First a word about Coronavirus. In case there are questions about our communion practice in light of Coronavirus. Will we stop serving communion? Will we change how we serve communion?
Many have asked this question around the country. Indeed, many are contemplating making changes.
Some Roman Catholic parishes have started only giving the Body, not the Blood.
I will give you the answer I have learned from the leaders of our Church, the Bishops.
Actually, you can read it for yourself in the bulletin.
Let me ask a question.
Do you believe in miracles? Yes. Do you believe that every week we experience a miracle when we eat the Body and Blood of Christ. That bread and wine actually become the Body and Blood? Truly this is a miracle.
You easily believe this miracle every week.
Why then is it so hard to believe that it is impossible to get sick by eating and drinking the Body and Blood? Can we believe one miracle and not the other?
So the only change we will make at this time, is that we are more vigilant about cleaning things here.
We will not make any change about how we take communion or what we believe about communion.
Please read the notice inserted into the bulletin from the Chancellor of the OCA.
We encourage frequent hand washing, not touching your face with your hands, be very careful about embracing each other. If you feel sick, stay home. If you develop a fever get tested for a virus.
We will not over-react. The regular virus is more of a threat at this point. But this is an evolving situation. Let’s be diligent to pray about this matter and be wise, not fearful.
Since Oct 2019 the CDC estimates 30,000 people died of the regular flu up to now, just up to now. Only about 2 dozen have died in the US of Coronavirus.
We will keep clean icons that people kiss. Before and after each service.
The Orthodox Church is the Body of Christ, it has survived plaques in the past. It will survive any threat; even the gates of hell cannot overcome it.
But we also know how to be wise and do what we know to do.
How Early Christians Reacted To Plague
“Most of our brothers showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains. Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead…. The best of our brothers lost their lives in this manner, a number of presbyters, deacons, and laymen winning high commendation so that in death in this form, the result of great piety and strong faith, seems in every way the equal to martyrdom.”
-Pastoral Letter, Bp. Dionysios of Alexandria, Dionysius, Festival Letters, in Eusebius, The History of the Church 7.22.
From, The Triumph of Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the World’s Largest Religion by Rodney Stark.
So, let me sum this all up. Please follow the recommendations from health officials, wash hands, etc. Be wise as serpents and as harmless as doves. Pray for all of us and for this holy parish.
Today we celebrate the restoration of icons to our homes and churches. This is the theme of the First Sunday of Great Lent. Called Orthodoxy Sunday or the Sunday of Orthodoxy. Also called the Triumph of Orthodoxy, which refers to the victory of correct theology over heresy.
The heresy was this-since God is unseen we should not make any images of anything heavenly. And then there is the second commandment against making graven images.
As a result of bad theology iconoclasts (icon haters) became very powerful and took over the Church, persecuting the iconodules (icon lovers). Controversy for more than 100 years, imagine that.
Finally a Church Council is called in 787 to settle this issue and the Church re-affirmed the historic teaching of Classical Christianity-icons are to be properly used and understood, for prayer in churches and homes. And the tradition was explained.
God is visible, He is visible in Jesus Christ who said, Those who have seen me have seen the Father.
We do not worship saints or Mary, we show respect and honor to them and the love given to the icons passes through to them.
They become for us windows into heaven.
God is the Creator of things. Everything in the universe that is not God is created. All matter in creation was made good. Jesus Christ through the Church, His Body, sanctifies matter.
Taking elements of creation we fashion them into something, using our gifts, and the things we fashion become an offering to God through prayer.
This is communion. We take wheat water, grapes, we fashion them into bread and wine and they become an offering to God, “offering to unto Thee, Thine own from Thine own, on behalf of all and for all.” Is what the priest prays when offering the gifts to God.
This is the pattern for all we do.
It is the same with icons. And God infuses matter with His grace. And through this sanctified matter, amazing things happen.
People receive healing. Prayers are answered. Spirits lifted.
So icons become for us, vehicles of grace, a means of grace. A way of touching heaven.
Lets take this one step further.
The word icon means image.
And you are created in the image of God. You are an icon.
So this raises the question-do you love icons?
Do you love each other? Do you see each other as vehicles of grace?
Do you see yourself as worthy of love as an icon of God, not by your own merits but by virtue of being created in the image and likeness of God?
The bottom line is this.
To deny icons is ultimately to deny The Incarnation of Christ in the flesh.
It is to say-“God has not revealed Himself.” This is a grave error.
So this is why this day is called The Triumph of Orthodoxy. Proper doctrine triumphed over heresy, proper worship and veneration was re-established. Proper order was returned to the Church and Her worship. Our homes and our prayers.
This is a great and glorious thing. The Lord promised just before He ascended into heaven that He would send the Holy Spirit and that the Holy Spirit would lead the Church into all Truth.
And He has, and He does, and He will continue; because it protects the proper Glory of God, it protects the Church from human thought that is not sanctified.
This evening at 5 pm we will gather here for a special evening worship. We will celebrate a special vespers service and we will celebrate the Glory of God in His Church through icons and we will celebrate the return of icons to their proper place in our lives, so that we would maintain the True Faith.
We will march around the church, carrying icons and singing the glory of God and praying for His world. We will read the declaration of the 7th Ecumenical Council. We will rejoice in God’s care for His Church and then we will celebrate with a lenten supper.
We will be joined by several Orthodox priests from surrounding churches and some people will also come from surrounding churches and it will be something you don’t want to miss.
Ans one of the things we will celebrate is the fact that you are made of matter. Matter that God Himself created.
The same matter that He took on when He became human.
The same matter that has been and will be sanctified in the Church by our proper worship and the sacraments.
We who are dust are being made into His glorious likeness, having been made in His image. We are icons of Him, and we carry icons of saints and holy events; to build up our faith, to teach our children proper worship and how to live in Christ.
The Reading from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans. (13:11-14:4)
Brethren, salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed; the night is far gone, the day is at hand. Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy.
But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. As for the man who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not for disputes over opinions. One believes he may eat anything, while the weak man eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who abstains, and let not him who abstains pass judgment on him who eats; for God has welcomed him.
Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Master is able to make him stand.
We are at the dawn of Lent. It begins tonight when you go to bed.
What will be, how much you benefit from the lenten journey depends upon you.
Today we remember the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise. And that is where we find ourselves today-outside of Paradise.
Lent provides us with a strategy to return into Paradise, but we must take the opportunity given us. We must take up the challenge. The effort must be made to receive the desired result.
A man once bought a membership to a gym in order to get stronger and build up his body.
He attended the gym diligently, but only once a week.
His body did not get stronger.
This is how many people are spiritually, only working out once a week.
So the question today is: what will you do with Lent? What will you do to grow closer to Christ in this season.
Fasting is, according to St. John Chrysostom, the third most important element in our spiritual practices outside the worship of God in community. What are the other two?
They are almsgiving, which indicates a willingness to help others, even at the expense of his or her own well-being, and prayer. However, what we normally hear about most at this time of the year is fasting, and in fact our Lenten season also bears the name of the Holy and Great Fast.
If St. John puts fasting in third place, why this emphasis? There are three reasons that come to mind, though there are of course many more.
- First of all, fasting is a marker of our return to God. As the services remind us, it was by food that our ancestors Adam and Eve were led to their ancient fall from the grace and glory of God to which they were called to participate, and the results of that choice have affected all of us ever since.
Our stomachs are, as St. John Climacus calls them, “a clamorous mistress” that demand everything of us, leading us down wrong paths, and continually deceiving us into thinking that our bodily needs are far more than they really are. This translates into other desires as well—we pamper ourselves and continually seek to satisfy that most fickle of masters, the human will.
Fasting helps to remind us that we are putting off the things that separate us from God in order to slowly climb back to the Paradise that we lost.
Secondly, fasting disrupts our normal routine and self-centered wills.
As creatures of tremendous habit, and often bad habits at that, we need something to serve as a “circuit breaker” to interrupt this process of continuous self-centeredness.
Fasting makes us think twice about the high favor we have for ourselves by depriving us of those things that we take to ourselves too often and easily.
This includes all facets of our lives as well as that of pure intake of food.
We must remember our need to reach out of ourselves and help others, to dedicate an increased amount of time to spiritual reading and conversation, especially that involving the Holy Scriptures, and to make every effort to attend the extra services offered during this season as a sacrifice to God of prayer and praise.
He doesn’t need this, but we do, and those who neglect this are missing a great opportunity for a quick injection of spiritual growth.
Lastly, fasting is a way of practicing obedience.
The one thing that we all talk about as being important in the spiritual life is probably the one thing that we hate most of all!
Tito Colliander asks in his marvelous book The Way of the Ascetics, “since the time of the Apostles [the Church] has given us a teacher who surpasses all others and who can reach us everywhere, wherever we are and under whatever circumstances we live…Do you wish to know his name? It is holy fasting.”
By being obedient to the rules of the Church rather than our own re-interpretation of them, we are practicing the purest form of spiritual and bodily obedience possible, and it’s a fact of life that if we cannot do this then the instructions of the most saintly elder would prove impossible for us!
Yet the Fathers of the Church also encourage moderation in how we keep the fast. I have seen the strictest adherence prove to be most harmful to someone because of the poisonous attitude that resulted from it. It does no good to fast from all meat and then eat your brother.
Here are a few things to remember about fasting:
- Challenge yourself—you can probably do much more than you do. It’s the old thing about pampering the flesh again. Find a way of fasting that is within your means, that makes you stretch a bit, but that doesn’t frustrate so much that you give up. We are all on different spiritual levels and practical abilities.
- Make your fast a broad-based effort. Find time for reading and extra attendance at the services. The excuse of not having enough time will not suffice, since we all find time for those things we really want to do, no matter how crowded the schedule. Consider a media fast.
- Always remember to repent for your failings. God is not there to strike you down, but to lift you up, and nothing reaches his heart like sincere repentance.
- Remember that breaking the fast, or failing to keep it as well as you might is not a sin, but failing to keep the spirit of the fast in mind, or denying its importance as a precept of the church, certainly is. And no matter how we might ignore this time of the year, it is still a holy one whether we pay attention or not, and the evil one certainly knows what time of the year it is, and will increase his attacks whether you are prepared for them or not!
- Approach the fast with joy and anticipation, a time of year that the church gives us to draw closer to God, and to achieve true and genuinely heartfelt reconciliation and forgiveness with and for our family, friends, neighbors, congregation, nation, and the world at large.
- Remember Love and do not judge.
The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew
The Lord said, “When the Son of man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. Before Him will be gathered all the nations, and He will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and He will place the sheep at His right hand, but the goats at the left.
Then the King will say to those at His right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed Me, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited Me, I was in prison and you came to Me.’
Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see Thee hungry and feed Thee, or thirsty and give Thee drink? And when did we see Thee a stranger and welcome Thee, or naked and clothe Thee? And when did we see Thee sick or in prison and visit Thee?’
And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ Then He will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave Me no food, I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome Me, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’
Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see Thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to Thee?’
Then He will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to Me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
People are really confused about what happens when we die. Its pretty crazy what people say and believe.
There seem to be two beliefs about this, though they aren’t well thought out or precise, they are mostly just cultural myths that people embrace without a systematic approach to what happens when we die.
- One belief is when we die we just cease to exist. There is nothing after death. We come to earth for 70-80 years grab all the gusto we can and then POOF we are gone. No longer in existence.
- The second belief is the afterlife is a good life for everyone. That what happens is we become angels and just do what ever we like, for ever.
This is why people say things like, well, their suffering is over, or well, they are in a better place.
Neither of these is what Christ taught us.
This Sunday in the Church Year is here to remind us what Christ DOES teach. And we heard it in the Gospel reading.
Death is not an end, it is a passageway. We do not cease to exist, but our existence drastically changes, as we are absent from the body and no longer seen on earth; yet we continue to live. And we do face judgement.
There is not just life after death, it is an eternal life. God will judge each of us; this is what the Church says:
When the thrones are set in place and the books are opened, then God will take His place on the judgment seat. Oh, what a fearful sight! The Angels stand in fear, and the river of fire flows by. What shall we do, who are already condemned by our many sins, as we hear Christ call the righteous to His Father’s Kingdom, and send the wicked to eternal damnation? Who among us can bear that terrible verdict? Hasten to us, O Lover of man and King of the universe; grant us the grace of repentance before the end, and have mercy on us!
This is sobering Sunday. Being reminded of our sin, we beg of God to grant us the grace of repentance.
The last few Sundays during matins, if you come early, you will hear us sing the song, Open to me the gates of repentance, O Giver of Life.
This is preparation for the Lenten effort, the war of Lent. We realize our helplessness and ask God to help us.
What does this parable tell us?
Lets take note of a few things before we move on; from my friend Steve Robinson:
Everyone goes to judgement, all are invited to the Kingdom, all have an opportunity.
The Sheep and the Goats were both in the flock of the Good Shepherd. They both heard His voice and knew His face.
St. John Chrysostom notes that the “goats” were “kids”: not fully matured: children who are distracted and inattentive.
As in all of Christ’s parables, the sheep and goats were one Flock,
the Wheat and the Tares grew up together in the Field,
“All Manner of Things” were drawn up from one Lake in the Fisherman’s “Kingdom Net”,
the Wise Virgins and Un-wise were both invited to the Wedding Feast,
The Good stewards and Bad Stewards were all in the Household and given gifts,
the Friends and Beggars were all invited to the Great Banquet: ALL were “included” prior to their separations.
All are invited, all are included.
The “judgment” is not so much “condemnation” as it is “identification”:
Who looks like The Generous Master, who hears the Voice of the Shepherd, who looks like the Wheat/Bread of Life, who is a Fish and not dead flotsam:
The separation is this: Who was paying attention to life itself, and fulfilling the Image in which we are created?
Who is, in love paying attention to what is ultimately our Salvation now, and ever, and unto the ages, even though we do not know it.
God is not the bad guy at the judgment seat. He deals with what we bring Him from our life here.
Have we imitated Him? Do we look like a sheep or a goat, by our works?
We determine whether we are sheep or goats by our lives in this life.
We all want to have joyful lives. We want to have lives that are pleasing to Christ and offer us meaning and fulfillment. This is only possible if the One who created us, also accepts us to dwell with Him in peace and joy for all eternity. This is the judgement.
Our Lord Jesus tells us that this is possible only through acts of love and mercy. We can only stand at the Lord’s right hand if we are willing to live sacrificial lives and go out of our way to show acts of mercy to others. This is what is expected of us because this is what Our Lord has done for each of us.
He showed us how to live; do we follow and obey Him; or do we go our own way?
He has fed us with both food as well as the heavenly bread.
He has clothed us not only with clothing but with the garments of righteousness.
He has visited us in our sicknesses and given us both physical and spiritual healing.
He has not only visited us while we were imprisoned by our sins, but He has completely freed us from the power of sin and death.
Let us be His children and reflect this mercy and love in all of our dealings with others.
May the Lord judge us worthy to be numbered among His faithful sheep.
Glory be to God Forever, AMEN.
The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (18:10-14)
The Lord spoke this parable: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank Thee that I am not like other men, extortionists, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’
But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to Heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
We continue on the march towards Great Lent. We are like soldiers who are drawing near to the front lines of the battlefield. The Church is preparing us for spiritual battle because Lent is a great spiritual battle. As we draw near to the battlefield, we are given special gospel readings to aid in our preparation.
The Church like a wise general is foreshadowing the moves and the tactics of the enemy and is giving us the counterattacks. Each week is a new building block, a new tactic or weapon that we will add to our repertoire.
This week we hear the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee. This is a story told by Our Lord Jesus Christ. He tells these stories because He loves us and He wants to connect with us, with our hearts, through these stories that give us access to truth and light.
What is the point of the parable? The point is humility. The Lord Jesus, our beloved master, gives us two very different people with two very different prayers.
One does everything correctly from an outsiders perspective, he also keeps all of the small traditions and rules with exactness. But the problem is that he doesn’t keep them out of love for God, therefore, his strictness has not produced love within him. He gains great pride through his perfect observance of all things religious.
But it gets worse, he also boldly uses this distorted vision of himself to accuse others before God! God forbid that we should become like this man.
Our prayers are a sacred time to draw near to God, not to accuse and condemn others. The fact that he is obsessed with the activities of others and their shortcomings, both perceived and real, is a sign of just how much he lacks peace from above, peace from God.
This is pointed out to us in the prayer we use so much in Lent, the prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian, the first line of that prayer is:
O Lord and Master of my life! Take from me the spirit of sloth, meddling, lust of power and idle talk. (prostration)
The idea of meddling is being too concerned with the lives and sins of other people, not focusing on your own.
This is exactly what the Publican was doing in talking about how he was better than other men.
We all say the prayer before communion; I believe O Lord, and I confess, that thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the Living God, who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first.
This reminds us of the same principle, I should think of my own sins first as the first of all sinners. And if I remember my own sin, I will not condemn my brothers and sisters.
The people that Jesus speaks directly against are the religious, those who put rules above mercy, those who take pride in their rule keeping but condemn their neighbors.
St. John of San Francisco writes, “The power of God is effective when a person asks for the help from God, acknowledging his own weakness and sinfulness. This is why humility and the striving towards God are the fundamental virtues of a Christian.”
So the point of this story is God will exalt the humble, but He will humble the proud.
So then let us acquire humility so that our prayers will be heard and we will be forgiven.
We see by looking into the story that the two men took two very different approaches to God, the Publican was very sure he was doing great, he had convinced himself that he was a very good person, that other people should be like him. He even boldly says this to God, I am so glad I am not like those people, that like that guy, I am so glad I am better than him.
I know that none of us would ever be like this, out loud. But don’t we often have thoughts that are similar?
Or maybe we are more subtle, we wouldn’t be that bold, but we might have a way of soothing ourselves by blaming our anger on someone else, or thinking better of ourselves because we feel morally superior. Because I would never do that, or wear that, or never get a tatoo, or I always let other people go ahead of me.
Humility is a tricky thing, because we can be so easily convinced we have it. But we are really just patting ourselves on the back.
Here is a test. One of the church fathers said: A humble man cannot be offended.
And then remember the last time you took offense, or got angry when something didn’t go as planned.
You go to the pharmacy to pick up some medication, but the clerk tells you they don’t have it. You show up at the dr. for an appointment but there is no appointment. You are late for an event and the traffic is slow. You get an unexpected bill. Your car doesn’t start. Someone in front of you in the coffee hour line gets that last thing that you wanted.
These are opportunities for us to reflect. To do self-examination. To confess our weakness before God and ask for humility, for forgiveness.
Perhaps the most important thing about humility is directly tied to our eternal destiny. To whether we go to heaven or not.
Humility is what allows us to ask, to truly ask, for forgiveness. It is true that if we want to be forgiven we must ask to be forgiven. This takes a measure of humility.
If we are too proud to admit our sin and ask for God or man to forgive us, we remain in our sin and we remain unforgiven.
The door to heaven has a pride detector. Only the humble enter herein.
The Church has prepared for us many remedies for our diseases; our sins. We have to open the medicine cabinet and take the medicine.
We all have electricity in our homes. For the electricity to work you have to plug into the socket. It is always there, waiting. It is powerful, it is even deadly in its power. But it only helpful if we plug something in so the power can flow.
It is the same with the Church.
The power of Christ is always there. It is always there, it is even deadly in its power. But we have to plug in. We have to want something. We have to be aware of a need to plug in. This is humility. I need. I don’t have the power on my own. I am weak, I fail to accomplish the cooking of supper cause I didn’t turn on the power. I don’t make progress in the spiritual life for the same reason.
This Sunday we are reminded, again, of our need, of the importance of humility and of the availability of grace and power. In the Church of Jesus Christ.
You are invited to plug in. To receive the power of God for the healing our souls.
This is the season to make changes, to take a new direction, to start again; or to really get serious with God.
Seek humility and you will find God. The services of the church are a schoolmaster teaching us the way of salvation. But you have to come, you have to participate, you have to plug in.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, let us take this opportunity and boldly run the race set before us. Glory be to God forever AMEN.
Today is the confluence of two important commemorations, one much more important than the other.
The most important is the Feast of the Entry of Our Lord Into the Temple. One of the 12 major feasts of the Church year.
The second is the Sunday of Zacchaeus.
The Entry of the Lord is another look at the obedience of the Lord to the Jewish tradition and the Law of God in the O.T.
The Lord of the Temple enters into the temple as a baby. The One who created all things from nothingness is a baby carried in the arms of Simeon. Prophetess Anna proclaims His glory, Simeon rejoices that now he has seen the salvation of his people and the gentiles too.
The angels rejoice in amazement at the Amazing Condescension of the Lord of Glory and what He is willing to do to save mankind.
They were poor people, not wealthy, no privilege. We know this by the sacrifice they brought to offer, a pair of turtledoves or two pigeons. This was the offering allowed for the poor who were not owners of animals. Even the Law had mercy on the poor. They could bring a lamb due to their poverty, but a suitable offering was made available, still not cheap, but doable to fulfill the law.
And it says that have fulfilled all the requirements of the Law they departed for Nazareth where Jesus grew up. The Lord fulfilled the Law, He did not neglect obedience, even when it was not convenient or easy.
This sends us an important message today. We who follow the Lord Jesus also must be obedient to His commands for our salvation and to please Him, knowing that it is for our salvation and our good.
We also look to Zacchaeus, the hypocrite, traitor who comes to love the Lord.
He was a chief tax collector and rich. Rich? Well, he worked for the Romans and to the amount he was required to pay to the Romans, he added a hefty amount of tax in order to make himself, at the expense of his own countrymen. And he was rich because as a chief tax collector he took a little from each of those under him who were collecting taxes, helping him to do his job. And so the people treated him as a traitor and a scallywag, they hated him.
But life was about to change for Z.
Maybe he took a little too much tax because he was resentful at being too short. But it was his shortness that caught the attention of Jesus because he went up a tree to see Jesus, the tree allowed him to catch a glimpse he would never get if he stayed on the ground.
You see Z has a heart problem. His biggest problem is not his stature, it is his heart.
When we lived in PA we had a large country home, built in the 1860’s. Three floors and built like a fortress.
It had the original windows from the 1800’s! So the only way to clean the windows was on a ladder.
Being a little younger than I am now, and a little more arrogant, I decided, one nice Spring day, to clean those windows with an extension ladder.
So, being anxious to get the job done, I only had some coffee and not breakfast and I got to work, up and down the ladder.
After a bit I noticed a strange sound in my ears. I stopped and listened. It was my pulse. My heart was going nuts. I thought maybe I am having a heart attack.
I went to the Dr. and he did all the tests.
When all the tests were done he met with me to tell me what was wrong with me.
He started by saying, well we know what is wrong with you!
I said, great, what is it?
He said, the only thing wrong with you is you are stupid.
I guess I looked a little startled, he went on to explain. Your heart is fine, you just need to stop pretending you are 25 years old. Eat some breakfast.
So I don’t have a heart disease? No. Your heart is very healthy.
So that was a relief, I get it, don’t work hard on an empty stomach, especially after several cups of coffee.!
My physical heart had no problem. My spiritual heart is another story. That needs constant attention. Amen?
Z realized that he had a great need, I need some help, he said, I need Jesus.
Z had heart surgery up in that tree.
Jesus quoted the Great Prophet Isaiah: Mat 15:8 This people honor me with their lips; But their heart is far from me.
Z’s heart was starting to have a desire for help, for salvation, for healing. His awareness of his bad heart was ringing in his ears with the disdain of the people.
His heart was drawn to the Savior and the Savior changed his heart.
We know this because of the fruits of repentance he displayed. What does he say?
Luke 19:8 And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold. And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.
Jesus came to save those who know they have a heart disease, a heart with wrong desires, scattered wishes, unclear paths ahead.
Jesus does spiritual surgery on the heart, a spiritual pace maker.
So this begs the question: Z teaches about desire. Our hearts desire.
The Psalmist tells us, God will give us the desires of our hearts.
What is the desire of your heart?
Z is a mirror. In the past I have told you to read the Gospel stories and realize that you are the person in the story. You are Z. You have come up short in seeking the Lord, in loving your neighbor, in loving God.
We can learn from Z about desire and repentance. How much effort do we put into seeking a vision of God, to really know God?
We can spend more time seeking Him in the Holy Gospels. We can spend more time seeking Him in quiet prayer. We can seek to be like Him in loving our neighbor.
Let Z instruct you this day.
Z is also yearly reminder that Lent is coming.
One month from now the Great Fast begins.
Lent is a school of repentance for the broken hearted, those with a contrite and broken heart profit the most from Lent.
St. Nicholai (Velimirovich) of Zicha preached some beautiful words about this gospel text. He said
“Just as the bleak forest clothes itself into greenery and flowers from the breath of spring, so does every man, regardless of how arid and darkened by sin, becomes fresh and youthful from the nearness of Christ. For the nearness of Christ is as the nearness of some life-giving and fragrant balsam which restores health, increases life, give fragrance to the soul, to the thoughts and to the words of man. In other words, distance from Christ means decay and death and His nearness means salvation and life.
“Today, salvation has come to this house” said the Lord upon entering the house of Zacchaeus the sinner. Christ was the salvation that came and Zacchaeus was the house into which He entered. Brethren, each one of us is a house in which sin dwells as long as Christ is distant and to which salvation comes when Christ approaches it. Nevertheless, will Christ approach my house and your house? That depends on us.”
We are given these times to recall us to our main calling in life, Seek ye first the kingdom of God….
This is what Lent shows us… We start moving in that direction today. As the Lord of the temple entered into the temple.
May that same Lord enter into and abide in the temple that each one of us is. Amen.
The reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke (14:16-24)
The Lord spoke this parable: “A man once gave a great banquet, and invited many; and at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for all is now ready.’ But, one by one, they all began to make excuses.
The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it; I pray you, have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them; I pray you, have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the servant came and reported this to his master.
Then the householder in anger said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and maimed and blind and lame.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’
And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges, and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”
The Sunday that falls between December 11-17 is known as the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers. These are the ancestors of Christ according to the flesh, who lived before the Law and under the Law, especially the Patriarch Abraham, to whom God said, “In thy seed shall all of the nations of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12:3, 22:18).
Adam, our first Father, Enoch, Noah, Melchizedek, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the twelve Patriarchs; and those who came after the Law: Moses, Aaron, Joshua, Samuel and David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel, and with them the Twelve Prophets: Elijah, Elisha, and all the rest, Zachariah and John the Baptist: all those who proclaimed Christ, the Life and Resurrection of the human race!
This even includes those like Zachariah and Elisabeth, the parents of Mary the mother of Jesus Christ.
Luke 1 is a great read, right? You all read it this week, right?
So, today lets take a closer look at parts of Luke 1, next week we will dig into Luke 2.
Luke 1-7 sections
- Prologue-there were false apostles writing false gospel accounts-eye witnesses are more reliable
- Zachariah and Elizabeth-The Barren One
Zach is in the temple-the high priest-Gabriel talks to him, Zach isn’t sure-is struck dumb due to a lack of faith, only regaining his voice when he agrees to name his son John, as he had been instructed; much to the shock of the family. Zachariah and Elizabeth had prayed for a child to God. God answers their prayer.
- Annunciation to Mary-When Elisabeth is 6 months pregnant with John, Gabriel comes to Mary, a virgin, and announces to her that she will miraculously conceive a child. He calls her highly favored, the Lord is with you, blessed are you among women for you will bear the Son of the Highest, who will take over the throne of David, His kingdom will never end.
But I am a virgin and I will always be a virgin, so how? The power of the Most High will overshadow you. You will have a son without an earthly father. Mary says yes.
Eve brought forth children is sorrow, Mary will rejoice in the birth of hers, she being the Second Eve. Eve received a curse, Mary is blessed. Eve hears the words of the serpent and obeys them bring the Fall. Mary listens to God and obeys Him, bringing us up from the Fall by the One born of her.
- Mary visits Elisabeth-the formerly barren Elizabeth, far past childbearing years is now 6 months pregnant and her cousin Mary comes to visit. When John, in the womb of Elizabeth, hears Mary’s voice he leaps in her womb for joy, knowing the Lord is in her womb. A baby in the womb is aware, has feelings, reacts. Has life.
Elizabeth praises Mary for her faith. For the first time Mary is called the Mother of My Lord by Elizabeth.
Mary is forever known as the Birthgiver of God. The Theotokos. A unique title only given once, to one woman. The Ever-Virgin Mary.
These people seem to be aware of how gigantic this is, how incredible.
- The Magnificat-My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.
Mary says in the Magnificat (Latin for magnifies) that from then on all generations shall call her blessed. Indeed this has happened.
Every Sunday morning during Matins will sing this.
Mary is carried by the Holy Spirit as she sings this song, recorded for us by St. Luke in Luke 1.
- The birth of John the Baptist-the family wants to name the baby Zachariah, but first Elizabeth says no, John, they protest to Zachariah, Zachariah asks for a tablet and writes his name is John; then he is able to speak. His words are also recorded by Luke and are called in Latin the Benedictus, beginning with the word, Blessed.
People are left wondering, What kind of child will this be? And the hand of the Lord was with him.
Gabriel had said of John, he will be great in the sight of the Lord and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, Elias; to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. He is The Forerunner.
- Zachariah’s prophecy-When Zachariah’s tongue is loosened he is filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesies the Benedictus. Glorifying God for all He has done.
Following the prophecy of Zachariah’s prophecy Luke finishes the chapter with the words, So the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel.
Tradition tells us that Zachariah was martyred in the altar of the temple and that after that Elizabeth took John to the desert and that there he was ministered to by the angels.
End of Chapter 1.
Wow. What an amazing chapter of incredible events, all leading up to the Nativity of Christ. Miraculous events.
God’s sovereign, loving plan for mankind is working things out to bring about the Savior of the world.
And that brings us to the Gospel reading of the day. The great banquet of the Lord, from Luke chapter 14.
This parable is told at a dinner in the home of one of the Pharisees (His enemies) while they are eating together.
The Lord points out how the guests had been very careful to choose the best seats of honor, to receive kudos from everyone. Instructing them to pick places of humility, for whoever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
Then He speaks to the host who invited him. Telling him, invite those who cannot repay you for your dinner by inviting you to theirs. Then you will have a reward at the Resurrection. Then Jesus tells the parable of the great banquet.
The parable is appropriate for our Advent preparation for Christmas. It reminds us of how easy it is to get caught up in the affairs of the world and family and celebration so much that we begin to turn away from things eternal.
How easy it is to lose sight of what is really important. The Kingdom of God. This is the one thing needful Christ speaks about.
The distractions of this world are never ceasing, only increasing. Like Esau we sell our inheritance for a bowl of soup.
It is time to reawaken our souls, to return to the Lord, to re-focus on the Kingdom of God, not the kingdom of this world.
10 days until Christmas. What will you do with them to turn your attention to God, at least a little during these days?
It is not too late. Be inspired by the people in chapter 1 of Luke. Read about them. Follow them. Find some time. Don’t let excuses keep you out of the Kingdom.
The reading of the epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians (4:1-7)
Brethren, I, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, Who is above all and through all and in all.
But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
The reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke (17:12-19)
At that time as Jesus entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed.
Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan.
Then said Jesus, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”
St Paul wants to help us in our advent journey today. He wants to remind us of how we should live. Perfect for the advent season of preparation.
So what does the epistle for today say to us? lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Maybe we forget about what St Paul went through. Let’s recall.
He writes, “Brethren, I, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,”
Sometimes we forget the sorts of trials and struggles that were faced by the apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ.
We forget what they must have undergone and what they went through in order to preach this gospel that we often take so lightly and so casually.
St. Paul reminds his hearers that he is writing this while he is a prisoner, under house arrest in Rome. Yet what is his focus and goal during that time? It was the well being and the care of the Church of God, for which he had toiled day and night.
His words to the Christians of Ephesus are very important to us today.
This is the situation in which St Paul writes- he is in prison for being a Christian.
He knows he is about to be executed. But he is thinking about other Christians and their growth in Christ.
Then St. Paul gives us as Christians some really important guidance, and it is important for each of us to hear these words.
He says “lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,” and then he goes on to describe this life, and how one lives it in a way that is worthy of the name of Christian. It is not enough to claim to be Christians. Just saying we are Christians, we must actually live like Christians.
It is not enough to believe we are Christians internally. We are called to live the life of Christians and He tells us to do this “with all lowliness and meekness”.
What do these words “lowliness” and “meekness” mean? One of the Bible dictionaries describes lowliness in the following ways, 1) the having a humble opinion of one’s self 2) a deep sense of one’s (moral) littleness 3) modesty, humility…
His words are very appropriate for our advent preparation for Christmas. Reminding us that as hard as we work for the Church, we have to work on our own lives, to foster lives of humility.
A truly humble person cannot be offended.
Next, St Paul tells us that Christians must have “patience, forbearing one another in love.” Patience is defined here as “endurance, constancy, steadfastness, perseverance” as well as “longsuffering, slowness in avenging wrongs.”
Forbearing is defined as “to bear with, or to endure.”
St. Paul is trying to give us a glimpse into the kingdom of heaven, and the Church is the image of the kingdom on earth, for the Church is the place where we unite with Christ and His saints and participate in the Holy Spirit.
How can brothers and sisters who live together in Christ, in the midst of the saints and the angels, be impatient with one another? How can brothers and sisters in Christ be boastful and arrogant?
And this is what I see at an event like the Christmas Bake Sale. There are a lot of people with this attitude of humble service.
Yesterday we had an amazing parish experience of holiness at the Christmas Bake Sale.
See, the thing is the Christmas Bake Sale is not just a one day event. It is lots of preparation before the day arrives, advertisements, promotions, taking pre-orders, making cookies, baking bread, filling the freezers with rolls, pierogies, spanakopita and cabbage rolls. Buying kolbassa, sauerkraut,setting up tables, setting up the kitchen. Hundreds of hours of work.
And people enjoy it. We have a good time. There are no outbursts of anger, no one goes home in a huff. No fights.
We are reminded that while we are all human, we are called to be holy and transfigured humans together in the Church. Why?
St. Paul tells us that we are “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” If one person begins to act in a way that is rash or unkind to someone else within the Church what will be the result?
It is possible that some of the people will be pushed away from the Church. We as Christians are not called to push people away from the Church, that is the job of the evil one. We are called to be like the apostles and evangelists of the Lord. We are called to be ambassadors of Jesus Christ and the Holy Trinity. We do this through our living example of love.
Notice today in the Divine Liturgy, how many times we bow to each other, the priest to the people, asking for forgiveness, the people bowing in return, saying God forgives all, or The Lord forgive you father.
This is the spirit of humility St. Paul is talking about.
St. John Chrysostom says “The purpose for which the Spirit was given was to bring into unity all who remain separated by different ethnic and cultural divisions: young and old, rich and poor, women and men.”
He continues “Bind yourselves to your brethren. Those thus bound together in love bear everything with ease.… If now you want to make the bond double, your brother must also be bound together with you. Beautiful is this bond. With this bond we bind ourselves together both to one another and to God. This is not a chain that bruises. It does not cramp the hands. It leaves them free, gives them ample room and greater courage.”
St. Silouan once said- “our brother is our life.” We live this truth.
We also see this lowliness, this humility, in the story of Christmas. Luke 1 is an amazing read, if you slow down to really look at it.
It is the story of the mindset St Paul talks about. The lowliness and humility of God, taking the most ordinary people and ordinary circumstances and this is how God becomes human.
We are on our advent journey, preparing for Christmas, to celebrate the birth of Christ. St Paul has taught us how to be like God. We are heading in the right direction if we follow his teaching.
May I suggest that this week you spend some time in the first few chapters of the gospel of St. Luke? Become familiar with the actual Christmas story from the Bible.
Ch. 1 & 2- read it everyday for this week, get it in your mind. Let the Lord speak to you in the reading of His word.
May the Lord truly help us to always be united as brothers and sisters in love, this will allow the Church to be what it is meant to be, a place of healing, hope, and peace….a place where we strongly sense the presence of the living God. To Him alone be the glory, together with His only Begotten Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The reading of the epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians (2:14:22)
Brethren, Christ is our peace, Who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in His flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the Cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end.
And He came and preached peace to you, who were far off, and peace to those who were near; for through Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.
So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in Whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in Whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
The reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke (18:18-27)
At that time a ruler asked Jesus, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: `Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.'”
And he said, “All these I have observed from my youth.” And when Jesus heard it, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
But when he heard this he became sad, for he was very rich. Jesus looking at him said, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” But he said, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”
How was your Thanksgiving celebration? Relaxing? I hope you actually gave thanks to God for all the blessings we receive from Him, every minute of every day.
It is not enough to FEEL thankful, or to have warm, fuzzy feelings, we really must get beyond emotion and actually say Thank you to God, to our family members, to our fellow parishioners. We have to say it and show it.
In order to be thankful, we have to be aware that we have received benefits. This requires some thought, some maturity of faith. Some humility.
We have to cultivate a sense of helplessness, weakness, neediness toward God.
