Love

The world doesn’t have much use for love. It cannot be traded on the stock market. It cannot satisfy any lust for power or any lust for anything. Love will not make us skinny, will not increase our 401K fund. It will not make money for corporations. It will not be a useful weapon in the many wars that we think we must attent to. It will not make us comfortable. It will not buy us the latest toys. It cannot be used as a wedge to gain political advantage. Love will not support the hate that is used by many to manipulate poeople to do their bidding. Love will not keep the immigrant out. Love will not sacrifice the very young and the very old to the god of convenience. As our world counts it, love is mostly useless. Yet it is the highst of Jesus’ comandments. Love is a direct challenge to the chaos of our world

Can We Serve Two Masters?

Sermon 4th Sunday after Pentecost

Rom 6:18–23, Matt 8:5–13, 

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST !!

   Jesus  reminded us last week: No man can serve two masters. This week St. Paul reminds us the same thing thing. We must choose what we will serve. We can be estranged from righteousness and subject to our passions, or we can bring ourselves to God and work with Him to free us from our passions and live a righteous life. And when we say “righteous life” we don’t mean that we don’t do this sin or that sin, Paul means that we are in a covenant relationship with God. 

   As both Jesus and Paul tell us, we must choose our slavery . . . We can be enslaved to sin, passions. . . or we can choose to be a slave to righteousness, doing things God’s way. . . One way leads to death.. .the other to life.  God can free us from our slavery to the passions if we will work with Him in our relationship with Him, and with others. The result, the wages of sin is death. Notice that Life eternal is not a result of working, but is a free gift of God. God wants us to stop working for death. 

   And how can we labour to heal both ourselves and the others we meet? . . . with Love. It is God’s Love that heals us. And we are commanded to give Love of God both directly to Him, and through those we meet who are created in His Image, and love for ourselves who are also created in God’s Image. Most of us love parts of ourselves, and we loathe other parts of ourselves, just as we find certain people easy to love, and others difficult. 

   The Centurion comes to Jesus in humility. His house servant is very sick — too sick for him to bring to Jesus. This Centurion loves his servant, using terms of endearment for him. He also loves the Jewish faith; even though he is a gentile — we read in St. Luke’s account of this that he had contributed to the building of a Synagogue. 

   Jesus does something that He did not do for the others He met who were paralyzed; He volunteers to come to the Centurion’s house (a gentile) to heal his servant. Jews, especially rabbis did not generally go into the dwellings of gentiles. The Centurion, in humility, objects . . .I am not worthy that you should enter the roof of my house. . . say the word and my servant will be healed. 

   This is alluded to in St. John Chrysostom’s pre-communion prayer. “I am not worthy, Master and Lord that Thou shouldst enter under the roof of my soul; yet in-as-much as Thou desirest to live in me as the Lover of mankind, I approach with boldness. Thou hast commanded: Let the doors be opened which Thou alone hast made and Thou shalt enter with Thy love for mankind just as Thou art. . . .  

   The Centurion shows true humility — and in his humility shows faith greater than any in Israel. By his confession he recognizes that Jesus’ authority comes from the Father. It is likely that he did not appreciate the full implications of his request and certainty that Jesus could heal by His Word since He had such authority. And as a man who is both under authority and wields authority, the centurion understands obedience. 

   Humility is key. . . . The way is wide that leads to destruction. Enter the narrow way.

   In our country today we are working hard for death. We have many “other masters” screaming for our attention. We want to be comfortable — we want the latest toys. We want to be secure — we don’t like it when the order gets challenged. And sometimes the Order needs to be challenged, for the Order has a way of participating in the “principalities, powers, rulers of darkness, and spiritual corruption” that St. Paul warns us against — for even if it is not killing us, it is killing others. On top of this, Abominations are happening daily: Abominations of abortion, abominations of forcibly removing children from their parents, of putting women, men, and children in dangerous conditions, ignoring our stewardship for the Planet God has given us; our cities are being damaged by those who love chaos; racism is actually popular among some, and those who justify racism are screaming their obscenities; desecration of holy places are being done by more than one flavour of extremists. All of these are abominations. One group seeks to justify the one sort of abominations; another group seeks to justify still another sort of  the abominations. All of them are abominations. Our nation is filled with hatred: hatred for the other, whether the other is someone from the other political camp, another race, or our own poor and hungry and homeless, or the stranger who comes to us. We are instructed to love all of these with a love that heals both them and ourselves. 

