A Homily for Trinity 16
October 1, 2017
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: Ephesians 3:17
Let the words of my mouth and the mediation of my heart be always acceptable in thy sight, O lord my strength and my redeemer. Amen.
This morning St. Paul talks about being rooted and grounded in the love of God. This is the central ethos of what it means to be a Christian, that all we do is defined by God’s love, we seek to do His will in our daily lives and seek what is best for not only ourselves but all those whom we interact with. This is the Christian call, and it is a difficult call.
For to love is to give up ourselves, it is to give up our pride, our vanity, it is to give up our desire for our own glory, it is to forgive 490 times, and then forgive some more. We have been loved with the deepest generosity, and so our call is to love with this generosity.
No one has put it quite as poetically as C.S. Lewis:
Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.
To love be loved, to love, and love well can be a terribly hard calling – but we are called to dwell richly in the love of God and to extend that love freely.
The imagery that the saint uses to define our firm foundation is important and so we’ll start there. Let us first think of roots. We know roots to be utterly important for plants, if you have ever gardened you know this to be true. Perhaps you have experienced pesky roots from weeds that you must dig out or while walking in the woods after a big wind you have seen what happens when tree roots become ineffective for what the tree needs and it has toppled.
Roots, we know, are the life source of a plant. Roots provide the plant with stability, with nutrients, and some root systems even prevent erosion around it. For many plants, the roots can be larger than the stalk of the plants, digging deep into the soil around it. It is the same with the roots of God’s love that extends into our hearts.
The Christian needs to be steeped deeply in the love of God, in fact the root analogy is not original to St. Paul. We see this same analogy in the parable of the sower who goes out and throws the seeds onto the field, some land on good soil and some on bad. However, only the plants with the good roots thrive and grow, and their growth produce seeds to one hundred-fold or more.
We are called to learn, by the grace of God, to be steeped deeply in the love of God. We are not saved nor sanctified by works, but our works stem out of this grace. This grace that enlightens our hearts and turns them back to God, time and time again. How do we tend to these roots?
We spend time in prayer, asking again, and again that God would soften our hearts and make them to be a place of good soil for the love and word of God to dwell richly in us. That they would be hearts that not only receive the love of God but gives it just as freely.
Similarly, we spend time in the word of God. It sharpens and focuses our conscience, gives us direction to what we are to do, and what we are not to do, it shows us the goodness of the Lord. We read the Bible because it shows us the character and nature of God, it helps us to comprehend with the saints the depth and breadth of his love.
We spend time fellowshipping with our fellow believers, for this fellowship teaches us to love, teaches us not to put ourselves above other people. There is nothing like fellowship to give us patience. For sometimes the fellowship of believers isn’t perfect, for the church is a collection, not of perfect people, but people with sins and foibles, who are seeking to dwell in the mercy of God. When we see our brother or sister’s sin or imperfection we are reminded that we must be patient, that we should extend grace, because we need grace just as much. We are reminded to walk along side of them as they repent and struggle to flee from that sin. So being in fellowship teaches to love unconditionally, to give without care, and to put others above ourselves.
In the sacraments, we taste and see the love of God. We are reminded that Christ came down for us, died the death that we were supposed to die, and gave us life. We see his majesty displayed boldly for us.
These four actions care for the roots in our heart that are the love the Lord, they soften our heart and let his love take over. When we dwell in the spirit it is the water and fertilize of the roots of God love that is making its home in our heart. When we are rooted in the love of God we become firmly attached to the ground, the winds of the world may come and blow over us, but if our roots are strong we will not break or fall, only grow stronger until no storms we may weather can tear us from the love of God.
Being grounded is similar, and it harkens the idea of a foundation. Foundations, like roots are also not foreign to the gospel. When we think of foundations we think of something hard and solid, where roots need soft ground to dig deeply in, foundations need something firm to be built upon.
Our foundation is built upon the rock of the gospel, the unchanging truth that was, is, and always will be. We talked last week about how God doesn’t change, how He stays the same throughout all time. How Christ dying on the cross is the action that one would expect of a loving and compassionate God.
