Saturday, July 31, 2010

See Who You Are. Become What You See.

RCL Proper 18C
1 August 2010

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

Focus texts:  Colossians 3.1-11 and Luke 12.13-21

+ Holy One, though our lives been hidden in Christ, may our witness be manifest to the whole world.  Amen.

            In the eucharistic liturgy of the Anglican Church of Canada the consecrated bread and wine are presented to the whole assembly with the words, “The gifts of God for the people of God.”  When the assembly responds with its “Thanks be to God,” the consecrated bread and wine are distributed to those who wish to receive communion.    In the American Episcopal Church, the church in which I grew up, a similar invitation to communion is made, “The gifts of God for the people of God.  Take and eat them in remembrance that Christ died for you and feed on him in your hearts with thanksgiving.”

            Although these words are relative new to us in the Anglican tradition, they have an ancient pedigree.  Saint Augustine of Hippo, that great saint and reluctant bishop, is said to have invited the people of his cathedral to communion with these words:  “The gifts of God for the people of God.  See who you are.  Become what you see.”  Such simple words, but they point to two of the central dimensions of the Christian spiritual life:  We have been made in the image of God and are called into the likeness of God.  Who we are is God’s gift.  Who we become is the result of our own free will and God’s graciousness made known to us through the work of the Holy Spirit.

            Every human being, gay and straight, male and female, younger and older, religious and non-religious, Christian and non-Christian, are made in the image of God.  Each one of us is created with the power of life and death and gifted with free will so that we can choose which path we shall follow, the path of life or the path of death.  But simply being made in the image of God does not guarantee that we will choose life rather than death or that we will choose self-giving rather than selfishness and greed.  Our world and our country are filled with numerous examples of individuals and communities choosing self-interest, but I will not enumerate those here today.

            What God desires for us is that we become who we truly are, but this is a process not a single event.  To be made in the image of God is an incalculable gift, but what remains before each one of us is the journey towards spiritual maturity.  Such a journey is not accomplished in a day, perhaps not even in a lifetime, but it is the journey that God bids us make.

            In today’s reading from the letter to the Colossians the writer tries to hold before this community these two dimensions of Christian spiritual life:  who we are and who we are to become.  When he writes that our life has been hidden in Christ, he is speaking about who we are as baptized members of Christ’s body.  We are secure in that identity.  No earthly or heavenly power can tear us away from the embrace of Christ.  This truth finds expression in our baptismal liturgy.  As the priest makes the sign of the cross on the forehead of the newly-baptized, he or she says, “I sign you with the cross, and mark you as Christ’s own for ever.”  It is this mystery of identity that the writer of Colossians speaks of when he writes, “for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Col 3.3)

            But the writer also knows the temptation to rest with one’s identity rather than take the necessary steps to fulfill the potential that our identity in Christ contains.  He quickly follows his proclamation of our baptismal identity with a challenge to avoid those behaviours which can twist and distort the image of God in a human being.  His words are not those of some puritanical moralist but the words of an honest observer of human behaviour and our self-destructive ways.  “If you want to become who you are truly meant to become,” he writes, “then avoid behaving in these ways.”

            Being, our God-given identity as God’s children, is only the starting point for our journey towards our destination.  That destination is becoming whom God has intended us to become, each one of us with wonderful and distinctive characters that have the potential to make heaven present in each earthly moment.  The writer of the letter to the Colossians knows full well that this life, this earthly life, is the arena in which Christian spiritual maturity is formed and tested.  It is a corporate activity that brings all of us together because the maturity we seek is not achievable by one’s self alone.

            This journey is not an easy one.  For that very reason our tradition has given us a checklist, landmarks if you like, that help us discern our progress on the road to genuine Christian spiritual maturity.

  • Do we believe in the God who has created everything that is, who came among us in Jesus of Nazareth to bring about reconciliation and who continues to work through the Spirit for the restoration of the whole of creation?
  • Do we continue to listen for the Word of God in the Scriptures and elsewhere, to come together to share in this holy meal and to hold up the world in prayer?
  • Do we resist the evils that seek to destroy God's creation and are we agents of reconciliation rather than servants of division?
  • Do we share with others the life that we have come to know in Christ and the hope that this life gives for the future?
  • Do we shun self-interest and seek the common good of our communities?
  • Do we work for justice and peace, not only abroad but here at home, and resist every attempt to de-humanize any persons?
·                    You may recognize this checklist as a paraphrase of the baptismal covenant.  It is tempting to keep it within the pages of The Book of Alternative Services and to take it out only for special occasions such as baptisms, confirmations and certain days in the liturgical year.  But this is a temptation that must be resisted.  The baptismal covenant is a guide to Christian spiritual maturity and each one of us here, I believe, has promised more than once to make use of it.  Soon our community will witness the baptisms of an adult and children, so it would be a good idea to review the terms of this agreement we make, not only with those who are to be baptized but with the God who embraces them and calls them to fullness of life.

My friends, we gather here Sunday after Sunday for many reasons.  I know that for myself one of my reasons is that this community of faith is who I am.  This Anglican way of ours continues to give meaning and depth to my Christian life.  Yet I know that there is still more meaning and more depth to be found and no one, whether clergy or lay, can simple sit on the deck or patio confident that we have already arrived at our journey’s end.  We have not reached that point where we might say, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” (Luke 12.19)

So let us as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility and patience.  Let us bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, let us forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven us, so also we must forgive.  Above all, let us clothe ourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, to which indeed we were called in the one body.  And let us be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in us richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in our hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.  And whatever we do, in word or deed, let us do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.  Amen. (Col 3.12-17 adapted)


No comments: