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Seventh Sunday after Trinity

and the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene

D. G. Phillips

LaHave, Cherry Hill, Petite Riviere – July 22 AD 2007

Rom 6:17f    St. Mark 8:1f

 

Ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness

 and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now

yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness. 

 

We’ve all heard the expression that he or she “is a hard worker.”  It is a virtue highly praised in our society – perhaps especially in Lunenburg County, where there is a strong work ethic.  But when people say to me, that they know I’m really busy, I think to myself, I hope not.

 

We are living in a society that is frenetic in its activity.  Never before have so many people had so many opportunities for activity – making wealth and enjoying spending it.  I know this when I try to organize events in the parishes.  For youth there are many wonderful things to do – on top of school – soccer, Lacrosse, basketball, 4-H club, this club and that club.  For young parents – on top of care for children, often two jobs, helping in the community – they are taken almost to the breaking point.  And older people – entertaining family, helping with this and that in the community, doctors appointments.  And summers are busier than ever here on the coast in our churches, with people coming to visit, music concerts, receptions to plan for and undertake, this sale and that sale, fire department breakfasts, working on the churches, altar guilds, ACW’s, keeping up on the news, on top of getting the boat ready to sail, gardening, working on the house, family, and then of course trying to fit in…some fun – the list goes on.  It's tiring just thinking of it.  Surely we are not suffering from sloth!

 

Sitting about doing nothing would be a sure sign of sloth.  In Proverbs there are some wonderful lines about the sluggard or the slothful person – who gives all sorts of excuses for not doing things – there is a lion in the streets, it’s too cold out there to plant.  As the door turneth upon his hinges, so doth the slothful upon his bed.  But I have not really met anyone here who is doing nothing.

 

But the Church has always taught that sloth is not measured by how much we are doing, but it is measured by what we are doing.  How much of our activity is truly directed towards a spiritual pursuit – the pursuit of God?  How much of our strength is directed to the love of God and our neighbour?

 

Maybe, you will say, but much of the activity is the love of our neighbour, and I'm sure that is true in part.  But if we are frenetically loving one another but never ourselves entering into God’s rest – in worship, in the quiet of prayer, in meditation on God’s Word – can we really even love our neighbours as ourselves? 

 

Are we guilty in fact of being carried away by the sin of sloth masquerading as busyness – to avoid the painful (at least at first) activity of seeking the kingdom of heaven within.

 

All our activity can become twisted – the pursuit of pleasure becomes all consuming and we become slaves of our desire, or we can come to resent the care we are giving to others, we think ourselves deserving of praise, we can become vainglorious or proud. 

 

St. Paul, speaking of a time before people became serious Christians, says,

ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity… What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death.  …For the wages of sin is death;

 

Often when Christians first read this, we think it refers to some sexual immorality – or maybe some other outrageous public scandal that we don’t do ourselves.  But I hope that we are learning over these weeks at church to see all the roots of iniquity in our lives.  Dorothy says wrote an essay on “The Six Other Deadly Sins” – pride, envy, wrath, sloth, greed, gluttony.  To fall for any of these is to have yielded [our] members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity.  It is to be the servants of sin and the wages of sin is death. 

 

We should feel as much shame for falling into pride, or vainglory, or covetousness as we would if we were caught in some public scandal – in any of these cases we are falling away from God, and the end of any one of these sins is death.  Why?  Simply because our love is missing the mark – our desire, our energy is being diverted from its true end – the love of God and our neighbour, the spiritual path. 

 

But as Christians we surely know a kind of liberation from complete enslavement to any of these passions – we are only a little bit proud, a little bit vainglorious, a little bit avaricious, a little bit in pursuit of pleasure as an end in itself.  Or, if we’re honest, maybe a little bit more than “a little bit” – for each of us, the degree to which we are succumbing to each of these passions is different – the geography of our disordered loves is different.

