Sermon for Sunday October 26th 2014
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
20th Sunday after Pentecost
‘Chastity. On right ordering of the affections’
It’s always useful to have, shall we say a ‘suggestive title’ for a sermon :-)
A few weeks back I spoke about ‘the priesthood of all believers’ – that my priesthood was only always and ever an expression of the shared priesthood of the Body of Christ, the Church. That we are a Priestly community – and in a sense anything we ever say about Church must be capable of interpretation in this respect. This is very important to us as Anglicans, for we are at once a Catholic Church, and also a Reformed Church. We seek always to be faithful to the deep tradition of the Church and therefore where unhelpful emphases arose in the Roman Catholic Church, the church was called to express a more truthful apprehension of the Gospel made known to us in and through Jesus Christ.
And so when Thomas Cranmer wrote the prayer book we now know as the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, he took a prayer which to that point was only said by the priest before the Mass – and included it as the first prayer we have until of late always said at the opening of the Eucharist. the prayer known as ‘The collect for purity’
It is a most beautiful prayer and hopefully we all know it by heart, either in 1662 English or its contemporary form. We should know it by heart – and pray it from there also. Yet I wonder how many of us have as it were paused and taken time to PRAY it. It is a prayer of the Church down through at least a thousand years, and like all good liturgy it should bring us into a deeper and more truthful apprehension of our Life in and before God
Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known and from whom no secrets are hid, cleanse the thoughts of our hearts, by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy name. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
And I want this morning to take a few moments to meditate upon one clause in particular – ‘that we may perfectly love thee . . .’ We come to worship – before the Living God – in a few minutes we will partake of the Bread of Heaven in the Sacrament of the body and blood of Jesus, our Saviour Redeemer, our friend and brother. So we pray in preparation that God will prepare us – we remember before God that we are utterly known by him – and in that light we pray that as we inspire – breathe in The Holy Spirit – our hearts might thereby be cleansed in order that as we move deeper into the sacred mysteries our love for him might be perfected and thus worthily we might praise his name
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadduccees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
And Jesus orders these two commandments. He does not put them side by side the second is ‘like’ the first. But it is not the same. And the order matters
Jesus says “You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment – if we are to keep any commandment we must first keep this one. We say, well there are so many – I take tiem to try and concentrate at one at a time. But This commandment is First – There is a heirachy and it is one of Life giving necessity. It illuminates all of the others, even the second, indeed we cannot begin to keep the second if we do not seek to keep the first, to Love God with all of our heart, soul and mind, or as I sometimes paraphrase it – To Love God with all we have and all we are.
These words of Christ to the Church in Ephesus illuminate our predicament
1 To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lamp stands:
2 I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance. I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers; you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be false. 3 I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary. 4
But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.
You have abandoned your first love – That primary Love – for God in Christ with all you have and all you are.
But what is it to Love God with all we have and all we are??
I want to offer rather than some words, a picture
And I invite you not to think about, not to be watching, but to put yourself in the place of this child – absorbed in contemplation
For this child this is their Reality – like looking into the face of a parent – Our First Love. That when we first knew Christ – he was our reality – he was our night and day – everything we saw reminded us of him . . .
And then we grew up and many things crowded in – many of them good – many of them praiseworthy . . . but we have lost the love we had at first . . .
And what does Christ say? I – Christ Jesus, have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then from what you have fallen; Remember – Come back to your senses – Repent – reorient your life to that total absorption in God – and do the works you did at first. Do the things that come naturally to one who loves God
you see all the other commands – they all come naturally to those who love God
What does Jesus say? ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments’ – not with a stern wagging finger – That manipulative word that says, ‘if you really love me . . .’ Rather he is stating a purely existential truth, that as we orient our lives towards God in Jesus Christ, so that a at first we are absorbed in him, He is our Life – then His Life flows out through us.
This is what it is to be born again – We return to our true parent, God our Father in and through our brother Jesus – Repent – and then it is as if we have awoken from a bad dream – we see our brother, who has no food, and we have food, so we feed him – we see our sister who has no home, and we have a home so we welcome them in – we see our brethren poor and out of our abundance we bless them – why wouldn’t we?? Why is this so hard?? Because we have lost the love we have at first. Why is it so hard to do what God calls us to? Because we are so tied up in everything else – we have many many loves and try and fit love of God in and amongst the rest. This is what we call religion. Fitting God into our otherwise busy days – for many of us this is what we call prayer – fitting God into our otherwise busy days and often not for there are more important things, more pressing demands . . . we are upset and worried about many things and wonder why Jesus doesn’t send someone to help us, so absorbed are we in these things – so absorbed in our crazy busy lives
Love the Lord your God with all you have and all you are? This is either utterly impossible – or it is the only possibility.
Chastity – our total devotion to God in Christ is the vehicle by which our disordered affections are re-ordered. It is the means by which we enter the life we were always meant to have – as Children of the Living God. And thus absorbed in God, like this child gives utter delight and joy – and how much children are vehicles of delight and Joy – thus absorbed in God we become vehicles of blessing to the world.
In this age over and again we hear ‘the church must be outward looking’ – no ‘but then surely it can only be inward looking?? No. The Church is always and everywhere called to be Godward looking – we are called back again ad again to our first Love, the Primal Love. The Source of Life. For the World – for it is only in our paying rapt attention to God, that we can know what God calls us to
To you I lift up my eyes,
O you who are enthroned in the heavens!
2 As the eyes of servants
look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maid
to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
until he has mercy upon us.