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Eighth Sunday after Trinity

D. G. Phillips

West Dublin, Cherry Hill, Vogler's Cove – July 29 AD 2007

Rom 8:12f    St. Matt 7:15f

We are the children of God.  And if children, then heirs;

heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that

we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him.. 

 

I’ve been blessed this past week with a family staying with me – the Westhavers.  They have 2 daughters Clara and Charlotte – Charlotte is a one year old.  I’m not used to the mad scramble to get things out of her reach.  She sees something, she looks at it, and she wants it.  In fact, she wants to consume it if it is small enough.  It’s a wonderful expression of our God given desire to be more than we are.

 

This desire to possess has always been with us.  From our earliest years we can probably all remember the joy of collecting – maybe it was at first a collection of toys. 

 

I remember as a child my father introducing his joy of collecting stamps.  With stamps – there is the joy of getting them, then sorting and arranging them by themes – by countries, by dates, by subject.  And then there is the joy of looking at them on the page as the collection builds.  Reviewing the albums.  I was introduced to the wider world, to history, to the activity of joining in with others in a fellowship of shared interest.  And there is the fun of trading with others and mutually improving each others collections.  We also come to know the different value of things.

 

That desire to acquire takes on a more spiritual form – the desire to know things, to become an expert in some field of study – the study of the natural world, the specifics of a trade, of a profession, of how to raise children.  We like to have a certain expertise.  And there is again that element of sharing with others who have a like interest and improving each others’ knowledge.

 

Then there are relationships with others – family, to have friends, and maybe a spouse, whom a person promises to have and to hold from this day forward

 

[following the logic in Fr. Crouse's paper Heavenly Avarice which he attributes to Dante, Convivio, IV, 12, ed. cit., pp. 176-177, tr. R.D.C.; cf. Augustine, Enarr. in ps. LXII, 5, CCL, 39, 796.]

 

But there is a darker side, to the acquiring of things or even of knowledge, or relationships with others – it is when this desire to have becomes a distraction from our God given desire to acquire the things of heaven.

 

We have been given minds and hearts to desire, to want, to love.  What is it that we are loving?  When that special human gift of higher reason, meant to stretch out towards heaven, is turned simply into the clever acquiring of earthly things we are missing the mark.  In its cruelest form, our love which is meant to reach out to God is turned only into the world, to the acquiring of earthly things as if there alone could we satisfy our appetite. 

 

We forget about the more spiritual reasons for our collections, for our possessions, for our relationships with others, and become confused by their true worth to us.  In its most debased form, our possessions become important to us only because of their monetary value.  We become obsessed with holding on to money or with spending it too freely.  Our relationships can be  poisoned because we relate to others only because of what it can get us.   We become slaves to our passion – a debtor, trying to satisfy this fleshy way of thinking and relating to the world.

 

But, My brethren, St. Paul reminds us, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh.  For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die…

 

But The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.  And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him.

 

We know in our hearts when we’ve been trapped, confused, when we’ve become debtors to the flesh.  Something, Someone – the Holy Spirit – in our hearts, awakens us, that there is something more to desire. 

 

St. Paul reminds us that as Christians we are joint-heirs with Christ.  To be an heir is to be an inheritor – and our inheritance as Christians is the life of heaven, the acquiring of the virtues, the spiritual life, to be gifted even with the infilling of our souls with God – St. Paul says elsewhere, to be filled with all the fullness of God.

 

If so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him.

 

What is this suffering?  St. Paul is not speaking of some outward suffering – being beaten for being a Christian, that would be simple.  But he is speaking of an inward spiritual suffering in the soul – a dying to the building up of earthly treasures that we might seek after the treasures of heaven. 

 

And one of the beauties of the acquiring of heavenly things is that, in contrast to the acquiring of earthly things, the more we gain of them, the more that we all have.  We needn’t fear that others will steal the spiritual gifts God wants to give us.  We are not suspicious of other people’s motives for drawing near – we can freely share and all become rich. [Dante]

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How will we know if we have passed the mark from a lawful possession of earthly things to covetousness?  George Herbert makes some suggestions in the reading in the church bulletin, which I hope you’ll read later. [click here]  But let’s turn this morning to our Gospel.

