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.

Advertisements

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.

Jesus meets the disciples walking on water

Sermon for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost

 

CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST !!! — Be of good cheer; I AM; cease your fearing.

Let’s set the scene: Jesus was just told that His cousin, John the forerunner was murdered at the behest of Herod. When Jesus tries to recuperate, John’s disciples have joined His and swelled their ranks. As we heard in last week’s Gospel, He fed them in the wilderness. Now He must recuperate. He sends His disciples ahead on a boat while He goes off up the mountain to pray; and He prays deep into the night.

As darkness descends on the sea, the wind picks up. They are experienced fishermen and not concerned at first. Then the wind drives even more. Last time they were in this situation Jesus was with them but sleeping. This time Jesus is not with them. For 9 hours they battle the waves and the wind. Then, if things weren’t bad enough, they see a something off in the distance. They become even more frightened. What is this “THING” that is on top of the water? They were seasoned fishermen and they had never seen anything like this. IT’S A GHOST !!!

Jesus speaks calmly to them: “Be of good cheer; I AM; cease your fearing.”

This is an astonishing declaration. Jesus said things like this many times when they were visiting Jerusalem, at the feasts, and He was teaching the people. It’s all over the Gospel of John — but in the synoptics, it is rare: “Be of good cheer; I AM; cease your fearing.” He is telling them that He is God and that He is in charge of the situation.

Protestant scholars try to find ways to dismiss such statements as if they are unique to John’s Gospel, and thus, somehow, don’t count. But here it is in Matthew: “Be of good cheer; I AM; cease your fearing.”

Peter is still in his impetuous stage. In a strange mixture of both doubt and faith he says: “IF it be Thou, command me come to Thee on the water.” Rash, and full of faith, yet spoken in the subjunctive, “IF it be Thou, …”

Jesus said: “Come.” And getting out of the ship, Peter walks on the water toward Jesus. But he did the very thing that Jesus commanded him not to — he did not cease his fearing, and so he began to sink; and he begs Jesus to save him. Taking Peter by the hand, Jesus very gently rebukes him. It sounds much harsher in English. In Greek it is more like “little faithed one, why didst thou doubt?” It is a tender rebuke — a rebuke one might give to a child: “Little faithed one”: Keep coming back Peter; you’ll get this eventually.

And Jesus takes a humbled Peter in the ship and the wind ceased. And the other disciples get to make the acclamation that Peter had made: “Thou art the Son of God.”

And when they get to Gennesaret the people recognized Jesus. He has been there before. So they brought the sick to touch the hem of His garment.

Be of good cheer; I AM; cease your fearing.

So as the people of Gennesaret now know they are in need of healing. So we are also in need of healing: Healing from our wounds, healing from our fears, healing from our mixed faith that is ready to move forward IF — IF our fears can be addressed.

And Jesus says to all of us here: Be of good cheer; I AM; cease your fearing. To Him be glory always now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Relics of Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas found to be Incorrupt

The relics of Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas and the South were translated on March 4th from the grave in which he had been interred, to St. Seraphim Orthodox Cathedral in Dallas. When the casket was opened it was found that even though extreme moisture had built up in the coffin, that Vladyka’s body was found to be incorrupt.

Here follows an eye-witness account

Eye-witness account of the Translation of the Relics of Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas

Archbishop Dmitri with twinkle in his eye

Archbishop Dmitri with twinkle in his eye

If you can REJOICE when the world has gone mad. . .

I am republishing my Meditation on the Sandy Hook Massacre

It seems appropriate for this day.

On Dec 14 2012 20 children and 6 teachers were murdered. My choir, the Illumni Men’s Choral, had a concert that very evening, a Christmas Concert. How do we sing of Christmas in the midst of such tragedy. This is my…

Meditation on the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary

Christ Crying

REJOICE !!!. The Hymn says. REJOICE !!!

And yet it is hard to rejoice. Innocent Children die at the hand of a person that we are most comfortable calling “Mad”, because we cannot understand “why?”.

REJOICE !!!! the Hymn Says. But how can the parents, who must bury their child, the joy of their hearts, the expectation of their dreams, who are going though the worst thing a parent can go though, rejoice?

REJOICE !!!! the Hymn almost demands. But how can our communities rejoice that will never know the contribution of the little ones who now lie dead?

This is much more like the Carol that is proper to the days of Christmas (Dec 28th or 29th, depending on which calendar you keep), the Coventry Carol. “Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more.” Indeed we must celebrate these young lives that have been cut off; and I can think of no better time than the Feast of the Holy Innocents.

REJOICE !!! the Hymn remonstrates.

How can we rejoice when there is so much pain? The poet muses about that in one of our Christmas Carols: “And in despair I bowed my head; there is no peace on earth I said, for hate is strong and mocks the song of Peace on Earth good will to men.

REJOICE!!! the Hymn almost mocks

There is no sense to the violence that has visited us. It is an insult to truth to assign it a meaning. How can we rejoice?

And yet when we look at that hymn, it speaks of exile, of mourning, of a captivity that needs God Himself to come and undo. As we mourn the fallen innocents, we also mourn our own fallen innocence. It touches the tender part of us that does its best to trust in a world that cannot be trusted. It is that part of us, the part that is still child like, that feels the wound most deeply. We feel the violence done to these dear ones deeply in ourselves. On some level we share in that wound, a wound that is not easily healed

The Hymn acknowledges all that, and still confronts us: REJOICE !!!!

Sometimes “REJOICE” is an act of defiance.