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The Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity

D. G. Phillips

Holy Communion

West Dublin, Vogler’s Cove, Crousetown – Sept 30 AD 2007

Ephesians 4:1f    St. Luke 14:1f

But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room;

that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee,

“Friend, go up higher!”

 

Are we waiting for those words, “Friend, go up higher”?

 

Our readings in Trinity season are leading us step by step on the gracious ascent of the soul to God.  As has been repeated many times, it is an inward journey, inward and upward.

 

And just like Jacob, who laboured for seven years only to discover he had married Leah, then laboured gladly another seven years to finally embrace Rachel, so we have looked for seven weeks at the outward preoccupation of our lives with the passions, then for seven weeks at the preoccupation of our hearts, our inner thoughts – seeking inward healing to recover the lost gifts of the soul:  to hear God inwardly, to have a compassionate heart, a spirit of thanksgiving, and a desire for the highest things – spiritual food and the clothing of righteousness.  (see Richard of St. Victor, The Mystical Ark, Bk.1 Ch. 2)

 

And last week, we saw Jesus raising up in us the inner man, that center of our being, that aspect of our soul made in the image and likeness of God, where we might know divine communion.  This is the place we are to be recollected to.  It is in this place that we enter into the true Sabbath rest that God promises.  Here the mystical marriage of our souls with God is possible.

 

We have come to the “inner man” and it is here that a new desire is kindled.  But we are so weak, in the inner man, when we leave here we are so ready and quick to return to the outer man, old patterns of activity, old patterns of thinking and of relating to those around us.  It barely takes one short inconsiderate word from another to plunge us back into the outer man.  We are frail children of dust, and so we prayed last week ...

 

O LORD, we beseech thee, let thy continual pity cleanse and defend thy Church; [from falling away from the inner man] and, because it cannot continue in safety without thy succour, preserve it [in the inner man] evermore by thy help and goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

What is that new desire that has been kindled in the inner man?

 

It is a desire to move even higher, to talk with God, it is a desire for intimacy with God, to know truth and beauty more fully, and to be filled with wisdom, to know the love of God that passeth knowledge, as we read last week.

 

This desire in the inner man, has been kindled in us by none other than God.  This desire is a sign of the visitation of God upon our souls and it is a marvel.  If he do but touch the hills they shall smoke. [Ps 104:33]  I hope that every one of us, in the highest place in our soul, that hill, is touched by God, and that we smoke, that is, prayer is ignited in our souls, a longing that rises upwards, a sweet smelling savour, pleasing to God.

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In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus puts forth a parable,

When thou are bidden of any man to a wedding.

 

This is the wedding Jesus is speaking of, taking delight in, inviting each one of us, bidding us, Friend, go up higher.  Our souls are wanting more.  We don’t just want to attend a marriage, we want first place, in fact, we want to be the spouse of God, to be filled with all the fullness of God.

 

But how will we ascend?

When thou art bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in the highest seat; lest a more honourable man than thou be bidden of him; and he that bade thee and him come and say to thee, Give this man place; and thou begin with shame to take the lowest place.  But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee.  For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

When we were in the outer man, there were certain patterns of thinking, ways of achieving things that brought us some success – we asserted ourselves, there was a kind of use of reason, which served us well in the world.  But the same sort of pushing ourselves to the front of the line, using our minds to figure out how to develop and use this or that skill, will no longer work when it comes to entering into the kingdom of heaven, of entering into God’s Sabbath rest, of entering into the mystical union of our souls with God. 

 

We have this great gift of human reason, and it has served us well before, but now it can become an obstacle to ascending higher.  Richard of St. Victor says, When human reason is consulted concerning these [the highest things we are told to believe concerning the Trinity], it seems to do nothing other than to oppose them.

 

Our inner man, revived by Christ, must be further purified in His light, of all remaining pride, before it can ascend to perceive the highest truths.  We are to remain in the inner man, and yet it is a matter of resting there in the light of God, in a state of longing, that will be satisfied.  But we must wait humbly, for that One who invited us in the first place, to come to us and say, Friend, go up higher.  We are to wait in faith and in hope of a divine visitation.  We will see, when we are ready, we will see when our inner man is made ready.

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At the beginning of today’s Gospel, Jesus witnesses an example of those who could not wait.  The Pharisees, condemned Jesus for healing a man on the Sabbath day.  They knew the truth that the Law of Moses says you shall do no work on the Sabbath day.  But they grabbed hold of this truth without seeing it in its larger context.  The Sabbath rest outwardly – one day a week, is a discipline to lead us to enter completely into the Sabbath rest of God.  Jesus, the perfect man, is fully there, resting in God always, speaking, acting, thinking, praying from that place of rest, from the perfected inner man.  And Jesus shows the Pharisees by the simplest of reasoning, how they were being hypocritical – they would pull an ass or ox that had fallen into pit out on the Sabbath day, surely it is right to heal a man, to pull him out of a pit.

 

The reasoning of the Pharisees was limited, because their vision of God was so limited.  They could not argue against Jesus’ logic, they were silenced.  Perhaps some of them were converted, but some of them, being shown up, sought to destroy him.

 

What about us?  Will we have the humility to wait in the inner man, to accept that there are some things that we just cannot understand about our faith? about God’s governance of the world? about the Law? about our Lord Himself? about the Holy Trinity?  Will we wait in hope, in faith, while He purifies our hearts and minds, until suddenly our Lord comes and says, Friend, go up higher?  In other words, until we are brought by Him to understand things that we never saw before?  Or will we give up, or say, it doesn’t make any sense to me, so therefore it mustn’t be understandable.  What pride, as if my mind were the final arbiter of the truth of the whole universe.  [And what a failure of faith, to think God would not have us to know Him better.]

 

But Jesus warns us and encourages us when he says, whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

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This humility before God has a parallel in our relations with others in the Church.

 

In the Epistle St. Paul commends us to walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 

 

We have great divisions in the Church today over many matters.  Bp Sue Moxley, at the last Regional Council meeting, gave us her reflections on the last General Synod which she said was very painful and difficult for everyone who attended.  She said it was exhausting as liberals and conservatives discussed the matter of the blessings of same sex unions.  But she concluded that something very positive that came out of it – from the resolutions passed, there seemed to be a desire for us as a Church to continue to listen to one another, rather than to go our separate ways.  And this is a very good thing.

 

How difficult it is for us not to know everything.  If we can’t see yet the whole truth of God, maybe, just maybe, we can’t see the whole truth that is dispersed in various ways within the body of Christ here on earth.  In fact we should expect to find something of the truth, and not just error, in those with whom we disagree.

 

Jesus calls on us to continue with one another and with Him in faith and in hope.  We are to wait, to humble ourselves before Him in the inner man and to humble ourselves before one another. 

 

And now, let us bow ourselves before the Cross.  Jesus will touch us inwardly, in our Communion with Him, to heal our inner man, swollen, tainted with the vestiges of pride that become an obstacle to our seeing the highest Truth.  Then, when our souls are ready, Jesus will say, Friend, come up higher, and we will see more and more, with St. Paul, that

 

There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.  

Amen.

 

 

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