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569Homily for 12/15/13 - P25 - The cost of unity

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  • David
    Dec 15, 2013
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      Eph 4:1-6

      The message of our unity with God and each other that we heard from the
      Apostle last week is again reinforced in his words this week. “One body
      … one Spirit … one hope … One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and
      Father of all…� This indeed is our Christian calling and hope that we
      will be united with our Lord Jesus Christ in eternity and thus united
      with one another. Together we call out, as our Lord did, to God saying
      “Our Father� for indeed He is our Father because we are united with
      Jesus Christ, the Son of God. These powerful words proclaiming our unity
      and reminding us of our high purpose and calling are a blessing to each
      of us, warming our hearts with the grace of the Holy Spirit.

      It is important, however, to take these words in their context in order
      to grasp their full meaning. Just before this triumphal proclamation,
      the Apostle bids us to “walk worthy of the vocation wherewith you are
      called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing
      one another in love; Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the
      bond of peace.� This unity to which we are called is not magic, but it
      requires effort on our part to bring it about. God certainly gives us
      the grace wherewith we are transformed into His image and which is the
      bond that holds us together, however, it is our task to actually apply
      this grace to our lives and work in harmony with God so that we might
      fulfill His purpose. By his words, “endeavoring to keep the unity of the
      Spirit…� the Apostle lets us know that these things are work and require
      our labor. This then is the labor to which we are called: lowliness,
      meekness, longsuffering, forbearance and love. This charge by the
      Apostle echoes the words of our Lord when He said that he who wishes to
      come after Him must “deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me (that
      is Christ).�

      What is self-denial except to lower ourselves by setting aside our
      egocentrism and inflated self-esteem. One of the best liturgical
      expressions of this labor is the Lenten prayer of St Ephraim the Syrian
      in which we constantly pray, “Grant me to see my own sins and not
      condemn my brother.� Such lowliness is indeed the beginning of
      self-denial. In adopting lowliness, one begins by recognizing that he is
      nothing other than a sinner, and indeed, the greatest of sinners. In the
      world, counselors and psychologists recognize that in order to change a
      person has to come to a point of discomfort where the dissonance between
      the reality of his life and what he believes about himself is no longer
      tolerable or reconcilable. A person must “hit bottom�, that is he must
      find himself at a place where he can no longer accept this difference
      and thus change becomes possible. Without this bottoming out, nothing
      will change. In Christ, this “bottom� is reached only when we find that
      we are nothing but sinners and the worst of all men. Only Jesus Christ
      offers to us a way out through repentance and forgiveness. From that
      place of lowliness, the foundations of our self-centeredness can be
      destroyed and we can begin to rebuild on the foundation of the life of
      Christ – making Him and Him alone to be the center of our lives. Then,
      in order to maintain this state of self-denial and lowliness, meekness
      is required. We must constantly work to avoid the false building up of
      pride which is a constant temptation. Meekness is the quality of putting
      others first, of setting them before ourselves. This constant labor of
      putting others ahead of ourselves is necessary to maintain the
      lowliness. Meekness is often mistaken to mean weak or spineless but this
      is not so, for it takes great strength and courage to live a life of
      self-denial. Another definition from meekness is gentleness. By this we
      see that we begin to see how it is that we must treat others from our
      place of lowliness. To be gentle and kind to others is a basic quality
      of meekness and it is also obviously a basic quality of our unity with
      one another. When someone is gentle with us and kind to us, we desire to
      draw near to them, and this attraction is then one of the basic elements
      of our unity. Thus it is that the self-denial to which our Lord calls us
      is expressed again in the words of the Apostle who emphasizes for us the
      importance of the labor of lowliness and meekness.

      The gentleness of meekness leads us to the next step in following Christ
      and that is to take up our cross. While with self-denial we focus on our
      internal state, the cross focuses on our relationships with others. As
      we develop within the heart the qualities of lowliness and meekness
      through self-denial, we are still living in the world and still
      interacting with others in the world. Because the world and Christ are
      at odds with one another, this interaction will produce all kinds of
      difficulty. The humility of lowliness is met with the self-centered
      culture of our society and the self-aggrandizement of others. The
      gentleness and kindness born out of meekness is met with
      thoughtlessness, selfishness and even cruelty. The “natural� reaction of
      our fallen and sinful nature is to respond to such a hostile environment
      by building up barriers and walls for self protection made from pride,
      anger, greed and other passions.

      This, however, is not the response of the Christian for we are called to
      a different reaction – longsuffering and forbearance. Longsuffering
      implies patience with others and tolerance of their actions, especially
      those things that we perceive to be wrongs and offenses. By bearing
      these offenses without complaining and refusing to react in kind, we do
      indeed ascend the cross and suffer with our Lord. The second quality
      mentioned here, that of forbearance, develops this theme instructing us
      not only to bear the weaknesses of others but also to forgive them. When
      our Lord was unjustly accused, judged and condemned by those of the
      world, He ascended the cross and cried out in prayer, asking that they
      be forgiven for their actions. This quality of forgiveness takes the
      mere act of toleration and elevates it, transforming it to the grace
      filled image of the God/man Jesus Christ. We cannot simply be tolerant
      of others, overlooking their offenses, but we must also forgive them
      without hesitation or precondition. By the qualities of tolerance and
      forbearance, we prevent barriers from arising between us and we break
      down those barriers which already exist and which prevent us from
      realizing our unity with one another. By practicing tolerance and
      forbearance we become like Christ and are united to Him.

      The final step that our Lord gave us is to follow Him. Once we have cut
      off our own egocentrism and the prideful infection of our fallen sinful
      nature and we have learned to be patient and forgiving towards others,
      then it is time to nurture within our own souls the fruits of the
      virtues. In order to do this we must cultivate the queen of all virtues,
      the one that encompasses all of God’s nature and defines His attitude
      towards us. This queen of virtues is love. Within this virtue of love is
      encompassed every other virtue and quality of our Lord. To love God and
      to love are neighbors are the greatest commandments given to mankind and
      they encompass all the other commandments of the Law. God is love (1Jn
      4:8) and therefore if we would be united to God then we must also be
      filled with this same love. Elsewhere the Apostle tells us that love is
      not “puffed up�, that is it exists in lowliness and meekness. Love is
      also tolerant, bearing all things, enduring all things and is forgiving
      (1Cor 13:4ff). In love is contained all those things that we already
      have considered as the basics of our unity with one another and with
      God. Our Lord told us “greater love hath no man than this, than he lay
      down his life for another�. Thus if we truly love God, we lay down (that
      is give up) our own life for His and if we love our neighbor we
      similarly give up our own life in his favor. Is this not how God Himself
      has regarded us, for having set aside His heavenly life, and adopting
      our life, He took flesh and became man and dwelt among us. Even the
      human life that He assumed in His incarnation, He laid down for our sake
      that we might be freed from the tyranny of sin, death and the devil.
      Having given all for us, He then pours out upon us His life that we
      might be one with Him. By His love, He has opened the doors of His life
      to us and pours out upon us the cup of His inexhaustible grace that we
      might be one with Him, living in union and communion with Him.

      To live in union with God and with one another is our destiny; it is our
      calling and purpose. But this unity does not just happen magically; we
      must labor to make it real in our lives. For this purpose God gives to
      us His grace and all the tools with which to integrate that grace into
      our own souls. The labors that are set before us are lowliness,
      meekness, forbearance, tolerance and love. By working on these tasks, we
      walk in the path of salvation that our Lord has put before us to deny
      ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him. The result of this labor is
      that the grace poured out upon us by God transforms us and unites us to
      Him, filling us with His life. In this way we are united to Him and to
      one another.

      --
      Archpriest David Moser
      St Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church (ROCOR)
      Homilies: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/propoved/
      Website: http://stseraphimboise.org