Sermon delivered September 9, 2007.
In today's Gospel we hear the Evangelist say, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life" (v.16). That love must be very great -- beyond measure and priceless.
What did God the Father give us in His Son Jesus Christ? The name Jesus literally means "God saves." Jesus Himself said, "I am the way, the truth and the life" (John 14:17) and "I am the light of the world" (John 8:12). So, we, the people of God, have been given, in the person and gift of Jesus Christ, the way towards, the truth about, and the light to see the life of salvation. However, we must receive; we must accept this priceless gift. God does not force us to take the gift. In order to receive the gift, to believe in Jesus Christ, there is implied responsibility. This is where the way, the truth and the light come in to the picture.
First, the way implies a path or trail to follow. In the scripture, Jesus says often, "Follow me," and "take up your cross." This of course means, we must go wherever Jesus leads us. Sometimes He leads up on high mountains where we see His divinity and feel His presence ever so strongly. Sometimes He leads us in the "valley of the shadow of death" where darkness and despair loom over us and we feel abandoned by God. In order to follow, we must trust that Jesus knows the best road for our life to take, the one where all experiences lead to the life of salvation.
Second, in order to follow the way or the road, we usually need a map. The commandments of God show us the pathways that lead to harmony, peace, unity, reconciliation and joy. If we follow the streets and highways, our relationships are healthy. If we don't follow the map, we can get lost, spending months, if not years of wasted time looking for joy, fulfillment, meaning and purpose. If we don't follow the map, we can run into rough terrain and dead-ends of painful and damaging relationships with other people and with ourselves.
Third, let me ask the question, is it easier to read a map, drive on a road, or follow a person on a path in the dark of night or in the brightness of day? The answer is simple, daylight makes all of these much less difficult. The Holy Spirit, the Light of Christ, is always shining. It's a light that never goes out. However, we must bring ourselves into the Light. Whenever we sin, when we miss the mark of doing God's will in our life, we slip into darkness. Have you ever heard the saying, "Nothing good happens after midnight"? Sometimes, we get used to the dark, we like the darkness because we can hide our evil deeds. Not in today's passage but a few verses later, Jesus says, "Men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For every one who does evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed" (vv.19-20). How can we come back into the light? Simple, we return to the light through repentance and confession of our sins and trespasses.
We know that God the Father loves us. He loves us so much He wants to share divine, eternal life with us. He gives this gift through His Son, Jesus Christ, who died on the Cross, to show us the way to salvation. God's gift and Jesus' sacrifice show us that we must crucify our own selfish wants and desires in order to receive the gift. We do this by taking up our own cross, sometimes imposed upon us by the circumstances of life in our imperfect and sinful world. A life of constant and daily prayer enables us to discern how to follow Christ with this cross on our back. The sacred scripture, the Holy Bible, provides the map and the teachings and traditions of our Orthodox Faith provide the key or legend to this map. The purity of our heart, when it holds no bitterness nor resentment towards others, when it is free of the guilt and shame of hidden sins, is like a flashlight to see the map and the headlights to see the road ahead of us, and the sunlight that enables us to see the beautiful landscapes of God's blessings in our life. This is how we believe in Jesus Christ so that we may not perish but have eternal life. Amen!
Fr. Richard Demetrius Andrews is the pastor of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Fr. Andrews is the past president of Minnesota Eastern Orthodox Christian Clergy Association (MEOCCA), and a volunteer chaplain with the St. Paul Police Department.