Sunday of the Holy Fathers
Sermon by Fr. Antony Hughes from Sunday, July 13, 2008
The Reading is from Matthew 5:14-19
A peace officer told this story. "I had arrested a man who singled me out for real animosity. When I had to take him to a paddy wagon, he spit in my face...and he went after me with a chair. Well, on the way, I just had to get past this picture of things, and again I affirmed to myself, ‘This guy and I are brothers in love.' When I got to the station, I was moved spontaneously to say, ‘Look, if I have done anything to offend you I apologize.' The paddy wagon drive looked at me as if I had gone totally nuts. The next day I had to take him to court...When I picked him up, I thought, ‘Well, if you trust this vision, you are not going to handcuff him.' And I didn't. We got to a place where he'd have jumped me if he had an intention. And he stopped suddenly. So did I. then he said, ‘You know, I thought about what you said yesterday, and I want to apologize.' Turned out that on his rap sheet he'd done a lot of time in a couple of bad prisons and had trouble with some harsh guards. I symbolized something. And I saw that turn around, saw a kind of healing..."
"You are the light of the world..." We were created with the potential to be the guiding light for the whole of creation, to minister to the cosmos with wisdom and compassion. I think, in a small way perhaps, the peace officer managed to become a light to this prisoner. The light in the officer touched the light in him and healing took place. This is how we can bring salvation to the world around us, if we take the risk of loving without limits.
From the Lord Jesus we learn the entire law boils down to two commandments: love God and love your neighbor. The Fall that although it weakened and subverted our freedom to choose love rather than hate, but did not rob us of the ability altogether. It works like this. The Fall introduced death into the world. The threat of extinction made us afraid. Fear led to aversion, aversion to sin , sin to death and death back again to sin. We are trapped in this cycle. St. Maximus wrote that at the root of all sin is the fear of death. The cycle is self-perpetuating. We have been conditioned to keep the ball rolling. Our minds which have been conscripted by fear perpetuate the problem. All in all we have become slaves to fear, sin, and death. So much of the suffering we experience is self-imposed.
Even with this Jesus still calls us the light of the world because that we truly are are for that is how and for what reason we have been made. Neither fear nor sin nor death can extinguish the light of God within us. It may be a smoldering wick, but it is still what it is: a smoldering wick waiting to break into flame. The death and resurrection of Christ have destroyed the power of death and of sin and so there is now no reason to be afraid. The way we live and the way we think demonstrates that we still are afraid. We continue to live in our own little prisons, cobbled out of sand. Why? Because although we say we believe, we have little faith.
Jesus tells us to let our light shine before the world that they may see our good works and glorify God. How? By keeping the commandments. It always comes down to this simple thing: love God and neighbor. There is no greater love than to die for a friend, our Lord says. The amazing reality is the He has called the entire human race "friend" in that He has given His life for all.
It is so simple we cannot see it. Our minds, clouded by ego, by fear, by pride cannot grasp the simplest realities. How many excuses we come up with not to love! We even convince ourselves that we are loving our neighbors when actually we are doing the opposite. We say we love and yet our thoughts are filled with darkness and our actions are far from loving. You have heard it said, "hate the sin, but love the sinner," but only the pure in heart are able to separate person from behavior. Holy men and women have ceased to see sin in others and only recognize it in themselves. When saints look at others they see nothing at all to hate! "Hate the sin, but love the sinner" in the hands of the impure is an excuse to hate the neighbor we fear.
It is better that we forsake hatred altogether and give ourselves over to love unlimited. To judge is the most unnecessary thing. There is a judge and He is God. The Lord does not need our assistance. Thankfully, He has taken that heavy burden upon Himself. His will is that we should shine brightly by obeying the great commandment to love God and one another. Love is an energy and a great power. With it we can rid ourselves of every stain and win the souls of thousands around us, but if it is counterfeit, no matter how near an imitation, it becomes a weapon. Wielding this imitation of love as a weapon, as the Pharisee did, we "make converts twice as fit for hell as we are ourselves." We must not be like those the Lord speaks of in today's Gospel who become "the least in the kingdom of heaven" by teaching others not to love without limit which is to disobey not only the smallest commandment, but every commandment.
So if we must err, let it always be on the side of mercy so that we may not fall into delusion and the light in us be hidden away as under a bushel. At least then we will do no harm and ourselves commit no sin.
The only accurate measure of faith is the amount to which we love our enemies. A letter to the Roman emperor by an unbelieving observer of Christians in the very earliest age of the Church exclaimed that Christians were the most amazing people. "Look how they love one another! The world has never seen people like this!" Others noted how miraculous it was that the Christians were even able to show compassion towards their persecutors. How far we are from this! But if we want to let our lights shine remember our brother the peace officer and think of ways to emulate him.