What is easier to say ‘Thy sins be forgiven thee’ or
‘Arise take up thy bed and walk’?
(St. Matthew ix. 4)
In last week’s reflections on the life of St. Luke the Evangelist we studied the nature of healing. What we found was that the healing that Jesus Christ brings into the world is the means of sanctification that leads to our salvation. We found also that without the desire for that healing, we cannot hope to begin the journey back to God. But desiring healing is no easy business. Too often those who count themselves Christians are people who think that they are healthy and so need not a physician. Today we must learn to pray for that healing that we receive only through the forgiveness of all our sins.
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 sins from 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 benefit that 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 must work 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 what stops us from receiving and extending the forgiveness of sins is our own pride. We are too arrogant or hubristic to confess our vices and to realize that the forgiveness of sins alone leads to new life. All hope for potential inner healing has been quenched by an immature addiction to fear and anxiety. We fear the opinion of others if we claim and confess utter powerlessness over the sin in our lives. And so 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. When we encounter goodness in others that we do not possess, our pride is threatened, 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 the superiority of other men’s gifts might 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 withholding forgiveness 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 but is determined to offer it as God’s response to that faith that humbly longs for true healing. Forgiveness is God’s first response of love to His faithful people. He comes to heal first 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 or begrudge Jesus the goodness He possesses but seeks it out with a passion that words cannot utter. So Jesus declares that his sins are forgiven. This is what wholly unnerves the Scribes. And, behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, This man blasphemeth. (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. But what they did not see was that God was in Jesus reconciling the world to Himself. (2 Cor. v. 19) And 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 was it that their own priestly prerogatives regarding ritual atonement for sin were 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 admits that in one way 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 and to show that His words have power to bring about a lasting spiritual cure. 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. This 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 Physician instructs us to canvass our hearts each day in order to find those thoughts and desires that run contrary to God’s will for us. With St. Paul this morning 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 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.
Second, when we practice penance habitually, Christ will 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) So what should overawe and stupefy us as we are renewed in the spirit of [our]mind[s], as we put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness (Eph. iv. 23, 24), is that God’s forgiveness is nothing short of a superabundant excess of His love and mercy for us. We shall realize that as Christ forgives us, 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 all sin. If the forgiveness we receive takes root downward and bears 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)
Heal me O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved:
For thou art my praise.
(Jer. xvii. 14)
Trinity tide is all about the flow of God’s Grace into the hearts of faithful souls who desire to ascend ultimately back to God the Father. And in this season our Collects, Epistles, and Gospels instruct us in the acquisition of this Grace. Grace is absolutely necessary for our salvation and it is given to be embraced here and now that we might always be moving towards the Kingdom in our earthly lives. Grace is not only about a benefit or gift that will be bestowed upon us in some future then, but it is the very means by which we are moved now as God’s love for us becomes the usual and familiar motivation of our every intention. What Christians desire now is to be so moved and defined exclusively by God’s will or love, that in the end their reception and capacity for the Divine love will be rewarded with perfect joy in the vision of God.
But if we are going to begin to embrace the Grace of God in the here and now, we must pray in the words of this morning’s Collect that God’s Grace may always prevent and follow us, and make us continually to be given to all good works… . (Collect Trinity XVII) The word prevent here is used in the old English sense of to come before. So we ask that the Grace of God should come or stand before us. Before us then should entail a vision and consciousness of God’s antecedent desire to lead, guide, and direct us in all good works. Before us we should see and perceive that power whose strength and might alone can embolden us, a wisdom whose brightness and illumination alone can direct us, and a love whose compassion and mercy alone can sanctify us. God is before us to draw us forward and upward towards Himself.
We pray also in the words of the Collect that this Grace might follow us. Not only do we desire that Grace should come down from Heaven before us, but also beneath and behind us. And this is where we tend to have trouble. God’s preventing us or coming before us doesn’t seem difficult. Aristotle says that God is the final purpose, end, and termination of all things. God causes all movement through love, and God draws things to Himself by being loved. (Met; 1072b4) So a man looks out into nature and as he searches for the causes of all being and meaning, he is moved finally to rest in God the First Cause. God comes before man and draws him back to Himself. Or, in the case of God’s fullest and final revelation and manifestation of himself, we believe that God in Jesus Christ has come before us in history long ago and comes before and into us now through His body and blood by the operation of the Holy Spirit. And so the author of Hebrews writes: Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of Grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebr. iv. 16)
But this business of God’s Grace following us, or being behind and beneath doesn’t seem as easy to grasp. Getting behind and beneath the human condition seems strange to us. Like Aristotle we tend to want God to present Himself to us in a straightforward way, by drawing us logically forward, step by step, into His Grace. We should prefer to be the ones who are doing the following. And yet if we do not allow God’s Grace, particularly in the person of Jesus Christ, to follow us, I fear that we shall never let ourselves be found and then healed by the Grace that He alone can apply to our souls. So what I would like to suggest to you today is that we are not only following God’s Grace, but we are being followed always by God in Jesus Christ, and that this Divine pursuit is essential to our sanctification and salvation.
We have a nice illustration of the reality I describe in today’s Gospel Lesson. In it we read that as Jesus went into the house of one of the chief Pharisees to eat bread on the Sabbath day, that they watched Him. (St. Luke xiv. 1) At the outset we seem to have an example of God in Jesus Christ coming before us. Far from being followed by Jesus, it would appear that the Pharisees are following Jesus’ every move and word, for they watched Him. (Idem) But Jesus doesn’t waste any time in clarifying the situation. He knows what the judgmental and censorious religious elders of the day are up to and so He takes command of the situation. They think that man is made for the Sabbath and not the Sabbath day for man. Jesus knows that they believe that the rules and laws that govern the Lord’s Day are non-negotiable, binding, and inviolable. They follow the form of worship so strictly that they have evicted and expelled its substance and meaning. And so they follow Jesus, hoping that He may be caught in violation of the Law.
But what do we read next? And, behold, there was a certain man before him which had the dropsy. And Jesus answering spake unto the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath day? And they held their peace. (Ibid, 2-4) It just so happens that there is a man who had been following Jesus and who is sick with the dropsy. Dropsy is what we would call edema, or a case of excessive fluids in the body which could lead to congestive heart failure. Dropsy makes one unable to function in any normal ambulatory way and is a severe handicap. So on the celebration of the Lord’s Day, prior to the normative feasting, we find an auspicious interruption. Jesus takes the man, heals him, and lets him go. (Ibid, 4) Then He asks the assembled guests, Which of you shall have an ***** or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the Sabbath day? And they could not answer him again to these things. (Ibid, 5) The Pharisees and lawyers are rigorous and uncompromising when it comes to their observance of the Lord’s Day. But while they will withhold mercy and kindness to their fellow men, they will nevertheless show compassion on their pets and beasts of burden. Their silence conceals an inner rage at their hypocrisy’s uncovering and an envy which will pursue vengeance at a later date.
Before them is a man whose body is full of excessive fluids that threaten immanent cardiac arrest. He knows that he is sick and diseased and so follows Jesus in pursuit of what love and mercy alone can effect. Jesus follows this sick man, gets beneath and behind his sorry state and does what God desires to do on every Sabbath Day – heal! Ironically enough, these Pharisees and lawyers are so full of excessive spiritual fluids that their souls have hardened into an arrogance that prevents them from admitting that they are wrong. They have contracted spiritual dropsy! St. Augustine interprets Christ’s condemnation of these hypocritical Jews: You grudge that I should deliver this man on such a day from the water that is choking [his heart]; yet if the same danger from water threatened one of your ***** or oxen you would make no scruple of extricating [or saving] it on the Sabbath day. Why then do you not love your neighbor as yourselves? Why are you unwilling that this sick man should receive the help which you would not refuse to your own brute beasts? (Quaest. Evang. ii. 29) So Christ not only follows the sick man and heals him, but He follows the sinful fraudulence of the Pharisees. With the Jeremiah this morning He says, I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings. (Jer. xvii. 10)
But Jesus tells a parable to reveal more fully the sin of the Pharisees. When thou art bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in the highest room; lest a more honourable man than thou be bidden of him; and he that bade thee and him come and say to thee, Give this man place; and thou begin with shame to take the lowest room. But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee. (Ibid, 7-10) Our Lord Jesus here rebukes not only the behavior of the Pharisees but that of all religious people who will not allow Him to follow them, find them, and get beneath and behind their spiritual sickness in order to provoke a need for a cure. So Jesus exhorts all men to sit in the lowest room. What He means is that we should practice a humility and meekness that leads us to identify with the dropsical man. With him we should know our sickness and that the Sabbath Day is made for man, and not man for the Sabbath day. (St. Mark ii. 27) Jesus is following us to trigger the need for His merciful healing of our sin-soaked condition. As St. John Chrysostom says, with the Pharisees we should identify with that sinful tendency to be conscious…of innumerable virtuous actions…and that this will be of no profit unless we look upon ourselves as the lowest of men. For this is humility; when someone who has reason to be honored, remains obscure and unknown…. (J.Chry: Moral Exhortation to Humility)
Today we come to church with the knowledge that Christ is following us and that He knows us better than we know ourselves. Today we come to pray for the humility that will open our hearts to His healing mercy. We should never run away because God in Jesus Christ is following us. He does this because He loves us. And as we humbly confess that we have not been open to what He reveals to us about ourselves, we should not fear His correction. For though, as St. Augustine says, we have often thought to escape God when we lifted our heads in pride, [we should] humble them and fly to Him…. For He is good when He spares [us] and when He chastises [us]; for everywhere He is truly merciful. (Meditation on the Humility of Christ) And then because whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted (Ibid, 11), with Jeremiah we shall earnestly pray, Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved: for thou art my praise. (Jer. xvii. 14)
Jesus did not come to explain away
suffering, or to remove it.
He came to fill it with His presence.
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 assurance, whose strength and might comfort the mind, fortify conviction, and infuse man’s being with the stable and unchanging determination of God’s power. I am talking about an inward and spiritual faith that encounters God’s presence in the uncertain and changing here and now, only to carry it progressively into the permanent realm of truth, beauty, and goodness. In layman’s terms, I am trying to describe the belief that opens itself up to the Jesus who desires to begin the salvation process now, as he leads us slowly but surely to his kingdom. And I hope to show why belief in the spiritual truth is to be preferred to despair over earthly and mundane matters.
So let us travel back in time, and find ourselves with Jesus in about the year 30 A.D.. We are in the city of Nain. Nain is a place barren 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. No convent, no tradition marks the spot. (Trench: Miracles) The place, to this day, is lifeless, empty, and void of any future fertility. Its external and visible characteristics show little sign of promise. But it is into such a place that Christ’s presence is drawn often than not. Barren places have no power in themselves to resuscitate or renew themselves. They are sterile, impotent, and lifeless. They need the intrusion of an alien energy to live, and move, and find their being once again.
And so we read: 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) As the physical surrounding is parched, dried, and depleted so too is the heart of the widow woman whose sole pride and joy has been snatched away from her embrace. We all know someone who has suffered the tragedy of losing a child. And, perhaps, its pain is worst when the parent is widowed and the mother of an only child. Whatever the conditions, consolation, hope, and future joy seem the distant dream of wishful thinking. The child in whom the parent has invested all manner of hard work and anticipatory hope is no longer. 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) And yet it is always into this pain and agony of soul, that Christ comes gladly, with much people. Christ never comes alone since the presence of those who are following Him make up the new community of hope into which the bereaved is welcomed.
The crowd of mourners that surrounds the mother is silent and still, for they can do nothing to alleviate her suffering. But 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) Christ alone bears the burden of compassion that can say, Weep not. Christ alone can suffer to bring new life out of death. I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory. (Galatians vi. 11) The Widow of Nain’s tears are the seeds of new life that Jesus will infuse into her dead’s son’s corpse. Jesus says, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise. (Idem) The Word is spoken and the spirit of the dead obeys. The only words that emerge out of this situation come from the resuscitated youth. His words are the only suitable response to the power of the living God in the heart of Jesus. 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 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 specifics of an historical miracle of physical resuscitation. Surface level experiences and historical events must find their respective meanings elsewhere, through the Spirit that reveals their deeper significance. Think about the widow of Nain. She is confronted with a natural loss and earthly death; she can mourn, despair, and give up on life because the object and recipient of her natural love is now gone. She can live in her body but be dead in her soul because of the loss of her son. But when her son is brought back to life, she can choose to reignite her obsession and addiction to her son’s earthly welfare. She can treat the miracle as a strange but welcome surprise that will be forgotten with time. Or she can find in the miracle an awakening to another kind of life. Perhaps now she can see that her son was brought back to life so that he and she might come alive spiritually to the love of God in Jesus Christ. The point is this: suffering and death are common to all men, and sooner or later one or both will visit us all. But what will be the relation of our spiritual lives to this suffering and death? In the process of suffering, are we also dying to ourselves and coming alive to God in Jesus Christ, so that whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lords? (Romans xiv. 8)
Today we are alive physically, alive to the happiness, creature comforts, good food, fine wine, the economy, the hustle and bustle of political madness, and other accoutrements of what God calls mammon. But are we spiritually alive or dead? Are we conscious that we possess souls that are made to die to all of this that we might come alive to that righteousness that leads to eternal bliss and joy in God’s Kingdom? Are we ready to admit that our souls are too alive to uncertain, unpredictable, impermanent, and perishable lesser goods? Do we claim and confess that we have been too dead to those better, nobler, truer, and more reliable riches whose value never diminishes and whose power never fades away? And if this is true, are we ready to suffer and die to all earthly gods in order to be raised up into that new life which is moved and defined by the unchanging and undying love of God alone? Paul Claudel says that, Jesus did not come to explain away suffering, or to remove it. He came to fill it with His presence. Jesus intends that what we should learn from the death and resuscitation of the Widow of Nain’s son is that we are made to die to earthly things and come alive to those spiritual motions of His real presence that will carry us on to everlasting life. Young man, I say unto thee, arise. (Ibid, 14)
The condition which Jesus expects to find in us when He visits us with the compassion and mercy of His real presence is nicely summarized by Shakespeare, in Sonnet 146, where the poet comes at last to see that his soul has been imprisoned in a body that has worshipped the things of the earth. This is what he writes:
Poor soul, the centre of my sinful earth,
[Why feed'st] these rebel powers that thee array?
Why dost thou pine within, and suffer dearth,
Painting thy outward walls so costly gay?
Why so large cost, having so short a lease,
Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend?
Shall worms, inheritors of this excess,
Eat up thy charge? is this thy body's end?
Then soul, live thou upon thy servant's loss,
And let that pine to aggravate thy store;
Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross;
Within be fed, without be rich no more:
So shalt thou feed on Death, that feeds on men,
And, Death once dead, there's no more dying then.
Within be fed, without be rich no more. Jesus wants us to admit that the time has come to die to earthly things. The time has come for us to see that we are not created to die a death that never ends, a soul whose body is finally consumed by the worms of the earth. Nay, rather, the soul is meant to swallow the body up into the new life which Jesus will fashion for everlasting habitations. The soul is made to consume and use the body for heavenly ends so that the death that feeds on men will die. Just as Jesus has commenced 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, He will lift us up out of our earthly suffering and death and into that spiritual life that will wholly refashion us into the creatures we were made to become. Today we must ask ourselves: Will we begin to pray habitually for the compassion and mercy of Jesus that alone brings life out of death? Will we begin to pray for release and emancipation from the rule and sway of earthly things, and for the freedom and liberty with which obey and follow the commands and desires of Jesus Christ? Will we begin to pray for that new life that promises to lead us into God’s Kingdom? If we do, He will awaken our senses to His real presence and we shall sing with the Psalmist, I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living…[for] thou hast delivered my soul from death …Behold, O Lord, how that I am thy servant, and the son of thy handmaid…, thou hast broken my bonds in sunder. (Ps. cxvi. 14) Amen.
Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see: For I tell you,
that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.
(St. Luke 10. 23, 24)
Before Jesus proclaims the blessing that introduces today’s Gospel lesson, He offered thanksgiving to His Father for beginning to generate a new kind of sight or vision in the eyes of His Apostles, whose infant eyes He was opening into the new world of His mission and meaning. Sight here relates to knowledge. But the knowledge or comprehension which the Apostles were beginning to discover was a vision into the nature of love. This vision led them to know and then receive the love of God in Jesus Christ, which alone could redeem and save them. This love is [God’s] only gift enabling His faithful people to render unto [Him] true and laudable service, to obey Him, and finally to attain to [His] heavenly promises. (Collect Trinity XIII)
To show how difficult it really is for natural man to get right with God so that he might obtain God’s heavenly promises, Jesus allows His praise of the childlike faith that is being born in His friends to be challenged. So, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted [Jesus], saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? (St. Luke 10. 25) The lawyer seems to resent Jesus’ blessing of the Apostles’ new spiritual vision and hearing, which seems to challenge and contradict his own. What he sees and hears appears alien to the good work of his long established religious practice. So Jesus asks, What is written in the Law? How readest thou? (St. Luke 10. 26) The lawyer answers, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. (Ibid, 27) Jesus answers, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live. (Ibid, 28) So Jesus’ meaning is, in effect: It is clear that you know the Law. So if you really can do this, do this and you shall find eternal life. That the lawyer cannot do or fulfill the Law naturally becomes clear immediately when he shows that he does not understand it. Willing to justify himself – or prove himself blameless, [the lawyer] said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour? (St. Luke 10. 29) Had he been able to keep or do the Law, he would not have needed to ask the question. There is even an air of condescending superiority and pride in his query that seems to suggest that he has had very few neighbors. The lawyer may have known the Law, but he did not know who his neighbor was, and so was not able to love his neighbor as himself. St. Cyril suggests that in asking ‘Who is my neighbor?’ he reveals to us that he is empty of love for his neighbor, since he does not consider anyone as his neighbor; and consequently he is also empty of the love of God. (C.A. Pent. xii)
This latter point will prove decisive as Jesus drives home its implication in today’s Parable. A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. (St. Luke 10. 30) Here Jesus pictures and narrates the story of everyman’s Fall and how God, through Him, will respond to it. All men, because of sin, have freely chosen to journey down from the paradise of God’s Jerusalem and into the sinful world of Jericho. As a result, they have fallen in with the devil and his angels, who have stripped them of the clothing of their original righteousness and wounded them with the sting of death, [which is] sin (1 Cor. xv. 56). Fallen man is wounded and abandoned but is left only half dead in relation to God. Throughout the history of man’s fallen earthly existence there has always been hope for man’s salvation and return to God. But God’s Law and its representatives have never been able to do more than reinforce man’s sense that he is a sinner and lost in sore misery, half dead, alienated from God and his fellow man, and, therefore, in dire need of what neither the Law nor any man can generate. By chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him and passed by on the other side. (St. Luke 10. 31, 32) The Priest and the Levite represent religious men who can see and look on the problem, but must pass by because they lack the tools to secure a solution. And this is because knowledge of God’s Law is never enough to stimulate that love that alone can fulfill it. As St. Paul says, for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. (Gal. iii. 21)
And so we read: But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. (St. Luke 10. 33, 34) The man who is self-consciously fallen from Divine Grace in earthly life lies helpless in the ditch. Along comes a Samaritan - an outsider to the promises of Israel literally and an alien to human expectations spiritually. Samaritan means one who observes the Law, and this Good Samaritan will turn out to be the only man who can both do and fulfill it. For this Samaritan is one who is so full of compassion and love that he alone can share and impart the love that he receives from God to others. For him God’s Law is His love and that Love is the Law of his life. And thus it is he alone who can and does draw near to, touch, and remedy every man’s spiritual alienation from God. For, as Origen of Alexandria reminds us, this Samaritan never journeys without his medicine bag of spiritual remedies, for he must have enough bandages, oil, and wine to heal not only this self-consciously fallen man, but all self-consciously fallen men who know and experience sin’s desperate hold and sway in their lives. (What Must I do…Or.) And conscious that fallen man’s disease is so serious, this Samaritan sets him upon his own beast, carrying and bearing him on to the next stage of healing, loving him still, for he knows that full and complete spiritual health will involve the labor of a lifetime.
The Good Samaritan is, of course, Christ Jesus Himself, who alone bears and carries the burden and weight of all self-consciously sick and sinful men on to their spiritual healing and redemption. He carries man to an inn and cares for him. The inn symbolizes that half-way house or hospital for sinners, who are merely passing through and over to their appointed end. Specifically it refers to the Church, whose innkeepers are first the Apostles and then their successors. Jesus the Good Samaritan spends a night in the inn, symbolizing the time of His Resurrection, in which He not only cares for fallen man but teaches the innkeepers, His followers, how to continue the care and therapy He has so lovingly begun. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. (St. Luke 10. 35) The Good Samaritan leaves the innkeepers with two pence, the price and cost of ongoing care. These symbolize His Body and Blood, given to the church then, and also now, as the way and means of ongoing spiritual convalescence. The price has been paid, the offering has been made, and because of what Jesus Christ, the Good Samaritan, has done, the salvation process has been well underway ever since. When the Good Samaritan returns, He will repay the spiritual caregivers of the Church what He owes them – Love’s reward for Love received and passed on.
At the conclusion of the Parable, Jesus asks the lawyer and us, Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? (Ibid, 36) The lawyer answered, He that showed mercy on him. (Ibid, 37) Jesus said, Go and do thou likewise.
And though we don’t know it, we pray that the lawyer did not do it. Why? Because he could not have done it until he came to see that our neighbor is not, first and foremost, the man in the ditch, but the Good Samaritan or Jesus Christ himself. We pray that the lawyer was beginning to realize that he could not go and do likewise until Christ became his neighbor or Good Samaritan to him. Our neighbor is not then, first, the man upon whom we are called to show mercy. Rather our neighbor is the One who shows mercy upon us. For, truly, we are the man in the ditch in need of spiritual restoration and salvation. And until we realize that Christ Jesus is the Good Samaritan who comes to bind up our wounds, heal our bodies and souls, take us into the inn of the Church, where we can convalesce and recuperate by the Grace of God through the movements and motions of His Holy Spirit, we shall never so adequately and sufficiently receive with thanksgiving that Love which is born to be shared with all others.
Yet if we accept the loving care and remedy that Jesus Christ, God’s Good Samaritan, brings to our fallen condition, we shall be nothing less than sore amazed as His incessant desire and all-powerful might sanctify and save our souls. We shall be stunned, startled, and stupefied with the work of Jesus Christ’s Holy Spirit in our lives. And then we shall not only see, hear, and obey God’s law of Love in and for ourselves, but we shall love our neighbors as ourselves because the Love that loves us can do nothing other than desire to share His compassionate healing through us to them. For if we receive the all-healing and all-curing Love of God from the heart of Jesus, as Archbishop Trench says, we shall not ask, ‘Who is my neighbor’? For the love [of God]… is like the sun, which does not inquire upon what it shall shine, or whom it shall warm, but shines and warms by the very law [and light] of its own being, so that nothing [can be] hidden from [its] light and heat. (Par. p. 252) Amen.
Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice and open the door,
I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.
(Rev. iii. 20)
I think that it is probably the case that, more often than not, we do not think of God moving or coming towards us. Rather we think of our relationship with God as our moving or coming to Him. The most earnest of Christians come to the Lord with laundry lists of petitions, supplications, and intercessions. And expecting to be heard and heeded, in the end we find ourselves mostly disappointed and ignored. The problem with it all is that we spend so much time talking that God cannot get His Word in edgewise. We forget that we are called to love God because he first loved us, and sent His Son to be a propitiation for our sins. (1 St. John iv. 19, 10) Jesus says that, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. (St. John xiv.23) Jesus makes it clear that He and His Father intend to move or come to their faithful friends to make a home in their hearts through the Holy Spirit so that they can be saved.
The point is that the Christian religion is really all about God’s ever-moving desire for us. That desire is expressed in our opening quotation: Behold I stand at the door and knock….(Ibid) And yet it requires a response: if any man hear my voice and open the door….(Ibid) If we don’t open the door, then he will not come in to [us], and sup with [us] so that we can sup with Him. (Ibid) So, you might ask, what is this door that Jesus is speaking about? The ancient commentators say that the door is the soul or the human heart. The soul is not only the seat of reason but of the will also. From the ground of the soul we either say yes or no to God. And Paul Claudel reminds us that most men say no, and so refuse to open the door. He says: we are like a bad tenant allowed to remain through charity in a house that does not belong to him, that he has neither built nor paid for, and who barricades himself and refuses to receive the rightful owner even for a minute. (I Believe in God, p. 244) The image is brilliant. We have our lives – our souls and bodies -- on loan from God. We have neither made them nor are we able to sustain them. They have been given to us on loan, and God intends that we should occupy them usefully and profitably. So, what we have comes from God, is preserved and conserved by Him on good days and bad, and yet is always what was made by Him and for Him. Long before we perceive that Jesus is knocking at the door of the human soul, our Heavenly Father has bestowed upon us the precious gifts of creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life. (GT) In and of themselves these constitute treasures for which no man can ever repay his Maker. Through mere existence, nature, and even forms of human happiness and joy, God comes to man and lavishes him with spiritual riches for which he should be eternally grateful.
So human life is a gift from God long before Jesus comes knocking at the door. And yet Jesus does come knocking at the door of the human soul because God’s movement and coming to man are all about much more than mere existence or secular and temporal happiness. God loves us so much that He wants to save us. And the love that He brings is the forgiveness of sins. Without the forgiveness of our sins, we cannot be saved. And so God in his Son Jesus Christ reveals and incarnates the forgiveness of sins. In fact, Jesus Christ is the forgiveness of sins. And if we are like 99% of practicing Christians in our world, we might want to leave it at that. We might say with the majority of believers that Christ died once for all for the sins of the whole world, and that means that He died for my sins and has forgiven me, and so I’ve got a clean slate, and I am saved. And if we were to think this way, we might make it half-way to the Kingdom of Heaven. But half-way won’t get us there. The other half is needed if we are to be saved. Half-way hasn’t arrived, and if we don’t arrive, well we just won’t make it to the Kingdom.
What I mean to say is that God’s moving and coming to us, His knocking at the doors of our souls, doesn’t stop once Christ has died, risen, and ascended back to the Father. Our religion had better not be past history. We said earlier that the Father and the Son intend to make their abode with us, pitch their tent within our souls (Idem, 23) and dwell in us through the Holy Spirit that we might dwell in them. And if that is the case, then we had better realize that God’s love, which is His forgiveness of our sins through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, is coming always towards us. God’s life is His love. His love is always alive and on the move. It approaches us with the promises of the forgiveness of sins and resurrection into new life. God’s living love comes to us in order to find a home in our hearts. But, remember, as Claudel says, we are …tenants who live in the homes of our bodies and souls by the gift of charity. The lease is extended to us for as long as we live, and yet the quality of life in these earthen vessels that we inhabit can be made all the better only when the owner of the property enters and begins to make His repairs. We must remember that what we have on lease, we must return to God, and we must return it in much better condition than we found it. Since receiving the gift of life, if we are honest, most of us have found that it has been tormented, distracted, tempted, and even handicapped constantly by sin and the Devil’s determination to keep us from God. The threats to spiritual advancement don’t go away once you’re baptized; it might even be said that they increase! So we must remember that God comes to us through Christ’s ever-approaching merciful help. Christ does intend, after all, to repair and renovate us by applying His all-Atoning Death to our sin-sick lives. And His death is the forgiveness of sins! So when [He] stands at the door and knocks, we [must] hear [His] voice, and open the door (Idem) so that we can invite Him in to fix us -- Him, the rightful owner of the property we lease.
And so when we open the doors of our souls, [Christ] will come in and sup with [us] and [we] with Him. (Idem) And what is this supping but our feeding? Feeding on what, you ask? Feeding on the forgiveness of sins – which alone can fix us. This means feeding on God’s desire to conquer evil in our souls and to redeem us. This is that feeding that we petition in the Lord’s prayer: Give us this day our daily bread. And it is followed by forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. (L.P.) The chief form and substance of our nourishment must be God’s ongoing forgiveness of our sins, through Jesus Christ, by the real presence of the Holy Spirit alive in our souls. St. Maximus Confessor tells us that when we ask God to forgive us…as we forgive others, [we are summoning] God to be for us, what [we must] be towards our neighbours. (Comm. Lord’s Prayer) His point is that if we would be nourished, strengthened, moved, defined, and informed by the unmerited and undeserved mercy of God, it must be shared with all precisely because it neither begins nor ends with us! God provides the food that heals and offers it to all. God’s mercy is never intended for a select few. The idea is taken up in this morning’s Gospel. St. Peter asks Jesus, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? (St. Matthew xviii. 21) Jesus responds with, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven. (Ibid, 22) The implication is that St. Peter and all of us should forgive men their trespasses against us an infinite number of times. Jesus goes on to offer a Parable in which one man is forgiven a huge debt that he owes to his master. But then the same man turns around and refuses to cancel a much smaller debt that another man owes him. The image is clear. God forgives us an infinite number of times for sins that are more than number than the hairs on [our] heads. (Ps. lx. 12) And should we fail to forgive every man his sins against us, we are killing effectively the uninterrupted generosity that God offers to all men. St. Augustine says: Imagine the vanity of thinking that your enemy can do you more damage than your enmity [and unforgiveness]! Jesus says: If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (St. Matthew vi. 15) Forgiving all others is the unalterable condition of salvation. Waving one’s hand and saying silly things like I may forgive, but I will never forget is sure to land us in a place where our not forgetting will be remembered… for eternity…in a place other than Heaven.
Behold I stand at the door and knock. (Idem) Jesus desires to enter the house of our hearts and souls and to reclaim for Himself what has always been His. We have our lives on loan from God, and they can be redeemed and made right only when we digest the forgiveness of our sins and it comes alive in the center of our souls. If we feed on the forgiveness truly and habitually, we shall discover that His forgiveness becomes our love, His love becomes our hope, and His hope brings the possibility of healing to those who might not otherwise have ever imagined or encountered it. So, today my friends, we should not only treasure and cherish the forgiveness of our sins, but grow and assimilate it, so that it flows out of us and into the hearts of all others. Then we shall be good tenants whose lease is well spent, because our souls have been refurnished and renovated by the forgiveness of sins – eagerly and generously bestowed upon all others because when Christ stands at the door and knocks…[we] open the door, and [He] sups with [us], and [we] with [Him]. Amen.
Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail,
they may receive you into everlasting habitations.
(St. Luke xi. 1)
In today’s Gospel lesson Jesus teaches a parable that has confused and befuddled the best of Scripture’s interpreters for centuries. So I will try to make some sense of this for all of us, but we must first understand that it must be grasped in the spiritual sense, as in the case of all of the parables. But we cannot get to the spiritual core or inner meaning of the parable before first confronting the outer and literal sense.
