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The Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity

D. G. Phillips

Holy Communion

Petite Riviere, Cherry Hill, LaHave – October 14 AD 2007

Ephesians 4:17-32     Matthew 9:1-8

When the multitudes saw it, they marvelled, and glorified God,

who had given such power unto men.

 

We are in the final weeks of Trinity season.  We have been ascending the ladder by grace through the readings that have been set before us by the ancient Church.

 

We have been shown that to enter the kingdom of heaven we must take an inward journey, inward and upward.

 

We have seen before in Trinity season that there are obstacles in that movement inward and upward.  We can think back to that initial hesitation of St. Peter to begin that journey with Jesus – who, after seeing the miraculous catch of fish, falls to his knees before Jesus and says, Depart from me for I am a sinful man. [Trinity 5]  St. Peter did not yet know the mercy of God, the forgiveness of sins, and he was paralyzed with fear in the face of the Almighty.  And, like St. Peter, we heard gladly Jesus’ words to him, Fear not, from henceforth thou shalt catch men.  Here the obstacle to ascent, to drawing nearer to Jesus, was rightly seen by Peter to be his sins, and he had to wait for the gracious words of our Lord before he could leave all and follow Him.

 

Several weeks later we again encountered a man who was unable to act – he could not open his mouth in speech. [Trinity 12]  Jesus took him aside from the multitude, 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 he charged them that they should tell no man: but the more he charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it.  The mute man heard for the first time the word of God's mercy inwardly, and his tongue was loosed to sing forth His praises.  He, like us, couldn't help himself, there was a holy compunction, he was moved by joy to praise.

 

This morning, in our Gospel, we again encounter a man unable to act, sick of the palsy, in other words, he was paralysed. He is brought by friends to Jesus, and Jesus, seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee. 

 

Today we are considering this Gospel in the light of the highest stage of the Christian life – the contemplation of God, the entering into God’s promised rest, the perfection of the soul – and we are still being told to be concerned somehow with the forgiveness of our sins.

 

As we move inwardly, towards that Kingdom of heaven, we are so wary, so hesitant to stay there, to rest in our souls, we immediately want to leave that place and engage again in activity.  I think we all know this experience.  Many of us live by ourselves, or if you have a spouse, you know what it is like when your spouse is not there.  When all is quiet in the house – we find it hard just to sit there.  Why?  It’s not just because we are distracted by the world, the flesh and the devil.  If our souls were a perfect image of God, spotless mirrors of the Divine, we could just sit there in inactivity and marvel at the beauty of God shining in us.  But we do everything to avoid that moment of being still.  All of us like Marthas, troubled by many things – we turn all too quickly to entertainment, to food, TV, to work, sleep, something to occupy us. Is it because we have some discomfort, we can’t see God well, so we return to outward activity?  Do we have some discomfort with what we see inwardly – still some hypocrisy, some dark motivations, uncleanness of heart, we don’t like to see it, we don’t like to see ourselves even as we are seen by God, some things still make us uncomfortable with ourselves.  And so we return to outward activity all too soon – maybe running a bit too quickly even to good works – and if the good works are motivated still by trying to make up for sin, the true motivation is not love of our neighbour.

 

But Jesus says, like he said to us when we first started this journey of faith, Fear not.  In fact he says, Be of good cheer, thy sins be forgiven thee… Arise, take up thy bed, [you who are unable to love] and go unto thine house.  And he arose, and departed to his house. 

 

Now why does Jesus say to this man go into thine house?  This is an important detail in the account of this miracle – all three Gospel accounts of this miracle include it.  It is because this miracle is about far more than Jesus’ ability, his power, to heal one paralyzed man.  It is a story recounted because of its eternal significance for all Christians. 

 

Understand this miracle in the light of Jesus’ telling us that the kingdom of heaven is within us.  Understand this miracle in the light of the whole of God’s intention to bring about the recovery of His image and likeness in our soul.  Understand this miracle in the light of the promise of entering into God’s rest, in the light of the hope of entering into the promised land, that is, the possession of our own souls. And also, in the light of the promised entrance of God into our souls – having been made by Him a place fit for His presence.

