MP3 Audio: WS330353_Dn-Joseph_Not-Quite-Converted.mp3
This homily was preached on Sunday morning, May 25, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.
Gospel Reading: John 16:23-33
In the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, our God is One. Amen.
“His disciples said unto Him, ‘Lo, now speakest now plainly and speakest no proverb. Now are we sure that Thou knowest all things and needest not that any man should ask Thee. By this we believe that Thou camest forth from God.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Do ye now believe? Behold the hour cometh, yea is now come, that ye should be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave Me alone.’”
Is it possible to think you’re converted and not be converted? Is it possible to think that you believe in Christ, and yet really not quite believe in him yet? It’s a sobering thought.
These disciples had been following Christ for months, even years. They saw him face-to-face, they heard the words of Jesus from his own mouth, and now their heart overflows to the point that they plainly confess with their mouth, “Now we are sure that you know all things and need not that any man should ask of you. By this we believe that you came forth from God.” They’re looking at Jesus face-to-face and they confess with their mouths, “We believe that You came from God!” Can you imagine a stronger declaration of faith? A stronger confession of belief in Christ? They’re looking at him face-to-face and they tell him, “We believe that you’ve come from God.” And Jesus, in his response, does not say, “Well, good! Good job!” I kind of wish that’s what he’d said in response; it would make me feel a lot better. They plainly, with their mouths, confess, “We believe that you came from God.” And Jesus’ response to them is, “Do you now believe? Behold the hour is coming, yea is now come, that you’ll be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone.”
It wasn’t too far later in the Scriptures that we read about Jesus having a similar conversation with Peter. Jesus has told them that everybody is going to scatter, everybody is going to go away and turn their backs on Christ, and Peter says, “Though all turn away, I won’t. I’m going to be right there for you, with you to the bitter end, even if I have to go to my death.” Now, you tell me the truth – do you think Peter was lying? I don’t think so. Do you think Peter felt his emotions deeply when he was saying these things to the face of Jesus Christ? Absolutely he did. He truly believed that he had faith, and that he would stick with Jesus no matter what. He believed it so much that he said it to Jesus. He knew Jesus well enough to know that you don’t pull the wool over his eyes. He was looking Jesus right in the face, and Peter said, “I am never going to turn away from you. I will be with you to the end. I will die for you.” And, once again, Jesus doesn’t pat him on the back and say, “Well, good . . . Peter, that’s what I want to hear. Good job.” He says, “Peter, before the cock crows twice, you will deny that you even know me. Three times!”
What sort of a sword do you think that was into Peter, to hear those words from his Lord? And yet Peter looked at his own heart, and Peter said, “Well, I know how much I believe in Christ, and I know that I’m willing to die for Christ. How could he say this to me?” These disciples that we read about in today’s Gospel, they say, “We believe that you’re from God.” And Jesus says, “Do you now believe? The time is coming soon that all of you are going to scatter and leave me alone.”
It’s not just here before the Crucifixion that this happens; it’s all throughout salvation history, and it’s all throughout Scripture, that people are their own worst judges. You see, if people got into heaven based on how good they thought they were, everybody would go to heaven. If every person that goes to church got to heaven because of how strongly they believe that they believe in Christ, then everybody that goes to church would be in heaven. Peter meant it! He was doing his best to tell the truth and pour out his heart when he said, “I will die for you, Jesus.” Jesus looked at him and said, “You will deny me three times before the cock crows again.” These people said, “We believe that you’re from God.” Jesus says, “Do you now believe? The time is coming that you’re going to be scattered and leave me alone. You won’t be following me anymore.”