The parable that Jesus gives this morning is called The Parable of the Unjust Steward. What we have here is the tale of a man who was hired to be a steward or manager of a rich man’s treasure. What we learn is that he has been accused of wasting the rich man’s goods. As it turns out, he was not a very good steward, caretaker, or manager of the treasure that had been entrusted to him. The rich man summons his employee and says this: 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) The rich man seems to be surprised, but gives the man ample room for explaining what he has done. The employee is no doubt struck with immediate fear and trepidation over his fate, and he is worried to death about his future. He sees the writing on the wall, and so he says to himself, What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed. (Ibid, 3) The (now former) employee is a very worldly man. He is proud of his gifts and abilities, probably has a fairly good education, many talents and gifts, and so he is not about to take a job as a manual laborer. He will neither dig holes for his bread, nor will he reduce himself to begging. He is too proud to claim unemployment benefits, and he will not further demean and belittle his own worth. So with the ingenuity and industry that characterize his capacities, he knows what he will do. If he can no longer be employed by his Master, he will do what he can so that he can be taken care of by others, and so [be received] into their houses. (Ibid, 4)
So he makes a deal with other men who have taken out loans with his Master. He asks them what they owe the Master, and tells them to give him a portion of their debt that he may return it to his Master. The implication in the parable is that, at present, they cannot afford to repay the Master, so he will collect what he can from them, to show the Master that he has worked in earnest to recollect at least a portion of their debts. He ends up securing a promise for half of what one man owed, and eighty percent of what the other owed. He returns to his Master and gives him what he has collected. The Master seems rather merciful, for we read that, the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light. (Ibid, 8) Jesus tells his listeners that in earthly and worldly terms, here we find a man who used his prudence and worldly wisdom to make the best of a bad situation, and who was even a model for self-preservation and planning for the future. Jesus concludes the parable by saying: Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations. (Ibid, 9)
And so now comes the difficult part. What does Jesus mean when he says that the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light? And why in the world would he ever say that we are to make us friends with the mammon of unrighteousness? In another place he appears to say the opposite – that we cannot serve God and Mammon, (St. Matthew vi. 24) and this seems to contradict what he is saying here. So what is Jesus getting at? Well, for starters, the formulators of our lectionary readings might have done us no small service if they had included the lines which follow in the reading from St. Luke’s Gospel. After our closing Gospel line for today, Jesus says, He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. If, therefore, ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man's, who shall give you that which is your own? (Ibid, 10-12) The parable seems to suggest that Jesus means to commend his friends and disciples to a kind of prudence that can imitate that of the unjust steward. But it is not in imitating the earthly steward’s obsession with his future financial security that Jesus is interested. Rather he is interested in having his spiritual followers imitate true prudence and prepare for a spiritual future. But to do so they must be faithful first in unrighteous mammon. The Christian who is prudent in unrighteous mammon is the man who realizes that he is a steward of God’s treasure. More often than not he fails in his calling and vocation, and so is an unjust steward, or one who has not managed the gifts that God has given to him in the most productive and industrious of ways. God is the Master in the parable, and sinful man is the unjust steward. But there are countless others, indeed the whole host of men who live in this world, who owe God more than they can repay. So what the unjust [spiritual] steward does is to take his spiritual brothers and sisters where they are and help them to give back what they can, given their present spiritual conditions. That he is an unjust steward is simply a fact that reveals that he cannot ever live up to his calling and vocation. But this is no excuse for him not to work with what he has in helping others to begin to be made right with God. He may indeed have paid his tithe to God, but more is required. He must help others to do the same. And so he does this by giving what he has to help them. In the parable he makes an arrangement for others to lessen their debt to the Master. In the case of the disciple, he becomes one who prepares for his spiritual future by realizing that he must do what he can for his fellow brothers who are equally indebted to God. He then that is faithful in that which is least, is also faithful also in much. (Ibid, 10)
Now Christ makes it very clear in using this parable that most men are rather more creative, industrious, and enterprising in preparing for their earthly and worldly futures than his followers are in readying themselves for their spiritual futures. If spiritual men took as much time, care, and caution in preparing for salvation, as earthly men took in preparing for their retirements, the world might become quite a different place. And yet the connection with the parable has a more literal meaning. If the spiritual man used his money first to serve God, and then to help his neighbor, he would reveal what kind of treasure and riches he was really after. He would be liberal and generous with his earthly treasure, knowing that his chief concern and primary interest is with the heavenly gifts that should move and define him. Man’s relation to money and mammon must be spiritualized. What do I mean? If a man’s eyes are opened to his spiritual future, his ultimate salvation, and his final reconciliation with God, he will want to share what he has with others so that they too, being nourished, clothed, and housed may join with him in the spiritual journey to the kingdom. If there are men around us who are feverishly anxious about how to feed, clothe, and house their children, they will have scarce little time to consider the greater call to God’s kingdom. The rich like to quote another quotation of Jesus, when he says the poor always ye have with you, (St. John xii. 8), as if they embody some kind of permanent problem that cannot be helped. But Christ is suggesting those who are not rich towards God, and then to their neighbors, really are not much interested in true treasure. So if we share with others what we have, then when [we fail], (i.e. die)…they [will] receive us into everlasting habitations. (St. Luke xvi. 9) Who will receive us? The poor whom we have helped out of their material poverty, and who, curiously enough, have helped us out of our material obsessions, as we both together become fellow journeymen seeking the treasures of heaven.
So making friends with mammon of unrighteousness, (Ibid, 9) has, I think, a few different meanings for us today. First, we should emulate and imitate the passion, determination, and persistence with which the unjust steward secured his earthly future, into our own quest for the holy habitations of God’s kingdom. Second, we should know that we are all unjust [spiritual] stewards God’s mercies and gifts, and so we are in good company with a world full of men who also owe God much and can never repay what they owe him. And, third, realizing this, with whatsoever means we have, in earthly terms, we should help others with what we’ have got, so that they can join us on our spiritual quest. For, as Calvin warns us, Those persons…who act improperly and unfaithfully in the things of small value, such as the transitory riches of this world, do not deserve that God should entrust to them the inestimable treasure of the Gospel. (Harmony of the Gospels: Vol. xvi.) So let us then share our earthly treasures with others, that in so doing we may invite others into our conscientious quest for and determined pursuit of the treasures of God’s heavenly habitations. As Richard Baxter says, Stretch your purse to the utmost, and do all the good you can. For then we show where [our true] treasure is…[and] where our hearts are also. (St. Luke xii. 34) Amen.
For the very beginning of [wisdom] is the desire of her discipline; and the care
of discipline is love. And love is the keeping of her laws; and the giving heed
unto her laws is the assurance of incorruption. And incorruption
maketh us near to God.
(Wisdom vi. 17-20)
The Book of Wisdom is traditionally ascribed to Solomon, son of David and King of Israel. He lived some nine hundred years before the birth of Jesus Christ, and he is known for his wisdom. The First Book of the Kings tells us that he prayed for wisdom, so that he might have an understanding heart to judge [his] people…[to] discern between good and evil. (1 Kings 9) Solomon was granted his wish and petition, and became so wise that the rulers of the world came to sit at his feet in order to learn of the wisdom that God had given to him. Solomon was not wise in his own conceits; rather he knew that true Wisdom is a gift from God. And he reminds us also that without God’s Wisdom we cannot hope to be saved. So he exhorts his readers and listeners to pursue the instruction and discipline of Holy Wisdom. It is given to man to instruct him in the ways that lead to eternal life. Instruction is understood as the work of a loving God. When a man allows himself to be instructed in her ways, he realizes that he is being led forward into the reality of incorruption, and so he begins to love the ways of Wisdom or the virtues which she generates in the human heart. God’s gives his Wisdom to us to reveal his loving care; God expects us to respond to this attention with a deeper desire for the Wisdom that leads us to everlasting life.
Now you might be saying to yourselves, well, this all sounds all well and good, but what does it have to do with my life? And the preacher’s answer is: everything. Why, you ask? And the answer is, because we were made to know, to understand, and to love. This is why human beings were created. And not merely to know and understand the world around us, nor to love our fellow men. All of that is important enough. But the point is that we were made to know, understand, and love God. Solomon knew all of this, and this is why he goes to all the trouble of explaining it to us! Yes, indeed, we were made to know and to love God because he is the source, origin, and cause of all knowledge and love. And his knowledge and love are given to us that we might find that incorruption that brings us near to God. (Wisdom vi. 20)
So, you say, all right, but how do I find this knowledge and love? Well, if you are an inquisitive and conscientious student of the natural world, you can find a lot of God’s knowledge and love at work there. In nature you will find the principles of order, arrangement, relation, truth, beauty, and even goodness that you neither create nor control. If you take the time to be quiet and still enough, you will find God’s mind and heart at work. And what you should come away with is a deep sense of awe and wonder at the marvels of the created universe. Such an endeavor starts a man on the journey after wisdom. The wisdom that is found is clearly Divine. No man has made the vast universe that surrounds him, painted it with beauty, and combed it with the great goods that ensure his comfort; nor has he informed it with that truth that combines minute complexities into one harmonious and majestic whole. Nature itself, if we would only contemplate it, leads our minds to the fount and wellspring of God’s Divine Wisdom.
And yet there is more. While we are contemplating nature and discovering the principles of truth, beauty, and goodness in it, has it ever occurred to us just how we do this? We do it through the operation and activity of the soul. The 17th century Anglican Bishop William Beveridge tells us that we ought to marvel at this fact also. He says that he comes to know that he has a soul because he can reason and reflect. (W. Beveridge: Thoughts on Religion, 1) Other creatures have souls but don’t know it. They act, and know it not; it being not possible for them to look within themselves, or to reflect upon their own existence and actions. But this is not so with me, the good Bishop says. I not only know that I have a soul, but that I have such a soul which can consider, and deliberate on every particular action that issues from it. Nay, I can now consider that I am considering my own actions, and can reflect upon [my own] reflecting. (Ibid, 2) The Bishop continues and says that the same soul, through which he reflects upon his own reflecting, can move out of itself and examine and study the whole of the universe, mounting from earth to heaven, from pole to pole, and view all the courses and motions of the celestial bodies, the Sun, the Moon, the Stars; and then the next moment returning to myself again, I can consider where I have been, what glorious objects have been presented to my view, and wonder at the nimbleness and activity of my soul. (Ibid, 2,3) The good Bishop reminds us that we can move out of ourselves to consider the whole of the universe with our souls, and then return into our souls, and still reflect upon and study all that we have seen and heard through our remembering and recollection. What a marvel! Have you ever considered it? And more than all this, the same soul can move the body and all its parts, and even understand, consider, argue, and conclude; to will and nil; hope and despair, desire and abhor, joy and grieve; love and hate; to be angry now, love and appease.(Ibid, 3) What a miracle is this man that each of us is! And what does all of this mean if not that we are made to know and to love and to discover finally that God’s Wisdom is the source and cause of it all?
And yet there is this difficulty. Bishop Beveridge reminds us that we are not merely souls or spirits like angels, but are souls who inhabit bodies. And our bodies always tend towards corruption, disintegration, and death. Our souls and spirits are spiritual and incorruptible. But they are joined to flesh which decays, fades, and passes away. The place of the soul’s trial and testing, in the here and now, is with the body. The way and manner in which the soul and body cooperate will determine the eternal and incorruptible state of the whole human person, body and soul, in eternity. Should the soul seek God’s Wisdom, apply it to the whole person, then in the end times man will be saved. Should he refuse the rule and governance of God’s Wisdom in this life, he will be damned.
And this brings us back to the Wisdom of Solomon. In our opening quotation we read that the application of Wisdom to the soul and body demands our submission to instruction and education. God’s instruction and education reveal the love and care of Wisdom for every human being’s ultimate welfare and wellbeing. To submit to this Divine labor, the human soul must lovingly receive the instruction and discipline that Wisdom enjoins. Wisdom desires to direct the soul to order, govern, tame, and discipline the body. St. Paul says in this morning’s Epistle reading that we must not be debtors…to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if [we] live after the flesh, [we] shall die. But if [we] through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, [we] shall live. (Romans viii. 12, 13) When Wisdom is applied to the body, the whole person is right with God, for he is then moved and defined by the Spiritual Truth that God intends for the body and the soul. If Wisdom is not applied, then man faces spiritual death in which both soul and body shall live alienated and separated from God. St. Paul says that, They that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. (Ibid, 8-10) He says in another place that Christ [is] the wisdom of God, and the power of God. (1 Cor. i. 24) So to live according to God’s Wisdom, is to live in Christ. To live in Christ means to accept the instruction, discipline, and love that Christ’s Spirit brings to man’s life. As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. (Romans viii. 14) Life in Christ is an invitation to become the sons and daughters of God, whereby we [can] cry, Abba, Father. (Ibid, 15) To be able to call God Abba means that in and through Christ we can call the Father, Daddy, for this is what the word means. And this opens for us an intimate spiritual window with God whose Wisdom will enable us to love to keep [His] laws…bringing us near to incorruption…[with a] desire for [the] wisdom [which] brings us near to [His] kingdom. (Wisdom vi. 18-20)
So God’s Wisdom is something that we can find not only in nature but also in the life of Jesus Christ our Lord. In submitting and adjusting our lives to Christ’s pattern, we can begin not only to be moved by the Divine Wisdom, but can even reveal it to others. In this morning’s Gospel Christ tells us that by [men’s] fruits, ye shall know them. (St. Matthew vii. 20) A man’s spiritual value and worth is measured by the thoughts, words, and deeds that issue forth through his body from his soul. So man’s thoughts, words, and deeds are reflections of his rational soul’s relation to the Divine Wisdom. The soul and body are such precious gifts and tools, in and through which man can receive and apply God’s Wisdom to a life destined for eternal happiness. We can reach our end only if and when we pray for the instruction, discipline, and loving care that Christ, the Divine Wisdom, will apply to our souls as he generates the fruits of holiness that can be revealed through us. And as Solomon reminds us, it is a gift to be neglected only at our own peril. So, with Bishop Beveridge, without any further dispute about it, [let us] resolve, at this time, in the presence of Almighty God, that from this day forward, [we] will make it our whole business, here upon earth, to look after [our] happiness in Heaven, and to walk circumspectly those blessed paths, that God appointed all to walk in, that ever expect to come to Him (Ibid, 4), in the light of His Divine Wisdom, through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.
Graft in our hearts the love of Thy Name, increase in us true religion,
nourish us with all goodness, and keep us in the same…
(Collect Trinity VII)
You must have noticed that in addition to our Scriptural lessons appointed to be read each Sunday we read or pray something called a Collect. Wikipedia informs us that a Collect is a short general prayer of a particular structure used in Christian liturgy. In the Anglican tradition of Common Prayer the Collect gathers or sums up into one prayer the theme of the day or the focus of any given particular Sunday’s readings. You will have noticed that our Collects are carefully worded and beautifully crafted expressions of theological truth. And yet there is always a danger in them. One might be so swept up with the form that one forgets the content. Their visible and audible poetry and music might grab our aesthetical appreciation for too long so that we never move on to consider the theological desires and aspirations that they encourage. We might liken it to the harmony of a certain musical composition, through which one is swept away by a tune or sound while never taking the time to examine the meaning of the words or feelings that the composition expresses. Countless numbers of people have enjoyed certain songs or choruses, only to realize that, on closer examination, the ideas they encourage are positively evil. Think of Frank Sinatra’s I did it my way. We love the music, the sound, the beat, the combination of notes, and yet, if we examine the meaning, we find that the song is an exhortation to pure narcissism. I did it my way, he sang. Indeed, he did. He did it his way, and no one was going to get in the way of it! Here we have an excellent example of the indulgence of beauty at the expense of truth. The passions are stirred and moved, but finally separated from what is true, beautiful, and good.
