Sunday of St. Gregory Palamas

St. Gregory Palamas

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST !!!

   In the epistle we’re told to PAY ATTENTION, much like when the deacon says “Let us Attend”. How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? What does it mean to PAY ATTENTION? We shall explore this towards the end of the sermon. 

   Christ is our High Priest. He is both the One Who offers, and the One Who is offered. 

   In the Gospel Jesus has left the region of the Gerasenes. In a previous Gospel reading, they had asked Him to leave. They met God and asked Him to leave. And so He went home. Back at home we have one of the three instances where Christ heals a Paralytic. In the healing of this Paralytic, —  Jesus honours the faith of those who brought him there. He heals not entirely because of the Paralytic’s faith, for surely the Paralytic desired healing,  but because of the faith of his friends who brought him to Jesus. . . . And we must also ask why it is that the people did not move aside to allow the friends to bring the Paralytic in. It is important for us to enter into one another’s struggle and not stand in their way,  but to pray for each other and act to get ourselves and them to the Physician, that He may heal us.

   Jesus says a couple of  very interesting things to the paralytic: “Be of good cheer, child, thy sins are forgiven.” Jesus speaks words of relation to this man whose plight was ignored by many others; He calls him “son”; He brings him into the household of God. When we don’t see others, we dehumanize them. In our society the disabled are treated as if they were not there. They are invisible; often if someone is with them, we will speak to the other as if the disabled person is not there. We don’t see the other for who they are. In many ways, such an attitude is just as paralyzing to all. 

   Jesus words do not imply that there was some sin that caused this man to be paralyzed; His words are words of restoration. “Thy sins are forgiven”, means that this one who is paralyzed is restored. He is welcomed as a child of God. And by restoring this paralyzed man, Jesus lets people know Who He is: . . . In Isaiah the prophet says of God: “I AM, I am He that blots out thy transgressions for Mine own sake, and thy sins, I will not remember.”

   Jesus challenges the pharisee’s understanding by forgiving the paralytic’s sin; for they lacked compassion for this paralytic and his condition. They were more interested in proving themselves right. It is not the paralytic who says: “I came for healing and you forgave my sins?” This thought does not occur to the paralytic. But it is in the hearts of the pharisees. Another thing that annoyed the pharisees is that prophesy was fulfilled in their presence. 

   The second thing Jesus says to the Paralytic is: “Arise take up thy pallet and go home.” Not “take up thy pallet and walk” as He instructed another paralytic, but rather “go home.” And when we think of “home”, for many of us, this too is a place of wounding. But Jesus Himself has opened our path to our home, not an earthly city but a home in the city to come, in the Kingdom of God. Jesus has healed not just the body, but also the soul of the paralytic. 

   Who are we in this story? What has us paralyzed? . . . What attitudes and relationships do we have where we are paralyzed? . . . What fears do we have that paralyze us? . . . Do we treat ourselves like the crowd who will not move out of the way so that Jesus can heal us? . . . Will we allow four friends to help us?: Fasting, Prayer, Alms, Humility? . . . Are we willing to remove whatever roof is keeping us from Jesus? . . . Or How are we helping our friends who are paralyzed find healing? . . . Are we the ones who don’t think others are worthy of being healed? . . . Do we take offense at how Jesus heals? . . . When Jesus tells us to go home, what home do we go to? Is it a good healthy home?

   In the second Gospel we have Jesus teaching about the Good Shepherd. 

   The Hireling is not concerned with the sheep but with himself, with his own position and pay. 

   Jesus gives up His life for His sheep. 

   The wolf tests the shepherd to see if he be hireling or true shepherd. . . . When the wolf comes the hireling abandons the sheep. Christ is the good shepherd, not because He has good sheep, but that He gives His life for them. . . for their health and salvation. And Jesus ordained that some be shepherds — but only He is the door. 

   And many of us have experienced good shepherds,. . .  and we have experienced hirelings. . . . And as we look out at how various priests and bishops are handling the current crisis, we see very good shepherds, who are doing their best to take care of their flock in impossible circumstances. . . and we see hirelings. And we marvel at the care of the good shepherds. . . . and we feel the emptiness of the hirelings. . . Even if they be hirelings, we must love them and pray for them. This is hard. It is hard to pray the prayer of St. Ephraim “not to judge my brother” when we feel the sting of their judgement . . . and of their poor judgement, . . . and our own judgement on them. 

   Those good shepherds we have been under should be treasured — those that held themselves accountable to God for the sheep He had put them over. And we must glorify God Who brought us to such shepherds. . . . In that we have experienced hirelings, we must heal — or more accurately, we must allow God to heal us. And we must acknowledge that the wounds that the hireling inflicts on us: abuse, abandonment, . . . these are deep wounds that will take time to heal. 

   And whether our shepherds be good or bad, we have a High Priest who knows what we are going through and Who offers Himself for us and for our salvation. For He guides us by walking ahead. He heals us: . . . even our death He heals by trampling down death by His own death. He leads us beside calm waters, in green pastures. He nurtures us in ways only He knows. He provides for us our needs that are hidden from us. 

   And finally, today is the Sunday of St. Gregory Palamas. St. Gregory was archbishop of Thessalonica. He spent some time on Mt Athos. We remember him for this Sunday is a second triumph of Orthodoxy. Last week we celebrated the Victory of the Icon, of God becoming Man, whom He Himself created in His own Image. This week we celebrate our call to complete this — to become like God. This all started when a monk from Calabria named Barlaam, who brought his scholasticism to the east. He thought that God should be understandable and that we should be able to figure Him out logically. He thought that the monks of Mt. Athos were wasting their time. He thought they should be using his scholastic method to approach God using reasoning and rationalism. St. Gregory debated him and pointed out that though we may attain purity of heart and see God, just as Jesus promised, that we saw God’s glory, His energie. (Just as Moses and Elijah saw) Yet we cannot know God in essence as He knows Himself. But we can see His uncreated light, as the three disciples saw at Mt. Tabor at the transfiguration. Barlaam’s approach to God is common in our western culture. We even sadly see some Orthodox who have adopted it. . . . But that is not what we are up to. . . . We are to have a relationship with God — not analyze God. Metropolitan Kallistos Ware once said: “It is not the task of Christianity to provide easy answers to every question, but to make us progressively aware of a mystery. God is not so much the object of our knowledge as the cause of our wonder.” 

But God is both beyond in His essence, and deeply involved with the world through His grace as manifested in His energie. 

   St. Gregory defended Hesychasm (or quietness). Hesychasts recognize that we must watch over our rational faculties; we must make them serve us rather than enslave us. We must collect our minds that have been darkened and distracted by our senses. One of the ways that we collect our minds and make it serve us is to put our mind in our hearts and in the presence of Jesus. This is usually done with the aid of the Jesus prayer: O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner. 

   This prayer has been commended to us by the fathers of the Church as a way of focusing on Jesus and gathering our distracted minds, and so to obtain sobriety. The idea is to fulfill the commandment of St. Paul to pray without ceasing. It is commended with some caveats: We can expect things to come up for us that we need to deal with. If we are to make extensive constant use of this prayer we need regular access to a father confessor. 

   But we can still make use of it, when we feel attacked from within by our minds, or distracted from without by the noise of the world. 

   Hesychasm (the practice of quietness) asks a question of us: What is it in our life that distracts us? that causes us to lose focus? . . . What can we do to turn down the noise? . . . What things, that should be our servants, have we allowed to enslave us?

   Great Lent bids us to turn down the noise, and to flee from the slavery of our own reasonings and desires. And to move toward Christ:  to Whom belong glory, dominion, honor, and worship, with His Father Who IS without beginning and the most holy, good and life-giving Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen

Peace, and the Rich Fool

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. 

CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST !!!

For He is our peace, Who has made us both one.

