Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Last Sunday on All Saints, I noted that this old world, as it’s referred to in Sacred Scripture, is a world “passing away” (1 Cr. 7:31; 1 Jn. 2:17). As such, it remains bogged down in and enslaved to the powers of sin, death, and the devil, not because God has failed to decisively act for our redemption and sanctification, but because we refuse the gift and the grace God offers us. Or, to call upon St. Paul’s words earlier in this chapter of Romans we heard read aloud, “[D]o you despise the riches of [God’s] goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” (Rm. 2:4; 2 Pe. 3:15). In part, our situation reflects our condition. To use the Prophet David’s words from his great Psalm of repentance, he acknowledges the awful reality, not as an excuse, but as his confession in order to break free, “Behold, I was conceived in iniquities, and in sins did my mother bear me. . . . Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop and I will be made clean, Thou shalt wash me and I will be whiter than snow” (Ps. 50 :5, 7). In short, David has no one to blame but himself despite the fact that he was born a sinner, that is, born chained to the corruptible powers of sin, death, and Hell.
Darkness, therefore, is our preference so often as sinful human beings. It is in its depths we tend to feel at home, even when we are offered Light and Life! “’And this is the condemnation,’” declares our Lord following His proclamation of His Father’s great love for this old decaying world, “’the Light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, . . . .’” (Jn. 3:19). But why? Why do I, why do you, why do we gravitate towards darkness when offered the Light of Christ? Because we do what our ancient forefather and foremother did there in Paradise when they succumbed to the demonic temptation – they hid themselves from God. God, Who had made and fashioned them with His own divine hand, comes looking for them to commune with them there in Paradise and “they hid themselves from the Presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the Garden.” They hid because, as Adam ‘fesses up, he was afraid. Instead of repenting, which some of the Fathers suggest would have made all the difference in the world at that time, Adam seeks to avoid his Maker and Creator (Gn. 3:8-10). As Jesus points out in St. John’s Gospel, it is because we practice evil that we avoid the exposure to the light of Truth (Jn. 3:20-21). Let us be clear here: all sin is evil regardless of degree, in the eyes of Scripture, because it is less than the goodness of God.
But, again, why do we hide from God? Why do we prefer darkness to light, deception or denial to the Truth? Because healing and salvation is scary when we get to the bottom of things. Because healing of the soul and salvation transforms what we have known and have become accustomed to or acclimated to, to what we don’t know and haven’t yet experienced. Think of the soul in the Gospel who was born blind (which is our spiritual condition) (Jn. 9:1-41). He doesn’t know what green grass, blue sky, white clouds, and blinding sunlight looks like. He has no knowledge or sense of color, of brightness or darkness. Darkness is the norm for him – has been all his life. He has built his entire life around his condition, and any other possibility would be unnatural for him. The offer of healing, of giving him his eyesight, will open up a whole new world to him and that will mean he will no longer be the poor blind man whom everyone pities and relates to as being blind. Healing – salvation – will change him profoundly to the core in some, if not many, ways. The life he had known and concocted around his blindness will be dramatically altered by receiving new sight, new eyes with which to see and relate to his new world, fashioned and created by his Creator and Saviour. But, there is a natural proclivity, shall we say, to draw back and to hide among the trees we know so well, that have shielded us and protected us, even to our own great detriment. Like him, we, too, are so used to our sinfulness that any other way of being is hard and difficult and maybe scary. But it is not impossible.
