Eighth Sunday after
D. G. Phillips
West Dublin, Cherry Hill, Vogler's Cove – July 29 AD
Rom 8:12f St. Matt 7:15f
We are the children of God. And if children,
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
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’
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.
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,
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
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]
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
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.
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
Well, all of us are no doubt sometimes
over-concerned about worldly wealth – confused about what we really
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
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
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.
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]