What Fruit Does the Master Seek?

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (21:33-42)

Today we hear the parable of the vineyard. We are told that there was a man who planted the vineyard and along with this vineyard he built and provided everything that was necessary for the vineyard to thrive and do well.

He decided to allow tenant farmers to lease the vineyard and to work this land and take care of the vineyard. This was done with the understanding that one day they would bear fruit and share the fruit of the land with the owner. We are told that the season for fruit drew near and the owner of the vineyard sent servants to get the fruit. How did the tenant farmers treat the servants that came from the one who owned the vineyard and allowed them to work there? They took the servants and beat one of them, killed one of them and stoned another. Killing and stoning are both mentioned because stoning was a particularly shameful way to die and was usually reserved for those who had done wrong or committed transgressions according to some aspect of the Mosaic law.

How did the master of the vineyard respond to this? He sent even more servants in the hopes that he might get a different result. But it was no use. The result was the same. And finally the master decided to send his own son while he said to himself “They will respect my son.”

The Lord told this parable to teach the people and His own disciples about what was really happening around them. The Lord saw the religious authorities of the day, the Pharisees and Sadducees as the tenant farmers who worked the land that they did not themselves own. It was the land that they received in pristine condition, already built up with all that was necessary for the bearing of fruit. They received the law of Moses and the priesthood. They received the temple and all that was contained therein. They received the teaching of God. But none of that changed their disposition. In fact their disposition became worse. God had allowed them to work and serve in order that they might bear fruit. What was that fruit?

It was the fruit of repentance, which is love. The fruit would be seen in the changed lives of the people. The fruit would be seen in people who were brought from their old ways and directed towards love for God and their neighbors as well as the poor and suffering. But the tenants had nothing to give to the people because they didn’t first cultivate love for God and for their neighbors within themselves. In fact they so lacked love that they became hostile towards the Master who had allowed them to serve on His land and those whom He had sent to them, namely the holy prophets.

God began by sending His prophets to teach and warn and correct the people. Most of the prophets were not received with open arms but were driven away or killed. What was the message of the prophets? To cease from worshipping false idols and the things of the world and focus our lives on repenting, loving God and showing mercy to our neighbors and those in need.

Finally the Lord Jesus Christ begins to predict or foreshadow His own sufferings and death when He says in the parable that the master of the vineyard said “They will respect my son.” And of course they would have respected the son of the master had they been decent, good and upright people but they were not. They were corrupt to the core. Instead of looking at the son as a representative of the father, and treating him with utmost respect and gratitude for all that his father had done for them, they looked on the son with scorn and hatred. They said to themselves “This is the heir, come let us kill him and have his inheritance.” And so they took him and cast him out of the vineyard which was his birthright and they killed him.

All of this the Lord tells us in order to show us the reality of the situation. God sent His only begotten Son to us and He was treated shamefully and unjustly because of what He represented to the Pharisees and Sadducees as well as those in authority; a threat to their power and ability to rule over the people that God had given to them to care for. The problem is that these were not their people. They were God’s people. God taught and nurtured and loved His people throughout the ages in order to prepare them and bring them to Himself. Finally, when there was no other perfect way, in the fullness of time, Our heavenly Father sent His only begotten Son Jesus Christ to us. He did this knowing beforehand, that His Son would suffer just like the prophets did, but even worse.  He would be hung shamefully, from a tree, the sign of one who is accursed according to the law. He was betrayed by the very people who should have embraced Him and venerated the very ground upon which He walked.

Our Lord tells us that the master of the vineyard will put those miserable men to death and will let out the vineyard to others who will give the fruit in due season. The apostles were given the priesthood of Jesus Christ, and have passed this down through the laying on of hands which has fallen to us. In this way, we who are responsible for the people of God are the tenant farmers and the vineyard is the Church. God the Father is the master who holds us accountable. It is not a lighthearted matter but a matter of spiritual life and death. My brother clergy and I will be held accountable for what we have taught and what we have failed to teach you. But most importantly we will be held accountable for whether or not we have taught you to truly love God and love your neighbor as if he is Christ in your midst.

Our Lord comes to each one of us every day.  Sometimes He comes as a thought to pray.  Sometimes He comes in the person who is needy or sick.  Sometimes He comes to us in the word of the Scriptures and especially in the gospel.  Sometimes He comes to us as bread and wine.  But how do we receive Him? Do we cast him aside and live our own lives as we see fit? Do we crucify Him again by falling back into sin and rebellion?  Or do we receive Him with open arms?  Do we show Him honor and gratitude by bearing the holy fruit of love?

Nothing is more important in our lives than overwhelming love for God and for His Son. This love can be cultivated through intense prayer, and through the humble preparation for and participation in the holy mysteries as we do at every liturgy.

Our love is also cultivated through our love for others (but not just our friends and family). St. Maximos the confessor says “He he who does not love his neighbor fails to keep the commandment, and so cannot love the Lord.”

This is the foundation of all that we aim to do and this foundation of love is built upon the love of Jesus Christ for the whole world. Through this love, He who was the stone rejected by the builders became the headstone upon which our whole faith and Church have been built. To Him alone be the glory, dominion and worship with His Father and the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

Source: Sermons


When God Turns Your Life Upside Down

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (19:16-26)

In each gospel reading we come face to face with the mind and the heart of God. That is not a light thing. When we pay attention to the gospel text we should rightly be shaken to the core. By shaking us to the core, God can ensure that our foundations are strong and ready to be built upon in the right way.

The rich young man that came to the Lord Jesus, came with the right question in his mind. But he had no place for the right answer in his heart. Everyone in this room should have this man’s question as one of the guiding questions of their life “What must I do to have eternal life?” Every day is a new chance to ask this question and to work towards that goal. Why is this such an important goal? What is the big deal?

