St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

Power to Do What?

 

Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, April 26, 2020

Today Christ enters the Upper Room even though the doors were shut. He does not break down the door or the walls. He goes in as if there weren’t any. To God, of course, there aren’t.

Our problem is that we don’t see as God sees. His ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. While we are busy building walls and barriers, the Lord ignores them and passes into everyone’s world and invites everyone to come to him. “He who comes to me,: Our Lord Jesus proclaims, “I will in no wise cast out.”

St. Paul write this to Timothy (I Timothy 1:7), “He has not given us a spirit of fear or timidity, but of power, of love, and of a sound mind.”…”

The question is, the power to do what? What kind of power is it? Certainly God’s definition of “power” is far different from the world’s where power means domination, control, defiance, and the acquisition of wealth. God’s definition is revealed to us through Christ Jesus.

Born as a helpless child in a stable in poverty, breaking down social and religious boundaries, demolishing the terrible injustice of racism, religious and cultural ideology, and sexism, healing the sick, preaching liberation to the poor and repentance to the powerful, giving life to those in deep despair, raising the dead. All this he did without fomenting violence or political rebellion, without shedding a single drop of blood except his own as he hung once again helpless, beaten, derided, persecuted on the Cross. And he who could by his own word have called legions of angels to help him did not, refusing the temptation to earthly power and glory offered him by Satan in the wilderness. Some of it sounds positively Orwellian, but the Gospel is plain. Life is death, power is weakness, the poor are rich, the rich are poor, love your enemies, turn the other cheek, give without expecting anything in return. How many have twisted the Gospel to meet their voracious appetites for wealth and power. It is blasphemy.

The power we have been given by Christ is the power to be like Him. We are not called to triumphalism, or anger, or defiance, or deception, or violence, earthly power, or political authority. We are called to love as He loves, to forgive as He forgives, to empty ourselves even to death as He did. Any other message is, as St. Paul puts it, “another Gospel” not Christ’s.

We have not been given a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, of love, and a sound mind. And that means the power to be like Christ.

“There is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord.” 

~ Abraham Heschel 

For us that “realm of time” is every time. For now it is even more intensely necessary.

Rightfully, our leaders have called us to follow the instructions of our local civil authorities and of the experts in science and medicine and intelligent, well informed public servants. And we have done so and will continue to do so not out of fear, but out of the power of love. To love our neighbors and ourselves (which, of course, is also love of God) is to do all we can to live His higher calling. It is not about me and mine. It is about us. And that “us” is inclusive of all humanity, those we love and like, those we prefer, and those we do not. Life is too short for hate.

So, we shelter in place, we create avenues of social connection in any way we can, we share, to communicate, we love, we reach out in safe ways full of compassion and lovingkindness, we pray for one another and check on one another. To see what that looks like, read the messages Dr. Sarah Byrne-Martelli writes on facebook. They are moving testimonies of the tragedy and the beauty that has blossomed in this time. Sarah is an Orthodox chaplain from our parish who works at Mass General Hospital. She lives the Gospel by sharing in the suffering of others day in and out, doing all she can to comfort and heal in the worst of circumstances. All of our front-line responders do the same. We must honor and support them, pray for them, and do whatever we can to meet their needs as they risk their lives to meet ours.

The power of God then is love, humility, compassion, self-sacrifice, self-emptying, sanity, and peace and it has been given to us that we may courageously become like grains of wheat that die in the earth and are resurrected to abundant fullness of life. That power to die and to rise for the life of the world is His gift to us. We have but to unwrap it and become it.

Let me leave you with one more quote from, Heschel about prayer that might explain this how prayer fits the model of self-emptying love. “The focus of prayer is not the self. … It is the momentary disregard of our personal concerns, the absence of self-centered thoughts.”