St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

On the Second Sunday of Advent

Sermon by Fr. Antony Hughes from Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Reading is from Luke 12:16-21

The Lord said this parable: "The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought to himself, 'What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?' And he said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones; and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, 'Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.' But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." As he said these things, he cried out: "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."

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

Glory to Jesus Christ!

A woman dying of cancer told her counselor one morning that she believed someone had stolen her diamond ring.  She had only a few weeks at most to live, but the loss of that ring sent her into a rage!  "How can I live without it?" she exclaimed.  "My grandmother gave it to me!  Should I call the police now or confront my cleaning lady?"  The wise counselor said, "Let me ask you a few questions first and please take your time to answer. Look deep within for the answers and realize that they may not come in the form of words.  I will pause a few moments between each question." Then he began, "Do you realize that you will have to let go of the ring at some point, perhaps quite soon?  How much more time do you need before you will be ready to let go of it?"  Second, "Has who you are been diminished by the loss?"

At first her mind told her that of course she had been diminished by the loss of her ring, but taking the time to look more deeply she realized that that could not possibly be true.  She began to see that the ring had absolutely nothing to do with who she was.  We are not what we possess.  Who we are is so much deeper than that, much deeper than even the thoughts we have about ourselves.  She felt the answer rather than thought it. When she began to accept her loss for what it really was, the loss of a thing that had little meaning the more and more she approached death, she actually became peaceful, even happy.  The attachment she had to her ring faded away and she discovered a strange thing:  her sense of herself changed and became more spacious, liberated, free.

One of the things she said was that now she understood what Jesus meant when he said, "If a man asks for your shirt, give him your coat as well."  Can it be that we do not really possess things, they possess us? 

Detachment from things is a necessary step on the pathway to the Kingdom of Heaven.  We will have to say goodbye to them all sooner or later, so why hold so tightly to them now?

The Rich Man was defined by his riches.  His preeminent thoughts were about collecting, protecting and hoarding his wealth.  He forgot that he would have to let it all go one day.  Jesus told his disciples that "where your treasure is your heart will also be."  The Rich Man was so distracted by his material wealth that he could not see that the real treasure was not his possessions. The real treasure lay within.  The real treasure within is eternal. Jesus called it "the Kingdom of heaven." That night the Rich Man had to face death and he was not ready for it.

Christopher Lloyd, the actor who played the eccentric Dr. Emmett Brown in the "Back to the Future" films, recently watched his $11,000,000 home go up in flames in California.  He decided he would not rebuild.  As he watched it burning he said, this, "You watch tv, you see these kinds of incidents happening here and there, but you look with a kind of detachment because it's happening...elsewhere. But suddenly to be in the midst of it, it's a very different awareness." 

Here is a saying from an ancient Christian teacher, "Save for your self only those things in life that will follow you."  And think also of these words from the Savior, "Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it."

Because we are out of touch with the kingdom of heaven we get lost in life.  We lose sight of what matters. Jesus asks us to detach from earthly things because this is how we come alive to what is real, to His presence, to the kingdom of heaven within us.  And he does it with such words as these, "Do not resist the evil man, but if he strikes you on the left cheek turn and offer him your right."  "If a man asks for your shirt, give him your coat as well."  "If a man asks you to go one mile with him, go with him two."  The Lord asks us to push the envelope and act in a way that is against our natural inclination to self-defense because this is how to deflate and eventually transform the ego that thinks only of itself.  So when we are insulted Jesus exhorts us to bless!  He commands us to love our enemies, and not in words only, but from the depth of our hearts. By doing the opposite of what seems natural to us, striking back, taking revenge, cursing our enemies we allow what is negative and ungodly in us to die and what is positive and godly in us to rise.

Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."  How do we become "poor in spirit?"  By detaching from everything that we hold on to so dearly. To be "poor in spirit" is to be free of attachments, to be free from things, to nurture relationships that are free and unencumbered by desires and expectations, to let go of our own self-definitions and to rest in the knowledge and experience of God who is "in all places, filling all things."  It is to let go of earthly things, possessions and the cares of this life and to be grateful to God in every situation.  In this way we cleanse the inside of the cup, as Jesus said, and begin to shine like the stars of heaven from within.