What is easier to say ‘Thy sins be forgiven thee’ or ‘Arise take up thy bed and walk’?
(St. Matthew ix. 4)
Simon Tugwell reminds us that the one and only comment on prayer that Christ gave to His Church is that if we do not forgive, we shall not be forgiven. (Matt. vi. 14…in Prayer: Living with God, p. 80) So, a sure sign that we have not received the forgiveness of sinsfrom Jesus Christ is our failure to forgive others. When we do not forgive others, we can rest assured that the forgiveness of sins does not rule and govern us from the throne of our hearts. We take it for granted that Our Heavenly Father will forgive us repeatedly, will wink at our sins, and disregard what we consider to be minor foibles. We treat forgiveness of sins like some kind of entitlement benefitthat we deserve for being card-carrying Christians. But what this reveals is that we do not treat sin, confession, forgiveness, or Christ’s command to Go and sin no more with much seriousness. Rather than seeing ourselves as those who are always most in need of forgiveness and so mustwork out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. ii. 12), we are filled with pride over whatever goodness we think we possess and we are threatened by the goodness of those who, rightly, and even charitably, do not find our spiritual levity and superficiality either attractive or enticing.
So, let us ask ourselves, If what stops us from receiving and extending the forgiveness of sins is our own pride?Are we too arrogant or hubristic to confess our vices and to realize that the forgiveness of sins alone leads to new life? Has an immature addiction to fear and anxiety quashed all hope for potential inner healing and transformation? Do we fear the opinion of others if we claim and confess utter powerlessness over the sin in our lives? Perhaps we have built a hard and fast wall around our past interior trauma to shield ourselves from ourselves? So, perhaps, we spend our days trying to show the world that we are sane, sound, and successful. But the truth of the matter is that inwardly and spiritually we are broken, wounded, suffering, and sinful. Pride commands us to put on a good face, and so we move on appearing to be one thing while in all reality we are quite another. Pride tells us that we can hold it all together, fend for ourselves, do perfectly well without anyone’s help. Yet, when we encounter goodness in others that we do not possess, our pride begins to quiver and shake, our security teeters, our self-reliance wavers, and we envy that goodness we are afraid to pursue. So pride turns into envy. Dorothy Sayers, in her commentary on her translation of Dante’s Purgatorio, says this:
The sin of envy always contains…an element of fear. The proud man is self-sufficient, rejecting with contempt the notion that anybody can be his equal or superior. The envious man is afraid of losing something by the admission of superiority in others, and therefore looks with grudging hatred upon other men’s gifts and good fortune, taking every opportunity to run them down or deprive them of their happiness. (D.C.: Purg. p. 170)
The envious man is afraid that thesuperiority of other men’s giftsmight threaten and devalue his own. And so his thoughts, words, and even works aim to destroy his privileged neighbor and deprive him of any goodness. Falsely thinking that the goodness he lacks can never be found, he is determined that no other man should ever find it either.
Of course, pride that turns into envy kills the forgiveness of our sins and our forgiveness of others. This is a temptation for us all. Accepting the preeminent place of God’s forgiveness is no easy thing, especially because our world defines truth and error, right and wrong, and good and evil by changing and shifting standards of feeling and emotion. Most of us, when left to our own devices and desires, measure out forgiveness in so far as it promotes and protects our underdeveloped and fragile egos. Sometimes we think that we have forgiven others, and we feel proud of ourselves, not realizing that from the position of our supposed moral superiority we disdain them and we rejoice that their weakness depends upon our generosity. At other times we find forgiveness costs too much, and so we withhold it, all the while envying him whose life seems to move along quite effortlessly without it. We feel sorrow and anger at such prosperity and success. If our unforgiveness has hurt another, we rejoice in our power to begrudge another man his share in goodness, and so we rejoice over his sadness and hurt. He deserves it, so we think. But in all three cases pride and envy combine to hurt ourselves and others because we have never truly discovered the forgiveness of sins.
We see both the danger of these sins and the alternative virtue in this morning’s Gospel lesson. And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.(St. Matthew ix. 2) Jesus not only brings the forgiveness of sins to fallen humanity butis determined to offer it as God’s response to that faith that humbly longs for true healing. Forgiveness is always the primary business of Christ’s mission to men. It is God’s first response of love to His faithful people. He comes first to heal the sickness of the soul and then, only perhaps, the ailments of the body. As Archbishop Trench remarks, ‘Son, be of good cheer’, are words addressed to one evidently burdened with a more intolerable weight than that of his bodily infirmities. Some utterance on his part of a penitent and contrite heart called out these gracious words which follow, ‘Thy sins be forgiven thee.’ (Miracles, p. 157) The man does not ask for the healing of his body, but his soul cries out for the relief of an even greater inner burden. He is not proud but humble, and so does not envy Jesus His Goodness but seeks it out with a passion that words cannot utter. So Jesus declares, Thysins be forgiven thee. (Idem)
Thus the Scribes are wholly unnerved. And, behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, This manblasphemeth. (Ibid, 3) If a mere mortal had claimed such authority, he might be rightly condemned of usurping and stealing that power that belongs to God alone. What they did not see was that God was in Jesus reconciling the world to Himself. (2 Cor. v. 19) Yet, we sense something more at work in the hearts of the Scribes. Were they bothered most because Jesus claimed the power of God? Or were their priestly prerogatives regarding ritual atonement for sin being threatened by a power they did not possess? Jesus knew that they were moved by pride and envy. And so He says, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts? For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith He to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house. And he arose, and departed to his house.(Ibid, 4-7) Jesus declares that it is easier to say,Thy sins be forgiven thee,than to say, Take up thy bed and walk. But because the Scribes have never known the true effect of the forgiveness of sins that Christ brings, He proceeds to heal the man’s body to show that His words have power to bring about a generous spiritual cure also. Take up thy bed and go unto thine house. (Ibid, 7)
Today we learn that the healing medicine that Christ brings to us is twofold. First, If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins….(1 St. John i. 9) Repentance is needed since our sinful flesh is always too ready to side with the cruel enemy of our souls. The things of this world press hard upon us, either to terrify us out of our duty, or humour us into our ruin. (Jenks, 221) Thus the Great Physicianinstructs us to canvass our hearts to find those thoughts and desires that run contrary to God’s will for us. Thus, we must not walk, in the vanity of [our] mind[s], having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through…ignorance…because of the blindness of [our] hearts. (Eph. iv. 17, 18) The healing that Christ brings to us is a response to the confession of our sins. We prepare for this on Sundays with our Collect for Purity:Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee and worthily magnify thy Holy Name. (Collect for Purity)We confess our sins in the light of Christ’s presence as our minds are illuminated by His wisdom and our hearts softened into sorrow and contrition by His love. So, regular confession is the first step towards Christ’s forgiveness of our sins. If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins…. (1 John. i. 9)
Second, when we practice penance habitually, Christ will then cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 St. John i. 9) In this process we learn that as often as we repent, the Lord forgives. For the merciful goodness of the LORD endureth for ever and ever upon them that fear Him. (Ps. ciii. 17) What should overawe and stupefy us as we are renewed in the spirit of [our]mind[s], as weput on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness (Eph. iv. 23, 24), is that God’s forgiveness is nothing short of a superabundant excess of His love and mercy for us. We shall realize that, as Simon Tugwell writes, We cannot let the truth of God’s being penetrate our own sin, so that we may be forgiven, if at the same time we are trying to exclude one essential aspect of that truth [in failing to forgive any other man]. (Ibid, 91) God’s forgiveness of our sins in Jesus Christ is the miracle of Love that desires continuously to conquer allsin. If the forgiveness we receive takes root downward to bear fruit upward, through us it will be showered indiscriminately on all others. For only then will it have become the Love of our lives. What is easier to say “Thy sins be forgiven thee” or “Arise take up thy bed and walk? (St. Matthew ix. 4) And if indeed we do arise, we shall be lifted by that forgiveness that frees all men of their debts to us and liberates them to share with us God’s unending mercy.
THERE was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon;
and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not;
neither was their place found any more in heaven.
(Rev. xii. 7)
Today we celebrate our Patronal Feast. A Patronal Feast refers to the Patron Saint or Angel for whom certain churches, basilicas, or cathedrals are named. Our Patrons are St. Michael, who happens to be both a Saint and an Angel, and all the other Angels. St. Michael has the added distinction of being the Commander in Chief of the Angelic Host. So he and his company of Angels surround and defend us in this Church.
Of course, since the time of the Reformation Protestant-minded people have been made nervous by the Angels since they sense that their mediatorial vocation is frighteningly close to that of the Saints. Being defined by small portions of their Bibles only, they live in fear of Popish plots and thus inoculate themselves against the help that God intends should come from the Angels and Saints. They say that Jesus alone is neededwhen the truth of the matter is that Jesus has always been at work in the lives of Angels and Saints and longs to come alive in us too! We do well to remember that Christ invited the Angel Gabriel to pave the way for His conception and birth. And then at His Transfiguration, He called Saints Moses and Elijah down from Heaven to reveal a vision of man’s redemption. From what the Bible teaches us, Jesus is always at work in the lives of all who in Him have died to themselves and come alive to God the Father. In so far as His creatures are right with God the Father, they must share in His life and His meaning. And so we believe that there have ever been Angels and Men in whom Christ is alive so completely that they are with Him already in His Kingdom. Michael and the Good Angels have never parted from Him. And if Moses and Elijah were translated to Heaven, I dare say that the Blessed Virgin, St. Joseph, the Apostles and the Faithful in all ages have already taken their rightful place in Christ’s reconciliation of time with eternity as members of His Mystical Body.
So let us contemplate the Angels. Angels are intellectual substances. The word angel comes to us from the Greekaggelos, and it means messenger, envoy, or one who is sent. They do not have bodies but are pure spirits. Angels, like everything else that God has created, are made good. Those Good Angels who figure most prominently in Scripture are Michael and Gabriel. Then there are hosts of anonymous angels who visit the Shepherds prior to Christ’s birth and celebrate with them after, who minister to Jesus after His temptations in the wilderness, are with Him in last days of His bitter agony, assist at the Resurrection, and then prepare the Apostles at His Ascension for Pentecost. Angels liberated both Peter and Paul on two separate occasions from prison. And in general, as Richard Hooker says, even now in us they behold themselves beneath themselves, see what we share, and hope that we might join them and resemble God. (E.P. i. iv)
But from Scripture, we know also that some of the angels rebelled against God and His goodness at the moment of their creation. Out of pride and then envy they treacherously embraced darkness. And so, as St. John tells us in this morning’s Epistle, There was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. (Rev. xii. 7-9) Most commentators say that St. John is speaking of the original warfare that erupted when the Angels of Light realized what some of their companions had done. Those who rebelled became the Angels of Darkness, imaged by St. John as the Dragon and his army of bad angels. St. John reminds us that the origins of sin and evil emerge from these rational, free-willing angelic creatures who chose to reject God. St. Augustine tells us that the origin of sin is found on the First Day of Creation. And God said, Let there be light, and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: And God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. (Gen. i. 3,4) God had already made the heavens and earth, and then He made light. But this is not physical light that God created since He had not yet made the sun and the moon. So Augustine insists that this must be the spiritual light or the light that is the life of the angels that God has made. God did not create the darkness but divided the light from the darkness. Augustine tells us that the darkness must be an image for the bad angels’ willful rejection of the eternal Light of God that informs and defines all creation. So because the good angels live in the Light of God, they are called created light and their lives constitute the first spiritual Day. The bad angels are called the darkness and so are banished to the everlasting spiritual Night in alienation from God’s Light. (D.C.D. xi, xii)
So sin is a spiritual problem, and it originates with pure spirits or angels who reject God’s rule and governance. Sin is a rejection of God, borne out of envy and pride. St. John tells us that the bad angelsenvied God’s wisdom and love and resented His power. Not content with being derivative creatures whose illumination and enlightenment depended always on the Light of God’s truth, beauty, and goodness, the bad angels rather wanted to be God. Looking away from God, they looked to themselves, and in that moment became spiritual darkness. Spiritual self-absorption or narcissism is always and ever darkness because it refuses to submit to the Creator’s Light, which alone gives meaning and purpose to life. Thus the bad angels become a community of bad faith, ill will, and deception.
Michael and his army of Good Angels, full of all that God makes them to be, fought against the bad angels and banished them from Heaven. The Good Angels embrace God’s Light alone and cannot endure the presence of the malevolent ill will and darkness of Satan and his peers. Those angels whose future and destiny belong to God receive and return His Light and Love without ceasing. Because they are intellectual spirits, the reason and meaning of all creation are discerned and returned to God from them. In them, we find a pattern of perpetual obedience to God’s will in heaven that we should imitate on earth. They are moved and defined by God’s Word alone. When they embrace God’s Word, they are one with Jesus as He works redemption into fallen humanity. When the Word is made flesh in us, they offer to surround us with Heavenly protection, aid, and assistance.
Michael is the Chief of All the Angels, and his name Michael means he who is like God. The Greek Church refers to him as Arcistrategos, or the General Commanding Officer. Having cast Satan and his minions out of Heaven, Michael and his soldiers desire without ceasing to frustrate their power on earth. As Christ’s ministering spirits, they are His true friends, and so their role and vocation are to visit us with the protection and care that they receive from Jesus. The Pseudo-Dionysius, a 6th Century Syrian monk, tells us that Angels have three functions. They carry purification, illumination, and unification to us. (Hier. Coel. ix. 2, op. cit. Danielou; The Angels and Their Mission) What they long for us to find in Jesus is the purification of our souls, the illumination of our minds, and unbreakable unification with our Heavenly Father. So they encourage our spiritual cleansing, education, and unity with God. They intend to surround and defend us so that Christ may work His redemption into us. They come at Christ’s bidding. Moved by the Father’s Word, and driven by the Holy Spirit, they desire to stir us into that pattern which forever longs for God, loves Him, and serves Him in uninterrupted ecstatic adoration.
Today as we honor and venerate St. Michael and All Angels, with them we know that as there was war in heaven, until the end times there will be war on earth. Nothing that is good and true can be won or retained without a struggle. The good must always hold their heritage at the price of ceaseless vigilance. He who would attain and keep truth and prove himself faithful to it must be prepared to engage in constant battle…Every attempt to make earth more in harmony with heaven will be challenged. (The Christian Year in the Church Times, p. 274) Michael and his Angels are fighting constantly so that the victory of God’s Light over darkness in Heaven and on earth in Jesus Christ might be acknowledged and embraced. Their battle extends from God’s Heavenly throne to His earthly footstool. Their vocation or calling is to lift us up and into the realm of spiritual unity with God. They do not selfishly bask in the fruits of their own accomplishments. Their labor is God’s work and it will endure as long as time remains for the salvation of souls before the Second Coming.
William Blake reminds us that, It is not because angels are holier than men or devils that makes them angels, but because they do not expect holiness from one another, but from God only. And this is that holiness which alone will dispel and scatter all manner of darkness, making us into the children of the Light. (1 Thes. v. 5) In closing let us hear the awe-struck gratitude of the poet at the passionate ministry of angels for us:
And is there care in Heaven? And is there love
In Heavenly spirits to these creatures base,
That may compassion of their evils move?
There is: else much more wretched were the case
Of men than beasts: but O the exceeding Grace
Of Highest God! That loves His creatures so,
And all His works with mercy doth embrace,
That blessed angels He sends to and fro,
To serve to wicked men, to serve his wicked foe!
How oft do they their silver bowers leave,
To come to succor us that succour want!
How oft do they with golden pinions cleave
The flitting skyes like flying pursuivant,
Against foul fiends to aid us militant!
They for us fight, they watch, and dewly ward,
And their bright squadrons round about us plant;
And all for love, and nothing for reward;
O why should Heavenly God to men have such regard!
(Fairie Queene: ii, vii, 8)
Jesus did not come to explain away suffering, or to remove it. He came to fill it with His presence. Paul Claudel
Trinity tide is full of examples taken from Scripture that lead the faithful pilgrim into the experience of the Real Presence of God. And I am not speaking of somehow feeling God in the way that we feel the cold or heat, feel the pressure of another body against our own, or feel anything sensibly or tangibly. I am speaking of a kind of spiritual feeling, whose power and strength assure the mind, fortify conviction, and infuse man’s inner being with the stable and unchanging determination of God’s power. I am talking about an inward and spiritual perception and sensation of God’s presence that halts and governs the uncertain and changing here and now of earthly existence, only to carry it progressively into the permanent realm of truth, beauty, and goodness. More specifically in relation to today’s Lections, I am trying to describe the belief that opens itself up to the power of God’s love in Jesus’ suffering and death. This is the kind of faith that finds His suffering and death to be the model and pattern for the man who would find everlasting life.
So let us travel back in time, and find ourselves with Jesus in about the year 30 A.D.. We find ourselves in the city of Nain. Nain is a desolate place emptied of any civil society. Dean Stanley tells us that on a rugged and barren ridge, in an isolated place, sits the ruined village of Endor or Nain. No convent, no tradition marks the spot. (Trench: Miracles) The place is about eight miles south of Nazareth and has a population of about 1,600 Muslims, who descend from those who defeated and expelled the last of the Latin Christians who dwelt in that place. A Franciscan Church, renovated in the 19th century, sits silently waiting for the great Christian revival that is brewing even now. Both the village and its church are rooted and grounded in a kind of death that awaits Resurrection from without. Now when Jesus came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow: and much people of the city was with her. (St. Luke vii. 12) We read that a widow woman’s tears have been brought on by the recent death of her only son. Her neighbors are silent, fearing, no doubt, that their words would only stand to add to her pain. Her agony is acute because her nearest and dearest both are gone. Surely she felt incomprehension as God’s allowed for the death of her only son to follow that of his father. But she says nothing. Loss is loss and grief must be allowed to run their course. For now there seems to be no consolation, relief, or hope. With the psalmist this morning, she cries inwardly and spiritually, the sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow. (Psalm cxvi. 3)
It is into this pain and agony of soul that Christ comes. And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not. And He came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And He said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise. And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. (St. Luke vii. 13-15) When Jesus approaches, all are still. He says with St. Paul this morning, I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory. (Galatians vi. 11) Christ comes into this situation as one who will bear the sorrow and shoulder the relief. He will offer a kind of compassion that neither she nor the mourners have ever experienced. His words will be few but their power swift and efficacious. His pity will upturn death and make new life. God’s Word, through Whom all things are made, acts upon the inner, spiritual man. The body dies, but the soul lives on and must be awakened. God is ever with the soul and is now about to command its reanimation of the decaying corpse. The Word is spoken and the same Love that gave the Mother joy when her man-child was born into the world now vanquishes death in the wake of new life. The only words that emerge out of this situation come from the resuscitated youth. With the psalmist he sings, The Lord preserveth the simple: I was brought low, and he helped me. Return unto thy rest, O my soul; for the LORD hath dealt bountifully with thee. For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling. I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living. I believed, therefore have I spoken…(Psalm cxvi 6-10) The young man speaks, and mirrors the thoughts of his mother’s heart. He has new life; so too does she. The Word made Flesh has given him words -words of new life, words emerging from spiritual and physical rejuvenation, words that will commence the spiritual awakening of the young man for a higher life, through which, indeed, alone the joy of the mother could become true and abiding (Trench, Miracles) as Archbishop Trench remarks. Only then do the others respond. And there came a fear on all: and they glorified God, saying, That a great prophet is risen up among us; and, That God hath visited his people. (St. Luke vii. 16)
The point of this morning’s Gospel runs far deeper than the surface-level details of an historical event. Historical experiences must find their respective meaning in the truth that the Spirit brings. Think about the widow of Nain. She is confronted with a spiritual problem; on the one hand she can mourn, despair, and give up on life because the last and final source of her comfort, peace, and joy has been removed. With the cause of her life’s joy now gone, she is left with little but her own death. Perhaps she has forgotten the power of God in human life. Perhaps nothing short of a dramatic surge of this power in her son’s resuscitation would pry her out of the jaws of his death, a death that even now is threatening to fill her soul with despair. One thing is clear, Jesus will use today’s miracle to draw both her and us away from earthly sorrow and despair so that we might learn to lean solely on His power of salvation and deliverance.
God in Jesus Christ is all-powerful. Yet, this power is not to be sought out chiefly in the remedy for human illness or the denial of death. Sometimes God surprises us as He has in this morning’s Gospel Miracle. We do well to remember that the Widow of Nain did not approach Jesus. Jesus sought her out. He, the Lord of Life, encountered a train of earthly death and reversed its course. He gives the woman and her son another chance to follow Him into a far more profound kind of death that leads to true life. He does this at all times throughout history. Doctors often come up with cures for earthly disease. Wouldn’t it be a miracle if more men and women used the extended time in the healing of their bodies for the salvation of their souls?
