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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 the publisher.

“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 5.44-45)
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.