I Very Much Suspect


Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, June 21, 2020

Here is a lovely and telling story from the great story-teller Anthony DeMello.

A man found an eagle egg in his yard and he put it in the nest of one of his a backyard hens. The egg hatched with the chicken eggs and all the little birds learned the way of chickens. They scratched in the earth for insects and when they flew, if they did at all, it was not very high nor very far. One day after the eaglet had become older, he looked into the sky and saw a beautiful large bird soaring way above his head. He asked one of the chickens, "What is that?" The chicken answered, "That is an eagle. Eagles are of the sky. We chickens are of the earth." So the eagle died as a chicken because that is what he thought he was."

I see today's calling of the four disciples as an invitation to enlightenment. We usually see it as a call to evangelize or something like that. I think it was first of all an invitation to wake up, to grow, to be transformed. Jesus became their rabbi, their teacher, their spiritual father. It was a three-year course taught by the Logos of God. It would be three years of ups and downs and mistakes and misunderstandings. Christ oversaw all this, the disciples long journey into repentance.

Our thoughts determine our lives as the Elder Thaddeus famously said. That is a universal truth that echoes through the wisdom literature of every religious tradition.

If we believe ourselves to be chickens, we will live and die as chickens. If we discover our true selves in Christ what then do you suppose we become? As the Psalm says, “We will mount up with wings as eagles.” Again, since we live and move and have our being in him, life in Christ it is all about waking up to this overarching reality.

"Be transformed by the renewal of your mind," is a call to repentance, a true and lasting change of mind. When Jesus preached his first recorded sermon it was short. "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Fundamentally then, repentance is nothing less than recognizing that the kingdom of which he spoke is right now "at hand.” We must let go of the belief that the kingdom is not here and now.

Jesus met the four face-to-face. He looked them in the eyes and they returned his gaze and something profound happened. I have always wondered about the seemingly instantaneous way the four brothers left everything and followed Jesus. I very much suspect there is much more to the story historically speaking. But, as usual, there is hidden in the account a metaphor.

“They left everything behind” refers to the necessity of detachment if we are to become disciples. St. Basil the Great spoke about the need for three detachments. First from the things of this world. Not just the material things or immoral things, but also the immaterial ones. “Do not make for yourselves graven images,” refers not just to idols of gold, but the very thoughts and images we build that become gods to us. This s the first detachment.

Second, we must let go of life itself. “He who loses his life for my sake will find it.” And this also from our Lord, “Deny yourselves.” We must let go of the fear of death. St. Maximus the Confessor said that all sin is the result of the fear of death. It is fear that secretly governs us much of the time, like a river running right below the surface of our consciousness. Often it is too deep and quiet to be detected, but like yeast in a ball of dough it tends to color every aspect of life. I dearly love Hafiz’s line, "Fear is the  cheapest room in the house. I would rather see you living in better conditions." It takes faith to let go of life and fall into the hands of God. As the Zen proverb goes, “Leap and the net will appear.” This is the second detachment.

The third detachment may surprise you. It is detachment from religion. Religion is a means, not the end. We must be careful that religion does not become an idol.

Remember, truth is not a system of beliefs, it is a person and if religion leads us to that conclusion, then it is doing what it is supposed to do. In the Book of Revelation we read that in the kingdom there will be neither sun nor moon for the Lord himself will be the light. I do not think there will be religion there either because there will be no need for it. We shall see him face to face. The Liturgy will become an eternal Eucharist, oneness and communion. The Hughes family motto makes this point succinctly, “Without God, without anything. God and enough.” This is the third detachment.

Finally, then, let’s return to the four brothers. Christ looked at them and they looked at him and a spark was lit. It can be so for us as well. But we must look. He is always looking.

Metropolitan ANTHONY Bloom tells a wonderful story of a priest who encountered an older gentleman one morning in his church. Every morning he would come and sit in one of the pews for a while. He didn’t even appear to be praying. Out of curiosity he went to speak to him one morning and asked a simple question. “Sir, please tell me what you do here every morning.” The old man replied, “I gaze at him and he gazes at me.” The answer to who we are and who God is will be revealed in the encounter.

St. Augustine explained it like this, "I tasted you, and I hunger and thirst; you touched me, and I burned for your peace." And so, through experience and relationship we will come to know everything.