21 February 2010

Who found whom?

Jesus decided to go into Galilee.
He had a plan…a purpose…and that purpose and plan was to find Philip.
So John tells us, “He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me!’”
Jesus found Philip. He called him.

When Philip heard the Lord’s call, we’re told, Philip found his friend Nathaniel and said,
We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote—
Jesus of Nazareth, son of Joseph!”

So who found whom? Did Jesus find Philip, or did Philip find Jesus?

The answer, of course, is “Yes--both.”

Our text is a delightful example of synergy: of God’s will coming together with ours.

A few years ago, there was an evangelistic campaign called “I found it!”
Those words appeared on billboards, along with a phone number.
Those who called the number received a gospel presentation.

At the time I criticized it; I said, “We shouldn’t say ‘I found it,’ but rather, “He found me.”
Like many, I thought that the relation between God’s will and mine was a “zero-sum game.”
I was wrong.

When you play poker with your friends, that’s a “zero sum game.”
If you win money, they lose money; if they win, you lose.
There’s only so much money involved.
But if you play poker with Bill Gates, that’s a “non-zero sum game.”
If you win some of his money, he’s lost nothing,
Because in the time it took you to win, he already made more.

The relationship between our will and God’s will is a non-zero sum game.
If I say, “We have found him,”
It doesn’t take away from his glory, his honor or his might.
It doesn’t mean that he didn’t find me.
Both are true: He found me, and I found him.

But how can that be?

How can God, the one who made everything, including me, from nothing—
How can God let himself become an object of my will, my creaturely will?

The answer gets to the heart of our Christian faith:
The incarnation of God the Son.
Without ceasing to be who he is,
He became what he was not.
He who is the Son of God, forever blessed,
Became the Son of Man, and took our curse.

He made himself an object of our senses, our mind,
And yes, our will.

That’s why St. Mark the Ascetic could say,

"Wishing to show that to fulfil every commandment is a duty, whereas sonship is a gift given to men through His own Blood, the Lord said: "When you have done all that is commanded you, say: 'We are useless servants: we have only done what was our duty'" (Luke 17: 10). Thus the kingdom of heaven is not a reward for works, but a gift of grace prepared by the Master for his faithful servants. A slave does not demand his freedom as a reward; but he gives satisfaction as one who is in debt, and he receives freedom as a gift."

We work, but we receive freedom as a gift. We find him, and he finds us.

That’s also why we reverence the holy icons. St. John of Damascus says, “Of old, God the incorporeal and uncircumscribed was never depicted. Now, however, when God is seen clothed in flesh, and conversing with men, (Bar. 3.38) I make an image of the God whom I see. I do not worship matter, I [16] worship the God of matter, who became matter for my sake, and deigned to inhabit matter, who worked out my salvation through matter. I will not cease from honouring that matter which works my salvation. I venerate it, though not as God.”

The Christian life is simply a life of hide and seek:

He seeks us, and knows us before we know him, and finds us in his holy Church;
We seek him, and find him where he wills to be found—
In his holy Church,
And in the bodies of the poor.

So let us seek him, beloved; let us not become proud when we see him wrapped in lowliness.
Let us not stumble at the lowly appearance, but honor the hidden majesty.
Let us honor him in the images,
Let us honor him in each other,
And let us honor him in the poor.

"When He is hungry, let us feed Him; when He is thirsty, let us give Him drink: though thou give Him but a cup of cold water, He receives it; for He loves thee, and to one who loves, the offerings of the beloved, though they be small, appear great. …
One who is beloved desires love to be shown, not by words only, but by deeds also. For to say that we love, and not to act like lovers, is ridiculous, not only before God, but even in the sight of men. Since then to confess Him in word only, while in deeds we oppose Him, is not only unprofitable, but also hurtful to us; let us, I entreat you, also make confession by our works; that we also may obtain a confession from Him in that day, when before His Father He shall confess those who are worthy in Christ Jesus our Lord, by whom and with whom, to the Father and the Holy Ghost be glory, now and ever, and world without end. Amen."


Trent said...

Fr. Gregory,
I really enjoyed your sermon. As a former LC-MSer like you, I too believed that this issue was binary. Either you believed God found you OR you believed that you were out on your own and had to find God. Like much in Orthodoxy, we reject the premise that we are given by both sides. I now see much the same thing with the faith/works arguments of my past. The works binary choice was either believe they are not necessary and not meritorious or they are necessary and are meritorious.

St. George, Wichita.

Amy said...

Hi Father,
Thanks for putting your recent sermons up. I hope you continue to do so! I always learn from them and since we can't visit every weekend (or even most)it's nice to still be able to read them. Robbie will probably be crawling soon--he pulled himself up to standing by himself on Sophia's bed today. We miss you!


Anonymous said...

Believing this post is my last hang-up with Orthodoxy. Can people who are dead in trespasses and sins make the move towards God? "I do my best and God does the rest?" This is the only thing still keeping me from moving East. Deep down, I can't get over Augustine! :)

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Dear oruaseht,

Context is everything when we weigh different statements. We are 'dead in trespasses and sins,' so that no one can boast before God; but we have the freedom to receive God's gift, so that no one can blame God for not believing.

The Church confesses human freedom over against the Manicheans; but it also confesses that such freedom puts God under no obligation.

As St. Mark the Ascetic said so well, "2. Wishing to show that to fulfil every commandment is a duty, whereas sonship is a gift given to men through His own Blood, the Lord said: AWhen you have done all that is commanded you, say: >We are useless servants: we have only done what was our duty=@ (Luke 17: 10). Thus the kingdom of heaven is not a reward for works, but a gift of grace prepared by the Master for his faithful servants," and again, "18. Some without fulfilling the commandments think that they possess true faith. Others fulfil the commandments and then expect the kingdom as a reward due to them. Both are mistaken.
19. A master is under no obligation to reward his slaves; on the other hand, those who do not serve him well are not given their freedom.
20. If "Christ died on our account in accordance with the Scriptures" (Rom. 5: 8; 1 Cor. Is: 3), and we do not "live for ourselves", but "for Him who died and rose" on our account (2 Cor. 5:15), it is clear that we are debtors to Christ to serve Him till our death. How then can we regard sonship as something which is our due?"

Remember me in your prayers,

Fr. Gregory