St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

The Law is One

Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (5:14-19)

I love this teaching from the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams (a very spiritual man, a man of prayer), “And the face we need to show our world is the face of a humanity in endless growth towards love…”

The bushel Jesus refers to in today’s Gospel reading refers to that which hides the light within us and thus our true face. Jackson Brown sings about “the light that’s lost within us,” for all you Jackson Brown fans.

“You are the light of the world.-,” Jesus tells us. It is this light that the world longs to see. Rabbi Baal Shem Tov (a most interesting man) spoke the truth when he said this, “From every human being there rises a light.” To which we must add, as Jesus did, unless that light is hidden; unless, we do not reveal it by refusing to participate in the endless growth towards love.

The spiritual life is all about removing anything that hides the divine light within us. Another way Jesus put this is that we must "die to ourselves." This "self" to which we must "die" is not the true Self, the image of God, the "light" that defines us as human beings. It is the little, protective false self, the ego, we have cobbled together out of our conditioning, traumas, disappointments, and attachments to this world. It is the shell that hides our soft, fragile, damaged parts from further suffering. Truth is: the little, false bushel of ego is far too small a container for the divine glory that is in us. We can be most grateful that eventually, that container will break apart in this life or in the next. And break it must!

Here what Isaiah writes in chapter 58 about the “true fast”:

“Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry And bring the homeless poor into the house; When you see the naked, to cover him; And not to hide yourself from your own flesh?  THEN your light will break forth like the dawn, and THEN your healing will quickly appear; THEN your righteousness will go before you, and THEN the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.”

That word THEN links the dying of ego to the resulting miracle. What happens after we set aside our selfish concerns and live for the other? Light! Healing! Righteousness! Glory! And we are taught in our society that the ego is everything. Heaven forbid! Ego is the opposite of love and as Dr. Steven Hayes puts it, “Love is not everything, love is the only thing.” I add, the only thing that matters.

This "dying" or moving beyond what seems to us familiar and safe and "normal" is what spiritual growth is and, as you might suspect, this growth is painful. It is, in other words from our Lord, what it means to take up the Cross. As we become aware of the hindrances to love in us, we voluntarily, courageously, and compassionately meet these hindrances and help them transform our suffering into love.

Fr. Richard Rohr puts this well. "Whenever we're led out of normalcy into sacred, open space, it's going to feel like suffering, because it is letting go of what we are used to. This is always painful at some level. But part of us has to die if we are ever to grow larger (John 12:24). If we're not willing to let go and die to our small, false self, we won't enter any new or sacred space." 

Jack Kornfield uses the image of skating on thin ice. We know the ice is thin and we try with all our might to skate on it gingerly so that we don't fall through and drown in the freezing water. So life becomes a constant struggle and filled with fear, walking perpetually on egg shells for we are trying to avoid the very thing that is unavoidable, not only the death of the body, but the death of the ego. Do you think it is God’s will that we live our one unique life in such fearful anxiety?

And so, to come truly alive the very thing we need to do is fall through the ice so that this paranoia can end, our life of perpetual anxiety can cease, and the struggle that comes from it. Dying so that we may live is the baptismal metaphor. We must come to a place (many times) where we see that "normal" is often dysfunctional and letting go is precisely what we must do to enter a new and sacred place of freedom, joy, and light.

This brings us to consider the question: what is heaven and what is hell. Let’s look at it in a practical, day-by-day sort of way. Here is a story.

A big, tough samurai once went to see a little monk.

“Monk!”

He barked, in a voice accustomed to instant obedience.

“Teach me about heaven and hell!”

The monk looked up at the mighty warrior and replied with utter disdain,

“Teach you about heaven and hell? I couldn’t teach you about anything. You’re dumb. You’re dirty. You’re a disgrace, an embarrassment to the samurai class. Get out of my sight. I can’t stand you.”

The samurai got furious. He shook, red in the face, speechless with rage. He pulled out his sword, and prepared to slay the monk.
Looking straight into the samurai’s eyes, the monk said softly,

“That’s hell.”

The samurai froze, realizing the compassion of the monk who had risked his life to show him hell! He put down his sword and fell to his knees, weeping and filled with gratitude.
The monk said softly,

“And that’s heaven.”

Dear ones, the light in us will always produce heaven in us. The false self, the ego, always produces hell in us. People, is it really so hard to tell the difference? If not, then why are we so blind to it? Why then, do we choose hell when we could so easily choose heaven? All it takes is awareness and letting go. There is only one law. Only one. And that is love.

Following Christ means that we are in an endless process of growth in love to which there is no end, for we can never come to the end of God. Love is what we must teach and love is what we must do. He who does this and teaches others to do this shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

There is only one law and that is love. There is only one sin and that is the refusal to do so.