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 to look around. St. Paul is urging his Greek audience to 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 so that Almighty God…through [His] bountiful goodness…may keep us from all things which may hurt us. (Collect, Trinity XX) We must walk circumspectly, being ready both in body and soul to cheerfully accomplish those things which [God] wouldest have done. (Idem) Otherwise, we turn into fools. Foolish men do not embrace the Divine Providence for their lives. They are swift to speak and slow to hear. (St. James i. 19) Consumed with the things of this world, they hang upon what is impermanent and uncertain. Fools do not see the world in and for God.
We are not called to be fools, but wise men. Wise men know that the world around us is full of temptations to gluttony and greed. Wise men see that the world is not theirs but belongs to God. Everything in it is to be used in His service for salvation. Utility forbids excess. Excess bespeaks idolatry. Thus, wise men learn how to redeem the time. Redeeming the time is the best use of this world in preparation for the next. Wisdom bids us to use our time in this creation chiefly for Heaven’s interest in us. Wise men can come to believe that the eternally begotten Son of God, who creates and informs all things, is the same Jesus Christ who longs to reconcile all men to God’s Providence. Wise men see that creation is God’s, man is God’s, and that both can be perfected through Christ’s redemption 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) 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 Jesus Christ made present to us through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit enables us to remember ourselves in Jesus Christ. We come to understand our need for Christ and His Sacrificial Death, and for the ongoing work of His Resurrected Life. Yet the Holy Spirit desires to give us more than just wisdom or knowledge. Through the Holy Spirit, we can inhale God and begin to find ourselves in the habit and activity of God the Father’s Word, Jesus Christ, who possesses all meaning and definition for our human nature.
But how can we be inhaled by God and then inhale Him? It sounds strange to our ears. Claudel is using an image to illustrate how God’s Wisdom and Love can forever define our redemption of time.You see, the Holy Spirit desires that such wisdom should indwell our hearts and change our lives. God’s Providence reveals to us how He sees us and how He intends to redeem us.
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 who always prepares us, if we are willing, 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 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. God never ceases in His determination to 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. It speaks also about those whose resentment leads them to violently reject it by slaying 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 their city. (Ibid, 7) The real fools are those who bring on their own destruction. Those who cannot be bothered with God, who have better things to do, or who resent the presence of God in His creation as their only true Redeemer, will be rewarded for their foolishness. They may be fair-weather Christians who are neither hot nor cold, lazy pagans who are spiritual but not religious, or they may be card-carrying Atheists who, for whatever reason, hate God for His love. At any rate, not wanting to be inhaled by God, their desire will be rewarded, and they shall be exhaled 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 are 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 submitting to God’s Grace, attempting to redeem the time, as they allow Him to work the bad out and work the good into their lives. They are not yet perfect but 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. 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. (Ibid, 11-14)
What is this business about the wedding garment? It seems that in the end, there must be a judgment between the bad and the good, those who have redeemed the time and those who have not. God always inhales the bad and the good but the bad had not reciprocated God’s love. 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 but have not exhaled by putting on Christ with faith in His charity. (Hom. xxxviii) They have not the adornment of the new and spiritual man, as Archbishop Trench insists. (R. C. Trench, The Parables, The Marriage of the King’s Son.) Again, with Trench, they are despisers, counting themselves good enough in themselves, in the flesh and not the Spirit, to appear before God. (Idem)Because they have not exhaled God’s loving Providence in Jesus Christ, they have despised His Spirit, who alone can redeem the time in them. The wedding garment is that charity of God which adorns the soul with God’s Grace. Those who have faith but have not reciprocated God’s love are not clothed with wise circumspection and have not redeemed the time. Perhaps they have grumbled with discontent and ingratitude. Perhaps they expected special favors from the Divine Providence, always to be to His liking, saved from everything that brings hardship. (The Church Year in the Times, p. 200)
We are called today to inhale and exhale God. Receiving the Holy Spirit means surrendering all rights to ourselves (Oswald Chambers) with 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 all self-importancethat 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 sweet-smelling savour. (Ibid, 1) Christ, the Bridegroom, has loved us; we are inhaled by God. If we inhale Christ by the Spirit, God’s wisdom will overcome our foolishness. In psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, we exhale God’s love for us in Jesus Christ with gratitude. In Jesus Christ, we are invited to suffer, die, and rise. Walking circumspectly, we conquer all sin and redeem the time through Jesus Christ. If we put on the wedding garment, we shall be given moral strength, with all that makes life honorable in service and worthy of character, ready to bear adversity cheerfully, suffering for duty’s sake gladly, giving us moral vigour and the truest self-respect. (The Church Year, p. 200) God intends to clothe us with it. If we are not clothed, we shall be left 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. (Ibid, 13)
Today we are invited to the marriage of the King’s Son. If we reciprocate the King’s love for us, in Christ, and by the Spirit, we shall begin to redeem the time. Many are called but few are chosen. (Ibid, 14) They are chosen who are clothed with righteous zeal for God, redeeming the time with exhaled reciprocal love. We pray with the poet:
Love, lift me up upon thy golden wings
From this base world unto thy heavens hight,
Where I may see those admirable things
Which there thou workest by thy soveraine might,
Farre above feeble reach of earthly sight,
That I thereof an heavenly hymne may sing
Unto the God of Love, high heavens king.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons: