45 - Faith to Move a Mountain, August 25, 2019

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1 Corinthians 4:9-16

Matthew 17:14-23

In our Gospel this morning, the LORD has just descended from Mt Tabor, where He was transfigured before Peter, James and John. They come down to the crowd, and a man approaches the LORD. Kneeling, he begs the Savior to heal his son who suffers “in an evil manner” from “lunacy” or “moon disease” (seleniazetai).

How to translate this word is not inconsequential; for, in the religious mythology of antiquity, the moon embodies the “circle of life”. Her waxing and waning mark the rhythm of life from birth to death to re-birth. The “lunacy” afflicting the boy “in an evil manner” throws him many times into the fire and into the water. Fire and water are also principal symbols of creation and the circle of life: fire, the sun; water, the moon. The boy is healed only when the LORD expels a demon that possessed him. From this, we know that the boy was not suffering from epileptic seizures, for demons are worshipped as gods in this ancient religious mythology. This, then, was an exorcism. We are in the dark world of the idols and their gods. We have before us a picture of the life that the demons and their idols offer to their worshippers. These worshippers included Israel all the way back to Adam and Eve. And, the fact is, they include us as well; although, our idolatry has become so sophisticated that it’s hard for us in our spiritual blindness to recognize it as such.

The “circle of life” offered by the demons always circles back to the “dust of the earth,” that is, to death. The life that is conceived from the union of man (who represents the sun, fire) and the woman (who represents the moon, water) is destined to return to the dust as soon as it is conceived.

I believe that the mythology running like a thread through the many different “patterns in comparative religions” is the song of the fallen soul caught fast in the serpent’s coils, the “circle of life” that circles endlessly from birth to death to re-birth. It is the song of those sitting in the region and shadow of death (Mt 4:16), it is the cry of the “hemorrhaging woman” looking for the physician—the God—who can save her from her flow of blood, i.e., her constant dying in the “circle of life”. This mythology, the music of the “circle of life”, has its origin in the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The Paradise in the many myths is, to be sure, the Garden of Eden; but the river of this mythology with its many forms, like so many branches and twigs, finds its source no higher than in the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That tree was neither the beginning nor the end of all things; for it was only halfway up the Edenic mountain. The mythology of ancient religion, then, is the “wisdom of the serpent”, the song of the fallen soul who has been stripped of the garment of Glory and blinded by the toxic lie of the serpent she eats and drinks from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

I wish you to see, in the LORD Jesus coming down from the Mountain, the “Mystery of God” hidden from the ages being revealed to the crowd, to us, this morning (Col 1:26-28). The LORD Jesus is the “Christ”, the bearer of the uncreated Fire and Living Waters of the Holy Spirit. He descends from the top of Tabor and is found in the crowd below; that is, Christ is found “in you” (Col 1:28). In cleansing the boy of “moon-disease” and rooting out the demon who caused it, the Savior Christ delivers him from the “circle of life”, and reveals Himself as the Resurrection and the Life (Jn 11:25). Already, “hours” before His life-creating death on the Cross, He is seen trampling down death in this man’s son.

Tabor, in Hebrew, may mean center or “navel”, which would reveal Tabor as an image of the Edenic mountain at the center of the world. Now we begin to see the Paschal shape of this morning’s Gospel. Who, then, is this Jesus who has just descended from the summit of Tabor?  He is the Tree of Life who has descended from the top of the Edenic mountain down into the crowd as to prisoners imprisoned in hell.

We see Him, out of His great love for mankind, descending from the top of the Edenic mountain not just to; but, into the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, to us who are prisoners in its “circle of life”. We see revealed in this morning’s exorcism the hidden mystery of the Christ’s life-creating Cross by which He has trampled down our death by His death and given life—given the Glory, the Holy Spirit of His Resurrection—to us in the tombs.

