First Sunday after
D. G. Phillips
LaHave, Broad Cove – June 18 AD 2006
1 John 4:7-21
St. Luke 16:19f
If we love one another, God dwelleth in us
and his love is perfected in
We are entering into
Last week, on
Trinity Sunday, in the Gospel Jesus tells Nicodemus of our beginning to
the life of heaven - we must be born again of water and the Holy Spirit
if we would see the Kingdom of God, if we would enter into
We might wonder if
we have been born again – it is a question posed readily by some
Christian evangelicals as the sign post of whether or not we really are
truly Christians or not.
Anglicans at the
time of the Reformation were very concerned about this – about whether
our faith is authentic, or a mere charade. You here it again and again
in the prayers in the Prayer Book. For example, in Morning Prayer, when
the priest pronounces absolution, he says:
pardoneth and absolveth all them that truly repent and
unfeignedly believe his holy Gospel. Wherefore we beseech
him to grant us true repentance and his Holy Spirit,…
or in the Communion
service in the exhortation to Confession:
Ye that do
truly and earnestly repent you of your sins…
In response to such
a question – are you born again – we can recall that in the waters of
Baptism where were regenerated, washed in the blood of Christ, made new.
The love of God, the Holy Spirit, was poured into our hearts for the
first time – the Kingdom of God can now be seen, can now be
entered into by us if we follow in faith that prompting of that
Spirit of Christ dwelling in our hearts.
And last week we
looked at that notion of being born again as including the difficult
birthing of the life of virtue, that lifting up of our minds to God,
which at first seems such foolishness, as if we are only talking only to
ourselves in prayer. A stretching out in faith to know God despite
God’s hiddenness, the entering into a life in loving obedience to Jesus
– seeking in faith to follow the blessed steps of his most holy life
– without being able to see completely why this way is the way of life.
All of this a painful second birth, a birthing into the spiritual life –
not one that happens all at once, but that is a process of continual
ever deepening conversion of life.
So when someone asks
us if we are born again, we can say, yes, I was born again in the waters
of baptism and every time I am converted in heart to a deeper love of
In this morning’s
Epistle, St. John gives us another test of the authenticity of our
Beloved, let us
love one another: for love is of God, and every one that loveth is
born of God.
Here is the test
that we are born again, born from above, born of God – do we love
our brother, do we love our sister? do we love our neighbour?
conversion of heart is measured by a growing love not simply for the
outward signs of our faith – for church buildings, for the study of
Scripture, for an interest in knowing things about God – though these
things necessarily will accompany an authentic conversion of heart. But
these things may in fact be distractions from a true conversion of
heart. The Pharisees were very interested in all of these things – the
Temple in Jerusalem, the worship of God there, they studied the Law with
great intensity– and yet would prevent if they could Jesus’ healing of a
man, a Jewish brother, on the Sabbath day. And they eventually
conspired with others to put Jesus, who only spoke of love, to a violent
and painful death. If they had been truly born of God, these things
would not have crossed their minds.
Do we love our
brother? do we love our sister? do we love our neighbour? This is the
test of whether our drawing near in faith to God’s word, to the worship
of God, to a concern about spiritual things, to God himself, is
resulting in an authentic birth.
In the Gospel
reading we have placed before our minds a parable that Jesus spoke to
the Pharisees, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.
It is a strange
story the more we consider it.
There was a
certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared
sumptuously every day. And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus,
which was laid at his gate full of sores, and desiring to be fed with
the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came
and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and
was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died,
and was buried: and in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and
seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
The first thing to
say, is that this is not a parable against having wealth. St. Augustine
reminds us that the bosom into which Lazarus was brought in heaven was
Abraham’s, a man who in his life had been gifted with great wealth.
Rather, the parable is about the state of the heart, about whether we
are born again, born of God or not.
We are warned about
judging the success of a person, in the way the world judges success,
because ultimately what is of importance is the state of our hearts.
The rich man sought
a sense of dignity by wearing clothes of purple and fine linen – the
clothing of royalty. He fared sumptuously every daily to feel good.
Fine clothes and good food are not a problem in and of themselves except
if they be a reflection of what we believe is the way to find peace.
The rich man’s heart is exposed by his response, or rather, his complete
lack of response to the beggar who had been placed at his doorstep.
His heart is exposed
as being only about self serving, he had not tasted anything of the love
of God. Given a soul gifted with a window on the world and on heaven he
has fallen completely into the world. No doubt he had ideas in his mind
about his own deserving of what he had – he had worked for it, or was
entitled by birth. If he was a man of faith, he would have known that
all gifts come from God and we are to be good stewards of those gifts.
He has torment as he
dies because he has placed all hope in the world, which is changing, and
these things will all necessarily be taken from him, wealth, enjoyment
of food, comfort of body. He has not seen enough to share the excess
from his table with one in need placed before him. He has not sought
the kingdom above in this life, he has not been born of God, has not
seen nor has he entered into the Kingdom of heaven.
The poor man in the
parable, is given the name Lazarus, by Jesus – it is a name meaning,
“God is my help.” It is hard to think of him as commendable – he is a
beggar, one who relies on others, one who we might think has squandered
the gifts God has given him and is living parasitically on others. But
again, Jesus is not commending here the life of begging, any more than
he is condemning having wealth, but rather he is commending the state of
Lazarus’ heart. And this is where it is hard to see what is commendable
about his state of life. What is commendable about Lazarus is that he
is one who is waiting for charity, for love. He has no sense of
deserving, there is no violence in his soul to take what is not his, he
makes no demand that he be fed as if it is his right, but he is waiting
Our being brought to
birth in this life was not our choice – we didn’t tell our mothers when
we should arrive – it was a matter of nature, not of will. In the same
way, our being brought into the kingdom of heaven, our being born again,
is a matter, not of our will, but of the free gift of God.
When we find
ourselves unsatisfied by our self sufficiency and of seeking an end only
in this world, and begin to look more and more in humility for something
more, for an authentic knowledge and experience of God’s love, we will
come to know that it is God who has loved us first. And that knowledge
and experience of God’s love will enlighten our eyes to see those who
are in need in our midst. This is what it is to truly and unfeignedly
be born of God.
There is something
wonderful about the teaching of this parable when we think of our
preparations for Holy Communion.
When I was a student
at Wycliffe College in Toronto, each student was assigned on Sundays to
a church. I had to take a subway to get to my placement. On my way one
morning into the subway I was met by a couple of beggars near the
entrance and I gave them a coin into their outstretched hands. Only an
hour later I found myself with outstretched hand at the church receiving
the coin-shaped host, a beggar for grace.
But here’s the
difference between where we find ourselves in relation to heaven and the
parable this morning: despite our inability to move into heaven by our
own will, and despite our neediness, our souls sore from our sins, we
needn’t fear that God is some distant rich man, uncaring and unwilling
to feed us enjoying the delights of the divine life. Rather, in this
was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his
only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.
Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent
his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
And God does not
just give us the crumbs from his table, but invites us to sit at table
with Him. God clothes us with the finest garments of royalty – with the
garments of the righteousness of Christ.
gracious gifts he tells us to respond likewise, God-like, to those