All Saints Homilies:
I want to consider with you this morning, beloved in Christ, the Epistle to the Ephesians 4:7-13 which we have just heard a few minutes ago.
But to each one of us grace was given according the measure of the gift of Christ.
Ἑνὶ δὲ ἑκάστῳ ἡμῶν ἐδόθη ἡ χάρις κατὰ τὸ μέτρον τῆς δωρεᾶς τοῦ Χριστοῦ.
Eni de ekastō ēmōn edothē ē charis kata to metron tēs dōreas tou Christou
(ΠΡΟΣ ΕΦΕΣΙΟΥΣ 4:7)
Por për të secilit nga ne iu dha hiri sipas masës së dhuratë e Krishtit.
Mas a cada um de nós foi dada a graça conforme a medida do dom de Cristo.
Let me talk to you this morning about the gift of Christ to each and to all. Let us begin with the gift of Christ. One of the things we may want to consider is what sort of adjective that is. What sort of adjective is it? If I said this is my Christmas gift, it means it belongs to me. But if I say this is my Christmas gift for my wife, then it belongs to my wife. What sort of adjective is it when we say “the gift of Christ”? Is it a subjective adjective, the gift we get from Christ? Is it an objective adjective, the gift which is Christ? There are all sorts of adjectives it could be. We could get three points out of that right there just considering what sort of adjective it might be: “To each one of us grace was given according to the measure of the gift of Christ.” Perhaps this is the gift given to Christ by the Father.
At least begin by noting that Paul does not simply speak of the generosity of God, but the gift of Christ. He is thinking less of the infinite bounty of God than of the redemptive work by which Christ purchased what He has given to us, which is indistinguishable from Himself. This is why Paul immediately speaks here of what Christ accomplished in His death and glorification. He sites the 67th Psalm (in the Orthodox study bible and in the Hebrew text Psalm 68). He begins by citing this Psalter:
You ascended on high, You led captivity captive;
You received gifts for mankind,
Truly for the disobedient, so they may dwell there.
The Lord God is blessed.
Paul goes on to explain the meaning of this Psalm verse. I quote you from Paul, who is quoting the Psalm:
Therefore He says:
“When He ascended on high,
He led captivity captive,
And gave gifts to men.”
(Now this, “He ascended”—what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all heavens, that He might fill all things.)
This text then is a reference to the Lord’s death, His descent to the lower parts of the earth, and burial, which is to say that the gift of Christ is an expensive gift. It was purchased at a great price. He died in fact, that we might have it. The gift of Christ is a gift of incalculable value, a price beyond reckoning.
Now everything that we have, brothers and sisters, has to do with the gift of Christ. Our lives are full of the gift of Christ, which means that at each point in our existence, we come into personal contact with the price by which that gift was purchased. At each point in our existence. That is to say, at no point in our lives are we independent operators left on our own, abandoned to our individual resources. At no point in our life is that true. Surrounded at all times by the gift of Christ, we are constantly in touch with motives for thanksgiving and praise.
I ask people all the time when I counsel them and when I hear in their confessions, I’ve asked this question dozens of times and it is only the ninth day of this year: “How often during the day do you give thanks?” I get various standard numbers. Once is a start, but what does St. Paul say?
“giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God.”
Why? Because we receive the gift of Christ at all times. The sustained remembrance of this truth should remove two terrible burdens from our hearts and minds. If at any point any of you feel like “well, that’s not a burden”, then just put up your hand and I will let you explain why it’s not a burden. Here are the two burdens we get rid of: selfishness and anxiety. Is everybody with me so far? Selfishness and anxiety. Thanksgiving will free me from selfishness and confidence in God will liberate my soul from anxiety.