The big deal is that our earthly life is short and everything in our life, everything that we have worked so hard for or invested so much in, will fall right through our grasp. It will be counted as nothing unless it is an investment towards the kingdom and towards our life in that kingdom and with the King of life! St. Augustine writes,

“For this life is loved, whatever its quality; and however troubled it is, however wretched, people are afraid to end it. Hence we should see, we should consider, how much eternal life is to be loved, when this miserable life that must at some time be ended is so loved. Consider, brothers, how much that life is to be loved when it is a life you never end. You love this life, where you work so much, run, are busy, pant. In this busy life the obligations can scarcely be counted: sowing, plowing, working new land, sailing, grinding, cooking, weaving. And after all this hard work your life comes to an end. Look at what you suffer in this wretched life that you so love. And do you think that you will always live and never die? Temples, rocks, marbles, all reinforced by iron and lead, still fall. And a person thinks that he will never die? Learn therefore, brothers, to seek eternal life, when you will not endure these things but will reign with God forever.”

The question posed to the Lord was a good one. The response to the Lord’s answer was not what the man expected. But why should it be what we expect in the first place? When you come to God and ask for answers, you should be prepared for God’s answer to shake you to the core because God is in the business of turning people’s lives upside down in order to turn their hearts and minds right side up.

How does the Lord do this for the young man? He asks him if he has kept the ten commandments. The man replies that he has. Next the Lord tells the man the one thing that the man did not expect, the one thing that would certainly shake him to the core. The Lord Jesus says “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me.”

At this point many of you are probably saying to yourselves “thank God I’m not rich, I guess my path into eternal life will be easy.” But I want you to know that while the focus has been material wealth, the words of the Lord Jesus most certainly apply more broadly than that. We can be rich in many ways and many of those forms of wealth can keep us from loving God fully. They can be things that consume our hearts and minds and time and energy. Some people are wealthy with money, others are wealthy in their gifts or talents, some are wealthy in their physical beauty or their intellectual abilities. All of these forms of wealth can keep us from inheriting eternal life because we use them to build up our pride and arrogance and not to build our love and service towards God.

Preaching about this passage, St. John Chrysostom says, “Christ demonstrates that there is a significant reward for the wealthy who can practice self-denial.” Our holy Orthodox faith teaches us to practice self-denial. This is why we learn to fast not only for great fasts but every Wednesday and Friday. We learn to give alms to the poor and to delay our desires for instant gratification. We learn to pray and keep vigil instead of merely spending our time trying to be entertained. All of these are forms of self-denial that can be directed to focusing on and following Jesus Christ.

Can we imagine that this rich man went away sad? People around us are spending their lives and their strength trying to accumulate wealth and this man who was already wealthy, went away sad. But there is something else, he did not simply go away sad, he also went away poor. Why was he poor? Because he had been offered the chance to follow Jesus and His disciples and he walked away from that chance. He walked away from the living treasure out of his love for things that can be stolen and lost and ultimately are left behind one day.

My hope and prayer is that each one of us doesn’t walk away from Christ, sad and poor. The Lord tells us that it is truly difficult for a rich man to be saved. But with God’s helpit is possible to leave behind the perceived riches of our lives and direct ourselves to the Master. “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” St. John Chrysostom says “If you also want to learn the way and how the impossible becomes possible, listen. He did not make this statement that what is impossible for man is possible for God merely so you could relax and do nothing and leave it all to God. No, he said this so you could understand the importance of calling upon God to give you help in this rigorous contest and that you might more readily approach his grace.”

Sowe have to take steps in the right direction and we do this through ourspiritualpractice and ourway of life and even in the way that we approach and prepare to receive the body and blood of Christ here at the Divine Liturgy.

Let us work and humbly ask God to work within each of us so that we might enter into the true life of communion that never ends.

Source: Sermons


Is God’s Forgiveness Unconditional?

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (18:23-35)

We would not know a single thing about God or His kingdom had it not been shared with us in His great love for us. God did not want us to be ignorant people who walk around uninformed and unenlightened. God did not want us to be blind or empty. He wanted us to be full of joy and our joy is to know God, to know His ways and to know His kingdom.

Today’s parable is yet another example of the generosity that the Lord Jesus Christ has for us as He teaches us about the kingdom of heaven. These are not things that the Lord must teach us. No one is forcing Him to do so. He does them because He is merciful to us and He wants us to be with Him in His kingdom. He wants to share the kingdom with each of us. In teaching us about the kingdom we are also being reminded or put on notice “This is not our kingdom.”

What aspect of the kingdom does the Lord share with us in today’s parable? His focus is forgiveness. If we pay attention we find many examples of this teaching about forgiveness throughout the gospels. Perhaps if something is mentioned multiple times, we should open our ears as well as our hearts and minds and hear what it is that the Lord is saying to us. In today’s reading we are told that the kingdom of heaven is to be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. Upon finding that his servant could not repay his debt, he ordered the servant to be sold with his wife and kids in order to repay the debt. But something powerful happened! The servant who was about to be sold with his wife and children dropped to his knees and begged for patience. He asked for the king to be merciful to him and to his family. We can imagine such a scene, a man at the end of his rope, pleading, begging and crying out of despair. And how does the king respond? He responds by forgiving all of the debt and releasing the servant. So far so good. The king in this story is the Lord God. And we are the servants who owe a great debt to God. Such a debt as can never be repaid. Although it is God’s prerogative to sell us or allow us to be sent to another master (that is the evil one), He graciously chooses to forgive us all of our debt. So far so good.

But now comes the trouble. That same servant who was just released from all of his mountain of debt, was walking along the way and he found one of his fellow servants who owed him just one hundred denarii. And the anger inside him welled up and he grabbed that other servant by the throat and said “pay what you owe.” So the man who owed the hundred denarii fell to his knees and asked the man to be patient and merciful to him. How would this servant who had himself owed ten thousand talents to his king and was forgiven respond? He responded by taking the fellow servant and threw him into prison until he could pay the debt. This tells us that there is a problem with us when we ask God to forgive us from the bottom of our hearts but we are unwilling to forgive others who ask for our forgiveness from the bottom of their hearts.

