Sunday of Orthodoxy

Sunday of Orthodoxy

CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST !!!

Today is the Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy. We celebrate the return of icons to the worship of Christ our God on earth. Today we commemorate the restoration in AD 843 of Icons. They went in procession to the Church of Theotokos ton Blakhernós, and restored the icons.

The scriptures we read were catechistic (Heb 11 and John 1:43-51). They are pointing those who will be baptised at the end of Great Lent to what the beginning of the journey was for the disciples, and reminding them of the prophets of old that looked forward to the Kingdom and the coming of the Messiah but never saw it themselves.

We celebrate the Incarnation of the Word of God Who took flesh for our sake. The indescribable deigned to become describable. As we will hear on Bright Monday: “No man has ever seen God; the only begotten Son Who Is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.”

He Who is the very radiance of the glory of God, the very Icon of His Person has shown Himself. As we sing in Matins: “God is the Lord and has revealed Himself unto us!”

Because He took flesh and dwelt among us, it is proper to depict Him in icons. For He Who is the very Icon of God has taken flesh that He Himself created in His Image, and joined the two together without confusion.

We venerate icons by kissing them as we would kiss a revered friend. We venerate them by bowing, again as to a revered friend. We also venerate them by censing them with incense. When we cense icons we are recognizing that the person depicted was created in God’s Image and reflected His likeness.

But we also cense us — we humans. We are created in God’s Image; by censing ourselves we honour that Image of God in ourselves.

So as we honour the Image of God in ourselves by censing we must ask ourselves: “Do we honour God’s Image in us?” Is how we live a reflection of that Image of God in us? Do we seek God’s will in our lives? Do we honour His image in ourselves? our family members? Our co-workers? The people we meet everyday? Do we see God’s image in the Barista who makes our coffee drink? Do we see the Image of God in the homeless person whose path we cross? Do we see the Image of God in the person whose politics we despise? In the eyes of the refugee who asks for a safe place? Do we see God’s Image in the face of those people we don’t like?

For most of us, that likeness with God is broken and distorted. Are we working with God to restore that likeness? Are we treating His Image in others remembering that He said, that how we treat the least of these is how we treat Him?

These are questions that this Sunday requires us to look at. While we are celebrating the Triumph this evening we must pause and take stock at where we are.

The older themes of this Sunday can help us. Before the restoration of Icons, this Sunday was dedicated to the prophets. If you read or sing the hymns of this Sunday you will notice that it bounces between Icons and the Prophets. If we were to do Complines tonight we would hear the older canon of the Prophets. The prophets called Israel and Judah to repentance. They called the people to treat the poor, the orphan, the widow, the foreigner with respect. They called the people to treat their children as precious gifts from God. They called the people back from and criticized the false images of their material greed, their love of power over love of people. Often the people did not repent and had to pay the cost in exile. We are encouraged during Lent to read the prophet Isaiah. No matter what age we live in, the book of Isaiah has some sobering criticism of our society.
He sandwiches his prophecies of destruction with consolation, with the message: “It doesn’t have to be that way; you can repent.” By Chapter 40 it becomes clear that the people won’t repent, and he prepares them for exile and return. I commend to you all the reading of Isaiah.

This is what the Church asks us to chew on as we journey towards Pascha. God calls us in this period to work with Him to restore His likeness in us. The prayers are all a part of that. The services are all a part of that. Fasting is all a part of that. Alms are all a part of that. The Triodion is part of that. The prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian is part of that. These are the tools we have been given. These tools must be applied with love or they will be useless to us.

God calls us today to restore His Likeness in us, just as the icons were restored to the Churches.

The Last Judgement

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.
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.”

And He divides the sheep from the goats, the righteous from the wicked. 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. Come ye blessed, inherit the Kingdom that was prepared for you from the foundation.

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.

Brothers and sisters, we live in a culture dominated by protestant calvinism. If you read social theory you will find that they have divided the poor into “deserving poor” and “undeserving poor”  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. For if indeed you had been charged by God to investigate and to judge, well and good, but, as it is, the fact that he has fallen into misfortune is all you need to know. 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
The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat hanging unused in your closet belongs to the one who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the one who has no shoes; the money which you put in the bank belongs to the poor. — St. Basil The Great
There is your brother, naked, crying, and you stand there confused over the choice of an attractive floor covering. — St. Ambrose of Milan
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; I was thirsty and 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.
In a week we will begin 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-peddled 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.

in-as-much

Parable of the Good Samaritan

Parable of the Good Samaritan

 

Once again we come to the story of the lawyer testing Jesus. Once again Jesus bounces the question back at the lawyer. Once again the Lawyer answers rightly “Love God; love your neighbour.” Once again Jesus tells him he is right, do this and he will live. Once again the Jesus turns back the attempt to ensnare Him.

But Luke continues the story where Matthew left it. The lawyer seems to sense that Jesus has pointed out to him especially the need to love his neighbour. And so he seeks to justify himself, and asks, “Who is my neighbour?” Jesus answers with this well known parable of the Good Samaritan.

Samaritans were viewed as halfbreed New Age semi-believers; they believed a little bit of everything.  The Jews despised them. If Jesus were giving this parable to the Westboro Baptist, the Samaritan would be gay; if He were giving this parable to a racist,  he would be black. So we must ask ourselves, who do we despise? This is the person who is the Samaritan for us.

We all know this parable well, there is no point in me retelling it. But who are we in this parable?

First, in a very real sense, we are that lawyer in that question, “Who is my neighbour?”

Do we respond to need like the priest or the Levite? both of whom had legitimate reasons that they could use to justify not helping? Do we respond with questions, “what will happen to me if I help?” If they touched blood, or if the wounded man died on them, they would not be able to serve in the temple. Both priest and Levite put their own concerns above the needs of the wounded man. The Samaritan realized that the man could well die if he did not help, and so he helped him and bound up his wounds. This is a service that Jesus calls us all to in this parable, to bind up the wounds of others we come in contact with.

Sometimes the wounds are obvious; sometimes they are not. We must be the one who has mercy. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

So our neighbour is everyone. And in this day of internet and global communications, our neighbour may well be on another continent. We must be the one who has mercy. We must be the one who listens, who hears, who gives space for others who hide their wounds.

In another sense, we are the innkeeper. We have been given a stewardship for the care of others. We must attend to them, for the Lord has already made payment to us, and has promised to recompense us if we spend more. We also, as innkeeper, have a charge to keep our inn in good order. The inn was a hospital to the wounded man. Here we have this church that is a hospital for wounded souls. We must do our best to make sure this ministry is available for all.

Thirdly, we are the man who fell among thieves. During the 5th week of Great Lent the hymns of Vespers and Matins remind us of this; many of them are based on this very parable.  Thursday Vespers before the Great Canon has this hymn:

In my wretchedness, I have fallen among the the thieves of my own thoughts. My mind has been despoiled, and cruelly have I been beaten; all my soul is wounded, and stripped of the virtues, I lie naked upon the highway of life. Seeing me in bitter pain and thinking that my wounds could not be healed,  the priest neglected me and would not look at me. Unable to endure my soul-destroying agony, the levite when he saw me passed by on the other side. But Thou, O Christ my God, was pleased to come, not from Samaria, but incarnate from Mary: in Thy love for mankind, grant me healing and pour upon me Thy great mercy.

I am the man who fell among thieves, even my own thoughts; they have covered all my body with wounds, and I lie beaten and bruised. But come to me, O Christ my Saviour and heal me.

   Jesus is the Good Samaritan Who binds up our self-inflicted wounds. We are our own enemy. We inflicted upon ourselves grievous wounds. But Christ comes to us to bind up and heal those wounds.

The Parable of Lazarus and the rich man

Sermon 20th week after Pentecost

CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST!

Lazarus lay at the gate every day. The rich man could not excuse himself for not knowing about Lazarus’ condition.

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, who at least showed mercy to Lazarus in the way they knew how to show mercy.

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 – 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 too. 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. These are the very ones Moses and the prophets instructed us to be merciful. 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 rivalled 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.

To Him be glory, now and ever and unto the ages of ages.

Is this how we treat women in our culture?

A presidential candidate of a major US political party has commented that he has sexually assaulted women; there are women who will corroborate his claim. This is not about the language he used; this is about what he said, and that he has acted on what he said multiple times.

Some of you are already knee-jerk reacting to this. You are not letting this sink in. In our political process, this is the person who has risen to the top of the heap.

We, as a nation are seriously broken. In earlier times no one would question that this person’s political career was over. Yet we are busy trying to justify it, to find reasons for why it is OK.

Most of us know women who have been sexually assaulted. If the women felt they could trust the culture more, I suspect that more would admit to it.

This has a horrible and lasting effect on women. Yes, many have risen above it — and many still battle what was done. It is especially hard on those women who were betrayed by someone they trust. I know of one who daily battles thoughts of suicide over being raped when she was a teenager. The damage it does is immense.

We owe it to all women to take this seriously. Healing is much easier when women are validated and believed. Minimizing and victim blaming serve only to re-offend the abuse at the hands of those who should be helping.

Orthodox Christian Faith and Our Culture

I think there is a fear (and a legitimate one) that the Orthodox faith will be coopted by people for political purposes. The Orthodox faith tends to restrain and anchor liberals among us and kick conservatives in the pants. It is not something that can be tamed to fit in one political camp or the other. There are horrors that are justified by both extremes of our political spectrum.

 
We need to have an Orthodox conversation about the things that are done in our society. We should be a prophetic voice to our culture. Instead we are remixing various protestant criticisms of our culture. Thus we find ourselves in camps where we condemn one kind of sin and find justification for why another is not worth condemning. By re-running poorly thought out heterodox issues that were really designed to polarize our political landscape (yes, deliberately designed) we have lost our unique calling of mankind to be transformed and reflect the Image of God in Whom we are created. — Fr. Steven Clark

Rich Young Man comes to Christ

Sermon 12th Sunday after Pentecost

CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST !!!

AMEN, I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

A rich young man comes to Jesus with a mixture of honest seeking and with a certain amount of pride. He sees the Kingdom of God as something he can earn through a good act of his own. Jesus cuts him short and points him to the 10 commandments. In Mark’s account of this, the young man comes and kneels before Jesus when he asks this question.

Jesus in pointing him to the decalogue invites him to look closer at his life: You shall not kill — but who have we killed through slander? through dispiriting others in our desire to win? in our ignoring the needs of the afflicted? You shall not commit adultery — but though we may be faithful to our spouse, have we been unfaithful to friends, to our commitments, unfaithful to God? How have we let our lust for power wound others? You shall not steal — but how have we taken from others, joy, fellowship, or even the basic needs that we enjoy and they may be in want of? You shall not bear false witness — but how have we deceived others; how have we deceived ourselves? How have we dishonoured those in our family? How have we not loved our neighbour as ourselves?

Though this young man is honestly seeking, he is not able to honestly looking at himself. But even though he is not able to be honest with himself, he senses a lack in himself. Jesus has pointed him to the commandments that help us not destroy our lives. Interestingly He says “if you would ENTER life”, not if you would HAVE life; for life is not in the law. The Law is an introduction to, an instruction in life, but it is not that Life itself. Though the young man is not able to look at himself honestly and thoroughly; he cannot search himself with rigour; yet, he still senses, and confesses his lack.

St. Augustine here notes the question implied: “What good does it do you to follow the Law, and you do not follow Me?

The young man deemed himself not to be a thief, yet at his young age he had amassed great wealth. His desire to do good conflicted with his desire to hold on to his goods.

We are all here today as a statement of our desire to follow Christ. When we sing the Symbol of Faith: “I believe…” in both Greek and Slavonic it is Faith as a verb: “I Faith in one God…” It is not enough that we have a rational structure about God; we must follow Him.

The young man goes away sorrowfully. Part of him wants to follow the path Jesus has set for him. But he is unable, or unwilling to let go of the one thing that rules his desires. He is not yet mature enough spiritually to desire above all else the Word of God that he encounters.

Whether we take the Greek “camel” or the Aramaic “rope” (rope and camel are a pun in Greek) … whether we take a camel or a rope through the eye of the needle, or if we understand it as a metaphor for the surgeon’s needle that must bind up our wounds, what must be accomplished in us for our salvation is accomplished by God.  St. John Chrysostom enjoins us not to feel that since it is God Who accomplishes this, that we can just relax and let Him do it. NO; this is a rigorous contest, and we must call upon God and cooperate with Him.

So the dilemma of the young rich man can point us to healing if we will let it. Just has he did not understand how short he fell in his attempts to follow the law, so we too all have areas of our life that we just have difficulty looking at honestly. We all have areas of our life where we only look at the surface; we all have areas of our life where that we attempt to justify to ourselves. Jesus invites us to set those aside and follow Him.

To whom be glory honour and worship, now and  ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.