The first step is to become aware that without Christ we can do nothing.
Lets look at the epistle reading for a minute today.
And He came and preached peace to you, who were far off, and peace to those who were near; for through Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.
So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in Whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in Whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
Look what God has done for us!
I have often heard comments from those who grew up in the Orthodox Church about those of us who came to the Orthodox Faith from somewhere else. The comments are about how much the converts to Orthodoxy know about the Faith, usually admitting that they don’t know as much.
For many of us, coming to the Orthodox Faith is very complicated and usually involves a search. We are so discontent with where we were that we start a search for something better. There has to be something better. I read about it in the Bible, but I don’t experience what I read in the Bible, this gets us going. Looking, seeking.
So a convert reads the epistle today and can really relate to it. “He came and preached to you who were far off, and peace to those who were near.” He says we were “strangers and sojourners”. And indeed it often felt like that.
I clearly remember the first time I attended a Divine Liturgy in the Orthodox Church. I had no idea what was happening or was about to happen.
It was very similar to the first day of school. When I was 5 years old and went to Kindergarten, I had no idea what was happening or was about to happen.
But at the same time, in the first Divine Liturgy I had ever attended, I was strangely, at home. Even though I was a stranger, I knew I was heading somewhere I wanted to be. A fellow citizen with the saints and member of the household of God.
That is the experience of a convert to the Orthodox Faith but, in reality it is the experience of every believer.
Some are brought into the household of God as infants through baptism, some convert later in life; but we all make the same journey.
And what a beautiful description of the Church:
So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in Whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in Whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
So St Paul is telling us about what God has done with and for us.
That we are all, converts, reverts or cradle; being made into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
This is our goal and our hope.
That what you are a part of here at HSOC is not in vain, it not without eternal value.
When we all come together here in worship, we become something beautiful, holy. Each of us adding something, each of us benefiting something. And God is glorified.
He has brought us from being prodigals who were wandering and wasting our gifts and He has brought us back to the Father, a dwelling place for the Spirit.
We don’t think about that much, what God is really doing here among us. The gradual changes that are happening among us. Some depart, some new ones come. Lives are slowly changed by prayer, repentance, learning and working.
But then we stop and look around, and we marvel.
This is how a heart of thanksgiving grows.
This is what I see. When each individual member works at their salvation, the whole body gets stronger.
And this is happening here at HSOC. People find us. They look, God helps them find us.
In the Gospel reading today we have a very sad story, about a very sad man. A wealthy man, but not a happy man.
He was not happy because He did not trust God, he trusted his wealth.
He could not give thanks and give back what had been given him.
Here is a good point to remember. Thanksgiving starts with the character of God. When we know God we learn to trust Him. When we learn to trust Him, we lose the stress of trying to be God and we become thankful people.
St Paul said, in everything give thanks, for this is the will of God for you.
When we understand that God is King, we can relax. When we remember that all we have is from Him, we can become thankful.
When a man takes credit for what he has, that man becomes stingy. He wants to hold on tight, afraid he will lose something. Its mine. A man like that cannot be saved until he becomes humble enough to have gratitude and to ask God for forgiveness.
This is what we are all working on right now in the Advent Fast.
The purpose of this season of Advent is to better prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ. We do this by intention. With purpose, with determination.
In the midst of the worldly preparation for Christmas, there is a call going out.
The Lord tells the rich, young, ruler – give up everything and follow me. He is saying that to us as well. Remember last week I told you. In all these stories put yourself in the story. You, I, am the rich, young, ruler. I am the one who holds on to control. I am the one who is stingy. I am the one who cannot trust God.
Thank God for Advent.
The preparation for Christmas should not all be about busy-ness, buying, hurrying, cooking.
It should be not just about externals, but about internals as well. About our hearts, minds and souls.
The rich, young, ruler was very devoted, very dedicated-but to the wrong thing. He missed the mark.
We are being called this season, to come away, to re-focus. To come to confession, to fast, to give to the needy. To pray, to learn. To prepare our hearts to receive Him, with Thanksgiving.
Let us attend.
The reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke (13:10-17)
At that time Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And there was a woman who had had a spirit of infirmity for eighteen years; she was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. And when Jesus saw her, he called her and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your infirmity.”
And he laid his hands upon her, and immediately she was made straight, and she praised God. But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be healed, and not on the sabbath day.”
Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his ass from the manger, and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?”
As he said this, all his adversaries were put to shame; and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him.
The week of Thanksgiving Day, that means we must be preparing for Christmas.
Today we read about a woman who had an infirmity that would not allow her to straighten up and walk erect, but was always bent over.
She had been like this for 18 years and had come to the synagogue.
She did not ask for healing.
Jesus saw her and called to her and told her she was freed from her infirmity.
He just asserted His authority over disease and evil and banished them from her. He laid hands on her and immediately she was straight. And she praised God.
But the religious hypocrites criticized Jesus for healing on the sabbath, rather than rejoicing at the miracle.
So we see again the power of Jesus to heal, to defeat evil, to overcome corruption and death, to bring the Kingdom to all people.
And where do we see ourselves in this story?
And we see ourselves as bent over people, unable to heal ourselves, facing the ground which will eventually swallow us up.
But Jesus is our straightener, the one who lifts up my head, I look unto the hills from where comes my help.
He has come and straightened us all, given us the power to overcome our past, to have an upright future in Him.
We rejoice in His coming to earth, taking on our humanity to save us and lift us up to heavenly places.
And this is where we are in the life of the church.
We have entered into the season of preparation called Advent in the West. A season like Great Lent. In Great Lent we are preparing for Pascha, with Advent we are preparing for the Feast of the Nativity, or birthday, of Jesus.
We are now in a season of intensity of spiritual endeavor. We have four seasons of intensity in the church, this one and Great Lent are 40 days long. Advent is sometimes called Little Lent, Christmas is sometimes called Winter Pascha.
It is a time of anticipation, not of celebration.
From our perspective we are not in synch with our culture, with our society. Wal-Mart has been pushing Christmas shopping since August.
Our culture has lost touch with Christian tradition and so things have gotten a little backward.
Now, the world celebrates Christmas before it gets here. The “season of the holidays” seems to get longer and more exhausting, more stressful.
Celebrating before the event means that by the time Christmas gets here people are tired of it and just want to move on, or relax.
The Church resists this. We don’t celebrate before the event. Do we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ on Palm Sunday?
The Church offers us a different way, enter into the way of the Kingdom. Resist the culture; what is the Church saying?
A period of fasting is a period of preparation. There is a different perspective when you embrace the Mind of the Church.
The focus shifts to our hearts. We see our hearts as the manger into which Christ will be born at Christmas.
The period advent is the period of cleaning up the manger so that it is a fit place for Him to be born.
So the wisdom of the saints is not celebration but preparation.
We have some special services during Advent- special prayer services- you can read about them in the bulletin. These help to focus our thoughts on the Savior and His coming to earth. These are ways to turn off the outward jangle and focus our hearts in a different direction, inward.
It’s a struggle out there. The pressure to buy, to have extravagant parties, to give extravagant gifts; the pressure to go all out. Bigger displays, more food, new cars, more perfume, watches, alcohol.
While we neglect our souls and forget the poor.
Jesus says, come to me you who are heavy laden and I will give you rest.
My intention here is not to be Scrooge, but to remind us of the reason for the season.
To call us to nurture our love for God, to confess our sins, to maintain or increase our focus on God, who alone can satisfy us, rather than material things that are temporary.
Are you familiar with the Christmas Carol, O Come, O Come, Immanuel?
This carol strikes a good note for advent. IT is a carol that focuses on our need for the savior to come, to save us, to ransom us captives,
To straighten us up, to lift us up from grief.
But it seems odd to sing, Joy to the world, the Lord is come, until we celebrate His coming in the flesh.
A marvelous thing about this liturgical life is our ability to have two minds. We know Christ has already come. We know that the first Christmas was over 2000 years ago. We know this is an actual historical event. We don’t try to acquire historical amnesia here.
In order to be integrated into the story, the event, to become personally involved in Christmas or Easter, we enter into the story. We sing about it as if it was still in the future. On Christmas we will sing, Today the Virgin comes to a cave.
We make the story a present reality, we become somehow part of the story. It becomes a story we embrace.
We sing, O Come, O Come Immanuel, as if we are asking Him to come for the first time.
We all have sins, regrets, shame, guilt that we carry. We need Him to come and live in us. We mourn, we cry, we suffer until He comes and dwells in us, and yet as Christians, He already lives in us. So this is a form of renewal.
The Christmas story is that Christ, the eternal God who created all things, comes to be part of His own creation, in order to lift that creation out of the mire, without giving up His God-ness. We understand how important this is. We are dead in our sins without it.
We don’t celebrate His coming until we first embrace our very real need for Him to come. This take work.
This takes a different set of priorities. This requires a new orientation to our lives.
This is what advent is for.
This is why we fast. This is why we must teach our children to fast. If you love your children, you will teach them to fast. Indulgence is empty and temporary. Fasting enriches the soul and lifts it up to heaven.
This is why we say extra prayers, have special services, work at remembering and helping the needy. Why? To come to grips with our very real need for God to come and abide in us. We long for it. We must need it.
Then, when our longing is fulfilled by God at Christmas, there is the joy.
Then with joyful hearts we can sing, Joy to the world the Lord is come.
The joy at the celebration is in proportion to the preparation.
Enter into the spirit of Advent. Work at it, Resist the culture, think like a Christian. Come and prepare, come and pray. And you will have joy.
Glory to Jesus Christ.
November 10-The Good Samaritan
This famous parable comes to us again today.
What must I do to inherit eternal life?
Jesus first tells the man, Love God and love your fellowman, with everything within you, your heart, mind, soul and strength.
The law of God is Love.
But, wishing to justify himself tries to find a loophole.
Why does he need a loophole?
He can’t do it. He doesn’t at this time or doesn’t want to ever really do that. That simple commandment is extremely difficult.
And people are deeply selfish. So we look for a way to justify ourselves.
We try to narrow the focus, as this man. He wants to love a few people and he wants to love God kinda.
To love the loveable, to not get too carried away with loving God, this is most people.
But Jesus doesn’t really let him get away with that.
Jesus expands the picture, not reduces it.
Everyone you encounter during your day is your neighbor; loving them is like loving God, if you don’t love them, you don’t really love God.
Most of us like to be comfortable. Actually, let me re-phrase that. Most of us are addicted to comfort. Being comfortable is a part time job for many people.
Suffering is the worst thing ever. To be comfortable is seen as an American right.
But I have noticed that Jesus is not the least bit concerned about you being comfortable.
He is much more concerned about you being holy. Comfort and holiness do not go together.
The way of the Cross is not the way of comfort, ease, pain-free living, relaxation, plenty of food and drink. This is not the way of the Cross, but this is what many seek. Broad and well paved is this road.
The road to holiness is narrow and much less filled with ease and comfort.
Maybe this is why St. Paul and Jesus use metaphors for the Christian life that are strenuous, frought with danger. We need armor, we are in a race, we battle, we hear about spiritual combat, we need to train.
To love is to put someone else ahead of me. This is what Jesus did.
Jesus is the Good Samaritan
Judas then, having received the band of soldiers, and officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, cometh thither with lanterns and torches and weapons. Jesus therefore, knowing all the things that were coming upon him, went forth, and saith unto them, Whom do ye seek?
Joh 18:5 They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus saith unto them, I am he.
And Judas also, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When therefore he said unto them, I am he, they went backward, and fell to the ground.
Joh 18:7 Again therefore he asked them, Whom do ye seek? And they said, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus answered, I told you that I am he; if therefore ye seek me, let these go their way: that the word might be fulfilled which he spake, Of those whom thou hast given me I lost not one. Simon Peter therefore having a sword drew it, and struck the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. Now the servant’s name was Malchus. Jesus therefore said unto Peter, Put up the sword into the sheath: the cup which the Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?
The love of Christ preferred to accept the suffering of the Cross in order to love. To obey the Father, to rescue us from death and hell. Peter regarded suffering as evil, Jesus saw it as love.
How are we to take up this way of Jesus?
It begins with a change of thinking.
- It begins with putting on humility, put on humility as you would clothes, intentionally, with purpose, with action.
Remember the line, Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first. This is the beginning of humility.
Instead of analyzing the sins of others, focus on getting rid of our own.
Instead of thinking of myself as superior, I remember how lost I was, what Jesus has done for me; and I put on humility. I change my thinking. I don’t allow myself to believe that I am superior. I remember how many times I have been forgiven and I forgive others. I stop judging other people-this is a tactic we use in order not to love someone. We judge them as not worthy of love because they sin. Completely forgetting our own sin. When this happens we are saying Jesus came into the world to save sinners and he is first.
This is how the man in the parable could interrupt his life to care for the man in the ditch. He put someone else first in his life to show love to one who was dying.
This is what Jesus did for us. While we were yet sinners Jesus died for us.
So we put on this thinking, I am a Christian, I follow Jesus, I am a sinner saved by the love of God, how can I not give that love to others?
I allow myself to be inconvenienced. I give up my comfort. I permit the interruption without anger and resentment. Without getting bitter that I was then late for dinner because I did something for someone.
And we keep quiet about it. We don’t go around telling people about the sacrifice we have made, this will inflate our pride and steal the value of our sacrifice.
Php 2:1 If there is therefore any exhortation in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any tender mercies and compassions, make full my joy, that ye be of the same mind, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind; doing nothing through faction or through vainglory, but in lowliness of mind each counting other better than himself; not looking each of you to his own things, but each of you also to the things of others.
Php 2:5 Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross.
Php 2:9 Wherefore also God highly exalted him, and gave unto him the name which is above every name; that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Jesus is the Good Samaritan.
We are the beat up guy laying in the ditch, we can’t help ourselves. Our sins have overwhelmed us, we don’t have the resources to fight this infection. Our medicine has not worked. We need a better healer. The Great Physician of our souls and bodies.
He, Jesus, raised us up out of the ditch of our own making. He brought us to the Inn, His Church, He gave us oil an wine. The Sacraments. He paid for it all. We owe nothing. We are healed and saved by His love, His work, His effort, His grace. He is our model, He is our hope, He is our salvation.
We turn to Him in hope and faith. He still waits for us to remember who He is, to put away our own efforts, our own false medicine that cannot heal us. Only He can heal us.
We come to Him. We ask Him. We bless Him. We give thanks to Him.
And now, today, we make a firm resolve to imitate Him. That He may be glorified.
Glory to Jesus Christ.
Background- Things are happening in fulfillment of the prophecies of what the Messiah would do when He came.
Widow of Nain, son raised
Sinful woman-anointed His feet with oil
Women who served Him
Parable of the Sower
Calms the storm
Raising of Jairus’ daughter and woman with flow of blood
The followers of John the Baptist came to Jesus in CH. 7:18 Are you the Coming One or do we look for another?
V 22-the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them.
These are the markers of the work of the Messiah, so he would be recognized. The coming of the Messiah meant the coming of the Kingdom.
With Jesus coming to earth, the Kingdom comes with Him, the Kingdom is where the King is.
All these things are happening because the Messiah has come, even the demons realize the reality of the Kingdom that has come.
Jesus is Messiah, Jesus is God.
So lets review this story of events from the eyes and memory of St. Luke, as he records these events, being inspired to write and helped and inspired by the Holy Spirit.
- When Jesus returned, the multitude welcomed Him. From where-the other side of the Sea of Galilee. They were all waiting for Him.
A ruler of the synagogue comes to Him. A very important man in the town, highly regarded, his 12 yr old daughter is dying, he begs Jesus to come to his house to heal her.
So Jesus begins to go to the house and the multitudes thronged around Him.
While they are going to the home of Jairus, a woman who had been hemoraging for 12 years secretly comes in from behind and touches the cloak of Jesus.
And her bleeding stopped.
And Jesus asks Who touched me?
But the disciples say, lots of people touched you.
Jesus says, no this was special, someone touched me with faith and I felt power go out of me.
Now the woman is no longer in secret and she is scared.
Expecting to be rebuked, the woman is praised by Jesus for her faith, the faith that made her well.
At that same moment, word comes that the daughter of Jairus has indeed died, saying, leave Jesus alone, the girl is dead.
Jesus is not put off by this news saying, Don’t be afraid, only believe and she will be made well.
So, now there will be a different kind of healing.
Peter, James and John, with Jesus and the parents go into the child’s room.
Jesus sends all the extra people out of the room and raises her from the dead. The second resurrection in a few days.
Jesus again says, don’t tell anyone about this.
The long awaited Messiah is doing deeds the Messiah does. That only the Messiah can do.
So lets sum this all up.
The woman with the flow of blood. Does it seems strange that she would sneak up and touch the fringe of His garment?
She lacked boldness for a reason.
Flow of blood: In the Old Testament a hemorrhage caused ceremonial defilement, imposing religious and social restrictions, for contact with blood was strictly forbidden (Lev. 15:25) This woman accounted herself unclean, nevertheless approached Jesus secretly and with great faith. She puts all there at risk of uncleanness, including Jesus and the leader of the synagogue.
Three things happen at this touching. 1. Jesus brings her good cheer because of her faith.
- Corrects her thinking, for neither could she hid from God, or her touch from Him; nor is she excluded from approaching Him because of her sickness.
- Exhibits her faith to all, so that all may imitate her.
The touch itself
Touch- Who touched me? Means more than it seems.
Does not simply mean physical touch, but rather, “Who touched me in faith?”
Just as “the temple sanctifies the gold” (Matt. 23:17), so also matter is sanctified by Christ’s incarnation, and the power of Christ works through even His garment. To touch Christ’s garment in faith is to touch Him. In the Church we touch Christ through icons, oil, water, bread, wine, etc. When it is done in faith, the power of Christ is received. A touch can be in faith, in curiosity, in affection or in scorn.
Many touched Jesus for many reasons, this touch was different.
The touch of faith brings healing. Like static electricity.
You touch something you get a shock.
Seeing this miracle gives hope to Jauris that his daughter also will be healed. But, before Jesus can arrive at the home, due in part to the interruption of the bleeding woman, the girl is dead.
Jesus dealt with interruptions, He calmly went on with what came to Him with faith if His Heavenly Father.
With this interruption Jesus brings her to Himself to take away her fear, He does not condemn her for breaking the purity laws, for she no longer is, due to His healing.
Her faith is rewarded, she abandoned all to touch the Master, but really He touched her. His touch is so comforting and healing.
She becomes an example to us of not being deterred by long periods of unanswered prayer, the dis-belief of others and the constraints of the medical industry.
The Messiah Jesus is a healer, One who restores and makes new. One who is loving and not of rebukes, saving His rebukes for hypocrites, those who see themselves as not needing healing.