   Jesus Himself took on our flesh, and in His circumcision he became a Jew; and in His death on the Cross he took upon Himself the curse of our mortality and became as One outside the law, as One Whom the law condemned, that He might unite all mankind in Himself, both Jew and Greek. And He didn’t just change us so that we might be new and improved Jews; He created us a new man, breaking the fragmentation that divides us from God, and from each other — not just bringing the enmity to and end, but KILLING IT.

   And He proclaimed Peace to those who were far off and Peace to those who were near. We see this even in His Nativity, where it is announced by the angels to the shepherds — those near, and by a star to those who came from a distant land. 

   And we are made fellow citizens with the saints. We are being built into a holy temple in the Lord; a tabernacle, a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit. We are given citizenship in the Kingdom of God. We proclaim it in this Divine Service; we participate with it in communion; we live it in our day-to-day lives. 

   He is our peace, having made us one: Male — Female, Jew — Greek, English — Russian, White — Black … HE has made us one; reconciling us to God, making us Fellow-citizens of the Household of God. It spite of our differences, God has called us together to stand as members of His house as we worship Him together. He has called us to be His body through communion. We may get on each others’ nerves from time to time; but God is building us into a community of His Body, here in Silverdale, here in Central Kitsap County. not as another organization, but as an organism, a living, breathing microcosm of Christ’s Body; to incarnate His Body in our lives, and His ministry in our encounter with others. 

   And we do not figure all this out on our own by reading about it — our foundation of faith is in the Apostles and Prophets. The foundation is in both the Old and the New Covenant. We must be obedient to the teachings of Christ, the Apostles, and the Prophets. Those teachings are not easy to do; those teachings constantly challenge us to live a life of repentance. 

   Christ Himself is the cornerstone, and we are His temple being built together. Sometimes we irritate each other; sometimes we rub each other the wrong way. Yet we are being built into His dwelling. In our worship we humans stand with the angels, offering up the noetic worship which is offered by the angels at all time, and we this morning come together to offer it with the angels.  And we live our lives from this offering — offering ourselves as a living sacrifice — our reasoned worship.

   We together are the Temple of God. We can’t do that alone. We need each other, to pray for each other, to love each other, and yes, sometimes to annoy each other and learn to overcome our differences so that we realize His unity in us. 

   We must do this together. It is for this purpose that God has called us here. 

  Therefore we must bear one another’s burdens. For just as we are in need of healing, so all of us are. In bearing our own burdens and the burdens of each other, we fulfill the law of the Kingdom of God. 

   And Christ heals us; He restores us to the likeness of His Image in Whom we are created, if we will let Him; if we will cooperate with Him. 

   Let us use this time of the Nativity fast to cleanse ourselves of bitterness, anger, falsehood, impurity, uncleanliness, and covetousness. Most especially in this time of year, when commercial interests want us to be greedy and consume more, we must guard ourselves in moderation, for our soul is in this battle between virtue and vice — and there are many who want to make money on our vices. We are to give thanks in all things and be grateful. Which brings us to our Gospel. 

   The Gospel reminds us of this as well. The parable tells us the man had more than enough. The Rich Fool is only concerned with himself, and how things effect him; he does not look at how his behavior affects others. He only considers himself, and what life can give him. He is like Mr. Potter in “It’s a Wonderful Life”; he only looks out for himself and his own petty concerns. 

   Instead of building bigger tables to share his wealth, he decided on bigger barns – barns where his harvest would accumulate, and spoil. 

   He seems to think that he is the owner of his soul and that he is in charge . . . of everything! 

   Jesus then continues the parable, deliberately using the line “Eat; Drink and be merry.” He knew that those listening to Him would recall how that line from Isaiah continued: “Let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die.”

   St. Basil the Great says of this very Gospel: “if you fill these larger ones, what do you intend to do next? Will you tear them down yet again only to build them up once more? What could be more ridiculous than this incessant toil, labouring to build and then labouring to tear down again? If you want storehouses, you have them in the stomachs of the poor.” 

   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.”

   On this same passage, St. Leo the Great points out that this passage should read: “Fool; in this night they demand your soul from you.” These things that you own, now own you. Many of the fathers remind us that the only thing we get to take with us to the grave is whatever virtue we may have acquired in this life. 

