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Seventh Sunday after Trinity

D. G. Phillips

Holy Communion

Vogler’s Cove, Petite Riviere, West Dublin – July 26 AD 2009

Rom 6:17f    St. Mark 8:1f

 

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.

 

We are continuing to reflect on spiritedness in the soul – about the recovery of a kind of zest or zeal that is directed towards the love of God and our neighbour.

 

Two weeks ago we looked at what can hold us back, what can take away our spiritedness, our energy – the fear of others or an improper fear of God or a sense of purposelessness about our work – these can depress us, hold us back from that kind of liveliness we see and value in youthfulness.

 

Last week we looked at the expression of spiritedness, but in anger.  There can be a great release of energy, we have a clear feeling of being alive – and that feels good, but that energy can also so easily become destructive, tearing down rather than building up.

 

This morning, our readings are given to us that we might reflect on another way in which we can become stuck, depressed in spirit – and the way that God delivers us.

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In the Epistle, St. Paul asks us to think about the times past when we failed to show some restraint of the flesh – whether it was excessive appetite for the good things of this world, or whether it was a perverted love – like pride, envy or anger.  Whatever the failure in love that was besetting us, we came to a point where we saw its destructive effects and we sought help from God to deliver us. 

 

St. Paul says, “you offered your bodily members to serve uncleanness, and to iniquity after iniquity” and we recognized that there was a problem with this – there was a lack of freedom in that kind of giving of oneself over.  We felt alive in one sense – that spiritedness in us was released and that is a good feeling.  But because the love was misdirected, the end of our actions did not build us up or build up others.  We may have felt ashamed, there was something of the experience that we knew had in it the taste of death.  Maybe it was fear of death that pulled us back from the brink, maybe it was that we saw what our actions were doing to others around us whom we love, how they were being hurt, maybe we began to see that we were not so free as we imagined – whatever the reason, we were awakened to another way by God.

 

It is not wrong to want to feel alive, to experience the thrill of spiritedness set free – but we came to see that some of the ways we were expressing ourselves needed to be curbed.

 

But you see, if we just restrain ourselves from following “iniquity after iniquity”, if we no longer experience the thrill, even of misplaced love, we can become stuck, no longer moving towards what is destructive, but also not moving at all.

 

St. Paul encourages us not just to lie down and give up – that would be a kind of nihilism – a kind of death in itself.  We are not made as human beings to give up desiring, that would be to give up life itself.  But our end is something different – a resurrection to eternal life.

 

But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, you have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.  For the wages of sin is death; but the free gift of God is eternal life – eternal liveliness.

 

Just as we truly had a sense that we had tasted death when we followed a misplaced love – and it frightened us – so now we can get a taste of eternal life even now.

 

But this transition is not so easy for us to perceive.  When we lived after the flesh, when we were carnally minded, it was easy for us to experience something – the physical senses screamed out when they were stimulated – but our spiritual sense was dulled at the same time.  It was easy to know we were alive – the thrill of driving too fast, the pushing of limits, the excessive appetite, the pleasures of the body, the ice water flowing through our veins when we fed on anger, or the satiety, the swelling we felt when filled with pride.  It was like a strong wind, like an earthquake, like a fire – easy to know.

 

But remember Elijah’s encounter with God on Mount Horeb?

Behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: and after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.  And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?

 

That was all Elijah wanted – a word directly to him from the Lord; it is all Job wanted in his suffering; it is all Abraham and Sarah wanted in their lifetime of wanderings.  How will we come to know and to love more than anything else, not the wind or earthquake or fire of our passions gone awry, but the still small voice of God?

 

How will we make this transition from spending our energies on what is destructive, to not spending any energy, to spending all our energies on what is good?

 

We need to experience new pleasures, “pleasure that can never cloy”, “pleasure every way”, “solid joys and lasting treasure” – as we sing in some of our hymns – how will we taste these when we’ve been living after the flesh?

 

Our souls need to be continually reoriented; our souls need to be continually converted.

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Our Gospel reading this morning, describes crowds gathered around Jesus in Israel, but just as well Christians as they gather today in churches around the world:

IN those days the multitude being very great, and having nothing to eat, 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.

 

The crowd has been in the wilderness for three days listening to Jesus, (it might remind us of the three days that the elders spent in setting themselves apart before ascending the mountain with Moses to hear God).  They have heard the words of Jesus and know that he speaks the oracles of God, they are desiring more, and yet they need to be strengthened to survive in this wilderness of separation that we experience in this life – a step away from the certainty of eternal life with God, but nonetheless filled with an unsatisfied longing for so much more than what we know after the flesh. 

 

Jesus has compassion on them as he does on us today.  We have moved away from the easy pleasures, from those which carry with them the taste of death.  And we know that it is not enough to return to our own houses, that is, to rest in our own souls.  We know that we are insufficient of ourselves to be sustained in the spiritual life.  We want to eat bread in the kingdom of heaven, we want to taste now and be renewed inwardly with strength for the spiritual life, but also to begin to know what is a new way of knowing pleasure, of perceiving the spiritual world that is eternal, of following our desire to its true end.

 

Other ways of tasting are opened up to us.  We will look at this in the next couple of weeks but we can begin this morning.

 

Jesus gives to us Bread from heaven – in the Holy Communion of His Body and Blood we partake of Him and we are lifted, transported, the recipients of new graces – the forgiveness of sins and all of other benefits of His passion.  We have a taste of perfect reconciliation with God and our neighbour – only in this do we know the peace which passes all understanding.  Our souls are being converted, there is a reorientation from the earthly to the heavenly in our seeking and in our finding. 

 

When we read the words of Scripture – what at one time we found to be dull and dense, and set on a shelf somewhere collecting dust, maybe just stories for children, we realize are more to be desired than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey, and the honey-comb [Ps 19:10].  We find ourselves desiring to be fed with every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God, and we begin to plumb its depths.

 

Reading what were once the dry dull words of a well known liturgy become to our minds like brilliant diamonds and from our lips ascends the sweet fragrant incense of heartfelt prayers that are received gladly in heaven.  We understand the spiritual pleasure of prayer and of worship.

 

We discover that we are fed in doing the will of our Father – being servants of righteousness.  Interactions with others that were mundane and detached become filled with eternal significance, because they can be.

 

Eternal life is being entered into by us; the divine and human life is intermingling in us.

 

Our spiritedness is being released towards the love of God and our neighbour. 

And the fruit? holiness.  And the end? 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 true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of thy great mercy keep us in the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

 

 

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