Earthly suffering and death will visit us all. Sometimes it happens sooner and sometimes later. When it happens sooner, we call it an untimely tragedy. When it happens later, these days at any rate, we tend to sue. Evidently, death isn’t supposed to happen. The adolescent age we inhabit kicks and screams in vain at its inevitability. Not content to twist and contort the natural life into perverse and profane uses for which it was never intended, our age seems bent madly on finding a way to have it last forever. But since they cannot eliminate death, they pretend, again in vain, that we all ought to be ushered into a comfortable kind of nirvana.
Of course the interesting thing about death is that we are powerless over it. No matter how hard we try, in the end, we cannot resist it. The best we can do is to try to delay its immanent arrival. But to what use? Today’s Gospel leads us into a far more difficult truth. Christ is Lord of life and death. And if this is the case, hadn’t we better start getting right with Him? He who called the son of the Widow of Nain out of death is calling us out of death here and now. Of course He calls us out of spiritual death. If we are alive to the world, the flesh, and the devil, in the eyes of God we are as good as dead already. This means that we have not, as yet, arranged to get ourselves right with God. Oh, you protest, but I am a good person. Indeed. I can assure you that Hell is full of good and respectable people. Yes, that’s right, good and respectable earthly citizens of the City of Man go to Hell because they have never needed Heaven’s God or shared His Goodness.
So we ought to ask ourselves this day if we are spiritually alive or dead. Of course, I don’t mean if we are physically alive. You all are breathing even if you’re not up to much more. But are we spiritually alive or spiritually dead? Maybe we are spiritually alive on Sunday morning for all or part of the service. Maybe we are spiritually dead when it comes time for giving to God first both prayerfully and materially. To be spiritually alive we must allow Christ to fill our suffering with His presence. Suffering hurts. Maybe we need to hurt some before His death kicks into our lives. Maybe we need to hurt truly and spiritually in order to pass on His Resurrection to others.
Again, today St. Paul says this to the Church at Ephesus: Faint not at my tribulation for you, which is your glory. (Eph. iii. 13) St. Paul is suffering his own death so that Christ may live in Him and so that he might share the Lord’s life with others.Oswald Chambers says this about our spiritual suffering and death.
No one experiences complete sanctification without going through a “white funeral” — the burial of the old life. If there has never been this crucial moment of change through death, sanctification will never be more than an elusive dream. There must be a “white funeral,” a death with only one resurrection— a resurrection into the life of Jesus Christ. (My Utmost…Jan. 15)
Have you been to your own white funeral yet? Let us suffer it to come to pass. Let us allow Him to fill [our suffering] with His presence. If we allow it, His presence willcleanse and defend us…keep [us] in safety…and preserve [us] evermore by that help and goodness that will ensure our salvation.
Is Jesus the living Son of God, the Saviour, the Deliverer, the Mediator, the Advocate,
the Judge for you? Is He is the Logos of God in your heart and soul? If He is, then He is the reason, truth, goodness, and beauty that animates your life. If He is, then He is the ruling and governing principle of your whole existence. He then indwells your heart by His Grace and through the Holy Spirit. He then moves and defines you. He enables you to die to sin and come alive to righteousness.
The problem with most Christians today is that they treat Jesus as a dead man only to be related to as past history. Most Christians are practical atheists. This is why they are able with ease to say -mostly about moral matters, “that doesn’t bother me.” Everything that is going on in our world around us should bother us. 95% of it is filth, pollution, perversion, and corruption. 95% of it is sin, plain and simple. 95% of is moved and defined by the fear of offending sinners. Sinners need to be offended. We need to be offended. We are all sinners! Our God is offensive. He loves us enough to tell us, in Jesus, that what we are doing is not right but wrong and not good but evil! He loves us enough to tell us that if we do not shape up we shall be shipped off to Hell, forever!
If you are a Sacramental Christian -as all Christians must be, the next time you go to the Altar Rail, when you partake of bread and wine, believe that it becomes the Body and Blood of Jesus the Saviour. Believe that He enters into you to purge you of your sin and to infuse His righteousness into your body, soul, and spirit. Believe and allow Him to have His way with you. Believe and remember what He has done for you in dying on the Cross. Believe and remember that He has risen and is ascended and still wants you from His seat of Glory in Heaven. Remember and be moved by the Indwelling Saviour of the World. Be moved and share Him from your heart to the heart of another.
Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile.
(St. John i. 47)
Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Bartholomew. St. Bartholomew is mentioned in the Gospelsof Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but only as coupled with Philip in the list of the twelve Apostles. He is not mentioned in the Gospel according to St. Johnas Bartholomew, but is there named Nathaniel – this probably being his second name, where he is also found with Philip. And if our Bartholomewis indeed the same man as Nathaniel, then it is from St. John that we learn most about him.
St. John tells us that Philip, who came from Bethsaida in Galilee, the hometown of Peter and Andrew, was found by Jesus, who said unto him, Follow me. (Ibid, 43) Next we read thatPhilip findeth Nathaniel, and saith unto him, We have found Him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. Philip claims that he has found the Messiah, prophesied by the Jewish Moses and the Prophets, Jesus of Nazareth, but that he isthe son of Joseph. If Saint Bartholomew is Nathaniel, we can infer that with Philip he too was from Bethsaida of Galilee.But as a devout Jew, Nathaniel Bartholomew would have known from the Prophet Micah that the Christ was to be born in Bethlehem of Judah. (Micah v. 2) That the Christ should come from Nazareth of Galilee would have struck him as unlikely. Furthermore, because the Galilee of his own day was so notorious for its evil and unrighteous ways, Nathaniel Bartholomew would have doubted that Nazareth should have sired the promised Saviour. Galilee, as Archbishop Trench reminds us, had by this time been thoroughly Hellenized or acclimated to the ways of the Greeks. We know this from the fact that two of these first Apostles bore Greek names: Philip and Andrew. Bartholomew, then, would have had sufficient reason to doubt that Philip had found the Messiah. Thus he is cautious in the face of a seemingly unfulfilled historical prophecy, and is equally guarded against the strangeness of Messiah’s dwelling place. So Nathaniel Bartholomew’s asks Philip,Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? (St. John i. 45, 46)His question seems fair enough. He hesitates in face of his friend’s euphoric optimism. Prior to the calling of Philip, Jesus had asked Andrew and his companion, What seek ye? (St. John i. 38) Their answer was strange. They said, Where are you abiding? (Idem) Jesus said, Come and see. (Ibid, 39) Jesus intends for Philip and Bartholomew to do the same.
Before this, we read of Philip’s response to Nathaniel Bartholomew’s suspicious question. He doesn’t provide his own answer but repeats Jesus’ answer to the other disciples’ question about where He was abiding. So he says to Nathaniel Bartholomew,Come and see. (Ibid, 46) Philip appears to be mesmerized by Jesus’ words, Come and see. The mystical Personality of Jesus was enough to arrest and consume Philip. Perplexities might still remain, but Philip would be content to adjourn them to a later day, which faith must always do! (Studies in the Gospels: R.C. Trench, p. 73)
But Philip’s faith seems sufficiently intriguing to stir the guileless curiosity of Nathaniel Bartholomew. He will pursue and test Philip’s Come and see. Next we read that, Jesus saw Nathaniel coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! (Ibid, 47) Jesus appears to know already that Nathaniel Bartholomew is no fool and will not be won over easily. He pays him the highest compliment in calling Bartholomew a true Israelitewithout guile. St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that guile is the execution of craftiness or the attempt to deceive using words. (S.T., lv. 4)Nathaniel Bartholomew is one whose words reflect only his honest thoughts. He is conscientious and earnest in his search for the truth. He knows that he does not know Jesus and thus with determined curiosity he will examine Jesus and His words. Nathaniel saith unto Jesus, Whence knowest thou me? (Ibid, 48) He provokes Jesus to answer his inquisition.How is it that you know me? Prove it. Jesus still intends that he should Come and see, but since Nathaniel Bartholomew is a man who never attempts to deny or conceal the truth of his own ignorance, Jesus will provide him with the facts that the guileless man is after. Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called…when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee. (Ibid, 48) We have no knowledge of what Nathaniel was doing under the fig tree. Most commentators tells us that Nathaniel was more likely than not fighting to overcome some great temptation, struggling earnestly with some pestiferous demon, or longing passionately to be healed by God’s merciful kindness. But suffice it to say, that Nathaniel now understood that Jesus knew full well just what he was doing, that Philip had called him forth from it, and that He had heard even Nathaniel’s skeptical response. (Trench, p. 76)So Nathaniel Bartholomew comes to see that Jesus knew where he wasandwhat was in him. (St. John ii. 25)Nathaniel answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel. (Ibid, 49)
The kind of virtue that we find in Nathaniel Bartholomew is uncommon indeed. When Jesus compliments him for being without guile, we happen upon a rare instance of Jesus’ recognition of a virtue that most men lack. Yet, this virtue that we find in Nathaniel is so essential to the Christian pilgrim in so many ways. First, we find in him that earnest disposition that seeks first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. (St. Matthew vi. 33) Second, because he is moved by candid self-honesty in relation to God, he is emptied of any pretension, deceit, cunning, hypocrisy, and fraud. Blessed is the man who 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. (Ps. i. 1) Because his sins so need God’s forgiveness, this man without guile does not frequent the haunts of sinners. He is conscious enough of his own weaknesses not to tempt or provoke God to wrath. Third, this man without guile seeks to delight in the Law of the Lord, and in His Law will he exercise himself day and night. (Ibid, 2) The man without guile does not deceive himself nor does he deceive his neighbor, for the chief care and concern in life is to fear the Lord, obey His Law, and do His will. A guileless nature is…the kindly soil in which all excellent graces will flourish, but does not do away with the necessity of the divine seed, out of which alone they can spring. (Trench, p. 74)
Today we learn some basic lessons about Christian spiritual life from the Apostle Nathaniel Bartholomew. Guile or craftiness is a tricky and deceptive vice indeed, full of all hypocrisy and fraud. Through it men deceive others and lure them into the webs of their own devices, desires, and designs. It is a form of control that through falsehood and wrong attempts to manipulate the truth to serve selfish ends. We might find it expressed most notoriously in the life of Judas Iscariot. There we see that because Jesus did not end up fulfilling his earthly expectations, Judas would betray his Master. But it is found subtly also when any one of us attempts to manipulate others to serve our own selfish passions. Through it we threaten or intimidate our fellows when we claim a majority support for our minority opinion. Through guile or craftiness welie and falsify, conceal and hide, and then dismantle and destroy the integrity of other men. Guile even cleverly confesses its sins, draws others into its pretended sorrow, and enlists sympathy for persistent self-pity and unrestrained self-indulgent wallowing. Guile pretends to love another person whilst all the while indulging its own purely selfish narcissism. Guile pretends to love God but loves only its own sorry self.A lying tongue hateth those that areafflicted by it; and a flattering mouth worketh ruin. (Prov. xxvi. 28)
In Nathaniel Bartholomew, Jesus finds no traces of this crafty deceit and shameless guile. If Nathaniel Bartholomew has a fault, it might be that he desires too much knowledge where faith alone is needed. At the close of their first meeting Jesus says to his new friend: Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? Thou shalt see greater things than these….Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man. (Ibid, 50, 51) In other words, Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. (St. John xx. 29) This vision is reserved for those who without guile move beyond human knowledge to faith that gives birth to salvation. In answer to, Rabbi where dwellest Thou? (Ibid, 38) Jesus says, Come and see. (Ibid, 39)
With what we know of St. Nathaniel Bartholomew, we can surmise and conclude that whereJesus was therehe was also. In the end, where he was always, was in that spiritual place that could declare with St. Paul, I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me. (Gal. ii. 20) He and the Apostles who learned to live without guilewerescattered about the world shining as lights in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, keeping themselves unspotted from the world, where Jesus was conquering men’s hearts with His love and affection. So, in the end, they lived by Christ’s vision of them because they were better pleased to do their duty than to hear about it, not seeking glory from men but the honor that comes from God alone, counting themselves worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus. (Ibid, 161)They were determined to dwell in that place where Christ was –wherea man never deceives himself or others. They were foreverwherethe penetrating light of Christ’s knowledge shows a man where he isand then gives him the vision of who he can become.
Can any good thing come out of Nazareth, Nathaniel asks?Jesus says, Come and see. If we do, with Nathaniel we shall believe the Word of God made flesh, hear Him, receive Him, and be so transformed by Him that we shall carry that Good thing that has come out of Nazareth from our hearts out and into the world.
ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who art always more ready to hear than
we to pray, and art wont to give more than either we desire or deserve…
(Collect Trinity XII)
The Collect for the Twelfth Sunday afterTrinity expresses a truth that although commonly spoken is rarely remembered.And the truth is that it is in God’s nature to listen and respond to man’s needs always, and that our natures are more often than not lazy and slothful in the supplication of those needs. God hears in order to give, and what He gives is more than either we desire or deserve. The weakness of desire is entirely on our side.In desiring Him more, we shall begin to receive the pure gift of His mercy, and so receiveHis superabundant desire for us.
The deaf and dumb man described in today's Gospel is an image of that spiritual condition that neither desires nor deserves what God longs to give. The man can neither hear nor speak. Prior to the portion of the Gospel that we have read this morning, we meet a Syrophoenician woman who had no problem speaking up and begging Jesus to heal her daughter, who had an unclean spirit (St. Mark vii. 25). She may not have felt that she deserved anything, but that didn’t stop her from desiring morsels or fragments of that healing power that she knew could cure her demonized child. She was not a Jew but a Gentile pagan suppliant who provoked Jesus to remind her that [God’s] children should first be filled; for it is not meet to take the children’s bread, and cast it to dogs. (Ibid, 27) Jesus provoked her because He longed to elicit from her an articulation of her inmost desire. She said, Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs. (Ibid, 28) Jesus said that because the Syrophoenician woman’s faith desired the morsels and fragments of holiness that alone could expel the devil from her tormented daughter. Thus, a Paganess’ faith obtained her desire for what she knew and confessed she did not deserve. Her desire led her to seek out, find, and know God in a way that was hidden from her Jewish neighbors. Desire is love, and love led the Syrophenician woman to the light, which is the knowledge of God. God intends that our desire should lead us to seek out and find goodness and truth.
This morning, we encounter a Jewish man who cannot so much as express his desire, let alone meditate upon what he might or might not have deserved. His friends must express a desire that the deaf and dumb cannot communicate. We read: And they bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; and they beseech him to put his hand upon him.(Ibid, 32) Jesus is back in the land of the religious Pharisees, the land of His own Chosen People, and in the environment of his own pious kin folk. What is remarkable is thathere we find a man who is deaf and dumb. What ensues is not a conversation at all. Jesus had spoken to the Syrophoenician woman because she spoke to him. But here we find only silence because the man is deaf and mute. Jesus’ response is also silent. He will pray to His Father to obtain the Divine Power. So, we read: And he took him aside from the multitude, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spit, and touched his tongue; and looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened. (Ibid, 33, 34)Pseudo-Chrysostom tells us that, Because of the sin of Adam, human nature had suffered much and had been wounded in its senses and in its members. But Christ coming into the world revealed to us, in Himself, the perfection of human nature; and for this reason he opened the ears with His fingers, and gave speech by the moisture of his tongue. (Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, iv. 2) Judaism seems now to be symbolized by an inability to hear and to speak. The Jews knows of man’s refusal to hear and obey God’s Commandment in the Garden of Eden. Through His human nature, Jesus will identify himself with the fallen condition that ensued. Having cured the man of his physical handicaps in a primitive way, He can now call the man back into the pursuit of his spiritual good. The body’s relation to sound has been introduced to this man for the very first time. Now the man can be led to the healing of his soul. And so [Jesus]looks up to Heaven to teach us that is from there that the dumb must seek speech, the deaf hearing, and all who suffer healing. He [sighed or] groaned, not because he needed to seek with groaning anything from the Father…but that he might give us an example of groaning, when we must call upon the assistance of the heavenly mercy, in our own or our neighbours miseries (Ibid, 2) as the Venerable Bede teaches us. Jesus sighs or groans and identifies with the deaf and mutant man. He sighs and groans with passion for the power that transcends word.Jesus sighs or groansbecause He desires the Father’s healing more than we can imagine and He longs to give to us so [much] more than we either desire or deserve. (Collect) And so we read next that, And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain.(St. Mark vii. 35) Jesus speaks to His Father, His Father responds, and the healing flows through Jesus into the man.
Now the miracle concludes with what we read next: And he charged them that they should tell no man….(Ibid, 36, 37) Jesus’ ministry is neither essentially nor predominantly about physical healings. The true healing that Jesus brings to mankind is the healing of desire, of the soul and spirit, or the transformation and conversion of the inward man as the soul begins to seek out more than either we desire or deserve.(Collect) Desire leads to faith, and faith is the knowledge of God. And so the real miracle in this morning’s Gospel that Jesus intends to bring about is the birth of faith in the human soul. This is why he charges both the miraculously cured man and the eye-witnesses to tell no man. Because true healing is inward and invisible, slow and progressive, it calls for neither boasting nor bragging. The true miracle is the inward desire that begins as to long for one kind of healing and yet then becomes faith in one of far greater importance. And so in light of today’s miracle, Jesus intends that the desire He has ignited should quietly, humbly, reverently, and even slowly follow Him into the deeper truth that He will reveal. So Jesus teaches us not to expect in our spiritual lives the kind of instantaneous change that cured the deaf and dumb man. There is much to confess, much to shed, much to forgive and more to forget. We must be healed of our sins through faith in His Grace. Few men have radical and abrupt conversions. Rather, the miracle of conversion is a time-tried and habit forming process that may take as long as a lifetime before it is perfected.
Our Collect for today reveals to us the kind of miracle we are after. In it we pray, Pour down upon us the abundance of thy mercy; forgiving us those things whereof our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask, but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord. (Collect)Within our souls we are conscious of past sins; the remembrance of them is grievous unto us, and the burden of them is intolerable. (General Confession: HC Service, BCP 1928) When we are given spiritual ears with which to hear the truth of ourselves, we begin to become conscious of the horror and shame of the past lives we have lived. Our consciences are afraid and seared, as they quiver and tremble before the presence of God. And so we realize, in the presence of God’s Word, Jesus Christ, that we need those good things which we are not worthy to ask. (Collect) We do not deserve to hear, and yet God begins to open our ears. We are ashamed to speak, and yet He slowly but surely unloosens our tongues so that we might articulate and describe our condition. And so we can begin to pray, Pour down upon us the abundance of thy mercy.We are made worthy through merits and mediation of Jesus Christ (Collect) alone. The new miracle will take time to perfect. So we must, without any fanfare, bragging, or boasting, patiently endure the slow healing of our desire and faith that leads to salvation. With St. Paul, we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body… [For] we hope for [what] we [do not yet]see…[and so] we with patience wait for it. (Romans viii. 23)
So today, my friends, we pray for a miracle. What is the miracle? First, with St. Paul, the consciousness that, We are not sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; [for] our sufficiency [comes] from God. (2 Cor. iii. 4) Second, that our sufficiency is the result of God’s hard work, His enduring labor, His desire enflaming and expanding our desire, His truth broadening and deepening our faith, and His establishing and securing us more and more in His knowledge and love through Jesus Christ our Lord. The journey will be long and He never promised that it would be easy. But if we desire and seek, believe and follow, our ears will be opened and our mouths unstopped as we begin to sing the joyful song of salvation. In closing, let us pray with that great old Swedish Lutheran Bishop Bo Giertz who expresses with simplicity and honesty that spiritual desire and the faith that we seek.
I want to open my heart and my entire self for thee like this, Lord Jesus. Only thou canst help me to do that. Say thy powerful ‘Ephphatha’ to my soul. Command my heart to open up even in its inmost hiding places to receive thee and thy glory. Command my tongue to be untied so that I may praise thee and speak kind words to others, words that carry warmth, and healing, and blessing with them. Command my complete essence to open up so that I can receive for nothing and give for nothing, richly and lavishly, as thou wouldest want me to do. (To Live with Christ, p.552)
I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that
exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.
