14 Sell All You Have - December 2, 2007

Ephesians 6:10 – 17

Luke 18:18 – 27

In yesterday’s Gospel reading, we heard the Savior say to us: “My dear little flock; do not be afraid; for, your Father is well-pleased to give you the Kingdom. Sell your possessions and give mercy [ejlehmosuvnhn; which can also be translated “charity”]. Make for yourselves purses that do not wear out, a heavenly treasure that cannot be stolen or lost [ajnevkleipton]; where thieves do not even come near and where there is no destroying moth; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”[1]  

At a clergy and wives reception for Fr Tom Hopko, who is a guest of the Cathedral this weekend, Fr Hopko made the observation that here in America, no one is persecuting us from the outside for our faith; and yet, we are enslaved to ourselves. In biblical terms, I think we could say that we are enslaved to the lower regions of the belly. Immersed in an indulgent, self-absorbed culture, one must be constantly vigilant lest one become infected by this self-absorption and indulgence oneself. As sated and wealthy as our society is, we see unhappiness, boredom and dissatisfaction all around us. All the more reason for us who have found the true faith and who have received the Heavenly Spirit to stay close to our holy Mother, the Church, to listen to her sweet voice teaching us the ascetic disciplines and commandments of her Lord, Our Savior Jesus Christ, that we may take full advantage of the peace and tranquility which God has granted us in this land and learn how to ascend from our belly into our heart to discover in the bridal chamber of our soul the treasures of heaven that God is well-pleased to give to all those who would sell all that they have, take up their cross and follow him. We are the salt of the earth; our society needs us to keep our saltiness. Our society needs living flesh and blood witnesses to the indescribable destiny for which God created us: that we may receive the Kingdom of Heaven and become partakers of the divine nature, communicants of life eternal.

My dear little flock, the Savior calls out to us: where have you been turning your eyes and ears these last few weeks? With what sights and sounds have you been filling your mind? Do you understand where our Mother the Church is leading us? To the cave of our heart, which is the bridal chamber where the soul gives birth to Christ God. This, I believe, is the theological meaning of the cave of Bethlehem (which means: house of bread; i.e. the Living Bread that comes down from heaven). I think it significant that there was no room in the inn, and that the Virgin gave birth to the Savior in a cave. An inn is man-made; a cave is of nature. The Savior in the voice of his holy Church commands us to sell all that we have that we might discover our life not in the inn, not in the man-made institutions we build up to protect ourselves and behind whose fortifications we can go about accumulating riches of fame and fortune that perish, riches that we cannot take with us to the grave and that cannot save us from death, but that we might discover our life in the cave of our heart, in the poverty of our own human nature stripped of all that is unnatural, where the Savior in the mystery of his Incarnation has clothed himself with the whole of our human substance,[2] and in the mystery of his holy resurrection in the Holy Spirit, deigns to be born in those who, like the Theotokos, love him as the treasure of their heart.

To sell all one’s riches in order to become poor in the Lord is to return to our natural state of utter dependence on God. Indeed, only as we leave the riches of the world behind and begin making our way to the cave of our heart in faith – i.e. in obedience to the commandments of Our Lord – do we come upon the wondrous vision of the Cave: “Eden is opened once again![3] The middle wall of partition of the ancient enmity is now laid low and destroyed by the coming of Christ in the flesh – the very God by whose Word heaven and earth were brought from nothing into being. The flaming sword[4] now gives way before all who approach. And I partake in faith of the life-giving tree in Eden, becoming once again a husbandman of immortal plants.”[5]

This is what the rich young ruler turned away from in this morning’s Gospel when he chose to hang on to his worldly riches and turned around to walk away from the Savior in the poverty of the cave and back into the world in the riches of the inn. Let us hear well what is this true Faith that we have found in the holy Church of Christ, and what is the Heavenly Spirit we have received in the mysteries of the Church that we might begin to hear beneath the grumblings of our belly the voice of our own heart calling out to us from the depths, begging us to turn the other way that we may approach the life-giving Tree of Eden that has been opened up to us again in the great and beautiful mystery of Christmas that is now drawing near to us. It is the Faith of God the Word, the very Word by which heaven and earth were created, the very Word whose Spirit made Adam into a living soul, the Word whom none can comprehend, the Word who is Light unapproachable, who clothes himself with light as with a garment, who in these last days has made himself manifest by clothing himself with the material substance of our flesh to be born of a Virgin.[6] By his self-emptying, he has become poor beyond measure in order to make me who had grown poor, having been stripped in the Garden by my own disobedience of the robe of light and the garment of immortality that God himself had woven for me; in order to make me who had grown poor rich in the Spirit, making all things afresh, making them new once more and leading them back again to their first beauty.[7] This is what it means to sell all your worldly riches in order to become rich in God and to have treasure in heaven. It means to receive Christ God himself in the womb of your soul; to give birth in the cave of your heart in ways past nature to a most precious rose,[8] as the Virgin gave birth to him in the flesh in a manner beyond telling.[9] By his coming, he transfigures the meanness of the cave into the splendors of heaven,[10] rich in the virtues, even the attributes of God himself.[11] To be rich in God means to be enveloped in the joy, the peace and the love of God himself. The Virgin Theotokos wraps the Lord in swaddling clothes as a symbol of embracing him in her motherly love, even as she calls out to him: “How shall I wrap thee in swaddling clothes, who dost wrap the whole earth in clouds?” – let us call these clouds with which God enwraps the earth the clouds of his own divine love,[12] for it is out of his compassion for us that he has clothed himself in our humanity.[13] “What manner of name shall I find to call thee,” the Virgin calls out to her newborn child: “O Lord whom none can name?” For how do you name love? Love is infinite; it can be described but it cannot be defined. It can be experienced but it cannot be contained – or rather, it cannot be contained by the mind. It can be contained only in the human heart; for it is in the human heart that we transcend our mind and discover the opening through which our human nature – body, soul and mind – opens infinitely onto the incomprehensible God.

But now, let us not leave the divine vision that lies behind the Lord’s call to the rich young ruler to sell all that he has and follow him without showing how gracious is the Lord in what he commands of us. He does not command us beyond our strength; and his commands presuppose the exercise of common sense. I would take you to the readings from I Timothy that we have been assigned this last week. Here, we find St Paul giving Timothy pastoral instruction on how his parishioners who are living in the world should manage their resources in a godly manner.

“If anyone does not provide for his own,” he writes, “and especially for those of his own household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever.”[14] In other words, it is no sin to provide for our own needs and the needs of our family. Indeed, providing for the needs of those who depend on us is one way we show love for the neighbor. At the same time, the Gospel guides us in understanding what our needs are: “We have brought nothing into the world; so we cannot take anything out of it either,” St Paul writes. “If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many a pang. Those who are rich in this present world, let them not be conceited or fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Do good, be rich in good works, be generous and ready to share, and so store up for yourselves the treasure of a good foundation for the life to come, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.”[15]

My dear little flock, says the Lord to us this morning: “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and everything else shall be added unto you. Set your heart on the treasure that is from heaven – the treasure that is Christ himself,” and with the eyes of your mind on Christ, let us go in spirit to Bethlehem to look upon the Virgin as she hastens to the cave to give birth to our God, the Lord of all.” Amen.

[1] Lk 12:32-34

[2] FM 199

[3] FM 201

[4] Gn 3:24

[5] FM 207

[6] FM 206

[7] FM 212

[8] FM 218

[9] FM 215

[10] FM 211

[11] FM 213

[12] FM 216

[13] FM 199

[14] I Tim 5:8

[15] I Tim 6:7-19