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The Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity

by R.D. Crouse

St. James' Church - October 6, 1985


"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart,

and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength,"


"Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself."




The teaching of the Church for these Sundays after Trinity seeks always to set before us the practical demands of our life as Christians. The series of scripture lessons, Sunday by Sunday, presents us over and over again with the question: How must we, as Christians, live our lives in this world?  What must be our attitudes; what must be the character of our relationships with one another, within and outside the Church?  What must be our hopes and expectations?  What must our conduct be in this or that situation?


The Scripture lessons answer such questions in the most profoundly practical way; but, of course, the answers are practical for us only in so far as we are willing to think seriously about the meaning of those lessons, and only in so far as we are willing to relate that meaning to the concrete circumstances of our own individual lives.  No one else can really do it for us.  Thoughtful Bible study should help us do it; sermons, and other kinds of instruction should help us, too; but finally, it comes down to this: these lessons will be meaningful- and relevant to us only in so far as we are ready to give them our own thoughtful and prayerful attention, only in so far as we are really willing to open our own minds and hearts to God's word for us, and let it be our guide.


The Gospel lesson for today offers us a kind of summary of the practical demands of Christian life: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God", says Jesus - that comes first - "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength," and, then, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself."  How familiar those words are!  How simple they are; how straightforward and positive they seem to be!  And yet, how difficult they seem to be in practice.  We have no trouble, really, in seeing what the words mean; they are perfectly simple, straightforward words, and they strike us as having a clear and obvious authority.  That is not the problem.  The problem is that they demand a transformation of our lives in every aspect - a transformation of our attitudes and standards, a transformation of our hopes and expectations, a transformation of the way we live our lives.  They demand the practical conversion of our lives.


That conversion, as today's Collect reminds us, has two sides to it:

"Lord, we beseech thee, grant thy people grace to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil, and with pure hearts and minds to follow thee the only God; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Our Christian conversion has two sides: a turning away from temptations, and a turning towards God.  So, first of all, there is a renunciation, a turning of our backs upon the world, the flesh, and the devil, for only so will we be able with pure hearts and minds to follow God.  We cannot serve two masters.  In so far as we are followers of the world - in so far as we look to the world around us as the standard and measure of our lives - we cannot be followers of God.  In so far as we are followers of the flesh - in so far as we measure our lives according to what is immediately pleasant and agreeable to us - we cannot be followers of God.  In so far as we are followers of the devil - that is to say, in so far as we put ourselves in place of God as arbiters of good and evil - we cannot be followers of God.


There are choices here, practical choices, which must be made by each and every one of us, every day, in every circumstance.  They are the choices made for us at Baptism, they are the choices we ourselves affirmed at Confirmation, and only in so far as we are prepared to live those choices day by day, in every aspect of our lives, is the word of God really practical for us. Only in so far as that conversion - that turning around - is the daily pattern of our lives are we able to follow God with pure (that is to say, unmixed) hearts and minds.


But can we do that?  Is it really practical for us?  Once again, today's Gospel lesson speaks to our question.  The scribe in today's story knew the law of God, and he understood the meaning of the law. "Thou art not far from the Kingdom of God”, Jesus tells him. "Not far from the kingdom of God."  Not far, but something is lacking, and Jesus goes on to speak of that. Knowing the meaning of the law is not enough - there must be the doing of the law.  But the doing of God's law in our lives is really only possible when we genuinely acknowledge the divine Lordship of Jesus Christ in our hearts and minds.  The authority of that law is not the authority of King David, nor of any other earthly institution.  A greater than King David is here, whom David himself acknowledges as Lord.


Therefore, in our Collect, we pray that God himself, whose law it is, will give us grace, through Jesus Christ, to withstand temptation, and to follow him, with pure, unmixed hearts and minds. Only by the grace of God, can we do it.


Finally, St. Paul, in today's Epistle lesson, gives us a glimpse of the practical fulfilment of Christian life, and gives thanks for the grace of God which has enabled the Christian converts in ancient Corinth to live in accordance with the word of God in Christ.

I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ; that in everything ye are enriched by him, in all utterance and in all knowledge; even as the witness of Christ was confirmed in you; so that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Do you suppose that the same words could be said of us?  By the grace of God, surely it could be so.  And surely we must pray that it may be so.