Knowing and Acknowledging
Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, June 11, 2017 at St. Mary Orthodox Church in Cambridge, MA.
The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (10:32-33, 37-38; 19:27-30)
Today I will focus only on one verse from the Gospel passage we read. “Everyone who acknowledges Me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father Who is in heaven; but whoever denies Me before men, I also will deny before My Father Who is in heaven.
There is a lot of talk about Jesus these days, but very little “acknowledging.”. “Acknowledging is not the same as knowing or even proclaiming. Remember what Jesus said?
21Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you.”
“Acknowledging” means knowing him by experience, entering into his life, becoming one with him. Once you come to know him, you love him and once you come to love him, your entire life becomes an enactment of that love. Only those who love him can truly “acknowledge” him.
Knowing about something is like reading about a flower. Read descriptions all you like, but to know a flower is to see, touch, and smell one. Otherwise, something is missing. Something very important. Experience. Description is something like dissection. When you dissect something, you can know a lot about it and never really experience it. You can describe its parts, but try as you might, no matter how poetic you might be, you can never capture its essence with words.
I will never forget one of the lessons I learned from Fr. Alexander Schmemann. When you want to understand a frog scientifically, you dissect one and examine its parts. That is how the rational mind goes about understanding reality. Divide and conquer. But when you dissect a frog, you have to kill it and when you kill it and cut it apart, you are looking at a dead, dissected frog. But are you really seeing a frog? Something important is missing and that is, the living, breathing, fly eating, hopping, energetic and dynamic frog. When you experience a living frog in all its frog-ness, only then you can say that you have a limited understanding of it.
When we try to understand Jesus only by his words and deeds, only by what we read in the Gospels, as good as that is, something is still missing. Words can give only a partial picture, a picture bound in a particular time and space. There is more to Christ than words. There is Christ himself, the One who wants to be known. The Christ before the Incarnation and after the Resurrection was not and is not bound by time and space. And because this is true, then we can come to know him experientially. Now. The eternal Word of God that is Jesus, the Christ, can only be known and therefore acknowledged when we enter into a direct, personal and intimate communion with him. And then we discover that what we came to know cannot be communicated in words, but only through being.
Let’s go back to last week’s reading from John’s Gospel for a moment. We read how Jesus told the people gathered on the last and greatest day of the Feast of Tabernacles, that if they come to him and drink the living water he offers, then “out of your bellies will flow rivers of living water.” Fountains do not talk, do they? Fountains do not reason. They flow. Here Jesus is talking about a life so infused with the Holy Spirit, that the difference between the water Jesus gives and the flow of our lives becomes indistinguishable. They are one and the same.
Those who come to know him, live differently. They swim in the divine waters, drink them, become them. “Partakers of the divine nature” become divine and divinity flows in them and through them like wind and like water. They are free. We know who these people are when we experience them. They bring joy, exude peace, flow with compassion, they seem to glow, and to share a positive kind of energy. In them there is no hindrance to love and so they love without hindrance. In them there is no judgment, only humility for they have become empty vessels, unselfish, that is, empty of self, filled with divinity.
Hafez expresses this most beautifully, “Love has befriended me so completely it has turned to ash and freed me of every concept and image my mind has ever known.” So, does Symeon the New Theologian:
How is it I embrace You
yet see You spread across the heavens?
You know. You alone.
You, who made this mystery,
You who shine
like the sun in my breast,
You who shine
in my material heart,
In IFS, Internal Family Systems,a therapeutic modality I and others in the congregation have learned, it is believed, or rather, has been discovered, that all healing comes from within, from what IFS calls the capital S “Self” and we call this Self the image of God. I am convinced that they are the same. If we learn to access the image, the Self, then all else will come into balance and harmony. That, of course, is the point of the spiritual life and of all the prayers and rituals that our religion developed and while we are at it, all the other religions as well. Humanity has always been searching for this Pearl of Great Price. IFS names 8 characteristics of a person who is living in Self (of course there are more). They are: calmness, curiosity, clarity, compassion, confidence, creativity, courage, and connectedness. These are all Christian virtues, virtues that our Lord exhibited, characteristics of God, virtues that reveal those who have come to know and who acknowledge Christ in the world.
Does it seem strange to think of God as curious? In the movie “The Shack” there is an interesting exchange between Mac, the protagonist, and the Holy Trinity as he sat with the Three at dinner. He asked, “You already know everything that I will ask in prayer, right? So why should I pray?” The one representing the Holy Spirit replied, “Yes, but when you say it, we hear it as though it was being said for the first time.” How beautiful. How truly intimate. Curiosity. God is curious about us and we should be curious about Him. Those who love him are always curious about him. It goes both ways, of course. God will always be curious about us, because he loves us.There is a beautiful intimacy in curiosity. This is love, this is intimacy. To be curious about one another.
We must examine ourselves. What flows from us? Living water or dead, stagnant water. How can we know? Does my life bring joy and comfort to the world around me? Am I compassionate, kind, and unselfish? Do I have the courage to defend the weak and oppressed? Are my thoughts, words, and deeds governed by what is holy? Does my relationship with God pervade my life so that the people around me feel the warmth of divinity or the cool, clear refreshing stream of living water? If not, then, let’s do something about it.