Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, October 4, 2020
I have a beautiful little story to tell you. It comes from a teacher of English as a Second Language in Illinois who happens to be the niece of my dear friend Dr. Anthony Bashir. It seemed like a great day for it given the Gospel reading from Luke.
Nicole’s class has many Chinese students some of whom are not Christian even though the school is in a Benedictine monastery. Nicole makes a concerted effort to make the non-Christian students feel valued and equal to the Christian ones. She must be a very good teacher to care so much for her students.
One Buddhist girl by the name of Tong was not doing well in her religion class so the teacher allowed her to do some extra credit to lift her grade. The assignment was to write a short explanation of a verse from Scripture or a prayer. Tong asked Nicole to help.
When Nicole asked her what she had chosen she answered, “the Jesus Prayer.” Nicole hastened to assure her that she didn’t have to choose that one just because she knew Nicole liked it. But Tong, replied, that she was choosing it on her own. Nicole asked why and here’s the answer she received, “I chose it because maybe Jesus will forgive me for not believing in him.”
So innocent. So beautiful. I would assure Tong here and now that Jesus would most certainly forgive her. Her answer mirrors the reply of the father of the epileptic boy, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” There is a spark of faith in her reply that cannot be denied. Hers was a still, small voice of child-like faith.
Let me also praise the teacher (although she would not want it). She preached the Gospel without words by nurturing and caring for Tong in a way reminiscent of the Lord’s treatment of, for example, the Samaritan Woman. This is something we could all stand to imitate.
The Lord shows no favoritism. He is compassionate towards all, the good and the bad alike, and everyone in-between, which covers everyone I think. So far, in our two readings from Luke’s Gospel, we have heard about God’s non-discriminatory love.
The Lord Jesus teaches us that God bestows lavish nurturing love upon all his creation, As Marcus Borg rightly points out, “God feeds the birds, clothes the grass with lily blossoms, knows every sparrow, numbers every hair. Even those things that have little value to human beings have value to God: the grass thrown into the oven, the sparrows sold in the marketplace five for two pennies. Reality is permeated, indeed flooded, with divine creativity, nourishment, and care.”
Let’s remember that the famous verse, John 3:16, tells that “God so loved the world,” not part of the world, all of the world. Even when God “punishes” he does so by loving us more. It would be wholly unlike God to be anything other than what the Lord tells us he is: Love to the nth degree and beyond.
There are things about God that cannot be seen in a human life, things that belong to his essence: infinity, omnipresence, and omniscience. There are however, things that can be seen in a human life. We Orthodox refer to them as energies and in the West I have seen them referred to as the “character of God,” that is, what God is like and what he is passionate about. We see these two things decisively in the life of Jesus Christ for he is the perfect image of God. God is passionate about his Creation.
When I think about the energies of God I think of his love, his compassion, his generosity, his wisdom. St. Paul calls them the fruit of the Spirit and lists them as: love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and self-control (Gal, 5:22-23).
If God bestows his love on everyone and everything, should we not do the same? Any other way of life is not the Way Christ brought into the world. His is the way of non-discriminatory love. We forget so easily this Way we have been called to follow. It is the way of very young children who have not yet discovered the “separate self,” who have yet to learn the way of this world which is to dominate others through self-centeredness and selfishness.
I found a haunting story in Marcus Borg’s book DAYS OF AWE AND WONDER. He attributes it to Parker Palmer, the wonderful Quaker writer. Let me leave you with this.
A couple with one child, a little girl, became pregnant and their daughter was looking forward to her brother’s birth. After he was born the parents brought him home and their little daughter had a strange request. She wanted to spend a little time with him alone. They had no idea what that was about, so they put him in his crib and left the two of them alone. The baby monitor was on and they listened carefully to what went on. They listened as her feet crossed the floor and then heard her say, “Tell me what God is like. I have almost forgotten.”
I think a lot of us have forgotten. Let’s do our best to remember. “Be merciful as your Father is merciful.”