Ezekiel 2:2-5; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Psalm 123; Mark 6:1-6
In our first lesson from the Prophet Ezekiel we heard, “The descendants are impudent and stubborn. …say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them.” In the Psalm we read, “Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy, for we have had more than enough of contempt, too much of the scorn of the indolent rich, and of the derision of the proud.” In St. Paul’s Letter to the Church at Corinth, he wrote, “Therefore I am content with weakness, with mistreatment, with distress, with persecutions and difficulties for the sake of Christ.” In the Gospel lesson from St. Mark, Our Lord said, “No prophet is without honor except in his native place, among his own kindred, and in his own house.”
Taken all together we could get the idea that what we are called to do as Christians is difficult, dangerous, frustrating, largely futile, and likely to make our lives miserable – and we wouldn’t be wrong. As Christians, and especially as Orthodox Christians, we live in a different reality than the rest of this world. It is similar, not in kind but in effect, to people who are mentally ill, or children who are autistic. They are acting and reacting according to the world they perceive around them, to them, inside that world, their actions have meaning and are rationally consistent with their reality. To those outside their world, their actions seem disordered and irrational. We live in the Kingdom of God, to those outside the Kingdom, our actions, reasoning, choices and decisions, made according to that supreme reality, often seem disordered and irrational as well. And those who think that, react accordingly – shutting us out, ignoring us, belittling our standards and feeling that we are, somehow, dangerous to them.
If you have ever tried to explain the Liturgy, or our fasting practices, and the exceptions to those practices, or our daily discipline of prayer and reading, you know what I mean. Or tried to discuss social issues like abortion, or the definition of marriage, or the conditions of those who produce the food we eat – and get looked at like you are speaking a foreign language. Well, we are. So, what do we do about this, can we do anything? Yes, and no. We can accept that it is the way things are in this fallen world, and not take it personally when our attempts at evangelism are rejected. We can continue in faithfulness to the Gospel and let the chips fall where they may. We can choose to be a pilgrim in this world and not adhere to its standards and culture, upholding those of our true home. We can pray for the world, and all those lost in its darkness. We cannot change the underlying cause, not even Our Lord could reach those who refused to listen. We cannot live at peace in both worlds, we must choose. We cannot change someone else’s mind and heart. We can, however, live our life in such a way that the truth of the kingdom of God is always before them, we can be an ongoing witness to the reality of that other land where our heart lies. We can take seriously St. Paul’s words and be content with weakness, mistreatment, distress, persecution and difficulty for the sake of Christ. Our Lord said to St. Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for in weakness power reaches perfection.” What this means is that whatever we are trying to do in the way of evangelism, it is God who actually accomplishes it, and the more we can get out of God’s way, the better. The more we can, through the way we live, turn other people’s eyes, minds and hearts away from us and toward God, the better for them, and for us. We should not be the focus, we are a signpost pointing the way. We do not, and cannot, win souls for Christ – Christ wins souls, we are support staff providing aid, comfort, friendship and the fellowship of the Body of Christ, in which all are nourished and strengthened through Eucharistic worship, the Mysteries, and the all encompassing life of the Church.
If God’s grace is sufficient for us, then we must let go of whatever we are clinging to in this world, whatever is in the way of our living fully in the Kingdom. Oddly enough, letting go does not necessarily mean getting rid of. It means shifting our focus, seeing whatever it is in the perspective of eternity. We all know how perspective works in a painting, there is a wide area in the front that narrows back to a vanishing point in the distance. In icons, that perspective is reversed, we, the viewers, are the point and it opens out from there. That point is the narrow way, the eye of the needle, and if we want to get through it to the eternal vistas of the Kingdom of God we cannot be burdened, weighed down, shackled and hobbled by the unnecessary things of this passing world, or as one of our Ancient Faith Radio lecturers said, this dying world.
But what are the necessary things? Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, mercy, faith, forgiveness, and the greatest of these is LOVE. Our salvation, our theosis, is nothing other than an eternal, personal relationship of mutual love between ourselves, our Holy Triune God, and our brothers and sisters in the family of God, of all times and places.
And that is why those who are not in that relationship find us so dangerous to them, that kind of intimacy, that kind of personal caring, devotion and belonging are frightening. So we need to approach others gently, kindly, not judging or condemning, not demanding anything. Just offering, patiently that Love which is God.
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