St Herman's Orthodox Church
Orthodox Church in America (OCA)
Minneapolis, Minnesota
January 17, 2021

THE WHO OF ETERNAL LIFE

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Colossians 1.12-18

Luke 18.18-27

In the mystery of the Church, we beheld the Theophany of Jordan, the revelation of who Jesus is and, in that revelation, who we are and what we were created for. Not from any earthly or human source but from God the Father it was revealed to us at the Jordan that this Jesus is His Beloved Son not by adoption but by nature. He is the Anointed One in whom the Spirit of the Father rests.

In the revelation of Theophany, St Paul proclaims the mystery of Christ: He is the Icon of the invisible God. This reveals His divine nature. He is the first-born from the dead. This reveals His human nature. Now, listen closely to what we heard in our epistle lesson: “in Him we have redemption, the cleansing of our sins. In Him all things were created. He is before all things and all things are held together in Him.” (Col 1.14-17) Look at the picture here: the LORD embraces, comprehends all things. It’s another way to say that all things are in Him. Then St Paul writes: “In Him the fullness of divinity was pleased to dwell. Through Him, [God the Father] restored all things completely to Himself, having made peace by the blood of [the LORD Jesus Christ’s] Cross” (Col 1.19-20). By His blood means that everything has been healed and restored not outside of Christ’s body and blood as though in some message or in acquiring knowledge of certain teachings or esoteric secrets, but in the body and blood of Christ through His death on the Cross.

So, the answer to the rich ruler’s question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life,” is this: you must become a member of His Body so that in your body, soul, mind and heart you share in His death in order to share in His Resurrection to eternal life. For, we do not inherit eternal life outside of Christ, in our own or someone else’s understanding or teaching of Christ. We do not even inherit eternal life by ‘believing in’ Jesus’ message; we inherit eternal life in Christ Himself, in His Body and Blood.

That is, in the revelation of who Jesus is in the Theophany at the Jordan, we are given to see the true Life of the world. That is, life is not an impersonal energy force. Life is the LORD Jesus Christ Himself. “When Christ our life appears,” writes St Paul (Col 3.4); “I am the Resurrection and the Life,” the LORD Jesus says to Mary and Martha at the tomb of Lazarus (Jn 11.25).

Let me say it like this: riches are so many whats. Whether the riches you’re talking about are the riches of wealth or fame or power, they are all impersonal, all so many different things, all so many whats. Life is not a thing, a what. Life is a who; specifically, life is He Who Is the only-begotten God in the bosom of the Father (Jn 1.18, Ex 3.14).

It’s a curious thing I’ve observed about the who and the what: a what can be talked about and described because a description, a word, is a what. But you simply cannot talk about who someone is without saying what they are. The instant you begin to say who someone is, you immediately lose him or her to ‘what’ he or she is. And you cannot come to know who someone is until you are with them face to face, and until you are in communion with them.

The eternal life the rich man wanted to inherit is not a what, it is not another unit of riches. It is a Who; it, or rather He is the LORD Jesus Christ, He Who Is the only-begotten God in the bosom of the Father (Jn 1.4, 18, Ex 3.14). We live, then, only in communion with Christ, with ‘He Who Is’ the resurrection and the life (Jn 11.25). If, therefore, we live in Christ, as He tells Mary and Martha, even if you die, yet you shall live; for if you die in Christ, you die in Him who is Himself Life, and in Him, you live whether, as the world speaks, you live or die. Indeed, St Paul writes to the Colossians: “You have died.” He means: when you were baptized into Christ you died to death because you were ‘washed’ in the Who who is Life. You were clothed with the Who who is life. He Who Is, Life Himself, is now in you and you are in the Who who is Life. Your heart is now a ‘tomb’ that is ‘empty’ of death, as was the LORD’s Tomb, and so, therefore, “your life,” St Paul goes on to say, “is hid with Christ in God” (Col 3.3). If, therefore, as Jesus tells the Jews, we do not eat His flesh; if we do not drink His blood, if in our body and soul we do not become members of His body, we have no life in us, because we have no God in us (Jn 6.53)! He Who Is the Resurrection and the Life is not in us.

You see, then, that the Theophany at the Jordan reveals Jesus to be no mere “teacher,” even if he is a “good” teacher. He did not come from heaven or anywhere else to give us a message. He, the only-begotten God in whom and by whom all things were made, became flesh in order to give Himself, to give His Body and Blood, for the life of the world. The Church is not about Christ: the Church is Christ. The Church is not a body of doctrines; doctrines are whats; they have no life in themselves. The Church is the very Body and Blood of Christ, and so she is the eternal life the rich man wanted to inherit; and it is in the Holy Eucharist of the Church, not in her doctrines, that we receive life. All the Church’s doctrines are the ‘path’ that brings us beyond the doctrines to the Chalice, for in the Holy Eucharist of the Church we receive the eternal life the doctrines are all about: we receive the LORD Jesus Christ in His very Body and Blood.

The rich ruler this morning has no name, as though he is meant to stand for each one of us. So, what do I lack that I might inherit eternal life? We now should understand that the question means, what must I do to inherit God, what must I do to receive the LORD Jesus Christ?

The LORD tells the rich ruler, and so He tells you and me: “Sell all you have and give to the poor and you will have riches in heaven, and come follow Me!” Come, follow the Who. Will you understand what I’m trying to say if I say it like this: stop defining yourself or understanding yourself or measuring yourself in terms of what you are or are not. Don’t follow the what; follow the Who. Seek the Who. The Who says: “I love those who love Me. Those who diligently seek Me will find Me.” (Prov 8.17)

The LORD says that it is impossible for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. I offer to you that by rich man, we can understand someone who evaluates himself and who engages others and the world wholly by what he is and is not, and by what he has or doesn’t have, and by what others are and are not, and by what others have or don’t have. Who he is, who anyone is, he doesn’t have a clue. The rich man, wholly dead to the who, is a dead man and it matters not a whit if he has kept all the commandments. In the riches of his whats, he is altogether outside the Kingdom of God, which is the Kingdom of the Holy Trinity, the Kingdom of Whos.

Let us note well where the Spirit leads the LORD after He comes up from the Jordan, and where the Church has brought us this morning, the first Sunday coming out of Theophany when we begin making our way to Pascha and the LORD’s Tomb. The Spirit leads the LORD into the wilderness, to be tempted by the devil with the riches of the whats: wealth, fame and power. The Church has led us this morning out of the city into the presence of the LORD who triumphed over the devil. That is, the Church has brought us out of the city into the wilderness of our soul, and as the rich ruler, we are given to ask, if we will, this LORD Jesus who is Himself the eternal life we long for: “LORD, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” In His answer to the rich ruler, the LORD directs our own interior vision down into the root of our soul, down to where we would find who we are and the root of our desire, to test us. Let’s put it like this: do we desire to come out of the impersonal ‘whats’ of our earthly riches to find our who? Apart from Christ, this is impossible for our who does not exist except in Christ. And, if we desire to find who we really are, then we must “sell all our riches,” we must stop following the ‘whats’ by which we have been defining ourselves and others, and begin to follow the LORD into the Tomb, the bridal chamber of our heart to find who we are in “He Who Is” our Life. That is where we come to the gates of the heavens that were opened at the Jordan!

This is the path the Church has set us on as we begin now to make our way from the Jordan to Great Lent and to the LORD’s Holy Pascha. We are making our way to the opened heavens and into the Kingdom of Whos, the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of who we truly are. We need simply to do what the Church gives us to do, according to our strength and circumstances—pray, fast, receive Holy Eucharist, show mercy to others as whos not as whats—and what is impossible for us, eternal life, will be performed for us in and through the LORD Jesus Christ, Himself the Resurrection who is our Life. Amen!

 
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