Sermon for the Twenty-First Sunday after Trinity
16th Oct 2016
Sermon for the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity Year C
Luke 18.1-8 : “Never lose heart”
Jesus instruction to us this morning is the one which would have us never lose heart. He knows that to hold to faith in God even unto our death and through life’s challenges is no small matter; but our salvation does depend upon it. His parable introduces us to two people who are trying to communicate with one another. But they seem to be speaking from two different premises. We learn that the lawyer in today’s Gospel reading has no faith in God or Man. He has fallen into a kind of spiritual boredom or ennui. But for his plaintiff, the nagging woman, this is not an option. For her, there is everything to play for. Her persistence gets the better of the lawyer as he finally acceeds to her demand on his time and attention. She has broken through that part of his nature that has now become receptive, awakened and alert, but it has to be admitted that she has also worn him down.
This parable does not contain the poetic and emotive charge we find in the parable of the Prodigal Son or the Good Samaritan. Its meaning is not very obvious and it doesn’t seem very profound. Far more profound is the Old Testament Reading and Jacob’s wrestling with the nameless stranger at the Jabbok River. He, like the woman, also breaks through because he has prevailed. But his is a meeting with a figure he experiences as God Himself. But in both readings we find the idea of a passionless existence set against one which has found a reason to struggle after a passionately held goal. Jacob actually sees God in his struggle, even though he cannot name Him. The plaintiff woman merely wishes to get justice, but both are seen in the same vein. For Christians, passion in the life of faith is so vital. It rests on the idea of losing yourself to find yourself, or indeed God. To enjoy our relationship with God is to enjoy it passionately, like the women saints Teresa of Avila and Mother Julian of Norwich:
God, of thy goodness, give me Thyself;
for Thou art enough for me,
and I can ask for nothing less
that can be full honor to Thee.
And if I ask anything that is less,
ever Shall I be in want,
for only in Thee have I all.”
― Julian of Norwich
Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.”
― Teresa of Ávila
Following what we may call this Passionate Way, we make a stand against the life of spiritual boredom and of the descent into the life of relativism, of self-absorption, and of distractedness and of ‘atomization’. There are many aspects of modern living which draw us into an atomized state because they are automatic, reflexive and non-essential to our existence. They are radically self-absorbing and non-productive. Their rewards are basic and fleeting. The opposite of atomization is the call to Christ which is the glad and willing engagement in the life of the other in real and personal relationships. The Christian Way constitutes a truly awakened mind, body and soul. For out of Christ’s own body, out of his Passion, there has flowed streams of living water, bursting up into everlasting life. This divine energy is meted out to us in and through our own willing response, both in the communication of prayer and in and through this act of worship in which God’s own self is given and received in the Body and Blood of his Son, Jesus Christ.
In the ‘Passionate Way’ we need human examples to help us. I have known some great Christians, and the ones I’ve admired most have been those who have what seems like a joyfully determined approach to their lives, and have become the pillars that hold the church up and examples of Christian witness to others. They manifest the love of God in a way which can be recognized. They have become, in God, truly what they were made to be; truly themselves. One of these is a ninety-three year old Benedictine monk who is a popular father confessor figure. Accepting the awkwardness of the contract which binds the one who confesses their sins to the one who offers counsel, here is a man in whose presence you already feel forgiven even before a word or an expression of repentance is being made. I don’t know how he ‘does’ this. But of course it’s not that he ‘does’ it; rather that he IS it.
The second of my passionate Christians is a group of Christians… But before I tell you, you might begin to see what kind of passion I am commending to you. Not the base meaning of passion as all emotion and no substance but a passion which is deeply human and compassionate and joyfully and practically Christian. The Passionate Way offers what someone has been called ‘a diagram of God’s grace and of the glory which he wishes to reveal through that same grace’. My group of Christians are ten martyrs who come from all over the world. They are twentieth century martyrs and their presence is immortalized in stone likenesses above the west door of Westminster Abbey:
St. Maximilian Kolbe, Manche Masemola, Abp. Janani Luwum, St Grand Duchess Elizabeth of Russia, Dr Martin Luther King, Jr., Abp. Óscar Romero, Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Esther John, Lucian Tapiedi and Wang Zhiming.
Each life is one dedicated to the ‘Passionate Way’ of Jesus Christ, whose own Passion was their vision and their goal. In these stone images we are being reminded of the gift of faith and of its realization in our own lives, and if and when we fail to see or hear God or bear witness to God in our own lives, we must still nevertheless, out of that passion which remains in us, ‘never lose heart’. We must persevere. We must dedicate and rededicate ourselves in Christ’s Passionate Way. For it is from the movement of the human heart that all Christian Faith proceeds and it is in the action of the heart that our salvation is being won in Jesus Christ. We must not lose sight of this nor ever forget it for His sake, who is our life and hope. Amen.