pentecost-sunday-02-2003 In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen. Today, the second Sunday of Pentecost, we in the Russian Church remember all Saints of Russia, and we also read on this day two selections from St Matthew which are actually right next to one another; where Jesus calls his disciples, and then He preaches His first and greatest sermon, the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee and He saw these two brethren, Simon called Peter and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea for they were fishermen, and He said to them, ?Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.¦ The Gospel is very laconic-- it says very much with very few words. It says, ?Follow me¦; upon this is our faith, these words: Follow me. Upon this follows all of what we believe and all of what we think. Follow the Lord/man, the God/man: Jesus Christ. What does it mean to follow Him? Well, as the reading proceeds and then we go to the Sermon on the Mount, much is said about what following Christ means. To follow Christ is not just to believe that He is God and man, to follow Christ is not just to say that we believe in Him, not just to ascribe to certain creeds, to certain confessions. To follow Him is to imitate Him to strive to live according to His example, because, after all, He did live on the earth as a man, and lives still. And we indeed can live also if we live as He lived. That-s why He spent thirty- three years on the earth. They tried to kill Him and almost succeeded, but He didn-t allow it. Why did He spend three years of ministry, when He could have accomplished His Passion and His Resurrection in His very first year? To show us an example of how to live-- It-s very important that He showed us this example, because without this example for us to follow, then we wouldn-t know Him. What does it mean to know someone? It means to share in their experiences, to know what they go through, to know what they think, to understand why they believe what they believe, or what they do. You can-t know someone without becoming like them in some way. Even secular wisdom has it, right-- saying: you must walk a mile in my shoes. We must become like Christ to know Him because after all, salvation is the knowledge of God, but only those who are pure can see God. So Christianity is to follow Christ. Now Christ has given us this ability?before we didn-t have it, before we were strangers and exiles?Christ gave us this ability by becoming man, and making our humanity the same humanity as His. He-s the same stuff, when He was cut He bled, when He was tired He slept, when He was sad He wept. He was human in all ways, save sin. He made our flesh able to ascend, just as His flesh ascended. He made our flesh able to be resurrected, just as His flesh was resurrected. He made our flesh able to sit at the right hand of God, just as He is able as a man, and of course as God. But the only way for our flesh to do these things, is to follow Him. So Jesus goes a little bit forward and sees two other brethren: James the son of Zebedee, and John, his brother. With Zebedee their father, they-re mending their nets, and He calls them, and they immediately leave their father, Zebedee and the nets and they follow Him. The ship, worldly concerns-- they left it. Now, did they leave it completely behind? We can see in the Gospels that there were arguments, petty disagreements. They even fell into a sort of apostasy, right? In the end, when they were afraid, when they fled when the Lord was arrested. So they left their ship, but they still had their weaknesses. But the Lord would work with them. The Lord would strengthen them so that they would be able to be a sound that went forth over all the world, as we say concerning the apostles. So then, very shortly thereafter, the Lord is healing very great groups of people, so there are multitudes thronging around Him. But you know salvation is not for the multitudes, because the multitudes are not going to struggle to know God. God wants all men to be saved, but very few wish to follow Him. A lot of people want to say they believe in Him. A lot of people want to identify themselves with Him, but very few want to follow Him. Following Jesus Christ is not saying we believe. Following Jesus Christ is striving to live a moral life, to become perfected. Why would we do such a thing? Why would I define Christianity as struggling to follow the commandments? Because: without the following of the commandments, we can not know He who made the commandments. Without striving for perfection, we can-t understand what perfection is. And Jesus Christ, in God, the Holy Trinity, is perfection. He wants us to know Him. We can-t know Him unless we struggle to become morally perfected in this life. So the Lord sees the multitudes and He leaves them, He goes up into a mountain, so most of the multitudes then are on the base of the mountain. Some might follow him, some went up, but His apostles, His core group are with Him on the summit of the mountain. Now they had a practical reason-- so He could get away from the rabble and make His voice heard-- but the spiritual meaning is much more important. The spiritual life is ascending the mountain, getting away from the crowds, getting away from worldly concerns, getting away from our own priorities, our own desires?it-s all foolishness, all that matters is to know Christ; All that matters is to become like Him. He-s given us the ability. He-s given us Grace, and we are to follow Him, and following Him is a climb. It is a climb to the summit of virtues. But climbing is difficult, climbing takes effort; it-s not easy at all. The Lord-s yoke is easy and His burden is light, absolutely, but when we climb the summit to the virtues, the reason it-s difficult is because of our sins. These things must be washed away, burned out of us, so that we can know God. So we must climb away from the crowd, away from the common life, towards perfection; and the Lord tells us what perfection is; He tells us what -following Him- means. He says, ?Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.¦ To be poor in spirit is to be truly humble, to know the weakness of your flesh, to know how to feel as St. Paul felt-- He would want to do something, but he could not-- to reach out to God, because there is no other way for you. To feel profoundly the weakness of your human condition-- this is poverty of spirit. ?Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.¦ A true Christian always mourns. What does he mourn? He mourns his condition. He mourns his sin. He mourns that the Lord has given him so much and yet he does so little. This is the time for mourning. This is the time for being sorry; this is the time for striving to change. Now there is a blessed dichotomy in our life; one is that we should mourn, we should feel ourselves to be the poorest of the poor, to be the greatest of sinners, to be unworthy of God-s mercy. And at the same time-- simultaneously-- we should have that blessed hope that God will save us by His mercy. These two must exist simultaneously, and knowledge in each one-- both in our depravity and in God-s mercy-- must increase as our life goes on if we are to truly follow Christ and inherit salvation. Knowing too much of one or the other can cause a person to lose their mind. A person who feels that they are utterly depraved can lose all hope; can become despondent that they can not react to God-s mercy. Then again a person who is so sure that God has saved them is a fool. When I was in college I was trained to ask a question. And that question was, I would go up to people in the student union and say, ?If you were to die tonight, what would you say to the Lord-- why you should be saved?¦ And now as an Orthodox Christian I understand what a foolish question that is to form: Why I should be saved? Who am I to talk to the Lord about why I should be saved? ~12:00 . The Lord is merciful; I throw myself on His mercy. I try to live according to the commandments so that I-ll know God. Salvation can-t be reduced to a formula. I also love it when people come up to me, especially-- you know, dressed as I am-- they-ll say, ?Are you saved?¦ and I-ll say, ?No, I-m not dead yet¦ because salvation is a process. Salvation is following Christ. He doesn-t force me to follow Him. I could stop; any one of us could stop. We-ve known people who have stopped. If we-re poor in spirit we-re not going to be godly and think: Oh, no, that could never happen to me. Absolutely not-- we must continually refresh ourselves in the commandments, not just reading about them and talking about them, but following them. Following them is the tough part, because it-s very easy to do things like: okay, I won-t commit adultery, I won-t steal. All right, but the Lord said to follow Him. The Lord humbled himself in front of all the people who were inferior to Him. When someone says something against us, what is our reaction? Do we follow Christ, or is there something in our heart that judges that person, or is angry? Do we have any jealousy? The Lord made it clear that even our thoughts, He will judge us for. He who looks upon a woman to lust after her is already guilty of adultery, and yet we would say we don-t commit adultery. Well, based on that criterion, which one of us would say we have never been guilty of adultery? What the Lord Jesus Christ did when He came is: He showed the essence of what belief in God is; that had already been taught in a dark way to the Jewish people. Before, it was an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth?that was an improvement?because it used to be: if you kill one of mine, and I will kill your village. So that was an improvement. But truly the Christian way is: if your enemy forces you to go one mile, go with him two; if he strikes you on the cheek, turn the other cheek. It-s a high bar. Following Christ takes effort; it takes desire. It-s a continual effort of climbing so that we can know God. The Lord said, ?Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God¦. Well, think of it in another way: if you do not become pure, you will not see God. So our life is a continual effort to follow Christ. Not just to identify with Him; we can have all manner of things that identify ourselves with Christianity. All that matters is: is our heart identified with Him? Do we follow Him? Do we take seriously that all of the commandments are meant for us, every single one of them, and that He didn-t give any options? He told us to be perfect. So we should strive for perfection. Now, the reason? -- We need reasons; people need reasons to do things. The reason why we should strive for perfection: because, only the pure shall see God. He came so that we might know Him. This knowledge can only be accomplished by struggling to follow Him. He gives us the ability. He provides the Grace. We can-t do anything of ourselves, but if we do not order our lives in order to follow the commandments, then we can not be saved-- no matter what we say about ourselves, no matter what we say we believe. May God help us to truly follow God, not just to say we believe, to live as we say we believe; to struggle in our inner selves to follow the commandments in our hearts. May God help us, Amen.