Excerpts from the book

"Gems

from the Sunday and Feasts Gospels"


By Anthony M. Coniaris

(Please get the full version of this book at your bookstore)

 

 

Content:

1. Sundays before Lent.

Sunday of Zacchaeus. Publican and the Pharisee. Prodigal Son. Memorial Saturdays in the Orthodox Church. Sunday of Judgment. Forgiveness Sunday (Cheese-Fare Sunday).

2. Lent.

1st Sunday Lent. The Sunday of Orthodoxy. 2nd Sunday of Lent. 3rd Sunday of Lent. Adoration of the Precious Cross. 4th Sunday of Lent. 5th Sunday of Lent. The Saturday of Lazarus. Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday. The Holy Unction. Good Friday: Costly Forgiveness.

3. Easter.

Easter Sunday. Easter. Sunday of St. Thomas. Myrrh-Bearing Women. The Paralytic. Samaritan Woman. Healing of the Blind Man. Ascension Day. Fathers of the 1st Ecumenical Council. Sunday of the Fathers. Pentecost. Pentecost.

4. Sundays after Pentecost.

1st Sunday of Pentecost. 3rd Sunday of Pentecost. 7th Sunday after Pentecost. 8th Sunday after Pentecost. 9th Sunday after Pentecost. 10th Sunday after Pentecost. 11th Sunday after Pentecost. 12th Sunday after Pentecost. 13th Sunday after Pentecost. 14th Sunday after Pentecost. 16th Sunday after Pentecost. 17th Sunday after Pentecost. 18th Sunday after Pentecost. 19th Sunday after Pentecost. 20th Sunday after Pentecost. 21st Sunday after Pentecost. 22nd Sunday after Pentecost. 23rd Sunday after Pentecost. 24th Sunday after Pentecost. 25th Sunday after Pentecost. 26th Sunday after Pentecost. 27th Sunday after Pentecost. 28th Sunday after Pentecost. 29th Sunday after Pentecost. 30th Sunday after Pentecost. 31st Sunday after Pentecost.

5. Fixed Feasts.

Sunday Before Epiphany. Epiphany. Sunday After Epiphany. The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. The Annunciation. St. Paul. St. Peter. The Transfiguration. The Nativity of John the Baptist. The Dormition of theTheotokos. The Beheading of John the Baptist. Sunday before the Elevation of the Holy Cross. The Elevation of the Cross. Sunday following the Elevation of the Cross. St. John the Evangelist. St. Andrew. Sunday Before Christmas. Christmas.

6. Different.

You are the Light of the World. Memorial Day. Independence Day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Sundays before Lent.

Sunday of Zacchaeus.

A Man Up a Tree (Luke 19:1-10).

The Gospel lesson today describes an encounter in the life of Zacchaeus that changed the whole direction of his life. It was the day he met Jesus of Nazareth face to face. The whole Gospel is contained in that encounter, for it made Zacchaeus a new and redeemed man. Tradition tells us that he later became Bishop of Caesarea.

One day Jesus was passing through Jericho. Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector, sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd and the shortness of his stature. Anyone else would have given up then and there, but not Zacchaeus. So eager was he to see Jesus that he climbed a tree to get to see Him.

What Made Zacchaeus Climb the Tree?

It was no doubt a strong desire to see Jesus that made him climb the tree ó a sycamore. When we really want to find God as much as Zacchaeus did, no obstacle will stop us. We will find Him. A seeker once asked a Christian, "How can I find God?" The Christian replied, "Let me show you." He took him down to the sea and immersed his head in the water three times. Then he asked him, "What did you desire more than anything else when your head was under water?" "Air," replied the seeker. "When you desire God as much as you desired air, you will find him," said the Christian.

It was much more than curiosity that made Zacchaeus climb the tree. It was a strong desire to find God in Jesus. Zacchaeus was restless, fed up with himself, fed up with the kind of life he was living. Restlessness has always been one of the symptoms of man's search for God as Augustine knew when he prayed, "Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in Thee."

The Crowd.

The crowd was an obstacle to Zacchaeus; it stood between him and Jesus. As long as he stood with the crowd, he would not be able to see Jesus. So he left the crowd; he climbed above it. The last thing many of us want is to be "different." But if we are to see Jesus and stand with him, we shall be called upon many times to leave the crowd, to buck the strong current of the Gallup Poll in favor of the unchanging laws of God. To be a Christian means that one is not crowd-controlled but Christ-controlled.

Up a Tree.

Zacchaeus was "up a tree" in more ways than one. He was a dishonest tax collector, looked down upon by his people as a collaborator and traitor, collecting taxes for the hated Romans. He had lost his self-respect. He had cut himself off from God and man. He was alone, fearfully alone, a "man up a tree."

In this respect Zacchaeus is like many of us who have ever been up the tree of our own moral failure, hating ourselves for it, longing to be different but lacking the courage to come down. God sent Jesus into the world to invite us to come down. This is the great wonder of God's love that Zacchaeus experienced when he discovered that God was seeking him!

Jesus Looked Up.

"And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up ..." Zacchaeus must have thought that he would never be noticed up the tree. But as Jesus walked by, He stopped right beneath him. He looked up right into the tree, right at Zacchaeus and the eyes of the two men met. Zacchaeus couldn't believe it. Great beads of perspiration broke out on his forehead. He expected Jesus to condemn him: "You child of the devil! You who grind the face of the poor and turn orphans and widows out on the streets, how shall you escape the damnation of hell?" This is what Zacchaeus expected to hear. Instead he heard Jesus call him by name and say, "Zacchaeus, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today." How kindly Jesus dealt with Zacchaeus. "God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved."

When King George of England inspected reconstruction work in one of Britain's heavily bombed cities, thousands of people, including classes of school children, lined the streets to catch a glimpse of the monarch. After the procession had ended, a small boy was weeping bitterly. "What in the world is the matter?" his teacher asked. "Didn't you see the king?" "Oh," the lad sobbed, "I saw the king, but he did not see me."

What a comfort to know that it is not only we who see our great King but even more so, He who sees us and responds to our needs.

"Zacchaeus!"

Jesus not only saw Zacchaeus; He addressed him by name! This great King Who holds the whole universe in the palm of His hand cares enough and has time to speak to one individual. What does this mean but that the Master knows each one of us personally and by name. He knows the restlessness and the great desire for God in Zacchaeus' heart. He knows the need in each soul and He cares. He draws near to Zacchaeus as He drew near to the woman of Samaria and poured out to her some of the most wonderful teachings of the Gospels. Wherever there is a need and a desire for God, Jesus will draw near. For He is above all a seeking God.

The great Jewish scholar, Claude Montefiore, set out to find the feature of Jesus' teaching that most clearly distinguished it from the teachings of the Jewish religion. He found it in the teaching of Jesus that God is like the Good Shepherd who takes the initiative and goes out to seek the lost sheep. Other religions picture man in search of God; Christianity proclaims a God who seeks man. Jews, he said, always believed that God was a God of love and forgiveness and that, if the sinner repented, God would freely forgive him. But Jesus taught that God would not wait for the sinner to repent; He would go out and seek him to call him back.

"Come Down Ö I Must Stay at Your House."

"Zacchaeus, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today." Mark these words, "I must stay at your house." Jesus had promised, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me." Now He fulfills this promise. He has dinner with Zacchaeus! Not with the chief rabbi or priest, not with the mayor of the town or some other respectable person, but with a much maligned outcast, a sinner.

Jesus went to Zacchaeus' house. But it has to be a certain kind of house that can receive Jesus as a guest. Some things will not live in His presence, and one has to choose between Him and them. And Zacchaeus chose: "Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold." Jesus must have smiled as He said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house." That same love of Jesus that walked into the house of Zacchaeus to seek and to save that which was lost exists today and says to each one of us as it said to Zacchaeus, "I must stay at your house today."

A Friend of Sinners.

When the people of Jericho heard Jesus invite Himself to Zacchaeus' for dinner, "They all murmured, 'He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner/ " The first thing that turned the religious leaders against Jesus and shocked them more than anything else was His attitude toward sinners, His way of mixing with people who were openly disreputable and sinful. A Pharisee would never dream of entering the house of such a person, let alone sitting at meal with him. Jesus did. He was more interested in these people than in anyone else. They criticized Him saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them." They even ridiculed Him by calling Him "a friend of publicans and sinners." These words, spoken originally in ridicule, are some of the most comforting words for sinners today. For they tell us that in Jesus we sinners have a real Friend Who will never let us down.

"I did not come to invite the righteous but sinners to repentance," said Jesus. Who is righteous? Not one. But there are people who think they are righteous. Every day we should pray that the Lord may deliver us from the so-called "righteous" people, the modern Pharisees, who look down upon the Zacchaeuses of today, refusing to associate with them and thus alienating them from the Church. So Jesus says today as He said then: "I did not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance." In other words, "I did not come to invite people who are so self-satisfied and convinced of their goodness that they consider themselves better than others. I came to invite people who are very conscious of their sin and desperately aware of their need for a Savior." Zacchaeus was such a sinner. That is why Jesus invited Himself to his house. He knew he needed Jesus and was ready to accept the invitation.

Trees to Climb.

Like Zacchaeus, we today will never see Jesus if we remain on the level we are. There are too many persons and things standing in our way. We must climb higher. Fortunately there are trees we too can climb to help us see Jesus.

There is the tree of prayer. Prayer is speaking with Jesus just as really and truly as Zacchaeus did. If we are to see Jesus, to make His presence a reality in our lives, we must climb the tree of prayer daily.

Another way we can see Jesus is through the Bible and the liturgy. God speaks to us today through the Bible which is His personal letter to us. Through the liturgy, He comes to make His home in us through Holy Communion.

Another tree we must climb in order to see Jesus today is the tree of repentance and restitution. "Blessed are the pure in heart," said Jesus, "for they shall see God." The heart must be cleansed of sin; it must be made pure by a sincere sorrow for our sins and by a determined turning away from them before we can see God. Zacchaeus climbed this tree of repentance. And after he was forgiven by Jesus he made restitution: "Behold, Lord ... if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold." After repentance comes restitution ó an honest attempt to undo the damage we have done with our sins. Repentance without restitution is like saying, "I stole a watch but I've been forgiven by God so now I can keep it."

The last way we can take to see Jesus is the way of service. Zacchaeus climbed this tree of service. "Behold, Lord Ö the half of my goods I give to the poor ..." After he restored fourfold what was not his, he gave half of what he owned to help the poor. We remember the words of our Lord, "I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink Ö what you did to one of the least of these my brethren you did to me." On the branches of the tree of service we will always meet and serve Christ in the persons of those to whom we minister.

We do not need to climb a sycamore tree to see Jesus today. There are other trees we can climb: the trees of prayer, the Bible, the liturgy, repentance, restitution, and service. From these trees not only shall we see Jesus but He will also see us as He saw Zacchaeus. And He will say to us as He said to him: "Make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house" ó in your heart, in your mind, in your soul.

Prayer

Come, Lord Jesus, as You came to Zacchaeus. We too seek You, for we are restless for the peace, the wholeness, the salvation which only You can bring. We hear your knock on the door of our souls. We open to invite You to come in. Fill us with your loving Presence. May we too hear from your lips those precious words, "Today salvation has come to this house."

 

Publican and the Pharisee.

Two Men Went Up to Pray (Luke 18:10-14).

Two men went up into the temple to pray. One a Pharisee, highly respected, a man of rank, a very devout and religious person; the other a tax collector, an outcast, nobody's friend, nobody's hero, a traitor and robber. Jesus dares to compare these two people. It is as if He is comparing a saint and a gangster. The comparison becomes very revealing as we overhear their prayers.

These two men went into the temple to pray. Having separated themselves from the busy world, they are deep in their devotions. We will watch them as they pray without their suspecting that they are being watched. For we have much to learn from them.

"Prayed with Himself."

"The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himselfÖ " He "stood" when he prayed which was the normal Jewish position for prayer, but if we read between the lines we can see that the Pharisee had no objection to being seen. He was praying for the sake of effect, publicity, admiration. He was thinking about himself and the impression he would make on others. He even "prayed with himself." In other words, he talked to himself instead of God. True prayer is always offered to God and to God alone. Not so with the Pharisee. His prayer was self-congratulatory. As someone noted,

Two men went up to pray? rather say,

One went to brag, the other went to pray.

"God, I Thank Thee."

The Pharisee's prayer begins well: "God, I thank thee ..." But he spoils it; he uses even thankfulness to God to exalt himself. He thanks God that he is not like other men. "I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get!" he said. "Man, look at me ó how good I am!" Don't we see this same attitude in others today and especially in ourselves? The self-righteous, holier-than-thou attitude that says to God, "I thank You God that I don't steal from my business associates. I thank You that I am white and not black or brown. I thank You that I am honest and clean, unlike those other people who act as if they are animals. I thank You that I live in America and not Bangladesh! I thank You that I live in a quiet respectable neighborhood and not in a filthy, crime-ridden ghetto. I thank You that I am not like other men are, especially not like that neighbor of mine who goes out and plays golf on Sunday mornings instead of going to Church!"

"God, Be Merciful..."

Let us now look at the tax collector. Standing alone, he did not dare to lift up his eyes to heaven; he was too full of shame. Instead, he looked down to the ground, and, beating his breast penitently, he prayed. He may have been a kind father and a good friend, but it does not occur to him to mention all that. He sees himself in God's sight only as God sees him. He prays, "God, be merciful to me, the sinner." The Greek text says not a sinner but the sinner. He regarded himself as the sinner par excellence. As the Pharisee had singled himself out as the only holy one in the world, so the tax collector singles himself out as the greatest of sinners. In the end this man who knew his own sin got nearer to God than the Pharisee who could see nothing but his own virtue.

"God, be merciful to me, the sinner." He has nothing to trust but the mercy of God. He looks nowhere but to God's mercy for help. He knows that people as personified by the Pharisee are unmerciful to him, but he believes God to be merciful. His only plea is, "God, be merciful!" Without this prayer Christianity would be a philosophy, a history, a code but not a religion that saves.

God's Mercy.

"God, be merciful to me, the sinner." We are always dependent on God's mercy. We can never approach Him with any claim but that of mercy. This is the one claim God will never reject. See how much this claim is built into the worship services of the Orthodox Church! How often during the liturgy we repeat the prayer of the tax collector: "Lord, have mercy!" The famous "Jesus

Prayer" is nothing more than an adaptation of this prayer, "Lord Jesus, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, the sinner."

A precious story pictures a mother pleading with Napoleon to spare her condemned son's life. The emperor reminded her that the crime was dreadful; justice demanded his life. "Sir," sobbed the mother, "not justice, but mercy." "He does not deserve mercy," was the answer. "But, sir, if he deserved it, it would not be mercy." "Ah yes, how true," said Napoleon. "I will have mercy."

We dare not stand before the throne of God and ask that we be given what we deserve. Our only plea is, "Lord, have mercy" (Kyrie Eleison). And the miracle is that there is mercy. At the very heart of the universe beats God's love. "I tell you," said Jesus, "this man went down to his house justified rather than the other."

A sinner said once, "If I were God I would never forgive a man who sinned as much as I did." His pastor replied, "But you are not God. God's mercy is bigger than anything we can imagine."

"Lord, have mercy!"

C. S. Lewis tells an interesting story in his book "The Great Divorce." A busload of ghosts is making an excursion from hell up to heaven with a view of remaining there permanently. They meet the citizens of heaven and one very big ghost from hell is astonished to find there a man, who on earth, had been tried and executed for murder.

"What I would like to know," he explodes, "is what are you doing here, you a murderer, while I a pillar of society, a self-respecting decent citizen am forced to walk the streets down there in smoke and fumes and must live in a place like a pigsty." His friend from heaven tries to explain that he has been forgiven, that both he and the man he had murdered have been reunited before the judgment seat of Christ. But the big ghost from hell replies, "I just can't buy that!" "My rights!" he keeps shouting, "I have got to have my rights the same as you!" "Oh no!" his friend from heaven keeps reassuring him, "It's not as bad as all that! You don't want your rights! Why, if I had gotten my rights, I would never be here. You'll not get your rights, you'll get something far better. You will get the mercy of God."

This is why we pray so often, "Lord, have mercy." This prayer, uttered with the least particle of faith, will open the way for God's forgiveness and for the coming of His kingdom in our hearts. St. Isaac the Syrian wrote in the sixth century, "Never say that God is just. If He were, you would be in hell. Rely only on His injustice which is mercy, love, forgiveness."

Today is called on our church calendar the "Sunday of the Tax Collector and the Pharisee." Last night we began using for the first time the Triodion ó the liturgical book that we shall be using during the entire Lenten season which begins in three weeks. The Church has very wisely selected this parable to help prepare us spiritually for Lent. For our Lord's story today is not really about two men who went up into the temple to pray. It is about God, and how He looks at sin and righteousness ó how He looks at us, you and me. "I tell you, this man went down to the house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted."

Prayer.

"God, be merciful to me, the sinner. Amen."

 

Prodigal Son.

Three Magic Words: "I Was Wrong" (Luke 15:11-32).

A major league umpire was asked if he ever made mistakes in calling balls and strikes. He replied, "Of course, I make mistakes. My only trouble is I can't admit it." Our hope in life as Christians is the humility to admit to ourselves and to God that, not being infallible or perfect, we have made mistakes ó and do make them every day.

If you were asked what is the hardest task in the world, you might think of some muscular feat, some acrobatic challenge or some act of bravery on the battlefield. Actually, however, there is nothing harder, nothing more arduous than to say these three words, "I was wrong." It takes a humility and a self-effacement such as few people are capable of. Yet no three words are more needed in our life than the words, "I was wrong." They are magic words; words that reconcile; words that unite; words that heal wounds and bring peace.

Many years ago there was a man who was not afraid to say, "I was wrong." His name was Judge Samuel Sewall. He was on the Governor's Special Commission in Massachusetts which tried the famous Salem witchcraft cases. He was one of the judges who passed the verdict of "guilty" on the so-called witches. But later Sewall became convinced that his judgment had been wrong.

And so, on a cold January day in 1697, as the Rev. Samuel Willard walked down to the pulpit, Judge Sewall handed him a document requesting that it be read before all the people. On that paper Judge Sewall had written that he was wrong in his verdict of five years before. He did not blame anyone but himself. He asked forgiveness from men and from God.

In no other hour had this New England jurist been as brave or good a man as when he stood before the congregation in church while the pastor read his confession: "I was wrong."

And End to Arguments.

One day a man was passing a truck. Suddenly he had to cut in sharply right in front of the truck to avoid a car coming from a side road. A few minutes later the truck roared around this man's car and cut in front of him sharply the same way.

Soon the car and truck were standing side by side waiting for a red light. The man who cut in front of the truck rolled down his window. The truck driver leaned forward, grim-faced, waiting for an argument.

"I'm sorry that I cut you so short back there," the man said pleasantly.

For a moment the truck driver was speechless. Then he smiled. "Forget it. I was the one who acted like a heel," he said.

Think how differently this incident could have turned out; think of the curses and shouts and bad feelings that could have been generated if the first driver had not uttered those magic words: "I am sorry. I was wrong."

In Marriage and Family Life.

How healing these words can be in marriage and in family life. A couple, for example, may have had a painful misunderstanding, but if the guilty partner is willing to come right out and say, "I'm sorry. It was my fault," there is nothing more about which to argue. Hurt feelings are mended. There is reconciliation, harmony, peace.

Many parents feel that to maintain their children's respect they should never admit a mistake. For this reason they seem to be saying constantly to their children, "We're perfect. We don't make mistakes like you."

This is one of the factors that increases the generation gap. Children need to learn that parents are not perfect. They too make mistakes. It will not hurt for parents to share some of their failures with their children. It will certainly make them seem more human. It will help their children learn how to cope with their own failures. It will help them be much more honest with parents if they feel that parents are completely honest with them. Nobody wants to take his problems to someone who has never made a mistake. How different parent-child relationships would be if adults learned to say, "I'm sorry. I have also been wrong."

One seventh-grader says, "Some moms and dads never will admit they're wrong. One thing I like about my folks is that they will apologize sometimes. This helps a lot because you listen more to people like that."

There are friends and relatives who have not spoken to each other for years. How different things could be if only one of them would take the initiative to practice a little Christian humility and say, "I am sorry about the whole situation. I know I was wrong."

A retired clergyman who has counseled thousands of people writes, "Into my study come many people ó educators, scientists, rich people, poor people ó girls burdened with sin, boys who know they have done wrong, married men and women who are ashamed of themselves. They tell of the misery in their homes and of the unhappy burdens they carry in their hearts. Almost always I am compelled to say to them, "Why don't you go home and say you are sorry? Why don't you go home and ask for forgiveness?"

The first law of mental health is to be honest with yourself. If you have done wrong, don't hide it. Don't bury your guilt feelings in your subconscious mind where they will fester and come out as hypertension, neurasthenia or neurosis. Face the facts about yourself. Admit them. Confess them.

