The Third Sunday
D. G. Phillips
Crousetown and West Dublin December
1 Corinthians 4:1-5 St. Matthew
LET a man so
account of us, as of the ministers of Christ,
of the mysteries of God. Moreover,
it is required
in stewards, that a man be found faithful.
This Advent, as
we prepare ourselves to celebrate the birth of Jesus all those years
ago, we are reminded in our readings of Christ’s coming at the end
of time to be our judge. And as we gather this morning to hear His
word and receive His sacrament we know His present coming to our
hearts and that it brings with it a cleansing, purifying judgement
full of mercy.
Advent 1 we
looked at Christ’s coming to judge our loves – He is redirecting
them, perfecting them.
Advent 2 we
looked at Christ’s coming to judge our hopes. There is a
transformation that is happening in us – our hopes are being
purified, transformed from natural worldly hopes to supernatural
This morning we
look at Christ’s coming to judge our faithfulness.
What does it mean
to be a person of faith?
St. Paul says
that, as believers in Christ, we are “ministers…and stewards of the
mysteries of God.” We possess something. God has given us the
gift of faith, by our baptism, and through the nurturing of that
faith by others, mentors throughout our lives.
To have faith in
God doesn’t mean that we know everything about God – how could we?
We do have some knowledge, but there is far more that we don’t know.
describes faith as something like this: For the believer, there is
a curious coexistence of certainty and uncertainty – an element of
perfection and an element of imperfection. There is perfection in
the firmness of our assent – we choose to believe – and imperfection
in the fact that we can’t see fully.
St. Paul says
elsewhere that Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the
argument of things unseen.
So we have both
an unshaken assent to what we believe “the substance of things hoped
for” and also a lingering mental unrest “the argument of things
unseen” – there is a mental reaching out for something not yet
finally found. In fact, the assent of faith, actually starts this
very mental unrest. [Joseph Pieper, Faith]
So we are not to
think that because we don’t understand everything, that because we
have so many questions still, that this must be a sign of unbelief –
actually it is a sign of faith. If we chose not to believe, there
would be no more questions.
Why do we have
this gift of faith?
First, God gives
us faith to lead us back to Him. As we are now, our souls are not
able to see God. But God gives us some glimpse that we might seek
Him out and be made ready to see Him more fully.
Second, God gives
us this faith to help us to lead others back to God – to be prophets
of the most high, to be witnesses. Think of how much our faith has
been nurtured by the witness of others, who have led us back to the
eye witnesses to Jesus – the apostolic witness, who in turn have led
us to the testimony of Jesus Himself whose vision of the Father is
So it will not
do, to say, I’ll leave it to the priests, or to others – the
contemplatives or the theologians – to have faith, to think about
God. I’ll believe blindly and go about my business.
begins a mental unrest, a mental reaching out, that is to lead us to
greater and greater seeing of the things that are unseen, the
mysteries of God and that makes us able to help lead others to
Our faith in Him
leads to understanding. This doesn’t mean we need be anxious that
we must have a certain amount of understanding before we are saved.
By faith we are saved, and this is the gift of God – it is to have
turned our hearts towards Him, and then to rest in the certainty of
His love while being filled with many questions that will be
answered if we ask.
“ministers… and stewards of the mysteries of God.”
“Moreover, it is
required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.”
St. Paul warns us
not to be interested in pronouncing final judgement about the
faithfulness of individuals – he doesn’t even judge himself. But he
is interested that we be found faithful.
It is God who
both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will
make manifest the counsels of the hearts; and then shall every man
have praise of God.
If we would be a
faithful steward of the mysteries of God, we would use this gift for
the purposes it has been given:
We would be
reaching out with our minds, with our questions, with our
uncertainties to know God more.
And we would be
witnesses to others of our faith – not necessarily with words – but
by our very pursuit, and our growing vision of God, and by our
witness to what is most important to us, in good times and in times
of adversity when our faith is especially tried and purified.
St. John the
Baptist, in today’s Gospel, is the example to us of being a
faithful minister of Christ and steward of the divine mysteries.
St. John’s faith
led him into the wilderness that he might know his true calling –
that whole hearted assent we can imagine was combined with much
mental agitation as he sought undistracted in the desert to know the
God whom he loved.
By the time he
began to be a witness to his faith, it was clear by his message,
that the motivation of his heart was not to gain bodily comfort, he
didn’t want to be distracted from His first love by carnal comfort.
And it is clear that his preaching was not motivated by a desire
for worldly power – he did not end up in the king’s house, but in
the king’s prison. And he was not, Jesus says, a reed shaken in the
wind, but one who through the trials of his faith, had become like a
rock. And this was not by some kind of mental gymnastics, or
hardened human prejudice, but because of a steadfast turning in
faith towards the One whom he had sought to know all His life. John
had become like the unmoved Mover of all things – while the world
swirled around him, he was steadfast.
When John was in
his darkest hour, in prison, awaiting execution, we know who he was
thinking of, and he directed his followers to leave him and go to
We are to be like
John the Baptist – by faith knowing God more and more and through
our faith witnessing to others.
Prayer, the Benedictus is prayed. It is the song that John’s father
Zechariah said when John was born. It is to remind each of us every
day that we are to be like John:
AND thou, child, shalt be called the Prophet of the Highest: / for
thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways;
To give knowledge of salvation unto his people / for the remission
of their sins;
Through the tender mercy of our God; / whereby the day-spring from
on high hath visited us;
To give light to them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of
death, / and to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Think about it. Desire it. Be a prophet of the Highest, a faithful
steward of the divine mysteries.
O LORD Jesu
Christ, who at thy first coming didst send thy messenger to prepare
the way before thee: Grant that the ministers and stewards of thy
mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready thy way, by turning
the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, that at thy
second coming to judge the world we may be found an acceptable
people in thy sight, who livest and reignest with the Father and the
Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.