a full and absolute Proof that the Wrath of God spoken of never was, nor is, or possibly can be in God.
The Divine Wrath that we read of in Scripture is man’s experience of God’s Goodness and Love negatively or from a distance. It is Love, Desire, Passion, and Yearning as its contrary. When we sin, we rebel. When we rebel, we place ourselves at odds with God. When we are at odds with God, we experience not His nearness but His distance. The Distance is not merely absence but it is Love as rejected, Love as despised, Love as forsaken, and Love as abandoned. Sin is its own punishment. Ours sins yield their desired effects and ends. The end of sin is ultimate death as ongoing alienation from God. In the meantime, we experience little deaths, or habitual alienations from God’s love in time and space.
dSo the last shall be first, and the first last:
for many be called, but few chosen.
(St. Matthew xx. 14-16)
We have just completed our Epiphany-tide pilgrimage and now are entering what is called pre-Lent. The season we have left behind has been characterized by illumination and manifestation. In it, we saw that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us whom we discovered to be the only begotten of the Father full of grace and truth
(St. John i. 14). Now we turn to a period in the Church’s life extending from Septuagesima Sunday to Ascension Day. In it, we shall be moving from contemplating the Divine presence to a call to pilgrimage that will end in death. In it, we shall be called to receive God’s labor of love and the work of His Grace that reaches down from heaven to reconcile us to Himself.
Specifically, on the three Gesima Sundays – Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima – the Latin names for the seventy, sixty, and fifty days before Easter, we are reminded of God’s original vocation for us, the dangers that bring about our Fall from God’s Grace, and the preparation for our return. If Lent will be about the necessary death to sin, then the Gesima season will help us to discern and identify the sins themselves. This work is essential since we believe that in the end times we shall be judged on whether or not we have confessed our sins and died to them. Sin is what separates us from God. So, at the Judgment, we pray that Christ will conclude that we have died sufficiently to everything that separates us from His wisdom, power, and love. And, of course, the Church knows that the work that we are contemplating is no easy business. So, she provides us with this Gesmina season so that we can attempt to begin the call to labour (R.D. Crouse) for the discovery of our sins.
We begin with today’s Gospel. In it, Jesus gives us a way that will help us to locate sin. To do so, He makes use of a parable. As you know, a parable is an illustrated story that makes use of images to convey a message of spiritual and moral meaning. Archbishop Trench tells us that it is like a casket of exquisite workmanship…in which jewels yet richer than itself are laid up, or, as fruit, which however lovely to look upon, is yet in its inner sweetness more delectable still. (Notes on the Parables, R.C. Trench, p. 30) In today’s parable, Jesus desires to instill a truth that will condition our search for sin and the successful victory over it. It is a parable that is all about method. What He is keen to impart to us is a kind of rule and pattern that will situate our souls in right relation both to our problem and God’s solution of it. So, He intends to warn the Apostles and us about one serious temptation that might very well destroy the work before it has begun. What I mean is that Jesus wants to show us that His work can begin only when we embrace a unique disposition of soul.
For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder,
which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard.
And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent
them into his vineyard. (St. Matthew xx. 1,2)
Jesus teaches us first that the work of God’s Kingdom begins not with man but with God. He is an householder or the owner of His own vineyard –a plot of land destined to be fruitful with what makes glad the heart of man. He has a work to be done and His work is His desire for us to labor at identifying and discovering our sins. That He sets out to find us shows that He knows what is best for us. That He went out early in the morning means that man’s salvation is God’s priority. Man’s salvation is the work of redemption. It will involve working out sin and working in righteousness. That the laborers are promised one penny suggests that something equal for all is the reward for those who will work for God. Notice that it is only to the workers who are hired early in the morning, to the first, that the specific amount of payment –one penny is promised.
Next, we read:
And he went out about the third hour, and saw others
standing idle in the marketplace, and said unto them; Go ye
also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you….
Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise.
God calls men into His vineyard in all ages. Some hear the call early in the morning, some at noon, and some at dusk of human life. Those who are called later are rebuked mildly for being idle, slothful, lazy, unoccupied, distracted, or even busy about the wrong things. No matter; God’s desire for men’s salvation labor is greater than their sinning. His yearning and longing for all is expressed in His ongoing intention for them to labor in discovering their sins at all hours of the day. God is the householder and He knows that the work of His vineyard is incomplete until all men are invited into this labor. He promises to pay those whom He finds later what is right, just, or suitable. Those whom He calls later are no doubt surprised by joy that God would want them at all, especially since He knows that they had been idle, and had God been like all other employers they might not have been called to work at all! Therefore, God’s desire for them stirs them up with grateful hearts to join the others in the labor of His vineyard.
We read then:
And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others
standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the
day idle? They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us.
He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard;
and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive. (Ibid, 6,7)
God’s moves and finds those whom His heart always desires. Those whom He finds at the eleventh hour seem to need to be needed more than the others. They are often those for whom love has been experienced only as envy, wrath, and resentment. They have felt forever unwanted and thus are convinced that they have nothing to contribute to the work of God’s vineyard. So, they must be encouraged more earnestly to enter this labor.
Finally, we read:
Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first.
And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every
man a penny. But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received
more; and they likewise received every man a penny. And when they had received it,
they murmured against the goodman of the house, saying, These last have wrought
but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden
and heat of the day. (Ibid, 8-12)
Man’s work in the vineyard of God will pay out one reward to all. But notice that those who came last are paid first. The Lord puts idle people to work at the end of the day and then pays them before the others. Worldly employers pay the managerial staff first and handsomely. Then, with what is leftover the idle –the johnny come lately –the cleaners, the window washers, and so forth. Not so with God. The last shall be first and the first shall be last. (Ibid, 16) For God knows that the first think that they ought to be paid more (Idem) because they came first, worked longer hours and harder than the others. So, they murmured against the good man of the house. (Idem) The householder responds:
Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take
that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee….
Is thine eye evil, because I am good? (Ibid, 13-15)
Employment in the vineyard of God is a privileged gift that far exceeds what any man could ever deserve, earn, or merit. It should generate a disposition of soul through which we become self-consciously the last and least. Fallen man is forever unemployed without God. Fallen man deserves nothing but just punishment for his sins.
Yet notice the wisdom of Jesus. If the first had been paid before the last we might never have learned the danger that accompanies work in God’s vineyard. The first show us what happens when we set our eyes on what we should earn and not on the free gift of God’s Grace that reaches down to lift up fallen man –the last and least. They see themselves as advanced beyond the others because they came first. But seniority does not secure immunity from sin. Nor does lateness of call bar the path to saintliness. (E. T. Marshall) These men think that their coming earlier and working longer should earn them a greater reward than others. They have forgotten that the Grace of God was under no necessity to help them out of their fallen condition. You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you. (St. John xv. 16) They have forgotten also that the labour into which God has invited them bestows a reward that is unrelated to man’s efforts and good works.
On the other hand, Archbishop Trench says that the workers who were hired later in the day reveal a true spirit of humble waiting upon the Lord, in full assurance that He will give far more than his servants can desire or deserve… and that God will not fail to show Himself an abundant rewarder of them that seek and serve Him. (Ibid, 141) These men reveal a deep gratitude for a gift that they never desired and whose power and reward would be beyond their wildest imaginations.
The last shall be first…. To be last and least in God’s Kingdom is a disposition of soul that alone can obtain God’s Grace in the battle against sin. Let us pray to be as the last and least so that we may be mercifully delivered by God’s goodness. In becoming the last and the least, we are best positioned to appreciate the gift of God’s mercy. The gift of God’s mercy generates goodness in the soul. That goodness will make us stronger and stronger and better and better. With it will come a profound humility, with which we can hope more earnestly for the joy that reconciles us to God. Then we shall rejoice in the glory of His Name, through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.
That day is called the birthday of the Lord on which the Wisdom of God manifested Himself as a speechless Child and the Word of God wordlessly uttered the sound of a human voice. His divinity, although hidden, was revealed by heavenly witness to the Magi and was announced to the shepherds by angelic voices. With yearly ceremony, therefore, we celebrate this day which saw the fulfillment of the prophecy…(St. Augustine sermon clxxxv)
Tonight, we come to the cradle, the cratch, the manger, and the cave in Bethlehem to worship God’s own Word made flesh beginning with a meditation upon the Incarnation by St. Augustine of Hippo. From the human side of this reality we can hear only silence. First, there is the silent wonder born out of silent humility, and then more silent contemplation that urges us onward to the silent fixation that we shall find in this child’s earthly Mother. Second, there is the wonder and awe borne out of the integrity, decency, and honor of the one who shall become the child’s Foster-Father. Third, there is the silence of the child himself. From the child, the only sounds that emerge are the inarticulate cries of a new-born babe. The sound of this human voice must be heard. But first it is not to be understood. Why should it? God doesn’t force Himself upon anyone. The gift of God in Jesus Christ must make its way into the unruly, antagonistic, unfriendly, and hostile world of men and their false gods. The gift of God’s redemption for us that will be found in this child shall not be received truly and sincerely until it is heard by the ears of the human heart. The child’s message cannot be heard until we cherish the Word that will be heard. So first, in faith, we must welcome God in Christ who comes to us in an unthinkable, unusual, unpredictable, and unlikely way.
Jesus Christ is God’s eternally begotten Wisdom and Truth. St. Augustine tells us that,
Truth is sprung out of the earth: and righteousness hath looked
down from heaven. Truth, eternally existing in the bosom of the
Father, has sprung from the earth so that He might exist also in
the bosom of a mother. Truth, holding the world in place, has
sprung from the earth so that He might be carried in the hands
of a woman. Truth, incorruptibly nourishing the happiness of
the angels, has sprung from the earth in order to be fed by human
milk. Truth, whom the heavens cannot contain, has sprung from
the earth so that He might be placed in a manger. (Idem)
For the truth of God’s Word to be made flesh it must express itself as human from the beginning of life until the end. Truth must be embraced from conception until death. The truth that rules and governs the universe must be welcomed as a precious child. It must be cherished, treasured, loved, and cared for with attentive devotion. We must discover its future potency with hope in every moment of human existence. It longs to be seen and loved in earliest moments of conception when a mother who cares for herself because she lives for her baby joyously anticipates the extreme joy of new life that birth brings. It yearns to be seen and loved in childbirth and nursing. It will insist that it can and must be found in poverty and need, and thus over and against the presence of all earthly comforts. But its presence can be found truly and its love felt keenly only with the bare minimum of earthly distractions and worldly temptations. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. (St. John i. 14)
Jesus Christ is God’s Word, Wisdom, and Truth made flesh. God did not send His Son into the world for His own advantage. He is God. He needs nothing. He sends His Son because He wants us, desires us, yearns for us, and longs for our reconciliation with Himself. God wants to share His own great goodness with us so that we might enjoy it with Him forever. Silently and quietly we must go to the Manger. With all humility and meekness, we must contemplate the manner in which our God comes to us. Selflessly and generously we must bring our hearts and souls to Him in order to see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. (St. Luke ii. 15) St. Augustine rouses us to stir, to awaken, to leap up and to follow the message of the angels:
Arouse yourself, O man; for you God has become man.
Awake thou that sleepest, and rise up from the dead, and Christ
Shall give thee light! For you…God
has become man. If He had not thus been born in time,
you would have been dead for all eternity. Never would
you have been freed from sinful flesh, if He had not taken
upon Himself the likeness of sinful flesh. Everlasting misery
would have engulfed you, if He had not taken this merciful
form. You would not have been restored to life, had He not
submitted to your death; you would have fallen, had He not
succored you; you would have perished, had He not come. (Idem)
Imagine if Christ had not been conceived by the Holy Ghost in the womb of the Blessed Virgin. Think about where we would be if Jesus Christ had not been born in time, in poverty, welcomed by His own people with doubt, suspicion, rejection, and hatred. Imagine if He had not suffered and died for us. Think about how we would still be living under the curse of the Law and faced with the certainty of an eternal death. Think about how Heaven would be still the distant dream of prophets who wait and philosophers who wonder. Think about how the Law of Sin and Death would have become harder and colder. Think about how human freedom would not yet have been found to be the wellspring of man’s pursuit of excellence in all arts and sciences.
On Christmas Night, Christ is born in Bethlehem of Judaea. On Christmas Night, Christ enters time and space for just long enough to call us into another kind of death, His Death on Calvary, for just long enough to call us back into the short span of Resurrected life that leads back to God the Father, for just long enough to offer to us pattern for our own short stay and journey through creation.
Let us joyfully celebrate the coming of our salvation and
redemption. Let us celebrate the festal day on which the great
and timeless One came from the great and timeless day to this
brief span of our day. He has become for us ... righteousness, and
sanctification, and redemption… (Ps. lxxxv 11) (Idem)
Will truth spring out of our earth, the earth of our fleshly selves, for us tonight as righteousness comes down from Heaven once again? Is the Word really going to be born in our hearts and souls? Will the Word be Made Flesh in us tonight? Or are we people of the Law of Sin and Death? Will we keep God on the outside of ourselves, at a safe distance, not too dangerously close so that He might bring us into a death that must precede tonight’s New Birth? If He does come into us, He expects to be born. And if He is to be born, He must be born as Wisdom and Power that issues forth into the world as Love. He cannot born in us if we behold His truth but do not embrace it in our hearts. He cannot be born in us if we have time for the lofty ideals and notions of the Christian religion but no time for intending to please God with all of their lives. Will Christ be born in our hearts and souls tonight? As we speak this night, many Christians will depart this life never having shown that world that Christ is being born again and again in human hearts. Will we be determined to show the world that we Christ is born into the world? Will we show that,
Truth is sprung out of the earth because Christ who said: ‘I am the truth’ was born of a virgin; and righteousness hath looked down from heaven because, by believing in Him who was so born, man has been justified not by his own efforts but by God. Truth is sprung out of the earth' because 'the Word was made flesh/ and 'righteousness hath looked down from heaven' because 'every good and perfect gift is from above.’ (Idem)
We can give out the gift only if our faith in Jesus Christ is alive and well and growing. We can show that God’s Word [has been] made flesh only if and when His Grace is so alive in our hearts that we cannot help but share Him with all others. The Babe of Bethlehem longs to be born in us tonight. The Word of God longs to be made flesh in us so that we go tell it on the Mountain that Jesus Christ is born, so that we not only go tell it on the mountain that Jesus Chrsit is born, but that He is alive and well and working to bring us and our neighbors to salvation! Will we let Jesus Christ so run His course in our lives that His birth is the beginning of our reconciliation with God our Heavenly Father?
Let us sing out tonight, Come into my heart and soul Lord Jesus! He has come so that we might be enlarged and defined solely by His indwelling Spirit. He is God’s Word and can be made flesh only if our hearts and souls are enlarged to receive Him. Will our hearts be enlarged while time remains? Let us ask with the poet,
Aren’t we enlarged
by the scale of what we’re able
to desire? Everything,
the choir insists,
inside these wrappings
burns another, brighter life,
by song: hear how
it cascades, in overlapping,
lapidary waves of praise? Still time.
Still time to change.
Still time to change, still time to be born again, born from above, dying to live by the Saviour’s love, dying to speak with the truth from above, still dying to die so that we might live, still dying to live so that we might give, still dying to give for one more day, still dying to give our Lord Jesus away.
Then judgment shall dwell in the wilderness,
and righteousness remain in the fruitful field.
(Isaiah xxxii. 16)
You can say what you will about the old Book of Common Prayer, which we use exclusively in this church, but what you cannot say it that it is not honest and forthright about the struggles which any human being finds in his journey towards salvation. Indeed, perhaps its most brilliant contribution to the history of Christianity lies in its full appreciation of the spiritual warfare that accompanies every honest pilgrim’s desire to embrace the Grace of Almighty God and eschew evil. The Church Year is defined and informed by the persistent recognition of the difficulty that lies in the effort to die to oneself and to come alive to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. And the Advent season is no exception to this rule. It commenced with the spiritual desire to cast away the works of darkness and put upon us the armour of Light now in the time of this mortal life. (Advent I, Collect) And it concludes with: O Lord, raise, up, we pray thee, thy power, and come among us, and with great might succor us; that whereas, through our sins and wickedness, we are sore let and hindered in running the race that is set before us; thy bountiful grace and mercy may speedily help and deliver us…(Advent IV, Collect)
Now, a Prayer Book Advent is, by no means, a mere repetition of a single theme. I hope that our Advent has been preparing us logically for the Christ’s coming at Christmas time. As Father Crouse reminds us, on the First Sunday in Advent we prayed that our souls would be awakened and cleansed to prepare for the coming of Christ. On the Second Sunday we were called to forsake the passing and impermanent world that we might prepare for God’s enduring Word. Last Sunday we were called to witness to the Word in hope, as the impending suffering and death of John Baptist were consecrated to the mission and meaning of Christ’s coming. And today we are called to see and perceive this coming Word of God and rejoice in His coming. (Advent I-IV Summary Sermon, RDC)
But to see and perceive the coming Word…and rejoice in it, we must realize that all of our preparation must end in spiritual death: I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord…[for] there standeth one among you, whom ye know not; he it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe's latchet I am not worthy to unloose. (St. John i. 23, 27 John’s words are spoken just prior to his literal death at the hands of King Herod. Getting out of the way, receceding, decreasing, and dying are all part of the example John provides for us. In Advent, with John Baptist, our preparation concludes with a call into our own spiritual death, to everyone and everything that stands in the way of the coming Christ’s birth in our souls on Christmas day.
Our spiritual death is something for which ancient Israel had been preparing long before the coming of John Baptist. Along with John, Isaiah the Prophet helps us to see and understand both spiritual death and the new life that God prepares to bring. He proclaims, Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness…(Is. xxxii. 1) And then he goes on to say that, a man shall be as a hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land. (Ibid, 2) When this king comes to reign, His power and might, His love and compassion, and His wisdom and truth shall rule and govern the human heart. The nature of Christ’s reign will be inward and spiritual. The Christ who is coming shall not be perceived by most men, for they will be too busy basking in the light of their own abilities, accomplishments, and achievements. But for those whose faith yearns, longs, and hungers for Christ’s coming – because they have long since begun to decay, deteriorate, and die in their own eyes – a new cosmic rule and governance is about to be seen and understood, heard and comprehended spiritually. The eyes of them that see shall not be dim, and the ears of them that hear shall hearken. The heart also of the rash shall understand knowledge, and the tongue of the stammerers shall be ready to speak plainly. (Ibid, 3,4) This will mean that what men thought was true, beautiful, and good will be seen now in God’s Light as what could, at best, promote and enhance a kind of life that leads only to death. And for those who cannot see and hear spiritually, because they have not yet died to themselves, their own darkness will become darker, more nefarious, treacherous, malignant, and contrary. In the words of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, The fool will no more be called noble, nor the knave said to be honorable. For the fool speaks folly, and his mind plots iniquity to practice ungodliness, to utter error concerning the Lord, to leave the craving of the hungry unsatisfied, and to deprive the thirsty of drink. (Ibid, 5,6) God’s truth, goodness, and beauty are about to be expressed through the coming of Christ, and will forever relegate man’s good intentions and noble works to the dustbin of a fallen and dead creation. Good works, the Prophet insists, can never save a man because they only ever satisfy earthly and worldly needs, and, so, leave the soul empty and destitute of lasting, spiritual life and salvation. Tremble, ye women that are at ease; be troubled, ye careless ones: strip you, and make you bare, and gird sackcloth upon your loins. Beat upon your breasts, for the pleasant fields, for the fruitful vine. (Ibid, 11, 12) The Prophet refines his message. True new birth and new life will come from God alone, and then only through the Mother who has died to herself, who will be then full of Grace, who will be highly favored because her singular passion and heartfelt desire is for God’s will to be done through her: Be it unto me, according to thy Word. (St. Luke i. 28…) Christ the coming Word of God can only and ever been conceived and born in the soul which has died to itself in order to come alive to God’s will and way. The coming Christ came alive to John Baptist in hope; the coming Christ came alive to the Blessed Virgin Mary first in faith and then in deed and in truth.
So today we need to ask ourselves if we have indeed been preparing for the coming of Christ by dying to ourselves. John Baptist in another place says that, He must increase and I must decrease. (St. John iii. 30) Of course we can comply with his sentiments only when we come to the point of realizing that, for the most part, we have been engaged in a living death. And living death is just another way of saying that we have lived in, for, and to ourselves. The man who is immersed in a living death is moved and defined by the world, the flesh, and the devil. And he need not be an uncompromised pagan; he might even be a compromised Christian. Such a man is self-consciously moved and possessed by himself. He would be surprised to learn that he is immersed in a living death. Why? Because he has casually and carelessly justified or dismissed the sins of his past life. In other words, he has never measured his every thought, word, and deed in the pure light of Christ’s coming. Unlike Isaiah the Prophet, John Baptist, or the Blessed Virgin Mary, he has never seen that the future in store for those who indulge a living death is neatly summarized in the words of the Prophet: Upon the land of my people shall come up thorns and briars; yea, upon all the houses of joy in the joyous city: because the palaces shall be forsaken; the multitude of the city shall be deserted; the forts and towers shall be dens forever, a joy of wild asses, a pasture of flocks; until the Spirit be poured upon us from on high. (Ibid, 14, 15) There will be only living death for those who do not die to themselves and come alive to the Lord.
A dying life is precisely what is in needful for Christians who will welcome the birth of the coming Christ once again at Christmas time. Our Prayer Book does not underestimate its importance. Today the Psalmist shows us that we ought always to be preparing for the coming Christ. O be joyful in the LORD, all ye lands: * serve the LORD with gladness, and come before his presence with a song. Be ye sure that the LORD he is God; it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; * we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. (Ps. c. 1,2) he sings today. O go your way into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise; * be thankful unto him, and speak good of his Name. For the LORD is gracious, his mercy is everlasting; * and his truth endureth from generation to generation. (Ibid, 3,4) Over and against our living death stands a loving God whose everlasting mercy will perfect a dying life. St. Paul exhorts us to the same posture. Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say, Rejoice. (Phil. iv. 4) The Lord is at hand, he insists, and so we must be careful for nothing. (Phil. iv. 6) We must not be anxious about living in the temporal world, since it stands only to disrupt and frustrate our dying life. But in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving [we are to make our] requests be made known unto God…[that] the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Phil. iv. 6,7) God’s peace and good will is about to come to us in the Nativity of our Saviour when our dying life can be redeemed and perfected by his coming Birth. Let us now prepare for His coming birth. Amen.
Art thou He that should come, or do we look for another?
(St. Matthew xi. 2)
We have said that Advent season is all about our preparing for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ at Christmas time. Our preparation is rooted in history and hope. Historically speaking Jesus Christ, the Desire of God, was made flesh some two-thousand years ago in ancient Palestine. The historical Jesus began to summon and carry followers to God’s Kingdom long ago, beginning in time and space through His Incarnation or enfleshment. As the Holy Spirit began to touch and move people through Him, He initiated the pilgrimage of man’s reconciliation to God the Father. And He desires to do the same today. History has been in the process of being swallowed up into eternity ever since God the Father called Abraham out from Ur of the Chaldees. Having overcome all potential obstacles to communion with our Heavenly Father in His Son, the Father continues to send His love down from Heaven into a people whose hope is their ultimate reconciliation to Him. And the Ascended Christ wants to keep making history as He comes into time and space to be made flesh through the indwelling of His Spirit.