"I Have Sinned."

The Prodigal Son in today's Gospel lesson was honest with himself with a frank and merciless honesty. It was when he admitted the wrong in himself and said, "I have sinned," that he came to his true self. A new chapter of his life began that very day. A new chapter can begin for us if, bidding good-by to self-excuse, self-pity, self-defense, we will face the facts about ourselves and say, "Yes, that's the kind of person I am; that is the sort of thing I am capable of doing and have done, but, by the grace of God, I can be different, and I will be different."

If it is therapeutic to admit our faults to others and say, "I'm sorry. I was wrong," it is even more so to admit them to ourselves and to God. It is not enough to say just to oneself, "I have sinned." This can lead to despair and suicide. When Judas, for example, saw that Jesus was condemned, he brought the money to the chief priests and elders and said, "I have sinned in that I have betrayed innocent blood." Then, throwing the pieces of silver in the temple, he went and hanged himself. Judas was remorseful enough to admit his sin to himself and to the chief priests, but he just could not bring himself to face Jesus and say, "I'm sorry. Forgive me."

Jesus, who forgave the penitent thief on the cross, would have forgiven Judas, too, if he had gone to the cross and confessed. If only he could have realized that the reward for apology and confession far outweighs the momentary humiliation and embarrassment of saying, "I am sorry."

When the Prodigal Son said, "I have sinned," he did not stop there. To have stopped there could have meant despair and self-pity. He took the next step. He said, "I will arise and go to my father." And this is what Jesus urges on us. When we see ourselves for what we really are, are ashamed of ourselves, have difficulty accepting ourselves, we can be sure of one thing ó God will accept us in the same manner as the Prodigal Son was accepted in today's Gospel:

But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed himÖ . and said to his servants, "Bring quickly the best robe and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again, he was lost and is found.

This is the way God welcomes us when, with deep repentance in our hearts, we come to Him with those magic words: "I was wrong." Three of the most difficult words to say to yourself, to others and to God. But to the person who musters enough courage to say them, there comes forgiveness, peace, new strength, and a new lease on life.

 

Memorial Saturdays in the Orthodox Church.

Why do We Pray for the Dead?

A psychiatrist recently listed five of the most upsetting experiences people can have. They were as follows: death of a child, death of a spouse, a jail sentence, death of a relative, an unfaithful spouse. Three of the five were related to death.

Some time ago an intriguing story appeared in one of our magazines. It was the story of a man on his way home from the office on a rainy Friday evening to face a cluster of minor problems involving the various members of his family. As he made his way home through mid-Manhattan, he happened to see a man who had just been run down by a car, lying dead in the middle of the street. This was only his second or third contact with death and it really shocked him. The conscious realization that he too was going to die one day hit him like a sledge hammer. It made a difference when he got home that night. The problems that he thought were so great, were not as big as he imagined. The thought of death had given him a new perspective.

Refusing to Face Reality.

One of the striking characteristics of our time is the absurd lengths to which we go to keep death out of sight and out of mind. Dr. John Brantner, a University of Minnesota clinical psychologist, said recently that American society "deals very badly with death and the dying. ... As a society we fear death and through our fear we foster it." Studies have shown that dying patients want very much to talk about death. It helps them accept it and relieves anxiety, but few people are comfortable about bringing up the subject.

Tolstoy, in his masterful tale "The Death of Ivan Ilyitch," describes the conspiracy of silence that we maintain in the presence of the dying. "Ivan Ilyitchís chief torment was a lie ó the lie somehow accepted by everyone that he was only sick, but not dying, and that he needed only to be calm."

Simone de Beauvoir, in "A Very Easy Death," writes of her mother dying of cancer, "At the time the truth was crushing her, and when she needed to escape it by talking, we were condemning her to silence, we forced her to say nothing about the anxieties and to suppress her doubts, she felt both guilty and misunderstood."

In earlier days, along with the other basic facts of life like birth, marriage, bearing children, and raising a family, death was openly accepted as a fact of life. The burial ground surrounding the church stood in the very center of the community. The body was not viewed in a funeral parlor; it was brought right into the living room of oneís home. One could not evade the fact of death. One had to accept it and learn to live with it.

Our Church Calendar.

Our Church calendar provides many occasions when we are asked to face up to the fact of death. Good Friday is one such occasion. So is Easter. Sunday is another. Every Sunday is a "little Easter" celebrating Christís victory over death. On our Church calendar every year, there are special Memorial Saturdays or "Saturdays of the Souls" which provide another opportunity for us to face up to death, i.e., the two Saturdays preceding Great Lent; the first Saturday of Great Lent, the Saturday before Pentecost. On these Saturdays the Divine Liturgy is celebrated and special prayers are offered for our deceased loved ones. We pray for the dead especially on Saturdays since it was on the Sabbath day that Christ lay dead in the tomb, "resting from all His works and trampling down death by death." Thus, in the New Testament, Saturday becomes the proper day for remembering the dead and offering prayers for them.

There are two questions often asked about the practice of praying for the dead that we have in the Orthodox Church: 1. WHY do we pray for the dead? 2. WHAT can we expect of these prayers?

Why do we Pray for the Dead?

Christianity is a religion of love. Praying for the dead is an expression of love. We ask God to remember our departed because we love them. Love relationships survive death and even transcend it. There is an inner need for a relationship with a loved one to continue to be expressed even after a loved one has died. Often even more so after a loved one has died since physical communication is no longer possible. The Church encourages us to express our love for our departed brethren through memorial services and prayers.

The anniversary of the death of a loved one is very painful. The Church helps us cope with this pain by encouraging us to have memorial prayers offered in Church for departed loved ones on the anniversaries of their deaths, i.e., forty days after the death, six months, a year, etc. This gives us the opportunity to do something for our loved one. It helps express and resolve our grief.

Death may take loved ones out of sight but it certainly does not take them out of mind, or out of heart. We continue to love them and think of them as we believe they continue to love us and think of us. How can a mother forget a child who has passed over to the life beyond? The same love which led her to pray for that child when he lived will guide her to pray for him now. For in Christ all are living. The same love makes her wish to communicate with him. Yet, all communication must take place in Christ and through Christ. No other communication with the dead is possible or lawful for the Christian. God is God of the living. Our dear ones live in Him. Only through Him is it possible for us to communicate with them. Every liturgy in the Orthodox Church contains prayers for the dead such as the following: "Be mindful also of all those who slumber in the hope of a resurrection to everlasting life. Give them rest, O God, where the light of Thy countenance shineth."

Just as we pray for the deceased, so we believe they continue to love us, remember us, and pray for us now that they are closer to God. We cannot forget the example of the rich man in Hades asking Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers lest they, too, go to that place of torment. Though he had left this life, he did not cease to be concerned for his brothers still on earth.

The Orthodox Church prays for the dead to express her faith that all who have fallen asleep in the Lord, live in the Lord; their lives are hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3). Whether on earth or in heaven, the Church is a single family, one Body in Christ. Death changes the location but it cannot sever the bond of love.

What can we Expect of our Prayers for the Dead?

Since a personís eternal destiny is determined immediately after death (though one must wait for the General Judgement to receive the full measure of oneís reward), we must not expect our prayers to snatch an unbeliever from Hades to Paradise. It is our present life that determines our eternal destiny. Now is the time to repent and accept Godís grace. Death puts an end to that state and commits each person to his special judgment. This is why the Lord said that work must be done "while it is day" because "the night cometh when no man can work." "Day" means the present life, "when it is still possible to believe," writes St. Chrysostom, while "night" is the condition after death.

What happens beyond the grave belongs entirely to God. He has told us as much as we need to know; the rest is covered with a veil of mystery which manís curiosity is incapable of piercing. The faithful have committed themselves to God for the duration of their earthly lives. Now, it is well and good for them to commit their departed loved ones to the mercy of God through prayer, for they have the assurance that God in the riches of His mercy has ways to help them beyond our knowing. Some church fathers state that our departed loved ones experience a kind of spiritual relief as a result of the prayers of their loved ones on earth.

Focus on Ourselves.

Whether our prayers for our departed loved ones bring any benefit to them we know not; we leave this to the mercy of God. But of one thing we are certain: such prayers do benefit those who pray for the departed. They remind us that we too are going to die; they strengthen faith in the life beyond; they nourish reverence toward those who have died; they help build hope in divine mercy; they develop brotherly love among those who survive. They make us more cautious and diligent in getting ready for that ultimate journey which will unite us with our departed loved ones and usher us into the presence of God. They remind us that now is the time for moral development and improvement, for faith, repentance and love; now is the time to strive for the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to those "who have fought the good fight, finished the race and kept the faith." In other words, the Lord never told us that after we die, somebody elseís prayers will get us into heaven ó no matter how many memorial prayers they offer in our behalf. Salvation is a personal matter between each person and his Lord to be achieved in this life.

Not Purgatory but my Fatherís House.

Nowhere did Jesus ever tell us that prayers for the dead are necessary to help shorten the stay of our loved ones in a place called Purgatory. The Orthodox Church has never accepted Purgatory. We are not saved by pain or suffering in Purgatory; we are saved by grace through faith in Christ. Nowhere in the teachings of Jesus do we find any suggestion that heaven is a Dantean inferno out of which the spirits of the departed must be "prayed." Instead Jesus referred to heaven as "My Fatherís House."

Knowing that our loved ones are in our Fatherís house, ó love motivates us to pray for them as St. Paul prayed for his converts: that God will grant them, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might by the spirit of the inner man, that Christ may dwell in their hearts by faith, that they, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend all the greatness of the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that they might be filled with all the fulness of God (Ephesians 3:16-19).

Love Never Forgets.

Dr. Paul Tillich believed that the anxiety of having to die is the anxiety that one will be forgotten both now and in eternity. Burial means a removal from the face of the earth. This is what men cannot endure. Memorial markers will not keep us from being forgotten. One day they will crumble to dust. The only thing that can keep us from being forgotten is our faith that God knew us before we were born and will remember us for all eternity.

In a lesser but still very real way, memorial prayers offered by loved ones serve to relieve the anxiety of being forgotten.

The first child of Dr. Martineau, an eminent minister, died in infancy and was buried in the French cemetery of Dublin. Before they left Ireland for Liverpool, the father and mother paid a farewell visit to the grave of their first-born son. The years went by. Mrs. Martineau died. At the age of 87, Dr. Martineau was a lonely old man. But when he was at the tercentenary of Dublin University, he stole away from the brilliant public function to stand once more by the tiny grave that held the dust of his first-born child. No other living soul recalled that little oneís smile or remembered where the child was sleeping. But the father knew and the little buried hands held his heart. A fatherís heart never forgets. Love always remembers. That is why the Orthodox Church has always encouraged us to sponsor special memorial prayers and services for the departed.

A Meaningful Custom.

It is customary among Orthodox Christians from Greece to bring a tray of boiled wheat kernels to church for the memorial service. The wheat kernels express belief in everlasting life. Jesus said, "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (John 12:24). Just as new life rises from the buried kernel of wheat, so we believe the one buried will rise one day to a new life with God. The wheat kernels are covered with sugar and raisins to express the bliss of eternal life with God in heaven. St. Paul writes, "So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body" (I Cor. 15:42-44).

Focus On Christ.

When Orthodox Christians pray for departed loved ones, they focus not only on them but also on Christ in Whom they died: "Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith ..." (Hebrews 12:1). "I am the resurrection and the life," He said, "he who believes in me though he were dead yet shall he live, and he who lives and believes in me shall have life everlasting."

 

Sunday of Judgment.

The King in Disguise (Matthew 25:31-46).

In the early days there was a king who decided to test the character of his people. Disguised as a peasant, he traveled about his country and was treated for the most part quite shamefully. In time he came to realize that the honor with which his people greeted him as a king was not due to the respect they felt for his goodness; rather, it was the result of the fear and awe they felt for his wealth and power.

Then, at length, as the king went about in disguise, one of his subjects recognized him. This subject protested the king's going about like any other man, and insisted that he go back to his throne, put on his royal robes, and rule as a proper king should. The people thought it was a sort of trick the king was playing on them to see if he could catch them off guard.

There is another King who travels in disguise. Though He was born not in a royal palace but in a cave with animals. Though a King, He was born not of the royalty of this world, but of a poor peasant girl. Though a King, He lived and worked in the tiny town of Nazareth as a carpenter.

He Appeared in Another Form.

After His resurrection Jesus often "appeared in another form" (Mark 16:12). His disciples did not immediately recognize Him. Mary Magdalene, near the sepulcher, took Him for the gardener (John 20:20). On the road to Emmaus, the two disciples took Him for a traveler (Luke 24:13). To the apostles fishing on Lake Galilee, He appeared to be a stranger until John said to Peter: "It is the Lord" (John 21:7).

In these ways Jesus was showing us that He is present in all persons. He tells us so in today's Gospel lesson. He declares that He was hungry and thirsty, naked and sick, a stranger and a prisoner in those whom we have fed and given to drink, clothed and visited and welcomed. He was present also in those who were in need but whom we did not help. "Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it not to me." This does not mean that God and His creatures are identical by nature but by grace as members of His body, as His living images and temples. This is the mystery of the visible presence of Christ among us today. St. Chrysostom tells us that more sacred than the stone altar in Church is the human altar set up in every street and crossroad because on the first Christ is offered, but the second is Christ himself.

Not for a Million Dollars.

At the close of World War II, a young officer of the United States Army found himself on an island in the South Pacific, which had a large leper colony. As he wandered around the separate dwellings he happened upon a nun who was dressing the wounds of the patients. When the soldier saw the infected legs and running sores he became nauseated. He watched as the Sister calmly and expertly removed the soiled dressings, applied ointment, and then proceeded to bandage the limbs. He was amazed at the nurse's poise and serenity. All this was too much for him, and he exclaimed: "I would not do that for a million dollars!" Undisturbed the nun turned towards the young man and replied sincerely: "Neither would I!" For a million dollars she would not touch those running sores, but because Christ dwells in those outcasts whom society banishes from its sight, she had left home and wandered thousands of miles to assist those in suffering, to assist the King in disguise.

 

The Fat Lady.

J. D. Salinger in his book "Franny and Zooey" tells of a Fat Lady sitting on her porch all day, swatting flies, with her radio going full blast. He describes her as having "thick legs, very veiny" and being tormented by cancer. Then Salinger asks, "... don't you know who that Fat Lady really is? ... It's Christ Himself. Christ Himself..."

Jesus is often pictured as an attractive man ó tall, with a straight nose, friendly eyes, and a radiant face ó a person anyone would want to include on the invitation list to a party. But the Gospel lesson today suggests that Salinger's picture of Christ as the Fat Lady may be closer to reality than the picture of Christ we see on our icons. Christ appears to us today in disguise as He appeared to His disciples following the resurrection. He comes to us as an ordinary person: as one of the least of our brethren: the hungry, the naked, the thirsty, the stranger, the prisoner, the Negro, the Fat Lady. The King in disguise.

A News Item from Calcutta.

An Associated Press news item from Calcutta, India, read as follows: The sign over the door reads "Home for Dying Destitutes." Inside, 66 men and 72 women lie on steel frame cots waiting for the end to come. These people are products of this population-choked city, which hardly has time to care for the living. Some of the men and women here were forced to leave hospital beds when they were termed incurable, to make room for those who might be saved. Others were among the countless thousands of nameless persons whose homes are Calcutta's sidewalks and gutters. Work is scarce and begging is fruitless. People like these used to die anonymously. In the old days, trucks picked them up and dumped them into the Hooghly River, an arm of the Ganges. Then in 1952, Mother Teresa, Superior General of the Roman Catholic Church's "Missionaries of Charity," took over a former rest house for Hindu pilgrims and made it a haven for the dying. Since then, 18,000 persons have gone to the crowded stucco building on a cluttered street in Calcutta. Of these, 8,500 died. But, amazingly, the others, most of whom have to be carried into the home, regained strength and the will to live and walked back out into the city streets.

What made Sister Teresa leave the comforts of the West to minister to those forgotten people? Why don't agnostics do this? Why don't atheists? Why don't humanists? Simple! They do not have the ethic of Christ: " ... as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me." The King in disguise!

Christ Suffering in Man.

A soldier of World War I tells of stumbling over the body of a dead German, a mere boy. As he looked, the boy seemed to disappear and in his place he saw Christ on the Cross. From that moment on whenever he saw a human suffering, he saw Christ staring at him from the Cross calling him to share the sorrow and help alleviate the pain. The King in disguise!

St. Martin of Tour.

There is an old legend of Martin of Tour, a Roman soldier and a Christian. One cold winter day a beggar stopped him. Martin had no money but he saw that the man was shivering from the cold. He took off his soldier's cloak, worn and frayed as it was, cut it in two with his sword and gave half of it to the beggar who blessed him and left. That night Martin had a dream. He saw all the angels of heaven and Jesus sitting in their midst wearing the torn half of a Roman soldier's cloak. One of the angels asked him, "Master, why are you wearing that battered old cloak? Who gave it to you?" And Jesus answered softly, "My servant Martin gave it to me." The King in disguise!

Simple Things.

The things Jesus talks about in the parable today are simple things. Anybody can give them: a piece of bread, a cup of water, a word of welcome, a piece of clothing and a visit. Nobody is so poor that he cannot give something to the King in disguise. In fact, St. Chrysostom tells us that if the Church ever comes to the point where she has nothing to give to help the poor, the holy chalice and the other sacred vessels of the holy altar should be melted down and made into gold coins to help feed the hungry who are the living temples of God.

"When the Son of Man comes in his glory Ö before Him will be gathered all the nations Ö and He will separate them one from another ... to those at His right hand He will say, 'Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world! ... to those at His left He will say, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels The basis on which we shall be judged by God when He appears at the end of history is: how deeply we loved the King when He appeared to us in disguise: "Lord, when did we see Thee hungry and feed Thee or thirsty and give Thee drink? Or when did we see Thee a stranger and welcome Thee?" And the King will answer, "... as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to Me."

The King in disguise!

 

Forgiveness Sunday (Cheese-Fare Sunday).

Christ's Three-Part Recipe for Lent (Matthew 6:14-21).

In today's Gospel lesson the Lord Jesus offers us a three-part recipe for Lent: forgiveness, fasting and laying up treasures in heaven.

First, forgiveness. The trouble with our world today is that we have built too many walls. The Iron Curtain. The Bamboo Curtain. Walls between the races. Walls between husbands and wives, parents and children. Walls between man and God. One of the best ways to tear down walls is by forgiveness.

Let us start with the walls between man and God. These walls are built by sin. During Lent the Church calls upon us to look at the cross of Jesus and His great mercy. She invites us to come to Christ during Lent in the great Sacrament of Confession to exchange our sins for the riches of His Grace, to taste and experience for ourselves the sweetness of His forgiving love.

Having received His forgiveness, God calls on us to grant forgiveness to all who have hurt us and also to seek forgiveness from those whom we have hurt. God offers us His forgiveness very graciously and generously. But His forgiveness obligates us to forgive others. This is exactly what Jesus says in today's Gospel lesson: "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." Christianity begins with the forgiveness of our Lord. But it does not end here. Because I have been forgiven and daily am being forgiven by God for my many sins, I am obligated to forgive others.

So Lent becomes a time for tearing down walls first between man and God and then between neighbors ó walls created by enmity and hatred; walls tougher than steel or concrete; walls which forgiveness alone can destroy.

Fr. Alexander Schmemann has written, "The triumph of sin, the main sign of its rule over the world, is division, opposition, separation, hatred. Therefore, the first break through this fortress of sin is forgiveness: the return to unity, solidarity, love. To forgive is to put between me and my 'enemy' the radiant forgiveness of God Himself. To forgive is to reject the hopeless 'dead-ends' of human relations and to refer them to Christ. Forgiveness is truly a 'breakthrough' of the Kingdom into this fallen and sinful world" ("GREAT LENT" by Fr. Alexander Schmemann. Copyright St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, Crestwood, New York. Used by permission.).

Our first challenge for Lent is to receive God's forgiveness and to forgive.

Fasting.

The second part of our Lord's recipe for Lent consists of fasting: "When you fast, anoint your head and wash your face that your fasting may not be seen by man but by your Father who sees in secret: and your Father who sees in secret will reward you."

There are many very valid reasons for fasting but the main one is love. Love was one of the main purposes for fasting in the early Church. For example, writing when Christianity was less than a century old, an ancient Christian writer, Hermas, reported an interview with an angel on the subject of fasting. Asked what sort of fast he was making, Hermas replied that he was fasting in the customary manner. The angel was not impressed. He replied that Hermas hadn't the fuzziest notion of what a genuinely Christian fast is, and that what he was doing was pointless. The angel went on to say that if fasting is to have meaning, one should keep careful track of how much money is saved by it, and give the savings to the poor and the needy.

Another early Christian, Aristides, writes in his "Apology," "If there is a poor person among the Christians and they do not have the means to help him, they fast two or three days and give the food they have saved through fasting to the hungry person."

