I have some pretty shocking news I need to share with you. I know it may be a surprise for some of you, but you are not always right. You and I, we don’t have all the answers. We don’t perfectly see how everything is and ought to be. This is important. It is critical in recognizing that we all need to learn from one another, to grow together, to be humble and aware of our potential for growth, no matter how old or young we are. I, personally, find it quite a relief knowing I’m not always right; that I’m still on a path towards figuring it all out.
I think the sin of pride is infesting our polarized nation. Pride and Arrogance. And this leads to nasty rhetoric, demonizing those whose views are different from our own, polarized politics, and disunity that only breeds chaos.
I have my beliefs, but I also know that in my fallibility there are things I believe that are just simply wrong. And there are things you believe that aren’t true. I don’t know what those things are, but I know none of us in this room are all-knowing like the omniscience of our God. And the stronger our convictions, the easier the temptation to draw a line in the sand between us and them, those who are right and those who are wrong, and fall down the slippery slope to labeling good people and bad people. And the truth is, things aren’t so black and white.
I confidently truly believe that sex trafficking is wrong; domestic violence is unacceptable; rape is inexcusable; and sexism an antiquated illness. So, mind you, I am not preaching against conviction or speaking out on issues you care about, but I am speaking about how we treat other people. We have something to learn about every person we encounter in this earthly pilgrimage.
The point of this journey is to grow more and more deeply in the image of God, for our mind to be conformed to the mind of Christ, for our spirit to participate more fully in the energies and work of God’s Spirit in the world. Last Sunday we heard Jesus’ teaching which magnified that this work isn’t just in how we live outwardly, but also inwardly in our heart. You can go about not killing, not cheating on your significant other, and going to church—but if you are holding hatred in your heart towards another, or objectifying people, or at odds with someone else in the pew—well, you’ve still got work to do. Jesus is concerned with the heart. But he’s not just concerned with the heart. Our faith is about the transformation of the entirety of our life by the Holy Spirit.
At the end of today’s Gospel lesson Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” This is a horrible translation because the Greek word translated perfect is better translated complete or whole. It means for something to be complete, to be fully grown or mature, something going through the stages to reach its end-goal. It’s as if Jesus were saying, “Seek wholeness, this is my end-goal is that you might be like my Father.” There is a very confusing term in the Christ East for the spiritual process by which we are growing and learning and changing and moving towards this wholeness and holiness, continually shaped towards more and more fully participating in God’s energies and work and way. It is a Greek term theosis. I’ve been here over a year, so I think it’s about time I share this fascinating concept with you. In fact, in the Christian East they teach that theosis is the meaning of our Christian life. I know it kind of sounds like an infection, but maybe that is fitting—it’s a God infection, you could say. Theos is Greek for God and –osis is the suffix we see in science things like mitosis or meiosis or medical things like osteoporosis. It means the state, condition, or action, usually implying something happening. You might translate it God-happening or God becoming. Saint Athanasius, the 12th bishop of Alexandria, who lived in the 4th century explained the idea like this, “God became human so that humanity might become god.” (cf. St. Athanasius, De Incarnatione or On the Incarnation 54:3, PG 25:192B). Athanasius was not some fringe lunatic, but is regarded among the most influential saints, with his feast commemorated by Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, and Lutherans.
He doesn’t mean that we become gods of little worlds, like Mormans believe, but theosis is understood as a participating in God’s divinity through Christ, through the transformation of our being, the conforming of our mind, heart, body, and ways to the ways of God. And this involves humility. This involves recognizing our need for growth, and being open to those growing pains. And this means a self-examination from time-to-time of how we might change our ways and words and heart to more fully put on the Mind of Christ, to borrow language from Saint Paul.
The Second Epistle of Peter sheds some light on this idea. He writes, “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”
In the phrase “participate in the divine nature” the term translated participate is the Greek word koinonia. This word is elsewhere translated fellowship, sharers in, partakers in. We participate in God’s divinity in our life of faith and our journey towards wholeness and holiness. It brings me back to the Epistle we heard today: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?”
The reading we heard from Leviticus mirrors Jesus’ teaching in some ways: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” The Israelites were offered teachings about living justly and rightly with one another, especially the neediest in their midst:
When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien.
You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor.
You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.
And Jesus, as he tends to do, takes things one-step deeper. He ups the ante you could say.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?”
As much as we in the church joke about change….like how many Episcopalians does it take to change a light bulb? Change! Why would we change it? My grandmother gave that light bulbs. As much as we joke about change, transformation, growth, metanoia, and essentially change is at the heart of our Christian journey.
In what ways might God be calling you deeper into your life in Christ? What habits or behaviors might you be called to shed that hinder you and hold you back from needed growth toward becoming more like God? What practices might God be calling you to take up to draw you deeper into the growth he is ushering you towards in seeking deeper union with God? It is my prayer for us today that we here may find ways to support each other in this growth.
© The Rev. Justin R. Cannon