SERMON ON “DON’T MISS THE POINT”
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ!
Before I begin speaking on today’s Gospel lesson, I’d like to read from another section of Scripture which will kind of illustrate the point. It comes from the book of Acts, chapter 19: 11-20. The story is about the seven sons of the High Priest Sceva. It goes like this:
"God was doing extraordinary miracles (in Ephesus) by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. (By the way, this is an excellent illustration of the value of what we call “secondary relics.” A secondary relic is something like a cloth, or ribbon, or prayer rope that has touched the body or the bones of a saint. I’ll have more to say on this later!) Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were trying this. But the evil spirit (in the man they were trying to exorcize) answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house wounded, and with their clothes shredded off of them. And this became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled. Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.”
Then, of course, there’s the story of Simon Magus (Simon the Sorcerer) in the 8th chapter of Acts, who saw the miracles done through the Apostles and declared himself a believer. Why? Because he wanted to perform such feats himself. How did he propose to acquire such miraculous power? Not through faith, not through piety, not through righteous and ascetical living, no! He offered them money! He wanted to bribe the Apostles so that he could perform miracles. Can you imagine? The Apostle Peter said to him: “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God” (Acts 8:20-21).
Your heart is not right in the sight of God. What does it mean, for our hearts not to be right? It means our heart, our spiritual center, has been full of pride, self-love, self aggrandizement, self promotion, self-interest. This is what Jesus was warning his disciples about in today’s Gospel. They were given the power to “trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy,” but he didn’t want them to be lured into pride by this power. He said to them, “do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” The miracles won’t save you or them, but a right heart will. A right heart is a heart that is humble. St Augustine said, “It was pride that turned angels into devils; it is humility that turns men into angels.” A right heart is cleaned, swept, dusted, painted, and ready to contain God. The Lord Jesus waits for our hearts to be ready. He says, “Behold I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20). St. Tikhon of Zadonsk wrote that “The true faith in Christ is in the heart, and it is fruitful, humble, patient, loving, merciful, compassionate, hungering and thirsting for righteousness; it withdraws from worldly lusts and clings to God alone, strives and seeks always for what is heavenly and eternal, struggles against every sin, and constantly seeks and begs help from God for this.”
“Don’t rejoice that you can cast out demons” says Jesus to His disciples. “But rejoice that your names are written in heaven, in the Book of Life.” You know, it used to be in America, that every family had its “Family Bible.” This was usually a large edition, with a fancy cover, kept in the living room for nightly reading with the whole family present. But the family Bible had another purpose as well. In it were recorded all of the names of all of the family members, from as early as anyone could remember. This was the Book of the Life of the Family as well as the God-breathed oracles of the Old and New Testaments. Similarly for the Jews it was vitally important to keep a record of the family genealogy as far back as possible. This was to prove who you were, and from what tribe you descended. The genealogy was like the pedigree, verifying that you belonged to the family. Well, the same can be said of the Book of Life, of the “names written in heaven.” It is so much more than simply a list of who’s going to heaven. It’s a divine record of who belongs to God’s Family. What do the Scriptures say? John 1:12 says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the authority to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.” And St Paul says in Ephesians 2:19, “So then you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” By virtue of our being born again in the waters of holy baptism, by virtue of our faith in Christ, we are made, by grace, members of Christ and members of His family. That’s why Jesus wants His disciples to focus on that. That’s why we, too, need to focus on that. Miracles are wonderful, don’t get me wrong, but if our relationship with God is based only on miracles – what God can do for me, what God can do for someone else in this temporal life, then we will have missed the point altogether. Just as Jesus was born into a family on Christmas Day, we are also called to be part of a family, His family. And that’s why we all have the same last name. Did you know that? Yes, we all have the same last name. It’s a Greek last name - “Χριστιανός” or “Christian.” Why? Because we all belong to the Family of Jesus Christ. Let’s rejoice in that today, as Jesus told His disciples to do. Amen.