This is the fast we are called upon to practice during Lent which begins tomorrow. We are called upon to fast not only for reasons of self-control and prayer, but also for reasons of love: to deny ourselves something that we may share what we have saved with a needy person.

One family decided to have a meal of just rice once a week during Lent since that is the daily diet of millions of underprivileged people in the world. Of course, the rice was fancied up a bit. It was not watered down into a thin gruel as in the underprivileged countries. When Lent was over, this same family decided to continue once every month the practice of serving only rice for dinner. The $2.50 they saved was placed in a special envelope to be given through their church to the poor of the world. They could have obtained the money by cutting out some luxury but they felt that the rice meal helped them identify with those they wished to help. Once a week during Lent ó and once a month following that ó they would get a taste of hunger to keep them reminded both of the bounty in their land and of the desperate plight of those who have no access to such bounty.

The Lord God said through the prophet Isaiah, "Is not this the fast that I choose. ... Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked to cover himÖ" (Isaiah 58:6-7). This is the fast that is pleasing to God.

The Triodion which contains our church services for Lent says the following about the Lenten fast: The Lenten spring has come, The light of repentanceÖ Let us receive the announcement of Lent with joy! For if our forefather Adam had kept the fast, We would not be deprived of paradiseÖ While fasting physically, brothers, Let us also fast spiritually; Let us loose every knot of iniquity, Let us tear up every unrighteous bond, Let us distribute bread to the hungry and welcome to our homes those who have no roof over their heads So that we may receive great mercy form Christ our God.

Treasures in Heaven.

After forgiveness and fasting the third part of Christ's recipe for Lent is expressed in His words: "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."

The question God puts to us in today's Gospel lesson is: What treasures have you laid up for yourselves in heaven? What security will you have when you face the final your? What will you be able to claim as yours when you appear before the throne of God? Granted, God means that we should live our life upon this earth to the fullest, but He also intends that we should live it as a preparation for that which is to come. The question we must ask ourselves is: Are we laying up treasures in this life only? or are we using this life to lay up eternal treasures, treasures that we can take with us when we go, treasures that shall be ours for all eternity?

All our treasures on earth ó said Jesus ó will last only as long as this life. They are "rust collections." They will all end up in the junkyard. But in Jesus we find real treasures that will never lose their value.

What are some of these treasures that God commands us to accumulate, treasures that are pleasing to Him, treasures that we can take with us, treasures that satisfy eternally.

There is the treasure of love. "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned but have not love, I gain nothing. Now remain faith, hope, and love these three; but the greatest of these is love." To be rich in love is to be rich indeed.

There is the treasure of forgiveness. The strongest walls between people and between nations are not built of iron or steel but are created by fear, hate, and prejudice. The only way to break down these walls is through the practice of forgiveness. To be rich in forgiveness is to be rich indeed.

There is the treasure of knowing Jesus personally as our Lord and Savior. "This is eternal life that they may know Thee the only true God and Jesus Christ Whom Thou hast sent" (John's Gospel). "But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain ChristÖ" (Phil. 3:7-8).

Lent is a time to strengthen our relationship to the most important person in he universe: the Lord Jesus by extra prayer every day, by reading His word daily in the Holy Bible, by frequent Communion, by attending the extra Lenten services. Our lives are cluttered with a lot of unessential activities that lead to heart attacks and nervous breakdowns. Lent is a time to weed out and cancel some of these unnecessary activities and create time for God and the soul; time to stop and live; time to accumulate some treasures in heaven where "neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal." To know Christ personally is the greatest treasure there is.

There is the treasure of faith in Christ. Without this faith no man can be saved. Faith is powerful ó so powerful it can "move mountains"; it is the force to which God Himself responds. To be rich in faith is to be rich indeed.

There is the treasure of doing God's will. "He who does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother" (Jesus in Matt. 12:50). In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, "He who doesÖ (these commandments) shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:19). True nobility, said St. Chrysostom, consists in doing the will of God. To do the will of the Father and to be called by Jesus "my brother and sister and mother" is indeed a treasure.

There is the treasure of prayer ó the awesome privilege of speaking and communing with our loving Lord at any hour of the day or night. Someone has written: Executives are hard to see Their costly time I may not waste; I make appointments nervously And talk to them in haste. But any time of night or day, In places suitable or odd, I seek and get without delay An interview with God.

Truly, what a privilege ó and treasure ó it is to carry everything to God in prayer!

Finally, there is the treasure of service to others in the name of Christ: "And whoever gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold waterÖ truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward" (Matt. 10:42). One of our service projects for Christ this Lent will be to place the proceeds of our fast of love in our special Lenten offering envelopes. The proceeds will go to the mission program of our Church and to help feed the hungry of our world in the name of Christ.

These, then, are the treasures that really count in God's eyes, treasures that are not "rust collections" but will last forever: the treasure of love, forgiveness, knowing Jesus personally, faith, doing God's will, prayer and service to our fellow humans through the fast of love.

A ruler once threatened that he would take everything away from St. Chrysostom. The great saint replied, "My treasure is in heaven and you can never take it away from me."

Another person said, "I struck it rich." His friend asked, "Gold?" "No," was the answer. "Just remove the 'lí ó God!"

Treasures in heaven

Why not try Christ's three-part recipe for Lent: forgiveness, fasting and laying up treasures in heaven. You will find it to be the perfect recipe if you are looking not only for a resurrected Christ but also for a resurrected you this Easter.

 

2. Lent.

1st Sunday Lent.

"Jesus Answered ... I Saw You" (John 1:44-52)

When Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, He said, "Behold! A man who is really an Israelite. A man in whom there is no guile!" Nathanael said to Him: "How do you know me?" Jesus answered, "Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you."

It was not so much that Jesus had seen him under the fig tree that surprised Nathanael; it was that He had read the thoughts of his inmost heart. So Nathanael said to himself, "Here is a man who understands my dreams and my prayers and has seen into my most secret longings. This must be the Son of God, none other than the Promised Messiah."

God is He Who sees.

"And the people of Israel groaned under their bondage, and cried out for help, and the cry under bondage came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. And God saw the people of Israel, and God knew their condition" (Exodus 2:23-25).

God is He Who sees the affliction of His people. He said to Moses: "I have seen the affliction of my people Ö and have heard their cry ... I know their sufferings, and have come down to deliver themÖ" (Exodus 3:7-8).

How Big Is Your God?

Dr. Henry Norris Russell, noted Princeton astronomer, was once lecturing on the infinite greatness of the universe compared to our tiny earth. When he finished his lecture, a woman came to him and asked: "If our earth is so little, and the universe so great, can we believe that God actually pays attention to us?" Dr. Russell replied: "That depends, Madam, entirely on how big a God you believe in."

Our Christian God is bigger than the universe He created; big enough to pay attention to each and every one of His children. But what kind of attention does He pay to us? What does it mean to live constantly in the sight of God?

Does it mean that we may threaten our children and say, "God is watching you. You better behave!" and thus make God a Giant Babysitter providing us with free service whenever we leave home? Is this what it means to live in the sight of God?

Some prisons are now equipped with television cameras placed at such strategic spots that every jail cell is within view. Guards can see everything that goes on. Nothing can be hidden from the probing eyes of the camera. Such cameras are now found in banks, hospitals, and department stores. They remind one of the all-seeing eye of God that is painted on many Orthodox icon screens. Is this what it means to live constantly in the presence of a God who sees all? Is God a great eye constantly watching us to see if He can catch us off guard?

Certainly not!

Plato tells the story of a young shepherd who found a ring which would make him invisible to his neighbors. This gave him the right to do as he pleased without being observed. Prior to having received this ring, the young shepherd was a righteous and godly person. But when he was freed from the scrutiny of his neighbors, he degenerated into an unscrupulous, rapacious person.

It is a good thing to live with the eyes of our neighbors upon us. It helps keep us at our best behavior. In fact, it is when people leave home and go to strange places where no one knows them that they are tempted to do things they would never do at home.

In Lloyd C. Douglas' novel "The Robe," Marcellus asks Justus, "Where do you think Jesus went?"

Justus replied, "I don't know, my friend, I only know that He is alive ó and I am always expecting to see Him. Sometimes I feel aware of Him, as if He were close by." Justus smiled faintly, his eyes wet with tears. "It keeps you honest," he went on. "You have no temptation to cheat anyone, or lie to anyone, or hurt anyone ó when, for all you know, Jesus is standing beside you."

"I'm afraid I should feel very uncomfortable," remarked Marcellus, "being perpetually watched by some invisible presence."

"Not if that presence helped you defend yourself against yourself, Marcellus. It is a great satisfaction to have someone standing by ó to keep you at your best."

Edward R. Murrow once described the secret of Britain's stand against Nazi tyranny, "Unconsciously they dug deep into their history and felt that Drake, Raleigh, Cromwell, and all the rest were looking down at them and they were obliged to look worthy in the eyes of their ancestors." He who looks down at us constantly is our loving Lord Jesus. How much more obliged should we feel to appear worthy in His eyes?

This, then, is what it means to live in the presence of a God who sees. It is like the little girl who was having a great time demonstrating to her grandfather a dance she had learned. Half of the fun for that little girl was in having a friendly eye to watch her.

The Ultimate Despair.

The ultimate in despair is to feel that we are not seen by anyone. In Thornton Wilder's play, "Our Town," a young woman who had died shortly after her marriage, is permitted to return from the dead to spend a day at her home. Because she returns as a ghost, nobody sees her. The resulting isolation is more than she can bear. Before the end of the day she longs to return to the grave over the hill.

Because we have seen God in Christ, we know that He sees and He cares. A little girl was present at a meeting where the candidacy of Calvin Coolidge for the Presidency was being discussed. Following his appearance before the group, Coolidge's qualifications were being discussed. Suddenly the little girl interrupted to say that Coolidge was the best qualified man. When her father asked her why, she lifted up her bandaged thumb and said, "He is the only one of you who noticed that I had a sore thumb, and who asked me how it was getting on."

Our God is not aloof. He sees. He cares. "Not one sparrow falls to the ground unless it be the Father's will," said Jesus.

How God Sees Us.

God does not see us from the top of some ivory tower but from the cross. Through Christ we have learned that the eyes of God are the eyes of tender love and mercy. He sees us not because He wants to punish us but because He loves us. In fact, He loves us so much that He cannot take His eyes off us. As a mother cannot take her eyes off her newborn baby, so the Lord does not withdraw His eyes from those who put their trust in Him (Job 36:7).

He sees us in our suffering and pain. Because He sees He is able to comfort and strengthen and help. And because we know He sees we can say, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil." Why no fear? "For Thou art with me."

He sees us in our sorrow. He sees us also in our sin. But even in our sin He looks on us with love summoning us to repentance. For example, Jesus looked on Simon Peter after he had denied him three times. As a result of that look Peter went out and wept bitterly. Why? What was it in that look of Jesus that made Peter repent and become the mightiest preacher of Pentecost? Surely it was that the eyes of Jesus were filled with compassion and love. It was this that broke the heart of the impulsive apostle. God is He Who sees us even in our sin. But His seeing is an act of love inviting us to repentance and forgiveness, pleading with us and saying, "Come let us reason together. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be made as white as snow" (Isaiah 1:18).

He sees us in our suffering to comfort us. He sees us in our sin to make us aware of our error and to bring us to repentance. Thirdly, "the Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7). There are people who have their facial expression so much under control that it is impossible to guess what is behind it. God looks on the heart. He sees the character. He sees the real motive behind each act. He distinguishes between the real and the unreal, between the expression and the intention, the mask and the original.

Finally, think of the compassion in the eyes of Jesus; for these are the eyes through which God looks at us today. What compassion must have shown in His eyes when, looking at Jerusalem, He wept over it. What compassion must have shown in His eyes when He healed the sick and raised the dead. What compassion must have been there when He wept before the tomb of Lazarus, His friend.

The way we look at people exerts a powerful influence on them. A man can look at another with a look that hardens the other's heart. A man can look at another with a look that hurts and destroys. A man can look at another with cold indifference, humiliating and degrading the other. But a man can also look at another with reverence and when that happens, the other will be given the freedom to be himself. A man can look at another with kindness and goodness, with a look that encourages and loves, that opens up what is locked up inside the other, that awakens his powers and brings him to himself. This is the way God looks at us.

Romano Guardini captured so well the meaning of God's seeing when he wrote: "God is He Who sees. But His seeing is an act of love. With His seeing He embraces His creatures, affirms them, and encourages themÖ . His seeing is not the kind that merely looks at something: it is creative love, it is the power which enables things to be themselves and rescues them from degeneration and decay Ö God turns His face to man and thereby gives Himself to man Ö To be seen by Him does not mean being exposed to a merciless gaze but to be enfolded in the deepest careÖ We are seen by Him whether we want to be or not. The difference is whether we try to elude His sight, or strive to enter into it. ... None of the shortcomings and evil in our lives are fatal so long as they confront His gaze. The very act of placing ourselves in His sight is the beginning of renewalÖ But everything is in danger once we refuse to place ourselves and our lives in His sight" (THE LIVING GOD by Romano Guardini. Pantheon Press, a division of Random House, Inc. Used by permission).

"He who formed the eye, does he not see?" asks one of the Psalmists. "Yes, He does!" we answer. He saw what was in Nathanael's heart. He saw Abraham. He saw His people suffering in Egypt. He sees us today. He sees us in our sorrow to comfort us. He sees us in our grief to uphold us. He sees us in our sin to forgive us. He sees us from the cross. He sees us with love and it is His seeing that keeps us at our best. If the eyes of Christ are windows through which God sees us, they are also mirrors in which we see ourselves as cared for and loved by our Creator and Redeemer.

What a difference it would make in our lives if every day ó throughout the whole day ó we remembered that everything we do and say and attempt and think and imagine is going to be done under the eye of God. It would truly revolutionize our lives!

Jesus answered, "Before Phillip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you."

The Sunday of Orthodoxy.

The Meaning of Icons.

The first Sunday of Lent is called the Sunday of Orthodoxy. It marks the day on which the use of icons was reinstated. It commemorates the triumph of Orthodoxy against the iconoclasts whose purpose it was to remove forcibly all icons from churches and destroy them as instruments of idolatry.

The use of icons is certainly subject to abuse: the record of the iconoclastic controversy is full of evidence to that point. A letter addressed by Byzantine Emperor Michael in 824 A.D. to Louis Le-Debonnaire says among other things:

"They choose the images of saints to serve as godparents to their childrenÖ . Some priests have taken to the practice of scraping the paint on the icons, mixing this powder with the Eucharistic bread and wine and distributing the mixture to the faithful after the Eucharist. Others place the body of the Lord in the hands of the icons from where the communicants receive them."

But the misuse of any religious practice cannot be an argument against its true use. Even the spoken word, for example, is an icon. It describes the reality of God and His disclosure of Himself through His Son. Yet even the word ó spoken or written ó can become an idol which we worship in lieu of God Himself.

Since the icon is one of the most distinctive features of Orthodoxy, we shall consider briefly what it signifies, why it is used, its practical value as well as its doctrinal significance.

First, let us consider the charge of idolatry. Orthodox Christians do not worship icons; they merely reverence or venerate them as symbols. Leontius of Neapolis wrote in the seventh century:

"We do not make obeisance to the nature of wood, but we revere and make obeisance to Him who was crucified on the CrossÖ. When the two beams of the Cross are joined together I adore the figure because of Christ who on the cross was crucified, but if the beams are separated, I throw them away and burn them" (Migne, Patrologia Graeca).

Why Icons?

The iconoclasts held that God cannot be painted because He is eternal and invisible. "No man has seen God at any time" (John 1:18). But the Orthodox insisted that God can be painted because He became man. Because of this it is lawful to make a picture of Him. Those who were denying the icon of Christ were denying the truth that He had become man. In other words, they were denying the very basis of our salvation: God become man in Christ. Thus, what we really commemorate on the first Sunday of Lent is not a controversy about religious art, but about the Incarnation of Christ and the salvation of man.

It would be theologically accurate to say that God Himself was the first icon maker by visibly reproducing Himself in the likeness of His Son. The iconoclast controversy was not simply a controversy over religious art, but over the entire meaning and implication of the incarnation. God took a material body, thereby proving that matter can be redeemed. "The Word made flesh has deified the flesh," said John of Damascus. The materials employed in the icons are but another expression of belief in the materialism of Christianity. This has much to say to us today in the area of ecology: that matter is sacred and should not be abused or contaminated.

The Reformation was negative to icons. For Luther they were permissible as illustrations. Calvin could accept nothing more than historical scenes with more than one person depicted, so that it would not make the faithful stumble into idolatry."

Puritans in England and America took a dim view of religious art. They despised and prohibited all religious paintings. In a way they were probably right. Much of contemporary "religious art" is offensive because it makes it hard to believe that the only begotten Son of God became man.

The picture of the Christ as a bearded lady, sometimes with a bleeding valentine heart showing through a transparent chest, if taken seriously, denies that he was made man. Such pictures give the idea that he became a phantom, neither male nor female.

As Eric Newton writes,

"But from the moment when God sent His only begotten Son to dwell on earth, born of a mortal woman, to preach, to perform miracles, to suffer death at the hands of the Jews, and to be resurrected, the situation for the artist changed, for the new religion contained within itself the fact of the invisible made visible, the Deity made human, the supernatural made physically manifest. At last there was no reason to forbid imagery, for if God Himself became incarnate there could be no possibility of the artistís image of Him leading to idolatry" ("2000 Years of Christian Art," Eric Newton and Wm. Neil. Harper and Row. Used by permission).

What Is an Icon?

The tendency among some of the early Christians was not to use a realistic image of Jesus. Instead they used abstract signs ó letters that would stand for Jesus, such as Chi-Rho, the first two letters of the Greek word for Christ, or IHS, the first letters for the name Jesus in Greek. They also used figures as the fish, which was a secret sign for Christ, or a sheep, standing for the lamb of God.

The Trullan Synod, held in Constantinople in 692 A.D., stated that it was wrong for the church to depict Christ in signs and symbols any longer. The Synod specifically decreed that it would be wrong to portray Christ as a lamb. If He really became man, the Synod said, then He must be portrayed as a human being ó not as an animal or as a symbol.

But the church fathers felt that the divine nature of Christ should be brought out in the images as well as His human nature. They said, in the same directive, that images of Him should not be "too carnal." So the icon makers worked out a representation in which the image of Christ was thoroughly human but also highly stylized. This is perhaps why the icons look so very contemporary. They have the stylization, something of the abstraction, of contemporary art, but they have wedded this to an image of Christ as a human being. It is interesting that the late medieval Gothic artists made the image of Christ more human and lost the Byzantine stylization and abstraction that attempted to present also the divine nature of Christ.

Perhaps we should mention the fact that the West has traditionally emphasized the human nature of Christ through the use of statues, the Sacred heart of Jesus, the Christmas Crib etc., whereas the East has placed more emphasis on the divine nature of Jesus through the icon that lends itself very effectively to the expression of the divine, transfigured state of Jesus through the use of stylization and abstraction.

Three Ways of Portrayal.

There are three possible ways of "portraying" someone: the photograph, the portrait and the icon. The photograph records the features as they are. A successful portrait reproduces a personís features in a way that is true to life and recognizable; but at the same time it brings out his character and gives expression to his inner nature. An icon is not a photograph but more like a portrait. Yet it is more even than a portrait. It aims at giving a true likeness of the person, and at the same time it attempts to bring out in a person what he has become through the power of the Holy Spirit. An icon then is more than a photograph, more even than a portrait. Iconography portrays what happens to people after God touches them. They become new persons. By omitting everything irrelevant to the spiritual figure, the figure becomes stylized, spiritualized, not unrealistic but supra-realistic. (I am indebted for this comparison of photograph, portrait and icon of Rudolf Mullerís article, ĎThe Theological Significance of a Critical Attitude in Hagiography," which appeared in the "Ecumenical Review"). The icon is thus set aside from all other forms of pictorial art. It offers an external expression of the transfigured state of man, of a body so filled with the Holy Spirit, so trained in good, that it has become like the spiritual body which we shall receive at the Second Coming of Christ.

There are some who believe that abstractionism, the reduction of a figure to its purest essence, originated with the iconographers.

Icons have been called prayers, hymns, sermons in form and color. They are the visual Gospel. In reality, the Eastern Church has two Gospels: the verbal and the visual to appeal to the whole man. As St. Basil said, "What the word transmits through the ear, that painting silently shows through the image, and by these two means, mutually accompanying one another ... we receive knowledge of one and the same thing." One has but to enter an Orthodox Church to see unfolded before him on the walls all the mysteries of the Christian religion. "If a pagan asks you to show him your faith," said John of Damascus, "take him into church and place him before the icons."

Through the icon the Orthodox Church appeals to the eye which is the pope of the senses. We remember much more easily what we see than what we hear. The Old Testament prophets, for example, often used the method of dramatic and symbolic action. Men might refuse to listen, but they could hardly fail to see. Jeremiah, for example, forewarned the people of the slavery that was to fall upon them by making yokes and wearing them on his neck. The current practice in Communist countries of hanging pictures of their leaders everywhere was borrowed by the Russian Marxists from the use of icons in the Russian Orthodox Church. The pictures are, in effect, icons of the new gods intended to stimulate a kind of worship and absolute obedience.

