43 Second Sunday After Pentecost - June 29, 2008

Romans 2:10-16

Matthew 4:18-23

Today we commemorate the saints of  North America; but it is also the feast of the holy apostles Peter and Paul. Simon was given the name Peter, Rock (Petros), by the Savior because he led the apostles in the confession of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God.[1] This confession was revealed to him, so the Savior said, by God the Father. It was not spun from his religious imagination. This confession is of the Wisdom of God given to those who receive it. It is the rock on which the Church stands. For this confession, the martyrs gave their life. The martyrdom of the saints is different from the martyrdom of a terrorist. The martyr gives his life out of love for Christ and for his persecutors. The terrorist hates his enemies and destroys his own life and the lives of others as well for the sake of a religious ideology. This willingness of the martyrs to die for the Church’s confession tells us that there is something about it that is of such beauty that it claims the love of those who receive it such that they would rather give up their earthly life than betray this confession.

According to this confession, Jesus is the Word of God, the Divine Logos who was in the beginning and through whom all things were created.[2] Word of God, Divine Logos: Jesus is the Meaning of God, the Wisdom and Beauty of God, full of grace and truth. According to the Church’s confession, this Word of God, this beauty and wisdom and meaning of God full of grace and truth became flesh and dwelt among us. To describe the Savior’s dwelling among us, St John the Evangelist says literally in the Greek that he “pitched his tent” among us.[3] 

Now, St Paul was a tent-maker. When his epistles are read in the Divine Liturgy, the words of his doctrine make a tent in our minds in which the Word of God, the Gospel, can become flesh, incarnate, in us.

When we say “Christ is in our midst,” we mean not only that Christ is present among us in an invisible, spiritual way. He is also present among us in a concrete way. He becomes incarnate among us so that we can hear him in the Church’s preaching of the Word of the Gospel and in the words of her doctrine, her confession of faith. He becomes incarnate among us so that we can see his likeness in the Church’s liturgical and sacramental worship. And, as the faithful incorporate the words of the Church’s confession of faith into their lives through the hearing of faith and the partaking of the divine nature in Holy Eucharist, the Word of God, Jesus Christ, becomes incarnate in them. The faithful become saints, martyrs, witnesses of Christ; for he takes up his abode in them to dwell among us. In the saint, the Word of God pitches his tent in this world as in a dark and gloomy field made light by the uncreated Light of Christ’s Holy Spirit emanating from the life of the saint, so that we may behold Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the beauty of God, the wisdom and meaning of God, full of grace and truth in the life of the saint. Would to God that we could attain this high calling that is ours in Christ Jesus and become the dwelling place of God as saints, martyrs, witnesses of divine beauty, grace and truth!

The Church has had us reading this last week from St Paul’s epistle to the Romans. In this letter, St Paul shows how all have sinned because all have sought after their own way and not the way of God. When I seek after my own way, I spurn divine beauty, grace and truth for the sake of the lusts and desires of the flesh. The Light of God gives way to the lusts and desires that I have chosen. My soul becomes vaguely unsettled, uneasy. Anxiety and fear take root in me, and I become thirsty for meaning and beauty. Looking for security and consolation, I take refuge in a worldly society that is a cacophony of individual voices each one crying out in its loneliness to ears that are deaf except to the inner sound of their own babbling that make me lonelier still inside, even when I am in a crowd. A fear of perishing alone in the darkness gnaws at my soul just under the surface of awareness. I am filled with envy, anger, hatred. I become gossipy, disrespectful, cynical, contemptuous; and I become an easy prey to the seductions of sexual immorality of every kind because I cannot see the vanity, the emptiness of its promise to give me the beauty and the grace and the truth that my soul so profoundly desires by its very nature – since it was brought into being in Christ and stamped in the Image and Likeness of Him who is the Beauty, the Grace and the Truth of God. This life of sin looks good, but it is filled with evil. It is outwardly glamorous but inwardly miserable. It creates an artificial light enveloped in darkness. Its babbling cacophony of many, many voices renders me deaf to the sweet voice of the Divine Word of God, Jesus Christ.

So that we  would not live forever in this miserable life of sin, God cast us out of the Garden to keep us from eating the fruit of the Tree of Life, his own body and blood, lest we should live forever in this life of darkness, at enmity with God. He withdrew his Holy Spirit from us and he returned us to the dust of the ground. He did this not to destroy us but that he might recreate us. And this he did when the Son of God became flesh and pitched his tent to dwell among us, in order to call us out of darkness and into the marvelous light of the Father’s Heavenly Kingdom. He became one with us even to the point of sharing in our death, so that he could call to us even in the dark nothingness, the terrible loneliness of hell. He suffered the Cross voluntarily out of his love for us so that he might even share in our condemnation, taking it all upon himself, that we might be reconciled to God since he was himself without sin as both God and man. And having reconciled us to God through his voluntary death on the Cross in obedience to the Father, he was raised from the dead that we might walk with Him in the newness of the life of his Holy Spirit.

To be a Christian is to confess this doctrine of Christ as the Son of God, which Sts Peter and Paul received from the Father. To confess Christ as the Son of God is to confess that we have sinned. It is to repent, to become aware of the fact that we are thirsty and, in our repentance, to come to the living waters that Jesus wants to give to everyone who is thirsty. These are the waters of his Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, the Treasury of Blessings, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth. To come to Jesus Christ in order to drink of the Living Waters that he gives means to unite ourselves to his death. That means letting go the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, drinking no more from the waters of the pride of life, and seeking after the beauty and meaning of God in Jesus Christ, living for the grace and truth that we can see and hear in the words of the Church’s confession of faith, in the beauty of her worship, and in the lives of her saints.

Beloved faithful: you died in Christ when you were immersed in the waters of your baptism. And when you were raised out of the waters, you were united to Christ in the likeness of his holy resurrection. You were raised up into the life of God’s Holy Spirit, the very Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. You were clothed in the Robe of Light and you were brought to the ambon as to the Tree of Life in the Garden, and there you were given to partake of the divine nature by becoming communicants of life eternal in the precious body and most pure blood of Christ’s Holy Eucharist. You received the Heavenly Spirit as your food and drink. You received the faith of the Church in her Creed, her Symbol of Faith that reveals the very vision of grace and truth that was received by Sts Peter and Paul from God the Father and that fills the saint with such love, joy and peace that he is no longer afraid of death, for he walks in the light of God the Father and his ears are filled with the melody of the voice of the Word of God, Jesus Christ in his Holy Spirit. Through your confession of faith given you by the Church, through your baptism and in the partaking of Holy Eucharist, you have been brought into the tent of the Church, the communion of the saints in whom Christ dwells.

In the words of the Church’s faith, in her doctrines, in her preaching and teaching, we learn the way of God’s Holy Spirit, the way of life eternal, the way of grace and truth. The words of the Church teach us what the life of God is. They teach us what to do, how to speak, how to govern our minds and our feelings, our moods and our emotions, how to guard our secret thoughts from the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, so that in our words and deeds and even in our secret heart we can be refashioned into holy tents as the body of Christ in whom the Spirit of God dwells.

We can describe this mystery also in the imagery of this morning’s Gospel, and in the imagery of this glorious liturgical season. We are fish swimming in the dark sea of life that flows outside the Garden of Eden. The net of the apostles is the Holy Spirit by which they were made most wise and fishers of men. The net of the Holy Spirit is cast into the sea of life in the form of the Church’s words, her doctrines, her preaching, the confession of her faith that was given to Sts Peter and Paul. This doctrinal net of theChurch is made up of the words of the Lord, words which he spoke from the Father and which his Holy Spirit has spoken to us in the Church, the body of Christ. When we receive Holy Eucharist into our mouth and swallow it, we receive the Heavenly Spirit into our body. We are caught in the net of the apostles. And when we choose to let go our love for the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, out of love for the Savior, and in order to eat and drink the words of the Savior, i.e. to keep his commandments, we receive the Heavenly Spirit into our souls and our mind, and our life in this world is transformed. It becomes for us the net of the Holy Spirit drawing us out of the sea of this life. The day of our death becomes the consummation of that day when we were raised into the boat of the Church by the net of the apostles’ confession of faith on the day of our baptism.

It is in this vision of having been made alive in the Holy Spirit of Christ through the words and sacraments of the Church’s faith received from God the Father, that St Paul exhorts us again and again not to give ourselves to deeds of darkness; for we died to those deeds when we were baptized. We received the Heavenly Spirit. We found the true faith. We were filled in Holy Eucharist with the beauty of God, with the meaning of God, Jesus Christ, who is grace and truth, the purpose of our existence. In the understanding given to us through the Church’s confession of faith by which we are given to understand what this treasure is that we have received in the Church, let us not return to the deeds of the life of this world or pursue after them. Let us rather learn how to walk in the light, how to partake of the divine nature in our soul and in our mind, in our secret heart, in order to be made into tents by the apostles’ doctrine in whom Christ dwells. Let us therefore patiently persevere in the good, in pursuit of the glory, honor and immortality that are found in God’s Holy Spirit through our Lord Jesus Christ, the grace and truth, the beauty and the meaning of God. Amen. 

[1] Mt 16:16-18

[2] Jn 1:1-4

[3] Jn 1:14