10 - Then How Can I Be Saved? Dec 2, 2018

Ephesians 6:10-17

Luke 18:18-27

 “Good teacher,” is how the rich young ruler addresses the LORD in this morning’s Gospel, and the LORD calls him on it. His reply to the rich young ruler reminds me of a hand painted sign my “brothers” (Fr Tim and Fr Rick) and I came upon as we were hiking the wooded hills of Mt Athos to different monasteries, back in late May of 2011. The sign read, in part and in effect: “You call me ‘shepherd’, but you won’t follow Me. You call me the Teacher, but you won’t listen to Me. You call me LORD, but you won’t do what I tell you to do.”

“Good Teacher,” says the rich young ruler, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” But, “The LORD is the portion of my inheritance and of my cup,” says the Psalmist. (Ps 15:5 LXX) And, He says to Mary and Martha: “I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in Me, though He die, yet shall he live.” (Jn 11:25)

The “eternal life” the young man hoped to “inherit,” then, was the Good Teacher standing before him. But, this same teacher is before us this morning. He is “in our midst”.

I may ask: how is He in our midst? You might say, He is in our midst in His death on the Cross, from within the mystery of His Empty Tomb, the Font of our resurrection. You are right. But, do you see? This is to say that we cannot come to Him this morning or at any other time except in the mystery of His Cross, His Empty Tomb.

Can you also see that, in the mystery of His Empty Tomb, we are in the fearful mystery of our death. And, this is to say, is it not, that we cannot draw near even to call Him “Good Teacher” except by descending into our heart and coming face to face with the fact of our death, where we come into view of our soul’s eternal fate?

It takes intensive inner work to descend into the dark stillness deep in one’s heart, to come away from the masks we live behind up here on the surface. How, then, can I inherit eternal life if eternal life is Christ and I am not leaving my earthly riches behind to descend beneath them into the place of my death, my heart, the gate that opens onto my eternal fate in the deep that is beyond all things, where Christ is?

In the (uncreated) grace of the Holy Spirit that overshadows us here in the Church, the Body of Christ, let us for a moment lay aside all worldly cares and make our way to stand mystically in the secret chamber of our heart to look out, under the watchful guidance of the Church, into the measureless expanse of eternity that stretches before us in the unseen deeps of our heart.

If you are listening to the Church, you will feel yourself standing before the LORD Jesus who is coming to us in the Name of the LORD; I mean, who is lifted up before us on the Cross, the shape of the Hebrew letter, tau, that was shorthand for the Name of God. Do you see? “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the LORD” is a prophecy of His death on the Cross, of His coming to us at “Midnight”, the moment of our death, at that point deep in our heart where (and when) we open onto eternity. Do you see? “He comes in the Name of the LORD” means that He has made Himself to become one with me not in my worldly riches but in my final end, my death, when I become absolutely naked and poor.

Dear faithful, this is the LORD’s answer to the rich young ruler; I mean, this is the WORD, the wordless WORD beneath the words of His answer to the rich young ruler. You can see: this WORD is not a “word” as we think of a word. It is the act of the WORD of God becoming one with me, sharing in my flesh and blood in order to ascend the Cross and to become one with me in my death, so that not in my worldly riches but in the impoverishment of my death do I find myself face to face with Him who is the Resurrection and the Life, waiting for me to receive Him into the poverty of my death that He might make me rich in the eternal life that is He Himself.  

But I could see all this even now if I would bother to come away from the emptiness of my worldly riches and descend into the dark stillness of my heart, denying myself in order to lose my life for His sake; i.e., that I might be found not in my tomb but in His Empty Tomb, and so in the Font of eternal life, my inheritance in Christ.

What do I see in this wordless WORD of the Church. It is the silent, visual expression, the fulfillment of that sacred prophetic WORD: “Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the LORD!” It is the embodied expression of the extreme humility of God, giving Himself to me in the inexpressible WORD of Himself, who is Himself Love, who is in the Love that He is, the Resurrection and the Life.

Here in this sacred place, are we able to say glibly, with a kind of self-righteous smugness, “Good Teacher”? Is it not rather that we find ourselves unable to say anything? I dare say that our word will be a longing too deep for words: a longing for the divine, eternal riches of God’s love, and a visceral disgust for the riches of the world.

But here may be where we look at ourselves with alarm; for, we may see how much we live in our body, not our heart, and in our body, we love our worldly riches even as we find in our souls that we want to love only the LORD Jesus Christ, Our Heavenly Bridegroom. We may see how we long to be shed of our worldly riches even as we see how we are enslaved to them. But, then, will we not say with the disciples: “Who, then, can be saved!” “How can I be saved? I am so full of myself, not God! I am so full of the riches of death, not the poverty of eternal life!”

Now, what if we could acknowledge this in the spirit of repentance? Would we not be truly confessing our sins? To confess is “to say the same word” (homologeo) about ourselves that the LORD says: “With you, to be saved is impossible!”

But, what does the LORD say through His evangelist John the Theologian? “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness”—to cleanse us of all our earthly riches that we may inherit the eternal life that is Christ Himself!

Now, we read on Thursday this last week from St Paul’s letter to Timothy, St Paul speaking to us as though we are the rich young ruler. “As for you who are rich in the world, do not be haughty. Do not set your hopes on uncertain riches but on God who richly furnishes us with everything to enjoy. Do good, be rich in good deeds, be liberal and generous, and so lay up for yourselves a good foundation for the age to come, so that you may take hold of the life which truly is life,” i.e. Christ Himself. (I Tim 6:17-21)

What if, instead of turning away, the rich young ruler—we—were to stay and confess: “LORD, I can’t do that! It’s beyond me!” I believe the LORD is speaking to us in His word to His disciples: “Of course you can’t! For you, this is impossible!” But, drawing now from St John (I Jn 1:5ff), He says to us: in confessing this sin, you are forgiven. Now, take up your cross and go home.” That is, make your way to the inheritance of eternal life, to Me in your heart, the place of your death, the gate of your eternal home, by starting your repentance right here where you are, and by doing what you can do. Don’t do nothing, and don’t fret over what you can’t do. Don’t turn and walk away. Start here and now, right where you are, striving for humility. Begin here and now to set your hope on God, not on your riches. Don’t worry for now about selling all you have. (That will come soon enough, when you die!) Start now to get yourself ready for when you will be forced to sell all you have by doing good. Be liberal and generous in that measure of generosity that you can find in yourself. Do that much, and the talent of the Holy Spirit that I have given you in your cleansing will grow; it will gather interest, because the principal of that Talent that you are working is Me, and the interest that will accrue from that Talent will be…well, it will be Me. It will be the “Fruit of the Spirit”. In this way, focusing on where you are and not on where you aren’t, focusing on what you can do and not on what you can’t, you will be putting on the armor of God, even if it is but the armor of His little finger, and wrestling with the rulers of this age. But the LORD can overthrow Satan even with His little finger! Therefore, do at least that much. Start by putting on the armor of the LORD’s little finger! Amen!