   Loving requires us to get to know the stranger; loving ourselves requires us to get to know ourselves. Both of these require us to look past our fears. To look past our fear means we must confront them in ourselves. We must move past our fears in order to love. We must move past our egos and conceits in order to love. The Centurion modeled humility, obedience, and love. 

Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas, of blessed memory, summarized it this way:

   The Christ preached by the Apostles was the Christ who gave Himself out of love for mankind. He is the One who receives all who come to Him in faith and humility, those who love Him. He is not moved to respond to our petitions because of some supposed worthiness on our part. Our accomplishments, position, wealth, and fame do not commend us to Him. Neither does our belonging to a particular race or nation, and neither does membership in His Church, if we make no effort to live in accordance with His will, have no faith or humility, think of ourselves as deserving His salvation, or think only of ourselves and never earnestly desire the well-being of others. 

   Christ is not impressed by our egos. He is impressed by humility, and faith, and love. And He bids us to labour to love our world as He loved it.

   Love is not always easy; but St. Paul said: it is a more excellent way. 

   To Him Who loved us, and gave Himself for us and our salvation be all glory honour and worship, together with His Father Who is without beginning, and His All-holy glorious and Life-Creating Spirit: now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen. 

Forgiveness

Most people, when they say “forgive” they mean stop processing the pain, because your pain makes me uncomfortable. The only way of healing is through the pain —  and it is only through the pain that true forgiveness can happen.

True forgiveness is a process that takes us deep into ourselves and our own pain. It is not the same as excusing the abuser. It cannot be forced; it cannot be accomplished by saying mere words. It cannot be rushed, for if it is rushed it is false. 

 Forgiveness is a process, . . .a journey. . . . a journey into a wound that someone has made in us. . . . only to discover that the wound is deeper than this person who wounded us, and that there are a lot of other people in this wound, and one of those includes myself. 

Last Judgement

Last Judgement

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit:

CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST!! 

   Amen, I say to you, in as much as ye did not to the least of these, neither did ye to Me. 

   Today we hear about fasting in the epistle. If we read the hymns from Vespers and Matins for this coming cheese week we will also hear words of instruction about fasting. 

If thou dost fast from food, O my soul, yet dost not cleanse thyself from passions, thou dost rejoice in vain over thy abstinence. For if thy purpose is not turned towards amendment of life, as a liar thou art hateful in God’s sight, and thou doest resemble the evil demons who never eat at all. Do not by sinning make the fast worthless, but firmly resist all wicked impulses. Picture to thyself that thou art standing beside the crucified Saviour, or rather, that thou art thyself crucified with Him Who was crucified for thee; and cry out to Him: “Remember me, O Lord, when Thou comest into Thy Kingdom. (Wednesday Matins)

   The hymns of the Katavasia of the Canon for last night’s Vigil are already the hymns of the irmosoi of the Great Canon of St. Andrew.  

   This Wednesday at Vespers, and Friday at the Moleben, we will already say the Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian. 

   This week we already begin fasting from meat. If you have access to the daily sections of the Triodion, they start this week. I commend them to you. 

In today’s Gospel Jesus gives us a different sort of teaching. Instead of speaking of Himself and the Kingdom obliquely or through Parables, He confronts us with a vision of the Last Judgement. This Glorious vision is of Him, the Son of Man, as King of all nations, for ALL nations will be judged, those we like, and those we do not like. All nations before the Throne of Glory are judged based on how they recognized the Image of God in the least of them. 

The Lord sent the Law, and the Prophets, and we have disregarded them. And finally He spoke to us through His Son, and we disregarded Him too. Our Physician has taken careful measures for our healing, even conquering death by His death, and dulling its sting. And as in the days of Noah, Christ has flooded the world with His Righteousness, Grace, and Mercy. 

The King comes with both Justice and Mercy. And we recall all of Jesus’ teachings and parables reminding us that, to the merciful, God will show mercy; — to the merciless, God will show no mercy, but only judgement.  Some will see the King as joy and bliss; others will see the King as judgement and condemnation. And the dividing line is: . . .  “How did we treat others.” When we get to Holy Week we will see this theme repeated: for the Foolish Virgins did not have enough oil. . . .  Oil is a pun for mercy. 

And He divides the sheep from the goats, the righteous from the wicked. The Sheep are sheep because their likeness is as to the Lamb of God. One thing to note is that neither the righteous nor the wicked are aware of who is which. The righteous question being considered righteous; the wicked question being considered wicked. The righteous are unaware that by ministering to the least of these, they ministered to the King. 