But our Collects were formulated to do exactly the opposite. Their beauty and form were crafted to lead a man from the external and visible world into the ground of his soul. And from there they were meant to lift the soul up and into the presence of God. Listen, again, to the opening words of this morning’s Collect: Lord of all power and might, who art the author and giver of all good things.... The words flow beautifully; they are music to our ears. And yet what are they arranged to do? They lead and guide our minds into the presence of God. He is the Creator and Preserver of all good things. He is the author of all that is true, beautiful, and good. And more than that, He is the one who alone has power and might to bring about and generate all goodness in our hearts and souls. The goodness He desires to effect is our salvation. He longs to carry us out of bondage to the elements of this world, as St. Paul teaches. (Gal. iv. 3) He longs to free and liberate us from the world, the flesh, the devil, and yes, quite frankly, from ourselves.
So God’s power and might constitute simultaneously His unchanging desire and intention for us; for He is the author and giver of all good things. Having claimed and confessed that His power and might alone make all things good, right, and true, we pray for the Grace to love Him in return. Graft in our hearts the love of Thy name. God does not force or compel us to love Him. We must desire and long to be infused with a love for Him that excels and surpasses all other loves -i.e. from the false loves that tempt and distract us from the source and origin of our true and lasting happiness, our salvation, and the promise of eternal communion with the truth. So we pray that His Grace might infuse us with a desire for His love. Our Collect for today leads us logically and rationally through stages of encounter which will ensure our sanctification and redemption. We acknowledge God’s power and might; we see that they generate all manner of goodness. We know that goodness for man is salvation and reconciliation with the same God. And so we pray for the spirit and disposition that enflame a deeper desire and longing for Him.
And yet we cannot end here. We know that our love for God must never be a fly-by-night, temporary, occasional, and impermanent emotion or feeling. So we pray, Increase in us true religion. True religion is the flower and fruit of that instinct, passion, and desire for the power and governance of truth and goodness in our own lives. Without the Spirit of Divine Love, we shall never become accustomed or habituated to the virtues of truth and goodness that are the only ways and means to our salvation. William Law tells us that the Spirit of Love is not in you till it is the spirit of your life, till you live freely, willingly, and universally according to it. (The Spirit of Love) The Spirit of Love must be translated into the spirit of our lives, or the practice of true religion. True religion is a reflection and imitation of God’s holiness and righteousness – of his goodness, truth, and beauty. St. Paul tells us in this morning’s Epistle that when [we] were the servants of sin, [we] were free from righteousness.(Romans vi. 20) What he means is that before we came to our spiritual senses, we were in bondage or slavery to the elements of this life. We were the servants of sin. Like Frank Sinatra, we did it our way. And because of that we were headed for sin’s reward, which is death, spiritual death, and ultimate and final separation from God. But now we are being made freed from sin, [and are becoming] the servants of God.( Ibid, 22) Our Collect for today echoes Paul’s desire and hope for his flock. Increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness…. If we are fed and nourished with God’s goodness, with St. Paul we become the servants of God’s goodness, [having our] fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. (Ibid, 22) So desire for the love of God in our hearts makes us then practitioners and masters of true religion, goodness, and holiness in deed and in truth. (I John iii. 18) What we are praying for really then is freedom – liberation from bondage and servitude to all that is unclean, unholy, and unrighteous. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Ibid, 23)
So at the end of our Collect we pray that God of his great mercy might keep us in the same, through Jesus Christ our Lord. But, perhaps it is here that we come finally to the hardest part of the whole Collect or summary prayer for this Seventh Sunday after Trinity. We pray that God’s holiness and righteousness might become permanent fixtures of our knowing and willing. And this leads us to our Gospel for the day. In it we read of God’s ongoing response man’s desire for Him. In Jesus Christ we find the one who is with us and for us every step of the way in this difficult endeavor. Just as Jesus had compassion on the multitude then, so he continues to have compassion on us now. Then he fed a multitude of four thousand with seven loaves of bread and two small fishes. (St. Mark viii) We read that he had compassion upon them because they had a desire for the kind of life that our Collect reveals. He said then, [the multitude has] now been with me three days, if I send them away fasting to their own houses, they will faint by the way; for divers of them came from afar. (St. Mark viii. 2,3) Jesus took a small amount of food and multiplied it so that it could feed a multitude of people. Jesus is one with the Father. He is the Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things. Through His compassionate love, He begins to graft in [the multitude’s] heart the love of [God’s] name. Through his merciful power He begins to reveal how man can begin to increase in true religion, because he is being nourished with all goodness, and [kept] in the same by the Grace of God in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Divine power and might, love, and goodness extended to man from the heart of His Father.
Jesus offers to answer our prayers today. What we pray for in our Collect, Jesus provides. He knows that we grow weary and faint as we journey after salvation. He knows that we struggle to leave behind our servitude and slavery to sin – the world, the flesh, and the devil. He understands that our feeble powerlessness always threatens to overwhelm and overtake us. He understands that the music and beauty of our Collect might carry us away from its content and substance. And so he responds to us. Here and now, even today, He takes a few morsels of bread and a small portion of wine and makes them into his Body and his Blood. His Body and Blood are the spiritual power and might of God. In and through them He continues to be the author and giver of all good things. If we thankfully and gratefully receive them for what he says they are, they will increase in us true religion, nourish with all goodness, and keep us in the same.
But here is the rub. We must believe that what God offers to us in his Son Jesus Christ is nothing short of Himself. What he offers to us is the substance of His full and complete being. In making bread and wine into His Body and Blood, He responds to our deepest desire for the ways and means to our salvation. What we must receive, cherish, treasure, nourish, and grow in our souls from the author and giver of all good things, is the power and might, whose goodness will overcome all evil in our lives. What we must recognize and perceive in our frail souls are God’s real and present desire and love for us, to which we respond, Graft in our hearts the love of thy name. For in receiving the miracle of Christ’s Real Presence with us and for us, we desire not to sing I did it my way, but I am doing it God’s way. And God’s way is offered to us in the One who did it His Father’s way. Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life. (St. John xiv. 6) We come to the Father through Him alone, in the beauty of holiness, through the Spirit of love, as we sing a new song of purest desire for the inward and spiritual power and might that lovingly free us from all sin, making us the servants of God, who bear fruit unto holiness that, in the end, leads to everlasting life. (Romans vi. 22) Amen.
Pour into our hearts such love towards thee, that we, loving thee above all things,
may obtainthy promises, which exceed all that we can desire.
(Collect, Trinity VI)
I do not know how often we think of the promises of God. If we are like most men, we don’t. The full flowering of God’s intention and plan for us, then, does not impinge on our consciousness, does not affect us in our daily rounds, or dictate what we desire. We do tend to live in time and space, and as creatures possessed by this dimension, do not therefore ponder the eternal future. But ponder it we must, for truly that is our destiny and end. To consider the unsearchable riches of God’s love for us is something that we were made to think about; for if we do not, we might very well fall short of its possession in the eternity of God’s life. God has given himself to us, and if we hope to embrace that activity permanently, we must prepare for it. Eternity is, after all, a long time, and if we hope to experience it in God’s presence, we had better get to work on embracing it now.
And, yet, this seems to be the most difficult part. How do we become those upon whom God will, in the end, shower His promises? It seems beyond our reach; indeed it seems beyond all that we can desire, as our Collect for this morning reminds us. But being beyond all that we can desire, is no reason to stop wanting it. Indeed, what beyond all that we can desire means simply is that what will be given will exceed and surpass our deepest understanding and expectation of what it will be. Beyond all that we can desire means that our desire for God will be transformed into a love far beyond what we have ever known or experienced. The kind of love that God has in store for them that begin to love Him truly now, will then be wholly perfect, unthreatened, unbreakable, and lasting.
So here and now we are called to start getting used to His love. And getting used to that love is practicing the presence of his governance in our lives. In fact, St. Paul in this morning’s Epistle plots out the way to best receive and reflect this very love. And yet what a strange way he seems to encourage for going about it! To embrace God’s living love in our lives, the Apostle has us consider death. In fact he seems quite insistent that we shall never receive the promises that exceed all that we can desire unless and until we die. What is St. Paul talking about? When most people hear about death, their minds travel to one thing – that is, to the extinction and termination of physical life. But there is another death about which Christians speak and that is spiritual death. Most people imagine death as non-existence, a state in which man’s physical nature is shut down and all consciousness is lost. And because of this, they are full of fear and anxiety. But the death that St. Paul is getting at in this morning’s Epistle is spiritual and inward; it is the death that we must die here and now that is essential for salvation. It is a death to whatever separates us from the knowledge and love of God. This death is the necessary precondition to that new life that will begin to have a foretaste of the promises of God. And so it is no small wonder that so many men fear to undertake it. As G. K. Chesterton writes:
I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.
(Ballad of the White Horse)
This death will be difficult and will involve no small amount of inner spiritual contemplation. The man who will die to himself must look at himself, his sins, his temptations. He must look at his weaknesses and neuroses. At first it may seem overwhelming, and yet, in the end, it will not fearful because Christians believe that the most difficult aspects of this death have been endured and suffered already by another on our behalf. Know ye not, St. Paul writes, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? (Romans. vi. 3) You and I, as baptized Christians, have been initiated already into death, Christ’s death. Christ has taken on our sin. The one and all effective death has been endured by Jesus Christ himself. The spiritual death to sin, Satan, death itself, and its power has been accomplished for us by Jesus Christ. And it does not stop there. Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. (Romans vi. 4) Jesus Christ has died the spiritual death that we were not capable of dying. He has died for the sins of the whole world, and in his dying he has opened up to mankind the gates of everlasting life once again. The living love of God is revealed to the world in the death of God’s own Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. The living love of God in the heart of Jesus Christ reveals and manifests love as death, death to the self, death to all that is other than God. This living love, this dying death in Jesus Christ is truly the first and necessary opening to the kingdom of God. All men are invited into the reality of it through Baptism, that in and through Jesus Christ they might die to themselves and begin to come alive to God.
So Baptism is our first incorporation into the reality of the death of sin. Technically speaking, Baptism washes away the stain and corruption of Original Sin. But actual sin remains. The devil is not thwarted by the Sacrament of Baptism. And the hard work of redemption continues long after it is first administered to the believer. If we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. (Romans vi. 5-7) Life for the Christian in time and space is meant to be lived out as redemption from sin. St. Paul certainly speaks of future Resurrection when Christ shall come again to judge both the quick and dead. But in order to be counted worthy of salvation then, we must be dying constantly to sin now. This means that we must realize and know that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. (Romans vi. 6) Thus we are called in the here and now to ongoing repentance, self-conscious awareness of the sins that so easily beset us (Hebrews xii. 1), the determination to confess them, and turning to God…our refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble. (Ps. xlvi. 1) Dying to ourselves means our dying to sin and embracing God's living love.
This is why in this morning’s Gospel reading Jesus teaches us that there can be no place for division, discord, anger, envy, or covetousness. Jesus is God’s love and hope for all men’s salvation made flesh - to friend and foe alike. Jesus says, Ye have heard that it was said of 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. (St. Matthew v. 21) If we envy, resent, or hate anyone from the ground of our hearts, then the love of God that was planted in us at Baptism has neither survived nor grown. Jesus – God’s love for us and all others, is, then, not alive. If we limit and kill that love for others, that love is as good as dead in us, and we are alive to sin and destined for a far more pernicious future death! If we limit and kill that love for others, hope too is as good as dead in us, since we are determined to deny that God’s love can heal the hearts of our worst enemies!
But, let us remember my friends, that when we were the servants of sin, we were free from righteousness, (Romans vi. 20)…but now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, we have our fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.(Romans vi. 22) For, Christ died for us while we were yet sinners. (Romans v. 8) In fact, Christ died for us while we were yet nailing him to the tree. Yes, and as he was dying for us, in and through his death, he was longing and desiring for our salvation. That kind of love should stir us to a deeper longing for union with Him. It should stir the desire for his new life of love in us now. This is the love that moves the stars and the sun, as Aristotle says. This is the love that stoops down from heaven to call all human beings into friendship with God. This is the love that never stops giving itself to us as the way and means our eternal communion with our Maker. Jean Mouroux reminds us that God is present to His creature not simply in virtue of the being He bestows on it, but also by the love He excites in the very heart of its existence; whence it is that the whole world is tense with one immense aspiration, quickening, and unifying, towards the First-Beloved. (The Meaning of Man, p. 183). This same love invites and calls all men to be the saints of God. And as Romano Guardini has said, the saints are those who penetrate into the existence of Christ; who lift themselves , not by ‘their bootstraps’ but by Christ’s humanity and Christ’s divinity. (The Lord, p. 447) It is only by dying in Christ and rising through Him that we begin to feel the immensity and power of God’s love for us. You see, it is his Grace, his work, his labour of love in our souls that transform our desire into longing love for God’s kingdom. So, then, dear friends, today let us realize that he has prepared for [us] who love Him such good things as pass man’s understanding, and that the only way to find them is by loving him above all things, [that we] may obtain…his promises, which exceed all that we can desire.(Collect) Amen.
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts,
and be ready always to give an answer to every man
that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:
(1 St. Peter iii. 15)
Our Trinity V lections this year coincide conveniently with yesterday’s Feast of St. Peter the Apostle. We have said that Trinity Tide is all about spiritual growth and fertility. And today we are invited to examine some aspects of St. Peter’s life that will better enable us to fertilize and grow the spiritual soil of our common Christian life together. St. Peter’s conversion and sanctification are nothing if they are not difficult, toilsome, and even painful. And so I hope that we might find something of ourselves in the trial of his faith that we read about this morning.
So let us turn to today’s reading from St. Luke’s Gospel. In it we read that the people pressed upon [Jesus] to hear the Word of God…by the lake of Gennesaret. (St. Luke v. 1) Jesus is crowded about by a throng of people, but sees clearly that if he is to be heard he will have to make some space between himself and his listeners. The Galillean fishing industry in Jesus’ time was economically thriving, and so the ports were always thronging with buyers and sellers, importers and exporters. Jesus needs to find a pulpit. The fishermen have just come in from the sea after a long night of fruitless fishing, and are cleaning their nets. So Jesus boards Simon Peter’s boat, and asks him and his companions to launch out a little from the land. From there he preaches to the people. We have no record of what he taught them. What is recorded is what Jesus did, and this will speak far more powerfully than words. So Jesus commands Peter and his friends to launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. (Ibid, 4) The request is curious since the best time for fishing is the night, which is now long over. Peter responds by saying, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing. (Ibid, 5) His own human effort, ingenuity, and craft have yielded him nothing, yet he obeys and says, nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net.(Ibid) Peter has derived something from Christ’s preaching, and so now Christ will derive something from Peter’s occupation. And we should not forget that all this is demanded of Peter and his friends, who are by now exhausted, having fished all night, and so, probably had their minds set on sleep. (Matthew Henry: Commentary Luke’s Gospel) But Peter, though he is just beginning to follow Jesus, knows that when his Master calls, he must follow. So, they let down their nets, And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake. And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink. (Ibid, 6,7) Peter and his friends, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were astonished. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord. (Ibid, 8) Peter is overwhelmed by the power of God that he experiences in Person of Jesus Christ. He is so conscious of the radical otherness of God that he witnesses, that he can only feel the distance and difference between himself and his Lord. This is, of course, a dangerous feeling to have. It might lead a man to despair, recognizing as Peter does, that he is wholly unworthy and undeserving of such a presence and power. But on the other hand, it could lead also to spiritual growth and fertility. The first step towards a right relationship with God is the fear of the Lord. For, it is the beginning of wisdom, as a man learns humility and meekness in the presence of the Divine power. Father Mouroux reminds us that man must realize that [he] is dust and ashes before his God; however much he abounds he is always a poverty-stricken thing hanging on the Divine Mercy, and however much he may be purified he is still a sinner face to face with Holiness. (The Meaning of Man, p. 217) And so Peter’s spiritual journey begins with an abrupt and decisive recognition of God’s power in the actions of his Master. Peter finds himself in the presence of what seems to be a great contradiction, where the supernatural touches and transforms the world of nature, and where God is present to the experience of man. His Jewish soul must be overwhelmed as he remembers the words of his people in the Book of Exodus, Let not God speak to us, lest we die. (Ex. 20. 18) Or the words of his forefathers in the Book of Judges, We shall surely die, because we have seen God. (Judges 18. 22) And yet what Peter will come to see is that Grace does not destroy nature but redeems and transforms it. Peter does not die fully and completely, and yet something inside of him does begin to recede, shrink, and peter out in the presence of Christ.