Existential Encounter.

The icon is more even than a means of instruction. It is in effect a sacrament. For, an icon is not fully an icon until it has been blessed. Then it becomes a link between the human and the divine. It provides an existential encounter between men and God. It becomes the place of an appearance of Christ, provided one stands before it with the right disposition of heart and mind. It becomes a place of prayer. An icon participates in the event it depicts and is almost a re-creation of that event existentially for the believer. As S. Bulgakov said, "By the blessing of the icon of Christ, a mystical meeting of the faithful and Christ is made possible." Many icons are regarded as "wonder-working." These are considered to be the icons par excellence.

Standing in an Orthodox Church whose walls and ceiling are covered with icons of Christ and the saints, the worshipper does not feel alone. He experiences the communion of saints. He experiences a fellowship with Christ and the saints. He is made to feel that he is a member of the family of God. Cecil Stewart describes this well when he writes,

"The pictures seem to be arranged in a way which instills a feeling of direct relationship between the viewer and the pictures Ö each personality is represented facing one, so that one stands, as it were, within the congregation of saints. Byzantine art, in fact, puts one in the picture Ö He (the viewer) observes and is observed."

Practical Use of Icons.

A Japanese girl in an American college was invited to spend the Christmas holidays with a classmate. Afterwards she was asked how she enjoyed the holidays. "Very well," she replied, "but I missed God in the home. I have seen you worship God in your church. In my country we have a god-shelf so we can worship our gods in our homes. Do not Americans worship their God in their homes?"

It has been traditional for Orthodox homes to have such a "God-shelf" in the form of an icon with a votive light burning before it. This serves as a reminder of Godís presence in the home and as a center for family prayer. In old Russia, for example, every house ó from the great winter palace of the Czar to the thatched hut of the peasant ó had an icon of Christ or the Virgin Mother. At that time no Russian home was a home until it was consecrated by the icon. In fact, upon entering his home or visiting a friend, a Russian Christian would first of all bow low before the icons and make the sign of the cross before greeting his family or host.

If the Church in Russia has survived under Communism these past years despite lack of any facilities for instructing children in the Christian faith either at school or at church, it is due (humanly speaking) to the Christian family. Throughout Orthodox Christendom the family has been regarded as a "house church" with its own "altar" where prayers are offered before the icons.

One wonders, however, what has happened to the "house church" and the "icons" in the modern Orthodox family. How many of our homes have icons today? Among our younger families I have seen pictures of famous movie stars on the walls but very few icons. Are we going to allow one of the most precious traditions of our Orthodox faith ó the icon ó to disappear from our homes? Then what will symbolize Godís presence in our homes? What will serve as an invitation to prayer? What will serve to appeal to morality and conscience?

The icon was never intended to hang on a wall as an aesthetic object. If it is used as an attractive piece of decoration, it ceases to function as an icon. For an icon can only exist within the particular framework of belief and worship to which it belongs. Divorced from this framework, it loses its function as an icon.

In a fragment of the "Life of St. John Chrysostom" preserved in a work by St. John of Damascus (675-749), we are told that Chrysostom had an icon of the Apostle Paul before himself as he studied Paulís epistles. When he looked up from the text, the icon seemed to come to life and speak to him.

Icons in the home consecrate the profane; they transform a neutral dwelling-place into a "domestic church" and the life of the faithful into an unceasing liturgy.

One of the Patriarchs of the Russian Church (Alexis in 1947) said: "If in hospitals, which treat the diseases of the body, everything is arranged to make the surroundings conducive to the patientís return to health, what great care must be taken to order everything in a spiritual hospital, a church of God." We can apply this also to the Christian home which should include reminders of Godís strengthening and healing presence.

Icon Painters.

It has been said that love is the great interpreter. It is the conductor of an orchestra who is in love with the music of a composer who can best interpret and express it. A young artist once brought a picture of Jesus which he had painted to a great painter for his verdict. The artist studied it for quite some time and finally said, "You donít love Him, or you would paint Him better."

This great truth is practiced among Orthodox icon painters who are usually monks. Such iconographers are not considered to be religious artists but rather as persons who have a religious vocation. They are clergymen preaching visual theology. The icon, like the Word, is a revelation, not a decoration or illustration. More important than being a good artist is the fact that the icon painter be a sincere Christian who prepares himself for his work through fasting, prayer, Confession and Communion and has the feeling that he is but an instrument through whom the Holy Spirit expresses Himself. It is important to know Him better if one is to paint Him better. In the West, the theologian has instructed and even limited the artist, whereas in the East the iconographer is a charismatic who contemplates the liturgical mysteries and instructs the theologian.

Godís Best Icon.

Since we are talking about icons we would be remiss if we neglected to say that by far the best icon of God is man who was made in Godís own image. This is the reason the Orthodox priest during the liturgy turns and censes the congregation after having censed the icons. Each person in the congregation is a living icon of God. Through censing we pay respect to the image of God in man which resides in all men regardless of the color of skin or class. To pay respect to the icons in Church and to show disrespect to the living icons of God ó our fellow men ó is hypocrisy of the worst sort. The Sunday of Orthodoxy should remind us that God made us .in His own image. We are His living, walking icons. Yet often we allow the icon of God in us painted by the Holy Spirit to be marred and blurred by sin. By her emphasis on the restoration of icons on the first Sunday of lent, the Orthodox Church calls on us to restore also the fallen icon of God in our souls through repentance and a return to the renewing power of Christ in the Eucharist.

A Sunday school teacher once said to her first-grade class, "You know how you feel when you draw a picture. You want everybody to see it and admire it because you made it. Thatís how Jesus feels about you. Youíre the picture He draws."

A little boy asked, "Is everybody Jesusís picture?"

"Thatís right," said the teacher.

"Even Annie?"

"Yes."

Suddenly a scrap of brown paper fluttered into the teacherís wastebasket. "I was going to put flypaper in Annieís milk," he said sadly, "only Jesus drew her so I better not."

As soon as one enters an Orthodox Church one is greeted at the door by an icon of Christ whose house we have just entered. He stands at the door to greet us as Host. We, in turn, greet Him by making the sign of the cross and bowing before or kissing His icon. Then as we enter the church we see Christ Pantocrator in the dome reminding us of His all-pervading presence in the universe and in our lives. On the walls and on the icon screen He is surrounded by the prophets, apostles, Virgin Mother, martyrs and Saints. Finally on the floor level of the Church are the living saints ó all of us, the Church triumphant in heaven and the Church militant on earth, gathered round our Lord and singing praises to His glory.

A little girl once visited our church on a quiet Sunday afternoon. Relating the event to me later, her father told me that they were members of another church that did not use icons. Their church was rather plain on the inside. As soon as the little girl entered the church and saw the huge picture of Jesus in the dome and the other religious paintings on the walls and icon screen, she walked up to the altar and instinctively knelt down and began to pray. She had felt Godís presence. We, too, can feel His presence not only at church but also at home every day and every night through the devotional use of this great aid to prayer: the icon, the visual Gospel.

 

2nd Sunday of Lent.

Razing the Roof (St Mark 2:1-12).

One day four friends brought a paralytic to Jesus for healing. When they saw that the house where Jesus was preaching was packed and the doorway jammed, they did not give up in despair. Faith never gives up. It perseveres. It is inventive, fertile, full of ideas. It laughs at barriers. If the road is closed one way, faith will look for another way. And it finds another way. Removing some of the loosely-joined tiles on the simple Palestinian roof, the four friends lowered their burden of grief down through the opening, and laid it at the Master's feet. Imagine the amazement of those in the crowded house when they heard the crumbling noise above them, felt the dust and debris falling all over them, and looked up to see the ceiling open and a pallet bearing a sick man descending on them. Imagine Jesus staring at the open sky through a hole in the ceiling and seeing four heads looking down at Him! Here is an example of how faith will literally raze the roof to get to God. These men made it clear for all to see that Christian faith is something more than a stab in the dark; it is a determined effort to establish contact with Jesus. The person who says, "I was not in church last Sunday but my heart was there" is kidding himself. If his heart were there, his body would have been there. You simply cannot stop faith from finding a way to be with Jesus.

Let us take a look at the four friends of the paralytic. The first thing for which Jesus admired them was their faith. It was when He "saw their faith" that He performed the miracle of healing. But Christian faith does not stand alone; it walks hand in hand with love. When these four friends came to Jesus, they did not come alone. They remembered one who wanted very much to see Jesus but could not because of paralysis. Most people had forgotten him, but not these four friends. They took the time and made the effort to go and get this man and bring him to Jesus. They are the kind of people who delight the heart of God. They not only wanted to see Jesus themselves, but they also thought of someone to bring with them who otherwise could not have come.

We begin by bringing ourselves to Christ. But we never stop there. After we have brought ourselves, we bring others. The greatest gift that any man can bring to another is Christ. Very few people pass even a single day without being in touch with someone who does not know Christ, and who greatly needs to know Him. Isn't this our whole purpose as a Church, i.e., Sunday school teachers, parents, youth workers, choir members, friends ó each in his own way, to bring others into the healing presence of our Lord? How easy it is, for example, to bring a friend and lay him at the feet of Jesus on the stretcher of prayer! The four men in today's Gospel could not heal their paralyzed friend, but they were willing to bring him to the One who could heal.

"My Son, your Sins are Forgiven."

See how tenderly and with what great compassion Jesus spoke to the paralytic, "My son, your sins are forgiven." Seeing him lying there on his pallet paralyzed, he addressed him as "My son." He was indeed speaking to one of His children who was hurting and He brought to him ó as He brings to each one of us ó the total love and power of God.

Jesus could have said to the paralytic, "Your paralysis be healed." But he did not. Instead He said, "Your sins are forgiven." The trouble with that man was not paralysis but something deeper. Body and soul live so close together that often the sickness of the one affects the other. The torture of sin and guilt was the deeper cause of this man's paralysis. So Jesus removed the primary cause: "My son, your sins are forgiven."

If a person is a bad driver, he will ruin any car ó even the best one. The best therapy in such a case is not the constant repairing of the car, but the re-education of the driver. If Jesus had healed only the body of this man, the guilt of unforgiven sin would have found expression in some other physical ailment. This man was paralyzed by guilt and physical paralysis was only an outer manifestation of the inner spiritual paralysis. Sin is the greatest paralysis. It paralyzes man, body and soul. Jesus came to cure this paralysis.

We come to Jesus today paralyzed by the meaninglessness of life, we leave with a sense of purpose: "I have come that you may have life and that you may have it more abundantly." We come to Jesus paralyzed with sin and guilt, we leave pardoned and forgiven. We come to Jesus paralyzed by anxiety and fear. We leave with peace ó "the peace of God that passes all understanding." We come to Jesus paralyzed by our weaknesses; we leave with power. "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me," said St. Paul. We come to Jesus paralyzed by a feeling of loneliness, we leave having found a Friend who loves and cares. We come to Jesus paralyzed by discouragement, we leave with hope ó a hope that is rooted in God who so loved the world that He "spared not His own Son, but delivered him up for us all." We come to Jesus paralyzed by skepticism and doubt, we leave having found the Truth. "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no man comes to the Father but by me," said Jesus. We come to Jesus paralyzed by sadness, we leave with joy. "These things have I spoken unto you that my joy might remain in you and that your joy might be full." We come to Jesus paralyzed by the fear of death, we leave with the assurance of life everlasting.

Why Does This Man Speak Thus?"

When the scribes heard Jesus say, "My son, your sins are forgiven," they objected saying, "Why does this man speak thus? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" The scribes felt that since only God can forgive sin, Jesus had committed blasphemy. Jesus shows them that He is God by healing the paralytic. "But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins ó he said to the paralytic ó I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home." We must remember that the scribes believed that no paralytic could get up and walk unless first his sins were forgiven. According to the scribes all sickness was the result of sin, and no sickness could ever be cured until sin was forgiven. Now, if Jesus was able to make this man get up and walk, then that was proof that the man's sins had indeed been forgiven and that Jesus was indeed the God who alone can forgive sin!

"Which Is Easier?"

"Which is easier," asked Jesus, "to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven' or to say, 'Rise, take up your pallet and walk'?" Which is easier? To forgive or to heal? Archbishop William Temple answered this when he said once, "To create (the world) was easy ... no effort there. 'Let there be light; (said God) and there was light. But to convert hearts like ours from the self-centeredness which is natural to them into love which is God's own nature Ö that costs the agony and the bloody sweat and the death (of God) upon the cross." Indeed, which is easier?

"Rise, take up your pallet and walk!" The world will always say, "You made your bed and now you must lie in it;" but there is One greater than the world who says to every penitent sinner, "Take up thy bed and walk. Thy sins are forgiven."

"Why does this man speak thus? Ö Who can forgive sins but God alone?" ask the scribes. But the paralytic knew. Here in Christ is God! So the people "were all amazed and glorified God, saying, 'We never saw anything like this!"

Through the power of the same Christ, we, too, can rise from a paralyzed mind, a paralyzed soul, a paralyzed spirit and walk into a new life, a life of wholeness and health. We, too, can glorify God, saying, "I never saw anything like this. I never dreamed anything like this joy, this peace, this forgiveness, could be possible!"

 

3rd Sunday of Lent.

God's Great Plus Sign (St Mark 8:34-9:1).

The third Sunday of Lent is dedicated to the Adoration of the Holy Cross. During the liturgy the cross is carried from the altar on a tray of flowers and placed in the midst of the congregation that we may pay homage to the symbol of our salvation. When the priest bows down before the cross today, he bows not to wood or metal but to Christ and His great love, of which the cross is but a symbol. The beautiful flowers surrounding the cross signify the fragrance, sweetness and beauty that it has added to life.

God's Plus Sign.

Today we shall talk briefly about the meaning the cross can have in our daily lives.

A little girl had arrived at the point in her schooling where she was studying the mysteries of mathematics. She was deeply impressed with division signs, multiplication signs, minus signs and plus signs. On the Sunday after she had learned about plus signs, she noticed the cross behind the church altar which she had seen many times before. But this time it deeply impressed her and she whispered to her father, "Daddy! What is the plus sign doing behind the altar?"

The girl's question was a natural one but far more perceptive than she realized. In a profound sense the cross is God's great plus sign.

 

Plus God's Strength.

The cross means that man does not have to rely solely on his own resources. He can have the great plus of God's power. God has placed tremendous power in nature. In one glass of water there is enough energy to propel a ship across the Atlantic Ocean. Shall the God who placed such power in nature refuse His children when they come to Him in weakness seeking strength? If Jesus taught us anything about God, He taught us that He is a God who grants strength to the weak. Man's weakness plus God's strength equals the ability to overcome anything life can place before us.

Plus God's Forgiveness.

To a man burdened and cast down by an overwhelming sense of guilt, feeling that he can never be forgiven, that he can never again look God or man in the face, the Cross brings the great plus of God's forgiveness. "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do," prayed Jesus from the Cross. And St. Paul writes, "God showed his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). If the most difficult person to forgive is oneself, then the fact that God has forgiven and accepted us, will help us forgive ourselves. If He accepts us, then we can learn to accept ourselves. Sinful man plus God's great mercy equals salvation, wholeness, peace with God and self.

Plus Newness of Life.

Plus power. Plus forgiveness. Thirdly, plus newness of life. The addition of Christ to man's life is not "simple addition," like adding one apple to one apple and getting two apples. It is more like adding hydrogen to oxygen and getting a totally new substance ó water. As St. Paul put it, "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all old things become new." He who is "in Christ" has a new center for life; and Christ Himself gets a new, unique expression in the world through a life that has never been here before and will never be here again. Man plus Christ equals new life, new meaning, new goals, new values, a totally new person.

Plus Eternal Life.

Plus power. Plus forgiveness. Plus newness of life. Fourthly, plus eternal life. The greatest minus sign in life before Christ came was death. Christ took this minus sign and crossed it out by his resurrection turning it into life's great plus sign: "But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive" (I Cor. 15:20-22). "He who believes in me," said Jesus, "though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die" (John 11:25). Dying man plus Christ equals life everlasting in a place where "eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it ever entered into the heart of man what things God has prepared for those who love him" (Paul).

Plus God's Love.

Plus power. Plus forgiveness. Plus newness of life. Plus eternal life. Fifthly, plus God's love. The Cross is a very eloquent sign and symbol. It is a pledge that God will go to the uttermost for us; He will never wash His hands of us or leave us to perish. The Cross speaks: it says, this is how much God loves and cares. He cares so much that He gives His only Son to die for our sins. It says again, greater love hath no man than this. It speaks of the limitless love of God which will not cease to love even when crucified. Erase the Cross from our lives and we are left with no assurance that man is worth more than a doornail. Erase the Cross and the heart of the universe remains cold and closed. But with the Cross we can sing with St. Paul: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Ö No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities Ö nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:35-39).

Plus Ultimate Victory.

Plus power. Plus forgiveness. Plus newness of life. Plus eternal life. Plus God's love. Sixthly, man plus Christ equals the promise of ultimate victory. St. Paul writes in Colossians, "On that cross he (Jesus) despoiled the cosmic powers and authorities Ö ; he made a public spectacle of them and led them as captives in his triumphal procession" (Col. 2:15 NEB). In our Orthodox faith the Cross is never viewed apart from the Resurrection. Christian faith sees in the Cross of Christ a death-struggle with all the forces of evil and sees in the Resurrection their ultimate and final defeat. Man plus Christ equals ultimate victory. "Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Cor. 15:57).

"Plus" People.

There are two kinds of people in life ó the plus people and the minus people. Those whose symbol is the minus sign never add to anyone's happiness. Rather, they take away. When they leave your company, you feel poorer in faith, poorer in love, poorer in hope. But thank God there is another group of people ó God's people ó the people of the Cross, the people who live by faith in the Son of God, the plus people. The Bible calls them "the salt of the earth" and "the light of the world" and "the aroma of Christ." They add to life: courage, faith, love, hope, peace, joy.

So today on the Feast of the Adoration of the Holy Cross as we look at God's great plus sign beautifully decorated with flowers we are reminded that:

1. Man need not be alone in his problems and troubles. He can have the great plus of God's presence, His love and care.

2. Sinful man plus God's mercy equals forgiveness.

3. Confused man plus Christ equals new purpose, new meaning, a totally new person.

4. Guilt-ridden man plus Christ equals "the peace of God that passes all understanding."

5. Dying man plus faith in Christ equals eternal life with God in heaven.

6. Weak man plus Christ equals strength. "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me," testifies St. Paul.

7. Despairing man plus Christ equals hope ó a hope that says, "You need not stay the way you are. You, just as you are, plus God's redeeming power, equal the person you were meant to be, the person about whom God can say one day, "This is my beloved son or daughter, in whom I am well pleased."

Prayer.

Lord, as we come to reverence your Cross today we reverence not wood or metal but the symbol of the greatest victory mankind has ever known ó your victory over sin and death; a victory in which we all share through Baptism and faith; a victory which has changed the great minus signs of life into plus signs, a victory which makes each Christian a plus person in the world adding light where there is darkness, love where there is hate, hope where there is despair, a cup of cold water where there is thirst, and a piece of bread where there is hunger. Amen.

Adoration of the Precious Cross.

Deny Yourself (Which Self?).

Whenever we wish to win people to a cause, a party or club, we put the best foot forward. We point out the advantages they would gain should they join our group.

When Jesus wanted people to follow Him He used no such bait. On the contrary, His invitation to them was: "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me."

"Ölet him deny himself." Let us say something about this life of ours. One of the big troubles we have with the self is that it is always with us. We cannot get away from it. If we have a disagreeable neighbor, we can move away from him. But we can never move away from ourselves. If we go to the uttermost parts of the earth, we take ourselves along. And this is the cause of a lot of misery to people who go on vacations to faraway places to "get away from it all."

The Great Escape.

To escape themselves, many people turn to drink and sex. The trouble with these is that the escape is only temporary. After we have gotten drunk and indulged ourselves to excess, the self, with which we still have to live, becomes less desirable to live with. We come to hate ourselves even more.

What then does one do with oneself? Many answers have been given. The man bent on pleasure says, "Enjoy yourself!" The teacher says, "Educate yourself!" The artist says, "Express yourself!" The philosopher says, "Know yourself!" Christ says, "Deny yourself!"

Why Denial?

Deny yourself? Is not this a sort of spiritual suicide? to destroy the personality? How can it be Godís will that we destroy the self which He Himself has given us? If God gave us our personality, why should He want us to deny it? Shouldnít He rather want us to develop the gift He has given us? Donít people become sick mentally and emotionally exactly because they try to deny self and become someone they are not?

