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Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Trinity

D. G. Phillips

Holy Communion

West LaHave, Broad Cove, Crousetown – November 18 AD 2007

Colossians 1:3f     St. Matthew 9:18f

 

 

Give thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet

to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.

 

In the last few weeks we’ve been celebrating All Saints’ for eight days and All Souls day.  It is a fitting way to wind up the Church year.   If we have been keeping our eyes on Jesus, lovingly, we will without a doubt, by grace, have become more saintly ourselves, more holy.  And we are being drawn upward as we reflect on the examples of the saints, of the ways they have partaken in the inheritance, participated in the life of God.

 

The focus of my preaching during Trinity season has been on the reform of the soul, on the ascent of the soul in a journey of pilgrimage into the Kingdom of heaven.  You may not have heard me calling you much to specific ministries to express our love of neighbour – next year I will try to reflect on that more.  But the love of our neighbour is an unstoppable outcome of our drawing nearer and becoming more like God – because God is love – active, life giving, fiery red love.

 

Today is about the culmination of that journey – sainthood.  The Father, through Jesus Christ, hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.  And what is that inheritance?  St. Paul says it is to be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding: that ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and long-suffering with joyfulness. 

 

That’s a lot of alls (and one every)! 

 

It sounds like loving God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength and your neighbour as yourself.  It is to think the things we’ve been made by God to think about, to do the things we’ve been made by God to do, and to be the people God has made us to be.  This is the life of the saints.  And it is the life we are to hope for, the life we are to believe is possible by grace, and the life that we are to love, wherever we see it manifested in whole or in part in ourselves and in one another.

 

St. Paul mentions these three virtues of faith, hope and love at the beginning of today’s Epistle:  we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints; for the hope which is laid up for you in heaven

 

Our gift of faith is leading us to think about the things of heaven, even Jesus Christ; God’s love is moving our hearts to a greater love of our neighbour; and we are being filled with hope that all things are working together ultimately for good.

 

We are partakers even now of that inheritance…  Yet we would all partake more fully, wouldn’t we?  And sometimes we know something of that partaking and then we lose it, become discouraged, or we can’t see, our hearts are lukewarm and we feel held back, or even that we are falling away from an earlier state of greater zeal.

 

So why is this? what gives?

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Well, let’s recall our journey.

 

We’ve been led through these readings over that last half year to recognize a separation between the old Adam and the new person being raised up in Christ. This is a crucial distinction.

 

Remember we started from a state of fallenness where we were completely absorbed by our passions – pride, vainglory, dejection, wrath, sloth, greed, gluttony, lust.  At the start we found ourselves a bit out of control, lurching from one of these passions to the other, never satisfied, never at peace.  [Trinity 3 to 9]

 

Christ delivers us from this torment, by recalling us to ourselves, to look in, to confess our worldly way of thinking and acting, and to recover inwardly the gifts that are ours as children of God – to enter into His rest.  When we drew ourselves apart from that mad engagement in the world, there was a recovery of an inner quiet, of an inward hearing of the Word.  When we entered that rest, we found our hearts moved with compassion for others.  We came to know again an inner joy, began to stretch out to know God, were given the grace to overcome the fears, hatred, and despair that had paralyzed us, and we began to walk in the Spirit, in love.  [Trinity 10 to 16]

 

This was the recovery of the inner man or inner person.  So we dwell in this place, our true self, made in the image and likeness of God.

 

Well Jesus wants us to stay there – our souls conformed to His image and likeness.  And our bodies become obedient to the commands of this inner person, no longer dragging the inner person to destruction.  Our remaining in this right relation between the inner and outer person in the face of the world is the perseverance of the saints.

 

What happens if we find our inner man withering away?  What can we do?

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This is the subject of today’s Gospel.

 

The fate of the inner person is dependent upon the health of the outer person.  The health of the inner person, our salvation and our Godward focus, our maturity in Christ, is undermined so long as the outer person or our outer activities are dissipating our desire in unhealthy ways.

 

In the Gospel, a young girl has fallen ill and has died.  Mark and Luke in their accounts of this miracle tell us she was twelve years old – at the age for her bet-mitzvah, on the verge of entering into adulthood.  Her father, a man who is used to ruling and having authority on earth, is powerless to help her in the face of her death.  He seeks the intercession of Jesus to raise her from death and Jesus makes his way to her home.

 

But a mature woman, who has suffered twelve years from an issue of blood, interrupts this procession to the girl’s house.  Here is a woman whose strength has been dissipated continually – she has sought all the world’s healers and has had no relief.  She comes up behind Jesus, and the crowd who followed him, and she reaches out in faith to touch the hem of his garment, and in that very hour she knew herself to have been made whole.

 

Jesus continues on now towards the girl who cannot reach out, and he reached out towards her, taking her by the hand, and she arose. 

 

What does this have to do with the inner man in us withering away?

 

It is surely significant that the young girl, has been alive for twelve years, and that the sickness of the woman, has lasted twelve years.

 

Is this not the experience of every Christian?  We’ve been made a child of God, and yet at the same time we still suffer.  And that suffering continues, so long as we continue to pursue outwardly the consolations of the world – there is a kind of believing and an unbelieving, there is a kind of hope in the promises of God and a hope in the promises of the world, there is a kind of love of Jesus but it is half hearted and we continue to pursue our previous loves.  [And we suffer not just because of our unfaithfulness, but because also of trying to be faithful in a world that fights against us.]

 

God raises up within us the new man, the inner person, conformed to the image of the Trinity, but so long as we fail to give ourselves wholeheartedly to Jesus, everything is half measures.

 

And how can God strengthen [us] with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and long-suffering with joyfulness – so long as we are dissipating half our life on seeking worldly ends?  Can we serve tea to our neighbours if the teapot is full of holes?

 

How can God fill [us] with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so long as we are committing the highest aspect of our minds, made to view the heavens, using it mostly to consider simply this dust that we walk on?

 

Can God make us walk worthy unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work so long as our activity is half spent in vanity and nothingness.

 

Our outer lives must conform to, be directed by, our inner person, and that inner person must be conformed to the image and likeness of God.  Only then can we more fully be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.

 

I think probably for all of us, we find that that inner person is in state of immaturity, ready for Christian maturity, and yet we are held back, and we are often at the point of death inwardly.  The distinction between our inner and outer lives becomes lost.

 

If this is so, our transformation will come about as we outwardly in our lives seek to touch the hem of his garment, as we will do shortly in coming forward to receive the Bread of life, to drink from the Cup of salvation.  [And we can touch the hem of his garment, when physically we pick up with our hands the Bible, the Word of life, and read it.]

 

Here, in the flesh, outwardly, we reach out to touch Christ’s body and blood in faith, spiritual food united by Word and Spirit with His perfect body in heaven.  And Jesus promises to come to us, inwardly, from heaven to restore that inner person, bringing us to maturity, making us whole, and able to be partakers of inheritance of the saints in light

 

He took her by the hand, and the maid arose.

 

LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy household the Church in continual godliness; that through thy protection it may be free from all adversities, and devoutly given to serve thee in good works, to the glory of thy name; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

 

 

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