In our nihilistic age, with all the turmoil of our society from pandemics to politics to violence in the streets, we moderns seem to be having a crisis of purpose, a crisis of meaning! I was having a conversation the other day with a dear, educated man, who also happens to be an ordained clergyman in one of the many Protestant denominations in our fair city. The conversation turned, as it often does, to the “struggle” in today’s religious landscape between the “conservatives” and the “liberals.” My friend fancied himself quite “liberal” in his theology and his emphasis on social services as the primary sign he was a Christian. When I asked him about the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, he looked at me quite confused as to the connection.
The truth is our modern society is gripped, just as our current American understanding of the Faith is gripped, by a loss of “purpose.” In that confusion, we grasp at any and all other “purposes” that might fill the vacuum. And in that vacuum appears all the “isms” we desperate humans run to satisfy that gaping hole in our soul, whether it is religious, political, or sociological. Just like our parents in Eden, we love the shortcut, the easy answer, the simple explanation, and we defend those “isms” with all the rhetoric we can muster. And, for all our posturing, where is the peace? For all our defense of this or that ideology, where is the joy? In my own heart, I have had to go to my spiritual father on many occasions and repent for falling all too easily into the spiritual trap of abandoning my peace to this or that contemporary event that I allowed to disturb my peace and joy as if this present age was beyond the love and care of my Lord.
Look at our Gospel Lesson today in John 12:19-36:
At that time, the Pharisees took counsel against Jesus and said to one another, “You see that you can do nothing; look, the world has gone after him.”
“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ No, for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing by heard it and said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out; and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” He said this to show by what death he was to die. The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Christ remains for ever. How can you say that the Son of man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of man?” Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, lest the darkness overtake you; he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”
Here, our Lord is “troubled” by the events surrounding Him at this moment of Truth before He gives His life “for the life of the world.” But look what steels Him for the task before Him! PURPOSE. Shall He avoid the challenge, the “trouble,” the reason He came? No, because His PURPOSE is the foundation of His life, and that “purpose” glorifies the Lord. In fact, His whole life has been moving Him to this moment and He knew this moment was coming. He saw it. He planned it. All for the PURPOSE He willingly embraces for you.
It is precisely this purpose that gives us hope and stamina to stand in the face of a world where the ground is shifting under our feet. When we are tempted to try to avoid trouble or try to “correct” the world by ourselves, we remember that it is when He is “lifted up” from the earth that He will draw all to Himself. When your soul is “troubled” it is absolutely necessary to examine the foundation of your soul and make sure it isn’t built on the shifting sands of this or that temporary philosophy that doesn’t provide a vital purpose for everything in your life! Doing the work of repentance (changing your mind, the way you think) so that your purpose aligns with His purpose sets you free to stand in the face of trouble or chaos or opposition with love and peace. It all flows from the willingness to live in the reality of His purpose that your soul, troubled for a moment, finds peace no matter what is happening around you!
As we celebrate the afterfeast of the Nativity of the Theotokos, we here in America remember the people killed in the attack in New York on 9/11. The chaos and turmoil that followed that moment was felt by the whole world. In a barbaric display of hatred and evil, over 3000 people’s lives were destroyed and a nation was roused to temptations of anger, revenge, and even the questioning of our way of life. That moment of trouble and turmoil has consequences even to this very day. Frankly, it should. An event of this magnitude is always going to have ripples through generations. But human history shows many such moments when actions and reactions had lingering consequences. For centuries the followers of Christ have been in societies where turmoil and historic events have washed over the societies where we lived. At each tipping point of history, the Christian is called to display the eternal perspective of one who has been changed and transformed by God’s grace into the Light that leads whole nations away from the precipice of destruction and evil. That can only happen when the Christ-followers see beyond the moment and into the ultimate purpose of the Lord. As we remember this day, and pray for the people who were killed, let us also call out to Jesus to renew our faith in His purpose so that we will be the brightest light for the land that we love!
Today, are you gripped with the easy answers of this or that “ism?” Do you find your soul “troubled” by the society around you? When that happens, flee to your (His) purpose and draw strength to stay faithful to the foundational Truth that is the timeless Faith. This timeless wisdom IS being Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. Your birth, O Theotokos, brought joy to the whole world, for from you dawned the sun of righteousness, Christ our God. Freeing us from the curse, He gave us His blessings. Abolishing death, He granted us eternal life.