SERMON ON BOASTING
October 27, 2019
On the Sunday Apostolic Reading: (2 Corinthians 11:31-12:9)
In the Summer of 1972, in Corinth, Greece, something terrible happened to me...I lost my glasses. I took them off to read a menu at a roadside cafe on our way to Sparta, and got distracted. I left them on the table. Oh, it wasn’t the fact that I could no longer see things in the distance that troubled me so. I WAS in Greece after all, on vacation, and my ability to see churches, monuments, and even countryside was now greatly impaired. But no, that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that those glasses, my glasses, were John Lennon glasses. They were expensive, silver wire-rimmed, John Lennon-style glasses. No one had glasses like these glasses...except John Lennon of course. None of my friends had them. None of my fellow students in college had them, Only I had them. I loved them. I was proud of them. I was only too happy to show them off, to brag about them. They made me feel just a little bit superior to others, just a little bit “hipper” than others. And now...they were gone. I had lost them. I was careless, and I lost them. Or did I? Maybe the truth is, God took them away from me for the salvation of my soul!
The Holy Apostle Paul, in today’s epistle, is writing to the faithful in the city of Corinth, some 2,000 years before I stopped there and lost my glasses. He writes to them in order to bolster their confidence in him and in his status as an apostle. He reminds them how he has suffered, being beaten, being whipped, being stoned, being shipwrecked, being imprisoned, etc. And he’s horrified that he has to boast about his persecution, and he says that “It is doubtless not profitable for me to boast” (2 Corinthians 12:1). But then he moves on to describe an experience that he had, being carried up into Paradise, seeing heavenly things and hearing unspeakable mysteries.
This experience of the divine he relates in the third person, as if it happened to somebody else. Both kinds of “boasting” if you will, were employed by the Apostle for the well-being and salvation of the Christians in Corinth, but the first, concerning persecution and suffering, was the common experience of all, while the second was only the experience of Paul.
In a practical way, the holy Apostle is showing us that our testimony, our sharing of our experiences as a Christian, ought to be shared with others if it is for their edification, their growth in Christ, and not as a means to puff up ourselves personally in their estimation. Sharing “our story” with others, especially when we’ve had some common experiences with them, can be very helpful and even healing for them. But the other kind of boasting, the kind that might give the impression that we consider ourselves superior, more holy, or somehow more “worthy” in God’s eyes, should be avoided, ordinarily. However, St. Paul, writing to the persecuted believers in Corinth, wanted to reinforce what he had also written to the Christians in Rome: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5: 1-5). In other words, he wants to remind them that glory, deification, the heavenly mansions, eternal light and life, these are the true goals of the followers of Jesus. This is the hope that gives us the courage to carry on. That’s why the Apostle feels compelled to share his heavenly as well as his earthly experiences. That’s why St John Chrysostom says of this sharing: “he so frames his language in the best manner he possibly could, so as at once to mention the fact, and to avoid speaking of himself directly” (Homily 26 on 2 Corinthians).
So, wrapping-up, what about those glasses? Boasting or being proud, or feeling superior about our “things” is not virtuous. Bragging about our things, our homes, our kids, our jobs, etc. in order to puff-up ourselves, is the same thing as that Pharisee who went up to the temple to pray, but only prayed to himself, boasting about how much better he was than other people. Or it is the same as those others about whom the Lord says: “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; They love the places of honor at banquets, and the chief seats in the synagogues...” (Matthew 23:5).
St Macarius the Great said: “If you see someone exalting himself and is arrogant about his abilities, know that even if he created great signs and resurrected the dead….he is being robbed by an evil spirit without realizing it. Even if he performs miracles — do not believe him because the sign of a Christian is to hide from others any gifts that God has deemed him worthy to receive.”
Dear ones, let us flee from all arrogance, all pride, and all boasting. The true Christian humbles himself, rather than elevating himself. The true Christian is a dove, not a peacock. The true Christian boasts in the Lord, and not in himself. St. Basil the Great writes (and I’ll end with this): “The wise man must not boast of his wisdom, nor the strong man of his strength, nor the rich man of his riches. What then is the right kind of boasting? What is the source of man’s greatness? Scripture says: The man who boasts must boast of this, that He knows and understands that “I am the Lord.” Here is man’s greatness, here is man’s glory and majesty: to know in truth what is great, to hold fast to it, and to seek glory from the Lord of glory. The Apostle tells us: The man who boasts must boast of the Lord. He has just said: Christ was appointed by God to be our wisdom, our righteousness, our sanctification, our redemption, so that, as it is written, a man who boasts must boast of the Lord.” Amen.