(Collect: Trinity VI)
We have said that the Trinity tide is all about fertility and growth; it is the green season, and in it we focus on God’s spiritual harvesting of virtue in our souls. The green vestments and Altar hangings of this season draw our minds from things earthly to things heavenly, from the green crops and plants of the fields that surround us physically to the idea and image of spiritual produce and yield in our souls. Thus we are to be moved and inspired to grow and generate the effects of God’s seed, his Word, in our souls. And yet the effect of our spiritual endeavors relates clearly and specifically to certain Divine promises –such good things as pass man’s understanding, as our Collect reminds us this morning. The Collect indicates if our souls produce virtue reflective of our love for God and our neighbours, the reward which will be bestowed upon us will be beyond the imagination and comprehension of every human being. And so we pray, 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. The good things that we seek can be obtained permanently and effectually only if and when we love God above all other things in this world. Thus the eternal reward is conditional upon a virtuous life that has loved God and God in others above all things.
But loving God doesn’t come easily or quickly. Virtue is not easily attained. Last week St. Peter and his fellow Apostles, having obeyed Jesus by letting down their nets for a draught of fishes and finding themselves the beneficiaries of supernatural power and might, surrendered themselves to the radical otherness of God in Jesus. And so with a deeper fear of the Lord, their faith and confidence in Jesus was stirred as they forsook all and followed Him. (St. Luke v. 11) As we said last week, they were being caught up in Christ’s net, and so slowly but surely they began to die to themselves as Christ came alive in them. Divine virtue begins to imprint itself upon their lives as they perceive the love of God alive in the heart of Jesus.
So if we are going to discover how to love God above all things, we had better begin with obedience, the fear of the Lord, and faith in Christ’s promises. But there is more. Christ says to us today that except [our] righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, [we] shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. (St. Matthew v. 20) The righteousness or justice of the ancient Jews –of the Scribes and Pharisees – is the law of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. And Jesus makes it clear that while the observance of this law might qualify and certify us as good old fashioned Jews or ancient pagans, the righteousness it yields is far removed from the love of God that He brings into the world. Why? Because, as Romano Guardini reminds us, so long as we cling to [human] justice, we will never be guiltless of injustice. As long as we are entangled in wrong and revenge, blow and counterblow, aggression and defense, we will be constantly drawn into fresh wrong. (The Lord, p. 81) Think about it. Someone wrongs us, and we pursue vengeance. We become judges of good and evil, we punish it, and we bask in the radiance and glory of our hard-won achievement. From beginning to end we have over-inflated our egos, exaggerated our hurts and wounds, and made certain that others should pay for the injustice done. We think that we have won a victory for justice, when in truth we have become the unwitting victims of an unending cycle of sin. Vengeance is mine. I will repay, saith the Lord (Romans xii. 19), the Apostle reminds us. And Jesus is keen to remind us that the cycle of injustice is broken only through the love of God.
So Jesus goes on to locate the source of our misplaced love and hate. He says, Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: but I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.(Ibid, 21, 22) By reason of our fallen condition we naturally love those who love us and hate those who hate us. So love and hate are two sides of the same coin. And the coin is the throne of selfish feeling and passion. When a man offends us, at first we are maimed and wounded in the inner man and so have thoughts of anger. Next, stewing, as we do, on the offence, the rankling, rage, and resentment often jump out of us in some kind or irrational blather or balderdash. St. Augustine tells us that he asked a Jewish scholar what Raca meant, and was told that it expresses the emotion of an angry hind [or female red deer]. (St. Aug. Serm, Matt. v) Anger finally congeals and coagulates into Thou fool! So beginning from within the human heart and mind the man who is angry with his brother without a cause, which Augustine says means angry at the brother and not the cause (Idem), is in spiritual trouble. So Jesus says that what happens is that the sinner and not the sin has become an object of fury and hatred. What the angry man has done is to make a false god out of his offending neighbor. And all of this has come about because the offended man allows his inner integrity and worthiness to be attacked and assaulted, and then mauled and maimed by the other.
Jesus teaches us that the real threat to loving [God] above all things is internal and spiritual. Anger or wrath emerges from within. And though it may not kill others externally and visibly, it kills the soul inwardly and spiritually. When one hates another man, he ceases to hope for that man’s conversion and salvation. He does this because he wrongly thinks that he himself has been mortally wounded. What he forgets is that his soul is always loved eternally by God. And Jesus teaches us that God’s love for us should conquer all anger and hatred within the human heart. So He maintains that we should be reconciled with [our offending] brother…[and]to agree with our adversary quickly…lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. (Ibid, 24,25) The prison house of anger and unforgiveness is in danger of forgetting the love of God and the immanent approach of Divine wrath and punishment.
The angry pursuit of earthly justice elevates and exaggerates human importance and significance. A man may yield victory over his adversary in earthly matters, but what has he harvested? A crop of self-satisfaction that forfeits those good things as pass man’s understanding…and the promises that exceed all that we can desire. In sum, what is lost is the needful and merciful love of God which longs to save the accuser as well as the accused. As Cherie Carter-Scott says, anger makes [a man] smaller, while forgiveness enables him to grow beyond what he was.
Today Jesus teaches us that if we are to secure such good things as pass man’s understanding –the virtues that obtain the promises which exceed all that we can desire, we must embrace the mercy and compassion that He brings to each and every one of us. To do this, we must kill anything and everything that imperils our loving God above all things. We must admit, with Dr. Jenks, that we have foolishly and wickedly forsaken the fountain of living waters, to hew to ourselves broken cisterns, that can hold no water; shutting our hearts against the love of our chiefest good…preferring trifles and vanities of this present time; and the satisfaction of our own foolish and hurtful lusts [and loves], above God and His love, which is better than life itself. (Jenks, Prayers…168)
And having done this, we shall begin to apprehend that the grace and mercy of God exceed and surpass our wildest expectations. With this perception, we shall start to find that vice is not only being killed off within us, but that we are truly beginning to die to ourselves. St. Paul in this morning’s Epistle asks us, Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. (Romans vi. 3-7) So when we begin to attack our own sins, wreaking vengeance upon ourselves with a righteous indignation and anger, in the light of God’s undeserved mercy, we shall simultaneously begin to die to sin and come alive to righteousness in Christ alone. What we shall discover is that the only form of wrath and fury suitable to our spiritual journey is what should be directed against ourselves as we persistently seek to attack and conquer the triggers and catalysts of ill will and malevolence within.
In closing we should remember, again, that Christ tells us to agree with our adversary quickly. (Idem) St. Augustine teaches us that in doing so we are really seeking to be reconciled with the Image and Likeness of God in our neighbor. What we want then for ourselves and our neighbor is the perfection of God’s Image and Likeness through cooperation and fellowship that strengthens the ties of communal love in Jesus Christ through whom alone we can love God above all things. So no one except for the Devil should ever be our enemy, for God wants us, through hopeful prayer, benevolence, kindness, and forgiveness, to help all of our fellow creatures into His love which alone overcomes the injustice of man. Amen.