2013.07.14 Matthew馬太福音 5:14-19
sermon by Father Jonah
St. Symeon the New Theologian曾說：「如果耶穌基督真的在你內心，你必須像一位懷孕的婦女一般，深切體認自己的腹中懷有一個珍貴的胎兒。他用腳踢子宮的時候，就是在提醒你、激勵你用實際的行動為耶穌基督服務，並且在身邊的弟兄姊妹的臉上、在這個社會上，看見耶穌基督的面容。」
閱讀聖經的時候，我們往往記得其中提到的一些名字。例如，今日我們閱讀的保羅書信中就談到了幾個不同的人物：Titus, Artimas, Appolo, Tihichos, Zenas（他是一位律師）。我們記得每個人物的名字，卻不太知道他們完成了哪些事情。你們的名字也紀錄在「生命之書」上面。在台北的東正教會，每個人都奉獻自己的心力，分擔了不同的工作，像是：烹飪、唱誦讚美詩、參與活動、與朋友談話、分享自己的生活難題。就好像使徒保羅對腓力比的基督徒提到兩位婦人，這兩位婦人爭執不下，保羅請人去她們中間當和事佬。
Today we celebrate the Fathers of the Ecumenical Councils of the Church, and today the Gospel says to us something very important: Jesus says that, “You are the light of the world.” We. And it is very important that we cannot hide this light. We cannot be a Christian as if it were our political ideology because, for example, here I do not know what is your political party or what is the football team that you like, and things like that. Christianity is not something that we can hide and have it as individuals just in our home when we pray. Jesus gives an example, a practical example that actually here in Xindian I can see from my small room every day: a town that is on the mountain, shining with light during the night so the town cannot be hidden. It is on the mountain and everybody can see it. And actually here in the mountains you see big communities and huge buildings full of apartments and at night you see them shining, reminding you of the words of Jesus Christ.
But somebody could say to me, “Well Father, this is too much theology; we don’t have light, we don’t know about this and how do we shine?” It is easy to speak about theology and light, and I could talk to you about the uncreated light and all these things. But we don’t have – I mean I don’t have – this experience.. What kind of light is Jesus Christ speaking about? It is important to see this in the Gospel. It is the light and the Grace of God; but the Grace of God of God is so simple. It is the light of God that is to take the bus or the MRT, or to come from another town and to bring your kids and your problems here to the church; to take a taxi with so many difficulties; to wake up early even though you would like to sleep, to make to food that we can smell: all these small things that are for the love of God, that are for the love of our brothers and sisters. From these small things comes out a taste, comes out a mystical light that we don’t see but we can smell, we can taste, we can experience in the small details of our everyday life. It is a struggle to keep being good persons, honest. There are even so many contentions for the opposite thing. And it is also our job when somebody is teaching or he is working for society, and he has all this pain and struggle every day and still gives this faithfully, and he is doing this for the love of God and for the love of the other people. When he is doing this, serving in our poor ways, yes, not perfect, full of mistakes but with a good attitude to serve the children of God, to create and to save human personalities around us, there is the light of God; or instead we could say the smell of God, there is the presence of God.
When I went to Mount Athos to visit for the first time, I met an old priest in the boat and I asked him where were the Holy Fathers who were invisible because there are some stories about them. He said, “What is this that you are asking about? You know, a monk is the smell of garlic and every day working to dig in the earth.” He did not talk to me about praying in the heart because I was just a novice, just a visitor to Mount Athos; I was not mature to know those things.
And later I was taking care of an old father, one hundred years old and did not have all his consciousness and he had poo-poo every day so I had poo-poo on my hands. Every Sunday we would have a meeting with the abbot to talk about teachings, and he said, “Well everybody speaks about spiritual things, but nobody wants to say anything about the theology of poo-poo even though this is the real theology of serving, of taking the difficulty of others.” This is the light of God, and it is very important for us to see this light of God in everyday small things of our life: in cooking, in working, in being husband and wife, in being a parent, in being a teacher.
