Both of our readings today give us a clear indication of what is required of us to be considered sons and daughters, the children of God. These indicators are not given to us as rules or laws or even as a warning. They are given to us with a voice of encouragement because God our Father, wants us to know that He is present and that we belong to Him.
In Second Corinthians chapter 6 we hear St. Paul quoting from Scriptures saying “I will live in them and move among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore, come out from them, and be separate from them”….. “and touch nothing unclean; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters.” St. Paul then concludes with these words “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, and make holiness perfect in the fear of God.”
Being an Orthodox Christian is about having the potential to have a close-knit, familial relationship with God! I fear that for most of us, this possibility is viewed as a pipe dream, as something impossible. Sometimes it is because we are really comfortable in our simple religious practices. Our Lord Jesus Christ has many things to say to us if we are simply comfortable in our practice of religion. He says “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter into heaven.” So what does that really mean? It means that God is not interested in the adherence to rules and guidelines and religious practices for the sake of the practices. That is what the Jews believed would save them, and Christ our Lord corrected them.
What does this all mean? It means that God is after our hearts. He desires a heart that is clean, pure. He desires that our hearts be full of love, not for worldly things but for Him and for others. If we have faith that He will come to us and dwell within us, we are required to do everything in our power to rid ourselves of all the potential obstacles that keep that from happening. Those obstacles begin in the heart.
In the epistle St. Paul says “come our from them, and be separate from them.” This tells us that oftentimes our greatest obstacle to pure and good faith will be the company we keep and the society and culture around us. Christians have done a great job of blending into the society and not sticking out. If we’re honest, we’ve not really done a great job of separating ourselves from the activities and entertainment and the goals of the world around us.
As an Orthodox Christian there is no way that I can be guided by the same principles and goals of the society around me, because the society around us, doesn’t believe in Jesus Christ, doesn’t believe in the afterlife and doesn’t believe that anything is more important than immediate pleasure. For us, the issue may not be who we associate with and interact with on a daily basis. It may simply be what we are subjecting our senses to on a daily basis. God is interested in your heart. The obstacles to knowing God are in the heart but they are strongly influenced by the five senses. We are spending lots of time reading the news, looking at politics, watching Netflix and staring at our computers, phones and tablets. Are we sure that the material we are consuming is actually good, wholesome, encouraging and God-pleasing? Or is it possible that the material is full of violence, obscenities, sex and materialism? Are the characters modeling a strong Christian identity? Are the storylines perverted or demented? Are these stories deeply troubling and gut-wrenching, do they stir up the passions? Are these things that you would watch or freely discuss with your priest?
Nothing in this world matters if we don’t desire to know God intimately. If we desire to know God intimately, we understand that anything that presents an obstacle to that goal, should be corrected or removed from our life. In this way the Christian life is like constant warfare with oneself and ones surroundings. Indeed the Lord Jesus Christ says “The kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.” We know that the Lord was not advocating physical violence, but decisive actions.
If one sees a problem that is a life or death issue, he attacks the problem right away. He has no time to waste! The Lord is looking for those who are ready to struggle courageously to live a life of extreme purity and holiness. Why? Because He created us to be more than mindless consumers. He created us to be saints who speak with Him as with our own flesh and blood father. And we know this to be the case because we have seen the witness of the saints who chose to live radical lives of holiness. This living witness of the saints confirms that the words of St. Paul are good and true “Touch nothing unclean, then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters.” The sacrifices and struggles towards holiness and purity are real, but the promises of God are true. May He give us the strength and courage for this battle, which is in truth, the battle for our hearts. Glory be to God forever, AMEN.