06 - Heavenly Riches, October 12, 2008

2 Corinthians 6:16-7:1

Luke 7:11-16

I think what we’ve seen in the world’s financial markets these last few days is in fact confirmation of the Gospel’s Good News. The Good News of the Gospel is not that you’ll become materially wealthy if you take up your cross to follow Christ. There is no “Gospel of Success” in the bible because in taking up your cross, you are crucifying greed and the love of money in order that you may receive the riches of God. The Good News is that the riches of God, precisely because they are not material riches but spiritual, are not subject to the fluctuations of the world’s financial markets.

If we find ourselves placing our hope in the Gospel of Success, or in a Gospel of money, we need to hear the Lord who called out to us from the daily Scripture readings this last week: “Woe to you who are wealthy now, for you have received your consolation!” That consolation is today a bear market; and what consolation does a bear market seek? Is it not a bull market? But, a bull market can quickly fall to a bear market at the drop of a dime. Those who desire riches that do not rise and fall with the nervous mood of the world’s financial markets may find them – in the Gospel of Christ.

The world’s financial markets are markets of greed centered not on love of God but on the love of mammon. Their purpose is wealth and more wealth for the investors. Even we who consider ourselves Christians may discover in the events of the days to come how much our love in fact is for God and how much our love is for mammon or money. In one of the Gospel readings assigned this last week, the Lord called out to us: “Why do you say to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and you don’t do what I tell you to do?” Do you busy yourself with the speck in your brother’s eye and ignore the beam in your own? Do you love only those who love you? Do you do good only to those who do good to you? Do you give only to those who will give back to you, with interest, so you can have more? Do you bless them who curse you? Are you filled with joy and laughter only when you are sated with the food and drink and entertainments of the world? Do you measure yourself against the good opinion of those in the world? Woe to you who are full now, for you shall hunger! Woe to you who laugh now for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men shall speak well of you, for so did their fathers to the false prophets! But I say to you who have ears to hear: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer to him the other also. Him who takes away your coat, forbid him not also to take your tunic. Give to everyone who asks of you, and of him who takes away your goods ask them not again. And as you would that others do to you, do ye also to them.

Where is the Gospel of Success here? This is no Gospel of Success. It is a Gospel of love that leads those who love Christ to suffer with Christ on his Cross on behalf of all and for all, to live not for themselves but for the neighbor, the orphan, the widow, the stranger, those in need and distress, to live even for the sinners of whom I am first.

The Lord’s Gospel is a Gospel of suffering, but of suffering characterized by the love and joy and inner peace that only God can give. Its foundation is not love for the riches of the world but love for the riches of Christ. These are the riches of God that are given to us in our Holy Baptism and in our Chrismation, when we are clothed in the Robe of Light. That Robe of Light is the gift of the Holy Spirit who clothes you with the uncreated Light of God, that heavenly Light in which is the uncreated life of God that gives light and life to all those who come into the world of God’s Heavenly Kingdom. It is the Light of the same Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead and who destroyed the power of death and him who holds the power of death. And it is this same Holy Spirit that you are granted to eat and drink in the Church’s Holy Eucharist, making you by the grace of God, a partaker of the divine nature itself![1] For, what does the Church have us sing after receiving the precious gifts of Holy Eucharist? “We have found the true Faith; we have received the Heavenly Spirit.”

