A Sermon for
Rogation Sunday, May 24, 1981
St. James', Armdale, NS
By Dr. Robert Crouse
"As the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it to bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return to me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it." - Isa. 55"My word which goeth forth shall not return to me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please." Thus the prophet proclaims the mystery of the word of God: it is like the rain which cometh down from heaven, which watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud; it is like the rain from heaven, which makes fruitful the parched and barren earth. God's word goes forth into all the world, and makes that world fruitful with spiritual life, with words and deed of truth and grace, "seed to the sower and bread to the eater". Thus man lives most truly "by every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God".
But what is this word of God that goeth forth? It is the inspiration of the prophet and the vision of the seer, expressed in human words, and thus we speak of Scripture as the Word of God. But the Word of God is more than words, however true and gracious they may be: words do indeed reveal the Word, but the Word is something more than words. The Word of God is nothing less than God himself. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" says St. John. The Word is God's own eternal and complete self-knowing, the perfect self-uttering of God himself. The Word is Son of God, "the brightness of his glory and the express image of his person". The Word is "God from God, Light from Light, Very God from Very God".
The Word of God goes forth within the life of God himself - In the life of God, the Holy Trinity, God's Word, his own self-knowing, is eternally begotten. And the Word of God goes forth into the world, for "without him was not anything made that was made". He goes forth in all creation: "By the Word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth". And in Redemption, the Word of God goes forth, made flesh, to dwell amongst us, that we might behold his glory, "the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth". Who but St. John would have dared to say it: "we have touched and handled of the Word of Life". (John 1:1)
The Word of God goes forth in creation and in Redemption. But the Word of God also returns. Jesus tells us in this Sunday's Gospel lesson: "I came forth from the Father, and have come into the world: again I leave the world, and I go to the Father". "He that descended is the same also that ascended up, far above all heavens, that he might fill all things" - that he might complete all things, fulfill them in their spiritual destiny.
The Word of God goes forth and returns - he descends and ascends; and he does not return void or empty. He takes with him our humanity, transformed in resurrection; elevates it and returns it to that realm of spirit which is our first and final home; fills it with spiritual grace. As an ancient hymn puts it:"Yea angels tremble when they seeAnd Rogationtide reminds us, coming at the end of the Easter season, that the whole creation has its place in our spiritual destiny: every creature awaits with eager longing its redemption - its resurrection to serve the spiritual end for which it was created. Every creature of nature, every work of human art and science, must bring its own particular truth and beauty to the praise of God. That is its return, its spiritual destiny; and apart from that end, it remains forever frustrated, "in bondage to corruption". Every creature created in the going forth of the Word of God, is called to redemption in the return to that self-same Word. That uplifting of the whole creation in the ascension of our hearts and minds - that is the fundamental meaning of our prayer and worship. That is the ministry of God's Word , descending and ascending.
How changed is our humanity;
That flesh hath purged what flesh had stained,
And God the flesh of God, hath reigned".
This evening, our Bishop will ordain ministers of God's Word, and we must think about what that means. The ministry of the Word is, in the first place, not a particular vocation, not one vocation among others: it is the vocation of everyone of us, and the whole of our vocation, to have our place in the going forth and the return of the Word of God. As the rain cometh down from heaven, and watereth the earth, just so the Word of God in us must fructify the earth in all the varied circumstances of human life, in every time and place; must make the earth bring forth and bud with words of truth and deeds of holy charity, to the everlasting praise of its creator.
But in the Church, the Word of Godgoes forth, expressed in a ministry of particular vocations: the Spirit's gifts are divided among us, "severally as he will".. There must be poet and prophet and pastor and teacher, artist and craftsman, and all those walks of life which we sometimes dare to call "ordinary". Only by our infinite diversity can we reflect and imitate the infinite unity of God. Only thus the Word in us will fill all things, in every aspect of creation, and return it all in praise of God.
The ministry of the Word is the ministry of all of us; but within that ministry, there are particular offices and duties, among them the sacred ministries of priest and deacon, who are ordained to exercise certain functions in the Church. Those functions are manifold, of course, and not easily describable but they are first of all liturgically defined.
The office of the deacon is marked by his reading of the Gospel, and the priest's most characteristic functions are the granting of absolution and the offering of the Eucharistic sacrifice. But these liturgical acts must not be isolated: they are signs and patterns of a form of life which is necessarily in some deep sense pastoral. To read the Gospel, to proclaim the Word of God, must mean to live the Word of God in teaching and example, to build up, to edify, the body of the Lord. To pronounce God's absolution implies in every way to seek the healing of that body's wounds; to offer up the Eucharist means to gather in and offer up ourselves, our souls and bodies, to refer all life in every aspect to its spiritual end in God. Thus the Word of God goes forth into every aspect of our common life, and the Word of God returns in the transformation and uplifting that life. The word of God goes forth, audible and visible in words and deeds and sacramental signs and does not return empty.
"It shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it." Thus saith the Lord, and so it is. His Word is true and faithful, and his promise does not fail. Certainly, we have disappointments and discouragements. We have our own ambitions and expectations, and often they seem sadly unrewarded.
"In the world", says Jesus, ye shall have tribulation." But do not be deceived by tribulation: God's purposes do not for one moment fail or falter, however inscrutable to us their working out. Who has skill to reckon the providence of God, that perfect understanding in which "not a sparrow falleth without your heavenly Father", that exquisite care in which every hair on your head is numbered. Who has the skill to reckon that? It is the mark of God's omnipotent goodness, says St. Thomas Aquinas, that even from our evil, he makes good to come. Even our stupid mistakes, and even our sins may be, as St. Paul remarks, occasions of more abundant grace. In the end, we come to bless our tribulations and trust more perfectly in the will of God. As the voice of the eagle says to the poet, in Dante's Paradise:"Yet sweet to us appears our lack of skill, Since this good doth our good the more refine, That what God willeth, that we also will".The Word of God goes forth, and does not return empty. You who come now to ordination have no doubt known, and will often know the times in which the earth seems parched and barren, when the truth and grace of God seem far away, when doubt and dullness and your own persistent sinfulness seem to rule the day. But the Word of God goes forth, and he does not return empty, says the Prophet. As the rain from heaven, so does the Word of God descend, in raging tempest or in gentle dew, and the earth brings forth and buds. "It shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it".
And therefore, I address you ordinands finally in the words of that same Prophet:"Ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace; the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands".