St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

Walk as Children of the Light

 

Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, November 29, 2015

It is lovely that today the epistle reading and the Gospel dovetail so beautifully. That does not always happen. Today I will weave the two together back and forth.

“Walk as children of the light…and learn what is pleasing to the Lord.”  Jesus called the Rich Man to become more than a knower of the law, but a doer of the word. It is one thing to know the truth, it is another to do the truth. It is one thing to see the light and quite another to be the light.

Thankfully, “walking as children of the light” is a process, a continual series of events not one grand transformation.  The Gospel represents only one moment in the spiritual journey of the Rich Man. Jesus presented him with a challenge he could not meet and that didn’t mean no other such moments would come.  Sometimes the truth cannot sink through the hard coverings that guard the heart so God permits a slow drip that eventually wears them away.

We must not be foolish to believe that at any given moment our hearts are open to the whole truth!  Can you pour the entire seven oceans into a paper cup?  Truth is revealed gradually and absorbed little by little.  It is necessary for the heart to expand slowly to hold more and more of the truth in an endless transformation.

Change is at the root of the spiritual life.  The Rich Man resisted the change Jesus requested of him. He would not allow his heart to grow. He did not want his life to change. And yet, change is necessary. The one thing he lacked was courage. A strong part of him was afraid of change.  Walking as children of the light means that we commit ourselves to learning what it means to do so and to make whatever change we need to make along the way.

Children of the Light are always beginners, hungry to learn, hungry to grow and hungry for change. The saying goes that we should trust those who seek the truth and flee from those who claim to know it. What did Jesus say, "So if someone tells you, 'Look, the Messiah is out in the desert,' don't bother to go and look. Or, 'Look, he is hiding here,' don't believe it!”  Children of the light are always learning, growing and changing and the beginning of this transformation is humility. What do the scriptures say? “Without humility it is impossible to please God.”

We have to recognize that we do not know it all before we can learn anything. In Zen this is called “the beginner’s mind” in Orthodoxy we know it as repentance.

Therefore, walking as children of the light it is much more than a memorization of the law, ordinances and scriptures.  The Rich Man knew the law and yet he could not embrace its meaning.  The law is in the mind and its meaning lies in the heart. The two must be united.  Mind and heart. Knowing and doing. This is the pilgrimage the Rich Man could not make – from mind to heart.

The mind recites what it knows, the heart translates it into action.

“Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.”  This does not mean we should act like morality police and expose the sins of others.  We were told by the Lord Jesus that we must not judge.  What this means is that we must bring the light of awareness to the dark places within ourselves and shed this light on our own “works of darkness.”  

These dark works are not primarily the gross and obvious sins of the flesh, but even more those of the unconscious mind.  What is unconscious in us, Carl Jung wrote, manifests itself outside of us as fate.  We are controlled by what is in us that we do not know.

Jesus calls us to cleanse “the inside of the cup.” He contrasts children of the light with the Pharisees saying, "Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long… (Mt. 23:5)  Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. (Mt. 23:26)

We Orthodox should pay attention to these words.  We do not need to parade around like ecclesiastical Barbie dolls.  We must avoid all such ostentation. What drew the people to Jesus was not his clothing. He wore the clothing of the common people. What drew them was the fact that his compassionate teachings and his life were always one.  He did not only know the truth, he was the truth. He cared for them and they knew it. That is what we must strive to become.

Paul calls us to wake up from the sleep of ignorance and look deeply into ourselves.  What is going on underneath our own noses?  Joseph Campbell writes that the cave we fear to enter holds the treasure we need. Are we willing to look within into our own darkness, into the closet of the heart, and bring the light of awareness and compassion there?  When the interior darkness becomes light, then it will manifest itself all around.  Then we not only know about the Light, we will have become Light.