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First Sunday after Trinity

D. G. Phillips

Holy Communion

Petite Riviere, 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 us.

 

We are entering into Trinity season.

 

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 it.  

 

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:

that God 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 Christ.

 

In this morning’s Epistle, St. John gives us another test of the authenticity of our conversion:

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?

 

An authentic 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 for love.

 

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. 

 

Receiving these gracious gifts he tells us to respond likewise, God-like, to those around us.

 

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

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