The Eleventh Sunday after
D. G. Phillips
Cherry Hill, Broad Cove, Crousetown
August 19 AD 2007
1 Cor 15:1f St. Luke 18:9f
which was bestowed upon me was not in vain.
We are in Trinity season seeking the Kingdom of
And because Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of
heaven is within us, we have turned and begun that journey by
looking inwardly. We have seen first our own thoughts – the
passions that arise in our souls which distract us from seeing God.
Our passions distract us by keeping our focus on outward things –
worldly ends – and when we look there we are no longer looking
But Jesus would have us continue in that search
for God – by directing our desire rightly to the love of God and our
Last week, in the Gospel, Jesus came into
Jerusalem and to the Temple, he cried out, It is written,,
My house is to be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of
thieves. Those inward inspirations of the Holy Spirit – God
speaking to us inwardly – are either hidden by the noise of our own
thoughts, or are not recognized as the inspirations of God and
stolen by us to build up our pride or vanity. We were reminded that
it is by prayer that our minds can be quieted down from all these
distracting thoughts, to begin to hear Jesus teaching daily
inwardly, in the temple of our hearts.
This morning we are given further counsel and
warnings regarding this inward turn and the spiritual disciplines
that Christ commends for us – prayer, fasting, almsgiving.
In the Gospel we are presented with two men – the
one a Pharisee – a man who was a religious authority, the other a
The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with
himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are,
extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this Publican. I
fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.
And the Publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much
as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God
be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to
his house justified rather than the other: for every one that
exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself
shall be exalted.
Let’s remember what prayer is – the directing of
our desire, our love, towards God – in praise, in adoration, in
supplication, in intercession. It is a movement inward and upward.
The Pharisee, who has been practicing the
spiritual disciplines that are commended by our Lord – fasting – to
counter gluttony and lust; almsgiving – to counter avarice and
wrath; and prayer to purify the thoughts of the heart – has taken
pride in what he thought were his achievements. Vanity of vanities
– all has become vanity – every one that exalteth himself shall
The Pharisee brings himself low on the spiritual
journey, he is no longer entering inwardly in his search for God.
He is brought low by reason of his return to concern over outward
things – how he is doing in the spiritual life in relation to other
But the publican is justified, and Jesus says,
will be exalted, that is, will continue in the spiritual ascent,
because he would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but
smote his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner – he is
humbling himself before God.
Why is this man spiritually healthy?
The publican’s concern in prayer is a strict
honesty before God.
Humility is what happens in the soul when one
looks at God – or when one looks honestly at oneself in the light of
But someone said to me recently – there are lots
of people going around feeling wretched about themselves and
carrying a whole burden of guilt – why should the Church make them
feel worse with all of this language in the Prayer Book about –
being miserable sinners, unworthy to eat the crumbs which fall from
their master’s table. Surely a better way is to encourage them to
have them look at themselves in the mirror and say – you know,
you’re not so bad, in fact, you’re pretty good.
But surely this is the counsel of the Pharisee…
The motivation of the person saying this was
compassion – but Jesus seems to be suggesting that the resolution of
feelings of wretchedness, of being burdened with guilt – is not to
turn away from it, but to face it head on and confess it that one
might return to one’s house justified – being unburdened, being
How do we continue in this inward journey towards
God, seeing our inner wretchedness, without being discouraged, or
without avoiding this most necessary confrontation with the truth
about ourselves before we would see God?
It is surely to undertake this journey, holding
always before our eyes, the Cross.
St. Paul puts it so beautifully: BRETHREN, I
declare unto you the Gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye
have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if
ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed
in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also
received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the
Scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third
day according to the Scriptures.
So we confront our wretchedness, not hiding it or
turning away from it, but fully acknowledging it in the light of the
mercy of God shown us in the sacrifice of Christ.
The Prayer Book prayers assume that we are all
continuing in this journey inwardly. And that the prayers will make
sense to us, because we are continually seeing the truth about
ourselves – the Holy Spirit is leading us into all truth. We are
walking humbly, not in a false humility, but truly seeing ever more
deeply into our wretchedness, because we are journeying ever more
deeply into the heart of God. And in the light of that glory –
which does not oppress us or overwhelm us when known in the light of
the Cross – we freely acknowledge our wretchedness and God’s
Dante, in the Divine Comedy undertakes this
journey. By grace, he must walk all the way through the depths of
hell – that is, through the depths of the depravity of his own soul
– before he can, by grace, be purified as he climbs up the mountain
of purgatory and by grace have his eyes prepared for the vision of
The wretchedness that we are acknowledging Sunday
by Sunday is not old wretchedness of sins we have confessed before
because we trust that we have been fully forgiven them. But it is
new wretchedness that we confess here, seen since our last
confession in the light of a greater grasp of the beauty and majesty
and glory and love of God shown us in Jesus Christ.
It is the responsibility of the preacher Sunday
by Sunday to help us to see our sin by pointing out the glory of God
in the face of Jesus Christ and perhaps less often by a pointed
reflection on our own sin. But it is not just on Sunday that this
should happen. If we are living honest lives, daily searching for
God, we will find ourselves daily reflecting on our actions, our
words, our thoughts, and we will come here on Sunday quite aware of
our failings, new failings, and able to use easily these humbling
words in all honesty.
The greatest saints would have the most comfort
with this sort of language in prayer because they are seeing more
clearly than anyone else the greatness of God and the wretchedness
of man without God.
Listen to St. Paul - I am the least of the
Apostles, that am not worthy to be called an Apostle, because I
persecuted the Church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I
am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I
laboured more abundantly than they all; yet not I, but the grace of
God which was with me.
If we find the language of the Prayer Book
jarring, it is a moment to consider if we have stopped looking
inwardly to find God.
The Cross – God’s mercy stretched out plainly for
the whole world to see – enables us to penetrate more deeply through
the layers of sin which hinder our sight. It is only as these
layers of sin are removed by our trust in Christ’s sacrifice that we
will enter the Kingdom of heaven and see the vision of God.
O GOD, who declarest thy almighty power most
chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Mercifully grant unto us such a
measure of thy grace, that we, running the way of thy commandments,
may obtain thy gracious promises, and be made partakers of thy
heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.