Concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant.
(1 Corinthians xii. 1)
In the Collect, Epistle, and Gospel for the Tenth Sunday after Trinity the subject matter is struggle. As always, in the Trinity season we are exhorted to so turn to God through Jesus Christ, that we might struggle to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit, becoming visible and audible agents –revealers- of God’s presence in the world. And today we are reminded of a few key elements that rightly position our souls to the God who longs to wrestle with us and bring His gifts alive in our hearts and souls.
First, we learn exactly what we are not meant to be in relation to God. I would not have you ignorant…carried away by dumb idols (1 Cor. xii. 1,2) St. Paul tells the young Corinthian Church. Jesus witnesses the worship of dumb idols when He visits the Temple at Jerusalem and finds His own people wholly ignorant of the gifts that the Temple should have cultivated by way of preparation for His coming. Our Gospel lessons tells us this morning that Christ Jesus enters into the Holy City, whose Temple symbolized the Church that Christ would grow from the foundation of Solomon’s beginning. The Temple was meant to be a place of encounter between God and man in this world, but Jesus finds it rather a site of sinful commerce. And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. (St. Luke xix. 41, 42) Instead of faith, hope, and love, there Jesus finds ignorance and blindness. Jesus approaches the Holy City only to find that the gift of God’s Word and Promises to His people are wholly ignored. The proclamation of God’s Word that heralded His coming is unheard by the Jews, who have been blinded by their worship of dumb idols as they engaged in false commerce. They were consumed with anything but faith in the gifts of God’s Word, now to be summed up and perfected in the visitation of His Son. They know not, neither will they understand; they walk on in darkness: all the foundations of the earth are out of course. (Ps. lxxxii. 5) as the Psalmist says. They worship mammon and money and are far from any consciousness of the dangers that we spoke of in last week’s sermon. The ancient Jews would not hear God’s Word.
Second, in Jesus’ weeping over the sins of His own people and the sins of lukewarm Christians today, we learn from our Saviour that we ought to mourn and weep over our own sins and the sins of the Church. The Church is the new Temple of God, and in it we must grieve and lament over our ignorant worship of dumb idols. Origen of Alexandria, commenting upon these first few verses, says that Jesus weeps over Jerusalem first to confirm and establish those virtues which He desired should come alive in us. He writes, All of the Beatitudes of which Jesus spoke in the Gospel He confirms by his own example. Just as He had said “blessed are the meek”, He confirms this where He says “learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart. And just as He said “blessed are ye that weep”, He also wept over the city. (Origen: Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers: iii, p. 341) St. Cyril of Jerusalem writes this, For Christ who wishes that all men should be saved, had compassion on these. And this would not have been evident to us unless made so by some very human gesture. Tears however are a sign of sorrow. (Ibid) Jesus longs for us with such love that He is moved to weep and mourn over our failure to welcome His ongoing visitation to us. St. Gregory the Great writes that the compassionate Saviour weeps over the ruin of the faithless city, which the city itself did not know was to come. (Ibid) And so three of the great Church Fathers remind us that Christ uses His human nature to reveal and express God’s love for us, the forgiveness of sins that He brings to us, the salvation that He will win for us. They remind us also of our need to mourn over our ignorant rejection of the love that has come down from Heaven to be seen, heard, remembered, and embraced as the Holy Spirit makes the gift of Christ’s Redemption our own, even forever.
So, through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we are called to claim and confess that we have too often and for too long worshiped dumb idols in ignorance and have failed to confess our sins and mourn over them. But what of the specifics? How can we begin to abandon the false commerce and shady business practices of this world, and embrace the gifts of our Lord the Holy Ghost? The fallen Jerusalem over which Jesus weeps in this morning’s Gospel is the fallen Jerusalem of our souls. The soul that is fallen has lost its connection to God’s Word, Promise, and Plan for its salvation. The soul that is fallen has lost consciousness of its sin because it has lost consciousness of its powerlessness in relation to the God who alone can heal, redeem, and save it.