(St. Luke xviii. 14)
Trinity-tide invites us on to the road that leads to salvation for those who embrace God’s power as He reveals it chiefly in shewing mercy and pity upon those who running the way of His Commandments hope to obtain His gracious promises and to be made partakers of His heavenly treasure. (Collect Trinity XI)No human being is denied this offer of redemption and reconciliation with Almighty God, the Father of lights, the Creator and Mover of all things. Every human being can come to see and know either the way that leads to death and destruction or the way that leads to life and reconciliation. The road or way that a man takes is, of course, his spiritual path. His spiritual path is determined by the character and nature of his prayer life. In this morning’s Gospel Parableour Lord illustrates two kinds of prayer life and where each of them leads. Perhaps our careful study of both will move us to embrace the one and eschew the other with more determined earnestness.
Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a Publican. (St. Luke xviii. 10) The first man who went up to praywas a Pharisee, a religious leader of the Jewish Church in his day and an expert in how the Jewish Law brought man closer to God. The other man who went up to pray was a Publican – also a Jew, but one who was despised by his own people as a traitor because he collected taxes for the heathen Roman overlords. So, on the face of it, we should expect to find the Phariseepraying in a way that surrenders to God in habitual humble dependence. From the Publicanwe might anticipate some superficial, haphazard, uncommon, and cursory prayer.
So we read that The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed thus.... (Ibid, 11; Archbishop Trench’s translation) Even before our ears are opened to the content of the Pharisee’s prayer, we are a bit surprised. We learn that he has isolated and cordoned himself off from all others. Putting a distance between himself and all unclean worshipers, (Parables, p. 381) he does not seek an inconspicuous and anonymous place to pour out his sin-sick heart before God. Rather, he intends to be conspicuously positioned to parade his piety before others. Jesus tells us what the Pharisee will broadcast to his audience. God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. (Ibid, 11) Speakingthus with himself,the Pharisee thanks God that he is unlike all other men. He is unique, special, and precious. By way of judgment, he assumes that all other men are notorious sinners or maybe even as wicked as thePublican whom he notices out of the corner of his eye. So, first he conflates sin with sinners. For while he is surely right to thank God for deliverance from vice and into virtue, he is not right to contrast himself withor elevate himself aboveother men. He has started off on the wrong foot altogether by thanking God for a goodness that is comparative. He is better because others are worse. The publican, who is not far from him, is a useful prop in the dramatic presentation of himself to God. He insists that he is so very, very good because other men are so very, very bad! His sin is first found, then, in a self-conscious righteousnessthat is defined wholly in comparison to his neighbors.
Second, to enhance his sinful spiritual superiority, he tells us who he is and what he does: I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. (Ibid, 12) He is at least as good as he is because what he doesis not as bad as what other men do. So, it would seem, he needs to be no better. To be religious,as Cardinal Newman points out, was for him to keep peace towards others, to take his share in the burdens of the poor, to abstain from gross vice, and to set a good example. His alms and fastings were done not in penance, but because the world asked for them; penance would have implied consciousness of sin; whereas it was only the Publicans, and such as they, who had anything to be forgiven. (10th Sunday after Pentecost, 1856) He thanks God for his well-behaved, decorous, consistent, and respectable life. (Ibid) He is grateful to God for himself and crowns his pride and arrogance in gratitude for being spared the condition of this [pitiful] Publican. (Ibid, 11)In the end, he has only condescending contempt for one whose humble repentance should have stirred in him the need for the same.
So, over there, we find the Publican, standing, afar off, [who] would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote his breast, saying,God be merciful to me a sinner. (Ibid, 13) Here we come upon a man who, alienated and shunned by his own people for his compromised loyalty and divided fidelity, is standing afar off. (Ibid)This self-conscious sinner’s own sin prevents him from drawing nearer to the wall of prayer since he believes that this space is reserved for the holy men of God. He must stand at a distance, taking the lowest seat, painfully aware that he is not worthy even of this station. His poverty of spirit renders him fearful of moving closer to the Wall of Prayer before he has obtained remission of his sins. He reminds us of Mephibosheth, the disabled son of Jonathan, who responds to King David’s mercy with the words of the unworthy: What is thy servant, that thou shouldest look upon such a dead dog as I am? (2 Sam. 8) He beats his breast, revealing how he cannot endure the distance he has traveled away from his Maker. With neither self-pity nor self-excuse, quietly and conscientiously, he prays, God be merciful to me a sinner. (Ibid) This man knows who he is and what he has become in relation to God. He knows, too, that the all-seeing God knows the secrets of [his] heart. (Ps. xliv. 21) And so, as St. Theophylact has written, he comes as close as he is able to the table of God’s mercy, knowing that he [could] not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven (Ibid, 13), regarding them as unworthy of the celestial vision: because they had preferred to look upon and seek out only earthly riches. (Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, p. 358) He cannot look up to God, for he is a sinner. He cannot look around at others, for they are far better than he.
Unlike the Pharisee, who has no sins to confess, the Publicanrepents before the all-seeing God. His heart is convicted and he repents him of his sins. God’s sees into his heart and elicits the truth. Unlike the Pharisee he is not his own teacher,as Cardinal Newman writes, pacing round and round in the small circle of his own thoughts and judgments, careless to know what God says to him, fearless of being condemned by Him, standing approved in his own sight. (Ibid) Rather he has finally heard the Lord speaking to him: Be still and know that I am God.(Psalm 46.10) He is conscious of God’s omniscience. He knows himself to be spiritually last and least, and that God alone can overcome his spiritual wretchedness with the power of His pity and mercy. (Idem)And so God calls him up and into regeneration. He seeks pardon for wrong done, and power to do better. And thus he beats his breast to drive out the presence of darkness within that the power of God’s all-liberating light may suffuse his soul.
The Publican in his prayer, veiled and concealed to the Phariseein his pride, illustrates for us that spiritual character that must inform and define our relation to God. The Publican does not postpone the inevitable encounter with God. While there is still time, he returns to the Lord. He knows that the powerthat he needs mostis chiefly declared in [God’s] pity and mercy. He can identify with all men, because created natures, high and low, are all on a level and one in the sight and comparison of the Creator, and so all of them have one speech, and one only, whether it be the thief on the cross, Magdalen at the feast, of St. Paul before martyrdom. One and all have nothing but what comes from Him, and are as nothing before Him, who is all in all. (Newman, Ibid) The Publican’s prayer is everyman’s prayer. From his heart, we find the truth that must always travel from our lips back to God.
Dear friends, today let us look into our hearts and see if in them we find any traces or habits of being self-consciously righteous. Do we rest contented in being freed from certain sins and thus so unlike other notorious livers –extortioners, the unjust, adulterers, or publicans?Do we think that we are in possession of enough righteousness because we pay our tithes, attend the Church’s services, do this and do that, give enough of this and certainly almost too much of that? Do we settle for a form of holiness and righteousness which we think sufficient for sure and certain salvation? Have we stopped growing spiritually because we think that whatwe have, is our very own prized-possession that we have earned and are entitled to keep? Father Simon Tugwell reminds us that this all adds up to a complacency that is found when a man is pleased with himself. (Beatitudes: Darton, Longman & Todd, p. 3)My brothers and sisters, today let us admit and confess that God alone is our help and our salvation. He is like no other; He reproveth, and nurtureth, and teacheth and bringeth again, as a Shepherd his flock. He hath mercy on them that receive discipline, and that diligently seek after His judgments. (Ecclus. xviii. 13, 14) What we should perceive most is that undeserved and unmeritedpity and mercy that longs forever to change us, make us new, sanctify, and perfect us. Perfection for the Christian means the forever striving ahead, and not any conviction of achievement. (Tugwell, p. 5) Let us remember that we are all equally [sinful] and thus equally privileged but unentitled beggars before the door of God’s mercy. (Idem) So, with the Publican today let us have the honesty and courage to plead and to pray, God be merciful to me a sinner. Amen.
In His outward appearance He was like us; for in His boundless
Love He took it upon Himself to become a creature, yet without
Changing (his Divinity), and He became the Image, Type, and Symbol
Of Himself: He has revealed Himself symbolically out of His inner being;
Through Himself who is visible, He has drawn the whole creation
To Himself who is invisible and totally hidden.
(P.G. 91, St. Maximus Confessor)
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration. The word comes to us from the Latin derivative transfigurare and it means to change form, appearance, shape, or nature. The Greek variant is metamorphosisand it means the same. Ovid uses it when he describes the history of cyclical world transformations from the dawn of time to the deification of Julius Caesar. St. Matthew records the transfiguration of Christ before James, John, and Peter in the 17th Chapter of his Gospel. St. Luke, describing the same event, tells us that the appearance of Jesus was altered and his clothes became dazzling white. (St. Luke ix. 28) The point is that before His Resurrection from the Dead, Jesus Christ temporarily underwent a profound metamorphosis in and through which eternity and time intersected in His Sacred Person to reveal a vision of the life that was to come.
In the Church’s history little is made of this great feast. Theologians have remained silent about it and poets have virtually ignored it. It seems to be more popular in the Greek East than in the Latin West. Titian, the 16th-century Venetian painter, painted a version of it for the silver high altar of the Church of San Salvatore or San Salvador in Venice. He depicts the Transfiguration in a whirlwind of motion, power, intensity, and passion. The upper section of the painting depicts the heavenly realm. Christ stands at the center as the centrifugal point of unity and meaning. His left foot moves forward as if out of Heaven with His right foot ahead and grounded on earth. With His left hand, He reaches up to carry down the truth of the Father and with His right hand, He releases it like seed on the earth. All movement emanates from Him. To Christ’s right, Moses precedes him in time and space holding the Ten Commandments. To Christ’s left, Elijah’s face is partly concealed as he awaits news of his role for the ongoing creation. Beneath the three Saints Peter, James, and John are thrown down from the heavenly event and onto the earth that seems too cramped for them and us! Peter attempts to shield himself with his tunic. John has fallen back and nearly crushes us. James attempts to pray for mercy in the midst of the unknown. Christ stands out as the luminous Word made flesh. His immovable stability establishes His mission and what must transpire from Heaven to earth, from the spiritual to the natural, and from God to Man.
Prior to the account of the Transfiguration that we read today, we hear Jesus say, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? (St. Matthew xvii 24-26)Christ prophesies His own suffering and death and then goes on to insist that the life of a disciple will involve self-denial and sacrifice, the loss of one thing for the gain of another, and the hope of new life that can be won only after spiritual death. St. Luke’s Gospel punctuates today’s event with a further warning. Jesus says, Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of man be ashamed when He comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. (St. Luke ix 26)Not only will discipleship cost everything worldly; it will demand confidence, faith, and assurance in Christ’s saving life and power. From here on in the nature of Christ’s life in relation to all others will be a burden too heavy for anyone but Himself to bear. Christ’s presence here in Transfigured Form overturns, overpowers, and overcomes all human respectability. His own Apostles will be shaken, stirred, and pushed off the canvas of Transfiguration that intends to redeem the world through suffering and death.
So perhaps for this reason, He reveals Himself in an extraordinary and paranormal way to a few select friends. Some commentators have said that if Christ had left the earth in the moments following His Transfiguration, He would have saved Himself a lot of trouble. He would have returned to God as Moses and Elijah had done. For this is what they did at the end of the Transfiguration appearance. They disappeared but He remained. They return to the Father but He has much more work to do. Christ’s Transfiguration heralds and trumpets the deep truth of His unfolding mission. Here we find the beginning of the journey up to Jerusalem. It begins in Heaven. It will descend into suffering and death. It will rise up and return all men to God. Jesus knows that in time and space and before the eyes of all men, He who is the Logos of God, the Word and Wisdom of God made flesh, He who is made to reveal God’s will, plan, and purpose must derive His sure and certain strength, confidence, and trust from the Father. Only beginning here in Transfiguration do we find that courage and zeal and that wisdom and love that intend to carry out the plans of the Father, come what may. Jesus knows that suffering and death are the fruits of man’s misplaced desire and passion. From the wellspring of the Father’s Omnipotence the Son must suffer and die by the power of God.
Yet, we must behold the Transfigured Christ to prepare for what comes next. With Peter, and James, and John we must be overtaken, overpowered, overrun, and outdone. The powerful presence of the Transfigured Christ must pull us up and throw us out of the normal course of common life. Like Peter, James, and John we must be pushed to the periphery of the canvas of human life in order to make room for what Christ must do. Christ is our center and from that center that rules and governs the universe, we must observe the enactment of our redemption from Heaven to earth through the heart of Christ.
Jesus is transfigured before Peter, James, and John. This is not an end but another beginning. Jesus had gone up into the mountain to pray. And as He was praying, the appearance of His countenance was altered, and His raiment became dazzling white. And behold, two men talked with Him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His departure, which He was to accomplish at Jerusalem. (Ibid, 29-31) Moses had led the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt into exodus. Elijah had guided the people’s descendants out of slavery to sin into hope for deeper deliverance. Both now learned of the fulfillment of God’s promises that would be accomplished in Christ. Moses precedes and Elijah follows. History needs redemption. Law convicts and Prophecy hopes. The past and the future will be redeemed through the Word that Moses and Elijah heard. The past and the future will be redeemed through the Word made Flesh that Peter, James, and John have known. Peter hears the Father’s blessing. And there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him. (Ibid, 35)
The redemption of human nature begins on the heights of Mount Tabor. From the heights of intimate union with God, Jesus will carry the glory of the Father into suffering death. Jesus must identify with man’s sickness to work in a cure. The glory of the Lord will neither flee nor abandon the horror of man’s illness. Christ’s whole personality is suffused with the celestial majesty; His dress shone with strange glory. (The Church Year, p. 264)This is the heavy garment of glory that Christ will put on in order to combat all manner of evil. He will combat His enemies largely with the silence of glory. He will suffer the effects of sin gladly with the mercy of glory. He will take into Himself the heaviness of corruption that moves men to hate God and His goodness. He will feel perfectly the state of sinners who have not come to see their sin. He will long for all men’s salvation in and through their rejection of it. The glory is what must remain powerfully present, alive, and radiant as He proceeds to fashion salvation. In and through the glory He will raise up a new and glorious body that will become the meeting place of man and God.
After Christ’s Transfiguration, when the three Apostles, in fear and terror prostrated on the ground, lifted up their eyes, they saw only Jesus. (God’s Human Face: Schonborn, p. 132) Him whom they had beheld in blinding splendor only moments earlier, communing with two heavenly friends, now they see alone. They see Jesus. Jesus’ human countenance, the face of Jesus of Nazareth, holds in itself the complete mystery of God. (Idem)Here is the balanced brilliance of God’s glory. The Transfigured Jesus must now temper and adjust His Person to minister to His friends. He must descend from the mount and lift up his fallen and bruised Apostles. And so we shall see glory in the One who bears their burden in sadness, pain, agony of soul and body, and death. We shall see glory also in unabated love and uninterrupted passion for all men’s salvation.
Through Himself who is visible, He has drawn the whole creationto Himself who is invisible and totally hidden. (Idem)Now, He is on Mount Tabor. Next, He is healing a paralytic boy. Soon, He will unjustly suffer and die. And through it all there is one constant --the glory of the Lord. This glory is seen only by those who will journey from the visible to the invisible. It can be seen in ecstatic mystical ascent. It can be endured in the crushing blow of being pushed to the outer edges of significance. It can be seen in suffering, pain, and death. The glory can always be perceived. God’s Glory enables us to retain what was learned in joy in use for mourning, and to bring to our hours of happiness a quickened perception of sorrow’s purifying discipline. The outward signs of transfiguration may pass, but its inner power remains with its fortifying grace to help us, when we pass through the waters of affliction and valley of the shadow of death, to regain something more than its glory in the power of endless life. (The Church Year, p. 266) Amen.
Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.
(1 Cor. x. 12)
Last week we spoke about the Divine Providence of God and how we ought to be intent upon ordering our lives with the Divine Wisdom. This week we remind ourselves that His Wisdom is dead to us if it is not always God’s way of making good out of a bad situation. We must think about God’s always making good because the Christian journey is all about our ongoing assimilation and alignment to the new life that Jesus offers to us. It is out of a bad situation because we are always in danger of forgetting that we are sinners who are always too capable of becoming worse. That God desires always to make us good and then better means that He intends to work His Word and Wisdom into our fallen state in order to save us. And for this work to be appreciated as what God begins, continues, and finishes in us, we must always and honestly confess that we are in a bad situation so that we might turn and desire to be made better by His Grace.
Of course, some people would maintain that what I am recommending amounts to something that we cannot really admit and so can never achieve. If we cannot admit that we are in a very bad situation, then there isn’t much reason to desire what would make us better. Objectively speaking, of course, such is a recipe for disaster in any realm of life. The painter who doesn’t need to paint a better picture won’t! The farmer who has no need to raise a tastier vegetable in a more efficient way won’t. The doctor who stops looking for cures for diseases will accommodate illness. And so too, the Christian who doesn’t think that he needs to be made better will never see God’s Kingdom! For, when we are driven by our own reason and the limited natures, sooner or later we settle for less because we have ceased to believe that we can find more. What I am trying to say is that we are made for God and our hearts ought to be restless until they rest in Him. The Christian believes that man is made to know and love God forever. But he knows also that he cannot do any good thing without [God]…and that only by [Him] can he be enabled to live according to [His]will. (Collect Trinity IX)
Yet, many Christians fall into trouble when they fail to surrender their bad situation to God’s Grace. St. Paul reminds us of this danger in this morning’s Epistle. He gives us the example of the ancient Jewish people whom God had delivered from bondage and slavery to the Egyptians. He tells us that, all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and did all eat the same spiritual meat; and did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. (1 Cor. x. 1-4) Oswald Chambers reminds us that through every cloud the Lord brings, He wants us to unlearn something. The clouds illustrate our bad situation. They are given to us so that we might unlearn false confidence in our own reason to see its true limitations. When the clouds come, we are called to remember our own powerlessness and the need for the power of God’s Grace. The clouds reveal and disclose our powerlessness. The clouds conceal and cloak the Grace that we must desire in order to be made better. Clouds come to us when we struggle with besetting sins, suffer rejection from unbelievers, or are dealing with the common drudgery of human life.
St. Paul tells us that our Jewish fathers were hidden, all of them, under a cloud, and found a path, all of them through the sea; all alike in the cloud and in the sea [the ancient Jews] were baptized into Moses’ fellowship. (Ibid, Knox, 2) And yet what do we read next? But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. (Ibid, 5) And why? They did not discern the spiritual meaning and purpose of the clouds. They did not unlearn their old natural and earthly ways. They thought that God was merely freeing them from temporal slavery and servitude to an earthly enemy. So they fell into indulging the old bad situation of their sinful condition. They began to murmur, moan, groan, and complain, wondering all the while why God had delivered them from a slavery -that at least had come with food on the table and shelter over their heads. Their preoccupation with earthly manna then turned to lust, idolatry, and fornication. God fed them in the desert, and they took it as license to rise up to play. (Ibid, 7) Thanklessly they had forgotten that their former condition was a bad spiritual situation from which God had delivered them. God began to make good out of a bad spiritual situation, by anointing them to be the fathers and progenitors of a spiritual people whose ultimate destiny should be salvation. They did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. (Ibid, 4) Yet, St. Paul reminds us that their fall should warn us about the bad situation we are in and the dangers of forgetting our need for the power of God’s saving Grace in our lives. For they were overthrown in the wilderness…and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. (Ibid, 5,8)
The prudence involved in reading the clouds is nicely illustrated in this morning’s Parable of the Unjust Steward. In it, Christ tells the tale of a worldly businessman who had misused money lent to him by a wealthy creditor. The creditor summons him to his office not only for a dressing down but for certain termination. He says, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward. (St. Luke xvi. 2) And without missing a beat, ever-perceptive of the imminent clouds, the financial underling thinks fast: How can I make good out of this very bad situation? He wonders: What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed. I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses. (Ibid, 3,4) The unjust steward is proud. But, he is also shrewd and calculating. He knows that he can never repay the loan to his boss. Yet, he is determined not only to survive but to thrive. If the big boss won’t have him, he’ll at least respect him for having the wisdom and prudence to become a little boss. And more than that, he will not only make good out of a bad situation for himself but for the big boss’ other creditors. He’ll go into the debt-consolidation business! So he called every one of his lord’s debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord? And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty. Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore. (Ibid, 5-7) The long and short of it is that the big boss is impressed. It is not clear that the big boss had much hope in ever recalling any of the loans from his other creditors, and so he praises the economic prudence and skill that has secured this financial settlement. And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely…(Ibid, 8)
Jesus concludes the parable by saying that the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light. And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations. (Ibid, 8,9) Of course, Jesus tells the parable not to commend unjust stewardship. What is most instructive in the parable is the prudence or wisdom that can be found in earthly business men’s detection of the clouds and the need to reform and redeem his life in their shadow. Jesus suggests that unjust or fallen earthly man is often wiser than his spiritual counterpart when it comes to discerning the clouds and making the best out of bad situations. Like the unjust steward, we are in a bad situation, in that we can never repay our Lord, our spiritual creditor, what we owe Him. Like the ancient Jews, living under the cloud of our spiritual poverty, we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves. (Collect, Lent II) And like the unjust steward, we are unjust by reason of our spiritual negligence.
Monsignor Knox asks, Who is the Unjust Steward?...He is you and I and every one of us; we are all, as children of Adam, unfaithful servants who have been detected in our delinquency. By rights…we have forfeited every claim. We have earthly riches –the unrighteous mammon– still in our possession, and it is out of that that we must strive to gain ourselves a good reward in the day of necessity, by giving alms generously to those in need. (Pastoral and Occasional Sermons, p. 170) So, we are called to give of our earthly substance to those in need in an unselfconsciously generous way. Why? It will reveal that what is of real value and worth for us is behind the clouds. God is challenging us to give freely under the clouds of fallen existence so that He might reveal His treasure to us. When the storm-clouds gather, God offers to overcome our powerlessness and poverty with His strength and riches. We do well to remember that we who live under the clouds are all poor. Thus we must help one another. None of us has any claim on the mercy of the all-just Creditor: we have been the cause of our own shortcomings; God is not responsible for the misuse of His gifts. If we would find mercy in that hour, will it not be wise…to establish a precedent for generosity and largesse [with the mammon of unrighteousness], while there is yet time? (Idem)
Today let us become just stewards of God’s Grace, a Grace that is meant to be multiplied prudently and shared with the world. In so doing, when we leave the unrighteous mammon of this world behind, being caught up in the clouds, when we fail, we shall be welcomed into everlasting habitations because we have allowed God to make the best out of our bad situation. (Idem)
O God whose never-failing providence ordereth all things
both in heaven and earth, we humbly beseech thee to put away
from us all hurtful things, and to give us those things that be
profitable for us…
(Collect: Trinity VIII)
We concluded last week’s sermon with an exhortation to zeal. Having learned that the Divine desire for all men is that they faint not, but rather feed continually on the living Word of God, we opened our souls to the ongoing nutriment that overcomes sloth. I hope that we prayed fervently that the love of God might grow in us, grafting in our hearts the love of His name, increasing in us true religion, nourishing us with all goodness, and…keeping us in the same. In a sense, what we prayed for was that the same providence that ordereth all things in heaven and in earth, might rule and govern our lives zealously. Its actualization, we learned, would depend upon our willful desire and longing for its ongoing, effectual operation.
But what is this never-failing providence that we pray should overcome things hurtful to our pious zeal? Providence comes to us from the Latin providentia, and it means literally looking for or seeing into. In former times the word was used to describe God’s knowledge of all things –past, present, and future, in the eternal now of His perfect vision. Some theologians used it to defend the Divine Grace against the claims of others who were insistent upon the claims of free will. The doctrine of Divine providence insists that God knows every particular form of created life in all ages and simultaneously. Perhaps a simpler way of putting it is that nothing ever has or ever will escape His all-penetrating gaze and knowledge. Nothing escapes God’s seeing and knowing, because his never failing providence orders all things in heaven and earth. Whether men acknowledge it or not, God’s thinking of all things is present to and determinative of everything that ever has, does, or will happen. What happens in the universe is subject completely to God’s will at all times. Even evil itself –a rejection of God’s Wisdom and Will, much to its own rage and resentment, has meaning only in relation to God and His Goodness!
We might find this view of Divine Providence not a little bit intimidating and disconcerting. The all-seeing eye of God, the surveyor and judge, might startle and shake us. But as your preacher, I would like you to know that I think that this is a good and healthy thing! Post-modern, materialistic Christians have become far too at ease with treating God like the aider and abettor of temporary earthly happiness. They gather and fancy presumptuously that God’s chief role and function in the universe is to overcome any material impediment to generate a kind of bodily buzz. Of course, what they have forgotten is God is not really interested in earthly and impermanent expressions of happiness. He is far more concerned with the state of the soul that is required of us if we hope to find eternal happiness. All of the comfort in the world cannot save a man. And it might even be so powerful as to impede and prevent him from ever finding the way to everlasting salvation.
Worldly, earthly, or temporal happiness is not what God intends for us to be consumed within this life. We do well to remind ourselves that God does see and know all things, and that His ever-present gaze sifts, weighs, and measures the devices and desires of our own hearts and the intentions and motives of our choices. Not only does He see, but also He knows; not only does He know, but also He judges and discerns where our voluntary choices situate us in relation to His Divine Wisdom and Love. God is nothing if not fair. St. Paul reminds us: Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. (Gal. vi. 7,8) What we will to think, say, and do shall, in the end, determine where we end up.
What we should want, then, is to embrace the Divine Wisdom in such a way that ensures our salvation. First, we need to discern how God sees or knows all things. What I mean is that we should discover what things are and how they might affect us. Next, we must learn how to use them appropriately. Put away from us all hurtful things and give us those things which are profitable for our salvation. Providence, again, is the vision or knowledge by which God enlivens, orders, rules, governs, informs, and defines created beings. It is also the Wisdom that reveals to us why and for what purposes God intends for us to use them.
The author of this morning’s Old Testament lesson tells us that man best begins to open up to Divine Providence and Wisdom through the fear of the Lord. All wisdom cometh from God and is with Him forever. (Ecclus. i. 1) We ought to fear God for His Wisdom. This means that we ought to have a healthy trepidation of the fact that God knows best what things are and how they can be used or misused. Air is necessary for ongoing life. Fire is made to rise and to heat. Water is made to nourish and fertilize or to cleanse and to purge. Man is made to know also that air can contaminate, fire can burn, and that water can drown. The knowledge of these kinds of things ought to inform and condition our wills. The fear of the Lord is that healthy state that cautions us in relation to all things. Whoso feareth the Lord, it shall go well with him at the last. (Ecclus. i. 14) The fear of the Lord is a salutary reminder that we ought to use the creation only in God’s service now so that it may go well with us in the end. It is a salubrious sense of God’s omnipresent vision and desire for us. For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones. (Isaiah lvii. 15) The fear of the Lord engenders humility of heart. Humility of heart sees the truth and intends to will the best. The fear of the Lord is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate, [saith the Lord]. (Prov. viii. 13)
God’s providence is His Divine Wisdom. St. Thomas Aquinas, quoting Aristotle, links it with order. He says it belongs to the wise man to order….The name of the absolutely wise man, however, is reserved for him whose consideration is directed to the end of the universe, which is also the origin of the universe. That is why, according to the Philosopher, it belongs to the wise man to consider the highest causes.(SCG i. 1) The wise man orders his life with virtue to pursue the highest ends. The wiser man knows that it belongs to the gift of wisdom to judge according to the Divine Truth. A man judges well what he knows. (Eth. i. 3, ST, ii, ii, xlv. 1) Of course, the pattern and model of Divine Wisdom in the flesh has been given to us in the life of our Saviour Jesus Christ. In Christ, we find the Divine Wisdom ordering human life perfectly. And the same Wisdom that was made flesh long ago forever longs to share its life with us. He teaches us that we should be debtors not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. (Romans viii. 12). Rather, the Divine providence intends that we should be illuminated and liberated by Christ the power of God and the Wisdom of God. (1 Cor. i. 24), remembering that if we through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, we shall live. (Romans viii. 13) Wisdom intends that we should serve a higher end. In this morning’s Gospel, the wise man is compared to a good tree that bringeth forth good fruit. (St. Matthew vii. 17) The good fruit is the virtue that grows up out of a body tamed by the soul that serves the spirit. Wisdom can be operative only when we intend to submit the body, soul, and spirit to the gift of God’s Grace in Jesus Christ so that the Holy Wisdom might purge us of all things hurtful to us in the world, through the flesh, and by the influence of the devil.
In the face of Divine Wisdom, we must ask ourselves this morning these questions: Do I humble myself before the never-failing providence that orders all things in heaven and earth? Do I thank God because I know that my creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life depend upon His providence? Do I desire that His Wisdom might enter my soul and crucify all things hurtful that distract and delay my adhesion to His will? Do I remember that I was born to be a child of God’s omnipotent Wisdom through the fear of the Lord, seeking, knocking, and asking? As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. (Romans viii 14) Proverbs remind us that the Spirit of Wisdom crieth in the chief place of concourse, in the openings of the gates: in the city She uttereth her words, saying, How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge? Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my Spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you. (Proverbs i. 21-23)
Today’s lesson is not merely about vision or even willing a limited good. Today Wisdom calls us to cultivate the intention to please God in all of our lives so that we shall be saved. William Law tells us that it was this general intention, that made the primitive Christians such eminent instances of piety, and made the goodly fellowship of the saints, and all the glorious army of martyrs and confessors. Mr. Law tells us also that if we wonder why the Wisdom of God is not giving us the same intention that the primitive Christians possessed, we shall find that it is neither through ignorance, nor inability, but purely because we never thoroughly intended it. What we intend is inspired by what we love. So let us intend to love God above all things in order that by His Wisdom we might find those things profitable for us, profitable to our salvation.
Graft in our hearts the love of thy name, increase in us
true religion, nourish with all goodness, and of thy great mercy
keep us in the same.
(Collect: Trinity VII)
If you spend time reading the Epistles of St. Paul carefully, you cannot help but come away with a sense of the Apostle’s uncanny ability to unite spiritual contraries to make his point. Perhaps this is a natural consequence of his momentous conversion, when, in a fit of zealous and rabid hot pursuit of Damascan Christians, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, he was thrown down from the high horse of his feverish pride onto the dry, dusty, and desolate road where, in all humility, he was best positioned to find Christ. Paul the zealot, Paul the judge, Paul the persecutor of Christians, endured an extreme turnabout and volte-face of his entire character. He was blinded, and was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink. (Acts. ix 9) From the high perch of his passionate pursuit of the vibrant spiritual life, he was thrown down into startling and frightening spiritual blindness and death. Out of it, he became the man that he had never been before. And yet what we must understand is that he was meant to endure the contraries in order to feel the force of the salvation that God alone could bring into his life. St. Paul’s sight was restored by a certain Ananias, he was given food to eat, and spent three years in Damascus (Gal. i. 17, 18) In time the zeal with which he persecuted Christ was converted into a fiery passion for all men’s conversion. His alacrity and fervor became contagious because his mind was agile. Jesus intended to use him as [His] chosen instrument to proclaim [His] name to the Gentiles,… their kings,… and to the people of Israel. (Acts ix. 15)
Zeal is the virtue opposite to the vice of sloth. Sloth is a mortal sin, and it is to that sin that we must turn before considering the zeal that seeks out conversion and sanctification. You might think it odd that we must study sloth today since it neither characterizes St. Paul before or after his conversion, nor does it seem to find expression in today’s Gospel. In the Gospel, we read that a great multitude of people had been following Jesus for three days in the wilderness. (St. Mark viii. 2) With zeal, they had been pursuing the truth that they found in Christ and were hoping that it pointed to a reality of more than ephemeral and transitory meaning. They, like St. Paul, were zealously cleaving to Jesus, having forsaken the customary human haunts that had only ever brought them impermanent and fleeting joy. In fact, because of their diligent determination to follow and hear Him, an unpremeditated fast had ensued. Nothing in the text suggests that they were restless, irritable, or discontented because their spiritual journey had been bereft of food and drink. So intent were they upon the pursuit of their spiritual good that physical nutriment seemed a radical contrary or something only dangerously opposed to the singular demands of the spirit’s commands.
But Jesus, perceiving an imminent danger, says, I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now been with me three days, and have nothing to eat: And if I send them away fasting to their own houses, they will faint by the way: for divers of them came from far. (St. Mark viii. 2, 3) Jesus comes not to destroy human nature but to redeem it. He intends to bring to completion the good work which he has begun in them. (Phil. i. 6) They are in danger of fainting. To faint in Scripture means to fall by the wayside spiritually, to lose spiritual steam, to become weak, languid, exhausted, and feeble. To faint means to lose one’s zeal. Men are not pure spirits, the soul is embodied, and thus the whole man must be sustained. One who faints has a faith that is in danger of dying and whose pious zeal might wither and dry up because he has no deepness of spiritual earth. (St. Matthew xiii. 5) Jesus knows that danger that looms in the hearts of those who are pursuing Him with a zealous passion. The author of Proverbs says, if a man faint in the day of adversity, his strength is small. (Prov. xxiv. 10) The truth that Christ brings is threatened not by paranormal events but in the common drudgery of human life. Adversity here might be as basic as physical exhaustion, hunger, or thirst – the heat of the day. Should the soul’s good be pursued at the expense of the body, the earnest pilgrim might faint, fail, and fall away from Christ. He might be overwhelmed by sloth because his body has not been reconciled to his spiritual quest.
The Church Fathers tell us that the potential fainting that threatens those who have followed Jesus into the wilderness in this morning’s Gospel is a temptation to sloth. Sloth is one of the Seven Mortal or Deadly Sins. Most people identify it as laziness or indolence that leads to physical neglect through gluttony. The body’s vengeance upon spiritual asceticism – the imminent danger in this morning’s Gospel – certainly contributes to sloth. Physical hunger from fasting can generate a state that impedes continued spiritual progress. But the true nature of sloth is a far more debilitating and destructive mental condition. The fainting that Jesus seeks to combat most of all is spiritual sloth. He fears that the Word which He has planted in the hearts of His followers might die. In her commentary on her translation of Dante’s Purgatorio, Dorothy Sayers tells us that sloth is the sixth deadly sin. In this world it is called tolerance but in hell, it is called despair…It is the sin which believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, loves nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and only remains alive because there is nothing it would die for…It prevents men from thinking. Sloth persuades us that stupidity is not a sin but a misfortune. (An Address… October, 1941) Sloth is a deadly sin because it has ceased to reach out for the truth, beauty, and goodness that God longs to infuse into the human heart. Sloth cannot be bothered either by extreme goodness or exaggerated evil because it has lost its spiritual pluck! Because it cannot find joy in small victories, dejection, despair, and unbelief overwhelm it. It lacks the zeal and courage to pry out the good from the evil and to convince men of virtue’s new birth. Sloth convinces the soul that the spiritual life is too high to be sustained in a body, which seems alien and averse to continued sanctification. Its nature is to assert the body’s weakness against the soul’s potential strength.
Today Jesus desires that we faint not by the spiritual way. He knows, with St. Paul, that we are weak. I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh and that ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness, and to iniquity unto iniquity. (Romans vi. 19) It will take time and hard work for weak sinners to be weaned from the customary repetition of habitual sin. But against spiritual sloth, St. Paul urges us to pursue zeal conscientiously. Yield your members servants to righteousness, unto holiness. (Romans vi. 19) His extreme zeal for the Gospel stands over and against the sinister and deleterious designs of sloth. He knows that sloth will kill the soul that both neglects the good and does evil.
Jesus fed the four thousand many years ago in order to overcome their temptation to sloth. He zealously longs to feed us today. Then He took seven loaves of bread and a few small fishes, and today He takes a small portion of bread and a cup of red wine. Now, as then, a small amount of earthly fare can be sufficient to conquer spiritual sloth. Now, as then, the zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this. (Isaiah xxxvii. 32) St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that zeal arises from the intensity of love, because the more intensely a power tends to anything, the more vigorously it withstands opposition and resistance. (ST i. ii. 28, 4) The zeal we seek to embrace comes to us first in God’s determined and diligent love of us in Jesus Christ. That zeal intends to eradicate any sloth that threatens to dampen our spiritual enthusiasm and quench our desire for Jesus’ work in our lives. If we begin to appreciate the advances and intentions of God’s love, the intensity or responsive love will grow stronger and stronger until it conquers all spiritual sloth in us. If we understand this Divine zeal and meet it with an equal passion and devotion, then with the four thousand we shall begin to apprehend, absorb, and appreciate its power to sanctify and save us. Its kindling fire will strengthen our faith, broaden our hope, and deepen our love for the Lord. It will enable us to seek…. first the kingdom of God and His righteousness…. (St. Matthew vi. 33) And like the four thousand, we shall take no thought of what we shall eat, and what we shall drink. For our Heavenly Father knoweth that we have need of such things. (Ibid, 31, 32) All these things shall be added unto us, as what strengthen the body that houses a soul bent on zeal. In the end what He gives will be just enough to perpetuate and enlarge our zeal for working out our salvation with fear and trembling. (Phil. ii. 12) With Dr. Jenks we shall pray, O let us not spend our zeal and spirits for earthly but for heavenly things, not for our own lust and honor but for God’s blessed will and pleasure. (Jenks, 274) And with that we shall feel the effects that extreme Divine gift of God’s great zeal in our souls, which will graft in our hearts the love of His name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of [His] great mercy, keep us in the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen. (Collect: Trinity VII)
O God who hast prepared for them that love Thee
such good things as pass man’s understanding…
(Collect: Trinity VI)
Trinity-tide is all about growing in the knowledge and love of God; it is the green season, and in it, we focus on God’s spiritual harvesting of fertile virtue in our souls. The green vestments and Altar hangings of the season encourage us to pursue the fecundity of spiritual love and hope. We are being readied for things whose goodness, truth, and beauty exceed our wildest imagination. Yet the promised vision hinges upon our loving God above all things. The Divine Lover will reward our love for Him if we intend above all to be taken into His embrace. Our spiritual passion must be focused upon obtaining the Divine promises. Pour into our hearts such love toward Thee, that we, loving Thee above all things, may obtain Thy promises, which exceed all that we can desire. Not only will the vision of God exceed the limitations of human thought, but the love of God will burst the bounds of all human affection.
But loving God doesn’t come easily or quickly. The virtue is not easily attained. Last week we remembered the life and witness of Saints Peter and Paul and how they surrendered themselves to the radical otherness of God in Jesus. And so with a deeper fear of the Lord, their faith and confidence in Jesus were stirred as they forsook all and followed Him. (St. Luke v. 11) As such, they were being caught up in Christ’s net. Slowly but surely they began to die to themselves as they began to love Him, who loved them with the love of the Father. To be loved inspires unanticipated responsive affection. As the Apostles were touched by the love of God from the heart of Jesus, they would then begin to cultivate and perfect reciprocal love.
If we are going to learn how to love God above all things, we had better begin with obedience, the fear of the Lord, and faith in God’s promises. Christ says to us today that except [our] righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, [we] shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. (St. Matthew v. 20) The righteousness or justice of the ancient Jews –of the Scribes and Pharisees – is the law of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Jesus makes it clear that the observance of this law reveals a kind of love that is limited, measured, and contrived to yield earthly gain. It is intent upon manipulating and controlling people so that they behave in a certain way. It judges men and then rewards or punishes the effects or results of their choices. It might even assume that human justice is ultimate and final. But, as Romano Guardini reminds us, so long as we cling to this human justice, we will never be guiltless of injustice. As long as we are entangled in wrong and revenge, blow and counterblow, aggression and defense, we will be constantly drawn into fresh wrong. (The Lord, p. 81) Think about it. We are moved and defined by evil and what is wrong. In response to it, we think that we must use only those tools that evil understands. We are actually caught in wrong and evil. We think that we are doing good but we have forgotten that we ought to overcome evil with a much greater good, the good that comes from love. We think that we have won a victory for justice when in truth we have become the unwitting victims of an unending cycle of sin. Vengeance is mine. I will repay, saith the Lord. (Romans xii. 19)
Jesus goes on to find the origin and cause of our inadequate love in the soul. Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: but I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.(Ibid, 21, 22) By reason of our fallen spiritual condition we naturally love those who love us and hate those who hate us. We love those less who do not love us enough or meet our expectations. We judge their inadequate love to be hate and we respond in kind or worse. And while there may be just cause for righteous anger in certain situations, Christ seems to imply that this is all the more reason to love with greater passion in the interests of helping an offending brother out of his sin and into righteousness. This is what God wants. Yet because of our own insecurities, we respond with, Raca or Thou Fool! The Biblical Scholars tells us that Raca means worthless or empty one. So, beginning from within the human heart and mind the man who is angry with his brother and not the cause (Idem) is in spiritual trouble. Jesus says that what happens is that the sinner and not his sin has become an object of retaliation and retribution. What has happened is that the offending party has been elevated to the status of a worthless and empty false god. If we hadn’t made him into a false god, we would hate the sin but love the sinner!
