Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
This is what the Lord God showed me– a basket of summer fruit. He said, "Amos, what do you see?" And I said, "A basket of summer fruit." Then the Lord said to me,
"The end has come upon my people Israel;
I will never again pass them by.
The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day," says the Lord God.
"The dead bodies shall be many,
cast out in every place. Be silent!"
Hear this, you that trample on the needy,
and bring to ruin the poor of the land,
saying, "When will the new moon be over
so that we may sell grain;
and the sabbath,
so that we may offer wheat for sale?
We will make the ephah small and the shekel great,
and practice deceit with false balances,
buying the poor for silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
and selling the sweepings of the wheat."
The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.
Shall not the land tremble on this account,
and everyone mourn who lives in it,
and all of it rise like the Nile,
and be tossed about and sink again, like the Nile of Egypt?
On that day, says the Lord God,
I will make the sun go down at noon,
and darken the earth in broad daylight.
I will turn your feasts into mourning,
and all your songs into lamentation;
I will bring sackcloth on all loins,
and baldness on every head;
I will make it like the mourning for an only son,
and the end of it like a bitter day.
The time is surely coming, says the Lord God,
when I will send a famine on the land;
not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water,
but of hearing the words of the Lord.
They shall wander from sea to sea,
and from north to east;
they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord,
but they shall not find it.
1 You tyrant, why do you boast of wickedness *
against the godly all day long?
2 You plot ruin;
your tongue is like a sharpened razor, *
O worker of deception.
3 You love evil more than good *
and lying more than speaking the truth.
4 You love all words that hurt, *
O you deceitful tongue.
5 Oh, that God would demolish you utterly, *
topple you, and snatch you from your dwelling,
and root you out of the land of the living!
6 The righteous shall see and tremble, *
and they shall laugh at him, saying,
7 "This is the one who did not take God for a refuge, *
but trusted in great wealth
and relied upon wickedness."
8 But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; *
I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever.
9 I will give you thanks for what you have done *
and declare the goodness of your Name in the presence of the godly.
Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers – all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him– provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel.
I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.
As Jesus and his disciples went on their way, Jesus entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me." But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her."
Sermon on Eighth Sunday after Trinity
I have been taking the long view of what our religion is this week because of two things – first, the reading from the epistle and second, I dug out a book by a teacher from my days in Chicago. These came together because of the title of another writer’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning, binds them together.
So, to begin, I need to explain this mysterious third writer – he was Viktor Frankl, a psychologist whose threapy took an existentialist turn. Frankl was a survivor of a Nazi concentration camp. His understanding of the human psyche was founded on his experience of the camp. He found that somehow – even in that camp – everyone was searching for a reason to go on. Even if it was only to get the next meal in any way it took – the end of that day would be fulfilled, no matter how he gained those scraps for his meal.. And everyone had some reason to go on.
His psychology is a very practical one. Life means this and so a man (or woman) will do things to make that meaning real in his (or her) life. The meaning can change from epoch to epoch in one’s life, but the pursuit never changes. A person strives to achieve that meaning whatever the cost. The meaning can be the love of money for some, for other the love of self, and for the very few the love of the other no matter who that other is. – We can see these meanings around us, can’t we? The footballers who move from club to club for the greatest pay-day. The celebrities of whom we have not heard and their diaries of self-absorption – we have all seen the magazines and the chat shows, haven’t we? Or perhaps at one time or another in the dentist’s waiting room. The altruist is one we don’t see very often do we? But we have heard his or her story – for instance, Jerzy Kozinski, the Polish priest who was killed because he dared preach the Gospel, or Mother Teresa, or St Peter, or Jesus himself whose love of other allowed himself to be sacrificed for the salvation of the world. Each of these people (or types of people) pursue meaning to a final end and so find their reward – a pot of gold, their fifteen minutes of fame (half an hour, if lucky), or that all encompassing love.
The people Frankl describes find their final cause in the course of their lives, whether they realise it or not. They find an existential “cause” and are fulfilled by it. The miser or footballer, the celeb, the saint – all of them have actualised something in their lives which calidate their experience of life. Those somethings can be practical or abstract, but they are nonetheless real.
That thought – that people experience something which validates their existence – is what makes me link Mircea Eliade, my teacher, with St Paul in this epistle we are read today.
Eliade speaks of the religious – he calls that person homo religiosus – as the person whose life is explained through myth, symbol and ritual. The religious orients his life toward a sacred place and a sacred time – actually, just the sacred, if we think about it – by reciting the stories of creation and the divine powers involved, by latching on to the symbols which connect them to the divine, and enacting the mythic realities with the symbols through ritual activity.
We have all watched the television cops and their theorising about ritual behaviours, the triggers (symbols) and the narrative (myth) which brings the ‘unsub’ to transgressin such deliberate ways – we only need to remember the events of the past week in Nice and all of the commentary about it to see how this is done in real life – via the newspapers, the radio and television – and how people react to such events and the consequent narratives which become their own understanding of events.
But that is not my point – my point is that there are myths, symbols and rituals even in the profanity of modernity – where the sacred seems not to be recognised at all. This is one of Eliade’s points in the book I reread these past few weeks – that modern humanity has forgotten that it does search for meaning even in the unlikeliest of places – in the cab of a lorrie on the boulevard des Anglais in Nice, for instance.
But my teacher’s point is that we can recover the sacred in our lives, if we try. We must become mindful of tiems and places; we must connect ourselves with how they become meaningful and real; we must actualise what is real in our lives by living in the times and places of mement. Eliade wants the modern, what he calls “profane man” to recover his awe and experience the sacred in life.
So, how can that be done? In the book I read, my teacher talks of ‘cosmogonic myths’, the events which took place in illo tempore, in that time of creation. The religious attempts to participate in a time ‘at the beginning’ in order to make his/her world full of meaning, but more importantly, to be imbued with ultimate Being.
The myth of creation which homo religiosus recites and captures ritually and symbolically, tell about how very real this time and place really is – precisely because the divine has manifested itself in that time, and it can be experienced again because of this religious activity. – Chrstianity is not the archaic religiosity of homo religiosus – that Eliade would freely admit at least at first glance, and we would probably agree. But this is where our epistle has struck me between the eyes. I would like to say that Paul is Eliade’s christian homo religiosus – at least in this passage. Paul writes:
Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers – all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
We are connected to the creator and all of creation through Christ as we are faithful. What a very powerful place we find ourselves in, when we realise we are in Christ. We are connected with all of creation because we are in Christ, in whom all things in heaven and earth were created. In Christ we are held together with every created thing, visible and invisible. So we have nothing to be afraid of – even those powers and the authorities sitting on those thrones in dominions have been created by God for our benefit and are subject to their creator. For us that means everything is governed by God through Christ and we are intimately part of that well-ordered sacred world. We can be the religious who live at the centre because we participate in the whole creation by the indwelling of Christ – we in him and he in us.