TRINITY XV – Inclina, Domine

Introit: (Ps 86) Bow down, O Lord, thine ear to me, and hear me: O my God, save thy servant, that trusteth in thee: have mercy upon me, O Lord, for I have called daily upon thee.  Ps. Comfort the soul of thy servant: for unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.  Glory be … Bow down, O Lord …

Collect: Keep, we beseech thee, O Lord, thy Church with thy perpetual mercy: and, because the frailty of man without thee cannot but fall, keep us ever by thy help from all things hurtful, and lead us to all things profitable to our salvation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

OT Lesson: And Joshua said unto all the people, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel: I have given you a land for which ye did not labour, and cities which ye built not, and ye dwell in them; of the vineyards and oliveyards which ye planted not do ye eat. Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the Lord. And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. And the people answered and said, God forbid that we should forsake the Lord, to serve other gods; for the Lord our God, he it is that brought us up and our fathers out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage, and which did those great signs in our sight, and preserved us in all the way wherein we went, and among all the people through whom we passed: and the Lord drave out from before us all the people, even the Amorites which dwelt in the land: therefore will we also serve the Lord; for he is our God.  (Joshua 24.13-18)

Gradual: (Ps 118) It is better to trust in the Lord, than to put any confidence in man. V. It is better to trust in the Lord, than to put any confidence in princes.

Epistle: Brethren: Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand. As many as desire to make a fair shew in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh. But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus. Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.  (Galatians 6.11-18)

Alleluia. My heart is ready, O God, my heart is ready: I will sing, yea, I will praise thee, with the best member that I have. Alleluia.

The Holy Gospel: At that time: Jesus said unto his disciples: No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.  (St Matthew 6.24-34)


A Sermon by the Late Fr. Louis R. Tarsitano

Saint Andrew’s Church, Savannah, GA, October 1, 2000

“But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Galatians 6:14). 

One of the most remarkable features of religion in our time is the whole idea of “Christianity plus.” My friend Peter Toon has written extensively about “the American supermarket of religions,” where people are encouraged to shop around for the ingredients of a “religion” all their own. A little Christianity, a little Buddhism, a dab of Unitarianism—it doesn’t matter, it’s all “good,” according to one’s tastes. 

Others have called this phenomenon “cafeteria Christianity,” wherein the only unifying principle is choice itself. One “customer” at the cafeteria says, “I chose a mixture of the Gospel and materialism, and I call it ‘liberation theology.’” Another builds a different kind of “tray” for himself, and says, “I chose the ‘happy parts’ of the Bible, where it says that God loves me, but I left out all that business about God’s justice and his demands that I obey him—I call it ‘seeker friendly Christianity.’” And a third says, “I passed up all that ‘complicated spiritual stuff’ about worship and fellowship with others. I just wanted some good rules for personal living, and the Hindus had some terrific ideas that I’d never thought of before.”

What just about everybody misses about this approach to the Christian faith is that adding things to Christianity never gives us “Christianity plus,” but only “Christianity minus.” A real religion, if we are not merely indulging ourselves in a little religious snack, is a life-defining set of beliefs and obligations, since in its technical meaning a “religion” is what ties all of reality together, whether for a single human being or for an entire culture. A “religion” is what human beings “rely on” to make sense out of absolutely everything. 

When we “add” to Christianity, we must necessarily leave something else out. And to be fair to the “supermarket” and “cafeteria” browsers, this is not a new problem. We encountered the first known example of this problem two weeks ago, when the reading was also taken from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians. People called “Judaizers” were trying to convince the Galatians that they should add the regulations of the Old Law to their Christianity. 

St. Paul rightly told the Galatians that, if they put their faith in various works of the Law, they would be changing the Gospel itself, which offers mankind salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, the crucified and resurrected Son of God made man. Thus, instead of “Christianity plus,” they would end up with no Christianity at all. As one of my seminary classmates used to say, “Christianity isn’t a buffet or a smorgasbord—it’s a sit-down dinner where one eats what the Lord sets before him.” 