Jesus teaches us that the real threat to loving [God] above all things is internal and spiritual insecurity and fear. Anger or wrath is easier than the creative love that might help a brother or sister. Sloth also impedes the desire to help. Envy and Pride, no doubt, play their respective roles. When one hates another man, he ceases to hope for that man’s conversion and salvation. He judges his enemy –if he even is an enemy because he has never felt the healing power of God’s mercy in his own soul. He is probably afraid to be touched by God’s love. He forgets that his soul is always in need of God’s power of healing and transformation. He finds God’s love too daunting to accept because it is too dreadful to consider.
However, if God’s merciful curative love begins to touch and change the human soul, as it did with the Apostles, there is hope that it will discover God’s promises. Yet it must be pursued conscientiously with all due diligence. All potential threats to its growth in the soul must be abandoned with haste. Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother …Agree with thine adversary quickly…lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. (Ibid, 24,25) What imperils the fertility and harvest of God’s love in the human soul is other people and our judgment of them. The angry pursuit of earthly justice elevates human injury to the level of Divine importance. We may wreak vengeance on an earthly enemy, but what are we left with? A crop of self-satisfaction that quenches the spiritual discovery of those good things as pass man’s understanding…and the promises that exceed all that we can desire. What is lost is the needful and merciful love of God which longs to lift the accuser and accused above their division and difference and into God’s healing love. Anger makes [a man] smaller, while forgiveness enables him to grow beyond what he was. (Cherie Carter-Scott)
Jesus teaches us that if we long for such good things as pass man’s understanding, God’s promise to heal our souls will come true as His compassionate love corrects and cures us. Thus, anything and everything that impedes the progress of our loving God above all things must be put in its proper place. We must confess, with Dr. Jenks, that we have foolishly and wickedly forsaken the fountain of living waters, to hew to ourselves broken cisterns, that can hold no water; shutting our hearts against the love of our chiefest good…preferring trifles and vanities of this present time; and the satisfaction of our own foolish and hurtful lusts, above God and His love, which is better than life itself. (Jenks, Prayers…168)
So, Jesus tells us that if God’s love is to become our chief delight, we must agree with our adversary quickly. (Idem) This is the testing ground for our love. On it God sees whether we truly are aiming to love Him above all things. Agreeing with our adversary quickly means that we ought to endure his attack by disarming. First, we ought to listen quietly and calmly to those who have something against us. It encourages us to see our enemy as a potential brother in the Lord and to pray for rather than judge him with a harsh word or violent affection. Geoffrey Chaucer tells us that the remedy for gire and rash rage in order to discern our enemy’s sickness and pray for his cure. Patience endures the enemy’s assault out of hope for his salvation.
Both gentleness and patience are virtues that come out of the heart of Christ who loves God above all things. Christ enlarges His heart to welcome us into His loving. His gentleness and patience enabled His love to go to the Cross for us. But His love does not cease to flow back to God and out to all men in His death. His love is that Divine gentleness and patience that rises up into Resurrection and Ascension and then descends once again into Pentecostal fire. It loves God above all things and loves God in and for all things. It seeks what is above in order to penetrate and convert what is below. Because it is always returning to its source, it can bring good out of evil, right out of wrong, and love out of hate. This is the love that exceeds and passes man’s understanding. This is the love that desires to enlarge our affection that we can touch all men with the hope of Christ’s healing.
St. Paul tells us this morning that this kind of love will be found if we remember that we have been baptized into Christ’s death. (Romans vi. 3) Being baptized into Christ’s death means that the body of our sin is being destroyed. (Ibid, 5) The merciful operation by which the love of Christ is bringing sin to death in our hearts must always make us conscious of our own imperfection. There is always something better to be attained in Christ. Agree with thine adversary quickly, Jesus insists. Otherwise, we shall never find it.
I said unto the fools, deal not so madly…and…
Set not up your horn on high, and speak not with a stiff neck. For promotion
cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor yet from the south.
And why? God is the Judge; he putteth down one, and setteth up another.
(Ps. lxxv. 5-8)
We have said that Trinity tide is all about spiritual growth, fertility, and progress. In this season we are called into a state of sanctification and redemption that ensures our safe and eventual passing through things temporal that we finally lose not the things eternal. (Collect)And one of the chief obstacles that frustrates our mystical journey is judgment, or judging. Jesus tells us this morning, Judge not and ye shall not be judged (St. Luke vi. 37).God is the Judge, as our Psalmist reminds us, and God’s Judgment is offered to believers as a severe mercy which makes them into vessels of His desire for all men’s salvation. Once we begin to measure ourselves by God’s Judgment, we begin to feel that the sufferings of this present time, the fruits of God’s severe mercy, are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us. (Romans viii. 18)
Yet if you are a healthy Christian, one who tries to live by the principles of Holy Scripture, you might be on the edge of your seat fortified with a series of Buts!But, you are thinking, we are living in a society that is not interested one bit in God’s judgment or God’s will for human life.But, you protest, would it be too much to ask for a bit of God’s judgment and even wrath to pierce and singe a few of our neighbors, smarting and startling them into some recognition of His Almighty desire and power?After all, this very nation that we inhabit is calling “good” “evil” and “evil” “good”, and to make matters worse, it imparts this diabolical confusion to our children. God’s judgment and will don’t seem to figure even remotely into the way people are thinking and acting these days. It seems as if people are getting away with so many sins! And, of course, you are right about all of this. An honest assessment of our present situation would have to conclude that the Western world is not interested at all in God’s judgment for wrongdoing since there is no such thing as wrongdoing. Judge not, you ask? How can we hope to do this, if we are bidden as Christians to abhor that which is evil, and cleave to that which is good? (Rom. xii. 9)
And I am here to tell you that your frustration is not entirely inappropriate. Our Saviour never asks us to forsake or ignore God’s Judgment of human life. He tells us to be perfect as our Heavenly Father in Heaven is perfect. (St. Matthew v. 48)He nowhere tells us that we should not judge between the principles of good and evil, right and wrong, or vice and virtue. This we must do if we hope to be saved. And He promises us that there will be Judgment for every man. But in order to best surrender to and live under the ruling and guiding light of God’s Judgment then, He insists that we had better stop judging other people now.
No doubt you have heard that old adage love the sinner and hate the sin. Well, this is our Saviour’s teaching, who knows [only too well] what is in [the heart] of man (St. John ii. 25)and the disastrous consequences that result when we confuse the two. John Calvin tells us, difficult or not, if we don’t distinguish between the two, we might very well be weaving our own ruination. Calvin observes that all men [tend] to flatter themselves, and every man passes a severe censure [or judgment] on others. There is hardly any person that is not tickled with the desire of inquiring into other people’s faults. (Harm. of Gospels, xvi.)Men do this habitually, without any thought of dividing and separating the sin from the sinner.
Yet this separating out of the sinner from his sin is precisely what Christ intends for us to do if we will be counted very members incorporate in His Mystical Body. Why? Because He has done this very thing in relation to us. Prior to this morning’s Gospel reading, St. Luke tells us that Jesus had been teaching His disciples the Beatitudes. He concludes with a warning, telling them that if they do not need the mercy, love, and forgiveness that He brings to the world from the Father, they should not expect to be saved. But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you… For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same.... But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.(St. Luke vi. 27-36)
Rather than rendering evil for evil, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, Jesus reminds His disciples that they need to focus on the mercy of God which will overcome all of their sins. And knowing full well that His own friends will soon become His enemies in His darkest hour, He impresses upon them the forgiveness that they will not grasp until He rises from the dead. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (Romans v. 10)As the Apostles and disciples came to experience, a sinner today might become a saint tomorrow through the mercy of God’s forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time His righteousness: that He might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. (Romans iii. 23-26)God has judged that we can be made right with Him through the forgiveness of sins expressed by His unjustly crucified Son. Our Heavenly Father’s mercy is so great that His justice allows that His Son should die unjustly, that in and through this death man might begin to live.
Is there injustice in the world? Absolutely. But where is it found most profoundly? In the unjust death of the Holy One of God who suffered at the hands of man’s injustice. Sin is always an act of injustice since through it sinners disobey God’s law. Yet the same man expects justice to be mercy from an all forgiving God. We don’t tend to want either God or other men to be unmerciful, unkind, and unforgiving to us. And yet how quick we are to play God in judging others. How swift we are to say I cannot forgive that man his trespass against me. Dietrich Bonhoeffer says that By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.
Today Jesus reminds us that if we judge and do not forgive, we shall be judged and not forgiven. God judges and forgives. We shall be rewarded in so far as God’s merciful justice is alive in our hearts. And so the more we begin to subdue and conquer this vice of judging others with determined effort, the more likely the forgiveness of our sins through Jesus Christ will become a reality in our lives. What we need to search out and find is not the mote that is in [our] brother’s eye, but the beam that is in [our] own eye. (St. Luke vi. 41)We do tend to be adept at discovering other people’s particular sins mostly because we have had such long acquaintance with them as at least temptations in ourselves. The sins of others that most distract, dismay, and disconcert us are those that most tempt us. So we must spend much time pondering our own vices, sins, and failures. Having identified them, we must confess them and embrace the forgiveness of sins, Jesus Christ, in our hearts and souls. If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 St. John i. 9)
In closing, we must remember that the forgiveness of sins is just the beginning of the new life that we ought to find in Christ. The forgiveness of sins is ours to embrace as what will bring our sins to death. If they are truly dead, then the forgiveness of sins longs to become the ground of the new life of virtue that makes us good. Our focus must be on this process of dying to sin and coming alive to righteousness. And it is for this reason that we do ourselves great harm when we judge others. To be sure, we must judge specific sins as wrong. But we ought to try to identify and sympathize with our fellow sinners. If they are not suffering in their sins, then we ought to pray for their conversion. If they are converted but are struggling to die to certain sins that so easily beset them, then we ought to offer our patient and prayerful help. We ought never to condemn or sentence them. Rather we ought to find ways to welcome them into a struggle with sin that is part of every Christian’s spiritual suffering. St. Paul tells us this morning that we ought to remember that the whole creation groaneth and travailleth in pain together until now. (Romans viii 22) He means that we are not yet what we ought to be. We are all in this together. We are not yet whatwe ought to be or wherewe ought to be. St. Paul says that must we undergo our present sufferings for the sake of future glory. If we suffer inour daily struggle against sin, we shall be better suited to help others in the same. One thing is certain: We cannot help others out of their sins if we have not discovered what a struggle it has been to die to our own!
To be a Disciple is to be a devoted love-slave of the Lord Jesus. Many of us who call ourselves Christians are not devoted to Jesus Christ. (Oswald Chambers)
I have opened this morning’s sermon with these words of Oswald Chambers because I believe that the dangers of false Discipleship are everywhere present in this morning’s Gospel lesson. In it, we read that Then drew near unto [Jesus] all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. (St. Luke xv. 1,2) What we have, it would seem, are the publicans and sinners huddled around Jesus eager to hear His words and the Pharisees and Scribes standing off at a distance murmuring and judging Him. So we have those who are interested in and even need what Jesus has to offer, and then the self-righteous Jews judging both Jesus and the company He is keeping. Nestled in between the two groups are, as always, the Apostles. Now Jesus knows exactly what the religious and pious Jewish Elders are thinking and saying, and so He offers two parables. The truth of these parables is not specifically addressed to the publicans and sinners but to the Scribes and Pharisees and even to the Apostles. But of course, what Jesus teaches is always meant for all, that whosoever hears His words might become a true Disciple.
So Jesus asks, What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. (Ibid, 4-6) Zoologists tell us that sheep are selfish animals which congregate towards a safe center. (Flock and Awe….) Every once in a while one errs and strays from the way of the shepherd, and so the shepherd must set out to find it. There is no indication that the ninety and nine or whatever number of those who physically lost detect that one of their members is missing. Provided they are safely fenced in by the sheepfold, they are content and satisfied. The one who does miss the lost sheep is the shepherd, who then rejoices when he finds it. Jesus suggests that the Pharisees and Scribes are more like the ninety and nine safe and contented sheep than like the shepherd. The untold dangers associated with seeking out the lost sheep are paralleled with the Pharisees’ fear of ritual pollution through contact with publicans and sinners -spiritually lost Jews. For, as Archbishop Trench remarks, they had neither love to hope for the recovery of such men, nor yet antidotes to preserve and protect themselves while making the attempt. (N.O.P’s. p.286) The publicans and sinners are clearly more like the lost sheep in need of the shepherd’s courageous and loving care. The shepherd values the lost sheep so much that he leaves the ninety and nine. Why? Because one lost sheep is like a repentant sinner who needs to be rescued and saved. Jesus says, I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance. (St. Luke, Ibid, 7) Clearly then, the truth found in Jesus’ parable rebukes the self-righteous, selfish contentedness of the Pharisees, who are neither true shepherds nor potential disciples but self-interested sheep. A true Disciple of Christ will not be like self-interested sheep, but like the lost sheep or like the publicans and sinners, whose straying and wandering cry out for a shepherd.
Jesus continues with another parable. Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it? And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost. (Ibid, 8,9) The light symbolizes Christ and the woman images Mother Church. By the light of Christ, the woman sweeps the house – the Church, and seeks diligently until she finds the lost coin – sin-sick souls whom she has negligently lost. Again, as with the first parable, the woman rejoices when she finds what she has lost, and so there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth. (Ibid, 10) The true Disciple of Christ will learn that he is like the lost coin. As such, he is like the publican or sinner who knows his sin but has felt neglected and thus lost by the Pharisees and Scribes – or the religious authorities in any age, who have judged him to be of little worth or value, but who is now being found by Christ who comes to sanctify and redeem his life. As a lost coin, the true Disciple finds his worth and value in the One who persistently seeks him out, mercifully rescues and then delivers him from his life of sin.
Of course for the Pharisees and Scribes, the truth contained in Jesus’ parables fell on deaf ears, and not because they were wholly devoid and destitute of holiness and goodness. In so far as they followed the Law, they were obedient unto God. But the problem for them, and the threatening danger for the Apostles and Disciples of Christ, is their indifference to the cost of discipleship – for Christ tells them that they ought to be like the Good Shepherd who searched for the lost sheep or the woman who swept the house in search of the coin she had misplaced. Jesus tried to point out that the Scribes and Pharisees were not paying the price or cost of discipleship. For they refused to move beyond the confines of their law and tradition, out of the comfort and security of the treasure they thought they possessed, in order to risk it all for the riches to be found in the conversion of one sinner. But the Scribes and Pharisees could not be good shepherds, precisely because they had never confessed that they were like lost sheep or the lost coin, or like the publicans and sinners.
For the cost of discipleship is identification with the publicans and sinners. What Jesus seems to be suggesting is that before anyone can become a shepherd, he must first have become a sheep. And before becoming a sheep, he must have become a lost sheep. This doesn’t mean that a man should try to get lost. A man cannot try to get lost, for then he is not lost but just hiding and concealing himself. What Jesus means is that a man must realize that in relation to God he is very much like a lost sheep or coin because by reason of his sin he is spiritually lost and so needs to be found by Christ.
Jesus says, Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven. (St. Matthew v. 20) Now, clearly, what the Pharisees and Scribes exhibited, and what every true Apostle and Disciple of Christ should avoid, is pride in one's own perfection. Pride breeds division, exclusivity, hatred, and variance. Pride measures its own goodness against others men’s sins. It has no need of redemption or salvation because it considers its goodness to be far greater than the sins of others. But the publicans and sinners flocked to Jesus because they knew that they had no goodness to claim. Until Jesus’ coming, they had found no mercy, no tender compassion, and no friend who cared enough for their spiritual wellbeing to find and rescue them. But in Jesus they find one who loves them, hopes for them, sews the seeds of conversion in their hearts, stirs them to repentance, and promises them the joy of His Kingdom. Jesus sees in them the makings of true disciples; in them he finds those who learn that they are lost and now desire to be found. You can’t be found until you know that you are lost sinner. The world has too few saints because there aren’t more sinners.
So the true Disciple of Christ will be a man who once was lost, but now is [being] found. With St. Peter in this morning’s Epistle, he will be subject to his fellow men, and clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. (1 St. Peter v. 5) The true Disciple of Christ will humble [himself]…under the mighty hand of God, that God may exalt [him] in due time. (Ibid, 6) True humility reveals man’s utter dependence upon God’s caring love and healing power that come through Jesus Christ alone. The truly humble man identifies with all men because as he shares the same dreadful disease of sin, he knows himself to be in equal need of redemption. St. Peter says, Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist steadfast in the faith, seeing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. (Ibid, 8,9) The true Disciple of Christ will see himself as a publican in need of being rescued like a lost sheep from this world of confusion, madness, and sin. The true Disciple of Christ will see himself as a sinner to be found like the lost coin, revalued and redeemed by the Lord’s accounting.
My friends, let us study closely the cost of discipleship that Christ teaches in his parables. We will not grow spiritually if we look upon the world as full of publicans and sinners who, unlike us, are beyond the pale of salvation. We will grow spiritually if, with the publicans and sinners of old, we draw near to Jesus. We will flower if we remember that God resisteth the proud, and giveth Grace to the humble. (1 Peter v. 5) We will grow if we know that we were as sheep going astray, but have now returned unto the Shepherd and [Bishop] of [our] souls. (1 St. Peter ii. 25) We will grow because then we, like the woman in today’s Gospel, will search the world diligently for the lost coins of great value, Christ’s hidden treasures, our future brothers and sisters, who will join us as equals in one drama of repentance and redemption. Let us remember that there will be joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth…than over ninety and nine just persons who have no need of repentance. (St. Luke xv. 10,7) And, as St. Bernard of Clairvaux reminds us, the tears of all penitents is the wine of the angels.
Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the Kingdom of God.
St. Luke xiv. 15
The liturgical season of Trinity is all about virtuous and godly living. In this season we are called to translate and convert our vision of Christ the Way, the Truth, and the Life into habits of holiness and righteousness. In this season we are called to apply what we know to our hearts. From our hearts, we must will the good that Christ, through the Holy Spirit, teaches us. And the good that we are focusing on in this beginning of Trinity-tide is charity. On both last Sunday and this we have been called to contemplate God’s charity towards us, our reception and perfecting of it in our hearts, and then from its surplus, our impartation of it to all others. Last Sunday’s parable warned us of what happens in the hereafter when we do not share God’s love here. Dives began to love only in Hell. The absence of love for our brothers is an absence of God’s love in the human heart. This Sunday’s parable warns us of what happens when we trifle with the love of God. Perhaps we do not always reject the love of God like Dives, but then maybe we fritter away and squander our love on lesser things.
Every claim of God’s love on our souls requires that we submit to His rule and governance. God’s love is far greater than any other kind of love we might experience in creation. His love is boundless, limitless, colossal, monumental, and stupendous. Jesus likens it not only to something in itself but something that is intended for others. God’s love is unselfish and wholly benevolent. Jesus compares it to the bread that we shall eat in His Kingdom. But He uses common images and situations to convey the meaning that He intends to impart. So we read that A certain man made a great supper, and bade many….The certain man is God. His supper is great because both its quality and quantity surpasses our wildest imaginings. The supper is comprised of spiritual nourishment and fulfillment that will be the reward of those who sit down to eat in the Kingdom of Heaven. God’s love is wide and so He invites many. Many is a large number and probably intended to include as many as will accept His gracious invitation. The parable is given to us in the past tense since Jesus intends that we realize that the invitation has been made already. We have been invited to this feast of Grace from the dawn of time. It is a feast that is meant to begin now and continue into the future. It begins in Christ’s Church and extends well beyond into Heaven. Beginning here and now, we can begin to be nourished and grown up into those who have accepted the invitation and intend to persist as guests at this great feast. If we accept the invitation, we are to begin to enjoy the things that God hath prepared for them that love Him. (1 Cor. ii. 9)
So we, along with the rest of the world, have been invited by God, through Jesus Christ, to embrace the Spirit that seats us at the great supper of Heaven. Yet, how many refuse to come to this feast? Perhaps, even, we are not really present. Being present in body is one thing but being attentive and focused in spirit is quite another. Those who are truly present at the great supper that Jesus has inaugurated must be awake, alert, and attentive to the nature of the feast and the feeding. So many make excuses as to why they cannot come to the feast. The same excuses define the nature of those who are present but are not feeding truly on the spiritual fare that the Lord offers. In both cases, they are really pre-engaged to another feast and its earthly fare. Whether absent or present in body, their souls are taken up with other loves and the sustenance that they provide. They are moved far more by the riches of this world, busied with its cares, and enamored of its delectations and delights. There is room at the feast but no room in their hearts for the loving intention of the host and his provision. (The Harmony of the Collects, Epistles, and Gospels, M. Scott, 154) And so they forfeit those greater and lasting riches that will make earthly life and its rewards pale in comparison.
