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The Fourth Sunday in Lent

David Phillips

Holy Communion

LaHave, Broad Cove and Crousetown - March 18, AD 2007

Galatians 4:26-5:1      John 6:5-14

 

Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free.

 

We are now at the midpoint of our Lenten journey. 

 

If we are following as a spiritual discipline some sort of self denial we are encouraged today knowing we are now on the last half of that journey.

 

The purpose of that self-denial has been to lessen our dependence upon earthly consolations and to transfer that same desire heavenward – it is to reach out for spiritual consolation.   

 

In the Epistle today, St. Paul speaks to us about the Jerusalem which is above which is free.  The Jerusalem which is above is another way of describing what we’ve been considering in our Home study groups – the Kingdom of Heaven.  Now let’s think on this not as some outward city, some outward manifestation of God’s heavenly rule, but as it relates to each one of us in our spiritual struggle during Lent.  The kingdom of heaven, the Jerusalem which is above, is coming upon us – God’s rule in our hearts and minds and souls.

 

In the Epistle, St. Paul compares the two children that Abraham had.  Do you remember the story?  Abraham was promised a son by God.  And after many years of trying to have a child with Sarah his wife, Sarah told Abraham to have a child by their Egyptian slave Hagar.  But this was not the child that God had promised to Abraham and Sarah, Ismael was not the son which was given to them several years later – when Sarah conceived and bore a son Isaac.  So one of these sons was born of an earthly decision, the other was born of a divine promise.

 

St. Paul says this is an allegory, that is, it points to a spiritual truth in our lives.  We, by our every action, bear some kind of fruit in our lives, some kind of child.  Our actions which are inspired by an earthly way of thinking, bring forth earthly results; our actions which are inspired by a spiritual way of thinking, bring forth spiritual results.

 

We know that we are a bit of a mixture of both – and during Lent we are hoping to become less earthly minded and more spiritually minded and bear heavenly offspring. 

 

Here’s a simple example.  Suppose I am not at peace in my soul.  If in my anxiety I go to the fridge and satisfy my desire by eating a large piece of chocolate cake, it is pretty clear what the results are – I am given some enjoyment in eating the cake, I forget my troubles temporarily, while I rest in a big chair with a smile on my face enjoying the flavours, and the sugar and fat – the sense of being full.  The fruit of that decision is that the next time I feel anxiety, I know I can do the same thing to be happy again – yet, it is a decision which bears carnal fruit – I can get bigger, and more dependent on the food to quiet me.  I become more carnally minded, more dependent on the cake, more enslaved in a way – and I haven’t resolved my anxiety but covered it over temporarily.  This is “the child” of the bond-woman.

 

If however, in my anxiety, I hold off, and I wait for spiritual consolation – that is, I sit in my chair by myself (maybe with cup of hot tea - we wouldn't want to be too miserable!), and ask, “God, why am I anxious – help me to see it.”  And if I see why, I ask God to help me in the situation, or perhaps to forgive me my sin.  We wait, holding off from some immediate and distracting pleasure, then we open ourselves up to the promised consolation of God.  And that consolation will come, we will know it, if we are patient – certainty of forgiveness, a renewal in the Spirit, a word of wisdom from above.  And the next time we have some anxiety, we forget the cake and become more desirous of spiritual consolation, we have become more spiritually minded.  A certain wisdom and discretion has been born in us.  This is “the child” of the free-woman.

 

What I’ve described is the transferal of our desire from the earthly to the spiritual.  The satisfying of the earthly is easier – just a step away to the fridge and some immediate satisfaction, but it doesn’t free us; the spiritual is harder, because it takes patience, and the turning of our minds heavenward, and we have to wait, because we can’t demand that consolation but must wait for it, since it is a gift.  But if we wait, we become free.

 

I use the example of chocolate cake because it is easy.  But seeking earthly satisfaction, being worldly minded, can mean that when we have anxiety, we forget about it by immersing ourselves in our careers, or in the buying of lots of things, or even in relationships – not that careers or things of this world (or even chocolate cake!), or relationships are bad, but we can bury ourselves in them and forget to seek spiritual consolation.

 

But, says St. Paul, the Jerusalem which is above is free – that is, it costs us nothing, it is a free gift of God, and it leads us into freedom, which is the mother of us all.  For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; that is, those who can’t see any immediate change, but who wait for spiritual consolation, break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: it seems as if nothing is coming forth, for the desolate  that is, the one who sits in desolation, and waits in prayer, hath, in the end, many more children than she which hath an husband, that is, than she who simply satisfies the flesh.  Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise we are born, “not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” [John 1:13].  But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit; even so it is now – we know this is battle within us – the carnal man, the old Adam, wants a quick fix to all disquietude in our souls, but the new man, the spiritual inner man is rising up within us – Christ who dwells in us and is bringing us to a new liberty.  What saith the Scripture?  Cast out the bond-woman and her son; let’s not be carnally minded, seeking carnal satisfactions for what are spiritual longings, for the son of the bond-woman shall not be heir with the son of the free-woman.  So then, brethren, we are not children of the bond-woman, but of the free.  Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free.

 

This is the message from our mother the Church today – half way through lent – stand fast in your disciplines, wait…wait…for the spiritual consolations, and Christ will make us free!

 

Jesus knows, that it is hard for us to be patient – to wait for those things which are in fact, invisible, but which are in truth the greatest of gifts – such as being strengthened in the sevenfold gifts of the Spirit – the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and true godliness, and the spirit of holy fear – as we draw ever closer to the Divine presence.

 

We wait patiently.  And Jesus knows that in our wilderness wandering, in our Lenten fast, we would seek relief even today.

 

And the passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh.  We are coming close to the celebration of that great Passover when the Lamb of God was slain for us When Jesus then lift up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him - as they are this day in churches all around the world, he saith…, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?...  There is a lad here, which hath five-barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many?  And Jesus said, Make the men sit down.  …  And Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would.  And they were filled.

 

Jesus is the bread that comes down from Heaven and gives life and liberty to the world, beginning in our souls.  This manna in the wilderness is know to us inwardly and mysteriously as we lift our hearts in worship, as we quiet ourselves in prayer, as we meditate upon His Word written, as we look to see God.  It is known to us especially in the Sacrament of His Body given for us, His Blood poured out for us.  It is spiritual food – the smallest portion of that Bread, the smallest sip of that Cup is sufficient for us.  In the Sacrament we come to know inwardly the depths of the mercy of God – the forgiveness of our sins, the cleansing of our souls of all unrighteousness, and the gift of new life – eternal life.  Here we learn about transferring our longing for earthly satisfaction to seeking spiritual consolation.  Here we receive hidden manna and know in our hearts, even if just for a few minutes, the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free. 

 

Let us in our Lenten journey be patient, waiting to be refreshed with this food and to stand fast in that liberty now and forever.

Amen.

 

 

 

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