Sunday of St. John Climacus

Sermon Sunday of St. John Climacus

Heb 6:13–20, Eph 5:9–19; Mark 9:17–31, Matt 4:25–5:12 2 


   Today’s Gospel happens shortly after Transfiguration. It starts out with a puzzling comment. A crowd is pressing and there is an argument coming from the scribes. This is how it often is: the evil one seeks to exploit divisions among us to try to undo what we are trying to accomplish in healing, in coming together in the unity of the Faith. And indeed there is dirty work afoot. 

   And there is a young lad who is possessed. Jesus does not take a magical approach and rush to heal him. Instead He starts by addressing the father and his needs: needs that he doesn’t even know he has, because his attention has been on getting help for his son. He asks a question of his father: How long has he been like this? The answer goes to illustrate that it is not because of a particular sin that this child is possessed.  

   The father is in despair. And it is important to note that Jesus does not rush to heal his son; He starts by addressing the father’s despair. This has been going on for a long time. He has asked help of Jesus’ disciples, and they were unable to help. The faith of the disciples was still young, immature — growing, but not yet full. Jesus’ rebuke will echo in His conversation with the father, for the disciples also were in that “I believe, help Thou my unbelief” place. 

   This father asks help of Jesus in the subjunctive mood “IF you can do anything…” Jesus immediately confronts this “IF YOU CAN HELP!!?? All things are possible for the one who faiths. (and we must mention here that convincing yourself that all things are possible is not what Jesus is talking about. He is talking about a living faith.)

   The father recognizes his despair and cries to Jesus: I believe, help Thou my unbelief (I faith, help Thou my unfaith). His faith, like the disciples was not full. He had been seeking help for his child for many years. Part of him had given up. His confession was an honest admission of his immature faith and his despair. 

   And so Jesus commands by His word as the Word of God, then as a Man he reaches out to take the hand of the child. And restoring the child to his father, Jesus commends to His disciples: Prayer and Fasting. 

   And so we begin this 5th week; some of us have grown weary of the prayer and fasting, just as this father had grown weary of seeking help for his son. Yet we are told we must pray and fast. 

   And so Jesus again tells them that the Son of Man must be killed and on the third day He will rise again. This did not fall well on the disciple’s ears; it did not fit their pre-conceived notions. Their faith was not yet full enough to hear and understand what He was saying. 

   Sleepers awake, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light. 

When the Light of Christ shines on us, it illumines our souls; it also shows us what was hitherto hidden in the darkness. We must expose those things and bring them to Christ for healing and in this way cleanse ourselves. But we must take care how we do this. We must be careful not to create a scandal by focusing on other people’s sins. The prayer of St. Ephraim asks God to show us our own sins and not to judge our brother. 

   Be not drunk with wine: This is also something we pray for in the prayer of St. Ephraim: Sobriety. (sometimes this is translated as “chastity”) But sobriety is not in abstinence from wine. Wine is given to gladden the heart — not for intoxication. The sobriety being asked for is a watchfulness … as we sing the Psalm at Presanctified: Set a watch, O Lord before my mouth. Indeed, the Apostle Paul commends to us the hymns and Psalms as a way of sobriety. Here is part of the richness of our faith that as we have learned the hymns and Psalms, we take them with us as we face our week. 

   We catechize ourselves through the hymns. This is why it is important to sing our hymns. We teach ourselves the faith by listening and singing. 

   For as we sing the Cherubic Hymn for Presanctified we note that “Lo the King of Glory enters, Lo the mystical sacrifice, is upbourne fulfilled.” At Holy Saturday the Cherubic Hymn tells us “the King of kings and Lord of lords draws near to be sacrificed and given as food to the faithful.” 

   The Church sets before us this Sunday a great ascetic model: St. John Climacus. One of the reasons he found his place here this Sunday is that we are about to embark on the 5th week of Great Lent. We will have the “Before I perish utterly, save me” PreSanctified Liturgy; we will have the full Great Canon along with the life of St. Mary of Egypt; we will have an extra PreSanctified Liturgy and the Akathist Hymn. We need the encouragement of such an ascetic to help us through this week. And though he was an ascetic, he did not fast beyond measure, nor did he do many of the ascetic works that we often hear about. Rather he sought humility. 

   In the hymns of Vespers this week we are given the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Indeed those of us who went to Vigil or Matins have already heard the beginning of these.

   We meet all sorts of people along the Jericho Road, and some of them are victims whose only claim is that they have need. Along the Jericho Road we meet people who think that life is what they can take and what they can exact, what they can demand from us or from others. We also meet along the way people who feel that religion is one thing and the cries of humanity are another. (Rev Henry Durham)

   The hymns this coming week take a different approach. They invite us to consider ourselves the man who fell among thieves, and Christ as the Samaritan Who comes to save us from death. We will hear in the Great Canon: 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.

   We are invited by the hymns to consider that we are our own worst enemy. Our thoughts and passions have beaten us up and robbed us. Yet Christ comes to heal our self-inflicted wounds and to bind them up and to heal them. 

   He, the eternal God comes to us and offers Himself. His sacrifice is not temporary as sacrifices were in the past. Since He is eternal, His sacrifice is eternal. Therefore His sacrifice is both for all times, and beyond all times. 

   Let us take to heart these words and see how we injure ourselves far worse than any enemy. Let us accept Christ as He comes to bind our our wounds and heal us. 

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

We admitted that we were powerless over God, and that our lives had become unmanageble

We admitted that we were powerless over God and that our lives had become unmanageable 

In our western culture of faith we really don’t trust God. It is not because that is how we want it to be; it is how the heritage has developed. We want to be assured; we want to have the right facts; we want to be certain — all the things that are incompatible with Faith in God Who IS mystery.

In our desire to have the right facts we shift our being with God from relationship, to aspects about God. We make lengthy and impassioned forays into categories and aspects  and characteristics of God, and think we do Him justice.

In the story of the Garden of Eden, what changed for man in sinning was intimacy with God. We now had to contend with the noisy mind that could no longer simply relate to God. We exchanged intimacy with experiencing good and evil. And this tendency to take our experiencing as an exchange for encountering God has influenced how we do theology.

We treat God as if He were a formula that we must fulfill (like an incantation), or as a being that can be legally obligated to do what we want. We treat the Eternal God like our errand boy, like an object to be used — a holy vending machine.

We treat the Eternal Almighty God as if He were our local Ba-al on steroids. We assume He is on our side but make no effort to make sure we are on His side. This even shows up in how we try to string our way of doing theology into how we do politics. We want God to bless us and stick it to our enemies. Today we have people who think that if they can change the politics to fit their theories about god that we can force God’s hand, so that God will HAVE to come and establish His Kingdom. This is both a misunderstanding the nature of the Kingdom, and a repeating the sin of Judas, betraying our faith in order to see an outcome that we have come to mistake for faith.

How we relate to God shows up in how we pray. Prayer is more than saying whatever thoughts that we have that we want God to magically bless. Prayer is more than saying the right number and kind of prayers at the right time. Prayer is intimacy with God. How we pray shows the state of our relationship. How we pray often reveals how we treat God. Sometimes in prayer we often degenerate into telling God how to be God. We expect God to be available to us even if we have spent the last several hours running away from Him. We don’t spend time re-entering the relationship with Him. We want God to “be a good god and answer my prayer the way I want it and I’ll see you on Sunday if the weather isn’t too good” We treat God worse than our pets.

We need to stop trying to control God and worship Him instead. God greatly desires to save us. But as long as we are committed to doing it OUR WAY, we don’t give Him much of a chance. As CS Lewis pointed out, we must come to the point where we can say, truly with our heart: “Thy will be done!”, lest we hear God sadly tell us: “thy will be done.”

We need to recover the priesthood of the believer, NOT as an excuse to do it MY WAY, but as an offering of our lives to God as our spiritual sacrifice. This is prayer: to bring ourselves into His presence and offer our world to Him.

I keep using WE, in this essay because “I” cannot do it by myself. I need the grace of God, and the prayerful support and direction of the Church. I cannot do it in isolation; I need my fellow Christians. WE do it together.

We must admit that we are powerless over God, and meet God as He has chosen to be met, through His incarnation in the flesh, through communion, and through prayer.