Reflections on the Third Sunday after Epiphany

The 12th Ch of Romans from which our epistle readings have come over the Sundays after Epiphany is the chapter of the consecrated life of the Christian disciple and the law of love.

In our portion this morning, St. Paul says we are to enter into one another’s desires and aims – not to aim at a high place or honor for ourselves, but to be content with the humble duties that come our way.

We are never to retaliate, to avoid even the appearance of dishonorable conduct and to live at peace with all, so far as peace is in our power.  If anyone wrongs us, we are to leave it to God to sort out – our part is to do him good, that he may be ashamed of his enmity toward us.

We are not to let the wickedness of others provoke evil passions in us, but rather to conquer wickedness by good actions.  That is all a pretty straightforward paraphrase of our passage – and we could simply leave it there with a “go and do likewise”.  But our Collect this morning tells us that won’t do.  The prayer is concise, and asks God to look and help.  In fact, we ask Him to look at our sickness and our weaknesses.  They are the cracks and loosened foundations which render us creatures with feet of clay.

It is precisely in our infirmities that we need help, to move through them into His strength.  And only in the acknowledgment of our infirmity are we prepared to call for help.

The first step to any growth in our Christian life is the acknowledgment of our sin and weakness.  Some never get to this place.  They never draw close enough to God to see the great gulf our sin creates and the horror of what sin does to our communion with Him, with others and even with ourselves.  They never attain a proper view of themselves.  It is part of the ignorance of pride and self-love, those insidious passions that seek to control us at all times.

The NT tells us that living so for too long can even sear our conscience – that we can become so insensitive to sin that we are deaf to the conscience, that inner voice of right and wrong.

This, in great measure, is what has happened to our nation over the past 45 years.  Since that fateful day 46 years ago when the Supreme Court legalized abortion-on-demand in this nation, an average of 155 infants every hour have been destroyed in the womb, the place of sanctuary for the growing baby.

The total number of combat-deaths-only of American soldiers in all the wars we have fought in since the American Revolution is now about 667,000.  One-half of the average number of babies killed in the womb every year since 1973.            

Over 60 million total.  Staggering figures, yet many take little notice, or call it merely a “woman’s right to choose” a chilling euphemism for aborting her own baby.  We are the only of God’s creatures who kill their own offspring in the womb.

We have a seared national conscience.  It is true, that after peaking around 1990 at 1.6 million, the statistics have dropped, but  the number of babies aborted each year is still about one-and-a half the total of all battle deaths over our 240 years as a nation. … not enough to prove that our collective conscience has become sensitized to the evil we have loosed.

That must happen one by one.  Repentance and forgiveness, conversion of heart, the enlightening and education of the conscience to renewed sensitivity begins with each one of us, as we live into the life of our Master, and He lives in us.  We must forgive, but we must also repent. 

It begins with the kind of love mentioned by 11th C Greek theologian Nikitas Stethatos:

He who attains true prayer and love no longer puts things into categories.  He does not separate the righteous from the sinners, but loves all equally and does not judge them, just as God gives the sun to shine and the rain to fall both on the just and the unjust

Thus are we to view and treat all, tainted by either acts of abortion or even the thought.  Only genuine love will save the sinner from the past and reach into the heart whose conscience has become insensitive.

And lest any of us despair, listen to these words from St. Peter of Damascus:

“…should we fall, we should not despair and so estrange ourselves from the Lord’s love. For if He so chooses, He can deal mercifully with our weakness. Only we should not cut ourselves off from Him or feel oppressed when constrained by His commandments, nor should we lose heart when we fall short of our goal…let us always be ready to make a new start. If you fall, rise up. If you fall again, rise up again. Only do not abandon your Physician, lest you be condemned as worse than a suicide because of your despair. Wait on Him, and He will be merciful, either reforming you, or sending you trials, or through some other provision of which you are ignorant.”