The Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost
20 November 2011
A Sermon Preached by the Rev’d Dr Andrew C. Blume
Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in thy well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
The theologian Martin Thornton has pointed out that at the heart of Anglican spirituality are the underlying principles of Benedictine monasticism.(1) Benedictines ordered their lives around the three-fold disciplines of work, study, and prayer, further ordering their prayer lives around private prayer, the public daily office, and the Holy Eucharist. In terms of our prayer life, the Book of Common Prayer provides at its core a pattern that is both faithful to that Catholic vision of spiritual discipline and that is realistic in providing a pattern that secular Christians can reasonably follow.
This form of prayer life bridges the world of personal piety and private devotion with that of the life of the on-going community of which we are members by virtue of our baptism. It provides a framwork that helps us make sense of who we are, whose we are, and what we are called to do with our lives, do with the gifts we have been given.
Each week, each time we celebrate the Eucharist in this place, in fact, right at the start of the liturgy, our Benedictine-style Prayer Book helps us understand that framework, helps us remember the relationships that make us who we are:
Hear what our Lord Jesus saith: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.
In our corporate worship, in which we are to receive into our very bodies, the body of our Lord Jesus Christ and unite ourselves with him, we are reminded at the outset that we are called to lives of love. We are called to love God, we are called to love our neighbour as ourselves. Now, this summary of the law found its way into the Prayer Book rather late, and as a substitute for the recitation of the Ten Commandments, itself a Protestant innovation in our worship. Nevertheless, it has become a stark lesson to those of us who still celebrate using the more traditional form of the Prayer Book liturgy, that at the heart of our identity, at the heart of our lives as Christians, is this call, this covenantal call for us to place love—the love of God and the love of neighbour—at the very centre of our lives.
Beginning with prayer, with corporate worship, and especially beginning with the Sacrament, we are called out into the world. We are called to study and meditation on our faith, on our experience of being loved by God and of being called to be divine lovers ourselves. We are then called to our work, to our several occupations and to put the gifts God has given us to use, to invest his capital—as we learnt last week as we studied and meditated upon the Parable of the Money in Trust—for the sake of the advancement of the Kingdom of God.
Indeed, it is that very story, the Parable of the Money in Trust, that immediately precedes today’s Gospel. In last week’s Gospel, we heard of a man going on a journey who gives vast sums of money to his servants to invest for him and when he comes back he takes account of what they have done. He rewards those who did what they were told to do, who traded with the money and risked loss so that a great gain might be achieved. God seemingly calls us to venture forth into the world and use the gifts of love, talents, skills, and treasure in order for us to fulfill the great commandment.
Today, with that story ringing in our ears, we are given a vision of that time when God has fulfilled the promise of his kingdom, which we experience now only in part. We are given a vision of a time when the Son of Man comes in his glory and sits upon a throne and gathers all the nations and separates
them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’
We learn the answer here to the great question of how we are to fulfill the great commandment, how we are to live according to the covenantal command we hear every time we prepare ourselves to unite our body with Christ’s very body.
We learn that as we invest our talents and skills and our treasure, that we are to reach out to our fellow human beings in love. We are to keep our eyes and ears open for the cries of those in distress, those who are alone, those who are hungry and homeless, those who are imprisoned, those who need our love and attention and serve them as best we can, using the means we have been given. In doing this, we are doing the most important thing God calls upon us to do, we are loving him whilst we are loving our neighbour. We are also loving ourselves by living up to God’s call to us to be our best selves.
We learn that loving God is not merely worshipping him like an idol. Loving God is putting our treasure and ourselves in the midst of life and risking rejection, risking loss, so that God’s work of love might be advanced. Without risk there is no possibility of making a connexion with another person, no possibility of extending God's love further using our bodies, our bodies that will be united with his body when we receive Communion in just a few minutes.
Here we come full circle to where I started this sermon cycle on our patronal feast. Then I began a discussion of Ignatius of Antioch’s call to the Magnesians to be Christians and not merely call themselves Christians. Today, as we hear the words of the Gospel of Matthew, we really understand that place where Christian profession meets Christian living. We learn that living as Christians is about engaging in lives of prayer, study, and work. We learn that Christian profession calls us to Christian living, which is to join with God in his redeeming work of love, a work that will ultimately unite us with him and with one another, not just at that time when he shall gather the nations, but here and now as well. And so to the king whose realm is the realm of love and peace be glory, O Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, now and ever more. Amen.
Andrew C. Blume✠
New York City
The Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost, 20 November 2011
1. Martin Thornton, English Spirituality, 1963 (Cambridge: Cowley, 1986).
© 2011 Andrew Charles Blume