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From St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians (iv.4-6):  “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”

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

 

On page 37 of the Book of Common Prayer, we find the prayer For the Unity of God’s People.

O GOD, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Saviour, the Prince of Peace; Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions. Take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatsoever else may hinder us from godly, union and concord: that as there is but one Body and one Spirit, and one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This prayer takes the heart of its content from today’s Epistle lesson.  It seems different to our ears.  Poetical.  Liturgical.

 

1:  I THEREFORE, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,

“Vocation” speaks of being called.  Being called by God demands a response:  How we walk in the Lord and our life in the congregation.  Calling presumes God’s initiative and relates it to right behavior.

We Christians are called by God to a unity which is part of God’s spiritual design of a redeemed and holy cosmos.

Our individual walks with Christ, as well as our walk together with Him, must be done worthily as to the Lord.  We do not do this for ourselves.  We follow Christ in accordance with the vocation to which He called us.

 

2:  with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love;

As we are all called by God, so our response must be godly.  How we behave in our vocation is rooted in God’s divine plan for our lives individually, for our lives together, and for the entire redeemed cosmos.  Our Christian walk can be described through lowliness and meekness, long-suffering, and forbearing one another in love.

Long-suffering is a better translation than patience, because it not only means enduring provocations but refusing to give up hope for improved relations.  Patience can give the sense of only suffering for a bit until the problem goes away.  Long-suffering points towards the goal of good and holy relations between brethren through the firm practice of hope as that holy restoration is worked out.

Christians don’t just give up and walk away from difficult relationships.  Christians dig in deep and love like Christ loves until a good relationship flourishes.  Long-suffering means that we must not only endure but we must change into the image of Christ so that we may grow in loving-kindness.

Forbearing one another in love is the culmination of the holy virtues with which we live out our high calling.  We do not shrivel up so that others may flourish around us.  Rather, we live boldly in Christ-like loving-kindness, forgiving those who sin against us while striving with all our might not to sin against others, thereby building up godly relationships with our brother and with our neighbor.  Christ commands the disciples in St. John xiii:34:  “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”

St. Paul writes previously in this epistle (i.10), “That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:”

This is the end to which we are heading.  This is what Christ has in store for us and for the entire cosmos.  Any impairment we suffer with regards to unity is an impairment of the whole world.  We work against Christ when we hold grudges, when we vaunt ourselves in front of others, when we work to silence others, when we work to politic our way into getting our peculiar lovely thing accepted by the group.  All those things are not even worthy of worldly relations.

 

3:  endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

We have unity in the Holy Ghost.  Our unity together as members of one Body is God’s work, not ours.  We must labor to maintain, to keep this unity.

And how?  “In the bond of peace”.  A bond can mean physical glue like ligaments and beams or ethical glue like loyalty or law.  This is a good, necessary, and wholesome thing, not a wicked thing weighing us down.  Indeed, in Colossians iii.14, the bond is love.

 

4:  There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;

5:  one Lord, one faith, one baptism,

6:  one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

The “body” is a reference to Christ’s universal Church.  Through the Spirit, Christians gain access to the Father.  The Father calls the Christians through the Holy Ghost.  The “one hope of your calling” is eternal life in Christ, which believers have received from God.

“One Lord” reminds us that both Jews and Gentiles, indeed all Christians, have but one lord, and this when there were many earthly lords abounding.  In the first chapter of this epistle to the Ephesians (i.21), we read of the triumph of Christ over all other lords, both worldly and otherworldly.  The latter half of the second chapter of Ephesians (ii.11-22) tells of Jew and Gentile united “by one Spirit, unto the Father”.

One faith reminds us that there are not several faiths, but one faith, faith in Christ Jesus, the orthodox faith, eschewing all heretical and heterodox faiths.  We may struggle in darkness to find the right path, but doubt not that there is a right path.  We are not abandoned in the cosmos to make our way alone.  We have a savior, the God-become-Man, our Lord Christ.

If that seems rather epic or deep, that’s because it is.  St. Paul reflects this cosmic or universal understanding through this more poetical part.

St. Paul elaborates this in I Corinthians xii.12-13:

“For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.  For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.”

Our holy God teaches us that things are united in him, not divided.  Reading the Revelation, we see that those who divide themselves away from God will ultimately suffer a final and permanent separation from God.  God is one, and we are joined in God.

This extends to God’s relationship to all of the created order, the whole cosmos.  God is not only father of men, but the Father of the whole creation.  The Father is not Father by apparent relationship and called so by man, but is called so in Holy Scriptures as the proper address for the First Person of the Holy Trinity.

