Sunday, June 10 (O.S., May 28), 2018: 2nd Sunday after Pentecost; All Saints of Ukraine and North America.All Saints of the Holy Mount; Ven. Nicetas, bishop of Chalcedon (9th c.). St. Eutychius, bishop of Melitene (1st c.). Martyrs Heliconis (244). Hieromartyr Helladius, bishop in the East (6th-7th c.). St. Ignatius, bishop of Rostov (1288).
Epistle: Romans 2:10-16/Hebrews 11:33-12:2
Gospel: Matthew 4:18-23/Matthew 4:25-5:12
Read St Paul quickly and you’ll miss what he’s saying.
Yes, we all have sinned; on this, there can be no debate. Based on the evidence of my own life, it is simply a lie for me to suggest otherwise.
I know that I have sinned and that I have fallen short of the glory of God. The Apostle, however, introduces a distinction here that (like I said), I might overlook if I just read him quickly.
Yes, we all have sinned but this isn’t primarily why we fall short of the glory of God.
We fall short because we are creatures. Sin complicates this, it makes rigid an observation that should inspire us to humility in the presence of God, gratitude for His grace, and a desire to give ourselves over in love ever more fully to Him.
Instead what we do, what I do, is look for reasons to condemn my neighbor for his shortcomings while being willing to excuse my own. Basically, “you” fall short of the glory of God because of sin; “I” fall short of the glory of God for perfectly understandable–and so excusable–reasons.
Paul anticipates my self-justification. After pointing out that all have sinned and that all have fallen short of the glory of God, he reminds us of something else we too easily forget or overlook. God has inscribed His law in each human heart.
If sin is ubiquitous, divine grace is promiscuous.
There is no human heart that has not been touched by God’s grace. And as firmly as we are in the grip of sin, we are held more firmly–and more gently–by divine grace. Sin has neither the first word nor the last word in our lives.
Though sin would have us believe otherwise, our lives are acts of divine grace. No matter how terrible the sin, no matter how hard the heart, no matter how unrepentant the sinner, God is there wooing us, inviting us back to our one true homeland.
Sin cannot undo the fact that we belong to God and our sustained by His grace.
Today the Church celebrates an interesting feast. Last week, we celebrated all the saints of the Church–known and especially unknown. Today, we celebrate all the saints–again known and unknown–of a particular place. While the feast is the same throughout the Church, the locality changes.
Like politics, holiness is local. And so today Orthodox Churches throughout the world celebrates the saints of their nation, the saints of their place. Today we profess and proclaim in our liturgical life that God’s grace has touched the hearts of those who have gone before us in this place wherever this place might be.
So what does this mean for us?
It means this: Today we thank God not simply for the saints of North America, or the United States. No today, we thank God for the saints known and unknown, of Wisconsin, Madison, and even the Isthmus.
The challenge this places before us is this: How has God’s grace touched this place–Madison–and these people who live here?
This isn’t an idle question. Much less is it mere sentimentality, of telling ourselves “Let’s all feel good about where we live.” We are not asking the question because we the spiritual equivalent of the Chamber of Commerce or the tourist board.
Rather we ask the question because Jesus has commanded us to imitate Him. Just as He called Peter and Andrew, James and John, and made them “fishers of men” He has also called us to be His disciples, apostles, and evangelists.
And He has called us to do this here. Not in North America, or the United States or Wisconsin, or even Madison but here, on the Isthmus.
This means, to return to St Paul, that Jesus has gone before us and by His grace and love for mankind prepared the hearts of each person we meet here. Again, if sin is ubiquitous, divine grace is promiscuous; God has poured out without measure or consideration His grace into the life of each and every single person.
Our task? Our task is to discern what God has done. And so we ask:
How has God prepared the people of this place to receive the Gospel that they might be saved?
How has God prepared the people of this place to participate in the sanctification of the world?
How has God prepared the people of this place to join us in conforming society evermore closely to the Gospel?
How has God prepared the people of this place to become part of that great cloud of witnesses?
My brothers and sisters in Christ! At the Divine Liturgy we sing the Beatitudes. These outline for us how we are to go about fulfilling the task we’ve been given. We will at another time look at these in more detail.
For now though, let us draw encouragement and comfort from our Lord’s promise that if we are faithful to Him, He will bless and sustain us even when the world turns against us.