St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

Let Your Light Shine: On the Sunday of the Fathers of the Fourth Ecumenical Council

Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, July 15, 2012

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

This is the Sunday of the Fathers of the Fourth Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon. A council we embrace fully, but a controversial one. Questions still abound about it. I don’t want to go into those today. I say that just to point out that the Church did not like to hold these councils and make creeds. The only reason councils were called was to put down some craziness or, try to, that had crept into people’s beliefs, sometimes to keep peace in the empire for example, or to keep peace in the Church or attempt to keep people on the right path.  It would have been better if that had not been necessary.

There is something about truth that cannot be explained in words, or creeds, or even taught. It has to be seen and experienced. Those “aha moments” we have when things just come together, light bulbs pop on in our minds, and the soul shouts “eureka”, that is how truth is known. I could talk all day about some element of truth and you might agree with me or you might not, but seeing the truth never comes that way. It comes by revelation right into the heart like a bolt of lightning.

So, Jesus tells us to let our light shine.  When the word light, or lamp is used in the New Testament it has  to do with enlightenment, consciousness, and being awake.  The woman with the lost coin lights a lamp as she looks for it. Think also of the Ten Virgins and their lamps that are waiting for the Bridegroom and the warning to stay awake. “So stay awake and watch for you know neither the day nor the hour when the Bridegroom will come.” How about the one where Jesus says, “the eye is the lamp of the body” and “if the light in you is darkness, how great is that darkness?”  The word enlightenment has the word “light” right in the middle of it.

Spirituality is one thing and one thing only:  waking up.  Not devotion, not piety, not worship. That is religion - words, prayers, truth expressed, sometimes well, sometimes not, in words, or concepts. But spirituality is waking up, being conscious, having clarity of vision. We can have lots of religion in our lives, but still be deluded. Remember the story of the little old lady who complained to Sayidna Anthony Bloom that she had prayed the Jesus Prayer for thirty-five years and was still the same mean, old lady she was when she began?  There you have it. Prayer without enlightenment doesn’t help.

Religion without enlightenment can be downright dangerous.  There are many examples to note some ancient and some happening right now, like so-called “holy elders” who abuse their spiritual children horribly, but I will not waste your time with such things.

In this Gospel, Jesus tells us that the light is shining already, right inside of us. He doesn’t say to the Apostles, go get a light you do not have, or even to go light the lamp inside.  He says, let it shine! Uncover it. Take the bushel off of it and let it shine!  The problem is that something is covering it up.  The spiritual path is the search for whatever there is in us that is covering up the light. Spirituality is becoming aware of the truth that light is already shining inside, seeing what hides it, and removing it.

Here’s an example. I go to the prison in Concord most every week. This week twice.  It is something I dearly love to do.  Like camp on steroids!

This past Friday night I left filled with joy. Twenty-two men sharing the ups and downs of life, supporting one another in prison day by day, helping one another, loving each other, sharing Christ with each other. You know, like what we are supposed to be doing here. There were tears, and prayers, and a little singing, a great deal of pain and also a lot of love.

Some of these guys are lifers. You know what that means. I don’t have to tell you. One is about twenty-seven. He is in prison for life. Hard to comprehend. But, if I had sat there and nursed feelings of repulsion, like society has taught me to do, over what they had done and pictured them as evil and nursed aversive feelings, it  would be like throwing a blanket over the light that was shining in me.  It wouldn’t be their fault. It would be mine for allowing it.

We have been taught and conditioned to see certain people as undesirable. Jesus did not see anyone that way. He said, go visit them and when you do, know that you are visiting me. If we drop our un-Christ-like views, then we will see the light even in a twenty-seven year old lifer. In fact, we will see that the life Christ. He really is!

It is scandalous how Jesus identified so completely with the people we would rather avoid. So completely that he tells us in no uncertain terms, they are me!  Are we able to see that and embrace it?

Look carefully and see how you react to the next homeless man you meet, or the next door neighbor you have grown not to like over the years, or even the person in the pew two rows up you argued with three months ago.  What happens to you within?  What does it feel like? 

If you want to turn away and pretend they do not exist it is good to see it!  To see the problem is the first step to solving it, right?  Whatever the source of that aversive feeling is, that is the problem! That is the something that covers your light. Learn how to drop whatever that is. That is spiritual practice.  When you see whatever it is, you have taken a step towards enlightenment!  So, give thanks for moments like that. Painful, but revealing. Drop the repulsion you have been taught to have and wake up to the truth that it is Christ you are seeing.  That is the spiritual life.

The wonderful poet Kahlil Gibran wrote:

I have learned silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; yet, strange, I am ungrateful to those teachers.

Guess what, folks? The talkative one is us, the intolerant one is us, the unkind one is us!  Meet these negative feelings with understanding and they will vanish. Give thanks when you see them!  Don’t run and hide.  That only makes things worse by driving them back into the unconscious. Embrace, accept, understand and all of that will vanish.

Here’s one truth I want you to remember. We project on to others what we do not know about ourselves. If we are thinking, “ugly, smelly, no good”, then that is what we are seeing in ourselves in some way. Good to know! It is something we didn’t know about ourselves. Now we see it. Understand it. Now drop it!

But if we have seen the light in us, then we will see the light in others. If the warmth of love and compassion comes over us in the presence of people we meet everywhere, then it is a sign that the light is shining in us and we have seen it. If we are able to allow that same compassion to rise in us when we recognize our own weakness, then we will really have gotten somewhere!  We will have taken a step towards being like Christ who loved everyone equally because there was nothing in him covering the light. He loved because he was free to love.  The freedom Christ resides in us right now.  The freedom to love.