03 - Sunday After Exaltation, Sept 20, 2015 (with audio)

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Galatians 2:16-20

II Corinthians 6:1-10

Mark 8:34-9:1

Matthew 25:14-30

We are justified by faith, not by works of the law, says St Paul. To be justified has primarily a forensic meaning in the west: to be forgiven of sins against the Law of God. But a deeper biblical image is primary in Orthodox spirituality: the garden. In forensic imagery, the primary note is innocence or guilt. To be justified is to be pardoned of one’s guilt so that one is not sent to hell, the cosmic jail. But, in the image of the garden, the primary note is health, or life and death. In these terms, to be justified is to be purified and healed of sin as from a deadly disease so that one is made alive and well.

In the deeper biblical image of the garden, to sin is to turn away from God and to die like a plant pulled out of the soil and left to wither and die. We experience the sickening effects of sin in the maladies and disorders of our bodies and our souls, in the “yucky” feeling we have inside from broken relationships, in the guilt and shame we feel when our conscience condemns us. From all of these, we can feel sick inside; and that sick feeling can be so powerful that it makes us feel physically sick as well.

Where do sin and death originate? They originate in Eve. But, note well that Eve here is not “woman”. She is the soul. For, the soul receives the word either of God or of the serpent as the woman receives the seed of the man. The woman gives birth to the man’s seed and makes it “incarnate” as a child. So also the soul gives birth to the seed either of God or of the serpent and makes it “incarnate” in a concrete word or deed.

Outside the Garden, Eve brings forth Cain and Abel, the murderer and the murdered. In them, we see the sickening, even fatal consequences of sin on both our inner and outer life.

Inwardly, it gives birth to a spiritual schizophrenia. The human psyche is fragmented into conflicting strands to produce every variety of personality disorders that afflict everyone else (but me). But, outwardly and inwardly, the final “incarnation” of sin is death, the ultimate “sickness”. Sin enslaves us to a cycle – the darkened religious mind of the world calls it the “circle of life” – but I would call it the cycle of death because the soul can never get out of the grave. Reincarnation is a lie of the serpent that only the mind mesmerized by the serpent’s venom is stupid enough to believe. The mind caught in the coils of the serpent thinks the soul is being re-incarnated to life – but it’s the same life the soul left before, and as many times as she is re-born, that many times the soul returns to the grave. Even the final goal of reincarnation is not life but death as she is dissolved into the One. Indeed, in the end, you are an illusion. You don’t really exist. Love, then, is an illusion, it doesn’t really exist because there is in the end only the One.

What makes sin, this sickness unto death, so insidious is that it has made us sick through and through. Even our will has been corrupted so that we want to do what we don’t want to do. (Rom 7:18-19) In our corrupted desire, we chase after the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life even though we know that they will destroy us and our loved ones. (cf. I Jn 2:16-17)

Do you begin to feel the pathos in the cry of St Paul: “Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Rm 7:24) Dead in our sins and trespasses, (Eph 2:1) all our works are “dead works.” (Heb 9:14) Holy Scripture tells us in several places what these “dead works” are: they include fornication, adultery, homosexuality, masturbation, impurity, passion, evil desire, covetousness, anger, wrath, malice, slander, foul talk, lying, stealing, and so forth and so on.

You can see for yourselves that these are “dead works”. Even if we should be successful in keeping them hidden as impure thoughts, not acting them out, they still become incarnate in us in the way they cripple if they don’t destroy our capacity for intimacy and our ability to relate to another person in a healthy way, with love and faithfulness, joy and kindness.

Now do we begin to understand why those who are being saved so love the Most Blessed Theotokos? She received the Word of God and brought forth the Holy One of Israel. She made incarnate the Son of God. In His love for mankind, He emptied Himself and clothed Himself in this “body of death,” and when in the body, He was destroyed on the Cross, He put to death this body of death and all its dead works.

This “body of death” is the fruit of Adam’s disobedience. The death of Christ was the fruit of His obedience. By his disobedience, Adam was separated from God and died. Christ was “forsaken” by the Father because of His obedience and so He destroyed death. He destroyed the death of Adam’s disobedience by the obedience of His death.

The wall of enmity that separated us from God in our deep heart, at the “border”, if you will, of our being, was utterly demolished. The stone that was rolled away from the LORD’s tomb was, I think, but the outward manifestation of the salvation the LORD was working deep in the midst of the earth, i.e. in the heart of the human soul. There, He was opening the door at the “back” of the heart, i.e., in its deepest chamber. He was splitting the curtain from top to bottom so that the Holy of Holies, the human heart, was opened again onto heaven. The living waters of Christ’s Holy Spirit poured in, filling the soul that was dead in her sins and trespasses with the Glory He had with the Father in the beginning. (cf. Eze 47:8-9). This body of death was cleansed of its dead works all the way down into the conscience, (Heb 9:14) down to the division of soul and spirit and into the intentions, the will, of the heart. (Heb 4:12) This body of death was justified or rather, made alive in Christ.

And now the way is open for us to be made alive by faith; i.e., by turning in our inner man away from the serpent to receive into our souls, our minds and our bodies the word of the LORD calling to us from the Kingdom of Heaven that is within you, from within your deep heart. We walk this way leading to the Kingdom of Heaven by taking up our cross for the sake of Christ; i.e., by working to put to death our “dead works” that our body of death may be united to the Body of Christ in His death, the death of our death.

We take up the ascetic disciplines of the Church as our cross because they are the Cross. The life-creating power of Christ’s Cross is in them. When we do them, we carry in our body the death of Jesus (II Cor 4:10), and so we are justified because we are living in the death of Christ and His Resurrection is living in us. Amen.