Notice that the man in the parable or God does not waste His time with those who are careless and insouciant regarding heavenly and eternal verities. We read that the master or God is angry. When God’s love is rejected it will be felt and perceived as wrath, ire, and rage. Abused mercy turns into the greatest wrath. (M. Henry, Comm.) Yet, God quickly turns back to being Himself and thus to share His love with those who will humbly and gladly receive His affection. Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind. (Ibid, 21) The great supper of the Lord is intended first for those who have been specially called to know and love God. Literally, the parable intends for us to think of the Jews, God’s chosen people and the apple of His eye. Spiritually the parable intends for us to think of Christians who, having received the great fulfillment of God’s promises in Jesus Christ, nevertheless make excuses for not being presently alert, awake, and attentive to the services of the Church and the means of God’s Grace. In either case, should Jews or Christians neglect to cultivate the love of God in Jesus Christ in their hearts and in the Church, they will be dropped and damned. It is as simple as all that.
The master in the parable -God, turns His attention to others. The parable takes a turn and twist for the purpose of emphasizing those who will be called and rewarded. Note that those who end up at the feast and staying for eternity will be the poor, maimed, halt, and blind. (Idem) Those who should have known Christ, accepted Christ as the Father’s Ambassador and Emissary, and as their own Saviour and Redeemer, refused Him. They had no felt need for Jesus Christ. And so now those will be invited who have a clearer view and experience of their own weakness, frailty, fallenness, sinfulness, and alienation. They know their need and are ready to come. They may be literally poor, maimed, halt, and blind or they may be the equivalent in a spiritual and psychological manner. It matters not. The parable is for all ages and the temptation comes to all to think themselves too rich, too busy, or too happy to be good. We cannot taste the supper until we have a taste for it. The penalty of refusal is rejection and our heaviest punishment will be what we shall miss. They, too, who have accepted the invitation, and have taken their seats at God’s board, must have a care that they really partake. (Scott, p. 155) To really partake, we must be spiritually poor, halt, maimed, and blind and thus in need of God’s riches, motion, health, and illumination!
The pride and business of the world or the pleasure of earthly pastimes might prevent us from coming to the Lord. What it amounts to is the undue love of earthly things. And so we must become spiritually poor, halt, maimed, and blindin order to discover our real need for the healing love that only God can give. Yet, there is more. What do we read next? Not only are those who come those in physical and spiritual need of God’s love and mercy. Notice what the parable says: And the servant said, Lord, it is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room. (Ibid, 22) There is room for a deeper felt need for what God promises to give us through His love. Not only must we be self-consciously poor, maim, halt, and blind, but in addition we must more fully aware of our own unworthiness. And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. (Ibid, 23) We must be compelled to come by the love of God.
What this means is that God must beseech, intreat, and urge us to come to the supper. This word compelmust mean to desire passionately for our inclusion in this healing feast of God’s mercy. Of course, faith cannot be forced. And so this compelling must mean that strong and earnest exhortation, which…Christ will address to [His] fellows. (Trench, Parables, Ch. xxi)This is that love of God that forever desires our communion with Him. This is that love that never counts the cost but always considers it the greatest treasure to have one more man in everlasting habitations. This is the love that will die so that we might live with Him forever. The invitation must appear compelling also to our hearts as what alone can ensure our presence at that feast whose sustenance brings joy without ceasing. Although we are unworthy of it, we must learn the compelling need for it and then the desire to ensure that it shall inform our thoughts, words, and works all our days.
Jesus says to us today:
All things are now ready, now is the accepted time; it is now, and has not been long; it is now, and will not be long; it is a season of grace that will be soon over, and therefore come now; do not delay; accept the invitation; believe yourselves welcome; eat, O friends; drink, yea drink abundantly, O beloved. (M. Henry)
Christ has not left us for long. Christ will not leave us for long. In fact, Christ is with us and for us through the Holy Spirit now. The Feast has begun and we are called. We must not delay. We must be seated. We must be present. We must concentrate. The virtues with which the great supper feed us begin here and now. We must be concentrated on the Giver and His gifts. The gift is His love. His lover will open us to a world of sanctifying righteousness that begins to yield great joy and mirth. The virtues of Love will fill us. The virtues of Love can be shared with all others so that they too must come to the Feast and find salvation. Let us close with the poet’s discernment of God and His gifts.
How many unknown WORLDS there are
Of comforts, which Thou hast in keeping!
How many Thousand Mercies there
In Pity’s soft lap lay a sleeping!
Happy He who has the art
To awake them
And to take them
Home, and to lodge them in his heart. (R. Crashaw)
And so, we love Him because he first loved us. (1 John 4. 19)
Trinity tide is all about the moral life rooted in the vision of truth that we see in God. Today I will speak about the friendship of God and man. Throughout the seasons of the liturgical year you and I have been illuminated progressively by the knowledge of God so that we might come to find friendship with Him. If Eastertide might be called the season of vision and knowledge, Trinity tide is one of activity, experience, and living. To know God through vision, as He reveals Himself in the historical life of Jesus Christ, is not enough. Vision is knowledge, but knowledge for the Christian is the perfection of that belief that must bear fruit in our lives.
Satan tempted, distracted, and tormented Christ in order to extricate Him from His first Love and mission which was to save us, precisely because he knew that He was the Holy One of God, the Son of the Most High, who came down from Heaven to reestablish our Love for God and our neighbor. So Satan had a real knowledge of what Jesus Christ intended to do for all mankind, and he opposed Him. Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life of God made flesh. Knowledge of this reality is not sufficient to save a man. Knowledge must be translated into the desire for virtue. And what I mean to suggest is not that one must not have intellectual virtues like wisdom, understanding and prudence, but that it is moral virtue that reveals man’s participation in and application of what he knows to be God’s will for his life.
But how can a man find this truth, let alone allow it to govern his entire existence? In this morning’s Epistle, St. John reminds us that no man hath seen God at any time (1 John 4. 12).So how can we possibly know of any love or friendship approximating the Love of God? For the natural man, God is the great unknown—the imperceptible beyond, the mysterious principle or definer of all existence, which speaks haltingly and obscurely in the world’s great religions. In the best of them He rules and governs the created order through the rational principles of His design. And yet such a God seems impersonally uninterested in the struggle and ordeal of human existence. A metaphysical understanding of this God becomes feasible and yet friendship with Him seems an unrealizable dream. Like the best of the ancient pagans, man knows Him, and yet cannot discover a way to become His friend. Man seems no better off and might even be worse. Because what he knows of Him does not touch him personally, at best he resigns himself to Stoic apathy or at worst he surrenders to Epicurean despair.
But St. John tells us this morning that Christians ought to know better. God is more, it turns out, than an operative principle or mechanical engineer of the universal patterns and laws that man’s mind discerns in nature’s ever-changing existence. God is Love. God is one who desires and longs for, seeks out and finds a common ground of friendship with man. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4. 10) So, we love Him because he first loved us. (1 John 4. 19) God is Love, and that Love not only makes, creates, orders, defines, governs, beautifies, and harmonizes all of nature, but He also comes to His human sons and daughters in order to redeem and reconcile them to Himself.
To know this is to begin to see and grasp a new way of living. It is to perceive and embrace a new heaven and a new earth (Rev. xxi. 1), being made by God Himself, who through Jesus Christ proclaims, behold I make all things new. (Ibid, 5) St. John tells us that every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. (Idem, 7,8) We are not then called to be children of knowledge only, but children whose knowledge reveals God’s love for us in His Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. We have been touched by Him in the life of His Son. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. (1 John 4. 9) And here is the operative difference between those who live naturally in and through the world and us. God sent His only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. The knowledge that we have and the truth which we confess is nothing short of new life, life in communion with our Heavenly Father through the Son by the real and present operation of the Holy Spirit. Our knowledge of Jesus Christ is meant to form a new moral character in our lives, through which, as members of His Mystical Body, we become the new sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father.
And yet we cannot have any of this until what we know and see becomes what we desire and love. In other words, we must make an act of will that surrenders completely to Jesus Christ by forfeiting and foregoing all rights to ourselves. God is Love, and He loves us in and through His Son. This is the only true Love that can lastingly convert and carry a man back to his destiny in friendship with God the Father. We can be like most men of the world, good enough, but loving and living only for the here and now. They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. (1 John 4. 5) We can be like Dives - the rich man in today’s Gospel, who was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day, (St. Luke xvi. 19) whose earthly life was mollycoddled and cosseted by comfort, ease, frivolous recreational pastimes, and amusements. Or, perhaps if we are not moved and defined by the kinds of riches that characterize those full of tongue and weak of mind (R.Hooker, E.P., i. viii. 2), we might be like Dives in another way - perhaps we count ourselves rich spiritually. We feast sumptuously on Christ’s Body and Blood each week, we pay our tithes and live fairly moral lives, and count ourselves blessed.
But being like Dives may mean that we are either material or spiritual hoarders. In this morning’s Gospel, Dives walked over Lazarus, who was laid at his gate, full of sores and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. (Ibid, 20, 21) The literal interpretation of Dives’ moral character was that he was uncompassionate, uncaring, cheap, mean, and parsimonious with his earthly treasure. The spiritual interpretation is that Dives could have cared less for the spiritual welfare of this poor beggar Lazarus who found love only from the dogs [who] came and licked his sores. (Ibid, 21) In either case the Love of God was not alive in Dives’ heart. Friendship with God was of little worth when compared to his earthly desire and happiness. And so in the end, his soul is parched and tormented because he rejected the Love of God. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; and in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. (Ibid, 22,23) Dives might have known God, but his knowledge had not been converted into Love of Him or his neighbor.
Unlike Lazarus who had nothing here but longed for the more that only God can give, Dives is left with the dried fruit of a self-love that rejects God’s offer of loving friendship to man through Jesus Christ. Had Dives received the Love of God in Jesus Christ, he would have given liberally of his material means to poor men like Lazarus and others because he would have loved him as a spiritual brother, one worthy not only of his material bounty but also of his prayers and spiritual hopes. In other words, the Love of God in Jesus Christ would have so filled his heart that he could not help but share so great a gift and treasure with any and all of his neighbors. When the Love of God is alive in the human heart, giving to others becomes an unselfconscious expression of what lives to be passed out and on to all others.
St. John invites us this morning into the real and present operation of God’s Love. The Love he knows is both a Love received supernaturally and then a Love shared with others naturally and instinctively. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? (1 John 4. 20) If a man does not love his brother whom he sees and knows with his natural eyes, then the invisible power of God’s Love ceases to move him, stops reaching out, and thus dies within a heart that is too cold for continued existence. And if this is the case, we might find ourselves with Dives in Hell when we die, where all access to Heaven is now impossible ‘because the gulf is too great’ and the time for our awakening to the Love of God has ended.
In closing let us consider this. Today we are called to be touched by the Love of God in the real and present life of Jesus Christ. The knowledge of that Love must move us to respond. Here is where Hope comes in. The Love we know, we desire as what alone can touch, change, and transform us. For it is only through God’s prior Love for us that we have Hope and confidence that that same Love can change us. We pray for that Love. And we know that it has transformed the ground of our souls when the same Love becomes Hope in us for all others. Then our knowledge and vision expand to include our neighbors. What we see and know in every other person is the vision of one whom God’s Love desires to touch and transform also. Then the Love of God and the Love of Man become one in us. Short of this double operation of Christ’s Love in us, we shall not be saved. Then with Dives we shall cry out for a Love ignored, untried and untested in our own lives, the only Love that could have made us the friends of God because we knew that it was given to us in order to touch and fill the hearts of all other men.
They marvelled to see such things; they were astonished,
and suddenly cast down. Fear came there upon them;
and sorrow, as upon a woman in her travail.
(Psalm xlviii. 4,5)
One day in the future men will look back at our age and describe it as the time when man had forgotten his past. In general we shall be judged as those who had little or no respect for the wisdom of our fathers, and in particular as those who spent their lives running away from the truth. Because of both, we shall be known as those who forfeited any meaningful future. William Wordsworth once said, Life is divided into three terms - that which was, which is, and which will be. Let us learn from the past to profit by the present, and from the present, to live better in the future. But Wordsworth was a Christian, and authentic Christianity, we must admit, is the most feared and despised of all religions in this dark age of ours. Why? Well, because it demands that every man face his past, cull it into the present, name it, claim it, repent of it, and open himself up to that sanctification that promises better life in the future. Authentic Christianity is something that our world cannot bear; our world hates the past, and never more passionately than when it creeps into the present to judge and measure us, to reveal to the world why we are not as spiritually healthy as we pretend to be.
Pentecost or Whitsunday is all about the past, present, and future. Pentecost helps us to see who we have been and what we have done; Pentecost teaches us who we are now; Pentecost calls us forward into a spiritually informed future. Today we read about the first Pentecost in the cenacle –or upper room, in the Acts of the Apostles. Monsignor Knox describes the setting in this way: A room haunted with memories –through that door did Judas Iscariot slink out into the night…on that table the consecrated chalice reposed; through that window they listened to the shouts of ‘Crucify Him’; that floor had been trodden by impassible feet. It was in this room that the Holy Ghost visited His people on the day of Pentecost. (Pentecost: R. Knox) It was in this room that both good and evil battled in response to Christ’s impending Passion. It was in this room that one man betrayed our Lord, another sought refuge having denied Him thrice, and the rest remained huddled together for fear of the Jews. It was in this room that the past events of the Last Supper and the Foot Washing were about to become the signs and badges of the Apostles’ common life and Christian future. In was in this room that past sin would be remembered so that future hopes could be realized in the new life that the Holy Spirit would bring. If man is to be redeemed and saved, the past must always mold and shape the future in the present. Each of the Apostles would bear about in his life the forgiveness of his past sins, the sanctification of his present predicament, and the redemption for his future glory.
So perhaps we should turn to our text in order to examine how this process all began at the first Pentecost.
WHEN the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilæans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, where in we were born? (Acts ii. 1-8)
What jumps out at most Christians immediately is the rushing mighty wind, cloven tongues like fire, then speaking in [other] tongues. What they are taken with mostly is the vigorously aggressive, paranormal, transcendent, and otherworldly dynamism of the Holy Ghost. And so they tend to conclude that the Apostles were swept up into a chaotic, disordered, even anarchic Dionysian irruption of emotion and passion that defied all reason. And so their response is akin to the eyewitnesses [who] were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this? Or with the others mocking, saying, these men are full of new wine. (Acts ii. 12, 13)
But a more cautious reading of the text reveals an ordered and providential sanctification of the past, in the present, and for the future. This was the day of Pentecost, the Feast of Weeks, on which devout Jews from all over the world descended upon Jerusalem to remember God’s giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. The Holy Spirit only ever comes to sanctify those who gather to thank God for past mercies and future Grace. And so we read that [the Apostles] were all with one accord in one place. (Idem) They were of one mind, united in purposive prayer, in one place, watching and waiting, honoring one past, loving one another, and praying about the future. For that blessed Dove comes not where there is noise and clamour, but moves upon the face of still waters, not the rugged ones. (M. Henry) This particular Pentecost fell on the first day of the week. The pouring out of His Spirit that gives birth to the Church is linked to the first day of the historical creation. Even when the sudden sound from Heaven, as of rushing mighty wind (Idem) fills the Cenacle, the Spirit fills the Apostles with fear as they remember the words of John Baptist: He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and fire. (St. Matt. iii. 11) And so tongues of cloven fire gently rest upon their heads making time past present. Matthew Henry tells us that the Spirit, like fire, melts the heart, burns up the dross, and kindles pious and devout affections in the soul. (Idem) And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts ii. 4) What could have broken down into confusion and chaos was, as it turned out, an ordered and disciplined redemption of the past in the present. The Holy Spirit translated one message of the wonderful works of God (Acts ii. 14) in Jesus Christ to devout men out of every nation, and to every man in his own tongue. (Idem)
To the Apostles, the past experience of Holy Week and Christ’s Eastertide teaching were just now beginning to be understood. God’s power, wisdom, and love were making sense of the past. For, as Father Knox reminds us, In those six weeks before Pentecost the Apostles had already lived through, as it were, the whole cycle of Church history; there was nothing callow, nothing tentative, nothing inexperienced about their methods from the very first. And because she was born old, the Church remains ever young. (Ibid) What the Apostles experienced was nothing short of the old man being made new and the historical past being transformed and redeemed in the present and for the good of the future. And so belief led to repentance, repentance opened to obedience, obedience elicited knowledge, and knowledge reached forth to the future in and for God.
But they could endure this only because they had slowly and patiently allowed the work of God the Holy Spirit to teach them the truth and to transform their hearts. They remembered the words that Jesus had spoken to them in the Upper Room: If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever; even the Spirit of truth (St. John xiv. 15, 16) Because they loved Jesus, they began to keep His commandments. With His departure, He had generated within them the deepest need for permanent comfort from His Holy Spirit. They began to realize that the greatest blessing spiritually is to know that we are destitute; and [that] until we get there, Our Lord is powerless…As long as we are rich, possessed of anything in the way of pride and independence, God cannot do anything for us. It is only when we get hungry spiritually that we receive the Holy Spirit. (The Bounty of the Destitute: O. Chambers) St. Thomas Aquinas, tells us that the Holy Spirit, whom they embraced and increasingly desired, conveys to man four operations: Subtleness of substance, perfection of life, impulse of motion, and hidden origin. (Sermon: Emitte Spiritum) From His hidden and concealed place of Divine dynamism, God purges man of past sin and generates an ethereal, profound, and subtle ground for the soul’s new life . The Spirit perfects by purifying knowledge and affection in the present. He moves man to receive holiness for the future. He reveals His hidden origin in the Father’s desire to generate the Son’s eternal wisdom. So the hidden and invisible Divine cause, through the motions of eternal love, perfects and sanctifies the Apostles by refining and rendering them subtle and contemptuous of all temporal and earthly things.(Idem)
Jesus says that the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. (St. John xiv.) The Holy Ghost will illuminate the past so that in the present we might repent, believe, and understand. The Holy Ghost will bring the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ to life in our hearts as He speaks death to our sins. As members of Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church, the Holy Ghost longs to mold and shape us into the instruments of His unselfconscious holiness. The Church is neither new nor old, but eternal….for her Pentecost is continually repeating herself, making all things new, (Pentecost: R. Knox) for those who know that they can be perfected and made new only by God’s Holy Spirit because they have not forgotten how to be sorry. (Repentance: O. Chambers)
On this day let us give thanks for the gift of the Holy Ghost who invites us to examine the past in the light of God’s Word that shines in the present for the sake of our future. Let us pray that the Holy Ghost will make Christ Jesus heard, hallowed, and heeded because the past is not dead but alive in a present that redeems the time for a destiny that proclaims the wonderful works of God and gives glory to God forever and ever, Amen.
As the briefest liturgical season in the Church Year, Ascension-tide lasts only ten days. We believe that on the fortieth day after Easter Christ ascended to the Father. Ten days later the Holy Spirit was sent into the womb of the nascent Church on the feast of the Pentecost or Whitsunday. So we have but a few days to examine the significance and meaning of the Ascension for us.
The Ascension is Jesus Christ’s return to the eternal state that He shares, as Son, with the Father and the Holy Spirit. In the Ascension, Christ restores human nature back to the origin of its being and meaning, so that with Christ as the Head the Holy Spirit might come down from heaven and rebirth all men who believe as Christ’s new Body. In the simplest of terms, Christ the Son of God, in a Resurrected and Glorified state, returns human life to communion with God the Father. Each word, thought, and deed that constitute man’s return to God in Christ will now be shared from Heaven with all men through the ever-descending and transforming Holy Spirit.
Faithful man had been yearning to ascend back to God since the time of Israel’s primordial Fall. But he found himself in the midst of a godless and idolatrous people. There is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee: for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities. (Is. lxiv. 7) Sin had enslaved the ancient Jews; God seemed concealed and unconcerned. But the prophet confesses his sin in order to be lifted up above it. But now, O Lord, thou art our Father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand. Be not wroth very sore, O Lord, neither remember iniquity forever: behold, see, we beseech thee, we are all thy people. (Ibid, 8,9) Acknowledging his sin, and the collective wickedness of his people, the prophet faithfully cries out to God for deliverance and salvation. Israel may have unmade herself, but God can and will fashion her anew if only she lifts up her eyes unto the hills from whence cometh her help.
