He Is In The Storm

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (14:22-34) 

In the past it may have been very difficult for us to sympathize with the story of the disciples sitting in their boat during the storm. We had for a long time, been under the impression that we were fully in charge, fully in control of our lives, our situations, everything. A few months ago that illusion was dispelled for many of us. We began to realize that there was really not too much in our lives that was within our control. Life has been in a constant state of flux and it has been rough on many. We really can sympathize with the plight of the disciples who are in a storm tossed sea. Each of us is battered by the waves and the winds of current events. Either way we have felt like we are at the mercy of these forces that are swirling around us and everything has been turned upside down. Businesses have closed, schools have changed their plans, our lives have been transformed in many ways. On top of that all, many are also afraid of the potential for infection and severe illness. It is enough to make one feel like their ship is going to sink and all will be lost. Enter the Lord Jesus Christ.

A powerful feature of this gospel reading is that the Lord does not calm the storms and then make His appearance. No! That would not be the gospel, but rather a sort of fantasy. Christ appear to the disciples in the midst of the storm! He goes even further than that. Our Lord appears in the storm in the most inexplicable and wondrous way that we can possibly imagine. After all, it might be noteworthy that He appeared to them in the storm, but He appears to them, calmly walking on the water. That is no small feat. If you have ever tried it you will find that it is utterly impossible, humanly speaking. Our Lord Jesus Christ doesn’t simply defy the laws of physics and nature. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the writer and creator of these laws. He does not submit to them, rather they submit to Him, to His lordship, to His divinity. It is not astounding that the Lord Jesus Christ should walk upon the waves of the sea because it was He who created the waves and the sea and all that is contained therein.

Yet the point remains. The Lord did not calm the storm and then appear, He appeared in the very middle of the storm. In our own lives it is easy to wish for better times when things begin to appear difficult. It is easy to daydream or reminisce. Sometimes we even make excuses for the fact that we are not serious about our prayer life and our relationship with God. We say that things are too hectic, that we are too tired, that we can’t focus. Yet we see in this reading that Christ doesn’t magically change the situation. That is not the point. The real lesson is that Christ is already present in the midst of our storms and challenges and the difficulties of our lives. What a comforting thought! The disciples however were not comforted by this thought. They were completely mortified at the sight of the Lord Jesus Christ walking towards them upon the water. It was completely outside of their understanding of the Lord’s identity. In their minds they had limited Jesus Christ and His ability to help them in their time of need. Perhaps we are doing similarly in our own ways. Have we limited the work of God in our lives during the present difficulties? Have we allowed the present difficulties to magnify and highlight the ways that God is powerfully present or have we allowed the difficulties to obscure our vision of God?

To all of our fears and concerns in the midst of the storms of life our Lord replies “Take heart, it is I; have no fear.” We should be so comforted by these words. If we only took them seriously. If we only believed. So powerful and comforting was this word from the Lord that it gave Peter renewed courage and strength and he became bold. He cried out to Christ, “Lord. If it is you, allow me to come to you on the water.” This is how listening to Christ and focusing on Christ changes our whole life and even our personality. Peter was filled with peace at that moment and he asks that he might join the Lord and partake of this miracle of walking upon the waters in the midst of the storm. It is a beautiful symbol and reminder of the inheritance we have in Christ. Everything that He has, He desires to share with us. He replied to Peter “Come.”

Our life of prayer is encapsulated in this story. What is our response to the craziness of the world and all of the swirling issues of the day? Do we ask the Lord to allow us to come to Him and to know Him in the midst of our trials? Do we trust Him to be there for us when things are difficult? Peter caught sight of Christ and heard His voice and trusted Him. Let us also hear His voice through the reading of the Holy Scriptures and New Testament on a daily basis. Meditate on His words and allow these words to fill us with peace and to energize us. He will renew our strength not through magic or wishful thinking, but through His word. Hearing this word give us the strength to pursue Him with zeal and courage. Listen to this verse,

“Your words have upheld him who was stumbling, and you have made firm the feeble knees.” Job 4:4

These are not just words but promises for each of us as His beloved children. He loves you and wants the best for you and your families and your lives.”

St. Seraphim of Sarov had this to say about the holy writings,“One should nourish the soul with the word of God: for the word of God, as St. Gregory the Theologian says, is angelic bread, by which are nourished souls who hunger for God. Most of all, one should occupy oneself with reading the New Testament and the Psalter…” 

Our hunger for God is most powerful in the midst of the storms, although we don’t always realize that. Now is not the time to doubt Him or to turn to false comforts, false security and false gods. It is the time to reach out to Him like Peter, to ask Him if we can come to Him. He will never ever deny us, but will continually reach out to us and say “Come.” And even if we feel that all is lost and we are about to drown, we can cry out “Lord, save me!” Then we will know that Christ is present even in the midst of the storms of our life.

He is present and what’s more, He is able to make us to stand with Him and to find true and lasting peace regardless of the circumstances that surround us. May the Lord strengthen our faith and help us to focus not on the waves and the wind but on the One who alone can calm the storms of life, to Christ alone is due all glory and honor together with His Father and the Holy Spirit AMEN.

Source: Sermons

He Healed Them

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (14:14-22) 

By God’s grace we have received a very timely and powerful message today from the holy evangelist St. Matthew. He tells us that as Our Lord Jesus Christ was going ashore he saw a great throng of people. How many people were there exactly? We do not know. We are only told that there were 5,000 men and that the women and children were also present. So it was quite likely that there were anywhere from 15,000 to possibly more than 30,000 people present in that great crowd. All of them waiting to see the Messiah. All of them there to hear a word, or to receive healing for their illnesses or the illnesses of their loved ones.

St. Matthew, who was a direct eyewitness to the events that are being described, tells us that Our Lord saw that great multitude and He had compassion on them and healed their sick. We live in a world that often seems cold and full of brutal realities. Depending on how we look at the world, that is a legitimate point of view. Yet, I’m comforted to hear these words, that the Lord of creation, our master and savior had compassion on those people. And in His great compassion for them, He healed their sicknesses and alleviated their suffering. We are awestruck by the mercy of the Son of God and His care for all of these people, and these people are symbolic of all people who wait on Christ. These multitudes who are sick and suffering are symbols and reminders of our current state both spiritually, physically and emotionally.

