In a theme that is familiar to long-time readers of this column, I’d like to start by asking the reader a question. What is the greatest danger in the Church today? Is it the secular state? Is it modernism? Is it the liberals and progressives in the Church? The “gay lobby”? When you hear people talking about the problems facing the Church, this is what you tend to hear about. These are things which trouble the Church. We do have a secular state and business lobbies rapidly advancing agendas contrary to Christianity, and the devastation modernism has unleashed on the Church is great. Yet bad as these things are, they are not the biggest problem in the Church today.
For me, the biggest problem facing Christianity is that Christians no longer believe in its transformative power. We can no longer expect the Gospel to radically change people’s lives, that their conversion be a total conversion to Christ. Forces in the Church wish to accommodate her teaching to the “reality” that we cannot expect people to realistically abide by the Church’s teaching in 2015. The Ninth Sunday After Pentecost reminds us not only is such a life possible, but also sheds light on what we need to do for it to be a reality: ask.
According to the Introit, God is the “protector of my soul” who turns evil away from us. The Collect sheds light on how and when God protects us. Enlightened by His grace, “Thou mayest grant their desire to… ask such things as please Thee.” One of the biggest reasons people remain trapped in sin is they no longer ask for deliverance from that sin. We instead try to find ways to have society rationalize that it isn’t a sin at all. St. Paul lists several things that we should not do, citing the example of the ancient Israelites which was “written for your instruction.” After telling us to avoid all of these things, Paul closes with a reminder that “God is faithful.”
God is faithful, and he is willing to deliver you from those sins and temptations, but you have to ask to be delivered. Now sometimes when we hear this, we come to a false understanding about deliverance. While God will deliver us from sin if we ask, that does not mean we are free from sin. Our fallen nature will still be inclined to sin, and we still have to exercise prudence. No man should ever go to a strip club and pray that God prevent him from lust!
Just as deliverance does not mean protection from our own mistakes, we should also not presume that Paul’s statement that God will provide us a way to “bear” our temptation does not mean temptation won’t be difficult. It doesn’t mean it won’t have an impact on our lives. Many times speakers promote a false Gospel that if you are enlightened by grace, you no longer have to worry about temptation. The temptation to sin will always be there, it will always be real, and it will always have consequences in your life.
If that’s true, then what is so special about the Gospel? The power of the Gospel lays in the reality that temptation and sin need no longer define you. Your life doesn’t have to revolve around them. You can ask God to be free of those sins and ask God that those temptations don’t overcome you. If you are willing to allow him to work through you, they won’t. Though they will always be present, you need not live in constant fear of them. Why? Because you’re focused on God instead! That’s the warning of St. Paul’s Epistle: our ancestors weren’t focused on God, and since they weren’t focused on God, the inclination to sin overcame them and dominated them. As a result, they perished and were denied the Promised Land. Though we may well perish before the end of all things, Heaven will not be denied to those who focus on God instead of on their sins. Through God’s grace, we can choose something better than temptation. A married man is always tempted to cheat, but a married man in God’s grace doesn’t follow that call. He hears it but he realizes answering it will lead to his ruin, so he clings to “the bride of his youth” as the writer of Proverbs says. The institution of Holy Matrimony provides Him all his needs, why should he look elsewhere?
That desire to look elsewhere is where sin usually begins. We look outside of the answers the Church gives us, normally to our own no doubt brilliant and creative ideas. We rationalize how much we can get away with, or what accommodations we can make with sin in our lives. We lash out at others for “judging” us, and we demand acceptance of not just our individual person, but all of our sins as well. In that sense, we are no different than the ancient Israelites. They demanded to worship a golden calf because, after all, isn’t that what everyone else was doing? Was it realistic in their world to worship an invisible God? They weren’t worshipping a new god per se, they just wanted to define for themselves what God was, how he was worshipped, etc.
Contrary to this Spirit, the Postcommunion asks that the Eucharist not only cleanse us from our sins, but provide unity. The sacrament of the Eucharist unites us to the Church, unites us to the path where we won’t get led astray. Rather than seeking our own way, the Eucharist helps us to see and seek the way of Christ. If we want this path, all we have to do is ask for it. Ask Jesus into our hearts, ask Him to guide us to the Church, His body, and ask Him to follow the path He has set for us in the Church. If we do this, then we can rejoice with the Psalmist in today’s Gradual, that we will truly see “they magnificence elevated above the heavens. “