Epistle for the 23rd Sunday After Pentecost
In the Epistle reading for this Sunday, Apostle Paul reveals to us the unbelievable love and kindness and condescension of God for us, His creatures. We read today that, ‘God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.’ This passage is worthy of our reflection this morning, for in this short statement is contained all of the mystery and hope of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and of the purpose of His Holy Church.
Let us begin with the first statement of the Apostle… God is rich in mercy and overflowing with love. This is the nature of our God – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; a Trinity in Unity Who abides in love and mercy and all goodness. God created mankind to share in this love. And the only way for someone to be able to truly love someone else is for this love to be born from freedom - the freedom to choose to love or not to love. If God had programmed us to love Him, this would not be true love. Instead, God allowed the risk of mankind’s choice to love Him or to reject Him. And to our great sorrow, mankind was tempted through his pride and made the choice to disobey and turn his back on God. In turning our back on God, we turn our gaze away from the source of light and into darkness. From this time of Adam, each one of us now struggles with the same choice: to love or not to love; to turn toward the Light or to turn toward the darkness of our pride and selfishness.
Needless to say, human history is filled with tragedy and blood. Mankind, in seeking to find fulfillment in the things of this world, turns to greed, lust, and many other sins that have brought death and darkness all around us. And, lest we assume a pharisaical view on all of this, let each and every one of us examine our own heart and admit that we also are pulled by our pride and selfishness, we also are guilty.
But here is the marvelous and almost unbelievable thing!... ‘God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.’ Think about that! God, the Creator of the universe, wholly and completely Self-sufficient in His majesty and glory, needing and lacking nothing – looked down from heaven upon His creatures who were dead in sins and had chosen darkness; and, out of His mercy and because of His great love with which He loved us, God lowered Himself to take on human flesh, to enter into our fallen world, and made Himself a sacrifice for our sins – suffering and dying on the cross for our transgressions and thereby trampling down death by death. This is hard for the mind to take in!...
The motivation for our salvation did not come as a response to our repentance. It came out of the richness of God’s mercy and because of His great love with which he loved us.
This should make us tremble, this should make us weep, and yet, this should also make us rejoice in gratitude and hope. God, out of the abundance of His mercy and love for us, was willing to become incarnate and to carry out the whole sequence of events that we read about in the Gospels, and… all of this was done while we were dead in our sins. How much joy then, how much hope then, must we have if we would come to God in love and repentance? If God was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for us while we were dead in our sins, while we stubbornly turned our back to Him, how great a love awaits us if we would just turn toward Him, expressing our own small love in return?
This is the great mystery and the great hope of the Gospel. As Apostle Paul writes to the Romans, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.”
And now, as the Apostle writes, He has “raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” This is the Church as it is and as it should be! Through the grace of God, bestowed upon His Church and delivered to us in her holy sacraments, we are raised up together. Christianity is not an isolated ‘personal relationship’ as some would proclaim – it is a communion of love. We are raised up together and made to sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. And, if we are truly living out our Christian life in love and repentance and service to one another, truly being raised up together as a community of Orthodox Christians, then we demonstrate the love of God so that ‘He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus’.
This is our mission as a Church – to support each other, to help each other, to be raised up together, and to ‘show the exceeding riches of God’s grace and His kindness towards us in Christ Jesus.’ Let us take this mission to heart. Let us be raised up together in our realization and appreciation for the great mercy and love which God has shown to us. Let us show forth to the world and to all those around us the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. This is the gift of God spoken of in today’s Epistle, that by grace we have been saved through faith.