Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Word is Near You

Homily for Proper 19 Year A
Sunday, August 10th, 2008
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Romans 10:5-15

“The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart.”
--Romans 10:8

Perhaps, at our best, human beings are seekers. We are always seeking after what we do not know or do not have. And seeking, at its best, is a noble endeavour. Indeed, in philosophy, the goal of human existence was to seek out the “good life.” The good life was not, of course, something that was good only for me, but good for the whole community and ultimately, for the whole human family. To seek after the good life was to seek after truth, beauty, justice, and wholeness. To place this philosophy firmly in a Christian context, seeking after such things is to seek God, for in God we find truth, beauty, justice, and wholeness. To this end, Jesus implores us to seek: “Ask, and it will be given you; search and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” Most importantly, he reminds us, “seek first the kingdom of God.” To seek is a godly thing and a Christian virtue.

Seeking can, of course, have its dark side. When the goal of our seeking is not the philosophical good life, when it is not the seeking after of the truth, beauty, justice and wholeness of God, our seeking can take a disastrous turn. When we become obsessed with seeking after our own glorification, or less maliciously, even our own betterment in a naïve disregard for the rest of our community and family, we run the risk of following the path that leads to a life that that while it may appear to be good in fleeting glances, is ultimately empty and without meaning or hope. St. Paul would surely add that seeking under our own power is likewise an exercise in futility and a path that leads not to a deepening of our relationship with God but to our estrangement from our Father and Creator.

It is to this end that St. Paul writes passionately in Romans chapter ten about a Christ who seeks us out and finds us that we might find him! Continuing his unwrapping of the concept of justification by faith he remarks that this justification (or righteousness) reminds us that we do not have to travel great lengths in our searching for Christ. He states, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down) or, ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is to bring Christ up from the dead).” We do not need to go searching for Christ who has traversed both the heavens and the depths of hell; instead, we shall find him very near to us. For indeed, the whole point that Christ descended from the highest heights to the lowest depths and again ascended on high is that he might gather to himself the whole of creation; that he might draw each one of us to him and make us his own; that he might seek us out as we seek after the true purpose of our existence, the proverbial “good life” of God in Christ. Shall we then grope about high and low for him? Shall we assume that he is somewhere else and inaccessible to us? Shall we believe that it is only through another that we can find him?

By no means! For Paul goes on to say “The word is near you!” Quoting the author of Deuteronomy he states, “It is on your lips and in you heart!” And thus turns what was spoken about the Law into a truism about the Gospel. The word of life need not be sought out in far and distant places but as close as home, in my own very core and on my lips, if I have indeed believed in the one who has risen from the dead.

To Paul’s audience, “the word” certainly referred to the preaching of the gospel, that is the good news that God raised Jesus from the dead -- a marvelous act in which he has offered new life and salvation to all those who believe in him. And yet, as Christians with the benefit of having read the Gospel of John, as Christians with the benefit of the wisdom of the early Church Fathers, and with the benefit of the knowledge of the theological debates that led to the formulation of the Nicene Creed, we understand the meaning of “the word,” on a deeper level, namely that Christ is The Word of God, himself. He is The Word through which all was created and through which the whole cosmos is redeemed and reconciled to God. And so to say that the word is near you, on your lips and in your hearts is to say that, for Christian people, Jesus Christ is with us always, or in the words of St. Matthew, he is Emmanuel – God with us. Indeed, he is with us even unto the end of the age. That is why if we but seek, we shall indeed find, not by searching high and low, in the heavens or in the depths, but in the faith of our hearts.

In the ancient world, to refer to the heart meant so much more than the emotional seat of our being. While it includes this connotation, it also includes our thoughts, our hopes, our purpose and indeed the whole of our interior life. Our heart is the seat of our faith. Seek the Lord where he may be found.

This is only half the story, though! He is in our hearts but also on our lips. Thus, the experience of God is not only internal, but external. It is at once personal and at the same time relational, for what is the purpose to speak but to share and to communicate. Then, there is the power of naming. What is in our hearts may seem ephemeral and unreal, but when we name our emotions, our thoughts, our fears, we can confront the fact that they are indeed real, and in naming them we can relate to the “thoughts of the hearts” of others around us, and journey together through out valleys and mountain peaks. While it is true that we must have our moments alone with God (and as I said last week, the moment of deciding to follow Christ in the moment of crisis is certainly one of those moments), our spirituality is never simply a private affair. Faith engages the whole person and faith engages the community as a body. We are called to name our faith and utter it aloud, and in doing so we claim its reality in our lives.

This leads us to a final assertion offered by Paul, namely, that our experience of God is to be shared with the world. What we have known and believed in our hearts is to be proclaimed on our lips. For as Paul says, “How are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard?” And this returns us to the point at which we began. Each of us seeks the proverbial “good life,” but so many people do not even know what they are looking for. They search high and low but they do not know the object of their search. They fill themselves with things that will only lead to their destruction. And ultimately, can they be condemned because they have never heard or understood or believed? Shall we hoard the “good news” of the “good life” selfishly in our hearts while others grope about in earnest but misguided hope? What if they were to learn that what they seek is indeed very near? What if they were to learn that the object was, in fact the subject? What if they were to learn that they are being sought be a loving God, whom to know is eternal life and to serve is perfect freedom? And what if we were to share this Good News?

We have tasted the Good Life in the Good News, because we have not had to traverse the heights or descend into the abyss to find him because he has found us in our heights and in our depths. Christ has traveled high and low for us that we might know him. Let us proclaim with our lips what we believe in our hearts that Christ has sought us out and found us so that the Good Life might be shared by one and all. How beautiful are the feet of are those who bring Good News!”

Text copyright 2008 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves. This homily may not be reproduced or redistributed, either in whole or part, by any means, without the express, written permission of the author.

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