The Cloud of Witnesses

The Gospel according to St. Matthew 10:32-33, 37-38; 19:27-30

Today in the Orthodox Church we celebrate All Saints Day. Now in the Western Churches All Saints day is celebrated on November 1st and that is why All Hallows Eve (Halloween) is on October 31st.

The reason that All Saints day falls at this time in our calendar is very theologically important. This is the first Sunday after Pentecost. Pentecost as you know is our celebration of the descent of the Holy Spirit not only on the Apostles but on all of us. So there is a close connection between the Holy Spirit and Sainthood. In fact we as Orthodox would say that sanctity, holiness and sainthood cannot exist without the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

In today’s Gospel reading we hear Our Lord Jesus Christ giving what is really a lesson that we could call “How to become a saint.” Listen to these words “Everyone who acknowledges Me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father Who is in heaven; but whoever denies Me before men, I also will deny before My Father Who is in heaven. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me.”

These words remind us that Jesus Christ is unrelenting in His pursuit of us. He demands full obedience and full love. The words of Our Lord telling us to love Him more than our own flesh and blood should serve as a true wake-up call to each of us regarding “what really matters in life”. Not only are we reminded not to put our parents in front of the Lord, we are reminded that even if we put our children in front of Him we are unworthy of Him. But why such strong language? Is it because Christianity is meant to be difficult and painful? I don’t think so. It is because the Lord does not compromise and does not negotiate for our love.

The real issue here is that there is no way to compare the love of family or friends with the love of God the creator of the heavens and the Earth. To tell someone that you love an ant on the sidewalk more than a dog would seem very very silly. But the truth is that the difference between humans and God is so much greater than the difference between the ant and the dog because God alone is uncreated, He alone is love and He alone deserves the fullness of our heart. We can certainly love others, but we must love Him more. We can definitely serve others, but our lives must be committed to Him.

There is a small downside to All Saints day…it reminds us that we have no excuses for not becoming saints. We cannot stand before the throne of the Lord and say “I didn’t think it was possible” or “No one showed me how to do it.” In today’s epistle St. Paul tells us that “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” and by this he means all the saints and righteous men and women of all the ages throughout history. These men and women prove to us that it is possible to become more than simply humans making excuses for ourselves and our troubles and shortcomings. They prove that in the life of the Church we can be clay that is transformed from a simple lump into a masterpiece if we allow ourselves to be molded and sculpted by the loving hands of our Master and that means that we give ourselves, our hearts over to Him, we rededicate ourselves to Him every day. We remind ourselves that nothing is more important than knowing God.

Practically speaking I am always encouraging you to spend quiet time in prayer and to read your Bibles but there is another way to rededicate ourselves. We can examine our activities throughout the day and ask ourselves “Is this action bringing me closer to God?” “Is this action worthy of my time?” Each and every one of us has to take an inventory of ourselves and our time. We have to begin to unplug from the computers, the email, the facebook, the youtube, the work, the television maybe even our novels and books. We need to unplug ourselves because while we are plugged into all of these things we are fed by them. We aren’t just dumb computers that see information and remain unaffected by it. We are human beings and our hearts and minds are imprinted by whatever it is we take in through our senses. Because we are affected by everything around us, it isn’t enough to simply talk about the Holy Spirit and expect miracles, we have to allow our hearts to be empty of the world in order to be filled by the Spirit, in order to sense the presence of the Spirit of God.

What the Saints of the Church teach us by their example is that it is truly possible to direct our senses to good and noble things. To become holy and dedicated to God no matter where we are in society, whether we are fishermen, lawyers, doctors, tax collectors, even prostitutes. Whether we grow up in affluence or poverty, in a Christian household or with Pagan parents or unbelieving spouses. In each of these cases the Saints rise above the obstacles because they look past them, they look above them! As St. Paul tells us today “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely to us, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of our faith.” and Glory be to God Forever……

 

adapted from a June 2011 sermon.

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3 thoughts on “The Cloud of Witnesses

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