31 October 2005

Homily - 30 October 2005

It is a stern and disturbing message that we hear today from the Prophet Malachi and from Jesus himself. Both today focus on living out our faith not only in our words but also, and perhaps more importantly, by what we do. Malachi and Jesus both issue strong warnings to us today. Jesus tells the disciples to do as the Pharisees tell them because they teach properly and correctly by their words, but they do not do themselves as they order others to do. Malachi condemns them saying that they have broken the covenant God made with Levi.

The Lord himself says of this covenant with Levi:

“My covenant with him was one of life and peace; fear I put in him, and he feared me, and stood in awe of my name. True doctrine was in his mouth, and no dishonesty was found upon his lips; He walked with me in integrity and uprightness, and turned many away from evil” (Malachi 2:4-7).

Levi served the Lord well and because of his service the Lord blessed him greatly. He was able to serve the Lord well because he knew also who the Lord is and Levi knew who he himself was. Levi feared the Lord and stood in awe of him; he walked in the ways of the Lord and led others in lives of holiness.

Is this not what each of us is called to do? Are we not all called to fear the Lord and to stand in awe before him? Are we not all called to follow after the Lord and to keep his commandments? Are we not all called to help those around us grow in holiness? Of course we are.

It is because of these reasons that Jesus says to us today:

“As for you, do not be called be “Rabbi.” You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers. Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven. Do not be called “Master;” you have but one Master, the Christ” (Matthew 23:8-10).

The title ‘rabbi’ means “great one” and Christ alone is the Great One. The Father in heaven is the one who truly cares for us. Jesus himself is the only true Master that we have and he says to us “Follow me,” (Luke 5:27) and, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 8:23).

This fear, though, that Levi felt before the Lord and which is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, is not a simple terror or horror when standing before the throne of God. No, it is much more than this cowardice. The fear of the Lord comes from a proper understanding of who we are in God’s eyes. This fear is much more of a quiet and profound reverence and submission before God than it is a feeling of terror and dread. Looking upon the face of God we realize his greatness, his majesty, and his beauty and with the Psalmist we, too, can say, “I have stilled and quieted my soul like a weaned child. Like a weaned child on its mother’s lap, so is my soul within me” (Psalm 131:2).

The ancient Fathers of the desert would leave their caves or huts in the hours of night and they would look up to heaven. While looking up they would first point upward and exclaim, “You are God; I am not. You are God; I am not. You are God; I am not.” Then they would return to their caves or huts and spend hours in prayer, reflection, and meditation, by resting in the abiding peace of God.

By praying in this way many of them came to know God as Father, Great One, and Master. The more they came to know God’s power and splendor, the more they came to realize their own finitude and how very small and tiny they were in comparison to the Lord. This is a lesson we would do well to learn because as they learned this, they came to understand in a deep and powerful way the love that God has for each us.

Knowing how small and frail we are, and our absolute powerlessness, the Son of God looked upon us and saw the weight of our “heavy burdens hard to carry” (Matthew 23:4). He saw the chains of sin and death, of sickness and pain, and he abandoned the glory of heaven and - rather than laying more burdens upon us - he took all of our burdens upon himself; he lifted much more than his “finger to move them” even though just one joint of his finger would certainly have been strong enough to remove them (Matthew 23:4). So great is his love and his tender mercy that he humbled himself and became our servant, dying upon the cross that we might live in true and lasting peace and joy.

Very often we tell ourselves about the mercy and love of Jesus but we do not always feel his love. We do not spend enough time with him to know him better. We forget, as the Opening Prayer today reminds us: “only with your help can we offer you fitting service and praise” and we try to do it alone. When this happens, when we forget that we need the Lord, the words that the Lord spoke through Malachi are then addressed to us as well: “You have turned aside from the way, and have caused many to falter by your instruction; you have made void the covenant with Levi” (Malachi 2:8).

Let us then remember, this day and every day, that “whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12). With all God’s holy ones, let us daily cry out to him, “Do not abandon me, Lord. My God, do not go away from me! Hurry to help me, Lord, my Savior” (Introit). With his help and grace we will “live the faith we profess and trust [his] promise of eternal life” (Collect).

We have a duty to ensure that our actions match, as closely as possible, what we say. The faith which we claim must be evident from the life that we live. People should be able to do nothing more than look at the way we live and listen to what we say and know without question or doubt that we are followers of Christ. In our lives they should see the presence of Jesus radiating through us, but this can only happen when we are humble and remember, “You are God; I am not.”

When we humble ourselves before him and recognize our true stance before the Most High, then we will follow after our “Master” and “Teacher” (John 13:13). And bearing our crosses and following after him, we will come to share in a portion of the covenant made with Levi. The Lord will then say to each of us:

“My covenant with him was one of life and peace; fear I put in him, and he feared me, and stood in awe of my name. True doctrine was in his mouth, and no dishonesty was found upon his lips; He walked with me in integrity and uprightness, and turned many away from evil” (Malachi 2:4-7).

When we, just as Levi did, recognize our true relationship with God and stop trying make ourselves more important than we really are, then we will truly sing with the Psalmist, “In you, Lord, I have found my peace.”

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