We may we see this truth illustrated in the stories of the Gospels. This morning we had the fourth chapter of Matthew. Matthew later on, as well as Mark, goes on to tell the story about the apostles out in a boat and besieged by a storm on the lake. It was that storm of which St. Mark says:
And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”
I’ve travelled across the Sea of Galilee in a small boat and there was no storm. It was just the ordinary choppy waters. The winds come rushing around. The configuration of the Golan Heights to the west has something to do with it. It was very choppy water, a small boat, but they had glass partitions so that we wouldn’t get splashed too much by the waves. I’d hate to think of myself out on a little fishing boat out on that lake in the middle of a storm.
Jesus is in the back of the boat. What is Jesus doing during the storm? Mark tells us “he was in the stern asleep on a pillow.” Now this is the one who does not sleep. “He who keeps Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps” (Psalm 121:4). He is asleep. You see, Christ is never anxious the way we are. He is not anxious because His gift is sure. More than that, Christ does not regard it as reasonable, ever, for one of His disciples to be anxious. Anxiety is never a reasonable response.
That’s very difficult to comprehend that, isn’t it? You might think at least sometimes you should be anxious…no…danger of death…nope. Anxiety and self-preoccupation seem to us at least once in awhile justified. For Jesus they are never reasonable. They are not reasonable activities. He is asleep on the back of the boat, but He is in the boat, He is taking care of them, but He can’t possibly take care of them while He is asleep. So reason the apostles. So they wake Him up. “Is it of no concern to you that we are perishing here?” What does Mark say?
Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm.
It doesn’t say exactly what He said to the wind, just He rebuked it. I have always sort of pictured that He turned to the wind and He said: “Oh, knock it off!” Then He turns to the apostles. “The wind ceases and there is a great calm,” says Mark. What does He say to the apostles?
But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith? And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!”
“Why were you afraid?” That was most unreasonable. Why were you afraid? If we were but attentive to His voice I suspect this is what we would hear Christ saying to us several times during the day. Peace. Be still. Why are you afraid? Or maybe knock it off, calm down. We are surrounded by the gift of Christ even as He sleeps in the stern of the boat. If He was not anxious, why should we be?
A good friend of mine died a couple of months ago. He was an abbot in a monastery in the north of France, but he wasn’t French. He was actually Flamand, a Flemish Belgian, André Louf. I spent about three months in his monastery back in 1966. He was a very young Abbott at the time, extremely devout, very devout, and extremely Christ-centered. He died just a few months ago in his early eighties. As he lay back on the pillow, over and over again, during the course of his dying, he kept saying…over and over again, it was his spontaneous feeling, a spontaneous impulse… he kept praying Christus, Christus, Christus, over and over again, and it was with that word that his last breath came out. When a friend of mine wrote to me an email describing this to me, it reminded me of the lorica, the Breastplate of St. Patrick:
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness,
Of the Creator of Creation.
At every moment we encounter the gift of Christ.
Second, St. Paul says: “To each one of us grace was given.” Ἑνὶ δὲ ἑκάστῳ ἡμῶν, To each one of us. Now Paul describes this gift of Christ in terms of measure or proportion. “To each one of us grace was given according the measure of the gift of Christ.” It is measured, κατὰ τὸ μέτρον τῆς δωρεᾶς τοῦ Χριστοῦ, according to the measure. That is to say that the gift of Christ is intentional and deliberate, not random or indiscriminate. The gift of Christ is according to the measure of each of us. It is consciously picked out and personally chosen by Christ. The providence of Christ is not just a general oversight of the bigger picture of human history. It is a particular oversight of individual human beings, each of whom is uniquely loved. We must be persuaded of that. That’s what we mean by the providence of Christ. It is a personal love for each of us in our uniqueness, and the gift is measured according to us, according to our need and according to our desire.
Paul’s use of the word metros, κατὰ τὸ μέτρον, his use of the word metros here brings to my mind the mother serving a meal to a child. She proportions the food on the child’s plate. She knows what the child needs. She knows what the child can handle. She measures the amount she places in the child’s bowl, according to the measure. We all recognize what this means. The mother is thinking in terms of the particular needs of the child. It is not that the mother is ungenerous. She is simply being careful and solicitous for the child. She measures it out.