To those who seek Him, He is found. To the sick He is physician, to the lost He is a compass, to the demon possessed He brings freedom. To the grieving He brings comfort and hope of the resurrection.
To us He gives all of this, plus His own body and blood for our healing and the forgiveness of our sins.
He is our great God, Glory to Him!
At that time, Jesus arrived at the country of the Gadarenes, which is opposite Galilee. And as He stepped out on land, there met Him a man from the city who had demons; for a long time he had worn no clothes, and he lived not in a house but among the tombs.
When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him, and said with a loud voice, “What hast Thou to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beseech Thee, do not torment me.” For Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. For many a time it had seized him; he was kept under guard, and bound with chains and fetters, but he broke the bonds and was driven by the demon into the desert.
Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. And they begged Jesus not to command them to depart into the abyss. Now a large herd of swine was feeding there on the hillside; and they begged Jesus to let them enter these. So He gave them leave.
Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled, and told it in the city and in the country. Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus, and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. And those who had seen it told them how he who had been possessed with demons was healed.
Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gadarenes asked Jesus to depart from them; for they were seized with great fear; so He got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with Jesus; but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare all that God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city all that Jesus had done for him.
What is it with demons that when they are in a person there is a lot of yelling?
What is the situation with this familiar story?
Up to this time, Jesus has been among His own people, the Jews. He has been around familiar territory where people had a familiarity with the Bible, they had been raised in the temple and the synagogue. They knew how they were supposed to live. They had a common ancestry and history.
If you can picture Palestine, He had been mostly on the West side of the Jordan and the Sea of Galilee, or more to the North. Now he goes to Decapolis.
At that time, Jesus arrived at the country of the Gadarenes, which is opposite Galilee.
This is on the other side of the Jordan in a Roman province called Decapolis. It was dominated by the Roman army and had a very bad reputation, morally. It is thought that this is where the Prodigal Son went, the far country. It was a far country in terms of philosophy, culture and religion. Decapolis was very pagan, very Hellenized. Very different from the Jewish culture Jesus grew up in. Two very different languages. The Jews being Semitic and the Romans being under the influence of the Greek pagan culture going back to Alexander the Great.
In the province of Decapolis was a town called Gadara, which is near where this story took place.
Jesus is leaving the Jews and for the first time going to the Gentiles; leaving behind what He was familiar with. So He was probably expecting some resistance and that people would not have much common ground as far as faith is concerned.
He is a missionary not only to those He relates to; He goes to the uncomfortable.
And it seems to me that the forces of evil don’t really want Him to come, and they know He is coming. They are prepared.
Why do I think that?
What happens just before this?
The storm on the sea. And now we remember that just before the calming of the sea, Luke reports that Jesus said, Lets go over to the other side.
This is not just a way of saying we are crossing the lake, the Jews regarded this as “the other side of the tracks”, a place where a holy man might not want to go to. Those people on the other side, they just don’t measure up to us. They aren’t Orthodox.
So I am thinking, you notice how the demons immediately recognize Jesus, they know who He is, they announce it in a loud voice every time.
So, maybe this is why there was this storm on the lake, the forces of evil knew He was coming and put up resistance.
And then when they land, boom, a crazy person with a legion of demons. Again, this relates to the area where they were, a Roman province with lots of pagan troops, opposed to the people of God. The demons were afraid of what Jesus was up to “on the other side.”
It is also interesting that at that time the abyss was a deep, dark pit where the demons could be imprisoned and it was thought to be watery. So they drown the pigs in the water. This too shows that these were not Jews, not people of the Covenant for the Law of Moses forbids the raising of swine.
A Roman Legion was about 5000 troops. That is a lot of demons. This also could indicate that the demons were very comfortable around the soldiers, but they were very uncomfortable around Jesus, they are in moral fear.
Jesus heads directly into the darkness of the pagan world to preach His message of love and healing. This man is completely overtaken by the forces of darkness, he is a prisoner in his own body.
Jesus easily sets him free, heals him, restores him to a sane mind.
Were the people happy about this?
Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gadarenes asked Jesus to depart from them; for they were seized with great fear; so He got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with Jesus; but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare all that God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city all that Jesus had done for him.
The locals were not at all excited about Jesus being there, they ask Him to leave and He returns back across the lake.
Was His mission a failure?
No. He now has a missionary to leave behind.
The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with Jesus; but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare all that God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city all that Jesus had done for him.
With human perspective, perhaps it looked like a failure. But men see with different eyes than God.
Wherever Jesus goes, change follows, healing follows, demons flee, the kingdom of darkness is defeated.
We see later in the Gospels, when Jesus again goes into the region that large crowds followed Him around. So maybe the healed man was effective in spreading his news.
So what are we to make of this story?
- Jesus had a love for all mankind, not just for His own people.
- Jesus was not afraid to confront evil, He did not shy away but confronted it head on with great power.
- Jesus has all power. He is God, the Creator. As He says to the man He healed, declare all that God has done for you.
- We have been saved from many terrible things by the elimination of paganism and idol worship, we have grace from God because over 2000 years ago He came and broke the power of diabolos. So much so that people in our culture question whether this can really happen to people.
- The Kingdom of Heaven is advancing and will overcome death and all evil. We follow the great Healer, the One who restores, who makes new. Our Jesus is a Champion and has already defeated the devil with His Great Work on the Cross. There is no problem He cannot handle. There is no situation that is beyond His power. He can be trusted. He is the Master. The God of the Universe. He will create a new heaven and a new earth and we will see the final defeat of all those who oppose Him. His power in here, now today; in His Church, His Body. It is available to all who wish to follow Him and believe in Him.
Come to Him with all your problems, He will see you through.
This Sunday we continue with the theme of last Sunday, you reap what you sow.
Last Sunday we learned about the parable of the Sower, the parable of the soils, the parable of the hearts.
In the epistle today St. Paul says: Brethren, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.
And there it is.
This Sunday St. Paul references the Sower in the epistle reading and the same principle comes through in the Gospel of St. Luke.
But Abraham said, `Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Laz’arus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.
The rich man sowed things that focused on being rich and comfortable in this life, and that was his reward, that is what he had, but he lost his eternal reward, suffering in anguish in the next life.
Lazarus, not the brother of Mary and Martha, a fictional Lazarus, had no comfort in this life, poor, sickly, lonely and was comforted in the next life.
Reaping and sowing is obviously not just about worldly crops and flowers, but eternal things, the things that matter for eternity.
This life is directed linked to the next life. What we do here resounds for eternity.
Nothing is in secret, nothing is hidden, all will be exposed.
You will get what you want, what you truly pursue, ultimately. What you spend your time mining, you will find.
Most Americans when they are in high school, as they are getting ready to go to college, take standardized tests, one of them is called the SAT.
Some hire tutors to help them get a higher score, there is even a pre-SAT to get you ready.
How well a student does on this test is a major factor in what college you can get into.
This life on earth is kinda like that. What we do in this life has a huge bearing on our life in the Kingdom.
A big difference between the SAT and this life is that with the SAT you can take it more than once, but we only have one lifetime.
The main point of the parable is: But Abraham said, `Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Laz’arus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.
This is an illustration of what Jesus meant when He said, the last shall be first and the first last.
So the question becomes where do you want your reward?
Mat 16:25 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.
So we can think of life in this world as an investment. What are we investing in? What are we banking on?
So now we know what the main point of the parable, lets look at a few other things.
- That life is similar to this life, but also very different.
How similar? They are in a place, they can see each other. They can talk to each other. They recognize each other. They have great awareness of their situation. One is in the bosom of Abraham, an image of God, paradise. The other is in anguish, in Hades, in the same basic location. They are aware of those on earth, still in this life. They are concerned about them. They remember their life on earth. They have bodies, they are not ghosts.
How different? Their destiny is fixed. …between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’
You can’t make up for this life in the next one. Mistakes in this life cannot be corrected then. The dead can’t talk to the living, to warn them. We have the Scriptures, we have the Church to warn us.
So what are we to do?
- live a life of repentance, humility, merciful, forgiving. Following God’s commandments, His priorities.
- Count on the Divine Services, the Sacraments, the hymns and prayers of the Church.
- Re-arrange priorities to put God first.
- As members of the Body of Christ, baptized into His resurrection, we have eternal life, death is destroyed, but our reward has yet to be determined. In this life we pray as if everything depended upon God and we work as if everything depended upon us. To please Christ, to receive the reward of good stewards, the reward of sons and daughters.
So let us be reminded of our death, of the day of judgement. Let us not lose zeal for Jesus Christ. It is He that we live for. It is He that has given us all things for life and godliness.
The reading of the second epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians (6:16-7:1)
Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, and make holiness perfect in the fear of God.
The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke (8:5-15)
At that time Jesus told this parable. “A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell along the path, and was trodden under foot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns grew with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew, and yielded a hundredfold.”
As he said this, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God; but for others they are in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.
Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy; but these have no root, they believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away.
And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. And as for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bring forth fruit with patience.
Four kinds of soil, four different outcomes to the Word of God. Logos.
- path-devil takes it away (birds)
- rock-receive it with joy, but no root, temptation comes and they fall away (moisture)
- thorns-they hear but are choked by cares of life, fruit does not mature
- good soil-yield a hundredfold-a good and honest heart, fruit with patience
The four kinds of soil are four kinds of hearts.
There are three that go wrong, one that goes right.
It is easy to go off into the wilderness and lose the way.
- Some do not accept the Word of God, at all. This is a well worn path, which is why it is hard and no growth occurs.
- Some fall to temptations because of weakness or distractions and deny the Word. John 6:60- This is a hard word, who can listen to it? He preaches in and out of season.
- Some hear the word and start out ok, but the cares of this world derail them and they don’t become mature, they fall away. They could not lay aside all earthly cares, in other words, they could not trust God. Wealth is not the problem, love of wealth is the problem, worry, lack of faith. Judas might fit in this category. He was a thief and jealous over money and power.
- Some hear the Word and KEEP IT. And as for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bring forth fruit with patience.
Only the last group actually bring forth fruit. The other three groups are lost and bear no fruit. The evidence of a Christian is the fruit of repentance.
How does the fruitful group produce fruit?
- They hold fast to the Word with an honest and good heart.
- They bring forth fruit with patience.
Notice as you look at the text in your Bible, that there is an increasing level of attachment as the groups are described.
The first group, not attachment at all.
The second group at least has some joy at the beginning, but loses it.
The third group gets a little farther, they gradually allow the world to take them away, slowly over time, they begin to miss a few Sunday’s, then some more. Then it gets easy to just stay home. Then it gets harder to come back, they then stop thinking about coming at all.
The fourth group seizes upon the Word, they develop a good heart that is honest, they confess their need and get healed and produce fruit. They do the work that is required.
Where do you fit in this parable? What is it saying to us today? Why did the Lord tell this parable? Remember He told this to a large crowd, v. 4.
It may be that in this room are all four kinds of hearts.
- The first kind of heart may be hard because of a very difficult childhood, abuse and/or neglect. Or maybe things as adult have not gone well and the heart becomes hardened, the Word of God does not penetrate.
- Some can be raised in a good home but not really committed to a faith tradition, the pleasures of life seem much more attractive and they go astray.
- Some have a heart that starts to go down the path of faith in Christ, but something goes wrong and the faith never matures, they walk away from church for some reason, a bad leader, scandal, religious abuse, or other reason.
- The fourth kind of heart will let nothing deter it, they just keep hanging in there, they keep following, keep going, keep growing and produce fruit.
Secondly I am going to say that there may be periods of time when we have experienced all four. People can go through seasons of life. Maybe raising a bunch of kids with wild working hours and little money causes people to drop away.
Maybe at some point there was a sin that someone is too ashamed of or does not believe it can be forgiven, so they carry it and the weight of it is devastating.
Thirdly, I am going to say, no one is stuck with one kind of heart for all time. In this parable it seems like a heart has one shot at it. But God is in the change business. Jesus is the raiser of the dead, the resurrector of lives.
Fourth, He spreads His Word, even where it may not bear fruit, there is no excuse. He is always speaking, He is the Word, He spoke all of creation into existence. He can speak change into your life.
Ask Him to. We have a God of second chances, who makes a way through the storm. NO issues is too big, no history is too powerful to be overcome. No sin can bind you if you ask Him to forgive.
Healing is here.
A hard heart can be softened, prayers is a cultivator of hard hearts, reading the Scripture loosens hearts. You are not locked in forever, unless you want to be.
Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, and make holiness perfect in the fear of God.
Take courage, Take hope, don’t think the Lord is far away, He is here, now, He is still speaking, still the Sower, What kind of heart do you have? What kind of heart do you want to have?
The Sower is the Changer of Hearts, come to Him today.
The reading of the second epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians (6:1-10)
Brethren, working together with Him, then, we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain. For He says, “At the acceptable time I have listened to you, and helped you on the day of salvation.” Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
Today is the Day. Not a day to come, not tomorrow, not when things get better. Today.
One key to the spiritual life is not being distracted by past and future. There are certainly many thoughts to tear us away from God and His kingdom.
One of the ways we get easily distracted is by thinking about our life it terms of what I wish it was. How much time have you spent thinking about what you would do if you win the lottery?
How much time do you spend thinking: If only this was not happening. Or If only this would happen,
The temptation to think that if I could change a few things, life would be better, I would be happier. I would pray more.
But when we talk about things this way, gratitude goes out the door. That means that today is not the day of salvation, so it must be tomorrow, and we forget about God, forget to repent.
We have stopped living a life of repentance and started second guessing God.
Despite all the advances in technology, medicine, industry we still haven’t learned how to focus on the one thing needful.
The 20th century was the bloodiest century in the history of the world. We are not making progress in understanding the human and the human soul.
We can fix your leaking valve in your heart, but not the soul.
The eternal questions are still being asked and many want change here too. Get rid of traditional answers, get rid of patriarchy. Just be yourself is the motto. But people don’t know who they are. Culture is without a moral compass.
For Orthodox Christians I want to suggest we do something else.
Lets work on stability. Lets focus on the day of salvation.
Did you ever notice that God is not in a hurry?
Do we not believe that God is patient?
Spiritually, hurry is not good. Seeking change constantly makes us think that prayer is boring, we are not entertained.
Lets face it. What we do here every Sunday takes some effort. It is work.
Work that produces a good result, if our hearts are in it.
Do you worry that you are easily distracted in church?
We can learn from our Lord.
Today is the day of salvation has meaning for us.
Focus on what is at hand, do what is in front of you to do. Do it as unto the Lord.
Every morning, start anew. Begin again. Today is a new day, every day.
We always have a chance to overcome, to re-focus, to re-commit our lives to Christ our God.
Let us remember that we serve a God of love, a God who controls all things, who is all powerful.
A God like that should be easy to trust, to have confidence in, to have less worry and anxiety.
I can learn to be content. I can learn to trust God. I can live as if today is the day of salvation.
St. Innocent is a great saint of Russia who lived many years in America, he labored for 45 years in different mission fields, including Alaska.
He gave the Yakut people their first alphabet, he created an alphabet for the Aleut people in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska and translated many works and services into their own language, for the first time a written language.
In creating the alphabet for them he invented accent marks to properly convey the sound of the language, they speak with gutterals and clicks. St. Innocent created these books in their language and sent the manuscripts to St. Petersburg in Russia to be printed.
It was more than 10 years before they appeared in Alaska from Russia.
Imagine the anticipation and the joy of opening the shipping container, unwrapping the books, opening the first one to read it.
All the accent marks were wrong, the publisher didn’t do what St Innocent had instructed.
None of the books could be used.
After all that work, all that waiting, all that anticipation.
Did he give up?
No, he decided to travel himself to supervise the publication in St. Petersburg.
When he got to St. Petersburg he learned that during his journey, his wife had died.
Many people when things go wrong think God does not love them, or that they are not doing God’s will, or else why is it so hard?
St. Innocent mourned and moved on, becoming a monk and then was made Metropolitan of Moscow, head of the Russian church.
Today is the day of salvation, if you walk calmly with your God. If you trust Him, if you remind yourself that all things work together for good to those who are called according to His purposes.
September 29, 2019
Brethren, it is the God Who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” Who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us.
The light of the knowledge of God, in earthen vessels. The treasure in the earthen vessels is the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
The amazing condescension of God that He lends this glory to us, earthen vessels.
This earthen vessel language comes, of course, from the creation account of Genesis 2:7 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
First God made the earth, all of creation; then He took some of that creation, some of the earth, dirt, dust; formed it into shape and breathed His own breath into it and it became a human being.
And so we are indeed earthen vessels.
In fact, the name Adam comes from the word for ground Adamah. We have a very humble origin, dirt, dust, earth. But God animated us with His own breath. He didn’t just gently blow into the form of the dirt to animate man, the word means to blow vigorously, He enthusiastically brought man to live. It is the image of the blacksmith using bellows to stoke his fire.
The breath of God makes man unique in all creation. All other animate creatures were just spoken into existence. The creation of man was extraordinary, special, separating man from the rest of creation.
After mankind fell in sin and death, the creator came and took on this dirt, this earth that He Himself had made in order to save it.
He Himself breathed one more time upon mankind, vigorously, this time it sounded like a rushing wind, when the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost. This filling again elevated mankind above creation, setting us apart as a royal priesthood, a holy nation.
Mankind, through the Apostles, received the glory of the knowledge of God in the face of Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration, they beheld His glory, the Glory of the only-begotten Son. And we share in this through them in our own baptism and the seal of the Holy Spirit at Chrismation.
Earthen vessels, receiving Glory. Earthen vessels, sharing the Divine Nature, Earthen Vessels, eating the God who created us.
These earthen vessels will one day be enthroned with Christ in Glory, with a new, resurrected body.
So what do we do now?
- Remember that you are dust. Humility is the first and greatest Christian virtue. When you sin, when you fail, when you disappoint yourself, remember that you are dust.
When someone else lets you down, remember, they are an earthen vessel, like you. You are not better than they are.
We have to remember, if I step on your toes, forgive me. Why? Because someday you may step on my toes, and I will forgive you.
This is how a parish keeps it together, we forgive each other, dust forgives dust. Or, Or, Christ will walk out the door. And then we are no better than dust.
- Be thankful. Try to grasp what God has done for you. Try to be in awe of what He has done to save us; though we are dust. He loves the dust He created. He used dust once time to heal the man born blind. He brought the four days dead dust of Lazarus back to life.
- Remember, you are so much more than dust. Not because of you, not because of who you are, not because of what you have done. Only because of Jesus Christ, who lives in you and He is the lifter up of dust.
