Last year in Charlottesville
For from the least of them even unto the greatest of them every one is given to covetousness; and from the prophet even unto the priest every one dealeth falsely.
14 They have healed also the wound of the daughter of my people lightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace.
15 Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush: therefore they shall fall among them that fall: at the time that I visit them they shall be cast down, saith the Lord.
16 Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein.
In our country today abominations are happening daily: Abominations of abortion, abominations of forcibly removing children from their parents. Both are abominations. One group seeks to justify the first abomination; another group seeks to justify the second abomination. Some are pointing to the other abomination and insisting that it somehow justifies commiting the other abomination, as if we are ourselves children going to our parents who ask “DID YOU?” and responding with “BUT HE”.
There is no justification. Jesus offers His harshest condemnation to those who offend the children: “It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he be cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.”
Both of them are abominations. We are wounding our children and ourselves; a wound that affects them, and us for life. For that we are OK with allowing the children to be wounded shows our own wound. With Jeremiah the prophet we must condemn both, for both treat the Image of God as something to be thrown away. In Jeremiah’s day, he condemned the offering of children to Ba-al Molech. Today we are offering our children to be thrown away.
Let us bring our wounds to the Physician that they may be healed. We must stop doing this, or we must face the judgement of God through His prophet.
First Three days of Holy Week
The King of the Universe enters Jerusalem in humility — He even had to borrow a donkey to ride. And the Pharisees are upset. This One Whom they had counted as an enemy is now proclaimed King of Israel.
Thus begins Holy Week. Jesus comes as a humble King. And Time as we know it begins to pass away. In the Eucharist, the Passion, the Death, the Resurrection, the Kingdom of God breaks into our time. That which is without Time comes to dwell in time. The fathers of the Church underline this by having no assigned Tone to this week. The Octoechi have ceased. Time, as we usually measure it, in the Church, is going away.
Our services in the parishes underscore this. Morning services begin to be served in the evening, and evening services are served in the morning. Time is beginning to wobble.
Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evening we celebrate the Bridegroom Matins. The theme of these services is the same as the parables of the Heavenly Banquet. Jesus had said: “The Kingdom of God is like unto a banquet.” The Kingdom of God is that Time-outside-of-time. This banquet we prepare for on these days. And we prepare ourselves, for “Behold the Bridegroom cometh at midnight…” And the great Banquet we prepare for is the Eucharist that we shall see inaugurated on the coming Thursday, and the Passion that we will encounter later in the week. And the Passion flavours everything we do this week, “for Christ, in His love, hastens to His sufferings.” These first three days are seen as a first-fruit of the Passion.
The daily themes of the Bridegroom Matins focus on the movement towards the end of time as we know it.
The first day of the Bridegroom Matins we focus on the Patriarch Joseph, who fled the temptation of Potiphar’s wife, and who was placed by God, in a time of famine to preserve his people. He also set in motion the events that would require the Passover. The Gospel focuses on the Fig tree. The Fig tree was not ready to encounter Jesus, and so it was cursed. This is a rebuke and a warning to us. We go to Church services and do our best to appear religious, but we lack the fruits of religion: we do not feed the hungry, give to the poor, visit the sick and imprisoned. Instead we are self-willed, greedy, arrogant, and prideful. Part of our preparation to receive the Kingdom of God is to be watchful over these things in our selves and to be merciful to others.
On Tuesday, we focus on the Ten virgins, half of whom were prepared for the coming of the Bridegroom, and half of which were not. The service asks of us “Are we prepared? Are we ready?” much in the same way that our weekly preparation for communion asks us. The Kingdom of God is coming to us; that day beyond all days will soon be upon us. And what about the oil? Oil is a pun for mercy. Five had plenty of mercy, five did not. So we must be merciful to all, for behold the Bridegroom comes at midnight.
On Wednesday, we are given a contrast between the sinful woman who anoints Jesus’ feet, and Judas who betrays Jesus.
Jesus comes to be anointed before His death. It is both for His death and to indicate Him as the anointed One, the Christ, that He is anointed. He is anointed not by His host, but by a sinful woman, a harlot. What Simon the Pharisee withheld from Jesus this woman gives freely. The Lord of the Universe is recognized by the humble, while the self-righteous miss Him even when He comes to them. All Simon can offer Jesus is his offense at the offering of this woman.
And Judas also takes offense. Jesus rebukes him. He paraphrases Deuteronomy: “The Poor you shall always have with you.” This has been used by some as a justification for doing nothing for the poor. But the rest of that verse in Deuteronomy says: “Therefore, I command thee saying: thou shalt open thy hand wide unto thy brother and to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land.” Jesus makes reference to our duty to the poor, but indicates that His time with them in the flesh is limited — that it must be savoured.
Jesus is telling them that there will be plenty of opportunities to minister to Him indirectly by ministering to the poor — but this is a unique opportunity to minister to Him directly.
And lest we exalt ourselves above Judas, let us remember that at the betrayal, in Matthew’s Gospel he kisses Jesus with affection. How do we kiss Jesus? Mostly we kiss him mindlessly, without thought or attention. Judas intentionally betrayed Jesus — we betray Him without intention, but we still betray Him. In the Kontakion we acknowledge that we have transgressed more than the harlot. We also transgress more than Judas. Yet we are assured, in the hymn of Kassiani, that Christ has mercy without measure.
Each night the Exapostilarion of the feast sings: Thy Bridal Chamber, I see adorned, O Saviour; and I have no wedding garment that I may enter.
What is our wedding garment? It is love: Love of God and neighbour. This we must not only feel, we must also do, that the Giver of Light may illumine our soul and save us.
Sometimes we indulge our passions as a substitute for sitting with uncomfortable feelings. It is helpful to note those feelings and inquire in oneself what their origin might be. Sometimes our passions are formed by being around abuse. We may not see it or notice it, but it affects us. Next time passion comes knocking, don’t fast – fasting may feed it; don’t indulge either. Sit quietly with the knocking and ask questions of it. — Fr. Steven Clark
THE NATIVITY SERMON OF ST JOHN CHRYSOSTOM
“I behold a new and wondrous mystery!…
“ My ears resound to the shepherd’s song,
piping no soft melody,
but loudly chanting a heavenly hymn!
The angels sing!
The archangels blend their voices in harmony!
The cherubim resound their joyful praise!
The seraphim exalt His glory!
All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead herein…on earth and man in heaven. He Who IS above now, for our salvation, dwells here below; and we who were lowly, are exalted by divine mercy!
Today Bethlehem resembles heaven, hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices and in place of the sun, witnessing the rising of the Sun of Righteousness!
Ask not how this is accomplished, for where God wills, the order of nature is overturned. For He willed. He had the powers. He descended. He saved. All things move in obedience to God.
Today, He Who IS, is born. And He Who IS becomes what He was not! For though He is God, He becomes man – while not relinquishing the Godhead that is His…
And so the kings have come, and they have seen the Heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him angels, nor archangels, nor thrones, nor dominions, nor powers, nor principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.
Yet He has not forsaken His angels, nor left them deprived of His care, nor because of His incarnation has He ceased being God. Behold, kings have come, that they might serve the leader of the hosts of heaven; women come, that they might adore Him who was born of a woman so that He might change the pains of childbirth into joy; virgins come, to the son of the virgin…infants come, that they may adore Him Who became a little child, so that out of the mouths of infants He might perfect praise; children come, to the Child Who raised up martyrs through the rage of Herod; men come, to Him who became Man that He might heal the miseries of His servants; shepherds come, to the good shepherd who has laid down His life for His sheep; priests come, to Him Who has become a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek; servants come, to Him who took upon Himself the form of a servant, that He might bless our stewardship with the reward of freedom; fishermen come, to the Fisher of humanity; publicans come, to Him who from among them named a chosen evangelist; sinful women come, to Him who exposed His feet to the tears of the repentant woman.
And that I may embrace them all together, all sinners have come, that they may look upon the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world! Since, therefore, all rejoice, I too desire to rejoice!, I too wish to share the choral dance, to celebrate the festival! but I take my part, not plucking the harp nor with the music of the pipes, nor holding a torch, but holding in my arms the cradle of Christ!
For this is all my hope! This is my life! This is my salvation. This is my pipe, my harp!
And bearing it I come, and having from its power received the gift of speech, I too with the angels and shepherds sing:
Glory to God in the highest! and on earth peace good will to men!”
Sermon 7th Week after Pentecost
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST !!!!
Bear one another’s burdens . . . We who are strong must bear the infirmities of the weak; just as Christ has bore our infirmities. This is a beautiful turn of phrase in Greek. Paul deliberately alludes to Isaiah.
Brothers and Sisters: Most of us are strong in some areas, not so strong in other areas. This is what comes from our experience, our toil, our facing adversity. We each face, and are strengthened in one area and become mature, and yet we are still children in other areas. We should not reproach ourselves for this. We see this in Peter who in one moment confesses Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and then at the very next moment tells Jesus that He cannot go and suffer death, and must be rebuked for this. We can be strong for others, but we also need others to be strong for us. Paul lays this upon us as an obligation we have to each other. Just as Christ bore our reproach, so we also must bear each other, pray for each other, be present and listen to each other, love each other. In Galatians, Paul tells us to “bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
So we must bear with the weakness of others and build them up and strengthen them rather than blame them for their weakness, for in other areas they are the strong and we are the weak. For we are one body; the weakness of others is our weakness — the strength of others is our strength.
For God has received us and listens and loves and is present to us even in our weaknesses, failings, and prejudices, and has born our infirmity upon Himself, and seeks our healing.
In the Gospel, Jesus heals. He has just raised the daughter of the Synagogue leader. Now He privately heals the blind, and the dumb/deaf. There are three levels of this that cause the pharisees anguish: He heals; the people follow Him; His healing fulfills prophesy. The blind men cannot see, but find out enough to know that Jesus is coming by. It is interesting how they address Jesus. Usually only the demonic address Jesus as “Son of David”. Of them, Jesus asks if they have faith. Note, that they did not see and then believe; they had faith and then saw. And Jesus does not heal them when they first cry out to Him. He waits until He has come to His own home after the crowds are gone to heal them.
The dumb one cannot hold this sort of conversation. Jesus casts out the demon who has imprisoned this one’s tongue. The word for “dumb” in Greek is interchangeable with “deaf”. And the one formerly possessed by the demon now gives glory to God.
And the people exclaim: There has never been seen this way in Israel. In putting Jesus before all, the prophets, even before Moses. The pharisees bristled.
This fulfills the prophesy of Isaiah (35). “Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like an hart and the tongue of the stutterer shall speak plainly.”
Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees . . .Comfort one another . . . Behold our God will come . . . and save us.
This is what Jesus points to when He gives His one sentence sermon in the synagogue. This is what Jesus points to when the disciples of John the Baptist question Him.
And what of us? Where are we strong that we need to give aid to others? Where are we weak that we need to ask for help? Where are we like the people to whom Isaiah was charged to speak: See; and in seeing perceive not: Hear, and in hearing understand not.? Where are we spiritually blind and deaf?
The Kingdom of God is come upon us. We just spent the last hour in the banquet feast of the Kingdom. The Kingdom is here for our healing and the healing of our stronger and weaker brethren.
To the King be glory honour and worship, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen
Sunday of the Man Born Blind
CHRIST IS RISEN !!
Who sinned? This is a question that people have been asking for a long time, from Job, to Jeremiah, to our present day tabloids. We live in a calvinist society where we think (even though if we consciously thought about it we’d deny it), never-the-less we live and make policy as if those who were prosperous were blessed, and those who were not had somehow sinned or were not worthy. We hear of judges who excuse the crimes of the wealthy and dole out to the poor the harshest of sentences. Even though it is not our conscious thought, it is never-the-less written into our culture in ways we often do not notice. This sort of thought was not unknown in the ancient world, but there were passages from the writings and the prophets that rebutted it.
Job does not sin, yet his wealth and children, and health are gone. His friends are sure that Job did something to cause this. Job did nothing to cause it — and he is vindicated in the end.
Jeremiah: In those days they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children’s teeth are set on edge. But every one shall die for his own iniquity: every man that eateth the sour grape, his teeth shall be set on edge. Jer 31:29-30
Yet this understanding still infected the disciples. And they had heard from the healing of the Paralytic Jesus say: Go and sin no more. It would have been easy for them to hear this in conjunction with their previous beliefs.