God’s mercy is deeper than we can understand.
Christ is the corner stone of our foundation of love. If we were to pinpoint the love of God onto one moment in the history of time it would be Christ upon the cross. But the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of the love of God extends outward from that moment. However, without the cornerstone that is Christ, we would have no foundation, it is from this point that we seek to comprehend with all the saints this love of God.
We dwell in the actions we just spoke of, but the love of God isn’t given to the sways and movements of the world, instead it stays the same throughout all of time. God has set aside for himself a people, not as a group who hold themselves in a holy huddle, but as a people who let this love shine into the world. As His church, we reflect His goodness in our lives.
But let us explore this analogy of the firm foundation a little further. For God does not change, nor does his nature or his commandments. We know that ten people can read the same passage of scripture and come up with ten different interpretations. Periodically, we will hear of someone predicting the end of the world is on such and such a date, while the rest of Christendom raises an eyebrow as if to question this person’s judgement, or someone will say that the way he reads scriptures tells him that the precepts of Christian ethics and morality all wrong, and really it should be some other way, or worst yet, someone will prescribe an altogether new Gospel. How, in a time of information overload, do we discern the truth?
The Gospel is a firm foundation that never changes. That firm foundation is best described through the Vincentian Canon, penned by and named for St. Vincent of Lerins. It can be summed up by the simple thought of only believing that which has been believed at all times, by all people, in all places. That is to say, when we learn something new, are these precepts universally accepted by the Christian church? The test is a rather simple one – if it is some new and inventive idea, it doesn’t pass the test of orthodoxy, if it is an old idea, but wasn’t universally accepted, then again, it doesn’t pass the test of orthodoxy. So, this is our guiding principal when we read the scriptures, or when we hear a sermon, or read a book of theology.
The firm foundation of the love of God is found in good theology. Perhaps the idea of the study of theology being a defining part of love doesn’t sound very thrilling, or even loving, perhaps it sounds dry. Our culture has often confused love for passion, but love is much deeper than an emotion and emotions can betray. Even our own intellect can betray us, but if we root that love in something firm, then it will never mislead us. So, let our love be rooted in the firm foundation of the unchanging faith.
Love is not a whimsical or wishy washy thing that changes in every societal whim or grants us our every desire, but rather it is the defining quality of God. The quality that makes him merciful, that is the love of the father who goes running to his lost son, coming home from wandering in the wilderness. It is the love that welcomes us back regardless of our wandering hearts. It is the love that corrects and guides us.
Love opens the door to humanity to come home to God, allows us to walk with the Lord in the cool of the day. Love also corrects us when we have wandered and strayed from this goodness, and it is the love of God in the Holy Spirit that is sanctifying us.
However, the Love of God is not satisfied to let us sit idly on the sideline, instead we seek to share this love with other people. As Christians, we are to show the mercy and love of Christ in all we do, not placing ourselves before others.
What does this practically look like? Instead of giving over to cynicism when things are frustrating we look to understand, we let the patience that the Holy Spirit is growing in us take over. Instead of condemning those we disagree with we seek to understand their position and extend them the mercy that we so deeply enjoy. Perhaps we can think of practical areas where we need to have more compassion about someone or a situation? I know in my heart there are people I have failed to love. This week, I invite you to join me in taking a little time to prayerfully consider who it is that we might need to love better, who it is that we might need to extend more charity to.
Ultimately, our job as the church is to seek to help others know God, as we have been privileged in knowing Him. For the love of God is deeper than we could possibly understand. Do we really understand a God who would become human and then die for us? What a great depth of love that is.
St. John wrote in one of his epistles to his disciples that the world will know that we are Christians by our love. Let us therefore be a community that people will be known for our Christian love. Let the love of God, that is so much bigger than our finite minds can comprehend, be our roots and our foundation. Let our prayer be that each of us may constantly be growing in that love, let our prayer be that our actions that extend from the Love of God may produce seeds 100-fold of that which we have been given. May we pray that we would continue to grow in the love of God and that we would extend that love to all whom we interact with.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.