 

Let’s not run away, let’s not distract ourselves – let’s enter into our house and stay there – and when we see something uncomfortable, don’t flee but face it, and remember that the Son of Man power on earth to forgive sins

 

I’ve always loved architecture – especially the design of houses.  This week I saw on an architect’s website a house with a room in the middle of it, an inner chamber.  And I was trying to think of what was so pleasing about it.  The roof was supported by pillars.  In the middle of the room was an opening to the sky, and below the opening a pool with a fountain in it.  It’s not the first time I’ve seen such a design, it is found in many palaces, and also in monasteries.  Surely what is pleasing about the design is that it is an image of our soul that God is preparing.  Inwardly, in the inner man, a place of rest from which we might look up upon the heavens and see further into the beauty of God.  Inwardly also a spring, that fountain of living water welling up to eternal life promised by Jesus, God’s Spirit renewing us inwardly, making us ready from within. [John 4:14]

 

This is why Jesus says, Be of good cheer, thy sins be forgiven thee… Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house.

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This call to be renewed inwardly, while we are in that place of rest, is what is at the center of the Epistle this morning:

Put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and (that ye) put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. 

 

We’ve put off the old Adam, all of that outer activity that we were entangled in, distracted by, and we have entered inwardly into our souls.  And we wait there in God’s presence, looking upon Him and being lightened by His light; drinking from the well of life and being filled with desire on desire – being renewed in faith, hope and love.  We see also now from that inner place of rest our neighbours – friends, enemies, family members – see them in this new light, recognizing more and more our common humanity, our common failings and need of forgiveness, and our love for them grows – that is God’s activity in us changing our hearts, renewing us in our minds.  Then when necessity draws us from that inner room into outer activity, it is all from a different perspective, we engage in the world from that place of rest, with a renewed mind. 

 

Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another.  Why does he have to say this? because we so quickly forget.  Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath; neither give place to the devil.  We have now a new way to deal with our emotions – it is according to the way of love.  Let him that stole steal no more; but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.  And now whatever our activity, our doing, it is related directly to the love of God and our neighbour, because we have been renewed in the spirit of our minds, having put on the new man, which after God, is created in righteousness and true holiness.

 

We can go in and out, and find pasture, even as our Lord did, because of the forgiveness of our sins. [John 10:9]

 

This morning we all come here still with some dis-ease about entering into the inner man and staying there.  We are all avoiding looking at ourselves and resting in our own souls.  But in the Holy Communion of Christ’s Body and Blood, Jesus will soon, as it were, enter into a boat, and pass over, and come into His own city – into our church, into our very souls – that we might depart forgiven, and we can enter into our own houses, more fully possessing the gift of our own souls.

 

Let us not allow this opportunity of grace to pass us by, but rather, let us receive him in faith and then marvel and glorify God, who has given such power unto the Son of Man, and not just to Him, but to each of us likewise, the power to forgive our neighbours.

Amen.

 

 

_________________________

from De Quantitate Animae, St. Augustine, Bishop and Doctor, Translated by Joseph M. Colleran, C.SS.R., PhD

(Ancient Christian Writers:  The Works of the Fathers in Translation The Newman Press, Westminster, Maryland, 1950), Chapter 28, paragraph 55.

"Therefore, although here one thing led us to another, still I do like to spend some time on a discussion which serves to teach the soul the lesson that it must not fall back on the senses any more than necessity demands; but it should rather retire into itself, away from the senses, and become a child of God again.  This is what it means to become a new man by putting off the old.  To undertake this is absolutely necessary because of the neglect of God's law: Sacred Scripture contains no greater truth, none more profound.  I would like to say more about this point and tie myself down while I am, as it were, laying down the law to you, so that my one and only concern might be to render an account of myself to myself, to whom I am above all responsible, and thus to become to God, as Horace says, like "a slave who is his master's friend."  This is an achievement that is utterly impossible unless we remake ourselves in His image, the image He committed to our care as something most precious and dear, when He gave us to ourselves so constituted that nothing can take precedence to us save He Himself.

"But to my mind this calls for action than which is none more laborious, none that is more akin to inaction, for it is such as the soul cannot begin or complete except with the help of Him to whom it yields itself.  Hence it is that man's reformation is dependent on the mercy of him to whose goodness and power he owes his formation."

 

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