Monday, October 6, 2008

The 15th Sunday after Pentecost

The Apostle Paul, in writing to the church in Corinth, speaks to them about the people of the old covenant. He tells them how on Mt. Horeb, on Sinai, Moses saw the glory of God, and beholding the glory of God, Moses shown with that light which he’d beheld, and how when he came down from the mountain he was aglow with the presence, the shekinah, the glory of the Most High. And the people of Israel, rather than marveling and saying, “What a wonder this is!” and sharing in the glory that God had revealed to them, constrained to Moses that he should cover his face so that they should not be frightened.
In that they were much like the Gadarenes who we heard about a couple weeks ago, who when Jesus had exorcised a man of demonic obsession and possession, had caused the pigs to run down the hill headlong and drowned themselves, didn’t say, “What a wonder this is! Tell us what we need to do,” but instead said, “Please get out of town, we don’t like you drowning our pigs.”
St. Paul says, however, that we, the people of the new covenant, we have received not simply the reflected glory of God, but that just as God commanded the light to shine forth in the darkness in the beginning when he said, “Let there be light,” and behold there was light; just as God called the natural light, the physical light, the light that ____ being from nothingness, that God has revealed to us the uncreated light, the eternal light, God’s uncreated energy, his holiness, his grace. This uncreated light, this light that God calls forth from the darkness of our dark and sin laden, and burdened, and worried, and troubled, and wounded hearts, and caused to shine a flame within a lantern. This light is revealed to us in the face of Jesus Christ. Not a reflected light. Not a light that Jesus saw and that then shown forth from his countenance, but his own uncreated energy, his own divine love illumining our hearts.
St. Paul relates the consolation first: that God has shown in our hearts the light of his uncreated energy through the face of Jesus Christ. Then he says, “But, that doesn’t mean, that like some prosperity gospel, I’m telling you everything from now is going to be just hunky-dory. I’m not telling you that there are no problems. Look at your daily existence. You’re abused by others, and yet you don’t allow the abuse to destroy your self confidence. You are beaten up but never beaten down. Sometimes desperate, but never in despair.” He says that because of this that we see death working in the world, and yes even in our own bodies, each one of us knows that the law of nature planted in our chromosomes the law of nature dictates that there is a terminus ___ to this fallen humanity which we have inherited from our parents. As the psalmist says, “The days of many are three-score and ten,” that’s the optimum, that’s what they strive for, and even if by chance man should extend those days to four-score or longer, yet all is essentially destruction, death and ashes. They will eventually, no matter what science does to extend this physical frame, no matter what vitamins or therapies or treatments, no matter what diets, no matter what inoculations are given to us to drag out our physical existence a little longer, still it is death working in us. It is because of this anomaly, that we who are children of the light, in whom the love of Christ should be growing daily, who should be becoming ever more god like, who should be inclining more and more toward grace, toward truth, toward the kingdom of heaven, feel that our human bodies are themselves becoming subject to new pains, new fatigues, new injuries, to new degenerations.
And here is how St. Paul explains it: He says if we had this treasure in some kind of golden flask, if we were robotic creatures, or some kind of precious spheres, then it would be our glory and not God’s glory that we would incline toward. But it is because we have the treasure of God’s grace; because divinity – the spark of the Godhead itself – was poured into jars made out of baked clay (that’s how he describes our bodies) because of that, the glory passes to God and is not assumed by us.
Well the Apostle Paul was living in a world, preaching in a world, where everything ridiculed what he was proclaiming. You know, because I’ve told you, that that gentile world to which Paul went, regarded the human body as, well, in its youth, a thing to be admired, to be cultivated, to be formed through exercise, even to be lusted after. And then as it aged they regarded it as a prison in which the soul was captured. They did not believe that the body was a precious, a sacred, thing. They did not understand that human individuality, that human personality, exists because we are bodies, because we are sentient creatures able to know and be known, to see to hear to touch to taste to smell, because we have vocation. We are not droplets of some kind of atman Brahman that flows back into the celestial sea of soul substance; but we are individuals and we are not created for recycling over and over again. We are not bound, as the Greeks thought, to a cycle of reincarnations that will be repeated until somehow or other, through the acquisition of, according to the Greeks, philosophy, and according to the Romans, law, we would manage to escape our bodies and to float back into the celestial sea of stars. This is the universal assumption of the people of St. Paul’s time.
I mentioned last week that when St. Paul preached in the Areopagus, when he told the Athenians that he was there to speak of Jesus Christ who was risen from the dead, probably at least partly because of his country Greek, they thought he was telling them about two new Gods: Jesus and Anastasius.
They didn’t understand what he was saying, and they finally said, “Well, come back some other time. Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” St. Paul was in a world where it seemed as though his message was ridiculous and yet where he was able to touch the hearts of people – no the hearts of the people who thought themselves the wisest, the richest, and the most powerful. In time, over the decades, and through the first two centuries, Christianity would trickle up. Where in the world has a movement ever begun which was embraced first by slaves, by manual laborers, by the dregs of the earth, by the poverty stricken and that then worked itself up through the bureaucracy, the civil service, the military, the ranks of the aristocracy and finally to the imperial throne itself. This is really a trickle up theory, isn’t it?
But you see it was in those lower classes finding a meaning for their life in a set of circumstances that appeared to provide no hope, no purpose, no meaning. It was in their being willing, as St. Paul said, everyday to be in danger of death because of their assertion that they knew in their hearts that the eternal God had become man, and taken flesh, and conquered death, and had physically risen from the dead, and that he would raise them as well. It was because of that that then the middle class, going to the arena, and seeing these poor peasant folk, these poor urban poor, these ridiculous off-scourings of the earth, standing up before lions and gladiators and proclaiming their faith in the risen Lord that it is said that for every Christian who died in the arena that a hundred more left the arena, and again that it is the blood of the martyrs that was the seed of the Church.
So this is what St. Paul is telling us. He is telling us that we are put in the world so that, not just in our good times, not by our prosperity, not by our success, not by our dramatic architectural edifices or by our exercise of great power, but because of how we handle fatigue, pain, lowliness, wounds, sorrow, threat, distress, danger, insecurity. That it is in how we handle these things that the world sees the difference between the God who is in us and the god who is in the world – the god who wants to draw men down, down to the earth from which he was taken, return him to the state of an animal, to deprive him of the glory of the knowledge of God revealed in the face of the Jesus Christ. This is what the Holy Apostle tells us. This is why sometimes during those periods of communist oppression, some of the bishops and priests, some of the monastics in the captive lands under communist domination declared that they were more fortunate than their brothers and sisters in the west because they knew how the deck was cut, they understood what the circumstances were, they were clearly aware of the price of faith, there was no cheap grace for them, that embracing Christ meant abandoning a great deal of security, safety, even their own lives.
It was because of this that St. Nicolai Velimirovich, having been captive and persecuted and virtually destroyed, and having survived Dachau, when he was asked, “What is there in your life that you would go back and relive?” said, “The best time in my life was when I was in Dachau.”
And the man interviewing him looked at him like he was a mad man, and he said, “No, then we knew what was lightness and what was dark; we knew who was on God’s side, and who wasn’t, we knew what we were here for and we didn’t mix up our priorities. We had nothing else to bog us down.”
How many people this morning are depressed? They’re depressed because twenty years ago they didn’t have any money in the stock market, but now they do and they’re afraid their going to lose it. So their hearts are aching and they’re failing and they’re in anxiety and despair because they don’t know what the economy is going to do. This is the first time in my life since I became aware of politics that I have no known just exactly what I thought our government ought to be doing. I don’t have a clue. I think bush was right when he said that all - the old bush – when he said that all economics is voodoo. I don’t think that anyone knows what to do. But you know, if I don’t live with my money, with my stock shares, if I don’t live with that, if I don’t live for it, it’s not going to hurt me, it’ll just be another way I have to live. It’ll be a detour on the road of life, but it is not how long it takes you to get down the road of life or how many detours you take, but as the little blue fish says in Finding Nemo, “Just keep on swimming, keep on swimming.” That’s what God judges you by. Like we said before, in every other race that man ever ran there was one winner who got a crown and a gold medal, but in the race that we are running we all get crowns and gold medals if we finish the race. If we just don’t sit down and say, “I’m so tired of doing this. I’m so bored. I’m so unhappy. I’m so disconsolate. I just think I’ll sit on this rock and I’ll stop fighting the good fight and running the race, and I will then say to myself, ‘You know, there probably isn’t any reward,’ or even worse, ‘Self, you know, you’re pretty good. If all these other people around you, all these other wicked people whose sins I know very well, if they’re going to get there, I’ll probably get there too.’” So, quitting the struggle: that’s the only way you can be lost. He who endures to the end shall be saves. And so St. Paul tells us, he says over and over again in different ways, “We are hard pressed on every side, and yet we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but we are not in despair. Persecuted, but not forsaken. Struck down, but not destroyed. Ever carrying about in our body the dying of the Lord Jesus that the life of Jesus might be manifested in our body.” Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us take up our obligation, let us have our feet shod and our loins girded, our staff in our hand. And be like the servants of God waiting for their master to come, and let him, when he comes, find us, not bowed down under the burden of our own self-imposed despair, but waiting to hear from, “Well done thou good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of they master.”

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, glory to Jesus Christ!
Glory forever!

No comments: