Learn How to Walk
Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, November 25, 2018
The Reading is from Luke 18:18-27
Every Gospel is full of messages. After 31 years I'm beginning to believe the number is infinite. I thought I might take a bit of a break today when inspiration arrived unexpected from a Danish philosopher. And a story sent to me earlier by a new friend at UMass Amherst sprung to memory.
First, Jesus attempts to wake up an important man, a rich ruler of the people. He knew the law and claimed to have followed it from his youth. Well and good, but Jesus knew he lacked something that he needed to live a life conducive to eternity. He needed to find his heart and learn how to walk.
Now, Jesus was unique to say the least. He did not mind breaking the innumerable laws and social norms that He was supposed to follow. He clearly had different intentions than the regular rabbi, itinerant preacher or miracle-worker, of which there were many in his day.
Here's where that Danish guy comes in. Soren Kierkegaard was not only a philosopher (some say the first existentialist philosopher) he was a religious man as well. He wrote something about Jesus that fits in well with what I want to say.
“Christ was crucified because he would have nothing to do with the crowd (even though he addressed himself to all). He did not want to form a party, an interest group, or a mass movement, but wanted to be what he was, the truth, which is related to the single individual. Therefore everyone who will genuinely serve the truth is by that very fact a martyr. To win a crowd is no art; for that only untruth is needed, nonsense, and a little knowledge of human passions. But no witness to the truth dares to get involved with the crowd.”
Up to the point of this encounter, the rich ruler had followed the well-trod path of wealth, power, and religious observance. It was a path that Jesus did not follow. There was something lacking in the ruler’s life. Something important. Something different in the way Jesus walked. All the rich ruler had done amounted to little more than unenlightened self-interest. There was no heart in it.
As an example of religion without heart which comes, I think, from Bertrand Russell. It goes something like this, “Millions of people pray a prayer daily for the will of God to be done, who have no desire to see anything done but their own.” In other words, following the law and ignoring its heart. Religion without heart.
Jesus called him that day to discover his heart and to follow him in a new way of life, a new kind of observance. The Lord lived a life stripped down to the bare necessities materially, and in every way. He wore his heart, as we say, on his sleeve and everyone he met experienced love and enlightenment. In this way he lived a martyr’s life, emptying himself coming and going, from birth to death. As long as our hearts are buried under self-concern, we cannot find them and if we cannot find them, we cannot live as Jesus lived.
“And when Jesus heard this, he said to him, ‘One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’” In other words, give up your will and let me lead you into my Father’s.
Of course, the man was unable to accept the call and went away sad, but let me offer a picture of what the life of a martyr for truth, a person who has given up his will as a martyr to truth, looks like. It is very simple. Here is how my friend Andrew tells the tale.
“Upon leaving Agios Arsenios monastery near Ormylia, the 80+ year old elder, Fr. Theoklitos, a spiritual son of St. Paisios, insists on walking with us back to our car, which includes mounting a long and wide exterior stone stairway. At the base of the stairs, the elder looks briefly into the eyes of my cousin, Fr. Theodore Petrides. Then, as they step slowly together side-by-side, the elder says for each belabored step, ‘Doxa to Theo.’ (Glory to God) At the top of the steps he turns to Fr. Theodore saying, “Understand?’ This is his parting message.”
Do we understand? Live each moment with faith and thanksgiving. Every staircase, every blessing, every obstacle, every person, every task that appears before us is God’s will. If we accept it as such, then our will slides away and eternity appears in the disguise of daily life. God leads one tiny step at a time and life enfolds as a moment-by-moment pilgrimage led by God and filled with heart.