Facing the truth

… the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen,

People know about God by default because the image of God is in humans.

being understood by the things that are made, namely, His eternal power and Divinity, so they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were they thankful, but they became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.

Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, they exchanged the truth of God for the lie, they worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due. Just as they did not like to retain God in their consciousness, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; they are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things deserve death, not only did they do these things but they also approve of those who practice them.

I hope you have noticed that I do not preach to the choir you have no benefit from me tell you about what those people out there are doing wrong. It is not my calling to affirm what you already think about other people’s sins. God sends the preacher to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. But St. Paul accuses us sinners of approving of what is immoral. And if someone asks me to tell them what the Orthodox Christian Church thinks about immorality, and the specific immorality of our time, I will not shrink from it. And the reason is that I do not want to set a bad example for children or anyone who doesn’t understand. I don’t want to cause them confusion, muddying the waters about what our church really teaches. Because I undertake allow the church to guide me in my choices. I do not want to steal from anyone else the opportunity of allowing the guidance of the church and the holiness of Jesus Christ to inform their choices. I do not want to deny anyone the opportunity to have that holiness cut them to the heart, and make them come to your senses. We are not doing anyone any favours by trying to save them from the piercing words of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

While the words of the church regarding immorality may cause people to say that they feel hurt and offended and targeted, at the right time, in the right place, we must at least not actively affirm their sin so as to rob them of the opportunity to see the truth. We should not affirm or approve. We do not need to judge. We simply do not affirm.

That does not mean we are obligated to stand on the street corner shouting and preaching doom. But be very careful never to actively and publicly approve of sin. You do not need to judge, just do not approve.

Let’s continue reading from Romans.

Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are when you judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.

But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things. And do you think this, O man, you who judge the people practicing such things, that you will escape the judgment of God when you do the same things? Or do you do you hold the riches of His goodness in contempt? [Do you hold in contempt] God’s forbearance, and patience? Do you not know that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? But in accordance with your hardness and your unrepentant heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who “will render to each one according to his deeds”: [God will give] eternal life to those who by persisting in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality;

Those who cooperate with God will shine with the uncreated light of God!

but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey [listen to] the truth,

they do not obey the truth because they have something to hide and want the whole world to dance to the tune of their delusions

they do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—[to them God will give his] indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, … but God will give glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good … For those who have sinned without law will also perish without law, and those who know the law

that is, us who have the true faith

those who know the law and have sinned will be judged by the law … in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ,

We try to hide the truth but the secrets will come out and be judged

… You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? You who say, “Do not commit adultery,” do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law?”

Romans 1:18 – 2:23

Before the last judgment when we die, we will be faced with the horrible truth of our sins. And the equally terrible truth of God’s immense love for us. When we have tried to run from the truth we have been running from God. The bible verse I just read gives you a menu of sins and faults that I am sure each of us can find one or two of them to identify with. Let’s re-examine the list: Lying, vile passions immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; they are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; contempt for God, approving of sin, judging one another.

All of these are attempt to run away from the truth, the truth being that true life and true joy come from turning back to God; to the God who knows more than we do. True life comes from allowing the cool waters of Jesus’ love to wash over the red-hot iron of our hardened hearts. Our hearts are aflame with the wrong thing, and we need the living waters to quench those passions.

Why is it so hard? Let’s ask the thieves on the cross?

Then one of the thieves who were crucified with Jesus blasphemed Jesus, and said, “If You are the messiah, save Yourself and us.”

The truth of his own sin and of his own situation was too much. Jesus, who is the author of all truth, was right beside him, offering him true hope. He was offering the thief the true hope which is trusting in God, as Jesus was trusting His Father at that moment. True hope is to love. Jesus was not fighting back, or cursing. Jesus was not doing the things that this thief had done his whole life; the very things that got him into his current situation. And so the thief was angry and indignant at the notion that true holiness and the true hope and promise of God lie in not doing what he had been doing. He was indignant that what God was offering him was something he had been resisting his whole life.

When we go to hell, we have to walk past Jesus to get there. Think of the icon of the resurrection, where Jesus is standing above the gates of hell. If you want to get to hell, you have to go past the loving embrace of Jesus, the crucified one. You have to go past the truth of his holiness. You have to go past the beauty of his humility. You have to go past him when he says, “forgive them, Father.” But when we avoid the truth of our own sin, we are walking past Jesus on our way to death.

But the other thief, rebuked him, and said, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we deserved this, for we receive the just penalty of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.”

Then he said to Jesus, “Remember me, O Lord, when You come into Your kingdom.” And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” Now it was about the sixth hour (noon) and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour (3pm). Then the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two. And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, “Father, ‘into Your hands I commit My spirit.” Having said this, He breathed His last.

(Luke 23:39–46)

It was not just the thief’s last-minute opportunity to repent, before he died. It was his last opportunity before Jesus died as well. Take the opportunity before you die and before Jesus comes back, because you do not know if you also only have three more hours to do it. Our sin is killing us. It is destroying the goodness that we have in us. You are all good. Fundamentally good. You were not born guilty of anything. But what you have learned to do, and chosen to do is mangling and deforming the goodness in you. You know intuitively that this is a terrible tragedy. In Holy week we sing this: “You O Lord, who on the very same day made the thief worthy of Paradise, (he didn’t just let him into paradise, he made him worthy of paradise) illuminate me also by the wood of your cross and save me.”

Illuminate. Show me the truth. The truth is that you long to be able to tell the truth to God and to say, “I have gotten myself into this mess. It was my fault, and no one else’s. But please forgive me, and make me worthy of your kingdom. This is a prayer we pray at Compline: “Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy on us, for laying aside all defense, we offer unto Thee as master this supplication: Have mercy on us.”

And Jesus will not only say to you “Today you will be in paradise with me,” the very fact that you repent, the very fact that you are telling the truth is paradise here and now. Learning holiness and righteousness is the sweetness that we long for.

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