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The Eighth Sunday after Trinity

Fr. David Curry

Christ Church, Windsor, Nova Scotia, July 21 AD 2002


“You have received a spirit of sonship”


There is a kind of literal-mindedness to our age, a feature of linear thinking, perhaps.  We seem to have lost the art of metaphor and are no longer capable of thinking analogically.  The consequence is that the Scriptures become unthinkable.


And yet the challenge of the Scriptures is before us and we ignore that challenge at our peril. What are we to make of such things as “God’s never-failing Providence”, of “sonship .. in which we all cry Abba, Father”, of the “good fruit and the evil”, of “ravening wolves in sheep’s clothing”, and so on?  How are we to think such images?


They speak to us profoundly, I think, about the nature of our life together in the body of Christ.  The never-failing Providence of God is written out for us to read in the story of Christ crucified, risen and ascended into glory.  In him we see the full measure of the good will of God towards us even in the face of the folly and the wickedness of ourselves, our world and our churches; even more, we see in Christ the power of God who works marvellous good even out of our miserable evil.


The tension between flesh and spirit, between body and soul, between what is outward and what is inward belongs to our Christian struggle and yet it is a struggle in which the victory is known as accomplished in Christ and which awaits to be more fully realised in us.  In him we have our fundamental identity - our sonship through his being the essential Word and Son of the Father.


It belongs to the Christian Faith to use the concrete and particular images of the things of this world to capture our essential identity as spiritual creatures.  Through the particular we participate in what is truly universal.  And in so doing there is a redemption of the sensual.


Sonship is not the privileging of one form of relation over another.  It is the redemption of our natural relations in all their forms by allowing them to become the vehicles of a deeper, more inward and spiritual understanding.  This doesn’t mean that the image of sons can therefore be casually substituted by daughters.  No.  By way of metaphor and in the power of analogical thought, we are all - men and women, boys and girls, male and female (that basic category of our created being) - made sons in the essential sonship of Christ.  Such is the radical meaning of our baptisms.


Our spiritual identity as sons is what gives meaning and substance to the host of particular relations as fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, and allows each of them to be invested with a new and deeper significance - to be the forms of relationship through which we bear witness and proclaim Christ, “the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit” - the Spirit of the Father and the Son – “that we are children of God”, called to glory but only through the vocation of suffering.


Would it not do to substitute “child”, for “son”?  Some have thought so.  There are translations of the Scriptures which have taken such liberties with the text but something crucially important is lost, I fear.  It has to do with the Incarnation, with the deep truth and reality of God being with us, without which there can be no true redemption of the sensual and the finite.  As one of our Anglican divines, Bishop John Pearson so wonderfully puts it, “Christ is man born of women to redeem both sexes”.


Our failure to think this is seen most clearly in the complaint of a feminist theologian Daphne Hampson about the story of Mary and Martha where Mary is found sitting at the feet of Jesus.  This is completely unacceptable to her.  Only a role-reversal, she says, will do, Christ sitting at the feet of a woman.  But this is to invert the whole understanding and to misconstrue the whole wonder of Christ in the humility of his being with us.


Her problem signals our difficulty, however.  We are unwilling to sit and listen, to read and learn from God’s own Word and Son.  And if we are so unwilling, then it can hardly be surprising that our lives are incapable of bringing forth any good fruit at all.


The point of the gospel is that we should act faithfully upon what we have received, that we should be what we believe and that we should strive for the good in all that we do.  It is wanted that our lives should bring forth good fruit and that through the quality of our lives something of the quality of Christ should be made visible.  “By their fruits ye shall know them”.  Such is the vision.  Such is our vocation.  Such is what is surely to be wanted.  To be at this eucharistic feast signals our desire to be what God wants us to be through the sacrifice of Christ.


It is wanted, in other words, that what is inwardly confessed be outwardly seen.  And yet, we all stand convicted precisely of our own failings in this regard.  The net of hypocrisy captures us all.  To know our hypocrisy - our saying one thing and doing the exact opposite - should be the spur to seek the greater goodness of God for the grace to overcome the contradiction between our being and our doing, knowing that in the Providence of God our truest freedom is to be found, in our being sons through the Son and therefore acting as sons in that liberty which he has obtained for us.  We have to think it and to will it.  But such is the spirit of his sonship in us.


“You have received a spirit of sonship”