The Reading from the Second Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians. (6:16-7:1)
In our day to day lives it is easy to live as if God is not really around. We sometimes imagine that God is floating somewhere “up there” while He leaves us to our business down here. Fr. Stephen Freeman refers to this as the two storey model. God is upstairs and we are downstairs. However that is not a classical Christian or Orthodox Christian understanding. This mindset however does exist among Christians. And if it exists among Christians it exists much more among non-Christians and the non-religious. There is a secularized worldview that believes that what you do at home with your faith and religion is one thing, but in the public eye, everything should be stripped of religious meaning and symbolism. This should be a problem for us as Christians. It should raise red flags. Why?
Because you as an individual are not two persons. You are one person and when that one person is baptized that whole person then belongs to Christ. St. Paul writes in today’s epistle that “you are the temple of the living God.” When there is a temple it cannot have multiple uses and purposes. It is completely dedicated to worship of God and to no other purpose. St. Paul goes even further as he quotes from Leviticus 26:12; Jeremiah 32:38; Ezekiel 37:27 saying “as God said, “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,” says the Lord.”
What an amazing God we worship and serve! He doesn’t dwell above us, or below us or in special handmade containers or sculptures or pieces made of Gold. He dwells with us and in us. He moves in our midst, in the very fabric of our lives. He lives in our hearts and we even partake of Him each week when we meet together. And since God is so so close to us, and wants to be even closer to each of us, He commands us to actually really desire to be pure and holy and uncompromised. He is serious about making us His sons and daughters, making us like His Only Son Jesus, and so we must be serious about desiring to be like Jesus as well. We must be serious about being separate from the world and touching nothing unclean so that we won’t be infected by sin and lose the blessings that are ours through baptism.
What does it look like to “come out from them, and be separate from them”? It looks much like it sounds. We have to create a healthy physical distance and also distance our senses from whatever doesn’t serve or please God. So many things are in the world that don’t serve or please God. It might be technology that we use. It might be co-workers or classmates who don’t share our Christian values and morality. It may be people who live an awful and toxic lifestyle. Whatever the case may be, we love and serve all people but we have to create some healthy distance and make sure that our time with others is ultimately time that glorifies the Lord Jesus Christ and doesn’t slowly erode our own faith and zeal for Christ. This is especially true the younger and less experienced we are in our faith. We are susceptible to many problems because our spiritual immune system hasn’t been properly developed yet. But sometimes we are Christians for a long time and yet we can fall through comfort and complacency, so everyone has to keep up their guard. Everyone has to work and everyone has to suffer a bit in order to come to knowledge of God. In a way, we are required to enter into the rejection that Christ Himself faced from the world.
St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco said “All righteous ones were sorrowful in the world because they were strangers to the sinful world. All of the apostles suffered in one way or another. Righteous men left for the desert. What made them Saints? Suffering? Not suffering alone makes Saints, but striving towards God, the love of God, and the labor of overcoming obstacles to holiness, which is the fruit of man’s labour and the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
My brothers and sisters, God has given us a promise. He is in our presence. He wants to share everything that is His, with us. He wants us to be sharers and partakers of the divine life just like the saints and holy ones throughout the ages. Let’s take it seriously and pursue this goal. No matter how much we progress in this goal, we should remember that our progress happens only by God’s grace and we shouldn’t be proud about our status.
St. John Cassian writes, “When we have attained some degree of holiness we should always repeat to ourselves the words of the Apostle: “Yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me’ (1 Cor. 15:10), as well as what was said by the Lord: ‘Without Me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5). We should also bear in mind what the prophet said: ‘Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain that build it’ (Ps. 127:1), and finally: ‘It does not depend on-man’s will or effort, but on God’s mercy’ (Rom. 9:16).”
May the mercy of our great God and savior Jesus Christ give us courage and assist us as we struggle together towards this wonderful promise.