Whereas last Sunday we celebrated the glories and perfection of the Eternal Trinity, today we take a step back and look at the sins and inclinations of mortal man. It makes for quite a contrast. And I think that is a good and beneficial thing. Our post-lapsarian [i.e. our life after the commission (or fall or lapse, hence the expression) of Original Sin] existence is the key to understanding Christian anthropology. Without this common, received, understanding, the task of teaching and passing on the faith becomes exponentially more difficult. Thus the Lectionary has a noticeable evangelistic function as well as its practical uses in that it allows us to return to this essential theme and its consequences repeatedly in the principle context in which the Scriptures are to be encountered, proclaimed, and expounded – public, liturgical worship.
Bearing that in mind, within the bounds of the 1st Lesson for Morning Prayer and the Epistle and Gospel appointed for today, we encounter some teaching and exhortation on discernment and mindfulness in how we approach what we say, what we think, and what we do.
Firstly, consider this from Jeremiah 23:32, "Behold, I am against them that prophesy false dreams, saith the Lord, and do tell them, and cause my people to err by their lies, and by their lightness; yet I sent them not, nor commanded them: therefore they shall not profit this people at all, saith the Lord." Let's be honest, we like to lie. And there are many reasons why: to avoid blame and/or consequences, to deflect our own sense of shame, to gain social or economic advantage, because it is expected ('everyone else does it'), and I'm sure a myriad of other excuses can be proffered. It seems easy, and there is a certain thrill in 'getting away with it'. But it is problematic not simply because it is unethical and immoral, though that is certainly the case. In his novel "Love in the Ruins" (which is curiously apposite for our current situation), Walker Percy has his main character (Dr. Thom More) reflect on the nature of lying: "When I left the hospital, I resolved not to lie. Lying cuts one off. Lying to someone is like blindfolding him: you cannot see the other's eyes to see how he sees you and so you do not know how it stands with yourself." And in that cutting off of the self, we express (however subconsciously) a desire to remove ourselves from the communion of the Church, from the communion of the saints, and from our participation in the life to come. We take up the example of the tempter in Genesis rather than the Saviour in the Gospels. "But let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No, 'No.' For whatever is more than these is from the evil one." (Matt. 5:37, NKJV)
Secondly, "If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?" (1 Jn. 4:20) It's pretty rare that any of us would come right out and say "I hate you" to anyone. But it is awfully easy to accuse, to willfully misunderstand, to think that we have a complete perspective and have nothing further to learn. In other words, I may not say I hate you, but I sure think it. I, like most of us, have experienced all of these things. In the 14 years since I have been ordained, and in the 10 years in and out of formation programs before that, I have been accused of various heresies, yelled at by a parishioner about a matter of which she had insufficient knowledge, been told I needed to see a psychiatrist to sort out my "head/heart issues", told I was not open to the formation program, asked to place my trust in people who proved themselves (quite publicly and as a matter of record) to be untrustworthy, and the list can go on. Let me state quite clearly, I am not seeking pity or to exonerate myself. I am a weak and sinful man. I don't know everything. I have to live with mental health issues. It comes natural to me to remember and hold onto resentments. No, I don't tick off most of the boxes that have been placed on the list of the "perfect priest". And, maybe they were right who thought I shouldn't have been ordained. I am not a corporate man, I don't follow the crowd, I dislike coffee hour, I am aware of my difficulties. But when I stand at the altar and look at the cross, I am reminded that if we were not so deeply broken, there would have been no such need for a deeply radical atonement to be made for us. And yet the fact remains that precisely such an atonement has been made. And that is why I hope and keep struggling to the end.
Lately, I have been thinking much about the petition in the Lord's Prayer "as we forgive those who trespass against us". In Greek these 'trespassers' are opheiletēs (i.e. debtors, those who owe an obligation). It is deeply, and sadly, ironic that it comes so naturally to us to accuse others of not meeting their obligations and refuse to see that we ourselves are in the same boat. (cf. Matt. 18: 21-35) Perhaps now is a good season for practicing a deeper self-examination for us all and of seeking forgiveness where it needs to be sought and applied.
As to what we do, "And it came to pass, that [Lazarus] died and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, as was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom." (Luke 17: 22-23). Fr. Stephen Freeman, commenting on this parable, has said: "The point of the parable is found in its end: 'If they have not listened to Moses and the Prophets, neither would they listen to someone even if he came back from the dead.' It is not a parable about the topography of the after-life, but a comment about our present life and our unwillingness to hear the gospel....If you want to know the way to go – if you want to know how things work – then you have to know the heart of God. You have to know God himself. And this is all that we need to know for life here – and life hereafter. God Himself is our heaven – and in the teachings of the Fathers – God Himself is our hell – for hell is nothing other than our self-imposed refusal to accept the love of God. It is that refusal that brings its own torment. If we have the eyes to see – we are already traveling the roads of heaven and hell – already dwelling in the bosom of Abraham or in the torments of Hades. The geography of that journey is the geography of love and mercy, kindness and forgiveness – or contrary – hatred and judgment, violence, self-conceit, slander and calumny." (blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2 godforallthings/2011/10/19/the-geography-of-heaven-and-hell/)
Just to add a quick addendum to this analysis to bring it in contact with my main point, the trouble for the rich man is again a willed cutting off of common cause (i.e. communion) with Lazarus. His wealth and position, giving him a sense of security, allowed him to ignore that which cannot be set aside, the encounter with humanity itself.
As a side note, I would counsel you specifically that, with regard to the present social upheavals in our country, while the politics themselves are ontologically irrelevant, the people involved are not, even those you disagree with.
In conclusion, Trinity Sunday and that immediately following are two great pillars exemplifying a reliable, orthodox Christian anthropology. As it is demonstrated in the theology and worship of the Church, so must it specifically leave its mark in the lives of individual believers, and that as manifested in what we say, what we think, and what we do. "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another." (1 Jn. 4:10-11)