St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

As For Me and My House

 

Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (15:21-28)

Brothers and Sisters,

The Lord did not come to show us how to get to heaven. He revealed that heaven is within us. It always has been. There is no place to “get to.” Why then did he come? For a variety of reasons.

He came to die for us. Yes, of course, this in order to show us how deeply we are loved by God. And he came to free us from the fear of death, from sin, from the devil…all of that. That is where many Christians hang their hats and the basket in which many of us put all our religious eggs, but we mustn’t stop there.

First of all, before the dying part, he came to live for us and to show us how to live.

“Living for us” meant deifying us. He came to divinize human nature in general and in particular; the whole lot of us as one and each person in our unique diversity, as individuals. And he did this. As one of my professors used to say, “There is a man sitting on the throne of heaven and we are sitting right there with him.”

Now, we often do not act like we are sitting in the heavenly places with God; most of the time we act as if there is no God at all! But the Incarnation says that we are and whether we act like it or not, there is! And it isn’t as if we haven’t gotten the memo. The Incarnation is a memo. The Gospel is one great big memo.

Coming face to face with why we don’t live well is the first step in repentance. And repentance means “a change of mind.” Clearly, we are all in need of some mind changing and paradigm shifting.

For example, if we don’t believe that the kingdom is within us we will not practice living as if it is. To practice kingdom living, we must adopt for ourselves the mind of Christ, humble, loving and compassionate; and then live lives that resemble Christ’s life, caring for the least of the brethren and courageously speaking truth to power. It is not magic, nor is it supernatural. It is all about adopting a new paradigm, a new way of thinking, a new way of seeing, God’s way of seeing, and then, with all our “heart, soul, mind and strength” making his way our way no matter what others try to tell us to the contrary.

I mean, look. The Apostles in today’s Gospel, no doubt, were horrified by what Jesus did. I am sure they tried to convince him to reject the Syro-Phoenician woman. Whether they could cite chapter and verse of the Mosaic law, they had learned it from their early on by living in a culture drenched in it. It was in their very genes!

Jesus, however, did just as he pleased, or rather as it pleased his Father. He broke the law and, in doing so, showed us how we are to live. When the law does not comply with the will of God, it can be, must be broken. Jesus did this often. Very often. And, of course, he died for it.

To live like God, we must come to think like God, love like God, die to ourselves for the sake of others, like God. We must live on a different plain, march to a different drummer, be willing to give everything we have and are for the sake of the “least of the brethren.” Yes, that is what Jesus did, is it not?

Noting that we are all going to die makes this a little bit urgent. If we do not do this in our lifetime, then when else are we to do it? Now is all we’ve got. We mustn’t miss the opportunity.

Jesus Christ demonstrates in living color who God is and what he is like, for God is like Jesus, who is the perfect image of the invisible God. He did this so that we could see what it means to be like God and so that we could set out to do it with all the tools he has given us already and with something else.

With the gracious help of the Holy Spirit. Once we move one step in God’s direction the Holy Spirit infuses and blesses our efforts. In fact, the very movement, from beginning to end is inspired secretly by him. In fact, the Spirit has been moving us from birth, with our every heartbeat and our every sacred breath, towards deification. The kingdom seed inside of us has been growing, longing to bear fruit and it will eventually unless, of course, we keep cutting down the tree.

So, let me gently point out something most apropos for today. The story of Christ’s encounter with the Syro-Phoenician Woman holds many treasures and many lessons for us as disciples of the Lord. One of them is how we are to treat strangers. To put a fine point on it: we are to treat them like he did.

Leviticus 19:34: You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as a citizen among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for I am the LORD your God.

Note how that verse ends! Whoa! “For I am the Lord your God.” That’s powerful. That’s strong. That’s unambiguous. We, too, must be unambiguous.

We cannot serve two masters, Jesus tells us. Do what you will, but, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” by serving all our neighbors.