He was: hungry, and they fed; thirsty and they gave drink; a foreigner, and they welcomed Him; naked, and they clothed Him; sick and imprisoned and they visited Him. The righteous ministered to Him by ministering to the least of these. They didn’t know that by ministering to the Image of God in the least of these, that they ministered to God, the King. For God does not need food, drink, asylum, clothing, a physician, or liberty — but the least of those created in His Image do. When you sum it all up, what they did for their fellows who are created in God’s Image and likeness — they loved. . . . Come ye blessed, inherit the Kingdom that was prepared for you from the foundation. The Kingdom of God is what we were all created for. . . And the righteous do not react as if they have been vindicated; instead they react with humility.

To the goats, the wicked He says: Depart you cursed ones. He does not curse them. They have cursed themselves. Depart to a place that was NOT prepared for you, but for the devil and his demons. The fire of punishment was not designed for you, but you have brought it upon yourself; you have chosen it.  They choose it by refusing to do all the things the righteous did. And the impious react with self justification: “Lord when did we see Thee…” In this is a warning to us, not to seek to justify ourselves. DEPART! . . . for you preferred wealth and power and things over your brothers. . . and that is hatred for your brothers. 

St. Gregory Palamas says, “Observe this last evil: pride is yoked with callous behavior, as humility is with compassion. When the righteous are praised for doing good, they humble themselves the more, without justifying themselves. When these others are accused of being devoid of compassion by Him Who cannot lie, they do not humbly throw themselves to the ground, but answer back and justify themselves.”

   The first commandment is that we love God with all our mind, all our soul, and all our strength, and the second is that we love our neighbor as ourselves. The only way we can prove we love God is by loving our neighbor.

Brothers and sisters, we live in a culture dominated by protestant calvinism: the idea that wealth is virtue. If you read social theory you will find that they have divided the poor into “deserving poor” and “undeserving poor”. And we do our best as a culture to withhold aid to those we deem “undeserving.  But SS John Chrysostom, Basil the Great, Ambrose of Milan will have nothing of this:

For most people, when they see someone in hunger, chronic illness, and the extremes of misfortune, do not even allow him a good reputation but judge his life by his troubles, and think that he is surely in such misery because of wickedness.  — St. John Chrysostom 

Lift up and stretch out your hands, not to heaven but to the poor; for if you stretch out your hands to the poor, you have reached the summit of heaven. But if you lift up your hands in prayer without sharing with the poor, it is worth nothing . — St John Chrysostom

Feeding the hungry is a greater work than raising the dead. —  St John Chrysostom

If you see any one in affliction, ask no more questions. His being in affliction involves a just claim on your aid. For if when you see a beast of burden choking you raise him up, and do not curiously inquire whose he is, much more about a human being one ought not to be over-curious in enquiring whose he is. He is God’s, be he heathen or be he Jew; since even if he is an unbeliever, still he needs help… . . . If you see him in affliction, do not say that he is wicked. For when a person is in calamity, and needs help, it is not right to say that he is wicked. For this is cruelty, inhumanity, and arrogance. — St. John Chrysostom

The rich are in possession of the goods of the poor, even if they have acquired them honestly or inherited them legally. — St. John Chrysostom

The rich seize common goods before others have the opportunity, then claim them as their own by right of preemption. For if we all took only what was necessary to satisfy our own needs, giving the rest to those who lack, no one would be rich, no one would be poor, and no one would be in need. —  St. Basil the Great

He who strips the clothed is to be called a thief. How should we name him who is able to dress the naked and doesn’t do it. — St. Basil the Great

You are not making a gift of what is yours to the poor man, but you are giving him back what is his. You have been appropriating things that are meant to be for the common use of everyone. The earth belongs to everyone, not just to the rich. —  St Ambrose

Feed him who is dying of hunger; if you have not fed him you have killed him. — St. Ambrose of Milan

I was hungry and you took my food away, and arrested those who were trying to feed me; I was thirsty and you dumped my water in the desert, or you gave my water to someone who paid you; I was a foreigner and you sent me back to the perils of the country I escaped, I was naked and you condemned my morality; I was sick and you made it impossible for me to see the physician; I was in prison and you forgot me. 

Rather than take Jesus’ words to heart, we try to find a way to justify our greed, our hard heartedness, our neglect, our theft of the resources that belong to all mankind.

   During the Lenten season that will soon be upon us, we are instructed to increase prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. When we give alms we should thank the one we give to, because through them we have the blessing to give to God.  

