Leave me, O love which reachest but to dust;
And thou, my mind, aspire to higher things;
Grow rich in that which never takest rust,
Whatever fades but fading pleasure brings . . .
Draw in thy beams, and humble all thy might
To that sweet yoke where lasting freedoms be;
Which breaks the clouds and opens forth in light,
That doth both shine and give us light to see.
O take fast hold; let that light be thy guide
In this small course which birth draws out to death,
And think how evil becometh him to slide,
Who seeketh heav’n, and comes of heav’nly breath,
Then farewell, world; the uttermost I see;
Eternal Love, maintain thy life in me. —Sir Philip Sidney
Where is Jesus Christ? Is God anywhere to be found? Aggravated, frustrated, exasperated post-modern Christians complain that He is nowhere to be found, at least when things don’t seem to be going their way materialistically, physically, or tangibly. Other self-contented, complacent, unmoved non-believers, do not make matters any easier, for they challenge the weak and carnal Christians with, where is now thy God? Show Him to us! We cannot see Him. Prove to us that He exists. For if your God does exist, He seems comfortably ensconced and nestled away in heaven’s unreachable safety –far enough away, at any rate, from being of much use to you.
And the weak Christian realizes that his pagan friend is right and so grows resentful and bitter. Perhaps his pagan neighbor has got it right. On one side, frustration and despair sets in, while on the other the worship of mammon proceeds apace as the human community progressively resembles the wilder elements of the animal kingdom. Both groups, it would seem, have their senses fixed upon the things of this world, with the love which reacheth but to dust, as Sir Philip Sydney names it. And so the poet’s song, which once inspired and inflamed the minds of men to soar to higher things, growing rich in things which never takest rust, seems to fall upon deaf ears.
In this way, contemporary Christian ears are sealed and shut to the sweet truth contained in the poet’s hortatory hymn. And that because they are possessed and moved by what fades and fading pleasure brings. They have no ground upon which to criticize the unbelieving world around them. In most cases what bothers and exorcises them begins and ends with happiness and comfort, health and prosperity, justice and injustice in this world. That it should ever occur to them that this world was made to be a prelude and preparation for the next, seems wholly lost and gone. And that the justice and happiness of this world are always going to be imperfect and incomplete seems equally hidden from their spiritual sight. This is because such Christians, by and large, are the worshipers of mammon. Milton puts it nicely, a little later in time:
Mammon led them on—
Mammon, the least erected Spirit that fell
From Heaven: for even in Heaven his looks and thoughts
Were always downward bent, admiring more
The riches of Heaven’s pavement, trodden gold,
Than aught divine or holy else enjoyed
In vision beatific. (Paradise Lost: i. 678)
It is not as if Sir Philip Sidney lived in an age which was necessarily more idolatrous than our own. He lived in the 16th century, the age of Reformation, Renaissance, and Exploration. And he died at the young age of 32. But he was conscious that the encroaching and advancing, penetrating and piercing, attractive and enticing light of the secular and profane would lead the Christian soul to dwell on trodden gold. Having been scorched by this impermanent luminance himself, he hearkens to the appeal of the Muses. It is always the case that those who have indulged the world, the flesh, and devil more than others, have a more acute sense of the disappointment and despair that these gods engender.
So Sir Philip Sidney confesses that he has spent too much time pursuing false loves and fleeting fancies. And herein we may find the sole cause for our failure to experience and appreciate God’s presence and nearness in the course of our lives. The poet sings out, Draw in thy beams, and humble all thy might /To that sweet yoke where lasting freedoms be;/Which breaks the clouds and opens forth in light,/That doth both shine and give us light to see. Call back and reclaim your desire for earthly things, your longing, yearning, and passion, the poet exhorts. See that you have misplaced and misspent your time, energy, and attention on the things that fade and fail. Reclaim your love and let the light of Eternal Love reveal the path that leads to brighter things that neither fade nor die away.
I rose up at the dawn of day,—
“Get thee away! get thee away!
Pray’st thou for riches? Away, away!
This is the throne of Mammon grey.