It is thus that St. Paul describes the gift of Christ. It is given according to a personal measure. It respects the unique character of each person. Christ, you see, when He descended into the lower parts of the earth, did not simply die for all of us, He died for each of us. In this respect, for the uniqueness of each of us, He determines the measure and proportion, the metron of His gift. Each of us is loved uniquely. Each of us is called by a personal name, and my, there is no accounting for individuality. I am sometimes astounded, and maybe you are, too.
I was reading this past week of a fairly, at least in this country he is, a fairly obscure French poet of the nineteenth century who died in 1855. He was unique. Each day he went out and took a little stroll through the Jardin du Palais Royal in Paris, and like a lot of people who take a stroll, he took his pet with him. He didn’t have a dog and he didn’t have a cat. He had a pet lobster named Thibault. He had a leash for Thibault, which was a long blue silk ribbon, and he and Thibault would take a little stroll together. Now, I have actually never walked a lobster before. I am not sure exactly how fast you can walk when you have a lobster with you, I don’t know. Someone finally came to him and said, “Why are you walking with that lobster?” His response was, “Parce qu’il est tellement gentil”—because he is so nice! I’ve been thinking about that all week. Who in our parish here walks every day with a lobster? I’m sure there must be somebody, but I haven’t pictured it yet.
Some people like dogs. Some people like cats. Some people like fish, although I’ve never been able to strike up a really close personal relationship with my wife’s fish. But differences like that symbolize deeper differences, don’t they? Difference of soul, differences of…they are just different! Remember that somebody said, “Bobby and Billy, those two brothers, they are really different, especially Bobby.” See, He gives His gift to us according to measure. I want to stress that to you. We are loved uniquely. We are loved uniquely.
Third, the uniqueness of each of us does not mean that we are considered apart from others. The Church of Jesus Christ is not just an assembly of individuals. Oh, heavens no, no. Even in their uniqueness, Christians are not individualists. The gift of Christ to each of us is directed to the building up of all of us. Paul thus describes that building up:
“till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;”
μέχρι καταντήσωμεν οἱ πάντες εἰς τὴν ἑνότητα τῆς πίστεως καὶ τῆς ἐπιγνώσεως τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ, εἰς ἄνδρα τέλειον, εἰς μέτρον ἡλικίας τοῦ πληρώματος τοῦ Χριστοῦ,
mechri katantēsōmen oi pantes eis tēn enotēta tēs pisteōs kai tēs epignōseōs tou uiou tou theou eis andra teleion eis metron ēlikias tou plērōmatos tou Christou
(ΠΡΟΣ ΕΦΕΣΙΟΥΣ 4:13)
deri ne të gjithë të vijnë në unitetin e besimit dhe e dijes së Perëndisë Bir, për një njeri të përsosur në masën e shtatit të plotësisë së Krishtit
até que todos cheguemos à unidade da fé e do pleno conhecimento do Filho de Deus, ao estado de homem feito, à medida da estatura da plenitude de Cristo
Notice there the word measure again. He uses the phrase “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” twice. This is why the gift of Christ is according to measure, κατὰ τὸ μέτρον. We are living stones proportioned to fit into the larger structure. Each of us has own shape because each of us has a separate and unique place in the body, which Paul in his passage calls the body of Christ. The true human destiny, the goal of human history is not an abstraction. Paul describes it as man in his perfection, eis andra teleion, man in his perfection, which he identifies with the pleromatos tou Christou, the fullness of Christ.
Thus Paul uses the expression metros this second time, speaking of the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. The two measures, our personal measure and the measure of humanity, are proportioned to each other. The true future of each of us is the destiny of all of us. Meanwhile, we find our proper and assigned place according to His gift. Each of us must find our measure, the proportion that God assigns to us.
We especially praise His goodness that He has not rejected us in our sins, nor abandoned us to our darkness. We seek Him in the full assurance of His love and with a cultivated confidence in His ongoing care over our lives. At every point in those lives we welcome His gift with thanksgiving, even as we petition His blessing on the humble service we strive to render to His glory. Amen.