Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, November 7, 2021.
Our faith teaches us to take the foundational moment of Christian history seriously. By this I mean the Incarnation. Since we are approaching the season of the Nativity Fast, I’ve been reflecting on it. We have a very broad, inclusive and cosmic view in the Orthodox Church. Let’s think about it for a few moments. I begin by offering this insight from St. Theresa of Avila:
There are not two worlds, the physical world and the spiritual world. There is only one: the Kingdom of God "on earth as it is in heaven" (Mt 6:10). Many among us say when we pray: "Our Father who art in heaven," (cf. Mt 6:10) that God is up there, which makes us believe that there is a separation between the two worlds. Many Westerners want to distinguish matter from spirit. But all truth is one and reality is also one. From the moment we accept the incarnation of God, we begin to take things seriously.
The Incarnation unites everything, visible and invisible, spirit and matter, heaven and earth, male and female into one. The unity revealed in the Body of Christ is a great mystery. If the Incarnation is real, then we must expand our vision to the nth degree. What does it mean that God has become man? In our baptismal service we read this, “We are saved through the Incarnation.”
St. Irenaeus tried to explore this through his doctrine of recapitulation. Simply put: humanity is saved by the whole life of Christ, His living, His dying and His resurrection. The Lord corrects the mistakes of Adam. We are saved by His connection with us and ours with Him. Quoting Irenaeus, “He (that is Christ) in his work of recapitulation, summed up all things.” Christ, by living life as a human being, undid the curse of Adam, repaired what was broken and drew all things together into one in Himself. Everything He touched He saved. Everything He assumed, He saved. Scripturally, Irenaeus was inspired by a verse from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians (chapter 1, verse 10), “…that in the fullness of times He might gather together into one all things, both which are in heaven and which are on earth in Christ.”
The healings, like those in today’s Gospel reading, are not singular isolated events. They are part of a greater whole.
In healing the Woman and Jairus’ daughter, all humanity is affected; for all human beings are connected to one another. We share the same nature with all other human beings. What effects one effects all. We may not feel it, or see it, or even believe it, but science has some interesting thoughts about it. Like this one from the quantum realm.
“All objects in the universe, including human bodies, are composed of energy. That energy is the foundation of all matter, and exchanges with everything else. The same energy that composes one person, composes all people. Energy is always flowing, always changing.”
I find it most interesting that science is touching the realm of metaphysics! Is the Holy Spirit the energy that connects and flows through all things?
For example, Jesus did not even know the Woman touched Him, but He felt power (energy) flow from Him. Then He knew. I wonder how it would be if we became more sensitive to one another. I wonder what would happen if we paid more attention to life as it unfolds in us and around us. Would we be more like God if we began to flow with His energy?
I find this all very interesting and I hope I haven’t bored you. I do have a point that is connected with everyday life. We can choose to flow with God or not. We can choose to be good. We can choose to be kind. We can choose to be nonviolent. We can choose to share positivity rather than negativity. We can choose to create or destroy. Every person we meet can be for us a revelation of interconnectedness. We can choose to love and not to hate, to connect or disconnect, to share the energy of compassion or the deadening energy of apathy. If we are flowing with God, then we will live and act in certain ways and find that we are already “in the kingdom which is to come.”
David Bentley Hart is an Orthodox theologian and philosopher. He is undeniably brilliant. And he also rubs many people the wrong way. He says it as he sees it and what he sees is often uncomfortable. I cannot deny that I am fond of his work. In an interview he stated something characteristically controversial. Here's the quote.
“…the only religion in America that ever flourished was America. And it twists everything into its own image.” He sees this happening to Orthodoxy writing that, “…it's being turned into a version of the American religion, which is about civil order, prosperity, capitalism, a moral code that is not premised on forgiveness so much as upon judgement.” Hart laments the infection of Orthodoxy by American fundamentalism and on this point I completely agree. We do not have to succumb to it.
The time is now when we must make a choice to follow Christ or not. I do not know who will rise to the occasion and reject the politics of anger, hatred and division in favor of interconnectedness and communion. I hope it will be us.