Think about this: in receiving Holy Eucharist, you are eating and drinking the same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. You are eating and drinking the Resurrection of Christ. The Life of God is entering into your body, into your members, your veins, your heart. What is touching you in your soul and body is the very same Lord who touched the widow’s deceased son in this morning’s Gospel and raised him from the dead. You are eating and drinking the same power of Christ that has power over life and death. You are eating and drinking the fire of God that does not consume you but instead consumes your transgressions and your impurities. It consumes death, it gives divine life to you and it enlightens those in darkness with the Light of Divine Wisdom. It is God himself who is coming to you to dwell in you, to walk with you, to be God and King, Lord and Master to all who in the fear of God, with faith and love, draw near to the Word of God, his Son, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and who submit themselves to his holy commandments. Christ’s commandments are themselves a light upon the earth, the light of God on the earth so that when we keep them and honor them, we are walking in the light as he is in the light. This is not the light of the world that we’re walking in. It is the light with which God clothes himself as with a garment. It is the light of Christ’s Holy Resurrection, the light that has flooded the darkness of hell and that has destroyed death by its brilliance, and that illumines that better and changeless path that ascends to God on which we can pass over from this life surrounded on all sides by death as the Israelites were surrounded on all sides by the Red Sea, to the opposite shore of divine life in the Church. This is the path of our baptism stretching before us that takes us through the wilderness of this life and to the banks of the Jordan, the moment of our own physical death, which we discover is the end not of our life in Christ but of our sojourning in the wilderness of this world and the beginning of our eternal rest in the Promised Land of God’s Heavenly Kingdom, our home. To the degree that we in this life love the Lord and place our trust in him and not in princes or in sons of men or in the wealth of the world’s financial markets, to that degree we begin to see even now beyond the grave. We see as in a glass darkly, but we see enough to know that the Resurrection of Christ is the really real; and it is this vision of faith, given to those who walk in the light of Christ’s holy commandments, that is the source of our hope and our strength and courage to remain firmly rooted on the rock that is Christ, so that when the wealth of the world crashes around us, we are unshaken in the Faith of our hope because our hope is not in money but in the spiritual riches of God. In that hope, we do not cease to walk in the way of Christ’s holy commandments. Whether we are wealthy or poor by the standards of the world, we live neither for worldly wealth nor for worldly poverty but for Christ Jesus: attending to the beam in our own eye, praying for those who despitefully use us, blessing those who curse us, doing good to those hate us, commending ourselves and each other and our whole life unto Christ our God on behalf of all and for all. This is the true Gospel of Success. It is not a Gospel of material wealth but of divine wealth, which is not a wealth of greed and self-interest but a wealth of divine love and compassion for the other in the love of Christ our God, our Lord and our Savior.

The Lord Himself promises us that in this world we will suffer trials and tribulations, even persecution and martyrdom. How can we not if we love Christ as our God? If the world hates our Lord, how will it not hate his followers? Therefore, beware when all men are speaking well of you; beware of worldly wealth, worldly position and fortune. These are not signs of God’s favor but of men’s favor; and the men of this world habitually love not the true prophets but the false prophets. Do not seek these things, but seek first the Kingdom of God and his Righteousness, so that you are clothed and fed in this world not by the garments and bread of the world but by the Robe of Light and the daily bread given you by God the Father in his Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ through his Holy Spirit. And the sign that you are being clothed with God and being fed daily by God will be that you are blessing those who curse you, doing good to those hate you, praying for those who despitefully use you, giving yourself to the Poor One, Christ our God who became poor for our sakes, that with him you might suffer the cross on behalf of all and for all.

If our house has been built on the rock of the riches of God, which is the Holy Spirit of the Lord’s Christ, and not in the sand of the riches of the world, we will rejoice even in our sufferings for in Christ, our sufferings will be for the life of the world; it will become the opportunity for us to crucify self-love that we might live this worldly life concretely in the love for the enemy that Christ commands us to show. In this love of God, even if you are poor by the standards of worldly wealth, yet you will be rich in God, for in God, you have eternal life. Even when you suffer, you will rejoice because you will have a treasure in that earthen vessel of yours, your body; the treasure of God himself abiding in you and walking with you, as he promised in his word to the prophets. And even in this world of tribulation and suffering, we will shine in the light of divine joy; and that light itself will become a witness to those in darkness of the Savior who so loved the world that he gave himself to us that all who want them can have the riches of divine life that he wants to give to us. Amen. 

[1] II Peter 1:4