Think of Moses. Think of Mount Sinai. He’d led the people out of Israel, they had seen the plagues descend upon Egypt, they had seen their mighty deliverance through the Passover, they had seen the parting of the Red Sea, they had walked across on dry land, and when Pharaoh and the Egyptian armies came across in their chariots and tried to follow the same path, the Israelites saw those same waters close up and destroy the enemies of God. They saw miracle after miracle. They saw deliverance after deliverance. And then at Mount Sinai, God gives the Law. And if you remember, what did the people of Israel say? “We’re going to do it. We’re going to follow it.” Did they do it? Did they follow it? They sure thought they would. You see, when you’re looking at the fire burning on the mountaintop, and the presence of God is right there, it’s easy to get your emotions on a high and tell yourself, “Man, I’m going to be faithful, I’m going to follow God, I’m going to stop sinning. I’m going to do whatever he tells me to do.”
But you see, it gets even worse than that. If you read through the book of Judges, all I suggest is that you don’t eat before or after, and that you still keep some Tums nearby, because you’re going to get a stomachache just reading this book of the Bible. The book of Judges is horrific. It has some wonderful lessons in there, but boy, if you want to see human sin painted in vivid colors by the hand of God, just read the book of Judges. There’s idolatry, there’s murder, there’s prostitution, there’s kidnapping, there’s civil war, and in the midst of all these sins that are being vividly recounted, there is a refrain that is repeated more than once in the book. It’s even the verse that the whole book ends with. “In those days, there was no king in Israel and every man did what was right in his own eyes.”
Have you ever heard about somebody coming back from a drunken party, or have you ever flipped up on the ten 0’clock news at night and heard about some of the debauchery that’s going on in the world, and you tell yourself, “Man, there’s sure a lot of people in the world that like to sin. They just like to do what’s wrong.” That’s not quite true. In fact, for the most part, people do not like to do what’s wrong. That’s a common misconception – it’s a mistake, it’s an error. Stop saying that. No, no, no . . . People get so far from God that they look at sin, and they believe it is right!
That’s how insidious it is, that’s how dark it is, that’s how scary it is. I guarantee you, these people that you hear about out there committing adultery, they don’t think they’re doing anything wrong. They’re not doing it, thinking, “Man, I get to call down the curses of God upon my head today. I get to be evil. I get to wear the black cowboy hat instead of the white one.” No, no, no, no, no. They’ve twisted the definition of “love” in their minds so badly, that they convince themselves that they’re doing it for love.
You think murderers think that they’re doing something wrong? Absolutely not. They dehumanize the other person. They convince themselves that the person they’re stabbing, or shooting at, or raping, or doing whatever they do to them . . . they convince themselves in some twisted fashion that they’re justified in what they’re doing, that what they’re doing is right or good for some reason.
A thief, do you think he’s thinking in his mind, “Man, I want to be as evil as I can, because hell is not going to be good enough for me . . . I want to turn up the temperature a little bit”? No. It starts with thoughts. He starts thinking about, “Well, this person has more than me, and that’s not fair. You know, I should have just as much as this person has. They probably got it through evil means anyway. They probably don’t deserve to have that stuff. I actually am the one who deserves to have it. Well, if I deserve to have it and they don’t deserve to have it, then the right thing is for me to take it.”
See, people justify things in their minds ahead of time, so that by the time they commit the sin, they don’t even think they’re sinning. At various points in the lives of a lot of us, at various points I know that some of us have thought, “Well, I just go to church sometimes, but then sometimes if I don’t, that’s okay. It’s not a big deal. God’s everywhere, why should I have to go to a building?”
We don’t sit around thinking, “Man, I want to be evil today. I want to upset God by not going to worship him.” Did you ever do that in your life? I didn’t. There’s a few Sundays where I missed in my life, but I never did it like that. No. I justified it ahead of time. I convinced myself that what I was doing was okay, what I was doing was right.
When people sin, they think they’re being righteous. That should humble us and scare us, because – don’t raise your hands, but if I were to say, “Everyone in here raise your hand if you feel like you’re basically good, if you’re basically righteous,” everybody who raised their hand would be wrong. Now I’m not going to raise my hand – I know better.
“Every man did what was right in his own eyes.” That’s what Scripture says.
And yet they were committing murder, prostitution, adultery, idolatry.
