Friday, June 26, 2009

Third Sunday after Trinity

I Pet. 5:5-11
Luke 15:1-10

To speak of God as suffering loss would be, in a literal sense, quite wrong inasmuch as God “hath need of nothing.” Yet, in the three parables from the fifteenth chapter of Luke, the climactic parable being the Prodigal Son (reserved for another Sunday), the Lord speaks of the loss that is suffered by charity. God, who hath need of nothing, so loved the world that He sought and found His lost creation through His Son. How can this be? Charity feels loss based on something other than need, because in the most correct theological understanding, everything we have and are in creation is by grace. Our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all His inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, are all by His grace, the love that gives and keeps giving. In no way whatsoever is the love of God selfish, as ours often is. He hath need of nothing, and yet He has stooped to save His lost creation.

This ought to have a powerful effect on us in two ways. First, by becoming saints through grace. As I have reminded you often, every Christian is called to sainthood, total sanctification, holiness of life. This is impossible for everyone of us without the grace of God, and yet it is the vocation of everyone of us. It is your vocation. Whether or not you are called into ordained ministry, or whether or not you have at this point any sense of the specific gifts and calling God has placed within you, you can be sure of this vocation and calling, and of every gift required to help you along: you are called to be holy as the Lord your God is holy. Among the gifts provided are the Word of God, the Sacraments that come through the Church, and, as Saint Paul wrote, “good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2:10) And, what we should all bear in mind is the warning contained, if not hidden, in all of the beauty of the thirteenth chapter of I Corinthians, that without charity all our works are, as the Collect for Quinquagesima puts it, “nothing worth.”

We ought to pause and reflect on that chapter just a bit longer. What Saint Paul described is a verbal icon of our Lord Jesus, “who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil (Acts 10:38),” to quote saint Peter. Here we see what I have said about the unselfish nature of charity. The Lord Jesus was rewarded for His good works by unjust condemnation and crucifixion, proving that we cannot measure the value of our love by the way in which others respond to it; this love, charity, is the love of God that accepts the rejection and hatred that may be its only reward in a fallen and sinful world, as it was for Christ. With its affection set on things above, not on things of this earth, charity endures all things, hopes all things and believes all things. For you to begin the process of growing in this virtue of charity by grace, you must come to the foot of the cross, look up on the bleeding sacrifice of the Son of Man in all His agonies, and take it personally. You must see Him there for you; and so the love of God begins to grow in your own heart by the Holy Ghost.

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” as Saint Paul says. He added those words, “of whom I am chief.” This one time self-righteous Pharisee became aware of his true need at the same moment in which he became aware of his salvation and his calling. Therefore, he spoke of ‘the Son of God who loved me, and gave Himself for me (Gal. 2:20).” Like Saint Paul, you must learn to take it personally, very personally. The Son of God loved you, and gave Himself for you. Look up at His suffering, behold His scars, see the stripes of your healing, behold the nails through the wrists and feet, the crown of thorns, the offering up of His life, the pouring out of his soul unto death, and take it personally. The Son of God loved you, and gave Himself for you.

And, now the virtue of charity begins to grow in you.

This is what it means that He sought after that which was lost, leaving the ninety and nine to search for you and find you and bring you home. And, this leads us to the second point.

We must see today’s Gospel in terms of our mission in the world. One other calling and vocation of which each one of us can be sure is that we are to do the work of an evangelist. This does not mean that you all are called to preach like Billy Graham or Bishop Sheen; but it does mean that you are called to be a witness that Jesus Christ is the Lord, and that God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son. The result of charity taking root and growing within you is that you begin to see the people around you in terms of their need, their greatest need being to know Jesus Christ. If we are Catholic people, then we know that as the Body of Christ in this world, and as members with specific gifts- even with gifts often unknown to those who have them- it is through us that the Son of Man continues to seek and to save that which was lost. His Incarnation is extended through His Church, and I do mean you.

When we become workers together with God, as Saint Paul put it, we can trust the Holy Spirit to make up for all that we lack. When you were confirmed it was not a rite of passage, or simply a ticket to Holy Communion. The gifts of the Holy Spirit were placed within you. When charity makes you aware of the needs of those around you, do not be surprised when you sense that you must do a particular thing, or say specific words to a specific person. Learn to know the presence and leading of the Holy Spirit until it becomes quite a normal part of your life.

Divine love, charity, moved the Lord to speak of God, “who hath need of nothing” as if he suffered loss. The message to day is simple: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”


Alice C. Linsley said...

"Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners."

Father, isn't this the message for every day?

A wonderful sermon. Thank you for being faithful in the proclamation of the Gospel.

Sandra McColl said...

Alice, all messages are for every day, but God, who knows that we can only cope with coming to grips with one at a time, gave us the lectionary. To the extent, however, that some messages are more for every day than others, we have the Comfy Words (when we get 'em).

Fr. Robert Hart said...

I remember some Nose Bleed High Anglo-Catholics, the kind who remember more rubrics and Ritual Notes than God himself ever heard of, deciding (contrary to the rubrics) that the Comfortable Words should be dropped. They seemed to think that the Gospel itself is "too Protestant" for Church. One layman in particular used to tell me that when I would drive over an hour to fill in. The answer he always got from every priest was "you're getting them today."

Canon Tallis said...

The truth, dear Father, is that those "Anglo-Catholics" are not high church but low church, believing that they can replace the pope and every church authority on their own say so. They know - and this will sound very uncharitable - very little about being "church" and far too much about playing church. But we are probably stuck with them and have to love them as well albeit they rarely show much love for the rest of us.

poetreader said...

So long as THOSE is emphasized in "those Anglo-Catholics, I can go along with that. Of course, most AngloCathoics are not so narrow as that. I call ,uself such and certainly am not.


Canon Tallis said...

But, Ed, it is only "those" who won't obey the rubrics as found in the Book of Common Prayer of whom I wrote; the ones who believe that it is "their" service and not that of the Church. I don't think that any of us could imagine you or the good Fathers falling into that category.

Unfortunately we have one locally. The prayer book is in the pew but the service contained therein is nothing like what the cleric actually does. The introit is sung followed by the Kyrie and Gloria with no pause for either the collect for Purity or the words of the Lord. The Sermon takes place before the Creed and is followed by the offretory, the Sursum Corda, etc. If there is a rubric it is broken so that the service can be made to resemble Rome's discarded Tridentine liturgy.

I shall have to remember Father Hart's phrase, "those who remember more rubrics and Ritual Notes than God himself ever heard of . . ." It is a perfect description of this sort of churchman. I am sure that I will use it in the future, but if I give Father Hart credit for the line will that be taken for defamation of charactor? I would hope not because I believe it the very height of wit.

poetreader said...

Ah, yes, Father, I am in substantial agreement with you, and hope I'm not being disrespectful to a godly priest in saying that when you point, you've got fingers pointing back at you. O don't find Prayer Book Fundamentalism any more appealing than other fundamentalisms, and I find the appraoch of both ACC and ACA to be a refreshing one, pf authorizing [i]both[/i] BCP [i/]and[/i] Missal. You have your very strong preference both for straight BCP and for the style if using it. I can certainly honor that, and would be thoroughly glad to worship according to it. Other parishes have equally strong preferences for forms within these parameters that you dislike. I, in fact, do prefer the BCP considerably enriched and slightly altered in ways allowed by the Missal. If our teaching is within the range that our church permits, there is plenty of room for both, but, with all due respect, I don't know how much room there really is for either "side" to be condemning the other.


Fr. John said...

Father Hart,

A great sermon! Amen, and amen.

At the beginning of creation God was robbed. The Son comes to restore all things in heaven and earth to the Father, so that God may be all in all.

"There is no such thing as the secular, only profanation of the Holy."

Alice C. Linsley said...

Sandra, the lectionary is a good thing and the "Comfortable Words" are one of the riches of the Book of Common Prayer. Only sometimes, if I am honest with myself about my sin, even these words aren't so comfy.

poetreader said...

... and "Comfortable" Words, of course, is an antique use of "comfortable", which did not make one think of a feather bed in Elizabethan times, but rather comes from the Latin "fortis" - "sttrength) and speaks of the strength to carry on. The verses chosen by Cranmer and recited in the Prayer Book Mass are well chosen to administer that strength and confidence. I've known priests who deliberately [mis]pronounce the word as com-FORT-able to stress that.

Sometimes being strengthened is not at all comfortable by the modern definition. Ever hear the phrase "No pain, no gain"? It's a good Scriptural concept.