Preached October 23, 2011
1 Corinthians 1:4–8
St. Matthew 22:34–46
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
For a number of Sundays now, we have been discussing the graces that must form the Christian life. But these are all passive characteristics of the Christian nature, so today, on the eighteenth Sunday after Trinity, we turn to a discussion of the active side of our Christian life, our duty. Thus the Christian life consists not only in saintly emotions, but also in practical, active Christian works, our duty. The way that we may do our duty most effectively and in a right spirit will occupy us for several Sundays.
We are indeed fortunate for the orderly fashion in which the Church has arranged these teachings about the Christian life for our learning. When we speak of Church teaching, we are not only to think of what the Church teaches about herself, but of what she teaches as to the whole inward and outward Christian life in her Eucharistic Scriptures and Collects. Today we begin with an overview of Christian duty.
Ever since the fall of Adam, it has been man’s lot to work for his daily bread. The New Testament rule is, To every man his work, and the gift of the Gospel is to do that work in righteousness and cheerfulness, with a glad heart. Our short Epistle lesson deals completely with the doctrine of Grace. Let us repeat it here for reference:
1 Corinthians 1:4-8 4 I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ; 5 That in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge; 6 Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: 7 So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: 8 Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We all have work to do, some directly for God, and some for our fellow man. St. Paul is pointing out the grace that has filled that small parish at Corinth and is still available to us all to enable us to do our work.
The first thing that we need to observe about this grace is that it comes to us from our Lord Jesus Christ and from no other source. It is both from and through Jesus. It continues only so long as we remain in communion with Jesus. We are not to even think of looking for this grace in isolation, but only in the Church, the Body of Christ, by means of His Word and Sacraments. The sacraments are social ordinances, uniting us not only to Christ but to our fellow Christians as well. In the Church, no man is to live for himself, but rather is to do his work by the grace given to him for the building up of the whole community.
There was not a single gift of grace at Corinth, but rather a great variety of gifts of grace to be found in the congregation, just as there is in any Christian parish today. Some of the community have been given special gifts of knowledge, while others are particularly articulate and therefore able to communicate the Christian message to the world. Christ is visible in His Church, but not fully in any single member. No single Christian displays all of the gifts of grace, which are only to be seen when we look at the whole Christian community taken together.
Along our Christian walk through life, we are constantly striving for perfection, for the removal of sin from our lives. We know that sanctification is a long term project, and St. Paul promises a satisfactory outcome when he says, 7 So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: He is saying that we will be lacking in no gift at the coming of our Savior. Notice that death is not mentioned, only the coming of Christ. He goes on in the next verse to say, 8 Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is talking about being assured that we will be blameless at the Day of Judgement, the very thing we most want to assure, our whole objective in life. St. Paul has given us the prescription for living a life in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is the way we must live if we are to properly do our duty to God.
On the thirteenth Sunday after Trinity, we discussed the idea of “true and laudable” service to God, and in the Gospel lesson for that day, Jesus established two criteria for such service. These came in answer to a question from a lawyer, much as they do in today’s Gospel lesson, Matthew 22:36-37 36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law? 37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This must clearly be our objective if we want to serve and please the Lord God. Anything less is simply insufficient, and instead of pleading our human frailty for our failings, we are forced to admit to simply not wanting to serve God as our first priority, and thus violating the commandment. The dialog with the lawyer continues, Matthew 22:39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. The words, is like unto it, tell us that while this is stated secondly, it is of equal importance with the first commandment. Thus love of God and love of neighbor are placed on exactly the same level in God’s hierarchy. We are to love our neighbor because he is made in God’s image, and is loved by God. We are to love him for God’s sake if not for his own. We must remember, however, that to love our neighbor means to seek his eternal well being. This is often quite different from mushy expressions of affection, balloons, valentines, and teddy bears.
We might have expected the discussion to end with these two points, and the closing phrase, “on these two Commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets,” as when we recite the Summary of the Law at Mass. The Gospel lesson, however, goes on to point out a third criteria, faith in Christ in His humanity as Son of David and in His divinity as David’s Lord. Here we are referring to the passage,
Matthew 22:41-45 41 While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, 42 Saying, What think ye of Christ? whose son is he? They say unto him, The Son of David. 43 He saith unto them, How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying, 44 The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool? 45 If David then call him Lord, how is he his son?
At first it looked like a man was charged with only two duties, but here it looks like Jesus has added a third duty; is this the case? Is man burdened by a third duty?
(1) Faith in Christ has made easy the love of God, for to see God in Christ is to love Him. By the sacrifice of Himself also, Christ has removed the barrier of guilt which caused God to be an object of dread. Fear cast out love, but Christ has cast out fear.
(2) Faith in Christ makes easier the love of man. Christ has taught us to love men as He loved them, and for His sake.
Thus, yes, there is a third duty which is faith in Christ. This third duty is what makes the other two duties easy, whereas they would be virtually impossible without the third. It is essential that we believe in Jesus Christ who is both God and man; then we can do our other duties.
Let us bear our duties to God and man upper most in our minds, remembering that these can only be accomplished though a firm belief in our Savior Jesus Christ.
+ In the Name of Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.