17 - Rich Young Ruler, Jan 18, 2015

I Tim 1:15-17

Luke 18:18-27

The rich young man makes a good beginning. He comes to the LORD, as he should, to ask the most important question of one’s life. To ask, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” acknowledges that one does not have eternal life. Not to have eternal life means that one will die, and that, when one dies, one will not be alive.

Now, Holy Scripture teaches us that “righteousness does not die” (Wisd Sol 1:15). So, asking how do I inherit eternal life is to ask how do I become righteous. And, that implies, does it not, that my heart in some real way is dead because it is unrighteous or unclean? (For, the heart, says Jeremiah, is the man (Jer 17:5 LXX.)

St Paul says, “You were dead in your sins and trespasses. You walked in them.” I.e., you were walking in the darkness of death. You were walking in the darkness of death when, he says: “you were following the course of this world in accordance with the ruler of the spiritual power of the air that is active even now in the sons of disobedience” (Eph 2:2) – i.e. when you were obedient to the devil, for he is the ruler of the spiritual power of the air.

This worldly spirit engenders indifference to God. It renders one blind, deaf and dumb to the things of God. It leaves the heart cold. All these are qualities of a corpse, are they not? And, in the coldness of the heart, spiritual arrogance and conceit set in, generating the decaying stench of anger, rebellion and resentment against God, even hatred of God to the point that one actually can become consciously and willfully active against the commandments of God.

Death in biblical terms, then, does not mean cessation of existence or that we cease to “live” as the world understands it; it means to be unclean in my heart and bereft of God because of my obedience to the ruler of this age, which means that I am disobedient to the will of God.

Being dead in biblical terms refers to the state of the heart. It manifests its own symptoms and operates in its victims by its own cunning even as its victims are confused and darkened. I believe we taste even now the death in which our souls “live” in the boredom, the restlessness, the anxiety, irritability, fear, moodiness, worry, loneliness, depression, despair that lie heavy on our soul, and in the many self-serving, self-justifying, isolating and alienating behavioral complexes of self-pity and entitlement they produce. The sickening odor of death hangs heavy on all of these. They are the fruits of our disobedience.

What must I do to inherit eternal life now becomes: how do I escape from this foul odor of death that lives in me? How can it happen that there is created in me a clean heart and a right spirit renewed within me? As I said, this rich young man was making a good beginning in coming to the LORD. What about us? Do we even ask the question? Where do we go to escape our loneliness, our boredom, our restlessness, the sickening odors of this death we live in? Anger, self-pity, fantasy, video games, movies, pornography, drugs, sexual license, masturbation, sports, travel, a new wardrobe, technological gadgets, money, career, or, as it seems this rich young man was doing, in self-righteous religiosity(!)?

These, beloved faithful, are the riches of the world. They are the “unrighteous mammon” we hear tell of in Holy Scripture. That means they are “riches that have no life in them.” For, they are of the world and the world is passing away. When they become our “life”, we fall into the terrible irony of seeking to escape the terrors of the death that we live in by taking refuge in what is dead. We seek to escape our loneliness by taking refuge in what makes us more lonely. We seek to escape our emptiness by taking refuge in what makes us emptier.

So, let’s this morning lay aside every excuse. Let’s stop the noisy inner activity of trying to justify ourselves before God and strive to stand in stillness and begin the true activity of listening to the voice of God as He speaks to us this morning in His words to the rich man.

If you want to inherit eternal life, He says to the rich man, yet one thing dost thou lack. If we are dead in our sins and trespasses, what would that one thing be but a clean heart that is righteous because it lives in God? And so, we are taught in the Church to pray to God the prayer of David: that He would create in us a clean heart; that He would put in us a new and right spirit.

“Go, sell all that you have and give it to the poor,” He says; “and you will have treasure in heaven.” To sell all that you have is the same action as repentance. Sell all that you have, turn away from your worldly riches, renounce the arrogant entitlement and self-pity of disobedience, the wisdom of your own opinions, even the wisdom of human opinion, the wisdom and the ways of the world. These are the riches of death. Set your face to the East and give your heart over to the poor – to Christ, for He is the poor man who cried out. (Psa 34:6) Take refuge in the “riches” of spiritual poverty: humility and the fear of God. These are of the treasury of heaven. They deposit in the soul the seed of reverence, hope and even confidence, and they open the Holy “Vaults” of the heart to reveal Christ in you, the hope of glory.

“And, follow Me,” He says to the rich man. “Seek ye first the Kingdom of Heaven and its righteousness” (Mt 6:33), i.e., its eternal life, says the LORD somewhere (Mt 6:33). “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you,” He says in another place (Lk 17:21) To follow Christ, then, is to follow Him into the tomb of our heart; for He is the “Word of God, living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword that pierces (by the sword of His Cross) to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerns the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb 4:12) Christ alone is the Living Word of God who can penetrate into the inmost chamber of our secret heart and cleanse it, make it righteous, raise it to life. This, I would say, piercing into the heart and cleansing it, this is the mark of Orthodoxy – and only Christ can do it.

With the face of your heart set to the East, with your lips confessing the intention of your heart —to unite yourself to Christ – let Holy Church lead you onto the path that leads into the tomb of your heart, and let her show you how to walk that path.  Unite yourself to Christ in the likeness of His death. Deny yourself, lay aside the wisdom of your own opinions and listen, listen, listen for the voice of God “crying in the wilderness”, calling to you from the tomb of your heart!” Put aside egotism, self-justification, self-pity, all sense of entitlement, all pompous self-righteousness. Sell it all! Renounce it! Spit on it! And, ask the LORD to teach you the way of repentance and pursue humility and fear of God. Sell all that you have and are! And, stand naked, with attention, in your heart before God. Take up the cross of the Church’s ascetic disciplines – the flowers that grow from the wood of His Cross: prayer, fasting, confession, study of sacred Scripture, the teachings of the holy fathers, deeds of mercy – and begin to put to death what is earthly in you, following in obedience His holy commandments, and you will have treasure in heaven, heavenly treasure in your heart! For, the power of Christ’s Cross becomes active in us when we take it up; it becomes incarnate, embodied in us as we take up the Church’s ascetic disciplines. This is the joy of the Cross! And, by His cross, the LORD leads us into the tomb of our heart and we are buried with Him in the likeness of His death.

What happens there? You know! You have tasted it on Pascha and at every Holy Eucharist! Death is put to death. Unclean hearts are created clean. The tomb of the heart becomes a bridal chamber. The poor in spirit inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, for they have become heirs of eternal life; for, it is no longer we who live but Christ, the Treasure of Heaven, the Pearl of great price, who lives in us.

In Christ’s Holy Church this is not a religious theory. It is known as the really real in the experience of the heart; for in the mystery of faith, we see it with our eyes, we hear it with our ears, we handle it with our hands. We experience it in the symptoms that begin to manifest themselves in us and that we begin to “feel”: they are the symptoms of the new creation, the symptoms of thanksgiving, of unconquerable joy and peace in love for God, love for the neighbor, even love for the enemy.

In the words of Our Savior this morning – sell all that you have and follow Me – Christ calls us to the royal gates of Great Lent. The tips of their spires are beginning to show just at the level of the horizon. They are holy doors that open onto the royal path that is the King Himself who would lead us into the tomb of our heart to transform it into the bridal chamber of His Holy Resurrection!

Brothers and sisters, shall we together begin now to prepare for that blessed sacred work of taking up our cross. Shall we begin to make preparations now to sell all that we have and give ourselves over to the poverty of our LORD Jesus Christ that we may together inherit the heavenly treasure of eternal life in His Kingdom? Amen!