The Daily Offices

The Daily Offices from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, (Canada 1962), including daily Bible readings and occasional sermons from the Cathedral of the Annunication of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Ottawa

Monday, September 12, 2005

Trinity XV, 2005

No man can serve two masters….Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Mt. 6:24.

These words of Our Lord are found in St. Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount, which begins in verse 3 of Chapter 4 and ends with verse 27 of Chapter 7. It has variously been described as the Magna Carta of Christianity and, by John Stott as A Christian Counter Culture. The words I have just quoted show just how tough the Sermon on the Mount actually is.

In 1939, after war had broken out in Europe, C.S. Lewis gave a series of talks on the radio, presumably the BBC because I don’t believe junk radio had arrived in the UK at that time. These talks were subsequently published in a slim volume entitled “The Case for Christianity.” I have drawn heavily on this book in this sermon and I strongly recommend the book to you. It is in our library.

The book is divided into two parts, the first called “Right and Wrong as a clue to the meaning of the Universe”, and the second is called simply, “What Christians believe.”

In the first part, Lewis shows that the concept of Right and Wrong, both of which he capitalized throughout, is a fundamental part of our humanity; so fundamental, in fact, that it used to be called The Law of Nature. Concerned, as it is, with Right and Wrong, this is a Moral Law and distinct from the physical and chemical laws of the universe around us.

Thus, two people may argue over something, but they will rarely fight like animals over it, at least not at first. Without each having as a reference the same concept of Right and Wrong, there would be nothing to argue over, no basis for an argument and the two might just as well fight like animals. It is the knowledge of the concept which drives the two to justify the different positions they take and therefore makes possible the argument.

This law, which is distinct from our instincts, is the basis for our moral behaviour and our social structures, even without the imposition and intervention of religious precepts. We know that it is wrong to kill another human being and we do not have to be taught that. That knowledge is so strong, existing across humanity, that even fanatical followers of Mohammed have to justify to themselves the killing of those they see as infidels or apostates. They claim to kill for their god, Allah, and even offer highly improbable rewards to those prepared to die in the process of killing.

We all know that killing babies in the womb is wrong, so society wraps it up in high sounding words about women’s rights, whilst shoveling under the carpet the consequences like high suicide rates, depression and other conditions which beset women who undergo the procedure.

Abortion has been with us for millennia. The Church Fathers warned against it in their writings. But, ancient though the practice may be, in reality few societies condone abortion, which leads me to another point made by C.S. Lewis. Differences in the Law of Nature between the ages and civilizations are actually slight, though they may seem otherwise. For example, one man may argue that polygamy is acceptable, which another argues for monogamy, but both will agree that, as Lewis puts it, “a man must not simply have any woman he likes.”

Lewis makes the case that the Law of Nature is universal to all human beings. Then he makes a second point. Unlike, say, the law of gravity, which must always be obeyed, the Law of Nature can be disobeyed. Humans can choose to break it. Having said that, let me stress that this law is not a description of observed human behaviour; it is part of our God-given nature.

The tragedy of the human condition is that none of us obeys the Law of Nature completely, because we are fallen creatures. Only Jesus Christ was able to live in perfect obedience to this law. That was because it is His law and Jesus the man remained always Jesus the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. Through His glorious life we have the living example of the details of this law, of its nobility and Godliness.

Most importantly, Jesus Christ focuses us on the reality of this law, embodied in each human being as continuous with, integral with, God and His creation.

Jesus Christ shows us how we are to respond to the Law of Nature and through His Incarnation, we can see the Law as God trying to influence us to behave in a certain way.

The Law tells us that we are not alone, because no one has come close to presenting a convincing argument as to how it could possibly have arisen in us of itself. The incomparable example of obedience to it in the life of Jesus Christ presents in divine magnificence the hope of Christianity – the way to God. The only way to God.

The Incarnation of Jesus Christ reveals the entity behind the Law of Nature specifically as the Christian God,
the Father of Our Lord and Saviour;
the Redeemer of Mankind;
the Holy Spirit, the Comforter;
The Holy and Blessed Triune God.

Why? Because the Incarnation and the Cross tell us that behind the Law of Right and Wrong is a Love that describes the Christian God and only Him; a Love so powerful that we cannot comprehend it. We can only give thanks for such Love and allow it to nudge us, to prick us, to lead us towards full union with Itself. The Christian God is Love.

However, as C.S. Lewis points out, this is not a soft Law. There is Right and there is Wrong and the Cross shows us that we must choose between them; how we should choose and how we should fear choosing wrongly. As Lewis said, “the Moral Law is as hard as nails. It tells you to do the straight thing, it doesn’t seem to care how painful, or dangerous or difficult it is to do.” What is that but the way of the Cross.

Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

The Aramaic word, mammon is used in Mt. 6:24 and three times by St. Luke, in 16:9, 11 and 13. Professor J. Newton Davies in the Abingdon Bible Commentary says “the word is the equivalent of money, riches, worldly goods and is derived (by Dalman) from aman, meaning ‘that on which one puts one’s trust’”

Putting our trust in any part of this world inevitably leads in the direction of what is wrong and is contrary to the teaching of Our Lord. Jesus teaches us explicitly to put our trust in God.

The Father, who created us, has given us a head start in giving us the Law of Nature, because in knowing Right from Wrong we must surely know to serve God and not mammon.

The Son, who redeemed us, has given us the perfect example of serving God. Not one second of His earthly life was concerned with mammon. When the world killed Him, he was stripped of His clothing and nailed stark naked to the Cross. How much more of a lesson do we need that every single material item with which we clutter our lives is completely and irrevocably transient.

That is not to say that we should not enjoy them. Far from it. We thank God for all His gifts, but Jesus is concerned that we do not let material things displace God as the focus of our lives. Jesus said, Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Mt.20:19-21.

To help us, Jesus sends the Holy Spirit, fulfilling His promise, I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever; Even the Spirit of truth. John 14:16-18.

God the Holy Spirit, who sanctifies us, reminding us of the Natural Law, sustaining us in our weakness, restoring us when we stumble and choose wrongly.

God the Holy Spirit, who opens our understanding of all that Jesus showed and taught us.

God the Holy Spirit, who helps us to fill our hearts and souls with the thoughts, the purpose and the very will of God. Who helps us to grow towards the hope of every Christian soul – unity with God in this world and the next; salvation for eternity.

Ye cannot serve God and Mammon.

But with a God like our God, why would we want to do anything but serve Him. Blessed be the Holy and undivided Trinity, now and for evermore.

Peter Jardine+
Trinity XV, 2005