Sermon for Lent 2 – Year C 2019
Face your healing
A couple of years ago, I watched Wolf Hall, the TV dramatisation of Hilary Mantel’s novels about Henry the VIIIth, his first three wives and the political manoeuvring of Thomas Cromwell.
Amongst many things that stuck out from this elegant production, one thing speaks to our Scriptures today. it is when Cromwell is summoned to Hampton Court Palace in the middle of the night. The King is in a terrified state. He has just had a dream in which he sees his late brother, Arthur. Henry you might remember was married firsT to Catherine of Aragon, who had . . . or perhaps had not . . . been married to his brother. Henry wishes to divorce Catherine so that he can marry Anne Boleyn, and believes that the dream is a warning from God. His Spiritual destiny hangs in the balance, and He is terrified. God looms large in his dreams and thoughts.
Cromwell, ever the consulate politician of course, like the false prophets, give Henry a soothing interpretation which calms his fears, and so the die is cast.
What struck me was how unlike the age in which we live . . . I think it is not unreasonable to point out that for most if not all of us, we are far far more attentive to the state of our physical health than we are of our Spiritual situation before God! Tummy trouble may keep us awake at night, but not our eternal condition.
In this respect it is worth briefly considering what seems often to be the case in the church and its curiously paradoxical position regarding Sin. There is much smoke and heat around issues of so called ‘social justice’ – often married to a theology which speaks of a benign grandfatherly God who seems rather loathe to speak of Sin . . . one wonders what some of our co-religionists think shall be The End of all those involved in social injustices, if God is so Nice? If the state of our souls, of our spiritual condition is of no import in The End? Perhaps this is nothing more nor less than a blind unbelief in God, who may or may not be there but has at the least clocked off and left us all to ‘put the world to rights’.
Whatever, the point is that we seem less than interested in our spiritual state than our physical or material state.
Lent as we aware is a time for careful reflection, but not upon the state of the world, the ghastliness of which we are all too often reminded, rather upon the state of our spiritual life – our Life before God. In the grace of the Church it is the gift of a season of 6 weeks, and given we otherwise do little in this respect, we would do well to make the best use of each and every hour of these weeks.
The Tradition of the Church offers us three disciplines, based upon Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount; Prayer, Fasting, and giving alms to the poor (over and above any we might usually give as part of our lives as Christians). Jesus, it must be said seems curiously quiet on the subject of Lent study groups . . .
Prayer fasting and almsgiving – How much? We like to know what the standard is . . . well simply all three need to be carried out until we notice them! That is we pray, fast and give around the perimeter of what we are comfortable with,until the comfortable contours of our existence are disrupted – and then notice our discomfort. We do these things until we notice that we do have a soul and a spiritual life, and perhaps they are not in the best of order.
Last week Father Hugh spoke of Jesus being tested to destruction in the wilderness – we will not go too far in the way of prayer, fasting and almsgiving until the chasis of our spirit begins to shake alarmingly, the steering goes awry and bodywork starts to fall off! Certainly not forty days and nights
Indeed we may become aware of how spending more than a few minutes in prayer bores us – we might feel it to be pointless, and a hundred and one ‘more important things’ run through our heads. We thus wake up to a sense of our lack of love for God . . . The words of Jesus ring through our ears as they did those of the first disciples – ‘could you not watch with me one brief hour?’ Just one hour??
Or . . . to be honest, we prefer not to fast at all, if we are typical modern Christians; it seems to have disappeared from common practise, thus revealing we are hungrier for food than God. Jesus fasted forty days, yet at the end his hunger for God was greater than any temptation to turn stones into bread.
We may then hear our epistle as a call to wake up! For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things.
Our lack of desire to fast that we might sharpen our awareness of God and our Spiritual situation before Him – making us aware that perhaps our real god is our belly! Our minds are full of this and that and the other, not on things above. What does Paul say of us? We are thus marked out as those living ‘as enemies of the Cross of Christ’! That is our spiritual condition.
Or we find a hundred and one rational ways to disobey Jesus and not give to all those who ask of us . . . and discover that our hearts are far from the heart of God who is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked and the scheming and the malingering . . . Jesus says ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments’ We are exposed, we argue our way out of his commandments . . . or, more hopefully we notice ourselves doing it, and cry out to God for help
All of these disciplines can and do alert us to our deep spiritual malaise . . . if we use them, but like with respect to our physical health, we often try and avoid paying attention, perhaps until it is too late.
I Wonder how many times doctors think, even if they do not say, ‘if only you had come to see me 6 months ago . . .’
