This is his commandment, That we should believe on the Name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment. And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him: and hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.
One time, when I was in high-school, I was driving home and noticed that a large tent had been erected in a vacant lot along main street of my home town. The next day, I noticed large, plywood sign was put out and it surprised me. Instead of the usual: Fireworks for sale, it said: Revival 6pm Wednesday. It was summer time, and my oldest brother, Ryan, was home and we decided to check this revival out. When we entered there were six people: the paster and his wife and two daughters and another couple from their church. Ryan and I were the only other ones , singing the hymns with them as they played the accordion. After a sermon which I cannot recollect, they asked my brother and me if we would like to pray at the rail they had set there. I was always open to prayer, so I moved over, kneeled down, and started praying–to my surprise, the pastor also came over, laid his hands on me and started praying as well for my conversion. At the end of the service, he was so happy that I had prayed there, and he invited me back next week, and holding up his Bible said: “Next time, bring your Bible and mind you that you bring the real Bible, the KJV.”
While I never went back to join them again, the pastor’s phrase has stuck with me for a long time: the real Bible. When I went home and took my ESV off the bookshelf, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. Now, the pastor had good reasons for his advice since different translations can render Scripture in all sorts of different ways (but I do wonder if he considers the Greek NT to be another real Bible), but his phrase struck me because for the first time I was confronted with this idea of Scripture being the church’s book. His devotion to a single translation (rightly placed or not!) helped me see Scripture as the church’s holy text.
Fr. Glenn, last week described the Bible as the Church’s library. First, it is the Church’s because the Church gathered the texts and ratified the Canon. Second, it is a library because it is a collection of texts from various authors who were inspired by the Holy Ghost as they wrote. This is our text, and it is our revelation not only of the nature of God, but also of His work of redemption on behalf of His creation. But we do not read Holy Scripture as a text book, as some historical tome that helps us understand the right order of events. Rather, as we read and understand Scripture, the narratives interpret us. Not only do the texts convict us of what we might be doing wrong, they reveal to us the life we live in Christ and how to shape our lives to that reality. These texts are the means by which we grow — this is important to keep in mind, epsecially in this Trinity season which is dedicated to the growth and maturing of the Church. The green vestments signify this growth as we have seen all the world around us blossom this spring and now leaf out into mature trees. In our liturgical cycle, this season is the longest, and it pushes us to consider our spiritual progress both as the collective Body here as a parish and individually.
That process of growth in Christ through the Scriptures happens to us as a parish each Sunday we gather and hear the Epistle and the Gospel and hear the Psalms and OT chanted in the propers. This lectionary, the planned course of scriptural readings appointed for every Sunday is very ancient. We know that it was codified and written down in the early 5th century, was probably used much earlier than that, and this plan reveals a certain wisdom of the Church. Since Scripture is not just a historical account but a living text, or as St. Paul said: [2Ti 3:16-17 KJV] given by inspiration of God, and [is] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” This is how Scripture works to interpret us — certainly to reprove and correct us, but also to teach us, and lead us into righteousness which is nothing less than perfection. That might seem an impossibility, but we are given that power by God himself. Remember Jesus’ beautiful words in the his high priestly prayer just before his Passion: “[Jhn 17:22-23 KJV] 22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: 23 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.” Our perfection is found in our union with God which has been accomplished through our Baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection and then lived out in each of our lives.
We are, then, to live out that union we have more and more perfectly in good works as our lives conform to the life of Jesus. The lectionary for Trinity shows us this path of moral perfection which sprouts from our ontological union with Him. It is the traditional path of purgation, illumination, and finally perfect union. Trinity Sunday and Trinity I called us to the path of asceticism, laying out the path and end of our lives. Trinity 2-9 focus on our purgation–meaning the spiritual cleansing through Christ that requires the purgation of sin from our lives. It is a time of suffering as we put off the old man, crucifying the flesh so that we may gain self-control and turn towards virtue.
Trinity 10-16 focuses on illumination, meaning our rising to our new life in the Spirit and growing in the knowledge of the Spirit’s gifts which we have all received. And as we recover our true selves, we grow in the love of God and seek further union.
