Lord we beseech thee, grant thy people grace to withstand the temptations
of the world, the flesh, and the devil; and with pure hearts and minds to follow thee. (Collect Trinity XVIII)
In the Gospel from last Sunday, you and I were bidden by our Master to take the lowest seats at any grand dinner, the place of least importance in the eyes of the world, and to embrace a character of humility and meekness to better situate ourselves in relation to God’s Grace. Our Lord, using the Parable of the Wedding Feast, intended to teach us that our Heavenly Father’s compassionate mercy alone can invite us to go up higher into His Kingdom. He elevates only those who are humble and meek, rather than the proud and hubristic who reckon that they have earned a high place in his presence. This is practical advice of the greatest spiritual value: God alone is above all and alone provides; God alone can lift man out of the lowliness of alienation from Himself and into the presence of His Eternal Love. Man should humble himself before God and know that he is not worthy to eat of the crumbs that fall from God’s table. Man must acknowledge with meekness that he cannot save himself and needs God’s coming down in Jesus Christ to redeem and save him.
This week, we continue to pray that our hearts and minds might be open to the Divine Condescension in Jesus Christ. God’s coming down in His own Son, Jesus Christ, is a hard truth for most of us to swallow. We believe that an all-perfect God would never sully or demean himself by taking on our frail and suffering human nature. We have trouble seeing how Jesus Christ can both be the Second Person of the Trinity, God’s eternally begotten Word, and the suffering servant who takes the lowest seat in creation by suffering and dying innocently for all of us, pouring out His blood to pay the price for our sin, to ransom and redeem us, and to reconcile us to our Heavenly Father.
And Jesus Christ seems to make matters worse by trying and testing our faith. Today, He asks the Pharisees, What think ye of Christ? Whose Son is He? (St. Matthew xxii. 41, 42) With the Pharisees most of us respond, the son of David (idem) -which is to say the Son of Man. Christ then pushes us harder. How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool? If David then call him Lord, how is he his son? (Ibid, 43-45) David calls Christ his Lord and yet it is prophesied that Christ shall also come out of his loins and be one of his sons. How can Christ be both the Son of God and the Son of Man? Of course, this union of contraries and opposites is hard for us mere mortals and frail flesh to imagine even ever being possible!
But our problem, no doubt, originates in our fallen world. St. Thomas says that the world tempts us either by attaching us to it in prosperity, or by filling us with fear of adversity. (T.A.: The Creed, What is Faith?) The world tempts us with promised treasure, only to confuse us with the incessant fear of its loss and suffering as a result. Prior to Jesus’ prophecy of His double-nature, as both God and Man, Jesus answers the Pharisees’ lawyer with man’s call to a double-love. If we would only believe God’s Love more fully, we would not find it difficult to see how Jesus is both God and Man. The lawyer had asked Him Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus answered,
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment and the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Ibid, 36-40)
Perhaps, What think ye of Christ? Whose Son is he? is more easily believed if we begin to ponder the double-love that Christ exhorts us to embrace. Christ teaches us that the activity of God’s Love should be alive in the heart of Man. Christ is the eternally begotten Word of Love, spoken from the bosom of God the Father perfectly and forever. He is Simple, High, Perfect, and Supreme. But Christ is the same Word of Love made flesh that dwelt among us, that came down from Heaven to reveal God’s love in dying for us, redeeming us, making atonement for our sins, and longing to save us forever. He is the love of neighbor. In Jesus Christ the eternally begotten Love of God is made man.
Why should this surprise us? Hasn’t the Word of God’s Love always come down from Heaven to make and create a world full of wonder? Hasn’t God’s Word of Love made all things, informed all things, beautified all things, and moved all things to their appointed ends? Did not God’s Word of Love speak to the Ancient Jews of His Promised Return and Redemption? Hasn’t the Divine Love always come down and penetrated creation with the inspiration for souls that were alive to His descent? Both Plato and Aristotle have blessed us with what they discovered of God’s love penetrating human life. Why, then, do we have so much difficulty with the Word, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, made flesh who dwelt among us, and suffered and died for us? Is this not the fullest expression of the Spirit of Love? Are not our souls struck with awesome wonder at that Love that can become one of us, with us and for us, as He lives and dies to Love us back to God? Shouldn’t we be overwhelmed by the Word of God’s Love given to us absolutely, as He calls us, loves, forgives, and dies for us? Is this not even more and not less Divine? Isn’t this the Highest Expression of Divine Love that God’s Word comes down to the lowest level of man’s suffering sin, bears it, suffers from it, and then conquers it even in Death upon a Cross? Is this Love not far more Divine than if the Father had never sent His Son into the world to be made man for our salvation?
Dear Friends, today we study the life of Jesus Christ, the God-Man. He is the High and Supreme Word of God’s Love that has come down from Heaven to save us. He is the Love of the Father in the flesh that never ceases to come down to us. Because He is the High and Glorious Eternally Spoken Word of God’s Love, He alone has the Power to take the lowest seat and to reveal what our sin does to Him and to endure it all as we nail Him to His Cross. He alone has the Love and Determination to forgive our sins and hope for our future. His Love is the forgiveness of our sins made flesh. He is the redemption of our human nature made flesh. In Him alone, God and Man meet once again.
In His double-nature, Jesus Christ alone is the double-love for God and Man that is accessible once again to all mankind. In Jesus Christ, we find that Love for God the Father that is simultaneously the Love that does what He must to win back the love of His neighbor. Christ loves the Father with all His heart, soul, mind, and strength. This same Love is returned to Christ as the Father’s desire for all men’s salvation. The Word of God’s Love dies to Himself in earnest for all men’s salvation. All that is alive in Him is God’s Love. His Death is no barrier to His Love for us. All that is alive to Him is the Love of God for His neighbor, whom He invites into the death that only He can die. He alone dies perfectly to sin, death, and Satan, and He welcomes all men to share in His Victory. Loving God with all His being enables the Saviour to die to the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil for us. Such uninterrupted love for God will then soar into glorious Resurrection, Ascension, and Pentecostal Return. In Christ alone, we can find the double-nature that is the Word of Double-Love. In Christ, we too can begin to love God so fully and perfectly that we cannot be restrained from loving all men in God and God in all men.
Today, we long to embrace the reality of double-love made one in Jesus Christ, God and Man, whose double-nature is shared with us through the Holy Spirit. Romano Guardini has this to say about the double-love.
Love of neighbor and love of God belong together: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart…” and “thy neighbor as thyself.” By that same token: “And forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors” (Matt. 22:37–39; 6:12). The love Christ means is a live current that comes from God, is transmitted from person to person, and returns to God. It runs a sacred cycle reaching from God to an individual, from the individual to his neighbor, and back through faith to God. He who breaks the circuit at any point breaks the flow of love. He who transmits purely, however small a part of that love, helps establish the circuit for the whole. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Purity of heart means not only freedom from confusion through the senses, but a general inner clarity and sincerity of intent before God. Those who possess it see God, for he is recognized not by the bare intellect, but by the inner vision. The eye is clear when the heart is clear, for the roots of the eye are in the heart. To perceive God then, we must purify the heart; it helps little to tax the intellect. (The Lord)
The circuit of Love is found in Jesus Christ. He came down so that we might return to God in Him. Meekness and humility are the virtues that enable us to embrace the Love that finds rest in Him. With St. Paul, we shall have returned the circuit of Love to God.
I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ: that in everything ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge; even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: so that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons: