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The Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity

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. (p. 135-138)
St. Peter Publications Inc. Charlottetown, PEI, Canada.  Reprinted with permission of the publisher.
“Jesus had compassion on her.” (Luke 7.13)

We are all trying to live lives pleasing to Almighty God, to do his will, to walk in his ways and keep his commandments. The fact that you are here this morning allows me to assume such a good will in you all. It is our good will that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven, but what endless problems and difficulties we encounter in trying to do what both we and God really want.

Endless troubles plague us; we are assaulted from within and without. There are old bad habits and the new temptations and all the things that distract the soul as it tries to centre itself on God. There is either the business of life or the resentment that arises from sloth, boredom and laziness. There is worry and anxiety about oneself or the ones we love. A child goes the wrong way; we face the fear of pain and disease; we suffer the doubts and hopeless loneliness caused by death; and we experience distress about what others may do to us and fear about what may befall us. The sickening nagging of old guilt from some sin for which we never forgive ourselves and the constant battle with all our sins are always with us. The things which trouble us and keep us from joyful restful union with God, from confidence and assurance that we are safe with him, seem endless. And so we ask what help is there for those of us engaged in this unrelenting and wearying battle?

Today, the good news of God to us is just this: he knows our troubles of every kind. He knows also that we cannot continue without his help and so he reaches out to remind us that his compassion and his love shown in Jesus are there to embrace, help, and lift us up in every circumstance of our lives, in all times and in all places. In troubles both great and small, his continued pity cleanses and defends his people so as to keep them safe.

The Gospel tells us the pathetic situation of a certain widow. We see her only son carried out of the city — like Jesus — on the way to his grave. Such a scene must always arouse pity in us mortals. We imagine her left altogether without support. Knowing how much we need the strength, help, and companionship of others, our hearts go out to her. But what of God? He dwells above the heaven of heavens, in light inaccessible which no eye hath seen nor can see. He is perfectly self-sufficient. He has neither birth nor death, and nothing can touch or affect him. What can such a God know of or how can he care about the troubles of the widow of Nain? But the Gospel says:

When the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said unto her: Weep not and he came and touched the bier . . .and he said ‘Young man, I say unto thee, Arise.’ And he that was dead sat up . . . and Jesus delivered him to his mother.
God does indeed dwell above the heavens and there he is not to be touched by our storming strength or the folly that would build towers to assault him; but he is moved by his own infinite love. He declares that love for us in Jesus and, in Jesus, God has compassion, suffering with his people, and pitying them in every weakness and trial. He reaches out to touch the bed of death on which we helplessly lie in order to comfort us. He raises us up by giving us knowledge of his love and mercy. The good news of this morning’s Gospel is that the God of all might and power, whom we can never hold by our miserable force, reaches out in love and, by his Son Jesus, binds himself to us. He is touching the bed on which we lie helpless, but we must “stand still” to perceive it so that he can lift us up.

St. Paul in his Epistle to the Ephesians is concerned lest their knowledge of the things he is suffering at the hands of men should cause them to fall into doubt. The Gospel has confronted us with the assaults of nature, whose last power over us is death, “the last enemy.” (1 Corinthians 15.26) There we see a “dead man carried out, the only son of his mother.” And we see also the compassion of the Lord, the Lord who would himself die so as to suffer all things with us. In the Epistle, Paul is confronting us with the evils men can inflict on one another. He tells us that the love and pity of God in Christ reaches out to embrace us and help us in these troubles also. Indeed his message is that the love of God in Christ Jesus reaches everywhere; it extends to every “breadth and length and depth and height.” As he tells us in another place, he is persuaded:

That neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8.38,39)
Jesus not only died but he died in virtue of the cruel torture of men. He was betrayed by his friends, mocked, spitted upon, beaten, and finally crucified. He gave himself into “the hands of men.” (Luke 9.44). And the love of God embraces us even there. God’s strength is sufficient for us no matter where we are. We are to give him thanks and praise in all times and places because he reaches out to help, comfort, and lift us up in them all.

St. Paul also tells us how God reaches us in all these times and places, in the assaults both of man and nature. God, he says, “strengthens us with might by his Spirit in the inner man.” The manner of his coming to us is knowledge and love. Because God dwells in our “hearts by faith,” we are supposed to “comprehend” the extent of God’s love. We are “to know the love of Christ that passeth knowledge.” This is how we are “filled with all the fullness of God.” The good news of Jesus is that it is not what happens to us from without that can hurt us — “fear not them who can destroy the body” as he says (Matthew 10.28) — it is not what goes into your mouth that can hurt you (Matthew 15.11). What harms us is from within; this is the root of the will to sin. From inside arise doubt, fear, hatred, envy, and ambition. It is here that God must perform his healing acts.

This morning God shows his mercy to his Church in a wonderful way. For just as he sent his Son into the world to assume flesh and blood and to suffer the worst from man so as to heal us within by the knowledge of his love, so also here and now in this Blessed Sacrament, he comes continually to cleanse and defend his Church. He gives an inward benefit and healing by an outward and visible sign, by bread broken and a cup poured out. Let us pray that we may so find therein the compassion, pity and love of God that we may be strengthened to serve him all our days. Finally, may we by his mercy praise forever Father, Son, and Spirit to whom belongs all praise, dominion and strength, now and in eternity.  Amen.