Sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Trinity
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
August 14, 2011
One of the hardest things about reading Holy Scripture is the reality that our experiences, culture, upbringing all affect the way that we read and then interpret what the text is saying. Eisegesis is the process where we read something into a particular text based upon many of those factors I just mentioned. Basically, we’re reading into it what we want to hear, or worse, we have already decided what it really says before we begin. One the attributes about Holy Scripture is that it is the Living Word of God, and if it is living, one of our goals should be to have the Scripture interpret us and dissect us as hearers more often than the other way around.
This same thought crossed my mind when I read the collect appointed for today when our prayer opens with the line, “O God, whose never-failing providence ordereth all things both in heaven and earth.” What exactly is the word ordereth getting at?
It’s certainly very easy to fall prey to the temptation to think when things go very, very wrong in our lives to say to ourselves, “Ah Ha, if God so ordered everything here on Earth, then He’s to blame for this mess I’ve gotten myself into.” Or, perhaps from another angle, “Why did God allow this particular event to happen to me in my life?”
However, I think we need to take another look both at what the word ordereth means in this context, as well as, the collect as a whole.
First, in order to end up at the right place, we really need to start at the right place. The phrase itself is an acknowledgement about who God actually is. It is an appeal to the reality that all Order comes from one particular source, and that source is God. If we take time and carefully study Genesis 1 and 2, one of the overarching themes that comes across is the particular order by which God creates out of nothing.
One particular Study Bible I consulted has this subheading for Gen 1:1 – 2:3, “God’s creation and ordering of heaven and earth.” Sounds remarkably like our collect this morning.
The editors went on to say, “The book of Genesis opens with a majestic description of how God first created the heavens and earth and then how he ordered the earth so that it may become his dwelling place. Structured into seven sections, each marked by the use of set phrases, the entire episode conveys the picture of the all-powerful, transcendent God who sets everything in place with consummate skill in conformity to his grand design. The emphasis is mainly on how God orders or structures everything.”
Cambridge physicist and Anglican clergyman John Pulkinghorne said that one of the most important points to extract from Gen 1 can be summed up in the eight-fold repetition of the six words, “And God said, ‘let there be…’”
Before God spoke, that which we know about our world, our universe was chaos and disorder. After God spoke, order displaced disorder, and we continue to live in the Light of God’s handiwork.
Misinterpretation occurs when we neglect the whole of the story. In the beginning God ordered all things rightly, and then gave man one simple command – do not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Yet, the three-fold temptation took hold, and Eve saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desired to make one wise. She ate of the fruit as did Adam, and the course of human events was altered in an instant. The one thing that Adam and Eve never knew was that in their attempt to become wise and like God they were attempting to exchange their view of order for God’s. They simply saw the forbidden fruit as pleasing for food, beautiful to behold, and possessing something they thought they had to have. It did not work then, and it certainly doesn’t work now. Doesn’t that sound familiar in our own lives? We see something we simply can’t live without; something forbidden comes in an awfully enticing package; all I need is just this one item more.
It happens all too often, we exchange God’s order for our own, and usually it comes with undesirable results.
God calls each of us to live our life striving to conform to His Will – His Order.
From the very beginning, he gave us the example for the right ordering of the family. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.” These same words from Genesis are quoted by Jesus as recorded in both Matthew and Mark, as well as, by St. Paul in his epistle to the Ephesians. The right ordering of husband and wife is a direct commandment from God. Jesus also adds a clinching caveat, “Those whom God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.” When man and wife come together in the bond and covenant of Holy Matrimony, God binds the two into one, and they are no longer the same as they were before. The two have become one flesh. This is why the Church treats Holy Matrimony as a Sacrament, and thus so much more than just a service of the church. That is why the debate that continues to plague The Episcopal Church, and now the Presbyterian Church USA, and the United Methodist Church and others regarding human sexuality, and the debates going on across this country regarding gay marriage or civil unions is that we are exchanging human notions for what we think order is, and these notions stand in direct contradiction to Holy Scripture and God’s intention for order regarding the family and the right ordering of society as a whole. Our calling something right that God says is sinful and wrong doesn’t make it so – it makes it an even more egregious sin against the very One who ordered all things rightly from the beginning of creation.