Why, then, does our Lord ask those who wish to follow Him to deny themselves? For one very good reason. Each of us has at least two selves. Plato described man as a charioteer who drove two horses, one white one that was tame, the other black and wild. Robert Louis Stevenson has immortalized for us the man of dual personality: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Others tell us that man is not so much a human being as a civil war. In most people there is constant tension between these two or more selves of which we are composed.

Carl Sandburg wrote once:

"There is a wolf in me

Fangs pointed for tearing gashes,

A red tongue for raw meatÖ

I keep this wolf because the wilderness gave it to me.

And the wilderness will not let it go.

There is a fox in me.

Oh, I got a zoo,

I got a menagerie inside my ribs

Under the bony head."

The story is told of Abraham Lincoln leaving the White House for an evening walk. Suddenly a boy ran through a hedge and crashed into the Presidentís long legs. Picking himself up the boy said, "Itís getting to be that a Southern gentleman cannot walk the streets of Washington without being knocked down." Lincoln put his hand on the boyís shoulder and said, "Son, the fellow who is in your way is inside you." Isnít it true that the fellow inside us is oftentimes our greatest enemy?

There is, then, a bad self. But there is also a good self in each one of us. When the prodigal son "hit bottom" in the far country of sin, the Gospel tells us that he "came to himself." In other words, he came to his real, his true, his noble self and said, "I will arise and go to my father." The real self in each of us is the good self, the self one truly is. It is the image of God which we all bear. The sinful self is a stranger, someone who does not belong inside us but who struggles to invade and take control. This is Satan or the devil. When our Lord said that a man must deny himself, He did not mean those qualities in man which make for God-likeness, but rather those barnacles of selfishness and sin which prevent him from becoming all that God wants him to be. Jesus asks us to deny the false self, the sinful self, in order that we may express the true self, the image of God in us.

The Price of no Denial.

We say "No" to one self in order that we may say "Yes" to the other self. A man, for example, may choose to live the life of a philanderer. He will throw all restraint to the winds. He will stop at nothing in indulging his passions and enjoying the pleasures of the senses. The word "discipline" simply isnít in his vocabulary. He will not deny that self. But think of what he is denying himself. Heís denying himself the chances of a happy home, the love and respect of a good wife and children. Heís denying himself the deeper experiences of loyalty, beauty and friendship. When he says "Yes" to one kind of life he automatically says "No" to another kind of life.

A football player may be very fond of midnight suppers and club carousels. But if he wants to stay on the team, he has to say "No" to these. The reason for his "no" to carousing is the "Yes" that he says to the team. So it is with us. If we have said "Yes" to Christ, we must keep saying "No" to sin and evil.

Arnold Toynbee said once that a visitor is likely to forget that the city of Los Angeles is in reality only a tiny patch of green in a vast desert. The grass is kept so perpetually green by constant sprinkling. It comes as a shock ó he says ó when we see huge desert weeds bristling up in vacant and untended lots. We realize then that the same savage nature exists under all those green lawns just waiting for a chance to sprout up again. So it is with man. There is the good self, like the grass, but below this exists the sinful self ó the weeds ó just waiting for a chance to take over. The easiest way for the weeds to take over is simply for us to do nothing. Because we have said "Yes" to the grass, we must constantly say "No" to the weeds.

Starve one to Feed the Other.

An Indian explained it this way: "There are two dogs that live inside, a white dog and a black dog.

The white dog wants me to live for Christ. The black dog wants me to sin. And they fight each other all the time. But I know what to do! I feed the white dog and starve the black dog."

This, then, is what the Lord expects us to do if we are to follow Him: to starve the black dog, the evil, sinful self within us. "Let him who will come after me deny himself." This is what St. Paul means when he says, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. ..." Paul had nailed to the cross his lower, sinful self and from that crucifixion and death there rose within him a new self, the real self, the Christ-self.

Give the Best in you a Chance.

Some time ago the walls of the St. Sophia Cathedral in Constantinople were being cleaned and under many layers of dirt and grime was found a beautiful mosaic of the Lord Jesus. That icon is in every man. God painted it there. It is the image of God in our souls but only God knows how we can overlay it and hide it with our sins. This is why Jesus tells us in todayís Gospel lesson, "Give the best in you a chance. Say ĎNoí to evil. Deny your false self, your sinful self and let the real self, the self you truly are, the image of God in you, blossom forth in all itís splendor."

 

4th Sunday of Lent.

"I Believe: Help My Unbelief!" (Mark9:17-31).

One day a father brought his sick son to Jesus with the faint hope that Jesus could cure him. He said to the Master, "Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a dumb spirit." The father went on to say that the malevolent spirit possessing his son would torture him. On many occasions the boy had thrown himself into the fire and almost burned to death. At other times he had fallen into the water and nearly drowned. He was a tortured, afflicted person. He would wallow on the ground and foam at the mouth. The father was desperate in his search for a cure. He had sought out the best medical treatment but with no success. Finally he had brought his son to the disciples. Even they could not help. The father's complaint to Jesus is poignant: "... and I asked your disciples to cast it out and they were not able."

"Bring Him to Me."

Jesus said to the father, "Bring him to me." One of the great secrets of life is to be found in these words, "Bring him to me." When we have a sickness or a problem, we Christians always have someone to whom we can go. "Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden," said Jesus, "and I will give you rest." How many cries for help we hear every day! If we try to help them alone, we are helpless. But if we believe in Jesus, it is our mission to bring them to the true Helper. As parents, friends, employers, fellow workers, we can be His middlemen, His helpers. All who need help will find real help only in Him. But before we can bring others to Christ, we must bring ourselves to Him. We must let Jesus strengthen our faith. We must let Him break the power of sin in our lives and set us free. We must let Him perform the miracle of salvation for us. Then we cannot help but bring others to Him.

"How Long Has He Had This?"

Jesus dealt with the father in a beautiful and tender way. He began with the question, "How long has he had this?" Of course, Jesus knew! The question was asked only to give this father the courage to speak out the story of his long sorrow. Jesus was in effect saying to the father, "I am interested in your problem. Tell me about it." The very fact that the father found a sympathetic listener helped lift the burden. There is great healing power in having someone to listen who sincerely cares and understands. Here lies part of the great value of prayer. We have a God who loves us and wants us to pour out our problems to Him. The father responded to the Master's question. He poured out his heart to Jesus, and gave vent to the bitterness that had poisoned the happiness of his home all these years.

"If You Can Do AnythingÖ"

As the father told his sad story the boy had another attack. Looking at the gentle face of the Galilean, the father pleaded, "If you can do anything, have mercy on us and help us." The most important word in the man's appeal for help was "if'-"if you can do anything." One can understand why the father had some doubt as to whether Jesus could help him. He had been disappointed so many times. His little boy had epilepsy since childhood. Like any father, he had left no stone unturned to heal the boy. He had carried him hopefully to every doctor he could reach. He had purchased every new drug on the market. He had carried him to the synagogue to be prayed for. He had even brought him to Jesus' disciples. All these had failed. Each time he met with disappointment. It was only natural for the father to have some disbelief.

A person can have so many problems, so many disappointments, so much bitterness, so many frustrations that after a while, he begins to doubt not only the existence of God, but also the existence of anything good. It is possible for the pile of sorrow to become so great that we lose hope and, losing hope, we lose God. Such was the condition of the father when he said to Jesus, "If you can do anything, have pity on us and help us."

"If You Can Believe."

Jesus countered with another "if." "If you can believe; all things are possible to him who believes." He suggested that the father's faith had a lot to do with the whole situation. The problem says Jesus is not whether I have the power to heal; the problem is whether or not you believe I have the power. For "all things are possible to him who believes." God's power is limited only by our faith.

Faith has no power by itself. It is only when it clings to Christ that it lays hold of the tremendous power of almighty God. If you screw a pipe to a water main and turn a handle, the water flows out through the pipe and fills the empty vessel. Faith itself is as empty as the hollow water pipe, but when it becomes the connection between almighty God and empty man, the fullness of His grace flows through and fills the emptiness.

It is our faith in Christ that determines the amount of power we shall receive from Him. The size of our cup of faith can be large or small. We shall have just as much purity, just as much peace, just as much wisdom or gentleness, or love, or courage, or hope as the size of our cup of faith will hold. If we are not getting what we need from Christ, instead of blaming Him, we need to take a good look at the condition and the size of the cup we bring to Him. "If you can believe! All things are possible to him who believes." Scientists believed they could split the atom before they actually split it. There were those who said it could never be done, but it was. There is power in faith when it is based on science. There is even greater power in faith when its object is God. The magic of believing stimulates a wonderful power flow within us. It tunes us in to the mind of Jesus. It connects us to the greatest source of power in the universe: "You shall receive power," promised Jesus, "when the Holy Spirit has come upon you."

"I Believe; Help My Unbelief!"

Jesus performed two miracles. He not only healed the epileptic boy; He also increased the father's faith. From saying, "If you can do anything," the desperate father reached the point where he could say, "I believe." And yet it was not a change from unbelief to complete belief. His one-sentence prayer, "Help my unbelief showed that he did not possess complete and absolute faith. He expressed and acted on the faith he had, but he did not hide his doubt. He was honest with Christ. No person believes perfectly. In every person there is a mixture of faith and doubt. But the important thing is whether we let ourselves be controlled by the faith we have or by our doubts. Miracles happen not because of perfect faith, but rather because of imperfect faith in the perfect Christ.

Prayer.

Lord, we believe. We believe that You are the greatest miracle that ever happened on earth. We see how You healed the epileptic boy and so many others. We see how much You cared for people ó how gently You treated the troubled father, how You increased his faith. Lord, we acknowledge that the size of our cup of faith is small. Increase it ó we pray ó that our lives may be filled with your peace, power and love. Amen.

 

5th Sunday of Lent.

The Truly Great: Those Who Serve (Mark 10:32-45).

A national magazine advertised recently for two persons to serve as servants ó cook and butler ó on a large estate. No one responded. The magazine concluded with this not too profound statement: "Americans don't like to be servants, and in the long run most of us will have to learn to do without them."

It is not only Americans who do not like to be servants. James and John, two disciples of Jesus, came to Him in today's Gospel lesson and said, "Grant us to sit one at your right hand and one at your left in your glory." It was as if they had said, "Lord, now that you're going to become king, let one of us be the secretary of state and the other the secretary of the treasury.''

"When the other disciples heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John." They were angry with them for their self-seeking ambition: they were also angry with themselves for not having thought to ask for these positions first.

How did Jesus handle the request of James and John that they be first in the kingdom?

The Gospel says, "Jesus called them and said to them, You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you; but whosever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

What the World Says.

The world says that you are great according to the POWER that you exercise over others. The more authority you have to dominate, the greater you are. "But it shall not be so among you," said Jesus.

The world says that you are great according to the POSITION you hold. The greater the position, the greater the person. "But it shall not be so among you."

The world says that you are great according to the POSSESSIONS you have. Your greatness is measured by the suburb in which you live, the size of your house, the kind of car you drive, the amount of money you have. "But it shall not be so among you," said Jesus.

What Christ Says.

But if greatness is not to be found in position, in power, in possessions, where then is it to be found?

Whoever would be great among you must be your servantÖ

In a single sentence Jesus reverses the values of the world. The world has placed at the top of the list kings, military commanders, the rich, those who have positions of honor and recognition. Behind them come the great masses of humanity, followed at the very end by the servants. Jesus reverses the whole scale of values and says, "The greatest of these are those who serve."

The word servant today is an unpopular word. Few people wish to serve. Everybody expects to be served. Most people want to lord it over others; their goal in life is to get to be "top man on the totem pole" ó even if they have to step on others to get there. Much of the trouble we have today is caused by people who desire to be the greatest ó the most honored, the most privileged, the most powerful, the most prosperous, the best paid, the best fed, the best housed.

When some of us get the idea that we are better than others around us, when we get the idea that we are just naturally superior and ordained by God to be first ó then trouble really starts ó as it started among the disciples. "When the other disciples heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John."

Why does the Lord Jesus place so much emphasis on the importance of serving? Why does He place it above position, power, possessions and all else? The answer is that if Christianity is anything, it is LOVE, nay, it is more than love. Christianity is love militant. It is love in action. It is love going out to serve. It is love sacrificing itself. It is love rooted in the love of Christ who came "not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many."

Living Examples.

Whenever the spirit of Christ captures a man, whatever his station in life, that man becomes a servant.

A few years ago Cardinal Leger, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Montreal, gave up his office to go as a simple missionary to the lepers of Africa, who are among the poorest and most neglected people in the world.

Dr. Tom Dooley, young medical doctor, left what could have been a comfortable life for himself in this country to become a servant to the poor people of Laos providing them with free medical service.

Dr. Paul Carlson, medical missionary, killed a few years ago, servant to the people of the Congo.

Father Damien, servant to the lepers at Molokai.

Dr. Albert Schweitzer, noted philosopher, theologian, musician and physician, servant to the sick of Africa. When the natives asked him why he came, Dr. Schweitzer answered very simply, "Jesus sent me."

Begin at Home.

We do not have to leave home and go to far-off places to be servants for Christ like Cardinal Leger or Dr. Tom Dooley or Dr. Schweitzer. We can begin to be servants for Christ in our homes.

We can be a servant to our spouse in marriage. How many marriages have been wrecked by the desire to command and be obeyed, to be loved instead of to love, to be served instead of to serve, to be understood instead of to understand. How different our marriages would be if we strove after Christ's kind of greatness: "Let him who would be great among you be your servant."

What a difference being servants would make in our relations with our children! How many young people have risen in rebellion against a childhood lived in the grip of a dictator in the home? a father or mother who just barked commands? who acted like prosecuting attorneys? who demanded obedience just because of their position in the family? But does the greatness of parents depend on their position in the family, or does it depend rather on their willingness to be servants to their children, to set for them an example worthy of respect, to spend time with them, to play with them, to pray with them, to talk with them, to listen to them, to reason with them, to understand them?

"Whoever would be great among you (even as a spouse or parent) must be your servant."

The Greatest Example.

The greatest example of such humble service was Jesus. Once when no one else was willing to wash the disciples' feet as was the custom, Jesus removed His outer robe, took the basin of water and towel, knelt down and washed their feet.

Celsus, a second century pagan, found this utterly blasphemous. It was one of the things he held against Christians that they were so low-minded as to picture God, not only as crucified, but also as washing people's muddy feet.

Far from being blasphemous, Christians have considered this act of Jesus one of the greatest lessons He taught us. For after performing the task of the slave and washing their feet, He said to them,

Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Lord and Teacher; and you are right for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you" (John 13:12-15).

As we think of this humble act of Jesus we ask ourselves, was it a greater humiliation for Jesus to wash His disciples' feet than it was for Him ó the Creator of the Universe ó to be wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger? or to be slapped by a servant during His trial? or to be crowned with thorns and mocked as a king? or to be nailed to the cross as an arch-criminal? The one time God chose to come to earth, He chose to come in the form of a servant. St. Paul expressed it beautifully when he wrote: ÖChrist Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross (Phil. 2:6-8).

Let us part with these words by Archbishop Temple,

I want to leave you for this moment with the picture that St. John gives of what our Lord did in a moment of special consciousness of His divine mission and authority. Knowing that He came forth from God and went unto God, what did He do? He did not sit on a throne and invite His disciples to bow before Him in homage. He girded Himself and began to perform for them the act of service which was in that time and place regarded as the most menial that one could do for another. He washed their feet. This is what He felt to be God meant: to serve.

"I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done" (John 13:15).

"You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them . . . But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant."

Prayer.

Lord, perhaps there are some of us who cannot carry the cross; it is too heavy; we are too weak; but there is not one of us who cannot carry a towelóthe towel of love and service performed in Your holy name. Amen.

 

The Saturday of Lazarus.

"Lazarus, Come Forth."

Holy Week begins on the Saturday of Lazarus, It begins with a resurrection (Lazarus) and it ends with a resurrection (Christ). Thus, Holy Week is placed between two brilliant shafts of light which illuminate the darkness of the Cross with meaning and ultimate joy.

Before this, Jesus had raised at least two others from the dead. One was the daughter of Jairus, the other was the only son of the widow of Nain. The first had just died; the second was being carried to the cemetery in his coffin; but the most astounding of all was Lazarus.

It all began with Lazarusí two sisters, Mary and Martha. They sent word to Jesus saying, "Lord, he whom you love is ill" (John 11:3). What a marvelous lesson this is in prayer! The first thing they did when trouble came to them was to inform Jesus. They wanted Him to know about it. How many people through the centuries have found peace, comfort, and strength when, as they became frightened and burdened, they instinctively reached through the darkness to feel for the hand of Christ. We know that He cares and responds to our requests as He did for Mary and Martha.

When Jesus arrived at Bethany, Lazarus had already been dead for four days. Hearing of His arrival, Martha ran out to meet Him. Although she had some confidence in the power of Christ, it was still a very limited one as we see from her words, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."

Jesus responded, "Your brother will rise again." Martha said, "Yes, I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day."

The faith that Martha expressed in the resurrection was that of most of the Jews. As the Samaritan woman at the well knew that the Messiah would come, but did not realize that He had already come and was standing right there before her, so Martha, though believing in the resurrection, did not know that the Resurrection was standing right there before her. As Jesus told the woman at the well that He was the Messiah, so now He said to Martha: "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die."

"Deeply Moved in Spirit."

Next we read, "When Jesus saw Mary weeping and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled" (John 11: 33). In these words, "deeply moved in spirit and troubled," we see Jesusí attitude toward death. He treats death not as a sometimes pleasant release from pain and despair. He treats it as an enemy, as a product of evil, as our last and greatest foe. He shows us that death is not to be accepted as much as it is to be overcome. If Christ is Life, then death is an enemy to be destroyed. Jesus, "deeply moved in spirit and troubled," as He stood before the tomb of Lazarus, shows us that death is abnormal, and, therefore, truly horrible. The Son of God is deeply moved and troubled by death ó so moved that He submitted Himself to the same suffering and death to overcome this enemy with His power and give us the fruits of His victory.

"Jesus Wept."

"Where have you laid him?" asked Jesus. They said to Him, "Lord, come and see." Then we come to the shortest but most moving verse in Scripture, "Jesus wept." Jesus is so moved by the death of His friend that He bursts into tears. Three times Jesus is described as weeping in the Scriptures. Once over a nation, when He wept over the sins of the world; and, in this instance over Lazarus, when He wept for the effect of sin, which is death. None of these tears were for Himself, but for the human nature He had assumed. He wept for sin and what it had done to man. He wept to show His concern for all those who lose loved ones. He wept to show us that we, too, should weep with those who weep. To express our grief through tears is not unmanly or unchristian: the Son of God Himself wept. But these are more than just tears of sympathy. When He Who is Life weeps at the grave of a friend, it is then that victory over death begins.

The place where Lazarus was buried was a tomb with a stone before it. "Take away the stone," said Jesus. Martha replied, "Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days." One early French painting in the Louvre, on the Raising of Lazarus, shows one of the bystanders holding his nose.

Martha tried to warn Jesus that the condition of Lazarus was now such that all hope of his resurrection should be abandoned until the last day. Yet, in spite of this, in obedience to our Lordís command, the stone was taken away. Then Jesus addressed a beautiful prayer to His Heavenly Father, expressing His desire that everyone who saw this miracle might believe that He and the Father were One, and that the Father had sent Him into the world.

"Lazarus, Come Out!"

Then Jesus cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out." And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with bandages, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him and let him go." The same voice which in the beginning said, "Let there be light, and there was light" ó that same voice now says, "Lazarus, come out," and Lazarus, dead four days, comes walking out of the tomb. "My Lord and my God!" Who can now doubt that "In Jesus is life"? Who can now doubt that on the last day that very same voice shall speak again "when the trumpet sounds" and "those who are in the graves shall hear His voice and shall come forth"? Who can now doubt the words we confess in the Nicene Creed every Sunday: "I believe ... in the resurrection of the dead and in the life of the world to come"? "By raising Lazarus from the dead," says the troparion of the day, "Christ confirmed the truth of the general resurrection.íí

"Do you really believe Jesus called Lazarus from the dead?" someone was asked. He answered, "I never knew Lazarus, but I know what Jesus did for me. I understand Lazarus had been dead only four days. I had been dead four years and was in a bad state of decomposition. I had gone to pieces ó I was both down and out. My family had gone to pieces. My business had gone to pieces. One by one my friendships had gone to pieces. Then Jesus spoke to me, and I became alive again. Now my family have come back. My friends recognize me. All things are made new. I do not know much about Lazarus, but one thing I do know ó Jesus called me out of death into a new life."

Even today He calls, "Lazarus, come out." Those who hear His voice come walking out of real graves to a new life.

An agnostic, trying to ridicule the raising of Lazarus from the dead, asked an audience, "Can anyone tell me why Jesus said, ĎLazarus, come forthí?"

An elderly man stood and said, "Sir, I can tell you! If my Lord had not said, ĎLazarus, come forth,í every grave in that Bethany cemetery would have been emptied!"

