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. 

Samaritan Woman

Sermon Samaritan Woman

John 4:1 – 42

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: CHRIST IS RISEN !!!

   We have just passed the feast of Mid-Pentecost. We are more than half way to the feast of Pentecost. In the Feast of Mid-Pentecost at Vespers we read from Isaiah: “Ho ye that thirst, go to the water, and all that have no money, go; buy; eat and drink wine and fat without money or price.”

And in the oikos of the Kontakion we also heard: Thou didst bid all to come to Thee, All-holy Word of God: draw the water of immortality; it is Living Water.

   In the town of Sychar in Samaria Jacob dug a well and worshipped God. That well survived to the time of Jesus; indeed it is still there today. There have been many churches built through the years at this site. Today there is a beautiful Church that the  Jerusalem Patriarchate built over it. Under the altar the well is still working, and the water is most delicious.

   Jesus observed that He needs must go through Samaria. Most Jews of his day journeyed around Samaria. They were viewed as half-breeds who followed a new age mish-mash of 5 different religions. Yet, they looked for the Messiah. And as a foretaste of His later instruction to Go and teach, first in Jerusalem, then Samaria, then the world, He comes to Samaria. Yet there is something more going here. Jesus goes to the despised of His nation.

   And so He comes to Sychar, and it was mid-day — noon. Gathering water was a daily chore. It had to be done.  Most of the woman of the village came early. This woman was not welcome to come with them. She was, in a certain sense, an outcast. So she came in the heat of the day, when most were inside and resting, to fetch her daily supply of water. There were many reasons she did not fit in among her people. 

   And Jesus asks of her a drink of water. For a Jew to use the same vessel to drink as a Samaritan was to make them ceremonially unclean. And she is a woman; such a direct request was irregular. This was not what she expected. Jesus treated her as one who is worthy to enter into a conversation. 

   If you knew the gift of God… Samaritans only had the ToRaH. They did not have the prophets. She had never heard of the passage from Isaiah that I quoted earlier; she would not have heard about “Living Water”; so she was genuinely puzzled at His words. 

   She meets Jesus’ respect for her by answering with respect, she calls Him “Lord”. Yet she adheres to custom, observing that He had no separate vessel with which to drink apart from the jug she carried.  She can’t yet hear what Jesus is saying to her. She questions, for although she returns His respect, she does not imagine that He is greater than Jacob who gave this well. 

   Jesus is setting forth for her noetic water — not the physical water that must be renewed constantly. “The water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

   She is occupied with her own predicament, shunned by the rest of the town, she must trudge to the well in the mid-day heat to get her daily water. She only sees that having water might be easier. “Lord, give me this water that I may thirst no more…” While she is concerned for her physical needs she gives a window into her spiritual needs. She is thirsting not just for water, but for something. She has not found it. She has looked for it in relationships with men. Each time her thirst has not been slaked. But this man is different. He treats her with gentleness and respect. 

   Jesus then shows He is ready to offer the Living Water by asking her to call her husband, as if he might also receive the Living Water. 

   It may not have been that big a stretch to guess why she had come in the heat of the day to the well — however, Jesus knowledge of the details took her aback. She had 5 husbands: the Samaritans had the 5 books of the ToRah. The Samaritans had 5 gods with whom they were unfaithful to the God of Israel; she had 5 husbands — and yet there was something she was looking for was not in any of these. 

   “Lord, I perceive you are a prophet.” She was looking for something;  she was thirsty for the truth, and had been looking for that in all the wrong places, that she had a genuine thirst for the living water — a thirst that Jesus was uncovering in her, even as He spoke to her.

   So she did not act shocked or indignant that Jesus knew all about her. She perceives that this is not just an ordinary man who confronts her, that makes her thirsty — thirsty for something that her life clearly wasn’t giving her. So she starts asking questions — things that had been troubling her, things that she could not make fit. She no longer cares for her physical thirst — now she begins to look towards a deeper thirst. She asks a question that indicates that she is seeking that which is holy: “Where should we worship?” Jacob came to the mountain when he was escaping Esau after he stole his blessing. In her religion’s understanding they did not ask what circumstances Jacob came to the mountain.  She can only go so far. She wants to know “who is right?”. 

   We do that often: “Who is right?” We seem to care more for THAT question and whatever answers we may contrive to it . . . rather than “what is for our health and salvation?”

   Jesus doesn’t answer her question of “who is right?”; instead He moves her past the to something infinitely deeper.  

   The hour is coming … In John’s Gospel “hour” is mostly pointing towards Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection. The hour is coming and now is, when both the worship that the Samaritans do and the worship the Jews do will be set aside for something greater, that time when the Temple would be thrown down — that time when the Kingdom would be inaugurated in our time and history; He tells her of a time beyond time: Worshiping God in spirit and in truth; of a time when the Liturgy of what we celebrate on earth would be what was already celebrated in the heavens. Jesus says Salvation IS of the Jews — NOT  salvation WILL BE of the Jews — for Salvation sits before her at the well. 

   Then this woman (we don’t know her Samaritan name; in baptism her name is Photini), excited by His word, sets forth her expectation of the Messiah. Even without the prophets the Samaritans get this expectation from the words of Moses. 

   Whereas, Jesus leaves most of those He encountered the question: Is this the Messiah? For this woman He plainly reveals Himself to this woman. He says, “I AM, the one speaking to thee” — not ‘I am He’ as our English translation suggests. Jesus uses the Name of God to her. 

   This had to startle her.

   But she has little time to indulge being startled. Just then the Disciples return. St. Kyril of Alexandria says of this: 

The disciples are again astonished at the Saviour’s gentleness and they wonder at His meek way. For He did not think it right to shun conversation with the woman in the manner of some who are fierce with intemperate religious scruples, but He unfolds His love for mankind to ALL, by showing that He, being in all respects One Fashioner, does not only impart the life through faith to men, but also to women.

   Now she no longer cares about her physical thirst, but leaves her water-pot as the disciples had left their nets, and goes to her city to be its evangelist. She does not give her message in declarative statements, but rather wants to draw them out the Christ, not to her message. Her question “Is this not the Christ?” was a rhetorical question demanding the response: “YES.” And like the disciples she says “Come and see.” Instinctively she knows how to give the message in a way that will encourage her townsfolk to check Jesus out. She did not want them to trust her report, but to come and see for themselves. She becomes the first apostle to the Church of the gentiles, the first bearer of the Gospel to them. 

   Photini will, in time, become a powerful preacher of the Gospel to her land. After the martyrdom of SS. Peter and Paul, she and her family will go to North Africa as an apostle to preach the Gospel with her sons and sisters. Nero’s people will arrest her and bring her to Rome where she and her family will be martyred, but not before she converts Nero’s daughter to the Faith. 

   What keeps us from leaving aside our worldly cares? our water-pot? And what of the many things in our world that are distracting to us? that take us away from prayer? Our world tells us we must acquire STUFF — stuff that does not satisfy our soul’s yearning for God, just as Photini’s many husbands did not satisfy her longing for God. The evidence of how fragile our stuff is . . . shows itself to us in the instability brought upon our own land by those who seek to exploit it for their own greed — and also by our current pandemic. What we, and our world have counted important, is shown to be worthless.  

   Let us be like the Samaritan woman; let us thirst for Christ, and not be ashamed when He shows us our sin; let us accept the Living Water and healing, and then go and point others to Him Who heals us. And so let us become illumination — Photini. 

   To Him Who heals us, be all glory honour and worship, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. 


The Man Born Blind

Sunday of the Man Born Blind


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.