TRINITY XVII – Justus es, Domine
Introit: (Ps 119) Righteous art thou, O Lord, and true is thy judgement: O deal with thy servant according unto thy merciful kindness. Ps. Blessed are those that are undefiled in the way: and walk in the law of the Lord. Glory be … Righteous art thou …
Collect: Lord, we pray thee, that thy grace may always prevent and follow us, and make us continually to be given to all good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
OT Lesson: Put not forth thyself in the presence of the king, and stand not in the place of great men:for better it is that it be said unto thee, Come up hither; than that thou shouldest be put lower in the presence of the prince whom thine eyes have seen. Go not forth hastily to strive,
lest thou know not what to do in the end thereof, when thy neighbour hath put thee to shame. Debate thy cause with thy neighbour himself; and discover not a secret to another: lest he that heareth it put thee to shame, and thine infamy turn not away. A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver. As an earring of gold, and an ornament of fine gold, so is a wise reprover upon an obedient ear. As the cold of snow in the time of harvest, so is a faithful messenger to them that send him: for he refresheth the soul of his masters. Whoso boasteth himself of a false gift is like clouds and wind without rain. (Proverbs 25.6-14)
Gradual: (Ps 33) Blessed is the people whose God is the Lord: and blessed are the folk that he hath chosen to him to be his inheritance. V. By the word of the Lord were the heavens made: and all the hosts of them by the breath of his mouth.
Epistle: Brethren: I, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. Who is blessed for ever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 4.1-6)
Alleluia. The right hand of the Lord bringeth mighty things to pass: the right hand of the Lord hath the pre-eminence. Alleluia.
The Holy Gospel: At that time: As Jesus went into the house of one of the chief Pharisees to eat bread on the Sabbath day, that they watched him. And behold, there was a certain man before him which had the dropsy. And Jesus answering spake unto the Lawyers and Pharisees, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath-day? And they held their peace. And he took him, and healed him, and let him go; and answered them, saying, Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the sabbath-day? And they could not answer him again to these things. And he put forth a parable to those which were bidden, when he marked how they chose out the chief seats; saying unto them, When thou art bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in the highest seat; lest a more honourable man than thou be bidden of him; and he that bade thee and him come and say to thee, Give this man place; and thou begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee. For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. (St Luke 14.1-11)
A Sermon by the late Revd. Canon Dr. Robert Crouse
“Then shalt thou have glory in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee.”
In this week’s Gospel lesson we find Jesus’ advice to socially ambitious dinner guests: When you are invited to dine at high table, don’t rush headlong to the seat beside the President. He might have special guests, and ask you to move further along to make room for them, and think of the humiliation of that! Far better to go directly and conspicuously to the lowest seat. You might be asked to move up higher, and “then shalt thou have glory in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee.” This is sound advice for glory-seekers, even if Jesus is making fun of them in giving it. But behind the fun of it, there is a serious meaning. The whole episode has rather the nature of a parable, and the point of it is summed up in the general conclusion: “Whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” It’s a parable about glory-seeking, and the right way to go about that. The point is that we are seekers of eternal glory, and we need to know how to attain it.
But just what is this glory? In Lewis Carroll’s admirable work, Alice Through the Looking Glass, one of the main characters, [Humpty Dumpty], offers a definition of “glory.” He says it means “a nice knock-down argument.” He has just enjoyed an argument about the superiority of unbirthday gifts, on the grounds they are given far more often —364 days of the year — and he finds glory in his triumph. Alice is unconvinced by the definition. She claims that “that’s not what ‘glory’ means”; and we’d probably share her skepticism. At any rate, a nice knock-down argument is only one sort of glory, and a very academic sort at that. And it had better not be eternal because it would be a particularly nasty form of hell.
The glory of the nice knock-down argument, like the glory of chief seats at dinner, does not amount to very much. These are just poor images of a higher glory, to which all desire of glory points, and short of which such desire never rests. Beyond all vain glories, there is a glory worth the seeking.
In modern times, “glory” has become almost a bad word, especially if it is coupled with “seeking.” There is a prevalent superstition that glory-seeking is a mean, unworthy business. Good people, and especially Christians, are supposed to be committed to service without thought of reward. We’re not in it for the glory; we only want to serve. God’s love is disinterested, and so is ours.
