God is Doing New Things
Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, July 25, 2021.
I didn’t preach last week. My new granddaughter took up my sermon writing time. So, I want to go back to the Gospel reading for last week and say a few words about one verse in particular, “You are the light of the world.”
Ilia Delio is a brilliant theologian and scientist in the mold of Fr. De Chardin, creative and most provocative. Let me begin with a Delio quote:
"God is doing new things, Jesus proclaimed, but only those with new minds and hearts can see a new world breaking through the cracks of the old."
We seem to forget that God is always doing new things. The new world that He is creating is continually breaking through the cracks of the old. We must be careful not to mistake the in-breaking of the new world with a temptation to betray tradition like the Pharisees and the Sadducees did in Jesus' time.
Jesus said that He did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. What he did was not merely fulfil it. Fr. Richard Rohr likes to say that He reimagined it and expanded it. And He did this by going to the heart of the law which is love. In doing so, He shed new light on the old law pruning it and reinterpreting it. “Behold,” our Lord proclaims, “I make all things new.”
The Truth our Lord teaches is never stagnate. It is creative and transformative and transfiguring. It flows like a river that seeks to carve out the rocky terrain of our hardened hearts. Faith welcomes it as painful as it may be. Delio puts a fine point on it writing, “…the most unchristian position we can assume is to block the new creation from taking place.”
"There is a river whose streams delight the city of God the place where the Most High dwells." (Psalm 46:4) Where is this city? Isaiah tells us. "The heavens are My Throne and the earth is my footstool." (Isaiah 66:1). God's "city" is in heaven and on earth. We know that water always finds a way, over, under or around. Think of this river as the creative energy of God flowing through the cosmos and the sacred waters of Baptism flowing through us. It is the power of God. It is the river of fire that enflames the human heart like the burning bush, burning and yet not consumed shedding warmth and light on the whole world.
Those who use the metaphor of the church as a fortress spend much of their time shoring up their defenses, hiding the light that is in Her under a bushel of fear, plugging the holes and patching the cracks so that the light can neither go in nor come out. But what if the holes and cracks are not the evil, old world breaking through, but the attempt of our Lord to reimagine and expand us? Perhaps they are signs of the in-breaking of the new world.
The number of white evangelicals in the US has dropped from 23% to 14% since 2006. It is said that the numbers of "Nones" (those who are unaffiliated with any organized religion) are growing, that there are more ex-Catholics than Catholics in America according to some observers. The Orthodox Church is not immune to this exodus.
In examining the decline of Christianity in our country, researchers have found that young people in particular are leaving in part because the teachings of Christ have been supplanted by politics and hyper- conservative ideology. Historically, the Gospel of Jesus has often been replaced by political agendas, the mission of the church has often been used as a tool to amass worldly wealth and power and our humble and crucified Savior, whose kingdom is "not of this world," has often been conscripted into the role of campaign chairman. Young people are smart and idealistic. They long for authenticity. They can see hypocrisy a mile away. They do not suffer hypocrisy for long, nor should we.
If you want an example of Christ's “political agenda,” which is neither conservative nor liberal, but rather iconoclastic, well here it is. Buckle your seatbelts, you will never see this on a political platform: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you this, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons and daughters of your heavenly Father." (Mt. 5:43-45). One of the Fathers said that is the epitome of the Gospel. Radical? Yes! True? A thousand times yes!
That message is light in a darkened world. It is the new world breaking through. The Lord’s Way is a new way. It is not the way of the world. It is not our way. We must let go of our old modes of thinking and living if we are to be what Jesus tells us we are, “The light of the world.” As Meister Eckhart says, “The only things that burn in hell are the parts of us that won’t let go.” And the fire that burns our unhealthy attachments is none other than the light of Christ in us.
I am utterly convinced that the Narrow Way of the Gospel is the Way of radical acceptance and unconditional positive regard. His is the Way of Unconditional Love for this crazy, broken world. Anything in us, in our thoughts, in our behavior that doesn't conform to Unconditional Love is where repentance begins and ends. Let go of the “old man,” the “old woman” in favor of God’s Narrow Path that few will find and fewer will take. It is a simple path and not an easy one. It is the way of utter vulnerability.
So, as we choose the Narrow Path we must not be surprised if the Lord leads us into knowledge we have never known or to places we have never been. For behold, the Lord makes all things new! Do we really want that? Are we ready for that? Whether yes or no, be sure the river of fire will not stop flowing.