THE 24TH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY
As I have often stated from this pulpit, this long season of Trinity-Tide is all about progress. Not in the modern ‘self-actualization’ sense, but spiritual progress, transformation and betterment attained through supernatural means; not eliminating the necessity of self-involvement, rather, we cooperate with the supernatural the Holy Spirit. Described by St. Paul as, working out our own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. Christian spirituality flies in the face of this secular age of atomization and endless division. It is cohesive and unified holding the natural and spiritual together: God working in man and man willing after God. Think of the great mystery of Christ in us and we in him… this is the great mystery of salvation, of sanctification, and ultimately our glorification.
Every person wants to flourish in this life finding fulfillment in every aspect of existence. But what man envisions as flourishing and fulfillment falls woefully short, its earthbound aim directed towards realizing the best possible life and version of ‘me’ here on earth. But God’s economy and providence is far greater and wonderful than what man imagines for himself. Christian spirituality sets its sights beyond this earth, moving towards a something and a Someone, it takes us far beyond a purely horizontal and materialistic vision of life. For God the Father intends not only to redeem but remake; too transfigure and transform the imperfect into the perfect, to conform us into the image of His Son.
Perfection! This is true human flourishing: to be perfected in Christ. Our souls made whole and clean, our bodies raised spiritual, numbered among the Saints of Light, engrossed in the eternal and euphoric worship of Christ. If this is the goal, then the daily spiritual life is entirely about progressing in holiness. This is the great enterprise of the Christian life and the purpose of all spiritual exercise, piety, and disciplines: striving towards perfection. St. John, in the third chapter of his first epistle puts it this way,
Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.
But, progress towards holiness is challenging to say the least. Some days are like the greek myth about Sisyphus the king of Ephyra who toils and struggles to push an immense boulder up a hill only to have it role away and disappear when he finally gets it to the top. The spiritual life is a struggle, it is elusive, often appearing to be a work of utter futility. For although we are in Christ, we are imperfect and O’ so susceptible to the enticements of the world, the desires of the flesh, and schemes of the devil. The Collect appointed for this Sunday judges us correctly, we are frail, and in our frailty sin. Our sins corrupt that hopeful blessed vision of a future day united with Christ, we become spiritually near-sighted, incapable of seeing beyond this present world.
The corrective is purity, to put sins to death and strive for godliness. Hope desire purity and purity is the unobstructed path to Christ. St. John writes every man that has this hope (of future perfection) purifies himself, even as Christ is pure. Sanctification, the pursuit of holiness, is not simply to be good moral people (it is this in part but so much more). We strive for holiness because we deeply desire to be with Christ, in him. Is this not the deepest desire of your own heart, to see God? To behold his face and look into his eyes, lost in the endless depths of love, mercy, compassion, and grace. To hear his voice. With him in that blessed place where has gone to prepare for us.
Christ is our reward, the pearl of great price, the greatest and highest good; he is the tree of life, whose fruit strengthens and heals the nations forever and ever, alleluia. He is why we wake up pray in the Morning Prayer Office for him to Defend us [with his] mighty power; and grant that this day we fall into no sin, neither run into any kind of danger; but that all our doings, being ordered by [his] governance, may be righteous in [his] sight. He is the absolution and forgiveness awaiting us at the end of each day, who hears our prayers who meets our humble confession of sins with absolving mercy and forgiveness. With a pure conscience we peacefully lay down on our beds and depart in peace into the deep darkness of sleep.
We want to see God… and so we take our baptismal vows seriously: manfully fighting for the cause of Christ, lovingly obeying his commands, faithfully serve his bride the Church, joyfully proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom while renouncing the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world, and the sinful desires of the flesh. Why? Because we want to be with Christ! If He is not the desire of faith and the aim of all spirituality, then we are busying ourselves with religious exercise.
Today on this twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity we most likely find ourselves in one of two possible stages: we are either progressing in the spiritual life or regressing. There is no such thing as stagnation. A disciple is either moving closer to Christ or away from him. This is the difference. But what is common to both is that neither state has completely attained perfection; there still remains a great need to be filled and completed. For regardless of whether we are presently advancing or retreating we all desire to attain that future hope: our being made perfect.
This is the very same thing St. Paul wanted more than anything for the Christians in Colossal and he fervently prayed for them to press on, to attain more and more of Christ. For it’s not as if the Colossians were devoid of the things of Christ, rather, they were deficient with a far greater capacity for more! He writes, we give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints, for the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel. He has heard nothing but good reports of the Colossians. They are evidencing the great marks of spiritual progress in the three necessary relations of the Christian life, which have to do with God, man, and ourselves.