 

But we are here this Sunday – and that’s a good sign.  We have some spiritual disciplines – daily reading of Scripture, lifting our hearts in prayer each day, I hope – these are good signs that we are not completely fallen into spiritual sloth. 

 

We have begun to yield [our] members servants to righteousness unto holiness… now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, [we] have [our] fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.

 

But how can we further break the spiritual sloth that we are surely all here today subject to?

 

And here is wonderful news – the Gospel in fact – for all of us who feel tired or exhausted with all our activity.  Our aim in holy zeal, in pursuing the spiritual path, is actually, for the first time in our lives, to enter into true rest – God’s rest – and there we will find ourselves rejuvenated – Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you, says Jesus.  Surely what we desire is eternal life, or eternal livelinessthat is what God is promising.

 

This morning’s Gospel reading, is the miraculous feeding of the four thousand in the wilderness by Jesus.

Jesus called his disciples unto him, and saith unto them, I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now been with me three days, and have nothing to eat: and if I send them away fasting to their own houses, they will faint by the way; for divers of them came from far

 

Think of it – these people have been totally captivated by listening to our Lord and have followed him from far.  They have been pursuing spiritual ends – they have been lifted in their minds to the kingdom of heaven – they have fallen in love with God and they have forgotten about food.  But how can they continue in their journey?  How will they have any energy?

 

He asked them, How many loaves have ye?  And they said, Seven.  And he commanded the people to sit down on the ground: and he took the seven loaves, and gave thanks, and brake, and gave to his disciples to set before them; and they did set them before the people.

 

Jesus makes enough from the seven loaves that they had to satisfy them.

One of the ways we break our spiritual sloth – is to stop dissipating our strength on our seven passions – pride, vainglory, dejection, wrath, avarice, gluttony, lust – and we will have more zeal for the spiritual life.  As ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness

 

Today, happily, we remember St. Mary Magdalene.  The gospel accounts of her is as one who was delivered by our Lord from 7 demons - perhaps an indication that she had been overwhelmed by all her passions.   But after she encountered our Lord, she left everything and transferred all her longing to following Jesus.  She, along with other women, followed Jesus around Galilee and ministered to him of their substance. [Luke 8:1-3]  She followed him to the foot of the Cross, she was there at his burial and brought sweet smelling ointment to anoint his body.  And she was the first to whom our Lord revealed himself after he rose from the dead.  And when she saw him, she ran to tell the apostles.  She yielded her whole self to be a servant of righteousness unto holiness.

 

So a part of overcoming sloth is simply to take the desire, the energy, our strength that we already have and are using to follow the passions and redirecting it towards a spiritual end.

 

But the Gospel miracle tells us more. 

And they had a few small fishes; and he blessed, and commanded to set them also before them.  So they did eat, and were filled: and they took up of the broken meat that was left seven baskets.  And they that had eaten were about four thousand.  And he sent them away.

 

When our love, our desire, our strength, is directed towards spiritual ends it is never spent.  The disciples distribute the seven loaves and the few fish to the crowds and come back with seven baskets full.  Christ renews us with more desire, more zeal to continue the spiritual pursuit.  As Dante says in his poetry about his spiritual ascent, With each step, desire came upon me, desire upon desire.  Or as St. John says, from his fulness have we all received, grace upon grace [John 1]It is that well of living water that Christ promises, welling up in our hearts to eternal life, ever renewing us from within.  Are we drinking from that well?

 

This miracle is also meant to point us to the miracle which will soon take place in our midst – the lifting of our minds to heavenly things – to Christ Himself in the Holy Communion.  Jesus breaks the hold that our passions can have upon us by himself being broken upon the Cross.  He gives us His Body and His Blood.  Here is forgiveness for our sloth, for our dissipating our strength on things that only bring death.  Here is spiritual food in the wilderness to strengthen us in all goodness and to bring us to everlasting life.

 

LORD of all power and might, who art the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of thy Name, increase in us [not frenetic activity but] true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of thy great mercy keep us in the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord.   Amen.                  [The Collect for Trinity 7]

 

 

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