Sermon for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany
January 21, 2018
We are currently in the midst of the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity. This yearly prayer for the unification of all Christians is much more, though, than just a pious practice. Indeed, to pray and work towards the unification of all those who believe in Christ is our duty as Christians.
We begin each day in this octave of prayer by quoting the words of our Lord, “That they all may be one, as Thou, Father, in me and I in Thee; that they also may be one in Us; that the world may believe that Thou hast sent me.” I would say that through these words we should be able to see that Christ not only desires unity amongst His followers – He even demands it. Our unity is to be a sign to the world of the truth of the Gospel, so that all the people of the world may come to believe in and follow Jesus Christ as their Saviour.
Now while it is true that the unity Christ prayed for is a reality within the Church and will never be lost, we, the sinful creatures that we are, can – and do – continue to cause division amongst ourselves. And when we do this the people of the world see it, and it leads to their disbelief and rejection of the Truth. We need to understand that in these self-sustained divisions we are not just hurting ourselves, we are in addition leading others away from Christ. Christ came that all mankind might be brought to a saving knowledge of the Truth. He came that all people might come into communion with the divine life of the Trinity. It should therefore be a very sobering thought that our actions towards one another could keep someone off that path to God.
Now when we observe the actual state of all those who believe in Christ, what do we see? We see division upon division of Christians all over the world; even here at our own parish we can see division. This division causes our Lord pain and it should be painful for us as well, and especially during this Octave of Prayer. And while we may not be able to single-handedly heal all the rifts amongst Christians around the world, we can most certainly do what is necessary to heal the divisions within our own parish and begin to heal the division between this parish and the Archdiocese.
Over this past year we have suffered a great deal of trauma from circumstances we know all too well. This has caused anger and outrage for many of us. And while we may have a right to be upset about all that happened last year we do not have a right to hate.
In today’s Gospel our Lord says, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the Gospel.” This repentance of which He speaks is not just a turning away from doing wrong. Instead, it indicates a change of heart – a rejection of our fallen nature and a continual becoming more like Christ. And the only way that is possible is by conforming our wills to the will of God. But this will never be possible if we continue to hold onto hatred and refuse to forgive.
And yet, we continue to hang on to anger and unforgiveness in at least one form that I want to discuss today: that of grumbling and murmuring. To give this a name we might call it a spirit of discontent. Now in one sense I can understand this attitude. What happened last year to this parish caught us off guard. When something like that happens we can become defensive. And from that defensive position people can easily give in to the spirit of discontent. But truly we have nothing to be discontent about.
Through God’s grace and wonderful blessing, the Pope put this parish where it belonged – in the Ordinariate, which is what we as a parish were praying for by the way. As a result we’ve been blessed with a new bishop that understands and appreciates who we are as a parish; in addition, we have also received a new pastor. So there are three things that happened very close together: a new diocese, a new bishop, and a new pastor. Any one of these would lead to changes – changes that perhaps some of you don’t like. But these three things happened almost at once and so with it there have been many changes. But instead of a spirit of gratitude at God answering our prayer for entry into the Ordinariate, what do you suppose that I am hearing? “Well, I don’t like this or that. All these changes are ruining the parish.” This is the spirit of discontent and it comes from the evil one. Therefore, when we speak this way we are sinning.
The Church teaches that sin by itself injures the unity of the Church. How much more so when the sin is directed against our fellow Christian? And if our own personal sin leads to division in the Church, then why are we constantly blaming someone else as the source of all our perceived problems?
Christ has called us to unity, but that is only possible through love and forgiveness. In other words, we must be like Christ who from the Cross forgave those who crucified Him. And we must love others as He did by wanting what is best for all people, even those who hurt us, or do things we don’t agree with, and by putting their needs above our own.
In the Gospel today our Lord called Peter, Andrew, James, and John to follow Him. “Follow me,” as followers of Christ, these are words He addresses to us everyday. But to be a follower of Christ you must heed the words I’ve said today about rejecting the spirit of discontent, and about forgiveness and love. Our Lord calls you to follow Him. No one can answer the call for you, you must do it on your own.