Friday, June 15, 2007

Humble Disciples

+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.

From Matthew’s gospel [4:18-23] we heard the account of Jesus calling His first disciples, the simple fishermen from Galilee. Most leaders of new movements will try to recruit people of stature in society to lend an aura of respectability to the cause. But Jesus did the exact opposite, deliberately choosing men of humble position to become His closest followers. He selected good, sturdy men for the most part, but they were far from being impressive by worldly standards. At the time, we can be sure that the irony of this situation did not occur to them, namely that the Son of God would pick the lowest of the low to become His apostles, the pillars of His Church, and His witnesses unto all the earth. But this fact was not lost upon the former Pharisee, St. Paul.

Decades later, when the Christians at Corinth were getting prideful and argumentative with one another, Paul wrote to them the following words, “Consider your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to naught things that are…” [1 Corinthians 1:25-28].

Now there’s a bucket of ice-water to the ego! As I read it, it seems that St. Paul was trying to break the news to the Corinthians that Jesus doesn’t generally pick the cream of the crop to become His disciples. Rather, He chooses those who are foolish, who are weak, and most especially, those who are sinful. He selects these, not because there is any natural advantage to having the weak and the foolish and the sinful populate His Church, but because it is these who most need healing, and whose transformation most vividly demonstrates the mercy and power of God to the world.

And so, my brethren, how does this apply to us? At the very least, I think we should recognize that we did not choose Jesus, but He chose us. It was His calling that we were blessed to hear, and not our own wisdom or “epic spiritual journey” that brought us into His Church. We are Orthodox Christians entirely by the grace and calling of God. Furthermore, He chose us not necessarily because He thought we would lend a touch of class to the place, but perhaps because He saw that we were among those in the greatest need of rescue and healing. It is important that we occasionally remind ourselves of these basic things, both for the sake of our continued growth in humility and most especially so that we don’t forget why we are here.

We often refer to the Orthodox Church as a spiritual hospital, and the many things the life of the Church offers us as the therapy designed to heal our souls. This characterization is quite true, but I fear that we sometimes forget it. When that happens, the things given by God for our salvation begin to be seen less as medicines for healing and more as duties or obligations to fulfill. This leads to a kind of drudgery and sloth in regard to the things of God, accompanied by feelings of guilt over what is left undone, or worse, to a neglect of them entirely as we simply immerse ourselves in other things to stay distracted.

How important it is to remember what great and unspeakable mercy God has shown to us by bringing us to this place of healing, and to recall that “He who first loved us” has given us the opportunity of a lifetime to learn to love Him and enter into His eternal communion of love. Where there is love, there is no drudgery or “obligation” or guilt. Where there is love, there are lives being set right and made whole.

Orthodoxy has been called “the religion of love” because it emphasizes the love of God toward us, and sets as its lofty goal that every one of us would gain this love and be utterly and completely transformed by it into the perfect reflection of God’s love. Here we are speaking of the most sublime form of love, the kind of love that sacrifices all for the beloved and even prompts one to lay down his life for the other. This is the love of God for us, seen in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ who has called us to follow Him. This is the kind of love we are meant to embrace and to become.

This love is not fundamentally expressed by emotion but by action. In fact, the proper actions lead toward the cultivation of love and help us to secure it. If we put it in the context of a marriage, we understand that emotions come and go; feelings run hot and cold. Those who mistakenly live by their emotions and feelings alone will not be married for long! But a good marriage is one in which the proper actions take place; where faithfulness and forgiveness are assured, where kindness and gentleness and mercy and mutual respect are expressed daily. A good marriage, and indeed a good family, is one in which all members care for one another and contribute to the common good at whatever level they can. Sadly today many families and marriages do not resemble this, but have become more like individuals who just happen to live under the same roof.

Certainly one of the worst things that could happen to a parish would be for it to become something like that. God has created the family and the parish to be the places where individuals become members, and where members grow together in the love of God to become whole and healthy human beings.

A parish really should be a spiritual family and each of us should enter in and support this family in every way possible, not only for the common good, but for our own good as well. A parish requires the same level of commitment and faithfulness as any other family. It requires the same desire to see each member prosper and do their absolute best. It requires the same self-sacrifice and diligent support. And because this is a holy community, it requires that each member dedicate himself to purity and integrity and openness.

No doubt there are many who would prefer a less intimate model, a parish in which there is a comfortable fog of anonymity in which to hide, to allow the individual to decide for himself the level of support and involvement he will give. I don’t really see that model in the scriptures, however. When Christ calls people, He calls them into community, and He expects them to love and commit themselves to that community every bit as much as He does. Only in this way do we find healing for our humanity and become the grace-filled disciples He has called us to be.

Maybe we don’t feel qualified to be members of such a dedicated and holy community. That’s OK. Remember, God doesn’t call the qualified; He qualifies the called. We may be among those “not many wise, not many mighty, not many noble”. But beyond any doubt, we are also among those who are called. Let us therefore commit to follow Jesus faithfully, to love one another in this spiritual family, and thus to help carry one another across the threshold into the eternal kingdom of heaven.

+To the glory of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.


At 6/16/2007 9:31 AM , Blogger E Rica said...

Sometimes when I say "I love you" to a loved one, I know that I'm so far from truly loving that person completely that it's, well, really humbling. It's very inspiring though. I really hope to learn eventually. Lord, have mercy.

I like how St. John puts it, "Little children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth." 1 John 3:18

Wonderful sermon! :)

At 6/21/2007 9:12 AM , Blogger scot said...

Commitment is virtually synonymous with "self sacrifice." A decision to be committed to Christ and the Church (to anything, really) means putting yourself aside and working for the good of others. It requires a daily decision… sometimes an hourly decision.
Sometimes (most times!) this is easy to forget since we are constantly bombarded with the message that the individual is what is most important. Our decision to be dependent on Christ and the Church is the antithesis of our culture message of independence and self fulfillment. Not to mention our inclination to be selfish and self centered (I speak of myself, most of all).

Great homily… I wish I could have been there!



Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home