St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

Coming Alive

by Fr. Antony Hughes

Sermon Preached by Father Antony Hughes on Sunday, November 23, 2003

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.

Glory to Jesus Christ!

It has been wonderful standing in our church the last four nights singing the praises of God. Being attentive and focused on the words we pray and hymns we chant makes the reality that God is with us clear and palpable. The atmosphere of an Orthodox Church makes this even more possible as it is meant to. Icons, candles, the mystical music, the theologically correct and beautiful chant is meant to invite us into a world we often think little about in our daily lives, but which is more real and vital than anything else is or can be. The message is constantly that God is with us and Christ is in our midst, that we are loved by God and desired by him. God’s will is that we be filled with joy and light.

How did the rich man in today’s Gospel come to believe the lie that his wealth gave him security? Why do we? How is it that the human race had gotten so turned around that when it stared God in the flesh, when the Son of God became man and walked among us, we couldn’t recognize him? Why did we crucify God, calling him a blasphemer, impious and a sinner? Why was God not acceptable to us? Why was His goodness not enough for us?

Because we are so self-centered that when the Real Thing showed up and proved our ideas inadequate at best we had to get rid of Him. We so do not like to be contradicted!

There are many wonderful spiritual books available. The one I am re-reading now is by Thomas Merton and is called The New Seeds of Contemplation. Instead of rambling on for hours trying to explain what he manages to in just a few sentences, let me quote him.

People who know nothing of God and whose lives are centered in themselves, imagine that they can only find themselves by asserting their own desires and ambitions and appetites in a struggle with the rest of the world. They try to become real by imposing themselves on other people, by appropriating for themselves some share of the limited supply of created goods and thus emphasizing the difference between themselves and other men who have less than they or nothing at all.

Since this is not God’s way of looking at things and since Jesus came doing precisely the opposite we could not bear His presence among us for long.

The Lord offers us a way. He shows us His way and it is not our way! He reveals to us that so much of what we believe about life and about ourselves is untrue, that there is a reality deeper and richer than we know. Our identities are really not defined by what we own, who we know, or how successful we become, but by the simple truth that we are loved and valued by God.

We learn from him that greatness is measured by humility, wealth by poverty of heart and soul, notoriety by becoming a friend of God and lover of all, that genuine ambition is not how much we can gain, but how much we can give, not how much we can become admired by others, but how much we can come to admire them. We learn from Jesus that in order to live, to truly live, we must put all our preconceived ideas on the altar and leave them there, that is, we must die to ourselves before we can come alive.

What we find when we die to ourselves is that we leave nothing of value behind really. We leave behind the lies, the hurts and pain of the past, the weight of anxiety, the burden of judgment, the inexorable demand that we devour or be devoured, the paranoia of trying to be alone and of holding off death by ourselves. And what is that in the face of the love, joy and peace that come from walking hand in hand with the Lord?