Sermon ~ The Start of the Journey

It is not very often that a movie that I watch affects me either in a good way or in a bad way.  Recently I watched a movie that has done just that.  I would say that it affected me in a very profound way as here it is several weeks later and I am still talking about it.  The movie is The Way starring Martin Sheen.

Sheen plays a dentist named Tom.  Tom lost his wife some time ago, we do not know how, and has one son who is sort of a free spirit.  He has dropped out of his PhD program and decides he is going to back pack around Europe.  I always wonder about people like this.  How can they afford to just pack up and go walk around Europe?  Anyway, Daniel, Tom’s son, decides he is going to walk the Camino de Santiago, also known as the Way of St. James.

The Camino is a trek of some 497 miles that ends at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela where the relics of Saint James are buried.  I have a priest friend who has made this journey and it is not an easy journey to take.  Imagine, just for a moment, walking 497 miles!  You have to carry everything that you will need for this journey on your back.  You average 20 miles a day rain or shine and you sleep in large dormitories scattered all along the way that have been established just for this purpose.  Along The Way, you see amazing country side and meet some wonderful and not so wonderful people.

Daniel ends up not making the journey because he is killed in a freak storm just as he starts and that is what brings Tom to Spain to retrieve the body of his now dead son.  Tom struggles to understand why his son has always done the things that he has done.  Tom was always busy with his practice and all of the things that go along with being a success in this world and never took the time, really took the time to get to know his son.  In a moment that can only be described as spiritual, Tom decides that he will make the Way and take Daniel along with him.  He has his son cremated and is going to scatter his ashes along the way.

So the journey begins.  Tom, who is out of shape by the way for a trip such as this, takes his sons back pack and sets out on the journey.  He is not sure what he is going to discover about his son along the way but he takes that first step, a step of faith and starts on the road of discovery.

As I was watching this movie, and trying to figure it all out, I was reminded of our spiritual journey that we all undertake on the path to Theosis.  For us Orthodox, the life that we lead has one goal, or should have one goal, it’s not to make lots of money or to have the big house and fancy car, no, the goal of an Orthodox Christian is to become godlike and that is the process of Theosis.

Saint Athanasius, meditating on the first verses of the Gospel of St. John that we read on Pascha each year, said, “The Word, God, became a man so that Man might become god.”  At the start of creation we were created as perfect beings.  The Book of Genesis tells us that Adam and Eve walked with God, they were in the very presence of God in the Garden that we call Eden but was actually paradise.  They had physical contact with God, they were able to touch him and walk with him.  It was only after we, human beings, let sin into the world that that relationship became corrupted and we lost that state.

You have heard me say before that humanity was, and is, created in the image and likeness of God but that image is tarnished a little by sin.  The journey of Theosis is the journey to remove that tarnish.

Many of you have polished silver.  We have several pieces here that are silver and need polishing and so every year or so I take them out of the cupboard in the back and I polish them.  I work for a few hours to get all the tarnish out of the nooks and crannies and polish it up nice.  I put it back in the cupboard, knowing full well, that in another year or so I will be doing the same thing.  Of course there are all sorts of new things available that make this job easier but in the end the tarnish comes back.

Our spiritual life is the same way.  We were created as pure silver, untarnished, and then the tarnish started to appear.  We work to remove that tarnish and the work is not easy.  Oh sure some have come along and said not to worry we are all okay, that tarnish does not exists, we do not have to worry about removing that follow me and the tarnish will not matter, but before long the tarnish comes back.  It is only through constant care that we keep the tarnish away, and that is the journey that we are on.  There is no easy solution to the removal of the tarnish, or sin as we call it in the spiritual life, and it takes a lifetime.

In the Philokalia, that great spiritual work, St. Hesychios the Priest wrote about Watchfulness and Holiness.  We must be ever vigilant to keep watch over what we say and over what we do so we can try and keep the tarnish off.  If I can sum up in one word the entirety of the spiritual life it would be just that, watchfulness.

As you know, I spent several years in the Army.  As everyone who has ever served their country in the military knows you have to spend time, a lot of time, on guard duty.  In order to be affective on guard duty you need to be watchful and every vigilant that nothing gets past your post as the lives of those you are guarding depends on it.  If one thing gets past the mission could be compromised and people could lose their lives.  The spiritual life is the same way.  We stand guard at our soul trying to keep the evil one out.  The evil one tries to creep in through our thoughts, and our words, and our actions.  We need to be on guard duty to keep the evil one from invading our soul.

How do we do this?  The Church has given us the way.  You are doing it right now.  You are here at Liturgy, but this is only part of it.  We keep guard by prayer, daily prayer.  Not just a quick thank you God that I am awake, but some quality time in prayer.  It does not have to be long but we should spend time each day in prayer.

Fasting, I know, we joke about it some of us are better at it than others, but this is something that we have to do.  All of us, regardless of our medical condition or age, can practice some part of the fast/abstinence that our church calls us too.  It is not just about food.  We spend so much time talking about food during the fasting periods. We get so crazy about it.  But what about fasting with our lips, stop the gossip and talking about other people.  One rule I have tried, and failed at by the way, is not to say anything about anyone that I would not want them to hear me say, and if it is not a kind word, then don’t say it.  We do not have to say everything that comes to mind.  Sometimes the most charitable thing we can do is say nothing, and if we hear it, or someone calls us on the phone and wants to tell you about what so and so did or said, tell them you are not interested, do not even listen to it, just tell them no this is how we fast with our ears as well.  Fasting with our hands.  Don’t do things that we know are wrong.  And finally we fast with our minds by trying as hard as we can to think pleasant thoughts.  I know it sounds pie in the sky but we need to try.

And the last part of watchfulness is Scripture reading.  Daily Scripture reading.  I send out a daily email to those who have email, that includes the reading of the day from the lectionary of our Church.  It takes less than 5 minutes to read them each day.  If you do not have email, you can look them up in your Bible.  If you have smart phone, there is a free app you can get that puts the daily readings, and other prayers of the church, right on your phone or iPad or other device.  There is no excuse, or sure we have all sorts of excuses, but there is no excuse for not reading Scripture daily.

All along the 497 mile journey Tom came into contact with all sorts of people.  They were all making The Way, for different reasons but in the end they were all changed.  They were all different people when they finished the  journey then they were when they started.  Something profound happened along that journey that would not have happened it if they had not taken it.  Tom never would have truly know his son, or himself for that matter, if he had not decided the take that first step, and to keep taking that first step.  Yes, there were bumps along the way, but he kept going with the help of those around him.  Tom quickly learned that he could not make this journey alone.

We have to take the journey, we have to decide right here and right now, that we are going to get serious about our life in the Church, we owe it to ourselves to do this.  Tom needed to take the journey that he did for many reasons, and we need to take the journey as well.  The time has come, the time is now to take that first step.

What is preventing you from taking that first step?

error: Content is protected !!