St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

What Good Deed Shall I Do?

Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, August 30, 2009

Matthew 19:16-26 (12th Sunday of Matthew)

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

Glory to Jesus Christ!

Jesus calls the rich, young man to a new vocation:  to adopt a new way of thinking and a new way of life.  This is nothing less than a call to conversion through a change of mind and a change of life. 

First the Lord asked him to change his mind by selling his possessions.  Wealth was the young man's god.  He had put his faith in his possessions.  Curiously the list Jesus gives of commandments to follow leaves out, arguably, the most important one of all.  "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me."  I think he left it out because this was the one commandment the young man had thus far been unable to obey.  Jesus' request that he sell his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor was the Lord's way of teaching the true meaning of the first commandment.  The rich man needed to let go of his god of wealth so that he could allow the one true God to ascend the throne of his heart.  Conversion always requires, first of all, a change of mind.  In Greek we call this metanoia.  In English, repentance.

Changing the way we think changes the way we live just like the cart follows the ox and the shadow follows the body.  As we think, so we behave.  What we seek for we become.  You can say it in so many ways!  Jesus said it like this, "Where your treasure is there will your heart be also."  If our treasure is in this world where everything is temporal, changing and passing away, our life will pass away just like our treasure. Eternal life develops from a commitment to "things that do not pass away, that moth and rust cannot consume or thieves break in and steal," as Jesus said.

Once this change of mind occurs the next step can be taken, that is, a change of life.  This is represented in the Gospel when Jesus tells him that after he has sold his wealth and given the proceeds away, he must then come and follow him.  At this point the young man, had he been able to obey, would have been in obedience to the commandment of worshipping the one, true God and eternal life would have been his.

If our treasure is God, we will never be disappointed, for God does not change, nor corrupt or decay and cannot be stolen away. God alone is immortal and He wishes to share His immortality with us.  He is always faithful, merciful, patient and kind, full of love for us.  He is not only unchanging, but all-powerful, omnipresent and omniscient.  What then can there be to fear if we follow Him?  

Our devotion to other "gods", particularly to our own egos, goes so much deeper than any of us imagine.  That is why God has made of salvation a gradual process.  We simply could not endure the burning away of all our gross and subtle idolatries in one fell swoop.  It would be far too much for us, like staring into the sun with unaided eyes.  A wise rabbi was asked a question by his young disciple, "How can I rid myself of all my idle thoughts?"  The rabbi exclaimed, "Not all of them at once! There would be nothing left!"  Conversion is mercifully slow for God takes into consideration the weaknesses we do not even know we have.

Instead, the fire of God, the Holy Spirit works from within in cooperation with us as layer after layer is removed.  Deeper and deeper the work goes until at last the brilliant image of God appears and every idol is vanquished.  This gradual process is a sign of God's infinite compassion.

The question from the disciples, "then who can be saved" evoked this answer from the Lord:  "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."  Here Jesus puts a fine line on his message.  We must follow Him because we cannot acquire eternal life without access to its One Source. To acquire eternal life we must begin here and now to follow Christ, to live the kind of life that is worthy of eternity.  At this very moment. Here and now.  The Bible puts it simply like this, "Seek good and not evil that you may live."  Real life is to do good.  Doing evil creates a kind of living death.

So let us seek to do good to ourselves and to others and never, ever to do harm of any kind either to ourselves or others.  Let us make sure that our words are gentle and life-giving, that our actions are filled with mercy and compassion and that our intentions are good, that we seek to make peace with all the people we meet and that love is the ground of our existence.  Let us make every moment count by acknowledging that every single second is precious and unrepeatable, filled with potential either for good or ill.  We can decide to fill the sixty second journey of every minute with "wonder and delight."  Mindfulness is the key.  Mindfulness of God's presence in the smallest details of life.  If you are awake and aware you will find Him in every mote of dust, in every flower, in the eyes of every brother and sister.  This is how we come to life.  This is the "good deed" we must do.  We must come fully alive by changing our minds and our lives.