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A Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

by Dr. Robert Crouse

King’s College Chapel, Halifax, 1992

 

And above all these things put on charity which is the bond of perfectness.

Col. 3:14

 

This is hardly the season for much activity in the garden, but it is perhaps the season for perusing the seed catalogues and considering what you’d like to see in your garden next summer.  Most gardeners, I think, take pleasure in a neat and tidy garden:  the carrots growing in straight rows, like soldiers on parade, the tomato plants neatly pruned and staked, and so on; and above all, not a weed in sight.  We certainly won’t plant any weeds.

 

But, alas, weeds are insidious,  and diabolically clever.  They sneak in somehow and contrive to disguise themselves among the plants, and before you know it they’ve reached such proportions that you really can’t remove them without destroying the plants.  Sometimes kind friends offer to help me with the weeding, but I must confess to sharing the reservations of the farmer in our Gospel lesson:  it’s a hazardous operation, and maybe it’s impossible to remove the weeds without severe damage to the plants.  Perhaps it’s really best to let them grow together until harvest time.  Today’s parable is good advice for compulsive weeders, and if you should visit my garden in the summer, you would note that it’s advice I take very much to heart.

 

But of course the parable is not really about gardens, it’s about people, about the mixture of good and evil in human life and human community, and about God’s judgement.   God is the farmer, who instructs his servants to be patient with the weeds, lest in their zeal to eradicate the weeds, they destroy the wheat as well.  The separation of the tares from the wheat must wait until the harvest; that is to say, it must wait upon God’s judgement.

 

Therefore, God’s servants must not be hasty in judgement and condemnation; rather, as St. Paul says in the Epistle lesson, they must put on “mercy and compassion, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering, forbearing one another and forgiving one another, if any have a complaint against any, even as the Lord forgave you, so also do ye.”  God, thank God, is not a compulsive weeder, and we had better beware of trying to usurp his judgement.  As Dante puts it, in the Paradiso; (XIII, 130-135)

Let no one be too self-assured

In judging early, as one who would count the rows

Of green blades in the field ere they matured

For I have seen how first the wild-briar shows

Her sprays, all winter through, thorny and stark

And then upon the topmost bears the rose.

“And above all these things,” says St. Paul, “put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness,”  for it is only thus that the Church, God’s household, as our collect says, is kept in pure religion.  The point is clear and simple, and need not be belaboured here, and I think the practical applications of it in our relationships with one another are obvious enough if we are willing to see them.

 

The season of Epiphany is longer or shorter, depending upon the date of Easter, and this year this fifth Sunday is the end of the season.  The essential message of the whole season is an explication of the meaning of God’s Incarnation.  Thus the Gospel lessons are all about the manifestation of divine wisdom and divine power in Jesus Christ – divine wisdom and divine power miraculously transforming human life and human community.  The Epistle lessons always present some aspect of transformation, some aspect of divine life manifest in our life; and today’s lesson sums all that up in the terms of the divine gift of charity.

 

“And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness”; for that is the Epiphany of divine life in us.

 

Amen. +