Sermon Preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, July 8, 2007
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ!
The words and deeds of Jesus and were one and the same. There was no hypocrisy in him. So he could not only forgive the sins of the paralytic he could demonstrate the truth of his words with miracles. Some of the scribes were disturbed by what they heard and saw. They could not bear to hear the truth. They claimed that Jesus was a blasphemer. To prove otherwise Jesus went one step further and healed the poor man of his paralysis.
The crowds were amazed. We do not know what the scribes thought, but we can assume they were as intransigent as before.
How is it that the Truth can be right before our eyes and we miss it so badly?
Faith is a remarkable thing. It is different than belief. We believe in things, in creeds and dogmas, in canons. Belief is usually expressed in concepts, notions and ideas, in words and thoughts.
St. Luke relates what happened when the resurrected Jesus appeared to his disciples. Knowing what they were thinking he asked, “Why do doubts and questions arise in your hearts? See it is Me?” The disciples were holding tightly to the idea that once a person dies he remains dead and yet here in front of them was Jesus who had been crucified. Their minds doubted, but their hearts were filled with joy! Their beliefs could not keep up with their faith. For if we hold too tightly to an idea and it proves to be false, it is difficult to let go even when the evidence is overwhelming. Think of the problems Galileo, DaVinci and Copernicus had with the Roman Catholic authorities of their time and of many Orthodox saints who ran afoul of ecclesial authorities in their day.
Faith is something very different. Faith is most eloquently expressed in silence. Faith means letting go and letting God be God. Faith accepts the fundamental reality that in order to know God we must be willing to let all preconceived notions, ideas and concepts go so that nothing stands in the way of an unmediated experience of the Divine. This is how Orthodox theology begins to talk about God. We say God is fundamentally unintelligible. He cannot be known or understood in the language of human concepts. To approach him demands a gradual stripping away of all concepts and ideas.
It is like looking up in amazement at the midnight sky with the Milky Way splayed out before you in all its majesty. The first response is awe and silence, unmitigated, clear perception. The moment we begin to think about and analyze the experience it is gone. Something vital is lost in the interpretation. Fr. Schmemann gave us another example. In freshman biology we are taught that to understand a frog we must dissect and examine its disparate parts. But the Orthodox mind says, in order to understand a frog, to really “get it”, we must deeply observe the living, breathing, hopping frog with our thoughts silenced and still. Something vital is lost in the dissection.
So, to understand God is a process of letting go and opening up. Letting go of all concepts and letting in pure perception. The Holy Fathers say that we cannot begin to pray unless we first learn to control our thoughts and this is why. Our thoughts more often than not fog up our perception of reality. I love the bumper sticker, “Do not believe everything you think.”
The scribes were disturbed, but it was not Jesus that caused their unease. It was caused by what came from inside them. Didn’t Jesus say it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a man, but what comes from within? Jesus simply was doing what Jesus always did. He loved without measure. But the scribes with all their education, all their “understanding” of the law and the prophets that should have helped them see clearly the works of God in their midst, saw it as blasphemy. They perceived His loving words and actions as evil because they refused to let go of their own ideas of how things should be.
How often do we make that kind of mistake?
“Why do you think evil in your hearts?” Jesus asked the scribes. What Jesus did was good. His good was not the cause of their evil thoughts. Jesus knew this full well, but he wanted his disciples to know as well.
Why do we think evil in our hearts? Not because of what is outside of us, but because what is within us is impure. “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” Those who are not pure in heart cannot see God. The impure see only evil and then of course they blame everyone else for the evil they see because they do not know it comes from within themselves. The result is misery and suffering for all. So we must pray for the gift of discernment, to see deeply and differently than we are used to seeing. Our normal, everyday ways of perceiving will not suffice when what is needed is to see as God sees. Simply put, as St. Paul tells us, we must put on the mind of Christ.
The pure, say the saints, see God everywhere and see everything as pure because the thoughts that come from them are pure. The result is peace, love, joy, theosis and all those things we so long for.
A good sign that we are in need of repentance is when we think everyone else is.
My dear brothers and sisters, to become pure in heart we must first recognize our own impurity and turn away from it. Doesn’t the Apostle Paul warn us not to meditate on evil things, but to meditate on what is pure and lovely? How many times does he point out that many of the problems in his churches were caused by dissemblers, grumblers and the divisive people among them, that is, on those who meditate on evil things?
In today’s epistle St. Paul writes: “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor.” Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we loved one another as much as we claim to love the Lord? Shouldn’t our goal always be the alleviation of suffering, the pursuit of peace and the nurturing of love both in our own hearts and for others?
If so, then we must learn to let go and let God be God.