26 March 2007

The Greatness of God

The following is an excerpt of a sermon preached at Holy Incarnation Orthodox Church on Passion Sunday. To read the full sermon, subscribe to Holy Incarnation NEWS.

In concert with all the great philosophers, St Peter Chrysologus reminds us that human observation cannot recognize how great God is, but only that He exists. Why is this? Why can we not innately see the greatness of God? Let me suggest two reasons.

First, we are creatures. So our human minds can neither comprehend nor fathom the mystery that God is. Otherwise, we would be like God. So the nature of being human prevents us from ever truly knowing the full extent of God’s greatness. Or to say it more simply: we can’t know God’s greatness because we are not God, but made by God.

The second reason we can’t know God’s greatness is because we don’t know what true greatness is. Our minds are so clouded over by arrogance, by lust, by disordered passions, and by our selfish near-sightedness that we do not know see that true greatness consists not of might but of mercy; and not being able to have and do and control whatever we want, but being willing to sacrifice all for the sake of love.

This second reason is because of sin. Instead of striving to be in God, we strive to be like God. And in our misguided striving, we miss the mark because we are aiming at the wrong thing. And the wrong thing is the desire to raise ourselves, the need to promote ourselves, the straining and struggling and stressing to make sure we make it. The focus is all wrong. In straining to be like God, we strain to be noticed; and so we strain toward a selfish goal.

But notice, now, the true greatness of God. The Son of God, who is all and has all, emptied Himself of all that He is and has, and took the form of a servant, and became one of the creatures He made, being made in the likeness of men, taking on the mortal weakness of men. And so, not for His sake, but for the sake of man and all creation, He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross.

[Here, then, is true greatness.] It is the High Priest using His own blood to sanctify not only the temple, not only the pious and righteous, but even more so the most defiled, the most despicable, the least deserving, the filthiest, and the most unclean. This is the way of Christ, who by the Holy Ghost offered himself unspotted unto God, [to] cleanse our conscience from dead works, [so that we might be permitted] serve the living God. In this way, the unholiest is sanctified not by an incantation, not by the right ceremony, but by the Holy One becoming sin; by the Deathless One dying; and by the Lover of men being the most despised.

Let us then not only consider, but take to heart, the greatness of Our Lord God. Let us not only understand, but also believe His meekness. Let us both comprehend, and then seek our life in the unfathomable love that He is and so readily gives. For He does not abandon us to our self-destroying ways. Neither does He make us first seek Him out and somehow ascend to Him. Rather, in His deep and abiding mercy, Our Lord Jesus comes to us. And in coming to us, He gives us all that we need to return to Him, to live in true repentance, to forsake our selfish appetites, and to live for Him in the same self-sacrificing way that He lives for us.

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