Committing our Whole Life to God
At a recent seminar I saw a video about a man, perhaps you?ve heard of him, his name is W Mitchell. The law school down the street from us is not named after him but W Mitchell is a world renowned motivational speaker, like a Tony Robbins. However, unlike Tony Robbins, who is a tall, athletic figure, W Mitchell is in a wheel chair. He was paralyzed in a plane crash. The plane crash was a few years after he suffered a motorcycle crash in which his fingers and face were burned away when the gas tank caught on fire. So, when you see W Mitchell, full of scars, mangled hands, in a wheel chair, you don?t immediately think of one of the most inspirational motivational speakers in the world. I was impressed by a couple of his quotes just in the short video that I saw. One, he said that, ?Life is not about what happens to you. It?s about what you do with what?s happened to you.? Two, he said, "Before I was paralyzed there were 10,000 things I could do. Now there are 9,000. I can either dwell on the 1,000 I've lost or focus on the 9,000 I have left."
W Mitchell?s story makes me think of my life in Christ in His Church. And I am immediately drawn to a petition we repeat six times during the Divine Liturgy. Six times we say, ?Let us commit ourselves, and one another, and our whole life to Christ our God.? Let us commit our whole life to Christ our God. Three weeks ago I preached a sermon titled, ?Above Average.? It was about how surveys are showing that Orthodox Christians are becoming just like average secular Americans in our beliefs. If we want to be above average, if want to be the Church that Jesus and the Holy Spirit started in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago, we have to be the ?Ekklesia?. That Greek word for ?church? means to be ?called out?, to be separate, to be holy as God is holy, to be in the world but not of the world. The only way we can do that is to commit our whole life to Christ our God.
The sermons I preached to our children the last three weeks, and today will be the fourth, is part of a series of ten for living our Orthodox Christian faith. These are the top ten, most important areas of our life in Christ. The point is that our Orthodoxy is a way of life. It?s not just a philosophy, it?s not a club, it?s not an ethnic group. It?s a way of life. Any one, or any subset of the ten, while being good and helpful, is not enough. We don?t pray during the Divine Liturgy, ?let us commit half of our life to Christ.?
The first four times we pray that petition, it starts with, ?Remembering our most holy Lady Theotokos and ever-Virgin Mary, and all the Saints.? We remember the Virgin Mary, we remember our patron St. George, we remember St. Iakovos the Apostle, whom we commemorate today, October 23rd, as examples of committing our whole life to God. Mary became the Mother of Christ our Lord, helping Him to grow into a young man who became the Messiah and then watched Him be brutalized and crucified to death. George was high ranking officer in the Roman army in the third century. When he was discovered to be a Christian, he was arrested, imprisoned, tortured and martyred in the year 300AD. And what about St. Iakovos/James, who is not James the Great brother of John the Evangelist, son of Zebedee (April 30), nor is he James the Less, Son of Alphaeus (Oct 9), but he is the nephew of Joseph the Betrothed and son of Cleopas, and he is an apostle of the Seventy. This Iakovos/James we celebrate today, was known as the Lord?s brother and became the first bishop of Jerusalem. He preached from the top of the temple about Christ and thus was thrown down from there. He survived but was stoned and surviving that was finally martyred when a scribe crushed his skull with a wooden club. Did Mary, George and James commit half of their life to God?
If we pray that we are committing our whole life to Christ our God, then we must be prepared and ready to die for Him. We cannot be ready if half or even three quarters of our life is committed to Him. This is the stark reality of the Christian life on earth. It does not promise the glory and riches of the world. In fact, if we happen to have a lot glory and riches, the scriptures, the church fathers and the saints tell us to give it away. Why, because Jesus says it?s very difficult, if not impossible, for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. We can?t take our mini-mansions, our luxury cars, and our prestigious jobs with us and they are like carrying heavy baggage on the road of life.
Finally, at the end of the liturgy, the last time we pray to commit our whole life to God, it is preceded by this phrase, ?having prayed for a perfect, holy, peaceful and sinless day.? These things we pray for, they don?t just happen to us. They require an effort on our part. It requires tremendous exertion and struggle to become perfect, holy, peaceful and sinless. A muscle cannot get bigger or grow stronger without exercise using resistance. Our heart cannot work well if we don?t take time to frequently elevate its rate, pushing beyond the normal resting phase. Our soul is no different, it must be pushed. Sometimes the resistance will come from externally imposed sufferings. And when those are absent, we must challenge ourselves, each other and our whole life through the asceticism, the exercises of struggle that the Church provides. Amen!