Of course our Gospel lesson records only the first baby steps that Peter makes into the conversion and transformation that Jesus will bring to his life. Peter will go through so much more as he learns, the hard way, that his own good intentions, enthusiasm, and determination to follow Christ will avail him nothing by way of redemption and salvation. Peter, perhaps more than all others, save St. Paul, will come to experience the distance that prevails between himself and Jesus, before he will be fully overtaken and remade by the radical otherness that Jesus will infuse into his heart and soul. And make no mistake; Peter follows Jesus to the very end of his Master’s life and ministry. And yet progressively and increasingly Peter runs up against the powerlessness and ineffectiveness of his own zeal and passion to become a disciple of Jesus. Just prior to his crucifixion, Jesus says to his disciples, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad. (St. Matthew xxvi. 31) Peter’s response is this: Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended…Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee. (St. Matthew xxvi. 33, 35) Jesus assures Peter that, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. (Ibid, 34) Of course, the very same came to pass, and Peter wept bitterly. (Ibid, 75)
Now returning to today’s Gospel, Jesus said to Peter, following the miraculous draught of fishes, Fear not; from henceforth, thou shalt catch men. (St. Luke v. 10) Peter has always been acknowledged as the chief and head of the Apostles of Jesus. Peter began to catch men through his own response to Jesus, beginning with today’s miracle and throughout all the trials and tribulations which his own faith endured to Calvary and beyond. The other Apostles and Disciples followed Peter not merely because of his zeal and passion, but also because of his truly human and honest relation to Jesus Christ. Peter, after all, is always fighting tooth and nail to be Jesus’ friend. For, despite his slow learning curve, he longs desperately to be faithful to his Master. Yet perseverance and persistence, zeal and passion can find their perfection only if and when they are received as the gifts of God’s Grace in man’s heart and soul. Peter could become a true friend and disciple of Christ only when he discovered the futility of his own good works and intentions, and allowed himself to be caught up in the net of Christ’s draught.
So what does it mean to be caught up in Christ’s net? It does not mean that Peter is any the less overawed by his Master. For, as Father Mouroux reminds us: his love is always penetrated with the great wave of adoration that comes from the depth of his being, and is [still] clothed in pure and holy fear before the Majesty of Him who loves him…, (The Meaning of Man, p. 217) who says, with St. Francis of Assisi, ‘O blest beloved Lord and Master, what I am I compared with thee.’ And yet now it is through his membership in the Body of the same Master that he lives, and moves, and has his [new] being. Now he realizes that he is being uplifted in thankfulness for the unspeakable gift of the mighty God, [through] the charity which passes the thought, desire, and capacity of [his] created spirit…[so that] he cannot but overflow with praise and benediction. (Ibid, 217) And so the word of Christ dwells richly in him. (Col. iii. 16) Or, to put it another way: It is not [he] who lives, but Christ who lives in [him]; for the life that [he] now lives in the flesh, he lives by the faith of the Son of God. (Gal. ii. 20) Thus he commands the fish that he has caught in Christ’s net to do the same. To be of one mind, having compassion one of another, [loving] as brethren, [being] pitiful, [being] courteous: not rendering evil for evil, nor railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing…[eschewing] evil, doing good, seeking peace, and ensuing it. (1 St. Peter iii. 8-11) In other words, he exhorts his fish to live in and through Christ Jesus who has loved us and given himself for us. (Gal. ii. 20) Realizing that he has been caught up into the net of Christ, he cannot help but catch others up in the same net. And that net is the safe and secure enclosure that rescues men from the deep waters of human sin, and secures and establishes them in the uninterrupted and persistent love, forgiveness, generosity, and hope that Christ offers to all men.
In closing, this morning, let us follow the example of St. Peter who discovered painfully who he was to become as the chief among Christ’s fishers of men only by being caught up and into the net of Jesus Christ. Let us grow and become fertile spiritually with St. Peter by allowing Christ to catch us up into the net of his desire for us. The Divine Love that we find in Jesus Christ can flourish and bloom [only if] it is welcomed; it can act [only if] it is activated, [for] all the infinitude of its power comes from the adoring passivity in which it lies open to God.(Mouroux, p. 217) To be caught up in Christ’s net means that we must, with St. Peter, forsake all and follow Jesus. (St. Luke v. 11) To forsake all means, too, that through the desire of his mercy and the strength of his power, Jesus will ignite our souls to a new kind of fishing, real fishing, the fishing for men to be caught up in his net, even here at our Church of St. Michael and All Angels. Amen.
That thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through
Things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal.
Trinity season is all about growth and fertility. And from the time of the ancient Christianity until our own, in the churches which retain the ancient lectionary - or calendar of readings, the faithful have sought to grow from strength to strength, in the knowledge and love of God, as they make their way towards God’s kingdom. For traditional Christians, the core essence of the faith has never changed, and so you and I are invited today to continue with the saints of all ages towards heaven. And the Scriptural lessons which we read for this Fourth Sunday after Trinity enable us to understand better what is essential for that growth in God’s truth which will ensure that so passing through things temporal…we finally lose not the things eternal. Our destination is Heaven and the glory which shall be manifested through us, and today our Collect, Epistle and Gospel aid us in this endeavor.
Let us begin with the Gospel lesson for this morning. In this morning’s Gospel lesson our Lord Jesus Christ situates our souls in that proper disposition which enables us to make our journey towards God’s kingdom. Jesus says, Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father is also merciful. (St. Luke vi. 36) And, judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven. (Ibid, 27) And these hard sayings all follow upon His command: 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. (Ibid, 34) It all must have seemed rather too much for his listeners to hear! Men commonly say that certain sins are unforgivable, and that giving should be conditional. The unforgivable sins and the controlled giving, however, are forbidden by our Lord precisely because, as he will show, those who act in such ways have never really embraced God’s forgiveness of their sins nor appreciated adequately His superabundant giving and what that entails for us as His disciples.
So Jesus, as usual, resorts to using a parable. He says Can the blind lead the blind? Shall they not both fall into a ditch? (Ibid, 39) Are you also blind, He asks us today? Open your eyes, and begin to see what I bring to you, He suggests. What I bring to you from the Father of Lights is a release from blindness. He goes on. The disciple is not above his master. But every one that is perfect shall be as his master. (Ibid, 40) If I am your master, Jesus tells his hearers and us, then you must be filled with the Light moves and defines me. If you will be perfect, open your hearts and souls to the Light that shines out from my heart to yours. Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Either how can thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? (Ibid, 41,42) Has my Light not reached you? Are you blind to the Light that perfects and binds all who love God together? Do you not see that this is the true light which ligtheth ever man that cometh into the world? (St. John i. 9)Do you not see that you need the constant presence of God in your heart and soul? Do you not see that you need forgiveness as much if not more than even your worst enemies? And who are your enemies; conflicts always involve at least two parties, and, besides, the fault most often resides somewhere in the middle! Thou hypocrite, says Jesus, cast out first the beam that is in thine own eye, and then thou shalt see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye. (St. Luke vi. 42) See that what you need, first and foremost are God’s mercy and compassion, His strength and power which alone can heal you and enable you to share His love with others. See, Jesus suggests, that what you need, I alone can give to you. Know yourself, and see that the love which I bring to you, you have not deserved or merited, could never have produced or created, and for this reason God has visited you with the Light of His love. And that love I bring to you, if it fills you, will move and define you as it moves and defines me. Then you will be able to do nothing less than give it out to all others, as I have given, and continue to give it to you. That love will be felt in you and by you as forgiveness. This is the nature of the love I bring to you, says Jesus. Receive it gratefully and humbly, and its otherwise inconceivable and unimaginable nature will become your instinctive inclination as you offer it to others.
This is what our Gospel teaches us today. It sounds so logical in a way. But it runs against the grain of our habitual and usual natures. Father Jean Mouroux is precisely correct when he describes the chief center of opposition to the receiving and giving of love and forgiveness. There is a conflict, he says, not between two principles, between soul and body, but a conflict within the interior of one and the same “I”, between two selves of opposing orientation; a carnal self, solidly rooted in the most elementary and violent instincts, and a spiritual self solidly rooted in the deep mystery and radical dynamism of the Spirit. (The Meaning of Man, p. 73) Father Mouroux says that the two forces are locked and engaged in battle within us; one is love of self, which is elementary to all men, and the other is an intuition that there is something more than self to be loved. It is always a struggle. St. Paul, long since having given himself over to Christ, reminds us that still the good that he wishes to accomplish, he doesn’t, and the evil that does not want to do, he does. (Romans vii, 19) And so Christians will be able to love other people, to forgive them, only if they realize that they need the forgiveness of their own sins, do not deserve it, but nevertheless are offered it always through the all merciful Christ. To follow Christ means to receive the forgiveness of sins. But there is more. To follow Christ means to make a choice which is at once an act of renunciation and a gift; a renunciation of all that hinders, and a gift of himself to all that goes with [realizing and attaining] communion with [God’s]being. (Ibid, 72) Renunciation means denial, the denial of any desire, thought, word, or work that hinders the receiving of God’s forgiveness and love. What we must renounce is our right to judge. What we must accept is the inestimable love of God the Father in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the forgiveness of sins. Renunciation of the self means that the Christian places himself in the hands of Christ –into the perfect activity of the forgiveness of sins as the first principle of entry into the new life.
In our Collect for today we ask the Lord to increase and multiply upon us [His] mercy, that [He] being our ruler and guide, we mass pass through things temporal that we finally lost not the things eternal. This is the same thing. If we are truly passing through things temporal on the way to things eternal, then in this world which surrounds us the old man must die, as the new man comes alive. And so to pass through to things eternal, we must die to the habits and traditions of the world we inhabit. We must learn to forgive, and not judge. Judge not, Jesus warns us this morning. We are not to judge because when we do so, we do not forgive, love, and hope. It is not because there is no difference between right and wrong, but simply because at the end of the day God is the judge of all human life, and as far as we are concerned, we must use all the time we’re given in seeing to it that his forgiveness and love of us are transformed into good desire and hope for all others. For, if God’s forgiveness of our sins has been embraced truly in our hearts, they must be alive and growing. Forgiveness that is alive is forgiveness that grows; forgiveness that grows is forgiveness that is offered to all others. If God were to judge us rather than forgive us, it would be the worse for us. So with thankful and grateful hearts, we praise and magnify our good God who desireth not the death of a sinner, but that he may turn from his wickedness and live.(Ez. xxxiii. 11)
My friends, God desires that we should not only live, but live well. And living well means to live as people of hope. Forgiveness and mercy comprise the fire and heat of God’s burning love for us that must be converted into hope. They come alive when we embrace the deep mystery and dynamism of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and souls. So we must forgive now so that we might be forgiven. Jesus says, For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.(St. Matthew vi. 14-15) Will the process hurt? Of course. The birth of good things always involves pain. But the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us, (Romans 8. 18) We suffer, we wait patiently, we hope, we look forward, and we move on. Simon Tugwell says, living by faith, hope and love means suffering a first kind of emptiness, but one within which God is creating from the raw material [and pure potentiality] something new and vibrant. (The Beatitudes, p. 48)The newness and vibrancy that God creates ensure that we are not [going to] lose things eternal, because we are passing through things temporal with the forgiveness and love that are converted into earnest expectation, desire, and hope for the redemption of the whole creation. Amen.
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 what they see and hear. So we have those who are interested in and even need what Jesus has to offer, and then against them 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. 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) An Australian scientific study done in 2012 concludes that sheep are selfish animals which congregate towards a safe center. (Flock and Awe….) Every once in a while one strays and errs from the way of the shepherd, and so the shepherd must set out to find it. There is no indication that that ninety and nine, who do not end up getting themselves 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 when he finds his lost sheep rejoices. 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, 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, and lost sheep are 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 mercifully rescues and 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, was 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 to them 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 do I mean? Well, 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, no friend who cared enough for their spiritual wellbeing to help them out of their sin. But in Jesus they find one who loves them, hopes for them, and sees in them the seeds of conversion, the kernels of new life, the stirrings of repentance, and the victory of God’s love. 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. No man is born a saint, nor does he make himself a saint. 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 irrationality. 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. Our church will not grow if we look upon the world as full of publicans and sinners who, unlike us, are beyond the pale of salvation. Our church will grow if, with the publicans and sinners of old, we draw near to Jesus. Our church will grow if we remember that God resisteth the proud, and giveth Grace to the humble. (1 Peter v. 5) Our church 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) Our Church 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. For let us never forget 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. Amen.
We love Him because he first loved us.
(1 St. John iv. 19)
Trinity Tide is the season of green. The Churches of Christendom are draped in green, the sacred ministers don the same color, for it symbolizes green and fertile growth, fecundity and new life that the soul first finds imaged in nature and then wishes to imitate in the spiritual life. This is the season in which we focus specifically upon the growth of the virtues in the human soul.
Now prior to this season we have witnessed the appearance and growth of God’s Word in the sacred humanity of Jesus Christ. From Advent to Trinity Sunday we have observed God at work in the particular, individual, human life of Jesus Christ. Following Pentecost and moving towards Trinity Sunday we observe that something has changed. What we see is that the glorified Risen life of Jesus Christ, having fulfilled the Father’s will and purpose completely and fully in the Ascension, now turns around and opens up once again as He expands to create a new Body out of faith in His Grace. We are, in other words, invited into the life of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. We are beckoned to become members of Christ’s new Body, the Church, which he forms and molds from the Heaven of his unity with the Father. And so, salvation is not a matter for the future, but rather a process that must begin here and now if we hope to find ourselves at home with God on judgment day. Christ is our yes to God. We say yes to God in Christ, and if this be the case, that yes must become our yes to God as we begin to embrace the virtues that the Holy Spirit engenders.
So from our Epistle today we are taught about what it means to make our yes to God inwardly and spiritually. St. John, the beloved disciple, tells us in his First Epistle that our yes to God is all about receiving what God and His Son Jesus Christ truly are. God is love (1 St. John iv. 8), and what we are to receive first and foremost is the love of God, and what that love is. Our definitive and determined yes to God means saying yes in our hearts and souls to the virtue of His love. And what we say yes to is a love that has come to us, visited us, even insinuated itself into our own human nature and condition in order to save us. In this was manifested the love of God towards us, because that God sent his only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. (Ibid, 9) God is love, and he sent His Son Jesus Christ into the world that we might live in His love. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent his Son to be a propitiation for our sins. (Ibid, 10) Love is God’s true nature. We are called to say yes to God because He is that love that has come out of Himself, down from His own perfection, to reconcile us with Himself. In Jesus Christ we have been visited by the infinite love of God. Jesus Christ is that perfect yes to God and the yes to man. His yes to God combines perfect love for the Father with uninterrupted obedience. His yes to us is a perfect love for all men expressed as His uninterrupted desire for our salvation. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. (Ibid, 12) If we say yes in Jesus Christ, we shall begin to love and obey the Father, and then love our neighbors and desire their salvation. Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us; because he hath given us of his Spirit. (Ibid, 13) His Spirit is the love that enables us to love both God and our fellow men. If we say yes to his Spirit, we say yes to the virtue of His love. God is love, and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God and God in him. Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as he is, so are we in this world. (Ibid, 16)
St. John tells us more. Perfect love casts out all fear. (1 St. John iv. 18) Fear of people, places, and situations threatens to kill the birth of all virtue in the soul, and especially love. Fear hath torment. (Ibid, 18) Fear is characteristic of one who has not embraced the forgiveness of sins, has not cherished the priceless treasure of Christ’s merciful love in his heart. What is there to fear if God in Jesus Christ calls us out of our no to him, no matter how great our sin, and into the new yes to his power, his wisdom, and his love? We love him, because he first loved us. (Ibid, 19) We love him because his love has destroyed our division and separation from himself. He makes the first move. He comes to us to destroy our sin and death. He comes to offer to us the priceless treasure of his life, that we might live through him. (Ibid 9)
Yet still, if we will embrace the love that is God, then we must acquire other virtues that ensure our habitual yes to it. First we must embrace the courage and fortitude that God’s Grace generates. God says this morning to Joshua, Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper withersoever thou goest. (Joshua i. 7) Courage and fortitude are gifts from God that enable the soul to focus exclusively on God, to trust in Him, and to keep his commandments. Courage invests a man with the strength to face adversity in the knowledge that God is our hope and strength, a very present help in times of trouble. (Ps. xlvi. 1) When we say no to God, and fail to keep his commandments, neglect the fear of the Lord, dismiss the courage and fortitude that he lends to us, we consume away in [God’s] displeasure, and are afraid at [His] wrathful indignation. For when thou art angry all our days are gone…. (Ps. xc. 7,9) Preliminary to the reception of God as Love is the preparation necessary to the soul’s purification. From God this comes first in the form of tough love. Tough love demands that the soul ready itself for the deeper in-presencing of God’s merciful healing and transformative power. Tough love then demands that we confess seriously the soul’s fallen condition, that we repent with sorrow over lingering sins, and that finally we reach out to the Lord for healing and relief. The penitent is always a man poor in spirit who reaches out for the mercy and healing touch that God alone can give. Show thy servants thy work; and their children thy glory, (Ps. xc. 16) we cry, for we know that without them we are doomed and damned.
This brings us to the Gospel parable for today. The parable is really all about what follows if we decide to say no or yes to God. What we learn from it is that an habitual no to God ends up revealing our separation from God because we think we have no need for His mercy and love. Because it says no to God’s love, it says no also to the love of neighbor. In the parable we read of a certain rich man [who] was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. (St. Luke xvi. 19-21) What we conclude is that the rich man stepped over and disregarded poor Lazarus, as he came and went in his luxurious living. We do not read that Lazarus ate of the crumbs that fell from [the rich man’s] table, but that he was left to the sympathy of the dogs whose tongues assuaged the smart of his wounds. The rich man had clearly never felt the need for God’s love. He that loveth not, loveth not God. (1 St. John iv. 8) So the one of whom all may have spoken well, who dwelt at ease, avoided all pain and pursued all pleasure (A’d. R.C. Trench, N.P.’s p. 346) died, went to hell, and was tormented. We should not conclude that the rich man was a glutton, winebibber, or notorious liver, but that he loved neither God nor his fellow man. (Ibid) His sin was not in being rich. Rather it lies in his indifference to the love of God and thus the love of neighbor. And so, in the end, he finds himself in hell, separated from the beggar…who was carried into Abraham’s bosom. (St. Luke xvi. 22) Lazarus was saved because he desired to be fed with the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. (Ibid, 21) While Lazarus virtuously realized his need for mercy, the rich man's vice lay in his supposed ability to take care of himself. What is essential is the desire for mercy because to desire mercy is to desire God. The need for mercy says yes to God. God’s mercy is his love, and without the demand for it and the expression of it in our lives, we are doomed and destined for hell.
Meister Eckhart says this about the difference between those rich in this world’s goods but spiritually destitute, and the poor. The poor man, by taking a handout, gets closer to God than he who gives one hundred dollars ‘for God’s sake’. The rich giver is glad to be so good natured and proud of what he does, but the poor taker has to subdue his feelings and despise his status. The rich giver is much courted for his gifts whereas the beggar is despised and rejected for being a taker. (M.E. Fragment #6) Lazarus, the poor man, is saved because he sees that he cannot be self-sufficient, and is thus wholly dependent upon the mercy of another. No man is an island, John Donne has said. Lazarus is saved because he needs mercy, compassion, pity, forgiveness, and the love of God. Lazarus has no possessions, no riches, not so much as a morsel of food; he is sick, wounded, and abandoned. He has neither strength nor power. And so he cries out to be possessed, to be loved, to be helped, and to be healed. And in the end he was, and so becomes a model for our own needful poverty of spirit. For we shall not be saved unless and until we become truly needy for what God alone can give to us.
My friends, today let us all become poor like Lazarus in the Gospel. The name Lazarus means God is my help. Let us need God’s help and mercy, let us receive and cherish his forgiving love, let us courageously embrace it in the fear of the Lord. We love Him, because he first loved us…and sent his Son to be a propitiation for our sins. (1 St. John iv. 19, 10) God loves us with a love that we neither desire nor deserve. In value and worth it is a treasure whose worth far surpasses all the earthly happiness that man’s money can buy. Besides, earthly happiness may cost us our eternal salvation. For the priceless gift of God’s love for us, if received sincerely and thankfully, cannot help but overflow into the lives of others. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. (1 St. John iv. 121 And, God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. (Ibid, 16) Amen.
After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter. (Rev. iv. 1)
Today is Trinity Sunday. And so, following as we do the traditional understanding of the Western lectionary of readings, we enter the season not of Pentecost but of Trinity Tide, intending no disrespect to the Holy Spirit, but acknowledging that our life in the Holy Spirit must never be severed or divorced from the Father and the Son. Trinity means three, and Trinity Tide is an invitation into the trifold life of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Should we make the mistake that many post-modern churches do in abandoning the Trinity in favor a seemingly independent season of the Spirit, we should end up finding ourselves being moved far more by spirits than God’s Holy Spirit, and by our own imaginings than by the life of the Father, the truth of the Son, and the spiritual transformation that the Holy Spirit brings from both.
The Trinity Season is then all about the Revelation of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Christianity is a religion founded on the facts of Divine Revelation. Its God is a God who wishes to be known. The Old Testament is a record of His Revelation of Himself in history. [In the New Testament] Christ is the Revelation of God in our Manhood. (The Christian Year, p. 142) Christians believe that all of creation reveals and discloses the wisdom, power, and love of God the Father. Christians believe that man’s redemption comes about through the revelation and disclosure of God’s will in the life, death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Christ. Christians believe that man’s sanctification through the Holy Spirit ensures his permanent participation in the life of God. So when God opens a door to the experience of any man, some deeper truth and understanding forever alter his consciousness and place in the world. He begins to realize that behind and beneath the appearance of created reality lies God’s being and life, His spiritual wisdom and truth, and His mystical love and passion for all men’s salvation.
And we find the first intimations of this alteration in human consciousness in the Old Testament. This morning we read the words of the Psalmist and we cannot help but be struck by his awe and wonder at the revelation of God’s voice or Word that evidences power, strength, and majesty. It is the Lord that ruleth the sea; the voice of the Lord is mighty in operation: the voice of the Lord is a glorious voice…. The voice of the Lord divideth the flames of fire; the voice of the Lord shaketh the wilderness: yea, the Lord shaketh the wilderness of Cades.... The Lord sitteth above the water-flood : and the Lord remaineth a King forever. The Lord shall give strength unto his people: the Lord shall give his people the blessing of peace. (Psalm xxix. 4,7,9,10) The Psalmist is overawed and humbled at the presence of the Lord, whose voice and Word ensure His rule and governance of all nature and creation. The experience of the Prophet Isaiah is even more startling. He tells us this morning that he saw the Lord upon the throne, high and lifted up, [whose] train filled the temple…that above it stood the seraphims…. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. (Is. vi. 1-3) The vision completely humbles and floors the visionary: Woe is me! he cries, for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts. (Ibid.5) The Lord sends to him one of the seraphin who touches his lips, purges his sin, and equips him to travel and spread the Word of the Lord. Behold a door is opened; man is humbled, forever changed, equipped and strengthened to share the vision of the Lord.
But for Christians another door has been opened that reveals that the image in which we have been made is the Trinity. St. Augustine of Hippo, that great 4th century North African Doctor of the Church, compares the Trinity to the human soul. The human soul is – it exists; it knows – it understands; and it wills – it loves. So also God is, He knows, and He wills. God exists; God eternally begets or generates His knowing – His Word or Son; and out of his knowing proceeds His love or his Spirit. God is one substance or activity who expresses His spiritual life through three Persons.(De Trinitate. Aug. RC summary) We believe that God is three Persons and one God. We believe that each Person is fully God and yet distinct in his respective relation to us.
We believe that we are created in the image and likeness of God, and we believe that Christ, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, desires to reconcile the whole of the created human person to God the Father. But what is it that will make the truth of the Trinity applicable to our lives? Behold [another] door is opened to us in this morning’s Gospel lesson. We read that a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, came to Jesus by night. Men who come to others in the night arrive with the hope that the darkness will shield and shelter them from other men’s observation, detection, and, perhaps, criticism. John Calvin tells us that Nicodemus’ eyes were dazzled, as it were, by the splendor of his own greatness and reputation… and yet there appears in him some seed of piety…and so he is moved to obtain what [Christ] has. (J. Calvin. Comm’s. Vol. xvii). But though the day is far spent and the evening is at hand, Christ will bring Nicodemus into the light of God’s spiritual day. Nicodemus says, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. (St. John iii. 2) Nicodemus knows that God is with Jesus in some way. Perhaps Jesus has discovered some additional facet of the Law that will prove useful to the life of the Jews. Nicodemus is moved by the doctrine of Christ, but has not yet perceived the Person that He is. And so he is still blind. He is spiritual, but not religious, as so many confess in this dark age of ours. Jesus ignores his obsequious patronizing and cuts to the quick: Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. (St. John iii. 3) Nicodemus is worldly and fleshly. He wonders aloud how a man can be born again after his mother has birthed him once. Jesus responds: Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.(St. John iii. 5-7)
The new birth that Jesus Christ comes to bring is birth from above, heavenly birth, birth through God’s Grace which overcomes sin and opens up to man the gates of everlasting life. First a man must be Baptized by water and the Holy Spirit, as Original Sin is washed away, and man is incorporated into the death of Jesus Christ. This Nicodemus must also learn. Death to sin is not enough. Every man who would enter the kingdom of God must become dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God [the Father] through Jesus Christ. (Romans vi. 11) There will be the ongoing habit of dying and rising, as the Spirit progressively grounds a man in the life of this Person who stands before Nicodemus, this man whose Death and Resurrection will become the pattern and form of new birth and new life that the Spirit will carry into the realm of eternal salvation.
And still there is more; the door continues to open. Jesus says, Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. (St. John iii. 8) The wind is invisible and untraceable, and so is the Spirit. The Spirit is present that we may be born; the Spirit is invisibly present whereof thou art born, for thou too must be invisibly born, (Tractate xii, St. John iii) Augustine remarks. Nicodemus, still, does not understand. Jesus responds, If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? (St. John iii. 12) Nicodemus has forgotten that God’s mysterious rule belongs to the working of the Spirit which also orders nature and is beyond the understanding of man. Consider the wind. Can it be caught, captured, imprisoned, and examined to find its source and origin? The minute you think you’ve caught the wind, it escapes you. And besides, how can you be sure that you have caught it all? Jesus reminds Nicodemus that if the mysteries of nature will not lead his mind back to their spiritual cause, neither will his heart be open to the mystery of spiritual rebirth.
The way back to God is from the flesh to the Spirit, from the earth to heaven, from man back to God. Jesus closes His dialogue with Nicodemus with these words: And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. (Ibid, 13-15) For man to return back to God the Father, the Son must lift him into His life through the passionate prodding and longing of His Holy Spirit. Man, for his part, must believe and follow into the mystery that God unfolds. Behold a door is opened. Our response to that mystery is worship. Worship is the highest and truest act of faith, and the worship [we] offer is the homage of [our] whole being, in body, mind, and spirit, in joyous response to that vision of God which has been granted to [us]. (The Christian Year, p. 144) Worship belongs to the divine order which governs nature and man. In worship each believer reaches the highest action of his manhood, and finds himself in the company of those pure spirits who stand before the throne of God ( Ibid)– [the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit] - and praise Him for ever and ever in words vital with the energies of grateful devotion: Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts, heaven and earth are full of thy glory. (Ibid) When we worship, we discover ourselves in the presence of the angels who believe and obey, who so sing and praise God forever and ever. When we worship, we realize with John Donne, that:
All the world is but speculum, a glasse in which we see God: and the Church itself, and that which the Church begets itself in us, faith itself is but an enigma, a dark representation of God to us, till we come to that state, ‘To see God face to face, and to know, as we are known. (Sermon xxi).
Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
St. Matthew vi:24
Our Gospel lesson appointed for today comes to us from the Sermon on the Mount. And like all the lections of Trinity tide, it provides us with crucial teaching regarding our sanctification in holiness. It is full of hard sayings, not the least because it involves our relationship with two necessities for life, food and clothing. But our anxiety and worry over the acquisition of these essentials are treated by Our Lord with abrupt contempt. He appears far more concerned with the spiritual food and raiment that will nourish and clothe us in the life of the spirit. He warns us: you cannot serve God and mammon. (St. Matthew vi. 24) Simply put: we are not to pursue simultaneously both God and earthly ends. And while he does not, to be sure, deny the importance of the one, he does insist that its provision should follow the pursuit of the other.
Perhaps we can better understand all of this if we recall that Christ comes into our human world in order to bring us back to true union and fellowship with the one true God. The frailty of the human condition is such that we, by fallen nature, tend to worship more than one god at any given time. We are spiritually schitzophrenic. The frailty of man without [God] cannot but fall, we read in today’s Collect. And indeed it is precisely man’s habitual tendency, on the best of days, to fall into a rut between God and the world, that Christ comes to correct. Christ comes to set us back onto the path of true life, which is true worship of one God, namely our Father who is in heaven. As Romano Guardini puts it, From the abundance otherwise reserved for heaven, Jesus brings divine reality to earth. He is the stream of living water from the eternal source of the Father’s love to a thirsting world. From ‘above’ he establishes the new existence that is impossible to establish from below, existence which, seen only from the natural and earthly level, must seem subversive and incoherent. Christ comes to bring us into right relation with the one true God, and this is offered to us through faith in him. He wants to lead and carry us once again into true relation with all of reality, both uncreated and created, both invisible and visible. So he insists on bringing us back first to the origin and source of all true living and being, true knowing and seeing, true loving and willing. From the Father alone flows that water which quenches man’s true inner thirst. From the Father alone can be grown and harvested that desire and passion which reach into his kingdom.