 

The Gospel warns about false prophets – about those who become ravenous wolves.

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.  Jesus is speaking about those who teach or would presume to teach about God.

 

In ancient Israel, in Ezekiel’s time, the priests had become corrupt.  Rather than feeding the flock with words of knowledge, their desire for God was turned instead into a cruel feeding upon the sheep under their care.  Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves…Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill them that are fed: but ye feed not the flock.   [Ezek. 34:2-3]  They became wolves devouring the flock.

 

Our Lord condemned the Scribes and Pharisees for the same fault: Woe unto you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, …ye devour… ye fools and blind…for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. [Matt. 23]

 

As your priest, I am supposed to be a shepherd, a teacher, perhaps even something of a prophet.  The parishes provide me with a salary, housing, car expenses, a pension plan – so that, says the induction service, being free from worldly anxieties, [I] may devote [my]self wholly to the preaching of God’s Word and the ministration of the Sacraments.  But if there was a slight change in my thinking, and I began to be over-concerned about how much I received, or saw my vocation instead as a job, as a career, as a comfortable way of living – somehow everything would change…  Outwardly the circumstances of my life would be the same, but my relation to them would be completely different.  And it would begin to affect how I related to you all – perhaps being resentful, demanding, unspiritual.  I would lose credibility - Jesus says you should not listen to me! – it would be disastrous for the church.

 

That’s your priest, what about each of you?  Will you be seen by your neighbours as true teachers of Christ or as false prophets in sheep’s clothing – professing a love of Christ, but really all the while, placing your trust too much in earthly riches?

 

Well, all of us are no doubt sometimes over-concerned about worldly wealth – confused about what we really want.

 

Jesus reminds us how to identify whether we are becoming wolves in sheep’s clothing.  He says, Ye shall know them by their fruits.  Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?  Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.  … by their fruits ye shall know them.

 

Jesus warns us to curb our passion to acquire things, so that our lives are not spent in vain acquisition and nothingness, only to find ourselves hewn down and cast into the fire.

 

What sort of fruit are we bringing forth in our lives?  In two weeks we will begin looking more closely at the gifts and fruit of the Holy Spirit [faith, hope, charity, peace, joy, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, self-control and so on].  The question is, are you desirous of acquiring them?  Jesus gives us permission to want them, even to be greedy for them. 

 

The treasures of heaven can be held by us no matter what the outward circumstances of our lives – they adorn our souls as bright gems as we look heavenward, they are our Christian inheritance.  We can bring the best of them with us into the next life – a heart, soul and mind filled with Love.

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Jesus will keep us from an unhealthy love of earthly riches, if we are watchful.

 

This morning he offers to unbind us further from the debts we thought we owed to the flesh.  Jesus wants us to be greedy, but to be greedy for the right things.

 

Remember little Charlotte, with that overwhelming desire to be united with all things, even to consume them that she might become more than herself.  Her parents are beginning this constant work of curbing and re directing her desires - no, not this, yes, that.  The Holy Spirit will continue that work in our souls if we are reading Scripture, if we are listening inwardly for his voice.  Ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.  The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.  And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him.  When Charlotte's parents tell her no, she screams, it is inner anguish, real suffering - but it is for her good.  Will we suffer with [Christ], that we might be glorified with him?

 

We are maturing, we are beginning to know that nothing will satisfy us eternally but God Himself – we want to be more than we are, we want to be filled with all the fullness of God – and God will soon give Himself to us to be consumed in this Sacrament of His Body and His Blood. 

 

Oh, how he knows us! 

Oh, how he has mercy on us!  how he loves us!

Oh, how he will fill us with all Goodness!

 

O GOD, whose never-failing providence ordereth all things both in heaven and earth: We humbly beseech thee to put away from us all hurtful things, and to give us those things which be profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

[The Collect for Trinity 8]

 

 

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