Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, December 13, 2015
The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (14:16-24)
The parable of the Great Banquet has a simple lesson for us. We are too busy. We are too distracted. The heavenly banquet is here and now and we do not, or will not see it. Alan Watts writes in his brilliant book of Christian theology, BEHOLD THE SPIRIT, that we are, “Too busy to accept the invitation to enter the door to the Heavenly banquet that lays immediately before us. (Watts)
For one, we do not know where to look or how.
Two, we have been taught that the kingdom of heaven is far away and for a future time.
Three, we have been taught that we are not worthy of it and have to work to receive it.
The second two are false.
One: we do not know where to look or how. The narrow gate is here before us, right now, in this moment and every moment, before our very eyes. We need do nothing more than open our eyes and become grounded in the present to see God. The present moment is the narrow gate. Look deeply into this moment and every moment and we find heaven staring back at us.
Again Watts writes, “We have no other concern than to affirm the will of God as it is presented to us in this moment...”
But, we say, how can such a thing so profound be so simple? It is simple because God, in his infinite mercy, knows that we need it to be simple. So, he has made it to be simple. How we like to complicate things! Complicate them to the extent that we are confused and blinded to the utter simplicity of the spiritual life. Religion often makes things complicated with rules and procedures and requirements. We do not have to work to attain salvation. Salvation is not by works. There is only one thing for us to do to enjoy it and that is, give thanks for it.
The second truth is that the kingdom of heaven is here and now, within us and among us and around us. We do not look to the future or the past to find it. We cannot escape it although we can choose to ignore it. Union with God is the primary foundation of all existence. The Incarnation reveals this to be true.
I love the poem “Aurora Leigh” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Here is my favorite section.
Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries,
And daub their natural faces unaware….
The metaphor of “taking off our shoes” stands for removing the blinders that keep us from seeing God in all things. “Seeing” means becoming open to receiving whatever each moment provides for God is so loving that, if we care to look, we will see that he is with us always and forever…” Union with God is a given because it is a gift.
Again, Mr. Watts. “... for in the Eternal Now we shall find that strait and narrow gate, that needle’s eye through which we are taken into the infinite life of God.”
The third thing most of us have been taught is that we are unworthy of God’s love. The truth is that worthiness is not necessary for “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” The Incarnation explodes the relevance of worthiness. The Son of God took upon himself human nature. It is done. It is finished. We have been deified. It is not our worthiness that matters, but his.
Worthiness is not the point. Willingness is. Willingness to let go of the burdens of guilt and shame and exchange them for joy. Let us exchange our fears for gratitude. God has embraced us. Let us return the favor. Because we are free (also a gift), the choice is ours to make.
One more from Watts, “Thus a contemplative life fully in accord with the principle of the Incarnation consists in adoring the will of God as it comes to us in the given union of the Eternal Now.”
Everything Jesus touched he sanctified, so all of human life has been made sacramental in the broadest and best sense of the word. Time itself is sanctified. Ordinary life becomes an extraordinary event, a way, a means and a tool for entering the banquet hall. Everywhere we are, whoever we are with, whatever we are doing is a doorway into heaven. Every common act, as every common bush, is afire with God if we choose to see it for what it is.
Because the Incarnation is the wedding between heaven and earth, God and humanity, matter and spirit, ordinary life becomes divine life. Let’s open our eyes and take off our shoes.