St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

Rejoice that Your Names are Written in Heaven

Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, October 18, 2009

Luke 10:16-21 (Apostle Luke the Evangelist)

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen. Glory to Jesus Christ!

We seem to think that the disciples understood what the Lord taught them without a problem.  We think we can too.  The truth is, although the words are simple, the meaning is far deeper than the words and demand a complete reorientation before they can be understood. Take today's Gospel as a good example.

Today the disciples rejoice at the miracles they were able to perform in the Name of Jesus.  Put yourself in their place. If all of a sudden demons ran at the sound of your voice, the great temptation would be to don a super hero costume and angle for a movie contract.  We get down right giddy when we get a little power.  Jesus, this time, gently corrects them. "Yeah, I gave you this ability, but don't let it go to your head. The important thing is that 'your names are written in heaven.'"

We need to keep our eyes on the prize.  The Psalmist puts it like this, "set your face like flint towards Jerusalem."  In other words, whatever happens, don't let it become a distraction.  Keep moving in the right direction. Head down, eyes center.  Keep to the middle of the road and keep going no matter what!

Here's an example of instructions given by a spiritual master for us when we meditate and pray.  It is the same message. St. Gregory of Sinai says that when we are sitting silently before God we must not let thoughts, either good or bad, distract us. Even if they are good thoughts, they are still distractions!  The evil one can appear as an angel of light or a dark angel, so a good distraction from prayer has the same overall effect as a bad distraction.  We need to keep our eyes on the prize.

What is the prize?  There is only one. Union with God.  Deification. Theosis. Call it what you will. We are to become like hot coals infused with the Divine Fire so much so that no one can tell the difference between the coal and fire, between the person and God. "Human beings are creatures who have been given the vocation to become God," writes the Great St. Basil.  That is the only prize, the great target of life toward which we should be aiming.  Since the definition of sin literally from the Greek means to "miss the mark" like an archer missing his target, then everything that distracts us from union with God is, in the largest sense, "sinful." That means anything, good or bad. That can also mean religious stuff.  In fact, religious stuff can be the worst offender of all.

St. Paul tells us in today's epistle that we must make "the most of the time."  Although he is speaking specifically of how we should approach those outside the Church with the message of the Gospel, his words are just as meaningful in any and every kind of encounter we have with others.  "Conduct yourselves wisely," he says. "Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt," that means, speech that is lovely attractive, delicious! We want our lives, our words, and our actions to mirror the love of the Compassionate Savior so that when we part people will be left with an image of what it really means to be a Christian. People should say, "What a nice, gracious, lovely, sane, holy, compassionate, loving, kind, extraordinary person that was!"  And whether we speak directly about the Gospel or not, doesn't matter.  The Gospel lived supersedes the Gospel preached.

Remember this amazing quote from Thomas Merton: "The saints are what they are, not because their sanctity makes them admirable to others, but because the gift of sainthood makes it possible for them to admire everybody else." The saints often speak of how their hearts would burn with the almost unbearable fire of compassion, some spoke as if their hearts would explode from the burden of love they felt, others of how they wept through the night for the whole of creation.  In Orthodox literature  that is most undeniably a sign of great holiness.

How sad are those whose hearts are burdened with anger and hatred!  Whose hearts explode with enmity and strife!  They erect for themselves a terrible eternity with a multitude of terrible hate filled present moments. By their own hands. Not by God's.  But the beautiful thing is that we have a choice. And this is the point of the Gospel. We have a choice. We can turn from the dark path to the bright path, but we must leave behind anything that distracts us from God. We can live in heaven here and now or we can live in hell.  You would think people could easily tell the difference, but unfortunately, for many, as obvious as it seems now, it is not se easy. We must pray hard that everyone come to a knowledge of the truth.

If you truly love as Jesus loves, then it will show in your sincere admiration for everyone you meet. And that, my friends, will be the greatest sermon you could ever preach.  "The Lord said, 'He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.'"  We want everyone who comes to us to "hear" Jesus in our words and "see" him in our actions even if we do not say his Name. If we are accepted, then it will be because of love, If we are rejected, then let it be also because of love.  But whether accepted or rejected let us respond as Jesus did by giving his life so that others might live.