The Lord Jesus tells us that the one who does not forgive another is essentially putting that person into a type of prison. And I have experienced this firsthand. We feel imprisoned because someone is angry with us and they refuse to properly forgive us. Each of us has been in that situation. We feel helpless because we have done our part to try and right the situation and have been apologetic (even when we may not have had much to apologize for in the first place), but those who are angry hold all the power. They can choose to remain angry or they can choose to forgive. In addition to making us feel imprisoned, those who are angry also put themselves into a type of prison of their own making.

This type of behavior is problematic for at least two reasons. The first is that each one of us is human and none of us is perfect yet. Since we are not perfect it is reasonable for us to assume that at some point or another, we will be the ones who are in need of mercy and forgiveness from others. But the second point is much more important than the first. We each owe a great debt to God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We accumulated such a debt of sin that it reaches high into the sky like the tower of Babel. Our mountain of sin is so great that it is like the peak of Mt. Everest. We cannot even see it from the ground. It is so high it reaches above the clouds.

And what could we do with such a mountain of sin? How could we repay the great debt that we owed to God? There was no way possible. Each one of us would have been bound by our sin and sold to the devil. But God in His abundant love for us did not want to see us bound as prisoners. He paid the debt for all of humanity and all of it’s sins with the sacrifice of His own Son. In return this sacrifice offered us true freedom from bondage and in fact the Lord’s sacrifice elevates us from mere servants of the King to members of His royal family.

What does this mean for me practically? It means that God’s forgiveness is not unconditional. God has generously forgiven us with a condition; That we must forgive each and every person that wrongs us in our life. In fact we say this very thing each and every time we say the Lord’s prayer. Study the words! Remember that this is not our kingdom. But what we do or fail to do here will have everlasting consequences. We should not approach this simply from fear of God, but even more so, from gratitude and a place of joy. We should say “If God has forgiven me for so much that I have done wrong, how could I possibly hold a grudge against people who have done so little wrong to me?” That is the message. Our forgiveness of others is a key that unlocks others from their prisons of regret, doubt and shame. It allows them to move on with life in a productive and healthy manner without emotional and spiritual roadblocks and detours. This is the mentality that is necessary to be sane in a world full of insanity, anger and misguided searches for justice. Forgiveness is key to our salvation and the salvation of our families. What a difference it makes when wives forgive their husbands and husbands their wives. What a difference when parents forgive their children and children their parents. What a difference when brothers and sisters forgive each other and never hold any grudges or keep any scores. No matter how difficult it might be, find a way to forgive and the doors of the kingdom of God will be opened wide for you. And most importantly, forgive me, the chief of sinners. AMEN.

Source: Sermons


Shining with Christ’s Light

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (17:1-9)

Blessed Feast day! My brothers and sisters, today we are celebrating the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord Jesus Christ and all of the miraculous events that surrounded that magnificent event.

When we listen or read the gospels it can be easy to think that these are simply myths or tall tales that have been handed down from generation to generation but none of this accounts for the extreme dedication and devotion of the apostles and earliest disciples to teach and preach this gospel everywhere and at all times, even under the threat of death. We see in today’s epistle reading that St. Peter already needs to remind the Christian community of the truth of their message. He writes

“Therefore, I intend always to remind you of these things, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to arouse you by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ showed me. And I will see to it that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things. For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father and the voice was borne to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased,” we heard this voice borne from heaven, for we were with Him on the holy mountain.”

He reminds us that he was an eye witness not only of the earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus and His crucifixion, but even of the Lord’s miraculous transfiguration. This was such an important event because later on the disciples could recall it and realize that the one who sat with them and taught them and died for them was not simply human. He was also fully divine. He demonstrates this by revealing His glory to the three disciples who constituted His inner circle.

He glowed more brightly than the sun. His garments became whiter than any white. He seemed to glow from within, He was the source of the light, because we know Him to be the Light! This would have been a glorious sight and I have no doubt that each of us wishes that they could have been there to see it. In fact the ancient church teacher Origen writes,

“Do you wish to see the transfiguration of Jesus? Behold with me the Jesus of the Gospels. Let him be simply apprehended. There he is beheld both “according to the flesh” and at the same time in his true divinity. He is beheld in the form of God according to our capacity for knowledge. This is how he was beheld by those who went up upon the lofty mountain to be apart with him. Meanwhile those who do not go up the mountain can still behold his works and hear his words, which are uplifting. It is before those who go up that Jesus is transfigured, and not to those below. When he is transfigured, his face shines as the sun, that he may be manifested to the children of light, who have put off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. [Rom 13:12.]They are no longer the children of darkness or night but have become the children of day. They walk honestly as in the day.”

So Origen tells us that anyone can behold the transfiguration for themselves by simply beholding Jesus in the gospels, by studying and reading those texts. He tells us that God is beheld in form according to our capacity for knowledge. In essence, the Lord gives us according to what we can handle but He does this with some regard for the efforts we have put into this. If we barely study, barely scratch the surface, then the gospel stories will still provide some benefit to us such as comfort and uplifting but more is possible. If we struggle to learn and grow and know Him more deeply through His word, He will give us deeper and more intimate knowledge. He also tells us that part of that struggle is the struggle to be victorious in putting off the works of darkness and walking obediently to Christ’s teaching.

In essence we are told that anyone can be a witness to the transfiguration of the Lord by applying themselves to the task of loving Christ more fully. In the process of loving Christ we don’t simply see His light from far away, No! He draws us into His light. His light enters into our body and soul and transforms each of us into true children of God.

