Sermons & services

Sermon for Trinity XIX

Published Monday 16th Oct. 2023, at 8:44 p.m.


Today’s reading from the Holy Gospel is a homecoming. Our Lord takes the ferry to “his own city”. Upon hearing these words we cannot help but be reminded of His word in Mark’s Gospel – “A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.” (Mark 6.4) The scene is set, and we know that conflict is in the air; Jesus Christ will be challenged, his authority will be questioned. Yet, at first it is acceptance, even enthusiasm that we encounter. A man is brought to him, sick with palsy. He and his friends, they must have heard of Christ, they must believe he may just have the power. They have love for their friend. They have faith in Jesus. Above all they have hope. They have a holy expectation.

In his masterful ‘Homily on the True and Lively Faith’ Archbishop Cranmer draws the connection between faith – the faith “whereby…we be justified before God”– and expectation. He writes that Christian faith, rather than being simply a matter of belief (as in a mathematical proposition or in a historical fact), is so much more alive. It is not enough to believe as one may believe in the historical reality of Ceasar. A man may say be believes in Ceasar because he has read a history, “yet it is not properly said that he believeth in Ceasar, of whom he looketh for no help or benefit.” Christian belief, Christian faith, “liveth, and stirreth inwardly, in the heart.” It is a relationship with Jesus Christ, and all relationships are built on trust.

The Christian trusts in Christ. The Christian has hope, has a holy expectation on the basis of Christ Jesus. This is what it means to have Christian faith. To quote Archbishop Cranmer again, “This faith (as Saint Paul describeth it) is the sure ground and foundation of the benefits which we ought to look for, and trust to receive of God…” The man struck with palsy, and his friends, has this good and holy wish to look. To look into the future and see a glimmer of hope for his salvation. To look into the future and to see Jesus Christ looking back at them. This puts them at odds with the Scribes and the Pharisees, who have abandoned the noble and hopeful expectation of their Fathers in the faith.

Let us be under no illusion, my brothers and sisters, faith is not certainty. Certainty is the overwhelming wish to contain and to codify and to control. Certainty is what the Scribes and Pharisees have when they see such a glorious and joyous sight as a man being healed, and call it a blasphemy. Certainty is their taking a miracle of God and twisting it. Certainty is their knowing the wonderous works of Almighty God as they know the military victories of Ceasar – they may believe they happened, but they cannot imagine they might experience them in the present age. In essence, they have no hope; and because (as the Apostle teaches us) the three Heavenly Virtues are interlinked, they have neither faith nor love.

“For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee? Or to say, Arise, and walk?” The question is something of a trick. One is just as easy to say as the other. It is not the saying that presents difference, but the hearing. One is a plain and brute command, an imperative, a fact. It is the sort of saying the Scribes and the Pharisees would like, for it requires no holy expectation, no hope, no faith. Thy sins be forgiven thee…now there is a mighty word that can only truly touch the hearer who Archbishop Cranmer would say had “a very sure and lively Christian faith, and also fair knowledge, what true faith meaneth.” True faith is true hope. The Scribes and Pharisees will only believe when they have seen, and perhaps not even then (this is why the prophet is without honour, even in his own country). The lively Christian faith means to “…not only to believe all things of God…but also is an earnest trust, and confidence in God, that he doth regard us, and that he is careful over us, as the father is over the child whom he doth love…Such is the true faith…”

True faith is true hope. It is believing not because we have seen, but because we trust that we will see. Archbishop Cranmer expounds this truth beautifully in his homily by listing the great Patriarchs of faith: Noah, Abraham, Moses, Daniel, the martyrs, and so on. He writes, “This is the Christian faith which these holy men had, and we also ought to have…for they look for all benefits of God the Father, through the merits of his Son Jesus Christ, as we now do. The difference is between them and us, that they looked when Christ should come, and we be in that time when he is come.” How much greater our faith should be than theirs, they who hoped without seeing, we who can hope for we have seen and have been assured that we shall see again on the Day of Judgement. How much greater our faith ought to be, for how much greater our trust, our holy expectation ought to be. Is it? Is our faith in this day and age greater than theirs? We cannot know; but if we want some assurance of our lively Christian faith, if we want some assurance of our Christian hope, we can examine our lives to see if we have the last of the three Heavenly Virtues active in our day-to-day living…do we have love?

S. Paul is clear in his Epistle: to put off the old man and to put on the new is to radically change our behaviour. It is to ‘be angry and sin not’ and to ‘let not the sun go down upon your wroth’. It is to put away malice and anger and slander, and rather to be kind and tender and forgiving. It is to live toward one another in love. Is this what we do? I ask myself, and I ask you. Examine yourselves, as I must examine myself – is this what we do? Do you live your life in such love, a life of good and righteous works of love, and so demonstrate the firm foundation of faith and hope on which you stand? For Archbishop Cranmer is clear in his homily – “…the light cannot be hid, but will shew for itself at one place or other: So true faith cannot be kept secret, but when occasion is offered it will break out, and shew itself by good works.”

Ye shall know them by their fruits, says the Lord. What fruits do we produce. The fruits of envy and spite and jealousy and indolence, or the fruits of good and patient works of love and charity and (ultimately!) hope? Archbishop Cranmer again: “S. John wrote…a most certain and necessary truth, taught unto him by Christ himself…that faith, hope, and charity, can not consist or stand without good and godly works.” My brothers and sisters, we are the people of true faith because we are the people of the only true hope – the hope of holy expectation in the power and majesty of Christ Jesus – and so we are to be the people of true love. We are to be the people of loving service to family, friend, neighbour, stranger, and enemy. As we hope in the coming of Our Saviour, let us demonstrate this hope to the world with a life of charity and good works, praying the that “Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”