FAITH, ENDURANCE, GRATITUDE AND LOVE
Sermon delivered on the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity the 9th October 2016 by Bishop Nicholas J.G. Sykes in the St. Alban's congregation of the Church of England, George Town, Cayman Islands in the service of the Holy Eucharist.
Scriptures: 2 Kings 5: 1-15c 2 Timothy 2: 8-15 S. Luke 17:11-19
2 Timothy 2:11 "If we have died with Him, we shall also live with Him; if we endure, we shall also reign with Him; if we deny Him, He also will deny us."
NO END TO THE WAR?
We were told often enough by the highest authorities of the day that the first war of the twenty-first century was going to take a long time. Although American and British military troops were withdrawn, now somewhat controversially, from Iraq, we seem in this century to have entered into a different kind of world than before, and not only Iraq but also Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Egypt and several other places in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas have all been battered by acts of terror and war without any end definitely in view.
THE LIFE-LONG MULTIDIMENSIONAL CHRISTIAN WAR
Yet in terms of Christian perspective, perhaps it is a world for which we of all people should be prepared. The Collect for the eighteenth Sunday after Trinity, for instance (two Sundays ago), was a prayer that we may have grace to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil, a prayer whose language recalls the sign made at our Baptism in token that we shall not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, and manfully to fight under His banner, against sin, the world, and the devil; and to continue Christ's faithful soldiers and servants to our lives' end. Evidently if we are to be Christ's faithful soldiers to our lives' end we are expected by Christian catechesis to be conducting a war to our lives' end. The confession of faith and the fighting under His banner are not intended merely to be a single act with the assumption of then enjoying without interruption long years of peace. In Christian life in the world there is supposed to be the unconquerable peace of God, but at the same time we are warned of continued conflict for the rest of our life against sin, the world and the devil. Let us observe also that the twenty-first century wars are likewise being prosecuted as wars against evil, wars against wrong values, more than wars against countries. Such war is certainly not the same as the Christian war, and it uses different weapons, yet it is being fought on a somewhat related mental battleground. Above all, the idea of a long war should not make us faint, because this too is what we face as Christian disciples. In whatever circumstances we are faced with, and for many in the world these are desperately severe, we are called to fight manfully under Christ's banner. There are many, in the places I have mentioned as well as elsewhere, who are fighting under Christ's banner against lifelong persecution of frightful dimensions. The fight here in the West to hold high the honour of Christ's holy name is itself a lifelong fight of many dimensions. Everywhere we can relate to the words of our text today from 2 Timothy: "If we have died with Him,"- and remember that "dying" is primarily a reference to being baptised into Christ - "we shall also live with Him; if we endure, we shall also reign with Him;" but "if we deny Him, He also will deny us." St. Paul is saying that if we do become faithless and deny Him at some point, that does not limit or diminish Him, because His own faithfulness and constancy remains. In denying Him, we would have cut ourselves away from that faithfulness and constancy, and have started along the world's shift and drift.
HARDNESS AND JOY
Suffering and endurance, then, are inseparable from the promotion of the Gospel and church growth, but that is not to say that this Christian war is merely an unrelieved hard grind. In the Old Testament Lesson today about the Syrian commander Naaman’s reaction to his healing when he obeyed the command of the Israelite prophet Elisha, and in the Gospel about the return of the one out of the ten healed by Jesus to give thanks to Him, we see expressions of gratitude and even love beginning to provide joyous and winsome characteristics to faith and endurance. These qualities are most important elements of faith, and are the key to transforming the faith-way from being the way of a slave to the way of a son. The Syrian general was helped along his way of faith first by a little girl that his wife had obtained out of a Syrian raid on Israel. Without knowing how he will ultimately get to the prophet the little girl tells them about, Naaman obtains a letter from his own king to the king of Israel, who is quite astonished by the request to heal him of leprosy. Eventually Naaman arrived at the prophet Elisha, only to be met there by the prophet's refusal to come out to him, and the prophet's instruction to the great commander to go and wash in the Jordan seven times. This was at first such a demeaning idea to him that he went away in a rage, but he was then again turned towards the path of faith by his own servants, did what the prophet told him to do, and was healed.
LOVE AND GRATITUDE GIVE MEANING TO OBEDIENCE
Now the prophet never told Naaman what he was to do after he washed and was healed, and I have no doubt he could have gone straight home and remained healed. But he knew there were things left to be done, and those things were to go back and offer a present, by so doing thanking the prophet, and to give honour to the God of Israel that had healed him. "I know now that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel," he said. These actions of the Gentile commander were in one sense the icing on the cake of faith, but at the same time they were what gave the whole cake its quality. That's like what happened in the Gospel account of the ten lepers that were healed by Jesus, who merely directed them when they had pleaded to Him to go and show themselves to the priests. Showing oneself to a priest after being healed was the standard way of being registered as healed and thus eligible to come back into society again. You find that instruction in Leviticus ch. 13. All of the ten except one did exactly what Jesus had told them to do without variation. All ten were cleansed on their way, showing that they had exercised faith in embarking on the journey, and there is no doubt they remained healed. But one of them, long before reaching the priest as Jesus had told them to do, came back in unrestrainable praise to God for healing him, and fell on his face before the Lord and thanked Him. Jesus' reaction to this was to wonder why all the others had not done the same thing that this Samaritan ex-leper did. This was the element of faith that went beyond sheer obedience and endurance, the heart-felt acknowledgment of the grace that had inspired the faith to arise, the love of Him who gave them the healing and release they had sought. Why had the others not done the same? This, the acknowledgment, was what gave meaning to what had happened, indeed was, in a manner of speaking, like Resurrection that gave meaning to the waiting, the pain and the trust.
CALLED TO EVERY DIMENSION OF FAITH
So in these days in our life-long Christian war, we too are called in every part of our life to faith and endurance, but we are called also to give the faith and endurance that extra dimension of gratitude and love to God. Indeed it is often the case that those parts of the church that suffer most persecution are the most thankful and joyful. We in the West seem set to be called increasingly to follow that pathway. In any event we are called more and more, as global communication improves, to be aware of our brothers and sisters all over the world who are suffering and enduring, and are called to enter into that suffering just as Timothy and his churches were called to enter into St. Paul's suffering. We are called also to enter into the labours of those who endure great privations for such work as Bible translation into the languages of far-away peoples. Here in our church as in all churches we are called to enter into one another's sufferings and difficulties and to bear one another and our neighbours up to the Lord in faith. As we do such works of faith and endurance, let us after the pattern of Naaman and like the Samaritan be thankful to the One who Himself suffered, died and rose again to give us the grace of faith, and let us acknowledge His greatness with gratitude and love.
1. In Christian life in the world there is supposed to be the unconquerable peace of God, but at the same time continued conflict for the rest of our lives against sin, the world and the devil." Give examples from your own life.
2. Did the one who turned back to Jesus have more faith than those who did not, or is it a quality of faith that is being commended here? Have we concentrated on the "more" rather than the "quality" of faith in Christian thinking down the ages?