Speaking of children of God. Today we also celebrate the great blessing of sharing with you the third and final saint that was recently gifted to our community. We first celebrated the elder Joseph the betrothed. Next we celebrated St. Beatrix of Rome whom we commemorated last Sunday and now we celebrate St. Luke the Evangelist and Apostle.

We have many details from the life of St. Luke but for the sake of time we will only briefly touch on it. We know that he was born in Antioch, Syria and that he was a convert to the Jewish faith. He was a brilliant man who took his studies seriously and excelled especially in medicine and became known as a physician.

He was one of the 70 apostles of the Lord Jesus and very likely was present at the crucifixion of the Lord. Tradition also tells us that Luke was one of the two men who spoke as they walked along the road to Emmaus when the risen Lord Jesus came and walked beside them and taught them.

After the resurrection and Pentecost, Luke went out to preach the gospel and travelled to Sebaste, Antioch, Greece and Phillipi in Macedonia. He also travelled with the Apostle Paul and documented much of the history of the early Church in his work “the Acts of the Apostles.”  Of course we cannot neglect to mention that his most important work was the writing of his gospel, one of the four most important books of the whole Bible around 60 a.d.

Holy tradition also tells us that Luke probably saw the martyrdom of St. Paul in Rome and that he later went to Italy, Dalmatia, Gaul, Macedonia and Egypt to labor on behalf of Christ and His Church. During all of these travels he ordained priests and deacons and healed those who came to him. Ancient tradition also tells us that Luke was the first iconographer of the Church and that his first icon was the image of the Mother of God with the infant Jesus.At the age of 84 he was martyred in Thebes, Greeceby being crucified on an olive tree.

The location of his relics werewell known during the fourth century because of the many miraculous healings that occurred there. At that time they were transferred to Constantinople.  In 1204 they were stolen by Roman crusaders who plundered Constantinopleand the relic ended up in Padua, Italy.  In 1992 the Metropolitan of Thebes requested a significant portion of the relics to be returned and this prompted a scientific investigation of the relics in Padua which confirmed that the relics indeed belonged to an individual of Syrian descent from between 72-416 a.d.  A large portion of the relic was returned and since then has worked many miracles.  On December 22, 1997 the marbletomb of St. Luke began to stream myrrh.

We should never be surprised when we hear of all the amazing feats and accomplishments of the saints. Indeed we even see Moses and Elijah alive and appearing to the Lord Jesus in today’s gospel. God is faithful to those who love Him and He gives us much more than we can ever begin to imagine because He is the life and the light of the faithful and there is no other life or light outside of that which He alone can give us. May our lives also shine with the love of Jesus Christ to the glory of God the Father. Amen.

Source: Sermons


That moment when we feel like we might drown…

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

Everyone has moments in their life where they feel as if they are going to drown. I’m not necessarily talking about drowning in water, but the feeling that we are drowning in the difficult circumstances of our life. A marriage on the rocks.  A woman feeling the weight of her role as mother.  Parents who are struggling with disconnected teens.  It may be financial difficulties like an unexpected car repair or the loss of job. It might even be an unexpected illness. Our fathers and mothers in the spiritual life alsospeak of the feeling that we are drowning in the sea of sin and temptations.  Everyone must go through such difficult moments as these. They are a part of our human condition and the fallen world in which we find ourselves.

When we are going through such trials and tribulations they seem to consume us. We are consumed by worry and anxiety. We are consumed by fear. We often are paralyzed to take any step in any direction. We see this in the picture of St. Peter as he seems to come to his senses and realizes that he is now walking on water in the midst of the sea in the middle of a raging and howling winds. We are told that he was afraid and began to sink. Please note that if the chief apostle was afraid even though he could clearly see the Lord Jesus Christ, then it is quite normal for us to be afraid when we sense that we are also at risk of drowning.

But it’s not enough to simply learn from Peter’s failure, we must also learn from his success. You might be asking yourself “whenwas he successful? He tried to walk on water and failed miserably” But actually he was successful in at least two ways. His initial faith and his cry of desperation. Often our initial faith in God and our ability to conquer our difficulties is quite strong. But later on we pay close attention to all of the “what-ifs” and we find that we are overtaken by the fear and anxiety that they cause. We become like Peter as he took notice of the winds and the raging seas instead of focusing on the Lord who called him. The initial faith was enough to get him out of the comfort of the boat, but it did not last. Luckily, Peter teaches us something else that is powerful, something that should be a life lesson for us. Something that we can carry with us as a powerful weapon and shield through the storms of life. Peter teaches us how to cry out to God from the depth of our fear. We are told that he cried out “Lord, save me!” Lord save me. Three words that can change anyone’s life. They may notalwayschange your outer circumstances, but they will change your frame of reference by changing the focus of your life. It is this inner change of our focus that brings about our redemption. Our turning from the distractions to the Lord and source of life. After all, how can we love the Lord with all our heart, mind soul and strength unless He is the focus of our attention?When we cry out to Him and say “Lord, save me!”He does not hesitate to extend His merciful hand to help us, often in ways that we do not immediately notice, but always in ways that are for our redemption and salvation.

Last week I mentioned to you that I had received the great blessing of three holy relics from three different saints. Last week we spoke of the life of Joseph the betrothed. Today I want to mention our next saint, St. Beatrix (Beatrice) of Rome. She was a woman who also faced trials, tribulations and great difficulties in her life. She witnessed the torture and beheading of her own dear brothers Sts. Faustinus and Simplicius in the year 303. Can we even begin to imagine her pain? We know however from her story that she did not sink in her despair. She did not drown in her despairbut she turned her despair towards the One who could relieve this despair. She face the worst and most unimaginable moments by crying out to the Lord “Lord, save me!” Her cry of despair became the firm foundation of her renewed faith in Jesus Christ and allowed her to refocus her life.