One of the critical components of the right ordering of the family is that God is and absolutely must be the central focal point of that relationship. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks conveyed this in an article he wrote dated 7/25/09 entitled “We must guard love in this world of easy pleasures.” He opens with these words:
One day I was called on to officiate at two funerals. The families involved were old friends of ours, but they lived in different parts of London and did not know one another. In both cases, the wife had died after a long and happy marriage. One couple had just celebrated, and the other was just about to celebrate, their diamond wedding [anniversary].
What was striking was that both husbands said the same thing to me, in virtually identical words: “I loved her as much as the day we first fell in love.” To hear that once, after 60 years of marriage, would have been rare. To hear it twice on the same day seemed like more than mere coincidence.
Both couples were religious. Prayer and going to the synagogue, celebrating Sabbath and the festivals, and giving time and money to others, were integral to their lives. They knew that in Judaism the home is as sacred as a house of worship. Did these things, I wondered, have something to do with the strength and persistence of their love?
We tend to think that emotions, especially one as capricious as love, are simply what we feel. We don’t choose our likes and dislikes, our fears and joys. They catch us unawares. They can hold us helpless in their grip. The words “passion” and “passive” are related. So we conclude that we can’t help feeling what we feel.
Recent developments in psychotherapy suggest otherwise. Cognitive behavioural therapy is based on the premise that what we feel is influenced by what we think, and we can change the way we think. Positive psychology has had success in turning pessimists into optimists by reframing people’s perceptions. Martin Seligman, the pioneer in this field, calls pessimism “learnt helplessness”, and what can be learnt can be unlearnt.
So it is with love. Someone who believes that marriage is “just a piece of paper”, that sex comes without commitments, and that pleasure is the measure of all things, will have one range of emotions. One who believes that marriage is a sacred covenant, that love is inseparable from loyalty, and that what we love we make sacrifices for, will have another. Because they think different thoughts, they will feel different things.
…He concludes with these words that I believe connect what I’ve been alluding to this morning.
To see love as the force that moves the Universe, to love God and know that God loves us, to celebrate love in ritual and song and know that it means constancy and faithfulness, to understand that love gives and forgives, and to see in the birth of a child the love that brings new life into the world: these give love a better chance. And in a world of easy pleasures, short attention spans and fragile relationships, love needs a better chance.
That is what faith does. Sanctifying love, it protects it from the thousand temptations to which it is daily exposed. That day when I heard two old friends in the midst of grief speak of a love undiminished over time, I thought of Dylan Thomas’s famous words, “Though lovers be lost, love shall not; and death shall have no dominion”, and knew that loving God helps us to love one another.
Why do we hear each and every time we celebrate the Holy Eucharist either the Decalogue or the Summary of the Law? The only way that we can begin to comprehend the grace of God in Christ’s Body and Blood is through constant re-ordering of our lives and wills toward God. Lives lived centered on the Great Commandment will then begin to embody what the rest of our collect speaks about, and prays for.
If we go back to our collect for this morning, the only way we as individuals can ever discern what is harmful for us and what we need to put way is if we acknowledge our necessity to call upon the One who ordereth all things in heaven and on earth. Then and only then, will we begin to receive those things which are profitable for us.
God’s desire is to bless us more than we can ever imagine. Those blessings came with a price, and they still do. It means as St. Paul told the Ephesians that they and we must constantly put off our old self and be renewed in the spirit of our minds and put on the new self (Eph. 4:22-23). It means that we must take up our cross daily and follow Christ. It means exchanging our interpretation of order and exchanging it for God’s. If we are humble enough to do so, then our Lord allows us to receive those good things which are profitable for us, and will ultimately last for all eternity.