 

Unity is one of the Notes of the Church.  In the Nicene Creed we say, “I believe in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.”

We are all one in Christ.  Jesus Christ is the mediator between God and Man.  He is truly God, being the Son of the Father, the Word of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.  He is truly Man, born of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Subsisting in Christ, we are one with God.  We do not become gods ourselves.  We do not become angels.  We do not wind up as disembodied spirits in the presence of God.  We are human.  We share the same nature.  Every human person you meet, whether profoundly mentally retarded, utterly lost in addiction, or entirely given over to wickedness, every person is human.  We share this with each other.  We share this with Christ.

We are not all the same person; we are not all in the same parish; we are not all of the same sex; we are not all of the same class; we are not all of the same ethnicity.  Becoming one in Christ has little to do with breaking down such barriers.  Our unity with each other and with God in Christ transcends these differences.

Christ demolishes these pale notions of human life.  Each soul stands before God on her own.  We are all equal in our humanity.  We are all beneath the holy dignity of divinity.  Each one of us must join with Christ, Who is God Incarnate, eternally begotten of God the Father before all worlds and born of Saint Mary the Mother of God in Bethlehem.  Only insofar as we unite in Christ are we saved.

 

“There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”

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

 

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“And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan.”

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

 

Leprosy remains an awful disease today, but it was a plague in ancient times.  Leprosy wrenched poor souls from the company of their families and neighbors, shunned into isolation.  Leprosy was, not only a lingering death of living decomposition, but, a social death.  Cleansing rituals and reëntrance into society were tightly regulated.  Samaritans and Jews notably lived apart, yet here lepers of both sorts found themselves bound together, joined as outcasts.

The Gospel lesson opens with ten lepers who keep their distance but entreat Christ to have mercy on them.  They are piteous, yet they seek more than His pity.  They pray for healing:  The restoration of their flesh and the return to the company of their peoples.

Christ does not heal them with a word.  Rather, he commands them to present themselves to the priests in accordance with the Law.  As I said last Sunday, Christ came to fulfill the Law, not to replace it.  “It is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.”  The priests would examine them and declare them clean, officially receiving them back into the community.

The ten are made clean when they leave Christ to obey His command.  Christ does not heal them where they were.  He does not heal them with a word or even spittle and mud.  They find restoration when they heed Christ’s direction.

“And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan.”  Like the publican who would not lift his eyes up to Heaven, the Samaritan leper fell down on his face.  He could not heal himself.  His heart brimmed with gratitude.

The Samaritan is not the only one who had faith.  Christ told the leper that “thy faith hath made thee whole”.  But the nine Jewish lepers had been cleansed too; they differ in that they did not return to give thanks.  They had also been cleansed by faith as they obeyed Christ and headed off to present themselves to the priests before they were healed.  But they did not respond with gratitude by returning “to give glory to God” for their cleansing.

 

Ingratitude is a leprosy of the spirit.  Ingratitude isolates us in selfishness.  It raises barriers between people due to hurt feelings.  It does not bind us together but teaches us not to care for others.  It teaches us not to trust.  It teaches us not to love.  It sullies the soul and rips asunder the innumerable connections forming the fabric of civilized society.  This social sin hurts us individually in our relationships with God and man and harms the social world we – and our neighbors – live in.

It is not a stretch to consider how we are lepers.  Leprosy is a disease of the flesh.  Our ingratitude at the good gift of Christ’s own self is a disease of the spirit.  Christ is “the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.”  He sees us in all our grotesque lesions.  Yet He embraces us still.  He loves us so much, He would see us whole.

If our neighbor could see us as Christ sees us, as monstrous lepers with putrid sores, failing limbs, rotting lips, and decaying skin, he would run from us in horror and disgust.  Perhaps this is why those reveling in the stench of their own sin often seek each other out for company.  Others who do not share their affliction cannot abide them.

The lepers approach Christ and pray Him for healing.  They know their flesh rots.  They cannot deceive themselves as we can.  Christ commands that, whilst sick, they present themselves to the priests to be declared clean.  This is a bold act of faith to leave the Lord and seek the priests to present themselves whilst still putrid.  As they obey in faith, they find themselves healed.

‘Show us a miracle’, the skeptics demand.  Christ says in St. Matthew (xvii.20), “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.”  Lively faith, trust in and obedience to the Lord, is the path to holiness.

Restored from deadly sin, we are reunited in communion with Christ.  We confess and receive absolution from our sins before we receive the Holy Body and Blood of our Lord upon bended knee.  When you love people for a long time, you offend each other.  When you address these failures and offenses forthrightly, you open the way to restoring that which is broken.  That the one leper who best lived life in the Lord was a strange Samaritan from outside Israel shows us that everything broken can be healed in Christ.

 

If a friend was to forget a single gift once given, then we could forgive him.  But God gives us good gifts every day.  Withholding thanks, much less acknowledgement, is cruel return for such continual blessings.  Truly, God lacks nothing.  We can offer him nothing he needs.  Rather, we need all things from him.  Although God does not need our thanks, it is only “meet and right so to do”.

The age-old name of the Mass in Greek is the eucharist, the good gift.  This wondrous Sacrament commemorates the Lord’s gift of Himself to us for our salvation.  Being the mysterious recapitulation of Christ’s self, it signifies God’s grace and love to us.  He not only deigned among us to dwell.  He not only gave Himself up for our sins to overcome Hell and death.  He also gave us His Sacred Body to eat and His Precious Blood to drink in a spiritual feast and heavenly banquet.  Thus reminded and enlivened, how could we fail to thank Him by living lives worthy of His great gift?  Not only did God give Himself for His enemies, but He then gave Himself as their food.  God is great beyond comprehension.

As we thank God for the gift of himself and for the blessings he has given us, so too we also ought to thank God for the blessings given to others.  By thanking God for the gifts he has given our neighbor, we crucify envy and increase in loving-kindness.  Our gratitude detaches from self-interest and purifies, making it more genuine.  We in no wise can continue to envy those whom we heartily thank God for their blessings.

Likewise, we ought to recount and gratefully acknowledge even the smallest gifts God gives us.  All we have is his.  Even the smallest gift God gives is marvelous for being the gift of God.  Continual remembrance and thanksgiving for small gifts trains our hearts to pray without ceasing.  Nothing God has made is without importance.  Taking care to give thanks for his small gifts reminds us of God’s wonder and constancy.

Indeed, we ought to go beyond giving thanks for God’s small gifts and his gifts to others.  We ought to thank him for our indignities and sufferings.  Only pride tells us that we are, in ourselves, worthy of something.  All we have is from God.  We have nothing to call our own.  To say that we deserve something solely from our own effort is to err.  The contrite soul acknowledges both good and ill things worthy to be of thanks.  Dare we truly think we have not offended?  Nothing we endure is wholly undeserved.  God sees with his own light; indeed, all light is of God.  He sees everything, including the things we would rather hide in the darkness.

As one advances in spiritual direction, living in religious community, or hopefully even parish life, we learn to thank each other for admonitions and corrections.  One of the most painful experiences of my life involves a moment of truth-telling, wherein I was called on hypocrisy I had blissfully ignored.  This is yet more true of the Lord.  As we grow in virtue, the more we see our faults.  The holiest saints urgently insist of their own sinfulness and unworthiness.  With bad eyesight, we cannot tell how far away or how dirty those fuzzy things out there are.  The clearer we see, the better we ascertain our true deserts.

There is a saying that there are no atheists in foxholes.  I have been reliably told by some atheist veterans that this is not true.  What is true is we tend to pray when in distress.  Avoiding death tops the charts.  But people also pray to find lost keys, fix computer printers, and meet next month’s rent.  The ten lepers in today’s Gospel certainly needed healing.  That they prayed Christ to save them is worthy.  It demonstrates faith.  Yet praying for things when we need them is not evidence of a habitual orientation of our hearts towards God.

 

Out of hundreds of possible examples throughout Holy Writ, I like Psalm xcii.1-2:  “It is a good thing to give thanks unto the LORD, and to sing praises unto thy Name, O Most Highest; To tell of thy loving-kindness early in the morning, and of thy truth in the night season;”

Gratitude is central to a living faith.  Gratitude flows from the heart full of God’s love.  We pray in thanksgiving after receiving the “good gift” of Holy Communion.  We sing God’s praise throughout our services.  In the Sacrament of Confession, we give thanks after God forgives us our sins.  In Morning and Evening Prayer, we cherish the General Thanksgiving:  “Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we, thine unworthy servants, do give thee most humble and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and lovingkindness to us, and to all men;”

 

George Herbert’s poem, Gratefulness, begins:

 

Thou that hast given so much to me,

Give one thing more, a grateful heart.

 

After tears, sighing, and groaning, he concludes:

 

Wherefore I cry, and cry again;

And in no quiet canst thou be,

Till I a thankful heart obtain

Of thee:

 

Not thankful, when it pleaseth me;

As if thy blessings had spare days:

But such a heart, whose pulse may be

Thy praise.

 

“And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan.”

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

 

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