Trinity 17-23 then leads us to the final stage of spiritual growth: union with God. In the vision of God we find our beatitude as we experience the mystical marriage of our soul with God and come to to dine in the great marriage fest of the Lamb.
So we see that the lectionary throughout Trinitytide gives us a planned roadmap through Holy Scripture for spiritual growth from purgation into illumination and finally into union with God. When we are presented with these texts, our lives can be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit as the Scriptures interpret us, wrapping our own personal stories into God’s very own story.
Let us see how this works in the readings given us today for Trinity II in regards to purgation.
Purgation is spiritual cleansing–it is the casting off of sin both outward and inward and moving towards God in repentance. The Collect calls us to a perpetual fear and love of God. Fear of God might seem a strange attribute to seek after, but it doesnt just mean to be scared of God. Rather it shows a true understanding of your own creaturilness and the honor demanded due to your creator.This understanding is the beginning of wisdom according to the Proverbs. We first accept that we are not Gods and not able to determine reality. Rather we must accept reality and conform our lives to it. This is the start of purgation. And this process of purgation is aided through our own consciences which is given to us by God. As we read in the Epistle: “For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.” God works in our very hearts each time our own consciences alert us to our faults. All hearts are open to Him, all our desires are known, and no secrets are hid from Him — and God will prick our consciences as he purges us from our sins and moves us toward Himself. As we confess our sins, and receive absolution, we then can learn self mastery, order our passions, and grown in the knowledge of God.
The process of purgation, however, is not easy as Jesus’ parable shows because God’s call is comprehensive. God demands our selves our souls and our bodies to be a living sacrifice to Him. If we are to move towards him in fear and repentance, we must be attentive to all our desires and motives. When the master of the house invites his guests to the feast, notice how all three intentionally ignore the invitation. The first guest is consumed with the present cares of this world, represented by the purchase of a new property. He is the one who is giving up his eternal rest in exchange for temporal gains. The second guest gives up the promise of the feast because of five oxen, as if it is really he who is driven by the oxen, tied to the harness, rather than having control over them. This is like a man whose spirit and intellect are harnessed to the fleeting whims of sensuality so that he can no longer rightly order his life. And finally, there is the guest so bound to the lust of the flesh that he refuses the invitation in exchange for bodily pleasure. Notice how in all three circumstances, the activities of these men are not inherently bad–building a home on property, farming, marriage–but each man chooses these as an ultimate end, binding their lives to the incessant cycle of flesh divorced from the spirit, divorced from their Creator. They have refused to accept themselves as servants of their master, creatures of a creator, and by so doing, they recoil from repentance and purgation. Let us not be so easily caught and led by the affairs of this world that we refuse the calling of our Master. Examine your life–let the Holy Ghost prick your conscience and open your interior life to God. It is not painless–in fact it will be very difficult and hard. But it is the sacrifice to which we are called and it moves us into a deeper love and knowledge of God and our neighbor.
I will end on a very practical note. I have seen this parish grow in the love of God and neighbor every year I have attended All Saints. I have seen you present week after week to worship. I have seen you all love your friends, care for the children of this parish, and tend to the needs of your families. In each of these ways you give of yourselves and through those actions join your life to the life of Christ. Let me offer one other practical way in which this parish can serve our neighbors. This past week we have witnessed the Supreme Court defend the sanctity of life in a way that many of us thought would never come. We have prayed for a long time that our nation would reckon with this established culture of death. And Friday’s decision helped that process of breaking down such an awful fortress of darkness. As amazing as the decision was, however, it does not remedy our culture. We cannot depend on courts, agencies, institutions to do the necessary work for us, albeit each are important. Our call to spiritual growth depends on our own actions and now we have a clear path of how to love our neighbors. We now have an even more pressing call to love the babies and mothers/fathers/families that face difficult situations. Through our own sacrifices of love for others, we give up ourselves, purging ourselves of pride, and living in the light of the Gospel, which is perfect union with God.