No Inside, No Outside
Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, February 6, 2022
No one is “outside” of God, nor can be. Olivier Clement writes that “not one blade of grass grows outside the Church.” The Syro-Phoenician Woman was outside the Jewish fold, yes, but that did not mean she was disconnected from God. Jesus calls her a woman of great faith. Therefore, she must have been very connected with God indeed for all good things, like faith, come from him. (James 1:17) Who of us can know how our Lord is working in another person's life?
I make this point frequently because it is difficult for us to grasp, trained in the rigors of dualistic thinking as we are. In the dualistic mind there must always be an in and an out. You are in or you are out. Perhaps there is no in or out. What if there is only in? Like St. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:18-20, “But as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not ‘Yes’ and ‘No’…for the Son of God was not ‘Yes’ and ‘No’,’ but in him it has always been ‘Yes.’” And if the Holy Spirit is “everywhere present, filling all things,” everyone and everything is “in” and nothing is “out”.
This message comes clear when Jesus (after a little sleight of hand) turns and heals the Gentile woman’s daughter and then proclaims her to be a woman of great faith! And this in front of his flabbergasted Jewish disciples who had been taught that Jews were “in” and Gentiles were most definitely “out” to say nothing of the fact that she was a woman, also a perennially “out” group in male-dominated society.
My point is that there are no favored people and no unfavored people, no in-people and no out-people, for “God does not show favoritism” (Acts 10:34). St Peter said that in the house of the Gentile Roman centurion after he heard the Lord say, “There is nothing clean or unclean.” So I think proclaiming ourselves to be the in-crowd and everybody else the out-crowd is antithetical to the Spirit of Christ. All persons are in God simply because they exist. God most certainly works wherever and with whomever he wishes without our say-so. Perhaps this (among other things) prompted Fr. Schmemann to say, “We can say where the Church is, we cannot say where the Church is not.”
And if that isn’t enough, St. Paul proclaimed that “To the pure all things are pure.” Since there is no one purer than God, of course, this must apply to him. If God sees only purity , then he does not categorize the worthy and the unworthy. In fact, worthiness hasn’t anything to do with salvation. We are loved by God not because we are worthy. We are loved simply because we are. We are not saved because of what we do or don’t do. We are saved by God and not by ourselves.
It also applies to us as St. Paul makes clear by saying that to the impure, nothing is pure. Since our one, common vocation is to grow into the likeness God, we, too, with God’s help, can achieve purity of heart. We can come to think like him, act like him, be like him, not as some kind of mimicry, play-acting or imitation; but as an epiphany of what it means to be truly human. When Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Mt 5), he is not talking about only in heaven. The pure in heart shall see God right here and now, in this life and in the next. After all, Jesus tells us to look for his Kingdom within us, among us and around us.
The sure sign of spiritual progress is the transformation of fear and prejudice into love. We cannot force it, but we can work towards it. Our willingness to choose compassion over apathy, for example, becomes like a mustard seed in the soul. Watering it with meditation, prayer and sacrament, and fertilizing it with deliberate works of kindness we watch and wait for the Holy Spirit to bring the increase. We may well be caught completely by surprise by the changes that happen in us. How is it that I am no longer so threatened by others who are different than me? Where did my sharp edges go? How and when did this happen?
St. Paul tells us how it works in 1 Corinthians 3:6-8. “I have planted, Apollo watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that plants any thing, neither he that waters; but God that gives the increase.”
Internal transfiguration is a gift of God from whom all blessings flow. It is offered to all. Those who embrace it are those who are willing to receive it. Repentance is a rewiring of our brains to create a discernible renewal of our minds that paves the way for the Spirit to raise up the valleys, bring low mountains, and make the way straight as Isaiah the Prophet prophesied. Where we discover beliefs, opinions and ideologies in us that are foreign to the glory of God, then we have found our particular path for repentance and spiritual growth. A dear friend of mine, a refugee from Venezuela living in Chile adopted this prayer, “Lord, please rewire my brain.” Not a bad prayer, I’d say.
In the remarkable story of the Syro-Phoenician Woman that is exactly what the Lord did by performing a bit of spiritual surgery. Exposing the prejudice and ignorance of his disciples, he went in for the coup de grace. This woman is full of faith! We must be very careful how we treat our neighbors, for as the scriptures say we may very well be meeting angels in disguise. And I hear that angels are very good at disguises.