   We are beginning a time when we are asked by the Church to simplify our lives, to soften our hearts, to be generous with alms, to turn down the volume of our noisy world.

Brothers and sisters, listen. Our souls are on the line. Jesus taught us to pray that our debts be forgiven as we forgive our debtors — our debts, those things we should have done but didn’t. Jesus did not accuse the goat people of adultery or murder; He accused them of lack of mercy. 

I would be guilty of not clothing you if I soft-pedalled this. This is what our Lord expects of us. This is the criteria by which we are judged. 

The Kingdom which was prepared for you from the beginning, the joy of all joys — or, … the punishment that was not prepared for you but rather for the devil and his angels. Which will we decide? We must decide whether to let the medicine of these commandments be a healing for us. Or by not applying the medicine, a fate which was never ours to begin with awaits. 

But by our actions or inactions, we decide.

May we attain unto the lot of the sheep through the mercies of our Lord Jesus Christ, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, to Whom be all glory, honour, and worship; always now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen

Herod: A not so stable King.

Sermon Sunday after Nativity

Galatians 1:11-19 (§200) Matthew 2:13-23 (§4) Paul’s conversion: Herod kills the children.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: 

CHRIST IS BORN!!

   Today it is the Sunday after Nativity, so we celebrate the kinsmen of the Lord: Joseph the betrothed, David the King, James the brother of the Lord. Thursday we celebrate the Circumcision of our Lord: He Who gave the Law submits Himself to the law. 

   James was the first bishop of Jerusalem. When the council of Jerusalem is called, it is James who presides over it. It is likely that James was the son of Joseph from an earlier marriage. The words of that time were not so concerned with describing the precise relationship. Cousins, siblings, half siblings were covered under the same word. The icon of the escape to Egypt often will depict James prodding the donkey on while Joseph attends to Mary. 

   The Wisemen from Babylon have just left; and Joseph takes Mary and Jesus into Egypt. This is to indicate the what Christ will accomplish is for all mankind. Christ and the Holy Family leave a dangerous place to trek the desert to go into another country for safety. Just as Abraham did before Him, He leaves the city of His birth. Just as Israel (Jacob) did before Him, He goes to Egypt for safety. He becomes a fugitive. 

   And the reason for their escape into Egypt was that Herod wanted to kill Jesus. 

Herod was not a very stable person; some might call him mad. When he was troubled (which was often) Herod’s court had to find ways of dealing with him. He sees a threat to his position, and he reacts in fear. In his fear he has many young children killed, including two of his own sons. In his fear, he destroys all that he should have loved, including himself. 

   And his actions wound others — . . . . deeply. . . . with the deepest of wounds. . . . mothers watched their little sons being murdered before their eyes. Ramah was the seat of the judge Deborah; Ramah was the home of Samuel the priest, the last of the judges and the first of the prophets. Ramah was the seat of the tribe of Benjamin, whose mother was Rachel. There was a memorial to Rachel near Bethlehem. The Gospel quotes the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping and wailing; Rachel would not cease weeping for her children —  because they are no more.”

   The proto martyrs of proto martyrs. . . . all because of the ego, and fear of a madman who was their ruler. . . . .all because of his fear and obsession. . . . We will celebrate this feast tomorrow. I invite all who have buried their own innocent ones to celebrate this. 

   How can we apply this to ourselves? Herod is such an extreme case that it is easy to think that this cannot possibly apply to us. But let us not think that this is just about someone else. 

   What are some of the things we obsess about? that we have our ego bound up in, that we have let our fears make decisions for us — and don’t see how we are destroying what we love? We have to let God convert us. We heard how St. Paul was converted to Christianity; but St. Paul had rage issues that did not magically go away at his conversion. We have to look at our passions and how they are deciding for us. 

   The Word of God took on our flesh from the Theotokos — took on our wounds, but without wounding Himself as we often do — wounds that astonish the demons who would never think of what we freely do to ourselves. He took on our flesh so that He could heal our wounds and bring us to salvation. 

   The Eternal God became a little child — humbled Himself for our sake, that He might live this human life that we usually mess up, so that He could reclaim it for Himself and offer it to His Father. 

   By His death He conquered our enemy — death, . . . and made a path for us to His Kingdom. 

   By taking on our humanity, He, the Eternal invisible God the Word became visible. . . a little child. 