This is why the Gospel says your light; now you know that we have light. It is very practical, so everybody will see your good works, says the Bible – it does not say to see your light. And the good works are to do our duty every day with all our heart, doing it in front of God, continuing our everyday liturgy. After receiving and participating in this liturgy, we go to the other liturgy to continue the liturgy in our job, in the world, and to bring the Grace of God by our small works and small actions. This is why the Gospel says “to see the works,” and to glorify – not to ask but to glorify – God the Father. Because through us is the Father but He appears. As Jesus reveals the Father, we also – being images of Jesus Christ, we reveal images of Jesus, and Jesus reveals God the Father. What does this mean? It shows the fatherhood of God, that God is a loving God; God is Trinity. This is our job; this is our everyday struggle.
And remember something, which I will say many times, that God gives to us not only when we say, “God change me; give me love,” or something like that. First of all, God is giving us opportunities; God is not like a magician, who does something and changes us inside. He is giving us opportunities: to work, to fail, to try again, and to learn lessons, and again to try.. It is easy to pray, “God give me…” Many people pray to God to give them love, and after this prayer they will quarrel with somebody. It is not that God is giving them quarrels, but God is giving the opportunity in practical life, to see and to practice the love. And yes, this can be very difficult to take the problems of the other. It is not the we are always responsible; the other is also responsible. But we must have patience and we must have real love, which is not an imaginary thing, something that we say about the Fathers of the Desert. But we are not Fathers of the Desert; we live in this world, we live in Taipei, here, this day. So remember, God is giving us opportunities. Don’t think that Christianity is a magical thing that will change us with no effort. It will change us when we take advantage of the opportunities that God is giving us to learn from our mistakes and to learn a little bit, and with every little bit it will be more.
This is why in the Gospel today we see the Apostles, again the Apostle Paul speaks to his beloved disciple Peter, who was in Crete, saying to him again, that all the people who are Christians must be the initiators, the managers of good works, of practical good things. Why does he say the initiators? Because the Christian cannot be Christian like, “You don’t know what I am, it is in my heart and you don’t care, I don’t care.” The Christian cares; the Christian cannot be neutral in society. The Christian starts something, which is actually that in so little opportunities. For example like somebody who sings here – I do not say to do this, but Johanna sings, and cooks – I do not say, indeed many times I say the opposite. I do not say to do these things, but people do by themselves, and there are many others that I know of but they do not want me to tell, help the church in secret ways. We cannot come to the church like we go to a movie or to the theater; but we must start something and call the others to follow – for the love of God, for the love or our brothers, for the love of our church. This is to be Christian, and not to be like a philosopher, just having some philosophical ideas in your head. It is so important to take this initiation, this management to say, “We will do this.” Christianity is something that comes out. Saint Simeon the New Theologian says something very high (of course), he says, “If you have Jesus Christ inside you, you must be like a pregnant woman, and a pregnant woman knows she is pregnant; the baby kicks. And Jesus Christ is kicking us, is pushing us to do practical things to serve him in the face of our brothers and in the face of society.
But because we speak today about the Fathers of the Church, who protected us from heresies and in this way expressed in practice by logical words and sentences the theology of the Church. We also see, as the Apostle Paul says to Titus about the heretics, he says that if someone is heretical, after you teach him one or two times, then let him alone. It is very important to understand that if somebody becomes heretical, something happens in his mind. The apostle says that his mind is turned, it is turned over. He loses the simple, logical argumentation about God. Some people will say, “Is he crazy?” No, he is not crazy, but we have problems even in our everyday jobs in our ordinary mind. For example, people who have presuppositions or ideologies. For example, although I may be able to do my job, but I say, “Yesterday you threatened me,” even though you did not do anything. There are many, let’s say, thoughts that catch our minds. Psychology today reveals a lot of things like that, a lot of misunderstandings: between husbands and wives, between friends, between colleagues at the job. There are so many decisions that psychology today reveals. And it is very important to understand that our communication is not always, as we suppose, a logical communication.