After she saw her brothers bodies thrown into the Tiber river she had them drawn out of the water and buried. This alone was a remarkably courageous act. For the next 7 months, she went to live with a pious woman named Lucina. She didn’t hide and cower in the face of the threat of the authorities. She wasn’t paralyzed through her profound grief. She wasn’t trapped in her worries about her own life and how she would survive from day to day even though she had lost the men who cared for her and supported her emotionally and financially. She cried out to Christ the conqueror of death and her life became an offering to others. During those 7 months, she worked in secret with Lucinato help persecuted Christians in their area. When she was discovered and arrested, she was commanded to sacrifice before the idols and she announced that she would never sacrifice to demons because she was a Christian. Does she sound like a woman who was gripped with fear of her circumstances or a woman who was gripped with love for God?

While she was in prison, she was strangled to death. Her dear friend Lucina took and buried her body along with her brothers in the cemetery called Ursum Pileatum near Rome. We are told thatPope  Leo II (682-683) translated their relics to a church which he had built at Rome in honor of St. Paul.

St. Beatrix shows us what it is like to live and walk in the midst of the raging seas and the howling winds of life. She shows us that while there is a threat of drowning, she has no doubt that the hand of the Lord Jesus Christ is always ready to reach out and save us because He loves us and wants us to have life with Him. May she also pray for us to struggle with courage and to look up to Christ for light in the midst of our darkest hours. Glory be to God forever AMEN.

Source: Sermons


Paralysis of Soul

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (9:1-8)

When we come to Church we are constantly exposed to the words of the gospels and all of the miracles of our Lord Jesus Christ. Sometimes when we are “over-exposed” we take what we are hearing or reading for granted. One of the most important aspects of our spiritual life is to continue to see everything with new eyes. We are reminded not to take anything in our life for granted. Like the young man who works hard to woo the woman of his dreams. He hopes and prays and dreams of making her his wife. But what does he do once he has this woman as his wife? How does he treat her? Does he approach her each day with renewed enthusiasm and with a fresh sense of love? Or does he neglect her and consider her boring and old news? Does he mistreat her or does he live each day to work for her and show her unending love?  This is how we approach the gospel of Jesus Christ; with renewed enthusiasm on a daily basis. If we feel that the gospel has gotten old or stale, it is possible, that we are the ones who are in fact old and stale and we require a renewal of heart and mind.

Today’s reading tells us that the Lord came into his own city and that there was brought to Him a paralytic (one who is paralyzed). It is impossible for us to imagine the torture and struggle of someone who is paralyzed. But perhaps it is not hard for us to imagine the possibility of being paralyzed with fear. Some are paralyzed with anxiety and worry. Some are paralyzed by their addictions. Some are paralyzed by their hate for others or the grudges they hold. We can also be paralyzed by extremely difficult situations, many of which are outside our control. Most importantly, we are all paralyzed by sin. It paralyzes us from doing good and more than this, it paralyzes us from entering into a deep relationship with our Master and Lord.

What we see in today’s gospel is that the Lord’s first concern is not necessarily our first concern. The people who carried the paralyzed man on his stretcher were concerned with his physical sickness but the Lord Jesus Christ went straight to the most important matter, the paralytic’s spiritual condition. The Lord doesn’t begin by healing the man and allowing him to walk. He begins by healing his soul so that he might walk towards God. As St. Macarius of Optina once said “The soul is greater than the body: the body becomes sick, and with that it is finished. But a spiritual sickness extends into eternity. Deliver us, O lord, from such illness, and grant us healing.”

Many times I have read this passage and been completely overwhelmed by the words of Jesus, by His mercy and tenderness, not only for this man, but for each of us. When we are young we don’t really understand that we are sinners. As we get grow and mature we begin to see just how difficult it is to be faithful to God and to live the life that God intended for us. We begin to realize that we are not perfect. At times the realization that we are not perfect can be a difficult burden. It can weigh us down along with our sins. But I thank God that He is really full of abundant mercy and He continually says to each of us who come to Him “Take heart, my son (or daughter), your sins are forgiven.” Do we realize how amazing this is? These are words we take for granted but we shouldn’t.

The freedom from sin completely changes the equation of our lives. We may have some terrible and difficult situations, but God is offering us liberty from the worst type of bondage that mankind has ever known. The Lord began this liberation from the tree of the cross, but it doesn’t end there. And it doesn’t end by making a declaration for the Lord Jesus and moving on with our lives. That sounds more like magic than a transformational faith. Ours is a continual renewal of our spiritual life and this comes through the life that Christ imparts to us by His grace. This is not simply a nice idea or wishful thinking, it happens through our baptism and in our continued immersion in Christ and His Church.

This grace of Jesus Christ is seen in this passage as the man never asks for anything at all. The Lord sees him and knows his deepest needs. In fact, He sees past his outside appearance to the man’s heart. Do we ever stop to think about how God can see straight into our hearts? He knows what we are made of, He knows what we desire, He knows our sicknesses and infirmities of soul. So there is no use to running and pretending. He sees straight through each of us. He helped the man who could not help himself in any way. But you and I are not completely helpless. Christ can help us if we can acknowledge that we are also paralyzed and in need of His powerful healing, and if we are willing to come to the place that offers healing.

St. John Chrysostom writing in the 4thcentury says “The Church is a hospital, and not a courtroom, for souls. She does not condemn on behalf of sins, but grants remission of sins. Nothing is so joyous in our life as the thanksgiving that we experience in the Church. In the Church, the joyful sustain their joy. In the Church, those worried acquire merriment, and those saddened, joy. In the Church, the troubled find relief, and the heavy-laden, rest. “Come,” says the Lord, “near me, all of you who labor and are heavy-laden (with trials and sins), and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) What could be more desirable than to meet this voice? What is sweeter than this invitation? The Lord is calling you to the Church for a rich banquet. He transfers you from struggles to rest, and from tortures to relief. He relieves you from the burden of your sins. He heals worries with thanksgiving, and sadness with joy. No one is truly free or joyful besides he who lives for Christ. Such a person overcomes all evil and does not fear anything!”

