Today, the Sunday after Pentecost, we remember all of the saints, and we are inspired by these two readings, I would hope, that contain much encouragement. How can one not be encouraged when this whole choir of righteous is enumerated by the apostle Paul, and then he says, "Wherefore seeing we are also compassed about by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin which doth so easily beset us. Let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, Who, for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame and hath sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."
This should be like an anthem for we Christians. And the saints are all described at the end of the Gospel reading. Every righteous one that has ever lived, that has ever pleased God, that has ever struggled with his sins, that has ever truly believed in the resurrection is described today, because our Lord says, "Everyone that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children or lands for My Name's sake, shall receive a hundred fold and shall inherit ever-lasting life. But many that are first shall be last, and the last shall be first." This describes in microcosm the life that pleases God, the life that we are called to. We are to forsake that which weighs us down, sin which easily besets us, and even father or mother or sister or brother, if they weigh us down, if they keep us from the kingdom of God. In most cases that would not be necessary.
Jesus Christ is not telling us to always leave our father and mother. Indeed we must love them, and honor them, whether they honor God or not. But it is a value judgement here; it is a set of priorities. If we are to inherit what is our birthright, then we must live according to that birthright. You remember, with Esau and Jacob, Esau had the birthright, but he didn't live according to it, so it was taken from him. These readings contain not only the encouragement and this incredible joy that we should feel about the grace of God; they also contain a blueprint, a path of how to live. Not only how to live, but also how not to live. The promise is there, that also contains, very, very clearly for those who have ears to hear and eyes to see, what happens when a man does not follow Christ.
Now this is the Sunday after Pentecost. Pentecost, the out-pouring of the Holy spirit, the gift of the Holy spirit upon all in the church, is what makes us capable of being part of this choir of the saints. It's what helps all men to attain to the knowledge of God and to righteousness. St. Paul says through faith they did this, through faith they did that. This was in the Old Testament times, before the giving of the Holy Spirit. Even more remarkable are the exploits of the saints before the coming of Christ, because the Holy Spirit did not dwell within them. The Holy Spirit influenced their lives, guided them, helped them, but did not dwell within them. This was meant for a later time. And St. Paul alludes to this when he says, "And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise, God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect." He is pointing to the coming of the God-man Jesus Christ, and then the bringing of the Holy Spirit after Jesus Christ showed and in actuality did what was necessary for our salvation. He showed us how to live, and lived according to His commandments, and caused Himself to be risen from the dead. And then the bringing of the Holy Spirit enlightens us, strengthens us and allows us to do the will of God, and to obtain the promise.
I want to focus on some things that were said in the Gospel - the Gospel is a composite reading, by the way. It is actually Matthew chapter ten and also chapter nineteen, a portion of it. It fits together very nicely in context, and that's why the Holy Spirit must have desired the reading be put together as it was for this day. Our Lord said, "Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven." This is a fundamental characteristic of righteousness, to confess the Lord Jesus Christ. And how do we confess Him? Without lips and with our actions; with our priorities and with our way of dealing with people; with what we say is important and what we show is important.
There are some obvious things that you could have come to mind. We confess the lord by showing that we care about Christianity, that we live our life in a moral way. The entire world has gone off unto Sodom and Gomorrah, but we cannot do this. We must have the courage to stand against it, to stand against every form of immorality and vice. This is the confession of Christ. Now there is a new form of Christianity in name only. It's been around now for quite a good many years. In fact, you really can see the beginnings of it in apostolic times. But certainly, in the past few hundred years of the post enlightenment age, it has been codified that this is an acceptable way of life.
This way of life confesses Christ with the lips, but not with action, not with morality, not with the way we live, not with the way we order our lives. The new Christianity, from which the Orthodox are not immune, has a sort of dichotomy between belief and action. But there is no such thing. This is the great lie. Faith without works is dead. There is no dichotomy between action and belief. And if you do not live according to what you say you believe, then you are not confessing Christ. And we've been given everything we need to confess Him. We've been given the Holy Spirit, the comforter, Who lives within us if indeed we make a place for Him, if indeed we clean out our soul, and garnish it and sweep it out with effort and desire. And He will help us in all things. But if we do not live righteously we are not confessing Christ.
Christ says He will confess us before His Father, if we live according to His will, and confess Him in this life. But He won't confess us before His Father if we do not live in such a way. For those people who do not live in such a way are reserved the words, "I don't know you. I don't know who you are. You have no part with Me. You haven't become like Me. Go away. Go unto outer darkness." Those words are reserved for those people who confess with their lips but not with the way they live, not with their priorities.
