Twelfth Sunday after Trinity
D G Phillips
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
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.
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
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.