|There are things worth more than the whole world|
Gospel Reading for this Sermon:
24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
26 For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?
27 For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done.
28 Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.”
Sermon from August 16, 2016
“Hello dear lovers of Christ and God, lovers of the holy scriptures. The world is wide and the world is beautiful, and if we translate it into money, it would be worth a great amount. And nevertheless, there are things that are worth more than the whole world. That is the topic of today’s discussion.
The Lord, Jesus Christ, demands that we follow him and deny ourselves. This is a complicated matter — many Christians get used to hearing phrases such as this one, but rarely stop to consider their complexity. But in reality, the denial of oneself is a sort of self-destruction — in the good sense of the word. This is not the kind of self-destruction that will land you in hell, but rather the kind that will allow you to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Truly, what this means is that you must tear away the false ‘you’ that sticks like a mask, or even an assortment of masks that stick to your face. You must rip off these masks, throw them aside, remove that which has stuck to you from outside your soul.
This is such an immensely complicated task that in many ways it is equivalent to death — the ‘losing of ones life’. In essence, this is all part of a battle with yourself. You must often fight yourself as though you are your own enemy. This is precisely why the Lord says, ‘For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it’. Let’s take monks for example. You know, the most beautiful thing in the world is monasticism — but only genuine monasticism — not just black-frocked people, but rather those who carry a heart full of love for Christ beneath their vestments, who have red blood and white thoughts. These are the people that lose their lives. They knowingly and purposefully deny themselves all things sweet, soft, delicious, ambitious, comfortable. All they know is prayer, God, and the fact of their own sinfulness. These are their only thoughts: ‘I don’t know anything else in the world than the fact the Christ resurrected and that I am a sinner. I do not need to know anything else. All I need is to be with God and remind myself that Christ has resurrected and that I am a sinner.’
These are the people that lose their lives for Christ and the gospel. And they are the people that find life in the end. They rise above everyone by putting on their vestments, they obtain the wings of angels even in human life — but what about everyone else? What are the other options? Of course, the standard way of life known to normal men — the life known to those whose wings are cut off from their full span, the penguins and chickens — is one in which we keep accumulating and accumulating possessions for our own sake. More and more for me. Again for me, and again, and again. And what is this? This is total death — this is real death.
Saint Augustine said that there are two poles in life. One is the love of God to the point of hating oneself, and the other is the love of oneself to the point of hating God. It it somewhere between these poles that a person normally finds himself bobbing around. The modern man asks, ‘why do I need to hate myself to love God? Can’t there be some easier, more moderate path? To love God and to love myself? Think of the good boss, he takes care of himself and doesn’t oppress his employees. Can’t I just be like that?’ Frankly, I don’t know. But I know that Augustine’s poles do exist, and that we exist between those poles — between plus and minus. And the plus side is such a love of God that everything is done for Him and nothing is done for you— that’s what Christ calls losing your life. ‘I do not want anything, only to serve You. And You decide how to deal with me. If you want me to be in hell, glory to God. If you want me to be with You in Heaven, then of course glory to God. As You will it, so it will be. I do not have a will outside Your’s.’
You know, the Bible is a much lied-about book. It is manipulated in one way after another. People love to say that Christ only said that we must love each other, and that no asceticism is necessary, no battle with oneself is necessary, no rigidity or endurance is necessary — that this is all a myth made up by medieval priests, papists, heretics, sadists, and so on. That the Bible is only love, love, love. Not so fast, ‘if you want to find your life, destroy it. If you want to follow me, pick up your cross and follow me. He who walks with me but does not carry his cross, is not worthy of me. Who do you love more than anyone else?’ ‘My mother.’ ‘ He who loves his mother or father more than me is not worthy of me.’ ‘Who else do you love?’ ‘Well, my son, daughter, grandson…’ ‘He who lives his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.’
Can you imagine that such strict words are present in the gospel? ‘Who said this?!’ Christ. ‘And who is Christ to say these things to me?’ He is God. ‘Ah, so this is not some priest, or some love-themed preacher, or some guru who talks about worldly success?’ No, this is God. He commands us that we love Him above all else.‘Why do you not love me?’ he says. ‘I am God, and I gave you the commandment to love me above all else. I gave you the commandment to take up your cross. I gave you the commandment to lose your life.’ These are His words. And you might say, ‘Hmmm, I’ve spent the last five years going to evangelical churches. It is very different there. They say that Christ resurrected and that we must all rejoice. That he loves me and that all my sins are forgiven. That everything is good and that there is no need for suffering. Picking up crosses, enduring, life-destroying — that’s not part of the deal.’ Yes it is. It absolutely is — because he who wishes to find his soul, must first lose it.
I am constantly bothered by the same thought. Maybe I love my life too much, maybe I keep it safe and hidden because I love it too much. This question has been bothering me a lot lately — have I not ruined my own life by being so attached to it? Are you bothered by this question, my dear friends? The gospel sharpens our soul by forcing us to ask these questions — ‘What am I doing in this life?’ And there are specific words in the gospel that tell us what to do. But there are also our own actions which rarely follow the prescriptions of the gospel. And this dissonance between what is written and what is actually done is very dangerous. If God comes down right now for Judgement Day, then I don’t know where we will be, where I will be, and you as well. So let’s start getting our acts together. We must pick up our crosses, follow Christ, love him above all else, and destroy our sinful lives. And if we protect the sinfulness of our souls, we will lose them. And the soul is such a costly thing, that the whole world combined is worth less.
Everything. Every Las Vegas, every Kerch Strait Bridge, every Empire State Building, every Tokyo Stock Market, every City of London, every SoHo — all of these, all this garbage combined together, this entire golden and diamond-encrusted pile of garbage is not worth your soul or my soul or the soul of anyone in the world. One soul weighs more than this entire empty world. Can you imagine this? This also comes from Christ. Can you imagine how much wisdom He said to us, how much good is written on the pages of the Bible? And we continue to live our lives as though He hasn’t told us anything.”