It is in the same spirit, and guided by the same Holy Ghost, that St. Paul continues his dissection of the Judaizers in this week’s Epistle. When anyone offers an addition to Christianity (which is always in practice a subtraction), all any of us can say is “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” After all, it is the fallenness of the world that offers us the delusion of “additions to Christianity,” because the world is constantly seeking to reclaim us from Jesus Christ, who bought us out of slavery to the world (the literal sense of “redemption”) at the price of his own Blood shed for us all on the cross. 

Sin is not creative, but destructive, so the fallen world is stuck with the same old tricks to try to entice us away from Christ. What is unusual about our time is how childishly vulnerable we are to “the same old tricks” dressed up a little as if “going to church” were interchangeable with “going to the mall.” We have forgotten our inheritance of the hard-won lessons learned by St. Paul and the Galatian Christians. 

We have, likewise, neglected (or, God forbid, rejected) our particular Anglican heritage of unequivocal witness to the Truth of Jesus Christ and the seamless integrity of the Christian Faith. How many of us, for example, really take the time to study the Articles of Religion, even though they are printed in the back of every Book of Common Prayer? If we knew these Articles, we would also know immediately that God has not called us to a “supermarket” or to a “cafeteria,” where we may choose what we would like to believe. 

Take, for instance, Article XVIII, “Of obtaining eternal Salvation only by the Name of Jesus Christ.” This Article not only tells us the Truth, it gives us the Truth right between our eyes: 

They also are to be had accursed that presume to say, That every man shall be saved by the Law or Sect which he professeth, so that he be diligent to frame his life according to that Law, and the light of Nature. For Holy Scripture doth set out unto us only the Name of Jesus Christ, whereby men must be saved. 

“Christianity plus” (which we have seen must always be “Christianity minus”) is a self-imposed curse, since only we can submit ourselves to the mercy of someone or something other than Jesus Christ the Lord. Only we can tell or accept the lie that man-made additions to the Gospel (called “Law” in the Article), or man-made alternatives to the Christian religion as given in the Scriptures (called “Sects” in the Article), or man-made moral codes supposedly based on Nature (which is, of course, fallen nature) can save us as well or better than the Blood shed by Jesus Christ on the cross. 

We need to reclaim the whole of the Faith, and with it the spiritual power to witness that faith without flinching, because that, too, is part of our Anglican heritage. We need to remember great men like John Stark Ravenscroft, who served as Bishop of North Carolina from 1823 until his death in 1830. We can read about him and other great Anglican Christians in older, “pre-supermarket of religions” books like E. C. Chorley’s Men and Movements in the American Episcopal Church

Bishop Ravenscroft was a plain-spoken witness to Jesus Christ and the glory of his Cross both in his private conversation and in his pulpit. Two anecdotes about him stand out as pertinent this morning. When his old friend Colonel William Polk (the father of Leonidas Polk, who was both an Episcopal bishop and a Confederate General) asked Ravenscroft if a man of high morality and clean living would get to heaven by these means alone, the Bishop answered, “No, Sir; he would go straight to hell.” In his first sermon before his diocese, Ravenscroft explained why this is so: 

On the doctrines of the cross, then, as you have taken, maintain your stand, my reverend brethren. Preach them in the simplicity and sincerity of hearts that feel them, with the earnestness of men who wish to save their own souls, and the souls of others. The entire spiritual death, and alienation of man from God, by the entertainment of sin; the reconciliation of God to the world, by the sufferings and death of his only begotten Son; the atonement of his blood; justification by faith; acceptance through the merits of the Saviour; conversion of the heart to God; holiness of life, the only evidence of it; and the grace of God, in the renewal of the Holy Ghost, the sole agent from first to last, in working out our salvation from sin here and from hell hereafter. In fewer words, SALVATION by grace, through faith, not of works, lest any man should boast. [see Ephesians 2:8-9] 

Ravenscroft gives us a good example for our lives by his courage and faith. By his words, he gives us the pattern of what should occupy our hearts and minds in our knowing and understanding of our Christian faith in communion with God the Father, through his Son Jesus Christ, and by the Holy Ghost. And thus, he shows us what it means to say with St. Paul, “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” 

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A Sermon by the late Revd. Canon Dr. Robert Crouse

“Seek ye first the kingdom of God.”

