Love for Jesus Christ is all that matters

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Love for Jesus Christ is all that matters
12th Sunday after Pentecost
30 August, 2009
1 Corinthians 15:1-11 ; Matthew 19:16-26

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

This morning, the Apostle is saying to us in the Epistle to the Corinthians that he passed on to us what he, himself, received about the Resurrection of Christ. This handing on is not merely some sort of philosophical principle about Who is Jesus Christ. It is not some sort of intellectual proposition. What he is handing on to us is his personal encounter and experience of Jesus Christ, who rose from the dead. This is essential for us to remember. The personal encounter with the Risen Christ is of paramount importance.

The Apostle is speaking to us about all the personal difficulties that he faced in the course of his following Christ, his obeying Christ, his serving Christ, his loving relationship with Christ. Earlier this week, in this context, I was reminded (by a priest who was talking to me about something completely different) that the elder in the Wisdom of Sirach says to his son : “My son, if you draw near to serve the Lord, prepare your soul for temptation” (Wisdom of Sirach 2:1). We can see, therefore, that a long time ago it was understood what is the consequence of following the Lord. The Apostle Paul had his own personal experience of the temptations that come when a person is determined and desiring to serve the Lord because of love. It is this response of love that nurtures the desire to serve the Lord. This temptation is often expressed in adversities. The adversity does not come from the Lord. It comes from the forces of darkness : from the Opponent and his cohorts who wish to take away the blessing from us in order to impose darkness upon us, and maintain the reign of fear by which the world is enslaved until this very day. The Apostle understood that it is our relationship of love with the Lord that sets us free. It sets us free from all fear. It sets us free from all death. It sets us free from any sort of enslavement, and it gives us strength in the Lord. If we recall at the end of the Epistle reading today, the Apostle says, in effect : “It was not I that did anything anyway ; it was the Grace of God acting in me that did everything”.

It is important for you and for me to remember this, because in our North American culture, we are formed from the womb to be “do-it-yourselfers”, and very much prepared to be responsible for everything ourselves. In this context, we are formed in this mentality to such an extent that we generally turn to God for help only when we are desperate. Too much are we following a distortion of that old saying : “God helps those who help themselves”. Coming from Scottish ancestry, I heard that many times when I was growing up. However, this saying is not just as it appears at face value. God definitely helps us. He expects us to do our part, but it is not that we have to start something, and then bring God into it if we have some sort of problem. In the Orthodox way, our responsibility is to start everything with a blessing. That is why The Book of Needs has blessings for almost everything under the sun. Father Schmemann, of blessed memory, used to make a little joke about this. In his lectures, he would invent things, saying that he hoped that perhaps one day The Book of Needs would have a prayer to cover different events such as, for example, when your cow fell into a well, or something like this. The point is not that there actually is such a prayer in The Book of Needs for such an occasion, but that it should be there. There is no aspect of our life that is not covered by the Lord, and that does not interest the Lord. There is no aspect of our lives about which He does not care. He cares about everything. The Orthodox response, therefore, has always been (since the time of Christ, and of the apostles) to ask the Lord to bless everything as soon as we start it. From Orthodox cultures, there are countless examples of such things as the blessing of every ingredient before we start cooking ; blessing the food before it goes into the oven, and when it comes out ; blessing bread with the sign of the Cross before we cut it (and often cutting the bread in the sign of the Cross when we cut it) ; blessing a car when we get one (whether it is new or new to us) ; blessing the journey every time we get into the car and when we get out, and thanking God for our safe arrival. Bringing the blessing of God to absolutely everything is the way the Orthodox live out this saying : “God helps those who help themselves”.

The Lord must be first in everything, and not merely an afterthought. God is not on some shelf somewhere. He is not reading the newspaper while the clock is ticking on the shelf. He is involved in our lives intimately. That is why we have our Lord, Himself, reiterating today the continuity of all our experience of God from the beginning by His repeating the foundations of the Commandments to this rich young man. The young man asks : “‘What good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?’” Everything in the Ten Commandments is based on the response of love to God. It is not the imposition of rules. The Ten Commandments are the expression of how a person lives who loves God. The Ten Commandments begin with the love of God. The summary is : “You shall love the Lord your God from your whole heart, from your whole soul, and from your whole power” (5 Moses [Deuteronomy] 6:5). When our Lord says that “you shall love your neighbour as yourself” (3 Moses [Leviticus] 19:18), He is extending the application of all those specific things said in the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments, expressing how a person lives who loves God, are expressing the experience of God by human beings all the way back to Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden experienced God as love. God has never shown us anything about Himself apart from this love. It is the Deceiver who introduced fear to us at the very beginning. It is the Deceiver who continues to put doubts in our mind which darken the heart and which then draw us away from the Lord. Then we forget, and we get hurt. Then we wake up, and remember that the Lord loves us. Then we turn to Him, and say : “I am sorry”. The Lord, like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, embraces us because He has been waiting for us all this time. In fact, it is He who helps us to say : “I am sorry”.

All this is the context of the Orthodox Christian life which is a life lived in the environment of love for the Lord. Because of such love, it is possible for us, even after we have fallen away and forgotten, to come to our senses. Then we are able, because of this divine love, to turn about (turning 180 degrees), turning away from darkness and back to the light. We turn back to life, and away from death. This is our way. This is the way of repentance, and the way of living in the love of Jesus Christ.

Brothers and sisters, the Lord is constantly giving us much hope and much encouragement. Through the words of the Apostle, He continues to strengthen us. Myriads of saints have been and are being our examples. We have to say “10,000” in English, but the Greeks have a word for it (as the saying goes) : “myriad” is the word, which I like so much better. Myriads and myriads of saints have been and are being our examples of how to live in the love of Jesus Christ. Frankly, that is one reason why I am grateful to God that He lets me go on pilgrimages from time to time. When I am on a pilgrimage, I encounter not only the relics of many saints, but I encounter the life in Christ that is existing and going on in the Churches elsewhere in the world. I see people just like our people, living their lives through all the temptations, the struggles and adversities that Big Red throws up against us. They, like us, still are putting their trust in the Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Let us remember, brothers and sisters, that love for Jesus Christ is all that matters. Living our lives in the love of Jesus Christ is the essence of our Orthodox tradition. We are here today because of the love of Jesus Christ. We are worshipping our God, who is love, because of the love of Jesus Christ. Through the prayers of the Mother of God, and through the prayers of the holy Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist John, whose death we have just celebrated, let us ask the Lord to strengthen us in this love. May He enable us to persevere in this love, and in every aspect of our lives to glorify the all-holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.