What a happy reunion there was when Lazarus was restored to his sisters, Mary and Martha. What is this but a foretaste of what will happen on the last day when we shall be reunited not only with our Precious Lord, but also with all our departed loved ones to be with them forever: parents with children, brothers with brothers, friends with friends.

Who Is Lazarus?

We ask: who is that man in the tomb called Lazarus? whom Jesus loves? for whom He weeps? to whom He speaks? Could I be that man? Could I be Lazarus? Could this story of resurrection be my story? Of course, did not Jesus call me His friend? "I have not called you servants but friends ..." Was not I created for friendship with God: to know Him, love Him, serve Him, and be forever with Him? Did He not come to resurrect me not only from the final grave but also from the many graves in which I bury myself today?

After Lazarus came walking out of the tomb in the full glare of a noonday sun, one would have thought that everyone would have believed. But miracles are no cure for unbelief. Some will not believe even though one were to rise from the dead. It was the resurrection of Lazarus that brought out the crowds on Palm Sunday, but it was also Lazarusí resurrection that built the cross; for as the Apostle John writes, "From that day on they plotted his death."

The decision is made. Caiaphas, the high priest, unconsciously affirms that Jesus would die for all the people. The high priest in ancient times was believed to have the power of prophecy, and the Gospel testifies that Caiaphasí statement was true prophecy when he said:

"Öit is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish. He did not say this on his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus should die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad" (John 11:49-52).

Thus, toward the end of his life, Caiaphas, the high priest, who did not believe in the resurrection affirmed what an angel had announced at the Birth of Him Whose name was Jesus, namely that:

"He will save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21).

The raising of Lazarus was a promise of more to come. It foreshadowed another and a greater miracle, Christís own victory over the tomb. With Lazarusí resurrection "death begins to tremble." This is why a spirit of great joy pervades the liturgy on the Saturday of Lazarus. In the early church Lazarus Saturday was considered a pre-announcement of Easter. It signified the beginning of the end of death.

The two resurrections (Lazarus and Jesus) are brought together intimately through Mary. It was her love for Christ for raising Lazarus that led her to do a beautiful thing which is read in the Gospel lesson on Palm Sunday. Immediately after the resurrection of Lazarus, "a supper was given in his (Jesusí) honor, at which Martha, served, and Lazarus sat among the guests with Jesus. Then Mary brought a pound of very costly perfume, Ö and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped them with her hair, till the house was filled with the fragrance." When Judas objected, Jesus said, "... she prepares for my burialÖ"

The great duel between Light and Darkness takes place during Holy Week. But it takes place between two brilliant shafts of light: on the one end, "Lazarus, come out"; on the other end, "He is risen. He is not here. See the place where they laid Him!"

Palm Sunday.

"Itís my Alabaster Vase"

One of the most beautiful stories in the Bible is told in the Gospel lesson that is read on Palm Sunday. The time was six days before Good Friday. As Jesus was seated for supper a woman entered. Her name was Mary; her city, Magdala; her reputation, a prostitute. As the woman knelt before the feet of Jesus a sob was heard. The woman was weeping. The tears fell on the Saviorís feet. She tried to wipe them away with her hair, but the fountain flowed on, as if answering to the deepest misery of life. Tears shed over our sins ó say the Church Fathers ó constitute a second baptism.

Then she remembered she had concealed under her veil a vessel of precious ointment pressed from the best of Godís creation. This ointment was costly. Judas, who put a price on everything, valued it at about a yearís wages. The ointment was costly for Mary but not too costly for the Son of God. Nothing ever is. Mary did not do what you and I would have done. We would take the vessel of precious ointment and pour it out slowly, deliberately, resolutely, drop by drop, as if to indicate by the slowness of our giving the generosity of the gift. Not so with Mary! Not so with those who really love. She broke the vessel to permit an unmeasured flowing upon the head and feet of the Master!

She has Prepared the Body for Burial.

In a few days, at the Last Supper, Jesus would break bread as a token of His Body which would be broken on the Cross. From Maryís "broken and contrite spirit," which God never despises, came this other broken thing in dim prefigurement of His death. After anointing first His head, and then His feet, she wiped the latter with her hair.

Judas protested, "Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?" Jesus replied, "Let her alone Ö She has anointed my body beforehand to prepare it for burial" (Mark 14:8).

Mary did not wait until Jesus was dead before she anointed His body. She came before His death. This reminds us how very kind and thoughtful we are to a family that has lost some member, and what kind words are said after the person is dead and gone. How much better it would be to say a few of those good things before a person goes, to bring some of our bouquets before a person dies, and not go and load down the coffin later. Mary performed for Jesus the last kindness He received in this life.

A Waste?

"What is the meaning of this waste?" (Matthew 26:8) asked Judas. Is it ever a waste to grasp an impulse to express love? Was it a waste when Jesus shed His precious blood for us on the Cross ó not just a few drops but all of it ó knowing full well that not all people would accept His love? Was it a waste when the father of the prodigal son was himself so prodigal in his love that he put a ring on his sonís finger and new shoes on his wandering feet? Is it ever a waste to send a letter of thanks? Is it a waste to tell someone how much we love them and how grateful we are to them? Is it a waste to give some special gift or speak some special word?

Love knows well that there are certain moments in life which come and which do not return. There were endless and limitless opportunities to help the poor, but, if that woman had not seized that moment to make known her love to Jesus, the opportunity would never have come again. There are moments in life which do not come a second time. How that last extravagant, impulsive kindness must have uplifted the heart of Jesus just before His death.

In the Old Testament three kinds of people were anointed. Priests were anointed (Exodus 29:7). Prophets were anointed (I Kings 19:16). Kings were anointed (I Samuel 9:16). Anointing was proper to the priest, the prophet and the king. By accepting the anointing of this woman Jesus implicitly claimed to be the Prophet who brought to men the word of God, the Priest who built for men the bridge to God, the King who claimed from men a throne within their hearts.

The Extravagance of Love.

There is a certain extravagance in love. The alabaster phial of perfume was meant to be used drop by drop; it was meant to last for years, perhaps even for a lifetime; but in a moment of utter devotion the woman poured it on the head of Jesus. There is a recklessness in love which refuses to count the cost.

Every one of us has a jar of costly ointment within. The gift of worship and prayer must be broken and shared. The seal must be broken from the fountain of love in order that we may pour ourselves out to someone. Have we ever broken our alabaster vase for Christ? He calls on us to break the jar of love and pour ourselves out in love and service.

One time a church was involved in a rather extensive project. The need for money was great. A strong appeal was made on Sunday. At the door of the church a little lady asked the pastor to come by her home the next day. She was a widow who lived meagerly on a pension.

When the pastor visited her at home, she handed him a check. The amount took his breath away. When he protested that he could not take that much from her, she explained it was an inheritance. "Please let me give it all," she said. "Itís my alabaster vase."

"My Hair Ainít Long Enough!"

When Simon, at whose house Jesus was being entertained, saw this woman anointing the feet of Jesus, he said to himself, "This man, if he were a prophet, would know surely what kind of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner" (Luke 7:39).

Jesus caught Simon right in his thought. As if Simon had spoken aloud, Jesus replied to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you Ö Do you see this woman? I entered your house, you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little loves little! And he said to her, ĎYour sins are forgivení " (Luke 7:44-48).

When this story of Maryís anointing the feet of Jesus and wiping them with her hair was read to a sinful woman once, she asked sobbingly,

"Will He ever come again?"

"Who?"

"Him ó Jesus Christ. Iíve heard tell, I think, that he was to come again some day."

"Why do you ask?"

"Because ó " she said, with a fresh burst of tears, "My hair ainít long enough yet to wipe His feet."

Prayer.

Precious Jesus, You are the Christ, anointed by the Holy Spirit to be our Prophet, Priest and King. Together with Mary accept our anointing as we, too, pour on Your precious feet the tears of our repentance breaking for You at the same time the alabaster box of our love and devotion. Amen.

 

Palm Sunday.

Commitment to the King (John 12:1-18).

"So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him crying, 'Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!' '

Great crowds went forth on this day to meet Jesus. They waved palms. Thousands of men and women shouted with joy, "Hosanna, blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord!" They hailed Jesus as King. The news that He had brought Lazarus back from the dead had spread like wildfire. They cast their robes for Him to ride over. They sang. They ran. They strewed the ground before Him with wild flowers.

Today, we, too, shall be given palm branches. For just as Christ entered Jerusalem many years ago, so He will make a triumphant entry into our hearts this Holy Week and Easter when we receive His precious Body and Blood in Holy Communion.

The important thing this Palm Sunday is not that Christ entered Jerusalem many years ago, but that He comes to us today; not how He was received 2,000 years ago on this day, but how He will be received by us.

"Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. . .the King of Israel" (John 12:13). When Christ entered Jerusalem He was hailed as a King. When He comes to us today, shall we receive Him as our King? "7 am a king," said Jesus, "and to this end was I born, that I should bear witness to the truth."

The King's Appeal.

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem he used a method of action which many a prophet of Israel had used before. The prophets had often used the method of dramatic and symbolic action. Men might refuse to listen, but they could hardly fail to see; and again and again the prophets had cast their message into the form of some vivid action, as if to say: "If you will not listen, you can at least see." Jeremiah, for example, forewarned the Jewish people of the slavery that was to fall upon them, by making yokes and wearing them on his neck. Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem on this Palm Sunday was a deliberately made claim on His part to be King. The donkey, for example, on which Jesus rode was the beast on which kings rode when they came in peace; only in war did they ride upon horses. No doubt Jesus was remembering the prophecy of Zechariah which Matthew cites: "Behold your king is coming to you Ö mounted on a donkey." In that triumphant entry into Jerusalem Jesus, in a dramatic, symbolic action which spoke more loudly than any words, was making one last appeal to his people, and saying to them: "Will you not, even now, accept me as your Lord and King, and enthrone me in your mind, your heart and your will?"

"King of the Jews."

Even the inscription on the Cross: "Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews" ó written in the three great languages of the ancient world: Hebrew, Greek and Latin proclaimed Him King. Each of these three great nations stood for three great contributions to the world: Greece taught the world beauty of form and thought; Rome taught the world law and good government; the Hebrew nation taught the world religion and the worship of the true God. The fulfillment and consummation of all these things is seen in Jesus. In Him was the supreme beauty and the highest thought of God. In Him was the law of God and the Kingdom of God. In Him was the very picture and image of God: "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself." All the world's seekings and strivings found their fulfillment and consummation in Christ. It was symbolic that in the three great languages of the world men called Him king: "Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews!"

Martyrs for the King.

When the aged Bishop Polycarp was brought to trial, the judge stood before him and shouted, "You are to renounce the faith! You are to curse the name of Christ!" St. Polycarp answered, "Fourscore and six years have I served Him, and He never did me wrong: how then can I revile my King, my Savior?" The result was that Bishop Polycarp was burned to death in the amphitheatre in Smyrna. When the young church set down in writing what happened for future generations to know, it wrote: "Polycarp was martyred, Statius Quadratus being proconsul in Asia, and Jesus Christ being King for ever!"

Out of the persecution of Christians by Diocletian has come the story of Genesius, an actor who was playing a part in a burlesque on the rites and customs of the hated Christians. In the midst of the play, as though the Holy Spirit suddenly shamed him for straying from the faith of the Christian home in which he was born, he cried out, "I want to receive the grace of Christ, that I may be born again, and be set free from the sins that have been my ruin!" The surprised crowd saw the mock baptism that was being pantomimed turn into a hallowed moment of conversion as Genesius, fearlessly proclaiming his faith, cried out towards Diocletian, "Illustrious emperor, and all of you who have laughed loudly at this parody, believe me, Christ is the true King!"

Unmoved, except to fury, Diocletian ordered that he first be ripped with claws, then burned with torches, and finally beheaded. Before the end he was heard to cry: "There is no King except Christ, whom I have seen and whom I worship. For Him I will die a thousand times. I am sorry for my sins, and for becoming so late a soldier of the true King."

Not a Mere Symbol.

Someone said once, "Kings? Kings are only something to cheer for." He meant that the human heart loves parades, and that a king was merely a symbol. Christ is not that kind of King ó a King we enclose in a decorated church with fragrant incense, stirring hymns and burning candles as if He were dead. He is a living King who says to us today, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." He is a King who challenges, who gives purpose and meaning to life; a King who forgives, strengthens, and heals. "No man ever spoke as this man," they said of Him. "Who is this man that even the wind and the sea obey Him?"

He Becomes My King Through Commitment.

Christ becomes King personally and existentially to those who submit to His Kingship through commitment.

What do we mean by commitment?

A certain author wrote, "Let us not fool ourselves. We will submit to some master, whether that master is work, sex, pleasure, liquor, or what-have-you. Our problem is to choose which master. The only Master worth serving is Jesus Christ, the Master we were created to serve."

We can be captured by the cheapest and the lowest in life, or we can be captured by the highest and the best that human experience knows: Jesus Christ. He can fulfill life. He can light the lamp no darkness can put out.

When Christ enters our life, we must abandon the throne of our will, our ego, our pride, and allow Him to step up to this royal chair. He will increase; we shall decrease. He will speak; we shall listen. He will command; we shall obey.

Yes, some people will object, but will I not lose my personality if I commit my life to Christ? Does the violin lose its personality when a great master takes it and runs the bow back and forth across its strings? Of course not! It becomes a symphony. Our lives, too, become symphonies when we commit them into the hands of God.

What Makes a Christian.

Fr. John Meyendorff said once in a lecture to Sunday school teachers: "We are told in the Gospels that education implies a positive acceptance of Christ. This is the real conversion. // this marriage does not take place at some time during the life of a Christian, he is simply not a Christian. We have a very clear statement about this in the tradition of the Fathers. What makes a Christian a Christian is this personal commitment to Christ. One's formal belonging to the Church through Baptism and other sacramental participation remains a mere potential if the individual commitment does not take place. The sacramental gifts of Baptism and the Eucharist and of all the sacraments are essential for an objective membership in the body of Christ; but again they are pure potentials if they are not taken seriously, and if a conversion of the heart and mind does not occur at some point in one's life."

When we were baptized, God said to each one of us, "YES, I accept you as my son or daughter." There must come a time in our lives when we must say to Christ, "Yes, Jesus, I accept you as my Savior, my Lord, my King, and I commit my life to You."

Committed Lives.

This is what commitment to Christ meant to former Governor Mark O Hatfield of Oregon, "I could not drift along as I had been doing; going to church because I had always gone. Either Christ was God, and Savior, and Lord, or He wasn't. And if He was, then He had to have all my time, all my devotion, all my life." This is what commitment to Christ should mean to us.

Tolstoy wrote, "I walked deep into the woods one day and there gave my life to the Lord. Suddenly the whole world came alive to me. All was new and different. I have come to the conclusion that God and real life are one and the same thing." Tolstoy discovered real life through commitment to God.

Ignatius Loyola was a soldier in the army of Ferdinand and Isabella in 1521. Severely wounded in a battle, he spent many months convalescing in a castle at Loyola. To help pass the time he asked for some books on romance. None was available, so he was given the lives of Christ and the Saints. These books changed his life. Instead of continuing in the service of an earthly king, he decided to devote his life to the service of his God and seek to win spiritual victories whose fruits would be everlasting. "Take, O Lord!" prayed Ignatius. "Take all ó my liberty, my memory, my intellect, my will ó all that I am and all that I have. You gave it all to me. I give it back again to You. All of me is Yours. Do with me whatever You will. Give me Your love and Your grace. That is enough for me."

Ignatius founded the Society of Jesus which has given the world many scholars and saints. He wrote a little book "The Spiritual Exercises" which became a classic. He achieved such eminent holiness that the Roman Catholic Church declared him a Saint. His profound influence on the world began with the personal and complete commitment of his life to Jesus as Lord and King!

Fran Tarkenton, Vikings quarterback, said, "My father is a minister and I have always been in and about the church, yet I had never felt that my life had any real direction or power until August, 1958, when I made a complete and all-out dedication of my life to Jesus Christ Ö Until that time my faith had largely been something I had inherited. The confrontation with Christ made it alive, personal, powerful. There is quite a difference between a faith you accept from others and a faith you reach out for yourself."

Benefits of Commitment.

If we who live in the States wish to travel to England, we may choose to do so by committing ourselves to a carton box, but we will never make it. If we commit ourselves to an ocean liner, we will make it. So it is in life. Commitment to anything less than Christ is like committing one's life to a carton box. To commit one's life to Christ, on the other hand, is to commit oneself to the most powerful Person in the Universe, One who is "able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think;" One who is able "to save to the uttermost."

Commitment to Christ, says St. Paul, is our response to Christ for what He did for us on the cross: "He died for all that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for Him Who for their sake died and was raised" (2 Cor. 5:15).

Another benefit of commitment is expressed in Christ's words: "Whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall have life everlasting," said Jesus. Not to all but only to those who commit their lives to Him ó who live and believe in Him ó does God bestow life eternal, life with God. In other words, Christ commits Himself only to those who commit themselves to Him. He cannot commit Himself to someone who does not want Him.

Buffeted by the trials of this world a certain Christian prayed: "Lord, tie me to something eternal. I tie myself to houses and lands and stocks and bonds and by some turn of fate, I lose them. I tie myself to a loved one and a single microbe comes and death snatches her away. I tie myself to a friend and the friendship vanishes. Lord, tie me to Your program, to service in Your Kingdom, to You, God, that I might be tied to the Eternal." Commitment is that which ties us to the Eternal!

If you make Christ your King through commitment, then you are the child of a King. He will let nothing ó not even death ó snatch you from His hands. He will give you power to be king of yourself and your passions. He will bestow upon you one day the Crown of righteousness. He will grant you life eternal and will make you heir to the greatest kingdom in the universe.

The significance of receiving palms today is to help us renew our commitment to Christ, to salute Him as Lord and King of our lives. May this be for us the meaning of the palms we receive today: a symbol of our personal commitment to Christ as Lord of our lives. For ó let us remember ó the first commitment was His. He first committed Himself to us, not part of the time or with half a will, but so much so that He went to the cross!

 

The Holy Unction.

"Do You Believe in Divine Healing?"

Someone asked a Christian one day: "Do you believe in Divine healing?" The Christian replied, "What other kind of healing is there?"

In the entrance hall of a great hospital in the United States, there stands a statue of the healing Christ. By whichever door one enters one seems to be facing Christ, the One Who is behind all healing.

Very often when illness comes many of us blame God: "Why did He do this to me?" Yet, if anyone is to blame for the illnesses that come to us, it is not God but we ourselves. As one medical doctor said, "Most illnesses do not, as is generally thought, come like a bolt out of the blue. The ground is prepared for years, through faulty diet, intemperance, overwork, and moral conflicts, slowly eroding the personís vitality." God becomes the scapegoat for many of our ailments.

Never once in the Gospels do we see Jesus inflicting illness on anyone. On the contrary, He is constantly healing the sick. We read, "Ö for power came out of Him and healed them all." The sick woman who touched the hem of His garment felt a surge of healing power go through her body. And Jesus felt power leaving His body: "Some one touched me; for I perceive that power has gone forth from me" (St. Luke 8:46). Jesus is "the same yesterday, today and forever." The power is still there for those who touch Him with faith.

The Church as the House of God is a spiritual hospital to which people come with diseases of mind, soul and body. They come to the Great Physician Who touches them with His healing power. "And the whole multitude sought to touch him: for power went out of Him, and healed them all."

Healing will always come. If it is not physical healing, it will be spiritual healing. St. Paul, for example, prayed three times to God to remove the thorn in his flesh, a chronic and painful ailment. Instead of removing it, God gave him the strength to bear it. That, too, is healing. When we are sick in body, mind or soul, God may not always take away the illness. Instead, He may give us an inner power to overcome our self-pity, despair, and complaining; a power to rise above our weaknesses in triumph, and an inner peace that is beyond human understanding. Who is a greater example of this than St. Paul?

A Sacrament of Healing.

The healing power of Christ is channeled to us today through one of the Sacraments of the Church: Holy Unction. It is a sacrament for healing. We read in the Epistle of St. James:

"Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the Church, i.e., presbyters or priests, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up Ö" (James 4:14-15).

The oil, always used for healing in the ancient world, is blessed by the Holy Spirit to bring to us

Godís healing grace. As we come to be anointed with this consecrated oil, we must bring with us our "prayer of faith," i.e., a living, personal faith that when we are anointed with this oil, the hand of Christ will touch us with His healing power. God speaks to us through the fourteen Scripture readings that are part of this Sacrament (seven Epistle and seven Gospel readings). He speaks to increase our faith in His power to heal. The fact that the presence of seven priests is recommended (but is not mandatory) for the celebration of this sacrament gives expression to our faith that the whole Church is present and praying for the sick person together with relatives and friends.

It is not necessary to travel to one of the great shrines such as Tinos, Lourdes, etc. for healing. Through the Sacrament of Holy Unction, every Church becomes a healing shrine pervaded by the prayers of the clergy and the faithful, and hallowed by the presence of the Holy Spirit. Here we find our faith fortified and sustained as we grow in grace and understanding. Here we find the power and the presence of the healing Christ.

