Trinity XVI.  October 1, 2017.  Saint Barnabas’, Atlanta.

St. Luke vii, verse 12 – Now when he came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow….

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

Good morning.  I greet you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  It is my pleasure to be with you today.  We are about to plunge into a week of business in Dunwoody, as the 2017 Joint Synods of four Continuing Anglican Churches prepare to convene.  This is a notable, perhaps even historic occasion, and I am pleased that it begins for me with Mass here at Saint Barnabas’ and also with the celebration of Nigeria Day.  I have spent much time in Africa over the years and well know that there are few parties as good as a good African party.  Obviously I have timed my visit just right.

Our collect, epistle, and gospel today are all about God’s care for his Church.  In the collect we beseech God to ‘cleanse and defend’ the Church.  Notice that we ask God to cleanse us before we ask him to defend us.  Until we are cleansed we do not deserve to be defended.  Furthermore, until we are cleansed it might actually be harmful for us to be defended.  It doesn’t do any good to build a wall if the enemy is inside the gate.  Before we deserve anything God cleanses us by his free grace, given to us especially through our baptism.  Only then, when we are cleansed and built into his Church, do we become proper objects of what the collect calls God’s ‘continual pity’.  This continual concern for us means that God always wishes to cleanse and forgive us when we sin and constantly defends us from spiritual harm.

The epistle is also about God’s care for us.  St. Paul asserts the reality of God’s care when he speaks of ‘the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge’.  Paul reminds the Ephesians that God ‘…is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us….’  St. Paul does not try to prove this abundant care.  He does not try to justify the ways of God to anyone who might deny the goodness of those ways.  Paul assumes that the people to whom he writes already are convinced of that goodness in some measure.  Rather what Paul here begins with is the fact of God’s fatherly care, and then prays that the Ephesians may more and more realize in the depths of their hearts what they have already know at least at little.  To use the language of the collect, Paul speaks to people who have been cleansed (by baptism), and then seeks to ensure that they are continually defended and helped and preserved by God’s help and goodness.  It doesn’t do much good to have a coat if you won’t wear it or if you won’t take some care to button it up when you do wear it or to sew on the buttons if they pull off or to patch up holes if they develop.  All Christians have a coat, the robe of their baptism.  Paul wants us to remember this fact and to keep our robes in good condition and to use them.

If the collect prays for the Church, and if in the epistle Paul exhorts the Church, we may likewise read the gospel as a story about this same Church.  The story concerns a woman and her child, a widow and her only son who has died.

The raising of the son of the widow of Nain is plainly a foreshadowing of the Resurrection of our Lord.  Both men are the only sons of widowed mothers.  Both die and sadden many by their deaths.  Both rise because of God’s compas­sion and are restored to their mothers.  So on one level this story is about Christ and his mother, and it foreshadows the Resurrection.

On another level, however, the story is about us and the Church.  The city, Nain, represents the world.  The dead man is a symbol for humanity, dead in its sins.  The mother is the Church, mourning and weeping for the sins of the world in this valley of tears.  She mourns and weeps because in this world the universal fate of man is death.  That the man is the only son of his mother represents this universality of sin and death.  The wages of sin is death, and the universality of sin means in consequence universal death.  ‘As Eve when she her fontal sin reviewed / Wept for herself and all she should include,’ so in this story all weep for the dead man.  Our compassionate Lord is the same in this story as in the larger world.  In the story he comes upon the funeral procession and raises the dead.  In the larger world for us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and was incarnate for us, and for us lived and taught and died.  In the story the young man is raised from the dead, though later he shall die again.  In the larger story Christ rises from the dead no more to die, and in the great and dreadful day of judgement he shall raise us up as well, also no more to die.  And again in the larger story, we rise to new life already by baptism.  As the dead man is restored to his mother after his resuscitation, so we, after being reborn in baptism, are restored to our mother, the Church, the bride of Christ, and in the bosom of her maternal care we are called to live.

This same gospel lesson is read also on May 4th, the feast of St. Monica.  Monica was the widowed mother of St. Augustine.  Augustine as a young man fell into sin and a prodigal life, but he tells us in his Confessions that his mother never ceased praying for him.  Could, he asks, the son of so many tears not be saved?  Augustine eventually was saved, and turned from his sin, and was restored to his widowed mother as a converted Christian.

The Church has many dead children, you know.  The Church, has many sons and daughters who are lapsed, who are in heresy and schism, or even who have never really encountered the gospel in a serious way at all despite their nominal upbringing.  The Church does not need more dead children.  The Church needs sons and daughters restored to life.  The Church needs us converted and alive to Christ.  She does not need us to be members because it is convenient for us to be members.  She needs us to be her children because we are converted, because we accept the fullness of faith in Jesus Christ as our Saviour and accept his Church as the place where that salvation comes to earth by divine promise.  The Church needs people like Monica, to pray quietly and continually for the conversion of the world.  People, even Christians, say all the time that we live in a post-Christian society.  That is wrong.  We live in a pre-Christian society, and our job is to convert it into a Christian one.  So too the Church needs Augustines, men and women of intelligence and conviction, who will convert to the faith themselves, and then boldly proclaim Christ to the unconverted.

One of our themes today in this parish is the Catholicity of the Church.  Catholic, as you know, means universal.  This parish is a living icon of the Church’s universality, because here there gather members from all over the world.  This parish is geographically Catholic, if you will.  Our gospel reminds us that the human situation everywhere and in every age is the same.  Sin is universal.  The fall of mankind is universal.  Christ’s work of salvation is universally offered to us.  His bride, the Church, has members and priests and parishes in every land, of every tongue and race and class.  And our duty is also universal:  to be converted ourselves in our hearts, and to work to convert every person within range of our prayers and concern and influence.

So in newness of life let us go where the saints have shown the way:  where Monica and Augustine and all the saints have gone before, in newness of life, cleansed and defended by God, who is ‘able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think’.  And may the love and power of God bring to his holy Church in every land much increase and many new sons and daughters until Christ is all in all.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

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