See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools,
But are wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
(Ephesians v. 15, 16)
In this morning’s Epistle St. Paul exhorts the Ephesians and us to walk circumspectly. Circumspection comes to us from the Latin word circumspecere. It means literally to look around. St. Paul is urging his Greek audience look around before walking. Of course, St. Paul uses the word walk in a spiritual manner. By walking, Paul means moving through wisdom and prudence. We must think before we speak and act. We must look around; we must move cautiously. Otherwise, we turn into fools. Foolish men do not think before they speak. They are swift to speak and slow to hear. (St. James i. 19) They are immersed in what is around them. Consumed with the things of this world, what they see drives their senses and excites their passions. Fools do not look around and deliberate before they choose and will. Fools do not see the world in and for God.
We are not called to be fools but wise men. Wise men know not only that the world around us is full of temptations to covetousness and greed. Wise men see also that the world is not theirs. It is God’s world. Wise men see the beauty, truth, and goodness in the whole of the cosmos that they have not created and do not sustain. They are overwhelmed by the power, wisdom, and love of God painted onto the canvass of creation. They see also that creation can be known and used to better enable man to pursue God in leisure and at peace. Thus, wise men can learn how to redeem the time. With such a view of creation in mind, man can move on to redemption. Wisdom teaches wise men that they are fallen and in need of realignment with God. Wise men can come to believe that the eternally-begotten Son of God, who makes and molds, informs and defines all things, is the same Jesus Christ who longs to reconcile all men to God. Wise men see that creation is God’s, man is God’s, and that both can be perfected through Christ’s redeeming of the time.
St. Paul tells us this morning that we are called to be not unwise but understanding what the will of Lord is…and to be filled with the Spirit. (Ibid, 18) He means the Holy Spirit. But what is the nature of this filling? Paul Claudel describes it this way:
It is the Holy Spirit –ardent, luminous, and quickening by turns –who fills man and makes him aware of himself, of his filial position, of his weakness, of his discontent in his state of sin, of his dangers, of his duty, and also of his unworthiness and the inadequacy of everything around him. Through man the world inhales God, and through him God inhales the world….and continually renews his knowledge of it.
The wisdom of God is made present to us through the Holy Spirit. We come to know ourselves. We come to understand our need for Christ and His Sacrificial Death and our need for the ongoing work of His Resurrected Life. We come to see that the Holy Spirit desires to give us more than just wisdom or knowledge. Through the Holy Spirit, we can inhale God…and in the same Spirit, God inhales the world.
But how can we be inhaled by God and then inhale Him? It sounds strange to our ears. Claudel is using an image to picture how God intends to take us into His presence and how we should respond. You see, the Holy Spirit not only reveals the wisdom of God to us but also desires that such wisdom should indwell our hearts and change our lives. God does not need us but desires that we should be made right by His wisdom. We see another picture of the process in this morning’s Gospel Parable. In it, Jesus illustrates our end as a marriage feast that we should prepare to attend. The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son, and sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding….(St. Matthew xxii. 2) The king is God the Father, and He is preparing for the marriage feast of His Son, Jesus Christ, in the end times. The Son is the Holy Bridegroom, and He desires the Church to become His Bride. God, through the Holy Spirit invites all human beings to come to feast on His wisdom and His love. Through the Holy Spirit, God sends out invitations through His servants. Yet we read that they would not come. (Ibid) A second invitation is sent out. Perhaps this will establish the urgency of God’s desire to take us in or inhale us. But we read that those who were invited, made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise, and the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them. (Ibid, 5, 6)
The Parable really speaks first about those who are too busy to be inhaled by God’s Holy Spirit and then about those who violently reject it and so murder those who bring God’s gracious invitation. In response to their foolish obstinacy, we read that in the end times God the Father will send forth his armies of angels to destroy [the] murderers and burn up the city. (Ibid, 7) What we learn is that those who have no time for God’s wisdom, in the end, are the real fools. Those who cannot be bothered enough with God, who have better things to do, or who resent the presence of God in His creation as the only true redeemer, will be rewarded for their foolishness. They may be fair-weather Christians who are hot and cold, lazy pagans who are spiritual but not religious, or they may be card-carrying Atheists who, for whatever reason, hate God or even the idea of His existence. At any rate, not wanting to be inhaled by God, their desire will be rewarded, and they shall be exhaled, even forever.
But before we get too excited about what this means for us –since, presumably, we come to church to inhale God, we had better read the rest of the Parable. What do we find? God’s wisdom and love still alive in the hearts of His friends through the Holy Spirit. So, He sends them out again. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests. (Ibid, 9, 10) Down through the ages, the friends whom God has inhaled are always carrying His desire to the nations. To the marriage feast, they bring in men and women who are both bad and good. They are sinners who are working the evil out of their spiritual lungs and welcoming good into their lives. They are not yet perfect but are human beings who are daily dying to sin and coming alive to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans vi. 11) These are honest men and women who come to Church so that Christ can wash away their sins and fill them with His righteousness. So far, so good. But what do we read next? And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: and he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen. (Ibid, 11-14) What is this business about the wedding garment? It seems that in the end there must be a difference between the bad and the good who are members of Holy Mother Church. The bad are present but have not been inhaled by God. The good have. St. Gregory the Great tells us that this wedding garment is charity or the love of Christ offered to the Bride. Many come to church with faith, he says, but if they have not charity, they have not been inhaled by God through the Holy Spirit. (Hom. xxxviii) They do not embrace the wisdom of God’s love. Because they have not been inhaled by God’s love, they cannot inhaleit themselves. The wedding garment is that charity of God, clothing the heart of man, whose wisdom decrees that love received must love in return. Those who have faith and even hope but have not inhaled the love of God through the Holy Spirit cannot be saved because the essential nature of God’s wisdom has been lost.
My friends, we are called today to inhale God. Inhaling God means receiving his Holy Spirit. Receiving the Holy Spirit means surrendering all rights to ourselves (Oswald Chambers) and becoming that capacity, that receptivity which no longer offers any obstacles to the will of its Creator. (Claudel, 179). The “I” must die; we must lose ourselves, even our individual and narcissistic urges and callings, our attachments, everything that stands between us and God. Walk in love, the Apostle says, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour. (Ibid, 1) Christ has loved us; we are inhaled by God. Let us inhale Christ also. God’s wisdom is greater than man’s foolishness. In psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, we can inhaleChrist. God’s love inhales us, and we are invited to die and to rise. God’s wisdom is the love of Jesus Christ that inhales us through the Holy Spirit. As we are inhaled by the Holy Spirit, if we walk circumspectly, we shall conquer all sin and embrace all virtue. As we inhale the Holy Spirit’s love, our love for God will be converted into love for others. The love of God is the wedding garment. If we are not clothed with it, we can only stand to conclude that we have not inhaled God’s love. Or perhaps we have inhaled it withoutexhaling. The same conclusion must be drawn: we are not fully clothed with the wedding garment. God’s inhaling us is offered and we find the new air that we ought to breathe. God wants us and all others to walk circumspectly, to redeem the time, and in being inhaled by Him to catch others up into the breath and the wind of God’s love. God wants us to inhale others. Inhaling others will reveal that God’s wisdom is at work conquering our foolishness by loving our fellow men into being inhaled by God’s love also. Then, though our world may go to Hell in a handbasket, we shall have redeemed the time.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons: