Sunday, February 8, 2015

Sexagesima Sunday

Dear Fathers, Friends in Christ, 

"The seed is the word of God" (St.  Luke 8:11).

Last Sunday, as we examined the Scriptures together, we saw that a right relation to God is established by him and on his terms alone.  God had told Joshua, "As I was with Moses, so will I be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee" (Joshua 1:5).  In doing so, God had not invited Joshua to negotiate the terms of their "personal relationship," as if they were forming a club together.  God offered Joshua life, take it or leave it, and he guaranteed that life by his own faithfulness: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.  

None of this detracts from God's love of Joshua or from his love of anyone else in particular.  But it does tell us that the love that God shows towards each of us began before time, in God's purpose and plan of creation.  God created life to manifest the goodness and glory of his own life, the life of the Blessed Trinity in love and in order, and to share that life with us: a human race created in his own image and likeness.  

But giving the image and likeness of God to creatures has its dangers, not to God, but to such creatures.  God was not creating equals, since he alone is or can be God.  He did, however create companions in life, sons and daughters to live on earth, in time and space, the same life that he has lived and will live eternally.  He wasn't looking for perpetual babies, helpless and fragile, but for mature men and women with lives and minds of their own, persons in their own right, even if creatures.  He proved this by creating first Adam and then Eve as a grown man and a grown woman.  Then he invited them to live with him forever in his righteousness.  

They refused.  God had made them free to choose a good life in him, but they demanded something else.  This first sin was as stupid and illogical as every other sin that has followed it, since only God is free and alive in and of himself, and mankind is only free and alive in God's image and likeness.  They used their freedom to destroy their freedom and to make themselves the slaves of sin, Satan, and death.  

The Living God in his freedom cannot be defeated or surprised by slavery, nor will he allow those created children whom he has loved from before the creation of the world to be defeated by sin.  Thus, God began the long process of human reclamation: long, not because of a lack of power on God's part, but because of the slowness of the fallen human heart and mankind's need to grow up by experiencing the consequences of its actions.  

Not all of the consequences, of course, for then mankind would have died completely.  The very worst of them God took upon himself on the cross.  God the Father sent his only-begotten, eternal, and uncreated Son to become a human being, to save mankind from within, and to make it possible for human beings to become his sons and daughters again by grace.  

The lives of Moses and Joshua were prophecies of this new life in Christ, so that now God says to each of us when he calls us to eternal life in his Son: "As I was and am with Jesus, so will I be with thee.  I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee." But it must be clear that life is only available in Jesus Christ and in his one perfect relation to the Father, take it or leave it.  This life is our rescue, and not our choice.  We only begin to recover our freedom from within this one life shared with Jesus Christ, and we will not recover it completely until it is restored by God on the last day and at the General Resurrection when we become in ourselves by God's grace what Jesus Christ is now.  

It was to make these facts clear that our Lord preached the sermon of the sower and the seed, which we heard this morning.  A seed is life, but it must grow to become what it was planted to be, and it can only bear the fruit of its own kind.  The presence of some other kind of fruit means that some other kind of seed, and thus some other kind of life, has taken its place, or is trying to.  

Our Lord says flatly, "The seed is the word of God." This seed, then, isn't a "what" but a "who." It is Jesus Christ himself.  He is the Word of God, as St.  John tells us at the beginning of his Gospel: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was GodŠin him was lifeŠand the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us" (John 1:1,4,14).  The life that is being planted when God sows his seed, is the life of Jesus Christ, and in him, and through him, the life of the Blessed Trinity.  

This Word is not a "message" from God, but God himself.  He is, in and of himself, all Truth, the basis and explanation of all reality, the living reason and goodness of God the Father, and thus the Personal solution and sole alternative to sin, slavery, and death.  To live forever, a human being must live as Jesus Christ, God made man for our sake, lives forever with his Father.  This should have been clearer to Jesus' original audience, since they were Jews, and the Jewish name for what we call "the Ten Commandments" was "the Ten Words of God." But they were mystified, as the Gospel tells us, since they were used to thinking of the commandments as "something we do," and not as "something we become" by God's grace and his planting of his living Word and Commandment as a seed of new life in our hearts.  

So, how do we tell if that seed has been planted and has taken root in our lives? In other words, how do we tell if we have the right, life-giving relation to God in his Son Jesus Christ? Our Lord himself provides the tests, so that we may know the "mysteries of the kingdom of God" (Luke 8:10).  

It is not good enough merely to know about Jesus, or even to acknowledge that he is God.  This is like the seed that falls by the wayside and never really gets planted at all.  The devil takes it away, and something else grows in its place, but not belief, not a new life in Christ, and not salvation (Luke 8:12).  

It is not good enough to want to keep the fallen lives that we have already, with Jesus Christ as a kind of "fire insurance," just in case.  It isn't enough to "add" Jesus to our lives for what he can do for us, or because it makes us sentimentally happy to go to church when we're in the mood for that sort of thing.  There is no repentance here, and no admission that we deserve to die for our sins, or that we certainly did not deserve to have the Son of God die in our place.  Thus, the seed of life falls on hearts as hard as stone, never putting down any roots, let alone bearing the fruit of a whole new life in Christ (Luke 8:13).  

It is not good enough to go through the motions of Christianity but to make Jesus Christ compete for our attention.  We may call ourselves "just practical," or consider ourselves to be "socially active," or kid ourselves that "everybody has to have fun, and no one wants to be a religious fanatic." But these are the thorns that crush the life out of our Christianity and keep us from following through to bear the fruit of a complete, disciplined, faithful life in Jesus Christ (Luke 8:14).  

Jesus Christ does not tell us that if we fit into one of these categories we can never be saved.  But he is telling us that if we do fit into one of them, we are not saved now.  There is no fruit of salvation, so there is no proof of salvation, or any reason to feel any assurance of salvation.  This is a warning, and not a death sentence, unless we refuse to change.  With the help of God's grace, however, we can change and we can bear the fruit of Christ's life in our own.  

What must we do? We must seek from God "an honest and good heart," so that having heard the Word of God, we may keep it and bring forth fruit with patience (Luke 8:15).  These few, simple things are the only way to life, and they are the substance of a right relation to God.  God is not asking any of us to do miracles.  He is offering to do miracles in each of our lives.  

He is offering to help us overcome the sinful heart that is in each of us, and to replace it with the heart of Jesus Christ.  He is offering to give us Christ's Truth in the place of all the lies we tell ourselves about who and what we are.  He is offering to change our lives into Christ's life.  He is offering to bear with us the cross of resistance to evil, selfishness, and self-defeating stupidity, and to demonstrate to us that Jesus Christ has carried precisely the same cross for our sake before us.  

He is offering us a triple gift of patience.  First, the gift of his own patience with our weakness and failures.  Second, the gift of grace to enable us to pay any price and to do whatever it takes to follow Christ.  And third, the gift to be patient with ourselves, however many times we fall, trusting that his grace will bring us to perfection.  

Finally, God offers us the surety that, in a right relation to himself, his Son Jesus Christ will bear the fruit of eternal life in us, not only in the world to come, but beginning in this world as well.  This is not only the assurance of our salvation, but also our salvation itself, the recovery of our freedom, our restoration as children of God, and the fulfillment of the promise that God has always made to the faithful: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.  And, thus, God's eternal purposes in creation will be achieved. 

Father Ed Bakker
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province 
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne