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The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity

D. G. Phillips

Holy Communion

Petite Riviere, Cherry Hill, West Dublin, Vogler’s Cove – Sept. 9, AD 2007

Galatians 5:16f     St. Luke 17:11f

And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back,

and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face

at his feet, giving him thanks.

 

This Trinity season we have gone deeper and deeper into our hearts searching for the kingdom of heaven.  I hope there is a desire in every one of us to touch the holy, to be ignited with love by an encounter with the living God. 

 

And in this inward search, two things have happened:

 

-    we have encountered our own sin and have sought forgiveness of  Christ; and

 

-     we have begun to have readings that speak of inward healing of the effects of sin on our souls: we are beginning to hear the words of God inwardly, our hearts are being awakened to love, and this morning, there is a healing which results in a new energy, a new enthusiasm – a spirit of gratitude and praise.

 

Let’s look at this healing miracle in this morning’s Gospel.  It is quite a strange thing that came to pass, the more one thinks of it.

 

There are ten lepers.  Lepers are those suffering a disease affecting the nervous system so that a person no longer has feeling in their extremities.  People with leprosy will hurt themselves in their encounter in the world and not know it.  There is a cure today with medicine, but in Biblical times there was no normal cure.  Lepers were excluded from society under the Law of Moses because of the possibility of infection spreading.  They were required to say as a warning, "unclean, unclean," if anyone came near them.  The Law said that if they were healed they were to first show themselves to the priests, who would pronounce them healed and able to return again into the community.

 

In the Gospel, Jesus heals these ten lepers in a particular way.  When they cry out to him for mercy, He tells them to show themselves to the priests.  As they follow in obedience to Christ they are cleansed of their disease on the way.  All of them came to know they were being healed, but only one returns suddenly to glorify God, falling on his face at the feet of Jesus and giving him thanks.  And Jesus commends him, even though he seems to be the only one who disobeyed Jesus’ command to go to the priests. 

 

What is different about this man’s soul and the other nine?

 

I think it is wrong simply to take from this Gospel, that we are being called to be thankful for what God has done in healing us.  Such teaching is there, but something more is also at work here.

 

Some sort of switch has been flicked in his soul – he seems to be compelled with a new energy, a new exuberance, a new enthusiasm - he cries out with a loud voice, falls on his face, and praises Jesus.  He is no longer interested in following the law’s requirement, that he show himself to the priest.  When he returns to Jesus, Jesus commends his response saying to him - Arise, go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole.

 

In Anglicanism, we have a sort of wariness about sudden exuberant conversions of heart, at least in some Anglican circles.  And this is a proper wariness, when there is a confusion that the Christian life is simply about a single conversion in a moment and that the rest of one’s life is about helping to bring about that conversion in others.  The tradition, steeped in Scripture, has always held that conversion of heart is a continuous process of sanctification over our life-times – this is what is being laid out before us in Trinity season, our sanctification in time.  As we follow in humble obedience to Christ, our hearts are healed and made pure. 

 

But we cannot deny the reality and even the need of the more sudden conversion – perhaps several moments of sudden renewal of commitment, of an exuberance. 

 

John Wesley (an Anglican priest in the 18th century) had preached for years, but then suddenly had what he described as “a warming of his heart” and it made all the difference to his ministry.  Thousands who heard him preach likewise experienced a radical conversion of heart.  But this experience of sudden exuberance is something understood by the likes of St. Francis of Assisi, who in the 12th century suddenly, though after much spiritual struggle, very publicly gave up his inheritance to pursue whole-heartedly the life of holiness.  Thousands within his lifetime followed his example and entered the monastic life.  Or think of St. Augustine in the 5th century, who after much inward spiritual struggle, in the garden took up a portion of Scripture and read and followed the instruction radically to no longer follow the flesh.  And St. Augustine's influence on the whole of Western Christianity has been profound.  It is the same call that suddenly came to the apostles to leave all and follow Jesus or the conversion of St. Paul who was suddenly knocked off his horse and blinded by Christ who shattered his stubborn heart.

 

These apostles and saints of the Church were not sanctified in an instant by any means, but there was a sudden redirection that was accompanied by great energy and enthusiasm.  There is a new spirit in this sudden conversion of heart – as if a switch has been flicked by God inwardly in the soul.

 

When this happens in a church more widely, it is noticeable.  An example of this is the experience that many see when they go to third world churches.  I was talking to Nick Hatt (a former student minister in the parishes) at St. Mary’s Evensong last night about his ministry experience in Belize this past summer.  I asked him what struck him the most about the church there?  He said, they have nothing, but they are doing so much – 7 new mission churches springing up out of the church he was in.  And gratitude – they are so thankful, filled with praise.

 

I don’t know about you, but I often find myself, and I think our whole church in Canada often finds itself in the position of the 9 lepers, returning in humble and maybe reluctant obedience to the priests, faithful in a way because we recognize the need for restraint, but lacking an energy, a conviction about the new life in Christ.  Why is this?

  

We want to be faithful, but is our feeling of heaviness because we still want to live carnal lives, is it that we still really inwardly want to follow the lust of the flesh.  And so we spend an enormous amount of energy trying to square the two – the lust of the flesh with the new life in the Spirit.  Is this not a part of the confusion of our church in recent times, maybe stretching back to the past 40 years?  Is it not a part of the confusion in wanting material prosperity and wanting to be Christian (we’ll look at this next week).  Is it not the seemingly endless battle with our pride of trying to rule our lives and at the same time trying to submit ourselves to God’s rule?  So much internal battle, so much internal struggle, it is exhausting.  We are like those nine lepers returning with heads down towards the priests, continuing to need to submit ourselves to the Law because we are not walking in the Spirit.  Our experience of church is to be love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance – but it can get so heavy and burdensome: how will our churches survive? how will we have enough money? how will we get enough people to make it all work? What a weight.  How will we ever do it? 

 

Surely this is not the experience of the Samaritan who with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at Jesus’ feet, and giving him thanks.

 

What we need is a miracle inwardly.  We need that switch flicked in our souls - an increase of faith, hope and love.

 

I SAY then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.  For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other; so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.  But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the Law. 

 

The Law was brought in to restrain those who are still carnally minded – so they don’t destroy themselves.  But as Christians, as we are less and less carnally minded, as we seek satisfaction in the eternal things, we have less and less need for restraint of the flesh – in that sense, we are not under the Law.  Not because the Law is not true, nor the restraints still necessary for the carnally minded, but because when we are not carnally minded, we are looking inwardly and upwardly to God.  The switch has been flicked. 

 

St. Paul says, if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the Law. The flicking of the switch involves a dying, a shutting something off: They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. 

 

As this happens we find a renewal in our energy for spiritual things.  The desire we have been expending in a fierce battle with restraining our flesh is now directed to actively pursuing God.  We find we have a new lightness of being, the lightness that comes with falling in love with God.  In Dante’s Purgatory – it becomes easier to ascend the steps of Mount Purgatory, the more he ascends, as our love is turned towards God.

 

We can experience that lightness of being here even this morning.  Let us think about any heaviness that we feel today with our burdens – the burden of sin unconfessed, the burden of  battling with the flesh, with our pride, our anger, our greed, our earthly lusts, perhaps the burden of having so little faith, hope and charity.  Let us ask Jesus to flick that switch within us, to redirect our love and to increase our love for Him and our neighbour.  Jesus was crucified for us by the world, he asks us to crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts.  My yoke is easy, he says, and my burden is light.

 

ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, give unto us the increase of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain that which thou dost promise, make us to love that which thou dost command; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

[The Collect for Trinity 14]

 

 

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