Sermon for 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A 2017 Sunday November 19th
Three (not perfectly) wise monkeys
I have to admit in advance that rather unusually I have chosen one of our readings today, as I missed the opportunity to preach on it a few weeks ago when it came round in the Lectionary – and that is our Epistle, however it does correspond to our Gospel this week.
When I was growing up, my father was regularly absent from home, on business in the ‘oil rich’ nations of the Middle East and Africa. The company for whom he worked equipped hospitals across the gulf states and in Africa. The equipping involved everything from the latest surgical technology to gold plate taps for the personal medical suites of Saudi Royal Princes 🙂
On these trips he would always bring back a present for each of his sons and one year it was what now would be a little frowned on – three wise monkeys, carved from ebony – I still have mine, weighty enough to be an offensive weapon! For some reason mine was ‘speak no evil’, I don’t know whether it was chosen deliberately for me 🙂
Of course the council of the monkeys – hear no evil, see no evil speak no evil is not a bad council. Certainly there is great wisdom in not allowing things into our imaginative world which will only spread darkness. There is I think too little work done on the influence of violent or sexually explicit materials on our souls, perhaps of course because ‘we moderns’ no longer believe in souls. We still largely believe that we are ‘discriminating’ objective observers of the world who ‘can cope’ with watching such things, and in so doing our souls shrivel all the more.
I think in this regard even an ebony monkey is more wise than we. To pick up briefly on my theme of the last couple of weeks, we have an utterly inadequate ontology – we know not whereof we are made, We forget that we are but dust . . . we have little comprehension to use the words of Jesus, of that which makes for our peace . . .
Turning our gaze from Violence, closing our ears to gossip, and restraining the tongue (‘if you can’t say anything kind, don’t say anything at all!’ as my mother would say) is Wise council, but if our approach to the World is primarily one of saying no, of shutting it all out, then we do not apprehend the Truth of our Existence
St Paul as he writes to the Philippians exhorts us in a very different way – a way that leads us deep into the Life of God
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 1) our disposition towards life is one of Rejoicing in the Lord, not saying ‘what a terrible time we live in!’ The Christian Life is not one of complaint, it is one of Rejoicing – why? How is this possible in this world??
Well, he goes on – 2) ’Let your gentleness be known to everyone.’ Gentleness is one of the Primary virtues of Christian existence – it is the antithesis of Violence and is the fruit of Knowing that ‘The Lord is near.’ The Lord is near, The Lord, is Here, God’s Spirit is with us . . . lift up your hearts, we lift them to the Lord Let us give thanks to the Lord our God, it is right to give him thanks and praise.
We learn as Christians to live in and through the Eucharist – Christ is at hand, near, present. Anxiety has no place, therefore – Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
The Always Rejoicing, Gentle, peaceful life is the Christian Life.
That Rejoicing Always is not I suggest the Happy Shouty Demonstrative Noisy – rather in the spirit of Gentleness it might be described using another forgotten word beginning with G – gladness. Echoing the words of the prophet Isaiah – the Servant of the Lord, Jesus himself – is the source of
‘the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.’
Do these things – Be Glad in the Lord, Be gentle out of non anxiety – Peace – And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Not hands over eyes, or ears or mouth, The Peace of God will guard your hearts and minds . . .
Rather than finding ourselves in a war to keep darkness out, rather that which wells up within us guards our hearts and minds in the peace of God – so Paul goes on, rather than keeping things out, focus your hearts and minds on that which brings Life – the wellspring of Life
“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
We might say – whatever is good and pure and beautiful and true . . .
God is Good – All the time! All the time, God is Good! Fix your heart and mind on Goodness, and your eye will find its home in the Source of all goodness – The One who is the source of Goodness, Beauty, Truth.
As St Paul counsels elsewhere don’t get all tied up in controversy, arguments about words. Go about your life in humility and trust, doing that which he gives, keeping your heart and mind fixed on Goodness – He who is the Headwaters of your Life. Do not lose sight of This Living Water – Life coming to you in Christ Jesus.
“Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.”
It is that Simple – Difficult at first for we have perhaps forgotten to so feed our eyes and ears and minds on those things which make for our health – forgetting we have souls of Eternal quality, we allow all sorts of things in. The counsel of the Gospel is ‘if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light’ Dwell on the Light, Goodness, Beauty and Truth, manifested in Jesus. Knowing Jesus our gaze is changed so that we See Goodness and Beauty and Truth coming to us in so many different ways. We Encounter the Goodness of God, and are freed from anxiety in the World.
Unlike the third of the servants to whom the master entrusts his business. In many respects it is true, we see as we are. The third servant in the parable, sees only himself when he says ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; – he accuses his master of being lazy, but of course he himself has done nothing whilst his master has been away! I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” But his master replied, “You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter?”
The slave sees as HE Is!
With what has he filled his imagination, to ignore the work assigned to him? He does not see His Life as it were tied up in the Life of HIs Master. HE does not Know His Master – he Presumes to Know Him, but does not, for He sees no connection between his life and that of his master at one level – he does not recognise his fortunes as tied up in His Masters fortunes. And all he sees when he looks at his master is what he truly knows, himself . . . wicked and lazy . . . well if that is what you set your eyes on, that is what you become . . .
I think there is a simple warning here. That we live in a world which has little time for God – and constantly we will hear many things which are untruthful about God. Where did the Servant get his ideas about his master? Where do we get our ideas about God?
For in truth, there are many, even in the Church who have decided on the truth of God, without themselves gazing upon him in love, To Behold Him, to Know Him
Fundamentally we Know the Truth about God for we have come to See Him for ourselves
Whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Set your heart and mind and eye on them, and Behold!! Look!!!
The God of Peace will be with you . . .