Consider the Lilies of the Field

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
“Consider the Lilies of the Field”
3rd Sunday after Pentecost
6 July, 2008
Romans 5:1-10 ; Matthew 6:22-33

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

When the Apostle is talking about being justified by faith, this justification has many different sorts of implications. The major one that I would like us to remember about this word “justification” is that it means being made righteous. In our western way of thinking and use of language, we are using the word “justice” as though it meant sort of tangible reality which is very specific. Sometimes, it is rather too specific, shall I say, because in the Lord’s way of dealing with us, He, Himself, is not able to be fit into some sort of tight box. He does not expect us to be fit into some tight pigeon hole, either. He does not intend to box us in in any way, because we are made in His image. We are supposed to be growing into His likeness. He is the ultimate Person of freedom. He is the ultimate Person of love. He is the ultimate Expression of love. His love is life-giving. His love shows so many different expressions or facets, that it becomes clear to us that we can neither precisely define nor enclose in any way this love.

In the same way, when we are talking about justification, it has to do more with our being turned in the right direction and on the right path, than it has to do with being something static, such as “just”. This word “just” is a dangerous word for us because, in our western thinking, it implies something quite rigid. If we see the attempt to apply justice in western society, this application is very often a cold, cut-and-dried application of some rule or other. If a person should break some rules, then that person will get this punishment, exactly like that. Maybe there is some flexibility, but there is always a punishment for breaking rules such as, for example, going through stop signs, or driving too fast. There are very specific punishments for bending the rules (even though the rules do get bent). However, when someone in authority is in a bad mood, then those rules are absolute, and they are minutely applied.

This is not the way the Lord is at all with us. The Lord is like a loving Parent with us : a loving Parent who corrects the child, and who puts the child on the right way. When the child falls down, He picks the child up, straightens him out (sometimes giving the child what my Mother used to call a “love tap” for a reminder), and then sets the child again back on the right path. That is why this “right path” is not so strictly definable as some people want to make it to be, either. The Lord, in His love, is meeting each human being according to that human being’s needs. This meeting is not like rigid justice.

When we are talking about “justification”, it has to do less with the idea of justification of books (because you do that in accounting, I think, and when you are justifying numbers you have to be very specific). However, when we are justifying things in other parts of life, we do not have to be so specific. We are going in the right direction : that is the main point of the whole thing. This “going in the right direction” is made possible by faith. This faith is made possible by love. We can have faith in Jesus Christ, and we can trust Him because we have experience of His love. This love is what propels us – you and me – through the course of the whole of our lives, in the middle of all the sorts of difficulties that we encounter, in all the ways in which our friends, our family, our relatives and other human beings will disappoint us from time to time. It is this faith in the love of Jesus Christ, and our experience of the stability of His love, which carry us through all the disappointments, pain and darkness of this life. It is the same Lord, Jesus Christ, who is only constant, who is only all-loving, who is only always there, stably, for us. He is always there for us and ready and waiting to give us life, to give us hope, to comfort us, to renew us.

It is in this context that it is important to understand today’s Gospel in which our Lord is talking precisely about the depth of His love and how much He wants to give us life. We, independent and willful human beings, most of the time, in our independent thinking, in our determination to be self-sufficient, are “do-it-yourselfers”. I can blame this on our western formation ; but it is not just that, because human beings have always been like that. When we read the Old Testament, we see that we human beings are the same, always, in our weakness. As a rule, we seldom seem to ask the Lord first and spontaneously : “What do You want me to do ?” Instead, we try to use our heads, apply a little logic, paste it together, and say : “This seems good”. We make our construction, and it all falls apart because it was only put together with some sort of “band-aid” or a piece of string. The whole thing falls apart when it gets slightly shaken. Then we come crying to the Lord, and we say to Him : “What did You do ?” This is how we are with Him. We propose something : it does not work, and then we blame Him, because we think it is His fault that it did not work. The Lord gets the blame from us nearly all the time.

This is not the right way to go about things at all. This is not thee historic way of our ancestors in the faith, the ones who have grown up strong in the faith, the ones whom we call saints. These persons knew the love of Jesus Christ sufficiently that their hearts instinctively would ask the Lord : “What do You want me to do about this-or-that, and every little thing in life ?” This is reflected in the traditional Orthodox ways of going about life : for instance, the blessing of every ingredient of food as it is being prepared, the blessing of the baking or the cooking. It is most especially seen in the care that is taken with bread. First, the ingredients (some people include a little holy water) are blessed with the Sign of the Cross. Then the Sign of the Cross may be made over the dough once it is shaped, before each rising. Sometimes, a Cross is cut into the top of the raw loaf. Sometimes, the loaf will be blessed with the baker’s hand as it is place in the oven. Once the loaf is baked, and before it is eaten, the Sign of the Cross may be made with a knife upon the loaf of bread before it is cut. However, some persons insist that bread should never be cut, but only broken (more likely amongst people who tend to make flat breads). If that is the case, it would be broken in a cruciform manner. Of course, we bless the eating, too. All these things are examples of how this understanding of communication with the Lord, involving the Lord in every detail of life, works out in the lives of traditional Orthodox believers. That is not to say that everyone always behaves like this, because that is not at all the case. In every culture, human beings can be weak, and they can fail. However, the cultures that have been baptised by the Gospel (such as those of Ukraine, Russia, Serbia, Greece, Georgia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Egypt, and other places) have similar expressions in all of them of the involvement of Christ in everything.

Thus, we bless ourselves and our vehicle when we are about to drive anywhere. We bless ourselves and our vehicle when we arrive, and we thank God that we arrived safely. However, should there have been a little mishap, we thank God that it did not kill us or anyone else. Sometimes, even though we ask God’s blessing when we are driving, we can still be inattentive ; or, someone else can be inattentive, and we can bear the brunt. Nevertheless, the Guardian Angels are always there, working with us. The Lord has always been sending us His Guardian Angels working with us, protecting us, and looking after us. The Lord is merciful to us. He is loving to us.

The Lord says to us : “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin”, yet their existence praises God, and their beauty praises God. If the Lord cares about flowers and other creatures like this, how much more will He care for you and me, who are created in His image ? He loves us. He created us to be like Him, to work with Him in His creation, and to be His agents of love for each other.

In the time of Adam and Eve, our ancestors had hearts that more than instinctively knew the will of God, and did it with joy. They grew up to be their real selves in this love : unique selves, not just clones of God (or some sort of cookie-cutter-anything). No matter what, the Lord creates every human being uniquely. He does not make repeats. Can you imagine that we now have about six billion people on the earth, and every one of those six billion human beings is unique. Every one of the billions that have gone before us is also unique, not repeatable, a unique creation of the Lord. This is the expression of His love. Add to that all the animals, all the birds, all the fish, all the trees, all the flowers, all the planets and stars, and everything else : all these are the expressions of God’s love, and they exist because God loves them into existence, into being. He takes them from non-being into being because of His love, as expressions of His love. Saint John Chrysostom uses this very terminology in the anaphora of the Divine Liturgy.

It is really important for us, for you and for me to pay attention to our relationship with the Lord, to nurture our love for the Lord. He is always there in His love for us. It is important for you and for me to be opening our hearts daily to Him, asking Him at the beginning of every day : “Lord, what do You want me to do today ?” “Help me today to do Your will, even by instinct.” “Be with me today.”

It is important to bless the beginning and the end of every day, and every moment of every day, everything that we are doing during the day, in order to grow up to be our real selves : real, joyful, co-workers, co-working with the Lord. We grow up to be ourselves in living in this love of the Lord which gives life, and makes us our real selves. It is really important that we remember this, no matter what our difficulties are, no matter what our pain is, no matter who disappoints us in one way or another – because we all experience this. It is the Lord who is constant. It is the Lord who is with us, as He always says. He is with us. He is always there.

As we continue to live in this loving relationship, He heals our wounds. He binds us up. He strengthens us. He renews us. He gives us energy. He gives us focus. He gives us determination. He enables us, most importantly of all, to reveal His love to every person around us. The people we meet every day are all people who are looking for consolation, for hope, for a sense of purpose in life, for a sense of direction. We, Orthodox Christians, who have access to all the tools necessary to help them, are responsible by the way we live to help them, and to offer consolation and hope.

That is why I keep going on and on and on about it, because this loving witness is crucially important. I also have to remind myself. This is how people who are preaching, themselves get straightened out by the Lord. When people are preaching to the faithful, the Lord is also reminding them about themselves : how they, like their people, have to keep these things in order in their lives. We all have to remember to keep the words of Saint Herman of Alaska in the front of our hearts. We have to try, if we can, to repeat them, and to live them out in our daily lives. He said to us, and he is still saying to us in his icons and in his example (he did not stop saying it 200 years ago) : “From this day, from this hour, from this minute, let us love God above all, and do His holy will”, glorifying the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.