St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

What Matters is a New Creation

 

Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, November 17, 2019

The Gospel is According to Luke 12:16-21

The Lord said this parable: "The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought to himself, 'What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?' And he said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones; and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, 'Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.' But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." As he said these things, he cried out: "He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

The Gospel draws us to the overarching and inevitable reality of life: that it will end. At least, that is, life on this earth. We all know this and as we grow older we tend to think more and more about it. I do. Every new ache and pain takes me there. Maybe this is so for you as well. Of course, young people don’t give it much thought because the feeling of invulnerability is part of being young for most. It doesn’t last of course. The Rich Man in the parable learned this the hard way. No one is invulnerable. That is the first lesson.

The second lesson from the parable is that our possessions and wealth, our families and friends cannot protect us or save us for they too are subject to decay. Everything in this life is temporal, always changing, always insecure, living and dying, coming and going. Today it is here and tomorrow it is gone. “As for man,” says the funeral service, “His days are like grass which today is here and tomorrow is thrown on the fire.” As another teacher wrote, “If we can come to accept that nothing is permanent we will come to know peace.” And from the mouth of Medieval monks we hear the same thing in a different way, “Die before you die and you will never die.” One way we start this process is by learning to accept change with open arms.

Jesus often speaks of death, not only physical death, but death to self. Die to yourselves is the message. Take up the Cross and follow me is an invitation to death, death to self, death to attachment to this world. Luke 14:33 tells us “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” Letting go of our attachment to things that are passing away, and to the fabricated self, the ego, we start laying up “treasures in heaven” that do not pass away. In this way we start to become living souls.

How do we know when we are living according to the ego and not from the soul? I like this sure test noticed by Ram Dass, “Souls love, That’s what souls do. Egos don’t, but souls do.” He ends by exhorting his readers to, “Become a soul.” If love is not who we are and how we live, then we are out of touch with God, with Christ, with the Truth and with our very souls.

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. ~ 1 John 4:8

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. ~ 1 John 4:7

This is, I believe, what St. Paul alludes to in today’s epistle reading (Galatians 6:11-18). What matters is not circumcision or uncircumcision, and read this to mean, anything that is ephemeral and transitory. What matter is that we become “a new creation.” Through dying to this temporal world, all its glamour and all its distractions, and dying to the false self and its wholly egotistical mode of living, we touch the living heart of our true humanity. We become living souls. This is the meaning of rebirth. Dying always comes before resurrection.