We may not want to admit it but many of us are suffering and hurting, perhaps not physically but emotionally, and spiritually, we feel drained. We feel hunger and thirst for relief from all the perceived problems of our day. For weeks, it has been clear to me that we as a people need to fast from the news and current affairs of this world, at least for a time. We are wounding our souls with the wounds of hopelessness, fear and despair. Guard your minds and hearts from the things that lead to you to sin. Sin is whatever cuts us off from a thriving relationship with the Lord. Sometimes the sin that we must guard against is hopelessness, anxiety and fear. But this becomes impossible to avoid if we continually feed them. A monster must be starved and our passions are like baby monsters that need to be starved so that they will grow weak and finally die or at least they will become so insignificant that we can merely brush them aside like little pesky flies, by God’s grace.

Here we are, multitudes of people all around. Some suffering loneliness, others fatigue, others are actually physically sick with various illnesses. But where are we going for healing? I cannot tell you the answer, because I don’t know what you do or what you turn to in your times of need. So you have to be honest about that question and answer it for yourself. Perhaps we turn to social media, or video games, perhaps we chat with our friends or read more news, perhaps we turn to food or strong drink, perhaps we turn to harmful websites and pornography. Perhaps we turn to buying things in the hopes that these things will give us some relief. Perhaps we try to control other aspects of our lives because we feel that things around us are out of control. Whatever the case may be, we need to ask ourselves honestly “where do I turn for relief?” If our answer is anything but the Lord Jesus Christ, we will need to refocus our hearts and minds. Our life can be filled with inexhaustible hope and relief through a renewed focus on the Lord Jesus Christ. But how do we do that?

Here are a few practical methods. First, be determined to live above all, by the teachings of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Some of the fathers tell us that the beginning of knowing God is unflinching, unwavering obedience to the commandments of the Lord, as far as it is humanly possible.

Here is another practical method for refocusing on the Lord: Keep a daily rule of prayer, both morning and evening at the very least. These don’t need to be long prayers but they need to be disciplined and they need to become a routine for us. This rule of prayer will become seed for a garden of prayer in your life. No one can expect fruit unless he first plants something, right? If you do not have a regular, established routine for morning and evening prayer, or if you have a rule of prayer but don’t keep it very well, please come and speak with me or call me and we can work together to find something that will be a starting point or a launchpad.

Don’t we want to know Christ? Don’t we want to experience that healing and that peace and hope? Sometimes we feel that God is absent from our lives, but we should honestly ask if it is not that God is absent from us, but that we are absent from God, perhaps simply going through the motions. Our depth in any relationship in life is limited only by our desire and our effort to understand the other and to communicate as well as listen to the other. Our love is demonstrated through our efforts to know the other. Modern Christians have lost much of this ability to hear God. His voice is drowned out by the busyness of our lives and our lack of attention to the most important things. But I promise you that this is a worthwhile pursuit. It is not only for monks and nuns and hermits to know God intimately. The Lord says “I will be their God and they shall be my people.” Likewise He says “Be still and know that I am God.” This stillness is found through the hard work of heartfelt prayer and this begins with small steps that build a foundation.

One of the next and best ways to refocus our spiritual lives is to energize our life in Christ through the sacrament of confession. In 2 Chronicles 7:14 God says “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will heard from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” So we begin by seeking His face. How will we find Him unless we seek Him with intensity, even with tears? But next we are reminded that God also looks for us to repent and turn from things that are not well pleasing in His sight. He desires repentance not only for individuals but for families, communities and nations.

There is very little that is as powerful in the life of a Christian who desires to make spiritual progress as the sacrament of confession. St. Isaac the Syrian writes “The sick one who is acquainted with his sickness is easily to be cured; and he who confesses his pain is near to health. Many are the pains of the hard heart; and when the sick one resists the physician, his torments will be made greater.” But St. Isaac also had this to say “There is no sin which cannot be pardoned except that one which lacks repentance.” It is of vital importance for your psychological, emotional and spiritual well-being that you come and confess your sins. We need to unburden ourselves and when we confess in humility, it is as if we tie our sins to the Holy Spirit and He takes them and flies away with them. We are left feeling new energy, new life, and a sense of peace as we continue this Christian struggle to live as children of God.

In the gospel today, we are told that the disciples wanted to send the people away to get food, but the Lord corrected them. He told them that they would give them something to eat. There is no doubt that this is also a reference to the apostles as the leaders of the Holy Church. I cannot send you away when everything that you need for real and lasting health and joy ishere. Christ Himself is the bread that will feed you. The Holy Spirit is the living water that will quench your thirst. So stop looking elsewhere and follow Him as those multitudes did 2000 years ago. Seek His healing touch daily.As St. Paul writes in Philippians 4:19 “and my God shall supply every need of yours according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus.”He loves us and He will never send us away empty handed, but rather refreshed and restored. AMEN.

Source: Sermons

Spiritual Sight and Unity in The Spirit

The Reading from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians. (3:23-4:5) and the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (9:27-35) 

Today we have the privilege to hear a beautiful story from the Holy Gospel. I wonder if we approach reading the gospels as a privilege? I wonder if we approach them with joy and anticipation such as the way we approach a good novel or a show on Netflix? To hear the gospels is to be given a great gift and a privilege, one that not all people around the world have. Some do not have access to Bibles, some are forbidden from reading them. But by God’s grace, we have access to the living Word of God, Jesus Christ and His teachings and works found within the gospels. It is so valuable to us as the Church that we wrap the gospels in a gold cover and place them on the Holy Altar. Every single time we dig into the gospels, we are digging for light and life. I hope that this is something we take seriously in our daily lives because what we learn within the gospels is of much greater value than what the world has to offer us.

Today’s beautiful story is that of the two blind men found in the gospel according St. Matthew. Blindness is understood as a physical ailment in this story but some of the fathers of the Church tell us that this is also symbolic of another kind of blindness, a kind of spiritual blindness that represent unbelief. This blindness is often a result of our past sins. Our sins keep us from seeing God and His work around us. St. Hilary of Poitiers writes of the blind men that “They could not see Christ but were told about him. The Lord showed them that faith should not be expected as a result of health but health should be expected because of faith.” That is an important saying during our times… “faith should not be expected as a result of health but health should be expected because of faith.” 

What kind of health is St. Hilary writing about? Certainly physical health but also and more importantly, spiritual health. I heard the statistic yesterday that prescriptions for depression rose more than 20% in the last couple of months. Health is more than just avoiding sickness, health is holistic and it involves the whole person and their soul. We would do well not to neglect our spiritual health out of an unbalanced fear for our physical health. I fear that this is beginning to happen in churches all over our country and perhaps the world. It terrifies and saddens me.St. Hilary continues saying “The blind men saw because they believed; they did not believe because they saw. From this we understand that what is requested must be predicated on faith and that faith must not be exercised because of what has been obtained.”