Yet, this man did not go blind; he was born blind; he did not have the opportunity to sin. This got the disciples to thinking. . . . to them, suffering was somehow evil. . . Jesus points out that it is not so, that his suffering is not the result of evil. And through his suffering God is to be glorified. . . . That the works of God might be manifest in him.
Jesus, in the previous chapter of the Gospel told the pharisees that He was the Light of the world. Now, away from the pharisees for the moment He says “While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world. Part of the reason this Gospel finds its place before Ascension is that we know what will happen this coming Thursday. The Light of the world will return to His Father and will take to His Father an offering of our humanity that has been sanctified. And as Jesus had told His detractors, “The children of the bridal chamber cannot mourn So long as the Bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast.”
And then, to show that He is the Word by Whom all things were created, He spits in the dust and makes mud or clay and re-fashions eyes for the man born with defective eyes. Unlike the Paralytic, He does not ask the man if he wants to be healed, nor does He promise healing. He simply sends him to the pool to wash as an act of obedience. And here again, water figures into the story. And the fathers understand the pool of Siloam to be a figure of baptism.
The man comes back seeing. He is illumined, not just physically but also spiritually. Having washed, he encounters Grace.
Now, just as last week with the Samaritan Woman, the Blind man becomes an evangelist. For Jesus not only opened his physical eyes, but also his spiritual eyes. He was a simple beggar, but he confounds the pharisees (the doctors of the law) with his statements and questions — the same pharisees that were confounded by Jesus a week and a half ago in the middle of the feast. He could see. The pharisees, for all their physical sight, could not see. They were blind.
Jesus healed on the Sabbath. The pharisees could not see past this.
The pharisees began to use all the rhetorical tricks they knew to somehow invalidate the miracle that had been performed by Jesus. (Some of those rhetorical tricks are still used today.) They wanted to see his birth certificate; they called his parents. “Is this YOUR SON whom YOU SAY was born blind?” It was as if they were accusing the parents of blinding their son after he was born.
Then when the parents verify their son and his blindness they try again: “GIVE GLORY TO GOD! We know that this man is a sinner!” They say ‘Give glory to God.’ but they are really asking the man to blaspheme God.
The man born blind responds with humility, saying only what he knows while not agreeing with their conclusions. Then they badger the witness, asking him what they’ve already asked. This simple beggar refused to be badgered. He then turns it back on the Pharisees: “Why do you ask again? do you want to be His disciples too?”
The pharisees are still trying to “prove” Jesus to be a sinner. The man born blind puts forth that a sinner could not do what He just did. Not even Moses healed a man born blind.
And with that, this simple beggar shows himself to be wiser than the pharisees. And . . . they . . . can’t stand it. . .. “You were utterly born in sin, and you dare to teach us?”
They basically called him an S.O.B and threw him out.
Jesus then finds the man and completes his illumination. As He revealed Himself to the Samaritan woman last week, so now He reveals Himself to the man born blind. This is the first time that the man actually sees Jesus, though he recognizes His voice.
Jesus makes a reference to the prophesy of Isaiah: See and in seeing perceive not; hear and in hearing understand not. . . . “. . .and those who see may become blind.” . . . The pharisees overhear that and respond with “Oh, so we’re blind?!” Jesus tells them that because they assume they can see that they are responsible for their sin as if they could really see it. Their assumption that they can see prevents them from exploring the many ways they are blind. This miracle had been done before them, and they refused to see. And Christ calls their refusal to see a sin.
And so now that we have had this introduction we come down to the actual sermon:
In seeing the blind man was illumined in spirit. How do our eyes work for seeing the deeper things of God?
What can we not see? What can we not even perceive that we aren’t seeing?
We live in a culture that discourages personal inventory, of looking at ourselves, at what passions drive us. Our culture would rather sell stuff to our passions than have us look at what is making our choices for us. We live in a culture that would rather us not see. Yet to grow spiritually we need to look at those very things. To break the cycle of greed, lust, envy we need to look into ourselves honestly and see the uncomfortable things (both good and bad) about us, . . . and own those things . . . and bring them to God . . . and work with Him to let those things be healed.
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