Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sermon on the Sunday of the Last Judgment, 2014

This is the Sunday of the Last Judgment. It is very apparent from all the hymns that we chanted at the end of Orthros, last night at Vespers, the gospel reading. So today the Church reminds us that there will be a judgment. And this topic of judgment is a rather tricky one to approach these days. Of course, the idea of judging, of saying that something is wrong, is not popular. The idea is that there is an actual Truth, whom we believe to be the incarnate second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, the Word of God. That truth is absolute; it us unchanging. Jesus Christ: the same yesterday, today, and forever.

This is a rather difficult concept to practice these days, and it is a difficult concept for all of us, because it is a temptation to think or make God in our own image. We have this temptation to say only God can judge us, and by that to actually mean that "I know what I'm doing is right because I have my own truth and it must be right for me and God has to be right with it, so basically—leave me alone." That is what the Church reminds us of today, that we cannot make God in our own image.

At this point, I would like to make a parenthesis, speaking of the image of humanity. We are created in the image and likeness of God, but we are created as physical and spiritual beings. We are the bridge between the physical world and the spiritual world. So we have a physical component that our faith should never ignore. I think it's important to remember that, especially in the context of all the—I will call them political debates—about the relationship between evolution and creation.

I am bringing that up because I was reading a few weeks ago, and I re-read it recently, a brief interview with Metropolitan Nicholas (Hatzinikolaou) of Mesogaia and Lavreotiki. He has a doctorate in biomechanical engineering. He has taught courses at Harvard and MIT. He has been at the University of Crete since 1990, and he, I believe, continues to teach courses. He is on various bioethics committees and things like that.

There was a question that, given all the controversies... Of course, recently there was a debate between Bill Nye and [Ken Ham]. It got quite publicized, but what Metropolitan Nicholas was saying is that we seem to have this obsession with our relationship to the animal world, but ultimately it doesn't particularly matter how God created us, whether it was through evolution or any other means. It doesn't matter, because we were created in the image and likeness of God. Can we think and imagine how different the world would be if our focus was on the image and likeness of God, the relationship that we are called to have with Him rather than whether we evolved from lower life forms or not?

I think that's an important point to make, an important thing to remember, because that is where our focus needs to be. We are created in the image and likeness of God, we are called to be holy as God is holy. We are called to be transformed into the likeness of God, not to make God into our own image and likeness. And this is the difficult reminder of the Sunday of the Last Judgment in the Orthodox Church, that just because we think something is right, or we like something or want something, that does not mean that it is something that is automatically good or something that God will approve of.

As we prepare for Lent and throughout the whole Lenten period, the Church calls us to reflect on our lives; to look at our thoughts, at our hearts; to see what things we need to repent of, what things we need to be cleansed of, what changes we need to make in order to continue this road in the image and in the likeness of God.

It is often a difficult prospect, because we don't like being wrong, and we like to get into a routine, to stick with that routine, to have things be comfortable and familiar, and it is often the case that God will call us to struggle in those familiar settings, break out of what is familiar, in order to get to know Him better.

So we are today, on Meatfare Sunday; next week is Cheesefare, the Sunday... I think it is interesting and beautiful that the Church follows the Sunday of the Last Judgment with the Sunday of Forgiveness. Let us take this morning's gospel lesson and see how we can apply it to our lives. Let us take the time of Lent to finding a little bit more time to find out about what God teaches for our lives. Let us find time for repentance, both in front of our own prayer corner and here in front of the icon of Christ in the sacrament of confession or, if you have a father confessor, wherever he may be, with your spiritual father.

And so continue to grow, continue to transform ourselves, because we are called to a perpetual, continual, eternal transformation into the persons we are called to be, into Christians who can experience the beauty and the joy of God at all times. May God grant us the grace and the strength to do this at all times, but especially during the upcoming Lent, because we truly, always, when we spend time learning our faith and in repentance, in that joyful sorrow that we often speak about, we are truly doing that for our salvation, and in doing that, also to the glory of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.



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