Faith Lets Go
Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, July 31, 2016
The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (9:1-8)
Often in the Gospel stories, when Jesus brings hope, comfort and healing, detractors often show up. Like the scribes in today’s story. See them as representing the know-it-alls and the self-righteous. We all know people like that and sometimes they may even be us. We must be careful not to be like that.
Jesus comes into the scene as usual, full of compassion. He sees the paralytic and focuses on him. Can’t you just see him smile? Can’t you just feel his heart break? He says to him so gently, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven,” and the know-at-alls go nuts. These great defenders of morality and truth can’t control themselves! They seek to control others and cannot control themselves. They cry out, “He is a blasphemer!”
St. Isaac of Syria has a unique perspective on this.
“Someone who has tasted truth,” he writes, “is not contentious for truth. Someone who is considered by people to be zealous for truth has not yet learned what truth is really like; once he has truly learned it, they will cease from zealousness on its behalf.”
So, our first lesson today is that zealotry is not a sign of faith at all, but rather a cover for the lack of it. Those who are really acquainted with truth are very much like Jesus himself. They display a remarkable and peaceful countenance always ready to listen, always open, always caring, never afraid, never contentious and never judgmental.
Forgiveness comes so easy for Jesus. No strings, no prerequisites, no preconditions. Just the assurance that “I am here and everything’s alright.” Isn’t this the message of the Gospel? His name is Emanuel after all. God with us. And because he is and has promised that he will never leave us or forsake us, everything is going to be fine no matter what - come good or bad, come hell or high water, in darkness and in light, in joy and in sorrow.
And therefore the fear we carry is only a twisted perception and a lie. The genius of the Christianity is that it promises we find our peace and joy in the midst of the suffering of this world for we are never separate from God.
To the Lord’s detractors, for whatever reason (and I can think of several that might be true), his beautiful and compassionate gesture sounded like blasphemy. Is it not strange that something that to one person sounds so kind can sound like blasphemy to another? It is all a matter of perspective.
The stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius, said it like this: “Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”
And I love this saying by Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Dream delivers us to dream, and there is no end to illusion. Life is like a train of moods, like a string of beads, and, as we pass through them, they prove to be many-colored lenses which paint the world their own hue. . . . ”
So, we must be humble and admit that no matter what we think or believe, we might be wrong. Our perspectives might be way, way off. This takes humility and to discover when we are wrong is the pathway to freedom. “The truth,” Jesus says, “shall set you free.” Truth can be perceived correctly only by the humble.
When we allow ourselves to be open always to the reality before us, without the mediation of interpretation or opinion or belief, all of which are, in the end, false securities, then, through the clear lens of the sacred mindfulness, truth reveals itself, in the spaces between thoughts, in the emptiness between words, in the silence between breaths.
Cleansing the doors of our perception we become, as Alan Watts so rightly says, open to whatever the truth turns out to be. For faith to be alive it must always be growing. Faith is not holding on, faith is letting go.
“Our faith,” writes Thich Nhat Hanh, “must be alive. It cannot be just a set of rigid beliefs and notions. Our faith must evolve every day and bring us joy, peace freedom and love.”
Those in the Gospels who did that, who were able to let go of family and business and their dreams and all manner of false securities, are the ones who became the Lord’s faithful disciples. If we are willing to do the same, to adopt a faith that lets go and grows continuously in the life of Christ, then we too can become his disciples.