Leave me, O love which reachest but to dust;
And thou, my mind, aspire to higher things;
Grow rich in that which never takest rust,
Whatever fades but fading pleasure brings . . .
Draw in thy beams, and humble all thy might
To that sweet yoke where lasting freedoms be;
Which breaks the clouds and opens forth in light,
That doth both shine and give us light to see.
O take fast hold; let that light be thy guide
In this small course which birth draws out to death,
And think how evil becometh him to slide,
Who seeketh heav’n, and comes of heav’nly breath,
Then farewell, world; the uttermost I see;
Eternal Love, maintain thy life in me. Sir Philip Sidney
Where is Jesus Christ? Is God anywhere to be found? Frustrated and exasperated post-modern Christians complain that He is absent, at least when things don’t seem to be going their way materialistically, physically, or tangibly. Other self-contented, complacent, unmoved non-believers, do not make matters any easier, for they challenge the weak and carnal Christians with where is now thy God? Show Him to us! We cannot see Him. Prove to us that He exists. For if your God does exist, He seems comfortably ensconced and nestled away in heaven's unreachable perfection –far enough away, at any rate, from being of much use to any of us.
And the weak Christian realizes that his pagan friend might have it right and so grows resentful and bitter. On one side, frustration and despair sets in, while on the other the worship of mammon proceeds apace as the human community progressively indulges the wilder elements of the animal kingdom. Both groups, it would seem, have their senses fixed upon the things of this world, with the love which reacheth but to dust, as Sir Philip Sydney names it. And so the poet’s song, which once inspired and inflamed men of old to soar to higher things, growing rich in things which never takest rust, seems to fall upon deaf ears.
In this way, contemporary Christian ears are sealed shut to the sweet truth contained in the poet’s encomium to the love of God. And because they are possessed and moved by what fades and fading pleasure brings, they have no ground upon which to criticize the unbelieving world around them. In most cases what bothers and exorcises them begins and ends with happiness and comfort, health and prosperity, justice and injustice in this world. That it should ever occur to them that this world, as a prelude and preparation for the next, seems wholly lost and gone. And that the justice and happiness of this world are always going to be an imperfect shadow of a far greater land of greater glory seems equally hidden from their spiritual sight. This is because such Christians, by and large, are the worshipers of mammon. Milton puts it nicely, a little later in time:
Mammon led them on--
Mammon, the least erected Spirit that fell
From Heaven: for even in Heaven his looks and thoughts
Were always downward bent, admiring more
The riches of Heaven's pavement, trodden gold,
Than aught divine or holy else enjoyed
In vision beatific. (Paradise Lost: i. 678)
And, we mustn’t imagine that Sir Philip Sidney lived in an age which was necessarily more idolatrous than our own. He lived in the 16th century, the age of Reformation, Renaissance, and Discovery. He died at the young age of 32. But he was conscious that the encroaching and advancing, penetrating and piercing, attractive and enticing light of the perverse and profane that always leads the Christian soul to dwell on trodden gold. Having been scorched by this impermanent luminance himself, he hearkens to the appeal of the Muses. It is always the case that those who have indulged the world, the flesh, and devil more than others, have a more acute sense of the disappointment and despair that these gods bring.
So, Sir Philip Sidney confesses that he has spent too much time pursuing false loves and fleeting fancies. And herein we may find the sole cause for our failure to experience and appreciate God’s presence and nearness in the course of our lives. The poet sings out, Draw in thy beams, and humble all thy might /To that sweet yoke where lasting freedoms be;/Which breaks the clouds and opens forth in light,/That doth both shine and give us light to see. Call back and reject your desire for earthly things, the poet insists. See that you have misplaced and misspent your time, energy, and attention on the things that fade and fail. Reclaim your love and let the light of Eternal Love reveal the path that leads to brighter things that never die.
I rose up at the dawn of day,--
"Get thee away! get thee away!
Pray'st thou for riches? Away, away!
This is the throne of Mammon grey.
(William Blake: Mammon)
The Muses insist that drawing in the beams of light and sight are essential, lest we forget what manner of man (St. James i. 24) we are. With the poet we remember how evil [it] becometh him to slide, Who seeketh heav’n, and comes of heav’nly breath. (Idem) We come from God, were made by His Word, and are quickened by the Heavenly Breath of His Spirit. And if we come to see and know that we were made by God’s Word, we are indeed called to be hearers of the Word. (St. James i. 22)
But St. James tells us this morning that we are to Be…doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving [our] own selves. (Idem) First we must draw in [our] beams, and humble all our might. Then we must see the Word that doth both shine and give us light to see. and…take fast hold, [and] let that light be our guide. The light may seem silent, but the poet hears, obeys, and submits to its summons. This is the light that illuminates his soul and speaks to his heart. This is the light that enables him to behold himself, [to go] his way, and straightway [to remember] what manner of man he [is]. (St. James i. 24) This is the man who looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, [who] being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work… shall be blessed in his deed. (Ibid, 25)
Christians must bid farewell to the world to be blessed because we are not forgetful hearers but doers of God’s good work, walking in His Light. We must let the light of God’s all-seeing eye and not the eye of the world be the star to steer our course. We must be determined not to ‘seem’ religious and good but ‘to be’ religious and good in deed and in truth. (B. Jenks, p. 159) St. James says, If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain. (St. James i. 26) Again, hearing God’s Word and walking in His Light calls us into silence. We must hear and then do. Speech gets in the way of hearing God’s Word and discerning His will! St. James calls us to keep silent and remain focused on God’s Light Jesus Christ.
Today we prepare for Christ the Light’s Ascension to the Father. What He has seen and heard from the Father, He has revealed to us. To travel with Him to the Kingdom, in heart and mind we must forsake earthly gods whose cisterns can hold no water. We must hear His Word and follow His Goodness that will reveal the Light of His Love to us. Christ the Word is risen from the dead and is become the first fruits of them that slept. (1 Cor. xv. 20) Now He will Ascend. Will we hear the sweet song of the Word who invites us to follow Him? Cardinal Von Balthasar tells us that Christ’s Ascension is the return to the starting point of His mission. He is the Light and Love that comes from God and returns to God. But He is also the Light and Love who gave us heavenly breath, that we too might seek Heaven in following Him. He tells us this morning in the Gospel that whatsoever [we] shall ask the Father in [His] name, He will give it [to us]… ask and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full. (St. John xvi. 24) Today is Rogation Sunday and rogation comes from the Latin rogare, to ask. In our Collect, we pray that by [God’s] holy inspiration we may think those things that be good, and by [His] mercifully guiding may perform the same. God, in Jesus Christ, by the comfort of the Holy Ghost, accepts our humble hearing of His Word, knows that we yearn to be doers who perform the same, and now gives us lease to speak, to ask for, and to receive those things that be good. Now Christ invites us to ask to receive His Goodness in the Light of His Love that has gained the victory over all our sins. Christ says, be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world. (Ibid, 33)
So today with Sir Philip Sidney, let us hear the sweet and loving song of God’s Word made flesh. Remember that The Word that was here [long ago], [still longs] to be heard, cherished, treasured up in the heart of man, as what makes him new and carries him to the kingdom of God. Let us dare to become not hearers only but doers of the Word. In the Light of Christ’s Love let us hear God’s Song of Salvation that has overcome the world and calls us up into His Heavenly Choir. Today, dear friends, may the truth, beauty, and goodness of this Song be heard in our hearts, as we respond with great joy and sing…farewell, world; the uttermost I see;/ Eternal Love, maintain thy life in me.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons