Have you ever experienced the sense of being overwhelmed by an idea or a thought? There is a science fiction movie starring Jodie Foster who plays a scientist looking for life out there in the universe. In the movie Contact, she and her team receive a message from Space that instructs them how to build a craft to travel to a place where there is other life. The craft is built and Foster’s character is chosen to be the pilot and meet these extraterrestrials.
Her experience in riding in this ship and her subsequent experience of the vastness and enormity of what she saw made her say “They should have sent a poet.” In other words, the moment is so big; the experience is so overwhelming, that a mere empirical scientist is simply unable to express the power of the moment.
Sometimes, ideas or even reality can be so overwhelming that we simply ignore the enormity of a truth to keep from having to deal with this reality. But that means we miss out on the soul-enriching power of wonder.
Then there are times when we dare to stare into the beauty of Truth. It is in these moments we even know the physical power of wonder to cause us to tremble. And in that moment, you know the power of true motivation to value the eternal to the point it can actually change your life.
This is exactly the moment; the place, God is inviting you to know today in inviting you to embrace salvation in Jesus Christ and to “work out” your salvation with “fear and trembling.”
Look at our lesson today in Philippians 2:12-15:
BRETHREN, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud
First, notice the Apostle clearly teaches us to realize our salvation is going to have unique demands on each of us because each of us is “free, unique, and unrepeatable.” We each struggle with varying degrees of spiritual illness that is going to require both ACTIVE participation and a keen and honest AWARENESS of our own struggles. If I am going to “work out” my own salvation, that is going to require me to seriously know myself and know the Faith so that I can see where my deepest need is in my soul. Of course, I also have the great benefit of regular confession and weekly fasting which helps me discover this necessary wisdom!
Next, I “work out” my own salvation in “fear and trembling” because this very work depends on my humility and brutal honesty, AND because I’m not doing this work by myself – God is “at work” in me! Part of my “working out” my own salvation is my intimate connection with God as He invites me to regularly, daily, and purposefully, cooperate with His work within me to make me like Jesus Christ. Amazing! But this “fear and trembling” isn’t because God is angry or disappointed in me. No, this fear flows from the awareness of my distance from God and the fact that “time is running out” for me to learn to repent and embrace God’s mercy for me. The Uncreated God is at work in me! Lord, have mercy.
Finally, as I “work out” my own salvation, I realize this creates a singular focus, not on other people’s sins, but my own, and I am liberated from “grumbling.” I am “innocent” as a child. And, the Light shines in my life to give hope to all around me! No wonder the Apostle speaks as he does to us today. The value of a simple and childlike focus or “wakefulness” sets me free from the temptation of looking at other’s sins when I need to be focused and awake to my own spiritual illnesses that need the “medicine” of the grace of God to heal my broken self!
A perfect example is St. Longinos, who we remember today. He was the centurion soldier at the foot of the Cross of Jesus. St. Longinos saw the earthquake as he guarded the men being crucified on that fateful day. He witnessed the words of Jesus from the Cross: “Father, forgive them. They do not know what they do.” He saw the Mother of God weeping for her Son and watched as Jesus, in His agony, made sure His mother was cared for by giving her to St. John after He died. He saw the enormity of the moment when the sun hid its light, and the world witnessed the depth of the brokenness of humanity in crucifying the Lord of Glory. And all of this fell on this Gentile Roman with such power, that he uttered the confession of Faith that changed his life forever: “Truly this was the Son of God.” Imagine his wonder when he saw Jesus alive again after His resurrection. This moment so shook and changed this man that he left the Roman Army and began to preach Christ in the area of Cappadocia, and converted many to Faith in Jesus. Tiberias Ceasar had him arrested and beheaded for being a Christian. But he “worked out” his own salvation with the fear of the enormity of reality and the trembling for joy at God’s great kindness and mercy!
Today, are you working out your own salvation with fear and trembling? Are you intimately aware of God’s work in your life? Is there a numbness in your spiritual life that is making your active participation in your salvation difficult? My life has been given to me SO THAT I can learn to repent, and all the Faith and its wisdom is given to me SO THAT I can develop such an awareness of my own spiritual needs AND God’s abundant and sufficient grace for me! It’s time to rise to the occasion and “work it out” as the mature believer you are called to be. It’s time to be Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. With great joy the Church of Christ today rejoices on the festive memory of blest Longinos, the all-famed and godly prizewinner. And she cries out: O Christ, my foundation and might are You.