She was always cheery. It seemed no matter what, she had a smile on her face. I could count on some inspirational quote or some uplifting phrase every morning as we worked together. And then, the bottom fell out of her life. I watched as her smile began to fade and her words of encouragement became fewer and fewer. You see, her life and disposition had never been tested like this before and all her theology proved; not wrong, but too small to help her in her darkest hour. She began to wonder if God had rejected her!
Everyone can feel like this at times, but the Faith insists that I see both good times and dark times in the sober light of reality! And that reality begins with the embrace of the Truth of the goodness of God the Father. And since you are created in the image of God, you are called to know Him unshackled by guilt or shame, because guilt and shame cloud my knowing Him and knowing myself!
Look at our Lesson today in Luke 10:19-21:
The Lord said to his disciples, “Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you; but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”
Jesus confronts His disciples today with a perspective check that informs you and me as well. In fact, this is the purpose of our very wise Faith; to give us numerous opportunities to check our perspective to make sure we are sober, awake, and free from the lie that God will EVER reject us!
Notice what the Lord tells them and us today.
First, Jesus gives His followers authority to walk on serpents, scorpions, and all the power of the enemy. Of course, the key here to understanding these words lies in the definitions, but the Church doesn’t leave us to wonder. Jesus means that all that stings in life, all that poisons life, and all that opposes us in life are powerless to destroy us. This means it’s never time to panic or fall into the delusion of despondency. There is always hope. There is always a way through. It’s never time to give up. Never.
Next, the Lord makes sure His disciples stay focused on the perspective that makes the difference. Jesus makes sure His followers don’t fall into the equally destructive delusion of elation over their given “authority.” It’s just as destructive to think that all is sweetness and light because of the blessings of God as it is to focus so much on the negative that I fall into despair. No, my perspective will be healthiest if I’m focused on the gift of union with God in Christ and that my name is “written in heaven.” That means that I’m known there as I really am. My truest self is named and known by the Creator Who loves me and has given Himself for me!
Finally, my perspective focused on my truest self named in heaven means I am free from the twin delusions of elation and despondency, both of which enslave me to a fantasy life instead of the “real thing.” And the real thing is the sober freedom to see me as God sees and knows me. God sees and knows me as I really am which is a mixture of struggles with my failures and mistakes and my strengths and victories all scattered through my days. In other words, God invites me to know myself as He knows me and loves me. To have the ability to know my sins without the toxic shame that makes me hide from myself AND the sober joy of seeing my victories as both a gift from God and a source of gratitude to God grants me amazing freedom from delusion and the sober ability to see myself as I really am.
Today, are you able to know yourself without either shame or pride? We are approaching the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple where the Incarnate God is held in the arms of Righteous Symeon and Symeon declares that his eyes have seen the salvation of the Lord in the Face of that Infant. And this salvation is “for a light to the Gentiles, and the glory of Israel.” You were meant to see that salvation as well, my dearest. You were meant to be able to be so free and at peace that you can run to confession knowing your Father will NEVER reject you AND to rejoice in your achievements perfectly protected from arrogance and self-righteousness. Every part of our Normal Orthodox Faith has been designed by God to produce that kind of freedom in your heart, in your relationships, and in your home.
P.S. The Heavens’ choir looked down from the vaults of the Heavens, and gazing on the earth, they beheld with amazement the First-born of all creation brought forth as a suckling babe to the Temple by a pure and virginal mother; and with us, they now do sing a hymn for the Forefeast, astonished and full of awe.