Sunday, July 13, 2008

You are the Light of the World

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

This Sunday the Orthodox Church commemorates the Holy Fathers of the 4th Ecumenical Council, held in the city of Chalcedon in Asia Minor, in the year 451. To give a bit of historical background on this council, one important contributing reason it was convened was that just two years earlier, a counterfeit council had been held in Ephesus to promote the teaching of a certain Eutyches, who held to very strange theological opinions about our Lord Jesus Christ. As he saw it, Jesus possessed only a single nature, divine and not human. In essence, Eutyches believed that the human nature of Christ was irrelevant to our salvation and amounted to nothing. The Chalcedonian council was brought together to correct this serious error and to articulate and uphold the true Orthodox understanding that Jesus Christ is both “fully human and fully divine,” possessing two complete natures together in His one divine person.

It was an important definition at a critical time. People today might wonder why we Orthodox Christians commemorate such ancient councils and the men that participated in them. The reason is very simple. We need to remember that if these various holy men had not been where they were when they were, and done the things that they did, there would be no true Christianity on the face of the earth today.

In saying that, I realize that there are many contemporary believers who would find such a statement to be very “unspiritual”. Some people act as if any involvement of men in the preservation of the faith is offensive, and desperately want to believe that God doesn’t need saints or councils or even the Church itself to preserve the purity of Christianity. One major problem with this view is that it blindly denies the historical reality of what actually happened. Whether or not God needed to use such things is not the issue; the fact remains that God did use them.

From earliest times there have always been people who have struggled with the human side of Christianity. In the first centuries, there were the Gnostics, who viewed the essence of humanity as a pure spirit trapped in an accursed physical body, from which it ever seeks release. They would have strongly objected to any council upholding the full incarnation of the Son of God as a good thing. Later you had heretical thinkers like Eutyches who regarded Christ’s human nature as nothing, and therefore humanity itself as nothing. Today there are many modern Christians who take up these traditions and utterly disregard the human, historical contributions of the Church as irrelevant. Some even say that to venerate our Christian forefathers for their great efforts borders on blasphemy, equal to stealing glory from God.

Thankfully, God has a different view. God has never been ashamed to partner with men, to fill them with the light of His grace and wisdom, and to accomplish His will upon the earth through such illumined, holy people. In fact, this is exactly why the Son of God took flesh and joined our humanity to His divinity. He did this so that men and women might become “full of grace” and work His works of redemption among people, becoming beacons of light shining the way of salvation in the midst of a darkened and dying world.

This is exactly what our Lord was speaking of in our gospel lesson this morning when He said, “You are the light of the world”.

How is it possible that we are the light of the world? It is only possibly through Jesus Christ who indwells us. We are the lanterns, He is the flame, and the Holy Spirit is the oil which fuels the light. If you’ve ever used one of those old-fashioned kerosene lanterns on a camping trip, you know that if the chimney--the glass part that surrounds and protects the flame--is dirty with soot, not very much light gets through and campers stumble in the darkness. So it is with our souls. If we live without regard for the cleansing of our souls from the passions and habits of sins which defile us, we too will not give much light to this world and darkness will prevail.

Isn’t it true that we would much prefer not to have such responsibility to the world around us? We’d much rather think that God doesn’t need us to bring His light to the world. If we should get bogged down in our sins, if we should fail to take our purity seriously and not allow very much of the light and presence of Christ into our lives to shine to those around us, we’d like to think that it won’t really matter. Someone else will bring the light, or perhaps God will do it Himself.

Thank God our holy fathers didn’t use such a copout. Because they loved God, they worked diligently to cleanse themselves from every impurity and from the sin which so easily entangles us. Because they therefore had the light of Christ illumining them, they were able to defeat the darkness of error and work the works of God at such an important time in history. They didn’t shirk the labor or leave it to someone else, and because they did not, we today are able to have a share in the true faith handed down from the apostles through them.

We are living in a time of dreadful spiritual darkness, and like it or not, we are among those who are still called to be the light of this world. Jesus also said that we are to be the salt of the earth. Salt is an astringent, still used today in the form of saline solution to cleanse wounds and to ward off infection. Our world and our American culture are deeply wounded by sin, so that people are even losing their basic grasp of what constitutes traditional marriage, family, and human sexuality. In as little as another generation this all could be lost, as humanity itself is being redefined to become something unrecognizable. The world around us desperately needs the salt of healing and the light of divine wisdom and guidance.

We of course don’t feel even slightly qualified for such a calling. In this rare instance, our “feelings” are actually telling us the truth; we certainly are not qualified! But we need to remember that God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called. The God who calls us is able to equip us to fulfill His calling, and to accomplish every good work He sets before us. We simply get distracted so much of the time, focused on the enormity of our sin and our endless shortcomings and inabilities. We so easily forget what the mighty God is able to do in the lives of ordinary people who simply wish to see His holy will done in their lives, who desire above all else to love Him and to offer their lives in service to Him.

If there is one thing most lacking in our lives, it is perhaps that very desire itself. Or to put it another way, the thing that we most desire in life may not be God at all. This will make it very difficult for us to fulfill our calling, for it is hard to give so much to the one whom you do not love the most. It falls to us therefore to examine our lives and to put the love of God first.

This is something that we can all do; it is not beyond any of us. We may never raise the dead or glow in the dark with holiness, but we can each train ourselves to grow in our love for God. Guided by this love, we can reach out to the world around us to show the love of God, to offer the correction of God, to bring the healing of God. The world may not appreciate this, and may even turn against us for our efforts. And yet, some few may believe and be saved by what we do.

Let us therefore seek to love God above all else. It is not just for our sakes that we must do this, but for the world around us. It is our turn, beloved. We are needed to do God’s work at a most critical time in our history, and we must respond. With God’s help, we shall.

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

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