The Gospel lesson appointed for this fifteenth Sunday after Trinity represents the climax of the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, recorded in Chapters 5-7 of St. Matthew’s Gospel:  the simplest and most difficult of all sermons.  Simple, by virtue of its uncompromising directness: you cannot serve two masters; you cannot serve God and mammon; you cannot serve God and riches.  Therefore do not be anxious about food and drink and clothing.  The whole of nature rests upon the providence of God: consider the birds of the air and the lilies of the field.  How much more readily should conscious, rational beings rest upon that providence!  Which of you, by taking thought, can add one cubit to his stature?  God feeds the birds and clothes the lilies: why then should you be anxious?  Your heavenly Father knows your needs.

It is a simple and direct prescription, and its appeal is winsome.  In the maelstrom of credit cards and power bills and tax credits and parking tickets and cholesterol counts and acid rain and nuclear fallout, and all the rest, how lovely it is to consider the birds and the lilies.  They toil not, neither do they spin, yet even Solomon, in all his glory, was not arrayed as one of these.  It is simple, and direct, and appealing; but is it possible?  Could it be possible?  It is simple, no doubt, for sentiment, but Oh, so immensely difficult in actuality.  “O ye of little faith,” says Jesus.  “Seek ye first God’s kingdom, and all these things shall be added unto you.”

The counsels of the Sermon on the Mount are counsels of perfection, and much of the history of the Church consists of the search for and striving after that simple perfection of life.  In ancient times, St. Matthew, whose festival we keep later this week, left the receipt of custom to follow the steps of a wandering preacher.  St. Anthony the hermit gave away all his possessions, and betook himself to the deserts of Egypt, renouncing the world of getting and spending.  St. Francis of Assisi, son of an Italian nobleman, embraced Lady Poverty, that he might live as the birds and the lilies simply in the providence of God.  The examples are endless, and manifold in their character.  “Seek ye first the kingdom of God.”

But these counsels of perfection, what can they mean for us?  Are they some kind of beautiful and romantic, but impossible dream?  Jesus makes it clear that his counsels are for here and now.  Listen to what he says at the conclusion of the sermon: Whosoever heareth these sayings of mine and doeth them, I will liken him to a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, and it fell not, for it was founded upon a rock.

What Jesus intends is a direct and eminently practical lesson about life here and now.  And that portion of his sermon which is today’s Gospel lesson is an eminently practical lesson about our involvement with this world’s concerns and this world’s goods.  We are so easily seduced into regarding these things as ends in themselves.  That is what it means to serve Mammon.  Today’s Gospel would remind us that the things of this world, however good, are not ends—but means: means towards an end which is spiritual and eternal—the knowledge and love of God, God’s kingdom and his righteousness.

Mammon is a false God, and the service of Mammon is idolatry.  And it is the essence of idolatry to trust the things of the world as though they were a final and ultimate significance.  Idolatry is the worship of worldly things, and it is a subtle, but constant, ever-present danger to the spiritual lives of all of us.  That’s what St. Paul has in mind, when he says to the Galatians, in today’s Epistle lesson: But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.

The point is not that we should forge or escape from the toils and the satisfactions and the trials of life in this world, but that we should see all these things in their limitations, in the perspective of the spiritual end they serve.  Who by taking thought can add one cubit to his stature?  Life is more than reaping and gathering into barns.  The point is that we should see our life and our labours in the context of the Providence of God—that “perpetual mercy” of which today’s Collect speaks—that Providence which moves all things firmly and sweetly to their divinely appointed end.  And in that perspective, how foolish is all our anxiety.

Seek first God’s kingdom, and in his eternal Providence, his perpetual mercy, all will be well.

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Collect: O God, who hast prepared for them that love thee such good things as pass man’s understanding: Pour into our hearts such love toward thee, that we, loving thee above all things, may obtain thy promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

And may the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord: and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be amongst you and remain with you always. Amen.

—Father Kevin+