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Sermon for the Second Sunday after Trinity (In the Octave of SS. Peter & Paul)

“All are yours; and ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s”

It is one of those statements which concentrate in the most wonderful way the whole of the Christian faith. It comes from one of the lessons provided in the Octave of the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul (BCP, p. 285 [1]). Paul’s statement in 1st Corinthians 3 captures the basis of the faith, like Peter as that rock upon which the Church stands, herself a mystery of the faith. And what is that faith? It is about our being with God through God’s being with us in Jesus Christ.

We forget at our peril that the Church is herself an article of faith. “Where the gospel is preached and the sacraments are administered, there is the church,” as Luther wonderfully and profoundly puts it. That leads to questions about the relation between Word and Sacrament, to be sure, but, in profound ways, his comment counters the more sectarian and institutional views of the Church; all instrumental and calculative, all dead and deadly. The Anglican Church is not the Church Universal, to be sure; its proper and only claim is to be “an integral portion” of the Church Catholic, something spelled out more fully in the Solemn Declaration of 1893 [2] of the Anglican Church of Canada. Nothing proclaims so clearly the real and true vocation and Anglican understanding of catholic Christianity. It is found on page viii of the Prayer Book.  You might want to make it part of your summer reading and meditation.

The conjunction of St. Peter and St. Paul brings these thoughts front and present and wonderfully so in relation to the readings for the Second Sunday after Trinity. We are reminded that “if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.” Here we have an interesting feature of the liturgy of the Church, namely, the ways in which we are gathered into and participate in the substance of things holy and strong, things which are proclaimed and known, and yet which we can only grow into more and more, if only we will. “For all things are yours,” Paul says. Yet, we see but “in a glass darkly,” as he also reminds us. This is the necessary check to our arrogance and to the greater arrogance of our ignorance. The counter lies in John’s wonderful phrase about our hearts which condemn us in contrast to the heart of God which redeems us. All is yours in Christ; not in ourselves. To be alive to the one requires dying to the other, dying to ourselves.

Nowhere, perhaps, is that expressed more concretely and explicitly than in our text: “all are yours; and ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.” The refusals of the Gospel are nothing more than the refusals of grace, of what is given by God who gives us all things, including the gift of knowing that he gives us all things. The refusals themselves become the occasion of recalling us to God, to our being awakened to grace. It means learning to die for only so do we learn to live. Learning to die. (This is, incidentally, the title of two recent books which I read this week: ‘Learning to Die: Wisdom in the Age of Climate Crisis’ by Robert Bringhurst and Jan Zwicky and ‘Learning to Die in the Anthropocene: Reflections on the End of a Civilization’ by Roy Scranton.)

What are our refusals? Simply our excuses as the Gospel parable shows. In modern terms, here is the biblical picture of our narcissistic hedonism. Not only are we too much with ourselves but we are too much in love with ourselves, with our obsessions and concerns, our pleasures and our desires. The paradox is that this makes us radically unlovely. God seeks much more for us than we do for ourselves. But our arrogant ignorance of God leaves us bereft, empty and dangerous – dangerous to ourselves and to our world. Here is the great counter culture moment. We are awakened to God in whom we have all things and in whom we find our truth and our freedom, our freedom to be ourselves in truth. But only if we learn to die to ourselves.

God invites us to himself. Jesus is at pains to show that the true meaning of our blessedness is found in God. “Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God” says an unnamed companion of Jesus. The word, companion, literally means with bread (in Latin, “com” means ‘together with’, “paris” means ‘bread’); in short, a companion is someone with whom we break bread. Jesus underscores the nature of that blessedness by the parable about an invitation to “a great supper” in which “all things are ready,” but then we hear about three refusals. They all have to do with our turning to the ordinary ground of our daily lives and thus turning our backs on the true ground of our humanity which is found in God.

“I have bought a piece of ground, and I must go and see it,” says one. “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them,” says another. “I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come,” says a third. These excuses are all about the use of things – the ground, animals, and people; in short, our world and one another. This contributes to a radical critique of what the Canadian poet and philosopher, Jan Zwicky, notes about the culture of technocracy, a culture defined by our use and abuse of things and of one another. The culture of technocracy, she argues, denies that the natural world has meaning and so too ourselves. Education, for example, is less about learning and more about earning. We have lost a view of the whole within which the parts of our lives alone find their place and meaning. We destroy our world and ourselves. We are really only using one another as tools and instruments at the expense of our God-given and created selves and of creation itself.

We deny meaning for ourselves and our world as grounded in God. Yet, as the parable shows, God willhave his house filled. The problem is us. We leave ourselves bereft and empty of what God seeks for us. Our use and abuse of one another and our world takes many forms: from violence to indifference, from taking one another for granted to our neglect and disregard of one another. It is all about us in the empty endlessness of our self-regard. The fundamental problem is our refusal to reflect and to recognise the limitations of our knowing and our doing, the limitations of our being. We forget who we are in the sight of God. We forget the radical nature of God’s love without which we cannot love one another. The refusals of the invitation are the refusals of God’s love. Such is our arrogance and our ignorance. We need to learn to die.

Yet God is greater than our hearts of arrogance and ignorance. The Gospel parable illustrates precisely that point. It convicts us of our arrogance and ignorance in order to move us to humility and service, to love and respect for one another and for our world as grounded in God. It signals a whole new way of looking at ourselves and our world by glimpsing that all isours but only in God. The Church is only the Church when it speaks to these realities.

Peter and Paul are the twin pillars of the apostolic Church. Their joint commemoration is, on the one hand, an accident of history and, on the other hand, a marvel of providence. Both died in Rome albeit at different times but both were later interred together and so remembered together. Together they remind us of the mission and foundation of the Church and together they remind us of the constant struggle to be the Church. That struggle always requires a self-critique of human reason and human presumption with respect to its uses and abuses; it always means learning to live within our limits, with the reality of our finiteness, our mortality. And so, most importantly, it means learning to die so as to live humbly and joyously in the awareness of God’s love.

Paul puts it ever so beautifully. “All are yours; and ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.” This is the invitation to love, the invitation to joy and to freedom. Here is the freedom from ourselves to find ourselves in the knowing love of God.

“All are yours; and ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.”

Fr. David Curry
Trinity II, 2019
In the Octave of SS. Peter & Paul