Four hundred years before the coming of Christ Aristotle taught his students that all men by nature desire to know (980 a21), and that man naturally seeks happiness. (NE) Man indeed hungers and thirsts, desires to see, hear and touch, no doubt. But essentially these qualities reveal a deeper desire for a more lasting satisfaction. Christians believe that God enables man to fulfill this innate passion. And so in faith with sure confidence they follow Christ as the way and means to the discovery of its provision. His way is entirely practical, if only we can begin to see that this world is no end in itself, but indeed the created reflection of God’s goodness and love. The things of this world are but signs and marks made to move and stir the spirit and heart back to the source and cause of all. As Wordsworth remarks, in his Prelude, Oh, there is blessing in this gentle breeze,/That blows from the green fields and from the clouds/And from the sky; it beats against my cheek,/And seems half conscious of the joy it gives./O welcome messenger! O welcome friend!
And yet this morning, we run into a problem- as we usually do, and should, when we are confronted by Jesus, and wonder where we are in relation to him. Aristotle says that men by nature seek to know, and yet observes that most men don’t ever get around to realizing it. Or, more accurately, men seek to know the wrong things and in the wrong way. They seek to know how to rescue the economy or how to infuse moral integrity into a godless people. In and of themselves, not entirely insincere or malevolent, but, as Aristotle knew, not likely to produce much success if pursued as gods in themselves. For Aristotle grasped that what man seeks truly is the knowledge of God, and that he will remain sadly incomplete and unfulfilled should he be consumed with and anxious over lesser gods. Jesus echoes the same sentiment in this morning’s Gospel. Consider the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. Stop, he urges, if you are indeed consumed with this world. Look at nature, look at the flowers, the animals, the fowl of the air. All of nature is held in my Father’s caring hand. Nature is providentially ordered by my Father. He feeds it, sustains it, colors and beatifies it. Each individual being’s unique nature is generated and preserved by my Father’s constant attention and love. And none of these creatures is anxious about anything. The birds neither sow nor reap and my Father feeds them. The lilies neither toil nor spin, and Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed by my Father like one of these. (St. Matthew vi. 26-29) Jesus brings before us the created things of this world, and sees in them a dependence upon God’s love and concern. He reveals to us that all forms of life, in addition to our own, are cared for and loved by the Father. He shows us that all of nature is subject to the God’s providential order. He refers the created world back to God, and shows that it would neither live nor thrive without Him. He reminds us that the birds neither sew seed nor grow crops order to be fed. And they are anxious over nothing. Similarly, the lilies of the field need exert no effort to reveal the beauty of their natures. They are anxious over nothing. God provides for them, and would do for us, if only we would have faith in Him.
See and believe, Christ urges us today. Faith in God begins with openness to what confronts you. See and believe that God is at work in his world. He tells us seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all other things shall be added to you. (St. Matthew vi. 33) Faith in Christ means following him, through nature and into his truth. It sounds so beautiful and appealing, and yet we find it so difficult to do. Why? We pursue ends in this world for the sake of limited and impermanent happiness. Think about our never-ending conversations via email, facebook, text-messaging and phone calls. The more we talk the more deeply immersed are we in this world, and the less likely to stop, in silence, to behold the fowls of the air and the lilies of the field. The more we talk, move and pursue the mammon of this world, the less likely are we to hear the still small voice of God speaking to us. And mammon is, as one author puts it, a false God, and the service of Mammon is idolatry. And it is the essence of idolatry to trust the things of the world as though they were a final and ultimate significance. Idolatry is the worship of worldly things, and it is a subtle, but constant, ever-present danger to the spiritual lives of all of us. (Parochial Sermons: RC) If we wish to find our way out of the worship of mammon, and away from the anxiety that fusses over its acquisition, we must tend first to our spiritual lives. We must see and understand all things only in so far as they stand to help or hinder our journey to God’s kingdom. This is what St. Paul is talking about when he addresses the Galatians in this morning’s Epistle. But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. (Gal. vi. 14) The greatest treasure of bountiful richness that a man could ever be given is the priceless death and resurrection of God’s own Son. This is the treasure, herein are the riches that the Christian must seek. All other things pale in significance, comparison, and value. And the creation and its bountiful provision should only ever lead us to a deeper desire for it. Again, with Wordsworth, nature seems half-conscious of the joy it gives. Full consciousness comes with the discovery of the soul’s good and the spirit’s desire. That is the manna that comes down from on high, as God’s Word, the food for men wayfaring, the sustenance of those who hunger and thirst for the righteousness of God’s kingdom. The true food and clothing that we should seek is the holiness and mercy that carries us forward, the perpetual mercy, the help that keeps us from all things hurtful, and leads us into all things profitable to our salvation, as our Collect reads this morning.
My friends, this morning let begin to hunger and thirst for the food of the soul. In another place Jesus himself rebukes Satan and says man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. (St. Matthew iv. 4) Nature from her largess silently urges us to recognize her limitations in the spiritual end she serves. I am not the god you seek, she cries. Nay, rather, she says, look into your souls, and from the ground of your hearts, see that the same hand that lovingly cares for me, will do the same for you. Only have faith, and hear his voice, hope in his providence, and feed on his love. Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things and more shall be added unto you. Amen.
Christianity is not about being destroyed by the confusions and concussions of
The time; it is about being discovered.
Hugh E. Brown
Presumably, the reason that we Christians are here today is that we long to be discovered. Why, you ask, is this the case? Well, because Christians seek to get right with God, to discover their true natures, and to realize their potentials as creatures who have a divinely intended purpose and destiny. Christians believe that they were made by and for God. And reading the Bible is the way that Christians discover who and what they ought or ought not to be. What Christians discover in reading the Bible is themselves. They find that the Bible is their story. And they read it in order to identify with its cast of characters in order to be discovered or found out. They do this all the more because they understand that the Bible is about God’s Word, as it addresses, summons, corrects, punishes, prepares, and transforms man in a process of reconciliation with himself. The Bible is a dialogue between God and man, in and through which man can, if he so chooses, not only be discovered , but be changed and transformed into a creature who is made to be moved progressively towards his created end.
So let us see if we can apply these truths to our journey together today. This morning we find ourselves at the home of one of the Pharisees on the Sabbath-day. Or to put it into our contemporary context, we find ourselves at church. The Sabbath-day is made for man, and not man for the Sabbath-day (Mark ii.27), and so we are here today to find ourselves, or, again, to be discovered. In this morning’s Gospel, we find that Jesus is an invited guest. And, indeed, just as Jesus was an invited guest two thousand years ago on the Jewish Sabbath, so too must he be our invited guest on ours. For, if we have not invited him to be a part of our Sabbath, we shall never be discovered. Remember, as Christians we desire to be discovered or found out in relation to God’s Word. Jesus is God’s Word made flesh, and so our lives must be measured and judged according to his presence. So as we welcome him to this morning’s feast or supper, let us be sure that we are welcoming him with an open heart, intending completely to discover and find not only who and what he is, but who and what we are in relation to him.
If we would find and discover who we are in relation to God this morning, then we are struck by an immediate interruption to the Sabbath-day dinner which Jesus attends. Remember, the interruption is all important and revealing for what it should say to us. Remember also, Jesus writes straight, with crooked lines. The Sabbath is made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.(Mark ii.27) Before Jesus was a certain man who had the dropsy. (Luke xiv.2) At the feast, is a man who is afflicted with what we would call edema, or a case of excessive fluids in the body which could lead to or cause congestive heart failure. Dropsy makes one unable to move about and function in any normal ambulatory way, and so is a severe handicap. At any rate, this man is clearly very sick. And he is in need, and so presumably has come to the Sabbath-day dinner for healing. And before Jesus does anything, he asks his hosts a question. Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath day? And they held their peace. (Luke xiv.3) What is the point of the Sabbath-day? Jesus asks. Why are you here on the Sabbath-day? No doubt to celebrate the glory of the Lord. But how are you celebrating? And what is his glory? Is the glory of the Sabbath-day not thanksgiving for and rejoicing in the power and presence of God? And what is this power and presence, if it is not the hand of God which approaches to heal, change, and transform you, taking you away from the confusions and concussion of these times, in order to reconcile you once again to God himself? Who are you and why are you here? Jesus asks.
Jesus proceeds to heal the man afflicted with the dropsy. The man in need is offered the place of prominence on the Sabbath-day. Who is he? He is one whose condition cries out for the presence and power of God on this day. His need reveals who and what he is, and who and what he needs. Jesus will give to him what God bestows most fully on the Sabbath-day, the glorious healing power to those who know their need. Jesus continues, Which of you shall have an ass, or an ox, fallen into a pit, and will not straight-away pull him out on the Sabbath-day? (Luke xiv.4) Each and every one of you, Jesus says, will instinctively rescue his ass, his ox, his dog or cat from any harm on the Sabbath-day. So what does God do for you on the Sabbath day, O ye of little faith? You are here on the Sabbath-day, to find and discover yourselves, to admit and confess what you find, and to open your souls to the glory of the Lord, in his healing power. You are in a place away from the confusions and concussions of the time, with those whose worship of God sets them apart for the apprehension of his glory, his merciful response to sinful condition. You are here, first and foremost, to be discovered and found out in relation to God. And today, Jesus says, you can see yourselves in the man with the dropsy. You shall see in him all of your physical, mental, and spiritual handicaps. In this man, if you open your eyes, you will see an outward and visible manifestation of your own inward and spiritual helplessness and frailty. You shall see that you are here to be healed and transformed.
But how seldom is this the case. The Pharisees in today’s Gospel lesson cannot answer Jesus a word. So can neither you nor I. We are silenced. We read in the Gospel that he put forth a parable to those which were bidden when he marked how they chose out the chief seats, saying unto them, When thou art bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in the chief seat; lest a more honorable man than thou be bidden of him; and he that bade thee come and say to thee, Give this man place; and thou begin with shame, to take the lowest place. But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest place; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto to thee, Friend go up higher…(Luke xiv.7) We begin to see ourselves more commonly in those described by Jesus in the parable. We come to the Sabbath-day dinner seeking out the chief seats. We are here sated by our own pride and conscious of the good that we think we are doing for God. We act as if we are entitled to be here - to scope out the space, to take our pride of place, and to cleave to our notions of right order, good conduct, and proper religion. We come here to prove that we are religious, to seek out our own glory, importance, and prominence. If we are not enraged that some stranger has taken our seat, we are irritated and distracted by another whose external and visible behavior does not conform to our notions of proper church ritual. We remain caught up in the confusions and concussions of the time because its habits and mores are carried by us into the church.
I hope that in our silence, with the Pharisees this morning, we are here to be discovered and found out by God in Jesus. I pray that we learn that prior to any great feast, be it the Jewish Sabbath or the Christian Eucharist, we remember that like the man with the dropsy we are dangerously ill, and like the ox and the ass terribly lost. I pray that we are here for the mercy of God precisely because we have been discovered and found out as those who need what Jesus alone can bring and do. I pray that we might remember that he that exalteth himself shall be abased, and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. (Luke xiv.11) I pray that in reading of the man and the animals who cannot help but be humbled, we might find ourselves, be discovered by the Saviour, who will then say to us, Friend go up higher. (Luke xiv. 10) I pray that we shall realize that being asked to come up is a liberation from that arrogant ignorance that refuses to be discovered and found out. But, remember, if and when we are discovered, there is a way out. For, after all, in making the Sabbath-day for man, and not man for the Sabbath-day, (Mark ii.27) Christ has every intention of humbling himself to heal us, that we might then be exalted. Amen.
Jesus did not come to explain away
suffering, or to remove it.
He came to fill it with His presence.
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 being with the stable and unchanging determination of God’s power. I am talking about an inward and spiritual faith that encounters God’s presence in the uncertain and changing here and now, only to carry it progressively into the permanent realm of truth, beauty, and goodness. In layman’s terms, I am trying to describe the belief that opens itself up to the Jesus, who desires to begin the salvation process now as he leads us slowly but surely to his kingdom. And I hope to show why belief in the spiritual truth is to be preferred to despair over earthly and mundane matters.
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 place barren 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. No convent, no tradition marks the spot. (Trench: “Miracles”) The place, to this day, is lifeless, empty, and void of any future. Its external and visible characteristics show little sign of promise. It is into just this kind of place that Christ’s presence is drawn. The Lord’s presence will yield a new kind of harvest in this barren place. 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) As nature has been robbed of any sign of life, so too has this widow been deprived of her only pride and joy. The widow is weeping, her tears the only expression and communication of an untellable inward and spiritual pain. This pain is not historical in nature. We all know someone who has suffered the tragedy of losing a child. There is no pain like it, and many have lost their faith crying, How could a good God let this happen to me? There seems to be no consolation, no hope, and no possible joy in the future. All the sacrifice and effort that has gone into rearing a child were for nought. 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) Into this pain and agony of soul, Christ comes, with much people.
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) The crowd that surrounds the woman can offer no words to console, no reason to explain what she must endure, for as yet they have no faith. She who is truly alone can only weep. And so when Jesus approaches, all are still. He as much 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 to bear the burden. His presence will extend a compassion that neither she nor the mourners have ever experienced. His words may be few, but his power will be great. The operation of mercy has its way, and the dead man is brought back to life. The Word is spoken, and the spirit of the dead obeys. The only words that emerge out of this situation come from the resuscitated youth. His words reveal to us the compassionate effect of the Lord’s present touch. 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 of resurrection, words of joy that come from the Word. And only then do the others react. 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 specifics of an historical event. Surface level experiences and historical events must find their respective meanings elsewhere, through the Spirit that reveals their deeper significance. Think about the widow who recently lost her ambassador husband to a terrorist attack. Think about the man who is told he has three months to live because of inoperable cancer. Think about the widow of Nain. Each of these people is confronted with a spiritual problem; on the one hand they can mourn, despair, give up on life because there is no meaning now, though, clearly, there had been spiritual meaning before, or, on the other hand, they can believe that there was goodness and there was joy, and, presumably, that goodness and joy can be found again because they transcend and conquer all threats to their persistent presence. The point is this: suffering and loss on a human and earthly level always provide opportunities and occasions for deeper awareness and appreciation of God’s presence. The widow of Nain found this in the miracle of her son’s resuscitation. In all probability the majority of sufferers today will not experience an earthly miracle, but they can experience a spiritual one which is just as real and has as much impact. They may find it when they search for and seek out the spiritual gain to be gleaned from the evidence and effects of a limited and fragile, uncertain and unpredictable earthly existence. Through it all the real miracle that each of us may seek, with the widow of Nain, her son, and the much people that witnessed the event, is the birth of faith.
