Epistle for the 20th Sunday After Pentecost
The Apostle Paul proclaims in today’s Epistle, ‘I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.’
In saying this, the Apostle is both proclaiming the manner in which the Gospel was given to him, and also elevating our understanding to the Divine Origin and the transforming power of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
As we read in the Acts of the Apostles, the Apostle Paul received the Word of Christ not from men, but directly in an encounter with the risen Christ Himself as Paul was on the road to Damascus.
Paul says in today’s Epistle: ‘you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the Church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it.’
Apostle Paul had been a zealous Jew and a fierce persecutor of Christians. Indeed, the purpose of Paul’s journey to Damascus was precisely to wreak havoc upon the Christians there. The Book of Acts states that Paul was breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.
But as he journeyed on horseback to Damascus, a light shone around him from heaven… he was knocked to the ground and he heard the voice of Christ. Something profound and life-changing happened to him in that encounter with Christ. He did not receive a new teaching from men, he received Divine Revelation. He did not hear the eloquent speech of skilled orators, he perceived the Living Word of God. He was not persuaded by the arguments of philosophers, he was confronted by the Truth Who is a Person.
And in encountering this Revelation, this Living Word, this Truth… Apostle Paul was completely transformed. He who had been the most merciless persecutor of the Christian Church, now became its most zealous and prolific missionary.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ… our exposure to the Gospel, to the beauty and the healing Sacraments of the Church, to all the richness of the treasuries of our Holy Orthodox faith – these things are given to us precisely as vehicles for our encounter with Christ Himself.
If these things are not transforming us, are not ‘knocking us off our horse’ as it were, then we are being spiritually asleep and we must exert ourselves to wake up!
I know it is not the case that we can spend our entire life stumbling about, blinded by the bright magnificence of God… but if we find ourselves unaffected, if we find ourselves living our lives as if we have not been touched by God Himself, then we need to be more conscious to understand the mystery that surrounds us, that is offered to us, that waits and longs to interact with and impact our lives.
The Apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Romans: ‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.’
Every encounter with God is pregnant with this opportunity for renewal and transformation. And that is good news, dear brothers and sisters in Christ!
No matter how far we may have removed ourselves from that grace of God, no matter how insensitive we may have become to the wonders of God… Christ stands before us, awaiting our return, awaiting our repentance, and – like the father of the prodigal son – poised to run toward us and embrace us in His arms and rejoice!
Let us indeed be ‘transformed by the renewing of our mind’. Our Christian faith is not a dead letter of philosophy, it is not a moral law, it is not a consoling self-help program… may God help us if we attempt to reduce it to such impotency.
Our faith is nothing less than an encounter with the living God.
Each time we pray, we are presented with an encounter with God. Each time we come to Church, we stand in the presence of God. May God open our eyes to this spiritual reality which may then enable us to be renewed by the grace of His presence.
And furthermore… let us not compartmentalize our lives. For indeed, God is everywhere present and fillest all things! If our spiritual eyes were open, we would realize that our encounter with Christ is constant – for that icon of the image of God is present is every soul we meet.
Therefore, let us conduct ourselves accordingly. We will not perceive the presence of God’s grace in every moment of our lives… but even though we might not perceive it because of the denseness of our fallen humanity, let us strengthen the resolve of our faith to believe that it is so – regardless of whether or not we perceive it! And let us live our lives then: ‘circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time.’
Redeeming the time… for each moment is precious and offers us the choice to be present with God or not. Let us redeem each moment of our lives so that nothing may separate ourselves from the love of Christ our Lord!