Trinity 10 – Not robbers of grace

When Jesus drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying,
“Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace!
But now they are hidden from your eyes.

Do you have peace in your heart this morning?  Would you like more peace?

In the first part of Trinity Season (Trinity 3 to 9), our readings have been a reflection on the various passions of the soul – it has been about finding a certain peace with ourselves.  Instead of pride, and its offspring, the soul is humbled under God with prayer and adorned with virtues (T3,T4).  Spiritedness is being released in us and we are being made ready for adventure (T5,T6,T7).  Our appetites are being brought into order, so that in loving the good things of this world, we don’t lose out on loving God and our neighbour (T8,T9).  As our passions are brought into order, by grace, we are ready to bear more abundant fruit in our lives.

We have been shown what makes for peace outwardly and I hope we are experiencing it more and more.

But we must go beyond this outward conformity of our lives to God’s will to discover what is going on deep within.  Jesus helps us to grow in self-knowledge by lighting within us the lamp of His Spirit to reveal what we are really thinking.

In our Gospel this morning [St Luke 19:41-47a], Jesus beheld the city of Jerusalem and wept.  Many of the people did not know what makes for peace, and did not recognize the Author of true peace, God in the flesh, when he visited them.  Whatever grace they were given, was being lost.  Jesus wept, but he did not despair.  The gospel continues:

And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer’, but you have made it a den of robbers.” And he was teaching daily in the temple. [Luke 19:45-47]

If we allow Him to enter our hearts, Jesus will drive away our confusions, our distracting thoughts, making us more at peace, and miraculous things are promised.  Whereas the earlier part of the Christian life might be one of giving up certain ways of living, a dying to sinful ways, as we mature, we experience more and more of the Resurrection life that we have been promised, a new richness, His Spirit infilling us.

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In the Proverbs we learn that Wisdom … cries out from the highest places of the city – [9:3] communicating with the highest aspect of our soul – Whoso is simple, let him turn in here… [Prov 8]   God says through Jeremiah, “Your soul shall be like a watered garden.” [31:12]  Jesus says, “The Kingdom of heaven is within you.” [e.g. Lk 17:21]  And to the woman at the well Jesus says, “the water that I shall give…shall be in [you] a well of water springing up into everlasting life. [Jn 4]  To every disciple Jesus says, I will pray the Father, and he shall give you… the Spirit of truth; … you know him; for he dwells with you, and shall be in you. [John 14:16-17]  Paul says, “Do you not know that your body is a Temple and God’s Spirit is within you?” [1 Cor 6:19]  And Jesus, speaking of the Church after Pentecost, says, At that day you shall know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. [John 14:20]  So if God is to manifest himself within us, we turn away from the world and look inwardly to find him.

While there may be manifestations of justice and peace and joy and godly fellowship in society, while there may be moments of God’s kingdom revealed in community, in worship, in family, in human love – the kingdom of heaven is not something ultimately that we establish, it is something we discover, something He brings to us, and it is found within us and above us.  To discover God’s presence, to drink of the Spring of water welling up to eternal life, to catch a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven, and to be free to act in love as God acts, in other words to enter the kingdom of God, we turn and look within.

But when Jesus comes to our soul, what does he find there?  What is motivating us?  What is the content of our imagination?  What are we thinking about as we go about doing our daily tasks, or are driving on the road, or as we lie in our beds at night before going to sleep?

It is a remarkable thing that we are often unaware of what we are really thinking.  This must change if we are to continue to grow in the spiritual life.

If we take time in silence by ourselves, asking for God’s help to see, we begin to realize just how much of our thoughts are completely unrelated to the love of God and our neighbour.  We have this great gift of a mind to bring God glory, yet we have become thieves.  We can ask Jesus for grace to think of better things.

So one thing that happens as we turn inwardly with faith is that we can allow an inward cleansing of the thoughts of our hearts.

But something else happens when we look within, within is where we will hear the voice of Christ speaking to us.  We receive inward illumination by Christ to cleanse but also to enlighten.  When the Spirit of Christ shines within us, we receive gifts.

Paul says this morning [1 Corinthians 12:1-11]:

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.  For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom [this is the voice of Christ who is the Wisdom of God], and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 

All of these spiritual gifts relate to our minds – they are gifts of knowledge, of speech, and of action relating to that new seeing [Aquinas].  These gifts come to us inwardly, we become aware of them before anyone else knows of them.

We are called to discern our gifts within the Church, and then to act on them…  We’ve had a greater focus on prayer ministry in the past couple of years in our church – people from the congregation have been discerning and learning to use to this spiritual gift; we have had a course on last year on hearing the voice of God – that’s about the gift of prophesy; some are teachers here and they are sharing their gifts; some have been discerning a call to ordained ministry; some are gifted with hospitality; some with the gift of music and so on…

There is a danger that we might simply to be a dead end of the grace given, by receiving and not sharing our gift.  But St. Paul says, To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common goodThere is also a danger we might fail to acknowledge the gift as being from above or that we might use the gift only for worldly ends – that would be to become a thief or a robber of grace.  So we also pray that whatever the gifts we are given, for the grace to remain humble in heart, dependent on Christ, and for the wisdom to know how to share the gift in a way that will give glory to God.

If you are not aware of your spiritual gift or gifts, pray specifically to be shown what it is and for the grace to know how to share it.  Others in the church can help you in that discernment.

In God’s plan, no one person receives all of the gifts, because God wants us to depend upon one another, to build up one another in love.  We need each other in this congregation, this congregation needs the fellowship of other Anglican churches, and each denomination needs the fellowship of the wider holy catholic Church, including the vast tradition we all share, or we will be held back.  The way God distributes his gifts is a part of the way he unites us to one another.

The peace that God wants to bring about is not just a peace within each of our hearts, but a peace with each other in the Church as we share our gifts and benefit from the gifts of others, as we enjoy fellowship with one another in love.

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One of the changes we should expect as we grow in maturity in Christ is a greater use of our spiritual gifts for the building up of the body of Christ.

So let us now prepare ourselves for Holy Communion.  Here we are reconciled with God and come to know deep and abiding peace.  Here Jesus promises to enter the temple that is our heart: to drive out wandering and distracting thoughts, to teach us daily, and to show us our spiritual gifts that we might share them.

Amen +