St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

The Light Shines in the Darkness

Sermon Preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, January 14, 2007

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

Glory to Jesus Christ!

Galilee has an interesting history. The name comes from the Aramaic word “gal” which means “to take captive.” In the year 721 BC the Assyrians took over the Northern kingdom of Israel comprised of ten of the twelve tribes of Israel. The tribes of Zebulon and Naphtali lived in the area of Capernaum by the sea where Jesus lived. It was known as the “Galilee of the Gentiles” because after the Assyrians moved the conquered Jews out they moved in a mixed race of people who, without neglecting their own gods, adopted the Jewish God as one of their own deities. The Samaritans were descendants of these people. They were never accepted by the Jews in Judah. There is our little history lesson for this Sunday.

An integral part of the “Good News” of the Gospel of Jesus is that the light previously believed to be the sole possession of the Hebrew people is shown to be available to all people. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is not a local or tribal deity as he was thought to be, he is the God of all. From Isaiah we hear this “Good News” way before the coming of Christ, that “the people who sat in darkness”, that is the Gentiles, would share in the light that was coming into the world.

No one has a monopoly on God, no one can claim to own him, no one can claim to have all knowledge of him. “My ways are not your ways,” the Lord tells us, “ and my thoughts are not your thoughts.” That should be enough to remind us that if we think we have finally “got it” we'd better think again! The more we seek to grasp him, the more he slips out of our grip and we find ourselves holding onto delusions and dreams.

Jesus came preaching a simple message, “Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Repent means to “turn around”, to change one's mind, to go in a different direction, to dare to see in a different way. To follow Jesus we must first recognize that there is something wrong not only with the way we live, but even more importantly, with the way we think.

We need to repent of the things we do wrong, but they do not come out of a vacuum. Sin is a process that begins with thought, but even deeper than that, with a pattern of thinking. The Orthodox theologian Philip Sherrard writes that “we have reached the point not only of thinking that the world which we perceive with our ego-consciousness is the natural world, but also of thinking that our fallen, sub-human state is the natural human state, the state that accords with our nature as human beings.”

Put in another way we have come to think that bad is good and that darkness is light, that a lump of coal is an ounce of gold. We have come to believe that because sin, disease and death is typical it is normal. We have forgotten from whence we came. We have forgotten that we are truly defined not by the corruption in us, but by the image of God in us. The egotistical self is masquerading as “us” while the beautiful image of God lies hidden within waiting to be discovered and allowed its preeminent place in our lives.

Put another way, we believe that we and the world around us can and do exist independently of God. Along with this comes the thought that we can and do live independently from one another and from creation. Like Lucifer we have claimed independence and attempted to mount the throne of heaven no matter what the consequences for our selves, for other human beings and for creation. The result is suffering on a grand scale: personal, corporate and cosmic. We end up torturing ourselves and others and abusing creation with abandon.

It is possible to live another way. Repentance is a real option. Let me tell you the story of a golfer who became human.

Jack Kornfield, the teacher of meditation, relates this story. Roberto De Vincenso is a famous golfer from Argentina known for his athletic ability as well as his compassion. After he won his first tournament he was met in the parking lot by a woman who congratulated him on his win and then proceeded to tell him her sad tale. She said that she was very poor and that she was supporting as best she could her baby daughter who was sick and dying. The tale of their suffering moved him so much that, then and there, he signed his winnings over to her and asked her to give the baby some good days before she died. After a while some colleagues approached him to say that the woman had conned him as she had many others before. De Vincenso replied, “Do you mean that there is no dying baby?” “No, there isn't!” He answered, “That is the best news I have heard all week!”

That, my friends, is a truly human response, a pure and sinless response devoid of the shadow of ego. It is, I think, a good example of the kind of person St. Paul was thinking about when he wrote, “For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God.” Here, a golfer was revealed to be a “son of God”. If he can do it, so can we. To repent, then, means more than saying I am sorry for individual sins, it is to open up to the truth of who we are and to allow that truth to permeate and govern all that we do. As sin is a process, so is repentance. How do we begin to develop is us such a truly human and divine way of thinking and being? Here is an image I would like to leave you with today as food for thought.

Huston Smith, the great historian of religion, wrote that there are two ways of thinking of human beings and the spiritual life. “Some say, 'The dewdrop slips into the shining sea.' Others prefer to think of the dewdrop as opening to receive the sea itself.” Think about it. I think the second is more correct.

We will speak more of this as Great Lent draws near.