They are in the Book


Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, October 3, 2021.

We are not under attack in this country for believing the Gospel, but for not living it. We say we love and then we condemn. We say we follow Christ and yet through our actions we betray him. We say we follow the Gospel and then we pollute it with politics and worldly agendas. The poor, lowly Christ becomes a tool for amassing wealth and power. While we are quick to point out the unrighteousness of others, we are slow to see the unrighteousness in ourselves. 

Our words and actions reveal the state of our hearts. If our hearts are pure, we will see God and see Him everywhere. If our hearts are full of darkness, our perception of the world will be darkness. It is the darkness within our own hearts that we end up projecting on the world if our hearts are impure. Or we will project the light that is in us, if there is light to project. Any judgment of others is actually a judgment against ourselves.

“Be merciful,” our Lord commands, “even as your Father is merciful.” Seeing that we can never out mercy God, then whatever amount of mercy we can manage to share, it can never be too much. As we know from the life and teachings of Jesus, we must never judge unless we want to be judged ourselves. That is not our job. Our job is to be merciful. “Blessed are the merciful for they shall attain mercy.” We will indeed reap what we sow.

Once after a Trisagion Service at a wake, I retreated to my office for a few minutes. Not long after a man came to my office, shut the door and sat down. He said, “How could you pray those prayers for that horrible man? I know he could not possibly get to heaven!” I sat quietly for a minute and then said, “How can you know such a thing?” “I just know,” he answered. Then I replied, “Well, I hope God isn’t listening, because if he is, you are gonna be in trouble.” I could have answered the as Metropolitan Phillip did when someone asked him the same thing, “How could you pray those prayers for that guy?” The Metropolitan answered, “They’re in the book!”

As we want others to do to us, we must first do to them.

From Richard Rohr: “Jesus tried to change people by loving and healing them. His harshest words of judgment were reserved for those who perpetuated systems of inequality and oppression and who, through religion itself, thought they were sinless and untouchable.” How hard the powerful fall when they are exposed! The greater and safer path is the path of humility and anonymity.

The truly humble seem to disappear from view. They do not want to be seen. They work the will of God in secret expecting no rewards or notoriety. The greatest in the kingdom will be the least among us. Humility (from the root word “humus”) makes one practically invisible. The word humus means “the organic component of soil, formed by the decomposition of leaves and other plant material by soil microorganisms.” Who pays much attention to it? We usually just walk on it. The greatest saints are like that. They do not seek attention. They seek only to die like Christ for the life of the world and in so doing become the very ground that we walk upon. The greatest among them are the least among us. Only God knows their names.

I am sure you know this uncomfortable little truth already, but allow me to repeat it. “Why do we see the speck in our brother’s eye, when there is a log in our own.?” The truth is that if the log were not in our own eye already, we would never see the speck. The one good thing about seeing the speck is that we can begin to understand what it is we need to repent of, that is, if there is a speck of humility in us. Never is it an indication of what the other needs to do.

Another of the saints instructed that if we see our brother or sister sinning, we must throw a cloak over them so that we no longer see it and look instead to ourselves praying that we do not fall into the same sin. I dearly love this quote from one of the saints, “If you want to be at peace, mind your own business.”

How is it we would like to be treated if we are seen falling into sin? With compassion, of course. That is how Jesus approached sinners after all. And that is our example to follow. We may never walk on water, but we can walk in Christ Jesus over the tumultuous waves and winds that shake ours and our neighbor's lives. We can reach out our hands in compassion and lift ourselves and our brothers and sisters out of the stormy sea. We can sink with them and we can rise with them.

Jesus says of himself, “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy-laden. For I am meek and lowly of heart and you shall find rest for your souls.” We, too, can be like that. There is nothing to stop us from bringing comfort and peace to all we meet. This is the heart of our faith, both the beginning and the end of it. We must rediscover this all-encompassing heart. It resides in us.

We do not need to carry swords to defend ourselves or the church. We do not need to turn the swords of shame and guilt on ourselves. I tend to think more like St. Porphyrios.

“Do not fight to expel darkness from the chamber of your soul. Open a tiny aperture for the light to enter, and the darkness will disappear.  The same holds true for our passions and desires. Do not fight them, but transform them into strengths by showing disdain for evil."

Do not choose negative methods to correct yourselves. There is no need to fear the devil, hell or anything else. These things provoke a negative reaction...The object is to live, to study, to pray and to advance in love...”

What else is there?