But, you ask, and rightly so, how do I find this faith today? Well, we might begin by identifying with the dead, only child of the mourning mother. What do I mean? The dead man is a sign and symbol of the kind of person that we are meant to become. But, you protest, I am not dead but alive. Yes, you are physically alive, and that is only too clear! You are alive to the physical happiness, creature comforts, good food, fine wine, the economy, the hustle and bustle of political madness, and otherwise superficial accoutrements of what we called last week, mammon. But are you spiritually alive? Are you conscious that you possess a soul that alone enjoys the limited forms of happiness that define your life? Are you conscious of a soul that experiences joy, happiness, and pleasure and then sadness, grief, and pain? Are you aware that your soul seems to be immersed in things and situations that are uncertain, unpredictable, unstable, impermanent, and quite frankly perishable - be they human or inanimate? And if you are conscious and aware, have you ever thought of pursuing something better, nobler, truer, and surer, whose stability will transcend this world of decay and death? And while we are at it, if you have been alert to the call of the spiritual, have you thought of how Christians believe that God is always with us and for us, enabling us to endure the experience of the earth in order to find the Divine? Paul Claudel, again, has said, Jesus did not come to explain away suffering, or to remove it. He came to fill it with His presence. For the Christian, Jesus Christ comes into a suffering and otherwise sad human condition in order to wash and cleanse, purify and fit it for its eternal destiny. The only requirement is faith. Jesus says, Be not afraid, only believe.(St. Mark v. 36) Faith is the key that unlocks the door and alone leads a man from spiritual death into new life.
Jesus says also, Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. (St. Matthew v. 4). St. Paul says, Therefore I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.”(Eph. iii. 13) Both Jesus and Paul suffer and mourn over those who are spiritually dead. But both also persist in the prayer of hope, that the same people may discover faith and pursue love. To love is to suffer, many have said. The love that suffers all manner of human weakness, rejection, cruelty, torture, and even death confronts us this morning. That love is with us and for in Jesus Christ, longing -still and ever, because it is Divine - that faith might be born in the soil of our souls. In one way, for certain, it will have touched us, if with St. Paul we embrace it and share it as we look out into the world towards our neighbors and say, For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height, to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Eph. iii. 14-19) Jesus suffers in the hearts of his saints as they long for all men’s new life, knowing this might provide us with our first step out of death. Amen.
But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation,
a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light…
(1 St. Peter 2. 9)
You might be wondering this morning how exactly I plan to weave the words just quoted from St. Peter’s first Epistle into this morning’s lections. St. Peter seems to be speaking of something rather grand, elevated, and regal, or of a reality that is radically disjointed from the usual flow of human life. He talks of a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people. He speaks, in other words, of a world that seems light-years away from the one described in this morning’s Gospel. For there we are reading about a leper colony, a place and space of deathly sickness, a sign and symbol of sin and death, a reality, on the face of it, far removed from the true, the beautiful, and the good. On the one hand we think of reconciliation with the kingdom of God, while on the other we are reminded of a pain or suffering that precludes its possibility. But Jesus is the master artisan who can buttress the gap, unite the two, and so enable us to move from the one to the other. Jesus has a funny way of showing us that what we thought were mutually exclusive and radically opposed conditions of existence, end up being essentially interdependent and united in the journey to the kingdom. Jesus will show us this morning, that the chosen generation, royal priesthood, holy nation, peculiar people –in other words the Church, had better become a leper colony.
So Jesus is on his way to founding or establishing the Church. We read that it came to pass, as Jesus went to Jerusalem, that he passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. (St. Luke xvii. 11) Jesus is passing through the middle divide of two cities or two earthly communities. The one is full of Samaritans and the other full of Jews. In neither place will he find the conditions suitable to his spiritual work. Neither those on the left nor those on the right can offer much by way of healing and salvation. Earthly people are taken up with worldly idols and false gods; it doesn’t matter much what their philosophies are. Jesus knows that the road to the kingdom must cut between and lead above both. And that road is peopled by those who need and desire what he has come down to bring.
And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off: And they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. (St. Luke xvii. 12, 13) Leprosy in the ancient world was viewed as a spiritual malady earning its carriers exile from the city of man. The physical manifestations were deemed so hideous by healthy men, that it was judged a sign of punishment for sins, both by the God of the Jews and the deities of the Gentiles. In any case, the leprous were unwelcome in both communities, and so lived on the borders of both as aliens to all. And it is one such group that we encounter this morning. We meet them because Jesus chose not to take the common and safer route for Jews making pilgrimage up to Jerusalem, but to go through the midst of this dangerous border between them and the Samaritans. Jesus chooses, in other words, a mostly no man’s land, from which to teach us about the nature of his kingdom and the Church that leads to it. So these alienated and shunned lepers stand on the outskirts of the village, and they cry out for help from one whom they trust will hear their plea. These men are in a ditch of a predicament and do not merely need help but want it. There is no diabolical if thou be the Son of God, prove it here. They are not tempting Christ, but desperately seeking what they believe he alone can offer. Their friendship together is a companionship in misery; they seek the power of one whose mercy can heal their pain. Knowing most acutely a common disease, they urgently seek a common cure. So, as Archbishop Trench reminds us, they do have hope that a healer is at hand, and so in earnest they seek to extort the benefit. (Comm.Par. 262) And so they cry, Jesus, Master, have mercy upon us. (St. Luke xvii 13)
And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go show yourselves unto the priests. (Lev. 14.1-32) And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed. (St. Luke xvii 14) Note that the infant leprous Church must move on faith that flowers into obedience. These are not men who seek a physical cure by earthly medicines. They do not question Jesus’ authority or qualifications. Rather they believe, and so follow his command. They do not ask when and where they will be healed. Neither do they ask how? They do not so much as ask if they will be healed. In fact, they question none of it at all! What they do, is obey, and then follow. For in trusting Jesus’ command, they are led by the spirit, at least, that is, for a time. An outward and visible spiritual disease has led these men to an inward and spiritual pain and suffering. Their plea emerges from within and so is verbalized. And so, only words here- Jesus words, are needed. The implications of Jesus’ words Go shew yourselves unto the priests are trusted inwardly and so operative outwardly. As they went, they were cleansed. (St. Luke xvii 14) Notice that nothing more was needed for one kind of healing in this case. The men were physically healed and so they continue on. But is this the end of the matter? Is this miracle about healing the physical disease of leprosy only? Does this miracle teach us that faith and obedience, going to the temple to show ourselves to the priest, moving externally and visibly to receive a blessing, are all that are needed?
No. What is clear from the miracle that we read about this morning is that this process of healing that Jesus inaugurates is indeed about spiritual transformation. We read of one man who alone turns back to lead us into the truth. He is the one whose cure has startled his conscience. Far from experiencing only the effects of a new lease on physical living, this man senses a kind of health and power that invades his innermost consciousness. For it was there that he felt most deeply the pain of alienation and separation from other men, and thus from that place and space that this new contact, this Jesus, had touched him. There in his soul he had felt the pain, from the depths of his spirit he had longed for a friend, and so it is from that space that he knows the power. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. (St. Luke xvii 15,16) This outsider, this alien to Israel’s promises alone turns back. No doubt he knew that the Jewish priests would offer him no blessing at Jerusalem. But more importantly he turns back to the source of all healing and health. He not only turns back, but he glorifies God; he not only praises God, but he falls down at the feet of God’s presence and power. And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger. (St. Luke xvii 17,18) This Samaritan is a stranger to God and his promises. But it is this stranger who perceives and knows Jesus most truly. His faith has grown into spiritual thanksgiving. He heart is enlarged, his soul expands as he discovers the spiritual gift of this unknown Giver. His knowledge is startling and profound. His healing will run deeper that any physical cure to the disease of leprosy. Jesus says to him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole. (St. Luke xvii 19) This man alone, amongst the ten, has been healed inwardly and spiritually.
The question that we ask ourselves this morning, is, where do I find myself in this morning’s Gospel miracle? Have I begun to sense that I am one of the ten lepers? Am I a part of a community that is marked by a debilitating disease that that desperately requires the cure that God alone can give? Is the leprosy in this morning’s Gospel an image of the sin that, I know, has oppressed my life? And is the community of lepers a picture of the church that comes together outwardly and visibly to acknowledge a common disease and to seek a common cure? Having received the promise of Jesus, and trusting in his word, does our community then image the response of the nine who proceed to move on, or does it rather imitate the turning of the one who returns to give thanks? In other words, having taken Jesus at his word, what effect do his promises have upon our lives? Are we here to be healed outwardly and visibly only- in word alone? Or are we here to be healed also in deed and in truth? And if the latter is the case, are we turning and thanking God for the good work that he has begun in us already as a community, desiring from our hearts its completion, individually, in the inner man? For if we desire more than group therapy and communal healing, we had better turn and return to the source of our wellbeing. In so doing, with the Samaritan in this morning’s Gospel, we shall have allowed the Lord to touch us where we were most in need of healing. And there, beginning to feel and know the power of God, we shall love and thank him all the more. Then and there, with the alien and outcast, the Samaritan, and with St. Peter – a leprous sinner also, we shall begin to become a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people;…showing forth the praises of God who hath called us out of darkness into his marvellous light…Amen.
While he thus spake, there came a cloud, and overshadowed
them: and they feared as they entered into the cloud. And there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him.
(St. Luke ix. 34, 35)
We begin our sermon today with words taken from the lection for the Feast of the Transfiguration, which the Church celebrates tomorrow. Transfiguration means a complete change of form or appearance into a more beautiful or spiritual state. (Google Dictionary) With regard to its Scriptural reference, it records Jesus’ transformation before the eyes of Saints James, John, and Peter who, having been asleep, awaken to the mysterious vision of their transfigured Master. And as Jesus prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering. And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias: Who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem. (St. Luke ix. 29-31) Once Moses and Elijah disappear, St. Peter is so overwhelmed that he rashly suggests that they preserve or mummify Jesus. But Peter is soon silenced, and with the others, enters with Jesus into the cloud. This is my beloved Son, hear him. (St. Luke ix. 33)
Entering into the cloud, or finding oneself underneath the meaning that it implies, fits nicely with today’s lections for Trinity IX. Clouds provide an image familiar to the ancient mind. In ancient Egyptian literature the cloud was a symbol of fertility, obviously foretelling the coming rains. In ancient Jewish literature the cloud symbolized God’s guidance and presence to the people of Israel. The Lord appeared in a pillar of cloud and forsook them not. (Neh. ix. 19) In ancient Greek writings Zeus, the king of the gods, is called the cloud-gatherer. The image precipitates the thunder-bolts either of divine displeasure, wrath, or the reminder of Divine power and wisdom that can render senseless the cogitations of mere mortal men. Later in Greek history, the poet and playwright Aristophanes’ use clouds to image the muddled mindset of his intellectual adversaries, like Socrates whose philosophy, he maintained, led men into (what he called in his play the Birds) cloud cuckoo land, a utopian republic which existed only in the skies. Thus the image of clouds was familiar and instructive to a host of cultures whose understanding of it yielded differing spiritual meanings.
St. Paul’s use of the cloud in this morning’s Epistle relies heavily upon the positive and instructive sense that came to him through its history in ancient Israel. He speaks to the young church at Corinth which is in as much in danger of forgetting the Divine guidance and presence that the cloud signifies, as their ancient Jewish fathers had been. Brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how 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. i. 1-4) The cloud that guided and led the ancient Jews out of bondage and slavery to the Egyptians was God’s Word, which nourished and fed them as they moved forward in time towards ultimate spiritual liberty. That Word, though they knew it not by name or person, was Christ. The cloud, then, symbolized God’s Word of protection and defense, guidance and direction, power and might, wisdom and truth. But no sooner were the Jews delivered and saved from the hands of their enemies, than their faith had failed them. Their memories were dimmed; their knowledge was clouded. So with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness…for the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. (1 Cor. i. 5, 7) They might have taken a page out of their Egyptian neighbors’ book, and recalled that the cloud promised spiritual fertility. They could even have culled deep truth from the Greek teaching that God was the cloud-gatherer whose thunderbolts were sent to punish and correct arrogant men. But instead they became idolaters. And St. Paul tells us that their record is documented for our spiritual education, that we might learn not to lust after evil things, as they also lusted, nor commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand, nor tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents (1 Cor. i. 6,8,9), and so forth. The point is this: the ancient Jews and St. Paul’s Corinthian hearers were privileged to partake of the spiritual blessings that the glory of the Lord visited upon them. Through the cloud God’s spiritual blessing was conferred upon the ancient Jews. Through the flesh of Jesus Christ the same blessing revealed surer and nearer salvation to St. Paul’s Corinthian converts. The glory is one thing; man’s memory and use of it is quite another. Man is called into glory; and man is summoned to prove and measure his vocation in accord with it.
St. Paul teaches his Corinthian converts and us that the ancient Jews’ forgetfulness of God’s guidance and power, as signified in the cloud, reveals a real failure in faith. There was nothing clouded, vague, imperceptible, or unclear about what the cloud meant for the children of Israel. Faith generated real knowledge that it both baptized and fed them spiritually. It should have carried them further on in their spiritual journey for lasting communion with God. But it did not, and only because they forsook the Giver and the nature of the gift. They forgot about what God had done for them. The people sat down to eat and drink…(1 Corinthians x. 7) Their faith stopped journeying after God in spirit and in truth. St. Thomas tells us this about the nature of faith and the movement of its desire:
In the knowledge of faith, man’s desire [should neither] repose nor rest:
faith is an imperfect knowledge; we believe what we do not see at present;
hence the Apostle says that it is the evidence of things unseen. Thus when one
possesses faith there remains in the soul a movement towards something else:
namely, to see perfectly the truth which he believes and to pursue whatever may
bring him into contact with this truth.
Faith is generated under the cloud of God’s glory and blessing. It must keep journeying and searching if it is to come to the knowledge and love of God. God communicates to man, guides and leads him through the cloud on to his destiny. The soul is made to move toward something else, beyond earthly life, beyond even the clouds. The ancient Jews forgot that they were being liberated and freed, that they were being moved beyond the confines and limitations of earthly existence towards God’s kingdom. They forgot the Mover and the movement. They forgot the Giver and the gift. In fact they took the gift and ran with it. They rose up to play! (1 Corinthians x. 10) Like the prodigal son in this morning’s Gospel, they squandered the gift and forgot the undeserved generosity of the Giver.
St. Paul tells his Corinthian friends and us this morning that the fate that befell the ancient Jews is a real danger for us also. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. (1 Cor. x. 12) We are called to remember and receive the glory and blessing of the Lord as the loving power that desires to carry us to his kingdom. To be sure, we shall be tempted to worship our own earthly desires and even the things of this earth. But, as St. Paul says, There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it. (1 Cor. x. 13) The way of escape is memory. With the infant Church we remember not only the history of the Jewish people, but the record of God’s loving kindness in the Incarnation of his Word, Jesus Christ. Another cloud hovers over us, promising to lead us on. There is the cloud of Transfiguration, and we hear the words of the Father: This is my Son, hear him. There is the cloud of the Ascension and we hear: ‘You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’ Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. (Acts i. 8, 9) Into the cloud and from the cloud Christ calls us on. This is the cloud that mediates God’s desire for us. This is the cloud that elicits our response to him as faith seeks his kingdom.
If we desire to be cured of our clouded vision, if we long to be freed from the cloud cuckoo land that surrounds us, let us ask the Lord to give a renewed sense of his guidance and presence. Let us remember his mercy and thankfully receive his wisdom. Let us pray for the spirit to think and do always such things as be rightful; that we, who cannot do anything that is good without God, may by him be enabled to live according to his will. (Collect: Trinity IX) If our lives have been characterized more by forgetfulness of God, a desire to eat and drink and to rise up to play, a passion to waste God’s gifts on riotous living and prodigality, let us return to our Father and say, Father I have sinned against heaven and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called they son. Make me as one of thy hired servants. (St. Luke xv. 18, 19) If all we desire is to be one of God’s hired servants, the last and even the least, then the cloud will be lifted and the light will shine, our faith will grow, our passion will increase and we shall know even as we are known. (1 Cor. xiii. 12) Amen.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons