St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

Loved Just As We Are

 

Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, November 24, 2019.

“What must I do to receive eternal life,” he asked. The Master replied, as the lawyer knew he must since Jesus was a good Jew, by listing some of the commandments and saying, “Do this and you shall live.” It seems that lawyers in the New Testament were bent on justifying themselves, (don’t we all) so hearing the answer he expected the lawyer said, “Been there, done that.”

To Jesus this was a moment to lead the lawyer into his heart. The one thing he lacked was the only thing necessary, "One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me."

There it is again. Kenosis. Self-emptying. Letting go. He asked the lawyer to dispense with his riches which is more than his material possessions, but which is a metaphor for the whole of his carefully constructed life. No doubt he had spent much time and effort to be the great man he had become and Jesus said that he must let all of that go. Richard Rohr points out that the first half of our lives is about building a strong ego. The second half of life is about tearing it down. We hide behind our egoic masks.

I think this is the point of this Gospel reading. The lawyer knew himself in terms of the labels that defined him in the world: a faithful, law-abiding Jew, a lawyer, a rich man, etc. And yet what truly defines us is not our labels and accomplishments, but rather our hearts and souls, that which is deep down inside of us. And since the scripture tells us that only God knows the hearts of human beings, then to come to know ours we must follow the one who is able to reveal them to us. So, “follow me” was, among other things, an invitation to self-knowledge.

As we know the lawyer was not ready to do this. Still the seed was sown and the rest of the story is known to God.

The point is this: there will come a time (many in my experience) when we must make the same kind of choice. Sometimes we will be able to choose wisely and other times we will not. But he comes over and over again, 70 times 70, and we have no need to fear that he will ever leave us or forsake us.

There is one more point I want to make. The Lord loved him and he loves us just as we are. We do not have to follow him. It is our choice. No matter what we are loved just as we are. And by virtue of his everlasting lovingkindness and his taking on our nature, our flesh and blood, and matter itself, we have been saved and deified in his glorious Incarnation

Hear St. Paul from his letter to the Ephesians:

Ephesians 2:4-7

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

So. Jesus loves us just as we are, and he knows us better than anyone, and still he loves us. Frankly, I return again and again to a song written by Mr. Rogers about this. It is to me a beautiful poetic sermon straight from the heart of God. You may have seen him sing it to and with a little boy in a wheelchair on his program. I think this is exactly what the Lord Jesus is singing to each one of us. Let me end with this song.

It's you I like,
It's not the things you wear,
It's not the way you do your hair
But it's you I like
The way you are right now,
The way down deep inside you
Not the things that hide you,
Not your toys
They're just beside you.

But it's you I like
Every part of you.
Your skin, your eyes, your feelings
Whether old or new.
I hope that you'll remember
Even when you're feeling blue
That it's you I like,
It's you yourself
It's you.
It's you I like.