To that little Child be all glory honour and worship, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen

St. Ambrose of Milan

Some miscellaneous quotes from St. Ambrose of Milan

Evil is not a living substance, but a deviation of mind and soul from the path of true virtue. —  St Ambrose of Milan

But they, too, who would forbid the city to foreigners cannot have our approval. They would expel them at the very time when they ought to help…They would refuse them a share in the produce meant for all, and avert the intercourse that has already begun; and they are unwilling, in a time of necessity, to give those with whom they have enjoyed their rights in common, a share in what they themselves have. Beasts do not drive out beasts, yet man shuts out man. Wild beasts and animals consider food which the earth supplies to be common to all. They all give assistance to those like themselves; and man, who ought to think nothing human foreign to himself, fights against his own. — St Ambrose of Milan

A possession ought to belong to the possessor, not the possessor to the possession. Whosoever, therefore, does not use his patrimony as a possession, who does not know how to give and distribute to the poor, he is the servant of his wealth, not its master; because like a servant he watches over the wealth of another and not like a master does he use it of his own. Hence, in a disposition of this kind, we say that the man belongs to his riches, not the riches to the man. — St. Ambrose of Milan

There is your brother, naked, crying, and you stand there confused over the choice of an attractive floor covering. — St. Ambrose of Milan

The poor mine gold, but they are not allowed to keep it; they are forced to work for what they cannot own. — St Ambrose of Milan

Our own evil inclinations are far more dangerous than any external enemies. — St. Ambrose of Milan

No one heals himself by wounding another. — Saint Ambrose

You are not making a gift of what is yours to the poor man, but you are giving him back what is his. You have been appropriating things that are meant to be for the common use of everyone. The earth belongs to everyone, not just to the rich. —  St Ambrose of Milan

It is not from your own possessions that you are bestowing alms on the poor, you are but restoring to them what is theirs by right. For what was given to everyone for the use of all, you have taken for your exclusive use. The earth belongs not to the rich, but to everyone. Thus, far from giving lavishly, you are but paying part of your debt. — St. Ambrose of Milan

Feed him who is dying of hunger; if you have not fed him you have killed him. — St. Ambrose of Milan

Evil is not a living substance, but a deviation of mind and soul from the path of true virtue. —  St Ambrose of Milan

Lazarus

The Parable of Lazarus

Lazarus lay at the gate every day. The rich man could not excuse himself for not knowing about Lazarus’ condition, for he passed by him daily. 

   St. John Chrysostom says that if we do not see God in the beggar at the gate, we will not be able to see Him in the Chalice. 

   The rich man is revealed as lower than the dogs — the dogs at least showed mercy to Lazarus in the way they knew how to show mercy. The rich man shows that his soul is warped, and ugly.

   St. Augustine notes that because of the rich man’s neglect of Lazarus, he is not named in this story, for his name is not written in the book of Life. Lazarus’ name IS written. Lazarus means “one who has been helped.”

   So where does Abraham fit in this story? Abraham is the first one who was called to leave his citizenship, his city, and all the stability and comfort he had known to follow God in faith. * He became a despised Habiru, a citizenless man, not protected by the rights of being a citizen of a land — and through that became the father of a nation that would prepare the world to receive God in the flesh. This is the comfort that Lazarus finds himself in. 

   And Abraham, through his journey, acquired much wealth; yet it was not for the sake of the wealth that he kept it; he did not hold his wealth for its own sake, but for the journey that God had called him to.  This rich man had wealth also. But he held his wealth in greed, and neglect of his fellow man. Abraham, who prayed mercy for the wicked, showed mercy to the poor and hospitality to the stranger could not help this rich man.

   Even in death we see how this man’s soul has shown itself to be ugly; his first thought is for his own comfort, and relief of his pain; and he, even now, treats Lazarus like an errand boy. 

St. Ephraim the Syrian observes that this fire that torments the rich man in death is a fire from within himself. 

   By his life, he neglected the afflicted, the poor, the alien, the foreigner. These are the very ones Moses and the prophets instructed us to be merciful to. By his life, he mocked Moses and the prophets. 

   Jesus points the story even further, if we will not listen to Moses and the prophets and have mercy on the poor, the afflicted, the homeless, the hungry, that His own Death and Resurrection are meaningless to us. 

Who are the people outside the gates for us today?

   We live in a society that punishes the poor, that does its best to keep them in poverty and them blame them for it. We do our best to excuse ourselves from our duty to them. We say, “it’s MY money; I earned it; you should not compel me to help them.” We justify to ourselves why it is ok to neglect the poor. 

   We have in our community the poor, the homeless, the hungry, the afflicted. If we do nothing to help them we share in this rich man’s mocking of Moses and the prophets. Again St. John Chrysostom warns us: “If we do not find Christ in these, we will not find Him in the Chalice.”

   And, there is another one who sits outside the gate whom we continue to neglect. That one is ourselves. 

   In the last week of the 40 days of Great Lent the hymns give us meditation on this parable. 

We are told that we are the one whom we neglect at the gate. 

Joseph the Studite writes the stichera for Monday  vespers of the 6th week of Lent:

I have rivaled in foolishness the rich man who showed no love for others; overwhelmed by sensual pleasures and the passions, I live in luxury and self-indulgence. I see my mind, O Lord, lying always like Lazarus before the gates of repentance, but with indifference I pass it by, and leave it hungry, sick and wounded by the passions. Therefore I deserve to be condemned to the flames of Gehenna: but deliver me from them, O Master, for Thou alone art rich in mercy. 

(Joseph the Studite – Monday  vespers of the 6th week)

   We neglect ourselves not only in lack of mercy to others, but also in lack of mercy to ourselves. We starve ourselves from prayer, reading of scripture, and giving alms. We neglect that part of us that “GETS” God most readily, our spiritual mind. 

   So, let us feed the hungry and show mercy to the poor; and let us also feed ourselves on the riches that God has passed on to us through the Church. 

Prayer for Peace

Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, ruler of the Universe Who comest to heal us. Now visit us in this time of trouble and heal our iniquities and forgive our sins. Heal also the transgressions of our enemies. May we all come to dwell in Thy Kingdom.

Grant that we may see our transgressions and offer them to Thee in confession.

For Thou art our God and we know none other than Thee, we call upon Thy Name. Deliver us from our own sicknesses, and the sickness of our enemies.

Raise us up to glorify Thee: the Father without beginning, with Thy Only begotten Son, and Thy all holy and life creating Spirit; now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen

O Lord, guide our nation through the storm that lies ahead. Though the times are uncertain, and those who would bend that path to their own ends ask us to listen to our fears, may we rise above those short sighted forays into self enrichment, and rise above our fears and walk in faith, and work together for the good of all people. O Lord grant our leaders wisdom, discretion, and discernment. Grant our civil authorities to fulfilled their offices with integrity and the knowledge that they labour for something greater than narrow concerns that some seek to impose upon them. Grant unto our people strength to weather the hard times, wisdom to see not just for ourselves, but also our parents, our children, our grandchildren; and Grant us vision that we may restore our nation to integrity and not get stuck in repeating the mistakes of the past.

Lord Jesus Christ, Who didst command us to love our enemies, and those who defame and injure us, and to pray for them and forgive them; Who Thyself didst pray for Thy enemies, who crucified Thee: grant us, we pray, the spirit of Christian reconciliation and meekness, that we may heartily forgive every injury and be reconciled with our enemies. Grant us to overcome the malevolence and offenses of people with Christian meekness and true love of our neighbour. We further beseech Thee, O Lord, to grant to our enemies true peace and forgiveness of sins; and do not allow them to leave this life without true faith and sincere conversion. And help us repay evil with goodness, and to remain safe from the temptations of the devil and from all the perils which threaten us, in the form of visible and invisible enemies. Amen.

Reader Steven Clark (2003, on the eve of the invasion of Iraq) 

Holy Prophet Amos

Sermon 3rd Sunday after Pentecost — Amos

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST !!! 

Today we celebrate the Holy Prophet Amos. Amos came from Judah, but he proclaimed his prophesy to Israel (the northern kingdom). Jeroboam II, and his father before him, had conquered much of the neighbouring territories, including parts of the kingdom of Judah, and initiated a time of relative peace and prosperity. He was not careful with his conquering and the pagan practices of those lands he conquered began to influence the people of Israel. Israel, like us today enjoyed relative prosperity, and relative ease . . . but it was a prosperity that only some enjoyed, a prosperity that was built on the backs of the poor. There was a great disparity between the rich and the poor, bribes being paid to pervert justice, cheating in business.  

He confronted the people and the king about their unjust behaviour. He was not an “official prophet” and the official prophet took offense at Amos and his words of repentance, and told Amos to go back to Judah. And so he went back to Judah and wrote down his prophecy, becoming the first of the written prophets. But before he left, he told the king of Israel and his professional prophet that Israel would be wiped out. 

