A Battle of Cultures
I. “How would Christ solve modern problems if He were on earth today? For those of my faith there is only one answer. Christ is on earth today; alive on a thousand altars” ~ Gilbert Keith Chesterton, 1932
We live in an era of confusion. In malls, offices, schools, universities, television, churches, and the dining room we’re bombarded by a hundred conflicting voices. Religion, politics, money, girls and Coca-Cola all claim to be the answer. The priests of Christianity, Atheism, Secularism, and Paganism preach their doctrines and the cacophony of it all is ear splitting. In the background, we struggle to hold back the flood of violence, scandals and depression. It’s no wonder that people just give up. It’s hard enough to believe in God. Nowadays, we’re not even sure we believe in gender. A child growing up in our world can’t be sure if he’s a boy or girl, or perhaps a fish or a toad.
But you know, there isn’t much new here. The world has always been broken. What we’re seeing in America is the same story that every culture has seen which has turned it’s back to God. It’s the same story that Adam and Eve knew when they ventured out beyond the walls of paradise.
II. But something did change once in the world, in a little manger.
When God became flesh, a fire was lit on earth, and that flame has flickered ever since in every century, on a thousand altars.
Jesus Christ wasn’t just a good man preaching a nice message. If he were, then you might as well throw him out. Heaven knows we don’t need one more voice in all this noise claiming to have the way? Jesus Christ is the Way. He is not a prophet of the Dao. He is the Dao. He isn’t a teacher of goodness. He is goodness. He doesn’t point to the road of enlightenment. He is Enlightenment. He is the “light that shines in the darkness” (John 1:5).
III. In his letters, St. Paul calls Christ the New Adam.
“The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit…The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from Heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven” (I Corinthians 15:45-48).
This name, ‘Adam’ in Hebrew, means ‘humanity.’ So we discover two kinds of humanity. The first humanity is cursed. Call it entropy, or whatever you like. Everything falls apart and dies. The confusion, hate, and divorce of modern society all belong to this first humanity. The second kind of humanity is utterly and unconditionally different: Jesus Christ. We aren’t saved by ‘believing’ in Jesus Christ, if, by “believing” you mean something merely intellectual. The word ‘believe’ comes from the Greek, πιστισ, which means, ‘to commit to, to follow, to obey.’ To believe, in a Christian sense, is to live, to do, to become. So, St. Paul writes, “All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:37). We are saved by becoming one with Jesus Christ, by being grafted into his humanity – a new humanity of life and peace.
IV. In our gospel today, we see exactly what happens when these two humanities meet.
“Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’ Then he came forward and touched the coffin, and the bearers stood still. And he said, ‘Young man, I say to you, rise!’ The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God” (Luke 7:11-16).
Two large crowds are travelling together. One is a crowd gathered around Jesus Christ. The other is a crowd gathered around a dead boy and a grieving mother. The first crowd is the Holy Church. The second crowd is the world. The first crowd brings Christ in the sacraments, the saints and the angels. The second crowd brings noise, confusion and death.
V. All of us were born into that second crowd.
We have all been hurt. Each of us carries that hurt inside us like the mother carrying her dead boy. We are the “grieving widow.” The pain outside us, the violence and confusion in society is also part of us. We are the crowd gathered around the coffin. Finally, each of us in some way has known death. We are that boy lying on the stretcher.
But like that crowd at the city of Nain, we are not without a savior.
When they left the city they were on the road to the tombs, but they didn’t know what they’d find on the road.
They found the Church.
“When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’ Then he came forward and touched the coffin, and the bearers stood still. And he said, ‘Young man, I say to you, rise!’
How can we survive in this world?
We come to Holy Church.
VI. What is the Church?
The Church is not a mere institution. It is not an ethnic group or a body of pious traditions and sentimental rituals.
The moment we’re trapped in the externals we’ve replaced our faith with idolatry. The Church is the crowd gathered around Christ outside the gates of Nain. The Church is the living, breathing presence of God with Man. It is the Body of Christ, spiritual and physical. It is “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession” (1 Peter 2:9). We are saved by stepping out of the crowd of death and into this crowd of life.
VII. Orthodoxy is a Way of Life.
At a gathering in 1982, Fr. Seraphim Rose gave a talk about what it means to be Orthodox in the modern world. Here are his words:
“In past centuries…the Orthodox world-view was an important part of Orthodox life and was supported by the life around it…you lived Orthodoxy in harmony with the Orthodox society.” In other words, Orthodoxy was just part of culture. This isn’t so any more. Fr. Seraphim continues, “Today, on the other hand, all this has changed. Our Orthodoxy is a little island in the midst of a world which operates on totally different principles—and every day these principles are changing for the worse, making us more and more alienated from it. Many people are tempted to divide their lives into two sharply distinct categories: the daily life we lead at work, with worldly friends, in our worldly business, and Orthodoxy, which we live on Sundays and at other times in the week when we have time for it. But…Christian values and worldly values do not mix…Orthodoxy is life.”
VIII. The Church is the ship that keeps us from drowning.
It doesn’t matter how much baggage you have. It doesn’t matter how much brokenness there is in the world. Like the city of Nain, the world will always be marked by confusion and death. But Christ offers us a different way, a different existence, a life, the Kingdom. When the crowd of death met with the crowd of life everything changed. So we too can step out of that old crowd and step into the new, as we saturate our lives in the Life of the Church.
“How would Christ solve modern problems if He were on earth today? …There is only one answer. Christ is on earth today; alive on a thousand altars.”