Bishop Ordinary: Rt Rev Brian R Marsh

Sermon

The Sixth Sunday after Trinity, 2013
Good Shepherd, Charlestown; Trinity Church, Lebanon

Let us Pray:
O God, who for our redemption didst give thine only-begotten Son to the death of the Cross, and by his glorious resurrection hast delivered us from the power of our enemy; Grant us to die daily from sin, that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord
Amen.

 

 

Many of us like to read mystery stories or watch "whodunits" on television or at the movies. We like to figure things out, discover hidden meanings and perhaps use our intelligence to find out the truth. My wife is particularly good at solving such mysteries. We watch movies fairly regularly. She can figure out the plot line of a film very quickly and is not at all reticent about expressing her views. I on the other hand am perfectly content to let the movie simply wash over me and be surprised at the ending.

 

I have had to get used to the fact that perhaps fifteen minutes into a film I will feel a wifely nudge and a whispered: "he's the one; he did it." Then I try to forget what I have heard and get back to enjoying the experience of a movie that, to my way of seeing, is best enjoyed for the surprise element. We both enjoy the movie experience; we simply do so in different ways.

 

This happens with the gospel, too. Some of us approach the good news of Jesus Christ as an intellectual exercise. We try to figure out God's plan. And we are not disappointed. The gospel is so complete and logical that it cannot be denied. God's word is God's word and it is very consistent. But those of us who find in the gospel an understanding of the human heart that is so remarkably true are often surprised by the grace demonstrated in every page and in so many ways. The gospel is designed to reach every human being in every possible way. God knows us and loves us; God created us and wants us with Him. The gospel is His way of bringing us back to Him.

 

In today's gospel reading from St. Luke, we are confronted with a very sad scene. A young man is carried out to a cemetery. He is about to be lowered into the grave. His friends carry him; his grieving mother follows. Many people are there. Jesus observes this scene and has compassion of the mother, who we learn is a widow.

 

This is the picture we first see. We have a very good idea of what this picture might look like. It has likely been painted by the great artists of the past and pictures like this have been hung in churches and museums throughout the world. Artists often painted pictures from the gospel. But many of the great painters of the world were actually very poor. Paint and canvass is expensive to the starving artist. And sometimes those artists would paint over the original painting. The new painting would hide the original, keeping that first incarnation, that first draft from our sight.

 

But, curiously, over time, the image of that first painting may begin to reappear. Out of the shadows, we see once again the original vision of the creator, the original vision of life given to a work of art.

 

We look at this picture of a man carried out of the City of Nain. We study the look on the faces of the people who surround him. We see the looks of pain and of sorrow. But as we study this painting, we notice the earlier design begin to emerge. At first, it is very faint, but as we concentrate our hearts and minds, we notice that the picture is very bright. We notice that God is very present in this picture and that a radiance seems to fill the entire canvass.

 

Both picture, old and new, exist on the identical frame of stretched canvass. Yet how different they appear. We may look at the first painting as the one that God created for us, an Eden of His creation given to us for our use. The newer painting is overlaid with pigment of our own choosing, paint that has covered over that original and very beautiful first painting. We noticed that the newer painting is nowhere near as glorious as the first. And we may wonder why we tried to paint it in the first place.

 

But God, the supreme artist, will always have the last opportunity to give us the correct picture. God will always show us how and where to look. And that is when we see Jesus. He clears away that second painting, reaching into the picture of our own devising, he grasps the hands of a young man and restores him to life. The son of the virgin restores the son of the widow to life again. God comes to renew us, and the church, to the original purpose for which all were created. God brings us once again out of our limited ways of looking at the world and shows us a deeper and profound vision, the true vision of eternal life.

 

The two pictures in this parable from St. Luke could not be more different. We get bogged down in the sorrows and cares of this world. While they are certainly true, they do not represent the fullness of God's vision for us.

 

St. Ambrose wrote of the church as the Sorrowing Mother of this parable, the sorrowing mother who seeks to gather in all the sadness of human life and redeem them through the mediation of Jesus Christ. What is the mystery here? As my wife, Ljuba, might say a few lines into this gospel message: "I know who did it." And I would likely say, in response: "Who did what?" "I know who painted over that first painting." "Yeah," I would say, "I figured it out, too. This time, I got it. Right at the beginning." "Yes," she would likely say, "but you read it before." "Of course," I will say, "but it still surprises me."

 

Let us pray:
Almighty God, who showest to them that are in error the light of thy truth, to the extent that they may return into the way of righteousness; Grant unto all those who are admitted into the fellowship of Christ's religion, that they may avoid those things that are contrary to their profession, and follow all such things as are agreeable to the same; through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Amen.