In Israel the rich used their riches to take advantage of the poor. Mighty and wealthy people behaved the way they wanted to, and the poor just had to get in line and take what was dished out to them. This inequity Amos denounced. . . . Jeraboam II’s father set up altars for the recently conquered to their gods. Amos decried the cult of prostitution that became a metaphor for Israel’s unfaithfulness to God. The religions of the neighbouring people did not care for the poor and the afflicted the way the religion of Israel’s God demanded. People treated the poor badly and still pretended to worship God on the Sabbath. 

Amos’ famous lines have been oft quoted, about how worship of God means nothing if one behaves unjustly towards the poor: “You turn judgement into wormwood and leave off righteousness in the earth. . .  I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies.. . . . But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.” He was saying that if we have no justice in how we treat one another then it makes our worship of God meaningless. And because they did not turn from their evil ways, God allowed them to be obliterated. Within 30 years, Israel was no more a nation. 

Amos starts his book of prophesy by reminding the neighbouring countries that they are not exempt from God’s demands that they behave justly. We must look at our nation, and how we live in relative ease, and also how the rich live off of the misery of the poor. The words of Amos 2600 years ago still apply to us. If we allow the poor to be afflicted and do nothing to help them, we too could be obliterated as a nation. 

In today’s Gospel Jesus tells us about our darkness. He warns us that if we think our darkness is really light, then our self deception increases the darkness. . . . And when we are in darkness, we are really bad judges of what is darkness and what is light. . . . . . and . . . most of us have some degree of darkness in our mind — our νοῦς — that part of us — our mind that intuitively can see God’s glory, once we bring our darkness to God and let Him heal it. 

A man cannot serve two masters, for he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. 

What good is any of our external finery if we are blind? What can we see of it? How can we take pleasure in it?

Jesus says we cannot serve two masters. We must serve God, or be enslaved by our passions. Jesus particularly singles out greed and how it enslaves us to wealth. For the anxiety that comes from worry over wealth, wounds our vital parts. 

St. Paul tells us to “Rejoice in our sufferings.” Our world has a hard time hearing that our sufferings can work for our healing. But this is what a physician does: he or she prescribes medicine, or surgery, or exercise or diet that may not be comfortable and may make part of us suffer. Rejoicing is hard, sometimes; it requires us to look at our sufferings in a different way than our culture does. 

Instead, our world tells us to care about status, material things, stuff — rather than the health of our own soul, or even the health of the world at large. Our culture encourages us to be selfish, to please ourselves, to look at what serves ourselves — but that is destructive both of ourselves and those who are wounded by our selfishness. 

The Christianity-ish-ness of our culture likes to pretend that we CAN serve two masters; so, when our culture runs at odds with God, we are told that it is somehow “OK”. And there are many who will justify why it is “OK”.  But it is not OK. What is an abomination to God is always an abomination to God, regardless of whether it moves someone’s agenda forward or not.

How do we live the Kingdom of God in this Mammon loving world? — we love; we live in a healing way for ourselves and those we encounter; we Live the presence of God, in us, in those we meet —  Putting aside hate, fear, and anxiety. We see other people as created in the Image of God, and our way of treating others is how we treat God. 

We are anxious about much. Jesus doesn’t say “don’t concern yourself with the bodies needs.” For, as St. John Chrysostom said: Though the soul needs no food, it cannot endure to remain in the body unless the body is fed.” But there is much about our body that we cannot control; how tall we are, how long we live, whether we go bald or not, what sickness we may have to endure. Yet Orthodoxy teaches us to make the body serve the mind, spirit, and soul, and not the other way around. This is why we have a fast right now. 

Yet in spite of what we must endure in this life, Jesus tells us to seek His Kingdom first, above all. This is why we are here. This service is about the Kingdom of God. When I invoke the Kingdom at the beginning of the service, the Kingdom comes to us for this moment. For the duration of this service we stand in Eternity. We worship with the angels. When we leave this service, the challenge is to bring that touch of Eternity into our everyday lives, to our work life, our family life, our playing in life. . . to actively live the grace of God . . . the grace that changes us

To Him whose grace that is, be all Glory honour and worship; now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen. 

All Saints

Sunday of All Saints

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. 

CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST !!

   Today is the Sunday of All Saints — ALL Saints, whether known or unknown. We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses. Today’s Gospel starts with Jesus telling us that if we acknowledge Him, He will acknowledge us; if we deny Him, He will deny us. 