May Christ our Lord grant us all of this and may He heal us of our deep paralysis so that we may begin to run towards Him with strength, fervor and love. Glory be to God forever AMEN.

 

Source: Sermons


The Supreme Court and the Healing of the Demoniacs

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (8:28-9:1)

We have become quite familiar with this story of the two demon possessed men and the way that the Lord Jesus Christ chooses to heal them of their terrible infirmity.  In modern times many people believe that these gospel stories about demons have nothing at all to do with demons. In our times we are much more likely to see the work of nutrition or mental health or any other possible materialistic explanation for the phenomenon of demons that is observed and recorded in the gospels.  Our problem with such explanations is that they do not maintain the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ concerning the existence of demons and their power.

Today the issue of demons is often ignored as a reality and yet it is interesting to see the Roman Catholic Church has said that the occurances of demonic possession are on the rise and that in fact they do not have enough trained exorcists to deal with all of the activity they are seeing.

One of the amazing features of this gospel passage is the way that the herdsmen of the town responded to the casting out of the demons and the healing of the two possessed men.  We would imagine that after such an amazing miracle and the sanity that was restored back to these two men, the people would have come in droves to receive the blessing of the Lord Jesus and to investigate this man who held such power and authority.  But we know these men to be people who do not know the God of Israel. How do we know this? Because they are pig farmers and pigs were considered unclean and forbidden according to Mosaic law. So they don’t really respond in a surprising way. Their response is what we would expect from those who do not know God.  Instead of being awestruck by God’s mercy and His wonders, they are offended by what they perceive as a great loss of income. We could see a similar response here in this country as people may rush out to protest the appointment of the next Supreme Court Justice.

We heard the news this week that Justice Kennedy will be stepping down after 30 years serving this country as a member of the high court.  His departure will open up a position that will be filled by the president. For the first time in perhaps a generation, the court has the possibility of being firmly and solidly conservative in their interpretation of the Constitution.

Since this is the case, one of the first issues that might be tested could be the issue of abortion, which is in truth the single most divisive issue of the last 40 years.  There have been approximately 60 million abortions in this country since the high court decision of Roe V. Wade. 60 million. To put that into perspective, that is approximately 6 times the number of Jews that died in the holocaust in Nazi Germany.  To put it another way, the rough estimates of the number of people killed in the communist Soviet union is placed at somewhere between 60-100 million. As a nation, we’ve almost equalled those atrocities in half the time.

So it is a big deal that there will be a new Supreme Court Justice and it is possible that many will be up in arms and will protest the newest pick.   Why? Because like the herdsmen in today’s gospel, they are people who do not know God or His will. In addition I would like to say that also like those herdsmen, there are organizations that stand to lose billions of dollars if procedures like abortion are greatly reduced and limited only to medical necessity.  Why am I telling you this? Because it is high time that we as the people of God wake up and refuse to be taught by those who have alternate forms of morality and are not themselves taught by the word of Christ.

We might hear that abortion is about women’s rights.  What right does a woman have over another human’s life?  What right does a mother have besides caring for her own flesh and blood?  If she does not want to be a mother, she can give the child up for adoption and there will be thousands who offer to take her.  We might hear people claim that the government has no right to tell a woman what to do with her body. Only, the government isn’t concerned with the woman’s body, but with the body of the other human that is dwelling within her.  The concern is with respecting all people, no matter their age and protecting those who have no voice and cannot protect themselves.

Where do we get these teachings?  From Christ the Lord and from the saints and holy fathers of the Church. And they are still revolutionary in their power to shake up society and culture and restore our identity as a country that loves and lives by the teachings of Jesus Christ first and foremost.  

Pray.  Millions upon millions of lives are at stake.  Pray fervently, daily, during this time of societal struggle that the Lord’s will be done.  Pray that our country will wake from the fog of ungodliness and that the Lord would remove the demons that possess our culture and offer us His healing and sanity in their place.  And Glory be to God forever AMEN.

 

Source: Sermons


The Nativity of John the Baptist

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (1:1-25, 57-68, 76, 80)

Today in the holy Orthodox Church we celebrate a very important event in the life of the people of God. We celebrate the nativity, the birth of the one whom we call the Forerunner, St. John the baptist. St. John is an amazing prophet and the Lord Jesus actually calls him the greatest born of a woman. Imagine just how important St. John must be that the Lord would speak so highly of him!

St. John is really the bridge between the Old and the New Testament for us. He connects the prophets of the Old Testament to the long awaited messiah of the new covenant. All of the Old Testament prophecies predicted the coming of the anointed one, the King of Israel and St. John fulfills his role as the last of the prophets in the mold of the Old Testament prophets like Elijah and Isaiah. A prophet has the role of correcting the people and bringing them back to God. St. John does exactly this and he does it while reminding all the people to prepare the way for the Lord and to make His paths straight. Where should we prepare the way? Where should we make the paths straight? Somewhere in Jerusalem? Somewhere in the wilderness? Perhaps somewhere here in this place? No.

St. John asks the people to prepare themselves. It is the heart and the mind that need to be prepared. It is the activities of our lives that need to be made straight. One paves the way for the other. We repent not out of thin air. We repent of actual deeds and thoughts and words and ideas that we hold within us. We repent of things that we’ve actually done wrong. When we start with this honest and brutal repentance where we are merciless with ourselves, we find that God Himself pours out His mercy on us and He does this in a way that we do not expect. He visits us. He visits us! We are preparing a way and making a straight path so that He can come and visit us and dwell with us. The Lord wants to make an abode in us. St. John tells us that God cannot get to us unless we first clear a path for Him to walk and find us. He reminds us that getting to God, or allowing God to get to us is really rather straightforward.

