The Life of My Life
Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, July 19, 2020
The Gospel according to Matthew 5:14-19
Here is a beautiful prayer I found just the other day that mirrors the teaching of Christ that we are the light of the world.
“You who are within and without, above and below and all around, You who are interpenetrating every cell of my being, You who are the eye of my eyes, the ear of my ears, the heart of my heart, the mind of my mind, the breath of my breath, the life of my life, the soul of my soul, Bless us, dear God, to be aware of Your presence now and here.”
We are light because God is light. It is He who placed this light at the core of our being. The Orthodox view of humanity is invariably positive.
St. Gregory the Theologian, wrote that “God took a lump of newly created earth, formed it into our shape, and breathed into it a flash of the invisible godhead.” And St. Gregory of Nyssa chimed in exhorting us to recognize “to what extent the Creator has honored you…You alone have been made the image of the Reality that transcends all understanding, the likeness of imperishable beauty, the imprint of true divinity…”
Such resounding affirmations mark the Church’s attitude toward human nature and, well, everything else for that matter. That is one of the things that attracted me to Orthodoxy. The theology I learned growing up was so negative and dreary and here in the Church I discovered the possibility of joy. We begin with the belief in Original Goodness and that is also where we end up. The Alpha and Omega is the Goodness of God and the Goodness of humanity.
So, we are the light of the world by nature. It is a gift granted to all of humanity and it can never be taken away or extinguished or even diminished. But Jesus says it can be hidden as “under a bushel.” If our actions are born from the light within us, the very ground of our being, then we become like a lamp on a lampstand for all to see. If not, then the light will be hidden away and the world inside and outside will grow dark simply because we do not know who we are. One of the fathers, maybe others as well, wrote that the greatest of the spiritual gifts is self-knowledge. Socrates taught it, “To know yourself is the beginning of wisdom.” It matters very much how we define ourselves.
We must not define ourselves by the things of this world that are always changing and dying before our eyes. If we define ourselves as a vegan, that’s well and good, but tomorrow we might become an omnivore. Then what happens to our identity? We can’t keep redefining ourselves can we? If we do, then we will never know who we are. The answer we give will always be subject to the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” or the latest fads and fashions.
As a young man I kept changing my identity by getting new glasses. For a few years I was John Lennon with the little round wire-rims. Next I transformed into Elton John with big outrageous frames. It was fun while it lasted, but it didn’t help me find out who I really was. It was and is an unstable way to live. Pretty soon you have to settle on something or go nuts.
Jesus offers a definition that is healthy, unchanging and eternal, not subject to sin, disease, death, fads or anything else that might come our way. “You are the light of the world,” “the salt of the earth,” “the children of God.” That is a foundation on which you can build a life.
To discover the truth of who we are, we must learn how to rest in God. Resting in Him reveals the true self. That is what we need most to do. Shedding our burdens defined by the changing vicissitudes of life, (letting go of life in other words as St. Basil instructed), detaching for a time each day and more often if possible, from all earthly cares, we can find the peace we so long for. It is already in us. “Christ stands at the door and knocks.” He and his Father wish to come in to visit us and dine with us. And there, like Mary, we are invited without guilt or shame to sit at his feet and listen to the sound of his voice and the beat of his heart.
The mind, say the fathers and mothers of the Church, must descend into the heart, but before this can happen we must learn to be still and rest in God like trees planted by streams of living water. There we will hear him say to us. “Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.”
There in the silence of our hearts the truth of who we are, the light of God in earthen vessels, will make itself known. In this way we can touch the divine light in us and when we do, we will become all light. Then there will be no way to hide it any longer.