As Christians, everything begins with deep faith. From a point of deep faith, we then enter into a relationship where we see the hand of God and know His presence in our lives. If today we feel that we don’t know God and we don’t feel His presence, it is possible that we still need to embrace the difficult task of repentance and confession. We may also need to fix the order of things. Instead of searching for clues to the presence of God, we have to give our hearts over to Him in faith as a first step. The existence of God becomes our first principle, the thing we believe above all else. We have to desire the good, the true and the beautiful above all else. This brings us to a desire for God, who is absolute and infinite goodness, truth and beauty, as well as love.

Sometimes people believe in God but they don’t necessarily believe in God, correctly. St. Paul says of these people, they have zeal but not according to knowledge. St. Paul knew this very well because he was one of those zealous people who went about hunting down and creating trouble for those who didn’t believe in God in the way that he was convinced was correct. It turns out that St. Paul had a great blindness. He persecuted the Christians because he was completely blind to the true identity of the Lord Jesus Christ. He was blinded to the amazing work that the Holy Spirit was doing in the lives of the Christians and the early Church community.

We also have to be careful about our attitudes and our misplaced zeal regarding all manner of subjects from religious and spiritual to the political, the local and current events. Sometimes our own sins and spiritual blindness cause us to make enemies of those who think differently than us. As Christians, we should beware of this tendency within ourselves and within society. The goal of Satan is to divide us and there are political powers at work in the hopes of dividing society against itself. We begin to think of ourselves in divisive terms “white” or “black”, rich or poor, conservative or progressive, Republican or Democrat, mask enthusiasts and those who are skeptical of masks. All of these are man made divisions. They should not divide people who have a living faith in Christ, because aliving faith in Christ givesus the abilityto love. 

Let me prove it to you. St. Paul was out hunting Christians down and punishing them for their belief in Christ. He hunted down his own people, the Jews who had come to faith in Christ. In his mind there was only God, His people, the Jews and the law of Moses. Everything and everyone else was somehow alien to this. He was divided in his understanding, and blinded by his own zeal and pride.

He was struck blind after his encounter with Jesus Christ. This physical blindness was real but it was also symbolic of his deeper spiritual blindness, and he remained blind until his baptism in Christ. After this, he began to see clearly through renewed, spiritual eyes. Listen to what he writes in today’s epistle reading “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Amazing! The man who hunted down his own people like dogs, and would never so much as sit with a gentile for supper, gave us these lovely words through the work of thegrace andlove of God in his life. So we see that Christ centered people see the world differently, through eyes of love for their fellow Christians and even for the outsider as one created in the image and likeness of God. 

Todayhe might have said “there is neither male nor female, white nor black, conservative or liberal, democrat or republican but all are one in Christ.” That is the difference between unity in love and division through hatred. That is the difference between spiritual blindness and sight. That is the difference between Christian thought and the secular God-denying world. We can disagree with others,while respecting and loving them. But those who do not know God ultimately cannot respect and love others because they don’t see others in relation tothe Creator. They don’t see the inherent value in others that comes directly from God. 

So my brothers and sisters, beware that you may not also fall into thetrapsof the godless world around you,where you divide people and put them into groups and then legitimize the way that you treat those groups based on your misguided and man made divisions, assumptions and goals. You will know them by their fruit. If the fruit is not demonstrated through acts of love and compassion, the fruit is not from God, it is simply rotten.

We all need to have our spiritual blindness healed through deep repentance and confession of our sins and we need to thirst for Christ and run to Christ and call out to Him in faith. Then we will be like the blind men and like St. Paul who also received his sight through faith. The Lord said “according to your faith be it done to you.” May God remove any spiritual blindness that is within us and restore our sight. What is the limit or the measure of our vision of God? Let it be according to your faith. Glory be to God forever AMEN.

Source: Sermons

Hagia Sophia, Prince Vladimir and the Light of the World

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (5:14-19) 

The great cathedral of Constantinople, known as the Hagia Sophia or Church of the Holy Wisdom, was first built in 360 a.d. It was burned to the ground twice and then built again a third time under the order of the Emperor Justinian, who is considered a saint of the Church. This final structure was completed in 537 a.d. and remains standing today. We heard during the past week that the Turkish government has decided to convert the great Orthodox Christian cathedral, the Hagia Sophia, in Constantinople, from it’s current status as a museum and cultural site, to allow it once again to serve as a mosque, a place for Islamic prayers to a god that is certainly not the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Many of us do not know that the Byzantine empire, which was centered in Constantinople, existed well into the 15thcentury. The two most dramatic events that led to the downfall of the empire were the fourth crusade in 1204, which was led and supported by the Roman Catholic church and specifically by Pope Innocent III. During this so-called crusade, the city was sacked, it’s treasures and wealth stolen, it’s holy sites and churches desecrated and it’s holy relics were taken. The soldiers from Rome and Europe behaved worse than barbarians but for the sake of the young and the innocent ears, I will not say much more. Byzantium never completely recovered and the attack by the Ottoman empire led to it’s downfall in 1453. 

This week we also celebrated the memory of Holy Prince Vladimir. Price Vladimir lived in the 10thcentury, and he was looking for the true faith, for the true God. He sent out emissaries who travelled all around the globe in search of the truth. Upon reaching Constantinople, they saw the magnificent Hagia Sophia and entered into the great church to find that the Divine Liturgy was being celebrated. Who can imagine the glory of the vision that they saw? It is very likely that they saw a hierarchical liturgy with multiple bishops, dozens if not hundreds of priests and deacons and thousands of people together praising the name of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. They were blown away by what they saw and when they returned to Prince Vladimir they exclaimed “we knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth.” Wow. The witness of the faithful Orthodox Christian people in Constantinople was so bright and so powerful that Prince Vladimir became a devout Orthodox Christian and compelled his people to accept the Orthodox Christian faith, this forever changed the trajectory of Slavic and European history. 

In today’s gospel reading we hear those familiar words of Our Lord Jesus Christ “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father Who is in heaven.” The course of history was forever altered by the light that shined out of the great Christian city of Constantinople, her great cathedral and those holy men and women who filled that cathedral with their voices and their prayers. Each and every person was a light and allowed their light to shine before men. 

We are like these people who lived in Constantinople during all of those centuries. We believe in the same God, the All holy Trinity. We pray the same exact liturgy, we worship in the same exact way as they did. We have received the very same adoption as sons and daughters of God, as children of light. But are we becoming light to the darkened world around us? 

When was the last time that we invited someone to come and pray with us at the church? When was the last time that we introduced someone in our lives to our Lord and savior Jesus Christ? When was the last time that we encouraged someone and prayed for them about the things with which they were struggling? When was the last time we gave the people who were struggling around us, a glimpse of our hope in Christ?

We can go further still: We are similar to those Christians of Constantinople on Sunday mornings, but are we like them during the other 6 days of the week? One of the risks of our modern life is that we have more time at our disposal, this is both a gift and yet it can also be a curse. How we spend our time and where we focus our attention, is quite literally, the stuff that makes up our lives. What is our focus, and where is our time being spent?

Today we have the great joy of welcoming new members into the Orthodox Christian faith. What a beautiful and joyous occasion that we are able to celebrate together with you and for you.The true and living Christianfaith passed down from the Holy apostles and disciples, is now yours. The faith of the valiant saints and martyrs is now yours. The faith of the Holy Prince Vladimir, that his emissaries travelled around the world to discover, is now yours. The faith in the One who tellsus that we are the lightof the world, is now yours. The faith that allows us to grow in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ is now yours. The faith that allows us to know Him and to commune with Him to our fullest potential, is now yours. All of this is now yours, butwhat will you do with such wonderful gifts? How will you use this grace? What will you do with this beautiful treasure that has been handed on to you? Will you grab hold of it with all of your heart and mind and strength, or will you allow the world and it’s cares and desires and temptations, to grab hold of you and lure you away?

This question does not apply only to our newly illumined members, but to the whole of the Orthodox Christian Church, to all of the faithful in Christ. Are Christ, and the things of Christ and His Church going to be our focus in this immoral, lost, andconfused age, or will we focus only on the things that the world tells us are worthy of our focus? Are we consumed by the love of God or are we consumed by material things, by consumerism? I pray that we are consumed by the love of God.

The proof is whether or not we live the teachings of Christ our Lord. The proof that we are consumed by God is that His light will invade our being and we will reflect His love and His mercy and His peace outward to communities, and individuals and to a world that is in desperate need of the love of God and His presence. May we be energized through the grace of the Holy Spirit and rise to the occasion of this present darkness. May we “let our light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” AMEN.

Source: Sermons

Anxiety and Our Lack of Focus

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (8:5-13) 

We are living through a time of great worry and anxiety. We have almost worried ourselves sick. How did this happen? Is it because there is a nasty virus going around? Yes, in part. But there are bigger issues. We don’t trust that God is watching over us. We believe that we can control circumstances in our lives. What is far worse than sickness or disease or negative news is that we have allowed ourselves to focus on these things. We make a conscious decision to focus on things that cause us anxiety and even depression, by watching and reading the news far more often than in necessary. How many times a day should we watch and interact with the news? Even on social media, I noticed that half of it is people posting more bad news. Do you think that you can be exposed to such negativity and not be affected or infected? It is an impossibility. Some of you have news apps that ding on your phone every few minutes, with “breaking news.” Little do we know that the only thing that is breaking in the process is our spirit and our hope.

It is tempting to obsess over our physical health, to obsess over the news. As we look around it is tempting to think that this broken and fallen world is all that we will ever have. That our physical health and even our life is all that we will ever have. But all of these thoughts are great lies. As Christians our lives and our worldviews are not to dictated and formed by the news around us. If they are dictated and formed by the news, then we do not belong primarily, to Christ. A human is not just a body, like an ape or a gorilla. Our health needs to be more than physical, it is also mental and spiritual health. My brothers and sister, don’t allow your lives to be formed by negativity or by the unending cycle of news. Our lives are to formed by the reality of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That is the difference between us and the world…our focus. The central points of the gospels are these: God exists, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, rose from the dead to prove His love for us is real and to share this promise and hope of resurrection with each of us. My brothers and sisters in Christ: This is not our home. This is a temporary place for each of us. One way or another, we all must leave this place and be resurrected to meet the Lord face to face.

We need to take this message to heart. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Neither violence nor riots, nor joblessness, nor disease, nor a crashing economy, nor death. He holds each of us in His hands. We have been really preoccupied with sickness lately, but that preoccupation is a sign that we lack faith. Yes, sickness is real. Yes, death is real. But sickness and death are not the end of the story for us. They are our entrance into new life in Christ. We are challenged to take just a fraction of the care and precaution for our souls and our spiritual health as we have taken concerning our physical health. Christ is our protection. Christ is our healing. Christ is our life.

Today we hear the miraculous story of Our Lord Jesus Christ healing the servant of the centurion (a centurion was a high ranking soldier in the Roman army). Our Lord Jesus Christ did not have to visit him. He did not have to touch him. He did not even have to see him. He simply said the words and it became reality. “Go; be it done for you, as you have believed.” It is an amazing miracle. I want to remind you that we have a treasury of unbelievable miracles from the life of our holy Orthodox Church. Search for them, read some of these stories, and take heart. In the midst of all this talk of sickness, I want to remind you that God is greater and His works are greater than all of the bad things in this world. This is our reality.  Glory be to God forever AMEN.

(Portion of Sermon from July 5th, 2020)

Source: Sermons

A Catch That Doesn’t Spoil

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (4:18-23) 

Two weeks ago we celebrated the great feast of Pentecost. The descent of the Holy Spirit into our lives. Last week we celebrated the Feast of All Saints. The Church showed us what the Holy Spirit can do in the lives of people just like you and me, when we are pliable and flexible and cooperate with the Holy Spirit. We see the culmination and the fulfillment of all the savings works of our Lord Jesus Christ. All of His powerful work was done on our behalf, so that we might become holy, become saintly.

This week, it feels as if we are taking a time machine backwards to the beginning of the gospels. We see our Lord Jesus Christ walking along the shore at the sea of Galilee, and then we hear His wonderful words to the disciples, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

When I begin my intro to Orthodoxy classes I always start by saying that there is a battle that is raging for your hearts and minds. It is swirling all around you. Advertisements, movies, news, social media, religions, philosophical systems, political ideologies, they are all trying to do more than inform or entertain, they are trying to capture your hearts and minds. They are trying to convince you to follow their system, to see the world through their lens. To do things “their way.”

To all of these I remind you that when you were baptized and brought into the Church, you or your sponsors in baptism, turned to the West and renounced Satan and all his works and you spit upon him. We turn to the west to reject Satan and we turn again to the east to proclaim the sacred Creed that has been handed down to us. Practically speaking, I think it is time to remind you that we have no creeds, no slogans, no way, no truth and no life that is not centered on Jesus Christ and His Church. Be careful what and who you support because you were bought at a price my dear friends, and no ideology or system bought you, you do not owe anything to anyone, but Christ your master! It was Christ himself who redeemed you!

As the Church takes us backwards to the calling of the first disciples, we are reminded that every day we are met by Christ who walks along the shores of our hearts and calls us “follow Me!” How are we responding to His call? How are we replying to His invitation? I can’t answer that question for you. I can only answer for myself. I can do better.

As Christians, our life is a constant reply to the Lord’s call to follow Him. What does our way of life say about us? How are we replying with the actions of our lives? How are we replying with our thoughts? How are we following Christ with our words? Do we love these words? Do we take them seriously?

When someone chooses to follow the call of Jesus Christ, he is asking Christ to invade his heart and his mind, and in return, Christ overwhelms our hearts with His love. This love overflows and spreads to others as we seek to share our love for Jesus Christ and our love towards our neighbor. Love is more than words. Love is sacrificial action, and we begin to comprehend this through our daily decision to follow the way of the crucified Lord, the suffering servant. The one who overcomes not through violence of force, but through silent suffering. That is our way, the way of witnessing to Christ, the way of martyrdom. It is not the easy way, but this is our way, a way that is blessed by God and given to us as our inheritance in the saints. When we open our arms to Christ and really follow His way, we attract others to our Master and Lord. When our love for Christ is abundant, others see this and they follow us like fish in a great school, one follows after the other.

St. Theophan the Recluse writes,

“The Lord chose the apostles, that they should be with Him, and that he might send them forth to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils.

Every Christian is chosen—chosen for similar deeds, namely: to be with the Lord, through unceasing remembrance of Him and awareness of His omnipresence, through the preaching and fulfillment of His commandments, and through a readiness to confess one’s faith in Him. In those circles where such a confession is made, it is a loud sermon for all to hear.

Every Christian has the power to heal infirmities—not of others, but his own, and not of the body, but of the soul—that is, sins and sinful habits—and to cast out devils, rejecting evil thoughts sown by them, and extinguishing the excitement of passions enflamed by them.

Do this and you will be an apostle, a fulfiller of what the Lord chose you for, an accomplisher of your calling as messenger. When at first you succeed in all this, then perhaps the Lord will appoint you as a special ambassador—to save others after you have saved yourself; and to help those who are tempted, after you yourself pass through all temptations, and through all experiences in good and evil.

But your job is to work upon yourself: for this you are chosen; the rest is in the hands of God. He who humbles himself shall be exalted.” 

When we follow the Lord Jesus Christ in love, we are kept close to Him. We are fed and nourished as His sheep. No shepherd ever ignores his sheep, even the weakest or the sick ones. In fact, he dedicates more time and attention to these because they need this extra attention and love. We are also protected because He is our shepherd. The shepherd is our frame of reference. With a shepherd, we have a purpose, and we are part of a community. Without a shepherd, we are lost in our lives. We wander from place to place and replace one cause with another, one possession with another, but none of them fulfills us or gives us true purpose. Imagine what would have happened to the first disciples if they had ignored the Lord! They would have spent their lives toiling away for a catch that spoils and starts to stink quickly, but through immediate obedience, they found their purpose in Him and have caught souls for the kingdom of God, as well as saved their own!

May we also be like the disciples and work to catch souls and to grab hold of that which doesn’t spoil or pass away, the kingdom of God. AMEN.

Source: Sermons

The Flames of Injustice and The Fire of Pentecost

June 7, 2020 Feast of Pentecost,

The Reading is from the Holy Gospel according to St. John (7:37-52; 8:12) 

The last week or so has been a difficult one for our nation. We heard of the terrible slaying of a helpless man at the hands of law enforcement authorities, who were actually sworn to do the opposite. We saw a brutal display of the abuse of power as these misguided men were sworn to uphold the law and protect citizens, not prey on them. The world saw this evil action and people have responded in many different ways. Some of those responses have been good and productive. People have protested peacefully for common sense reforms. Others have responded in ways that are truly awful, rioting, looting, hurting others, destroying businesses, attacking good police officers and innocent citizens.

The world looks on in shock as it sees the United States in the midst of civil unrest and turmoil. For many years we have been in the midst of an ideological civil war. This has only been made worse because of our participation in social media. But my brothers and sisters, this should not shock us. Satan is called the father of lies. Everywhere he sows his seed there is confusion, hatred and division. If we are honest, we can say that a growing segment of American society is lost, in the Christian sense. People are confused and thrown into chaos.

What was the cause of all this? Was it economic policies or the lack of social justice or political legislation? Perhaps each of these is partly to blame, but there is something more. People operate without a properly rooted moral law and moral compass. Put another way, they operate with a morality that is skewed towards self gratification and the fulfillment of desires, rather than being rooted in something much deeper and more real. All of the statistics and polls taken in the last 20 years point to a general decline in Christian belief and practice as well as in general religious belief. Contrary to popular belief, when one doesn’t believe in God, he is not free. He actually becomes a slave to other lesser gods and their value systems. He is the slave of ideologies, and a slave to his sinful passions and desires, he is anything but free. He becomes a puppet that is used by others to further their agendas and especially the agenda of the evil one. This is true whether he is a corrupt policeman, a crooked politician or a crazed protestor. As Bob Dylan once wrote “You’re gonna have to serve somebody. Now it may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” We will know who we serve as the Lord says “by their fruits.”

Today in the Orthodox Church we celebrate the Great Feast of Pentecost. Listen to the words of this hymn (KONTAKION)OF PENTECOST: “When the High One descended, confusing tongues, He divided the nations. And when He distributed the fiery tongues He called all to one unity. Wherefore, in unison we glorify the most Holy Spirit.”

What is the source of our unity as people, as Christians? It is our unity of faith in the Holy Spirit. At one point in history, men and women had to go to a sacred temple to worship God. Now because of the work of Our Lord Jesus Christ and the Lord, the Holy Spirit, we have become the temples and the dwelling place of God! Do we understand the treasurethat we have been given? Christians are united by this great and powerful gift. It was not a gift that humanity earned. We did not deserve such an honor. Yet the Lord poured out His grace upon us.

Today, we hear the story from the book of Acts. How the men of various and diverse nations could hear one the words of the disciples in their own languages. St. Luke is telling us something very important. He is saying that this is the key to the unity and the peace of the whole world. It is the preaching of the gospel through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. What is the gospel? It means “the good news.” And what is this good news? It is this, that God loves each of us, and that He has proved this love for us by allowing His Son to become incarnate in the flesh, and suffer and die upon the cross for us, so that He might allow us to have the forgiveness of sins and walk in newness of life and share in the resurrection of His Son! 

I have often been asked if we are evangelical in nature. My answer has always been the same “if what you mean by evangelical is passing out tracts and going door to door to save people, my answer is “no”. But if you are asking if the Orthodox Church believes in sharing the gospel with all people, in loving all peoples regardless of their race, ethnicity, or any other man made category, our answer is a resounding “yes”! St. Paul writes that (God)…desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim 2:4) Do you hear that? All men. So much did God insist on saving all men that He grafted the gentiles into His people, although they were not His initial chosen people. The plan was always a grandplan for thereconciliation of all mankind to God, and to one another. 

People are lost now precisely because they have lost what united our countrymen for so long. Many have lost the Christian faith. Since we are not united in our belief in Christ and His teachings, we are not united in the guiding principles that were a direct result of the Christian faith upon which this country was founded. Among those guiding principles was the idea that one should love his neighbor and respect life. Today our culture is one of extreme disrespect to life. Do I need to remind you that nearly 1000 babies are aborted every day in our country? Do I need to remind you that the abortions disproportionately hurt the black community?  We also have a culture of extreme disrespect for our brothers and sisters when they don’t fit within our class or our tribe, when they think differently or look different. This happens from all sides. People are confused about the meaning of life, about their role towards their neighbor, and about the nature of justice.

Yet, through all this there is good news. When the darkness is thick in the air, it makes the presence of light all the more radiant. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit that we celebrate today, that youhave receiving in your Chrismation,you are given the great giftto become a light. Do you suppose that the Roman Empire became Christian overnight while the Christian peoples hid in their houses and posted memes and binge watched Netflix? NO! The Empire became Christian through the love and the care demonstrated by Christian men, women and children for their neighbors, in serving them and teaching the truth. And as they demonstrated this love, people became curious and began to ask the question, “What is the source of this behavior, this love?” And then the Christians could evangelize and give an answer for the hope and the love that was in them. Today more than yesterday, now more than ever, we are called to deepen our spiritual lives. If you will not help to redeem your country and your community by fanning the flame of the love of Christ,then you are part of the darkness, and no social activism will be enough to help.Cast off the darkness and start by shining the light of Christ on your own life and your own heart and then allow this light to radiate outwards to cover everything and everyonein your life with the love of Jesus Christ.

In today’s gospel reading the Lord Jesus said “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.” 

The country is hungry and thirsty. They believe that they are hungry for justice and equality. But our deeper need is not for justice, what people are thirsting for is LOVE, and the only source of an unending and profound love is the life of the Holy Trinity that existed in love before the creation of the universe. Our Lord says “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Let us take these words seriously and direct our lives accordingly. Love Christ by following His words. Love all people. Pray for all people. Pray fervently for healing. Pray that you might have a chance to share the love of God with someone who needs this message. Pray that people will find the Church and true healing within her walls. The Lord tells us that when we believe in Him, rivers of living water shall flow from us. Through the work of the Holy Spirit in us, we can quench the thirst and feed the hunger of our nation. We do this one person at a time, one soul at a time. In this we demonstrate our likeness to Christ, in our love for one another. May the Lord, the Holy Spirit, energize our hearts and minds and sanctify our lives so that we might unite in our worship of the living God and unite ourselves to all men through serving them in the name of Christ. Glory be to God Forever, AMEN. 

Source: Sermons

Unity In The Church

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. John. (17:1-13) 

In today’s gospel reading, which is given to us for the commemoration of the First Ecumenical Council, we hear these words of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ “And now I am no more in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to Thee. Holy Father, keep them in Thy name, which Thou hast given Me, that they may be one, even as We are one.”

It is an amazing thought to contemplate this prayer of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is part of what is often called His “high priestly prayer.” As the Lord is preparing to be betrayed and arrested and preparing to suffer the worst of all shameful treatment and suffering, Our Lord is praying to God our Father. He is coming to His Father as The Son. He teaches each of us that we also have access to God our Father. We can reach out to Him, seek Him, receive strength from Him for whatever we are going to face. 

We also see that Our Lord Jesus cares so much for His people that He prays for them. He is on His way to a terrible and agonizing death, yet His mind is fixed on His people. And this prayer is not something that is said once. It is an eternal prayer. What is it that He prays for? He prays that they will be kept together, that they will be one even as He is one with His Father.

What does oneness, or unity look like for Christians? Where do we find it? Well, we hear it in the words of the creed that Christians have been reciting from nearly 1700 years. “I believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.” That is a good place to start. We don’t believe in 2 churches. We don’t believe in the thousands of denominations or “non-denominations” that have split and resplit from one another over the last 400 years or so. We believe that the Church is one. That it is united in it’s Dogma. Dogma is defined as the unchanging truth, the core beliefs. St. Ignatius, bishop of Antioch once wrote, 

“The Church dispersed throughout the whole world to the ends of the earth has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith……While scattered throughout the whole world, the Church has received this message and this faith and still, as if living in only one house, carefully preserves it. She believes these points of doctrine as if she had only one soul, and one and the same heart. She proclaims them, teaches them and hands them down harmoniously, as if she had only one mouth. Although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the meaning of the tradition has remained one and the same, for the churches in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different thanthose of Spain or in Gaul or in the East or in Egypt or in Libya.”

The Church is also one in it’s leadership. In fact, the outward sign of the unity of the Church is found in the position and role of the bishop, as we see in our historical writings that have passed down to us from antiquity. If a person wants to know what the Church taught and believed, we have the resources to search for the answers. We don’t need to invent the answers or interpret the Bible in new and novel ways. The Church has left us a treasure through the writings of historians and Church fathers and the lives of the saints. 

The unity of the Church is clearly seen in the person of the bishop. The bishops were appointed by the Apostles and tasked with guarding the faith and shepherding the faithful. As the church grew, so did the number of problems and especially false teachings, false dogmas, which we call heresies. The Church would protect itself from false doctrine and from breaking communion with the apostles by making sure that those who served and led (bishops, priests and deacons) were appointed from within the community and did not take the authority from an unknown source. So deacons, priests and bishops were always ordained by bishops who were already within the one Christian Church.

Listen to what St. Ignatius writes about the role of the bishop. He is writing in the early second century. “It is therefore befitting that you should in every way glorify Jesus Christ, who has glorified you, that by a unanimous obedience you may be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment, and may all speak the same thing concerning the same thing [1 Cor. 1:10], and that, being subject to the bishop and the presbytery, you may in all respects be sanctified.” He also writes “forwhere the bishop is, there is the church.”

We believe that the Church is also one in it’s worship and sacraments. St. Ignatiusalso writes “At these meetings you should heed the bishop and the presbytery attentively, and break one loaf, which is the medicine of immortality, and the antidote which wards offdeath but yields continuous life in union with Jesus Christ.”

So not only do we get a glimpse into the importance of the clergy of the Church, under the guidance of the bishop, but we also get a glimpse into the importance of receiving the Eucharist (holy communion). We are told that unity in Christ comesthrough obedience and living peaceably under the guidance of the clergy and this unity comes to fruition and is made powerfully present in our receiving of the body and blood of Jesus Christ. 

Have you noticed that we are living in a divided time? Whenever there are worries, fears and anxieties there is division. Whenever people lack a unifying goal and purpose, they are divided.Whenever people are afraid of death, there is alsosin and this causes great division. Satan is now working overtime to confuse and divide the people of God. He divides them from one another and then he attacks once they are isolated and alone. As Christians we protect ourselves by running to Christ and to His Church. It is not enough that we run to a church. We must run to The Church which has remained united in her life giving teachings. This is our safe space. We need fellowship with God and with our fellow Christians. Alone, we perish.

Our only hope as Christians is to cleave to the unity of the Church. The Church is the place of unity that Our Lord Jesus Christ prayed for to His heavenly Father. Within the spiritual and physical walls of the Church, there is hope and salvation. Even if you are not yet comfortable coming to the church building, you can live as a united member of the Church in your homes and daily lives by honoring God’s commandments. By studying the Scriptures and the lives of the saints. Through prayer for yourself and others. Through lives of sacrifice and love for others. Through times of contemplation and silence, not filling every minute with noise and chatter.

Our Lord Jesus prayed for our unity. Whether we are here physically or virtually, we are called to be united. Our Christian life is a life of struggling to become united in our bodies, hearts and souls. To harmonize everything within us to the service of Christ. So this is our life in the Church, unity within, unity with our neighbors, unity with the teachings and life of the Church itself, which is the body of Christ. Unity with the Holy Trinity. All of this ensures that we will not be lost, misguided or misdirected. It ensures that we are on the right path, this path of salvation. And He has prayed for us and given us His bride, theone Church as a place for this unity to be made powerfully present in our lives. May Christ our God unite our hearts and minds and bring us to true worship and love. Glory be to God forever AMEN.

Source: Sermons

Who Should We Blame?

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. John. (9:1-38)

The disciples came to the Lord Jesus Christ after seeing a blind man and they asked a difficult and poignant question “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  It is really quite the question.  What is beautiful about this question is that they brought it to the Lord Jesus Christ.  They trusted Him.  They knew that He would provide the correct answer.  In our own lives, where do we go when we have questions?  Do we run to study the words of Holy Scripture?  Or do we run to other sources, to google, to facebook forums?  They went straight to the source and we should do the same with the big questions of life.  Our Lord Jesus will give us an answer to those big questions, and His answer will be truthful.

Now back to the question that was presented by the disciples to the Lord.  “Who sinned that this man was born blind?”  We as humans, have this need to find a way to explain the difficulties we encounter in life.  Perhaps this is not more true than when we see someone suffering tremendously.  Sometimes we are even that person who is suffering. And we begin to look for reasons for the terrible thing that has happened.  In January, we began to hear of a virus that was causing some suffering and sickness and death in China.  Within a few weeks it was at our doorstep.  We began to look for people to blame.  We began to look for a cause.  Some said it was China’s fault for allowing their people to travel.  Others said that it was the president’s fault for not shutting the borders sooner.  Yet others blamed the virus on a Chinese lab, and others on the wet markets where the poor people go to eat a meal that they can afford.  

In the aftermath of this virus, we shut down much of the country, jobs were lost, and people have suffered greatly, financially, emotionally, spiritually.  Still we look to place the blame as if doing so will help us come to grips with the situation.  As if knowing who to blame will help us feel better.  Some blame the governors and some the federal response, and some blame the right wing and others blame the left. But none of that will actually help us feel better, because blaming people won’t actually bring us healing.

Our habit of blaming others is actually a sign of our own lack of humility, our pride.  St. John of Kronstadt said “Every man on earth is sick with the fever of sin, with the blindness of sin and is overcome with its fury. As sins consist mostly of malice and pride, it is necessary to treat everyone who suffers from the malady of sin with kindness and love. This is an important truth, which we often forget. Very often we act in the opposite manner: we add malice to malice by our anger, we oppose pride with pride. Thus, evil grows within us and does not decrease; it is not cured – rather it spreads.”  So we have to find a better way forward.  A way that is gracious and merciful.  

  Our Lord Jesus Christ went above and beyond any answer that the disciples had in mind.  They gave two options, but He raised their minds to a better response, with gracious and beautiful words. “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him.”  Wow.  The Lord never stops surprising us with His teaching.  They wanted to blame sin.  They wanted to blame the blind man or his parents.  But the Lord Jesus Christ refused to put the blame on them.  In replying the way that He did, the Lord also corrected the misguided thinking of the disciples.  God hadn’t done this as a punishment.  Just because someone gets sick or something terrible happens to them, it doesn’t mean that it is karma or divine justice.  The martyrs of Christiant history died horrible deaths.  This was not because of anything they had done to deserve it.  It was to glorify God, whose Only Son was put to death in the same manner.

God wasn’t punishing them.  That is not the God who is love.  God hadn’t punished this man…what kind of a God would we worship if He acted in such a way?  Yet the Lord said to the disciples that this was allowed by God so that His wonderful work could be made manifest in the life of this poor blind man.  I wonder if we ever think this way when we are faced with difficult situations and trials?  How many of us say to ourselves “this is a chance for the work of God to be manifest in my life?”  When we see the world in that way, it means that we have God given eyes to see reality.  Our blindness is taken from us and it is replaced with true and clear sight.  

Don’t spend your life looking for people or things to blame for everything that is wrong and difficult and inconvenient and uncomfortable.  Blame won’t make anything better.  Actually, if anything the desert fathers tell us to blame ONLY ourselves.  Saint “Antony said to Saint Poemen, ‘Our great work is to lay the blame for our sins upon ourselves before God, and to expect to be tempted to our last breath.”

Don’t use every difficulty in life as an excuse to become the judge of others.  Instead, when we see difficult situations, it is a chance to look at our own shortcomings and to give the entire situation to Jesus Christ.  We do this when we come to the Lord with heartfelt prayer, from the depths of our being.  We say to the Lord, “Lord, you see this situation and Lord Jesus, only you can resolve it.  Only you can provide healing.”  That is our reality.  Until we see this, we are truly more blind than this poor man.  But when we finally begin to put trust in the Lord, we begin to see His work through this pandemic, and through every difficulty.  We may even find a way to thank God for all that He has allowed to happen in our lives.  We may see that our difficulties were gifts, that they helped us to grow and to trust in God and that God used the magnitude of our trials and difficulties to show that His greatness knows no measure at all. 

There are no limits to what God can do in our lives.  On this last Sunday of Pascha, never forget that even the worst situation known to man, that is death, looks insignificant in the light of what God has done, and we are His children.  What the Lord conquered in His resurrection, He freely shares with each of us.  This is our reality, this is our belief, this is the faith that upholds the universe.  Christ is risen!   

Source: Sermons

Do Not Be Afraid!

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark. (15:43-16:8) 

Christ is risen! Today in the life of the Holy Church we are reminded of some truly courageous acts of love. Each and every day for the last few weeks, I am reminded that people are afraid, but the Lord keeps reminding us that we have nothing to fear as His children. Some are afraid of getting sick. Others are afraid of being judged because they aren’t wearing masks or taking the same precautions as some deem necessary. Some are afraid that the authorities will use this sickness to clamp down on religious practice in this country. Some are afraid that we won’t get back to normal life anytime soon. We do have some reasons to fear, there can be no doubt about that. But we also have reasons to take courage, to be brave.

Our gospel reading today shows us the example of some very courageous people. People who were pious and loved God so much that they went out of their way and took risks, took chances and ultimately they were rewarded for their actions even in the darkest of times. They were rewarded for their faith. One of these courageous people was Joseph of Arimathaea. He was a prominent religious leader and the truth is that he stood to lose everything for showing sympathy for Jesus. Yet we are told that he “took courage” and went to Pilate. Why it is even possible that Pilate could have seen him as a sympathizer and had him punished or even crucified! Yet Joseph took courage and asked for the body of the Lord Jesus. And what courage and faithfulness he had. He not only went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body, but he went to the foot of the cross, to a scene that would be quite difficult to behold. He, along with Nicodemus, took down the bloodied, lifeless body of our Lord Jesus Christ. They handled His body with reverence and care and love. They showed great respect and honor to Christ. They did much more than the 12 disciples according to the gospel text. The disciples were paralyzed with fear yet these men, acted boldly, with love. It is a testament to their true faith and dedication to Jesus Christ.

The myrrh bearing women also showed similar boldness. They went to the tomb to anoint the body of the Lord. They did not worry about how they might be viewed by others, even the soldiers who were to guard the tomb. They did not give a thought to the fact that the Lord would be decomposing in the tomb. The women, like the men we just mentioned used different ways to show the same love for the Lord Jesus. In the life of the Church (which is the body of Christ) we also find different ways to show our love for Christ. We are called to do this even when the work is not glamorous. Actually the usual work of loving others and serving in the life of the Church is not glamorous work at all. It is dirty, difficult and often thankless. Each one does this work in different ways. One by offering comforting words, another by giving a hug, another by preparing food, another by cleaning, yet another by baking bread or by trimming the candle wicks. One by teaching, another by listening patiently. All of them serving and loving the same Lord, even through different kinds of actions. Each act might even carry a different sort of reward, yet all the rewards come from the Lord.

These women went out early on Sunday morning and the Lord rewarded their faithfulness and love by making them the first witnesses to the miraculous and life changing event of the resurrection. What an honor! Can you imagine? Even they could not comprehend it and we are told that “they went away and fled from the tomb for trembling and astonishment had come upon them.”

Right now we are in a situation that is difficult, there has been a sense that we’ve been waiting for the Sun to rise after a long cold night. Take courage! The Sun will rise again. Look to the bright spots in your life. You have your life, you have another day to learn to pray, to learn to love, to learn to repent. We have much to be thankful for. But I want to say to you, take courage! Joseph and Nicodemus and the Myrrh bearing women all had courage….and we can be like them. Actually I want to tell you that your courage must exceed their courage by far. How can I possibly say such a thing? Because they had this otherworldly courage after the crucifixion but before they knew a thing about the resurrection. My brothers and sisters, we have the good news of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ! So we must have courage that is above and beyond anything that even these saintly people possessed. We are called to reorient our lives and our way of thinking. This reminds me of that very nice quote “Don’t tell God how big your storm is, tell thestorm how big your God is.” 

Isn’t this how we should approach every difficulty and challenge in this life? Reminding ourselves that God is much bigger than the trials and tribulations of life. Some of the parents who are listening today have been privileged enough to hear the famous VeggieTales song “God is bigger than the boogie man.” In fact God is bigger and greater than everything including evil and sin and death! So we are not going to walk around in fear of the future because the future belongs to the Lord as did the past and the present. We also belong to the Lord. We are His children through our baptism. What He has, He is sharing with us. His defeat of sin and evil, it our defeat of sin and evil. His defeat of death, is our defeat of death. His glorious resurrection, is indeed our glorious resurrection. There is literally NOTHING to fear when you are a child of God. Only one thing do we really fear…to fall away from God, to be outside God, because that is true sickness that leads to true death. I want to leave you with a beautiful quote by St. John Maximovitch of Shanghai and SanFrancisco. He said 

“Now the Church consists of both her earthly and heavenly parts, for the Son of God came to earth and became man that He might lead man into heaven and make him once again a citizen of Paradise, returning to him his original state of sinlessness and wholeness and uniting him unto Himself.

This is accomplished by the action of Divine grace grated through the Church, but man’s effort is also required. God saves His fallen creature by His own love for him, but man’s love for his Creator is also necessary; without it he cannot by saved. Striving towards God and cleaving unto the Lord by its humble love, the human soul obtains power to cleanse itself from sin and to strengthen itself for the struggle to complete victory over sin.”

His complete victory will be our complete victory, so stop worrying and take courage! Christ is risen!

Source: Sermons