Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel
and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:
I am the first and I am the last;
besides me there is no god.
Who is like me? Let them proclaim it,
let them declare and set it forth before me.
Who has announced from of old the things to come?
Let them tell us what is yet to be.
Do not fear, or be afraid;
have I not told you from of old and declared it?
You are my witnesses!
Is there any god besides me?
There is no other rock; I know not one.
11 Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; •
knit my heart to you, that I may fear your name.
12 I will thank you, O Lord my God, with all my heart, •
and glorify your name for evermore;
13 For great is your steadfast love towards me, •
for you have delivered my soul from the depths of the grave.
14 O God, the proud rise up against me
and a ruthless horde seek after my life; •
they have not set you before their eyes.
15 But you, Lord, are gracious and full of compassion, •
slow to anger and full of kindness and truth.
16 Turn to me and have mercy upon me; •
give your strength to your servant
and save the child of your handmaid.
17 Show me a token of your favour,
that those who hate me may see it and be ashamed; •
because you, O Lord, have helped and comforted me.
I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit— I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.
Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’ They replied, ‘We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.’ And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’ Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
Sermon on Sunday Trinity Six
Don’t we all understand why Paul says, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart”? Our times are so full of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that we are often upset, but do we ever suffer such sorrow and anguish as Paul? Do we endure any distress like that which Paul describes here in our reading today?
What is Paul’s anguish? He writes of the fact that his “brothers” in faith do not recognise that salvation has arisen from their very own midst. Paul’s sorrow for his fellows is so deep because they do not see the Messiah rising from Israel for the sake of the world. Whatever we have experienced is nothing compared to Paul’s grief at the blindness of his fellow Israelites. This is a distress that all of our posturing about our “nightmares” will never approach.
Paul’s real life is in Christ. All else pales into insignificance in its light. This is why Paul proclaims that he would give it all up for the sake of Israel’s salvation. Would we do so? Would we give up our dearest prize for the sake of the anonymous crowd with whom we identify ourselves? However, Paul is able to say:
For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh.
Isn’t this sentiment the same as when Christ says in the Gospel of John, “Greater love has no one than to give his life for his friends.” Paul and Jesus are telling us that our lives are nothing compared to the greater good of our fellows. We are nothing without them. Being with our neighbours is fundamental to our very nature, and this self-sacrifice is the height of such a belonging with them.
Paul would give up everything – he would even be cut off from Christ, his very life, if only Israel would turn back to its history and embrace its fulfilment in Christ.
To them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah.
Israel would own all these impressive gifts, would they but turn to faith. Paul is speaking as a Jew for all his Jewish brothers and sisters. All the history and promise of Israel is theirs, would they just realise it. The Jews would have that adoption as children of God. The promise of the covenant would be their lives. They would have the law the prophets promulgated which had been given as Torah in their hearts. Very importantly they would have the worship of the one true God which they had claimed since the time of Moses.
Most importantly, however, the Jews would understand that they inherited the reality of the Messiah. All history has led to Paul’s understanding of this very fact, that in Jesus the whole of Israel finds its consummation, its flowering, in the salvation offered through the cross, through the self-sacrifice of Jesus.
This is exactly what Paul would do for all of Israel – Paul would sacrifice his very life, he would gladly cut himself off from the source of his own salvation, if only his brothers and sisters in the faith would turn to Christ. . . .
And we think we make a sacrifice by offering up our taxes to the government. Such a cost is as nothing when compared to the payment Paul would make for people he doesn’t even know. Our charitable donations don’t touch the depth of Paul’s giving, does it?
When compared to Paul’s desire to give his life for the sake of another’s salvation, what do we give up for anyone else? Our spare change goes into the tin, twenty percent VAT on all my expenditure, a proportion of all my income to the tax man. These amounts are as nothing, when we consider that Paul would give up the whole of the meaning of his existence for the sake of his fellow Jews. Paul would give up all the worth of his life, if only … Would we be prepared to do the same?
This, I would propose, is a question of our vocation. I say this because ordinations have just taken place – these people have sacrificed what the everyday world considers so very important. We might look at them and say that they have given up very important positions in the world to care for souls, something that has nothing to do with everyday life. What weight does the soul have in the balance of worldly things, over against those wicked passions which Paul has been speaking about in this epistle? I would suggest that in the eyes of the world – perhaps even in our own eyes – the ordained have made a sacrifice which approaches that which Paul would make.
Everyone, however, has a vocation to care – parents for children as they grow up, children for parents as they decline, family member for family near or far, friends for each other, neighbours for each other, even strangers, and priests for everyone in their parishes. Care is all-encompassing, isn’t it?
Let us think of that sorrow and anguish Paul has, and see whether it fits us. Can we say with Paul, “I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit”? Can we in all honesty say that we are truthful when we say we care? Do we have the anguish and sorrow for our neighbours which Paul has for all Jews?
Tear-filled grief is the cost of our care for the other, especially when it is the fulfilment of our vocation. We should cry with Paul that we would renounce everything for the sake of that other person, that he or she would know the final cause of life – their salvation.
It is a paradox, I think, that Paul would offer his ultimate happiness up for the sake of someone else’s joy. Paul, however, would not be bereft of blessedness, because everyone he has sacrificed for is about to do the same for him. Everyone would be so concerned for the other that no one would be without that ultimate good of salvation. No one would be bound up in themselves. Their eyes would be open to others and so the love of Christ would be exposed to the world and that christian love would transform the world. This, I say, is when the Kingdom comes, when even the Samaritan is cared for by the Jew, when we love even our enemies. No wonder Paul says, “I am speaking the truth in Christ – I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit – I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.” — I hope that we will ease Paul’s suffering by our faithfulness. Our vocations should relieve Paul’s grief. Our living in “The Way” should comfort all with whom we have contact, for we have the same sorrow and unceasing anguish which is at the centre of the sacred heart as Paul has described it. After all, don’t we ourselves, just like Paul, want to save the world?