Trinity 17 — Let Thy Grace Always Prevent and Follow Us

Preached September 30, 2012

Ephesians 4:1–6
St. Luke 14:1–11

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

This is one of those Sundays when that interesting word prevent appears in the Collect for the Day, when we say,

Lord, we pray thee that thy grace may always prevent and follow us, and make us continually to be given to all such good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

As always in this context, the word prevent means to go before, so we are asking for God’s grace to go both before and after us; we are asking that God’s grace block for us as we make our way through life. We are asking for God’s grace to live our lives in humility and good works through Jesus Christ our Lord. This is the thrust of our meditation today in our on–going seasonal series on the development of Christian character. Not only do we need the appropriate humility before God, but today we consider particularly the humility we need in dealing with our fellow man, often an even more difficult task.

The Collect asks for God’s grace to prevent and follow us, but how is this related to humility? Recall the words of 2 Corinthians 8:9 For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might become rich. Look at the grace exhibited by Christ our Lord, who even though He was divine, the Son of God, nevertheless humbled Himself for our sakes to become a man. This is the ultimate in humility, based on the ultimate grace, the grace of God Himself, and done for us. We are to follow Jesus’ example, to humble ourselves by His grace, and to serve our fellow man in good works. This is the thrust of the Collect; lets us look to see how this is supported in the lessons for the day.

As the Gospel lesson for the day begins, we find Jesus at a meal with the Pharisees. It is interesting that, even though He was often at odds with the Pharisees and scolded them harshly, here He is on the Sabbath day, sitting down to dinner with the Chief Pharisee. It says that they watched him, which we can take to mean that the Pharisees were looking for some way to trip Him up, for Him to say something that would be contrary to the Law, something that they could use against Him.

Luke 14:2 And behold, there was before him a certain man that had the dropsy. The Scripture does not tell us with any certainty, but we should probably understand that this man is what we would call a “plant,” a person put there for the specific purpose of raising an issue. This person was very obviously sick. Dropsy is not so much a disease but a symptom, the retention of large amounts of water in the tissues. Thus the person has a very bloated appearance, with the tissues clearly swollen with all of the excess water that is being retained. The current medical term for this condition is edema.

The next verse begins with the words, Luke 14:3 And Jesus answering spake unto the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath, or not? which implies that the question of healing this man on the Sabbath has been raised by someone present. The fact that this has come up in this fashion is what points to the man being a plant in the first place, a typical trick of the Pharisees! The whole point at issue here is a point of the Jewish Law which forbade the practice of medicine on the Sabbath. So the question that Jesus is asking is, “Is the Law correct, or is the Law wrong?” They had wanted Him to simply fall headlong into their trap, so that they could accuse Him of violating the Law, but instead He has turned the question right back onto them. Do they want the hardness of their hearts exposed, or do they want to be accused of violating the Law, the very Law that they have built their lives around? Luke 14:4a But they held their peace. What else can they do? They are boxed in; their trick has been exposed. So Jesus does the obvious thing, Luke 14:4b And he took him, and healed him, and let him go.

But this is not the end of the episode for Jesus. He wants to instruct them about how to deal with people in humility. First He speaks of the immediate situation saying, Luke 14:5 And he said unto them, Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a well, and will not straightway draw him up on a sabbath day? 6 And they could not answer again unto these things. The Jewish Law did permit the rescue of a valuable animal such as an ass or an ox on the Sabbath, even the same Law that forbade the practice of medicine on the Sabbath! Jesus lesson is very direct, and as often happens with a very direct lesson, the students are left simply with no responses. They will not say anything. It is a sullen silence, the sort of silence that says “we know that we are wrong, but we will not say anything to argue our case because we know it is indefensible.”

Then Jesus takes a different tack, He uses a parable. He begins to talk about going as a guest to a wedding feast. The established practice at Jewish weddings was that the guests at a wedding feast were to be seated according to social rank based on wealth, prestige, influence, whatever factors made up the social pecking order. The most highly ranked guest would sit closest to the host, and the lowest ranked sat at the greatest distance. Often times people would scramble for the best seats, the seats closest to the host. They were evaluating their own social rank as the very highest, and Jesus is warning about the dangers inherent in doing this. If you take too high a place, the host is likely to ask you to move down in order to give your place to someone else, thus embarrassing you before everyone present. It is far better to have the opposite thing happen, to have the host observe that you are sitting in too low a position and come to invite you to a higher position. This will give you honor in the presence of the whole company, even while someone else may be shamed at having to give up a seat for you to take.

We are called in the parable to be honest about who we are before God and our fellow man. We are not to be unduly proud of ourselves, because in God’s eyes we are nothing but dust, sinners all. Among men, we should not be boastful and vain. Pride is truly unbecoming for any of us. The other side is also true. God has given each of us gifts, and He expects us to use those gifts. It is a false humility, to refuse to use our gifts, to say, “Oh, I’m not really good enough at that!” This sort of false humility is actually based in pride, pride that is unwilling to risk being compared to others, a pride that prefers to live in our private fantasies rather than in reality. Instead, we are called upon to go forth in humility to do our best work, doing what we can do with what God has given to each of us.

In our Epistle lesson, St. Paul talks about how we are to go about our daily lives when he says, Ephesians 4:1–2 I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beseech you to walk worthily of the calling wherewith ye were called, 2 with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Notice the way he talks about lowliness, meekness, longsuffering, and forbearance! In the eyes of the world today, these are not usually considered virtues at all, but rather as failings. Even so, this is precisely the way we are called to live in love for one another, completely in opposition to the world! And the interesting thing about this is this: these virtues are the things that lead to inner peace. The ways of the world only lead to inner conflict and turmoil. In our confused world today, we would do well to remember this. He continues, speaking specifically about the Church, Ephesians 4:3 giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. It is especially important that we keep the bond of peace within the Church, the Body of Christ. The unity of the Church is spoken about many times, and it is clear that this is truly a priority item. The fact that it has been fragmented is truly cause for great concern, because that means that the unity of the Spirit has NOT been well preserved, which does great damage, both to the Church as an institution and to the individual members of the Church. He continues talking about this unity when he says, Ephesians 4:4–6 There is one body, and one Spirit, even as also ye were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all. Notice how St. Paul hammers away on the idea of unity: one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all — one, one, one. But this is only possible when the people within this one Church act toward one another with lowliness, meekness, longsuffering, and forbearance and that requires grace in order to be achieved.

As our Lord Jesus said, Luke 14:11 For everyone that exalteth himself shall be humbled; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. We are not to seek the best places, but rather to humbly look for the place that is our proper station in life from which we may serve others. In order that we may be able to do this, we require the grace of God to achieve this state because we most certainly cannot get there on our own.

Let us pray again the Collect for the Day:

Lord, we pray thee that thy grace may always prevent and follow us, and make us continually to be given to all such good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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About Father D

I am a priest of the Continuing Anglican Church, the continuation of orthodox Anglicanism into the present 21st century. My theology is definitely that of a Reformed Catholic point of view, neither Roman nor Calvinist.
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