Prayer.

Lord, touch me. Anoint me. Heal me. Forgive me. Strengthen me. Fill me with Your Holy Spirit. Lord, make me whole. Amen.

 

Good Friday: Costly Forgiveness.

If Christianity is anything, it is forgiveness.

To the paralytic Jesus said, "Thy sins be forgiven thee."

To the woman of the streets He said, "Neither do I condemn thee; go and sin no more."

From the cross He prayed, "Father, forgive themÖ"

Forgiveness fills the gospel, and finds a score of metaphors. It is the fatherís welcome to the prodigal son. It is the carrying home of the sheep that was lost. It is the eating and drinking of the Son of God with sinners. It is the kiss upon the traitorís brow. It is the tender look across the courtyard at Peter who had just denied Him three times. It is the promise spoken to the dying thief: "Today you will be with me in paradise."

Christianity, if it is anything, is forgiveness.

Cheap Forgiveness.

There are those, however, who criticize Christianity for its doctrine of forgiveness. They call it demoralizing and immoral because they believe that such free forgiveness encourages people to sin. It is like saying, "Come, everybody, and have your sins forgiven. Itís all very easy and free." Itís like Jesus saying, "Oh, well, youíre only human. I canít expect too much from you. Iím God ó the only perfect One. I have the authority, so Iím letting you off."

Perhaps these critics are right. This attitude of free forgiveness can easily become demoralizing. Consider what a trivial thing most people today consider sin to be. Itís not sin anymore; itís fun. Consider how lightly we esteem the pardoning grace of God. We sin and then we come to ourselves and kneel and ask forgiveness. And God gives it every time. And we rise up and go our way not in the least surprised, and but little grateful or impressed. Perhaps many of us feel like that cynic who said once, "God will forgive me: after all, thatís His business."

How Expensive!

But all of this is a complete misunderstanding of what Godís mercy means. Godís forgiveness is not free; it is costly. We know exactly how costly on Good Friday when we see the Son of God on the cross. It cost God to forgive! If He offers us forgiveness, He offers it with nail-pierced hands. If we consider forgiveness free, look at the cross and see that it cost God His all to give it to us. If we consider sin trivial, look again at the cross and you will see what sin really is; what it does to God. It crucifies Him. It breaks His heart as well as His body. Forgiveness of sins comes not from tears shed in sorrow; it comes from the blood of the Son of God shed on the cross.

When Christianity invites us to forgiveness, it does not invite us to a light-hearted place where sins are condoned. It calls us to the Cross.

It costs. As it costs for us to forgive a loved one. For example, if you should grossly wrong your wife and then penitently ask her forgiveness and she should say, "Oh, never mind; it is nothing" ó that would solve no problem. It would simply mean that she did not care about you or what you did. A true-hearted woman would go deeper than that. Two things would be in her: first, a love high and deep enough to forgive; but second, a character, an uprightness that would be wounded and crushed by your sin, and integrity that would find it hard to forgive.

No one who has received his pardon from the lips of Christ on the Cross is going to think that forgiveness is free and cheap or that God says, "Oh, never mind; come along; it will all be well." God never says, "Never mind" because He does mind. The cross shows us exactly how much He minds.

Consider the Cost.

How easy it was for God to create the world. "Let there be light!" He said. And there was light. But how hard it was ó and is ó for God to forgive. It cost agony, sweat, blood, death. "And He parted from them about a stoneís throw; and He kneeled down and prayed, saying, "Father, if Thou be willing, remove this cup from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Thine be done Ö and being in agony He prayed more earnestly: and His sweat was, as it were, great drops of blood falling down upon the ground." That is the cost!

"It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hourÖ . Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ĎFather, into Thy hands I commit my spirit!í And having said this he breathed his last" (Luke 23:44-46). That is the cost!

We measure the value of most things by what it cost to procure them. Forgiveness is not cheap ó not when we look at the cost.

Costly to Us.

Forgiveness is costly to God; but it is costly also to us. It will cost us a cross to receive it: the cross of penitence, the cross of a broken heart, the cross of restitution, the cross of pardon, the cross of humility, the cross of forgiving those who have hurt us, the cross of an honest determination to renounce all those persons and places that led to our sin. Forgiveness is a gift, of course, Godís gift to the penitent sinner. But it is a very expensive gift, for if you take the gift, you will belong forever to the Giver. He will have all of you, your total love. Forgiveness is a gift, but it is a gift that binds your forgiven soul in endless love and gratitude to the Forgiver. They love most, says Jesus, who have been forgiven most.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the famous German theologian, who was put to death in a Nazi concentration camp wrote much about what he called "cheap grace." What is cheap grace? It is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring that inner revolution called repentance; it is coming to church once a year at Easter and thinking this makes you a Christian; it is coming to Communion without ever coming to Confession, without ever taking a good look at yourself and your sins; it is calling Jesus Lord but letting it make no difference in your life; it is separating life into the sacred and the secular; it is leaving God in church, never taking Him out of church into your home, into your place of business. That is "cheap grace."

But the grace we Christians know is not cheap. It is not cheap because of the price paid for it on the cross. It is not cheap because it calls on us to forsake all and follow Jesus not part of the way but all the way. "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul, all your strength." Such grace is not cheap because it costs us our total allegiance, our total commitment to Christ as Lord.

A Monk Speaks.

The following passage comes from the book "Jesus: A Dialogue With the Saviour" written by a monk of the Eastern Church: "Blood flows from your forehead, from your hands, and from your scourged body (O Lord). It flows slowly in long streams. It is going to flow from your open side as though your heart were bursting under the pressure of Your suffering love. The cup is poured out in libation.

"The crown of thorns bruised Your head. Woven in the form of a circle, these thorns are like the sins of men, gathered together and heaped upon You.

"Your feet (O Lord) are nailed to the wood. Your Cross is the winepress where the true vine is pressed. You have no possibility of escape. You are waiting for me Ö Fastened to the Cross, You compel Yourself to this waiting. It is possible for me not to come, but You are there and You remain where You have allowed Yourself to be placed.

"Your arms are stretched out. They are open as an appeal to all men. They cannot be closed again. The nails keep them there in this gesture which is at one and the same time an invitation and an embrace. In silence they beckon to me: ĎCome.í Ď

God doesnít force anyone to come. We arenít dragged into His kingdom by the hairs of our heads.

He loves us into it, and because He loves us into it, it means the Cross. Thorns. Nails. Crucifixion. Costly forgiveness!

To Reject Such Love.

A person said once, "Iíve seen an awful lot of anger in my time and Iím not scared of hell, no matter how fiery some people may think it is. But Iíll tell you what Iím scared of. Iím scared of the love of God. Scared of having to look in the eyes of the Crucified Christ on the Last Day and see that I failed Him, that I did not accept His costly forgiving love, that all of what He did on the Cross was in vain as far as I was concerned. This for me would be hell."

When some of his soldiers were being buried on the battlefield, George Washington turned to one of his officers and said, "There will come a day when people will think that freedom is cheap because they have not died for it."

Freedom is not cheap. It is paid for with blood. Is the love of God cheap? Is His forgiveness cheap? When we look at the Cross we know that God has gone as far as He can go for us. Can He go any farther? Can He die again? How far will you go to meet that love?

 

3. Easter.

Easter Sunday.

"Thanks Be to God Who Giveth Us the Victory."

Those who have seen "Jesus Christ Superstar" tell of leaving with a depressed feeling because it ends with the crucifixion. What can be more depressing than to have a play or a movie end with the crucifixion of its hero? It is not surprising that "Jesus Christ Superstar" ends with the crucifixion since those who wrote it are non-believers. They tried to express through this rock opera their depressing philosophy about life, namely, that it ends with a crucifixion for everybody.

The disciples may have acted this way immediately before the resurrection, but definitely not after it. The key note sounded by the early Christians following our Lord's resurrection was VICTORY:

"Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy victory? O grave, where is thy sting Ö Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Cor. 15:54-57).

"In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us" (Romans 8:37).

"This is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?" (I John 5:4-5).

The New Testament is full of the glad conviction that through Christ God has given us the victory; victory over every enemy; victory over every possible evil; victory over everything that has gone wrong with God's creation; victory over sin, evil and death.

Because of our Lord's resurrection, the true Christian is an eternal optimist. The trouble with being an optimist is that people think you're naive; you don't know what's actually going on. The real Christian is anything but naive. He knows exactly what's going on. He knows that there are evil men in the world who want war; he knows there are such things as terminal illnesses, and he knows his world today is much like a jungle. But he is an optimist because he knows Christ. And he fastens his attention not upon the problems but upon the answer.

"In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). Jesus did not say, "I will overcome the world," but "I have overcome." When He cried out on the cross, "It is finished!" It was not a cry of defeat, but of triumph. "It": the purpose for which I came has been "finished": completed, fulfilled. I have redeemed my people. I have given them the victory. Now it is up to them to accept it. For I cannot force them to receive it."

In celebrating the resurrection of Jesus we do not merely celebrate an historical event that happened sometime in the past; we celebrate an event that affects each one of us personally today, right now. Because of Christ's resurrection, every baptized Christian who has committed his life to Jesus as Lord can say: "Christ lives; therefore, I too shall live. Christ lives; therefore, I too have passed from death to life. Christ lives; therefore, I too have at my disposal the same power that raised Him from the dead. Christ lives; therefore, I too have the victory."

Victory Over What?

1. Victory over sin. Sin has the power to enslave, the power to bury us alive in the tomb of guilt and despair. Christ alone has the power to break open this tomb and set us free.

2. Victory over demons. The Gospels often portray Jesus as casting out demons. He does the same today granting us victory over the demons that plague us and make life a veritable hell: hatred, envy, lust, greed, etc. "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold the new has come" (2 Cor. 5:17).

3. Victory over self. Christ offers us victory over self. The real war is always within. It is here that we must have victory before any outer victory will have meaning. Yet many church-going Christians are not victorious, but defeated. Defeated by circumstances, defeated by sin, defeated by loss, by pain, by suffering, by worry. They are Christians in name only. They have a form of religion but they deny its power. They have never got up above the lowlands of self-centered living; they have never climbed the heights of faith and total commitment to Christ. They have yet to claim for themselves the victory of Christ: victory over sin and self.

4. Victory over death. The final victory Christ offers us is over our last and greatest enemy: death.

A man dying of cancer asked one day why it was that his pagan friends seemed not to like to come to see him, but his Christian friends came more and more. His friend replied that perhaps the reason was that Christianity faces all these things, has a place for them, knows the peace of God in the midst of them, and the assurance of ultimate victory in Christ. In the many years of my ministry here, I have officiated at not a few funerals. I have faced together with many of you great sorrows and tremendous personal losses in the death of loved ones. At such times, several things have served to soften the grief ó the presence of friends, the gift of flowers, the service of the funeral. But beyond all these, there were the words of our precious Lord Jesus taken right from the heart of the Easter message. "I am the resurrection and the life. ..." These words do something which nothing else can ever do. To be sure, the hurt and the loss are still there. But somehow the words of the Risen Lord give us the strength to go on and the assurance that death does not have the last word. St. Paul affirms it in language that speaks to every generation:

"In face of all this, what is there left to say? If God is for us, who can be against us? I have become absolutely convinced that neither death, nor life, neither messenger of Heaven nor monarch of earth, neither what happens today nor what may happen tomorrow Ö has any power to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord!"

In old Russia a service was held every Easter Sunday afternoon in the village cemetery. Having ended the service in the cemetery chapel, the priest accompanied by acolytes and choir led a procession through the cemetery singing "Christos Voskrese" or "Christ is risen." Stopping at graves where family members stood by in memory of their departed loved ones, the priest greeted each group with his proclamation, "Christ is risen!" and they replied with the same happy assurance, "Truly, He is risen!" What a dramatic expression of our Orthodox Christian faith. To walk through a cemetery on Easter Sunday and sing "Christ is risen!"

"But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive" (I Corinthians 15:20-23).

Here is victory over death. "If any one keeps my word, he will never see death or taste death" (John 8:51, 52). "Whoever lives and believes in me shall never die" (John 11:26).

Not Escape but Victory.

What most people want today is anything that will help them escape from reality. This is why the entertainer is paid far more than a doctor. An entertainer provides an escape from reality. This is also why so much money is spent on liquor. The thing people rate highest is escape. For this they are willing to pay expensively.

Yet escape is a temporary thing; it may work for a short while, but eventually reality catches up on us and we have to face it. And herein lies the greatness of our Christian faith. It offers us not escape but victory. It enables us not to run away from life, but to conquer it through Christ who said, " Ö be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."

A Derived Victory.

The victory of which we have been speaking is a derived victory. It has been won by Christ. We share in it through baptism and faith. St. Paul reminds us in Romans 6:4-11 that the resurrection is intended to be a part of the life of every Christian. In baptism, he says, each one of us is made to share Christ's resurrection experience. As He was buried in the earth and rose again, so we are buried in the waters of baptism and raised again. Christians have all received the power of the risen Christ to rise from the death of sin to a new life in Him. This is why in the early Church baptism was always conferred on the joyous night of Easter. Because most of us were infants when we were baptized, Easter becomes the time for us to renew our baptismal vows: our rejection of Satan and our commitment to Christ.

In a sense our crowded churches at Easter deny the very fact they are supposed to celebrate. Thousands of people betray their unbelief by coming to church once a year. They don't really believe in the tremendous victory of Christ in which we are called to share. If they did, they would be here to celebrate it and share in it every Sunday since for Christians every Sunday is the celebration of Easter.

Rejoice!

When against fearful odds the Greeks beat the Persians at the Battle of Marathon, they sent a Greek soldier running all the way to Athens to bring the news of victory to the besieged city. Straight to the magistrate of Athens he ran and gasping the message, "Rejoice! We have won!" he dropped dead from exhaustion.

Jesus uses the same word "Cherete!" Rejoice! Here is the result of victory: joy! G. K. Chesterton wrote, "A real Christian who believes should do two things: dance out of sheer sense of joy and fight out of a sheer sense of victory." Ritual dancing in the Orthodox liturgy to express the joy of Christ's victory is not unknown. It still survives in the Ethiopian liturgy. Another expression of this joy is found in the Easter hymns of the Orthodox Church. The rejoicing in these hymns becomes ecstatic. Here is an Easter hymn that retains the stammering jubilation of the early Christians:

"The holy Pascha is today shown to us.

The new, holy Pascha.

The mystic Pascha.

The wholly revered Pascha.

The Pascha, Christ, the Savior.

The irreproachable Pascha.

The believer's Pascha.

The Pascha that opens the gates of Paradise to us.

The Pascha that sanctifies all believers Ö

The Pascha of rejoicing.

The Pascha of the Lord, the Pascha.

The wholly revered Pascha was revealed to us.

Pascha, in joy let us embrace one another.

O Pascha, redeeming us from sorrow.

For today Christ shone out of the grave as out of a chamber.

The womenfolk filled He with joy when He said:

Bear to the apostles the tidings."

Vince Lombardi said once, "Winning is not everything; it is the only thing." The resurrected Christ has assured us of victory. How much we need this victorious mood today! Our tasks are tremendous. To lose confidence is to lose everything. The devil always wins when he breaks our assurance. To be sure in Christ is the beginning of victory. Nay, it is victory! To fail to claim for ourselves the victory of Christ over sin, self and death is to cheat ourselves of the greatest victory we shall ever know both for now and for all eternity.

Easter.

We Had Hoped!

Three of the saddest words in the English language are "We had hoped..." They capture some of the deepest pain, loss, and disillusionment human beings can feel.

"We had hoped that our marriage would work outÖ We had hoped that our business venture would be more successful. .. We had hoped that life would treat us more fairly than it has Ö We had hoped that our son or daughter would turn out the way we wanted Ö We had hoped that illness would not be such a constant source of sorrow and financial drain . .. We had hoped that death would not separate us so soon or so unexpectedlyÖ We had hoped that our child would be normal and healthy."

Easter began as a we had hoped experience. Christ had warned His disciples that He would rise from the dead, but they missed the meaning of His promise. And who wouldnít? We just donít expect the dead to rise. Nothing seems so permanent to us as death. We had hoped!

Right after Jesus was killed, a couple of his disciples were slowly making their way to the town of Emmaus with very heavy hearts. Their dreams about the way life was going to be had been shattered. They saw the crucifixion of Jesus as an end to all their hopes and dreams for the future. They didnít remember the words of Jesus when He had told them, "You have sorrow now, but I will see you again and then you will rejoice and no one can rob you of that joy" (John 16:22).

The disciples were not looking forward to seeing Jesus again, and when they were told that He was no longer in the tomb, they thought His body had been stolen.

As the two disciples walked along the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus, they were talking about Christís death when suddenly Jesus Himself came and walked beside them. But they didnít recognize Him.

He looked at their sad faces and said, "What are you so concerned about?"

"Havenít you heard?" one of them named Cleo-pas said. "You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasnít heard about the terrible things that happened there last week."

Jesus listened as they poured out their sad tale to Him, about the wonderful Jesus of Nazareth who had done such great miracles that they were sure He was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel, but the religious leaders had handed Him over to the Roman government and He had been crucified. The men spoke as if they had just witnessed the greatest tragedy the world had ever known. "We had hoped," they said, "that this Jesus was going to liberate Israel." On top of it all, they said, the body of Jesus was missing from the tomb, and some women said theyíd seen angels who told them that Jesus was alive. The men seemed certain that the last bit of news could only be a fairy tale.

"Then Jesus said to them, ĎYou are such foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. Wasnít it clearly predicted by the prophets that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering His time of glory?í

"Then Jesus quoted them passage after passage from the writings of the prophets, beginning with the book of Genesis and going right on through the Scriptures explaining what the passages meant and what they said about himself" (Luke 24:25-27).

By this time they were coming near the town of Emmaus, and since it was getting late, the two men asked the stranger to spend the night with them. They still had not recognized Him!

Jesus came home with them, and when "they sat down to eat, he asked Godís blessing on the food and then took a small loaf of bread and broke it and was passing it over to them, when suddenly ó it was as though their eyes were opened ó they recognized Him!" (Luke 24:30-31).

At last they believed. The Risen Savior had come to them in their despair.

In the midst of our shattered dreams and our broken hopes, in the midst of all our "if onlys" and devastated expectations, in the midst of all our we had hoped experiences, the Risen Christ comes even today to bring hope and victory. Where there once appeared to be no life, only death, He comes to bring resurrection and new life.

At our Good Friday service we heard the story of Ezekielís vision. As he looks over an entire valley filled with dead menís bones, he hears the voice of God say to him, "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold they say, ĎOur bones are dried up and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off! Therefore prophesy and say to the captives of Babylon, ĎThus says the Lord God, ĎBehold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you home into the land of IsraelÖ and I will put my spirit (breath) within you and you shall live.í Ď Ezekielís vision was fulfilled by the Risen Christ Who even today calls dead men back to life and clothes their dry dead bones with meaning, purpose, life and hope!

We think of our many loved ones lying buried in the cold darkness of our cemeteries. As we think of them, we lose ourselves in despair. We had hoped! We had so many hopes for them but they were all crushed by death. Or were they? If Christ is risen, then hope is risen. If Christ is risen, they lie not in the darkness of a grave but in the everlasting arms of our beloved Savior in a place of brightness and joy. If Christ is risen, there is more of life, more of joy, more of love, an endless eternity of them.

We had hoped? No! St. Paul says, "He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redmeption, the forgiveness of sins" (Col. 1:13).

We had hoped! No! "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ," writes St. Peter. "By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, reserved for you in heaven" (I Peter 1:3-4).

We had hoped! The risen Christ has liberated us from such pessimism. That is why as we light our Easter candles we sing full of hope and joy: "Christ is risen! Christ is risen, and the demons have fallen. Christ is risen, and the tombs have beem emptied of their dead. Christ is risen, and life is liberated."

Sartre speaks of the silence of God;

Heidegger speaks of the absence of God;

Jaspers of the concealment of God,

Bultmann of the hiddenness of God,

Buber of the eclipse of God,

Tillich of the nonbeing of God,

Altizer of the death of God.

The New Testament writers ó eye witnesses ó

speak of the RISEN and LIVING Lord!

To Him be all honor, worship, praise and thanksgiving now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

 

Sunday of St. Thomas.

Scarred Hands! (John 20:19-31).

A missionary was tortured for preaching Christ in pagan Burma. His fingernails were torn from the roots and he was hung by his fingers until his hands were twisted and scarred. Later when he asked to preach in a certain town, the pagan Prince of that town refused saying: "I would allow a dozen ordinary men to speak, but not you with those scarred hands. My people would never listen to what you say, for they could not help seeing your hands."

The inference was that the missionary's scarred hands would speak more convincingly of his love for Christ than any words he could say.