With Psalmist, he is powerless to fight against spiritual powers that have the advantage over him. O help us against the enemy, for vain is the help is man. (Ps. lxiv. 12) And so his heart ascends up passionately within as he soars up to sing the song of faith. O GOD, my heart is ready, my heart is ready; I will sing, and give praise with the best member that I have. Awake, thou lute and harp; I myself will awake right early. I will give thanks unto thee, O LORD, among the peoples; I will sing praises unto thee among the nations. (Ps. cviii. 1-3) From the ground of his soul the fire of faith envelops, informs, and consumes his heart. The music of the spiritual lute and harp call him up into the song of praise and thanksgiving. He thanks God anticipatorily for what he believes and trusts shall shortly come to pass. For thy mercy is greater than the heavens, and thy truth reacheth unto the clouds. Set up thyself, O God, above the heavens, and thy glory above all the earth; That thy beloved may be delivered: let thy right hand save them, and hear thou me. (Ibid, 4-6) Deliverance comes only from above. The glory that saves must come down from above from the one who is God’s right hand.
Christians believe that what Isaiah reached out and hoped for was the Incarnation of God’s right hand Man, even His own Son. What was desired from above has come down to the earth in the Mission and Ministry of Jesus Christ, God with us and for us. The Word of God’s promise that was held in faith and embraced in hope then was made flesh and dwelt among us. (St. John i. 14) And yet the chief purpose of His Incarnation was that man’s human nature might once again become a living sacrifice, wholly acceptable unto God. (Romans xii. 1) Man was made to live above Himself, conformed to God’s will, and always to become clay in the hand of the potter.
But in Christ, we are not only called to become clay in the hand of the potter but also placed into his kiln. We are called not only to being refashioned but also to reanimated and regenerated. This cannot be done until Christ takes us into the fire of His sacrifice, the fire that destroys all sin and death. His suffering and death constitute the necessary first moments in the salvific process of our new birth. His suffering and death are the kiln in which the Potter is firing up the clay for new life through a Sacrifice that will begin on earth and ascend up into Heaven. As Paul Claudel writes, Jesus Christ, the Man-God, the highest expression of creation, rises from the depths of matter where the Word was born by uniting with woman’s obedience, toward that throne which was predestined for Him at the right hand of the Father. From this place He continues to exercise his magnetic power on all creatures; all feel deep within them that summons, that injunction, to ascend. (I Believe…159) God’s Son was always called by the Father into Ascending Sacrifice. Throughout the whole of His life, He suffered and died to Himself as He mounted and ascended in heart and soul back to God. Since the time of His Ascension, He has called all men to do the same through the Sacrifice that He shares with us. When the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, He shall testify of me. (St. John xv. 26) From His Ascension seat in Heaven, the Son of God sends His Spirit into our hearts so that we too may mount and ascend back to the Father, beginning here and now, through heart and soul.
But before the Holy Spirit’s descending fiery love begins to enable us to be made one with the offering of our humanity back to the Father in Jesus Christ, we must first focus on Christ’s ascent back to the Father. Our eyes must follow persistently and diligently the flame of fiery love that lifts and carries Christ back to the Father. Bishop Westcott reminds us that we are meant to penetrate to the passion of the ascending Jesus. We are encouraged to work beneath the surface of things to that which makes all things, all of us, capable of consecration. Then it is, that the last element in our confession as to Christ’s work speaks to our hearts. He is not only present with us as Ascended: He is active for us. (Sermons…) Christ’s Ascension must works its way into our hearts. True Sacrifice mounts up and ascends back to God. Austin Farrer describes the movement nicely:
WE are told in an Old Testament tale, how an angel of God having appeared to man disappeared again by going up in the flame from the altar. And in the same way Elijah, when he could no more be found, was believed to have gone up on the crests of flaming horses. The flame which carried Christ to heaven was the flame of his own sacrifice. Flame tends always upwards. All his life long Christ's love burnt towards the heart of heaven in a bright fire, until he was wholly consumed in it, and went up in that fire to God. The fire is kindled on our altars, here Christ ascends in fire; the fire is kindled in the Christian heart, and we ascend. He says to us, Lift up your hearts; and we reply, We lift them up unto the Lord.
In the ascending flame, our desire must tend upwards and burn towards the heart of heaven in a bright fire. We pray that the flame of our own sacrifice might be blended to that of Christ’s so that we too might begin to become supernaturally lighter as the fire of God’s love lifts us into the Heaven of His new life. We pray that in faith we shall lift our hearts up unto the Lord because in the blazing fire of Heaven’s light we are beginning to see that the truest offering of man to God is found in Christ’s Ascending Sacrifice. Thus, old earth-bound habits, customs, and ideals must be burnt up in the surpassing power of God’s Grace in Christ’s ascending heart. Christ who now sits at God’s right hand, interceding and pleading for us, longs for us to unite with the unending Sacrifice of His Ascended Life to the Father that our love might burn towards the heart of heaven in a bright fire, and be wholly consumed in it.
St. Peter tells us this morning that the end of all things is at hand because Christ has ascended to offer His Sacrifice for us to the Father. We must be therefore sober, and watchful unto prayer. (1 St. Peter iv. 7) Our spiritual faculties must be exercised in the movement of Ascending love. Trusting that Christ now reigns in the greatness of His power and majesty at God’s right hand, we must have our conversation with Him in Heaven, to love His appearing, and to be dissolved into His love. (Jenks, 352) We must pray that the Holy Spirit will descend into our hearts and bring us to a forthright confession of our sins and need for the surpassing power of His Ascended glory. We must pray for the steadfast courage to persist in the battle against Satan through the power of Christ’s Sacrifice. We must pray that we may feel the powerful attraction of Christ’s Grace and Holy Spirit, to draw up our minds and desires from the poor perishing enjoyments here below, to those most glorious and everlasting attainments above where Christ sits at the right hand of God. (Idem, Jenks) Christ’s power to attract, absorb, and asphyxiate our hearts will consume our hearts as we come alive to Christ’s perpetual Sacrifice to the Father can be concluded effectively in the words of the poet:
Lord, when the sense of thy sweet grace
Sends up my soul to seek thy face.
Thy blessed eyes breed such desire,
I die in love's delicious Fire.
O love, I am thy Sacrifice.
Be still triumphant, blessed eyes.
Still shine on me, fair suns! that I
Still may behold, though still I die.
Though still I die, I live again;
Still longing so to be still slain,
So gainfull is such losse of breath.
I die even in desire of death.
Still live in me this loving strife
Of living Death and dying Life.
For while thou sweetly slayest me
Dead to my selfe, I live in Thee.
(A Song: Richard Crashaw)
Is Jesus the living Son of God, the Saviour, the Deliverer, the Mediator, the Advocate,
The Judge for you? Is He is the Logos of God in your heart and soul? If He is, then He is the reason, truth, goodness, and beauty that animates your life. If he is, then He is the ruling and governing principle of your whole existence. He then indwells your heart by His Grace and through the Holy Spirit. He then moves and defines you. He enables you to die to sin and come alive to righteousness.
The problem with most Christians today is that they treat Jesus as a dead man only to be related to as past history. Most Christians are practical atheists. This is why they are able with ease to say -mostly about moral matters, “that doesn’t bother me.” Everything that is going on is our world around us should bother us. 95% of it is filth, pollution, perversion, and corruption. 95% of it is sin, plain and simple. 95% of is moved and defined by the fear of offending sinners. Sinners need to be offended. We need to be offended. Our God is offensive. He loves us enough to tell us, in Jesus, that what we are doing is not right but wrong and not good but evil!
If you are a Sacramental Christian -as all Christians must be, the next time you go to the Altar Rail, when you partake of bread and wine, believe that it becomes the Body and Blood of Jesus the Saviour. Believe that He enters into you to purge you of your sin and to infuse His righteousness into you. Believe and allow Him to have His way with you. Believe and remember what He has done for you in dying on the Cross. Believe and remember that He has risen and is ascended and still wants you from His seat of Glory in Heaven. Remember and be moved by the Indwelling Saviour of the World. Be moved and share Him from your heart to the heart of another.
This is thankworthy, that if a man for conscience endure grief,
(1 St. Peter ii. 19)
Our Epistle reading for The Second Sunday after Easter, taken from St. Peter’s First Letter, continues our Easter tide theme of suffering. Last week we meditated upon how suffering and death are necessary components of Resurrection and new life. So today we continue to see how the ancient Church Fathers, who chose the readings for our liturgical season, had some deeper truth in mind when they chose our readings for Easter-tide. I believe that they wanted to be honest with us about what Resurrection entails. They wanted us to remember that human life, as joyously focused on Christ’s Resurrection as it should be, is more honestly experienced as a life in tension between dying on the one hand and rising on the other. What I mean is that the Church Fathers knew only too well that for the prudent and cautious pilgrim life involves spiritual warfare – a real battle between dying to sin and rising into righteousness.
So, this Sunday the Church Fathers ask us to understand again that suffering is a good and virtuous part of a greater whole. Last week we spoke of how Christ’s Peace comes to us in order to convey and express the forgiveness of sins, and an invitation into new life. Today we learn that the process of its possession involves something which we are inclined to ignore, neglect, or fall away from when left to our own natural desires. St. Peter tells us this morning, For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. (1 St. Peter ii. 19,20) St. Peter knows that Christ has offered to us that Peace that conquers and overcomes our spiritual resistance and obduracy to it. He knows, too, that the Lord extends to us what amounts to the forgiveness of sins, whose reception must be so gratefully received and then offered to others. Christ’s Peace and Forgiveness overwhelmed and overcame the Apostles. What they neither anticipated, imagined, nor deserved began to grow in their hearts and their souls. Christ has risen from the dead; Resurrection means not only God’s forgiveness of man but man’s forgiveness of man. For I have given you an example, that ye should do [to one another] as I have done to you. (St. John xiii. 15)
For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. (Ibid, 15) The message is clear, by well doing, by forgiving, by praying, by blessing, by hoping -by suffering these virtues to come alive in his soul, the Christian is to stand out in the pagan world as one whose life reveals how good overcomes evil, mercy vanquishes cruelty, benevolence banishes malevolence, hope crushes despair, and light dispells darkness. Yet, St. Peter acknowledges that this will be difficult. He writes his Epistle to a community which is struggling to overcome evil with good, or, more specifically, to suffer Christ’s Resurrected goodness to overcome all and every form of evil that stubbornly and resentfully resists the Gospel. St. Peter does not pretend that Christians are not engaged in spiritual warfare; but he does seem intent upon directing their attention to the spiritual battle against evil in their own souls, and away from the evil that others might visit upon them. The failure to love and forgive on the outside is always a deflective measure designed to protect the self from the needful confrontation of one’s own demons!
St. Peter reminds his flock and us today that Christ Jesus was the one Person in history who understood and underwent this struggle completely and perfectly, and unlike any other. St. Peter tells us that Jesus himself, our God and our Brother, took upon and into Himself the effect of sin in suffering and death, despite the fact that he did not sin, neither was guile found in his mouth; who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered he threatened not; but committed himself to Him that judgeth righteously. (1 St. Peter ii. 22,23) In a radical and real way the wrongful presence and seeming power of evil in our world tortured and killed Jesus Christ. And yet He suffers its effects with the love that penetrates the heart of darkness. He did not render evil for evil, because He died to sin –both to its meaninglessness and to its malice. For in suffering and enduring sin’s assault, He carried it into its proper end, i.e. death. Within Himself, the goodness, the love, the compassion, the pity, and the forgiveness of sins remained and prevailed: who in his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes you were healed; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls. (Ibid, 24,25)
What the Apostles realized long ago was that Jesus Christ, the Crucified One, rose up on Easter Day as the Wounded Healer. What they began to realize slowly but surely was that this same Jesus who had forgiven men from the Cross, was now standing before them as the Good Shepherd, whose Peace and Forgiveness would shepherd them and others into the Father’s everlasting care and embrace. In the parable that He uses in this morning’s Gospel lesson, Jesus likens himself to both the door and the Good Shepherd who longs to carry us through it to the Father’s eternal presence. We can become His sheep if we begin to know His love and submit to his care. Austin Farrer explains Jesus’ words in this way:
What does he say? A man cares naturally for his own things. He does not have to make himself care. The shepherd who has bought the ground and fenced the fold and tended the lambs, whose own the sheep are to keep or to sell, cares for them. He would run some risk, rather than see them mauled; if he had only a heavy stick in his hand, he would beat off the wolf…He says that he cares for us as no one else can, because we are his. We do not belong to any other man; we belong to him. His dying for us in this world is the natural effect of his unique care. It is the act of our Creator. (Weekly Paragraphs for the Holy Sacrament: Easter II)
We do not belong to any other man, Dr. Farrer insists. He might have added that we do not belong, truly, to this world, to the flesh, and certainly not to the devil. He is saying that we belong to God. And to belong to God we must come to know him through His Son and Word. We cannot come to know our Heavenly Father again without the Peace and Forgiveness enfleshed in the saving life of Jesus. If we begin to open our hearts to His gifts of Peace and Forgiveness, we shall begin to know that we belong to Christ. But we protest: All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every man to his own way, and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah liii. 6) True enough. And if we leave it at that, we will be worshipping Jesus a dead and tragic hero. But He responds to our sin. He rises up and calls us forward. I am the Good Shepherd, and I give my life for my sheep…I am the Good Shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known by them. (St. John x. 11, 14) Jesus tells us that He knows us. He knows who we are and what we need. He gives His life for us, not only in His dying but also in His rising. He has killed sin, death, and Satan so that in and through His loving care we might rise up out of it all. His desire for us is constant and promises salvation if we come to know and embrace Him. Death did not destroy His desire, nay rather it is a necessary component of new life that Christ the New Man offers to us. The Father desired that death should be made good in the demise of His Son. Jesus the Good Shepherd was carrying us on His shoulders into our death. Jesus the Good Shepherd now carries all men on His shoulders up and into a life as suffering becomes something new. To love is to suffer. Jesus’ suffering for us is that virtous Personal loving energy that enables us to die and to rise. We can begin to know Him, Jesus, as the Good Shepherd, and that though [we] walk through the valley and shadow of death, [we] shall fear no evil, for [he] is with us, [his] rod and staff comfort [us]…, and that [He even] prepares a table before us in the presence of [our] enemies; [He] anoints [our] head with oil; [our] cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. (Ps. xiii. 4-end)
Today, my friends, as we continue to wend our way through Easter tide, let us always remember that, indeed, we have erred and strayed from [Christ’s ways]like lost sheep. And yet He knows this, for we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture. (Ps. c. 3) We belong to Him and He suffers now to find and rescue us that He might restore us to our Heavenly Father. So, as Cardinal Newman says:
Let us not be content with ourselves; let us not make our own hearts our home, or this world our home, or our friends our home; let us look out for a better country, that is, a heavenly. Let us look out for Him who alone can guide us to that better country; let us call heaven our home, and this life a pilgrimage; let us view ourselves, as sheep in the trackless desert, who, unless they follow the Shepherd, will be sure to lose themselves, sure to fall in with the wolf. We are safe while we keep close to Him, and under His eye; but if we suffer Satan to gain an advantage over us, woe to us!... Blessed are we who resolve—come good, come evil, come sunshine, come tempest, come honour, come dishonour—that He shall be our Lord and Master, their King and God!... and with David, that in "the valley of the shadow of death, we shall fear no evil, for He is with us, and that His rod and His staff comfort us…(The Shepherd of Our Souls) Amen.
As my Father has sent me, so send I you. (St. John xx. 21)
You and I have just come off of an intense Holy Week and Easter when we tried to walk with Jesus Christ from His suffering, Passion, and Death into the first intimations of His Resurrection. You will remember that last week we left Saints Mary Magdalene, John, and Peter having found the Empty tomb. Christ Jesus had not yet appeared to them, and so with them, our faith wondered and pondered what all of this might mean. What they did not know, and what we often forget, is that Christ was already working on their souls and preparing their hearts for His bodily manifestation to them. Christ is always working on our souls and preparing us for deeper union and communion with Himself. And as we slowly begin to move through the Forty Days of Easter, we shall, I pray begin to sense and perceive the meaning of His Resurrection for us. I say for us, because Jesus Christ is God the Father’s desire for us made flesh. And in Eastertide, that desire will radically alter and forever change our understanding of what it means to be risen with Christ.
But, to be sure, as this was no easy task for the Apostles, so it will not be for us. Just imagine what the Apostles must have been thinking when they endured the time of Jesus’ departure from them after Good Friday. Why, if only He were here, we might be able to express our sorrow, shame, and guilt over having abandoned, denied, and betrayed Him, they must have thought. Then He might forgive and heal us, as He had done so many times before. Then their minds might have jumped to the Empty Tomb wondering if God had taken Jesus back to Heaven like Elijah and Moses, as they were assembled behind the doors for fear of the Jews.(St. John xx. 19) And to be sure there was Mary Magdalene’s account of how she had seen Him, after having thought He was the gardener. (Ibid, 15) Perhaps she was mistaken, and it was the gardener! She claimed that she approached Him, but He told her not to touch Him since He had not yet ascended to the Father. (Ibid, 17) She must have imagined it and seen a ghost. Her love for Him was, after all, rather exaggerated, and the mind can do strange things through wishful thinking. So, though she returns to them, and tells her tale, the Apostles remain tremulous, timorous, and apprehensive. And then, lo and behold, Jesus came and stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. And when He had so said, He shewed them His hands and His side.(St. John xx. 20) How did He enter this upper room, they wondered with utter astonishment? The door was bolted shut. Yet, no sooner had He entered than He shewed them His hands and His side. (Ibid) To be sure this was the Lord, for His presence was palpable and tangible. They saw clearly that He was with them, though they didn’t know how. He proclaimed Peace to them all, and then slowly but surely the scales fall from their eyes, and they began to see clearly that the Lord had risen from the dead. Needless to say, the Apostles must have been flummoxed and bewildered with near incredulity. Yet, they were overcome and overtaken by some union and cohesion of the Divine and human, the supernatural and the natural, God and man in the Lord Jesus. For here surely is a Divine Being who can walk through shut doors yet in the body bearing the marks and scars of the Crucified Man.
Yet, this Risen Christ wastes no time with calling His friends into the new life that they witness and endure. The life which bears the marks of His suffering and death, continues the work that He was born to commence and complete. He says, Peace be unto you: as my Father has sent me, even so send I you; and he breathed on them , and saith unto them, Receive the Holy Ghost…. (St. John xx. 21-22) It is as if He picks up and continues His mission to them, from that time when he had left off to go to His suffering and death. And yet their emerging faith, their knowledge and love seem to be growing in the face of this Resurrected Jesus’ wounds and His scars. Thus, slowly but surely, what begins to be believed, embraced, and understood by the Apostles is the fact that Christ’s death on the Cross is somehow taken into this His Resurrection appearance to them. The fact is echoed this morning in St. John’s First Epistle. There we read that whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. (1 St. John v. 4-6) The temptation has always and ever will be to worship a Divine Jesus only, or the one who was baptized with water by John Baptist in Jordan said, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God. (St. John i.33) But St. John the Evangelist tells us that He came not by water only, but by water and blood. (Idem) The Resurrected Jesus whom the Apostles begin to believe and follow is one who comes to cleanse all men from sin and guilt in that fountain opened for sin and all uncleanness, the precious blood of the Lamb of God, slain to take away the sins of the world. ( Prayers…, B. Jenks, p.225) What the Apostles begin to believe and grasp is that this Resurrected Jesus Christ is not merely God, but God as Man who has suffered and borne the punishment for the sins of the whole world. The impression that strikes them most is that Christ’s suffering and death are taken up and incorporated into His Resurrection and new life. And Christ imparts this truth to them not merely by manifesting and revealing the wounds in His Resurrected Body. From the external and visible He draws them into the inward and spiritual. As the Father had sent Him, so He will send the Apostles. (St. John xx. 21) And so, He breathes on them that they might receive…the [first wave] of the Holy Ghost’s (Ibid, xx. 22) transformation of their lives.
Notice that this first wave reveals the forgiveness of sins. Christ will indeed impart the Holy Ghost to them in phases and stages. What comes first is sending the Apostles out equipped with the forgiveness of sins through the Spirit of the Crucified One. Christ sends His friends out into the world by sharing and imparting His Holy Spirit to them. The Holy Spirit incorporates them into that suffering and death which have established the forgiveness of sins. Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have. (St. Luke xxiv. 29) The Spirit has infused the marks of His victory over sin into His new Body. Through the Spirit that He imparts to them, they can participate in His defeat of sin, death, and Satan. In His gift, they must receive the forgiveness of sins if the victory is to be effective. He has forgiven them and will forgive others. What the Apostles must remember, as St. Paul writes later, is that when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly…and that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us…and that if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.(Romans v. 6,8,10) The point is that Christ becomes the forgiveness of sins for all who will embrace this reality as the wellspring and catalyst for the journey into salvation. Of course, some will receive it and some will not. Jesus says to the Apostles, whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained. (Ibid, 23) Sins are only retained for those who do sense the need for the forgiveness of sins through the death of God’s only-begotten Son upon the Cross.
