• Fr. Peter Kavanaugh

Lift Thine Eyes

A Scottish preacher once wrote a fairytale called, “The Golden Key,” which some have argued is the most Christian story ever written. It begins in a nursery, where a woman is telling her great nephew about a key that’s found at the end of the rainbow. The boy starts out by asking, “What is the key for?” “What will it open?” And the great-aunt replies, “That nobody knows…He has to find that out.” So, the next morning, when the boy looks out of his window and sees a rainbow, he remembers his aunt’s story, and rushes out into the woods. Sure enough, there at the end of the rainbow, what does he find but the golden key?

But little did he know, at that moment, that his discovery was really just a beginning, for now he had a job to do, to find the door that opens to the golden key. The rest of the story involves a long series of adventures and trials that the boy goes through until finally reaching the door.

George MacDonald, the author of this fairytale, usually makes a young boy or young girl the hero of his stories. I think he wants to remind us grownups what it means to be pure in heart, for sometimes children are much more single-minded and determined than adults. C. S. Lewis once said, “It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to.” In other words, if someone truly desires God then he will find Him. The hard job for us Christians is to truly want God. To be pure in heart, quite simply, is to keep your eyes on the prize.

The boy with the golden key is an example of determination and purity of heart. He’s simple. His eyes are on the door and nothing will keep him from getting there.

This is our job as Christians and the message of our gospel today: to keep our eyes on the Kingdom of God.

The gospel begins as our Lord Jesus Christ teaches, “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

Then He goes on to say:

‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them…Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you—you of little faith?”

Finally, He then says one of the most profound statements in scripture: “Do not worry… But strive first for the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

In each of these verses, we’re shown two ways to live, and these are really the only two options that we have: to serve Mammon or to serve God; to be bogged down by concerns for worldly things, or to keep our eyes up and cast on the Kingdom of Heaven.

The first thought that comes to mind, in this passage, is: ‘What in the world is He talking about? The bird’s don’t sow or harvest and, yes, have enough food, but last time I looked we aren’t birds and the bank account doesn’t take care of itself. In the same way, the lilies of the field might be naturally beautiful, but without a little effort to find our own clothes, we might have a problem.’

If you read closer, you can see that our Lord isn’t telling us to stop working and saving. In fact, birds have all the food they need, but even they have to go out and work to find it. But in the end, in all their efforts and ours, the entire world is one gift from God.

The King James translation here can be misleading, which says, “Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink.” The Greek phrase is: μὴ μεριμνᾶτε τῇ ψυχῇ ὑμῶν – “Do not be anxious [or worried] about your life.” We must “take thought” for the things in our life; to use our resources shrewdly and to be a little ‘worldly wise’. But our Lord tells us, not once but twice, that we never have to worry. It’s okay to let go.

Now there’s no question, we all worry, and this gospel talks to me personally just as I hope it does to each of you, for all of us have mornings when we wake up anxious about this and that, or fall asleep worrying about tomorrow. But if we can only let the message of the gospel to sink into to our hearts, then we can become free, as free as the birds in the sky and the grass in the fields. If we can take our Lord’s words to heart, then we can let go of the world, realize we aren’t in control and that we don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, and that’s okay.

We should give thought to our food, our clothes, our money and jobs, but in the midst of it, Jesus Christ gives us the freedom to be a little detached. A righteous man does the work in front of him, and leaves the rest to God.

In his old age, Mark Twain once said, “I've had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”

Sometimes it’s helpful to step back and focus on the very present moment. Right now. Right here. Most of the time, in this present moment, you’ll notice that life isn’t so bad. You can make it a mental exercise when you’re worrying, to stop, breath, and listen to the stillness of now. To “be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46). Everything is okay in the present moment. Life only becomes unmanageable as soon as we allow our thoughts to wander off to tomorrow. But we aren’t responsible for tomorrow – that belongs to God. It’s okay to let go and let Him have it.

God is in the present moment, and that’s the only place that we need to be.

It doesn’t change anything either when bad things happen, for again, God is in control. Though we may not understand the events in our lives, we can trust that for those who love God all things work together for the good. Here, in this Gospel, we Christians are given the chance of becoming the freest human beings on earth.

But this is just the first part of the teaching. Our Lord tells us not to waste our time with worrying, and then He shows us the way we should use our time. He invites us to cast our eyes on God. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

We make life far too complicated, when it is, in fact, so simple. If you keep your eyes on the Kingdom of God, everything else will work out.

It’s a confusing world. The political campaigns are raging, wars are festering in the East, family bonds are dissolving at home, and an atmosphere of instability and fear affects just about everyone. I doubt anyone here can remember the last time they watched the news and afterwards breathed a sigh of relief, and leaned back in happiness. No one feels this way. There are too many problems. There are certainly a lot of opportunities to worry.

But when we start worrying we quite simply need to lift our eyes to God.

What do the scriptures say? “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8).

This isn’t wishful thinking. It isn’t about keeping your head in the clouds and walking in a dream. As Christians we ought to keep our feet planted firmly on the ground; to strain to see reality just as it is. But that’s the whole point: to see reality. To see everything from the big picture, from God’s point-of-view. The world has always been unstable. Every man and woman’s private life is a little rocky. But the battle has already been fought and won. Christ is our Lord and Savior and has triumphed over the devil. The Church Militant is living in a time of what is to come. We’re already tasting the fruits of the resurrection.

At every point of Christian history, the Church has shined as a light in the darkness of the world.

Our ancestors built the Cathedrals in the midst of poverty because they were a means for men and women of every class to step out of their poverty, and to drink in the beauty of heaven for even one passing moment. It’s far better to have a taste of heaven then a taste of mere bread. The Church’s sacred music, the beautiful vestments, the flowers on the altar, and the lofty language of prayer, have always stood to remind us that even though we might suffer here on earth, we are citizens of a kingdom where there is no suffering. The beauty of the Church reminds us that the ugliness around us is merely temporary. God is preparing a home far greater than we could fathom. This has been the message of the church for 2,000 years, inviting us to lift our eyes up and reach to the Kingdom.

Sometimes when we’re bogged down by the world the only thing we can do is to look up at an icon, to see the face of our Savior Jesus Christ, His blessed mother, and the host of saints and angels, and to remember that our struggles down here are all so small compared to what God has prepared above. The icons speak to us more loudly than words: “Cast your eyes on the Lord.” “Lift up your head and behold the beauty of God.”

And first and foremost, when our suffering is real, and when tomorrow weighs on us, with every kind of worry filling our heads, we can remember our savior in the Garden of Gethsemane. He too suffered, but instead of casting his eyes down, he opened them up even wider, looking into heaven, giving his suffering over to the Father. It’s an irony that when things are hard we’re tempted to step back from God and His church, when it is at that moment that we most deeply need to draw closer – to lift thine eyes to the mountains.

So, we’re given a great gift today in the teaching of Jesus Christ. If we cast on eyes on God everything else will pan out.

This is what the little boy understood who discovered the golden key. He knew what he wanted, and he wouldn’t let anything distract him from it. God had given him the key and his only desire afterwards was to find the door that would open to it, and so, with his heart fixed on the goal, he pressed onwards.

May God inspire each of us to become like this young child, to be pure in heart and single-minded, that we can have the courage to keep our eyes on the Kingdom of Heaven.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Saint Benedict Orthodox Church

3808 Seymour Road

Wichita Falls, TX, 76309