How do we acknowledge or deny Jesus before men? Sometimes we see this as a manipulative meme on social media to get us to copy and past someone else’s post. How do we acknowledge Christ? We must do so with our heart, mind, words, and deeds. For if we only think about God, but do nothing about what we think, then we are engaging in mental manipulation. If we do nothing about our thoughts about God, it means nothing that we think of God. This is the trap of the “spiritual but not religious”. I understand why some must say that — some have been traumatized by religious people; but it has become the number one cop-out (yes, I’m old enough to say “cop out”) The number one cop-out for not following God. We must acknowledge Christ in deeds, words, mind and heart. We cannot leave part of that out without turning our faith into an obscure meaningless mental exercise. 

   And how do we put our thoughts into action? We must realize that everyone is our neighbour, even those who we find annoying. Every human is created in God’s Image — how we treat them is how we treat God. St. Maria Skobtsova of Paris said: At the Last Judgment I shall not be asked whether I was successful in my ascetic exercises, nor how many bows and prostrations I made. Instead I shall be asked if I fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the sick and the prisoners. 

   Jesus tells us that He has come not to bring peace but a sword. How do we understand this when so many other places He has said “Peace”?

   What is this Peace that Jesus brings us? It is not like what the world offers. We Orthodox, above all, are rightfully wary of making a peace that betrays our faith. This is not the peace that Jesus offers us; yet it is often the peace the world offers. And such is a peace that Jeremiah warns us against: “They have healed the wounds of my people lightly, saying: ‘Peace, peace’ And there is no peace. Were they ashamed to commit their sin? No, not ashamed at all; they did not know how to blush.” Such a peace puts a band-aid over a gushing wound and ignores it for as long as it can until it erupts. Then we wonder, “What happened?”

   Christ offers us a peace that heals our soul and body and mind and heart. How can we have peace if disease ravages our body, our soul? Yet what our culture offers us often is full of noise and disquietness, and disease. 

   Peace — We hear among our society that we should respect peace above our faith. “Don’t make audacious claims for Christ.” To them it is better to get along. And we also see the actions of some who claim to be of faith, but their actions reveal envy, jealousy, strife, anger. They seek to use religion to justify greed, murder, slander, lies and ultimately IDOLATRY. But that some abuse religion doesn’t mean that our faith must be watered down to accommodate the fears of others. Peace with righteousness is a good thing. Being at Peace with evil is a horrible thing. We regularly see people insisting on peace with a system of bigotry, racism, and inhumanity. There are many things that are going on in our society today that are an abomination: things like abortion, the traumatizing the children of immigrants, the deliberate making of the lives of the poor more difficult, the cold blooded murder of people of colour.  . . These are the sorts of things that the Kingdom of God overturns. These are the things that Jesus tells us He has come to address. We cannot make peace with the evils of our society in order to “get along”. 

   Our loyalty to God must come before our loyalty to jobs, friends, even to family. God created us. God is saving us. Our friends and family can be part of that, or they can stand against it. 

   This is the choice that the saints made time and time again. They chose Christ over getting along. They chose Christ over their own family. They chose Christ over the temporal gains of greed and the other passions. They chose Christ over monetizing their own Life. We are invited by our culture to monetize our life, to chose the right career path, to accumulate the right stuff. It is slavery. We cannot allow this — we must not let anything come before Christ. The millions of new-Martyrs of Russia would not betray the Faith to a godless government. The betrayals our culture asks of us are much more subtle. 

   This is the choice that the saints of the Old Testament made without even being able to see the result of the promise —  as the epistle said “of whom the world was not worthy”, Yet without us, their witness is not complete. In the reading last night from Isaiah, God invites us to be His witnesses. In Christ, the promise they hoped for comes to fruition. This is the choice that a disciple of Christ makes. 

   As we celebrate ALL the saints today, whether known or unknown, yet known unto God, God calls us to become saints, to become holy ones. You; me; all of us: God calls us to follow Him and become His saints — become more than we are comfortable with — become the humans that God created us to be. 

   And there is a sense that we owe it to the Church and to the world to strive to be saints. Our faith came to these parts through the work of God’s saints: St. Herman of Alaska, St. Innocent of Moscow (our patron), St. Sebastian of Jackson, who was the founding priest of many parishes in the Pacific NorthWest (who is our spiritual great-grandfather), St. Tikhon of Moscow who laboured in this vineyard before he went back to become Patriarch during the beginning of the Soviet era in Russia, St. John of Shanghai and San Fransisco who reposed at the Cathedral in Seattle escorting the Kursk Root Icon from that very place in Russia that has blessed our mission so richly. These saints brought us the Holy Orthodox faith.  We owe it to them, and to our children to work to plant the cross here in Kitsap County, and in our own hearts. 

To Him be all glory honour and worship, now and ever and unto ages of ages.