We have a future, and our destiny is to be with God the Father. In today’s Gospel we are directed and charged to prepare for that future in a very specific way by John the Baptist. John’s mission is one of preparation for the coming of the active meaning and presence of Jesus Christ, and so his life is a perfect paradigm and pattern for our Advent preparation. That life might be summarized in his own words: He must increase, and I must decrease. (St. John iii. 30) John the Precursor, John the Preparer, is on a mission to lead us into that spiritual state that makes room for the coming of Jesus Christ. Yet, he knows that there can be no room for Him in us until we have been emptied of our sins. Our sin takes up too much space! Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. (St. Matthew iii. 2) His voice is one of many calling us to make room in our hearts for Jesus Christ. John lives in the wilderness, and in this wilderness John discovers himself. He sees himself clearly in a place far removed from relations to other people and things. Here he discovers his sins and his need to repent of them. The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose. It shall blossom abundantly and rejoice even with joy and singing. (Isaiah 35, 1,2) John Baptist is the Herald who invites us to confess the cold, hard, stark truth about ourselves. As Romano Guardini writes, The herald proclaims his message with authority, and what he says is framed in terms of a command. There is always a sense of urgency in what he announces. Though it may conflict with what is in men’s thoughts and interrupts them in their business, he cares less to conciliate them than secure their attention. Our confrontation with ourselves is essential. Without it, there can be no room in us for Jesus Christ.
Repentance is the acknowledgment of our self-willed alienation from God. Repentance involves the naming and claiming of whatever thoughts, words and deeds crowd out God’s will in our souls. Repentance is an emptying that creates a necessary void within us, a barren wilderness, in and through which the coming Lord can begin to create and make new life. Thus, we must be emptied, voided, and erased of ourselves in order that Jesus may begin to generate His new life, light, and love in our hearts. We must be un-selfed or emptied so that in a purely potential state Christ might begin to redeem the raw materials of our being.
And yet how can we do this? It sounds so much easier than it is. Repentance is difficult. What we are speaking about is not being sorry to others for sins committed against others. What we are talking about is being convicted by the Holy Spirit of our sin against God. Oswald Chambers tells us that, when the Holy Spirit rouses a man’s conscience and brings him into the presence of God, it is not his relationship with other men that bothers him, but his relationship with God –‘against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned and done this evil in Thy sight.’(Ps. li, 4; My Utmost, p.342) We cannot really become the space that is prepared to welcome the meaning and purpose of Christ’s coming to us until our carefully contrived worlds of respectable goodness come crashing down. (Idem) What we have made and what we protect jealously are in the way. Our good works, our law-abiding and moral habits are in the way. Being satisfied by what we do for others is in the way. Natural goodness and pious habits are not going to save us. If we rely upon a self-conscious satisfaction for what we do, our arrogance and pride are taking up too much space in our hearts. There can be no room from the coming Jesus in our souls. Rather, with John the Baptist, we must say, [There is one] who coming after me is preferred before me, the latchet of whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose…Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world…(John i. 27, 29) He must increase and I must decrease. It is not ‘I’. I am not the Messiah. I am not Elijah. I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord. (St. John i. 23) With John the Baptist we must desire our own undoing completely before enough space can be freed up so that Jesus Christ can begin to form and mold His new life in us. With John Baptist we remain in sin if we cease to understand the value of repentance. With him we must examine ourselves and see if we have forgotten how to be truly repentant. (Ibid)
And this means that we must be found faithful to Christ in following the way of reflection and repentance in good times and bad. We find the extreme of bad times in today’s Gospel. John Baptist is in prison awaiting execution and probably has been tortured severely. John is near death and his role as Herald and Forerunner is coming to an end. He is more likely than not confused about what he has been doing to prepare for Messiah’s coming. He sends his disciples to ask Jesus, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another? (St. Matthew 11. 3) Jesus’ response is not what natural man might expect. They are sent back with no promise of John’s liberation from prison or of Herod’s demise. Rather He sends them back with news of a reality that he can only participate in vicariously or by way of rejoicing in others’ healing. Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. (Ibid, 4,5) John the Baptist will not saved from impending execution. And even against it all, he must rejoice in what Jesus has come to do for John’s neighbors. It seems cold comfort indeed. But Jesus knows that John is sufficiently emptied of himself to receive the good tidings of great joy that shall be to all people that are already pouring forth from the His heavenly heart into the suffering of John.
Jesus goes on to say: And, blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me. (Idem) A closer translation would be whosoever shall not be scandalized by me, as Monsignor Knox suggests. The idea is that, as he says, blessed is the man who shall not be suddenly out of his stride, just when everything seemed to be going all right, by running up against an unforeseen snag or obstacle…or by falling into a trap. In other words, blessed is the man who is faithful come what may, despite all manner of unforeseen drawbacks. (Knox: The Epistles and Gospels, p. 16) Blessed is John Baptist into whose self-denial and self-abnegation Jesus can enter with the spiritual hope that will save all men through all times and in all conditions.
Christ goes on to show that His coming is most severely tested and tried by the condition that John Baptist is called to endure. What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind? But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet. For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. (Ibid, 7-10) What should we expect if we follow John the Baptist’s call to repentance? Unwavering faith. Utter unworldliness. Suffering. Death. To repent is to empty oneself. It means that every inch of my being must be sacrificed to God in death. Can this Jesus who is the one that should come really intend that I should suffer in this way? Can a loving and compassionate God demand such agony of soul as a condition for His coming? Jesus’ answer is a gentle but firm, merciful but unwavering Yes. Blessed is he who is not scandalized and outraged by the insistence of this severe mercy. Jesus says that those who follow Him must die. They may, like John Baptist, die at the hands of envious and wicked men, but at any rate they must die to anyone or anything that opposes Jesus’ coming love.
Jesus tells us this morning that John’s way is the right way. John invites us into the wilderness of repentance, and then from the world’s prison-house he directs us to Jesus. Both are spaces of stillness. As Romano Guardini puts it:
Stillness is the tranquility of the inner life, the quiet at the depths of its hidden
stream. It is a collected, total presence, a being all there, receptive, alert, ready.
There is nothing inert or oppressive about it. Attentiveness –that is the clue to the
stillness in question. The stillness before Christ.
We have a future, if we embrace John Baptist’s stillness. Only in stillness can we know ourselves and repent, that he may increase, and we may decrease. Only in stillness can the severe mercy of God begin to un-self us and bring us into death. Only then, with John, will we know that God’s coming Word made flesh suffers far more than we can imagine, so that we may be called the children of God, and hope for a future of eternal union with Him. Amen.
Then, again, if one were willing to believe only those things which one knows with certitude, one could not live in this world. How could one live unless one believed others? How could one know that this man is one’s own father? Therefore, it is necessary that one believe others in matters which one cannot know perfectly for oneself. But no one is so worthy of belief as is God, and hence they who do not believe the words of faith are not wise, but foolish and proud. As the Apostle says: “He is proud, knowing nothing” [1 Tim 6:4].And also: “I know whom I have believed; and I am certain” [2 Tim 1:12].And it is written: “You who fear the Lord, believe Him and your reward shall not be made void” [Sir 2:8].Finally, one can say also that God proves the truth of the things which faith teaches. Thus, if a king sends letters signed with his seal, no one would dare to say that those letters did not represent the will of the king. In like manner, everything that the Saints believed and handed down to us concerning the faith of Christ is signed with the seal of God. This seal consists of those works which no mere creature could accomplish; they are the miracles by which Christ confirmed the sayings of the apostles and of the Saints.
Contrary to the postmodern dogmatic assertion that faith is not part of the usual lives of even non-believers, St. Thomas makes his point. Faith or belief are part and parcel of any human being’s relatively successful non-religious existence. (Of course, all men are religious by reason of making moral choices all the time –but that is for another time.) Faith and belief for St. Thomas are necessary dispositions of intellectual posture without which man could not survive. We believe other people all the time. Jack just stepped out for a few minutes; he’ll return soon. Jill is at the hairdressers but knows that you will be here at 1:00. And so forth. We believe all sorts of things that enable us to continue on or order our lives in a successful fashion. I believe also that Peter is my father. To be sure, if I had to, I could prove it with a DNA test. But belief is as likely to come up with the same answer without bothering with all of that. Believing others is a necessary part of regular and normal human existence. And if we believe others, why shouldn’t we also believe in the One who knows with far more certainty and truth? Belief in God is not irrational and illogical. Rather, it is a rational extension of what is already at work in our belief of other men. It is a rational extension since we are merely reaching beyond others to the One whose knowledge not only informs theirs but makes them believable in the first place. We rest on belief in others because we are made to rest on belief in the cause of belief. God is the cause and reason for belief. Faith seeks understanding and in understanding it comes to certain knowledge of God. Faith seeks to find the source, origin, and cause of all. Faith finds God and comes to know God. Of course, the certainty is not something that can be proved by temporal and created means. It is a believed certainty and this means that it is a gift that is forever being discovered as God rewards relief with the power to overcome sin and infuse righteousness. God proves His own existence through the power that accompanies the faith of the righteous man. Christ is the only righteous man who has ever lived. Christ as Man proves or gives evidence of God’s power, not only in miracles but in His own received ability to conquer sin, death, and Satan on the Cross and to lift human nature into the new life of Resurrection and Ascension. We have faith in this reality because it was witnessed and passed on to us by the Apostles and their successors.
If, however, you would say that no one has witnessed these miracles, I would reply in this manner. It is a fact that the entire world worshipped idols and that the faith of Christ was persecuted, as the histories of the pagans also testify. But now all are turned to Christ—wise men and noble and rich—converted by the words of the poor and simple preachers of Christ. Now, this fact was either miracle or it was not. If it is miraculous, you have what you asked for, a visible fact; if it is not, then there could not be a greater miracle than that the whole world should have been converted without miracles. And we need go no further. We are more certain, therefore, in believing the things of faith than those things which can be seen, because God’s knowledge never deceives us, but the visible sense of man is often in error.
The greatest miracle is the life of Christ. If it is a miracle that so many Christians through the centuries have believed, then we the facts that prove that Christ is the Son of God and our Mediator, Advocate, Redeemer, and Saviour. If it is not a miracle, then it would be miraculous that the whole world was converted without a miracle. So, the power of God in Christ has proved itself in history either way. And this unseen object of our faith provides us with greater certainty than the operation of our senses in relation to things seen and perceived. The senses deceive us. But the object of our faith does not deceive us. It does not deceive us because God is not a deceiver. We believe that it is far more likely that Christ has conquered sin, death, and Satan, that He has risen, is ascended, is glorified and is Pentecostally present because the God we know does not deceive and always assists His people in need according to the logic and rationality of created substances. Created substances come from God and imitate the laws of His Being. Thus, we believe that this same God brings man to His appointed end by the Law of His Love in Jesus Christ. Some say that God did intercede to correct it through Mohamed. But Mohamed is not to be trusted. His "visions" were not verified by eye-witnesses. He was his own verifier and interpreter. Such alone overcomes the fact that many have been and are to this day deceived by him.
And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth
distress of nations, with perplexity…(St. Luke xxi. 25)
Advent is that season which is all about preparing for Christ’s coming. What is coming to us is what endures forever and never passes away. With eager expectation, we await the one permanent and eternal thing that is all-important and all-defining for the life of any Christian. In the cyclical life of the Church, once again we prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ at Christmas time. Christ Jesus is the permanent Word of God made flesh. He is the eternally-begotten Word of God –that abiding, immutable, and enduring articulation of God that was uttered and spoken into time and space long ago. And the same Word is spoken each year, in a new and fresh way, to the souls of the faithful that they might be born again of a wisdom and love that never pass away. Advent is about the coming of Christ the Word. Today we are called to hear the Word that comes to us, to measure our every desire by it, and to ensure that this Word is indeed our enduring hope.
