Seventh Sunday after
and the Feast of St.
D. G. Phillips
LaHave, Cherry Hill, Petite Riviere – July 22 AD
Rom 6:17f St. Mark 8:1f
Ye have yielded your members servants to
and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now
yield your members servants to righteousness
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
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
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 liveliness – that 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
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
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]