Trinity 9 – We owe it to ourselves

Make for yourselves friends by means of unrighteous wealth;
so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.
[Lk 16:9]

Have you heard the expression, you owe it to yourself?  Is there a Dutch equivalent?

The Cambridge Online Dictionary says the phrase means “to deserve and need to do something that will be good for you:  [for example] Take a few days off work – you owe it to yourself. 

If we are healthy, we know it is a good thing to treat ourselves well…  If we are to love our neighbours as ourselves, there is an assumption that we know what it is to love ourselves, otherwise we won’t know how to properly love our neighbour.

I’ve been reading Jordan Peterson’s Twelve Rules for Life.  His second rule is related to this: Treat yourself like you would someone you are responsible for helping.

He begins with the example that it seems many people who are prescribed medicine by their doctor for their health do not take it – and this can be a major problem in recovering.  Astonishingly, some people who have received a kidney transplant, choose not to take the drugs that prevent their body from rejecting the new kidney.  The consequences for the person are devastating – all the suffering that went into the waiting months for the new organ, the ongoing dialysis treatments, then the surgery, and the recovery – all is undermined.  He says also that studies show that the level of responsible care that people give to their pets who need medication, is higher than that of people caring for themselves with prescribed medication!

We owe it to ourselves to care for ourselves.  If we would be a good steward of the gift of a body and mind and soul – we need to take the steps necessary to care for ourselves…   Yet we don’t seem to.

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Over the past seven weeks, the Sunday readings have been leading us through a reflection on the various passions of the flesh – Pride, Vainglory, Dejection, Anger, Sloth, Greed – and today there is a trace in the Epistle warning against Gluttony and Lust.  If we follow these passions of the old Adam, the fallen person apart from Christ, we hurt or even destroy ourselves, and we can hurt or even destroy those around us – it is not hard to see.  The proud person is not pleasant to be around and takes no advice, the vainglorious person becomes unkind to those who have gifts in their presence, the dejected person shrinks back from contributing their gifts, the wrathful person destroys fellowship and is cruel, the slothful person is stuck on the path, the greedy person takes away from others and forgets what is most important, the glutton and lustful person… well we’ll look at shortly.

The Epistle and Gospel readings for these last 7 Sundays are God’s Word to us pleading with us to care for ourselves:  we owe it to ourselves and we owe it to the God who made us, to be good stewards of the gifts we’ve been given – body, soul and mind.  We are made for love, and self-care is a part of that love. Restraining and rightly directing our thoughts and desires brings about our flourishing and the flourishing of those around us.  If we take no care to restrain ourselves, it can lead to our destruction.  We owe it to ourselves to care for ourselves.

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The Adoration of the Golden Calf, Nicolas Poussin, 1633-37

Paul reminds us in today’s Epistle [1 Corinthians 10:1-13] of the Israelites, God’s chosen people, brought out of slavery in Egypt by the strong hand of God, were led by Moses through the wilderness.  They were loved by God – and yet many of them perished on the way.  He says it is a warning to Christians – we are not to forget the responsibility God gives us to act according to our belief. If we fail to attend to the call to be holy in our actions we will not be made ready to be glorified by God, to see Him face to face in the life to come.

The Word of God warns about this consistently!

Last Sunday Jesus says:

Not everyone who says, Lord, Lord, [that is, those who confess with their mouth that they are believers] shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of my Father… [St Matthew 7:21] and,

“Every tree that brings not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire!” [St Matthew 7:19]

Elsewhere Jesus says, Many are called but few are chosen.  [St Matthew 22:1-14]

This morning:  Paul says, Nevertheless, with most of them [the people of Israel brought out of Egypt] God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. [1 Cor 10:5]

The warnings are there because God loves us and would have us choose the ways of life – Love is warning us that we can destroy ourselves if we are careless!  Don’t so rely on our justification in Christ that we fail to attend to our need for sanctification – Let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. [1 Cor 10:12]

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So what about the vices of gluttony and lust? 

Gluttony has been defined in the tradition as too much, or too often, or too delicately.

Too much – is always eating more than one needs to live – it makes us spiritually sleepy and unhealthy.

Too often – is thinking too much about food and using the encouragement we receive from it to boost our spirits, instead of being sustained through the ups and downs by our faith.

Too delicately – is giving too much attention to what we eat.  This is not about those taking great care for health reasons to what they eat – that is prudence, but it is an overemphasis on taste and flavour.  We need to be aware of how much time and space food takes up in our thinking and living.  Not too much, not too little, a right balance for our health.

As I’ve said before, Augustine says, think of food as like medicine [Confessions Bk X, Ch xxxi, para 44] – we take it, and we figure out what best works for us – so we’re alert, healthy, and not obsessed with it, ready to pray, to think, able to love.

Lust has been defined in the Scriptures as unlawful sexual relations.  We argue about this in the Church today – and as most of you are aware, I’m unconvinced by arguments to change the definitions from what the Church has always taught: sexual relations are to be limited to between a man and a woman and within marriage.  I’m most willing to meet to discuss this further with anyone if they would like to know why I hold this view and to hear your thoughts. (for more detail on this see a sermon on Lust or Love)  But I’m sure we can all agree that not everything goes, there needs to be restraints on the outward expression of our sexual desire and on the inward thoughts of our minds.

In Paul’s recollection of the people of Israel falling into gluttony and lust in the wilderness the two are connected – “they sat down to eat and drink, they rose up to play.” And so in the Tradition, an antidote prescribed to those with desire out of control in either of these ways has been: first, fasting from time to time of the body combined with prayer, and, secondly, a careful attention to what we put into our minds – care about what we read or the images we see in the world, and now on the internet or in movies or on TV.  Jesus reminds us to take care not just of our outward actions but of what we are thinking when we look at others.  In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says, if a man looks lustfully upon a woman, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  We hurt ourselves and others if we look lustfully on another and if we dwell on lustful thoughts inwardly.  It can spoil the possibility of true friendship and of intimacy, it dehumanizes the other, and makes us less human, it is being unfaithful.

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As human beings, we are subject to all of passions of the flesh – it is part of being human and fallen.  And although our desires can be out of control or wrongly directed, desire itself is not sinful, but is the gift of life and when properly directed becomes love. We in no way want to eliminate desire, that would be to eliminate the possibility of love.  By grace, we want to see our desire released and directed aright. And when we get our desire directed right, God will give us even more!

We owe it to ourselves to care for ourselves.  And we owe it to God to be good stewards of the desire God gives us.

The Unjust Steward, Marinus-van-Reymerswales

In this morning’s Gospel [St Luke 16:1-9], Jesus tells a parable that is strange at first – he seems to be commending the unrighteous steward for making shady deals, but I hope with this background we can make some sense of it.

As one preacher puts it:

The lesson Jesus is teaching in telling this parable is simply this: As worldly people — “the children of this age” — are prudent in doing what is necessary to attain their worldly ends, so should “the children of light” be prudent in doing what is necessary to attain “everlasting habitations”.  The unrighteous steward used worldly goods… to provide himself with a worldly refuge.  The children of light must use their worldly goods, which must finally fail, in such a way as to prepare for their everlasting habitation…. [for heaven]. [The Rev Dr Robert Crouse, Sermon for Trinity 9]

We could say, that our worldly goods include our desire.  If we are wasting it – spending it wrongly or excessively – we can make a deal with ourselves – I’m going to cut back in such a way so that I can pray better, that I can be more healthy and active, that I may have more time and energy to direct it towards truly love God and my neighbour.

…our Christian calling, our spiritual life, must not be some vague, unrealistic dream, but must rather be a matter of decisive, practical action day by day; that the children of light must be prudent–that is to say, practically wise–in their quest for the “everlasting habitations” to which they are called. [The Rev Dr Robert Crouse, Sermon for Trinity 9]

We are called to dwell eternally with God and with the whole host of heaven – that is a place of liveliness and intimacy unimaginable to our present minds and hearts. We owe it to ourselves, we owe it to God, to make ourselves ready for this highest gift.

Jesus will bring us there if we allow the working of his grace to turn our thoughts and desires into true acts of love.

Let us prepare ourselves through repentance and faith, to partake of the divine nature – even the body and blood of Jesus Christ – that we may think and do always such things as are rightful [Collect for Trinity 9] – and be received into the everlasting habitations.

Amen +