Preached October 10, 2010
St. Matthew 9:1–8
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Today, the 19th Sunday after Trinity, we enter the fourth and final quarter of the Trinity season which is nominally twenty–four weeks long. The original Sarum Use Epistle for this day included only the central portion of the lesson read earlier, Ephesians 4:23-28 23 And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; 24 And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. 25 Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another. 26 Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: 27 Neither give place to the devil. 28 Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth. Standing right at the beginning of the original lesson for this day we find the theme for the day, be renewed in the spirit of your mind and put on the new man. This complete renewal, both in the heart and in the outward conduct, is the central teaching for this day.
Considering our Epistle lesson in the expanded form read earlier, St. Paul begins with a picture of the sorry state of man apart from Christ. He speaks of how their understanding is darkened — what a perfect metaphor! You know how it is when you hear something out in the yard at night, and you look out into the darkened yard, but you can see very little because of the lack of light. If you are able to switch on a light to illuminate the yard, then you will see immediately whether it is an animal, a person, or some other cause that has raised the alarm. But as long as you are in darkness, your understanding is almost nil. In life, this darkness is caused by being separated from God as a result of having given ourselves over to lasciviousness, uncleanness, and greed. Thus choosing to live a worldly life, and it is a choice(!), is the thing that brings about spiritual darkness. This is really not surprising. It is the old idea that you cannot serve two masters; either you will serve God and turn your back on the world, or you will choose the world and turn your back on God.
The man who has chosen the world is in dire need because his conscience is now dulled, sin is no longer recognized as sin. With all the restraints of conscience and religion turned aside, such a man is likely to plunge into the most unholy works of lust and greed. Even if we have not seen this happen, remember that it takes time for the evil to work its full effect, and that it is possible to lose faith without losing immediately what faith has taught, but the tendency will be in that direction.
For the man in whom renewal is at work, the picture is quite different. For these men, they have learned Christ as a model for their lives. They have learned the lesson of Jesus Christ as the Truth, where both the lesson and the Teacher are personal. They have been given a new nature to overcome their old nature, to enable them to walk the way of holiness. This begins with our reception into the Church at Baptism, and is continually renewed thereafter as long as we continue in the way. Only a sound tree, meaning a continually renewed spiritual life, can produce good fruit as we would expect to see by the actions of the individual leading a sanctified life.
When these inward changes are made, there will be corresponding changes in the outward life. This is particularly significant since our present series deals with the outward life of service.
Lying is to be replaced by telling the truth. There is absolutely no place in the Christian life for lying. It is really just that simple. There is no wiggle room, no place for deception, no room for half–truths. The word of a Christian is the voice of a member of the Body of Christ, and the Body of Christ tells no lies. Everyone of us who are baptized into the Body of Christ must uphold that standard.
Anger is permitted only provided it is not sinful. Anger is permitted provided it is at the right time, directed against the proper objects, exercised in the proper degree, and for the appropriate duration. Anger is an appropriate response to injustice, but when excessive it can itself become unjust. Unrestrained anger gives free rein to the devil in the heart and in the Church.
Dishonesty and stealing must be eliminated, and those who have done so must work instead so that they have money for their own use and to give to others in need. It is particularly significant in our own day, when we hear so much about “redistribution,” the idea that government should steal from those that produce and redistribute the stolen money to those who have less for whatever reasons, this is not at all what St. Paul is saying. He says there must be no stealing, and that is precisely what the government does. He says that those who have depended on the proceeds of theft should work with their hands. St. Paul is a true believer in individual responsibiliity! He understands the truth about human nature.
Evil language should be eliminated from our conversation, and instead our choice of words should be such as to bring a blessing to those who hear us. It is not hard to realize that there are many in our society whose words grate on the ear, often a steady stream of curses and blasphemies, that simply make you wish you did not need to hear any of it. How much better it would be to be able to have exactly the opposite effect, to be able to choose our ideas and words in such a way as to actually be a blessing to those who hear us.
Unkind tempers such as bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, evil speaking and malice are to be put away from us as unworthy of members of Christ’s Body who have received forgiveness in Christ Jesus. Such things grieve the Holy Spirit because they are at odds with His holiness and His love.
One who is being renewed should show evidence of improvement in these areas of his life; conversely, if there is no change, we have to question if there is any renewal in progress.
The Gospel lesson parallels the Epistle lesson rather closely. It begins with a man sick of the palsy. Our state is rather like that of this man, the result of sin indulged for such a long time that we no longer recognize it as sin. We are unable to do anything to effect our cure, even as this man was with respect to his palsy. We must get though every barrier of pride, prejudice, or indifference, until we are brought to the feet of Christ, just as the man with the palsy was brought. It is Christ who is Lord of all who can cure us, just as He was able to cure the man with the palsy.
Everyone in the crowd assumed that the man had come to Jesus to be healed of the palsy, but Jesus saw the greater need, and said, Matthew 9:2b Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee. This addressed the greatest need of the man, the state of his soul, so this was the first blessing given by our Lord.
This renewal of the heart is never withheld by Christ from those who seek it earnestly, who put this ahead of all other desires and who want it in order that they may be able to later serve Him. If we are driven by repentance to faith to seek Christ, he will always provide the healing from sin that is required in order that we may serve Him.
Having forgiven the sick man, the Lord Jesus assured him of His forgiveness and told him to be of good cheer because of it. Thus Jesus not only forgives us, but He wants us to know that we are forgiven and to rejoice in that fact. He has provided the ministry of reconciliation to His Church to declare forgiveness to those who have chosen to come to Him through the sacrament of reconciliation. He has established the sacraments, each of which is a channel of grace and seal of forgiveness for the forgiveness of sins. He gives the assurance of His holy Word and the Holy Ghost to inspire our confidence.
After the heart of the sick man has been changed, his physical illness is cured by the simple command, Matthew 9:6b Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house. This is more than a command to walk in the usual physical sense. It is a command to walk into the renewed life that the man had just received from Jesus, no longer continuing in the old life at all. For the people watching, the ability of Jesus to heal the physical disease was the measure of his ability to heal the soul, so how the man walks physically becomes a critical factor for the crowd. He must go on to a sanctified and reinvigorated life in the Spirit, with the removal of the palsy as the seal of the forgiveness of sins.
The true renewal of life begins in the heart with the cleansing of our minds, to put away all evil thoughts and desires. But it does not stop there; it must be carried through and put into effect in our everyday life. True renewal is therefore a two part process, consisting of both an inward part and an outward part, and it cannot be complete without having both parts. Let us seek the on–going renewal of the Lord Jesus in our hearts forever more!
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.