Sunday, June 7, 2015
Homily for The First Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 1)
Luke 16:19-31; 1 John 4:16-21; Genesis 15:1-6
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Today we enter the Trinity / Pentecost season of the Church’s Year of Grace, otherwise known as “that long green season”. But there’s a reason for the color green, for, green symbolizes growth, and the Time of the Church is the time of the Church’s growth by the Holy Spirit sent on Pentecost. For it is the Holy Spirit that grows the Church, not men, no matter how pious or earnest, not evangelism programs, no matter how well intentioned, not ecclesial bureaucracies, no matter how much they might appeal to human pride and wisdom. And, providentially, for most of us in the Northern Hemisphere, this time of the church year coincides with the Gregorian calendar in terms of seasons so that we are in the middle of Spring approaching Summer and have finally progressed beyond the last killing frost. Now is the time of sowing seeds, of planting, watering, nourishing, fertilizing, weeding, of growing. There is work to be done while the daylight is long and the conditions are good, the work of spreading the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection of the life of the world.
This time of the Church Year focuses and directs our attention upon, and teaches the Church anew, how the Holy Spirit accomplishes this work through the body of Christ, the Church. Now is the time in which the Church remembers and learns anew Who She Is and why She is, that She exists for the sake of the people Jesus died to save, that She exists for the life of the world. But, it is the Holy Spirit’s work, the sowing, planting, watering, nourishing, fertilizing, weeding, and growing, through the Church, while there is yet time. For, the harvest is coming, today, tomorrow, or the day after. Pray that when the Lord comes to reap His harvest, the Church may be found actively leavening the world with the Gospel Word and Holy Sacraments.
But, the Enemy tempts the Body of Christ to grow complacent, to become fat and lazy, lethargic, self-righteous. The Enemy lulls the Church to sleep saying, “Your Bridegroom is delayed. Perhaps He’s not coming at all. Take a little rest, you’ve been faithful in much, you’ve done well, you’ve earned it. After all, those people out there, they’ve had their chance to hear, but they’ve closed their ears and cursed you. You’re much better than them. Take some rest, you deserve it.” Or, the Enemy tempts the Body of Christ to take matters into Her own hands, believing that it is men who must grow the Church. And, so, men create program after program and build towering bureaucracies rivaling the Tower of Babel, treating the Church of Christ like a business, utilizing marketing and strategic planning aimed at selling a product to fickle and self-serving consumers. “If people aren’t filling the pews and the coffers, then we need to redesign, repackage, and remarket our product.” The questions become “What do consumers want? What do consumers like?” Rather than “What do sinners need?”
In the first case, the Church becomes self-serving and unconcerned with those outside Her walls. We become like the Rich Man in the parable, feasting sumptuously on the feast of God’s Love and forgiveness in Jesus, but greedily keeping it to ourselves, passing by and disparaging the Lazarus’s outside our doors. But, as the Apostle warns, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar.” Do not be deceived, every tree that does not produce fruit will be cut off and thrown into the fire. The Time of the Church is a time to be reminded and instructed anew who the Church is and why the Church is. The Church is the Body of Christ consisting of all believers, and She exists on earth today to proclaim the Good News of Christ’s victory over sin, death, and devil for the life of the world. This is the work of the Holy Spirit through the Church, through you, in your divine vocations, to forgive sins, have mercy, show compassion, grace, and charity, to love your neighbor, your brother, with the love of God, in Christ Jesus, through the Holy Spirit. And, this work starts when you leave this place, for, the Spirit goes with you, in you, and through you, that you might be a leavening agent, a light, in this world of sin, darkness, and death. What happens out there matters! We are not here to serve ourselves. You are not here for yourself alone.
In the second case, the Church, again, becomes self-serving, but, by being overly concerned with those outside Her walls. That is to say, the Church becomes an end in Herself; the most important thing becomes, not faithfulness to God’s Word, but the growing the institution. The bottom line, numbers, is the Gospel of such a church, and, the bottom line is to be increased by any means necessary. If the Name of Jesus is offensive, then it must be removed. If liturgical appointments, altars, pulpits, crosses, liturgy, hymns are offensive, then they must be removed. If the preaching of the Law is offensive, it must be removed. If Sacraments are seen to be tired traditions not relevant to today’s culture, they must be removed. Give the people want they want, no mind to what they need. Entertain them, make them feel good, give them the latest self-help advice, a practical do-it-yourself therapy, something positive and self-affirming. If you build it, they will come…, for a while, then it needs to be redesigned, repackaged, remarketed, “New & Improved”, “the Church 2.1”.
This is a powerful temptation today. We look at the empty seats and we wonder “Where is everyone? Are we doing something wrong?” Add to this concern the financial concerns of the Church and we are tempted to alter our message or change our ceremony, or develop some new program, marketing approach, or whatever, to make people come to church. We become like Abram who, in his old age, despaired that he had no son, no heir, that his line would end with him. “What was it all for?” he thought. Even though God promised Abram that he would have a son, an heir of his own flesh, and that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars, he took matters into his own hands and went into his wife’s maidservant Hagar, and she conceived and bore him a son, Ishmael. The Lord made Ishmael into a great nation, but He did not give Ishmael his blessing and much wickedness and strife came from, and still comes from, the descendants of Ishmael. Church growth tactics, taken from the business schools, may produce growth in attendance and money in the coffer, but they are quite often at the expense of faithfulness to God’s Word and in contradiction to, and denial of, the workings of the Holy Spirit in and through the Bride of Christ, the Church.
For, the bottom line is this, the Church of Christ is the Church of Pentecost, born of the Holy Spirit, birthing Christians by the fiery Word of the Gospel and the watery womb of Holy Baptism, feeding, nourishing, forgiving, and strengthening those born again of water and Spirit with the flesh and blood of the incarnate Word of God Jesus Christ. By the workings of the Holy Spirit, over three thousand souls were added to the Church on the Day of Pentecost, and the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. And the Lord, by His Holy Spirit, in and through you, His Church, continues to add to the number day by day those who are being saved.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.