Within You and Without You
Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, June 28, 2020
“The eye is the lamp of the body” is a very interesting turn of phrase. Lamps emit light if they are in good working order. So, the question is, are our lamps, our organs of perception, in good working order?
And what does it mean when the Lord speaks about the light in us being dark? It must mean, at least consistent with the metaphor, that the lamp either is not working or is not turned on. Either way there would be darkness. Are our lamps in working order and are they on or are they off?
And as a projector of light the eyes have the power to enlighten the world around us. It is not what we see that matters most, but how we interpret what we see. For example, we could see a bird as a beautiful creature that flies or as a dangerous projectile (a little silly, I know) or the wearing of masks during this pandemic either as a way to honor and protect the image of God or as a way of dishonoring it. It really matters the kind of light our eyes project.
Our interpretation of what we see has everything to do with whether or not the light in us is light or dark. If light, then we will project light and we will see light. If the light in us is darkness, then we will project and see darkness. It is just as easy (and more wholesome) to see an angel behind every bush as it is to imagine a demon. Or even better to see God who we are told unequivocally is always there. It is actually God who is behind every bush, for as you may have heard, “every bush is a burning bush.”
As the suffering Fr. Dudko of Russia once told his listeners, “We always find exactly what we are looking for.” And what we look for and how we interpret what we find reveals more about us than about the thing itself. As Thomas Merton wrote, when we speak about God it reveals more about us than it does about God.
It depends very much on whether the light in us is light or dark.
That is why St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Christians at Philippi “Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report ... think on these things." This is so important today when true, honest, pure and lovely things are in short supply. What he is talking about is developing a practice of meditating on the goodness of God and then by the power of the indwelling Spirit our minds can be transformed even on the cellular level as we are now told.
It is simple, dwelling on negative things makes us negative. We accentuate the darkness when we dwell on it. Darkness grows when we feed it. The opposite is also true, dwelling on honest, pure, and lovely positive things makes the mind light. The light grows when we tend it.
Orthodox theology tends to be bright. Beginning with the Goodness of God and the omnipresence of that Goodness, and the beauty of humanity, we are invited to open our eyes to the goodness in us and around us. “In thy light we see light.”
For example, we will make either friends or enemies depending on the positive or negative state of our thoughts. We will see threats when there is no threat. We will misunderstand and misinterpret things and react blindly when a clear-eyed response is what is called for. For this reason it has been wisely said that most of our suffering is self-inflicted.
We want our lamps to be bright and unclouded so that we can see as God sees, for he sees all things as beautiful. This is counter to much of what popular Christianity teaches these days, but the Lord himself uttered this very mysterious sentence, “To the pure all things are pure.” Wrap your minds around that for a moment! There is nothing and no one more pure than God. Therefore, if scripture is true (and it is) God who is pure sees all things, including us, as pure! That is amazing! It is not that God is blind (we are the blind ones), it is that God is Good.
What we gain by cleansing our sight and allowing the light to guide us is peace in this world. It is the peace “that passes understanding.” No matter what the circumstances the eye that is light will see only light.
It is no accident that Baptism is referred to as illumination. The light of God the Holy Spirit burns within those who receive it. The light that was placed there from the beginning even before Baptism is revealed, vivified, and intensified through the sacrament. The light is within us and we must not keep it hidden.
We are invited through spiritual practice by faith to keep our lamps in working order and, to use another similar metaphor, to cleanse the mirror of our souls so they can clearly reveal the face of our Lord in us and around us. For as St. Paul tells us in I Corinthians, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face…” (13:12)
We will know the light in us is truly light and not dark when we begin to see all things as he does: beautiful, good and pure.