   And so the Rich Fool dies without learning mercy and generosity. And the wealth of his harvest is left to rot. 

   We must guard our relationship to the many things our world tells us we MUST HAVE, especially this time of year. We have only to look at the average relationship with the smart phone to see how easy it is to be owned by our things. 

   As we are now in the Nativity Fast, let us guard against the noise of acquiring. And when we find ourselves having a surplus, let us find a way to build a table that invites others to partake of our good fortune. 

   So, let us guard our souls in sobriety, and turn down the volume of the noise from the world through prayer, fasting, and alms. And, let us not get so involved in whether our particular political side won today that we ignore the friends and family that we have. Let us spend less time on the internet, and more time loving the people whom God has given us. Let us not fall for the desires to have things that are very loud right now (Black Friday seems to have lasted two weeks this year). Let us rather BE . . . together . . . with those people God has given us and put in our lives. And with the current pandemic, we must find more creative ways to do this. As St Paul reminds us, we must bear one another’s burdens. 

To Him Who gives us all good things in due season, be all Glory honour and worship. Always now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen

Love

The world doesn’t have much use for love. It cannot be traded on the stock market. It cannot satisfy any lust for power or any lust for anything. Love will not make us skinny, will not increase our 401K fund. It will not make money for corporations. It will not be a useful weapon in the many wars that we think we must attent to. It will not make us comfortable. It will not buy us the latest toys. It cannot be used as a wedge to gain political advantage. Love will not support the hate that is used by many to manipulate poeople to do their bidding. Love will not keep the immigrant out. Love will not sacrifice the very young and the very old to the god of convenience. As our world counts it, love is mostly useless. Yet it is the highst of Jesus’ comandments. Love is a direct challenge to the chaos of our world

Sunday Before Nativity

Sermon Sunday before Nativity

CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST !!! 

O land of Zabulon, land of Nephtali, and the sea-coast, and beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. O People walking in darkness, see a great light; ye that dwell in the region and shadow of death, a light shall shine upon you. . . . For unto us a child is born, and a son is given, whose government is upon His shoulder and His Name is called: Angel of a great Counsel, Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, King, Prince of Peace, Father of the age to come. 

   Today we hear of a rather lengthy genealogy. What is the point of this? other than to torture the deacon or priest who must read it?

   The point is that Jesus Christ, the Word, became flesh — real flesh with real ancestors — sharing in our humanity, putting on ALL of it. For there are some stellar names here: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David. There are also some less than stellar names: Rahab was a harlot. Ruth was a gentile outsider. We are reminded that David committed adultery with Bathsheba. We are reminded of a slew of bad kings and a few good ones. Yet He is before all generation as Isaiah told us: “who shall declare His generation?”

   Another reason for this genealogy is to put in relief the promise of God to Abraham, that in his offspring all the nations would be blessed. . . . his offspring, not his offspringS. Abraham was promised that one would arise from his lineage. 

   It is worth noting that in Luke’s genealogy that there appears some figures that were of the tribe of Levi, the priestly tribe. Yet even Luke’s genealogy, which goes all the way back to Adam, is mostly of the tribe of Judah, the Royal line. Thus Christ is both our King and our High Priest. 

   But this genealogy starts with Abraham . . . Abraham who is called from his citizenship with his city to have his citizenship solely in God. . . Abraham who is given the promise of a son in whom all nations would be blessed . . . but Abraham had to wait. . .  and Isaac was born of Sarah when she had almost past the age of childbearing . . . so the world must wait until the Son of God is born of a young Virgin who has only recently entered the age of childbearing. Isaac is born as the son of promise. And so Jesus is born as THE PROMISE. 

   Yet He comes from prostitutes and adulterers: He took upon Himself our broken nature: ALL OF IT — that He might heal our brokenness. As Isaiah said: He bears our sins and is pained for us. . . He was wounded on account of our sins, and bruised because of our iniquities. And by His bruises we are healed. 

