Trinity 23 — Cleansed From Sin and Quiet in Mind

Preached November 11, 2012

Philippians 3:17–21
St. Matthew 22:15–22

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

Today is the Twenty-third Sunday after Trinity, leaving us only two more Sundays until the  beginning of Advent and the end of this Church Year. Throughout the second half of the Trinity Season, the focus has been on the development of the Christian life, on personal holiness. This is the distinguishing mark of a Christian, the way we are recognized among men.

These thoughts are reflected in the Collect for the Day which we read a few moments ago, a Collect that comes to us from the Sarum Missal. In some respects they are better expressed in an older Collect for this Day given in the Gregorian Sacramentary:

Grant, we beseech thee, merciful Lord, to thy faithful people pardon and peace; that they may be cleansed from all their sins, and serve thee with a quiet mind; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

By the grace of God, we are in His Holy Catholic Church, and as such we are to be “crucified to the world.” We cannot grow in holiness through our own efforts, but only through the working of the Holy Ghost in us as we submit our wills to the will of God, relying on His grace to provide for our weaknesses. Growth in holiness is purely a matter of grace working in us.

In the Epistle lesson for today, which has only five verses, St. Paul has inserted two parenthetical verses. The parenthetical insertion is an aside, a presentation of a contrasting idea, that because of the way it is inserted, it breaks the flow of the main idea. I would like to read the main point of the Epistle lesson, without the parenthetical insertion: Philippians 3:17, 20-21   17 Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.  ( 18–19 omitted )  20 For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ:   21 Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.

Remember that Paul is writing to his old friends at Philippi. He is telling them here that they should be like him and others whom they know to lead Godly lives, to take note of them and to take them for an example of right living. St. Paul is not seeking to lord it over anyone and have them owe anything to him personally. He does not want their loyalty to himself, but rather he is calling them to look to the good examples that they have in his life and the lives of others that he knows they have with them.

We hear much in our modern society about the effect of role models, about how children with absent fathers suffer, how the failure to have adequate numbers of women in certain careers discourages young women from entering those areas, etc. St. Paul is talking about the importance of role models in the Christian life. If we want to develop as Christians, we need to have good Christian models to follow. For a new Christian who has no older Christians to follow, it is very hard to stay in the Way of the Cross. St. Paul knows this, so he is telling the saints at Philippi, and us as well, that we should look to those whom we know to be well along the path to personal holiness for our models.

The Prayerbook renders v. 20 For our citizenship is in heaven; which is the Ethiopic translation of this passage. The word that the King James Version has rendered as “conversation” is a Greek word meaning the place where we belong, the place where we hold our residence.. Thus this is the place where we have our “conversation,” it is the place where we hold our “citizenship,” it is our proper permanent place. The point here is that even as we are still here in this world, it is not our home, but rather Heaven is our home, the place where we truly belong and toward which we are moving.

And then v. 20 b, from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Because our home is in Heaven, it is there that we look to find our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who is there even now, making intercession for His people, the Church, with God the Father. At the Ascension, Jesus returned to Heaven, and He has been there ever since, although we know that He will come again at the end of time in great glory. For those of us who believe, we know that he will change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto himself. We know that our time in this earthly body is transient, and that our bodies will be changed to be like Christ’s body when we are taken into Heaven. This is our expectation as citizens of Heaven.

But now let us return to the parenthetical verses that I left out a moment ago, the contrasting view. Philippians 3:18-19   18 (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ:  19 Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.) Remember that Paul has been talking about who should be chosen as a role model; here he is talking about who should not be chosen as a role model. In the first case, and here again, he is talking about people within the Church, fellow members of the Christian community, people who are at least nominal Christians. He says that he has given warning about them before, and he now repeats that warning, even weeping as he does so, because there are those within the Church who are enemies of the Cross. Perhaps that was true in St. Paul’s day, but can it be happening even today?

If you pause to think for a minute about all the many people who have worked so tirelessly to dilute the Christian message in many denominations for so many years, I think it is quite clear that the answer is clearly “yes.” We have more examples than I can possibly cite where the various victim groups have demanded that the clear words of Holy Scripture be set aside or reinterpreted to suit their tastes in order to make the Church “relevant” and “inclusive.” We have the “liturgical renewal” folks who were so eager to involve people that they pushed God out the door. As one specific example seen recently, when visiting a parish in another city and attending Mass on Sunday at 10 am, the principal parish worship service for the week turned out to be a wedding rather than a regular parish Mass. Clearly the priest of that parish was willing to see Jesus Christ upstaged by a bride and groom! As yet a further example, large numbers of people who claim to be Christians have just recently voted for Barack Obama, who has infamously supported abortion in every possible way, and pushed a health care bill that makes war on Christian conscience. As St. Paul warns us, there are many who walk the Christian path, that is, who at least think they travel the road of the Christian life, that are in fact enemies of the Cross of Christ!

St. Paul goes on to tell us the end in store for these people, in v. 19: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things. When we look at those who have done so much to pervert the Christian Church, and indeed society at large, the common theme running through it all is a desire for an undisciplined life, for sensual appetites, for “freedom” in the sense of license. St. Paul says this in so many words when he says that their God is their belly, their glory is in their shame, and they mind earthly things. What could be more damning?

Thus we are most definitely citizens of Heaven, and it is towards this that we continue to press forward. But at the same time, we remain here on the earth, so we cannot avoid our citizenship here as well. How do we reconcile the two of them? Our Lord Jesus shows the way in the Gospel lesson for the day when questions are raised about the matter of paying tribute to Caesar. When the question was raised by the Pharisees, Jesus says two things: (1) paraphrasing, You hypocrites, why are you trying to make trouble for me? (2) Show me the tribute money. In the first remark, Jesus is simply telling the Pharisees that He is on to them. The second comment is really the critical point for our lesson.

Show me the tribute money. From this He adduces the fact that the image and inscription on the coin are Caesar’s, and therefore the coin belongs to the realm of civil government. Jesus’ resolution of the matter is to say, Matthew 22:21b   Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s. The point is rather clear. We cannot ignore our responsibilities in this world, but we must not use them as an excuse to ignore our responsibilities to God either.

The principle is really very clear, but the application seems to often become unclear in many situations. We have allowed our world to become very, very complicated in ways that make it often difficult to satisfy the simple commands of our Lord. One of the most obvious, and I think most troubling, is what do you say to someone whose job requires them to work on Sunday? Get another job? That is easier said than done in these days. There was a time when our society largely shut down on Sundays so that almost everyone could be off on Sunday for worship. We understood the importance of that, but today we, as a society, have lost that sense of what is important. There are almost no retail businesses that are not open on Sunday today which is a far cry from what existed fifty years ago. What do we say to that person? All I can say to such person is this: Ultimately, you have to find a way to simplify your life, so that you can follow Jesus. Only you can do that. It is a lot easier for some than for others, and some simply will not want to do it. I am not saying that this is the sine qua non for holiness, but it is one part of the whole. There are countless other places where we find it difficult to follow this simple command of our Lord.

Let us pray again the old Collect for the Day:

 Grant, we beseech thee, merciful Lord, to thy faithful people pardon and peace; that they may be cleansed from all their sins, and serve thee with a quiet mind; 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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