St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

You are the Light of the World

 

Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, July 14, 2013

Jesus says that we are the light of the world, but that it is possible to hide the light so that no one can see it.  The goal of the spiritual life is to remove all the covers, draw back the curtains and raise the shades so that the light can be seen.

The great mystic Ramakrishna tells a little story about a woodcutter who goes into a forest to look for wood to use in his work.  Not far into the woods he comes across a most wonderful sight – a grove of precious sandalwood!  He is ecstatic and as he celebrates his discovery, an old man, a sage, wanders out of the forest towards him and says, “Go further. Go further.”  The woodcutter respects sages so he decides to travel a little deeper into the woods. Not too much further along he comes across a cliff in which there is a large and visible vein of gold right there on the surface!  He is so excited! This vision is even more wonderful than the sandalwood! The sage was right and even as he rejoices in his good fortune, the words of the old man ring once again in his ears. “Go further.”  So he leaves behind the gold, with faith and trust, and travels even deeper into the forest.  Soon he comes upon a cave. When he enters the cave he sees something glittering all over the cave, the walls, the ceiling and even the floor. Diamonds!  The cave is filled with precious diamonds! At last he has found the treasure behind the sage’s words.

This is what happens when we dare to go further, we dare to believe, we take the risk of leaving what is good behind for something better, when we allow all that we are, heart, soul, mind, and strength to meld into a passionate longing for Truth.

This is the purpose of the Lord’s Great Commandment. “Thou shalt love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and your neighbor as yourself.”  It means go further, look deeper, and little by little give more and more of yourself to the search until there is nothing left to give. Along the way, gradually, the sandalwood will appear, then the gold and then the diamonds and beyond that, who can say, because there is no end to this great journey.

All the beautiful things we have in life are meant to point us to something greater.  The Church, the scriptures, our marriages, our families, our jobs and careers, our good fortune and even our bad fortune are signposts on the road to greater things. We are called to discover the “greater things” at the core of life, to go further and look deeper at everything, so that we enter what we call in our Christian terminology, the “kingdom of heaven.”  Jesus says to us, “Go further, look deeper, do not stop here. Do not stay where you are.”

We are told not to worry about the past, food and clothes and tomorrow. We are told to love God more than father, mother, sister, brother, spouse and children.  It is not that these things are unimportant or worth our loving attention, but all of them point to something greater. Everything in life is a sign that points to something more wonderful than itself, that both includes them and yet surpasses them.

Even the church becomes an obstacle if it becomes for us an idol of the Truth.  The church is not the end all and be all. It is not supposed to be an idol. The church is a vehicle. It is a boat to carry us across the water just like Noah’s ark. When the shore is reached the boat is no longer needed. When the waters receded Noah and his family and the animals left the ark. In heaven, the book of Revelation says, there will be no need for sun or moon, for God Himself will dwell with us and be our Light.  His light shines now, only we do not see it, for we are asleep and focused on lesser lights.

What we discover if we choose to go further and look deeper is this:  what we thought was a movement towards God was actually taking place in God all the time.  All of life is enfolded in Him, but we cannot see this central truth until we adjust our focus from idols and fantasies, from past and future, to the reality of the present moment which, like rum-soaked sponge cake is drenched entirely, through and through, with God. Mystics discover this - that life is God - and they become literally intoxicated with Love.

We are not really moving anywhere at all on this spiritual journey, not from earth to heaven, not from dark to light, we are just waking up from a long and fitful sleep.  The light that is always shining and has always been shining, dawns for us, when at last we open our eyes.  “In thy Light,” we sing every Sunday, “we see Light.”

Everything that exists and everything that happens, although not necessarily willed by God, is nonetheless under his watchful gaze and under his care.

Everything that exists and everything that happens is a sign that reads “go further and look deeper” and “do not stop here, do not stay where you are”.  Everything that happens reveals the path we must take.  Obstacles no longer appear as hindrances, but as signs that point the way.

The only commandment in Christ’s Gospel, is to utilize all that we are, all that we have and everything that happens as means to navigate the sea of life so that we finally reach the Divine Shore of infinite and all-encompassing Love. To go further and look deeper until we wake up and see.  Do not stop here. Do not stay where you are. Go further.”