   And so we have 14 generations times 3. That’s 42 for all you Sci-Fi nerds and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fans. 

   Just as Jesus would put the care of His mother with His disciple John, so now God puts her care with Joseph. And the language is different from her cousin Elizabeth’s experience. In Elizabeth and Zachariah’s case it is “she shall bear you a son”. In Mary’s case it is “she shall bring forth a Son”. And the Son she brought forth was not just to Mary and Joseph, but to the whole world. 

   And “He will save His people from their sins.” There had been other messiahs before, that had saved the people from this or that enemy: the barbarians, the Greeks, the Babylonians. But Jesus will save His people from their sins. This is a new type of Messiah above any other messiah. He is not A messiah; He is THE MESSIAH. 

   Mary has been chosen to bring forth God in the flesh. He takes His flesh from her. He Whom the universe cannot contain, is contained in the womb of the Virgin. This is the coming paradox that we will celebrate shortly. The paradox of God, Who IS beyond all time and culture and space, enters into time and enters a culture and inhabits a space. This is best expressed by our hymns which we will hear next week: 

Today He Who holds the whole creation in His hands is born of a virgin. He whose essence none can touch is bound in swaddling-clothes as a mortal man. God, Who in the beginning fashioned the heavens, lies in a manger. He Who rained manna on His people in the wilderness is fed on milk from His mother’s breast.

O inexpressible mystery 

and unheard-of paradox; 

the Invisible is seen;

the Intangible is touched;

the Eternal Word becomes

accessible to our speech;

the Timeless steps into time;

the Son of God becomes

the Son of Man.

Today, He holds creation in the hollow of His Hand is born of a Virgin. He Who in His being cannot be handled, as a mortal is wrapped in swaddling rags. God, Who of old established the heavens in the beginning lies in a manger. He Who rained Manna on the People in the desert is nourished with milk from the breast. The Bridegroom of the Church summons Magi. The son of the Virgin accepts their gifts. We worship Thy birth, O Christ. Show us also Thy divine Epiphany. — Christmas Royal Hours, 9th hour

   And it is no accident that this last hymn echos the last half of Holy Week. The irmos that is used on Holy Saturday Matins, and again at Nocturnes, right before the Paschal Matins:

Do not Lament me, O Mother, seeing Me in the tomb, the Son conceived in the womb without seed, for I shall arise and be glorified with eternal glory as God. I shall exalt all who magnify thee in faith and in love.

   If we did complines for the Eve of Christmas Eve we would hear: “Be not amazed, O Mother, beholding Me now as a babe, Whom the Father begat from the womb before the morning star. For I have come openly to restore and glorify with Myself the fallen nature of mortal man, that magnifies thee in faith and love.”

The feasts of Nativity and Pascha are clearly connected. 

   We must prepare our hearts to receive Him Who comes to be born of the Virgin for our salvation, as a little child. How do we prepare? We prepare by fasting (as you are able), by prayer, by alms — by making peace with our brothers and sisters as much as we are able . . . (for we receive the King of Peace) — by softening our hard hearts by coming to confession and communion — by uniting ourselves to our neighbors and (as St. Dorotheos of Gaza said) thereby uniting ourselves to God — by humbly approaching God, Who has become Man for our sakes. 

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.

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

First half of Holy Week

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.

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.

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.

Honest Questions asked of me on Facebook

Honest Questions asked of me on Facebook

 

One of my Facebook friends with whom I have chatted off and on for several years has posed a few questions and asked me to respond (and invites others as well to respond).

Laurie Reeves asks: Steven – I wonder if you would let me hijack this or some other post of yours. I have questions about Christianity, and 1. I trust your opinion over any other “religious” persons I know, as I believe you will be as honest as you can be, and 2. I welcome responses of some of your friends who are not my friends, so I didn’t want to private message you or use my status.

Steven – I’ll start one issue at a time 🙂 But first, so that I have the best way possible of asking my questions, can I ask you a few?

Do you believe the bible is man-made or God made?