Now there are other practical things. In our modern society we are constantly in social situations. Are you afraid to make the sign of the cross before you have your dinner in a restaurant? If this is the case, you should weep and lament and pound your breast and ask God's forgiveness for this, and do it the next time. Are you afraid among your friends or among your business associates or whomever else you come across in your daily walk of life to show your priorities and the Christian way of thinking, or do you change your priorities based upon the vicissitudes of your life, maybe so you are not in trouble, or so nobody thinks badly of you, or maybe just so that you are not inconvenienced? This is not confessing Christ, either.
This is confessing, the Devil, because this is the way the Devil wants us to live. The devil is perfectly happy with lipservice to Christianity; he loves that. In fact, I think he prefers it to out and out paganism, because what does our Lord say to those in the church of Laodicea, in Revelations? "Thou art lukewarm, and I will spit thee out of my mouth." No, brothers and sisters, we are not to be lukewarm. We have fire within us. The Holy Spirit warms us. That fire should burn things, not burn us; it should burn the sins within us, and it should glow. There should be a light. People should see it.
I am convinced there are two main reasons our churches are not full - one is the world is very, very evil, and people are not interested in a Christian way of life. They are interested in Christian lipservice, but not in actually ordering their lives completely according to Christ. That's part of it. But another part of it is, we don't shine. We don't profess Christ in very aspect of how we live, how we think, how we prioritize. Every single person in our workplace should notice something about us, or think we're different. Some may hate us because it - absolutely and positively. Some hated Christ. But there was no one that encountered Christ that did not notice something about Him, that did not have to come to a decision because of Him. So should it be with us.
We must confess Christ before men. Don't live your life according to the priorities of the world. Don't let anything get in the way of an all-out assault on your passions, and an all-out desire to follow the commandments. We have this cloud of witnesses. Look what they did: through faith they subdued kingdoms, they wrought righteousness, they obtained promises, they stopped the mouths of lions, they were sawn asunder, they wandered about in sheep skins and in goat skins. The world was not even worthy of them. All of these things were struggles. None of these things that I just mentioned are pleasant. All of them were difficult trials. The Christian life is indeed a trial, a difficulty, it is an arena, it is a life-or-death struggle.
If this causes your heart to contract and be afraid, then you must beg the Holy Spirit to indwell in you more, and be joyful on this day that so many have entered into the kingdom of heaven, so many have endured struggles, and pain, and grief, and endured to the end, and come to the kingdom of heaven. And they are all examples for us, all around. And they are poof that the resurrection is real. The resurrection is true. And it changes a man. This news is the best news that can be said. There is nothing greater. The resurrection changes us! Now our life sometimes is filled with bitterness and difficulty. Some of it is from without, brought on by those whom we know, or whom we don't know. Some of it is from within, from our own sinfulness, our lack of belief, our lack of constancy, our lack of good priorities. But regardless, life is struggle. Everyone understands this. But God has given us the tools to endure in the struggle.
God has given us everything we need, and on this day we celebrate the whole panoply of saints that have endured to the end, as an example to us, but also - we must understand, and we must be able to have these two thoughts together at the same time - also as a reproach against us. They are both a reproach against us, and also an encouragement to us, both at the same time. Because they've all endured. They're made of the same stuff as we are. They had the same difficulties with sins that we have. They were given the same grace that we have been given, the same truth, the same God, the same Holy Spirit. But they fought the good fight, and endured; they finished the course.
And now we ask their intercessions before God, for our sinful selves. We can attain; we must attain some measure of what they have attained. We are called to perfection. Christianity is not just a belief system, or membership; it is the continual, extreme change of a man. And this is good news. There is so much wrong with us, so much incomplete, so much that hurts, so much that is imperfect, so much that we don't know, so much that makes us sad; all of that God will change. No sadness, no incompleteness, no sickness, no bad thoughts, nothing whatsoever that causes our faces to be downcast, but instead all light.
This is what God wants to give us. We must live our life according to this promise, aim for this promise, and struggle for this promise. Then we will truly be called friend by our Lord. He will call us friend, and we will be able to cry, "Abba, Father." Such incredible intimacy with God! The saints obtained it. And we can attain it. But only by struggle, only by confessing Christ, only by living according to His commandments. In the middle of today's reading it says, "He that taketh not up his cross and followeth after me, the same is not worthy of Me." We must struggle according to what He has told us to do. I am continually struck by the lives of the saints, and by the writings of the fathers, by how these two thoughts - our depravity and God's great mercy -are welded into one. On almost every page of the Scriptures this knowledge of the condition of man, which is deplorable, and the promise of what man will become, is present. And we see it in the saints. We see their righteousness, how God brought them home. We also see their struggles, and we should compare their struggles to our own, and mix always the knowledge of what God has predestined for us with the knowledge of what kind of person we are. They always must be mixed together. And then we will struggle. We will push on, and we will fight, and we will finish the course. The Holy Spirit has made it possible for us. The Holy Spirit enlightens us, and lives within us if we live according to His commandments. May God help you to confess Christ in everything you say and everything you do, in how you prioritize, and live your life. Amen.