The Israelites said, “We will follow God. We’re going to do whatever he says.” Then they didn’t. These people in today’s Gospel said, “We believe that you’re from God.” But Jesus knew the day was coming that they would scatter and leave him alone. Peter said, “I will follow you even into death.” Jesus said, “You’re going to deny that you even know me.”
What error do all these people consistently make? What error do we consistently make? Well, whenever you take your own standard for righteousness, your own standard for good and evil, your own standard for what it means to believe in Christ, and you apply it to yourself, what you did wrong was that you used your standard. You aren’t the one who gets to decide what it means to believe in Christ. You aren’t the one who gets to decide what righteousness is. That’s not up to you! The Israelites in the book of Judges who were committing all these sins, doing what was right in their own eyes, at some point they should have thought to ask,
“Wait…wait a minute…what is right in GOD’S eyes?”
“I don’t know. Didn’t you hear about some priests that he’s got in Jerusalem? Maybe they could tell us.”
“Hey priests, do you know what’s right in God’s eyes?”
“Well, there’s this book; he’s written down some stuff. And here’s the prayers that he’s passed down to us, and we pray every day. And here’s what’s in those prayers, and here’s what’s in these books.”
“Okay, so here’s these things. That idolatry? Uh huh. That’s got to go. Adultery? Uh huh. That’s got to go. You know, you should be worshipping God regularly. You need to be tithing. You need to be sacrificing animals in the temple. You need to be singing. You need to be teaching your family what’s right.”
And then start going through the teachings of the church at that time, and through the teachings of Scripture, and suddenly those same Israelites would have realized,
“Man, we’re not righteous at all! We were righteous in our own eyes, but we were not righteous in HIS.”
And it’s easy for us sometimes to read passages like that and say, “Aw, that’s just the Old Testament. They didn’t know about Jesus yet. Once you find out about Jesus, you don’t have to worry about doing all that stuff anymore. All you need to worry about now is just say, ‘I believe in Jesus’.”
Well, when you get into the New Testament, you get to today’s Gospel reading. They said to his face, “We believe that you came from God.” For a lot of us, that would be enough to say, “Hey, well come join the Church then, you know, you’re one of us. We’re all together. We all believe.”
It wasn’t enough for Jesus. He said, “Do you now believe? Behold the hour is coming and is come that you shall be scattered, every man to his own and shall leave me alone.” Same thing with Peter. “Lord I’ll go to the death for you.” “Nope, you’ll deny that you even know who I am.”
Peter looked into his own heart and he saw faith, he saw stability.
Jesus saw a man who was about to break under the pressure and deny Christ.
These people in John chapter 16 that we read about today, they’re gathered around Jesus, they looked in their own hearts and they saw faith. Jesus looked at them and saw deserters.
Why is this scary? It means that I can look in my own heart, I can look in Joseph’s heart and see faith in Christ. But what does God see when he looks in there? You may look into your own heart and you may say, “In my heart, my emotions, everything that’s within me, I believe! I would even die for my faith.” But what does God see when he looks? What does God see when he looks? Does he see martyrs? Or does he see deserters? And how can you know?
On one level, the answer is, “You can’t.” And that should scare us. That should make us sober. It should make us realize that the moment we puff our chest out and say, “I’m a believer. I believe in Christ so much that I would even die for his name,” you’re standing in a long line of deserters and deniers who have said the same thing. What makes you think that you’d do a better job than they did of judging your own heart?
Subdeacon Ambrose and his family have been studying through something that’s called, “The Order of Saint Benedict”. Saint Benedict has a special place in my heart because he has a special place in this church. There is a part of one of his bones under the altar where we celebrate the Eucharist. In fact, every Orthodox Church in the world that you go into, there are bones under the altar. It’s sort of like what you read in the book of Revelation, “And I saw the souls of the martyrs who have died for Christ under the altar crying out to God.” Saint Benedict. We have a relic of him under the altar.
