In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. God is one.
Both the gospel for today from the tenth chapter of the Gospel of St. Mark and the epistle for today from the ninth chapter of the Book of Hebrews ask a single question: How can we each deepen our faith in the living God? The firm answer is given in the very last line of the epistle: “Cleanse yourself from dead works to serve the living God.” In other words, move on in your life; discard what you no longer need; seek what Christ has for you now, not what you had in the past.
But how do we know what Christ wants us to do NOW? How do we learn to experience a faith within ourselves in the living God that seeks unity with Him? We are each baptised into unity with Christ. We say simply and profoundly, “I have tied my life to the life of Christ. I have decided to believe in Christ and to try to understand how He lived on earth and in heaven, and how I should live.”
The nineteenth century English artist and writer, William Morris suggested that: “If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” That is a challenging idea: “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” I find it especially challenging at the moment because I am trying to sort out the books and papers currently in use in my study, as well as the books and papers in my garage no longer in use.
Children, do you have things around your homes that might be thrown out or given away? Parents listen carefully. Children, what do you think might be thrown out of your homes or given away?. . . I am encouraged by the fact that one member of our congregation took 18 months to throw away everything that was no longer needed before moving into a much smaller apartment. For me, that amount of time is a realistic goal, although Sylvia and I have no intention of moving. Hopefully, I might finish in just one year. Children, you could go home and have a chat with your parents about what might be thrown out or given away in the next year. What clothes and books and furniture and toys do you do longer need? And in one year, in the middle of next Lent, we’ll see how we have all done.
Now, William Morris’s understanding of beauty is rather vague. In fact, he leaves to each of us to decide what we each think is beautiful: “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” The beauty that we are seeking in following God is the beauty set out in Psalm 27, “One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek; That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the Lord And to meditate in His temple.” That prayer from King David comes out of David’s confident belief as stated in the first line of the psalm: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defence of my life.”
In the book, The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth, the Orthodox Christian theologian, David Bentley Hart, has set out a much more profound understanding of beauty than that of William Morris. Dr. Hart suggests that “The Christian understanding of beauty emerges not only naturally, but necessarily, from the Christian understanding of God as [the relationship between each person of the triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit] whose life [together] is eternally one of shared regard, delight, fellowship . . . and joy” (p. 155). The Greek word cited by Dr. Hart begins with peri-, whose meaning includes the idea to “make room for.” That is precisely the challenge that confronts each of us in seeking to understand the true meaning of beauty. We need to “make room for” the Trinity in our lives—for the love that is shared among the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Now, when we united ourselves to Christ, we chose to believe in the Trinity, both in baptism and in how we lived our lives after baptism. We made a decision to join ourselves not only to Christ, but to be part of His Church, to worship in the Church — the universal Church that is also present in every local church, like here at St. Aidan’s. One Christian Biblical commentator, Dr. Lawrence Richards, has said sensibly that “Anyone may be excused for being a bit confused about the meaning of the word ‘church’ [because] we use the word in so many ways. It means a particular building [for us, St. Aidan’s on Clare Road], a denomination – his word not ours - [for us, the Orthodox Church], and even a Sunday meeting [in the phrase] ‘Did you go to church today?” For the early Christians—and still today, 2,000 years later—the Church is both universal and also a gathering of people who have been called out to assemble for a particular purpose. The Greek word is ekklēsia, “a called-out assembly”—a people who have been called together to worship God.
St. Timothy in Chapter 3, Verse 5 of his first epistle tells us, “the Church of the living God” is also “the household of God, the pillar and support of the truth.” We today in our worship are a sign of “the living God”—a sign that we have each made room in our own lives for the love shared within the Trinity, that we are indeed “the household of God,” and that we believe the Church is indeed “the pillar and support of the Truth.”
Those phrases from St. Timothy are powerful—“the Church of the living God . . the household of God. . . the pillar and support of the Truth.” That is a lot to understand. That is a lot to live. But children, you can understand this: in the gospel for today St. James and St. John did not understand what Christ was teaching. They did not understand how they could be friends with Christ. The apostles, St. James and St. John, each thought they should be in charge, along with Christ. In a popular phrase often used today, you might say, they wanted to be “top dogs”—in charge of everyone else, telling the other apostles how to live. Now, not surprisingly, the other apostles got rather angry. Moreover, Christ told St. James and St. John “whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant,” because just as Christ “did not come to be served, but to serve.” So it should be for them—and for us. Christ wants us to serve Him, not to seek the top positions of glory and honour. Christ also wants to serve us, to help us in our lives, to guide us to a living faith in Him.
James and John learned their lesson. They both became saints of the Church. The same can happen to us, without any formal recognition. We may not know right now precisely how we will learn to believe more deeply in Christ in the future, how we will serve Him and His Church, how we will be served by Him. As St. John of the Ladder reminds us, we must climb toward God with perseverance, climb toward a personal resurrection, a personal Pascha. And we can have the same attitude as David in the closing words of Psalm 27: “Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord.”
And so we ascribe as is justly due all might, majesty, dominion, power and praise to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit always now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen. Deacon Emmanuel Kahn