In the Gospel appointed for today Jesus establishes Himself as the Word spoken and offered to those who will hear Him. He speaks to the Apostles in the present tense of past history, and He speaks to us in the same way today. He speaks though of a future coming, a final coming, when all things shall be measured and summed up in relation to man’s hearing or not hearing of His Word. The Word of God, His rule and governance, will be established finally and definitively in that day when He shall weigh the desire of men’s hearts definitively. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. (St. Luke 21. 27) Jesus who is the disclosed and revealed Word of God made flesh, who spoke to the Apostles long ago, who speaks to us today, will come at the end of all time, to judge the world, to determine whether every man’s words and works are consistent, commensurate, and compatible with His will. In the end times then, all things shall be summed up in relation to the Christ the everlasting Word of God, and all men shall find their everlasting abode in relation to Him.
So, it is in this life that we are blessed with the gift of preparing for God’s Judgment. This is the time of discovering what God intends for us all and habituating or acclimating ourselves to it. In the Gospel, Jesus fully expects that His hearers- the Apostles then and us now, will be in communion with Him already because they have long since begun to subject their desires to His Judgment and Will. Jesus says today that those who reject Him as God’s Word made flesh and articulated Will of the Father can expect only confusion, bewilderment, and unending terror. And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. (St. Luke xxi. 25) Heaven will herald in the time of Judgment and the earth will respond in kind with a traumatic and paranormal seismic shift that anticipates heavenly salvation for the good and damnation for the evil.
The unfaithful earthly-minded man will see at last that his perishable riches are now worthless, his worldly comforts surprisingly incommodious, and his natural peace violently torturous. At the same time, the faithful heavenly-minded man will set his eyes and heart upon the coming Glory that is already harvesting and ingathering the fruits of his holiness. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh, Jesus says. (St. Luke 21. 28) Though the creation’s mostly idolatrous inhabitants will be taken by surprise, the faithful friends of Jesus shall be neither blindsided nor astonished. With joy and rapture they shall begin to be swept up in their unfolding destiny because they have long since been judged, corrected, disciplined, and redeemed by the permanent and unchanging Word of Christ’s love. Their spiritual state is illustrated neatly in the Parable of the Fig Tree. Jesus says, Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; When they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise, ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand. (St. Luke 21: 30, 31) The faithful man shall see the world scorched in ruin, as unbelievers desperately and hopelessly scramble for cover, because they have refused to prepare for the triumphant victory of God’s enduring Word. He shall see that the worship of earthly mammon has led only to sterility and impotence cutting off idolaters from the undeterred triumph of God’s love. He shall discover that the words of this world only ever come and go and always pass away because they have no root in God’s Eternal Word. He shall see that man’s possession by lesser gods can never yield any lasting and enduring joy. He shall know that the Word of the Lord alone endureth forever. And so, in the high summer heat of the Word’s return, the bright and burning truth of God’s Word of love shall become definitively present as what alone judges man’s destiny at the end of all things. With His coming, Jesus says, rejoice and be exceeding glad, for the world will be destroyed, but the dynamically penetrating heat of God’s loving Word shall summon the fruits of His Spirit into final and unbreakable unity with Himself. The Word made flesh will come to establish man’s final redemption either in deliverance to His Kingdom or separation from it.
But how, you might ask, does this Word of God judge us now? How, you ask, do we apply this Word of God to our lives now so that at the Judgment we shall be found so faithful to it so that we shall not be judged unworthy of salvation? Our Collect for today helps us. It exhorts us to a faith that seeks understanding and then generates hope in God’s unchanging Word, that never passes away.
BLESSED Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.
The Word of God, His communicated Wisdom to us and for us, most fully discerned and perceived in the life of Jesus Christ, is found through a diligent and persistent hearing and reading of Holy Scripture. The same Word must be marked and annotated, learned and understood, and then inwardly and spiritually digested as what alone can enable us to die to sin and come alive to God’s enduring righteousness. We must find in the Word a record of God’s persistent, unalterable, and enduring love for us and our salvation. We must discover that Jesus Christ, God’s Word made Flesh, has, in these last days, become not only the forgiveness of our sins but our resurrection and life, neither of which ever pass away.
The Collect teaches us that if we are to be found faithful, by patience and comfort of God’s Holy Word, we must embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life in Jesus Christ. Hope in eternal life must be the object of our desire. Earthly-minded man hopes for things that perish and puts his faith and trust in earthly relationships that grow old and pass away. Earthly man grows old and when life grows short, his hope grows weary, as Joseph Pieper writes. But spiritual man grows young because he hopes in a life that is ‘not yet’ and shall be as long as eternity. (Faith, Hope, Love, II, 110-111) Spiritual man hopes in a life that is just now starting to be lived in and through God’s Word. Spiritual man hopes in the Word that even now begins to prepare him for perfect everlasting union and communion with God. He has the audacity and courage to hope supernaturally above and beyond this transitory world with its fleeting promises. The theological virtue of hope bestows upon the spiritual man a certain possession of an aspiration that is at once relaxed and disciplined, adaptable and ready with strong-hearted freshness and resilient joy, with a steady perseverance in trust that distinguishes the young and make them so lovable. (Idem) Spiritual man is forever young because he trusts, even recklessly, in a love that makes him forever new. He is forever being made new with ever-growing confidence that what he knows and how he lives can always be bettered by being perfectly possessed and moved by a love that never passes away. Spiritual man is forever young because he does not look backward but forward. His youthfulness lives from a root that penetrates into an area of human nature that the powers of natural hope are unable to reach. This is so because supernatural youthfulness emanates from participation in the life of God, who is closer and more intimate to us than we are to ourselves. (Idem) For spiritual man time is swallowed up into eternity because he hopes forever in the fountain of youth that flows from God’s loving heart into his own! (Faith, Hope, and Love: Chapter II, 110-111)
In this holy season of Advent, we are called to be transformed by the unchanging and enduring Word of God’s love in Jesus Christ that will reward our hope with a love that is forever new and never passes away. So then:
[So] chiefly [we] should lift your gaze
Above the world’s uncertain haze,
And look with calm unwavering eye
On the bright fields beyond the sky,
Ye, who your Lord’s commission bear,
His way of mercy to prepare:
Angels He calls ye: be your strife
To lead on earth an Angel’s life.
Think not of rest; though dreams be sweet,
Start up, and ply your heaven-ward feet.
Is not God’s oath upon your head,
Ne’er to sink back on slothful bed,
Never again your loins untie,
Nor let your torches waste and die,
Till, when the shadows thickest fall,
Ye hear your Master’s midnight call?
(J. Keble: Advent II)
Come, true light. Come, eternal life. Come, hidden mystery. Come, nameless treasure. Come, ineffable reality. Come, inconceivable person. Come, endless bliss. Come, non-setting sun. Come, infallible expectation of all those who must be saved. Come, awakening of those who are asleep.
(Mystical Prayer of St. Simeon)
It is hard to believe, but Advent has arrived once again. Advent means coming and for Christians, it means specifically the coming of Jesus Christ. Today we pray about Christ’s coming two thousand years ago in ancient Israel. Today we pray also about Christ’s coming in the end times to judge both the quick and the dead. Between the two there is Christ’s coming to us now, when we remember that Jesus Christ is always coming to us, constantly challenging and measuring our present lives. In Advent, we are called to prepare for Christ’s coming, His birth, the birth of Emmanuel, God with us and for us. St. Paul tells us this morning that now it is high time to wake out of sleep, and that now is our salvation nearer than when we first believed, (Rom. Xiii. 11). Today Christ is coming to us in Advent to prepare our souls to welcome His coming birth at Christmas time.
So, Christ is coming to prepare us in Advent-tide for His Christmas birth. Like all other births, His birth will be hard and painful to endure. We anticipate it with premature enthusiasm. What comes to birth in the body is difficult enough, but what comes to birth in the soul might be even harder. The dramatic and difficult nature of Christ’s coming birth in Christ’s prophecy of the new age. And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh. (St. Luke xxi. 25-28) Most people tend to forget that Christ’s coming to us will be no easy business. This Gospel awakens our hearts and startles our souls out of an habitual and customary dormancy and sloth that tend to prepare for Christmas like we might make ready for the coming of a new-born babe whom we long to coddle and caress. Christ is coming to us but not as the one whom postmodern Christians treat as an inoffensive and harmless aider and abetter of their heathen ways. Christ is coming to us and if He will be born in our hearts and souls, Advent must involve a penetrating and conscientious examination of our hearts so that they might truly make ready for Him. The whole of our world must be disrupted, rattled, challenged, confronted, and questioned. The fear of the Lord must awaken us out of sinful sleep. The Lord of Glory means business. The Season of Advent calls all men to a change of heart which will be essential to their salvation.
In Advent Season, we shall be reminded that Christ is coming to us so that we might make ready for the four last things: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell. Our King is coming in order to discover where we are spiritually. His birth will call us into death, a death to everything that competes with His coming to us as the fresh start and beginning of our new and future life with Him. His birth will judge us, that we might awaken out of that sinful sleep that has made us the servants of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Should we awaken and embrace His light and be born again from above, we shall begin to make our way to the Heaven of His Heavenly Kingdom. Should we remain asleep and thus refuse to embrace His light, choosing rather to live in the darkness, then Hell and not Heaven shall be our reward.
In Advent, Christ is coming to help us onto the hard road of spiritual circumspection and repentance. Today we pray: Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life. (Collect, Advent Sunday) To cast away the works of darkness means that we must banish all ungodly vice and the desires that seek them out and establish them in our hearts. To put upon us the armour of light means to enkindle desire and passion for God’s heavenly will and way. The armour of light is the protection and defense that God gives to us in His coming Son. St. Paul writes, Now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we first believed. (Romans xii. 11) Sleeping Christians are never alert and sensitive to the many dimensions of Christ’s coming. We are called to wake up, to smell the spiritual coffee, and to know that Christ’s coming to us involves the hard work of ongoing conversion and sanctification. Hard work means abandoning the spiritual darkness of a contemporary culture and world whose strange ways have saturated our souls with compromise, despair, and the denial of man’s call to excellence. Our urgent prayer should be to eliminate and expunge from our lives whatever does not reveal and manifest our desire for Christ’s purity and holiness, for Christ’s forgiveness and mercy, and for Christ’s wisdom and enlightenment. Our urgent prayer is that we might walk honestly as in the day of Christ’s coming and visitation. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof (St. Matthew vi. 34), and thus, again, we pray that we might put on the armour of light.
So, our first wake-up call exhorts us to take time each day to move into a quiet space, that the busy world might be hushed, into an inconspicuous and hidden space, removed from the commotion and commerce of an insane world bent on incessant talk, in order to ask the Lord to give us new desire and fresh longing for His coming light. To be successful, we must separate ourselves from other people, places, and situations. Owe no man anything, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law, (Romans xiii. 8) St. Paul insists. Our souls can be opened to God’s coming light in Jesus Christ only when we cease to be busybodies, sowers of discord, gossips, tale-spinners, and tale-bearers. We cannot be healed inwardly and spiritually if we are stirred up and moved by the sins of other people. If we have problems with others, we ought to write down what is bothering us and lift those people up in prayer to the Lord. The Lord is much better able than we to solve our problems and to provide solutions. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself (Romans xiii. 9).
