Listening to God's Voice
Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, November 8, 2020
Today, once again, Jesus, through his compassionate words and actions, tells us the truth. People are what matters, not the Law, not ideology. People. The welfare of human beings in the eyes of our Lord trumps everything. That is the meaning of the Lord’s words, “The Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath.”
Did Jesus condemn the Woman with the Issue of Blood for breaking the laws of ritual purity by leaving her isolation? He could have and of course he did not. He rejoiced with her. He walked among the diseased and oppressed without worrying about breaking laws or getting his clothes dirty. Hear the words of St. Maria of Paris one of my very favorites:
“Christ, who approached prostitutes, tax collectors and sinners, can hardly be the teacher of those who are afraid to soil their pristine garments, who are completely devoted to the letter, who live only by the rules, and who govern their whole life according to rules.”
The Lord’s level of empathy broke through all legal, societal, and religious boundaries and even of scripture itself. “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life, but it is they that speak of me.” For Christians, the Person of Jesus Christ trumps everything.
I learned something wonderful about the Cross not too long ago - a year or so. It gives voice to the glorious inclusivity of God. Jesus welcomed the Good Thief into Paradise and descended with the other into Sheol. Remember the Psalm, "Even if I go to the depths of Sheol, behold, you are there." When he says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” he is speaking to everyone, saints and sinners alike, believers and non-believers.
How could he who sees every sparrow falling from its nest, has the hairs on our heads numbers, and carried to the Cross every act of injustice and cruelty, turn away from any of his children? And who, then, are we to turn away from any who suffer from the unrestrained appetite of our egos and from the world ravaged by our misuse of it through rapacious greed?
He went into the house of Jairus and into the bedroom of his deceased daughter and commanded her to rise. He, as it were, entered the gates of death and awakened her. We can see ourselves in the little girl because death is our constant compassion through life. In some ways, each of us already are touched by it. We begin to die the moment we are born and every moment after birth is a dying to what was and rising to what is. I think St. Basil’s second phase of detachment (detachment from life itself) means to embrace the constant change that is always occurring and the temporality of all things as the flow of life lived in the ocean of God’s omnipresence.
On another level there are parts of us buried so deeply that we have forgotten them. The Lord commands us to invite them to rise into the light of resurrection and to be healed. Remember, had Jairus not sought him out and begged him to come, his daughter would not have been raised. Everyone of us is Jairus. We must invite Jesus in. "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and dine with him." (Rev. 3:20 ) The parts of us still living in the land of darkness, of Zebulon and Nathali, as the prophet said, are why the Son of God became man in the first place. To bring light to all the dark places.
And I believe that is what each of us is called to do right now: to bring the light of compassion, warmth and understanding into dark places just as Jesus did and continues to do. There is much division, much pain, terrible raw and intense emotion dividing us. Dear God, let us not be among those who make the division worse by adding fuel to the fire. We must choose who we will follow: Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, or someone else. Our choice is made clear in what we say and do.
We must preach the Gospel and encourage those who listen to adopt the goodness of God as their ultimate inspiration. Imagine how it would be if everyone followed the one commandment of Christ to love God, neighbor, and self. What a wonderful world that would be! So. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are to inject into every organization and situation the love for justice, compassion, and mercy that he did.
And that Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God, trumps everything. When in doubt, we follow Christ. If the Lord didn't say it, then we have every reason to question it. Many times he told the crowds "you have heard that it was said such and such, but I tell you this." It is vitally important to discern what is God’s voice and what is not, how to interpret the message and how not to, and even more, who to listen to. How can we tell?
I like Richard Rohr’s take on this.
"Christianity is a lifestyle - a way of being in the world that is simple, non-violent, shared, and loving. However, we made it into an established 'religion' (and all that goes with that) and avoided the lifestyle change itself. One could be warlike, greedy, racist, selfish, and vain in most of Christian history, and still believe that Jesus is one's 'personal Lord and Savior.' The world has no time for such silliness anymore. The suffering on Earth is too great."
Will we choose to heal as Christ did or to hurt, to make peace or make war, to cling to truth, reject what is false, to love justice and mercy, to always be guided by what is good, what is holy, compassionate, empathetic, and lovely? This is the choice we have at every moment. To follow Christ is to make the right choice.
I will end with the pointed words of Joshua, son of Nun, to his people,
“But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD." (Joshua 24:15).
Let us go and do likewise.