Search Me, O God


Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, August 20, 2023

Jesus was not a theoretician. He was not all words and theories. His teaching had practical applications and consequences. His core message was about the presence of the kingdom of heaven within us and among us here and now using metaphors from daily life, fishing and farming, wedding feasts and banquets to anchor Christian spirituality in the real stuff of this world.

Although many believe that Christianity calls for a radical separation between the Church and the world the truth is quite different. Christ calls us not to run from, neglect, ignore, and condemn the world. Nor are we instructed by the Lord to build walls and fortresses to protect ourselves from the bad guys. We are called to embrace the world as it is with love and discernment and to look deeply with the eyes of the soul into the infinite richness of divine grace that lies at the heart of all that exists. I like what one teacher said to his student who complained about being bored with life, meditation and prayer, "If you are bored, then you are not paying attention."

Most often the Lord's parables, sermons and miracles point to a way of life that is not typical. To make it simpler for the heart to grasp he used illustrations taken from daily life - fishing, gardening, sowing and reaping, shepherding. I say "for the heart to grasp" rather than the mind because parables are not logical, they are provocative. Rather than offering information they offer wisdom in the form of puzzles that cry out for interpretation.

To speak the obvious, the parable of the wicked servant is a parable about karma. The simplest definition of karma I know comes from the lips of Our Savior, "as you sow, so shall you reap." What we do always comes back to us in one form or another. Had the wicked servant treated his fellow servant with compassion and empathy, he and his family would not have been thrown into jail. But no. He was in a prison whose bars, chains and locks bear the same name, Self-interest." 

Breaking free from the prison of the false self we can become builders of a new world. A world of equality and justice, of compassion and freedom. Once again Jesus calls us to the highest form of love. Don't go one mile, go two. Give your coat and your cloak. Over and over descending to the lowest of the low when we must and ascending to greater heights when we are called, tirelessly divesting ourselves for the life of the world until ego disappears and Christ-in-us is all that remains. Psalm 139 shows us this narrow path of transformation

"Search me, O God, and know my heart,
try me and know my thoughts,
And see if there be any way in me
that is grievous,
And lead me in the way everlasting."

There is a teaching from Metropolitan Athanasios of Cyprus that speaks to the path Christ has laid out for us. The Church Fathers and Mothers "never spoke about uprooting our desires, our impulses...our feelings, emotions, desires...and appetites." They speak of a way of transformation and re-education and reordering of our "disordered desires." The Transfiguration of the whole self and all our parts is like a " program of therapy and healing, "to the point," he writes "where even faith and hope" passes away and all that is left is love. In this way we develop into God's likeness such that all that remains is Christ in us. Then we can say of ourselves, "I am love" in the same way the Bible speaks of God, "God is love."

This is our prayer.  To become love inside and out with a pure heart clear and still like a mountain lake in which, as Olivier Clement writes, the undistorted face of the Lord appears. This is our prayer, to have a clean heart, like God's heart, in which there is no shadow of turning, no deceipt, no guile, no resistance to love. 

Every moment provides an opportunity to say no to the false self and yes to God. It is good that God reveals his will in small, bite-sized pieces. Each moment is rich with possibilities, each present moment is filled with God, every person, every situation, every animate and inanimate object filled with grace. Moment by moment is how we must live if we are to enter the straight and narrow path. The wicked servant who refused to show compassion was blinded by his self-interest. He took the broad and easy path of ego becoming the cause of suffering for everyone around him.

A true Christian shines by day and by night with the radiance of God's Love for all. For this end we are called to "lay aside all earthly cares" not only in Divine Liturgy, but in a moment by moment movement of surrender into Pure Faith. Letting go into God. Letting go into love. Dying to self, to preferences, to desires, to likes and dislikes, to escape the little prison of the ego like a butterfly from a chrysalis.  "Sell everything you have," Jesus said to the Rich Man, "and come follow me." In other words, "Let go, spread your wings and learn to fly."

Romans 12:10: "outdo one another in showing honor" and in this way become like the Lord Himself who showed the ultimate honor for all creation by stretching out his arms on the Cross in a loving embrace that never ends.