“Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves,
but our sufficiency is of God.” (2 Corinthians 3.5)
Nobody can stand a braggart — someone who goes on and on about what they have, and what they have done, and where they have been. Our dislike of a braggart is, no doubt, in part due to the fact that his bragging underlines our shortcomings: what we do not have, what we have not done, and where we have not been. But for whatever reason, nobody likes a braggart.
And I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get annoyed when I read St. Paul’s epistles, because it often seems that he is a braggart, albeit a “spiritual” braggart. He often speaks of how hard he has worked for God, what dangers he has been through, how many hardships he has endured for the sake of the Gospel. I have no reason to doubt St. Paul, and my annoyance can be traced to the fact I have not laboured as strenuously for the Gospel as the Apostle. In addition, if you read St. Paul’ epistles closely, you will see that he speaks of his labours and hardships for good reason. He is not trying to draw attention to himself, but to the God he serves and whose grace has been granted him. He is trying to spur his readers on to greater efforts themselves. So, for example, when he says “I laboured more abundantly than they all” (1 Corinthians 15.10), and “I suppose I was not a bit behind the very chiefest apostles” (2 Corinthians 16.5), and “I ought to have been commended of you” (2 Corinthians 12.11), he makes it clear from where his strength comes; for he also says: “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me” (Philippians 4.13) and “I am crucified with Christ: Nevertheless I live: Yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God.” (Galatians 2.20). In other words, his great accomplishments are only half his message. The other half is that what he has done has been through the grace of God. Without Christ he is nothing; with Christ he can. do all things.
St. Paul’s message is that each of us has that same grace given to us, for, as he says in today’s epistle, God has “Made us worthy to be ministers of the new covenant.” We do not have the power in ourselves to be God’s ministers, but God has given us that power through the Spirit of his Son. Whenever, in our words, or in our deeds, we show that love of God which is the basis of the new covenant, God’s grace is working through us. We are exercising our power as ministers of God, being made equal to the task by God himself.
God has richly blessed each one of us with life, and all that sustains life, with talents and abilities, with the capacity to love and be loved. Without becoming boors and braggarts, we must somehow communicate to others the fact that we acknowledge God’s gifts to us. We do this by sharing God’s love with others, especially with those who have not yet come to know God’s love. Isn’t that really what being a Christian is: one, acknowledging our dependence on God (i.e. that we need God); two, believing that all our needs are supplied by God; and three, communicating those first two beliefs to others by what we do and say. That is what it means to be a minister of Christ. That is what my ministry as a priest consists of; that is what your ministry as laity consists of: convincing people that they need God, and that God will help them. And from day to day we accomplish this ministry by loving and caring for one another.
But it is not just by works of charity that our ministry as Christians is fulfilled. In fact, there are too many people who think that simply by being nice people they can be saved. They do not think it is necessary to pray and study, or to attend Church. They neglect the sacraments, coming to Communion seldom, if ever. We have already established that our sufficiency, our strength as Christians, comes from God. But how do we receive that strength? The same Apostle, namely St. Paul, who tells us that our sufficiency is from God, also tells us that the Church is Christ’s Body, (1 Corinthians 12.27) and that the Eucharist is the “communion of the body and blood of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 10.16). If you are cut off from the Body, and from the food which sustains the Body, how can you have any life? Christ himself said, “Unless you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you (John 6.53) Our good works, our loving one another, need to be anchored in the worship of God in the service which our Lord gave us: “Do this in remembrance of me.”
Over and above this, what more convincing sign is there for our dependence on God than the message we convey when each of us comes, Sunday by Sunday, to confess our shortcomings to God and to be fed by him. We don’t have to stand up in the middle of the service and give a testimony of what we have been in the past, or what we are now — everybody knows that, and more importantly, God knows that — but what we do have to do is acknowledge that whatever we are or hope to be comes from God and his Son who died for us. And that is the purpose of our worship: to show our need for God, to have those needs mystically supplied, and to witness to one another concerning the truth of the Gospel. In other words, our worship is a concentration or bringing together of the ministry we exercise every day. It is the centre and source of strength of this ministry.
Let it be our prayer this day that God will indeed fulfill his promise to strengthen and confirm his Spirit in us through the worship we offer to him, and that having our needs supplied here at his table, we may, like St. Paul, be ministers of the new covenant of love every day of the coming week.
Father Ed Bakker
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne