Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, July 10, 2016
The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (6:22-33)
“The eye is the lamp of the body,” Jesus says. A beautiful phrase and mysterious. “If your eye is sound,” he continues, “then your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is evil, then your whole body will be full of darkness.”
The meaning of this verse is really rather simple. What does it mean to have a sound eye? It hinges on the question of what it means to have a sound eye.
“No one can serve two masters.” St. James uses the term “double-minded.” The person with a sound eye worships God alone. Jesus says it this way, “You cannot serve God and mammon, which basically means that if we wish to serve God, then we cannot serve anyone or anything else.
So, if our eyes are clouded with self-interest, by a desire for worldly things, like wealth and power, and are not focused on God alone, then our eyes are not sound, and we will be full of darkness. Jesus calls us to single-mindedness and to a simplicity of life that will set us free.
I have been watching the show The Vikings. Excellent show! The different Earls of various tribes are always fighting each other for supremacy usually in very bloody and costly wars. And all for power. They even sacrifice their loved ones if it serves their self-interest as pawns in their game of thrones.
In the show there is a single Christian, Athelstan, who embodies what it means to be a Christian. He is captured and lives as a slave among the pagans. He is not a blind Christian; he sees that in some ways the ways of the Vikings are superior to his own. He validates the Viking Earl and his people, he does not try to convert them, or change them even when he is horrified by their practices. He practices the twin arts of validation and radical acceptance and earns the love of respect of the Earl and soon to be King, Ragnar.
Athelstan alone sees clearly. He wants nothing from the Vikings. But his acceptance and unconditional regard get him tortured and nearly crucified to death by the Christian Archbishop of Wessex and ultimately martyred by a jealous Viking who, wants, of course, power. Athelstan sees things clearly, his vision is crystal clear, the light in him is the light of God, he is, in other words, enlightened.
How does we attain such enlightenment? By continually empting ourselves of self-interest. The enlightened person seeks no personal gain, like the Son of God who had nothing to gain for himself by coming into this world. In Greek this is called kenosis, a self-emptying. As long as we are blinded by the desire for gain, the light in us is darkness and we do not yet know God.
To serve God is to become like empty like him, empty of desire, empty of self-interest, empty of everything, completely open and therefore free. To be like Him is to become utterly disinterested in gain of any sort. To be like Him is to let go of fear and desire for God fears nothing, God needs nothing. Only the ego desires. Only the ego fears. God is free and therefore empty of both. When the ego is in charge, the egoist can only see himself no matter where he looks.
The poet Mary Oliver, a writer in touch with a deep, natural mysticism, writes of a life free of egoistic constraints in these lines, "The dream of my life is to lie down by a slow river and stare at the light in the trees - to learn something by being nothing."
In other words, it is her prayer to "lay aside all earthly cares” which means to be open to the light in the trees, the sun through the branches, the soft, gurgling sounds of the slow moving stream and therefore to God who shines in them and through them, to be clear sighted, conscious, awake and aware, unencumbered and free.
I like Metropolitan KALLISTOS Ware’s definition of faith, “Faith is not the supposition that might something be true, but the assurance that someone is there.” Faith is in God, not concepts. Something that is not me. And if we look deeply enough with mindful, unobscured vision, what we shall see is God peeking through all things. The sound eye sees the truth of what Metropolitan KALLISTOS declares, “That the cosmos is one vast burning bush, permeated with the fire of divine power and glory.”
From this enlightened vision unending joy permeates life, burning away the fear and desire that obscure our eyes and make our light darkness.