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Sunday, 23 June 2013

Trinity III: Summary of Sermon

[1Pe 5:10,11] But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. +

[Note: In reading the following, one needs to know that my parish observed the Octaves of Corpus Christi and Sacred Heart, with the liturgical colour being white for the last two Sundays. I realise many or most other parishes in the ACC have been green already for one or two Sundays.] 

We have green again for the first time again in a long time. I want to talk to you about the church's colours today, and what they signify for us. The verse I quoted from the Epistle connects to all 4 of the common liturgical colours, as it happens.

Grace: Red. Symbolises blood and fire. Christ's blood poured out is grace, "undeserved favour or blessing". Blood washes us from sin, so represents mercy. Fire represents the Holy Spirit, who is called in Scripture and the Prayer Book, the Spirit of grace. Red reminds us of both sacrifice, including in the Martyrs, and our need to be living sacrifices to God. Red also speaks of God's overwhelming power for us and in us.

Glory: White or gold. The joy of Christmas and Easter, the powerful virtue of Christ and his Saints, and the related Feasts. The colour of celebration and of swimming happily in the Light of God's presence. The glorious colour indeed, as we enjoy God.

Suffering: Violet or purple. The sombre colour of bruised flesh. The colour of self-discipline and penitence. Advent and Lent. We prepare for glory by taking stock of our lives, minimising distraction and luxury, and turning from sin.

Establish and settle: Green. The colour of nature, the colour of steady growth. The normal colour. It takes up the majority of the year. What does this tell us? The Christian walk has times of intensity, of joy, power and enthusiasm, of suffering, penitence and sacrifice. (The red, white and violet.) But for most of us, most of the time, the reality is steady, even slow growth. Much of the battle is patience, as I have said before. We cannot always live either in the sweetness or the sorrow. We learn a lot just by long experience and persistent effort.

The Church, wisely, reflects this balance, and teaches us of it through the colours. But many people want to live their lives only in excitement or radical change, forever in a state of flux, always looking solely for immediate solutions or immediate satisfactions. They immerse themselves in thrilling pleasures if one sort of person, or programmes supposed to quickly change themselves if another sort of person. They become addicts of one sort or another, even if only addicted to forever finding something new. Whether its addiction to drugs, consumerism, entertainments, or to new age gurus selling self-help, such an approach to life leads to instability, unproductiveness and discontent.

Yet Christians can take this approach to the spiritual life too. There are Christians who look down on the traditional balance represented by the colours of the Church's year. They are always seeking the buzz, the rush of the miraculous, the confronting, the obviously powerful. They criticise predictability in Church services and desire the overtly supernatural and the radical transformation as often as possible. The problem is that this isn't reality. "God normally works normally" as I've heard even Pentecostals, wise Pentecostals, say. The result of this unbalanced approach is sometimes pretence or delusion. Let me quote parts of a song by a Christian hip-hop artist, John Rueben, who has clearly experienced just this foolishness in churches.

[“Freedom to Feel”]
I can't force a happy face or makeshift you a smile
I can't deny what I see, what I feel or what's in front of me
So take your world of precious moments of make-believe
They never made me believe in anything
But left me with nothing to hold on to
Your quick fix and magic tricks can only disguise what I was going through
And now I'm thinkin' it was when it wasn't
And now I'm tryin' to rationalize what just doesn't
Come together and somehow doesn't make sense
But God, how can I convince them when I'm not even convinced?
Everyone is thinkin' it, but nobody's sayin' it
Everyone's sayin' it, but nobody's feeling it
Everyone's feeling it, but nobody's seein' it
So how am I supposed to know what's real?
False sense of happiness
My security wrapped up in this
No time to be ugly
Don't trouble them with your doubt and fears
Shout for joy little boys and girls
You brokenness ain't welcome here
Well excuse me while I bleed through and my life becomes see-through
Don't ask for transparency but reject what you see into
Can somebody tell me how am I supposed to know what's real
When I was told and controlled how to feel?

So, let us be honest about our Christian walk, and never undervalue the ordinary, gentle ways of God, or the value of patience and perseverance in our spiritual growth. Yes, God will do extraordinary things at times, and we should expect this, being willing to climb the mountain heights and slog through the valleys when required. But the ordinary means of grace found in the liturgies and sacraments of the Church, as well as in personal prayer and reading of Scripture, are our staple diet, and there is nothing wrong with that. I will finish with a quotation from Tolkien's Silmarillion, which I feel symbolises this contentment very beautifully. It speaks of the reaction of immortal angelic beings to the first verdancy of the Earth, to the "mere" normalcy of natural beauty.

And there upon the Isle of Almaren in the Great Lake was the first dwelling of the Valar when all things were young, and new-made green was yet a marvel in the eyes of the makers; and they were long content.

Truly, the ordinary means of grace are also a marvel, an abiding place of great beauty. +

1 comment:

  1. Supposedly Pope Innocent 111 (1198-1216) introduced a colour sequence that is still in use today.

    A bit of fun trivia:
    The source of artificial colours used in the ancient world is interesting. The Israelites were skilled in both weaving and dying. Their dies were made from vegetables and shellfish creating colours that were often inexact but from guarded family recipes.

    Purple is the most precious of the ancient dyes and was made from shellfish found in the Mediterranean Sea. A total of 250,000 mollusks being requires to make one ounce of the dye... Highly valued!

    Blue was also derived from shellfish.

    Red in several shades, was extracted from the bodies of insects. Vermillion was used in decorating homes of the wealthy and painting idols.