The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
by W.J. Hankey
from COMMON PRAYER, Volume Six: Parochial Homilies
for the Eucharist
Based on the Lectionary of the Book of Common
Prayer, 1962, Canada.
St. Peter Publications
Inc. Charlottetown, PEI, Canada. Reprinted with permission of
“Love your enemies. . . that ye may be children of your
Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and
on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust.” (Matthew
Today’s gospel is one of Jesus’ many parables about the Kingdom of Heaven,
the community under God’s rule, and is intended to tell us about the nature
of his Church. As it happens, it is of special interest to us as
Anglicans, not only because of the way we have always understood the Church,
but also because of the difficulty involved in explaining our Church and
building up its life at this particular time when all around us Christianity
is understood so differently.
The parable is simplicity itself. The Kingdom of God is compared
to a man who sowed wheat and whose enemy came and planted weeds, tares,
among it. When the seeds grow, the workers notice the weeds among
the wheat and propose to weed the field, an impossibility without destroying
much of the wheat. The owner forbids his over zealous workers, commanding
that the wheat and the weeds be allowed to grow together until the harvest.
Then they will be separated by the reapers, who will burn the weeds and
gather the wheat into the owner’s barn, It is a story simple and clear:
the good and bad must live together in the world until the end lest, in
trying to separate them out, many good souls be destroyed.
It is simple and clear, yet, in the past, and especially now, very many
Christians have not been content to live in churches open to the world
in this way. They have sought to separate themselves from their weaker
brothers and sisters, to set a mark on the good which would enable them
to be gathered here and now out of the evil, away from the bad. But Anglicans
have always refused to recognize any simple test of who was in the Kingdom
and who out, whom God intended to save and those who would perish.
Anglicans have gone on smoking and drinking and paying the Church $20.00
per year, while their holier neighbours turned from such wickedness and
even went to the extremity of tithing. Anglicans feel themselves and others
to be part of the church even if they have had no special experience of
conversion, or no certain assurance of personal salvation. The public ordinances
of Christ’s Church have been sufficient: the converting water and sanctifying
spirit given to all brought to Baptism, or seeking it in Confirmation,
and the assurance of God’s love and care conveyed in the sacrament of the
Body and Blood of Christ.
And if no special holiness, no mark of moral purity, no particular experiences
enable the Anglican Church to select its members and God’s chosen people
from among the generality of the community, so also does no definite confession
of particular points chosen out of traditional Christian doctrine mark
us off from other believers, from other members of Christ’s Holy Catholic
Church. We are not fundamentalists, that is, we have not picked out particular
teachings as fundamental. Nor do we try to build a church life so totally
preoccupying that people are involved in the church and its activities
for the greatest part of their weekly hours.
There are the obvious organizations: the Sunday School, associations
for the young, for married couples, groups for men and women, the Parish
Corporation, etc., but basically after church you must go away and live
your Christian life in the world with the rest of men. No artificial world
is gathered together here in the church to keep the elect separate from
the world’s pollution.
Nor do we propose to give the world a simple solution, one that is easy
and immediately applicable to all its problems. Anglicans don’t know
what the solutions to our energy or economic problems are. Nor even
do we have a technique for solving psychological ills and the problems
of interpersonal relations. With God’s help all these problems must
be worked out by men labouring to employ with others, good and bad, the
gifts God gave all for the common good.
This Anglicanism may seem a poor Christianity: negative, cold, bland,
lacking seriousness either morally or religiously, without evangelical
fire or a mission. But the opposite is the case. We Anglicans have a great
mission in the present time, a time in which religion is more and more
something private, irrational, exclusive, self-righteous, and busy-body.
As traditional Anglicans we have a mission and a duty to testify to God’s
love as something operative in all men, something known publicly and rationally,
and as a rule and kingdom reaching out to include and embrace. His is a
kingdom which is content to have its sons and daughters living among the
evil in the world for their own good as well as its. The ideal of the Anglican
Church is described by its classic theologian Richard Hooker thus:
We hold that seeing there is not any man of the Church of England but
the same man is also a member of the commonwealth; nor any man a member
of the commonwealth, which is not also of the Church of England; therefore
as in a figure triangular the base doth differ from the sides thereof,
and yet one and the self-same line is both a base and also a side; a side
simply, a base if it chance to be the bottom and underlie the rest: so
albeit properties and actions of one kind do cause the name of a commonwealth,
qualities and functions of another sort the name of a Church, to be given
unto a multitude, yet one and the self-same multitude may in such sort
be both. (The Laws of the Ecclesiastical Polity, VIII, i.2).
The church and the community should be coterminous.
We Anglicans remain in the world and do not cut ourselves off from our
neighbours. We are not so certain about ourselves that we are saved.
“Our transgressions are with us, our sins are known to us” (Isaiah 59.12)
as Isaiah says. With St. Paul, we “work out our salvation with fear
and trembling” (Philippians 2.12), through the tests and trials of life
in the world. Futhermore, we are not sure that our neighbours are
damned. It is hard to tell weeds from wheat when both are young and
there is always hope that even the weed may turn out useful in the end.
Finally, Christ’s Kingdom can only be made real in our common daily life
if we are prepared to labour together with others using everybody’s talents
and hoping in the God whose universal love makes the rain to fall on the
just and unjust, and the sun to shine on the good and the bad alike.
We live now not by knowledge of the particulars of God’s providential plan,
but by faith and hope in his promises. We are united not by a knowledge
of what is wheat and what weed, who is saved and who damned, but by the
word of his promise and the sacraments of his grace by which he reaches
out to give himself equally and freely to all men so that in the end all
may be gathered into his barn. Then, each may join with the holy
angels praising and honouring God in his eternal Kingdom, and giving to
Father, Son and Spirit his due.