In addition, we must be purged and cleansed of our own evil habits. This requires real honesty and candor. Again, it will be helpful for us to keep a spiritual journal about our own temptations to sin. This helps us to externalize our internal struggles. Once we have brought it out into the open, we have something to study and offer back to the Lord for His healing remedy. It seems simple and even childish. This is good. Christ likes simplicity and childlike natures! Let us remember that Christ is coming to us to bear our burdens and heal our wounds. He comes to take on the burden of our sins. If we slip and fall into any kind of sin, let us be swift to return to Christ and repent. Part of Christ’s coming to us is our familiarity and friendship with Him. Thus, on a daily basis, we need to make time for the Lord. We need to turn off the TV, computer, and cell phone and to tune into Jesus Christ. We can prepare for His multidimensional coming by reading Holy Scripture and learning to apply God’s Holy Word to our lives. Sunday morning service isn’t enough. God wants our time and an earnest willingness to take account of our dealings and doings. Our efforts should begin with simple honesty. Let us offer back to the Lord what we have thought, desired, or intended throughout the day. Let us offer back to Him also when and where we have failed to be merciful, charitable, and loving to others. Let us list our disappointments. Let us thank Him also for the spiritual strength and victory that His Grace has afforded to us. Whatever our temptations may be, in Advent we are called to identify and combat whatever threatens our relationship to Christ’s coming light and love. Our healing and purification will not happen instantaneously. Like anything in human life, bad habits take time to abandon and good habits take time to establish. We must practice the art of claiming and confessing our sins with patience that all vice might be killed and all virtue brought to life in us through the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Above all, let us remember that Advent is all about taking the coming Judgment of Jesus Christ seriously now so that we will not regret having ignored it later. What we shall be rewarded with then shall be a summary conclusion of what we have freely and voluntarily chosen and desired here and now. We shall get what we want. If we haven’t wanted God, He will not force Himself upon us. If we have lived in a Godless universe, that world will be rewarded to us forever in Hell. Hell is a Godless universe that stands forever within eyeshot of God’s Kingdom and the joy of His people.
The universe is never Godless in the end. God will not be mocked and His truth shall prevail. Man will feel the God whom He rejected and whose love he has lost…forever.
Dear Friends in Christ, Jesus Christ is coming to us once again in yet another Advent tide. Where are we in relation to Him? Let us awake out of sleep, cast away works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light now in the time of this mortal life, that the illuminating brilliance of Christ our love may come to us:
Come, true light. Come, eternal life. Come, hidden mystery. Come, nameless treasure. Come, ineffable reality. Come, inconceivable person. Come, endless bliss. Come, non-setting sun. Come, infallible expectation of all those who must be saved. Come, awakening of those who are asleep.
In stillness and silence Moses, the Lord’s Prophet, seeks and searches for God in Himself. What or who he searches for is what is not anything that he has experienced or encountered in the universe around him. In the universe are changing, moving, growing, and becoming beings. In himself he finds a changing, moving, becoming, being. Not only can he not step in the same river twice but he is not the same person who stepped in the river. Before he stepped into the river he was changing. While he was stepping in the moving and changing river, he was changing. After he had stepped in the moving and changing river, he was changing and still is never the same. Nothing that is always becoming is ever the same. Moses knows this. And yet on the other side of the equation, he is always changing, moving, growing, and so forth. Moses knows that he is the subject of the change and motion. So now he seeks for the source, origin, and cause of all changing, moving, growing, and becoming being. He seeking the cause of his becoming and seeks the source of his being. Being as changing, moving, growing, and becoming nevertheless exists. It partakes of or participates in being. What is being? Who is being?
Moses believes that God is Pure Being. Pure Being never changes. He is that substance that is complete, full, whole, entire, and absolute. His Being is simple, unadulterated, unconditional, and unlimited. He is I AM. He generates His own Being. God is Being in and through Himself. He depends upon no one and nothing for His being. (D. House) Before all beginnings, before partial and created beings begin to become, God alone exists, God alone is I AM. If he were caused, if there had been a cause of His Being, He would not be God. God is, God was not made. God’s being is God’s substance. God’s substance is God’s nature. God is, God thinks, God wills. These are three attributes that Moses discerns as relations within the Godhead or the Being of God. To say that there was a time when God was not is absurd and irrational. To say that there was a time when God did not think because He did not know how to think or had to learn to think is absurd and irrational. To say that there was a time when God did not will is absurd and irrational. God’s Being is such that He thinks and He wills always. Besides, before God created time, there was no time. So it is equally absurd and irrational to limit God to time since His Being is Eternal. There was a time relates only to history. History describes created time. God is I Am, I Know, I Will. These three relations describe the Eternal Being of God. There never was a time when God was not. I AM is not made or created. I AM is always.
What God thinks and wills is known to man only in and through time. Man has no access to God’s being beyond time other than that He always is Being and Knowing and Willing. Man has access to God in and through the time with which he was created. Thus, what man can know of God comes about through a reflection on the creation. What God has made is the only subject matter available to man for discerning and detecting God’s knowing and willing. Through what He has made, man can come to know something of God. Through what He has made man can come to know God’s attributes. Yet, in addition to coming to know who and what God is through creation, man also comes to see what God is not. Moses comes to see that God is not anything that has a beginning, is becoming, or has an end. What has a beginning, middle, and end exists in and with time. To have a beginning means that there was a time when someone or something was not. God is I AM. God has no beginning. God does not exist with and in and through time. God is I AM.
Moses knows that if he has any being, it is partial being. His being began to be at a certain point in time because God shared His Being with the creature that was beginning to be. To begin to be means that the creature begins to participate in and partake of God’s Being. I AM lends His Being to all that comes to be. For Moses, no creature comes to be unless Pure Being causes or brings it about. So, all creatures are becoming beings. This is to say that all creatures are striving to become some being in particular. God’s Being creates and makes all becoming beings. They are becoming in so far as they are striving to perfect a form of being that God established for them.
Man comes to be as he comes to know. Coming to know is part and parcel of becoming a true human being. Coming into knowledge therefore is in need of the same cause as coming into being. This salient feature of created human nature is ignored by most pseudo-scientists and pseudo-philosophers. They are pseudo because they will not admit of the need for God the First Cause in their acquisition of knowledge. Evidently, they believe that there exists no Being who Knows. But if there is no being who knows, then there is no knowledge for becoming beings who are becoming knowers! Being is participated in by beings who begin to be. Beings who begin to be eventually come to ponder, wonder, study, explore, and investigate because all men by nature desire to know. Their end is to know what can be known and is indeed known by the One Being who makes them. His making them involves His Eternal Knowing. When He makes them He knows what He is doing and what He is making. Man strives to understand what is already made as becoming being. Man strives to know things as God knows them. If God doesn’t exist, they cannot be known. Partial becoming knowing depends upon the Knower and the known. What is waiting to be known can be known only by discovering the knowledge of God the Knower who make, sustains, and thus defines them. So God is not just Being but Knowing. Another way of putting it is that God is Mind.
The author of Genesis is familiar with other ancient accounts of creation. He rejects them as not having solved his problem. His problem is that He wants to come to know the creation. He knows that it must be derivative. Becoming being, moving and changing being, being that is in time, for a time, and only for a time confronts him only with a kind of end and not a beginning. He is in search of beginnings. Of course, so were the other ancient cultures. But here there is a difference. A careful study of Enuma Elish, the ancient Babylonian creation account, might have been known to our author. If so, it is unsatisfactory. It seems to begin with divine division and multiplicity. It begins also with cosmic conflict and warfare. The author of Genesis is in search of a truly transcendent cause. God must be one and not many he thinks. God must be transcendent and not immanent. God must be beyond change, alteration, and becoming. Moses is in search of the Absolute Being and the Absolute Knowing. This is to say that he searches for what is unopposed, unalterable, unchangeable, and not moved or defined by anything or anyone else. He searches for one thing or one being that causes and informs all that is other than itself or himself. He seeks what is, what is I Am. This Being will be beyond all, above all, and responsible for all. Everything that comes to be, into being, must depend upon God. God is omnipotent. The power to begin to be and to begin to know come equally from God. God is omnipotent Being and Knowing and Willing. The willing is the necessary consequence of His free desire to make and create.
Some of you are disturbed by the assertion that the universe is created by the Uncreated God. Everything must have a cause, you assert with Bertrand Russell. Your assertion is faulty. Only what has a beginning must have a cause. What does not begin to be does not need a cause or reason for its being. He who is I Am needs not reason for being since He is Being Itself. Because it does not begin to be, it needs no catalyst from the movement from nonbeing to being. What does not begin to be is God. God by definition does not begin to be because God is Being. Everything else begins to be by entering into Being or by commencing to be when it had not been and thus must have a cause. What begins to be is moved out of non-being and into Being. It can begin to be only by beginning to participate in Being. What comes into Being, comes into what is and not what is not. Something is made or created that has or partakes in Being. What comes into being, once was not, now is, and will not be again. Being is. Becoming being is temporary and thus is imperfect and incomplete. It is partial being. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It is a something that participates in Being while it exists. When it ceases to exist, it returns to nothingness. (I speak of course of those beings whose natures do not admit of a surviving faculty or element like the soul in men.) It was not, it is, and it will not be again. What is temporary participates in Being for a time or season. A time or season is a measurement of space that defines the endurance of a particular becoming being. Being for a time is not being forever. Being forever is one thing. Becoming being is temporary and thus is defined by duration. Becoming being and time are creatures. This means that both participate in eternal being but are neither eternal nor perfect. Being and Eternity are of God and thus belong to the Creator. Creatures come into being with time and are defined as being only with and in time.
What is interesting about the author of Genesis is that he is articulating a reality that not only participates in Being but has Meaning. Meaning is the definition or nature of a thing.The partial being of creatures can be known. It is known only in relation to the Mind or Intellect that causes it to be. Pure Being is Pure Mind. Pure Mind makes all things and gives meaning to them. They possess meaning in so far as they can be seen to be in the process of becoming some-thing. To say that they are some-thing means that they participate in Being beyond mere existing. It means that there is more to their reason or logos that defines their respective and particular natures. Or to maintain that they have any meaning at all means that they have natures or essences that define them as one-thing over and against another-thing. What they are –their natures, all partake in Being to a degree or extent. Thus, who or what they are can be related rationally back to God and the Meaning of His Being. Whatever God creates will reflect a degree of participation in Pure Being and Meaning. So, the reason or logos of particular created things is an articulation of the meaning of their being.
But before Moses describes what God makes, he must describe how He does it. Pure Being and Meaning create meaningful beings only by way of a method. Notice that we do not read that God simply makes in a kind of explosive bing-bang way. A big-bang is mere sound, fury, exploding energy, and chaotic motion. God’s Being and Meaning as they are discerned in the creation are articulated to rational creatures in an orderly and disciplined way. Uncivilized brutes cannot abide the gentlemanly manner of God. But uncivilized brutes also are never much interested in the Being and Meaning of God as the necessary cause and reason of all that exists. God does not act with an arbitrary will to power. For Moses, God thinks and communicates His intention through Logos and then establishes His desire through Spirit. God thinks and then speaks: Let there be….God speaks and then creates: and there was. Being, Thinking, and Willing reveal the ordered relations and operations of God’s eternal discipline. That discipline reveals the intention and purpose of the Creator that can be found in the creation. Moses is the inspired prophet who moves from the effects back to the First Cause.
We say that Moses moves from the effects back to the First Cause. By process of negation or apophatic theology he discovers the necessary Being of God. By way of what God cannot be, he finds what God is. From there he describes the movement as it proceeds from cause to effect. He begins with the purely spiritual, moves into the material and physical, and ends with the crowning communion of both in Man. He begins with the angelic and ends with the human.