If the eyes of our soul are able to see this at all, our heart should feel a quickening, a warmth from the kindling of a fire on the altar of her “bridal chamber,” the fire of longing to ascend as a fiery flame, in the Glory of that Fire, as a bush that burns without being consumed. She should long to drink the Living Water of the LORD Jesus Christ’s Holy Spirit (Jn 4:15) that flows like a Mighty River (Eze 47:1) from the Tree of Life on Golgotha, transforming death by His death into the weapon by which we are enabled to put to death what is earthly in us, that we might be born from above as gods, sons of the Most High (Ps 82:6).

We see the quickening of this longing, I believe, in the cry of the disciples. Three of them, remember, were already shaken by what they saw on the holy Mountain. “Why could we not cast out the demon, holy Master?” Have we not left all to follow you? What do we still lack that we can’t be like you?

So, now we come to the point. The LORD says, You could not cast out this demon because of the smallness of your faith. If you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, Move, and it will move, and nothing will be impossible to you. Note, that he likens faith when it is small to a mustard seed. For, even if your faith is small, like a mustard seed, it can grow into a rather large tree if it is sown in the ground and dies; that is, if you unite yourself to Christ in the Fire and Water of His Holy Spirit in the mystery of His Holy Pascha. For, in the waters of baptism, you are buried with Christ. And in the fiery food and drink of Holy Eucharist, you receive the Fire and Water, the Holy Spirit of Him who is Himself the Resurrection and the Life. It is His death you now carry in your body, and His death puts to death the serpent’s life that is always circling back down into the dust, the law of sin that has become embodied in our fleshly members (Rom 7); it is the Life of Christ that is now being revealed in your mortal flesh (2 Cor 4:10-11), for it is no longer we who live but Christ who lives in us; and the life of Christ we now live is a life that ascends, even as we descend into His Tomb, from glory to glory.

Now I believe we can say what that mountain is that we will be able to move, even if our faith is small like a mustard seed. It is our own body and soul. Or, rather, it is the circle of life that our body and soul are held fast in. You are dust and to the dust you shall return, the LORD says to Adam and Eve (Gen 3:19). You rise from the dust of the ground, as does the mountain on one side. You return to the dust of the ground, as does the mountain on the other side. Your life is now in the shape of an mountain, sitting immovably in the region and shadow of death.

I think we experience ourselves as immovable mountains in our spiritual laziness. What overwhelming sluggishness I suddenly feel when it comes to getting up from the couch to move to my icon corner and say my prayers! I move with ease to venues of worldly entertainments I love. My eyes and ears move easily to any sight and sound that is inside this “circle of life”. But, to come to Vigil on Saturday, or to the liturgical cycle of a Feast that falls during the week, to move my eyes and ears to the writings of Holy Scripture and the holy fathers, to move my heart to attend to the words of the Church’s prayers, suddenly I feel very heavy, like a mountain, in both body and soul. When I propose to move from here inside the circle of life to there, into the death of the Savior, then do I discover how small my faith is, how big is the mountain of my laziness.

What is this faith that would enable us to move the mountain of our soul and body from the “circle of life” to the death of the LORD’s Holy Pascha? It is the faith perhaps that is born from the fear of God, a fear that produces a wisdom expressed in a saving fear of death, of what I will face the moment I pass over to the other side, and that produces a resolve to begin now to “redeem the time” in repentance.  But, that fear produces by and by a love for God. For, I see how great is His patience, His longsuffering. Even though I have spurned Him, He still comes to me, offering Himself wholly to me that I may be delivered from death and from the fear of death. In this the seed of faith as love is born, and my heart turns in love toward the God who united Himself to me and became one with me in my death so that I could become one with Him in His Holy Resurrection. This love of faith starts out as a small seed; but that is enough. Perhaps our love is only big enough for us to ask the LORD to enter our heart ten times a day, or perhaps five, or maybe twice. Whatever we can do, however small, if we do even that much, that seed will grow into a mighty tree, not a mustard tree but the Tree of Life, and nothing will be impossible to us because we are sowing the seed of our faith in the ground of the LORD’s death by which He has trampled down our death, and so we are becoming one with the LORD of Glory with Whom all things are possible. Amen!