Sunday, May 16, 2010

Do You Want to Live Forever? Then Get to Know Jesus

The world is an ever-shrinking place. It almost never fails that when I am visiting another city I am asked, “Do you know ‘so-and-so’?” This actually happened to me once in Melbourne, Australia. I was staying with a family that had heard of Denver, Colorado and asked if I knew someone they had met from Denver. I politely informed them that there were over 3 million people who lived in Denver and that we had never met. At the other end of the spectrum I often meet Greek Orthodox Christians who ask me if I know of a certain priest of another parish or if I have ever met their cousin etc. Believe it or not, more often than not I do know the person they are speaking of. There are also roughly 3 million Greek Orthodox Christians in America so either I know a whole lot of people, or the “Greek Orthodox World” isn’t as big as it would seem. It is no coincidence that Greek Orthodox Christians know other Greek Orthodox Christians from other cities because we share a very important common friend, Father, and God. As Orthodox Christians we live in communion with God and each other in a real, yet mystical, way. When someone asks, “Do you know Jesus?” we actually do and the universe is a huge place.

If someone were to ask us if we knew President Barak Obama or Vice President Biden most of us would say “no” because we even though we know “OF” them we have never met them. On the other hand, if I were to ask you this morning if you knew Governor Mark Sanford there is at least one of you here this morning likely to say “yes” because you have met him. And if I were to ask if you knew Senator Hugh Leatherman, most of us would say “yes” because he is a good friend to our Community. To know someone is to spend time with them and “get to know them;” something many of us have done with Senator Leatherman.

But, what if I asked, “Do you know Jesus?” Would we be able to say, with the same certainty that we did about Senator Leatherman, “yes” or would we say that we know “of” Jesus. There is a big difference between knowing “OF” someone and actually knowing them and that is what this morning’s Gospel is about. Jesus said, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17.3) Jesus didn’t desire us to know about God but to genuinely know Him but sadly many Christians spend their entire life only having knowledge “OF” God.

Statements such as “Knowledge is power,” are nothing new. In fact Aristotle said it “first,” and the desire for knowledge was the essence of the Renaissance which launched a new era in science. Unfortunately the emphasis on intellectual knowledge rather than the mystery of God has also led science to abandon the Creator in favor of a myth simply because scientists could not “measure God.” Empirical evidence drives science rather than faith in God which ultimately has created a void because science no longer knows God let alone, about God.

We have been given a great blessing by the Creator of the universe. God has allowed us simple created human beings, sinful as we are, to know Him, not just to know about Him. When we read the Holy Scriptures, either the Old Testament or the New Testament, we find one thing very important. The Holy Scriptures are a written testament to God’s interaction WITH the Church. The Bible is a story of God’s work in and through and with humanity. The Holy Scriptures are stories of holy men and women, and some not-so-holy, who knew God. Adam and Eve walked with Him in the Garden (Genesis 3.8); Abraham hosted the Trinity for a meal (Genesis 18); Moses spoke with Him on Mount Sinai (Exodus 20); the Holy Apostles live with Him; and the Church communes with Him to this very day.

Jesus said, “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.” (John 6.56) You can’t get any closer to knowing someone than this and the Church has proclaimed this truth for two thousand years. Saint Paul said, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes.” (1 Corinthians 11.26) So today, the Sunday between the Feast of Ascension and the Feast of Pentecost, the Church celebrates the Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council. The ten days between Ascension and Pentecost represents the period of time where the Church no longer saw Jesus Christ because He had ascended to His Throne nor had the Church received the Holy Spirit which would guide the Church “into all truth.” (John 16.13) But the Church did know God. Jesus said, “Now they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You. For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me.” (John 17.7-8)

Today, and every day, we celebrate knowing that God is in our midst and desires to commune with us and live with us and IN us. This is what it means to have eternal life. That we know Jesus Christ is present in the chalice and that He has lowered Himself so we can know Him. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity, became a human being so we could know Him and have eternal life. We already have eternal life. It isn’t just something that we have to wait for. When Jesus Christ ascended to His Throne He brought our human nature with Him so that we could “be partakers of the divine nature.” (2 Peter 1.4)

We partake of God’s divinity each time we partake of Holy Communion. We no longer know “OF” God; we know Him personally and intimately. We have joy because for two thousand years the Church has maintained true knowledge of God. In a few moments we will sing, “We have seen the true light; we have received the heavenly Spirit; we have found the true faith, worshipping the undivided Trinity, for the Trinity has saved us.” (from the Divine Liturgy) We are thankful for the Holy Fathers who professed the Faith of the Apostles and defended the truth so our knowledge might remain strong today in 2010.

If we visit Washington, D.C. as tourists we are kept at a distance from President Obama. But if we visit Washington, D.C. as friends or even family of the President, we are invited into the White House. My brothers and sisters, we should not remain as tourists in God’s House but live as friends and the true “Children of God” (John 1.12) that we became at our Baptism and Chrismation. God has invited us in to His House to know Him but we can only do this by being in communion with Him.

In just a little while I will exit the Holy Altar with the Body and Blood of Christ and call, “With the fear of God, with faith and love, draw near.” This is God’s invitation to come to Him and have eternal life. As Orthodox Christians we should not turn our backs on God and pretend that knowing about God is good enough. That would be no better than knowing how to eat but never eating. One leads to death. The other leads to life. Don’t you want to live forever?

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