On the Sunday of All Saints
Sermon Preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, June 18, 2006
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ!
“So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I will also deny before my Father who is in heaven.” These are stern words. We need to understand them properly.
What is it to acknowledge Christ “before men”. Simply put, it is to recognize Christ in others and to “be Christ” to others. It means to honor and reverence human beings who bear the image of God, to treat each one as special, worthy of love, of compassion, of our undivided attention and to share in deed, and, if necessary, in words, the graceful and life-giving Gospel of Jesus Christ. “Whatever you do to the least of these my brethren, you have done it to me.” To acknowledge Christ “before men” means this above all else.
It means that we have to be willing to identify with people who are different, outcast, poor and homeless. After all Jesus was criticized for hanging out with tax collectors and prostitutes, but this did not stop him. In that kind of company there must have been a lot of other undesirables that go unmentioned in the Gospels. Jesus rarely chose to cavort with respectable, upscale, Newberry Street kinds of folk. We must not turn away from any human being, nor can we ever, ever turn them away! Orthodox churches should be filled with outcasts of every stripe. They would if we practiced the Gospel we preach. Social outcasts flocked to Jesus when he walked this earth in the flesh. Why are they not attracted to us?
It means we cannot rest when there is injustice. Our Orthodox understanding of anthropology is that all of us are one, all of us are sisters and brothers. When one suffers, all suffer and when there is injustice anywhere in the world there is no justice anywhere in the world. We are called to “weep with those who weep” not as some kind of pious show, but with true compassion accompanied by action. “Faith without works is dead,” writes St. James so it must also be true that love without action is no love at all. This means carrying the burdens of those who are not strong enough to lift them and sharing in the suffering of all who suffer. Our hope of course, is to end injustice and alleviate suffering.
We are not the judges or rulers of the world and were never meant to be. Jesus may say that the apostles will judge the twelve tribes of Israel in the age to come, but that is then, this is now and he does say it of me and you. We are called to be healers and reconcilers and lovers. We are not called to use force, or coercion, or deception or laws, or any other weapon of this world for the sake of the Gospel. We are called to lay down our lives for the sake of the “least of the brethren”, to defend and protect even those with whom we disagree, to die even for those who despise and abuse us. Where can you find the Lord asking us to do anything else?
To acknowledge Jesus before our brothers and sisters we must engrave His words in our hearts and minds and think deeply about them:
“My kingdom is not of this world”...so what business do we have trying to make a kingdom for Christ out of this world? He could easily have done it himself, but that was not his mission. Nor is it ours, for in doing so we would not be building a kingdom for Christ, but rather a monument to our own lust for power.
Jesus describes the kingdom of heaven as yeast in a loaf and like a seed that falls into the earth and dies...the yeast must be dissolved in the loaf and the seed must be buried and die...where in these descriptions is there any trace of pride, power and ego? We are called to be like yeast and like a seed, to disappear, to serve in extreme selflessness without honor or recognition.
“You are the light of the world”...but this light is one that illumines from within. There are those who would rather use it like a searchlight on a prison tower.
Jesus Himself said, “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for a friend.” But Jesus went the second, third, fourth and fifth mile. He gave his life even for his enemies. That is the Gospel's agenda for us as well. Truth be told, Christians, like Christ recognize no enemies.
The Lord is the One who said, “Those who live by the sword will die by the sword.” The prophet said we should beat our swords into plowshares and pruning hooks. Therefore, it seems that the message is clear. We are to be peacemakers. We can neither support nor advocate violence as a solution to the world's problems. We need to work for peace even if it is unpopular.
St. Paul speaks of the apostles including himself as despised and rejected in this world, much as the prophet Isaiah spoke of the Messiah himself. How is it that we can justify ourselves becoming despisers and rejectors of others? The Lord also said, “If they persecuted me, then they will also persecute you,” but we are never given permission to persecute anyone.
And so, my friends, we must reject the temptation to use the Gospel as a weapon, to use Christianity as a tool for acquiring power, for punishing those who oppose us, for forcing the compliance of those whose views do not agree with us, for the purposes of discrimination, of intolerance, of hatred, of nationalism, of profiteering, of sexism or any other ism. The life and teachings of Jesus stand in stark contrast to all of these things and all that disguises itself as truth and piety in our time, but which is only a mask meant to hide the mass epidemic of hypocrisy and corruption disguising itself as faith. Those who wear such masks are corruptors of the faith, mutilators of life and anti-Christ on whose foreheads are already inscribed the number of the beast.
Let us then sanctify our lives and the lives of those around us by acknowledging Jesus Christ before the world, living as he lived and loving as he loved. Let it be our purpose to show compassion, to pursue peace, to set prisoners free, to heal the sick and broken-hearted, to expose hypocrisy by living in the light of humility with the courage of the martyrs who often found themselves having to speak truth to power like St. Basil to Ivan the Terrible and St. Francis to the Pope.
Let me end with a challenge (just for fun) to meditate on this quote from the great psychologist Carl Jung:
It is no easy matter to live a life that is modeled on Christ's, but it is unspeakably harder to live one's own life as truly as Christ lived his.
Christ is in our midst!