St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

Unseen Blessings

 

Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, October 28, 2018

The Reading is from Luke 8:41-56

Today Jesus meets darkness in the death of a child and in the long torment of a woman who suffers a physically and socially debilitating disease that represents a type of living death. The woman, due to the uncleanness represented by bleeding, is metaphorically murdered by her neighbors, declared unacceptable, unwanted, and is forced to live as best she could a life of internal exile. 

Her dilemma reminds me of the Song "This Is Me" from the movie "The Greatest Showman" in which the bearded lady sings, "I am not a stranger to the dark, hide away, they say, cause we don't want your broken parts. I've learned to be ashamed of all my scars, run away, they say, no one will love you as you are." 

Think for a moment who the bearded ladies are in our lives. Who do we shun? Who do we fear? Who do we refuse to touch with human kindness? Who do we kill with our hatred and indifference? We must think as well of our own scars, the ones we try and hide from shame or fear. I have known people who isolate themselves because of them.

We must be careful. For if even being angry in thought, according to Jesus, is a form of murder, what do you imagine apathy and indifference to be? Caring for one another and caring for ourselves is how we turn suffering into joy, otherwise we perpetuate and expand suffering for others and for ourselves.

Jesus encourages us not to hide our scars. He didn’t. Thomas recognizes Jesus by his scars and is invited to reach out and touch them. Jesus was not ashamed of his scars. Nor do we need to be. The saints we call confessors, those who suffered for Christ and who did not die, their wounds were badges of honor. In a way all human beings are like Confessors. Not one of us is free of "broken parts." No one of us will leave this life unscarred.

Our Lord does not fear to touch suffering wherever he finds it. He risks ritual impurity in the bedroom of Jairus' daughter and he does not flinch when the woman with the issue of blood touches him. He radiates in the darkness and illumines suffering by his Presence. And of course he descends himself into the crucible of human suffering in nearly every encounter he has. His heart was perpetually broken and it is at the tomb of Lazarus, in Gethsemane, before Pilate, and on the Cross that this brokenness is manifest to us. There is no shame in brokenness for it is through our wounds that the light both enters and exits.

There is a story told by the Elder Paisios of an alcoholic who came to the monastery. He drank over twenty glasses of wine a day when he arrived and at the time he died the number was down to four. St. Paisios praised that man as a true ascetic far more diligent than most of the other monks under his care. The alcoholism caused by his internal wounds drove him to the monastery and was a hidden blessing.

There is a prayer in the Divine Liturgy that speaks of giving thanks for all God’s blessings both manifest and unseen.” The “unseen blessings” are not only those good things God is doing that we do not yet see, but refers also to all those things we do not yet recognize as blessings!

Sooner or later everyone of us will be led to a situation we cannot control. An illness or a death, perhaps. That is life in this world. Suffering is inevitable. Often we are surprised by it. We don't always see it coming and when it does and we are left feeling helpless, as if the ground has fallen away under our feet. The imperial ego shudders and breaks and the truth, like the golden yoke of a broken egg, flows out – the living water – and we are washed clean and the world around us is nourished and fed by the beauty of God’s image within us. That is how transformation often happens. And for this we can learn to gaze upon darkness, the most mysterious of the “unseen blessings,” with undimmed eyes and allow gratitude to illumine it.