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He will raise us up

5th Sunday after Epiphany BCP

05 February 2006 11:00 | Fr. Roderick Leece

Living in a so-called civilised society, and worshipping in a respectable part of Mayfair, means we probably don’t throw plates at each other during rows, or smash the glasses, or slit the tyres of someone who has deeply wounded us. I won’t ask for a show of hands, but secretly, I think I am intrigued by the misguided satisfaction of smashing the odd plate in anger! Even if we are dab hands at what is now euphemistically termed ‘anger management’, surely most of us at some time experience ‘road rage’, calling for a response of deep self control and patience, in the face of extreme rudeness and provocation. Since the dawn of time everybody has understood the revenge of scorned lovers. And our theatrical and operatic traditions (as well as the TV soaps) are full of enemies wreaking havoc upon each other. Today’s gospel story of an enemy acting out his agricultural rage brought me up with a start, as these days such sabotage would land him in the courts, as it did when protesters gave a hard time to the farmers testing out genetically modified crops.

Hopefully we all know the occasions which bring out both the best and worst in our characters, and I am well aware that the game of Bridge reveals the most competitive and unattractive side of my personality…not that I am an especially accomplished card player. I really cannot say whether the rare pleasure and delight of making 7 No Trumps, outweighs the glee of bringing down opponents who taunt me, and indulge in gamesmanship. The same holds true with Croquet, when your seemingly gentle opponent suddenly seems to come to life and exhilaration, just a millisecond after hitting your ball into the next county. There seems a disturbing thrill in getting others down…

Our ambiguous, complex and even contradictory human nature, requires growth to maturity – or perhaps a better word today would be integration. Quite clearly in the parable of the wheat and tares the master’s main concern is to save as much good grain as possible, rather than prematurely to exclude its chances before the harvest. We too need to resist the temptation to divide things simplistically, and sort things tidily into just two categories - of good and evil, or truth and error. Heresy itself often contains grains of truth in at least raising the right questions, and what are regarded as true teachings can, equally, contain mild traces of error.

We recognise within ourselves the coexistence of extreme emotions for good and for ill. In some circumstances we may perhaps sense the presence of an angel, and yet the scent of the devil as well, which is why it is for us all to practise the difficult art of discernment. It isn’t for us to condemn others, or ourselves for that matter. Whilst not giving up on our efforts to do better, and without condoning our own or other people’s sins, we have to accept there is a certain inevitability concerning our own and others sins in general, and in particular. We aim to avoid an obsession demanding a perfection in ourselves, or in others, which is rooted in our own efforts and estimation, rather than God’s grace.

Its funny, isn’t it, how selective our memory can be when it comes to our own irritating infringements in our treatment of others at home and work? You admire the patience of the driver behind you but not of the one ahead… The humility which can stir us to say ‘There, but for the grace of God go I’ can so easily become tinged with a hint of the Pharisee’s prayer: ‘I thank thee Lord, that I am not grasping, unjust, or adulterous like the others, and certainly not like that tax collector at the back’ …as we dangerously presume salvation. The opposite tendency can be just as misleading…when, caught up in difficult, maybe sinful situations, we become so dismayed and downcast that we just give up…asking ourselves ‘What’s the point of my faith…if in my moral life I’m with the tares, destined to be burned’.

The Epistle this morning emphasises the constant need for mutual forgiveness. St. Paul’s exhortation is to exercise forbearance and forgiveness in quarrels, putting on bowels of mercy…showing kindness, gentleness, patience. All this implies lowliness and respect for the ‘other’…these are innovative ideas for the time when St. Paul was writing to the Colossians.

I don’t like the phrase ‘double whammy’ but there is a double effect for good when our faith in God…trusting in his ways and strength, not only changes us (who grow in patience, lenience and tolerance we hope)…but also obviates the need to impose our own justice. We trust in his…and ourselves aim (like God) to become slow to anger, slow to judge, and rich in mercy.

There is no delight for God in getting us down. His joy is in raising us up – to new life now, and everlasting joy later with Him.
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