Jesus entered into a boat, and passed over, and came into his own city…
And he said to the paralytic, Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.
We are looking at the deepening of our walk with God as we come to these final Sundays in Trinity season.
Our students have decided that the focus of their Bible studies will continue with the theme of last year’s Bible studies: they first looked at the virtues now they are focussing on the vices. It is about putting off what is a vice and putting on what is a virtue – a choice day in and day out to participate in the work God is doing in making us holy. As we participate in God’s work we are made a new creation.
St Paul speaks in the Epistle today (Ephesians 4:17-32) about that work of putting off vice and putting on virtue. Notice that in his call he is clear it is not about putting desire to death but the transforming of desire, the taking of whatever it is that we were doing wrong and now in Christ doing what is right with that desire…
- if we were speaking lies and falsehood before with our mouths, we are not told to no longer speak, but instead now to speak the truth;
- if anger was our vice before, we are not told to no longer be angry, but rather when anger arises to deal with it in a new way – not holding on to it so that it leads to resentment and bitterness and depression. He says, do not let the sun go down on it, that is, deal with it quickly;
- if bitterness, wrath and anger and slander were our vice, now let the same energy be turned into acts of kindness, tender-heartedness, and forgiveness;
- if corrupt talk was our vice, again, we’re not to be silent, but now to use our words to build up instead of tearing down;
- if we gave ourselves up to lust, as in the case of the people in Sodom in our first lesson (Genesis 18:23-32), an example of carnally mindedness, we are not to stop loving but rather to now love in a chaste way, in ways that God shows us brings life.
The key to this transformation, is to realize that it is not about trying to catch our outward actions only, but we are to look at the thoughts of our hearts – what is going on within our minds – Paul says, Be renewed in the spirit of your minds.
Are you aware of the thoughts that are going on within, of your inner motivations? Are we including these in our confessions? I’m not speaking of temptations in our thoughts – Jesus was tempted by the devil with wrong ideas, but he simply put that aside. But if we dwell on sinful thoughts or temptations that arise in our minds so that we are enjoying them, it is for us a sin. For example, if we dwell on our anger, even enjoying our resentment and hatred, it becomes for us a sin. Are we asking God continually to bring about the purifying of our thoughts? Bringing every thought into captivity to Christ?
The sinful actions we regret that happen outwardly in our lives, always begin with the thoughts in our mind. We need to attend to the tiny rudder that is steering the whole ship. You don’t try to change the direction of the ship by some actions in front of the ship, you look to the rudder. Or think of when you drive a car – you wouldn’t try to go to the front of the car to change it’s directions – you go to mind of the driver!
In the innermost aspect of our souls, we must attend to the rudder. There we turn our minds to face God, and we hold the rudder fast directing our mind’s eye to God. Does this sound at all frightening?
What could possibly stop this transformation inwardly, in our heart of hearts? What could prevent us from the change in the direction of the rudder in our innermost being? What is it that could cause such paralysis?
One thing could be that we have simply not looked within to see the thoughts of our hearts – this is vital, a key aspect of our growth in Christ and of our growth in holiness. Without this turn to look within, we will just find ourselves continually surprised and disappointed by what happens outwardly in our lives. It is as if we were looking at a ship that seems destined for destruction without being able to stop it – it is that place where St Paul says – the good that I want to do, I cannot do, but the very thing I hate, that’s what I do, who will save me from this body of death? He then shouts the answer, Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7)
The lawlessness within can be changed, but it requires looking within, repenting of the evil we see, and keeping our mind’s eye fixed on Christ. This call to repentance is something we understand perhaps better at the beginning of our life in Christ, but it is relevant at the midpoint and at the end of our earthly lives – our whole life is one of repentance and faith.
In the Gospel this morning (St Matthew 9:1-8), some people bring their friend, who is paralyzed, to Jesus for healing. Now Jesus did not come to earth to end every paralysis of body – there are many people today who have great faith but remain paralyzed. But Jesus did this miracle to point out his power, to show that he is the Messiah, but also to reveal a universal truth about why He has come. It has to do with our souls.
He tells us exactly why he chose to heal this man of paralysis: it is to show that he has even greater power – to show he has authority on earth to forgive sins.
Now why not show that he has this power in the context of healing a man who is blind? Or has leprousy? Or when he was raising the dead?
Similar miracles happens in different accounts in the gospels, but in each case there is a connection made between paralysis of the body and forgiveness of sins. There must be some a connection. It is this:
While we remain frightened within ourselves that we might not be forgiven some sin, we remain bound up, we remained paralyzed in our inner self, that inner man – unable to grow, possibly bound by repeating the same sin. We may be too frightened to look within – so how could we repent? Or if we look and do not believe we can be forgiven, we will stay in a state of fear and inner condemnation, unable to change – and the devil would bind in this kind of thinking. We will not yet be free to live more fully in a new way, in the way of love.
In fact we will not even see the inner thoughts of our hearts to confess them if we are afraid to look there. We may live in self-denial, going about our lives as if nothing is wrong, but in our heart of hearts we know it. And the rudder is still broken, and it won’t be fixed in any other way, than allowing the light of God’s truth to penetrate to core of our being, to reveal our sin, that we might confess it, trust in Jesus offering of himself, and really know that we are forgiven.
It is only then that we can we go to our home. The early Church commentators saw these words of Jesus to the paralyzed man as significant – why did he tell him to go to his house? Why not, Follow me, or Go to a priest, or Give praise to God? Why, Arise, pick up your bed, and go to your house? Gregory the Great suggests it is a call to return within to our heart of hearts, and not to avoid, but to rest there, looking upon God face to face, without being afraid. Or, because we are in the mind of God, that the call to go to our home is to rest in God. In this home, our true home, we will know renewal in the spirit of our minds. Putting off vice and putting on virtue will be possible, we will see the new self appear, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Jesus says he did this miracle, “That you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”. He says, “on earth”, that means, we needn’t wait for the final judgement, but Jesus can forgive us now, and he has given authority to his Church to assure the forgiveness of sins on earth… today, so that we can experience new life even now in all its fullness.
Jesus has left to the Church this ministry of reconciliation – and to his people to participate in that ministry.
In the Anglican tradition, we always have a general confession in the Communion service so that you can bring before God your sins – very specific things (that’s why we have a moment of silence). We mustn’t just go through the motions, but take seriously this opportunity to unburden our hearts and continue to grow in grace and freedom in Christ. You can also speak with a friend, and many find this a good way to be mutually accountable [James 5:16]. In the Anglican tradition you can also come before a priest to confess sins – our teaching is that all may, none must, and some should. Those who should are those who are still not sure if they can be forgiven – the task of the priest is to assure the person, yes that too can be forgiven.
And the priest may also be able to give spiritual council. The confession is sealed, it cannot be spoken about, even under the compulsion of the state (should it so desire). You are welcome to avail yourself of this ministry in the church and some people do – just call me, or another priest, if you prefer, or share with a friend in Christ, or use the opportunity in the general confession.
As Christians we all know the joy of entering more fully into a life of repentance and faith. As a priest I have the privilege of seeing others relieved and being able to move forward in their life of faith – either in confession or through Holy Communion. The soul is so beautiful and complex and the ministry of reconciliation is one of the gifts left by our Lord. And this morning we can all experience a further relieving and healing in today’s service of Holy Communion.
And as we know God’s forgiveness ever more deeply within us, it becomes so much more natural for us to be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving of one another, as God is Christ forgives us.