Sunday, July 10, 2011

Trinity 3 sermon notes

“Humble yourselves ... Casting all your care upon him ... be vigilant ... the devil ... resist, steadfast in the faith ... And the God of all grace ... shall ... strengthen you.”+ (1 Peter 5:6-10)
Humility, vigilance, strengthening. The path to the third is the first two.
It is interesting that casting our cares, that is our worries or concerns, on God is connected with the exhortation to humility. Many of the things that weigh us down, which we need to cast onto God, are heavy because of the extra burden of ego tied up therein, and our “need” to protect it. Our pride is offended by various defeats and failures, and is frightened of “repeat performances”. It is easy for human beings to worry about appearances and the imagined (or real) slight against them. But the only appearance that should concern us is the light we are meant to shine, the witness to Christ's character which is a manifestation of him dwelling in our hearts by faith (Ephesians 3:17). But this light can only shine as reflected or borrowed light (2 Corinthians 3:18), for it is of grace, from the “God of all grace”, and thus is pure gift. Thus our glory is paradoxically founded on humble acknowledgement of our inadequacy and dependency. As people abandon the burdens of wanting to exercise power or experience “superiority”, or of self-justification, or of imposing the truth as they know it (not to lead others to Truth but) because it is they who know it, and of seeking the praise of men, they are on the path to the freedom of humility. Humility is not about refusing to admit our real gifts, as if dishonesty were humble. It is not about being servile or sycophantic towards others, another form of dishonesty and even manipulation. It is admitting we are sinners, but sinners who can be truly saved and enabled by grace alone. It is admitting all that is good is a gift of God, including that which is within us, and that we are no more valuable or precious to God than anybody else submitted to grace. (How much more precious than infinitely so do we need to be? Drink in this truth: “God cares for you”.) Godly humility does not merely acknowledge these as dead facts but meditates upon and rejoices in them. So, as we care less about our status (or “standing”) and image before men, we come to find we have our rightful place in Christ and shine with an unearthly light. God exalts us, as St Peter teaches us in today's Epistle.
But in the same way we should not worry about how successful or clever or talented or attractive we seem to others, we should not worry about those needs which are legitimate. Once we remind ourselves in faith that God really does care for us, fears are lightened. Of course, his care does not guarantee the absence of pain, but it does guarantee a “happy ending” as we cleave to him. Sometimes, however, our cares are not selfish, yet are still discouraging. We worry about family or friends, or about the state of the Church and the state of the war between the Kingdom of darkness and the Kingdom of light. However, God cares for our family and friends too, and his final victory I assured. One might say that all we needed to worry about was obeying God and cooperating with the building of his Kingdom, but even here our proper attitude is not “care” in the negative sense of worrying, but care in the positive sense of the determination to invest our time and energy in this pursuit of God's will.
The Epistle goes on to talk about vigilance, on the watch for the attacks of the devil. How does the devil attack us? For the most part, subtly and invisibly. He tempts us to sin and to doubt, as he has done from the beginning (“Did God say ... ?”: Genesis 3:1). That is why our resistance is founded not just on will-power but on faith, that is, we resist him “steadfast in the faith”. Much of the devil's weaponry is deceit, as the father of lies, so he tempts by taking people away from the truth revealed by God (whether in Scripture explicitly, or in conscience and nature implicitly) just as much as by appealing to desire. That is why knowledge of the Scriptures and of the Church's derived teachings on faith and morals is essential. But not just knowledge, committed acceptance. We submit to God's truth and use it against temptation as Jesus did in the wilderness, when he quoted the OT back to the devil. And all the while we place our confidence of strength to overcome in Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 1:23-25). But we cannot forget that Jesus' struggle also involved prayer and fasting, which are an indispensable part of our vigilance. Thus we will be vigilant, but by no means terrified. We will be at peace, but by no means lax or lazy.
The connection made by St Peter between resisting the devil and remembering that we do not suffer alone in verse 9 suggests that one of the Devil's way of devouring us is through despair, which saps our faith and hope. Such temptation to despair must be resisted with bold resort to the Cross and aggressive re-affirmation of Christ's covenanted mercies therein. And so, it is through both humility with repentance and hope-filled trust in God, through prayer, immersion in the Word, and self-denial, we will find the strength only God can supply: “after ye have suffered for a while”. It seems to me this refers both to the temporary trials of Christian life which make us grow and bring us to renewed joy as we come out the other side, and to the whole way of the Cross which is our journey to death (and any purification beyond it) or to Christ's return. For this life is but a little while compared to eternity, and the “restoration” the Epistle mentions after suffering is completed bodily at the final Resurrection.
Care-free humility and spiritual vigilance lead to godly strength. Let us follow the path. +


Joe Oliveri said...

Beautifully stated as always, Father, and with the usual clarity. I'm only half-joking when I say that you and Fr. Wells should consider putting together a DVD on homiletics, because I know more than a few RC clergy who could benefit from it. (It's no accident perhaps that my favorite preacher is George Rutler, who of course is a former Anglican.) Consider the DVD for your next project after the Layman's Guide to the 39 Articles. You're welcome for the suggestion. God bless.

G. S. Smith said...

I have learned a great deal from all four of the outstanding expositors and teachers at the Continuum, Frs. Hart, Wells, Kirby and Bishop Robinson. They are head and shoulders above every other teaching blog I've read.