Sermon on the 8th Sunday of Luke
2 Corinthians 9:6
In today’s Epistle reading, St Paul tells us that, “He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully”.
In the life of St John the Merciful, whose memory we commemorate today, we see the literal application of this saying. Whenever St John would give money to the poor, God returned the money to him in even greater abundance; because God will always provide for those who in faith and love selflessly provide for their neighbour as worthy stewards of the Lord’s bounty. These are the people who will hear the Lord say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things”.
This apostolic principle doesn’t just pertain to charity and the correct use of wealth, but also to our spiritual life more generally. In other words, the greater a person’s investment in their spiritual life, the greater their return on that investment. Of course, the grace of God is called grace because it’s a free gift, not something we can earn by our own efforts, but how are we supposed to receive that gift of grace if we don’t make an effort to create space in our hearts for that grace to work, what good will that grace do us if we don’t use it?
How can we expect for God to hear us if we don’t speak to him regularly in prayer, and how can we expect to hear him if we don’t allow our heart the stillness needed for his voice to be heard? How can we ask God to enlighten us while we refuse to open our eyes. A person who doesn’t have wakefulness, who doesn’t constantly watch what he does, says, sees and hears, who is lax and indifferent to everything, perfectly content in his own egotism, how can he expect not to fall when great trials or temptations befall him? How will he not derail and fall headlong into perdition? How can a person who constantly betrays God on a daily basis not expect to betray himself and others eventually? How will a person who cannot cut his own will in the little everyday things be able to deal with the great things? If we haven’t learnt to find comfort, surety and meaning in God when things are manageable, if we instead seek fulfilment in pleasures and material things, how will we get through the truly difficult moments when those things mean and offer nothing? Will we not lose both our hope and our sanity?
Even here in the Divine Liturgy, which should be a foretaste of the Kingdom of God, we often feel nothing. We leave in exactly the same state as when we came in, without receiving anything. Let us consider what happens in the Divine Liturgy: man offers to God bread and wine, and God, through those gifts, gives his grace back to us. Without the offering, there is Holy Communion. And the same is true on the personal level. Because the offering is not just the bread and wine, nor oil, wheat, candles or money. The offering, the thing that all the faithful are expected to bring with them to the Liturgy, are the fruits of their daily spiritual life. It is prayer, fasting, abstinence and self-control, spiritual study, charity, acts of love, it is the fruit of each time we have chosen goodness, or the repentance for each time we have chosen evil. This is what we offer unto the Lord on the altar, and it is through these things that God will return his grace.
So if we leave the Divine Liturgy having received nothing, it is probably because we came empty-handed.
Fr Kristian Akselberg