But that is very bad psychology, and even worse theology. It’s important to notice a difference between us and God. God has no need of glory, but we do; in fact it’s our most fundamental need. Our desire for glory, however stunted or distorted, however side-tracked into vanities, is at basis the desire for the vision of God, the knowledge of God as he is in himself. We desire to be “partakers of that glory”; “to perceive with open face the glory of the Lord, and to be transformed into the same image from glory to glory.” (2 Corinthians 3.18) As St. Augustine puts it, “Thou hast made us for thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.”
That is the desire of the whole creation, and the meaning of its motion. The Greek philosopher, Aristotle, knew that the final cause moves all things as the end of their desire, and as St. Paul explains, “the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now, awaiting its adoption,” (Romans 8.22-23) that is, its resurrection to glory. What is dumb longing in the lower creature is in rational beings the rational desire for the glory of God, informed and clarified by faith and hope and love.
We are surely glory-seekers, and we must know how to do it. We have lots of devices for achieving vain glories, though there may be some question whether the game is worth the candle. Insofar as real glory is concerned, we hardly know how to go about it. “Sit down in the lowest seat,” says Jesus. The point is that the glory of God is not something we can put together, or seize for ourselves. We have only the desire; the glory must be given. The lowest seat is the position of humility — the humility of accepting what we cannot achieve. That is to say, the beginning of glory in us must be the free gift of God’s grace. “Friend, go up higher.”
This gift of grace in us is the seed of future glory. As St. Thomas Aquinas puts it, in his incomparably clear way: “Grace has five effects in us: First, our soul is healed; second, we will the good; third, we work effectively for it; fourth, we persevere; fifth, we break through to glory.”
Our part is the thankful acceptance of God’s grace, in word and sacrament, and in a thousand occasions of grace which surround us every day: in our work and leisure, in our associations with one another, in our troubles, and even in our sins. Through the manifold workings of his grace, “may the Lord of eternal glory make us partakers of his heavenly table.” “Then shalt thou have glory in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee.”
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A Sermon by the Revd. David Phillips
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Utrecht, 13 October 2019
Go and sit in the lowest place;
so that when your host comes he may say to you,
“Friend, move up higher!”
We are moving in Trinity season through the stages of our sanctification in Christ. Another way of saying that is that we are maturing in our life in Christ.
The aim of our growth in Christ is to come to know God, to see Him face to face. It is to enjoy Him forever. It is a state of being where we are thinking the thoughts of God and willing the will of God. And there is a rest in that – not an inactivity, but a real sense of unity with our true purpose. It is the Sabbath rest that Paul speaks of in Hebrews (3-4), something promised in the Old Covenant by God and fulfilled in the New Covenant in Christ.
Under the Law, God called on the people to take a day of rest where they would cease from their labours and remember God [Ex 20:10], on that day there was a doubling of the daily sacrifices offered in the Temple [Num 28:9f], it was a day for worship and for rest and recreation [Deut 5:14]. (Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, Sabbath, p.1433)
Just as we experience a real recreation when we rest at night and wake up in the morning (if our sleep has been sound), so in the week when we take a day of rest we are refreshed.
In the Jewish tradition the call to Sabbath rest was taken up by the Pharisees with ever strict rules about what you could and could not do (e.g., at the time of Maccabees some let themselves be killed rather than defend themselves when attacked on the Sabbath [1 Macc 2:32-38]). But Jesus reminded the Pharisees that the Sabbath day of rest was not about pleasing God with our strictness, but rather about the restoring of the soul, about healing humanity. The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath (St Matt 12:1-8) – God wants our health, he has not given this law so that he might somehow be satisfied by our careful observance of it.
So in this morning’s Gospel (St Luke 14:1-11), when Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath day in front of the Pharisees, he was reminding them about what the Sabbath is about – restoration and healing. And they should not find fault with him for doing precisely this. And he appeals to their reason – if your animal fell in a pit on the Sabbath you would pull him out – how much more should you help another person, a rational animal made in the image and likeness of God, on the Sabbath day?
How do we do it? How do we enter into God’s rest?
The whole first part of Trinity season has been about this preparation leading us to this point.
