Church of the Incarnation,
Listen here! [NB. The strangest homily yet. . .]
[NB. The strangest homily yet. . .]
We have all been dead…at one time or another, some time long ago, maybe, or just recently, but nonetheless dead for the hour and day of our surrender. We are dead alright, if not permanently so. Misquoting Paul, “And when you were dead in transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, Christ brought you to life along with him, having forgiven you all of your transgressions; obliterating the bond against you, he removed it from your living, nailing it to the cross.” What binds you so tightly to your transgressions that only nails and the cross can remove the binding from you? Who kills you over and over again?
You hear God answer out of the void, “The door is already locked. You pray for a fish and an egg, my child. Here, I give you a snake and a scorpion. . .”
You, right there. . .you are a serial killer. And you are your own fresh victim. The voice telling you to kill yourself with the blade of sin is the voice of merciless distance, of isolation and trial, of desolation and pain; it is the voice that will not call for help, will not cry out in grief or remorse, will not sing out one note of kindness or truth or godly praise. That voice can only repeat conspiracies, gossip, lies, suspicions, temptations, delusions of grandeur and meekness; that voice needles you about the scarcity of God’ love, the meager scrapes tossed at you from the Father’s abundant table. And, finally, that voice—as an icy whisper or a breathless flame—that voice repeats the First Lie, the primitive untruth from the garden’s serpent: “You can become a god without God; you don’t need Him to become Him; so, why not just kill Him off and get on with the business of living humanely, living w/o the One Who claims to have created you?”
Why do you listen to this sibilant voice? Do you need the control of being a serial killer? The predictability of being your own victim over and over again? Maybe you take some perverse pleasure in believing that God, our Father, would say something to you like: “The door is already locked. You pray for a fish and an egg, my child. Here, I give you a snake and a scorpion. . .” But why? What does believing that your Father in Heaven is bent on starving you or perhaps poisoning you, what does believing this lie buy you, spiritually? Does it make you appear special b/c God picks you out to hate, while loving the rest of us boring sheep? Does believing the lie give you permission to violate the Law of Love, the requirements of charity? Or perhaps you have tried to love God, but it all seemed so pointless—all that passion unrequited, wasted on a dead god?
If any of this is true for you or someone you know and love, let me ask you again: what binds you so tightly to your transgressions that only nails and the cross can remove the binding from you? What or who has that kind of power? I would suggest that it is not the traditional atheism of our modernist milieu—few people cling to a truly consistent atheism; it is not a passionate hatred of God—the Psalms are clear: even hatred of God is a kind of obedience, a form of needful listening. If Christ’s answer to his disciples’ request for instruction in prayer is any indication of how our problem is to be understood, then I would have to say that the voice of distance and pain is louder and more insistent for those of us who do not have an intimate relationship with Christ. Bottom-line: the voice of lies and temptations prays just like a good Christian ought, but the voice prays out into nothingness; but then again, so can the Christian—pray vainly, that is—if he or she has no basic relationship with God through Christ in the Holy Spirit. The Patristic theologian, St. Gregory of Nyssa, clears it up for us very neatly, “Prayer is intimacy with God.”
If intimacy with God is lacking in your spiritual life, then how easy is it for you to believe that He would answer your most solemn prayers with: “The door is already locked. You pray for a fish and an egg, my child. Here, I give you a snake and a scorpion. . .” Without intimacy every answer sounds like cold silence. Anything you might hear sounds like rejection, abuse in echo. Anything you might receive turns rancid, poisonous. Blessings turn to curses. Prayers to scoldings. Sacrifices begin to look like religious parodies. And your whole spiritual life becomes a self-composed theatrical farce complete with cheap costumes, clichéd dialogue, and a director with his time, talent, and treasure focused on something, someone, ANYONE, much, much better and more deserving than you! If there is no intimacy, that is, no honesty, no frank confession, no confidence or caring, no earnest desire for perfection or the trials that come with being perfected; if there is no craving in your body and soul for God’s presence in your life. . .then, God is dead…for you. You remain transgressive and uncircumcised in your flesh.
However, if you want intimacy with God, look to your baptism. You were buried with Christ in baptism and raised with him through the power of the Father. And what you must come to understand, believe, and act upon is the truth that even when you are dead, Christ brings you along with him to share his life with you; to lift you up above sin, above rebellion and despair, forgiving your transgressions, and taking, oh so firmly seizing, the bond of sin against you and nailing it to the cross! That which opposes your health, attacks your peace, rattles your trust; that which whispers rich temptations in your ears and shows your eyes delightful evils; that which cannot bear the loneliness of Its own pride and wants us as submissive pets and playthings, that which wills our destruction is seized and nailed to the wood of the cross.
We can ask Jesus to teach us to pray b/c we can now pray from our fertile hearts. We can call God “Our Father,” b/c He is the Author of our lives. We can take our place as heirs at His table b/c He has adopted us through His Son, Jesus Christ. We are co-workers in the coming Kingdom, partners in creation; He feeds us, forgives our sins as we forgive others, and protect us from the final test of our trust in His mercy. And more: we already have every blessing we will ever receive from God, every goodie, every prayer answered. You have already received. Now ask from your unbounded heart what you need. The door is already there. Knock and it will open. With God, seeking is finding b/c Who we seek most intimately never hides. In pride and fits of spiritual temper, we close our eyes and ears and then claim that He disappears. That is not His voice saying to you: “The door is already locked. You pray for a fish and an egg, my child. Here, I give you a snake and a scorpion. . .” That’s your voice and your words, my voice and my words, trembling and speaking out of a fear of abandonment. God is love and will not abandon us. That is not prophecy; it is promise. But if it is fear you need to push you toward Love, then fear the timeless vacuum, the tolling emptiness of your own voice, praying like a choked cathedral bell for all eternity: ME. ME. ME. ME. ME. ME. ME. ME. . . . .
The Good News? Christ is dead for our sins. He gathered our transgressions and died with them. Paul says that he took the bond against us and “removed it from our living.” He rose from the dead and brought us along. He ascended into heaven and opened the Way for us to follow in our time. Why would we fear? Why would we resist? Don’t! We are held sweetly in the palm of Divine Love Himself. Know and do His truth in this world. Pray for what He has already given you—His name, His home, His kingdom, His will for us, His creation—both heaven & earth, His very being day to day, His forgiveness, His power to forgive, His promise of power over temptation, and our final end: He gives us Himself.