(William Blake: Mammon)
The Muses insist that drawing in the beams of light and sight are essential, lest we forget what manner of man (St. James i. 24) we are. With the poet we remember how evil [it] becometh him to slide, Who seeketh heav’n, and comes of heav’nly breath. We come from Heaven, were made by Heaven’s Word, and are quickened by Heavenly Breath. And if we come to see and know that we were made by God’s Word, we are indeed called to be hearers of the [same] Word.
But St. James tells us this morning that we are to Be…doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving [our] own selves. (St. James i. 22) First we must draw in [our] beams, and humble all our might. Then we must see the Word that doth both shine and give us light to see. Then we must…take fast hold, [and] let that light be our guide. The light may seem silent, but the poet hears, obeys, and follows its call. This is the light that illuminates his soul and speaks to his heart. This is the light that enables him to behold himself, [to go] his way, and straightway [to remember] what manner of man he [is]. (St. James i. 24) This is the man who looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, [who] being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work… shall be blessed in his deed. (Ibid, 25)
Christians have heard and believe that God’s Word was made flesh and dwelt in time and space long ago. They have heard and believe that God the Word, Jesus Christ, is mirror-image of the Father’s Life, Light, and Love as seen and heard. The Word made flesh spoke to men long ago first through the human flesh of Jesus and then through His Holy Spirit. The same Word made flesh speaks to us today through the same Spirit. This Life, Light, and Love of God the Father desires to dwell in us, speak to and through us, move, guide, and direct us today. He is the word that can still be heard, if we will bid farewell to the world.
We must let the light of God’s all-seeing eye and not the eye of the world be the star to steer our course. We must be determined not to ‘seem’ religious and good but ‘to be’ religious and good in deed and in truth. (B. Jenks, p. 159) St. James says, If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain. (St. James i. 26) For those of us who seek to hear and do God’s will, this is the best advice we can have. We must hear and then do. We do not read that we must hear, speak, and do. Speech gets in the way of hearing God’s Word and doing His will! So St. James tells us to keep quiet, and having heard God’s Word to do some good deed, engage in some kind act, and open up our hearts liberally and generously to those who suffer. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep [ourselves] unspotted from the world. (Ibid, 27)
Today we prepare for Christ’s Ascension to the Father. What He has seen and heard from the Father, He has revealed to us. To travel with Him to the kingdom, we must move out of this world—even out of ourselves in the world, and turn into our hearts. From the ground of our hearts we must open our ears to the music of His Word. He is Resurrected and now will Ascend. Will we hear and receive His sweet and gracious invitation to follow Him? Will we become doers of the Word and so here and now begin to ascend with Him in heart and mind?
Cardinal Von Balthasar tells us that Christ’s Ascension is the return to the starting point of His mission. He is the Light and Love that comes from God and returns to God. But He is also the Light and Love who gave us heavenly breath, that we too might seek Heaven in following Him. He tells us this morning in the Gospel lesson thatwhatsoever [we] shall ask the Father in [His] name, He will give it [to us]… ask and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full. (St. John xvi. 24) And, of course, He doesn’t intend for us to be asking for earthly things but heavenly. He doesn’t even mean for us to be asking for heavenly things, but for eternal life, beginning here and now.
In other words, what we should be asking is that God’s will, will be done in us. And God’s will is that His Holy Spirit should sanctify and redeem us so that we are made fit, suited, conformable, compliant, and agreeable to God’s plan and purpose, which is His desire for our salvation. And we know already that it will not be easy, since the bent of the world seems seductively set against us. But Christ says, be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world. (Ibid, 33)
So today with Sir Philip Sidney, let us follow the sweet and loving song of God’s Word made flesh back to the Father. Let us remember that The Word that was here [long ago], [still longs] to be heard, cherished, treasured up in the heart of man, as what makes him new and carries him to the kingdom of God. Let us dare to sing not only as hearers but as doers of the Word. Christ the Word is God’s Song of Salvation, and He has overcome the world. So today, dear friends, may the truth, beauty, and goodness of this Song be sung by us, as we sing…farewell, world; the uttermost I see;/ Eternal Love, maintain thy life in me. And let us pray that the world may once again, through us, hear the sweet Song sung by God’s Son into the world He came to save. Amen.