Homily for 1/22/06 - Sunday after Theophany - our shared life
- Eph 4:7-13 & Col 3:12-16
The Holy Apostle Paul sets out for the Church a particular order. All through his letters we find this emphasis, that there is a particular order to the Church and that we all have different abilities, different callings, different gifts, different roles but that we use all these differences to work together as the one Body of Christ. We work together towards the one goal of the "perfecting of the saints... in the unity of the faith [and] the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ". Toward this end, he tells us, there are many different gifts and callings - some apostles, some prophets some evangelists, some pastors, some teachers and so on, each according to his calling. It is obvious to him and to us that not everyone in the Church has the same function or the same role. Even when we look at the Church as it exists today we see this in many ways. We have those living in the world and those who live a monastic life - we have those among the laity and those set aside by the sacrament of Holy Ordination - we have those who sing and those who serve and those who pray - we have the rich and the poor, the healthy and the ill, and many other different groups. Each of us, despite our differences is necessary for the functioning and well being of the Church. Each of us brings our own gifts, abilities and talents to offer to God so that when all are brought together, there is a complete and whole offering.
In this parish community, we have many different people from a variety of backgrounds. We bring to the Church what we have and here we offer it to God. Now you may think that it is just chance that you are here, that there was just some strange confluence of events that ended up with you being a part of this particular parish community. You might as well be anywhere. But this is not true, for this community, like the whole Church has been gathered together by God's providence. He has brought us together for a purpose - that is for the working out of our salvation together. There is no one who is or who becomes a part of this parish that is unnecessary to this work - we all need one another. You might think that you bring no special quality to this parish - but God looking deep within your soul, sees what you are, and those qualities, those strengths, those gifts that He finds within you are what you bring to this community. But it is not just about what you bring - it is also about what you receive. When God looks at your soul He sees not only what you have, but also what you need and brings you together with those others here who can fulfill those needs. Here we are each valuable to one another, giving and taking freely so that being united together we are united to Christ.
Bishop Kallistos (Ware), a well known writer and speaker on matters of the Orthodox faith, talks about salvation as "sharing". He begins by reminding us that our salvation consists of sharing the life of the Holy Trinity through being united with Christ. We enter into and participate in the life of God and as His life flows through us - as we share His life - this is the end and purpose of our salvation. But this sharing does not stop with God, but it also applies to the various members of the Church. Our salvation rests in the life that we share together with God and with one another. There is only One Church, One Body of Christ, and we are united in the life of this Body by sharing with one another. Thus we enter into our salvation by sharing - sharing with one another the life that Christ gives and by this sharing we are united to one another and to Christ.
Anytime there are many different people together each doing something different there is bound to be friction. Just as in an engine with a multitude of moving parts; if there is not something to smooth the friction between the parts, the engine will heat up, malfunction, and freeze or even explode. So in the Church and especially in the parish community, there is frequently friction, frequently there are those who "rub the wrong way" or who seem to make life difficult. Just as an engine needs oil to smooth the friction between its parts so it can run - so also we in the Church require some kind of oil to smooth the friction between so many varied and different persons. The Apostle also sees this and he prescribes for us a remedy. We also heard today the admonition to "put on mercy, kindness, humbleness, meekness, longsuffering (that is patience). forbearing and forgiving one another even as Christ forgave you. And above all things put on charity (that is love) which is the bond of perfectness." Here we have the prescription for the inevitable conflict, the inevitable friction that will arise in this parish and in every parish.
First we are to act with mercy, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. How often do we forget this and begin to act towards one another with judgment, pride, authority and harshness. Our first task is for each to adjust his own outlook, his own approach. Nurture within yourself those qualities which the Apostle mentions to us. If we could just remember mercy - that one thing - and bring a merciful attitude to every interaction that would go very far. Then if we can only try to be a kind as possible - be gentle with one another - be nice to each other. Remember also humility and meekness - putting others before yourself. And bring as much patience as you can bear into your relationships. If we all act in this way towards one another, much of the friction will be eliminated.
Then there is the second step - forbear and forgive. Do not remember wrongs, but forgive them as soon as you are asked. Remember forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling. When you choose to forgive, you set aside any effect that an offense may have had on you and you act as though that offense no longer existed. No matter what we do, no matter how merciful, kind and patient we are there will always be some offense (because not one of us is perfect in these virtues). When that offense occurs we must strive to be first to forgive, first to reconcile, first to set aside any and all ill will. We can even choose to forgive regardless of whether we are asked to forgive. If someone offends you, work to forgive them before they even ask to be forgiven. Be an aggressive forgiver - look for the opportunity to forgive as soon as possible. The longer you wait to forgive someone else, the more difficult it becomes.
Thirdly, the Apostle tells us to love one another - for this is the bond of perfection. The only perfect love comes from God - for it is part of His being. Therefore in order to love one another we must love God and we express our love of God by loving those whom He loves - that is our "neighbor", those around us, those with whom we work out our salvation. Love your neighbor as yourself, love your neighbor as you love God, love your neighbor in the same way that God loves you. When we are bound together with one another in such perfect love, then there will be no friction, no offense, no difficulty of any kind. This is the prefect bond for which we strive.
The Church is full of variety, full of many different people who are brought together by God that we might work out our salvation together. Because of our differences there will be "friction" and if we do not somehow smooth out that friction, the work of the Church will freeze up in us, perhaps even bring about an explosion. But we are given the means by which to lubricate that friction, to make all the parts work together. That oil which smoothes the friction of our different lives is brought about by acting with mercy, kindness, humility and patience. It is maintained and spread throughout by forgiveness. It is perfected in love. If we work to acquire these qualities in our interactions with one another, in our "sharing" of the life of Christ together, then we will also be able to work out our salvation together, coming to "the unity of the faith, the knowledge of the Son of God and to the measure of the fulness of the stature of Christ"
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