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)
The Counter-Reformation revived a late-Medieval tendency to adore the Lord Jesus Christ in the Reserved Host of the Altar. Anglo-Catholics of a certain stripe tend towards such devotions also. Prayer Book Anglicans tend to consider such practices as being beside the point. They are beside the point because Prayer Book Anglicans follow Archbishop Cranmer in his emphasis on the real meaning of the Holy Eucharist. The Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper is given to us so that we might come into Communion with God the Father, through Jesus the Son, and by the motions of the Holy Spirit. What is most important here is that we might be transubstantiated by God from sinners into saints. Archbishop Cranmer believed that we ought to focus on receiving Jesus Christ in our hearts and souls so that He might begin, continue, and end the good work of His Redemption in us. This business of surrendering to the Lord Jesus within is not easy. It takes time. We must eschew old bad habits or vices and acquire new good habits or virtues. Our focus must be on the sanctification of our souls through thoughtful and meditative surrender to the Lord within. Adoration is beside the point because it distracts us and keeps God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit on the outside of us and at a safe distance. Oh sinner, Jesus says, I am my Father long to come to you and to make our abode within you. (St. John xiv. 23) We are called to let Jesus in! We are called to focus on the inward and spiritual transformation that Jesus longs to bring about in us through the Holy Spirit. Let us let Jesus in that He might crucify us to the world, the flesh, and the devil! Let us let Jesus in that He might resurrect us into new life and holy virtue that leads us to God’s Kingdom! Let us prepare for His coming in to make His abode in us. Let us receive Him in the Holy Communion. Let us go out into the world with Him alive in us, alive in our thoughts, words, and works. Let us then thankfully sharing Him with all whom we encounter.
But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in
the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God,
looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. (St. Jude 20)
Today we celebrate the Feast of Saint Simon and Saint Jude. Both are of the original Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ. Of each, we know scarce little. Saint Simon is mentioned four times in the New Testament and then only in a list of the other Apostles. Saint Jude is mentioned six times –one of the twelve three times, as the half-brother of Jesus twice, and as the author of his own Epistle once. So, for my purpose of preaching, I have very little history upon which to establish a foundation for a theme. Our 1928 Book of Common Prayer revisers make it even more difficult since they replace the Epistle Lesson from St. Jude with that of Ephesians ii.
Of course, the reason that the revisers changed the Epistle in 1928 was that St. Jude’s Epistle is full of Hell Fire and Brimstone! So perhaps this might be today’s theme! As many of you know, this letter that St. Jude has written writes of the wrath to come for those who are willfully living in notorious sin. St. Jude writes in earnest to a community of Christians who are surrounded and perhaps infected by sinners that threaten to carry it away from the faith once delivered to the saints. (St. Jude 3) He exhorts them to contend earnestly for [this] faith so that they might be established in and grow up out of the common salvation. (Idem) The common salvation is the work of Christ, once offered and once completed to overcome, vanquish, and destroy the sins of the whole world. Again, perhaps we might join St. Jude today in studying the wrath to come for wicked sinners and the lukewarm saints who enable them!
What is worrisome to St. Jude that the flock of Christians he addresses is very much in danger of being swept up into the surrounding sins of a culture that is bent on its own idolatry. He even suggests that his brood has been negligent, distracted, unfocused, and not centered on the all-sufficient work of the dying Saviour! Why else would he say that there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ? (Ibid, 4) His congregation has been asleep at the spiritual wheel. Its members have not thought sufficiently on the nature of Christ’s sacrifice and the victory that His death has won for all men in all time. His members have not taken seriously the kinds of sins that lead to perdition and everlasting fire. They may not be committing the sins themselves but they are enabling or acquiescing in them by not calling their brothers and sisters to account at the Judgment seat of Christ. Who am I to judge? they might just as well have said. And in so doing, they miss the point of Gospel Truth. We are Christians is the answer. And we are to judge and detect and recognize sin for what it is.
Furthermore, we are to love our fellow brothers and sisters enough to pray for them and then to find a way to share our spiritual concern with them. It is not only Christian duty to call out sin for what it is but also to love and care for others enough that we earnestly attempt to help them out of it! If we do nothing for those about us who are living in notorious sin, we shall be called to account on the Great Day of Judgment for not having told the truth to our brethren.
Belief or faith for St. Jude calls Christians into the spiritual character of living that must never rest comfortably close to excessive and perverse sin. By way of contrast, St. Jude warns his flock about flirting with might very well be eternally contagious.
I will therefore put you in remembrance, though ye once knew this, how that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not. And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day. Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire. Likewise also these filthy dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities. Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee. (Ibid, 5-9)
Those who do not believe in deliverance from slavery to sin and sinners will be destroyed. Those who take their eyes off of God their Saviour, who are distracted and detained by sinners and their sin have in all truth left their own habitation (Idem) or their true spiritual home and the source of their nurture. They will be rewarded with the chains of slavery that will find no final liberation from darkness. If they dally and flirt with fornicators and those who go after strange flesh (Idem) in a strange way, and join those who mock, deride, ridicule, and despise virtue and the hope for its operation in human life, they will be rewarded with the vengeance of eternal fire. (Idem) And thus, to effectively disarm the enemy, St. Jude exhorts us to follow the example of St. Michael in rebuking Satan. The implication is that we must have the courage and determination to follow St. Paul’s advice in relation to all sin:
Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth…above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit….(Ephesians vi. 13-18)
St. Jude tells us that the sinners we should avoid speak evil of those things which they know not: but what they know naturally, as brute beasts, in those things they corrupt themselves. (Ibid, 10) He says that they have no fear of God before their eyes, are full of hot air that can neither fertilize, grow, nor nourish virtue. Their sexual sin can bear no fruit and cannot fulfil the purposes that God intends for their bodies. Their sin is at root sterile, lifeless, and barren. As their bodies have forsaken the natural law so their souls retreat to the law of despair that forever mocks and derides God’s good love and the power of its healing. These are murmurers, complainers, walking after their own lusts; and their mouth speaketh great swelling words, having men’s persons in admiration because of advantage. (Ibid, 16) They are full of gossip, tale-spinning and tale-spreading, belly-aching and bewailing their lot in life, lying, cheating, stealing, and flattering as they desperately attempt to secure a safe-space from what they forever suffer in spiritual oppression. We should be wholly disturbed by such sinners and their sins. My zeal hath even consumed me; because mine enemies have forgotten thy words. (Ps. cxix. 18, 139)
St. Jude exhorts us, in these last days, to separate ourselves from these mockers of Jesus Christ who walk after their own ungodly lusts. (Ibid, 18) He insists that we must do so since they have not the Spirit of God. (Ibid, 19) In rejecting the hope for conversion and transformation, they have quenched the Holy Spirit and sinned against the Holy Ghost. We can do nothing for them but pray that in some great and terrible way God might slay them in the Spirit and, if it be his will, in His time, to offer some tangible help. St. Jude says this:
But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And of some have compassion, making a difference: and others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh. (Ibid, 20-23)
In the end, St. Jude exhorts us to have courage and zeal. The zeal brings us back to St. Simon. Simon was called The Zealot. Some Bible scholars have said that Jesus chose him to countervail the influence of St. Matthew the Tax-collector. The Zealots stood wholly against Jews who worked for the Romans. Yet, Simon was called to love them still and desire their conversion. St. Jude gives him the principles of courage and charity on which to proceed.
Today we praise God for the loving courage of St. Jude and the zeal of St. Simon. St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that zeal is a derivative of ‘delos’ –to boil or ‘to throb with heat’. He tells us also that it is ‘a necessary effect of love’ and ‘the vehement movement of one who loves to secure the object of his love’. (S.T.A.: Summa Theoligica, i. ii, 28. Iv) Zeal arises from an intensity of love. (Idem) So, St. Jude doesn’t hate God’s enemies. He desires their salvation. But he wants us to tread carefully in association with them. Over-familiarity with sinners threatens our commitment to Christ’s moral goodness. Such is of the devil and must be rejected. But still we must pray for those who seem hell-bent on the possession of Satan. St. Thomas says also that it is evident that the more intensely a power tends to anything, the more vigorously it withstands opposition or resistance. Since therefore love is "a movement towards the object loved," as St. Augustine says (QQ. 83, qu. 35), an intense love seeks to remove everything that opposes it. (Idem) We must vigorously withstand the opposition that comes from sinners and their sins. Our intense love for their salvation will be more likely to remove their opposition to God’s Desire in us if they see that we love them truly and not superficially. St. Jude and St. Simon spent their lives trying to conquer the world courageously with the zeal of God’s love. In the end, both were martyred for the faith. Let us close with St. Jude’s final prayer:
Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to God our Savior, who alone is wise, be glory, majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen. (St. Jude 24-25)
There is none to plead thy cause, that thou mayest be bound up: thou hast no healing medicines. All thy lovers have forgotten thee; they seek thee not; for I have wounded thee with the wound of an enemy, with the chastisement of a cruel one, for the multitude of thine iniquity; because thy sins were increased.
(Jeremiah xxx. 13, 14)
Our opening verses come to us from the 30th Chapter of the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah is describing the spiritual man who suffers the punishment of sin on behalf of sinful Israel. He is treated as a leper, a Samaritan, an alien, and an outcast. Other men avoid him because they find nothing in him worthy of sympathy or identification. They shun him like the plague because they conclude that he must have done something that places him beyond the reach of any lasting forgiveness and mercy. They cannot see that he suffers because of their sins and that his spiritual state is really well advanced beyond their own immersion in a sin that they cannot recognize.
As Romano Guardini points out, forgiveness to them is a covering up, a looking away, a gracious ignoring….(The Lord, p. 131) Yet, God does promise in this morning’s Old Testament lesson to heal and cure the sinner of his wickedness. For I will restore health unto thee, and I will heal thee of thy wounds, saith the LORD; because they called thee an Outcast, saying, This is Zion, whom no man seeketh after. (Ibid, 17) The man who feels himself to be an outcast and alien, who remembers his sin, is the very man whom God promises to visit, to restore, and to redeem in the future.
In our Gospel lesson for this morning we find a similar situation, but something new has transpired since the days of Jeremiah. One Jesus of Nazareth has come upon the scene of human existence carrying with Him the fulfillment of God’s promise. We read of a man brought to [Jesus], sick of the palsy, [and] lying on a bed. (St. Matthew ix. 2) Any man in Jesus’ time who was sick of the palsy, afflicted with paralysis or any other physical impediment, would have been judged as one who was being punished for his sins. Yet in this morning’s lection we find that the man has friends who sympathize and identify with his sickness and with that spiritual sadness that accompanies his disease. The man could not move and was wholly aware that his physical handicap was frustrating his spiritual growth. But in this case the friends of the sick man share his pain and suffering. Unlike those in the Old Testament lesson, who were bereft of compassion, here we find a communal faith that reaches out to Jesus for healing. And though St. Matthew doesn’t mention it, both St. Luke and St. Mark tell us that when Jesus performed this miracle, He was in a house thronged by so many people that the sick man’s friends, determined to bring him to Jesus, let him down through the roof. (St.Mark ii. 2-4; St. Luke v. 18,19) Archbishop Trench writes that, In them we see a faith that overcame hindrances, and was not to be turned aside by external and physical impediments. (Miracles, p. 157) Both the sick man and his friends see something in Jesus that promises to heal and relieve the miseries of this world. So Jesus, who knows what is in [men’s] hearts (St. John ii. 25), brings God’s compassion to the man sick of the palsy. Notice that Jesus will always respond to those whose faith is determined to triumph over the weakness of the flesh. Son, be of good cheer, (Ibid) He insists at first. St. John Chrysostom says, O wondrous humility. Despised and weak, all his members enfeebled; yet [Jesus]calls him ‘Son’ whom the priests would not deign to touch. (Catena Aurea, 180) The paralyzed man is welcomed as one of God’s own children. And lest the man might wrongly conclude that Jesus came to heal his body alone, Jesus says, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee. (Ibid) Jesus responds always to that faith which persistently seeks to procure the better benefit. First and foremost, what faith seeks out is God’s spiritual power. Jesus sees into the palsied man’s heart. There He finds sadness and sorrow for sin. Perhaps the man had cursed God for his handicap; maybe he felt too sharply the blow of God’s wrath against his resentment and bitterness. Maybe he was teetering on the verge of despair. What Jesus sees most is one inwardly and spiritually wounded, bruised, troubled, confused, and weak. Archbishop Trench tells us that, In the sufferer’s own conviction there existed so close a connection between his sin and his sickness, that the outward healing would have been scarcely intelligible to him, would hardly have brought home to him the sense of a benefit, till the message of peace had been spoken to his spirit. (Idem, 158) The sick of the palsy suffers as a fallen man in a fallen world. First his soul must be healed by Jesus.