In relation to God, St. Paul says they possessed faith in Christ Jesus, in relation to one another they displayed a love toward all the Saints, while in relation to themselves they were conscious of the hope laid up for them in the heavens. And here we remember the words of St. John for these were hope-filled people pursuing purity; purity enabled by the truth and grace of the Holy Gospel which gave them both a new standard of life and the power to attain it. So St. Paul prays and thanks God for the spiritual progress they have already made.
But his prayer doesn’t end with thanksgiving for what God has already done in the life of this church. St. Paul knows that their past progress will serve as the foundation for greater attainments in the future, and what he has heard of their spiritual progress only stirs him to more earnest prayer on their behalf; for he knows they must push on. And so he continues, praying for even greater spiritual progress, progress which knows no limit whatsoever,
we do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness.
The fullness he prays for them- to realize, to experience and attain ‘all’ of the endless supply of Christ, every last bit, he prays for us as well. Like the Colossians we must pray for and desire to be filled with all that Christ affords us because absolute perfection, though never attainable in this life, is always to be before us as the goal and aim of the Christian life.
St. Paul prays that by grace, we expend our spiritual efforts in three directions. First, he wants us to attain the fullness of knowledge, not merely information about Christ but a knowing with a view to obedience, the knowledge of His will, a knowledge so internalized and digested that this wisdom translates into our conduct and actions: we live for Christ and as Christ. Second, he wants us to desire such a holiness as shall be worthy of our Lord, of the motives of His love, and the perfection of His example: such holiness as shall both be pleasing to God and shall produce every sort of good fruit towards men. And third, we are to receive strength from God, the necessary portion of strength needed to cheerfully endure in the duties and trials of the Christian life.
Friends if we think we have already arrived so to speak, we haven’t. We dare not limit the possibility and necessity of obtaining more knowledge, more holiness, and strength, all which are open to us, and which it is our duty to secure. But remember, we are not on some materialistic, secularized self-help pursuit. Neither is this the dead exercises of legalism. No. We secure the fullness of Christ by progressing towards holiness under the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit. It is he who has done a work in you, is doing a work in you. In Christ, God has made us fit to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light. And let me re-emphasize, it is Christ, and him alone, who has made us partakers of a heavenly inheritance.
Were we not at one time as dead as the Synagogue ruler’s daughter? But we who were dead in our trespasses and sins have been made alive together with Christ for by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God. From the deep sleep of death he took us by the hand and raised us from the dead. For Jesus Christ is the Lord over death! This is what St. Matthew proclaims in this evenings Gospel. Jesus is the greater Elijah, simply taking Jairus’ daughter by the hand, waking her from the sleep of death, for Jesus is the very embodiment of life, he is the power to heal, to bring what is dead to life again.
And having brought us back from the dead will he not also heal us of every infirmity of body and soul? In particular, will he not forgive us when in our spiritual life we stumble? Will repentance not be embraced by mercy? Will faith not collide with the compassion of Jesus Christ? For look how tenderly he cares for the poor woman who for twelve years suffered from an incurable hemorrhage. By faith she risks public ridicule and being ostracized by pushing through the crowd in hope of merely touching Jesus’ garment. She pushes on to attain Christ because she believes he can heal her in every possible way.
And here is the great mystery: Jesus has the power to heal but those who receive it are those with faith. For she said within herself, If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole. And let us not miss the word Matthew uses for ‘whole’ (sozo), which is the same word for to ‘save’, to ‘rescue’. He doesn’t want us to miss the greater point that her miraculous healing goes well beyond physical healing, it is a picture of salvation, both of body and soul. And when he saw her, he said, Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole. And the woman was made whole from that hour. Jesus Christ not only came to heal the sick, the blind, and the lame, but to heal hearts as well.
For twelve years she lived without hope. I imagine she sought every remedy and exhausted every man-made cure. Twelve years of sorrow, confusion, and ultimately resignation. Perhaps resignation is where you find yourself this evening, defeated in the spiritual life. At such times we can easily drown in an overwhelming sense of failure and finality.We desire to be loosed from our sins but find it nearly impossible to do so.
Tragically, we can compound this by ‘going it alone’ intensifying the work of self reparation, doubling down on ‘pulling up’ the old boot straps to get ourselves right with God and others. In other words, instead of turning to Christ who alone absolves and make pure, the only one who can lose the bands of sin and heal, we make the inward turn which leads to isolation and sorrow. But beloved, we are reminded this evening, that if by faith we press into Christ we will be healed of our infirmities and live.
On this Sunday, St. Paul tells us to pray unceasingly that we might be filled. And, St. Matthew reminds us to have faith, for in Christ is healing and life. Let us pray,
O LORD, we beseech thee, absolve thy people from their offences; that through thy bountiful goodness we may all be delivered from the bands of those sins, which by our frailty we have committed. Grant this, O heavenly Father, for Jesus Christ's sake, our blessed Lord and Saviour. Amen.