St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

Working Out Our Salvation

 

Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (10:25-37)

The answer to the Lord’s question is found in Deuteronomy 6:5, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”  This is the Great Commandment. That was easy for a Jewish lawyer. The rubber meets the road in another question, however, which is how to do it. Thus comes the beautiful parable of the Good Samaritan, so well-known and so well-ignored.

I believe The Great Commandment should be read this way, “You shall love the Lord your God and your neighbor and yourself with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.”  God, neighbor and self together constitute a unified reality.  “If you do not love your neighbor whom you can see, then you do not love God whom you cannot see.”  Everyone and everything is interconnected and God is the glue that holds it all together for “in him we live and move and have our being.”

This is the truth that moved the Desert Father on his deathbed to remark, “I have struggled all my life to see all humanity as one.”

This is the truth manifested in the Incarnation in which all human nature is taken up into divinity in the flesh of the Jesus Christ.

This is the truth we must ignore every time we are cruel to one another, or ignore one another, or become defensive, or abuse ourselves or our neighbors in some fashion. Interconnectedness is the foundation of the Great Commandment to love for there is in truth no separation between us and God, between you and me, between us and them. All divisions are creations of our minds.

We have become so defensive these days that we cannot love and, therefore, cannot fulfill the Great Commandment. This is why people went crazy over Starbucks cups!  Such childishness is embarrassing and anything but Christian.  Hyper-sensitivity is not a sign of a healthy faith, but of ego on steroids.

It is no wonder that so many are leaving the church. It isn’t because we don’t have enough slick programs. It is because people do not see love in us. The churches, Joni Mitchell sings, “are loving less and less.”  The Levite and the priest are symbols of what happens when we jettison love in favor of self-defense and Christianity in favor of ideology.

Since the truth is that there is no separation between God, neighbor and self our job is to stop creating boundaries and let go of the ones we have already created. To do that I believe we need to start from the inside out and take the end of commandment as seriously as the beginning. We need to learn how to give proper love and respect to ourselves before we can love God and others as we should.  When the boundaries within fall the boundaries without will crumble.

Parables, as we know, are metaphorical. Orson Scott Card said this about metaphors. “Metaphors have a way of holding the most truth in the least space.” I want to look at the parable of the Good Samaritan metaphorically and show how its truths can be applied practically.

Each character in the parable is some aspect of myself.  Within me there are injured parts, there are Levitical and priestly parts that despise and ignore them, and probably innkeepers as well.  “Better left alone” is the motto of priest and Levite. Within all of us is a system of parts that govern most of what we think and do subconsciously.

The Good Samaritan is different. He represents something in us that is not a part, but rather is the essence of who we really are.  The Samaritan has godly characteristics. He is mindful and curious. He sees the injured man and explores his needs. He is compassionate. He commits to help him. He is courageous. He does not allow anything to get in his way. He is charitable and creative. He comes up with a plan and shares what he has without limitation.  He brings hope and compassion together in order to bring healing to his neighbor.

There is something divine about him. Something beautiful and free.  He represents what is best in all of us. He is the hidden treasure God has placed in every human heart, what Jesus calls the “kingdom of heaven,” and the Bible calls the image of God.  When the image rises in us, when the treasure chest is opened, miracles occur, peace is discovered, and harmony is established between the parts.  “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.” The spiritual life is all about establishing harmony within and when this happens the peace within cannot help but overflow into the world without.

“Make peace in your heart and thousands around you will be saved,” said Seraphim of Sarov.  The world is not at peace because we are not at peace. 

We are conditioned from our earliest age to defend ourselves, to create boundaries, to compete with one another, to propagate the very things that cause our own suffering and that of our neighbors. We can change. With the help of God the Holy Spirit real transformation on the level, science tells us, of our neurons and even our genes, can take place. 

To become peace we must practice peace. To become loving we must practice loving. Change is not magical. It is the result of conscious synergy between us and God. This St. Paul calls, “working out our salvation.”  This is the work of our Christian lives if we are willing to undertake it.