This homily was preached on Sunday morning, October 13, 2013,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Sdn. Ambrose.
During the Civil War – we were just talking about the Civil War yesterday – there was a battle they called “The Battle of the Wilderness”. And Union General John Sedgwick was inspecting his troops and as he is walking around inspecting them, he is about ready to come to an opening in the wall and his officers say, “Don’t walk past there, or if you do, duck! The enemy is out there.” And, as he’s walking, he doesn’t heed them. And he says, “You know…I don’t think the South are a very good shot. They couldn’t hit an elephant at this dist….” And he dropped dead. It wasn’t so much that the enemy was necessarily trying to shoot at him, but it was actually his presumption that got him killed. He presumed that the enemy was further away, he presumed that they weren’t good shots, and thought that he was pretty great and he walked past the opening in the wall and he got killed. And he was wrong to his own demise.
Today we read in the Gospel of Luke about a man whom we would call a “prepper”. Right? he had all of his crops that had come in and he started thinking, “I need to build more barns, I need to build more storage, I need to do a lot of canning, I need to have a lot of chickens.” Sounds like us, right? So we’ve got our eggs and we’ve got our food and we’ve got our storm shelter and we’ve got all of that stuff and we’re planning and planning…we’re preppers! And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being a prepper. Yet, the Gospel calls this man a fool. Jesus calls this man a fool in his parable. Now we would say this man is just being smart. He’s being frugal. He’s planning ahead for the future and he’s being proactive. If this were only the case, he probably wouldn’t be condemned as a fool. Frugality and preparedness are probably good things. But the problem here is the man’s presumption.
Just like General Sedgwick chose to ignore the advice of his officers, he believed that the enemy was way too far away and never gave them much attention, the young man from the parable believed that his death was a long ways away and also never gave it much attention.
So how does a person become so overconfident that he continues to sin, that he does things that end up leading to his demise? Well, the sin is actually the sin of presumption. And there’s two ways that you can fall off a horse, right? Presumption happens in two different ways, too. Our minds will fluctuate between spitefulness and desperation, according to the reading from Sirach today. When you read in Sirach, verse four says, “Do not say, ‘I sinned, yet what has happened to me? For the Lord is slow to anger.’ Do not be so confident of forgiveness that you add sin to sin. Do not say, ‘His mercy is great, for he will forgive the multitude of my sins,’ for both mercy and wrath are with him and his anger rests on sinners.”
One of the ways that we become presumptuous with God is out of spite for him. Where it says, “I have sinned and what has happened to me, the Lord is slow to anger,” is kind of like saying, “God really either doesn’t know about my sins or doesn’t care about them. he’s not going to punish me.” We think if he doesn’t punish us immediately that he’s not going to punish us, and that he’s actually being negligent with us. It says, “God has forgotten, he’s hidden his face and he will never see it.” And when he says, “God has forgotten,” he believes that the patience of God is actually his negligence. And he considers it an omission when, in reality, it is just God’s long-suffering character. God is being long-suffering with us when he doesn’t punish us immediately as we deserve. And we are so presumptuous as to be spiteful of God in this way. And when we do that, we will continue to sin further and further and further because we think God isn’t going to do anything about it. We should not despise the kindness and the patience of God.
Augustine said, “Do you not know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you’re storing up wrath for yourself on the Day of Wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed for he will render to everyone according to his works.” Augustine is pretty smart on this, I think. God is not being negligent. He’s being patient and he’s giving us an opportunity for correction and he’s long-suffering, his suffering with us is long, so that we have more time to repent.
Years ago I was told about the ocean. And before I ever went and visited, the first time I went to visit the ocean was the Pacific Ocean out there in California, and it’s beautiful! And it’s fun! And I watched people surfing, and I watched people swimming, and I watched children playing in the surf and building sand castles. The ocean is beautiful and there’s a lot of beautiful islands on it. And it’s great for conveyance. I mean, a mariner, right? It’s gorgeous, beautiful. The ocean has many good and wonderful qualities about it. But there are also deadly qualities about it. Storms come up out of nowhere. There are animals that live in that ocean that will eat you. You can drown. If you’re stuck out on it and you don’t drown and you don’t get eaten you’ll die of thirst because you can’t drink the water. So there’s a lot of things about the ocean that are not so beautiful and we need to have a healthy fear of the ocean. Fear doesn’t necessarily mean I’m afraid of it. Fear means I have respect for it; I have caution around it. I can use it, I can play in it, and I can have fun with it. But I have to know – at all times – that this ocean is deadly and can kill me. And that balance is what we call fear or respect for that ocean.
We need to do the same thing with God because the fear of God has to take a hold of our hearts. If we don’t want to sin, we need to reflect on the fact that God is always present with us. This is the case not only in public when people are watching but in our homes. And not just in our homes, but in our own rooms. And you know what? Not just in our own rooms, but even in our beds and in our hearts. That is where God is present with us and, instead of the presumption of spite towards God, we should fear God. We must have fear. Otherwise presumption in this way will kill us. If we have that fear rather than counting on the mercy of God, we won’t fall into judgment. God is merciful and that is the awesome side of Him that we can take advantage of. But we also need to have that healthy fear of God that, as it says in the reading, let me go back to it here real quick, “Both mercy and wrath are with Him and His anger will rest on sinners.” So, yes, God is merciful. But he’s also wrathful and we need to pay attention to that and remember that.
