Dancing with God
Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, May 7, 2017 at St. Mary Orthodox Church
The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. John. (5:1-15)
Once upon a time, as all stories of this kind should begin, there were three demons that lived on the top of a fiery and smoky mountain. They got together one day to discuss something very important; how to make a royal mess of things for the human race. That’s their job after all, right? The biggest demon said to the other two, “I know what we should do. Let’s steal the greatest treasure God gave humanity and hide it so that they will never be able to find it.” “Good idea,” the other two cried. “But what treasure?” The big demon replied, “Faith, hope and love.” “So,” said the smallest demon, “where shall we hide it where those pesky human won’t be able to find it?” “I know, I know,” said the middle demon. “Let’s drop it in the bottom of the deepest ocean!” But the biggest demon replied, “They have submarines. They will be sure to find it in the ocean.” The smallest demon had an idea. “Let’s throw it deep into outer space as far as we can. They will never find it there!” “Ah,” said the big demon, “they have spaceships and satellites and the Hubble telescope. For sure they will find it in outer space! I have a better idea. Let’s bury it deep inside them. Those crazy humans will never think to look there!”
For centuries people have been looking for the treasure, the pearl of great price, the lost coin, the treasure buried in the field and few are those who have found it. We build shrines and churches and all kinds of places for pilgrimage. There are sacred pools like in today’s Gospel, and groves, and mountains and monasteries and people go there seeking healing or salvation or wisdom and we say that we must make a pilgrimage to find God somewhere other than where we are. And certainly sometimes people experience some very beautiful and exciting things in all these places and yet when they leave the excitement leaks away like water from a broken glass and we think, if only I lived in one of those holy places, then, then I would be free and happy and healthy and wise.
But it is simply not so. The treasure lies within us. God has placed it there in his supreme wisdom. We do not have to travel anywhere at all except into our hearts – within our own selves where God has put his eternal and heavenly kingdom. We do not have to wait for the stirring of water. The water is always stirring. The wind of the Spirit is always blowing.
We must descend from our lofty, prideful minds into our lowly, humble hearts. We will find the mystery of the kingdom of heaven right there in the very last place we would think to look and the very place Jesus tells us to look. Within. And we must learn how to go there and dwell there. To become kingdom dwellers we must go within. We must all become mystics.
Karl Rahner, that great Catholic theologian, once wrote that in the future Christians will either be mystics or they will not be Christians at all. Looking around at the wasteland of American Christianity, so bankrupt, so arrogant, so prideful, so childish, I think that time is now.
We are transformed by the company we keep. This is obvious. If the company we keep is evil, then we tend to become evil, if it is good, then we tend to become good. What if the company we keep is God? What if we learn how to enter our hearts where his kingdom is, and we discover that the Holy Trinity is there, and we allow ourselves to spend more and more time with him in that sacred, internal place, what then? We become like God. We take on his characteristics, we eat at his table, we join the fellowship of the Trinity.
The Great Cappadocian Fathers used a word to try and describe the inner life of the Most Holy Trinity. How does the Three-in-One relate to himself? The word they chose was perichoresis, which is a Greek word that literally means “circle dance.” The prefix peri means around and choresis is the word from which we get our word choreography. Therefore “circle dance.” It is to this divine dance we are invited. I find glimpses of this divine dance in our liturgical celebrations. In three of the Sacraments we do a liturgical dance. In baptism and marriage it is around the table set up on the solea. In ordination the movement is around the Holy Altar. In the Divine Liturgy we cense around the altar twice and in the Great Entrance the liturgical dance appears as the gifts of Bread and Wine are carried around the entire sanctuary. The whole congregation, the people of God, is, it seems to me, joining in this divine perichoresis.
Where God’s kingdom is, there is God, I think it is safe to say. If so, then, the divine dance is happening right now in the depths of our hearts, just as it is in the church’s celebrations, just as it is throughout the entire cosmos, for everything is circling and revolving from the electrons and neutrons around the nucleus of the atom, to the planets, stars and galaxies.
What goes on inside of us is mirrored in what goes on outside of us. How beautiful this is! To become aware of it and to participate more and more in it with awareness, is how we are transformed from image to likeness. Learn how to enter the kingdom within and allow spend more and more time there. We will see not only our self but the world transform around us.
The path, the key, the door, the passport to deification lies within. This is what it means to be human. We were, from the beginning, created to move from image to likeness. Christ reveals this in and through himself. "You will do greater things than I have done," he tells us.
Speaking of life after death scripture tells us this, "We don't yet know what we shall be, but we know we shall be like him." And this, my friends, to a large degree, is what we already are.