I was asked to give a short sermon at this morning's Divine Liturgy - the first time I've ever attempted to write or deliver a sermon. The congregation was smaller than usual today, so only a tiny number of people were subjected to my poor delivery, the awkwardness of which is thankfully avoided in the written version below:
Saturday 24th of November, St. Clement of Rome
Philippians 3:20-21; 4:1-3
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have laboured side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
St. Luke 10:19-21
Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.
Today we celebrate the memory of our holy father St. Clement of Rome, who we heard mentioned by St. Paul in the Epistle reading: he has “laboured side by side with me in the Gospel with…the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.” This inscription in the book of life is also the theme of today’s Gospel reading, where the Lord tells his disciples to “rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” To have your name written in the book of life means to have found salvation in Christ. That our names are written down is significant because it shows that our salvation is personal. We are called by name. As we are told in the Book of Revelation, “To him who overcomes,” God will give a “white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.” The word ‘personal’ implies a relationship. For a Christian, being ‘saved’ means entering into a personal relationship with Christ, and through Him, with all of those He has created. “If anyone says, ‘I love God’ and hates his brother, he is a liar”. We cannot love Christ without also loving those He loves. Now, I am sure you have all heard this many times before. However, it is important to stress this first in order to understand the rest of the Gospel reading we just heard, which is one many people find difficult to get their heads round.
First, we hear Christ saying to His disciples that He has given them the authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and that nothing shall hurt them. In parts of America, entire churches are set up based on this verse, where part of the service involves people picking up real rattlesnakes and scorpions as a way of showing their faith. It goes without saying that this probably isn't quite what Christ had in mind. What He is talking about here is the power of the devil and the demons. When we are with Christ, nothing can hurt us. As St. Nikodemos says, you should not be afraid of the devil, he should be afraid of you! And yet the Lord tells them “do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you; but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” We should not trust in our own ability and strength, even when these are good things given to us by God, as this leads to pride. If we’re proud, we look inward, to ourselves. In order to be persons, to build relationships with God and our fellow man, we have to be humble and look outward to those around us. Like St. Paul, St. Clement and those with them, we have to “work side by side” in the Gospel. This is what Jesus means when He says that the Father has “hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes”. A child looks to its parents for everything - for food, for clothing, for shelter, for understanding – while the man who considers himself wise looks only to himself. If we want our names to be written into the book of life, and have God call us by name, we have to learn how to be humble, like babes.
As St. Clement says, “Let us be humble, brothers, laying aside all arrogance and conceit and foolishness and anger, and let us do what is written. For the Holy Spirit says: “Let not the wise man boast about his wisdom, nor the strong about his strength, nor the rich about his wealth; but let the one who boasts boast in the Lord, to seek him out and do justice and righteousness.” – 1 Clem 13