Sermon for Sunday June 23, 2019
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Once upon a time, in a faraway land,
A young Prince lived in a shining castle.
Although he had everything his heart desired,
The Prince was spoiled, selfish, and unkind.
But then, one winter’s night,
An old beggar woman came to the castle
And offered him a single rose In return for shelter from the bitter cold.
Repulsed by her haggard appearance,
The Prince sneered at the gift,
And turned the old woman away.
But she warned him not to be deceived by appearances,
For Beauty is found within.
And when he dismissed her again,
The old woman’s ugliness melted away
To reveal a beautiful Enchantress.
The Prince tried to apologize, but it was too late,
For she had seen that there was no love in his heart.
Those who know me, know that I really love Disney. The cartoons, the amusement park, the stories, they all capture the imagination of a child and to this day, I am sure like me many of you enjoy Disney. And one of my favorite cartoons produced by Disney was Beauty and the Beast. Perhaps it was because I related to the beast, who was large and loud. Regardless, much like any of those classic cartoons, each story had a deeper lesson, something to take away and learn from. And the opening prologue of beauty and the beast illustrates a very powerful message, one that is deeply scriptural. The beast, who was still a prince, because of his arrogance, pride and lack of love as is stated, was blinded and deafened to the warnings and truth of the woman who had come to him for help. He could not recognize what was being offered to him. Much like the Pharisees in the Gospel, because of their sinfulness, their arrogance, pride and lack of love in their hearts, they had become blinded to what was taking place in front of their eyes. They could not understand who Christ was and what was being offered to them.
Repeatedly we read about how those men, who were considered educated and law-abiding, argued and fought against Jesus and what he and his disciples were doing. And in today’s Gospel, we see them out of frustration acting out, “So the Jews gathered round him and said to him, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.’” Who among us hasn’t asked this question? Who among us has not asked “where are you?” Now a days especially, with articles being no longer than 250-500 characters, we want the answers fast and plain or else we just move on to the next thing.
How does Jesus answer us? “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep.” (vv. 25-26) Jesus is saying I showed you through my actions. What actions? He hadn’t been crucified or raised from the dead yet. He hadn’t even raised Lazarus. So what works done in the name of Father? Only a few weeks ago we read in the narrative about Palm Sunday, that people believed because he had raised Lazarus from the dead. So people saw the extraordinary and said, yup that’s our guy. Yet, at this point though Christ had performed many miracles and healed many, the people were not satisfied – they remained blind. Because they’re arrogance, pride and lack of love had blinded them to the greater gift that was being offered to them – the love of God.
We often say that God is love, yet, we then begin defining Gods, we define love in our own way, through our own understanding. This is why certain Church practices over time get twisted and even perverted. We confuse the unconditional love of God with the unconditional approval of God – which does not exist. If God approved unconditionally then Christ dying for us on the cross was pointless. No, rather the unconditional love of God proves exactly the fact that no matter who we are and what we do God’s love is present but we need to recognize it and begin living it in our own thoughts, words and actions – our external must reflect our internal. In Zechariah we read, “If you will walk in my ways and keep my charge, then you shall rule my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you the right of access among those who are standing here.” (v.7)
You see, God is placing a condition; if we walk in his ways and keep his charge, meaning commandments, then we will be blessed. When we put away our own arrogance, our own preconceived concepts of right and wrong, when we focus on the image of God that we are created in, and through repentance, we turn away from sin only then will we recognize and see Christ Jesus and who he truly is. We will recognize the deeper beauty of our faith, an intimate relationship as children of God. We will know who Christ is not 2,000 years ago, but we will know who Christ is, where Christ is today. Because Christ is known through his works, as he said.
My dears, those works are done through each one of us. How we treat each other, how we show love and respect even with those who we do not agree or approve of. By recognizing what Gods true and freeing love is, and by living it likewise through our own actions we begin to be Christ for others to see. And ultimately we begin to see Christ in each other.
As the prologue of beauty and the beast says, the ugliness melts away to reveal beauty. Christ’s love melts away the ugliness of this world so that when we see a beggar in the street, we see Christ. When we see the prostitute or drunkard in their darkness, we see Christ. When we see people struggle with addiction, brokenness, when we see tears and when we see smiles, we see Christ. As St. John Chrysostom teaches, if we don’t see God out there, we will never see him in here. And it is this beauty that is revealed to us.
The beauty that we are all created in God’s divine image, we are all his children. A beauty of a life founded in Christ Jesus who loves us and gave his life for us, in order for us to live. And when we live that life and remain in Communion with Christ – we strengthen our communion with God – because the Son and the Father are one. Meaning when see Christ in each other and in ourselves, we see a living God, a loving God, a forgiving and compassionate God who loves us each and desires for us only the best.
Will we like the prince, like the Pharisees and other Jews, become blind and search for love and beauty according to our limited ideas? Or will we allow Gods divine love to open our hearts and minds and to cleanse of our sinfulness in order for us to immediately recognize who God is in our lives? I invite each of us to reflect and search our hearts and minds – to approach the Holy Altar not with our own ideas but according to Gods commandments. May our works likewise reflect Christ in the world, so that when people see us and hear that we are Christian, they will say “here is Christ, here is a true Christian – a healer and a witness of God’s love in this world.” May the grace of the Holy Spirit be upon us and enlighten our hearts and minds to see Christ in our lives, Amen!