Sermon for the Tenth Sunday after Trinity
31st Jul 2016
Tenth Sunday after Trinity Year C
You must look to the things that are in heaven, where Christ is… Colossians 3 .1.
The Book of Common Prayer holds within it a special emphasis upon the indivisibility of the body and the soul. Here is the Collect for the Second Sunday in Lent, and also the words for the reception of Holy Communion:
ALMIGHTY God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves; Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Chriost our Lord. Amen.
The body (blood) of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given (shed) for thee,
To the classical Greek world the division between soul and body was commonly accepted, as unfortunately, it tends today. But to the Hebrew mind, and to the Christian mind, such division was unthinkable. For the Judaeo-Christian mind it is impossible to separate the soul from the body. The Hebrew word ‘nepes’ reminds us that the self is a whole person, indivisible into parts and it is this understanding that we must keep in mind as we turn to this parable of Christ Jesus. There is no practical teaching in Christ without recourse to the relation between body and soul. Each requires the other for holiness of life. Each must recognize, live and respond to the other.
We must remember that the Gospel teachings are just that – Gospel. They contain expressions which contain within them the deepest levels of meaning. So although this morning’s parable may refer to a character we know as ‘the rich fool’ we come to know that Jesus is offering us teaching that is both basic and of the utmost subtlety. It is basic in relation to what lies true for us, and subtle in the fact of its spiritual vibrancy. Paul confirms this when he says in our second reading that the Christian has been brought back to true life in Christ. The French word for Resurrection into new life uses the word recussité.
Synonym: revive, resurrect, restore, regenerate, revitalize, breathe new life into, give the kiss of life to, give a new lease of life to, reinvigorate, renew, awaken, wake up, rejuvenate, stimulate, re-establish, reinstitute, relaunch; archaic: renovate.
The influence of Christ is a new breath which has literally recuscitated us back in our true being and into the likeness of the Creator God. The Christian spiritual teaching emerging out of this understanding is the one which offers back the paradox: of a way in which we can come to possess those things which are truly needful for our existence only through the dispossession of selfishness. John's spiritual method of inner purgation along what he understand to be a 'negative way' :
“ To reach satisfaction in all, desire satisfaction in nothing. To come to possess all, desire the possession of nothing. To arrive at being all, desire to be nothing. To come to the knowledge of all, desire the knowledge of nothing. To come to enjoy what you have not, you must go by a way in which you enjoy not. To come to the possession you have not, you must go by a way in which you possess not. To come to what you are not, you must go by a way in which you are not”. St John of the Cross, The Ascent of Mount Carmel.
This week I went across the road to a grocery store named Stephen Lee and there met its owner, a middle aged Hindu lady who with her husband and sister and sons, works very long hours and works very hard indeed to keep the shop going. But as I entered the shop last week there was a strong and lovely smell of incense. I commented upon it, whereupon she told me that she was a Hindu and downstairs the family began the day in prayer for an hour to the God Vishnu and then afterwards, and importantly, stopped before the day began to have a nice cup of tea! But it was her passing words which struck me as possessing this spirit of dispossession when she said to me, quite matter-of-factly “It’s my religion, innit?”. To spend that much time in prayer was a genuine offering promising no material gain but yet possessing the possibility of deeper and more resonant and truer life in the present. This is what the Gospel writer means when he says to us “You must look to things that are in heaven, where Christ is….”
Being dead and risen with Christ, we are become as souls, and not just animate bodies. And as souls we are to seek that which is above, not that which is on the earth. As consumers living in a consumer society we should be careful not to be consumed by what we are consuming. Christ Jesus’ Kingdom teaching is for the transformation of a fallen material world into the likeness of God. We must as individuals and as a Church allow a little of God’s light to shine on those situations that seem intractable or inevitable and commit ourselves to be world changers. In this Church in the Autumn it is a hope of mine that we will be able to look at our charitable giving, and particularly our response to the suffering world around us in a renewed light and walk toward John of the Cross’ ‘Way of Dispossession.
John of the Cross’ way is not intended to be a recipe for an other-worldly spirituality which ignores the real earthy issues. First things first: the problem is not living on earth, but living on earth’s terms. Make this earth your god and you end up with lies, anger, greed and endless and deep seated inner frustration; the property disputes of the present world. The Creator, meanwhile, serves notice of a higher calling: a full, true humanity, remade in his own image. One which is healing and sustaining.
"Love seeketh not itself to please,