- There must be a purging of the passions of the soul – our emotions, the thoughts of our hearts, our desires – so long as we are seeking worldly ends and sinful desire we find ourselves restless, never satisfied, moving further away rather than towards our authentic selves made in the image and likeness of God – when we die to these, crucify the flesh, we are ready to rise up in Christ, not before, [and] there is no getting around this. (Trinity 3-9)
- Then the soul must be adorned with virtue – with grace from above within us, the Holy Spirit, redirecting our desire to its true ends – the love of God and the love of our neighbour. The more we respond to that grace given, the more we experience the resurrection life. (Trinity 10-16)
This was the content of our readings to this point. When we have followed that counsel to die to sin and when we have risen by seeking the virtuous life, we are ready to enter into God’s rest. We could say it is about our ascension into the life of heaven.
As with the earlier stages of our growth in Christ, humility was at the centre, and even so is humility required at this stage.
After the healing in today’s Gospel, Jesus notices how all those who had gathered at the home of the Pharisee for supper had been vying for the best seat at the table – since where you sat at the table, in those days, implied who was more highly esteemed. Each of them wanted glory in the eyes of the other. Jesus uses the moment to tell them how things work when it comes to attaining the glory that comes from God. He doesn’t criticize their desire for glory, but tells them how to attain it.
Sit in the lowest place and wait to be asked, Friend, go up higher.
But in this parable Jesus is not really speaking about seating arrangements at an earthly feast, but about the desire to enter into God’s rest – about feasting in the Kingdom of Heaven. At the point that we have finished cooperating with the grace of God to experience the purging of our passions and have had our souls adorned with grace from above so that we are thinking the thoughts of God and willing his will, we are ready to be lifted ever higher into the life of God. At that point, we cannot force God’s hand; we need to “seat ourselves in the lowest place,” that is, in an attitude of waiting for God to raise us up.
Humility is the prerequisite to continue in any kind learning, and especially in our life in God:
- if we think we know it all, we will not be in a position to continue to learn, and especially to grow in the thoughts of God.
- if in prayer it seems God is silent, we must wait for insight, for a word from above; we cannot force Him to speak, force our ascent.
But true humility before God is not something easy to see in ourselves – we might know the concept, and speak all the right words that sound humble, but to be truly humble is a gift of God. In the Epistle (Ephesians 4:1-6), we are reminded by St Paul that we can understand humility more plainly in our relations with other people – that will help us prepare our souls. True humility forbears with others, is meek before others, seeks peace in the body of Christ, the Church, not division. If we find ourselves continually in contention with those around us, it may be a sign we need to humble ourselves.
But true humility does not include allowing other people to walk on you – Paul shows this amply in his letters, where he is very clear when people are attacking him unfairly – he condemns them and calls them to repentance.
Humility before God and humility before our neighbour. Strangely, they are very much alike (as are the two great Commandments) – because we believe those who are baptised in Christ are bearers of His Spirit dwelling in their hearts; that the image and likeness of God is being restored also in them. And in the same way that we cannot force but must wait for God to lift us into a deeper communion and fellowship, we cannot force, but must wait for our neighbours to invite us into a deeper communion and fellowship with them, to “go up higher,” in a sense, closer. We know this in our relation with spouses or with good friends.
But in this very patient waiting, and forbearing, we are being changed, healed, made humble and ready for a showing, a revealing, of beauty beyond our imagining in the other and in God.
This morning there are some things we don’t need to wait for: we do not need to wait to be healed of the guilt of sin, or to be healed in our souls of the effects of sin – Jesus has offered himself once for all to heal us of these things – and we can receive the benefits of that healing … on this our Sabbath, as we partake of his Body and his Blood.
But there is a waiting that we are called to, … of course a waiting for Jesus’ return in glory, but also a waiting in expectation of our being lifted to glory, and even in this life. And it requires a humility before God and before our neighbour to experience it—a humble waiting for a word from our Lord or from our neighbour, “Friend, go up higher.” Let us be ready to hear it, and when we hear it, to joyfully act upon it. Amen.
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Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, who resistest the proud but givest grace unto the humble: Grant that we be not cast down from our chief happiness by the swellings of pride, but rather that we ascend into heaven by the blessed steps of humility; 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.