Judgment Sunday: Homily 2, Mar 11, 2013
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Church, for good reason, chooses specific Gospel readings for the three Sundays preceding Great Lent. During the previous two Sundays we have heard the parables of the Publican and the Pharisee and the Prodigal Son. In these Gospel accounts, we are reminded of God’s immense forgiveness and mercy. We are reminded that God transforms those who cooperate with this mercy and love with a spirit of repentance. We are reminded here of the synergy between our will and that of God in the process of salvation, which is ultimately defined as union with God, or deification, as we have noted in a previously homily. Though God’s love and work in this process is deeper than anything mankind can offer, man is nevertheless an active partaker thereof, through free will. The Church properly understands that if man is taken out of the equation, free will ceases to exist and man is no longer in the image of God. Kallistos Ware concisely affirms that union with God requires, “the co-operation of two unequal, but equally necessary forces: divine grace and human will.”
In today’s Gospel, we are indeed reminded that we have free will. Being made in God’s image and likeness mandates that we are endowed with a free will, but we must choose to be transformed. The Fathers of the Church teach that while man was created in the “image and likeness” of God, these two words do not mean the same thing. In distinguishing the two, some have stated that we are created in God’s image and for His likeness. Being in God’s image speaks to the attributes of man that separate us from the rest of creation and cannot be lost. Namely, this includes aspects such as free will, reason and moral responsibility. The word likeness properly understood, exemplifies that we can become like God, by moral choice, through virtue. In doing so, we act in love and we too inherit His Kingdom. But if we can become like Him by choice, we can also reject Him by that very same choice.
Today’s Gospel is all about choice. In the end it is about an acceptance or a rejection of God’s infinite love and mercy. The sheep at God’s right chose to cooperate with God’s love and thus inherited the Kingdom of their Father. The goats at His left brought punishment upon themselves, by choosing to neglect or reject the love that God so freely offers. Yet so too we must remember that the Kingdom is within us and that we are called to experience heaven now. In the words of Fr. Seraphim Rose, “we are called not to the modern (view of) “heaven” of repose and sleep, but to the full and deifying glory of the sons of God.” Similarly, however, our own personal hell can begin here and now and follow us into eternity. Through our own choice, hell becomes a place where we imprison ourselves. We must remember that God does not will this for anyone, but rather that we choose this imprisonment. We choose to be depressed and despondent. We thus choose to reject the hope of God, which is experienced as hell.
In remembering the mercy of God as illustrated in the Gospel readings of the past two weeks, today, we must also remember that Christ at His Second Coming will indeed come as judge. Therein, He will not deny His love to anyone, but rather, some will choose to reject it. Those who choose God’s love will experience that love as joy, whereas those who reject this love, will experience it as torment. Hell is thus not the absence of God’s love, but the torment that arises from its presence and willful rejection. This eternal experience can indeed begin now.
St. Isaac the Syrian tells us that a merciful heart is “a heart that burns with love for the whole of creation, for humans, for the birds, for the beasts, for the demons, for all creatures.” Such a man is the sheep in today’s Gospel. He gave food to the hungry. He gave drink to the thirsty. He welcomed the stranger and clothed the naked. He visited the infirm and the imprisoned. He saw in each of these people the Person of Christ Himself. The goats, on the other hand, did none of this. If we are honest, how are often are we a goat?
How often do we look at the person who is hungry and convince ourselves that he choose to be this way? How often do we who live within the constructs of “morally acceptable” lives look at the person with HIV and wonder what they did to choose this disease? How often do we look at the single mother with disdain because she gets by with money we are mandated to give to the government? Brothers and sisters, how often do we sit in the judgment seat of God, a seat that belongs to Him alone, and thereby, cease to reach out to those in need? How often do we justify ourselves and thus fail to touch our brother’s soul? In so doing, we present to the world an inauthentic version of the Gospel and image of Christ that they should rightfully reject. Would this church be filled if we, who believe to possess in the Orthodox Church the fullness of Truth, could bring even a fraction of the True God to a world that is craving love?
How often do we convince ourselves that the Truths we possess are enough to save us if we simply come to church on Sunday and receive the Sacraments. While these gifts are essential in that they cultivate the seed of divine Grace given to us at Baptism, they can also condemn us. If we walk out of this beautifully renovated and restored House of God today and fail to bring Christ to the world, we will bring judgment upon ourselves. In so doing, we will have no lasting joy. We will be like the man that sat at peace until a brother came up and said something annoying to him. This man became angered saying, “if he had not come and spoken to me and annoyed, I should not have been at fault.” To the contrary, this man’s anger was already within him and his brother merely revealed it. Likewise, the corruption of pride and judgment that is in each own of us, is merely revealed when we fail to reach out to that brother who is begging for clothes, or drink or a visit…or even a Church family that welcomes him with love and hope. This blinding pride is ready to be uprooted by Christ if only we would let Him. This is our Lenten journey…that we would yearn to be so close to God that we love as He loves. That we would learn to love those around us who are calling out for mercy. For if we fail to do so, we too will be judged accordingly. If we choose to decide that the condition of our brother is not worthy of our effort, we cease to love him through acts of charity and we become goats.
It is then that we have placed ourselves in the supreme judgment seat of God. When occupied by anyone but God, it is a seat of pride, destruction and torment. Yet each of us chooses it, whether we admit it or not, everyday. Perhaps the most disturbing manifestation thereof is the question that has become so popular in many brands of Christianity today: “Are you saved?” or “Who is saved?” Though perhaps hard to see, such an arrogant question is no different than the questions we pose in deciding who is worthy of our mercy. Apart from those circumstances where there is clearly a rejection of our love, we must be honest with ourselves when we are refusing to give our love to others. If we are and if we are repentant, our Lord assures us, “For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind.” For the sight of the proud is blindness and the lack of sight of the humble is the capacity for seeing Truth. It is the capacity to love. The capacity to see our own sins as greater than our brothers as we profess, “Thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, Who didst come into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief…” It is the capacity to see Christ in all and to put to rest the judgment that prevents us from reaching out to those in need. It is the capacity to allow God’s love to transform us and bring us into union with Himself. It is the capacity to actualize the Faith as, in the words of Fr. Alexander Schmemann, “the possible impossibility.” It is the capacity to not see Christianity through the lenses of an impersonal “social activism” that is merely interested in the common good, but rather to see quite literally Christ in another human being and thus love that individual person. We seek not to create a utopia, as is often so misunderstood, but rather to fill the whole of creation with Christian love. If we fail to do so, we bring judgment upon ourselves.
Lest we despair, Christ gives us His Church. He gives us Holy Baptism and the seal of the Holy Spirit. He gives us the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which renews us to our state Baptismal grace. He gives us His own Body and Blood in the Eucharist. In this most profound act of community, He reminds us that though we may fall alone, we are never saved alone. When we cooperate in allowing these essential gifts, gifts that are a direct experience of God, to transform us and to transform our churches, we stop judging and we simply love. It is then that the words of St. Seraphim of Sarov can be understood. “Acquire a Spirit of peace and thousands around you will be saved.”
Brothers and sisters, we will fall during the Great Lent. We will fall throughout our lives. Yet just as we must not judge others, we must not take the final judgment seat of God in judging ourselves too harshly. When we fall, we must remember that the fall itself is the punishment. The worst thing we can do is that which the goats in today’s Gospel did; reject God’s love and mercy. This too is pride in that it says my sin is bigger than God’s love and mercy. In rejecting His love and His mercy for ourselves, we have no hope of bringing it to the world. Thereto, we bring condemnation to ourselves. If we stay in the self-pity our sin we will miss the joy of this season. We will miss the hope that is the Resurrection. We will miss the joy of transforming gifts of the Holy Spirit given to us in complete fullness in Christ’s Church.
I should like to close with a brief story of St. Anthony of Egypt. In worrying about divine providence and matters of salvation of others, Anthony heard the voice of God saying, “Anthony, attend to yourself; for these are the judgments of God, and it is not for you to know them.” Like anything else that is in fact Truth, we see a profound paradox here. In attending to himself spiritually, Anthony becomes anything but selfish. Rather, his eyes will be open. The intellectual blinders that paralyze him and all of us will be removed. We will no longer feel compelled to judge. We will give solely to God a role that is indeed His alone. In turn, we will love. And in turn, we will see Christ in others that they may see Him in us. May God so grant that we be as sheep and experience a joy that is above all circumstance. It is the mere glimpse of that joy that will fill this church. And it is the glimpse of that authentic joy that will keep people here no matter how wronged they feel by any one of us thereafter. For it is a joy that then resides only in the experience of the Person of Jesus Christ.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.