He is the one who fills us with power to be united with Him, to have intimate communion with Him.
He is the one who saves us from death and forgives our sins.
- Realize, even earthen vessels can hold treasures. In 1946 a shepherd boy entered a cave in the Qumran desert on the North Shore of the Dead Sea. In the cave were some old clay pots. Some were broken, many were broken, some were not.
Being a boy, he started throwing stones at them to break them. This is how the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. Some of the most treasured manuscripts of Holy Scripture to ever be discovered. The oldest copy of the scroll of the Prophet Isaiah was found in one of those caves, perfectly preserved by the dry, hot air.
Clay pots can hold treasures.
- We try to remember, everyone is carrying a burden, be kind.
- We try to remember, all human beings are created in the image of God, all have infinite value.
- We try to remember, the earthen vessel in front of you, or beside you; is carrying not just a burden, but a treasure.
Each of us is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Made of earth that lives and breathes, but a temple none the less.
God glorifies earthen vessels who partake of His glory through Christ. The earthen vessels become relics.
- We try to remember, a cracked pot can be mended. The creator has just what is need to mend those cracks, chips, leaks in the earthen vessels.
We don’t cast aside cracked vessels, we don’t treat them as worthless (worth less). We try to not take much note of the cracks and let God heal them. We don’t point out the cracks, we look first at our own cracks and focus on them. The leaking vessel needs to focus on his own cracks first. I am first of sinners.
- We remember the end of the story.
Rev 21 And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.
And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.
And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.
He that overcomes shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.
Glory to Jesus Christ!
The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke (5:1-11)
At that time, Jesus was standing by the lake of Gennesaret. And He saw two boats by the lake; but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, Jesus asked him to put out a little from the land. And He sat down and taught the people from the boat.
And when Jesus had finished speaking, He said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at Thy word I will let down the nets.”
And when they had done this, they enclosed a great shoal of fish; and as their nets were breaking, they beckoned to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”
For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the catch of fish, which they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men.”
And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him.
Fishing in the days of Jesus was a manly vocation, requiring great strong hands, backs and arms. Pulling in heavy nets, working long hours fishing and then long hours mending nets, fixing boats. An exhausting way to live.
And there were days and nights when all that work resulted in no fish. Long hours of work for nothing.
Such is the case when we read this story today. The men had gotten out of their boats and were washing their nets when Jesus came to the lake and decides this is a teaching moment.
And to show that He is a man among men He decides to teach from the boat. So He gets into Simon’s boat and has them push Him out a little from land and He teaches from the boat as the audience is on the bank of the lake. Quit a beautiful, pastoral scene.
Jesus finishes His talk, and as if to accentuate a point, He tells Simon to push out a little more and let down the nets for some fish. He says to Peter, put out into the deep and put down your nets.
Jesus wants to go fishing with them.
But Peter is bushed. He replies: Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing. He is ready to quit and go home right after the sermon.
But He is obedient, there is something in the way Jesus talks to him that makes him do what Jesus says. At thy word I will let down the nets. In other words, because it is you we will do it, at thy word.
So he pushes out into the deep part, away from shore and catches a monster load of fish.
This is a life changing day for these men. The amount of fish is incredible. The teaching of Jesus is amazing.
Peter is afraid. He feels the guilt of his sinfulness. What does it say?: he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”
He is convicted of sin, he doesn’t know what to do.
But Jesus is comforting. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men.”
Not only does Jesus overlook the confession of Peter of his unworthiness, but he gives him a new commission. Become a fisher of men and follow me.
So Peter, James and John and possibly more have just pulled in a huge load of fish, worth a lot of money, but they abandon it all and follow Jesus, becoming Apostles of Christ.
Jesus Christ changes lives. Has He changed yours? Do you know Him? Can you find comfort in Him?
At first glimpse this seems like a nice miracle story of Jesus, like so many others, but this one is about gathering disciples, not much to do with us who have a ready supply of food available to us.
But is there a lesson in here for us?
Do you find deep water scary? Or dark water? If I can see the bottom, or at least see down into the water, it is not as scary. I have been 28 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico in 100 feet of water and we could see sea turtles resting on the bottom. That is not scary to me, at least it wasn’t scary until the motor on the boat did not start, then it got scary.
I have been on rivers fishing in AK where you can’t see an inch into the water due to glacial silt. Not as nice. Cold, dark water is the worst.
We like the comfort of the shallow, warmer water near the shore. Let the kids play in the shallow parts near the shore, they will be ok.
We are the same in our spiritual lives. We tend to like to stay in the safe, shallow waters. Where things are more familiar, safer. We are still in sight of land, where we think safety is.
What would it mean for you to put out into the deep in your spiritual life? Your prayer life? In obedience to Jesus?
Oh, sure, it might be scarier. The unfamiliar is often scary, part of the reason why we fear death is the fact that it has never happened to us.
Are you content to stay in the shallows with God? Not shake it up too much? Not ask for much? Keep expectations low for yourself?
Is Jesus asking you to put out a little into the deep? To trust Him more? To move out of the comfort zone and push into Him a little more? To be quiet more? To practice the Jesus Prayer more? To give more? To be more mindful of the needs of others?
Where is the deep water you don’t want to go into in your life?
In general, the bigger fish are in the deeper water. It takes more effort, more risk, more time.
Are you content to be slack in the spiritual disciplines? Prayer, almsgiving, Scripture reading, fasting? Content to stay in the shallow water?
Maybe Christ is calling you into the deeps. Maybe He has higher expectations for you than you have.
Did Peter see himself as a fisher of men that morning before Jesus showed up? NO, he did not.
But spending time with Jesus gave him an entirely new perspective. He went into the deep following Christ.
The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew (21:33-42)
At that time Jesus said: “Hear another parable. There was a householder who planted a vineyard, and set a hedge around it, and dug a wine press in it, and built a tower, and let it out to tenants, and went into another country. When the season of fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants, to get his fruit; and the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another.
Again he sent other servants, more than the first; and they did the same to them. Afterward he sent his son to them, saying,
They will respect my son.' But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves,This is the heir; come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ And they took him and cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him.
When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”
Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: `The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?
We are celebrating the Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross, which started yesterday and last for 8 days. During those 8 days we have the Cross in the center of the church. There are always crosses in our church, crosses are everywhere we look around us, but twice a year the Cross is brought is solemn procession to the center of the church. Why?
By the mere planting of thy Cross, O Christ, the foundation of death did shake; for him whom Hades did swallow eagerly, it delivered up with trembling; for verily, thou didst reveal to us thy salvation, O holy One. Wherefore, do we glorify thee, O Son of God. Have mercy upon us.
+Second Kathisma, Orthros of the Feast, Tone 6
We are always in need of re-minding. We bring the Cross into the center of the church to remind ourselves that it is REAL. It is not a mere symbol, more than just an idea.
There is a perfect man, who is also perfect God, and He hung upon a cross, with real nails, who took away our sin, our real sin, and He rescued us from death. He ransomed us.
Hades thought he had taken care of the Messiah, the evil one had been trying for a very long time to get rid of the Messiah, and finally Messiah was in the belly of the beast, dead, conquered. But hades was soon in for a surprise. Because Jesus was real, real God, His cross was real, He broke out of hades, destroying death, He has really rescued us from death and hell.
This is why the Church celebrates the feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross.
What we do now would be shocking to 1st. century Jews. The Cross in the time of Christ was the worst form of torture. It was a symbol of fear, it was used to intimidate people into obedience of Rome. It was a shameful way to die.
To us it is the most glorious symbol of the Overcomer of sin and death.
As you know much of our culture has forgotten about God, or they treat Him as if He were irrelevant.
Many treat God as if He were on a long cruise, and we are not really sure when He will come back.
Or some see God as a slightly crazy uncle who lives upstairs who rarely is involved with our lives on the first floor.
The Gospel story today illustrates the attitude of many people-we don’t need God, God is a negative influence in our lives, we need to get rid of him; but it also reminds us, He is coming back.
Our culture needs to be reminded about the True Cross and what it really means for all mankind. They need to see people who really live what they believe.
We are the ones to remind them, or at least those people in our lives. How long has it been since you had a conversation with someone and invited them to church, or talked with them about Jesus, or the Cross you wear, what it means?
Today our celebration, our boldness, reminds us that we can be bold with people and ask people questions about what they believe. Who knows where it will lead?
So in the Cross we see Victory. We see our Champion who defeated our most imposing enemy. How do we share in His victory?
We follow the same pattern as our Savior. We take up our cross, deny ourselves and follow Jesus.
The children in our Sunday Christian Ed class will be learning this too.
By the Cross joy has come into all the world, we have the forgiveness of sins, we have been saved from death, we have eternal communion with Christ in His Kingdom. We enter into that Victory by believing, by following Jesus, learning to live in the shadow of the Cross.
As the Cross is lifted up, it urges all of creation to praise the immaculate Passion of the One Who was lifted up thereon. For by means of the Cross, He slew him that slew us; and He made the dead to live again, making them beautiful, granting them the Heavens as dwelling-place, because He is compassionate, in the unsurpassed and unspeakable excess of His goodness. With joy, then, let us all exalt His Name, while magnifying His infinite condescension toward our race.
Come, all ye nations, let us worship the blessed Tree, through which was wrought the everlasting righteousness. For he that by a tree beguiled our forefather Adam, is himself ensnared by the Cross;
and he that by tyranny gained dominion over the creation of the King, is by faith overthrown in utter ruin.
By the Blood of God, the serpent’s poison is washed away; and the curse of a just condemnation is loosed by the unjust judgment passed against the Just One.
For it was fitting that the wood should be healed by wood; and that the sufferings of him who was condemned because of the tree should be done away through the Passion of Him Who is passionless.
But, O Christ our King, glory to Thy dread dispensation toward us, whereby Thou hast saved us all, since Thou art good and the Lover of mankind.
Remember, in the Garden of Paradise there was a tree? Actually, there were a lot of trees. But there were two special trees. Remember? The Tree of the Knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life.
God instructed Adam and Eve about these two special trees, He instructed them that they were to fast from the fruit of these trees. They were not to eat from them. This is a type of fasting, in other words, these trees are ok to eat from, but not these trees. Not all food is the same, distinctions are made, based upon the Word of the Lord and the purpose of the tree.
They ate from one of the trees anyway. And with that breaking of the God-imposed fast, mankind and all creation suffered from their disobedience.
The fall of mankind involves a tree, so does man’s salvation.
When Jesus Christ died on the tree, He enabled all His followers to eat of the second tree that was restricted in the Garden of Paradise but which we now can access, the Tree of Life.
This is the tree which appears in Revelations. the tree of life, bearing its fruit all year round.
We adore the Cross, the tree of our salvation, because it sums up our lives in Christ.
Today is a reminder of what the Life in Christ is. Christ and Him Crucified. We follow Him when we take up our own cross and live in obedience, with faith, hope and love.
St Paul said, it is no longer I who live, but Jesus Christ lives in me.
This is our life, this is our goal, this is our hope.
Glory to Jesus Christ!
Today we are confronted with a harsh reality.
There is a battle going on.
The evil one has his forces deployed in the world, the anti-church.
The Lord has His forces deployed in the world, the True Church.
The anti-church has demons and those who serve them, whether consciously or unconsciously.
The Church has Saints, and saints in training.
The Apostles in today’s Gospel reading are saints in training. They have not got it right yet.
The father of the epileptic brings his suffering son to the disciples and they could not heal him.
They have not had enough time with Jesus, yet.
Jesus is a little exasperated, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring his here to me.!”
Immediately, Jesus rebukes the demon and the boy is cured.
Later, in private, the disciples ask Jesus, “What is up? Why can’t we do that?”
Jesus tells them 2 things.
- You have no faith
- You lack prayer and fasting
Then He announces His coming crucifixion.
One of the things I do in services is read the lives of the saints. Every Saturday at Vespers and at the weekday services, I read the lives of the saints in place of a sermon.
Their lives are a sermon.
Reading the lives of the saints is a life changing exercise.
If you like who you are and have no desire to become like Christ I would recommend that you not start reading them.
But, if you understand that the goal of the Christian life is to become like Christ; and you realize the truth of things, you are not like Christ; I highly recommend this practice, reading the lives of the saints, daily.
Reading about those who have finished the race gives strength and encouragement to those of us who are only part way to the finish line. They are like a cool drink on a blistering hot day.
They show us another kind of love, a higher kind of faith, a stronger kind of dedication.
We need their example.
We have icons on the walls. As role models, as examples. To many they are just pictures, decorations.
Some look at the saints and are intimidated and get discouraged, I could never be like that.
Well, lets say that as a young person you longed to be an Olympic gymnast. Your goal was to win the Gold Medal in gymnastics.
You are still young, practicing, learning, far from the Olympic team.
You walk into the gym for practice and on the walls of the gym are giant posters of past great in gymnastics, Olga Comenich, Mary Lou Retton.
You are inspired in your practice, when you get blisters, you look at the poster and remind your self, Mary Lou got blisters too, and she stuck with it. Olga fell off the beam many times and had many injuries, but she was perfect in the Olympics. I will keep going. I cannot quit. Blisters heal, injuries heal, practice makes perfect.
You pick up your courage, you know their stories. You have seen the video highlights, heard the swelling music, watched the gold medal go around their necks. That is what I want. And you keep going.
This is what the lives of the saints can do for Christians.
We realize, I am like those disciples, I want to be like Christ, I will keep going. What do I need? Prayer and fasting? OK, lets do it.
And you keep going, keep following after Christ.
And Jesus gives some encouraging words here today too. He gives us hope.
In response to the disciples’ question about why they were unable to cast out the demon, Christ told them that it was because they lacked faith. If they had faith even the size of a tiny mustard seed, they could move mountains.
They apparently lacked even that in the face of a demon that “never comes out except by prayer and fasting.”
We should learn from the weakness of the disciples’ faith that speaking religious words is not enough.
Pretending to have spiritual authority without truly uniting ourselves to Christ will simply reveal our weakness and lack of integrity.
Faith is not simply a matter of affirming beliefs or having feelings.
Faith requires offering ourselves to the Lord such that His life becomes ours, such that our character confirms to His.
Remember how Saint Paul put it, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20)
With such faith, there are no limits to the health of our souls other than those which we impose by our own refusal to share more fully in the life of Christ.
We must confront our own spiritual weakness as we unite ourselves in faith to the Lord.
To be in Christ means that His life truly becomes ours – Saint Paul could encourage the Corinthians to imitate him because he had truly united himself to Christ in faith and faithfulness. The disciples were impotent in the face of evil because they had not yet done so.
Let us follow Saint Paul’s example of humble obedience to the way of Christ, for it is the only way to live the Christian life with integrity.
There are some new icons on our walls, have you noticed? They are so inspiring, if you know their story.
One of the new ones is St. Marina. In the West she is called St. Margaret. Fourth century. Lived in what we now call Turkey. She is shown holding a mallet in one hand and a demon in the other because while being tortured for Christ in a Roman prison a demon appeared to torment her and she grabbed him and beat him I am so inspired by this image. What a woman.
I see this icon and two things happen.
- I have so far to go.
- It can be done.
The encouraging words of Jesus are: If you only have faith the size of a mustard seed you can move mountains.
This means, a little faith can be a seed that properly planted and cared for can become a giant faith. The disciples had that faith, we see them a few years later doing marvelous miracles.
We can only lose if we give up. Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up your faith.
The 5 Loaves and Communion-Aug. 11
The universe is God’s giant cathedral.
We are all priests in His cathedral.
-duty, our joy, as His priests is to receive what He has given us, give thanks for it, and return it back to Him as an offering of thanksgiving.
This is the pattern of the ages.
In the Garden of Paradise, God provided all that was necessary.
Adam and Eve had no needs, no want, no necessity, no problems.
They received what God gave them and were thankful, offering it back to God with thanksgiving.
The same pattern still is here today, and at the end, the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.
We see it in the Liturgy.
We see it in the miracle today in the reading.
Man has a need. God provides, man receives, gives thanks, offers it to back to God.
This is what Jesus shows us too, in the reading today:
Notice the difference between the men and God.
The men are passive. They don’t know what to do, they can’t fix it so they try to get rid of the problem. The apostles want to send them away, let them find their own food. They have to solution to the hunger of the people. This is human thinking, limited.
This is what passions do to us, make us passive, reactive, victims even.
Jesus takes action. Jesus tells them to take action-You feed them.
The men are limited, they don’t know the power of God.
They see only 5 loaves and 2 fish.
Men cannot feed a crowd with this.
But God can. Where God wills the natural order is overturned.
God is the creator of all things, extending bread and fish is easy.
Men see limits, God sees possibilities.
Jesus shows us the liturgical pattern.
He takes what God has given, gives thanks, blesses it, breaks it and feeds a multitude with 5 loaves and 2 fishes.
And, there is abundance, not just enough. Plenty of leftovers.
So we take note: He has more than enough of what we need in our lives. With Him there is no want, my cup overflows. The people never ran out of manna in the O.T. the widows oil lasted, her flour did not run out.
N.B. – No Waste. The words of our Lord bid us also to beware of wastefulness: “Gather up the fragments, lest they be lost.”
It is wrong to allow the gifts of God to be wasted.
N.B. – We learn to thank God for our food and bless our food before breaking and eating it.
Today’s miracle is about communion.
This is what is happening in the divine liturgy each time. It all points to communion.
A family takes flour, made from wheat that God gave us. It is mixed with the water that God has given to us, then yeast is added, one of the basic elements of creation, fermentation takes place, the mix becomes bread.
The family brings the bread to the Church.
The priest takes that bread, receives it. Blesses it. Offers it back to God. He breaks the bread and we are fed with it. This is how a Christian lives, how he thinks, how he has joy.
staff of life
noun–bread, considered as the mainstay of the human diet.
I looked this up. What is the most consumed food in the world?
5. pasta (a lot like bread)
8. soft drinks
9. fish and seafood
10. pizza (also bread)
Now you might have a clue as to why Jesus said, John 6:51: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
John 6:35 And Jesus said unto them, “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.”
In the Garden of Paradise, Jesus gave them all they needed.
When wandering in the wilderness, Jesus gave them manna to eat. I am the living bread which came down from heaven
Jesus provided for Elias when he was hungry. He provides for us too.
So, when we ask for our daily bread, what are we asking for, flour, water, and yeast? Or the Bread of Life? Give us this day our daily bread. Maybe there is one obvious meaning and one more hidden. Maybe it is about much more than physical bread.
When the beatitudes say blessed are the poor in spirit. What does that mean?
I think the intent there is really to say, Blessed are those who know they need God, know their dependence upon God.
