Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Sunday After the Elevation of the Holy Cross

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

Today is the Sunday after the Elevation of the Holy Cross we continue the theme we have examined all week. As we have learned, the cross, that ancient device of shame and torturous death has been changed by Christ into the very Tree of Life by which the wounds we receive in this world are healed, our very lives are refreshed and transformed, and we are brought into everlasting life in the eternal kingdom of God. This morning I would like to expand and elaborate on some of these points to help us see how important the cross is to every Christian.

In today’s gospel lesson, our Lord declared, “Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me”. At first blush, this may not seem like the world’s greatest invitation. In a culture which frantically seeks to avoid even gray hair and wrinkles, why would I voluntarily take upon myself something that actually promotes an image and a form of dying as a good thing? Perhaps it is because death is inevitable. We are all dying already as the result of being born into a fallen world. What the cross offers us is a safe passageway through the experience of death into life everlasting in Christ. This is why our Lord tells us that he who seeks to save his own life now by avoiding the Way of the Cross will lose it. But conversely, he who loses his earthly life through the Way of the Cross, the same shall save it in the end.

Now most of us are at least theologically aware of these things, but how practically aware are we of them? What place to we give to the cross in our daily lives, if any at all? The only way we can answer that question well is if we make the time to contemplate the cross in our lives and decide each day to live by it. Most of us are far too busy to do this. We seldom give thought to how the cross can be applied to our lives daily because we are too occupied with simply trying to get through each day, surviving its many cares, concerns, and injuries. But the cross is the very thing which can set our cares and concerns in order, and redeem and give meaning to our injuries. Thus we truly make a serious mistake if we don’t take the time to meditate upon the cross and find ways to bring it into our busy lives.

Here is an example along the lines of those I gave last Thursday night. Let us say that you have been offended by someone you know or care about. Such injuries are common in life because we are all fallen people and filled with many sins. In fact, we each contain such a toxic mix of sins and passions within us that it rarely takes very much to set us off on someone else. A careless word, a thoughtless action, a whiff of condescension in the attitude of another is often all it takes to set fire to our personal mix of sins and fill us with hurt or rage. Thus we are wounded; what will we do?

If we live in the way typical of the world, our choice will be to blame the other guy. It’s his fault after all; he offended us. To deal with this awful person, we may try to snub or avoid him. We might speak evil of him to any sympathetic audience that we know won’t judge us for our gossip. Or if we actually care about the relationship, then we will likely try to make the other person admit his offense and stop being such a pain in the fanny. And if over the years we find that we cannot change such rotten people, we will slowly find ourselves with fewer and fewer close friends and an ever-growing list of people we simply can’t stand. We might think that such grouchiness comes with old age, but it doesn’t really. It comes from our own unrepentant and steadily-hardened heart.

By always trying to change others and never changing ourselves, we are in effect trying to selfishly preserve our own sinful life and keep it just the way we like it. By doing this, we will suffer endless wounds from other people, become more and more bitter toward them, and eventually perish in our sins. He who seeks to save his life will lose it. What a sad way to discover that the words of Jesus are always true!

But the Way of the Cross is different. First of all, each of us is issued a cross that is only large enough for one. That should tell us something right there. There is simply no room to crucify the sins of others upon your cross; there is only room enough for yours. The message of the cross is simple and straightforward: I must change; I must repent. Until I am involved in this activity each day, I will constantly repeat the error of trying to change others and will forever blame them for my suffering.

When I am focused on changing others, all my wounds go unredeemed. They are just a series of endless and pointless injuries, leading me to weariness and death. But when I begin to see that the wounds inflicted upon me by others have actually been greatly amplified by my own pride, my own self-love, and my own perverse thoughts that I somehow deserve better, then I can begin to die to these atrocious sins and find that the misdeeds of others no longer hurt me quite as badly. This is what I mean when I say that the cross can redeem and give meaning to our injuries. Through the aid of the cross we can see that the wounds we receive from other fallen people land with precision exactly upon those faults that we need to change in ourselves.

This is why the fathers teach that when your brother says something that insults you, he is your best and truest friend. Flee from those who praise you, for they are only adding to your certain condemnation. But the one who has insulted you has, by this simple action, revealed in you what your years of contemplation have failed to uncover, namely your prideful desire to be well-spoken of by men and your utter disregard for the praise of God, which is given only to the humble.

What a great lesson! And yet, so few of us learn it. We remain far too concerned with correcting others, and far too negligent of our own correction. We are on constant guard every minute to protect our pride and other sins, when the wounding of them is the very thing that will save us. We have so many rules governing how people may treat us, and God help the person who violates them! In the end, I suppose we expect to be treated better than even our Lord Jesus Christ.

May God help us to humble ourselves and take on the mind of Christ, rather than the complete opposite. Let us not fear or resent the nails that pierce our flesh, for they bring healing to our souls. Such is the transformational power of the cross of our salvation.

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


At 9/17/2007 8:52 AM , Anonymous Bruce said...

Thank God for the internet Father! I am out of town, and what a wonderful way for me to start my day. This homily strikes something very basic and deep in myself. I just absolutely hate looking at myself. I will do anything to avoid doing it. God keeps giving me opportunities to do it, but I ignore it or reject it. If this is not changed in me, I will end up a bitter old man, and not Christ like. Thank you for this wonderfully true homily!!

At 9/17/2007 9:41 AM , Blogger Philippa said...

No compliments here Fr. Michael. These are words that I prefer not to hear.

BTW, I've linked your homily to my blog! :o)

Kissing your right hand.

At 9/25/2007 7:34 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a shame dogma[s], tradition[s], rite[s] and lies, adorned as beautiful by those who elevate their importance as being a means to heaven, when there is ONE mediator between our Maker and us, and ONLY ONE, continue both in tangible ways, but also on the internet.

At 9/26/2007 9:15 AM , Anonymous Bruce said...

Anonymous, Help me out here. I'm not very smart. Could you be more specific with what you are saying?

Thank you!

At 10/03/2007 8:45 AM , Anonymous I can be anonymous too! said...

Dear anonymous (if you even read this!),

The viewpoint you express is one that has its own "tradition" (and "rites" and "lies")! The difference is you don't seem to see the "grid" through which you interpret Orthodox Tradition (which inc. the Holy Scriptures).

Read "The Christian Conspiracy" and you will (perhaps) identify the men whose work and writings have influenced you in the very ways you express (and they are not, as the book points out, Christ).

Before you condemn Orthodoxy, be at least intellectually honest. Have you ever even read a patristic book? Have you ever (even) read Orthodox theology? Most people who read this blog have struggled long and hard, and are well aware of the "usual [theological] suspects" Evangelicals regurgitate from their 100-year-old-or-so"tradition" of understanding.

This so-called "tradition" by the way has as its theological "foundation" the very doctrines which were "handed down" to it (and to you) by the pre-Reformation Church (Orthodox and Catholic)! These include the Holy Scriptures themselves!

You may want to think you live in some sort of Christian "vacuum" but you do not. If you are "Christian" [whatever that word means today] most of what you believe theologically and the very Scriptures you use to condemn that which came before, were given to you by the "one, holy, catholic and apostolic church".

So have some intellectual respect (at least)!

At 10/15/2007 10:46 PM , Anonymous Trenna said...

Well said "I can be anonymous too!"....I am considering just putting your whole comment on a t-shirt:-)!


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