“But the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,” says the Apostle, teaching us to “live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, Who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us . . . .” (Ts. 2:11-14). God has saved us, says the Apostle, out of His mercy and compassion for us sinners, and He has done so “through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, . . . .” (Ts. 3:5-6). Through Jesus Christ, God our Father, calls each and every one of us out of our darkness into His light (1 Pe. 2:9-10). He calls us, as He did ancient Israel, to leave behind our slavery to sin and death and the devil and to pursue the freedom He offers to us through His Son. He commands these wicked powers – and us – just as He did the well-entrenched and hardhearted Pharaoh, “’Let My people go!’” (Ex. 5:1). He commands the evil powers of sin, death, and the devil to stand down and to release the one held in their grip, “’Lazarus, come forth! . . . Loose him, and let him go’” (Jn. 11:43, 44). And He commands us, “’Awake, you who sleep [in the darkness of sin]! Arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light’” (Ep. 5:14). Have no fellowship or communion with “the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.” “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk [therefore] as children of the Light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), . . . .” (Ep. 5:8, 9).
Now, you might be asking yourselves (and rightly so), what does this have to do with what we heard in today’s Epistle? And as an honest answer, I’m not sure exactly because I was on a roll preaching this in my head as I sat composing this sermon in light of the Romans text. But, allow me to offer this: Sacred Scripture bears witness to a profound darkness we find ourselves in in this old world. Just read what St. Paul has to say in the opening chapter of this Epistle and the first several verses of the chapter we heard this morning. What he says describes the present condition and situation of this old, dying world. “Professing to be wise, they became fools,” says St. Paul. We exchanged the truth of God for the lie, he says, so that God gave us up to that which we have preferred instead (Rm. 1:18-32). And the result is – a world going insane! This is what happens when we abandon God.
But, “God has not left Himself without a witness” (Ac. 14:17). For there is in each and every one of us a Law at work, implanted in us by the hand of God at our creation. It is His divine Law, damaged by sin, but still intact and not erased, imperfect and hobbled, to be sure, but not without power to still guide. For, as the Apostle says here today, there are those who, not having the revelation enjoyed by ancient Israel, nevertheless seek the glory of God, honor, and immortality by their patient doing of good despite not having the benefit of the Law of God revealed on the holy mountain (Rm. 2:7). These souls, called Greeks or Gentiles here, do by nature, says St. Paul, the things revealed in and through the Law of God bestowed upon ancient Israel on the mountain of God. In other words, God ratified for His chosen people that which had been instilled in Adam. There is a moral compass, if you will, rooted in the handiwork of God and acknowledged by the Church. “For there is no partiality with God,” we are assured. God created man from the very beginning to bear His divine image and to share in His divine likeness (Gn. 1:26-27; 5:1). “For God created man to be immortal, and made him to be an image of His own eternity” (WS 2:23). And although that image of God in us has been damaged by the Fall, it has not been eradicated in us. That’s why we have a conscience and those twinges of conscience are the image of God at work in us. Whether we follow their lead speaks to our enslavement to sin, death, and the devil.
Hence, says St. Paul, those without the blessing of the divinely revealed Law such as the Gentiles will be judged accordingly by God in all righteousness, and those who have the Law such as ancient Israel – and the Church – will likewise be judged by the divine Law entrusted to them. We who have been enlightened by Christ God in the waters of Baptism will be judged according to His light received. Sacred Scripture adamantly and repeatedly warns the faithful that it would have been better not to know Jesus Christ the Son of God as Saviour than to know Him and then to walk away from Him (Lk. 9:62; Hb. 6:4-8; 10:26-31). “For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,” says St. Peter, “they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them” (2 Pe. 2:20-22).
Our father of the faithful, the Patriarch Abraham, in his negotiations with the Lord over the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah because of its intense darkness and sin, hits the nail squarely on the head when he asks the Almighty, “’Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?’” And the assurance we have is this: Indeed, He shall. “For there is no partiality with God.” He
‘will render to each one according to his deeds’: Eternal Life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the Truth, but obey unrighteousness – indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek (Jn. 5:28-29; Rm. 2:6-9).
As the Apostle goes on to tell us, whether we be Jew or Gentile, enlightened or unenlightened, people of God’s Covenant or those outside of it, all alike are sinners who have fallen very short of God’s glory – His own divine image (Rm. 3:23). Hence, death is our lot, “but the gift of God is Eternal Life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rm. 6:23).
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!