Here is an interesting question about this miracle, why does Jesus need to ask for a blessing, since He is God. Why does Jesus look to heaven when He is God?
Even Jesus was under authority. He went alone to pray, wanted to do the will of another, His Father. He looks up to heaven as if looking up to His Father.
He asks His Father to bless the bread and multiply. He is like us, He is in a relationship with His Father and the Holy Spirit. They are a holy community. They communicate. They have a holy dependence on each other. They share communion with each other.
Food is part of the story of salvation from Paradise until the Restored Paradise.
Even in Paradise we eat at the Wedding Supper of the Lamb. The Lord said in John 6, if you do not eat the body and blood of Jesus, you have no life in you.
Food, bread, communion.
Taking the common things of life and with thanksgiving transforming them and they become holy, life giving; and it is enough with plenty left over.
This is Eucharistic, Liturgical imagery. This is our way of thinking.
So a few concluding notes:
We all face situations in life like this. We can’t see a way out, we have a need, we worry about health, finances, family. Sometimes there is no human solution to situations in life, sometimes we need divine intervention. Sometimes the natural order needs to be overturned by God. Sometimes the effects of sin can be overwhelming, we need a Savior who is mighty. And we have one in the Son of God, Jesus Christ.
- You now know where to find real, spiritual food. As important as bread is to our natural life, the Bread of Heaven is essential for our life in the Kingdom. We are fed in His Church, His Body; and we eat His body and drink His blood unto forgiveness of sins and for eternal life.
- You now know a basic approach to your whole life. Take what God has given, give thanks for it and use it for His glory. All of life can be liturgical. Give thanks in everything.
- You now know His purpose. Jesus wants to bring us into His circle of friends, to eat around His table, to share His life, to be His companion, His brother. He brought, gathered in the whole 5,000! We can trust Jesus to provide all we need, there is no need He cannot easily fill. We worry needlessly.
Let us remember that His ways are higher than our human ways, His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. Let us learn to trust, to be thankful, to find true communion with Him, the Creator of all things.
The Scriptures Bring Life-Aug. 4
Sometimes life can be discouraging, even depressing. Sometimes hope seems far off and prospects appear dim. Courage has gone from being a close friend to a distant relative.
We need encouragement, we need an injection of hope.
Where do we go? How do we find it.
We find the answer in the todays readings.
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures, we might have hope.
In the Gospel reading we hear the story of two blind men who sought Jesus for healing; like many others.
These two blind men followed the Lord and tried to approach Him, because they had heard that the Lord performed healings.
They believed that God’s power, if it touched them, could grant them their vision. We know what vision means for someone. We all fear losing our sight.
When someone loses his vision, he loses his spatial orientation and cannot see the world’s beauty, which the Lord created. Life becomes more trying.
This is a terrible loss for human life. Yet these people followed Christ.
So the question arises: how could these blind men have followed the Lord and Savior if they could not see anything? How could someone who did not see anything follow Him? But they did. Maybe they had help.
Christ would withdraw and go from home to home, but they followed Him until, finally, He did not stop to preach and they were able to approach Him.
These people, being blind, turned themselves into hearing, so to speak. And their hearing was directed only towards hearing where the Lord was. In the large city of Capernaum there were many different sounds, words, and songs.
All this reached the ears of the blind men, but they did not pay attention to it. Their hearing was directed towards one thing only: where the Lord was.
Sometimes stumbling, falling, losing their way, they followed the Savior’s voice in order to receive healing. And they did receive this gift because they had great faith, they labored, and their entire lives were directed towards following Christ.
Apart from Christ, they had no hope. When the blind men approached the Lord, He asked: “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” Their reply was perfectly natural for them: “Of course we believe, Lord!”
This seems obvious, but the question teaches us about relationship.
Today these two blind men teach us, we have an opportunity to grow to a fuller understanding of our own healing and salvation.
Responding to their plea for mercy, the God of mercy, Jesus Christ, receives the two blind men into His presence and He heals them. And, like the healing of the paralytic last week, we’re taught a lesson in faith and healing that is also helpful to our own need for Christ’s healing touch.
Sometimes we think that it is God who is withholding growth or healing from us.
But what we learn over and over again through the Scriptures and the lives of the Saints is that we have to be ready and willing to accept God’s healing, to get ourselves into Christ’s near presence, to have the faith to present ourselves to Him for the healing we need. We have to go to Him.
To paraphrase St. John Chrysostom, Christ doesn’t run after those in need of healing everywhere, lest anyone think He’s healing out of vainglory.
No, there’s more at work here: we have a role to play in our own healing. There is a relationship.
In fact, in most of the healings we see in the Gospels, those in need of healing personally seek out that healing from Christ.
In other words, they desire that healing, they desire for Christ to touch them and heal them, they desire cleansing from their sins.
They desire His visitation enough to seek Christ out, to entrust themselves to Him, to acknowledge their need for Him.
They desire healing enough to step forward in faith, recognizing that God alone is worthy of their trust, that He alone is the Great Physician of our souls and bodies.
The two blind men seek out Jesus; they follow Him, crying out to Him, “Son of David, have mercy on us!”
These two men know the Source of mercy; they know that God alone can give such a mercy, such a miraculous healing.
To test their faith further, Jesus asks them even after such a demonstration of faith, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” And they say to Him, “Yes, Lord.” But note what Christ says in response, “According to your faith, let it be to you.”
Do you see the involvement of their souls here, the relationship which Christ God develops between them and Him?
Their will, was to be healed of their physical infirmity, their blindness, but it demanded the ‘eyes’ of faith and the strength of soul.
Even still, Jesus doesn’t heal everyone today; not everyone receives physical healing. It remains a mystery. To some, like St. Paul, who petitioned God to remove the “thorn in his flesh,” God’s response was, “My grace is sufficient for you for My power is made perfect in weakness” (II Cor. 12).
In other words, there was something about that ‘thorn’ that St. Paul ‘needed’ if he was to trust in God for his strength, to be humble before Him, to serve God to the amazing extent he did, converting whole nations to the truth of God and His salvation.
Our physical healing involves our will, our souls and our spiritual healing of our souls involves our bodies, our participation, our presentation of ourselves before God, our getting to the divine services, to Confession, to properly prepare for the Eucharist that it can work in our souls for our deification, healing, salvation.
Each of us has to decide to take up and read the Holy Scriptures, how do we seek Christ? We read the Scriptures, we come to the divine services, even more than once a week.
We seek Him. “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures, we might have hope.”
The encouragement of the scriptures, by reading the scriptures, we are seeking Christ. By coming on Tuesday for the Feast of The Transfiguration, we are seeking Christ, seeking to know Him, to commune with Him, to learn from Him, and why? So that we would be transformed BY HIM!
How much of your life is involved in actively seeking to know Jesus Christ? By taking the time, making the effort, not just on Sunday, but everyday. Like the blind men looking for healing, they did not seek Christ just once in a while, but everyday.
But the good news is when we seek Him, Jesus will meet us where we are, He will find us at our jobs, in our loneliness, in our weakness, in our despondency. He made us, He died to save us from sin and death. He offers us new life, hope, Resurrection, heaven.
He has slain death that we might have life. He comes to us. He meets us. He never leaves us.
Do not fear, don’t let your weariness stop you. Keep asking, keep seeking, keep wanting Him and His abundant life.
You will not be disappointed if you keep seeking Jesus.
The text before us today in the epistle is a helpful and concise reminder of what our life should be like. How to be a servant of God, a slave of God.
What he is giving us are attitudes of the heart. Not a manual of how to. Not telling us what steps to take, not much about how to do it.
Some will complain, not very practical Paul, pretty theological. Pretty deep here.
But, when you see this as attitudes of the heart, things change.
He is talking again about the nous, the heart of the soul, the innermost person. The part of us that can commune with God.
Remember the quote last week from St. Macarios of Egypt?
The heart itself is only a small vessel, yet dragons are there, and lions, there are poisonous beasts, and all the treasures of evil, there are rough and uneven roads, there are precipices; but there too is God and the angels, life is there, and the Kingdom, there too is light, and there are the apostles and the heavenly cities, and the treasures of grace. All things lie within that little space.
St. Macarius of Egypt
Out of the heart the mouth speaks means, if your heart ain’t right you have nothing good to offer.
Its all about the heart. When the heart is right, storms won’t disturb your life.
Listen to Metropolitan Onufriy of Kiev and All Ukraine:
He was asked, what spiritual advice would you give to all Christians?
He said: To learn how to live in your soul wilderness. We can learn how to do it from the great saints.
Then he quotes Mat. 6:6-“But when you pray, enter into your closet (that is, your soul, into your heart) and pray to the Father which is in secret; and your Father which is in secret will reward you openly.”
He goes on: A person must turn his soul into a wilderness, where, if not constantly, then from time to time-the mind of the person must live, that is, to go there and pray there, think and repent of their sins.
In order to make our soul such a fertile wilderness, we must work and fight with ourselves, with our weakness, sins, and vices.
These attempts to fight will sometimes fail, but the attempts with God’s help will surely be crowned with success.
What does he mean by your soul becoming a wilderness?
It is not a negative thing. The fathers of our church see the wilderness as a refuge, a place of quiet, silence. Refreshment.
I reflect on this a lot.
Week before last Nancy and I had 5 days on Treasure Island beach. We did no chores. We did not think about bills, worries, children (well, not too much on the children).
That was a wilderness. Quiet. Spiritual reading. Conversation. Wilderness. Why wilderness? We were away from the world, while living right in the middle of it.
This is what the fathers mean by wilderness.
I reflected on my life as a boy. How much freedom I had. How much I was out in God’s creation. How much time I spent in the woods.
How peaceful my life was much of the time. I grew up aware of how few things I could control.
Many of the most important things in my life were not my choice. Things were determined by God.
Who my parents were. What my DNA was. My race. Where I was born. My family. My social status. My name. When and where I was baptized.
I had no control over these decisions.
Yet, I still think I have control.
This is a symptom of modern life, detached from God’s creation, living isolated lives of digital delusion.
But now that I am more aware of the choices I do have, St Paul wants to remind us how to live.
Spending time in the wilderness of Treasure Island was very strengthening, very refreshing. I feel more connected now. Less disintegrated.
I need to have a physical place of refreshment, for recreation, not entertainment. Big difference. Get out a dictionary this afternoon and study the difference between recreation, what the root words mean, recreation and entertainment. We don’t need entertainment, we need refreshment.
This is one reason why monasteries are soooo important. Spiritual Recreation.
So as I was reflecting on this I came to understand the need for a wilderness inside me. This is the nous. The spiritual heart, so to speak.
Prayer, contemplation, musing on Holy Scripture, these are developing a wilderness.
So maybe we should think of it as a reservoir rather than a wilderness.
What happens when your phone dies, the battery gets too low and the phone shuts off.
It has lost its reservoir of power.
Ever gone out in the Northern Winter at 30 below and you try to start your car and it just goes-bbbb.?
Batteries need to be charged. Our bodies need to be recharged, this is why we sleep.
How can we recharge our souls, our nous?
The wilderness is the battery charger. You don’t have to go to Alaska to find your souls wilderness.
Many people complain that prayer is hard, perhaps the number one complaint is that prayers go unanswered.
This is hard, prayer is hard. Prayers do go unanswered, from our perspective.
But maybe prayer is not about a list of requests.
Jesus in John 17 has a very famous prayer before He is crucified. All about unity.
It seems to have been answered for a short time, but not for long.
Prayer is about communion with God, changing our hearts, becoming more God-like. Not about getting what we want.
When we enter the wilderness of the heart, all things are there. God is there. He is what we really want.
Maybe you are tired. Maybe you get discouraged. Maybe it seems like no one is listening. Remember that the battle to keep going is building things in you, communion with God is hard, but it is worth it.
Here the Psalms help us.
In today’s Gospel the Lord addresses the paralytic: “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” One translation says, “be of good cheer.”
This is the word of the Lord for you today. Take heart. Be of good cheer. Your sins are forgiven, not enter the wilderness.
Today my friends, we are confronted with a story that seems like a fairy tale, from long ago and in a land far away.
Two people who’s hearts has been completely taken over by an alien force that threatens to destroy them, body and soul.
They have been so completely taken over that they have no control over themselves.
So much so that when the demons were permitted to enter the swine, immediately the swine drowned themselves.
From this let us notice, as an aside, how God was protecting the men, even as they were being tormented.
See how the demons wanted so much to destroy them that when they were permitted by God to enter the swine, death was instantaneous; but while the demons were in the men, God protected them from death; so that they could be saved by Jesus.
What we can learn from this little example to us of God’s love and care for us in affliction. Did God abandon the men in their possession by demons? No!
Did He say of them, They made their bed, let them lie in it?” No!
Did God say, “See what happens when you mess with demons?, you are without hope”! No!
But God had a way prepared for them to escape.
How good and loving is our God?
Yet how many of us have said those same things about people in our lives? How quickly we rejoice in the downfall of others, how easily we condemn and judge our family members and neighbors in their fallen-ness, as if we were truly holy!
We have got to learn to be lovers of mankind and stop condemning people if we want peace with God and we seek to have communion with Christ.
So today let us take a minute to speak about issues of the heart.
By “heart” I do not mean, of course, the organ pumping blood through your body right now. I speak rather of the nous, the core of our being. The heart of our souls. The thoughts, feelings and emotions of our being.- intended to be directed Godward.
For instance, what does Jesus say about seeing God?
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Jesus Christ (Matthew 5:8)
How important is the heart, the spiritual intellect?
for where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also. (Matthew 6:21)
How central is this nous to our lives?
Matthew 12:34 Ye offspring of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.
Is the heart part of our problem?
Matthew 15:8 This people honoreth me with their lips; But their heart is far from me.
Well, that can’t be good! The core of hypocrisy. Let us never be accused of being Christian in name only, which is the meaning of nominal.
So here we go.
Why are we here?
To have communion with Christ. Look at the icon and be reminded.!
2 Peter 1:4 Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
There it is!
That is why we are here: 1. To worship the Holy God in Trinity, because He is the only one worthy of worship. 2. To receive from Him eternal life by participating in His Body the Church and through His Body receiving His Body and Blood, the medicine of immortality.
What are we to do the rest of the time? Continue the journey to God by going inward into the Kingdom in prayer, fasting, confession of sins, almsgiving, etc.
So today I invite you to examine yourselves. Why are YOU here? What do you want to receive? What are you wiling to give? Let us contemplate on these important decisions, let us not forget the seriousness of our quest.
Let us consider what wonders lurk in the heart of the Christian and explore them.
Listen to the Great Saint Macarios of Egypt and think about our own hearts as I read.
The heart itself is only a small vessel, yet dragons are there, and lions, there are poisonous beasts, and all the treasures of evil, there are rough and uneven roads, there are precipices; but there too is God and the angels, life is there, and the Kingdom, there too is light, and there are the apostles and the heavenly cities, and the treasures of grace. All things lie within that little space.
St. Macarius of Egypt
The Kingdom of God is within you. Luke 17:21
Is it possible that we have been missing out on something fantastic?
Dragons, lions and poisonous beasts and all the treasures of evil, wow. In my heart?
What would it be like if these were visible to our eyes.?
Imagine if we could see the evil in people, in ourselves.
Do you have this image of driving down the highway and seeing poisonous beasts coming out the windows of cars of people with road rage?
So let’s think about this imagery for a minute.
1. Think of your heart as a flower garden. What is your garden producing? What are we growing? We have a choice of what to cultivate, we have a choice to ignore the garden. Like a garden with weeds and flowers, if we want flowers we can’t ignore the weeds, they must be rooted out or they will overtake the flowers.
2. Repentance and Confession is getting rid of the weeds with acts of kindness.
3. The positive side of gardening is also in this quote, here also resides God and the angels, light, the apostles, the heavenly cities, the treasures of grace. We can also cultivate that. You see it is not enough to get rid of weeds and pests in a garden, a good garden also needs tilling, watering, fertilizer. What we work on will grow by grace.
Just as weeds that aren’t pulled will multiply and take over a garden; flowers that are properly taken care of will flourish and be full of beauty, fragrance and wonders.
4. Realizing that this is true; what do you want to do about this presence in your heart? What do you need to do in order for your garden to produce beauty, peace, fragrance?
5. If gardening is hard work, what about the garden in your heart? How much work does that take? Has your garden gone fallow, is it full of weeds? Is it time to dig up the soil and add some fertilizer? This is called living a life of repentance. Working in the garden of your soul; fertilizing, weeding, watering, nurturing. It is a work of Love.
Love for God, Love for neighbor, Love for the image and likeness of God in yourself.
Let us learn better gardening of the soul, let us dedicate ourselves to do the work. Let us not be discouraged that the evil one has come and stomped on all our flowers.
In Alaska we had beautiful peonies. Huge, fragrant, stunning. But in Alaska they are called moose candy. In 15 minutes one moose can wipe out all your peonies, mouthful by mouthful.
But they grow back. Your heart can grow back too. Focus on being like the Great Gardener, study the quote in the bulletin from St. Poryphrios.
Watch your thoughts, purify your hearts through repentance and confession. Pray day and night. Practice kindness. Just be kind. Be prayerful. Be humble. Always ask God for help and your garden will be restored. Focus on Jesus Christ.
Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.
What is the first thing you think of when I mention the name King David?
Do you see his icon with a crown on his head?
Do you think of him as a boy killing Goliath?
Did you think of his sin with Bathsheba?
We find the story of David in 2 Samuel.
David is to become king, the youngest of his family, an insignificant family. The current kings, Saul, is jealous of David and hunts him, trying to kill him. David kills Goliath, making things worse with King Saul.
When David takes over there is civil war, because of Saul and his followers. Some want a descendant of Saul, some don’t.
David settles the war and brings the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem, the new capital of Israel; David brings peace to Jerusalem, God then makes a covenant with David.
God promises that a descendant of David will always rule Israel (2 Sam 7). This covenant is also the basis for the concept of a messiah, or anointed one, who provides security and stability for Israel.
Soon after this, David lusts after another man’s wife, Bathsheba and everything goes downhill. He commits adultery with her. He has her husband killed. Bathseba gets pregnant and the child dies. Later, David’s son Amnon sexually assaults his sister—demonstrating further that it is not just David’s nation that is in shambles, but also his family (2 Sam 13:1–20).
David’s other son, Absalom, kills Amnon in revenge and then revolts against David beginning another civil war. David weeps again.
Ultimately, Joab, commander of David’s army, his most trusted counselor, quells the revolt by putting Absalom to death (2 Sam 18). David is full of anguish, seeing the results of his sin, the death of a baby son, the death of his son Absalom who rebelled against him, the death of his son Amnon, and a new civil war.
