Homily: The Prize of the High Calling.

“Whosoever shall fall upon that stone shall be broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.”     [St. Luke 20:19]

Many years ago, my sister was dating a young man that my parents could not stand.  They thought the guy was rather obnoxious and feared that my sister was falling in love with him.  But, they decided to hold their tongues.  Well, this young man joined “Vista” which was a domestic program to help under-privileged people, and as a result, he had to move to New Orleans.  My sister took him to the airport, and when she got home, she said, “Well thank God I’m done with him!” It seemed that she thought he was just as obnoxious as my parents thought.

As she plopped down on the couch in obvious relief, she told us how opinionated he was. She said that everything had to be exactly the way he wanted it.  She gave a specific example which escapes me now, but, as a result, she said, “Whether the rock hits the glass or the glass hits the rock, it doesn’t matter. The result is the same!”

A few years later, while in high school, I had a similar experience. I was double-dating with the brother of my then girlfriend.  He had dropped off his date, and we all rendezvoused at my girlfriend’s house.  We then proceeded to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on hotdog buns.  I slathered the peanut butter on one side, and jelly on the other. Then I lifted the jelly side and placed it on top of the peanut butter.

Suddenly, the brother said, “What are you doing! You’re making it all wrong! It’s peanut butter AND jelly. The peanut butter is supposed to be on top!”  I started to laugh and tuned to my girlfriend and asked, “Is he serious?” To my dismay she replied, “Well you know it IS called peanut butter and jelly.”

Sometimes we humans get awfully wrapped up in things that really do not matter.  But when faced with real issues and real differences, we miss them.  Dear Abby was once asked what issue generated the most controversy.  She said that it wasn’t abortion or the death penalty. No, the one issue that produced the most letters and the most vehement responses was over the proper way to hang toilet paper; in other words, should the roll hang so that the paper goes over the top or should it hang so that the paper falls behind and under the roll.

“Whosoever shall fall upon that stone shall be broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.”

Many people may read this passage and say something similar to what my sister said – it really doesn’t matter whether we fall on the stone or the stone falls on us.  But our statement from Christ is NOT the same as these other situations. There is a huge difference between falling “upon the stone” and having the stone fall upon us.  And to fully understand this situation, we have to turn to St. Paul.

In our Epistle lesson for last week, St. Paul tells us:

THEREFORE if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

This statement seems rather nice and innocuous.  It almost implies that the old things within us just naturally die off and is replaced with something new and improved.  But Christianity is NOT that easy.  This statement belies a very powerful and interesting fact as to how we become new creatures.

In our Epistle lesson for today, we begin to see how this comes about:

I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.

The truth is that, when we choose Christ, when we accept Him as our personal Saviour, we also choose to lose.  We choose to forsake those things that will prevent us from following Christ.  We may lose our family; we may lose some or all of our friends.  However, we MUST lose that part of us which is counter to being a Christian.

One of the things I really dislike in modern religions is that they tend to follow that old book, I’m Okay; You’re Okay.  They do not want to frighten anyone away, so they imply that you can become a Christian without changing. Sure, they want you to act nicer and give to the right charities; but as for personal self-sacrifice and change, that is never discussed.  In fact they will say, “God loves you just the way you are.”  And, although this is true, it is only a half-truth.  The truth is that God loves us DESPITE the way we are.

We humans have many noble qualities. The problem is that we tend to corrupt that which is noble with our own self-interest, and we also have very unattractive aspects of our personalities.  We have all done things that embarrass us and things for which we are ashamed – and rightly so.  But God still loves us.

What we also MUST realize is that being loved by God is NOT enough.  We MUST love Him too.  That means we are to change.  We are to lose what makes God sad and disheartened with mankind and adopt that which God loves.  How else can we show our love?  And if we are unwilling to do this, do we really love Him?

When Christianity was new, most converts were fully prepared to die for their faith.  The reason for this was multi-facetted.  First, many were eye-witnesses.  They KNEW the faith is true because they witnessed Christ after His resurrection.  Others knew because they saw the change in the Apostles after Pentecost.  But, there was something else.

The early Christians saw death as the work of the devil.  The only way to have eternal life was to vanquish death.  There was no fear of death because they knew that the fear of death kept them imprisoned to this world.  By vanquishing death, by ending the fear of death, then and only then could they follow Christ completely.  And, by following Christ completely, they were guaranteed eternal life.

That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.

When Christ told us:

“Whosoever shall fall upon that stone shall be broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.”

He was NOT saying that no matter what, we would be crushed.  Rather, He was speaking of two different people. The first are those who do believe.  They shall fall upon the stone and shall be broken.  The second are those who do not believe. They shall be crushed. Christ rarely minced words as to what will happen to those who do NOT believe.  But why would those who believe be broken?

The prophet Isaiah was told by God:

“Remember ye not the former things, neither consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it?”

For each of us, we need to do the same.  We need to forget our former selves.  Rather, we need to become new creatures.  This means putting away all those things which are counter to our faith.  Will this be easy? No. Will we be successful? Probably not completely.  But, we need to try.

When Christ tells us that those who fall on the rock will be broken, He is not being dramatic.  Rather, He is being brutally honest.  When we fall on Christ, we WILL be broken – broken like a wild horse is broken by his master!  We will see all that is amiss, and we will want to reform. We will see our many transgressions and know there is no salvation except in our faith in Christ.  And from this very low beginning, we will grow.  We will lose all, but gain even more.  And, in the end, we will grow to appreciate that Rock that broke us, and learn to love Him completely.

Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

Amen.

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