Sermon by Bishop David Smith

Homily The Eighth Sunday after Trinity The Holy Synod 2017
+ In Nomine.
THE ANCIENT COLLECT appointed for today’s liturgy
continues the traditional theme of the season of Trinity, living the Law of
Love. It places life in Christ directly under the sheltering wings of divine
providence, in a process of taking up the Cross and following Jesus. This
divine ordering is a kind of fatherly shepherding that never fails to balance
the trials of earthly existence. The divine action of our behalf is described as
removing us far from things hurtful and giving things profitable. As followers
of Jesus, we do believe this to be the case but the pressing question is this –Is
this our experience as the reality of life or is this just a facile oft-repeated
theoretical construct that comes easily to our lips? If we do live this truth, this
is indeed admirable. However I suspect that, for most of us, theory and
practice have yet to come together in quasi-perfect harmony. Is God the
problem? Assuredly not! Thus, the question before us may be phrased in this
way How meaningful is our spiritual practice? – both individually and within
the one body of Christ, His church spread over the whole world? At issue is
the discovery of optimal ways of finding and maintaining this way of being
in but not of the world, of finding in human existence a living dynamic and
not a theorem, of making this way of being a proper and effective path to a
living and vital communion with God. Paul would put it this way ‘ to be led
by the Spirit of God, ‘ led on the path from faith and hope along a divinely
driven adoption as sons who are formed anew as heirs and joint-heirs with
Christ that they may appropriately come to share in His glory.
The issue for people of faith comes into focus as a gradually emerging
concept of being, a being that is not defined by ‘ fighting the good fight ‘ nor
by living the good life as supreme moral and ethical exercises that easily
become ends in themselves. Nor is it to be understood as an expression of
cultic observance nor of doctrinal correctness, although all of the above are
accomplishments of real and lasting value. I put it to you that it is rather
achieved only by a continual process of coming to share in our Lord’s
passion, that ultimate expression of His willingness to make Himself small
before His Father, even to the point of the dissolution of His earthly life as a
man. The Carmen Christi embedded in Philippians 2 should inspire us to
submit to God our Father in a way that echos our blessed Lord’s 2
paradigmatic example. His mind was emptied of ego, so fully absorbed into
the Father’s being through humble obedience that the prize of the
‘ upward call of God ‘Philippians 3 . 14 was His desired mode of being. We too
must, with Paul and with all the saints, ‘ forget what lies behind and strain
forward to what lies ahead, ‘ 3 . 13 moving inexorably towards our citizenship
which is in heaven from where, with expectation, we look for our Saviour.
Can we effect this transformation and achieve this altered way of being? If
we answer this question with Yes, then two other questions follow directly –
Will we? and When will we? If we through grace are moved by the Spirit to
follow Christ along the Via Dolorosa, then it is imperative that we follow His
perfect example by changing how we live. Now, perhaps this idea needs a
certain adjustment. The exact path of this transformation will have a certain
individual character that speaks of each unique life journey. However, this
essential modification cannot change – the necessity of relocating the
wellspring of a life away from the demands of the ego that finds its willful
self-expression in the passions driven as they are by the elemental spirits of
the earth, moving it toward a manner of life springing up from the divine
implanting of the Spiraculum Vitae, Genesis 2 . 7 the formative divine breath
that makes the path of suffering into the gate of a fuller life, a life not bound
by the illusory demands of time, change and the body. Those moved to elect
this journey along the road less travelled will begin to discover as they work
for true person-hood (as opposed to distinctive individuality) that being alive
becomes about communion stirred up in us by the love of the Father,
expressed in the Son and sustained by the firey Spirit Who leads us into all
truth. If we permit ourselves to undertake this journey that heightens our
ability to do the Father’s will at an ontological level in the core of our very
being, we will find that we obey the ideas presented in the famous Shaker
song titled Simple Gifts ‘ Turn, turn, turn till you come down right. Then you
will be in the valley of love and delight. ‘ Where is this valley to be found but
in the Heart of the One Who is love, light and life for all His creation.
