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Twelfth Sunday after Trinity

D G Phillips

Holy Communion

Petite Riviere, LaHave, Crousetown, Broad Cove – September 3 AD 2006

2 Cor 3:4f    St. Mark 7:31f

 

Looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened.  And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain.

 

Are you wondering about our call as Christians and about the place of our church in the life of the villages in which we live.  If we are not thinking about these things daily, we should be.

 

It may seem that we are being called to be relatively self sufficient, not a burden to others in our families, a moral support to children, perhaps a help in guidance with grandchildren.  And beyond our families, we hope to be good Christian citizens – helpful and thoughtful neighbours looking out for one another, a good influence in community organizations.  Maybe we also support such things as the local foodbank in Bridgewater and children overseas through World Vision.  And no doubt we contribute to medical organizations for research aimed at relieving suffering, and through our taxes to a number of programs to support the well being of our society.

 

All of these things are good.  But many people outside of our churches are doing all of these things too, and perhaps some contribute more, and some are kinder and more caring neighbours than we.  What is it that makes us different than these others?  Why should we have churches here at the heart of each community? 

 

What makes us different?          

 

Is it that we acknowledge God as the source of our goodness and have a sense of gratitude for what God has done in our lives?  Do we come to worship because we see it as a kind of duty to be done?  Again, these are good things.

 

But we know somehow it is much more that this.  But how much more, and what is it that makes us come here to worship? 

 

What makes us different is, or perhaps should be, the radicalness of our desire for God.  It is a deep longing, a desire for the holiness of life that will lead us to the vision of God, the mystical union of our souls with God – the opening of our minds to the wisdom and beauty of God and the kindling of our hearts to a deep fiery love. 

 

If that is not our hope – we should surely be hoping much higher than we are.  If that is not our hope we will go home today, unjustified, like the Pharisee of last week’s Gospel – satisfied with the status quo, satisfied with an outward conformity to the law, an outer righteousness, glad with where we are and glad we are not like someone else.  And then Church, and the whole of the Christian life will without much difficulty be pulled out from under our feet and we will be wondering why we spent so much time trying to preserve it all.

 

Our hope must be much higher, our longing deeper, our expectation greater.  We cannot be the same people we were when we leave as when we came here this evening.  We cannot be just like everyone else – watching the same TV, listening to the same radio, reading the same papers – and reacting to it all the same way. 

 

Are we continuing to grow in the Christian life – or are we self-satisfied resting on a certain plateau.

 

I say these things, because our readings tonight are challenging us to go much deeper in our Christian journey and to expect something much more to happen than simply to have a comfortable uneventful life like everyone else, except buoyed by the hope of heaven when we die. 

 

Jesus told us to give up all for the kingdom of heaven – to die that we might live, to love Him more than our spouse or any relative or friend.  The apostles and the saints, whom we are called to hold before our eyes as examples, gave up all for the kingdom of heaven, and sought with all their might that inner kingdom – and they were touched inwardly by God and it issued forth in lives of radical holiness, radical commitment, radical self-sacrifice, lives of prayer and of self-giving love.  They heard God speaking to them directly and it caused in them an unrestrained shouting forth of the Good News – He hath done all things well

 

What is it that holds us back, that may be keeping us where we are, perhaps, even unknowingly, afraid to move upwards, in our journey to God?

 

If we want a religious revival in our communities, and I think this is what we are in need of, then it needs to begin or be furthered first in our own souls.  And if we want to move closer to God, it is a journey not outwards but within and above.  The reason that we cannot hear God or see God in contemplation is that our soul is clouded by sin – we see through a glass darkly - and when we begin to look within we are afraid to confront our sin head on, so we distract ourselves with things outwardly and seek comfort outwardly, our conscience is afraid.  We fail to hope for more.  But we cannot draw closer to God without this deeper confrontation with our sin. 

 

If we would speed up this journey we would both look at Christ and we would look at our souls in the light of God’s perfect law of love – the moral law, the ten commandments and their deep inner meaning that Christ shows us in the Sermon on the Mount – remember –

You have heard it said you shall not kill – I say to you that whoever holds anger without a cause is subject to judgement of hell fire. 

You have heard it said, you shall not commit adultery – I say to you whoever looks at a woman lustfully has committed adultery with her in his heart. 

(This is what we’ve been doing in looking at the passions – to understand our own souls better and to know the movements in our souls – that we might see where there is work to be done.)

 

In the Epistle, St. Paul describes this confrontation of our souls with the Law of God as a confrontation with the letter which killeth, and the law as a ministration of death, and the ministration of condemnation.  It makes us afraid, dejected, …but we can bear it knowing the mercy shown us in Christ.

 

If we do this serious look at our hearts continually in the light of Jesus and His law of love – we find ourselves guilty again and again – and yet this is not the end but the means to our recovering our trust not in ourselves but in Jesus Christ – to know continually, that our sufficiency is of God.  In this inward glance, we no longer fear the truth about ourselves but we bring continually to the surface and repent of our sinful thoughts and motivations.  And as our souls are washed in the blood of the Lamb, we hear ever more clearly and are opened to the possibilities of the far more glorious New Covenant in the Spirit which giveth life.  It is the opening up of our souls to the ministration of the spirit, the ministration of righteousness – not only the righteousness of forgiveness but the righteousness of hearts remade to conform with Christ’s heart – able to follow more and more freely the law of love.

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The man in today's Gospel was hindered from being able to speak well because he could not hear.  And his stuttering speech no doubt made him shy and withdrawn from the society in which he lived.  Jesus, responding to his fear and embarrassment in public,  took him aside from the multitude, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat, and touched his tongue; and looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened.  And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain. 

 

What about our mouths – are we able to open them easily to pray to God in private, to speak easily of divine things with family or friends – or do we find ourselves halting, stuttering in such speech?  Our ears must be opened first to hear the gracious words of God – not only His word written but the still small voice that would teach us inwardly daily – in the temple that is our soul.

 

This is why we come to church – that by the hearing of the Gospel outwardly our souls might be opened to the divine word inwardly and so that as the Sacrament of Christ Body and Blood touch our tongues they may be opened to proclaim more plainly that He hath done all things well; he maketh both the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak.

 

This is why we need our churches in these villages, this is why they are crucial, and why we come to them Sunday by Sunday.  If we don’t seek and desire these deeper things, hearing the voice of God and proclaiming more plainly His praise, it will all most certainly be pulled out from under our feet.

 

Almighty and everlasting God, who art always more ready to hear than we are to pray, and art wont to give more than we desire or deserve: Pour down upon us the abundance of thy mercy; forgiving us those things whereof our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask, but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord.  Amen.