Do you believe Christianity (Christ, perfect, cross, salvation) is the only means of getting to heaven?

Do you believe in one god or multiple god’s (Muslim, hindu, etc). And by god’s, I mean religious god’s as they are commonly understood. Not Greek god’s or the one some random guy made up in his basement.

Laurie, you ask some good questions. Let me give it a shot.

 

First Question: the Bible was written by man, inspired by God. They wrote in human terms about things that in many ways are beyond language. Scripture cannot be understood outside a relationship with God (since that is what they are about) and attempting to take them in a literal only way is to invite sickness (passions).

The Scriptures are a book OF the Church and are properly understood from that perspective. In a sense the Scriptures represent a synergy between God and man.

When we look at how people have used scripture in the last two centuries we see a different approach employed both by the “conservative” and “liberal” ends of the spectrum. They use a mostly literal approach to either prove or disprove the scriptures. An approach that seeks to “prove” things using scripture inevitably ends up creating God in our image (rather than the reverse). The Church is the pillar and foundation of truth. The scriptures are one of the many ways the Church communicates that truth. Other ways are through the Hymns of the Church, the Icons, the Councils, The Tradition, the lives of the saints.

Second Question, Christianity: There is One Body, One Bride of Christ. Those who find themselves in heaven will do so because they participated (Communed) in that One Body. Heaven is a relationship with God in which we see His Light as Love (not so much a place). Jesus saves us collectively, not individually. We are either participants in Him or we are not.

Thus it is possible to say where the Church IS (Even though there are many who are part of it’s communion who have yet to be born). The Church is the proclaimer and invoker of the Kingdom of God. That said, it is NOT possible to say where the Church IS NOT. An individual muslim, hindu, pagan, atheist, may be part of the body. It is not my call to say where the Church IS NOT. God saves (restores, heals) those who participate and work with Him. Salvation is not just about a ticket to heaven; it is about the healing of our disease, the removal of our Character Defects, and a communion with all who follow Him. It is a transformation and renewal of our mind (NOUS) into a restored likeness of God. It requires our participation and cooperation. God does not save us without our cooperation. The Cross saves us (but not in the Anselm sense of substitutionary atonement) through Christ taking on our disease and being wounded by it and raising our humanity to what God had intended. Christ makes a path for us to walk to the Father, a path of glory, sobriety, humility, and love. If a hindu takes up his cross and follows Christ he is further along than many Christians.

I believe that God holds us accountable for the revelation of Him that we have. Thus I expect fewer Orthodox Christians to make it than “others”, for we have the fulness of the revelation of God, and thus no excuse for not following it.

Third question, God: I believe in One God: Father Son and Holy Spirit, One Essence in three persons. This means that God is a communion of Love unto Himself in ways we cannot know. It means that we, created in His Image, are called to a communion of Love with ourselves, with Him, and with others. Christianity does not divide God into functions. All of God was involved in creating, inspiring, saving, empowering. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and points to the Son. The Son is begotten of the Father before all ages and lives perfect obedience to the Father out of love and points to the Father.

The Glories of God (His energies) are shared by all persons of the Trinity. We have only seen the Word become flesh for our sakes. But His Glory is the Father’s Glory. And His energies are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, fatefulness, gentleness, self mastery. These are the fruit of the Spirit that we are called to bear.

We cannot know God as He knows Himself. God is a mystery. This is my big disagreement with self-help groups  which speak of “God, as we understood Him.” Western Christianity seems to think that it has to figure God out. The problem is that the God we have figured out says a lot more about us and our disease then it says about God. The god who can be understood is not God. Or, as St. Evagrius of Pontus said: “God cannot be grasped by the mind. If He could be grasped, He would not be God.” We can (and must) have a relationship with God without understanding Him, allowing Him to be Who He IS.

God is Love, and if we say we faith Him, we must love too, otherwise we are just fooling ourselves. So, the question of whether we truly Faith (believe in) God shows up in how we treat others. How we minister to the “least of these” is how we treat God in Whose Image they are all created.