His birth was full of miraculous events as we hear in today’s gospel. His mother Elizabeth, whom we also celebrate today, was a great saintly woman. She was not only meek and holy but courageous and tough as nails. She was married to the priest Zacharias who was brutally murdered, but she did not blame God or sit and wallow in her tragedy. She fought to keep her son alive and in fighting to keep him alive she did God’s will. She hid her baby son in the wilderness to keep him safe and away from the threat of King Herod who was looking to kill all of the male infants at that time.  She did this as an elderly woman. In suffering, she suffered for our benefit. In fighting for her son, she fought for each of us and our salvation.

The apple does not fall far from the tree because the holy mother and father brought forth a son who was also holy. One of the amazing verses that jumped off the page when I was reading this gospel passage was the words of the angel to Zacharias, the father of St. John. He says to him “And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth; for he will be great before the Lord.” He was told that his son, his own flesh and blood would bring him joy and gladness. We are told that people would rejoice at his birth. We are told that he would be great before the Lord. I wonder if we raise our own children with these thoughts in mind? Do we have joy and gladness at the birth of our children? Hopefully.  Joy and gladness represent something more than happiness. They represent a deep abiding presence of fulfillment with God’s work in our lives. Most people are happy when they have children, but sometimes happiness fades. Do we continue to have lasting joy? Do we raise these children in a way that allows others to also rejoice in them, or do people do the opposite when they see our children? Every child is cute at a young age. What happens when they get a little older? Do they delight others and bring joy? Do they bring joy to the Lord?

Will our children be great in the sight of God? I’m not suggesting that we can raise the next St. John the baptist, there can only be one. But we can raise the next saints. It is our holy and solemn task and if you are a parent, it is one of the few tasks that you ought to be taking seriously.  Zacharias and Elizabeth were holy. It is no wonder that St. John was holy.

Each of us has been baptized into the Lord Jesus and into His holiness.  The potential is there my brothers and sisters, what are we doing with it?  St. John’s life and the life of his parents is a reminder that many have suffered to bring this living faith to us.  Who will take up the call to suffer and deliver this faith to others? Who will follow in the footsteps of St. John and live in the wilderness, cut off from the world?  I’m not suggesting that you should really go to the wilderness, but that you should make part of each day a type of wilderness that is cut off from the world and it’s distractions.  

The saints lives inform our lives.  May the miraculous and powerful life of St. John the baptist inspire us to prepare our hearts for the Lord through daily struggle and may future generations rejoice when they hear the stories of our lives and our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ to Him be the glory along with His Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages, AMEN.

Source: Sermons


Be A Follower!

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

In every person’s life there are moments where making a certain choice or decision will forever change the course of their life. This is true both in a positive as well as a negative sense. People sometimes choose to do something which is wrong or sinful and it will cause untold damage and destruction not only in their life but in the lives of their families. I am thinking for instance of the husband or wife who chooses to be unfaithful. Often they do so under the illusion that they won’t get caught or that they deserve better or deserve more, or that they will “find happiness”. But that one choice can obliterate life as they know it. That is why we call some sin, sin unto death. Sin can only take away and destroy, it has absolutely no power to give or to create. It is destructive.

Likewise, it is possible that a certain choice or decision that we make can positively change the course of our life forever. We exactly that in today’s gospel. As the Lord Jesus is walking by the sea of Galilee, He comes up to two brothers, fishermen, and He says “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” These men, Simon Peter and Andrew, were going about their daily business. They were in the middle of their work. They weren’t fishing for fun or for sport, they were fishing for their livelihood. The Lord’s call came to them and it also comes to us, but it never ever comes when it is convenient. What could be less convenient than calling these men to follow Him in the middle of their workday? Yet that is exactly how the Lord Jesus does it. We should expect that when the Lord speaks to us, He will do so when it is not convenient in our lives.

Little did those brave disciples know how that moment would not only change their lives but begin a path that would change the course of history as we know it. He told them to follow and they took it not as a request or as an invitation, but rather as a commandment. We are told that they immediately left their nets and followed Him.

The Lord Jesus is constantly telling people to follow Him. He whispers it in their hearts. He speaks it through the words of the gospel. He is the great fisher of men who seeks to ensnare our hearts and minds so that they would not be held captive by the world and by the traps and snares that have been set by the evil one.

Some people hear this call and they delay answering the call. They think that an ideal time or circumstance will allow them to take the first step. Some hear this call and never even think of the possibility of following the call. They can’t imagine such a disruption in their lives. They have plans and they are focused on those plans. They also can’t imagine what blessings the Lord has in store for those who obey the call. Yet others reject the call completely because they don’t want their lives to be branded and marked as belonging to Jesus Christ. The don’t want to be labelled.

But some hear this call and respond to it immediately. I once spoke to a young man who was driving along and heard this verse and when he heard it, it was like it had been sent directly to him. He immediately changed all of his plans and dedicated his life to serving the Lord and bringing others to Him. At that point, all of the calculations and the obstacles and the circumstances of his life vanished. They became minor and insignificant details because he had heard the calling and he immediately decided that he must do it. He told me that the choice was easy because he didn’t want to spend his time and energy working on things that would not last, but what the Lord was offering him was a chance to work on something of eternal value.

One of the reasons that I like to hammer the idea of reading the gospel every day is that the gospel can have the force of an atomic bomb in your life. By the Word of God, the sun and the moon and the earth came into existence. And by the Word of God, you can also be born again, recreated and refashioned. We can go from taking up space to existing as children of God who serve and glorify Him.

It is for us to discern the ways that the Lord is calling us to follow Him. Each of you is being called to serve in different capacities within the life of the Church but each of you is being called to serve. Not everyone is called to be a fisher of men. Not everyone is called to be a deacon or priest. Not everyone is called to be a chanter or reader. Not everyone is called to bake the holy bread. But every one of you has been called to follow Christ more fully. If we are not sure of our calling, we should fast and pray about it and beseech the Lord saying “Lord, how can I follow you more? Lord, how can I unite my life with the life that you desire for me? How can I serve you more faithfully?”

None of us is worthy of the calling. Peter and Andrew were not worthy of the calling. It was obedience to the calling from God that made them worthy to know Him intimately. Imagine the things that they saw and experienced for those precious three years that they followed the Lord. Imagine what they would have missed if they had stayed with their nets and kept on with their own work. They would have missed the single most important event in the history of the world! They would have missed the chance to see, and speak with and experience the incarnate God in the flesh. What might we be missing by ignoring the Lord’s call to follow Him? Better yet, what might we gain by following His calling? Jesus Christ desires that each of us follows Him. We follow primarily through our obedience to His teachings and even in this simple act there is great blessings and treasures. God doesn’t look to disrupt our lives in a negative sense. He offers us life. Have faith and be obedient to everything that Jesus Christ is trying to teach you and through this you will grow in love and hope and your growth will be a light for others.

Peter and Andrew were given no guarantees about the future. They left their work and they did not even know how or where their next meal would come. They also did not know the true identity of the Lord. They had great hope and great faith. But we know the true identity of this man who walked by the sea of Galilee. We know the power of this Messiah. May we follow Him boldly and allow Him to transform our lives and to transform our very world by His power! Glory to God forever AMEN.

Source: Sermons


Is God Real?

The Reading from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Hebrews. (11:33-12:2) and from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (10:32-33, 37-38; 19:27-30)

Today we celebrate All Saints day. As you may remember, this feast falls on November 1staccording to the western tradition. Since it falls on November 1stthat makes October 31st All Saints Eve, which is also called All Hallows Eve, from which we get the word Halloween.

According to our tradition, the best time to celebrate this feast is exactly the week after the celebration of Pentecost, the descent of the Holy Spirit. This feast is a culmination of the saving acts of God through His Son Jesus Christ and ultimately the Lord sent to us the Holy Spirit, one of the Holy Trinity in order to change our lives completely, to make us saints.

The Lord says in today’s gospel “Everyone who acknowledges Me before men, I also will acknowledge before My Father Who is in heaven; but whoever denies Me before me, I also will deny before My Father Who is in heaven.” We hear this verse and we might have a vague understanding of what it means to acknowledge the Lord Jesus. But here is the really interesting thing, there is nothing vague about being a saint.

The saint is the one who acknowledges Jesus Christ not simply with his speech or his mannerisms, but with the complete sacrifice of his life. The saint is the one who gives whatever God has asked him to give and when he has done it, he doesn’t then begin to complain, but he goes further to see what more he can do to offer his life to God.

In today’s epistle reading we hear of many references to people who loved God and gave themselves up to all sorts of brutality and suffering. They often had the chance to run away and avoid pain and suffering but they accepted it gladly for the sake of their love of God. St. Paul speaks of this group as “a great cloud of witnesses” and he encourages us to follow their witness, their sufferings and martyrdoms. He calls us to “lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfection of our faith.”

This life is a race. Are we running in the right direction? I often hear the phrase “running the rat race.” But really it is no good. We are not rats. We are men and women who where created in the image and likeness of God, unlike any of the animals. God loved us and the potential that was within us so much that He sent His Son to become our ransom. His life was given in order to give us the potential for new life. And this act of salvation was completed with the sending of the Holy Spirit into our lives.

Each of us receive the gift of the Holy Spirit after baptism. Each of us is then opened up to the potential to become saints and holy ones. In many of his epistles, the Apostle Paul writes to the church and refers to them as “saints”. According to St. Paul, what is necessary for us to become saints is to “lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely.” The first step is heartfelt contrition and repentance. The holy people of God did not start that way. They were not necessarily born holy. St. Moses the Black was a murderer and a thief. St. Mary of Egypt was worse than a prostitute. After their encounters with the living God, they did not continue to wallow in their sins. They faced them head-on by running the race with perseverance. Here in the life of the Church we face our sins head-on by confessing them in the presence of a priest. They don’t try to find ways to hide themselves from exposure, they come and expose themselves to the core. This is exactly how we face our sins and begin to conquer them with the help of God.

They kept their eyes on Christ and ran towards Him with every moment of their lives and every fiber of their beings. That is what is required of saints. We can’t roll around in our sins and in all the bad habits that weigh us down and expect that we are going to come out clean. We change by desiring to change, and aiming towards the One who alone can offer healing and transformation.

It doesn’t matter whether or not we are ever officially recognized as saints. That is not the goal. The goal is to be recognized by the Lord Jesus and this is the outcome of first recognizing and acknowledging Him with our whole mind, heart, soul and strength. If you want to be a saint, God will help you more than you can imagine. But if you don’t want to be a saint, why are you here?

God wants you to be sanctified and to take the adoption that you have received and run with it! He wants us to make this adoption our own. He wants us to become partakers of the divine nature as is written in 2 Peter 1:4. That is why the Holy Spirit was sent down to us. He was sent down, that we might rise up!

And guess what? We have many modern examples of people who have done just that. People who have taken this adoption seriously and chosen to live, and sometimes to die for Jesus Christ. By the way that they lived and died, they acknowledged God and they proved that He was real. Is God real to you? He is so real to the saints that He becomes the single most powerful force in their lives. Imagine what we could do as a community of believers, if we took seriously the gift that was given to us by God? But we don’t have to imagine. We have only to read the multitude of the lives of the saints of the Church to see the glorious possibilities of a human life that is energized by the Holy Spirit.

The Psalms tell us that God is glorified in the saints. May He be glorified in and by our lives. May their lives inspire our lives. May Jesus Christ who is the life of the saints, become our life. Glory be to God forever, AMEN.

Source: Sermons