But what follows is truly remarkable. No sooner does Jesus speak God’s forgiveness into the man’s heart than the miracle is interrupted. The Scribes have a real problem with what Jesus has said and done. What they hear, they call blasphemy. Their point is that God alone can forgive and that any man who claims to offer God’s forgiveness is dangerously identifying himself with God. Who does this man Jesus think that He is, presuming to offer God’s forgiveness to another, and not conditionally, but absolutely? Forgiveness, it would seem, is a theoretical concept to the minds of the Scribes. If it is offered at all, it is conditional upon the customary sacrificial ritual and offerings of the Jewish priests in the temple. And even then, when the Jewish clergy dispense it, it can only ever be God’s covering up or looking away from sin. (Idem) In other words, forgiveness, as the Scribes would have it, cloaks a sin but does not eliminate it fully. For them, forgiveness is a looking away or a covering up but not what confronts and overcomes evil. Cynically they think, Who can forgive sins but God only? (St. Mark ii. 7)
Herein lies the problem. The Scribes live in a world where God looks away or covers up so that man might become good enough. For all practical purposes there is neither a working out of sin nor a working in of righteousness. Thus, the Scribes convinced themselves that their relationship to God was as perfect as it gets. They thought that they were made to be of assistance to God –to judge where evil was and to what extent forgiveness was a looking away and a covering up of evil.
Yet, when man constrains God’s goodness in this way, he can never be spiritually satisfied or healed. Man knows that he must be judged by God. His sin is only too real and thus cries out for a power that can overcome it and make him better. Man longs that God’s forgiveness might come with the power to go and sin no more. But then he finds that while he longs to be forgiven, he has trouble forgiving others. Along with the Scribes, Fallen Man says that only God can forgive (St. Mark ii. 7). He says this because he doesn’t really know how to forgive. The power of others’ offences seems too strong; his memory of them is so fresh that it still enflames his breast with ill will and bitterness. At best, he feels resentment and at worst he feels contempt. He cannot allow Jesus to forgive since he cannot imagine that power can persist in human society.
Jesus, however, insists that the forgiveness of sins is the foundation of all healing that God brings to man. What man is most in need of from God is the healing of his soul. The fallen soul is far sicker than the body and is the cause of man’s division from God’s will and way. The fallen soul is therefore the root that brings all other sickness and death into the world. What separates us from God is a spiritual disease. Jesus comes to restore the love of God as the forgiveness of sins into our lives. The forgiveness of our sins is the first moment of reconciliation with our Maker. Without man’s reception of it, all the bodily health in the world will never save a man from damnation.
For God’s perfection of our souls through forgiveness to proceed, our hearts must erect no conditions or barriers to its free operation. Nothing must stand in the way of God’s forgiveness taking root downward and growing upward in us. If we would be saved, God’s forgiveness must overcome the hold that sin has on us. Sin must die. As Romano Guardini suggests, God intends to render sinners sinless. Between the state of sinfulness and sinlessness there lies a death, a destruction in which the sinner is submerged, in order to be lifted from it into a new existence. (The Lord, p. 131) In Jesus Christ the forgiveness of sins blends love for the sinner with hope for his perfection. God forgives us an infinite number of times because it might just take that amount for us to repent and believe, to be healed and sanctified, and to be made slightly better instead of abominably worse. The forgiveness of sins is extended to us in order that it might be cherished and perfected, knowing that if it does not move and define us, we will die on the vine of a life that has rejected God’s love.
We must add that the forgiveness of sins is a spiritual state that can be shared with others in prayer, though seldom in person. Most of our fellows are about as spiritually mature as the Scribes, and so they respond to our forgiveness of their sins as an insult to their pristine perfection. Thus, they are made all the worse by a pride that refuses to accept what they so desperately need. No matter, we, for our part, must forgive all men their trespasses against us from the ground of our hearts and souls. To expect mutual and reciprocal forgiveness from others can only ever be a fringe benefit to our mercy. To die to self is to come alive to God’s transformative love, as forgiveness gives birth to hope that abounds. And, as William Blake reminds us, Death is part of the Divine Loving that makes and saves:
Jesus said. Wouldest thou love one who had never died
For thee or ever die for one who had not died for thee?
And if God dieth not for man & giveth not himself
Eternally for Man, Man could not exist. For Man is Love:
As God is Love: every kindness to another is a little Death
In the Divine Image nor can Man exist but by Brotherhood. (Jer 96:23-28)
The Ancient Greeks became convinced that the balanced life was essential to the mind’s discovery of Divine truth since it conditioned the body and soul to the service of God. Of significant importance was the virtue of temperance or moderation- sophrosone, sometimes translated as self-control. We think of that virtue specifically in relation to food, wine, and sex but the Greeks meant something more all-encompassing than that. They taught of a moderate disposition in relation to all things, which is to say that they were thinking of a broader harmony achieved when the body, spirit, and soul related rightly to everyone and everything.
The harmony which the Greeks pursued was a means to an end in which every part of the human nature was doing its job well. The soul’s role was the highest, and so its function was meant to govern both the body and the spirit. The body then was to be tamed and acclimated through the spirit’s willful desire, which in turn was moved by the soul’s vision and understanding of the Divine. So what the soul would come to know of God would then be willed in spirit for the body.
Of course, the Greeks had no conception of the radical meaning of life which Christians would later discover through the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. What I mean to say is that they could not conceive of a kind of life that would be moved by the kind of love that Jesus revealed. No doubt, the Greeks did come to know God and many of his necessary attributes. They learned that he was uniquely Almighty, Everlasting, Unopposed, Impassible, Infinite, Pure, and Perfect. They would even discover his Wisdom, Reason, or Logos -also called his Word, as the principle that rules and governs the universe. They would then attempt to translate what they learned of his Wisdom into a practical prudence and utility that could establish Justice and harmony in the human community . Thus what they gleaned from the Divine Maker’s rule and governance of the universe, they taught should be applied to individual life and then to the common life of the polis or the city. Both the self and the community were called to temperance and moderation that enabled man to imitate the Divine life both individually and collectively.
We did say that the Greeks did not discover through human reason the radical nature of Divine love as it was revealed to man by Jesus. This is not to say that they did not discover that God is love. Aristotle says that God, or the First Mover, is the love that moves the sun and the stars. He and other ancient pagans did discover God’s love and passion as what moves all things, enlivens and quickens them, and leads them to their appointed ends and destinies. So it would be unfair to say that the Greeks did not see and even thankfully appreciate God as Love.
The point is that the love of God which the Greeks found was, as it were, limited. This was not their fault- they were after all only human. And human reason is confined to its own created limitations. They employed human reason to find out as much as was humanly possible about God. That they found as much as they did is testimony to the capacity of fallen man to pursue and discover God. Remember, the Greeks believed that all of human life was moved by Divine power and inspiration and that the human mind could not find and discover truth without God. What they could not find was a way to God forever. Having come to know God from a distance –as it were, they could not bridge the gap between the God they knew and the men that they were. They could not save themselves. This the best of them knew. This the most humble of them endured. This, perhaps, the most loving of them used as a reason to hope to obtain from God what their own reason could never produce.
Thoughtful Prayer Book Anglicans believe that The 39 Articles of Religion ground them in the fundaments of the Christian religion and faith. They believe that they are written to guide the Anglican mind towards God and to retain its undivided attention. They do not tolerate the distractions of a spiritually immature Medievalism that is forever obsessed with incidental minutiae and beside-the-point theater. They insist that the Anglican mind give its complete and undivided attention to God in Himself, salvation, and the means to it. They draw the Anglican mind into the subjective acquisition of Objective Truth. The subject’s participation in the Divine Object’s motivation is all-important for the success of sanctification. The extreme ritualist attempts at reassertion of division and alienation from God through the idolatry of contrived difference is wholly discouraged. What is of the moment is the need to embrace God’s movement towards His Church and her believers by way of His Original Intent.
Lord we beseech thee, grant thy people grace to withstand the
temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil; and with pure
Hearts and minds to follow thee.
(Collect Trinity XVIII)
In the Gospel for Trinity XVII you and I were advised by our Master to take the lowest seats in the community of men, spiritual spaces of little interest to people of the world, and a disposition or character of lowliness and humility in an effort to better situate ourselves in relation to God’s Grace. What our Lord meant to teach us was that our place in relation to Him, expressed through the image of the Wedding Feast, is always His to give. And, more than this, that He gives not to those who work and think that they have earned it, but rather to those who think themselves unworthy of it. God alone is above all; God alone provides; God alone can move man out of the lowliness of alienation and division from things Divine and up into the presence of His Eternal Love. Yet he must be full of all humility and know that he can never deserve, merit, or earn anything but just punishment for his offences against the most High God. So we were encouraged to wait upon the Divine condescension of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ, and thus found ourselves experiencing one element in the story of God’s love for us.
This week we continue to pray that our hearts and minds might be open to the continuation of God’s story, the story of Incarnational love in the world that He has made and longs to redeem and save. What this means is that just as God’s story was told long ago in the earthly life of Jesus Christ, so too should the story continue to be read in the hearts and minds of you and me. Through the Holy Spirit you and I are meant to become Sons and Daughters of God the Father –His children, the brothers and sisters of Jesus –members of His Mystical Body, and those whose lives communicate and tell the story of God’s redemptive work in the world. So, to that end today we pray that we might be granted Grace to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil, and with pure hearts and minds to follow…the only God. (Idem)
But what are these temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil and how are we meant to respond to them? First, there is the temptation to be drawn away from the soul’s good and into the world. The world tempts us with the possibilities of becoming a part of another story. And that story is one of man’s journey into a far country well removed from the governance, protection, love, and care of God. St. Thomas says that the world tempts us either by attaching us to it in prosperity, or by filling us with fear of adversity. (T.A.:The Creed, What is Faith?) The world is what is closest to our senses, and thus what provides a natural home from which to write the story of our lives. She promises us the stars and rewards us with the moon. She gives and takes away surreptitiously, treacherously, and abruptly. And yet think about how many men are addicted to her fickle and coquettish manner! She provides an ongoing stream of information about nothing. She invents truths and false gods to distract our minds from the absolute truth of God. She fills our senses with images and sounds that desensitize our hearts from the love of the good. She bombards our lives with corruption and evil to such an extent that they become the norm and habits. And all the while she remains unaccountable, innocent, free, and transcendent. She tells us that nature, physics, biology, anatomy, and physiology alone account for truth. And yet when anyone seeks their verifications and proofs, she insists that we must only believe. Her meaning is relative and so reason and free will are suspect. We believe her because it is easier for slothful minds to blame someone or something rather than to take responsibility for the real cause of their actions. So we are tempted to worship the world as a false god.
