St Stephen's Lewisham
July 12th, 1992 and
Year C Week 15
The Outward Journey
Deuteronomy 30: 10-14
Colossians 1: 15 to 20
Luke 10: 25-37
The three readings today describe what might be called "our outward journey".
They tell us howl by starting from our inmost self we can come to know God.
Some people say that to begin anything with ourselves is to begin at the wrong point. Such advisers use the word selfish a great deal, there idea being that selfishness is always a bad thing and wrong.
But there are two sorts of selfishness: the Higher and the Lower. The Lower sort is indeed earthbound. If we follow it we shall never get anywhere, least of all closer to God
The higher sort of selfishness is more like a launching pad. For most of us it is the only point to begin from. We must begin from where we are right now.
This is what the first reading said. The starting point is not in heaven so you need to wonder "who will go up to heaven for us to bring it down"; nor is it beyond the seas so that you need to wonder "who will cross and the seas for us and bring it back to us so that we may hear it and keep it? No, the Word is very near to you in your mouth and in your heart".
And what is that Word which it speaks of?
Well it can best be described as a longing: an appetite like being hungry or thirsty. But we aren't looking for food and drink but what the Bible calls "Righteousness".
It's the longing that says to people "surely there's more to life than I discovered so far?" or "surely I can do better than this". It's what Jesus meant when he said to us "be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect".
What he did not mean is that we have got to reach some standard of goodness before he will have anything to do with us. That would make people like me give up at the start.
No. "Be perfect "means "Beginning right now start cultivating that appetite, that hunger and thirst after righteousness which is in your heart. When you do wrong, or fail to do right, say it yourself "surely I can do better than this"; or if you begin to feel self-satisfied and righteous to say yourself "surely there's more to life than I'm experiencing, satisfying though it is."
That's what to the first reading means when it talks about "the law in our hearts", and the starting point for most of us will be a simple series of rules of life that we try to stick to. A Rule of life, preferably drawn up with someone else's help, is the starting point.
But the Law, all the Rule of Life is only a starting point. St Paul calls it a "schoolmaster to bring us to Christ". It is not an end in itself. If we make it so well we shall always remain earthbound.
The lift-off comes in the second lesson. It tells us that besides being ourselves, we are to know Christ Jesus. For he is the "image of the unseen God in whom all things in heaven and earth were created, he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead... because God wanted all perfection to be found in him and all things to be reconciled through him and for him."
We are to know Christ Jesus who holds all things together. How we to know him? Well says Saint Paul, the Church is his body he is it's head. If we have become part of that body, if we incorporate ourselves with it as we are doing this morning, and if we read its Scriptures or writings and listen to them, if we keep its teaching; if in the words of Cardinal Newman we
.... hold in veneration
For the love of him a loan
Holy Church as his creation
And her teachings as his own.
If we do all these things then we shall be raised to life together with him. We shall be risen with Christ seeking the things which are above "where Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father" as St Paul says later on in the same Epistle to the Colossians.
But there is a catch. And the Gospel for today, the Good Samaritan helps to point it out.
The catch is this. Being risen with Christ, being raised with him to the heavenly places, or as we say in the mass "Lift up your hearts: we lift them up to the Lord" does indeed join us "with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven to Praise God "; it transports us to the right hand of the Father where Christ is seated in majesty to be there with him.
But then we have to come back to earth and, like the Good Samaritan, tend to the needs of the first wounded person we come across. We have to live that life in Christ Jesus in the everyday Monday-to-Saturday world.
This brings us back down to earth with a bump. Remember Christ did not enter glory without suffering death on the cross. We do not into glory without having to live with the daily burdens of cherishing children, earning a living, paying bills, catching colds, carrying one another's troubles, encouraging the faint hearted, forgiving those will trespass against us even as God for Christ's sake has forgiven us.
It's a two-way journey all the time: up to heaven with Christ and then down again to earth with the dirty nappy the overdue gas bill and the cantankerous mother-in-law.
Some people try to tell us that Christianity is only about being kind to one neighbour and doing good:
So many gods, so many Creeds
So many parts that wind and wind
While just the art of being kind
Is all the sad world needs.
They're quite wrong of course. The scribe had got it right, as Jesus said, when he recited the two commandments "Love the Lord your God with all your heart" and "love your neighbour as yourself" "You answered right said Jesus do this and life is yours ".
Take away the duty to love God, take away the vision of Christ and being risen together with him; take away the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven what are we left with? Nothing but ourselves!
"But, " say these well-meaning but misguided teachers of the Social Gospel "you must be unselfish". So what does that leave us with? If we take away Ourselves it leaves us with nothing, zilch zero. Coming from nowhere, going to nowhere.
Jesus and Saint Paul and the great teachers of the faith have known better than to try and get people to follow a Gospel like that.
They begin with people as they are. They teach them to distinguish between the higher and the lower selfishness. They help them make a rule to live by. They teach them how to lift-off spiritually in Christ. But they never fail to bring them back to earth again to work out their faith in compassion and ministry to their neighbours.
There is one big difference between those like Jesus and Saint Paul teach people to seek for things which are above and those like the earthbound Social Gospellers who try to insist that we should keep our feet on this earth of all the time.
The difference is this. By and large the Up-to-heaven-and-back-to-earth commuters get things done, and persevere even when in don't succeed. The Social Gospellers when the going gets difficult just give up!
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