But, just as we think we’ve got this spite under control, like I said, we fall off the horse on the other side. And instead of thinking that God is negligent and won’t punish our sins, we begin presuming that God is so extremely merciful that he’ll just let us keep going and sinning. Right? So we continue to sin because, “God will forgive me. God is merciful.” Alright? “I know I’ve sinned. I’ll just repent later. In the meantime, I’ll just do whatever I want to do and then I can repent later. God is good and he’ll forgive me.” You certainly can say that to yourself, “When I repent, he’ll forgive me,” if you know that you’ll be alive tomorrow. One of the things Dn. Joseph has often said . . . “How much time do you actually think you have left?” His brother, Preston, in 2007 – Joseph, Preston and Alta lost their father to cancer at the end of June – and in August, I believe, they had their dad’s memorial service. And just a couple days after the memorial service Preston is writing in his blog that he received the watch from his dad. And he was wearing it at this time, and he said, “You know, a few weeks ago my dad didn’t know when he was going to die. He had cancer, and we knew it was pending, but he didn’t know when he was going to die. And, all of a sudden, he’s dead. It’s the last day and he didn’t know when that was going to be and now I’m wearing his watch now I’m thinking, as I’m hearing it ticking, ‘When will be my last day? How long will I get to wear this watch?’” And the irony of it was that it was just days because just days after the memorial service, like three days, Preston was killed in an accident. A semi-truck ran over him while he was on his motorcycle. . . .
How much time do you think you’ve got, as you sit and listen to your watch ticking? If you know you’re going to be alive tomorrow, then go ahead and continue to sin today and repent tomorrow. But we were warned in today’s reading, in the parable, “God said to the man, ‘You fool! This very night your life is demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” If we’re storing up treasures for ourselves here, we’re not rich toward God. So do not delay in turning back to the Lord and don’t put it off for another day, for suddenly your life may be required of you and you will go into the Judgment unrepentant.
There’s another presumptive path that leads to continued sinning as well. We’ve got spite. And now we’ve got despair. That can happen in one of two ways as well. When we think that the horrible sins that we’ve committed cannot be forgiven, despair or desperation sets in and leads us to commit even more sins. It’s more like we gave up. “What’s the use of trying, I’ve committed so horrible of sins?” Or when we feel so stupid that we keep coming back to God having committed the same sin. Day after day and year after year we keep going to confession, we keep doing the same thing, eventually we just stop repenting of it. We feel like we can’t beat it; we can’t get past it. And so we don’t repent. We don’t go to confession and we don’t repent. And what happens when you abolish that safe haven of repentance that the Church has given to us, sins will increase out of despair; out of presumptive despair.
So how, then, does God treat those who are in danger from these presumptions? Well God’s providence, all of our lives, has kept watch over us allowing us to avoid a lot of dangers that we probably could have run in to. But in order to make sure that we do not increase our sin out of despair, God, in his providence, has given us through the Church that sacrament of Confession. He’s given us repentance so that we cannot continue to sin through despair in believing that our sins are too many or too deep or the same ones over and over again and we end up despairing over those. God has given us confession so that we can continue to do that and if you’re faithful to come back and confess those sins – not to your priest, not to your confessor – when you kneel there and you make your confession in front of Father Michael you’re looking at that; you’re looking at the Icon of Christ. When you make your confession, you’re confessing to Christ in the hearing of Father Michael. That is who we confess to: Christ. And so when you do that, that is the gift that God has given those who would continue to sin out of despair.
And in order to make sure that we don’t increase our sins out of spite, he didn’t tell us the day we are going to die. If we knew the day we were going to die we would just continue up and sinning all the way up… But he didn’t do that. He’s trying to keep us from sinning. See, the ultimate goal isn’t that we go to heaven. The ultimate goal is that, before then, we are becoming more and more like Christ. So we’re not trying to live like the devil until the day we die and repent and then get our “fire insurance” and go to heaven. The goal is that we live our lives getting closer and closer and closer to the likeness of Christ. We call this Theosis; the process of Theosis. We are becoming more and more like God, and so that’s why God has given us repentance, and that’s why God never did tell us the day of our death.
And we see that going on out in the world. In a moment, Preston is killed. In a moment, Ashley dies. In a moment, our friends and our family are taken away from us and we hear about all these things that happen, whether they’re accidents or whether they’re committed by people who were being evil. Whatever. We never know when that moment is, and so that is how God has protected us from presumption. From the presumption of spite by not telling us when we’re going to die, and from the presumption of despair by giving us the Church and giving us confession.
So, to those who are in danger from presumption, God says, “Do not be slow in turning to the Lord. Do not put it off any longer. For suddenly His anger will come and the time of vengeance will utterly destroy you.” And if you are in danger from presumption and are deluded by delays, things that are keeping you from going, he has made the day of your death uncertain. He says, “You do not know when your last day may come.” Why not use this day that God has given you to repent? In whatever day the wicked person shall be converted, God said, “I will forget all his iniquities.” And accordingly, for the sake of those who are in danger because of despair, he’s offered us a refuge of pardon. Do not presume to put off your repentance out of despair, but use this day that God has given you to repent. God is merciful and he loves us. But let’s not be presumptuous in our sins. He asks that we keep short accounts through confession and repentance. So as you go throughout this week, remember – wherever you are – not, just in this building, but when you’re saying your prayers at home, when you’re working at your desk, whether it’s work or whether it’s school, when you’re playing outside, when you’re driving in your car, when you’re lying in your bed, God is with you. And live like today is your last.
In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Ghost. God is One. Amen.
This homily was preached on Sunday morning, October 13, 2013,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Sdn. Ambrose.