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Sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
Archimandrite Kyril Jenner
II Corinthians 6:16 – 7:1
In today’s reading from Saint Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians he is concerned with important aspects of Christian behaviour. He, and his first readers, were living in a world where the worship of the idols of many gods was common. For some of his audience, new converts from paganism, there was a temptation to conform to the ways of the world around them. This would include attending ceremonies in the temples to the various gods. For the Christian this is not acceptable. The one true God has no connection with such gods. The Christian must worship only the one God. That God is present in the true temple, which for each one of us is our self. We are to be the place where God dwells. We are to be temples of God. This is a theme that Saint Paul elaborates elsewhere. Here he elaborates the implications of this by a series of verses and phrases taken from various places in the Old Testament. (Ezekiel 37:27; Leviticus 26:12; Isaiah 43:6 & 52:11; Jeremiah 31:9; 32:38 & 51:45; Ezekiel 20:34 & 41; Hosea 1:10)
One consequence of this is that in some matters we have to positively separate ourselves from the ways of the world around us. “Come out from them, and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch nothing unclean; then I will welcome you ” (II Corinthians 6:17) We must separate ourselves from all that is evil. Saint John Chrysostom reminds us that this goes beyond the “sins of the flesh”, and requires us to separate ourselves from the sins of the soul, which he lists as including “unclean thoughts, gazing with lustful eyes, malice, and deceits.” (Homily 13 on II Corinthians) This list is not exhaustive.
Saint Paul ends this morning’s reading with these words: “let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, and make holiness perfect in the fear of God.” (II Corinthians 7:1) How do we achieve perfect holiness? How do we make ourselves clean from all defilements? There several ways of doing this, none of them easy.
We can do it all at once. Start by removing all sources of temptation, and focussing on what is spiritually good for us. The danger is that we will fail. We will give way to some temptation, and then just give up. We must remember that God is with us, and that his love allows us to repent of our sins and receive forgiveness, and then to make a new start.
An alternative is to work one step at a time. Identify one source of temptation, and remove it from our lives, while trying to avoid all other sources of temptation. When we have conquered one temptation, and not fallen into the sin of pride, then we work on the next, focussing always on the target of perfect holiness – having God dwelling in our hearts. Again there is the danger of falling away and giving up. Again there is the need for repentance and forgiveness.
Another alternative is to focus on the positive alternatives to our sins. Saint John Chrysostom recommends almsgiving, fasting and prayer. (Homily 13 on II Corinthians) Again we need to be wary of the temptation to give up when things get difficult. Again we need to be wary of the sin of pride or of vainglory if we actually succeed. Our success will be due to allowing God to work in us, and we should give praise and thanks to him for any progress we make. Our failings are due to our lack of love, and our lack of faith, and should lead to repentance.
Above all we should focus on God, and what he requires of us, rather than on what the rest of the world thinks about us. As Saint John Chrysostom recommends, we should “disregard what this person and that person thinks about these things, and inquire from the Scriptures all these things; and having learnt what are the true riches, let us pursue after them so that we may obtain also the eternal good things; which may we all obtain, through the grace and love towards mankind of our Lord Jesus Christ, with whom, to the Father and the Holy Spirit, be glory, might, and honour, now and for ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.”