D. G. Phillips
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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?
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.