August 5 (O.S., July 23), 2018: 10th Sunday after Pentecost; “Pochaiv” (1675) Icon of the Mother of God; Hieromartyr Apollinaris, bishop of Ravenna (75); Martyrs Trophimus, Theophilus, and 13 others in Lycia (305).
Ss Cyril & Methodius Orthodox Mission, Madison, WI
Glory to Jesus Christ!
The second epistle this morning tell us to make our own the attitude or mindset of Christ. Like Jesus, we are to empty ourselves and become servants to others.
This call to self-emptying or kenosis is not a call to call to passively accept bullying. Much less is it a command suffer abuse in silence. Certainly, there will be times when we will suffer for Christ. There will be times when we experience injustice or mistreatment at the hands of others. But this isn’t what St Paul is talking when he tells us to empty ourselves.
What he is saying is this. We must be willing and able to work for the salvation of others. And yes, at times, this will mean setting aside for a time even our own otherwise legitimate concerns and needs.
Love, in other words, requires sacrifice and if the willingness to sacrifice is absent than our love is immature.
Christians’ willingness to sacrifice for the good of others–even strangers–is why, looking at the first epistle, the world calls us “fools.” We commit a grave error when we assume being a “fool for Christ” means being illiterate or hostile to secular learning or to the good things we see in the culture.
We are fools because we place all that we have, all that we are, at the service of the salvation of our neighbor.
We are fools for Christ’s sake, that is, for the sake of the world’s salvation.
We are fools for Christ’s sake because our lives are dedicated to using all the material, cultural and intellectual riches at our disposal to draw others to Christ.
This means that whether we are young or old, male or female, in whatever profession or job we do, we are committed to helping others come to know and follow Christ as members of the Orthodox Church.
If I fail in this, I fail not because of an absence of grace but of my own faith.
Jesus tells us this in the first Gospel. “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
But just as we need to understand what self-emptying does–and more importantly, doesn’t–mean so we also need to be clear about what it means to have faith to move mountains.
The unbelievers, the enemies of the faith, are a great to help to us on this point. St Nikolai Velimirovich, the great Serbian saint of the last century, tells us this in his prayer-poem “Bless My Enemies O Lord.”
The saint encourages me to call my enemies my “cruel friends” because they reveal the sins I would avoid confessing. They scold me, “whenever I have flattered myself.//They have spat upon me, whenever I have filled myself with arrogance.”
He concludes by saying “One hates his enemies only when he fails to realize that they are not enemies, but cruel friends.//It is truly difficult for me to say who has done me more good and who has done me more evil in the world: friends or enemies.”
What good has the unbeliever done for us? Just this, he has mercilessly reminded us that faith is not magic. Our unbelieving friends by their criticism help us understand that faith only moves mountains when God would have mountains move.
The faith that we must have, the faith that allows us to love sacrificially and to place wisely all that we have at the service of the Gospel, is the faith we see in the two Marys in the second Gospel: Mary the sister of Martha and Mary the Mother of God.
Martha is consumed by worry because she is busy serving Jesus. Ironically, she is anxious because, in her service, she has lost sight of Him. Mary, on the other hand, keeps her eyes and her heart fixed on Jesus.
The lesson here is clear.
If I’m not careful, I can become so focused on serving others that I lose sight of Jesus Christ. And when I lose sight of Him, I lose sight of you. We are united to each other and to each person we met not by the bonds of our own affections–which are after all fleeting–but by Jesus Christ.
Put another way, I am united in love to you because Christ is united in love to both of us. Lose sight of Christ and His love and my love for you will eventually grow cold and even bitter.
So what are we to do? For this, we look to the other Mary, Mary the Mother of God.
The Pangia’s presence in today’s Gospel reading is hidden; her name isn’t even spoken. And yet it is the Mother of God who draw together in herself all that it means to a follower of Christ.
The Virgin is the icon of Christian discipleship not primarily because she gives birth to the Son of God–miraculous and grace-filled though this is–but because, as her Son says of her, she hears the Word of God and keeps it!
While not without her own trials–after all, a sword pierces her heart (Luke 2:35)–Mary is unswerving in her loving obedience to the path God has called her to walk.
Mary faithful because she ponders in her heart “all … things” (see Luke 2:19). She is a woman of intense, and personal, prayer. She brings all of her life to God in prayer. She draws close to the God Who in Jesus Christ drew close to her.
My brothers and sisters in Christ! Today God calls us to be men and women of intense prayer. Not only the formal prayer found in books but the quiet prayer of the heart.
In Jesus Christ, God invites us to live a life of mature, sacrificial love. Such love is only possible when, like the two Marys, we focus on one thing that is needed. And that one thing? Our quiet, prayerful openness to God.