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Ninth Sunday after Trinity

D. G. Phillips

Holy Communion

West LaHave, Crousetown, Broad Cove – August, AD 2009

1 Cor 10:1f    St. Luke 16:1f

 

Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness;

that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.

 

Are you getting a sense of being on a journey in these past several weeks of Trinity season – maybe even of beginning in a gracious ascent up a mountainside?  We are seeking the kingdom of heaven – to amend our loves that we might eat bread in the kingdom of heaven.

 

We began by remembering that it starts with humbling ourselves before God and our neighbour.  If our love had been perverted, turned inward only on ourselves, the signs were pride and envy.  But when we humbled ourselves before God and our neighbour, love has begun to stretch out, we find ourselves in relation to God and neighbour, new worlds open up – the adventure has begun.

 

Then we looked at the releasing of a spiritedness in the soul – the various ways that our love, our desire, that spiritedness, can be inhibited through fear or a lack of hope.  God wants to remove all the obstacles for the release of our desire in a heavenward pursuit.  Heaven rejoices to see us more lively and fruitful as we come to know the mercy of God and our status and children of God.

 

And as that desire is awakened in us, last week and this morning, we are being reminded about the true object of our desire.  We were warned last week not to fix our hearts and minds, on the things where sharing can have no part – we prayed that God would take from us hurtful things and give us those things that are truly profitable.

 

All this time we are being asked to look inward, to take off the mask, the face that we present to the world of who we are (and even to ourselves), and to look at what it is we really want inwardly – are we are ravenous wolf (plotting to take from others) or a hound of heaven?

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In today’s Epistle, St. Paul reminds us, of the example of the Israelites, who, even though they had experienced that great deliverance from Egypt – saw God parting the Red sea for them, saw water given to them out of the stoney ground, tasted the manna that fell down from heaven to sustain them – even with all of this daily providential care and encouragement, they made idols of food and drink and sex – they were confused on their journey to the promised land by the lust of the flesh. 

Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.  Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand. 

It is hard for us to be patient in our wilderness wandering.  We’re seeking to be obedient to the ways of love, but we can’t yet see where God is leading us, or what God will open up to us. 

 

Satisfying ourselves with food and drink and sex in our wandering can short circuit the stretching out of our desire for God.  In our anxiety (desire stretching out but not yet being fixed securely on heaven) we too quickly turn back to old ways of being satisfied, we can long for the flesh pots of Egypt.

 

But you might say – I have to eat, I have to drink, or I will die, and there must be sex for at least some or the human race will not survive and perhaps sex is important even beyond reasons of procreation.

 

What would Jesus have us do with these basic desires of the body – after all, it is he who gave them to us? 

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Let’s look at today’s Gospel.

 

In the Gospel reading, Jesus is encouraging us to temperance – to being wise stewards of our desires. 

 

 

Jesus says, a certain rich man, [that is God – who is the maker of all things] which had a steward; [God gives to us everything – our life, our salvation – we are His stewards] and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods   [God fills us with love for Him and for our neighbour yet we often spend that same desire excessively on the desires of the body].  And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward. [When we leave this world, we will be asked to account for how we spent our lives.]

 

The steward in the story – makes deals with those in the world – to give them something so that they give something back – to one he says, take 50% and give 50% back, to another he says take 20% and give back 80%.

 

In this parable, Jesus commends, not the man’s fraud but his wisdom in trying to make friends of these debtors.

 

In the context of our living our lives here on earth in the flesh, we’re to consider our relation to food and drink and sex and material riches.  They are God’s gracious gifts to us – yet no doubt we are confused by them regularly, trusting in them excessively to bring us peace.

 

Jesus doesn’t want us to be miserable – He would have us enjoy the good things of the creation and our embodied lives.  He’s suggesting a certain “making friends” with our desire.  There is a certain necessity and health and good pleasure in the fulfilling of earthly desire – but we are to do that always in the light of the bigger picture, which is, that we are stewards of God’s gifts.  Is our desire bringing us to God? and is our desire spent in part in reaching out in love to our neighbours?

 

1. Desire for food?

 

An over emphasis on food – whether for the pleasure of taste or just in the amount – takes our desire, that feeling of anxiety of not being fulfilled spiritually, and can short circuit it – satiating it with food. 

 

As I mentioned last year, St. Augustine suggests that we should use food as a kind of medicine [Confessions X. 31] – to stand in that sort of relation to it – discovering for ourselves what is a good amount, what are the right kinds, so that we can be most fit for the spiritual life – so that we are alert, healthy, and most able to love God and our neighbours.

 

2. What about drink?

 

Last week I was looking at the New York Times online, and an article intrigued me in the business section - Are Three Martinis Three Too Many?  It is a person giving advice to someone entering into the corporate world.  These are some of the questions that are asked and then answered:

Q. You are new to the corporate world and not sure what to do at business functions or after-hour gatherings where alcohol is present. If everyone else is drinking — including your boss — should you drink, too?

Q. How do you politely decline to drink, especially if others are urging you to have one?

Q. When you attend business-related social events with more-senior colleagues, they always seem to be holding a drink. Could your refusal to do the same draw attention to your youth and inexperience?

Q. If you wound up overdoing it at a company event, what’s the best way to deal with it the next day at the office?

Q. Is it acceptable to call in sick if you are suffering from a bad hangover?

Q. How can you tell if you have a drinking problem that needs to be addressed?

 

This article is a clear call to temperance in the secular world.  It is for the purpose of succeeding in the corporate world.  Do you not think that we should be even more concerned about this as Christians who have such a high call – to be children of God, stewards of the divine mysteries, desiring to climb, not the corporate ladder, but the ladder that leads to God Himself?

 

3. What about sex? 

 

Well I spoke about this a bit in the last parish letter, reread it if you like (see parts 3 and 4) – we need to reflect on why there is this call to a chaste life throughout Scripture.  If we really think about this, and use our reason we can see for ourselves why we might want to live a more chaste life, certainly than the society we live in promotes, but maybe even more than the current ideas we hold about this.  [When Dante, on Mount Purgatory, is entranced by the Siren, a heavenly lady comes to his assistant Virgil, who has stepped back, Virgil! Virgil! she cries out.  Virgil, a symbol of human reason, steps forward and leads Dante beyond the Siren. (The Divine Comedy)]

What is the right amount of food, drink, sex?  You can figure it out.  Am I finding that I am deepening in my life of prayer?  Am I finding I am growing in Christ?  Love of God and neighbour is what constrains us.

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Why the temperate life?  It's not because we want to be “responsible” people who won’t rock the boat, who won’t upset cultural norms.  It's not to live boring unspirited lives – in a joyless world of dull gray medians.  It's not so that we become over-scrupulous, or a kill joy for others.  And, it's definitely not so that we can sit back and judge others who we think are excessive.

 

So why the temperate life? 

 

Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.  We narrow the expression of our desire, we focus it, to walk the narrow path that opens up into paradise, where pleasure can be our guide. [Dante, Purgatorio]

 

Why the temperate life? 

 

He that is faithful in that which is least (earthly and bodily desire) is faithful also in much (the divine gifts); and he that is unrighteous in that which is least is unrighteous also in much.

 

God wants to fill us with love – that is, God wants us to be full of desire.  But until we can show ourselves good stewards of the desire we’re given, God holds back, otherwise we will destroy ourselves on this journey.  God is ready to pour out upon us such great spiritual gifts, and yet God is constrained by love, until we show ourselves ready – to be good stewards of our desire.

 

In the next several weeks we will be looking more fully at the divine gifts God would like us to have, at the gracious pouring out of the Spirit on us.  We are not to be ignorant of where we are being led and of the greater treasures that are in store, the heavenly treasures.

 

In closing today, let us bring before our minds the two beatitudes:

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst [not after the satiety of a full belly or for the easy mirth from a bottle, but] which do hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled; and       

Blessed are [not the lecherous but] the pure in heart; for they shall see God.  [Matt 5]

 

Grant to us, Lord, we beseech thee, the spirit to think and do always such things as be rightful; that we, who cannot do anything that is good without thee, may by thee be enabled to live according to thy will; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.                                                      [Collect for Trinity IX]]

 

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