This is the anointed one of Israel? The one called the apple of God’s eye, the man after God’s own heart? This is what a king is to be like?
What this does is it points out the need of the King of Kings, the sinless King, the Messiah, who would do what David failed to do. David is a weak man in many ways, he accomplishes much and fails much, large, visible, public failures, resulting in the death of others.
Not exactly a role model.
But in spite of David’s mistakes, Yahweh is still with him, honoring his covenant.
Second Samuel 22 even records a song in which David extols Yahweh, reflecting on the many times Yahweh rescued him (compare Ps. 18).
Second Samuel concludes with David’s last words, a list of his mighty-men, and census of Israel (2 Sam 23–24). But the census is a problem here—it shows David once again depending on himself instead of Yahweh; David himself recognizes the census as a great sin. He seeks forgiveness and is given a choice about his punishment; he chooses plague.
After all the times God has rescued him, David doesn’t learn the lesson and does not trust God.
Yet 2 Samuel ends on a positive note—Yahweh commands David to build an altar and offer a sacrifice. This sacrifice averts the plague (2 Sam 24:25) and it is on this note that the book ends.
You could easily look at the life of David, all the gifts he was given, all the grace he was given and then look at all the times he seriously messed up and think what a loser.!
In fact, if this was a story about a public figure today, that is exactly how he would be judged.
David goes from moments of great courage, like going out to fight Goliath, to moments of stupendous stupidity and weakness.
But how does the story end? How does the story of David end up? Was he killed in battle? No. Was he run out of office in shame? No. Was there a coup and he was sent into exile in shame? No. Was he left to die alone of disease? No. Was he run through with a rusty sword and left to die alone? No.
None of those Hollywood stories.
The last words of David are: 2Sa 23:2 The Spirit of the LORD has told me what to say. Our Mighty Rock, the God of Jacob, told me, “A ruler who obeys God and does right is like the sunrise on a cloudless day, or like rain that sparkles on the grass.” I have ruled this way, and God will never break his promise to me. God’s promise is complete and unchanging; he will always help me and give me what I hope for.
What is the basic pattern of David’s life?
Sin, followed by repentance.
Mistakes followed by a change of heart.
Great errors followed by a broken heart that cries out to God for help and mercy.
This is why David is an example to us. Not because of his failings, we all fail. We all come up short. But he continually turned to God, he was sorry for his sin, he asked God for forgiveness.
And God was faithful to him. God does not forget His promises.
A broken and contrite heart, God will not despise. Ps. 50
Why do you need to be reminded of this?
Because we are like David.
We have such great and precious promises from God. We have all the riches of God and we become the prodigal son, wasting what is freely given to us; taking it lightly, living in fear, worried, harassed and helpless.
What we are learning is that if we are like David and come humbly back to God asking for help and forgiveness, He is always there. He will always be there. He is quick to forgive, quick to run to us when we turn to Him.
When you’re down and troubled And you need a helping hand And nothing, whoa, nothing is going right Close your eyes and think of me And soon I will be there To brighten up even your darkest nights You just call out my name And you know wherever I am I’ll come running oh yeah baby To see you again Winter, spring, summer, or fall All you got to do is call And I’ll be there, yeah, yeah yeah You’ve got a friend
We all need a friend who can be trusted.
God is our friend in Christ.
We need to remember:
1. Jesus is Lord. Nothing is random or accidental or outside His care.
2. God is good. His intentions for me are only for my salvation.
3. God loves me, personally. Me. He loves. Me. Not just everyone, but also me.
4. Together it will be ok. He can be trusted.
Put your trust in the God of David, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Sinners saved by grace, and even though you are a sinner, you too will find salvation.
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.
This final line in today’s gospel reading is a very important verse for us to bring into our hearts. To memorize, to refer to, to help guide our lives.
It gives perspective to difficult times, it helps us orient ourselves.
Many times decisions we make have to do with what is most important.
I remember a time not long after we had gotten married.
I was working as a window cleaner, learning how to run the business.
The man I was working with offered me the opportunity to buy the business from him. I was being offered not just a business, but a career, a way to support my family.
It was very tempting.
But this offer came at a time when we had decided to go to seminary, we had decided that I was to become a pastor.
Was this the hand of God bringing me a business opportunity or was it a temptation to take a different path, perhaps an easier path.
Its not that the way of a window cleaner is beneath a Christian. It wasn’t that it would have been a bad life, but was it was God was calling me to? Calling us to? No. It was a distraction. A temptation to take us in the wrong direction.
The verse that came to us was this one. Could someone seek God and be a good Christian as a window cleaner? Yes. Could I, no.
Seek first the Kingdom to us meant, follow your calling, put God first, seek His Kingdom.
So what is it that we should seek first? The kingdom of God. And how should we seek it?
We seek it by making God, His commandments, and His ways, the focus of our whole life.
When we rise in the morning, the Lord should be the first thought and first objective. The psalmist writes “early will I seek Thee, My soul thirsts after thee, my flesh longs for thee in a dry and waterless land.”
You see, as we focus our gaze on Christ, we begin to seek Him more. As we seek Him more, we find ourselves thirsty and hungry for His presence in our lives. We find ourselves asking “how does this activity bring me closer to you O Lord?” “How can I better serve you and know you my God?”
When this is done there is less worry. Less stress. Trusting God brings less stress, less anxiety.
We trust God when we decide to not always be in in the drivers seat, to stop making decisions based upon what I want.
We also have less stress and worry when we start to follow Christ with our daily activities. What I mean is, the simple daily walk with Christ. Remembering that we walk through life with Christ by our side, and living as if He were beside us all the way.
A few years ago there was the WWJD fad. What would Jesus do? Its not a bad idea to think that way, if Jesus were here, how would I act?
1Jn 1:5 And this is the message which we have heard from him and announce unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in the darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanseth us from all sin.
Or St. John tells us, maybe we are too attached to the world and this is why we are stressed.
1Jn 2:15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the vainglory of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever.
This past week Nancy and I were up in Pensecola visiting some friends from Alaska.
On the way home we drove several hours in a steady downpour of rain and thunderstorms.
Some were driving with headlights off in this downpour, in near whiteout conditions, they were nearly invisible.
Some were driving with their hazards flashers on.
These drivers need to go back to the basics and learn the rules of the road. Some don’t like to slow down much in heavy rain, they threaten the safety of other drivers.
There are laws against these things but many do what they want.
Maybe they need to be reminded of the basics of safety.
In todays Gospel Jesus is reminding us of the basics. Calling us back to something forgotten in the hurry.
If you can solve your problem, why worry? If you can’t solve the problem, why worry. Trust it to God.
Jesus gives us a command: Do not worry.
Then He shows us how silly it is to worry, as if God doesn’t know our need. Do we trust God or not?
When we look at the Sermon on the Mount we notice that the Lord teaches a lot before He gets to this Do not worry stuff.
He starts in Ch. 5 with the Beatitudes. Who is blessed? Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted for Christ’s sake. These are the ones who rejoice.
Then He talks about His followers, how they should live, like salt and light, fulfilling the law, not just in letter but in the spirit of the law.
He teaches about giving, how to pray, how to fast.
Then, how to pray, the Lord’s Prayer.
Then, after all that, He tells us not to worry.
There is a logic here.
The very next part of His sermon after this is about not judging, even those who worry are not to be judged.
So how does the Lord conclude this amazing sermon?
Therefore, whoever hears these words and does them will be like the builder who builds his house on a firm foundation that can withstand many storms.
He who does not do them is like a man who builds his house on the beach with no foundation and his house falls down in a storm.
We have to put this instruction about not worrying in the whole context.
In other words, we must know the basics and do the basics before there is peace and no worry.
So how do I conclude?
Maybe the problem in not that we are worry warts
Maybe the problem is that we have not remembered the basics of our faith. Love, prayer, fasting, kindness, patience, obeying the commandments, living like Jesus.
Maybe we need a refresher course in walking with Christ.
When I got a ticket for speeding in a school zone about 6 years ago, I could get out of a large fine by taking an online safety course.
That course made a big difference in my driving. I learned, I was reminded, I was corrected.
The Lord is urging us, maybe, that we have much to learn about following Him, that He wants to lead us beside the still waters.
Maybe this summer is a good time to spend some time getting closer to God, reading the Sermon on the Mount, reading some spiritual books, praying, practicing kindness, being loving, walking with Jesus.
Maybe we aren’t way off base, just a little distracted.
Don’t be discouraged that you forget, be thankful that you have been reminded.
Its not how you start, its how you finish.
The race is long, those who persevere will be the victors.
June 30-Holy Apostles and All Saints of North America
At that time, when he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
Today I am inspired by the beauty that has come into the House of God.
Last night before Vespers, Sub-deacon Mitri came into the altar, as usual, and just stood there, kind of stunned as he looked at the icon and the transformation that took place in a few hours.
He finally turned to me and said, “Now this is a temple.!” Amen to that.
Thanks be to God for beauty, He is the Creator of beauty, we imitate Him to bring glory to His name.
Today we look at the Gospel reading about the sheep without a shepherd.
I find it so comforting that Jesus calls us sheep. He could have called us donkeys, or eagles, or cows; but He calls us sheep, in more than one place.
Well, I don’t claim to know for sure why He did, but it makes sense to me.
When Jesus looks at the crowd, they looked kind of pitiful, they were harassed and helpless.
I’ve seen sheep like this before.
One of our dogs on the farm took a fancy to harassing our neighbor’s sheep. The Hamilton’s were our neighbor, the farm just South of ours. They pastured sheep and our dog took great delight in chasing them. The sheep thought the dog was a wolf and panicked, every time he started chasing them.
He would go under the fence and start running toward them and they would panic, so they just started running. All of them, together as a group. Even when they were being- what they thought was attacked -they stuck together.
Eventually one sheep would get separated from the flock, and then there was real panic.
If they had just one time ignored the dog and just stood there looking at the dog it wouldn’t be any fun for the dog and he would have just left.
But they always ran, and it was so much fun for the dog. They were just harassed and helpless, they had no idea what to do about this dog.
But our neighbor did, he complained to us and we ended up getting rid of the dog, he would not stop chasing sheep!
But how sweet and loving is our Lord?
When Jesus sees this in His flock, His reaction is so kind, so understanding. He knows they are sheep.
So He did not judge or condemn them, or write them off.
What does it say? He had compassion on them.! He has compassion on us.
He doesn’t expect us to be eagles when we are sheep.
He knows us, He knows what we need, He knows how we operate, what we lack.
He knows us because 1. He made us. 2. He became one of us. 3. He became our shepherd. Sheep with a good shepherd can be amazing.
What is it about sheep? Well, they are group oriented, and they are not good at being loners. When a sheep gets separated from the flock they become very vulnerable, afraid. They panic, fearing for their lives, they make mistakes that could lead to death.
They aren’t really smart, even with the flock, without the flock they are helpless.
That is why the Good Shepherd leaves behind the 99 and searches all over for the one that is lost; and when The Good Shepherd finds the one, there is great rejoicing.
The one on his own is doomed to be killed by the predator who seeks after the lost sheep, steal, kill, and destroy.
This is why the word church comes from the word that means, the called together ones.
The Good Shepherd does not allow the flock to be harassed; He does not leave us helpless.
He leads us beside still waters. He prepares a table for us in the presence of the enemies of our souls. He feeds us His own Body and Blood. He purges our sins and gives us immortal life.
Notice that He leads, when you want sheep to go somewhere you don’t stand behind them and push them where you want them to go like cows and horses.
The sheep follow the voice of the shepherd. The Shepherd knows them by name and they recognize His voice. They do not follow another voice. John 10.
His is the only voice that restores the soul.
With Him they do not fear death or enemies.
He leads us beside still waters, where there is peace.
1. How do we know the voice of the Shepherd? In times of peace, we listen, we spend time with Him by the peaceful waters, we get to know Him intimately. Then, when the wolf comes, when the storm rises and frightens us, we will be able to hear His still, small voice and trust Him.
It is the quiet times that save us in the storms, or when we are attacked.
Our Good Shepherd feeds us in the presence of the Enemy, Let us live in His house forever. He prepares a table for us. Of eternal, heavenly food. Not the dead food we find to eat.
This is what we will remember every time we come forward for communion and we look up and see our Good Shepherd giving the Apostles communion. We installed this icon of the Apostles communing on the eve of the feast of the Apostles, pretty cool.
We forget sometimes to be quiet and spend time with the Good Shepherd, to learn His voice, so it is hard to trust Him.
We will not progress beyond being sheep if we don’t learn this. The sheep need time with the Shepherd.
Not only did He feed His people of the Old Covenant in the wilderness for 40 years, not only did He give them bread from heaven called manna; He also brought water out of the rock.
He fed over 5,000 on the hillside.
He fed the Apostles and made them fishers of men, preaching the Gospel to the whole world. And we following the Holy Apostles are still being fed by Him, the Author of Life.
He, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, healed the sheep when they were harassed and helpless, He rescued them, He cast out the wolf, gave them oil for their wounds and led them to wonderful places of rest.
The Apostles, we commemorate today, along with All the Saints of North America, were sheep who became much more than sheep. Ordinary men and women, and children and teenagers who became for more than ordinary; by following the Good Shepherd, by learning to hear His voice and fully trust Him. By eating from His hand the Bread of Life.
We have been given so much by our God of crazy love.
Psalm 36 Thy mercy, O LORD, is in the heavens; and thy faithfulness reacheth unto the clouds. Thy righteousness is like the great mountains; thy judgments are a great deep: O LORD, thou preservest man and beast.
How excellent is thy lovingkindness, O God! therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of thy wings. They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of thy house; and thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures.
For with thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light. O continue thy lovingkindness unto them that know thee; and thy righteousness to the upright in heart.
We are here to be follow the Holy Apostles. To eat the Bread of Heaven, the Bread of Life. We will rejoice with the Good Shepherd in green pastures of delight.
We love the beauty of His house. We rejoice in His house forever.
Psalm 84 How amiable are thy tabernacles, O LORD of hosts!
My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the LORD: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.
Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O LORD of hosts, my King, and my God.
Blessed are they that dwell in thy house: they will be still praising thee.
Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee; in whose heart are the ways of them. Who passing through the valley of Baca make it a well; the rain also filleth the pools. They go from strength to strength, every one of them in Zion appeareth before God.
O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer: give ear, O God of Jacob.
Behold, O God our shield, and look upon the face of thine anointed. For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.
For the LORD God is a sun and shield: the LORD will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly. O LORD of hosts, blessed is the man that trusteth in thee.
All Saints June 23
On the first Sunday of Pentecost we celebrate All Saints Sunday, the day to recall and commemorate all the saints in Christ’s holy Church, known and unknown.
This is because there are many saints who are not know, and many who are not recognized officially by the Church.
Today’s Feast is the result of all that has gone before it.
The purpose of all the events in Christ’s life, is to make Saints.
That is the purpose of the Church, to make people holy.
Today’s Feast is the Feast of the identity of the Church, for a Church that does not make Saints is not a Church, it is merely an institution which abuses the word ‘Church’.
What is a Saint? Firstly, it seems that Saints are not born, they are made. At baptism we are all born again potentially to become Saints. The only difference between ourselves who are not Saints and the Saints, is that they are people who are continually picking themselves up after sinning, continually repenting until they attain holiness, whereas we give up.
So as we celebrate this feast day, what are we to do? What exactly is our response?
The appropriate response is to have a firm resolve to follow them as examples.
This is why it is an excellent practice to read the lives of the saints, often, if not daily.
So to help us focus on the role of the saints in our lives, I want to continue along our road for the last little while of working on our image of God, Sharpening how we understand God.
How will we do this today? This prayer:
O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of truth, Who art everywhere present and fillest all things, treasury of blessings and giver of life: Come and abide in us, and cleanse us from every impurity, and save our souls, O Good One!
That prayer tells the whole story.
1. This is a prayer to the Holy Spirit. This is why we don’t pray this prayer in any service, from Pascha to Pentecost. We are waiting for the Spirit to come upon us at Pentecost. Now in the season of Pentecost, we have resumed saying this prayer and it forms our understanding of our Life in Christ.
- It begins by acknowledging Who the Holy Spirit is: Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth. The Holy Spirit is fully God, as is the Son. Where the Holy Spirit is, there is God in His fullness.
- Then it tells us where the Holy Spirit is, and what He does: He is everywhere present, He fills all things, He is the Treasury of Blessings and the Giver of Life.
So, again, fully God, He brings all that God is to us.
This requires a little more thinking. Everywhere present. Hmmm. Everywhere. There is no place to go where the Holy Spirit is not, you can’t escape Him, you can’t flee from His presence. You can’t leave Him behind, you can’t lose Him, you can’t run away from Him, like Jonah tried to do.
But this also means, on the other hand, that whether you are aware of it or not, He is there with you, in every part of your life. There is no part of your life that is not spiritual, because the Holy Spirit is there in the middle of it.
And everywhere He is, He brings Blessings, as the Treasury of Blessings, He holds all the blessings. As the Giver of Life, where He is there is Life. Where He is, everything is.
Our life is not really divided up into sacred and secular, in Christ all is done for Him, in Him, and through Him.
We often live our lives as if God really lived in the church, and only in the church.
We often leave Him behind when we leave.
The saints work very hard at always living life with an awareness of God in all they do, say, and think.
This is what ceaseless prayer is, living life in the very presence of God. Welcoming Him into all parts of our life and thoughts, not excluding Him, but making Him the True Lord of our lives.
1. Saints don’t give up, they understand the Grace of God.
2. Saints remember that what is most valuable is that which is eternal.
3. Saints keep their mind in the right place, they remember death, they remember God.
Today we celebrate the saints, lets get acquainted with them so we can be like them.
Today we have a Great Feast of the Lord, Pentecost. The final fulfillment of the prophecies about the work of our Lord for our salvation.
We celebrate with joy the sending of the Holy Spirit. The Church is full of light, darkness has been banished, death is overcome, our stoney hearts have been made flesh, the God of the Universe lives in us.
It is truly a great day. So we celebrate. And it is Father’s Day, Happy Father’s Day. And it is my ordination anniversary. I was ordained on June 16, 1996. So, many years to me. 23 years I have been a priest of the Most High God, despite my unworthiness and due in a large part to my excellent wife, the love of the Most Holy Theotokos and the prayers of the saints.
So today we celebrate.
So lets think about all these things and ponder the Greatness of our God, let Him fill us with wonder and joy.
Happy Feast Day to all of you. May the blessing of the Lord be with you always.
Today we do a lot of singing. But
Did you know that God sings? Lets think today. What do you think? Does God sing?
