Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost / First Sunday of Luke, September 25, 2016
II Corinthians 1:21-24, 2:1-4; Luke 5:1-11
Rev. Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
The One who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, is God; who has also sealed us, and has given us the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts. (II Cor. 1:21-22)
When I read these two verses in preparation for this morning, II Corinthians 1:21-22, I have to confess that I felt a bit of sadness, especially at that phrase “the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.” Let me tell you why.
I have in my life known many people who, even if they could not say it with words, could certainly communicate in some way that they knew they had “the earnest of the Spirit” in their hearts. That “earnest,” which in some translations is a “guarantee” or “pledge” or even a “down payment,” is that sense of the promise of God, that we have been truly anointed by God and sealed by Him, and that the fulfillment of our salvation in Christ is indeed coming.
To have a sense that we have an earnest of the Spirit in our hearts, we can’t describe it really as an emotion, because it’s beyond emotion. Rather, it is a sense that, if you go down deep into your soul, you find there a sense of commitment. You find there a love for God. You find there a rock-solid trust and faith that, even if imperfect, even if broken at times, tells you that this person belongs to Jesus Christ and loves Him more than anything else and anyone else, that this person is truly all about the Christian life.
So when I read that verse this week, I felt sad. And the reason is that I was thinking about people who don’t seem to have that “earnest” in their hearts. Because of course we know people who don’t have that inner fire for God, that sense in their hearts that, no matter what, they’re going to try to follow Jesus Christ and do what He says, because that’s the number one thing in their lives.
When I was a kid, I grew up in a Christian home. And in the religious culture we were in, it was totally normal for just about everyone I knew to see himself that way. God was number one. Everything else took second place: Our education had to be compatible with our faith. Our hobbies had to be compatible with our faith. Our ambitions and occupations and even who we dated and got married to all had to be compatible with our faith. Why? Because nothing was more important. We didn’t want to get into something that took us away from that.
But as I grew up and eventually learned that not everyone saw things that way, it was kind of a shock to me. And it was even a shock to me when I first went to seminary in 2004 and got into pastoral ministry a few years later—not everyone in churches is actually “switched on” when it comes to Christian faith. I naively thought that the voluntary choice to be involved in church life meant that there had been an inner conversion that drove that participation and kept the engine running.
So I will confess to you that there are times that I get discouraged, that I wonder whether what I’m doing matters to anyone at all except me. I remember one time, years ago, when I was talking with someone at a church dinner and said that nothing mattered more than the life in Christ—even health. The response I got was that I was living in a fantasy world. I’m still kind of stunned whenever I think of that conversation.
I know that I am not alone in these feelings, the sense of just being incredulous that a lot of people just don’t really care, at least, not about the things that I believe matter more than anything else. I know that a lot of you probably feel this way. You work and press forward and try to do all you can, and yet you wonder whether it really matters to anyone, whether what you’re doing really makes a difference, whether anyone around you will really get it and love what is good as much as you do.
And sometimes our response to that is to double-down. If only I will tell everyone around me how important this all is one more time, then maybe this time they will listen. If only they can see how hard I work or how frustrated I’ve become, then this time they will change.
And it can be frustrating. You can feel resentment. You can feel anger. And it can get into your relationships and distort them, and you feel like you’re carrying around a huge burden all the time. I’ve experienced all that. I’m sure some of you have, too.
But there is a very big problem with that approach to our relationships with others. I must be doing something wrong. If only I can get it right, they will change. I’ve tried everything, but why won’t they change? The problem is that we think of it as being about our relationships with others!
The reality is that it’s actually about our relationship with God. I can be so busy worrying about whether the rest of you have the earnest of the Spirit in your hearts that I have neglected tending to that earnest in my own heart.
What has been given to us by God in the “anointing,” especially the anointing that is the mystery of holy chrismation, is the “seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit.” As baptized and chrismated Orthodox Christians, we have been sealed with the Holy Spirit, and that earnest of the Spirit is placed there most fully in that moment of anointing which happens for most of us immediately at baptism but later for some of us who embrace this faith having come from other faith communities. However we get it, we have it.
And because we have it, we have the task of nurturing that earnest, of enhancing its effect in us. If it can be thought of as a “pledge” or “guarantee” or even “down payment,” then we have to work on that investment given by God, the investment of the Holy Spirit in us. We do that by earnestly working on that relationship with Him, seeking to know Him in all things. He’s not just someone we turn to when things are tough, but our close Friend and Father at every step along the way. He’s not just the Savior from death when we are resurrected at the end of all things, but the Savior from every kind of death that corrupts and distorts our souls along the way.
If I really want others to see my own earnest of the Spirit and to pay attention to that earnest within themselves, then the key is not for me to run around after everyone else trying to make them see what I see and feel what I feel. The key is actually to enter more deeply into the spiritual life myself. I cannot give what I have not received. And if those around me are not truly receiving the gift of the Spirit, I am at least somewhat responsible to them by working on receiving more of that gift myself.
And if I do that, then the Spirit Who is in me more intensely will attract other seekers to Himself through me. And that is when they will hear me. Because it will not really be my voice they hear but the Voice of the Holy Spirit speaking in me.
No one can hear you who is not in some sense moving toward you. Giving insight to the unmotivated will always be fruitless. But other people can indeed be motivated to move toward you, but only if you give them something to move toward. And for us Christians, that something is our commitment to the development of the earnest of the Spirit within us.
If I want you to hear me and to come along with me when I say that Christ is everything, then I must first make Him everything to me. This does not happen by my strength or my will, but only by the strength and the will of Him Who gave Himself for me. If I want to give and for others to hear, then I must first receive and listen.
To the One Who has given us Himself in Christ be all glory, honor and worship, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.