Twelfth Sunday after Trinity, 2013
Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
August 18th, 2013
Beloved in the Lord, consider these two words: sufficiency and selflessness. We will submit to you that this is the theme that runs through our Epistle and Gospel today. Regarding this theme of sufficiency and selflessness, we hear the testimony of the Apostle Paul from the Epistle, as he tells us, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God;…”[i]
Let’s stop for a moment and consider the word itself: sufficiency. Sufficiency means “to meet ones needs, or the quality or state of being sufficient.”[ii] Thus, we can draw an elemental conclusion that God meets our needs. Yes, this is obviously true, but there is so much more that St. Paul is talking about here. Perhaps a clue is given in what comes next in the Epistle reading, when we hear this: 2 Corinthians 3:6: “Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.”[iii]
What is St. Paul talking about here in regards to sufficiency? Is he saying that God certainly meets our needs, but perhaps in a way that we neither expect nor deserve? Ah…perhaps. Let’s take a look at the life of St. Paul to gain a better understanding of this. First of all, we know from his own testimony in the Books of Acts and Philippians that Saul, later Paul, was a Jew’s Jew. In Acts 26:5, we hear “that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.” Also in Acts 23:6, he proclaimed, “ Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee.” In Philippians, we hear his famous self description: (Philippians 3:5-6) “Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; 6 Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.”
Let us “fast forward”, so to speak to today’s selection from II Corinthians. Here is this model Hebrew, a man totally imbued with the Law, proclaiming that he is no longer sufficient of himself. That is, he is no longer filled with the self-righteousness that comes from slavishly obeying a code. We know that under the Law, one was saved by one’s works, i.e. following the law. Yet, even St. Paul admits, in several of his epistles, that this is impossible. Recall last week that we referenced the Mitzvoth, or the Rabbinic additions to Moses’ law, which eventually became 613 commandments. Recall further that under the Law, if one offended in one point, one was considered guilty of all. Thus, here we have an impossibility. No one could obey the Law perfectly, being human and fallible. This brings to mind the disciples’ astonished question, “Who then can be saved?”, from Matt. 19, when Christ made the amazing statement that it is easier for a camel to go through an eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God. Recall Christ’s amazing answer: “With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.”[iv]
This brings us back to the discussion of sufficiency. Just as God is sufficient enough to change the hearts of some who worship money, so that they can love Him and enter the Kingdom of God, so He is sufficient to affect a change in this Pharisee. The change in St. Paul, due to God’s complete sufficiency, was such that it changed the course of human history through his evangelism and ministry. It was enough that, despite all of the schisms, disagreements, objections and accusations surrounding him, St. Paul was able to proclaim that God is his sufficiency. He was able to deliver a consistent, coherent message of the Gospel, and to create an apostolic legacy through the laying on of hands that continues unbroken to this day. We in the orthodox Anglican Communion are blessed to continue that apostolic succession without interruption or dismissal. It is our apostolic legacy, and a genuine blessing to us.
One might say, “Father, Stults, that’s all well and good on the corporate level, but what about sufficiency on the individual level? What does it mean to me?”
Simply this: if we, like the apostle Paul, can proclaim that God is our sufficiency, it means that a dramatic and positive change has happened in our lives. It means that deep down, we have had a shift in allegiance. No longer do we look to the illusory reinforcements of this life, nor to the deceitfulness of sin in which they are sometimes wrapped, but in the completeness of God in our beings. Again, what does this mean? Ultimately, if one looks to the temporal realm for ultimate justification, or better said, a complete reaffirmation of one’s peace, one will be disappointed. Just as St. Paul found that adherence to the Law of Moses became insufficient for him, as he became the chief minister to the Gentiles, so we must look to the Limitless love of God to fill our incompleteness. Stated again, when we become lost in the love of Jesus we will find our true selves, and be sufficient. We will, through a daily surrender of the will, and a constant prayer that God’s will be done in us, know that God is all in all. Then, as we go about our daily lives in whatever callings we find ourselves, all will be sufficient. There will not be a thirsting, empty, ravenous need for self-aggrandizement. There will not be a craving for something more, something on the horizon, unless it is a craving to know God better and better. God will be our sufficiency, and we will know it.
We think that’s when life truly begins for the Christian. When we say, “life”, we mean, of course, the realization that the Kingdom of God is upon us. Recall the scene from Mark 12, where a scribe asks Christ what is the great commandment in the Law. Recall that Christ answered him with what we know as the Summary of the Law: Love God with all of your being, and love your neighbor as yourself. This same scribe repeats back what Jesus has said, but with the wise conclusion that to love God as much as one can, and to love his neighbor as himself “is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”[v] This answer obviously pleased our Lord, because he said, “Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.”[vi] This scribe realized that the “golden kernel” of faith, so to speak, is not transactional, based on works, but is something far more profound. Life with God is based on relationships: ours to Him, and ours to our fellow man. When we grasp this point, we too are not far from the Kingdom of God.
Our selfhood falls away as our sufficiency in God increases. Not that we ever lose ourselves completely, for we are separate and distinct beings and always will be. This is especially true in our day-to-day struggle with the old man, who is always with us. Yet, as continue to affirm the sufficiency of God in us, the old man loses his grip on us, and we continue to grow as new creatures in Christ. This growth begins now, today, and continues everyday as we grow in Christ.
Yes, separate and distinct as we are, yet growing in relationship with God, what will be the end of all this? How can our finitude be merged into His Infinitude? This is a great mystery and one we cannot answer or begin to comprehend in this realm. Yet, we do know this: as our realization of His Sufficiency in us grows, we become happier, more joyful and more serene. Our lives in this world, at least from an interior point of view, become better. Our externals will still be challenging, no doubt about that. In the end, however, it does not really matter what our external conditions are, because in the deep secret recesses of our souls, we are sufficient. As difficult, pressing, and downright troublesome as our daily lives sometimes are, we know one thing as we seek the Father’s Face: all will be well. As this realization grows, we too will be able to proclaim with St. Paul: ”Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God;”
For this, we give undying thanks and praise to Him who completes all in all: our Lord, our God, and our Sufficiency.
Jude 1:25 “To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.”