2020 Trinity X – Deeds and Words

Postulant Ken Kubo
16 August 2020

“Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.”– I Corinthians 12:3

Welcome to our virtual Patronal Feast. [Debbie, don’t worry, we didn’t plan a party at your house and not tell you, so nobody should be showing up for tri-tip. We’ll take a rain check for next year, God willing!] In Christian tradition, a feast is a religious anniversary characterized by rejoicing (from the Latin festus – “joyful”). Rejoicing can certainly be shown with good food and good company, but in this day and age, we will rely on our virtual communion and the joy of being able to celebrate at all! As you may remember, a patronal feast celebrates the Patron Saint of the parish – in our case, the Blessed Virgin Mary who was selected as our name saint by the Reverend Dr. L. Noel Stipkovich, founder and first rector of the parish. We are corporately thankful for the protection, guidance, and intercession of the Blessed Virgin and indeed all the saints in these times! As typical with anniversaries, we reflect on the year past and look forward to many more ahead, with the certain hope that faith will see us through the uncertain times in the near future. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us!

Realistically, we cannot live in the past or the future. We learn from the past, we hope for the future, but we live and act in the here and now. So this is where our choices matter and where we can do our part for the building up of God’s Kingdom – or not. As the Preacher of Ecclesiastes wrote, “For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:14) At the end of all things, we will be judged. When I was fighting a traffic ticket, a friend (who happened to be a judge) told me to stick to my guns and never throw myself on the mercy of the court – “because” (as he said) “we don’t have any.” Luckily, our heavenly judge has mercy in abundance, and He himself brokered an everlasting plea deal on our behalf.

In The Last Battle, the final book of the C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, Emeth, a young soldier of the Calormenes who are hostile to Narnia, ends up with a bit of a crisis of faith. Emeth has been a follower of Tash, the Calormene god, all his life. He has been fairly devout and has consistently done good works and served honorably. But in the war against Narnia, he is troubled by the “lies and trickery” that the Calormene are using to discredit Aslan, the protector of Narnia and literary Christ symbol of the books. If you haven’t read the book recently, I encourage you to read through Revelation and then reread The Last Battle. To make a long story short, Emeth acts to discredit the campaign that Tash and Aslan are really the same. In doing so, he finds himself in Aslan’s country. Confronted with Aslan’s reality, Emeth fears that his service to Tash will result in condemnation. Aslan tells him instead that he will be delivered. “I take to me the services which thou hast done to Tash … if any man swear by him and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him.” (Lewis The Last Battle, Ch. 15). In other words, virtuous deeds and a virtuous life demonstrate service to God, regardless of the name invoked. One cannot do good save by the Spirit, and one who does evil – even in the Spirit’s name – is not speaking by the Spirit of God. In one of his letters, Lewis explained this further: “I think that every prayer which is sincerely made even to a false god, or to a very imperfectly conceived true God, is accepted by the true God and that Christ saves many who do not think they know him. For He is (dimly) present in the good side of the inferior teachers they follow.” (Lewis, Collected Letters). [NB: Lewis defended some measure of soteriological inclusivism, while maintaining that Christ was the only path to salvation.]

Remember that as a matter of faith, we believe that God’s grace is what spares us from the eternal fire. We do not and cannot earn salvation through good deeds – after all, what is the going exchange rate for eternal life? More than any of us can afford on our own, though we were as rich as Nebuchadnezzar (or his modern ilk Musk or Bezos). Those who truly follow Christ will reflect that inner direction with outward action. Good deeds are the symptom of the Spirit at work in a person’s life. On the other hand, this also means that the lack of them may be a symptom that, however pious ones words are, they are empty. No one does evil in Aslan’s name except that they serve the will of Tash. It’s not a really subtle metaphor, is it?

“Christian, dost thou feel them, how they work within, striving, tempting, luring, goading into sin?” – St. Andrew of Crete

Make no mistake – the Adversary is real and has an amazing work ethic. We are actually playing on both teams, and we are constantly coached to score points for the other side. Every decision point in every moment is a chance to let us rack up points in the wrong column. When our deeds – and how we play the game – slip, like Emeth we may find ourselves struggling to find our way back to a true path. Among our tools to help are the very symptoms we try to correct – deeds and words. A counselor once told me that following a pattern of behavior can help strengthen or rekindle the feelings behind the behavior. Consciously choosing to act as if you love God and love your neighbor can help reenergize that devotion, which then makes those positive behaviors more natural, and so on. Praying even awkwardly reminds you that you have an ongoing relationship with God, and that God isn’t going to quit on you. And remember that the best prayers of all may not even have words, just a heartfelt sense of need sent heavenward. Deeds and words and faith – outward signs and inward grace – help ensure that when the Spirit calls, we aren’t on the line with the opposite number. “The Lord upholdeth all such as fall, and lifteth up all those that are down.” (Psalm 145)

The Spirit helps us acknowledge that Jesus is Lord, but even moreso, to put that faith into practice (“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” St. Matthew 7:21). Again, the doing of good is merely the symptom that our faith is more than words but actually influences our behavior. Roma Downey, who played an angel in the long-running series Touched by an Angel, was once asked how she would deal with a person who cut in front of her in a supermarket checkout line. She thought a moment and said, “I’d probably just say, ‘well bless you’ or something like that and tell myself they had some reason to be in a rush.” She then laughed and said, “I’ll probably just explode one day from all the repressed irritation.” Except that by living her faith and practicing charity, she makes the forgiveness part real – and she still hasn’t exploded years later.

On the other hand, we are also taught to avoid the idea of deeds as the goal itself. Remember how the Pharisees were so careful (and prideful) about following the law and properly executing every ritual. They demonstrated that one could be perfect in deeds, but having lost the understanding of the spirit behind them. All they showed was that they loved the respect and prestige that came from their deeds, not God or their neighbor. Some of you may recall a story from Guideposts some years back – involving a crisis of faith for a woman who was a self-described Church fanatic – she was active in her Church’s outreach, sat on almost every committee of the vestry, served on the Altar Guild, volunteered with the youth group, and even took it upon herself to clean up the church building during the week. She felt great stress because she felt she couldn’t say “no” to any request – and yet, the more she labored, the further she felt from God, and she couldn’t understand why. She prioritized all the deeds of tending the Church and left herself no time to actually spend with God. It wasn’t until she was counseled to give up some of her responsibilities and spend a little time as just a member of the congregation that she found her faith again. Remember the story of Mary and Martha and Our Lord’s chiding to Martha that she was spending all her time fretting, while Mary was spending her time listening to Him teach – Mary had her priorities straight. Now, I’m not saying that the work on the vestry or with the Altar Guild, or the Acolytes is a distraction – we have to live within the world as well, and services have to happen and the bills have to get paid – we are just cautioned to remember that what we do is to love and serve the Lord and our neighbor through the work. Let us not love the deeds but the spirit that guides them. Let us not love only in word but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:18) The work itself is not the end product, love is.

We are so much better off than poor Emeth because we are already pledged to the side that values good, and we already know our Judge and His infinite mercy. So let us accept the plea deal and strengthen our faith that it may reflected in our words and deeds. It’s up to us choose the good portion for ourselves and invest in our faith, that we may always walk worthy of our Christian profession. Let our deeds be Christ-ward, not us-ward, that we may turn away from sin and say to the Lord, as our beloved Patron did, “be it unto me according to thy word.”

Merciful Father, we come before you as we are – accept us and strengthen us with your light to continue in your word. When we lose our way in the press of daily life, Good Shepherd, seek us out and wrap us about with your protection and boundless love. Blessed Comforter, guide us to the paths that we should travel. And with the Blessed Virgin Mary’s inspiration and intercession, fill us with your grace, Lord, that we may have the courage to seek you, the patience to wait for you, and the wisdom to walk beside you all the days of our lives. Amen.