In addition there are the temptations that are closer to our passions. We pray that we may resist the temptations of the flesh. And here, of course, we mean not only the alluring objects of carnal concupiscence, but really anyone or anything by which the self or the ego realizes the fulfillment of a good independent of God’s will. And so we find ourselves tempted not only by sexual desire divorced from God’s creative purposes, but into gluttony and drunkenness, and also greed and covetousness. We live in a world of unimaginable creaturely comfort that is only ever a fingertip away from our mind’s seduction by the forces of evil.
Finally there is the temptation to be as God. We pray to resist the temptations of the devil, which is to say that we must resist the temptation to determine what is good and what is evil on our own. This is the sin of the ancient Greek sophists, and of the cultural relativists in our own day. It is a recipe, in the end, for true spiritual anarchy and the end of civilization. For it leads, as Thomas Hobbes said long ago, to a state of war where everyman is at war with every other. Hereby it is manifest that during the time men live without a common Power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called War; and such a war as is of every man against every man. (Leviathan) It is a state into which the devil lures us away from and lasting principles and the permanent things. Here he tries to convince us that life has no meaning. He insists that we can be independent of God and spiritually autonomous. He maintains that God neither loves nor cares because He takes so long to heal, sanctify, and work His redemption into our hearts. Thus, He builds up our resentment and bitterness and so turns us against God and our neighbor.
Against this, we Christians must find the divine inspiration that contravenes and overcomes such madness and irrationality. God has written His story into the life of Jesus Christ and longs to write the same story into our hearts and souls. In Jesus Christ, God has taken on our condition, and from His heart longs to bind us to our Heavenly Father through the Holy Spirit. Christ longs that His story should never end. Christ longs that we all should become respective pages and even chapters in the new Book of Life that He has become. This Book of Life written is meant to be read still in the lives of the redeemed, in the heart of you and of me.
In today’s Gospel we read of a lawyer who tempts Jesus. The lawyer is bright and thinks that he possesses all that is needed to tell God’s story. He asks, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? (St. Matthew xxii. 36) Jesus answers him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neigbour as thyself. (Ibid 37, 38) Jesus seems to give two answers. But in reality He gives one. The point is that God has never ceased to write one story into the hearts of faithful men. This is the one love that is doubly expressed in the life of Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ we find the story of a love for God that is so complete that it simultaneously translates into love for neighbor. Christ loves God with all of His heart, soul, mind, and strength. The story of the same love is then revealed as the Father’s desire for all men’s salvation. The love of God is the love for man that will love to the point of death, death upon a cross. All that is alive in Christ is God’s love, which will make His death the first step into new life. All that is alive to Christ are those neighbors whom He invites into the death that only He can die. He alone dies perfectly to the world, the flesh, and the devil (Idem), and He will love willing men into His death. Loving God with all of His being enables the Saviour to die to the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil for us. Loving God with all of His being enables Him to rise up into glorious Resurrection and Ascension. In Christ we can find a story of love that begins and ends with God. In Christ we too can begin to love God so fully and perfectly that we cannot be restrained from loving Him in all others.
Because the double Love that ascends back to the Father now comes down once again through the Holy Spirit to us, we can love God and our neighbor. Hans Urs Von Balthasar describes the spiritual motion in this way:
The Holy Spirit is signified by in Latin by the little word in (Credo in Spiritum) that is, I give myself over, in belief, into the sacred and healing Mystery of the Spirit…Into an incomprehensible Some-One, who is someone other than the Father and the Son, and whose characteristic task will be to work in a divinely free way from within the humanly free Spirit, revealing to our limited minds the depths of [God’s love] that only He has explored…To him, the most delicate, vulnerable, and precious one in God, we must open ourselves up, without defensiveness, without thinking that we know better, without hardening ourselves, so that we may undergo initiation by Him into the Mystery that God is love. (Credo, p. 76)
When we give ourselves over in belief, into the sacred and healing Mystery of the Spirit we begin sense, feel, and ingest the depths of God’s love. Through Him, God makes us the words, sentences, paragraphs, and chapters in the story that will impart His love to all others. This love comprises an habitual dying to sin and rising to righteousness. In us, the world should be able to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest that God’s Word made Flesh is the love that enables us to die to the world, the flesh, and the devil and with pure hearts and minds to follow the only God. In us, they should read what St. John writes: Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. Amen.
From His position in Heaven Jesus continues to exercise his magnetic
power on all creatures; all feel deep within themselves His summons,
His injunction to ascend.
(Claudel, ‘I Believe…’)
Trinity tide is all about the flow of God’s Grace into the hearts of faithful souls who desire to ascend ultimately back to God the Father. In this season our Collects, Epistles, and Gospels help us to acquire this Grace. Grace is essential and necessary for our salvation and it is given to be embraced here and now that we might always be moving towards the Kingdom in our earthly lives. Grace is not only about a benefit or gift that will be bestowed upon us in some future then, but it is the very means by which we are moved now as God’s love for us becomes the usual and familiar motivation of our every intention. Christians desire now is to be so moved and defined exclusively by God’s love in a magnetic way that knits the human heart to God through Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit.
Again, none of this will come to pass unless we begin to embrace the Grace of God in the here and now. This is why we pray in this morning’s Collect that God’s Grace may always prevent and follow us, and make us continually to be given to all good works…(Collect Trinity XVII) The word prevent here is used in the old English sense of to come before. So we ask that the Grace of God should come or stand before us. Before us then we should have a conscious awareness of God’s antecedent desire to lead, guide, and direct us in all good works. Before us we should see and perceive that power whose strength and might alone can embolden us, a wisdom whose brightness and illumination alone can inspire us, and a love whose concern and care alone can sanctify us. God is before us to draw us forward into communion with Himself.
We pray also that this Grace might follow us. God’s Grace preventing us or coming before us seems safes enough; it is an aspiration that we follow as we move forward. Aristotle says that God is the final end that draws all things back to Himself. God causes all movement through love and draws created beings to Himself by being loved. (Met; 1072b4) So a man looks out into nature and as he searches for the causes of all being and meaning, he is moved finally to rest in God the First Cause. God comes before man and draws him back to Himself. Or, in the case of God’s fullest and final revelation and manifestation, we believe that God comes before us in Jesus Christ and gives us the Grace to follow Him to the Kingdom. The author of Hebrews writes: Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of Grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebr. iv. 16)
But the idea that God’s Grace may always…follow us, or get behind and beneath our sinful selves doesn’t seem as easy to grasp. Getting behind and beneath the human condition seems strange to us. Like Aristotle, we tend to want God to present Himself to us in a straightforward way, by drawing us forward logically, step by step, into His Grace. We prefer to be doing the following rather than being followed. And yet, if we do not allow God’s Grace, particularly in the person of Jesus Christ, to follow us, I fear that we shall never let ourselves be found and then healed by the Grace that alone can transform and save our souls. What I would like to suggest to you today is that we should not only follow God’s Grace but must be followed always by God in Jesus Christ so that He might reveal to us the true nature of our spiritual lives in relation to Himself.
We have a nice illustration of the reality I describe in today’s Gospel Lesson. In it, we read that as Jesus went into the house of one of the chief Pharisees to eat bread on the Sabbath day, that they watched Him. (St. Luke xiv. 1) At the outset, we seem to have an example of God in Jesus Christ coming before us. Far from being followed by Jesus, it would appear that the Pharisees are following Jesus’ every move and word, for they watched Him. (Idem) But Jesus doesn’t waste any time in changing their direction. He knows what the judgmental and censorious religious elders of the day are up to and so He reveals how He follows them. They think that man is made for the Sabbath and not the Sabbath day for man. Jesus knows that they believe that the rules and laws that govern the Lord’s Day are non-negotiable, binding, and inviolable. They follow the form of worship strictly in an outward and visible way but they do not allow its substance and meaning to turn back on them, to address them, to follow them, and thus confront and provoke them into holiness. So, they follow Jesus hoping that His behavior might fall short of following their law.
But what do we read next? And, behold, there was a certain man before him which had the dropsy. And Jesus answering spake unto the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath day? And they held their peace. (Ibid, 2-4) It just so happens that there is a man who had been following Jesus and who is sick with the dropsy. Dropsy is what we would call edema, a condition in which the body is full of excessive fluids that could lead to congestive heart failure. Dropsy is a severe handicap that prevents a man from functioning in any normal ambulatory way. So, on the celebration of the Lord’s Day, prior to the normative feasting, we find a man who follows Jesus in order to be found. Jesus takes the man, heals him, and lets him go. (Ibid, 4) Then He asks the assembled guests, Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the Sabbath day? And they could not answer him again to these things. (Ibid, 5) The Pharisees and lawyers are rigorous and uncompromising when it comes to following the directives of the Lord’s Day. Yet, while they follow the Law, and while they have time to show mercy upon the brute beasts, they will not extend God’s compassion to their fellow men.
Before them is a man whose body is full of excessive fluids that threaten immanent cardiac arrest. He knows that he is sick and diseased and so follows Jesus in pursuit of what God’s mercy can bestow upon him. And, from the other side, Jesus follows him, gets beneath and behind his condition, and heals him with the power that reveals the Sabbath’s real meaning! Ironically enough, these Pharisees and lawyers are full a worse disease than the dropsical man. St. Augustine interprets Christ’s condemnation of these hypocritical Jews. You grudge that I should deliver this man on such a day from the water that is choking [his heart]; yet if the same danger from water threatened one of your asses or oxen you would make no scruple of extricating [or saving] it on the Sabbath day. Why then do you not love your neighbor as yourselves? Why are you unwilling that this sick man should receive the help which you would not refuse to your own brute beasts? (Quaest. Evang. ii. 29) Jesus Christ not only follows and understands the predicament of the sick man, but He follows the spiritual sickness of the Pharisees. With the Jeremiah this morning He says, I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings. (Jer. xvii. 10)
But Jesus tells a parable to reveal more fully how He follows and comprehends the sins of most of us. When thou art bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in the highest room; lest a more honourable man than thou be bidden of him; and he that bade thee and him come and say to thee, Give this man place; and thou begin with shame to take the lowest room. But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee. (Ibid, 7-10) Our Lord Jesus here rebukes not only the behavior of the Pharisees but that of all religious people who will not allow Jesus to follow them, find them and get beneath and behind their spiritual sickness to administer His cure. Jesus exhorts us all to sit in the lowest room with all humility and meekness. He urges us to identify with the dropsical man. With him we should know our sickness and that the Sabbath Day is made for man, and not man for the Sabbath day. (St. Mark ii. 27) Jesus is following us to trigger the need for His merciful healing of our sinful nature.
Today we come to church with the knowledge that Christ is following us and that He knows us better than we know ourselves. Today we come to pray for the humility that will open our hearts to His healing mercy. We should never run away because God in Jesus Christ is following us. He does this because He loves us and longs to exercise His magnetic power over us. And as we humbly confess that we have not been open to what He reveals to us about ourselves, we should not fear His correction. We should all feel deep within themselves His summons, His injunction to ascend. (Idem) With St. Anthony Abbott, we must beware of Pharisaical pride: Because of pride of heart the fiery chariots were made, the torment of burning flames, the coals of living fire. Because of pride of heart all things are troubled and thrown into disorder, and men war against each other, and from this came tyranny. (On Humility and Deceit: Anthony Abbott) For though, as St. Augustine says, we have often thought to escape God when we lifted our heads in pride, [we should] humble them and fly to Him…For He is good when He spares [us] and when He chastises [us]; for everywhere He is truly merciful. (Meditation on the Humility of Christ) And then because whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted (Ibid, 11), with Jeremiah we shall earnestly pray, Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved: for thou art my praise. (Jer. xvii. 14) Amen.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons