holy cross sermon for the fourth sunday after pentecost, year c, june 16, 2013

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

This is the state toward which we should all be aiming at Christians.  The pacifying of ourselves, of our sinful natures, and the cultivation of Christ in our lives – so that, one day, we can say with St. Paul, “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me… the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  This means that we must be crucified with Christ, that our old selves must die, and our new self – which is Christ himself – may blossom within us.

All three of today’s readings are about penitence, about acknowledging our sins before God, and about the forgiveness borne of God’s boundless love and mercy.

In the reading from 2 Samuel, we have the end of the story of King David’s adultery with Bathsheba.  David had gotten Bathseba pregnant, and after trying – and failing – to conceal his adultery, David had ordered Bathsheba’s husband to the frontlines of a battle, to the area with the most intense fighting.  And there Bathsheba’s husband was killed.  But of course the Lord knows everything.  So the prophet Nathan comes to David and tells him this parable:  “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor,  The rich man had very man flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought.  And he brought it up, and it grew with him and with his children; it used to eat of his morsel, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him.  Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared it for the man who had come to him.”

David becomes angry with the rich man and cries out “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die!”  It may seem surprising that David does not recognize himself in the prophet’s story – but I don’t think its really so surprising.  How often do we quickly condemn in others the sins and imperfections in our own lives that should be the most conspicuous to us?

How easy it is to recognize sinfulness in others.  How difficult it can be to acknowledge it in ourselves.  Imagine David’s horror when Nathan uttered the words “YOU… are… the man.”  In a moment of clarity, David’s high-mindedness is dissipated.  He sees himself for what he is, and he says: “I have sinned against the Lord.”

My favorite Philosopher, the 20th century philosopher of language, Ludwig Wittgenstein, shortly before his death wrote about his fear of judgment.  He wrote in his journal: “God may say to me: ‘I am judging you out of you own mouth.  Your own actions have made you shudder with disgust when you have seen other people do them.’”

We must be very careful with moralizing – about what we say in public, about whom we rebuke, and about our moral zeal.  And we must never, ever, think that we are somehow better than anyone else.  The greatest saints have always been preoccupied with their own unworthiness.  Don’t get me wrong:  there are certainly standards:  the moral teachings of the Catholic Church are clear, and they aren’t subject to revision.  We didn’t write them, and we can’t re-write them.  And if you’re like me, you violate them with some regularity.  When we find ourselves wanting, we should repent and go to Confession.  But the Church’s moral teachings are there for us, not for them.  Be very strict with yourselves, and be very easy on others.  You don’t know what another person has been through.  You don’t know what’s going on in his heart.

This strictness with oneself, this moral exactitude, this honesty about one’s own unworthiness, born of faith and love, is precisely what the Lord is talking about in today’s Gospel lesson.  A Pharisee, preoccupied with his own worthiness, is contrasted with a sinful woman, who, by contrast, is preoccupied with love for the Lord, with confidence in the forgiveness he offers, and with her own need for that forgiveness.  The woman comes and falls at Jesus’ feet, in tears; and she begins to anoint his feet with expensive perfume, and to wipe his feet with her hair.  Jesus’ host, a Pharisee, can’t seem to see past the woman’s notoriety as a sinner.  But the Lord sees her contrition, born of faith and love.  And he says “her sins, which are many, are forgiven her, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”  And he says to the woman “Your sins are forgiven…. Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Contrition born of faith and love for the Lord.  This is what we must be about.  If we believe he is who he says he is, then we will know that he has the power to heal us.  If we know the depths of his love for us, we will not fail to love him back.  The first epistle of St. John says, “We love, because he first loved us,” (1 John 4.19).  If we believe in him, and if we’re in love with him, we too will fall at his feet in love, humility, and gratitude.  The concerns of the world outside our relationship with the Lord will be burnt up in the fire of his love as it sears our hearts – as it purges us of all that separates us from him and draws us ever deeper into his embrace.

And that is what St. Paul is talking about: the process of purgative love, that ends with our affirmation: “I have been crucified with Christ.”  I have been poured out in love for the Lord, who loved me and gave himself up for me.  My blood has been mingled with his.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me, for the life I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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About Fr Will

Fr Will Brown is rector of Holy Cross Dallas
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