Sermon delivered October 20, 2019 by Archimandrite Maximos
The Lord encountered this sad scene of a young man being brought from the city for burial; a young man, we can assume, probably in his late teens. And the widow is deeply upset, obviously. The Lord takes compassion; He touches the bier, and He says to the man, “Arise, young man, and walk.” So the young man came back to life and he spoke.
This, dear brothers and sisters, is a very simple story. The Lord our God encountered somebody and raised them from the dead. And he got up and moved around, and everyone was happy. But symbolically, there’s a lot more going on. Because this same Lord comes to us every day, every minute of every day, and He says the same thing: “Arise, walk, talk. Arise; do the actions of the Gospel. Acquire virtue. Live the life that I’ve given you. Live the life that I’ve given you.” Oftentimes if we compare the Gospel to the Epistle, we see the explanation in the Epistle. The Epistle is quite beautiful, with the phrase we use, “The Lord God loves a cheerful giver.” Saint Paul says, “Those who sow bountifully will reap bountifully, and those who sow reluctantly will receive little.” He says, “Do not give grudgingly, but give with an open heart, with fullness.”
In order for the things that God has given us to be useful, we have to spread them out; we have to sow.
Dear brothers and sisters, how often are we guilty of this particular problem, of giving reluctantly, giving grudgingly, giving sparingly, the minimum; giving without joy — “Oh, I’ll do it, but…,” “I’ll give it, but…I won’t do it in a joyful way.” We treat the Lord, oftentimes, as we see in another Gospel, in the Parable of the Talents, where the man says the Lord is a hard man and He reaps where He has not sown. We treat the Lord this way. We act as if the universe is ours and He wants a little bit of it back, and we are angry about that – when in reality the Lord created the universe; He created all things. The line in the Epistle to the Corinthians was very interesting; it says if you give to the sower, you get back food and more seed; if we give to God, if we give to the Creator, the Sower, we get all things. We get everything back; we get food; we get everything back. But if we hoard the seed to ourselves and we don’t sow, we don’t give, it all dies; it all rots away.
We hoard things. We hoard material goods. We hoard money. We hoard these things because we lack faith. In order for the things that God has given us to be useful, we have to spread them out; we have to sow. We have to sow, and that also includes in our daily life. When we talk about sowing, you say, “Oh, my spiritual life is not good. I lack faith; I’m depressed.” This is the most common thing we hear today – “I’m depressed.” What are we doing about it? How much of our time are we sowing? Are we giving to God ten minutes a day? Twenty minutes a day? Some days, how little are we actually doing for our salvation?
If we believe in the Resurrection, if we believe the miracle we saw in the Gospel, that the Lord, simply by His word, can raise us from the dead, then what possibly do we have to be sad about?
I was reading Saint Gregory of Nyssa last night and he said, “A happy life is a life of virtue.” Now, we’ve been listening to the devil so long in our culture that we are convinced it’s the opposite; that a happy life is a sinful life; a happy life is a life where we can do what we want to do, where we can indulge our passions in a negative way. And that simply by not doing that, we can declare ourselves good: “Well, I’m not doing what these other people are doing. I’m not out doing this, this and this; I’m not selling crack or pimping prostitutes, so therefore I must be good.” No, no, no. You shouldn’t do that anyway. You get no credit for not doing those things. You have to do good, and doing good is sowing the seed of virtue in your actions, in your daily actions.
Saint Paul, in the Epistle, is telling us– to use a modern phrase – we need an attitude check. We have to not only do these things, we have to do these things with the proper spirit. We have to do these things with a good heart, with joy, with cheerfulness. Because we should be cheerful if we believe. If we believe in the Resurrection, if we believe the miracle we saw in the Gospel, that the Lord, simply by His word, can raise us from the dead, then what possibly do we have to be sad about? Why would we be reluctant to offer back to this glorious, kind Master, those things He commands us? Why would we not be obedient to His commands, if we believe? Why don’t we believe? We act like we believe; we’re all here; I can’t be preaching to people who aren’t here. So what prevents us from that initial intellectual belief, to believing in action? Because virtue is belief in action.
Well, there are a lot of reasons; different people, different reasons. Ultimately, I think it’s two things. One, we’re lazy; two, we lack real faith. We heard in the cases of some of the martyrs, in the Synaxarion, these were people who were willing to suffer in ways that we cannot even comprehend. Sergius and Bacchus were beaten and whipped to death for the Lord, and we can easily see maybe they could have wheedled out of it and made some sort of compromise. We heard the Ninety-nine Martyrs of Crete, one of which was praying so much he could no longer stand and had to walk around like an animal; he was shot with an arrow. And he did this with joy, because his love for the Lord was so great that the pains and difficulties and trivialities and problems of this world faded into insignificance. Because they are insignificant; we just forget that. We allow the gross materiality of the world to squeeze out everything else, and so we forget. Sin, lack of virtue, primarily comes from forgetfulness. We get caught in the daily trap. We get caught in – that phrase I use too often – the logic of this world, of tit-for-tat, this for that; “Well, that’s the way they do it; that’s the way we need to do it.”
Every day we have this struggle between seeing the world as a profane, useless collection of molecules, and then we react one way; or seeing it as a glorious tapestry sown by the Lord, that we are invited to participate in.
Dear brothers and sisters, there’s a way out. The way out is consciously, self-consciously, when you wake up in the morning, when you start thinking – remember. Make the sign of the Cross and remember who you are. Remember what your purpose in this life is. Your purpose in this life is to sow the great and glorious word of Christ, to live the life that you’re given, to become vessels of the Holy Spirit so that you shine, others see your good works, and they glorify God, and they come to the Church. You save them from destruction.
This is our daily practice. There are no “bad” days. There are no “sad” days. There are no “routine” days. Every day we have this opportunity. Every day we have this struggle between seeing the world as a profane, useless collection of molecules, and then we react one way; or seeing it as a glorious tapestry sown by the Lord, that we are invited to participate in. We are invited by the Creator of the universe to participate and assist Him in His further creation of the universe, in His effort to save the souls that He created. Dear brothers and sisters, glory bounds on glory. The Lord loves a cheerful giver.