But before we conclude, let me come back to a point which we touched upon earlier. We said that Christ is sending the Apostles as the Father has sent him…through the Holy Ghost [whom] he breathes [upon them.](Idem) Here Christ begins to include them in His mission which is the new life of His Resurrection. Again, this mission and new life emerge and proceed from His Resurrected Body that bears the marks of his suffering and death. The Apostles and all of us who would become members of Jesus Christ’s Resurrected Body must bear the marks of suffering and death. We must thus become those who will suffer and die daily to all that stands between us and God’s will made flesh in Jesus Christ. We must suffer to embrace the Grace that overcomes our sins, bringing to death whatever stands between us and God. Only in so doing do we become members of the Resurrected Body of Jesus Christ. Also, we must suffer and endure the world’s rejection of this truth. The world won’t like it one bit. For then, only in suffering to die to ourselves can we help others to bring their suffering in sin to Jesus Christ for death and burial. Only then can we share the good news of the forgiveness of sins with the world. Then we shall know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are called according to His purpose. (Romans viii. 28) And that in the end, though we be tempted by [earthly] excesses or any lusts of the flesh, we shall not feast on the meat that perishes, nor sink the vessel [of our Resurrected body] that is carrying us over to the blessed Land of Promise. (Ibid, Jenks, p. 371) Amen.
If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above,
Where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affections on
Things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life
Is hid with Christ in God.
(Col. 3. 1-3)
There is something rather strange about our Easter Epistle, which was addressed by St. Paul to the Church at Colossae, a small Phrygian city in Asian Minor. For no sooner has Christ appeared to Peter, to Mary Magdalene, James and all the Apostles, to some five hundred, to Stephen before his martyrdom, and lastly to Paul as one born out of due season (1 Cor. 15. 8) than He disappears and returns to His hidden state, with the Father in Heaven. And St. Paul seems to suggest that man is back to having a relationship with the hidden God. Your life is hid with Christ in God. (Col. iii. 3) He did say that, didn’t he? But what does he mean by it? Surely, he is not advocating what passes for most as real religion and Christian experience these days? Plainly, he is not urging us onwards towards some kind of private affair, a hidden relationship, between you and a god who keeps your life hid within himself never to be challenged, questioned, or called to account by Mother Church or your fellow Christians. Nor can he be calling us to the kind of a la carte religion that picks and chooses what it wants, when it wants, and how it wants in order to ward off unwelcome advances by an intrusive and overly interested God?
No, this is not what St. Paul is suggesting at all. Rather, what he has in mind is a kind of hiddenness that points to an unbreakable intimacy and communion with God. The word is not pejorative but positive. For St. Paul, being hid with Christ in God (Idem) points to a relationship whose nature and value are known fully by Christ and shall be discovered by us progressively if we see to find the secret of it. He makes the conclusion because of the radical belief that Christ indeed has already taken our lives within Himself back to the Father. And this is not to say merely that He has Risen and Ascended to God as a kind of occult medium between man and God in general. This is no paranormal mystical movement, no cosmic sentimental syrup for New Age superstitious slothful slugs. No, indeed, St. Paul means that Christ has returned human life to the God the Father for the beginning of a relationship whose bond cannot be broken by any created principality, power, or dominion. To put it more exactly, because He has lovingly taken our old fallen nature into death, now He raises it up and returns it to God forever. Because He has taken it up again, enlivened it, and returned it to a place where no harm can happen unto it, St. Paul says rightly that our life is hid with Christ in God. (Idem) But more importantly for St. Paul, Christ has taken us into Himself, and in the scars and wounds which He exposes in the hands and feet of His Resurrected Body, He reveals that the men of all ages can be reconciled to God the Father. Suffering and death have always been seen as an obstacle to man’s relationship with God. But for Christians, the suffering and death of Jesus Christ are the fundamental building blocks that lay the foundation of a faith relationship whose life is now hid with Christ in God. (Idem)
But how do we find this relationship through the Risen Lord with whom our life is hid in God? The Apostles had a hard enough time seeing how man’s life could be hid with Christ in God in His death on Good Friday. What were they to make of His Resurrection on Easter Sunday? The struggle between life and death and sin and righteousness must have nearly conquered their already teetering faith. Perhaps George Herbert’s poem about the life that is hid with Christ in God (Idem) will be of use:
MY words & thoughts do both expresse this notion,
That Life hath with the sun a double motion.
The first Is straight, and our diurnall friend,
The other Hid and doth obliquely bend.
One life is wrapt In flesh, and tends to earth:
The other winds towards Him, whose happie birth
Taught me to live here so, That still one eye
Should aim and shoot at that which Is on high:
Quitting with daily labour all My pleasure,
To gain at harvest an eternall Treasure.
The poet tells us that life has a double motion or meaning. First, its external, visible, and physical life is illuminated by the sun in the sky. This is straightforward; we are enlivened and illuminated by the sun who is our diurnal or daily friend. This life is earthly and mundane. The second life is inward and spiritual. Here another sun enlivens and illuminates us. This is God’s Son who is transcendent and heavenly. Here the spiritual sun longs to enlighten and enliven our hearts and souls. The first life is wrapped up in earthly flesh and tends towards death. The second life is heavenward bent and leaps up to heaven inspired by Christ’s birth. Christ’s birth has taught us that with one eye on earthly life we tend towards His death. Yet, always with our other eye -the spiritual eye, we can focus on that light which leads back to Heaven’s life. And so with the poet we must toil and labor to be enlivened and illuminated by the greater sun, God’s own Son, so that at the Harvest of Souls we might be rewarded with God’s eternal treasure.
We must, therefore, keep our mind’s eye on that double motion of death and new life that we find in Jesus Christ. Our mind’s eye must beware of living in the light that leads only to the first death that will become the second eternal and unending death. Our mind’s eye must then see the sun and its other light so that we might follow Christ into the everlasting joy of eternal life. CHRIST being raised from the dead dieth no more: death hath no more dominion over Him. For in that He died, He died unto sin once: but in that He liveth, He liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin: but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rom. vi. 9) Christ Jesus our Saviour is Risen from the dead. He invites us to become a part of that double motion that has destroyed death and generated new life. So we must seek those things which are above. (Col. iii. 1) Not above and beyond our reach, but above and beyond our wildest dreams and imaginings, above and beyond what we desire or deserve, above and beyond the threats of the world, the flesh, or the devil. And yet not above and beyond what God’s love can and will do for us. God’s love overcomes sin with righteousness and death with life. The double motion of earthly and heavenly life is bound up in the light of God’s sun, Jesus Christ. Seeming contraries are now swallowed up into Christ’s victorious love. What we seek is not above and beyond God’s ever-healing touch, His ever-quickening Spirit, or His ever-present desire to save His people. But yes, above and within the heart of Jesus, whose Glorified Body and Life are with the Father and also with us. Yes, above and within Jesus Christ Himself, in whom every aspect of our lives can become a new occasion for our rising up and out of ourselves, mortifying [our] members which are upon earth; [up and out of] our uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness….(Col. iii. 5) In our bodies, because hid within His Risen and Glorified Body. In our souls, because hid within His Risen and Glorified human Soul. In our manhood, because hid within His Manhood that invites us to discover the hidden depths of the Father’s hidden love. Christ is risen from the dead. Sin is finished, death is finished, Satan is finished, if only we shall believe that our life is hid with Christ in God. (Col. iii. 3)
CHRIST is risen from the dead: and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death: by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die: even so in Christ shall all be made alive. 1 Cor. xv. 20. To be hid with Christ in God, we must be made alive. To be made alive we must become assimilated to Christ’s work, here and now, as we become part of His Glorified Body in time and space. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. (St. John vi. 51) What is our life? To be hid with Christ in God. How can it be perfected? We must sit down and taste His meat (Herbert, “Love bade me welcome…”). Christ’s meat is His Body and Blood which we shall receive in the Holy Communion. This is the perpetual offering of Himself to us. When we eat His Body and drink His Blood, we do show the Lord’s death, until He comes again. (1 Cor. xi. 26) What do we show? His death. What does that mean? We take His death into us. What does it bring? New life in Him. When we eat His Body and drink His Blood, we do begin to reckon [ourselves] to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans vi. 11)
Thanks be to God that giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. xv. 57) On this Resurrection morn, let us remember that the motion of our destiny must be a double motion. If we intend with pleasure/ To gain at harvest and eternal treasure, we must be dying daily to earthly sin. There can be no eternal joy unless we have been broken over and over again through His death. New life demands death. False happiness, superficial earthliness, shortcuts to the kingdom, and all refusals to face the facts of our sin must die. We must die in the light of one sun to come live through another. [Our] life hath with the sun a double motion.... Monsignor Knox tells us that death, burial, resurrection comprise the secret of all sanctity. Our secret may be hid with Christ in God, but its joy must be experienced in our intimacy with Christ so that we cannot help but give it to all others. My…Life…is…Hid…in…Him…that…is…my…Treasure. (Idem) Happy Easter. Amen.
He riseth up from supper, and laid aside his garments, and took a towel and girded himself.
Tonight you and I are invited to the last supper of Jesus Christ. We move into a realm that is fraught with the fear and trembling of Jesus’ friends, who do not understand the meaning of it all and what will come next on the tomorrow of God’s today. For the Apostles have been following Jesus for some three years, and they have experienced the hand of God at work in Him. In a sense there was so much to be thankful for, so many wonders and miracles, so many beautiful teachings and sayings, so much that seemed so very positive. But there were also the ominous words of frightful prophesies and impending doom. Perhaps if the Apostles were anything like you and me, they might have forgotten or chosen to ignore the negative in Jesus, focusing only on his powerful and loving presence. Surely what was coming would not be all that bad. It couldn’t be as grim as He implied. Perhaps this is what they thought. At any rate, surely Jesus the Son of the Most High God would be able to work some miracle or wonder in order to lessen the severity of possible unpleasantness. For this, they hoped and prayed.
But what we observe tonight cannot be disconnected or severed from the complete and total fabric which we call the life of Jesus Christ. The signs and the wonders had been performed in order to lead to a deeper reality that is about to unfold before our very eyes. The power of God is with and in Jesus. He has come to redeem human nature through rejection, suffering and death. Jesus and the Father are one. He has been tempted to reject his Father’s will and way, but He has successfully resisted this to the end. The outcome has been the revelation of God’s Grace in every aspect of His earthly life. For what we find in the life of Jesus, prior to the end, tonight, and then tomorrow is the real desire of God for His people. God has been at work in Jesus reconciling the world to Himself. (2 Cor. V. 19) Through Jesus, God has spoken the words of promise. Through Jesus, God has communicated the way to salvation. Through Jesus, God has revealed that He is never far away and distant, but rather always present and powerful. His power in Jesus has opened the eyes of the blind, unloosed the tongues of the dumb, and moved lame legs. His love has been manifested in the constant desire of God for His people. God has been at work in the life of Jesus. The today of God has never been denied by Jesus, and that reality persists in the drama of tonight.
Tonight’s celebration marks the Last Supper that Jesus will share with the Apostles. Tonight, Christ shares the Passover supper with his friends. He has broken bread and poured out wine, offered it to His friends, and said that this bread and wine will become His Body and his Blood. What it means is surely obscure and hidden from the Apostles at that time. But what is crucial to our meditation upon it is that Christ still offers the today of God to his friends. The today of God will become something of greater meaning and substance after His Resurrection and Ascension and at the Pentecost. But on this night, He continues to piece together the elements of His life as they begin to form the future of God’s today. He offers His friends a meal that is packed full of promise, as the today of God’s desire and love continues to call and summon those who believe and those who will follow. Bread is broken; wine is poured out. Tomorrow a body will be broken and blood will be poured out. The two will not be, in the end, divided, but one will become the other as God’s love in Christ moves beyond the confines of history. Tonight the body –soon to be broken on the Cross, stoops down to wash and to cleanse the dirty feet of its disciples. In the today of God’s nearness, Jesus reveals to us that He is the servant of His Father’s Love and ministers it to others as He has always done. In the today of tonight’s Gospel, Jesus waits upon his friends. In the today of tomorrow’s meaning, He will do the same in another form. He is the servant who comes to wash and to cleanse, today with water, and tomorrow with blood. Both will be one. We are washed through water and blood. We are purified through Baptism and Eucharist. The today and tomorrow of God with us and for us, God near to us in Jesus, is but one revelation coming from the loving heart of God and shown forth in the actions and gestures of Jesus. Tonight seems warm and reassuring. Tomorrow will be ghastly and horrific. Both combine to give to us the one Today of God’s purpose and intention, behold I make all things new. (Rev. xxi. 5)
But there is more to the today of God’s nearness that we should see and grasp as we move through the drama of the Last Supper and Good Friday. What Jesus does is who He is, as the desire of God’s today. What Jesus does and who He is are what He intends for us to become. He will give us bread and wine, and will wash men’s dirty feet. He will give us his Body and Blood and will wash the dirty feet of our souls. He must do this, that we might be strengthened and nourished by His presence in the inner man. The today of God desire and service approaches us, first on the outside and then within.
Tonight, Jesus comes to wash our feet, and, with Peter, we react with horrified surprise and proud resistance. Lord, thou shalt never wash my feet. (St. John xiii. 8) Our instinct is to refuse God’s desire to wait upon us and to cleanse us. This is our arrogance and pride. Our sense is that the holy one of God should never stoop down to the level of our sinfulness. God is high, we are low; the Master should never condescend to the slave. Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man. (St. Luke v. 8) Jesus answers, If I do not wash thee, thou hast no part with me. (Ibid) In the today of God’s nearness, again, we learn that God stoops down from heaven to wash our dirty feet, the dirty feet of our souls. In the today of God’s nearness, we learn that God stoops down from heaven to offer us imself completely, not just to wash and cleanse us with water and blood, but to feed us also with His flesh and His blood. In the today of God’s nearness, we learn that God is ever present to heal and save us, to give himself to us and for us, to nourish and strengthen us with nothing less than Himself, at work in our souls. God will bring us into death and new life.
Tonight, we learn that the God of today is a loving God, one who knocks at the doors of our souls in order to make all things new. The God of today is in Jesus Christ and we need Him. If He does not wash us, if He does not die for us, if He does not rise for us, then we can have no part with [Him], and the salvation He brings. We do need Him. The outward and visible sign of God’s service today for us is seen in Jesus who washes the disciples’ feet. The outward and visible sign of God’s service today is seen in Jesus who will feed us forever in the future with broken bread and poured out wine. The outward and visible sign of God’s service tomorrow will be seen in a broken body and poured out blood. Will we allow the today of God to touch us, to wash us, to cleanse us? Will we realize that God’s stooping down in Jesus Christ is nothing short of bearing our burden, taking on our sinful predicament and condition? Will we begin to understand that God alone in Jesus Christ can endure and overcome our sinful pride, envy, wrath, murder, sloth, indifference, greed, lust, and so forth? Will our eyes be opened to the fact that our sin has willed his death?
And as we shall see, this same Lord, in His own body hanging upon a tree, will say this: I love you and forgive you. Come follow me. I die and you will die. I will rise and so shall you. Come follow me. My Body will be your body. My Spirit will be your spirit. My life and my love I offer to you, always and everywhere, ever broadening, ever expanding. God’s love for you in me. Your love for God in me. Come follow me, and you shall find your true life. Come follow me, and you shall find your true love. Come follow me, and you shall find your true home and destiny, prepared for you by my Father from before the dawn of the ages. Amen.
Although all be offended, yet will not I.
(St. Mark xiv. 29)
We ought to remind ourselves that our membership in the mystical Life of Christ is no easy business. To become a tried and true member of the life of the Crucified One takes time, practice, the development of spiritual discipline, and an ongoing surrender to the Mind of Christ that longs always to remold and remake us. One thing that we learn about the spiritual life today is that membership in the life of Christ requires vigilance, acuity, or alert. Of all the virtues that protect and defend the spiritual life, the need for watching and waiting is of preeminent importance. Watching and waiting demand, of course, stillness and silence as we face our demons and overcome them with the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. To be vigilant means to be awake, circumspect, alert, cautious, and ready for whatever the devil may throw our way. And what we ought, at all costs, to be prepared for is the devil’s determination to lead us into the sin that separates us from Jesus Christ -our way, truth, life that leads back to God the Father through the Holy Spirit.
The supreme act of sin is illustrated for us today in the freely will choice of Judas Iscariot. Because Jesus refused to become Israel’s political liberator from Roman domination, Judas sells Him for thirty pieces of silver. One tradition has it that Judas orchestrated his Master’s arrest so that Jesus might be provoked at last to use His Divine Power to banish the Roman occupiers and to put down the Jewish Sanhedrin, whose comfortable cohabitation with the Roman occupiers was viewed by many as malicious betrayer. Judas wanted Jesus to reveal His Divine power once and for all in the interests of Israel’s temporal and earthly restoration. But, Jesus would have nothing to do with such an earthly passion that was possessed by life in the City of Man. So Judas betrayed His Master. Later he will repent. despair, and hang himself.
Today we are called to be vigilant against the temptation to provoke Jesus Christ to meet our earthy needs by overcoming our earthly suffering and sorrow. We are called also to be vigilant against demanding Divine intervention when we have not done our part in conditioning our lives to the operation of Divine Grace. So we are called to be awake to the fact that Jesus Christ does not come to us to ensure the prosperity and peace or the comfort and enjoyment of this life in this world. Jesus Christ came to die for the sins of the whole world, and in so doing to bring that old, limited, fallen human nature, alienated from God, to death. In His death Christians find the first beginnings and stirrings of their own death –death to the world, the flesh, and the devil. Today we ask ourselves, How have we betrayed Jesus Christ in our lives? Have we sold Him for next to nothing, and thus betrayed Him because we pursue earthly and temporal peace, comfort, accommodation, happiness, and contentment? Have we betrayed Him because we will not allow Him to reign as King Supreme from the soil of our souls and so to guide our footsteps to His Kingdom?
In a similar vein, we must be on guard against that kind of relationship with Jesus Christ that depends upon another kind of earthliness. That would be the demand for bodily, physical, and sensory ecstatic or transfiguration moments. Holy Week teaches us that our relation to God hinges upon suffering and death. Our spiritual state in relation to the Father, through Jesus Christ, and by His Holy Spirit, can never be measured solely by the body’s feelings, sensations, emotions, and passions. It is good for us to experience Him at a distance and almost as absent at times so that we might contemplate His glorious power, wisdom, and love. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. God often seems to be far away and removed from our senses because He wants us to learn to fear and obey Him out of spiritual love. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the holy is understanding (Prov. ix. 10) The fear of the Lord is that awesome apprehension of the One upon whom all life and salvation depend. The fear of the Lord engenders that poor in spirit self-knowledge of powerlessness and utter dependence upon God for both being and redemption. The fear of the Lord moves a man to ponder, wonder, study, explore, and investigate the ways of God.
This is the fear of the Lord which St. Peter had forgotten throughout Christ’s Passion because he feared men. Because of it, his rash, enthusiastic, even premature determination never to be offended by Jesus Christ came to naught. Not only does he eventually abandon Jesus, but he even denies ever having known him. An overly enthusiastic, impulsive, compulsive, and impetuous relation to Jesus Christ is very dangerous indeed. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. (St. Matthew xiii. 20, 21) Faith that is not rooted and grounded securely in the fear of the Lord and obedience thrives temporarily and then dies a swift death. It is, more often than not, unpremeditated, unrestrained, and unthoughtful. It reveals superficial religion, too close to the immediate gratification of the body, to pain and pleasure, to fear and trepidation, to the changes and chances of this fleeting world. It is unstable and uncertain, and in the end, with St. Peter, is as easily swayed to deny the Lord as it was to defend Him heroically to the end. It is rash and not grounded in the silence and stillness that contemplate God’s nature.
Today we must ask ourselves, How have I denied Jesus Christ? How have my thoughts, words, and deeds denied any familiarity or acquaintance with the Suffering Servant and the Lord of God’s Love? How have I talked the talk but refused to walk the walk up to the place of Love’s new birth on Calvary Hill? How have I failed to accept that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and that obedience to His will through Grace leads to true understanding?
Let us pray today for vigilance. Couldest thou not watch one hour? Watch ye and pray lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak. (St. Mark xiv. 37, 38) Let us pray for the fear of the Lord, obedience to His commands, and a determination to follow Him silently and conscientiously, to watch, see, and learn what the Lord of Love will do for us from His Tree of New Life. Amen.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons