Sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Trinityadmin | 29 July 2012
“You have received a spirit of sonship”
It is a theological truism to say that God wants what is best for us. So do we, of course, but unfortunately we do not always know what is best for ourselves or for one another. There is a darkness within us, in our own self-knowledge. We see, as St. Paul famously put it “in a glass darkly.” Louise Penny in her Canadian detective fiction novel Still Life captures this dilemma brilliantly. A young police officer looks in the mirror at the house of a suspect and notices a little note on the mirror which says, “you are looking at the problem.” She “immediately began searching behind her, the area reflected in the mirror”! She has missed the point completely. In a mirror we see ourselves. We are the problem. This carries over into our knowledge of others.
There are limitations not just to what we know about ourselves but also about one another. We grasp at shadows and images and mistake them for eternal truth. We catch at falling stars and fall with them in a burst of glory or ignominy. We do not know as we ought.
Yet, if that were not bad enough, there is an even deeper darkness in all of us. There is the darkness of our wills, the darkness of our refusals to act upon the truth and the good which we do know. We deny the light which is given to us to see and without which we cannot love. We see, albeit “in a glass darkly,” but we do not always act upon what we see.
This is the human condition. The grace of God is the answer to the human predicament, to the contradictions in which we find ourselves, whether in its ancient or its modern form.
For the developed cultures of antiquity, the Truth is the Law or the Good which is necessarily above us and beyond us but compelling us to live in accord with it. It is what we want but cannot have. The truth which we see we cannot reach. It is too high for us and yet it is what we most want. This can only leave us endlessly frustrated.
Modernity, on the other hand, presumes that we are each altogether complete. We are simply ends in ourselves without reference to anything outside ourselves, certainly without reference to the absolute otherness of God. We are, in this view, gods without God, only to find ourselves in a similar situation of despair because we have ceased to hope for anything more. There is nothing to hope for. Despair, both ancient and modern, is the denial of our desire for God.
Grace is the answer to the human predicament. It is what comes from God to us. It seeks not the annihilation of our humanity but its perfection. But this means countering the various forms of the disorders within us. We are established upon the foundation of God’s truth and instructed in the way of living in accordance with that truth.
The Trinity season has an inescapable practical character to it. It is about the practical application of the saving work of Christ to our souls; nowhere, perhaps, is that better illustrated than in today’s readings. God’s righteousness is our justification – what God wants for us must be what we want too. And it brings us progressively through the patterns of prayer and praise in all of the moments of our lives into the living will of God. His will is our sanctification in and through the ups and downs of our lives. And it belongs ultimately to something else, namely, glorification. “If so be that we suffer with him, that we may also be glorified with him.” There is something more and wonderful at work in human lives – such is God’s Providence as signaled in today’s Collect.
The end of grace is glory. We have an end in God. What we proclaim, in that we also participate. And as the great French writer, George Bernanos, rightly notes, “Grace is everywhere.” At issue, is whether we will have the ears to hear, the eyes to see, the hearts and minds to know and love and to act upon what we are given to see and hear, to know and love.
Today’s Epistle and Gospel challenge us by recalling us to who we are in Christ by the grace of God and to the necessity of acting upon what we have received. There is the awareness in both the Epistle and the Gospel of the things of ourselves which stand in our way. There is our willful forgetting of our new life in Christ. There is our being consumed in the passions of our souls, our covetousness, perhaps, which immerses us in the material and sensual things of this world as if there was nothing else. There is our consequent failure to act upon what we have been given to know. “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” This captures something of the practical force of the Trinity season. The Gospel expands or illuminates the theme of the Epistle: we are to act out of what we have been given to see and be; in short, to be the good tree that bears the good fruit of holy lives, otherwise that truth is nothing worth.
The Epistle recalls us to who we are by the grace of Christ. “You have received a spirit of sonship in which we cry aloud, ‘Abba, Father’, the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God, and if children then heirs and fellow-heirs with Christ: if so be that we suffer with him, that we may also be glorified with him”. The passage speaks profoundly of Christian hope and spiritual identity.
Such lessons are part and parcel of God’s never-failing Providence wonderfully illustrated in a poem about words and deeds, about preaching and living, by the Anglican Divine, George Herbert. He begins with a question to God.
Lord, how can man preach thy eternall word?
He is a brittle crazie glass:
Yet in thy temple, thou dost him afford
This glorious and transcendent place,
To be a window, through thy grace.
The poem goes on to make the point for preacher and people alike that what matters is not just what is said but what is done, not just what is heard but what is acted upon; in short, the very point of the Gospel.
But when thou dost anneal in glasse thy storie,
Making thy life to shine within
The holy Preachers; then the light and glorie
More rev’rend grows, & more doth win:
Which else shews watrish, bleak, & thin.
To read and hear those words convicts me, of course, of my own failings. The challenge remains to be what we proclaim. At least for the next month you shall have a reprieve from this “brittle crazie glass.” The poem concludes, wonderfully in my view:
Doctrine and life, colours and light, in one
When they combine and mingle, bring
A strong regard and aw: but speech alone
Doth vanish like a flaring thing,
And in the eare, not conscience ring.
(George Herbert, 1593-1633, “Windows”)
Our lives need to be in tune with God’s Word. What is wanted is that our consciences should ring with the resonance of God’s Word moving in us and compelling us to act out of what we have heard and seen. “Doctrine and life, colours and light, in one …” And all because of who we are in the grace of Christ and because of what we are called to be and do by virtue of the grace which we have received.
“You have received a spirit of sonship”
Fr. David Curry
Trinity VIII, 2012