Offering Our Blessings and Sufferings in Hope: Homily for the Third Sunday After Pentecost and the Third Sunday of Matthew in the Orthodox Church

Romans 5:1-10; Matthew 6:22-33

          We often take for granted the benefits of living when and where we do.  From modern medicine to running water and computer technology, we enjoy benefits and conveniences that make our lives very different from those of past generations.  Despite the obvious imperfections of our society, we have freedoms and resources that far exceed those of most people throughout history and around the world.  Even with the challenges posed by the pandemic, the current social tensions, and our own personal problems, we have so much for which to be grateful.

Our great challenge is to remember to thank God for our blessings and not to make them the meaning and purpose of our lives.   That is possible only when we have the spiritual vision to see the good things of this life in relation to the Lord.  He taught, “The eye is the lamp of the body.  So, if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is evil, your whole body will be full of darkness.  If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”  Our Savior is the Light of the world, and to know Him means to behold and be transformed by His radiant glory from the depths of our souls.  If we are not finding the strength to shine with His Light, then we will remain blinded by the darkness of our sins and lack the ability to see the blessings of this life as they truly are before God.

People try to serve two masters because they lack the spiritual clarity to see that the good things of the creation are not God’s equals or rivals, but blessings to be offered back to Him for the salvation of the world.   Those who put their ultimate trust in money, power, possessions, or anything else cannot escape constant worry and fear, because they are not eternal and can all disappear in an instant.  They will never satisfy those created in the divine image and likeness.  Instead of making ourselves miserable by grounding our lives in pointless idolatry, the Savior reminds us that, “the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.”

That does not mean, of course, that Christ promises a life without difficulties or challenges to those who believe in Him. He called the disciples to deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow Him.  They saved their lives by losing them as they refused to gain the whole world at the expense of their souls. (Mark 8: 34-36)  Saint Paul certainly endured hardships of many kinds and ultimately died as a martyr. He wrote that, “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.”

Saint Paul could rejoice in his sufferings because the Light of Christ cleansed, focused, and illumined the eye of his soul.  Because He shared so fully in the life of the Savior, he could see that obedience inevitably leads to suffering in this life, for there is so much in us and in our world that remains enslaved to the fear of death.  That is why there is profound tension between gratifying our passions and serving the false gods of this world, on the one hand, and uniting ourselves to Christ in His great Self-Offering for the salvation of the world, on the other.  Saint Paul knew that the only way to live in hope for the eternal blessedness of the Kingdom was to endure his struggles with faithfulness, no matter the cost.  He was able to do so not merely by his own strength, but “because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.” It is through the Holy Spirit that the Savior dwells in our hearts and illumines our souls. As St. Paul taught, “Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Through Him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God.”

If the focus of our lives extends no further than what we eat, drink, wear, and possess, we will never know the hope and peace that arise from entrusting ourselves to Christ.  Neither will we attend to the fundamental question of the health of our souls, for all our attention will be focused on superficial and passing matters that will distract us from seeking first the Kingdom of God.  That is a path that leads only to constant fear, worry, and frustration, for such things can never truly satisfy us. The same will be true whenever we make any good thing of this world an end in itself instead of offering it to Christ for fulfillment in Him. That is a path that leads only to further spiritual darkness, for it ultimately serves our pride and self-centeredness in getting what we want on our own terms.

The same will be true when we refuse to respond to our sufferings, whatever they may be, with the faith of those who are at peace with God.  When the Lord said, “Do not be anxious about your life,” He was not talking to people who would somehow avoid the inevitable pains and sorrows of our world of corruption.  He was talking to His disciples, common people by conventional standards who would literally suffer and die for Him.  Despite all the blessings of our lives, we also have the difficulties and temptations that are our common lot in a world that has not yet entered into the blessedness of the Kingdom.  In order to avoid falling into the worry, fear, and despair of those who hope only in the things of the world, we must gain the spiritual clarity to offer even our deepest pains and sufferings to God in faith, for He “shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”  Our faith and trust must be in the God with Whom “we have peace… through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Because He has entered fully into death itself, risen from the tomb, and ascended into heaven, “we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God,” regardless of what difficulties we encounter in life.

In order to cultivate that kind of faith, we must do everything we can to open the eyes of our souls to the brilliant Light of Christ, for the darkness is all around us and deeply rooted in our hearts.   Doing so requires mindfully offering our worries and fears to God through prayer on a daily basis, making frequent use of the Jesus Prayer to call upon the Lord’s mercy when our thoughts only make things worse.  It means reading the Psalms in order to learn how to cry out to God from the depths with persistent trust, instead of wallowing in despair.  It means not allowing ourselves to use food, drink, entertainment, or anything else to keep us from facing the truth about our souls. It means sacrificing the false idols we have been worshipping in order to seek first the Kingdom of God in how we live.

If we want to know Christ’s peace, which conquers even the fear of the grave, we must become radiant with His Light, which means that we must unite ourselves to Him in faith, hope, and love from the depths of our souls.  Instead of stumbling in the dark and serving other masters, we must offer ourselves fully to the Savior for healing and restoration as persons with the calling to become like Him in holiness.  That is the only way to resist the idolatry that brings worry, fear, and despair.  In this world, there will be suffering and death; but those with the spiritual eyes to behold the glory of God will see even their deepest pains in light of hope for the new day of the heavenly kingdom.  Let us devote ourselves to opening our darkened spiritual eyes to the radiant Light of Christ, for He alone is our hope for entering into the eternal blessedness that heals every infirmity and sorrow. He alone can make even our deepest sufferings a point of entry into the heavenly joy for which He created us.

 

2 comments:

  1. God Bless You Father Philip.
    I have been reading your homilies for many months now. I became orthodox last year, after a life of sloth and waste. Every one of your homilies seems to be written to address me directly, and I think of the many others who read them and probably feel the same.
    I give thanks and praise to our God that He raises up and nurtures all those who work in His vineyard, labouring for the great harvest of souls for His kingdom.
    Remembering what I was like, and fighting against my sinful nature, I am filled with joy so often now when I am lifted up away from myself through God’s grace. I have a long way to go, and your homilies are a beautiful gift of Our Lord, helping me as I travel the path before me.
    A great joy is the fact that your ministry reaches brothers and sisters all around the world, all thirsting for the love and knowledge of our Lord and God.

    God bless you Father Philip.

    1. Tikhon,
      Blessings! Thanks so much for your message and kind words. I am so pleased to hear of your entry into the Church and pray that you will continue to find the healing of your soul. Keep us in your prayers.
      In Christ,
      Fr. Philip

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