Sunday, September 14, 2008: Today's commemorated feasts and saints... 13th SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST-Tone 4. THE UNIVERSAL EXALTATION (ELEVATION) OF THE PRECIOUS AND LIFE-GIVING CROSS. Repose of St. John Chrysostom (407 A.D.). Monk Martyr Macarius of Dionysiou (Mt. Athos-1507). Monk Martyr Joseph of Dionysiou (Mt. Athos-1819).
There is, and again as we saw last time, a second level as well to stewardship. If stewardship is a synonym for the general human vocation to work, as a uniquely Christian pursuit, stewardship takes on an ascetical character. Christian stewardship is concerned with the redemption of human work, effort, creativity and ingenuity in and through our personal and shared obedience to Christ. It is important to keep in mind that no matter how much I imagine myself to be a good person I am always subject to the temptation to exercise my own creativity and ingenuity in a way that separates me from God or my neighbor. Or, and this is worse still, I might (as many have done) put my efforts into projects that separate from God or my neighbor, obscuring or even undermining by my actions his vocation, his own calling. All of this is to say that often human effort and creativity are misdirected.
In the Old Testament especially, sin is often described as "missing the mark." The idea here is this: Just an archery a small deviation left or right, up or down, will cause an arrow to miss the target, so too I often deviate from what God would have me do and so I "miss the mark" for my own life. Often the work I do is marred by sin. This often reflect my own personal sin (I do something sinful), but it might also reflect the selfishness of others, or simply some form of material want.
Our work than is an experience of joy and of corruption and frustration marred as it is by sin. Our work, as with the whole of human life, must be redeemed by Christ. To see this a bit more clearly, let us together reflect on the Cross of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ as we celebrate the Exaltation of the most Holy Cross. When we do we see immediately two different, but not unrelated truths.
First and foremost, the Cross makes manifest to a fallen world the depth of God's love for us poured out in Jesus Christ. Second, it is by the very brilliance of the light of God's love for us, which makes abundantly clear how corrupt human work has become. Let me explain.
Think for a moment of the long history of human effort, legal, religious, cultural, scientific and technological, that preceded the Cross. The Cross was for the Roman Empire a favorite means of executing those who--whether criminal or not--threatened the power of Caesar. It was imposed and sustained not only by the legal authority of the Empire, but also its military might and administrative genius. All of this human effort had to be brought to bear in order for Jesus to be crucified. And not only that. As the Gospel makes clear Jesus was sent to the Cross by those religious authorities who misappropriated and corrupted for their own purposes, the profound religious heritage that was the birthright of the whole Jewish people.
All of this otherwise good and fruitful human work was misdirected. The Cross makes manifest how the best in human ability can tragically miss the mark. Failing not only to glorify God and create for the human family a fit home, our work instead creates in the human heart a depth of fear and shame to the human heart so profound that "nothing is too hard" for mankind, even the murder of God.
At the same time that the Cross reveals the depth of human sinfulness, of my sinfulness, we must remember that it is first and foremost an expression of God's love and mercy. As such, the Cross reminds us that even horribly corrupted, human work still reveals God. But how different from the experience of Adam and Eve before the fall is my discovery of God on the Cross, for on the Cross, and by my own hand and as a reflection of my own misdirected work, He is killed and I reveal myself to be not a steward of His gifts but in fact the one who turns those gifts against the Giver.
How can we avoid then the misuse of the gifts we have been given?
As wise stewards of the gifts that God has given us, we should first and foremost use the gift of time to draw closer to God the Father in Jesus Christ through the Power of the Holy Spirit. "From this moment on," St Herman of Alaska says, "let us serve God at all times." This is accomplished not by simply spending time in church at Vespers or Liturgy. Don't mistake my meaning, I not suggesting people stay away from the services, far from it in fact. It is here, in the Church assembled in prayer before our Creator, that we learn how and for what we are to pray.
But too easily I can fall into the reassuring, but mistaken, notion that the measure of my relationship with Christ is how many hours I spend in services. For too many Orthodox Christians, participation in the formal worship of the Church is seen as the whole of what it means to spend time with God.
What I have in mind is a little different I think. As wise stewards of the gift of time we need to cultivate in ourselves a gentle openness and remembrance of God's presence in our lives. How easy it is for me to forget that each moment of my life is a sacrament of God's loving presence not only for me, but the whole human family. Just as Christ come to you in the Eucharist under the form of Bread and Wine, so too He comes to you in the seconds and minutes, the hours and days, the weeks, months and years that make up your life. In each moment, great and small, Christ is there with you and it is only necessary that you remember that at all times, and so in all places and in all things, you are in His Presence and He has embraced you with His love.
With this realization in my heart, whatever might be the frustrations and even failures I may encounter in my work--whatever that work might be--each moment of my life carries within it the possibility of my drawing nearer to Christ.
And not only that.
Mindful of Christ's presence in my life opens me to the realization that in each moment of my life Christ can draw others to Himself through me.
And not only that.
Mindful of His Presence in my life, he is able to draw me to Him through others.
How then should we spend our time, that one gift that, once used, can never be replenished? By striving to keep in mind that God is With Us at each moment of our life and that far one distracting from the other, our communion with God and our work (granted in very different ways) can each support and sustain the other. A wise steward of the gift of time sees time as much a sacrament of God's love for us as the Cross or the Eucharist.
Through retreats, daily prayer and the reading of Scripture, fasting, participation in the services of the Church, the cultivation of times of silence in our lives, and above through all the regular reception of Holy Communion, frequent Confession we come to an ever deeper awareness and appreciation of the presence of God in our lives. Though it may represent a relatively small percentage of how we spend our time, a sound spiritual life is essential if we, personally, as a parish and as a Church are to fulfill Christ's call to create a fit and beautiful home for the human family.
Having now secured the foundations of Christian stewardship, our vocation to work and the right use of time, we will in the next two weeks turn our attention to the practical means of stewardship: the use of our talents and our treasure.
May Christ our True God, through the power of His Precious, Life-Giving and most Holy Cross, open our hearts to a lively awareness of His Presence in each moment of our lives.