We might recover the soul’s spiritual consciousness by looking at today’s Old Testament lesson. Here we read that Jacob rose up that night, and took his two wives, and his two women servants, and his eleven sons, and passed over the ford Jabbok. (Genesis xxxii. 22) Jacob, the son of Isaac, crosses the river Jabbok, which means to struggle, to empty, or to pour out. Unbeknownst to him at the time, Jacob was struggling to leave his old self, the natural man, and the soul immersed in earthly ends and profane commerce behind. Jacob can be our model for the man who empties himself of the worship of dumb idols, leaves behind corrupted desires for impermanent riches, and struggles to cross the spiritual waters. And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. (Genesis xxxii. 24) Possessions, money, even spouses must be left behind for a season so that true spiritual combat can begin. Jacob struggles and wrestles. Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that, The Church’s spiritual tradition has seen in this story a symbol of prayer as a faith-filled struggle which takes place at times in darkness, calls for perseverance, and is crowned by interior renewal and God’s blessing. This struggle demands our unremitting effort, yet ends by surrender to God’s mercy and gift. (Weekly Catechesis, May 25, 2011) Wrestling is spiritual combat. Each of us must engage it. God struggles with us against the deceitful promises of the devil. God’s presence, His Word, Jesus Christ, struggles to purge the temples of our bodies and souls of any evil desires that pursue false commerce with the world. God will not force His saving power upon us. He does not wish to prevail against Jacob or us. He touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob's thigh was put out of joint, as he wrestled with him. (Genesis xxxii. 25) Wrestling with God leaves behind a sign of our own imperfection and finitude. The thigh, which means his heart, is restless until it rests in God. God’s touch is the loving reminder that He will be the source of our healing and redemption. Jacob is touched by the love of God that saves him. He will wrestle a blessing out of God. God asks, What is thy name? (Genesis xxxii. 27) Jacob answers. God says, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed. (Genesis xxxii. 28) Israel means he has striven, hunted, aspired with God. And so too must we, if we would be saved.
You and I must be prepared for spiritual warfare. Jesus weeps because He knows what we lose if we refuse to struggle and wrestle with God. Blessed are they that mourn. (St. Matthew v. 4), Jesus insists. Mourning is grief over a contradiction that we discover between ourselves and God. We mourn over our failure to rely wholly and completely on God to discover His promises for us. Our spiritual thighs must be felt to be out of joint. We must grasp that without God’s Grace we can only ever hope to hobble around this sad, sad world desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope…mourning the vanished power of the usual reign, as T. S. Eliot reminds us. (Ash Wednesday) If we fail to wrestle and struggle with God, we shall never come to comprehend our true condition as sinners in need of a Saviour. If we fail to wrestle with God, we shall never be able to see the Saviour He sends in the Person of His Only Begotten Son. If we fail to wrestle with God, we shall never see how this Son has won our redemption and salvation.
No sooner do we read that Jesus…wept than we read that He went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold therein, and them that bought; saying unto them, It is written, My house is the house of prayer: but ye have made it a den of thieves. (St. Luke xix. 45, 46) If we appreciate Jesus’ tears, we must also know that through Him, God expresses His Love in wrath against our sin. For whom the Lord loveth, He chasteneth. (Hebr. Xii. 6)Let us receive this wrath as Divine Love and Desire. Christ brings us to a place of our own helplessness. Jacob wrestled with God and discovered himself. Now God, in Jesus Christ, would wrestle Satan for us. Satan underestimated the omnipotence of his adversary. To be sure, Satan stripped, tortured, and crucified Christ as Man. But what he forgot was that the Man was also God. For while Christ the Man was dying, the death had already become the instrument and tool of Christ the God’s victory over sin and Satan. In the Crucified Dying Lord, Death took on new meaning as the source and seedbed of the beginning of new life that never, never dies.
Jesus is the Love of God in the flesh. He cares for us. Jesus wept over the destruction of Jerusalem because in it He saw the ruination of the human soul. Jerusalem is fallen. We are fallen. But now Christ takes us into His loving death. In His death, we struggle to be born again and begin to walk upright. Walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour. (Eph. V. 2) Thank God for this and Rejoice! Let us mourn, so that we may rejoice.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons: