Anglican Church in America
Bishop Ordinary: Rt Rev Brian R Marsh

 

Third Sunday after Trinity, 2017
Good Shepherd, Charlestown; Trinity Church, Lebanon

 

Let us Pray: O God, the protector of all that trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy Increase and multiply upon us thy mercy; that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal. Grant this, O heavenly Father, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Ljuba and I have just returned from Ohio, where we spent time with our daughter and son-in-law and, of course, our grandson, Jack. Jack is now preparing for baptism. And he and I have had some interesting conversations about soteriology – that's a fancy word for the study of salvation. We have discussed the Trinity. I have thrown in a few quotes from Shakespeare and did my best to prepare him for the important occasion of his baptism. The conversations at this point are mostly one-sided. But he was polite. Like other people who listen politely to what I have to say, he appeared attentive. And when he had had enough, he very honestly – and loudly – called out for food. Or something else. But I suspect that Jack, having come so recently from God, perhaps knows more than I do about the life of the spirit than I. He hasn't yet begun to forget.

 

Jack reminded me of this important concept. That is one reason why I selected the sermon collect for today. In that collect, we pray that we may pass through things temporal that we lose not those things that are eternal. It is a wonderful reminder that we have an immortal soul that is bound to a temporal body. And we do – very often – forget that immortal part.

 

As I was preparing for my trip to Ohio this past week, I picked up the mail. There was a new copy of the "Anglican Digest." I had no time to read it, but I did flip through the pages quickly. There was a heading to one of the articles. It was the only thing I read. The title was this: "Christianity is not an idea." I dropped the stack of mail and headed to the airport. But that title stayed with me. I believe that phrase completely. Yes, Christianity is filled with ideas; theology has lots of them. We have lots of ideas about Christianity; we have lots of ideas about Jesus Christ. But Christianity is not and idea it is not an abstract concept. It is more real than the things we consider real in this temporal life. And they are real, too.

 

Sometimes, we confuse the temporal and the eternal. The Pharisees do it all the time. I am sure Jesus felt a good deal of frustration with his kinsman, his closest temporal relatives who just couldn't seem to grasp that one among them was the Incarnate God they longed for. But there He is, standing right there in front of them.

 

I suspect that there is a good deal of humor in heaven. Maybe because I do not always subscribe to a Calvinist way of life, I think heaven must be a joyful place, a place where we may, with great generosity of spirit, laugh at the mistakes we have made in this life. But St. Luke captures some of this humor. At the beginning of today's Gospel reading, St. Luke tells the story of how the scribes and Pharisees murmured among themselves, scandalized that Jesus was receiving sinners ("God forbid!") and eating with them ("What would God say to that!"). Of course, the irony is that the Scribes and Pharisees are sinners, too. And they are the ones Jesus has come to save to bring them back to God; to remind them that they must remember the things eternal that they have forgotten.

 

But Jesus is not harsh with his relatives. He doesn't point to them, as John the Baptist might, calling them a pit of vipers. Rather, Jesus tells them the stories of the lost sheep and the lost coin. He gives them a lesson in soteriology that they will, hopefully, remember. And, at some future time, laugh at their own failings.

 

The Gospel message often seems counter intuitive. We are so fixed upon numbers and statistics and critical mass that we often forget that God calculates things on a different scale. When it comes to salvation, it is always one. "There is joy in the presence of angels over one sinner that repenteth." Jesus doesn't say anything about the ten million repentance quota God made last year. He joys in each one. Think about that; repentance and salvation are not anonymous actions. They are known by God. They are celebrated in heaven. Individually. One by one.

 

I did have wonderful conversations with my grandson, Jack, this past week, but I also had another conversation that has stayed with me. On the brief flight from Hartford to DC, I sat next to a guy named Steve. That's his real name, so you know precisely who I am talking about. Our plane was delayed. It was a United flight, so we both began telling each other about the nightmare experiences we each had experienced with that carrier. Now, we had another worry; would we make our connecting flights. Steve works in IT. He was flying to LA to sell the software his firm makes. He is a contemporary kind of guy. And I made all sorts of assumptions about him. Then he asked what I did. So I told him. Then he changed. He began to tell me the story of his journey. How he had found Jesus. And how real his life had now become. It was a remarkable story of witness. I told Steve about something I had read earlier in the day. I asked him what he thought about the phrase: "Christianity is not an idea." "It's not an idea," he said, "It's the real thing." I couldn't agree more.

 

The parables St. Luke writes about are not ideas; they are God's way of teaching human life the reality of eternity, the truth of God's love. St. Ambrose was very inspired by these parables. "The two parables," he wrote, "are written to heal our wounds, for they represent the divine remedy that comes from the Trinity, the father representing God the father, the shepherd Christ and the woman the Church." He goes on to write that "The lost coin that is found is faith restored and the redemption of the soul."

 

I finally did read that article, "Christianity is not an Idea." It told the harrowing story of a family's brush with death. It was dramatic and moving. And the article closed with these words: "Christianity is not an idea. It is about a man who took on our flesh out of fierce love and this love has been revealed to be the most durable element in the universe..."

 

Next time I have a deep conversation with Jack, I will bring up the most durable element. But, in a way, perhaps he already knows.

Amen.