NOTES FOR A MORE COHERENT SERMON
11:00 AM., Sunday, July 15, 2012
St. Andrew’s Old Catholic Church
Meeting Room, 138 Pears Ave. (Toronto)
FIRST LESSON: Romans 6: 3 – 11
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. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
GOSPEL OF THE DAY: Matthew 5: 20 – 26
For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. Ye have heard that it was said of 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.’ Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; 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. Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.
SERMON PROPER BEGINS
Good things grow from small beginnings. Communities are built from shared meals, celebrations and tragedies. Bad things also grow from small beginnings, as the epistle and gospel we hear today tell us. Unresolved anger and resentment can lead to fractured families and communities, to violence and despair.
This in true in our personal lives and in global political and economic spheres.
And, as the gospel reminds us, before we try to remove ourselves from the world through prayer and worship, we need to act in the world to heal the harm we have done or prevent the harm that may arise from our thoughts and feelings. The sacred is not something separate from the secular but is only truly approached when we fully engage the world.
The guide to how we, as Christians, are to live in the world is found just a few verses earlier—the Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5: 2 – 14a:
And he opened his mouth,
and taught them, saying:
Blessed are the poor in spirit:
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn:
for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek:
for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness:
for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful:
for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart:
for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.
Ye are the light of the world.
We are people focused on living in the world as if we are already living in the kingdom of God—the peacemakers and dreamers in the highways and byways. We are the light of the world, an example of what is possible when we let God’s love transform us.
We are angry people that learn to forgive ourselves and others; we are selfish people that learn to reach into our pockets and comfort zones and time commitments to find ways of ensuring that the hungry and homeless are able to find comfort and dignity; we are people prepared for conflict who find ways of resolving tensions.
This is the work we do before we approach the alter. We offer not only prayers of approach but our experiences as people of faith living in the world. We offer up not only what is in our pockets but what is in our hearts and minds.
God doesn’t turn anyone away from the divine presence; God is everywhere. But we are reminded in today’s gospel that we can’t be open to the love of God if we have turned away from being a loving presence in the world.
If we approach God with resentment because a homeless person asked us for a handout on our way to church, we have some work to do before truly being fit for worship; If we felt contempt for someone because of their sexual orientation, we have some work to do before truly being fit for worship; If we added to the amount of violence and hatred in the world, we have some work to do before truly being fit for worship.
Our work is basic—share what we have with others; love one another; be a peacemaker—but the results are wonderful.
We bring God into the world as we do so, weaving the spirit of worship into the fabric of every good thing we do. We will then approach the altar as a continuation of worship, of living a faithful life, and not as a time and place remote from the ebbs and flows of our world.
Eusebius, in the 3rd Century, offered the following prayer for those seeking to worthy of being in the presence of the divine. It seems appropriate to end my sermon with his thoughts from far earlier times in our tradition:
“May I be no man’s enemy, and may I be the friend of that which is eternal and abides. May I never quarrel with those nearest me: and if I do, may I be reconciled quickly. May I love, seek, and attain only that which is good. May I wish for all men’s happiness and envy none. May I never rejoice in the ill-fortune of one who has wronged me. When I have done or said what is wrong, may I never wait for the rebuke of others, but always rebuke myself until I make amends. May I win no victory that harms either me or my opponent. May I reconcile friends who are angry with one another. May I never fail a friend who is in danger. When visiting those in grief may I be able by gentle and healing words to soften their pain. May I respect myself. May I always keep tame that which rages within me. May I accustom myself to be gentle, and never be angry with people because of circumstances. May I never discuss who is wicked and what wicked things he has done, but know good men and follow in their footsteps.” (Prayer of Eusebius, 3rd century)