The God Who Is Here
Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, January 18, 2015
The reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (17:12-19)
We see in today’s Gospel of the Ten Lepers three things that are pivotal to Orthodoxy’s world-view. One: that the light of God shines everywhere, not just for some, but for all. Two: that God is not a micro-manager who picks and chooses on an arbitrary basis who receives his love and who does not. Thirdly: that the human person is a mystery and that all true pastoral care respects that mystery absolutely.
Last week we heard the Isaiah speak of the light shining among the Gentiles in the land of Zebulon and Napthali and for those “who sat in darkness.” Therefore, there are no elite people and no sacred places. All people are his children and all places sacred. It is significant that the one leper who returned to give thanks was a Samaritan.
We see today that God sends his grace even to those who are ungrateful for it. Only one of the ten lepers returns to give thanks and yet all the lepers were healed. The sun shines and the rain falls on the good and bad alike, Jesus teaches. No elite. No favored. No sacred and no secular. No dualism at all. In Christ there is no either/or there is always both/and. God’s light shines everywhere and on everyone.
It goes even deeper than that. We imagine that when bad things happen to people it is God pointing his finger and punishing those who anger him. Jesus says no to this popular idea when he spoke to his disciples about how Pilate had mingled the blood of some Galileans with his pagan sacrifices, “Do you think these were greater sinners than everyone else?” he asked. No. This was not God’s punishment on them. Sometimes life is just cruel and this was simply a terrible thing that happened to them.
God is not a micro-manager. He does not make things happen like the Wizard of Oz behind his curtain who pushes buttons and makes smoke and fire. All things happen in God for in him all things are born and all things die.
When I was a teenager I got caught up in the Jesus Movement of the 60’s and early 70’s. We believed in God the micro-manager. It was God who, because we were faithful and the truly righteous, turned stoplights from red to green at the approach of our cars. We were so sure of our place in God’s pantheon of favorites that we were sure we could, if we mustered enough faith (and got up enough speed, I guess) walk on water, across Doug Yelton’s swimming pool – which we tried. We failed miserably. We all laughed about it at the time, but we wondered secretly, what went wrong. We followed all the rules! Something was off and, believe me, it wasn’t God.
We Orthodox believe that God is both transcendent and immanent and transcendence, for us, simply means that God is more than immanent, here absolutely and more than here absolutely. We hold both in perfect balance knowing that God is both unknowable in his essence and knowable through his energies. This ocean of grace we live in is God and, at the same time, God is so great that he is more than our minds and concepts and theologies can even begin to express. It was not an easy transition for me to leave behind belief in this Almighty transcendent God to the One who is here, there and everywhere, all the time.