Zep 3:17 The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.
Did you know that there is a correct way to worship God, that He tells us how to do it?
Ps. 100:2 Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing.
Exo 15:1 Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the LORD, and spake, saying, I will sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.
Creation sings, did you know that?
Is. 44:23 Sing, O ye heavens; for the Lord hath done it: shout, ye lower parts of the earth: break forth into singing, ye mountains, O forest, and every tree therein: for the Lord hath redeemed Jacob, and glorified himself in Israel.
The people of God rejoice with singing
Is. 51:11 Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head: they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away.
In the New Testament- The Church rejoices with singing.
Eph. 5:19 Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;
Col. 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
Act 16:25 And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.
Heb 2:12 Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee.
And in the Kingdom to come: singing!
Rev 5:9 And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;
Rev 14:3 And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth.
Rev 15:3 And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints.
Singing is a normal way to worship.
The Western Church has predominately lost this concept in worship, starting with the Protestant Reformation, where chanting left the worship, singing became something only done for certain hymns, now many Protestant churches watch as others sing for them.
The Catholic Church has done much of the same.
This is sad and unfortunate.
But all religions have a longstanding tradition of singing in worship. Muslims chant, Jews chant.
We believe that following the Biblical pattern of worship is important, God has revealed to us how He should be worshipped, not according to what is entertaining, or what we think He might like, but what He has shown us.
The singing in Heaven is the pattern we follow, no matter how weak, how feeble, how inferior it may be.
But we also know that singing is not intended to arouse emotion or elevate us with thrills of orchestras. We sing because of what we sing about, not to inflame passions but to elevate us and our hearts and minds above this world. Our music is neptic, guided by sobriety, not emotion.
The whole book of the Psalms is intended to be chanted or sung, not read.
And we do sing. It is a way of speaking, but elevated.
If you are not singing, you are not worshipping.
This is why we have service books, with music in them, we all sing together, as the Body of Christ.
Why does God sing? Why does anybody sing?
Today is a day for rejoicing, singing. Singing not songs of men, but songs of God, what He has done.
He came down and divided the tongues for the salvation of men, He prevented them from singing together; until the Savior could come to save us from death, then at Pentecost He came down by His Holy Spirit and united us all by unifying our race in the Church. Now all mankind can sing together again, the songs of the Church.
At Pentecost men are united by the Gospel, there is no more separation by color or continent, all are one in Christ.
At Pentecost, the human race, in Christ, is made the Body of Christ, with Him as our head.
Why do we sing? We have a lot to sing about.
God sings, so we sing.
Creation itself sings, so we sing.
The angels sing, so we sing.
It may be true that we are most like God when we sing His songs back to Him in a beautiful, eternal dialogue of worship. I encourage all of you to sing to God, in your hearts, in your car, in your homes. When we lift up our voices, we lift up our hearts.
Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the 1st Ecumenical Council-June 9
Is theology important?
In today’s epistle reading St. Paul prophecies of wolves who will come in the Church to try to destroy the flock.
Wolves come in to the flock to steal, kill, and destroy.
This happened many times, it is still happening.
But today we recall, commemorate and honor the 318 Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council, held in Nicea in the year 325.
St. Constantine the Great called this council for one reason. Theology matters.
We, the Orthodox, are trusted with keeping the Faith, keeping correct worship, correct praise, correct doctrine.
Why was this council called by St. Constantine?
A priest from Alexandria, Egypt in 311 began teaching that Jesus was not equal to the Father. That Jesus was a created being. That there was a time when Jesus did not exist, that therefore, Jesus was not of the same substance as the Father. Not consubstantial with the Father, not eternal, not God. This is not good.
So what happened to this priest, named Arius?
What is supposed to happen, he was called by the bishop and examined. The Patriarch of Alexandria tried to correct the teaching of Arius. To keep him in the Orthodox Church.
He told him he had to stop teaching these things. Arius did not listen. He kept promoting the error, confusing and dividing the One True Church.
The bishop deposed him from the priesthood when it became obvious that Arius had to intention of changing his teaching.
So, was Arius humbled by no longer being a priest?
Did he change his ways to save his soul?
No, he did not.
He began to write to the other bishops, asking them to examine his teaching and accept it, in the meantime he kept on teaching his heresy.
BTW, what is a heretic?
Is it someone who wrong teaching? No.
It is someone who has wrong teaching but does not accept the teaching and correction of the Holy Church, persisting in false doctrine. Then one is a heretic, for refusing to be humble, refusing to repent.
Not only was Arius not humble, not only did he refuse to stop teaching heresy, destructive to souls, but he began to convince people that he was correct.
In fact, he convinced much of the Church that he was correct and caused great turmoil and division in Christ’s Holy Church.
It is said of St. Athanasius the Great that he stood against the world in opposing Arius, so pervasive was his teaching.
So, St. Constantine called the council. Bishops and holy men came from all regions of the Church. 318 were there.
The Holy Fathers who were there, many of whom were survivors of torture and persecution, proclaimed the True Faith, they traditioned, the Truth.
The word tradition means to pass on to someone else what you have received, The Holy Fathers passed on what had been delivered to them, Arius wanted to reject and change what had been passed down from the apostles.
The Councils don’t say, “This is what we have decided.” They say, “This is what we have received, this is what the Church has always taught by all everywhere.”
What did they say at this council? Theology is incredibly important.
It is so important, we are going to write a new creed to improve on the Apostles Creed, to make clear what the Church has always taught, what the Holy Scriptures proclaim, that which is essential for our salvation.
So, they did so. They wrote the Nicean Creed, the one we still say every Liturgy. Up to the point where we say, And in the Holy Spirit. That second part about the Holy Spirit and the Church was added in the Second Ecumenical Council.
BTW, what does Ecumenical Council mean?
All the Church agrees.
So, Arius and his teaching were condemned, along with Nestorius and others who were champions of heresy.
This teaching is still followed by many outside the Orthodox Church, the teaching of Nestorius and Arius is still followed and they are honored by JW’s, for instance.
So what does the Church teach?
1Jn 4:2 Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesses not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.
Joh_3:19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
Joh 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
Joh 1:10 He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
We stand before the world, we proclaim the Truth.
We are hated because we say these things. This is what we have received. This is what we hold and pass down. Boldly.
Jesus Christ is God, Equal with God the Father and the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, we proclaim, He is eternal, like the Father and the HS.
He is composed of the same stuff as the F and the HS.
There never was a time when He was not.
In fact, we believe that not only is Jesus True God of True God, but that He created all that there is.
All others religions of the world may have some truth, but they ultimately deny the Truth, and therefore are anti-Christ.
Two fundamental elements of our Faith are proclaimed.
1. God is a Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Equal in glory, co-eternal, consubstantial, of one essence.
2. Jesus Chris is God come in the flesh, without leaving behind His Godness, He was made man to save men.
God became man, that man might become god.
This is our glory, this is our salvation, this we proclaim, this we confess, that Jesus Christ is God, to the Glory of God the Father. Amen.
Sermon-Sunday of the Blind Man-June 2
The Paschal Service, the Resurrection Service-is truly an amazing and memorable event.
The Church takes has taken us through a darkness, Lent is similar to the setting of the Sun, Holy Week is the darkness of the middle of the night. Gradual darkening followed by complete darkness.
Then we bring out the light of Christ and the priest sings: Come take light from the light that is never overtaken by night, come glorify Christ, who is risen from the dead.
The church that has been dark, solemn, subdued is transformed into brightness, joy and glorious celebration-illustrating what the song promised. The darkness cannot overcome the light.
Our Fathers tell us that in fact darkness does not exist, it is merely the absence of light.
Similarly, they tell us that evil does not exist as a thing in itself, it is the absence of the Holy. Things are either toward God or away from God. God is life, true existence is in Him, evil is not life, it has no life, it is moving toward annihilation. When we move toward God we are moving toward Life and Light, away from evil.
Sometimes when I read the lives of the saints, such as St. Paisius, the brightness of his life makes it seem like I am living in darkness much of the time.
It is often said by holy men, that we live in a dark age spiritually.
In the old days of the church a holy elder was asked what will we be able to do? The answer was, in the future people will only be able to do half of what we do. But in the end times, it will be a miracle if people only keep the faith.
Perhaps those days are coming, soon.
The darkness seems to be encroaching, evil seems prevalent, men and women say evil is good and good evil, even the mention of God has been eliminated in the US House of Representatives.
The politics of rage and division are effectively causing strife. The LGBTQ community is being more and more accepted, in fact, it is promoted in the elementary schools of Sarasota County.
Darkness can be confusing and scary.
If fact, darkness is a symbol of evil, in the new heaven and the new earth, there is no night.
The scariest darkness is the darkness of the soul, the love of darkness, of evil, or maybe just a fleeing from, an avoidance of God.
This darkness is a blindness, an inability to see, a willful blindness.
This is what we see in the Pharisees, a darkness that made them want to kill the King of Glory.
Rather than rejoicing in the miracle which occurs through the compassion of Jesus Christ, they focus on blaming someone for breaking a rule. Angry that they were not receiving their due attention, they have lost the power of explanation.
For the last few weeks I have been preaching to you about the Goodness of God. That He is good, that His will for us is only good, because it can be no other than good, since it comes from a Good God.
So, I am taking about not thinking like the people in the story. What is our God image? How do we view God, how do we think about Him?
Is He to blame for a misfortune in your life? Is He one you get angry with in difficult times?
So much of our life can be a wandering in darkness and we may have despaired of things ever getting any better. At times, we may not have the eyes to see any light at all.
We find it easy to think only of ourselves and our will, but so hard to live with the humility and selfless love of Christ.
Maybe we have looked for fulfillment in the vanity of life: money, power, pleasure, appearances, impressing others, and getting our own way.
These produce more darkness, not light.
We cannot let ourselves be held captive by the corruptions of death, our passions, and the accumulated weight of human sin all around us. Or the darkness of our surrounding culture. We become what we focus on. St. Porphyrios said, ignore evil and follow Christ.
The good news of Pascha is that, in Christ, we may pass over from this living death to life eternal. The spiritual blindness of our souls may be healed.
If we develop the eyes to see it, we may leave behind the darkness. We may rise up to the light, truth, and joy of the kingdom of heaven. We may share in Christ’s eternal life, in His victory over sin and death, even now.
But we have to be honest with ourselves: it is much easier to remain in the darkness than to move into the light. Just as our eyes need time to adjust when we leave a movie theater and walk into the sunshine of a summer day, the eyes of our souls are not cleansed in an instant.
Our salvation is not a magic act, but requires our intentional, patient cooperation with the grace of the Great Physician.
There is simply no alternative to perseverance, to accepting bravely the tension and struggle that we experience when we expose our darkened souls to the healing light of Christ, and to mindfully turning away from temptations of whatever kind.
90 % of Orthodoxy is just being faithful, just showing up. In faith. In hope. In love.
The Lord gave the man born blind new eyes, he began to see, he began to worship.
As we near the end of the season of Pascha, we can all wrestle seriously with the question of whether we are really doing what we can to open ourselves to the light of Christ.
Are we intentionally moving toward God, and therefore away from evil?
Are we obeying the Lord’s instructions on how to find healing in our souls?
Are we keeping a close watch on our thoughts and disregarding those that tempt us to sin?
Are we following a rule of prayer and fasting that reorients our daily life toward God and helps us find healing from our passions?
Are we preparing faithfully to receive our Lord’s Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist each Sunday?
Do we take confession regularly and ask for the forgiveness of others whenever we wrong them?
Are we really dedicated to living the Life of Christ?
This is the last Sunday this year that we will sing, Christ is Risen. But He still wants to live in our hearts and give us new life.
Re-commit yourself to Him today. Renew your desire for Him. Don’t give up.
Christ is Risen!
May 26-The Samaritan Woman
But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship Him.
We meet again the Samaritan Woman, the one who we would later learn was named Photini, a martyr for Christ.
She went on quite a journey after meeting Jesus.
She, like me, could divide her life into two main sections, B.C. and A.D.
She came to the well that morning, just as any other day, but this day was to be different.
She reveals herself to us and we can see that in many ways she is like us.
She has two very important thought problems.
Her self image and her God image.
Her self image was damaged, her immoral lifestyle made her embarrassed, she was not about to talk about her many husbands and the fact that she was living with a man outside of marriage.
She was willing to ignore the Jew at the well, for as she said, Jews have no dealings with Samaritans, especially a man with a woman. She was happy enough to just draw her water and go home.
But Jesus had a better idea.
He engaged her in conversation. He had a plan.
This has happened to you, too.
You thought at the time, that the person who talked to you was just a person who bumped into you somehow, not really sure how it happened. It started out as a casual conversation, but it developed into an event you will not forget. A God-appointed meeting. Yes, you have. You have had those kind of meetings, arranged by a loving God.
She had pre-judged the situation as something to avoid, Jesus changed the narrative.
He asked her for a drink. A very normal, little thing; but it changed everything. The familiar can open doors because there is a comfort level making it easier to move forward in an encounter with a stranger. Jesus found a way to let her relax and the conversation begins, she is curious.
Why is he talking to me?
As the conversation continues Jesus takes it into a more serious direction very quickly, taking it to a second level.
When her lifestyle comes up something very interesting happens, Jesus does not let it become THE issue. He goes deeper.
She is drawing water, He is drawing her. Drawing her to eternal life, living water; and then reveals that He is the long-awaited Messiah.
So there are two issues here.
1. Her self-image; adulterer.
2. Her God image; religious barriers, we have different views on worship.
Jesus won’t let either of these be THE issue.
He says: you believe the Messiah will settle these issues, I am He. I am bringing a new way of worship where it doesn’t matter where you are or what country you come from.
The Truth transcends man-made barriers.
Jesus comes to you like this.
Whatever past you have, whatever sins you think are a hindrance, whatever thoughts you have been listening to about why God cannot or will not forgive you, whatever you are ashamed of in your life, whatever you find embarrassing and could never confess; He already knows; and He still loves you. He is offering living water, new life, joy in forgiveness. Don’t let your image of God stop you. Take a risk. Your God-image is probably wrong. So is your self-image.
It is so wonderful in this story that Photini leaves her water pot to run back to the city to tell people about Jesus.
Her past was no longer the issue. She left it behind. She has a new beginning. She has new life in Christ. The living water is spilling out of her.
God wants to give us a new self-image-Child of God, True Christian, forgiven and set free.
He also gives us a new God-image. The one who is greater; the one who loves mankind, the one who comes to wells and stores and living rooms to set people free with new life, a new heart, a new way of life. The one who comes to us, pursues us, because that is what love does.
All that is left for us is to answer Him, accept Him, His love, His forgiveness, His living water.
She went on to be baptized by the Apostles and became a great example of a Christian.
I find it interesting that she came to the well at the sixth hour. Noon.
Tradition tells us that it was the sixth hour when Adam and Eve were expelled from Paradise. It was the Sixth hour when Jesus was nailed to the Cross. Jesus was born, suffered, died and rose again to take us back to Paradise with Him. Will you come?
May 19-The Paralytic
The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark. (15:43-16:8)
One man was there, who had been ill for 38 years. When Jesus saw him and knew that he had been lying there a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is troubled, and while I am going another steps down before me.”
Somehow in 38 years of being paralyzed this man had heard that there was a place where healing happened. So he went there. And he waited.
He had no reasonable hope that he would receive healing, because as he explained to Jesus, I can’t get into the water in time because I have no one to help me.
So what is he doing there? After all those years? The situation has not changed, he still has no one to put him in the water?
1. He knew he needed healing. Some diseases are more problematic than others, some are more destructive than others, some are more obvious than others. He could not cover up the fact that he needed healing, it was obvious and debilitating.
But the fact is that we all need healing, in one or more areas, we need healing, mental, physical or spiritual, or a combination of the three.
The Christian life is beginning to understand our disease and find healing. Not do I have a disease? But, what is my disease.
We are all dying from a disease called sin. The only questions are: 1. Am I aware of it or am I in denial, and 2. what am I doing about it?
The Spiritual Life is getting to know the reality of our situation and receiving healing in Christ through His Body, the Church.
This brings us back to the biggest problems that we face: We don’t ask for healing because we don’t know how sick we actually are and we don’t come directly to the source of all healing.
We have amazing doctors and medicine in this country and we can reasonably help people with physical illnesses, but man is more than a body and a brain. He is meant to be the image and likeness of God. This image and likeness makes man a true human being when he is in Christ.
Our restoration as human beings happens when we are healthy in the soul.
It happens when we know the source of our healing intimately and we are purified by repentance.
Most people think you get saved, or go to heaven, by being better, by trying, by being nice. The Bible never says that. Be ye holy as I am holy. Not be ye nice and go forth. If nice would cut it Jesus wasted His time in death and resurrection.
We cannot heal ourselves, we need a Savior/Healer.
This story pushes us to see the True Source of Healing? How?
Why is this story included in the Paschal Season?
We can understand St Thomas and the myrhhbearing women, but this guy?
What is the link with Pascha? Water, baptism. Pascha was the time when people were baptized into Christ in the early Church. All the story chosen to be read during the Paschal Season have a role for water. So lets look at this story.
As we examine the story of the paralytic in greater depth, it is important to see that in its original context the Bethesda pool was not a source of salvation for the paralytic, but a rival alternative to it, if not its positive impediment.
The pool was thought to have healing power due to the fact that the water came out of the temple when the sacrifices were washed out of the altar. The blood of forgiveness was in that pool.
Remember the details of the story: the paralytic sat languishing by the pool, thirty-eight years in his wretched condition, hoping for healing.
When the pool’s waters were stirred (by an angel, as everyone thought), he hoped to be the first one into the pool to soak up the angel’s divine power and be cured, but being paralyzed, he was too slow, and someone always beat him to the pool.
So, he waited and waited, hoping to find salvation one day in the pool.
It was there that Jesus found him. When Jesus asked him, “Do you want to be healed?” (John 5:6), he didn’t say, “Yes Lord, please heal me!”
He was still hoping to get into the pool, and he answered, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is troubled, and while I am going another steps down before me.” His hope is in the wrong place.
But salvation wasn’t in the pool. It was in Jesus. Jesus simply said, “Rise, take your pallet, and walk,” and the man did. He didn’t need the pool after all. All he needed was Jesus.
We see this contrast between the old and the new throughout John’s Gospel: not Jewish water, but Christ’s wine, not the old Temple, but Christ’s body, not the manna in the wilderness, but Christ’s flesh.
Christian faith involved turning from the old ways to the new.
Christ wants to give us new ways of healing, Pursue Christ, be purified by repentance. Jesus is the answer. Pursue Christ.