Think God is Dead? This is how to find Him:
Last week, you may remember, we heard the story of the Prodigal or Lost Son. You may also remember that we talked about finding God within ourselves. I believe, like the Fathers of the Church have taught, that we cannot see God in life or anywhere in the world unless we first look within ourselves. Saints like St. Theophan of Russia would often say that mankind was built by God for that journey inward, to pray not with the mouth or even with our mind but with and from our heart. The problem or difficulty with this, especially in our times, is that we have become increasingly unable to make that journey inward because #1, it’s a difficult journey that doesn’t allow for distractions, #2, it requires patience, perseverance, and tenacity, all qualities that are greatly lacking in our culture of instant gratification and apathy for life itself.
At the same time, I realize that life is full of pressure and we are the product of our upbringing. If our parents didn’t do it, if we’ve never done it, if no one else we know has ever done it, then praying like that, digging deep like that, may not seem necessary or even possible. Of course, the problem with that way of thinking is that we lose out. It may feel like Christ isn’t even there, either inside or outside of us. I think that this is how many of our young people are thinking today. I’ve heard this many times, from all sorts of people: God is dead for many as Newsweek reported many years ago and, to some degree, it’s true. If we’re dead spiritually, then everything about God is also dead.
No matter how old or young you are, no matter where exactly you may live, you may have struggled with this sense of absence. It may have felt like Jesus isn’t there because there is so little godliness in your life. So, where do we encounter Christ? In this week’s Gospel passage, Christ gives us a very concrete answer: We encounter the Lord in the people around us; especially those in need.
For I was hungry and thirsty and a stranger and naked and you ministered to me… (Matthew 25:35-36). As modern Christians living in a self-absorbed world, we run the risk of forgetting that other people are part of our spiritual lives. We may think that we’re alone on our spiritual walk. We can get so caught up in our prayer rule, our fasting discipline, and our private conduct that we neglect to see Christ in those around us. We can forget that other people are not obstacles to our salvation, but rather our path to life in Christ. We can forget the moving words of St Silouan the Athonite, who said: My brother is my life. Are you meant to be our brother’s keepers? Yes, you are. The people of the Church are here not to judge the other person but to hold each other accountable. “Let us commit ourselves and one another and our whole life to Christ our God.” If you need to walk together toward a particular destination, it’s in your interest that your fellow travelers keep up.
Several years ago when we began the Kiss of Peace during the liturgy, I explained why we do it but here is a great opportunity to say again that we are meant to be saved together, not as individuals. In the ancient history of the Church, non-baptized people were not allowed to even remain in the Church during Holy Communion, so that everyone who was there could and would receive Christ’s Body and Blood. This was the ultimate sign of unity but it was expressed by what the faithful believed: the words of the Creed. So, even today, as we say these words, we express our unity not by birth, race, ethnicity or anything else but our faith. St. Paul says that we are adopted into God’s holy Family by that faith. So, we are siblings, members of the household of God. Through that relationship then, we are able to embrace each other, share the Kiss of Peace, and express those words that “Christ is in our midst; He is and always shall be.”
As we prepare for the important work of Great Lent, this week’s Gospel reading helps remind us that our struggle is not merely private. It helps remind us that Christ is often lost in plain sight: in the faces of our neighbors, the people who need us most and that our conduct in the world is how well we serve (or fail to serve) Christ Himself. May we act with grace, charity, and love so that we, too, will hear those words that we all desire for ourselves, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”