And also we must not forget that the Devil is working, and he is putting to me – and to you, probably – bad thoughts, when I am angry, when I don’t control myself completely. And then something remains. So many times we have ideas that are not always true, and many times our memories accept this. There are many examples of this, obvious contradictions. If you sometimes record what you say in a quarrel in your job and listen to it after two days, you cannot believe that you said these things because my does not want to accept them. But if it is recorded you would say, “Me, I said this?” But yes, you said it.
And I remember my spiritual father said to me that a woman once came to him and said that someone was throwing an egg outside of her house every day; she saw an egg every day. My spiritual father, because he had the Grace of God, the Grace of the Holy Spirit, told me that there were no eggs. It was only her imagination, and it was probably a temptation of the Devil.
I say all these things to help you understand how important to keep our minds clean, not from temptations, but being in the Church, being in the stream of the Holy Tradition, in the stream of the teachings of the Church. We have today, for example, so many “Orthodox” people, and I put this in quotes because they say, I have icons and I pray in my house. This person does not realize that they are not Orthodox; they have created their own personal religion, and many, many other things. It is very characteristic for a heretic that he never uses an honest way, always something comes and there he turns and uses covert ways. All the heretics, if you see the history of the Church, use covert ways, not honest and clear ways of speaking and asking, from Arius to the heretics we see today.
And as I say, these people cannot support what they do: when they come to a conclusion, there they jump. There are many problems, I don’t want to mention them, but today I will mention them, like for example there is ethnophiletism. Somebody says that he is an American, or Russian, or Bulgarian Orthodox, as if simply Orthodox were not enough, and when you go to Heaven you will be in a special place, and the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ is not enough, so you must keep your national identity. And when you ask somebody if this is possible, then they cannot continue, they just stick and then they jump and say, “Well, I don’t know how to talk about it, this is what they teach me.” Finished. So you see how the mind can be turned. And in many other things, as I say.
This is why the Orthodox faith is not just a teaching. It is also a discipline; it is also to grow spiritually and to apply all the love of God – practically, praying receiving the Holy Communion. Because if we don’t do this our religion will gradually become dead, and it then it will become just some superstition, like we some people who come to the church. Somebody said, “Oh, this person goes to church very often – every Easter.” That’s only once a year. And they don’t understand that this person is not even Orthodox because he goes to church just for fun or for superstition every year, and he thinks he is Orthodox.
It is so very important to understand our mind – that it is a very beautiful but a very complicated thing. Never, as the Fathers of the Desert say, when the thoughts are coming, we should not accept them and not throw then away.. Just think and talk with some spiritual father. Examine it, and after this accept. Not just at once, even if we think that this seems to be good.The heretics started by saying, “Oh, I have a big idea. Good! I will do it since it is easy and it is good.” But the result was bad.
And this practical love and practical understanding in the Church keeps us from being a mass, but to be a loving community. And yet everybody in this community has his own personality, his own love.
When I read the Bible, and as I read today, and we remember the names – we see today that the Apostle Paul speaks about different people: to Titus, Artimas, Appolo, Tihichos, Zenas, who was a lawyer, as he says here. Remember these people who appear, simple people, we don’t know what all of them did. But your names are written in the Book of Life. In the Church of Taipei, the Orthodox church here, everybody is doing something – cooking, singing, coming to the church, talking to a friend, having a problem. This is like the Apostle Paul speaks to the Phillipians, and he speaks about two women and he asks someone else to make peace between them because they were quarreling.
These small incidents, and the small stories of the people of the Bible, stories that God loves, and they are through the Bible, through the centuries. These things are written, but there are other things, and still it is the story of each one of you – and me- in front of the eyes of God. And yes, it is all written down: the angels are writing here what kind of food we had today, who ate and who did not, who came and by which bus, and what were there problems. God records all. And because of his infinite love and care for each one of us In the Revelations it says the Books swill open, and God will show to us our lives: our small mistakes and our struggles. And then we will see that there was a meaning, they were not for nothing. And this meaning was – again – to show practically the love of God for the small things, for the wisdom of the small things. And the love of God for these small things. May the Holy Trinity protect all of us. Amen
14 “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. 17 “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. 19 Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.