And one of the things that he taught was the need for conversion. But, unlike what you hear preached in many places today, he did not talk about conversion as being a “one time thing” that happens on one particular day. “Oh, I didn’t know who Christ was, and now I do. I’m converted.” “Oh, I wasn’t walking with Christ, but now I am. I’m converted.” That’s not how Saint Benedict talked about it. Saint Benedict said what you need to do is take your entire life and dedicate it to daily prayer, multiple times a day. You need to work hard, work with your hands, labor, be productive. In your work, in your prayers, in every waking hour of your life, be focused on your own conversion.
“Well, what do you mean? I’ve been walking with Christ for fifty years.”
Great! You’re well on the way. Now keep working on your conversion. Eventually you’re going to get there.
“Well, what is conversion?”
Conversion is when you are just like Christ. Until you have reached what the Orthodox call “Theosis”, until you have reached that point that you have seen him and you have become like him for you have seen him as he is – until you reach that point, you have not yet been fully converted.
“There’s sins that I used to do, and I don’t do those now.”
Great! In that area of your life you’ve been converted.
“But there are still some places where I sin.”
Well, in those places, you haven’t been converted.
It’s not a half-and-half thing. Do you just want half of your body to make it to heaven? Just your earlobe and your thigh and your pinky finger? Or do you want ALL of you to go to heaven? Well, the same with your soul. Do you just want this room and this room to be saved, but these other closets to never be cleaned out? It doesn’t work that way. Tightly grasping onto even one sin and refusing to let go of it, can drag you to hell.
Clean out every closet. Put away every sin. Spend not an hour on your knees to be converted . . . no, spend your lifetime being converted. Wage a war against sins, against the passions, against the flesh, against the devil, against the world. Utterly determine that you yourself will be converted, that you yourself will be like Christ, that you yourself will not leave even one stone unturned.
How vigilant should you be if there’s even a little chance that you’ll say you believe today, but then you’ll turn your back on Christ tomorrow? If there’s even a little chance that today you’ll say, “I would die for Christ,” but then tomorrow you would deny that you even know him – if there’s any chance of that at all, then how vigilant should you be? How much should you pray? How much should you give alms? How much should you pour out your life in love for your neighbor? How much should you forgive? How much should you seek forgiveness?
Now, if you say,
“Well, there is no chance that I would ever walk away from Christ. There is no chance that I would ever deny that I know him . . .”
I would simply say:
- Are you a better judge of your own heart than the apostles were?
- Are you a better judge of your own heart than Saint Peter himself was?
- Are you a better judge of your own heart than the Israelites were at the foot of Mount Sinai, when the mountain was on fire with the presence of God?
Are you greater than them? Are you smarter? Are you a better judge of your own heart?
If you are, then please talk to me after the service, because I could use some help. As for me, I’m not any better than they are. I’m not a better judge of my own heart than the Apostle Peter was. And therefore, because I see that they could be self-deceived and turn away from Christ and deny Christ, then I too am in danger of self-deception. I may think that I believe in Christ, but just be on the verge of being a deserter. I may believe that I am ready to become a martyr for his name, but just be on the verge of denying that I even know who he is. And lest there is any evil root of unbelief hidden somewhere in my heart, may I pray multiple times daily to uproot it. May I bathe myself in Scripture and in prayer and in the giving of alms. May I pour out my time to help my brothers and sisters, and to speak to them of Christ, and to tell them of the Gospel, and leave no corner of my life untouched by the Holy Spirit, lest that be the very corner through which that root of unbelief grows, deceives me, and though I proclaim his name today, I find myself tomorrow weeping after I’ve heard the cock crow, and I realize that I have denied that I even know who Jesus is.
“We believe that thou camest forth from God.” Jesus answered them, “Do ye now believe? Behold the hour cometh, yea is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone.” Every minute of every hour of every day, for the rest of your life, diligently walk with God and pray to God that he would look into your heart, that he would cleanse any impure thing, and that he would bind you so closely to him that you would not become deserters or deniers, but that in your manner of life, and even in your manner of death, that you would become worthy of the name of “martyr” – a witness for Christ.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, our God is one. Amen.
This homily was preached on Sunday morning, May 25, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.