We might think that with regard to our spiritual health, Jesus is always there, when we finally get round to it. This week I was with someone who has lived into their 90s and is now dying. Suffice to say that most don’t make it that far and all too often people die unprepared. A few verses before our gospel reading today, Jesus warns us thus:
‘Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, “Lord, open to us”, then in reply he will say to you, “I do not know where you come from.” Then you will begin to say, “We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.” But he will say, “I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!” . . . the grave danger of our lives is that we are so caught up in what we call ‘our’ lives that we miss The Life of God.
What are our hearts and minds full of? The practices of Lent are given to us to alert us to our Spiritual malaise – to bring us to a point of painful Realism as the penetrating Healing Light of God is thrown into the many dark and perhaps long neglected nooks and crannies of what may have become a seriously deteriorated soul . . .
Put simply, there is something gravely wrong with us – and the disease from which we suffer is called Sin. We may not have been conscious of sinning . . . or perhaps its effects, that it leads to death. When St Paul says, the wages of Sin is death, he is not saying, Death is the punishment for Sin, no! He is saying Death is the consequence of Sin.
We do not have to point at the murderous events in Christchurch to see this – indeed our concentration on them and our constant gawping at bad news stories far and wide is part of the distraction the devil uses for keeping us from seeing closer to home.
A simple example, one to which we can all possibly relate – a common or garden sin, or perhaps to use the gardening metaphor more fully a weed going up amongst the wheat – telling a lie. A simple lie. But what happens when we deceive? We cut the life giving connection between ourselves and the person we lie to. We as it were hide from them. Life stops flowing, we prefer not to be known.
Perhaps we lie because we are ashamed. So we hide. We hide from any possibility of healing, from forgiveness, from Life itself. We avoid the doctor coming to us in the shape of the person from whom we hide . . . thus is the way of Sin.
It is at root a lack of desire for the Life of God, which is in Truth a lack of desire for Life, lack of a desire to be well – which is why Jesus asks the man at the pool, ‘do you want to be well?
Sin is to use the words of one philosopher, a ‘sickness towards death’, and we are half asleep with it.
Sin is not primarily a moral problem. Think of the young man who wanted to follow Jesus – who said ‘all these commandments I have kept since my youth!’ Or St Paul who by his own admission was with respect to the law, and there were 630 of them, faultless! Yet he was exposed as neither knowing nor loving God. He loved his own life – how many of us do! We may come to the point of death saying ‘I have had a good life, yet it is not the life we have that is the point, it is the life god offered us – His Life! Materially speaking the young man Jesus met had no desire for the Life of God, as twas revealed when Jesus offered him this life, if he would only lay down his own . . .
Sin and sickness away from the Life and Light of God, towards Death.
As I have said before, Jesus does not die to make bad people good, he dies to make dead people live!
He is the Great Physician, the Great Doctor of our souls – this is why he comes healing. It is sign of his deep work . . .
So when the pharisees warn him about Herod, how does Jesus reply . . .
‘Go and tell that fox for me, “Behold!” Look! Pay Attention! See! I exorcise demons and accomplish healings today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.
Behold! I am Coming! I am Healing – setting people free from there demons! Accomplishing healings!
We are moving through Lent – we move towards the finishing of his healing work in Jerusalem.
Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem.
Soon his work is complete and the door closes . . .
Lent and its disciplines are given to us that we might, unlike our contemporaries, pay attention to our Life before God.
Jesus is the Great physician – he comes with healing Love! Fundamentally it is Life and Love in its fullness that we are terrified of! It is too much, yet, God is too much at one go! Yet in his Grace, and with our co-operation, the lIght of Christ can shine into our hearts, drawing our attention to our plight and binding us more anymore tightly to the one who is coming in the name of the Lord.
Why is it so very costly to follow Jesus? Because our plight is grave – yet He has the words of eternal Life. In Him is light and love and mercy and compassion. We are seriously afflicted and the remedy is nothing less than the Cross, in our lives. This is the healing for the whole world, one person at a time . . .
We look out at the world around us and bewail its condition, but watch an hour with Jesus? Go without a single meal? Give to everyone who asks of us? Simply obey Jesus . . .
Learning truly to Love him, bound to Him, we do not even avoid going to the Cross, the place where Death is confronted. our plight is fully revealed, yet bound to our Healer. In the Way that leads to the fulness of Life
May God give us the Grace to stick with our healing and our Healer these weeks. May we pray, fast and give alms; may we know the healing of the Great Physician, who brings Life, even out of Death