The Ultimate Letting Go
Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, August 27, 2017 at St. Mary Orthodox Church in Cambridge, MA
The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (19:16-26)
There are a few themes that run throughout the Gospels. Today we have one that shapes the faith. Without it Christianity becomes something else entirely. The Church sang it in a liturgical hymn very early in her history. St. Paul quotes it in his Letter to the Philippians, chapter 2 verses 5-11.
“Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.”
The word used by Paul and translated as “robbery” actually refers to an object either stolen or tightly held on to. Since the Son shares the nature of the Father, “stolen” is not the best definition here. The second is better. It means that he was not adverse to letting go of his divine prerogatives in order to come and serve and die for us, which, of course, he did on the cross. Christ exemplifies detachment by doing it himself and when he speaks of “denying yourself and taking up the cross” this is clearly what he means. We must be willing to let go as he did, of everything.
The Rich Man could not yet let of his riches. The question is, what “riches” are we holding onto so tightly that we too could not pass through the eye of a needle and into the kingdom of heaven? I’m not going to try and make a list of all the passages that speak of this. One of them that comes to mind is that we must love God more than father, mother, sister, brother, etc. If you think a little, I’m sure you could come up with several more.
So, instead, I want to tell you a story about the ultimate letting go. It is therefore a story about goodness, simplicity and truth and it is a story about greatness for Tolstoy writes that without those three, there is no greatness. It is a story of courage and light in the face of evil and darkness. It is the story of a 26 year old young man who gave his life following Jesus to a cross in the form of a guillotine.
In 1948 Nazi Germany, an anti-Nazi tract was published by an underground group known as “the White Rose.” This group of Christian students was led in part by a man by the name of Alexander Schmorell, an Orthodox Christian, who, like his compatriots, could not bear to see evil unchallenged.
He was in all respects a regular, intelligent, and pious young man who loved life, literature, the arts, and music. His background was Russian and he was also a citizen of Germany when Hitler came to power. He went to medical school and served in the German military where he witnessed the horrors of Hitler’s ultimate solution. There he and others with him decided to do all they could to resist the regime forming a group called “the White Rose” that published tracts and distributed them all over Munich and its environs. They wrote against Hitler and called for the overthrow of his government.
For this these young, idealistic young men and women were martyred by beheading. Alexander is now sainted by the Church and he is called St. Alexander of Munich. He and his companions stand as examples for us of what Jesus asks of all of us: be courageous, be good, and detach from the allurements and lies of this world and follow Christ.
“If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” What greater “possession,” my friends, do we have than our lives?
Hear also these words of our Lord.
“Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and few are those who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)
Two Saturdays ago several priests and a number of Orthodox Christians marched. We carried an icon of the Most Holy Virgin and white roses in honor of St. Alexander of Munich and his companions. Hundreds of people saw us and many wondered why we were carrying white roses. It was a small gesture, but there are really no small gestures. It is possible for the smallest light to enlighten the entire world. We do not know if the light we carry will be the light that fills the world, but we carry it because the Lord commands that we let our light shine.
If we refuse, then the Lord always finds others who will.