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Fifth Sunday after Trinity

Benjamin Lee

July 16 AD 2006

1 Peter 3:8-15    St. Luke 5:1-11

Our Collect this morning orients and educates our desire, articulating a truth which we have been holding in our prayers throughout Trinity Season thus far.  “Grant, O Lord, we beseech thee, that the course of this world may be so peaceably ordered by thy governance, that thy Church may joyfully serve thee in all godly quietness.”  ‘Peace’ and ‘quietness’ are here understood as the tranquility of being rightly ordered; according as the soul, and the whole cosmos, journeys back to its true homeland, towards its final perfection, where it shall find rest in God alone.  Our goal is the heavenly beatitude of eternal life, to worship and enjoy God forever.  This is the final blessing for which we hope, and toward which we strive, to be sure; but it is also ours to participate in such eternal blessedness while we are yet pilgrims in this mortal life.  The Church serves its Lord not out of a begrudging sense of duty, for this, our “bounden duty and service,” is at the same time, “perfect freedom” (BCP pp. 86, 11).  Thus, as we pray in our Collect, the Bride of Christ expects to serve its divine head “joyfully.”

Likewise we are exhorted, by St Peter, to live in the world, and amongst our fellow Christians, according to this order: in accordance with our hope for heavenly beatitude—“Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing” (I Peter 3:9).  To ascend to the divine life, to abide in charity, cannot mean less than this: the continual conversion of our love, away from opportunities and occasions for evil, and rather willing the good of others, in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.  As the Psalmist counsels, as quoted by St Peter: “let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it” (Ps. 34:14; I Peter 3:11).

But such a life we are called to follow, in following Christ, and ordering our souls in harmony with his divine governance, is a blessing which the world does not recognise as such.  “And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not” (John 1:5).  Such a pattern of happiness, in fact, is very much contrary to common notions of the good life in our age, or any age for that matter.  “But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye” (I Peter 3:14).  It is not easy for us to grasp and hold fast the profoundly implicating relationship of righteous suffering and happiness of which this passage speaks.  Let us, then, briefly consider the nature of this vocation of happiness in suffering.

Happiness in suffering for righteousness’ sake springs from the love of God.  It is a suffering love whereby we enter into the suffering love of Christ for all humanity.  It is a kind of joy that does not seek after happiness in the changes and chances of this fleeting world, in external circumstances or goods which may be taken away as quickly as they are given.  Rather, we repose upon the eternal changelessness of God’s love: we turn towards the supreme happiness which springs from the love of God, an inward happiness which lies within the soul.  True blessing has a promise of true satisfaction, in comparison to which all other fruit and goods are but shadows of the true good, imperfect blessings which always and inevitably leave us wanting.  And so St Peter teaches that the outward practice of charity is premised upon a turn inwards: “Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts” (I Peter 3:15).  The fruits of the Holy Spirit are spiritual gifts, which do not depend on anything we deserve or have earned, which are not the result of “getting what I want,” and have little or nothing to do with our experience of pleasure,  sentimentality, or the immediate satisfaction of our every whim and lust—No.  The nature of happiness which consists in suffering for righteousness’ sake is an inward disposition of the soul, and depends on our abiding in love which manifests itself in our willing the good of others.  We must never forget that this happiness, as suffering love, is costly.  “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you and shall say all manner of evil against you, for my sake” (Matt. 5:11).  It would only be a superficial happiness, and would not have the power to convert us, nor to lift us above the frailty and infirmity of our own human love, if the love of God’s kingdom did not in fact mean “death to each of us”: the complete dying out of our own selfish selves—“and not dying out as a flower fades away but dying a cruel death of the crucifixion” (Anthony Bloom, Living Prayer, 40).  This is what stands behind the Church’s vocation to suffering love, and the bearing of this suffering is the substance of our happiness, sustained in hope through the contemplation of and participation in Christ’s body and blood.   

To abide in this blessed suffering of divine love means the banishment of fear and a troubled spirit.  When our suffering leads to a hopeless despair, to a sorrow which would crush and overwhelm us, it is not a suffering for the sake of the good, or for the sake of the perfection and reformation of our love.  In such a spirit of dejection, it is we who have wandered away from ourselves: rather than banishing fear, in our forgetfulness of the redemption of love, we banish ourselves from our true home, and become alienated from the true nature of our happiness.    

 Surely, many of us can identify with the words of Simon Peter, when Jesus bid him to cast his net again into deep waters: “Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing” (Luke 5:5).  His expectation of being rewarded for a hard night’s work was thoroughly disappointed.  How often do we have hopes and plans which we do not see realised?  How often are our own aspirations frustrated?  How often do we experience letting down the net of our desire, and then after long toil, haul it back up only to find the net empty, and ourselves dejected?

In the story of the miraculous catch of fish, there are two miracles, two mysteries.  Peter, perhaps against common sense, and in obedience to Christ’s word, let the net down again, and this time, the fruit which he drew up was not the reward for any of his own efforts and toil: the haul of fishes was a gift of divine grace, and was so abundant, it literally burst from the nets.  But perhaps more astounding is the transformation of the heart, undergone by Peter and the sons of Zebedee.  For there are different kinds of sorrow, with different ends: the Apostle Paul puts the matter clearly, “The sorrow which is according to God worketh repentance steadfast unto salvation: but the sorrow of the world worketh death” (II Cor. 7:10).  In the face of the astounding blessing of the fish, Peter recognises a blessing that cannot even be compared to any abundance of temporal fruit: in being brought to his knees, he recognises that he must be dissatisfied with the most abundant catch of fishes that ever he could imagine.  And this is accompanied by a movement in his soul: from a dejection at his own unrealised gain: we have toiled all the night and have taken nothing; to a healthy, redemptive kind of sorrow, the contrition and confession of his sins: he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying Depart from me, for I am a sinful man O Lord; and from experiencing sorrow and suffering for his utter unworthiness of such abundant grace, there is a movement to satisfaction and amendment of life: they forsook all, and followed him.

May this pattern of contrition, confession, and satisfaction, which is the movement of our prayer and worship, be the movement of our hearts; may we truly sanctify the Lord God in our hearts, contemplating his grace, in which there is no fear. 

Grant, Father, that our minds Thy august seat may scan,

Grant us the sight of true good’s source, and grant us light

That we may fix on Thee our mind’s unblinded eye.

Disperse the clouds of earthly matter’s cloying weight;

Shine out in all Thy glory; for Thou art rest and peace

To those who worship Thee; to see Thee is our end,

Who art our source and maker, lord and path and goal.

                                    (Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy, 3.9)

 

 

 

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