The corpus of our sacred Scripture delights in placing before us
contrasting couplets – life and death, light and darkness, good and evil, the
Lord Jehovah and the gods of the peoples, to name but a few. In so doing, the
question, indeed the necessity of choice is kept ever before us. The couplets
point towards the desirable goal of life and length of days as we dwell in the
land. Deuteronomy 30 . 15ff or through the wrong choice ‘ perish. ‘ I urge you 3
to note that the first requisite is the goal of a desirable mode of being in
relationship with the Creator extended into relationship with all creation,
especially our fellow humans, friend and foe alike. From this formative
principle flow out other essentials for a life well lived – moral attainment,
desirable accomplishments, health of mind and body, and peace of spirit. Our
pattern is clearly the perfect relationship that is the life of God as Father, Son
and Spirit lived as a perfect unified outflow of selfless love and service
within the Trinity, which love overflows as creation. In the one body of
Christ we experience this as ecclesial being nourished by the eucharistic
celebration that is at the heart of the mysteries entrusted to holy Church. This
mystery does not exist for its own sake but is the very life that we recognize
in ourselves as ‘ a new birth, ‘ new responsibility in the theatre of the world. 2
Corinthians 5 . 17, 18 Thus, in our newness of being, we will experience an
eschata that is at the same time both history and a sharing in the divine
essence effected before the great altar on high in the presence of the Father
and the Lamb, where we come to join our earthly worship with that of the
heavenly host. Our debt or obligation to God is then a life in the spirit, or
perhaps in a spirit of dual witness where our spirit works in communion
through suffering that effects in us a ‘ circumcision of the heart. ‘ Deuteronomy
30 .6 / Romans 2 . 29 . However, dear brothers in Christ, if we are willing to be
honest with ourselves and to look around us at the Church throughout the
world, we must come to the regrettable conclusion that she has suffered
failure in communicating this salvific message and in living it in a way that
permits the kingdom of the Father to spread again on earth. It seems that she
has become one of those false prophets disguised in sheep’s clothing. It seems
that in her quest for self preservation and status rather than transformation by
doing the will of the Father, she has harvested not grapes or figs but thorns
and thistles as she plaintively cries ‘ Lord, Lord. ‘ She has courted the world
by watering down the the deposit of the faith, by neglecting the practice of
deep prayer, by misconstruing the works of the law for its healing spirit, by
ruling rather than serving and by seeking to preserve her own life rather than
revealing the life of Jesus. She has laid up treasures only where moth and rust
corrupt and there set her heart. She has rent the one Body of the church in
sunder and failed to work for Jesus’ desired unity in the faith. The fruit of this
trend is evident in empty churches, in the spiritual bankruptcy of modernism,
in the escalation of senseless violence and the building up of unbridled 4
prejudice. She has failed to truly and deeply love finding the face of Christ in
all she meets. She stands judged by her Lord Who passes sentence
‘ How can you believe when you accept glory from one another
and do not seek glory from the One Who alone is God? ‘ John 5 . 44
Yet, Deo gratias, all is not lost! We can still fill our lamps with oil and
trim their wicks for in the compassionate heart of our loving God, in the
healing streams from that pierced side, we have the promise of restoration
and renewal if we but come to that sacred wound. And fortunately we can
return to His side as often as necessity dictates. You see, the onus for
initiation of action is on us but the real working out, that is for the grace of
God! We need to turn and come down in the place just right! Holy Church
and every believer within her must rediscover the delight of communion with
God as they eschew the blandishments and tinsel temptations of this world.
In a sense then, our scripture passages are household codes for successful life
in the one Body, the Ecclesia of Christ that is the new Israel of God. In the
gospel passage, the good and bad trees bring us right back to the motif of
correct choice opened in the reading from Deuteronomy and further back to
Eden. We need to cultivate a hermenuetic of suspicion in evaluating both the
effectiveness of holy Church, the witness of prophecy and even the
fruitfulness of our lives, viewing them only through the filter of suffering,
death and the desired transformation modelled on the perfection of Jesus that
leads us to the only good – communion with God as the true reality,
communion displayed in humble service. So now, our moral and ethical
practices may be re-interpreted in light of Christ – to love God totally, which
love must include all His work in creation, means being transformed by a
love that changes others for the good. It means becoming ministers of the
nature of God displayed in His self definition, the 13 Aspects of Mercy
revealed to Moses when he received the new tablets of the Law. Exodus 34 . 6
-,7 Surely in this ministry we will receive that spirit of adoption that we so
earnestly desire and not the spirit of bondage. The Spirit of Jesus will be
visible in us when, and only when, we become ministers of the life of Jesus,
when we, as was His practice, seek the absolute triumph of the Father’s will
in earth as it is in heaven. This is our only evangelical tool, the tool of divine
justice. Perhaps, the kingdom is, from our point of view, our earthly
practicum, that focus of earthly life that was presented in last week’s 5
passage from Romans 3 as ‘ living unto God, ‘ living from the One Mind, the
one heart of compassion, living as willing to remove our outer garments, fill
a basin with water, and kneel before the least of our brethren, to wash from
their feet the grime of earthly existence, which act is to anoint the feet of our
blessed Lord with costly ointment. and to wipe them dry with the hairs of our
head. Matthew 26 6ff
To become a church, a gathering of His body for witness and not a
successful institution as measured by corporate standards, we must not be
afraid to get our hands dirty while at the same time we must not fear a
counter-cultural spirituality that brings us no kudos because it is grounded in
a selfless love in which the world can find no value. When at life’s end, we
come to stand before the judgement seat, may we not hear ‘ You of little faith,
why did you doubt. ‘ Matthew 14 . 31 Life is about tumultuous waves stirred by
the winds of the demand for constant change. If we submit to this we no
doubt will begin to sink! What must be our plea but ‘ Lord, bid me come to
You. ‘ v. 28. And, what will we hear but a gentle voice that whispers ‘ Take
heart, it is I; Do not be afraid. ‘ v. 27 We need no gimmicks and trendy slogans,
no clever new message fit for the modern world! We need to make our lives a
living confession of ‘ Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Then He will give us
a new name as He places us upon the firm rock from which we must never
depart,on which we share with Peter in his confession the strength of a name
‘ Son of the Dove ‘ =Bar-Jona. Jerome : Libro 3 Commentarium in Matthaeum
Capitulum 16 Stir up O Lord the wills of Thy faithful people.
+ In Nomine.

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