Do Not Squander the Gift
Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, February 7, 2016
The reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (25:14-30)
Today’s parable is a difficult one with a very simple point to my mind. And that is: do not ignore the gift you have been given. I do not think the “talents” Jesus speaks of refers to abilities like a beautiful voice or athletic prowess. I believe this refers to something weightier than those things, something much more consequential.
There is a gift that everyone has received from God. We have been made in his image. There is no greater gift. This gift defines us. There is in the depths of every human being a light that comes from God and connects us with him. Some of the Holy Fathers speak of this in moving terms, like Gregory Nazianzus who wrote: “for the spirit that he breathed into (human nature) is a flash of the invisible godhead…I am attached to life here below, while I also have in me a portion of the godhead…”
Gregory of Nyssa, the great theologian and mystic.
“Know to what extent the Creator has honored you above all the rest of creation…you alone have been the made in the image of the Reality that transcends all understanding…he moves in you and moves within you without constraint for he has said, ‘I will live and move among them’,” quoting 2 Corinthinans 6:16.
I love this poem by Walt Whitman where he writes: I am larger, better than I thought, I did not know I held so much goodness. All seems beautiful to me… Did you know, are you aware, that you held so much goodness?
Most of us are unaware of this great truth. We are even taught that the opposite is true who insist that human nature is defined by its fallenness rather than by its original beauty. Human nature is fallen, yes, and at the same time retains its original beauty. We are like a dirty window that needs to be cleaned. One thing is sure: unless we look within, we will never see.
So there is in us a great gift, a treasure as the parable says, “hidden in a field.” How often we pass by this field which is our heart, without recognizing what lies buried in it. How our lives would change if instead of ignoring this truth we began to take account of it; instead of passing by this place within us where God dwells, we explored it? That is the point of all spiritual practice, to take the tools of prayer and meditation to look within and find the treasure.
When we dream, when we pray in stillness, when we allow our busy minds for an instance to fall silent, at such moments the doors of spiritual awareness open and if we persist in the practice of stillness and quiet, the Holies of Holies will appear. In that silence is where God speaks. And we are too busy to listen and too distracted to notice.
In a document ascribed, probably erroneously to St. Symeon the New Theologian, the practice that leads to discovery is described beautifully
We are all recipients of grace and mercy from God. Human life is defined not by the evil that we do, but by the goodness that we are. To do evil, we must turn away from our natural goodness and twist our beauty into something else, something selfish, fearful and covetous. The treasure hidden in the field, the lost coin, the lost sheep, the spark, the light are all metaphors from the truth of what it means to be human. “You are the light of the world,” Jesus tells us and all children of God. We bear his image and are sustained by his mercy.
Built even into our very respiratory systems is a sacred secret. Every breath we take is a prayer, made so by God’s wonderful design. The silent breath is itself a continuous recitation of the Name that Cannot Be Pronounced, the Tetragrammaton. Breathing in and breathing out produces a sound that cannot be circumscribed except as a sound that cannot be bound in consonants and vowels. We are praying beings whether we know it or not. Another gift from the Most High.
It is not a coincidence that the metaphor of wind is used to describe the Holy Spirit who cannot be described. “The wind blows where it wills,” Jesus tells Nicodemus, speaking of the power of the Spirit, “but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going,” and then he makes the connection with us saying, “so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” And also remember that Jesus breathed on his disciples and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
I cannot help but think of Philip who was whisked away after he baptized the Ethiopian eunuch by the side of the road. And Elijah who was taken up in what his disciple Elias described as not only a fiery chariot, but also a whirlwind and Enoch who walked with God one day and then disappeared. Or of Seraphim of Sarov who was reported to have been in two places at once. “So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
So it is with those who take the gift of grace and invest it, that is, nurture and develop it, until they become like the Spirit without limitations even in this temporal life. These are those who blow upon the fiery coal that rests in their deepest hearts and after patience and suffering watch as that coal bursts into a flame that gives warmth to the universe.
To be born of the Spirit is not a simple recitation of a sinner’s prayer. It is so much more than that. It is waking up to the truth that God is with us and in us and around us. It is becoming aware that all creation is aflame with his divine presence including us.