Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, June 27, 2021.
I want to talk today about what it means to acknowledge Christ before the world. It cannot be limited merely to the pronouncement of all the right words. We know this because Jesus tells us so. “Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven,” even those few who manage somehow to raise the dead or heal the sick.
Once my paternal grandmother heard a knock at the door. When she opened it she found an evangelical pastor standing there with the intention of preaching the Gospel to her. One thing he said was, “I haven’t sinned in 23 years.” She replied, “You just did.”
To acknowledge Christ “before men” means to be like Him. We must be evolving into the likeness of Him in whom we claim to believe. To think like He thinks, to act like He acts, to love like He loves, to let go of our egoic and earthly minds and put on His.
What is the worldly mind like? Well, one reason we are blessed to live in this materialistic society is that the American mind is pretty much identical to the egoic mind. It is easy to spot if you are looking for it. The terrible thing is that we have become so addicted to it that we cannot see how truly unchristian it is. The heart of our consumer society’s ideology is that an authentic human being is selfish, acquisitive, aggressive, and competitive, all characteristics of the egoic mind. Not one of those characteristics can be found in Jesus. His mind is the polar opposite: unselfish, non-acquisitive, peaceful and non-competitive.
So, insofar as we find these un-Christlike characteristics within ourselves, we have discovered where our repentance (our change of mind) begins.
The worldly mind is focused on self-preservation and is motivated by fear and desire. It is always on the defensive, grasping and clinging to this life as if there is nothing else. In repentance it is not enough to merely deal with the what. We must go deeper. We must discover the why.
I agree with Dr. Gabor Mate, the trauma and addiction therapist, that beneath our suffering is trauma. I think that behind our sin also lies trauma for sin is a way of burying or pushing aside the pain caused by trauma. In order to avoid feeling the pain, we find ways to distract ourselves from it. This is the nature of addiction and sin is often manifest as addiction, to drugs, to money, to power, to sex, to hate. The deepest of all traumas is the fear of death which St. Maximus the Confessor writes is the cause of all sin.
And since our true self is the image of God, our suffering is a result of the war within ourselves between the truth of who we are and the identity we have created for ourselves, the image we want to present to the world.
The mind of Christ is natural to us. His mind is already embedded in us. It is what defines us. We do not have to seek for happiness, for example, because we already have it. It is who we truly are and what we are supposed to be evolving into. If we are not evolving into His likeness, which is healthy and natural to all human beings, then, we are war within ourselves. This internal war is the cause of our suffering.
The way out of suffering is to embrace Christ who is the perfect image of God and humanity. Christ is our true identity. To do so, we must also allow ourselves to feel deeply all the pain of our lives which we deftly attempt to hide even from ourselves and everyone around us. To feel whatever it is we feel with courage and compassion allowing the grace of God to enter our wounds healing and transforming our pain into joy. Then, as Christ through the Holy Spirit penetrates the depths of our suffering, we evolve, we heal, we transform into His divine likeness.
Faith grows downward as we descend into the heart where the kingdom of heaven is. The spiritual life is an endless descent which paradoxically is seen to be at the same time an endless ascent. It is a kenosis as well as an exaltation. That is why on the top of Orthodox crucifixes the sign reads “the King of Glory.” The Word of God descended from heaven and so we must also descend and only after His condescension manifest in His crucifixion and death did He ascend never leaving behind His kenosis. His wounds were still visible to the apostles and still are.
Meister Eckhart says it like this, "We sink eternally from letting go to letting go into God.”
Human nature (in Christ) with its wounds “still visible above” has ascended to the throne of God. Becoming like Him with our precious wounds, we will be able to say with Paul,
"It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives within me. … And we, with our unveiled faces reflecting like mirrors the glory of the Lord, all grow brighter and brighter as we are turned into the image that we reflect.”
The Lord Jesus “let go into God” the Father, sinking into death and then rising in glory. He let go of His heavenly prerogatives, submitting to crucifixion and death and then descended even further into the uttermost depths a human being can experience: despair and hell. Our Lord let go absolutely holding on to nothing in this world.
"Francis of Assisi came before [Pope Innocent III] to plead: “I do not come here with a new rule; my only rule is the gospel.” I believe our salvation in this time of crisis in church and society is a return to the Gospel and to an authentic interpretation centered around faith, hope and love.
Come let us take this journey together.