|11 - The Rich Man's Barns, Nov 17, 2013|
We read our lessons from Holy Scripture this morning in the festal setting of the Theotokos’ Entry into the Temple, which we celebrate this Wednesday and Thursday, Nov 20 & 21. In this setting, we compare the barns, built by the rich man in this morning’s parable to store all his earthly riches, to the Theotokos. She is herself the “Living Temple” of God, the “Palace of the King”. Of the rich man in this morning’s parable, it says that he didn’t have room to store all his riches; so he built more barns. Of the Theotokos, the Church sings that her womb was more spacious than the heavens for she held in her womb Christ the Lord in whom are all the riches of heaven.
Unlike the rich man in this morning’s parable who lived wholly for earthly riches, the Theotokos lived wholly for God. She was consecrated to God by her parents even before she was born, and brought by her parents, Sts Joachim and Anna, to the temple at the age of three. She entered the temple dancing with joy. She grew up in the Holy of Holies, devoting herself wholly to God in prayer. St Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonika in the 14th century, was visited on a number of occasions by the Theotokos. I believe it was from her that St Gregory learned how she spent her years in the temple, because he relates this to us with a tone of confidence and in some detail in his sermon (53) on the Entry of the Theotokos. He calls her the first “hesychast”, a Greek word used in the Orthodox Church for one who practices the ascetic discipline of praying without ceasing by descending with the mind into the heart to stand in stillness continually before God, loving Him with all one’s heart, soul, strength and mind. She went more deeply into the soul and learned its secrets more than anyone had ever done.
You are members of the Orthodox Church here at St Herman’s because you love Christ; and, you believe that the Orthodox Faith can unite you to Christ and make you a partaker of the divine nature as you desire to become. In your heart of hearts, I believe you do not want to be like the rich man in this morning’s parable, making your earthly life into a bunch of barns to store your accumulated earthly wealth. I believe you are here because you love the Theotokos and want to know how to build your body and soul into a “living temple” like her in whom God is pleased to dwell. I believe that from this morning’s Scripture lesson, set against the backdrop of the Theotokos’ Entrance into the Temple, we can learn how to go about giving ourselves to the “work” of building our soul and body into a temple for Christ to dwell in, so that we can say with St Paul: “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.”
St Paul tells us that a man is justified not by works of the Law (I believe he has in mind the rite of circumcision, but perhaps also the OT blood offerings of bulls and goats) but, and I choose to translate it somewhat literally, “through the faith that is of Jesus Christ.” I.e., faith is a power whose source is Jesus Christ, “who gave Himself for our sins that He might call us out from this present evil age.” (Gal 1:1-5)
The faith that is of Jesus Christ is the power of Christ’s Holy Resurrection. It is not the suspension of intelligence so as to believe what common sense tells you not to. Faith is a heavenly power that destroys death by the death of Christ, delivers us from evil, and translates us into the eternal life of Christ’s Kingdom of Light.
St Paul goes on to say: “And we have believed in Christ Jesus so that we might be made righteous from the faith of Christ and not from the works of the Law.” We have believed in Christ Jesus. We have given ourselves to the work of our holy Mother, the Theotokos: the work of building our body and soul into a living temple of God. This is the work of descending into our heart by means of prayer and fasting and acts of mercy, with the goal of attaining inner stillness, so that we can lay hold of our eros, our loving desire, as living stones for the building not of an earthly barn to hold earthly riches, but of a holy temple to hold the wealth of heaven, Jesus Christ. Here you see that to believe in Christ Jesus is to live in obedience to His commandments. This shows faith to us as an inner orientation of the heart towards God and not towards greed and self-love. Faith is the work of preparing our souls, our hearts, our minds and our bodies to become living temples that hold all the riches of heaven, Christ Jesus.
But, we are dead in our sins and trespasses, says St Paul. How can we take what is dead, i.e. separated from God, and make it into a living temple of God?
The Church extols the Most Holy Virgin as she who “weds the faithful to the Lord” (Akathist to Theotokos, Ikos 11). Somehow, she unites us to Christ so that we who were dead in our sins and trespasses are made to live in the Holy Resurrection of Christ. How does the Theotokos unite us to Christ?
The Church teaches us that the Lord redeems us from death and corruption by means of the flesh that He received from the pure substance of the Virgin. The precious body and most pure blood of Christ that is given to us in Holy Eucharist comes from…the Theotokos! This is the new humanity of Christ that He fashioned from the union of His divinity with the pure substance of the Virgin that is given to us in Holy Eucharist. That is how the Theotokos weds the faithful to the Lord.
This new humanity of the Lord, taken from the pure substance of the Virgin and united with His divinity, mingles with our dead body and soul to infuse us, in the power of the faith that is of Christ Jesus, with the Living Spirit of Christ’s Holy Resurrection, to make our soul and body into the living raw material, if you will, for building ourselves into living and holy temples of God that are made able to store all the riches of heaven. This is the glorious mystery of the Gospel that was hidden from the ages but is now made manifest in the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It is the mystery of Christ in you! The Resurrection is in you. The Life of the Holy Spirit is in you. The Light of Heaven is in you.
You have been made alive in Christ because the deified flesh that He took from the pure substance of the Virgin in the mystery of His seedless conception in her womb has been given to you in Holy Eucharist. The new humanity of Christ has touched your old humanity; His Holy Spirit has touched your spirit; His deified flesh has touched your flesh, just as He touched the dead daughter of Jairus and the widow’s dead son; and like them, you have been made alive at the touch of His most pure body and precious blood on your tongue in Holy Eucharist. Your own body and blood now, your mind, your soul, all your faculties, all your intelligence, all your feelings are now the living raw material for you to use in fashioning yourself into a holy temple of God.
St Paul says: “If I build up again the things that I tore down, then I am (literally) ‘putting myself together’ – let’s say, I am building myself again – to be a transgressor.” If, having united ourselves to Christ in the likeness of His death in our baptism, we go back into the world and start building barns again, then we are effectively using the new humanity of Christ that was given to us in the sacramental mysteries of His Holy Church to build ourselves into a corpse when we could have built ourselves into a living temple filled with the Glory of God and all the riches of heaven in the glorious mystery of Christmas: God Immanuel, “God With us! Christ is in you!”
Beloved faithful, in our baptismal union with Christ Jesus, we have received the Theotokos as our Holy Mother. Let’s look to her as our model for how to build ourselves into a living temple of God. Let’s become children of prayer. In the love of Christ, let’s encourage each other to deny ourselves, by all of us taking up the ascetic discipline of the Nativity Fast as our Cross, each one of us according to our strength and our circumstances. Let’s center our life not on any barns but on the living temple of God, the Church which is the Body of Christ taken from the pure substance of the Virgin, our most Blessed Mother in Christ. And with the raw material of Christ’s own new humanity that has been given to us, let us take up the work of faith to build ourselves into a living temple of God so that it is no longer we who live but Christ who lives in us. Amen.