Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes at St. Mary Orthodox Church in Cambridge, MA on Sunday, October 18, 2020.
The Reading is from Luke 10:16-21
I want to focus on the first verse of today’s Gospel reading from Luke.
The Lord said to his disciples, “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”
The bottom line is this. Our words must be carefully chosen. We do not want to people to turn away from Christ because of what we say and do. I do not blame people for becoming atheists because they reject the god they hear about on television or the internet. Some people like to blame secularism or science or liberals for the exodus from the Church. Perhaps in some cases this may be true. But Rabbi Abraham Heschel has a better explanation, at least to my mind that might keep us from pointing fingers so much. You may have heard it before, still it bears repeating, especially in our day when there is so much misunderstanding and misinformation and hatred. It is a rather lengthy quote, so please bear with me.
“It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion–its message becomes meaningless.” I think Rabbi Heschel is correct and I think we need to consider what he says.
It is easy to blame others and to look outside ourselves for the cause of our failures. Unfortunately, one thing we are not very receptive to is self-critique. We do not like to see our own faults. So often we live as Heschel says in “the splendor of the past.” We Orthodox are particularly guilty of this and therefore, when we do, we can do little good in the present.
We are in need of metanoia, brothers and sisters, as persons and as communities, to face squarely and creatively the challenges that face not only us but the world around us. We cannot be yeast in the world unless we are alive to the truth and dynamic in our humility. We cannot be the light of the world unless the light in us is truly light and not darkness. What happens when the salt has lost its flavor? It becomes useless.
Professor Yannaras wrote in his book ELEMENTS OF FAITH that sometimes the Church transfigures the world and sometimes the Church is transfigured by the world. It is not always easy to tell the difference.
St. Paul writes to Timothy that the Church is the pillar and ground of the truth and it is. The Church is the repository of the truth, the writer of the New Testament, the purveyor and guardian of the Holy Sacraments. At her heart lies the Way, the Truth, and the Life which is Jesus Christ and the Temple of the Holy Trinity and I think we have become distracted by the same things that tempt all men and women: the lust for power specifically.
What does the Lord say is important? Love, humility, compassion, self-denial. The list could go on. Not one list you could make would include the lust for power and grasping for authority. These things, love, humility, compassion and so many more virtues reflect the character of God and they are supposed to be our very reason for being and the motivation for all we do and say from the very top to the very bottom. Is it not true that “the last shall be first and the first last?” Is it not true that Christ said “I have come to serve and not to be served?” Is that not our model and our goal? If we want to be “a living fountain” in the world, we must clear away the debris that blocks the flow of the divine energy of God that flows in our veins.
The Church was never meant to be an ecclesiastical gated community for the elite. Remember what Jesus said to the Pharisees who were bragging about their heritage, “God can make children of Abraham out of these stones.” We must not fall into the temptation to think that we are more special than anyone else, that we are perfect, and that we do not need the life-giving metanoia that cleanses and transfigures even the most sinful among us. For it is the worst among the human race who may well become first in the kingdom.
I pray that God open our eyes to our need for metanoia so that the world will at last see a Church pure and spotless, that truly represents Christ in his all humility and in his compassionate and transfiguring glory.
~St. Mary Orthodox Church, Central Square, Cambridge, MA, https://www.stmaryorthodoxchurch.org/orthodoxy/sermons/2020/stop-pointing-fingers-examine-ourselves.