The Gospel lesson today spoke to us of the scars of Jesus. When the other disciples told Thomas that they had seen the Lord, Thomas said to them: "Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe." Eight days later when the disciples were in the room and Thomas with them, the doors being shut, our Lord stood in the midst of them and said, "Peace be to you." Then He said to Thomas, "Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it into my side; do not be faithless, but believing." Thomas answered Him, "My Lord and my God!" Thomas believed when he saw the scars of Jesus. For him the scars were the greatest proof that this was the real Jesus, the Jesus who had suffered and died, the Jesus Who had risen from the tomb.

Through the Gospel lesson today the Risen Christ appears also to us. He shows us the scars in His hands and side! What do the scars of Christ teach us? What do they tell us about Him?

The Scars Speak.

First, the scars of Christ speak most eloquently of His love for us. St. Paul writes, "While we were yet helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Why, one would hardly die for a righteous man ó though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die. But God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us." (Romans 5:6-8).

A little girl sat on her mother's knee, and as she looked into her mother's face she said: "Mummie, you've got the prettiest hair and the sweetest eyes I have ever seen. And Mummie, yours is the kindest face in all the world. But, Mummie, why are your arms so ugly?" The mother then explained to her daughter that when she was a tiny baby the house caught fire. She ran into the house and rescued her out of her crib. In the process her arms and hands were badly burned. When the little girl heard this, tears began streaming down her face. Looking once more into her mother's face she said, "Mummie, you've got the prettiest hair I have ever seen, and yours is the sweetest face, and your eyes are wonderful. But, Mummie, your hands and your arms are the most beautiful of all. I have loved you always, but I love you more than ever now."

The scars of Jesus speak eloquently of His love for us. Such eloquence should evoke in every true Christian the response it evoked in Thomas and in the little girl, "My Lord and my God, I loved you before but more than ever now.

Secondly, the scars of Jesus teach us that life is a struggle. Whoever got the idea that a good Christian never suffers? "God had one son without sin," said St. Augustine. "He has no sons without suffering." He has never promised us immunity from suffering ó His own Son suffered ó but He has promised us victory in our suffering. "In the world you have tribulation but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world," He said. The worst thing that evil can do is to kill God. Having been defeated in that, in its strongest moment, when evil wore its greatest armor, it can never be victorious again.

Thirdly, the scars of Jesus speak eloquently of His love, but they also speak to our scars. The hardest part of suffering for Christians is the dark hour when they are tempted to believe that God is not with them in their suffering; when they suppose that Jesus reigns in some far-off splendor, untroubled by their woe. This is simply not true! The first thing Jesus does when He comes to sufferers is to show them His scarred hands. What a password! When you are pouring out your passionate protests to Jesus and asking Him why this should happen to you, look! He is showing you His hands.

Finally the scars on the body of Jesus were caused by man's sin. If we were to choose a symbol for sin, perhaps the best one would be a nail. Each sin is a nail that continues to be driven into the body of Jesus. The best definition of sin is that it is not only the breaking of God's commandments, but even more so the breaking of God's heart.

There was a soldier who was with the occupying forces in Germany, far from wife and home and loved ones. One evening he was walking down a German street, where one of the few buildings remaining was a house of ill fame, its doorway decorated with suggestive photographs. He was greatly tempted. He reached into his pocket for his billfold. As he opened it his eyes fell on a picture of the crucified Christ which he always carried with him. He saw the scars on the hands of our Lord. He thought of the nails his sin would drive into those hands. Then, without hesitation, he walked away from temptation saying to himself, "I cannot sin against Him. I had forgotten the scars."

Footprints and Nailprints.

A Frenchman was crossing the desert with an Arab guide. Day after day the Arab knelt on the burning sand and called upon his God in prayer.

One evening when the Arab knelt to pray, the unbelieving Frenchman asked him: "How do you know there is a God?"

The guide fixed his eyes upon the scoffer for a moment and then replied: "How do I know there is a God? I'll answer that question, if you permit me to ask you one first. How did we know this morning that it was a camel and not a man that had passed our tent while we slept last night?"

The Frenchman laughed and said, "Why, we could tell it by the print of the hoof in the sand. That print was not from the foot of a man."

The Arab then looked to the West where the setting sun threw shafts of red and gold and purple into the vaulted canopy of heaven, and pointing toward the sun, he said: "Neither is that the footprint of a man."

The world about us is filled with the footprints of God! Every sunset, every sunrise, every tree, every flower, every lake, every blade of grass, every twinkling star in the diamond-studded ceiling which envelops this marvelous world of ours ó is a footprint of our Maker.

The Bible tells us: "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth His handiwork" (Psalms 19:1). He who can see the scarlet sun sink into its pool of purple, splashing the sky with streaks of gold and crimson ó and still not see the footprint of his Maker ó is like a pair of spectacles without a pair of eyes behind them.

But God has not left us to follow the path to Him by footprints. He has revealed Himself to us through the pages of His Word. The book of nature may tell us that there is a God, but only the Book of God can tell us who He is ó and what He has done for us through Jesus Christ, His Son.

The footprints of the setting and the rising sun may tell us that God is. But only the nailprints in the hands of our Savior can tell us that God is ó LOVE.

Jesus appeared to the disciples, and to Thomas, showing them the scars in His hands and side ó scars that were proof of His love; scars that won for us the final Victory over death; scars that speak a compassionate word of understanding to our wounds; scars which if we have re-opened through our sin, we can hopefully re-close through our sincere and honest repentance.

Too long have we been hard on Thomas. He is now our spokesman. Surrounded by scars we, too, say: "Until I see in His own hands the mark of the nails, and put my finger into the nailmarks and my hand into His side, I will never believe." Having seen the scars, we cannot but say with Thomas, "My Lord and my God!"

 

Myrrh-Bearing Women.

Who Will Roll Away the Stone for Us? (St Mark 15:43-16:8)

"And when he learned from the centurion that He was dead, he granted the body to Joseph. And he bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped Him in the linen shroud, and laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a stone against the door of the tomb."

"And he rolled a stone against the door of the tomb." That was to be the end of the greatest life that ever lived!

He touched the blind and gave them sight. He touched the minds and hearts of sinners and made them new persons. He offered hope to the hopeless. He healed the sick. He raised the dead. Then they crucified Him. And, after ascertaining that he was dead, they laid Him in a sepulcher and "rolled a stone against the door of the tomb."

So it is. Life rolls stones, buries hope, nails dreams to a cross. Bitter disappointment, defeat, frustration, sickness, death: these make up life, between short interludes of happiness. Life is nailed to a cross and ultimately a stone is rolled against the door of the tomb.

On Easter morning the women were on their way to perform their last work of love for Jesus. Expecting to find Him lifeless, they were to anoint His body with spices. Worrying about the huge stone they were sure they would find at the entrance of the tomb, "they were saying to one another, 'Who will roll away the stone for us from the door of the tomb?"

The Great Stone.

The great stone sealing the tomb of Jesus impresses us. For we, too, meet with many such formidable stones in life, stones that block our doorways into the future, the stones of sin, sickness, sorrow, loneliness, and ultimately death.

Like St. Paul we cry out, "Who will deliver me from the body of this death." We think of the huge stones that stand in our way: ó the regrets for the way we have often taken in the past, ó the uncertainties that plague us this moment, ó the fears that are in our hearts concerning things to come, and we cry, "who will deliver me?"

We think of our inadequacies, our inability to measure up to the tasks of life, our weakness in the face of temptations, and we plead, "Where can I get the power? WHO WILL DELIVER ME?"

We think of our sins, of the good we have failed to do, of the persons we have exploited and hurt, and, tortured by feelings of guilt, we cry out, "who will deliver me?"

We think of death, the last and greatest enemy of mankind. We think of the tomb ó our tomb ó and the stone that will one day be placed on it and we cry out, "who will roll back the stone? Who will deliver me from the body of this death?"

The stones that block the way to life and happiness are many.

The Stone of Sin.

There is the stone of sin. In the book "Jesus: a dialogue with the Savior" a monk of the Orthodox Church writes: "Jesus often seems imprisoned in my soul and reduced to helplessness, as He was in the sepulcher before the Resurrection. The heavy stone of my sin keeps Him in that state. How many times have I longed to see Jesus rise in me in power! How many times have I tried to roll back the stone ó but in vain! The weight of sin, the weight of its habits was too strong. I would say to myself almost in despair: 'Who will roll the stone back?"

"ÖBut the women going to the tomb are not empty-handed. They bring spices bought in order to embalm the Saviorís body. If I long for the stone to be removed from my soul, I must ó at least as a sign, a token of my good will ó bring something with me. Perhaps it would be very little, but it must be something which cost me something, something which is in the nature of a sacrifice.

"Now the women find that the stone at the entrance to the sepulcher has been removed. It has been removed in a way which they had not foreseen. 'There was a great earthquake. For an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and coming rolled back the stone.'

"In order to remove the stone, nothing less than a cataclysm was necessary. A push, a slight readjustment would not be enough. Likewise, the stone which seems to immobilize and paralyze Jesus in my soul can be taken away only by an earthquake, that is to say, by a violent interior catastrophe (revolution), by a complete and radical change. A jolt like lightning is required to unsettle me. Jesus rises from the dead in me only if the one who I was ceases to exist, giving way to the new man. Not a retouching or a tuning up will do; but a death and birth are necessary" ("Jesus: A Dialogue with the Savior" ó by a Monk of the Eastern Church. Desclee Company. Used by permission.).

The Stone of Death.

In addition to the stone of sin, there is the stone of death. The final stone. The stone of extinction. Yet it was exactly this stone that was moved from the tomb of Jesus. "For an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone from the door and sat upon it." That is what earth had always been doing ó laying man's hopes in a tomb and then sealing the doors against their escape. But now earth had been the ruler long enough. Earth had said enough and done enough. Now it was God's turn, and God was taking over. So "the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door." If man would not open the tomb, God would do it Himself. Moreover, He would keep it open; for when the angel rolled back the stone from the door, he "sat upon it." This was not a temporary defeat for evil. This "sitting" on the stone was the ultimate victory, the final conquest.

"And he rolled a stone against the door of the tomb." That was supposed to be the end.

Death is never the end of the story. It is not the end for the infant who dies at such a tender age. It is not the end for that loved one whose life is ravaged by cancer or snuffed out by a failing heart. It is not the end for that young soldier killed on the battlefield in the prime of his youth. It is not the end; for the stone has been rolled away.

A Christian missionary captured by the Communists and facing certain death wrote this poem in a letter to a friend:

"Afraid of death? Afraid? Of what?

Afraid to see the Saviorís face ó

To hear His welcome and to trace

The glory gleam from wounds of grace?

Afraid? Of that?"

In rolling back the stone in Joseph's garden, God removed the biggest stone of all. He won the final and complete victory over sin and death. All the stones that stand in our way today are but chips off the old block. But the old block ó the biggest of them all ó has been rolled away.

Margaret Slattery wrote in honor of those who died in World War II:

"There are graves in the lonely sands of Africa where a brother who died bravely was buried; a dear beloved friend; a boy who won at tennis and swam across the lake with steady strokes a few short months ago. They were buried where they fell and the tide of battle roared on leaving a mound, a cross, a flag. Above such graves there is a voice saying, he is not here.

"In far away Bataan they buried a nurse who had been good and gay and very daring; a doctor who with his last ounce of strength had ministered to those in pain; and a Filipino patriot, one of his country's finest sons. Over their graves a voice in the wind, a clear voice is saying, not here ó not here ó because I live ó they live also."

"Who will roll away the stone for us from the door of the tomb?

"And looking up they saw that the stone was rolled back; for it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe; and they were amazed. And he said to them, "Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; He is not here; come, see the place where they laid Him."

 

The Paralytic.

"Sir, I Have No Man" (John 5:1-15).

At a dinner where guests were being entertained, the hostess, a woman deeply involved in social causes, was called to the phone three times during the meal. She returned to the table after the third call quite irritated. She said rather impatiently, "There is nothing worse than being bothered all the time." One of her guests said quietly, "There is one thing that is worse, and that is, not to be bothered at all."

In today's Gospel lesson Jesus comes to the pool of Bethesda. He observes the great multitudes plagued with various illnesses, waiting to be moved into the water for healing. Suddenly He notices a poor creature who seems more needy than all the rest, and tenderly He asks, "Do you want to be healed?" The helpless paralytic looks up and answers, "Sir, I have no man to put me in the pool when the water is troubled. Thirty-eight years I have waited ..." Thirty-eight long, weary years this bundle of pain waited for someone to help him into the pool. One can imagine the utter despair behind those words, "Sir, I have no man." How well he knew the pain of loneliness ó a pain expressed so well by the Ancient Mariner: "Alone, alone, all, all, alone; alone on a wide, wide sea."

No Respecter of Age.

A famous doctor was asked to name the most devastating disease. His reply was, "Loneliness. Just plain loneliness." Another doctor called it, "The most devastating malady of our age."

Loneliness drives people to do desperate things. Studies have shown that it is one of the major causes of suicide. Alcoholics Anonymous tells us that loneliness is one of the great causes of alcoholism.

It is no respecter of age. There is the loneliness of small children whose parents spend too little time with them. There is the loneliness of teenagers who feel that they are not understood by their elders and feel alienated. There is the loneliness that can exist within marriage where two people can live together in the most intimate of relationships and feel estranged. There is the loneliness of the aged who often feel unwanted and useless. There is the tragic loneliness of losing a loved one or anticipating one's own death.

Here we have the problem: "Sir, I have no man ..." What is the solution? Here we have the disease ó "man's greatest disease" ó some have called it. What is the cure?

The Cure.

There is a cure: a false cure and a real cure. The false cures for loneliness are many. Among them are the corner bars, and night clubs. Here man tries to relieve his loneliness in lust. He tries to buy or drink his way out of boredom ó only to wake up the next morning with a greater loneliness than ever. Others work excessively or go incessantly. They plan their schedules so that they are never alone. Rollo May tells of how many people must keep "dated up" with activities just to avoid the fear of being alone.

Just as counterfeit money can exist only because there is real money so these false cures exist only because there is a real cure. It is to the real cure that we shall now turn our attention.

Build Bridges.

1. The first thing we must ask ourselves is whether our loneliness is our own fault. Blaise Pascal said, "The man who lives only for himself hates nothing so much as being with himself." It was said of someone named Edward: "Edward is a small island surrounded entirely by Edward!" If we have shut ourselves off from other people, asking for pity instead of offering service, wanting to be loved and forgetting that the only way to be loved is to love, then we must do something about it. We must start building bridges to other islands, to other lonely persons, by not waiting for them to speak to us but by speaking to them first, asking them about themselves, showing genuine care and concern. We read in Genesis, "The Lord God said, It is not good that man should be alone." He created human companionship as a therapy for loneliness. Our positive response to the plea: "Sir, I have no man ..." will not only provide the solution to the problem of loneliness but will also fill our life with meaning.

Fill Empty Cups.

2. The second cure for loneliness is to lose oneself in service to others. A minister once went to a mental hospital to enlist some people there in a sewing project for handicapped shut-ins. He spoke to the women patients who had nothing to do. They just sat all day unoccupied. He felt they would respond to such a project where they could busy themselves and be of help to others. To his surprise not a single person volunteered. "We've got our own problems to worry about," grumbled one lady. Upon seeing this, the minister said to himself, "Then I understood: that's why they were here! A lonely preoccupation with self had poisoned the mind of each."

To a woman who could not stand the loneliness in her life after her children had grown and left home, a certain pastor wrote:

"In the past, your immediate family needed most of your time and strength. Now you can extend the range of your love. There are children in your neighborhood who need understanding and friendship. There are aged people near you who are starved for companionship, blind people who cannot even enjoy the television you find so boring. Why not get out and find the joy of helping others?" Weeks later, she wrote again: "I tried your prescription. It works! I have walked from night into day!"

This lonely woman, like thousands of others, had proved the wisdom expressed in one of Frances Ridley Havergal's poems: "Seldom can a heart be lonely if it seeks a lonelier still, self-forgetting, seeking only emptier cups to fill." All about us are emptier cups. Try filling them and see how quickly loneliness evaporates.

But the lonesomeness of life cannot be solved simply by joining a club or by throwing oneself into community service projects. There will always be those dark corners that will refuse to be illuminated. This brings us to the third cure for loneliness.

The Basic Cure.

3. One of the deepest causes of loneliness is a hunger for God. Loneliness basically is a sense of incompleteness that draws us toward the One ó the Only One ó who can make us complete. It is a hunger that only a relationship with God can satisfy. May it not be that God makes us lonely that we may realize the emptiness of life without Him? Loneliness, then, is an inner emptiness craving to be filled by the only One who can satisfy it ó the Lord Jesus! Only He can give us a sense of the importance and worth of life, a sense of direction and a source of power that never fails. Only He can give life a meaningful purpose the lack of which can cause a deep inner loneliness. Can any loneliness be deeper than the one expressed by atheist Albert Camus:

"Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of infinite responsibilities, without help ..."

If sin is the great destroyer of man, it is precisely because it makes man lonely by separating him from God, from his best self and from his fellow human beings. Jesus came to be our Savior, to destroy the damage caused by sin, to reunite us with God, with our best self and with our fellow humans.

Loneliness has been aptly called the far-off echo of the voice of our Creator whispering to us: "I have made you for Myself, and you will never be complete without Me."

Alone Yet Not Alone.

Our Lord Himself pointed to part of the problem, and part of the solution of loneliness when He said, "The hour is coming, has indeed already come, when you are all to be scattered, each to his home, leaving me alone. Yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me ..." When His enemies turned on Him, when His friends deserted Him, when the Cross loomed up as a cruel reality, He said, "I am alone, yet not alone, for the Father is with me." In other words, there come in life those lonely moments which cannot be overcome by any human means ó only by God.

How often Jesus sought out His Father. He sought Him out alone. He rose early in the morning and went up into the mountains to be close to Him, to talk to Him and commune with Him. Because He was so often alone with God in prayer, He was never really alone. The Father was with Him. Even when He faced that symbol of ultimate separation and aloneness ó death ó He did not face it alone. He prayed: "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit."

When a little boy was operated on, he urged his father to stay with him all through the operation. When the anesthesia had been applied and the boy was asleep, the nurse suggested to the father that he might like to leave the operating room because it would not be a pleasant experience. The father decided to stay. At the end of the operation, he was rewarded when his son, struggling back into consciousness, searched for his dad and seeing him said, "You stayed, Dad!"

Some of the greatest promises of the Bible assure us that our God is a God who stays:

"They shall call his name EmmanuelÖ . God with us."

"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me." "Lo, I am with you always even to the end of the world."

Two sailors were interviewed on what they had done when the news of the Japanese surrender came during the second World War. One said that he climbed a lamp-post in Times Square and shouted at the top of his lungs. The other said he had gone into a church to pray. The interviewer then commented ó "I suggest to you that there are many people who try to cure their loneliness by climbing lamp-posts or going to night clubs and shouting at the top of their lungs. They usually wake up with headaches and very hoarse throats, lonelier and more miserable than they were before. But there are others who have learned that the only real cure for loneliness comes from communion with God ..."

"Sir, I have no man ..." said the paralytic to Jesus. But he did have a Man ó the God-Man, Jesus Himself. We, too, can have Jesus as our Friend and Companion in life to make us strong, when by ourselves we would be weak; to give us courage, when by ourselves we would be faint-hearted; to instill in us the promise of His presence, when by ourselves we would be lost in loneliness.

"I am not alone Ö the Father is with me." With this faith we still have problems but we have also a Presence that inspires confidence and conquers loneliness.

 

Samaritan Woman.

A Woman at the Well (John 4:5-42).

The time was noon. Jesus was weary. He sat down "just as He was," says St. Chrysostom, "not on a throne, not on a cushion, but simply on the ground" beside Jacob's well. As He rested: "There came a woman of Samaria to draw water" (John 4:7).

Notice that Jesus was at the well before she came. God is always there first waiting for us. Our Lord found Zacchaeus, not Zacchaeus the Lord. He found Paul on the road to Damascus when Paul was not even looking for Him. The Hound of Heaven waits at the well for His prey.

Notice, too, that the Samaritan woman came to the well alone. The other women, no doubt, despised her for her loose morals and would not associate with her.

As she filled her pitcher, she recognized Jesus as a Jew with whom the Samaritans did not associate. She tried to avoid Him. But to her surprise, Jesus addressed her with a request: "Give me a drink" (John 4:7).

Nothing puts people at ease as quickly as to be asked for help. By asking someone for a favor, we place ourselves at the mercy of that person. We accept a lower, inferior position. This is how Jesus tried to establish a relationship of trust with the woman of Samaria.

Jesus needed water to quench His physical thirst; the Samaritan woman needed living water for her spiritual thirst. The physical thirst would occur again; the spiritual thirst would be satisfied by the living water. The physical water came from a deep well; the living water came from the Living Christ. One was essential for life; the other was necessary for abundant life. Jesus asks, He Who can give all. He asks, that He may give all.

A Jew does not ask a Samaritan woman for a drink. So the woman abruptly raises what we call the "racial issue." But Jesus does not share the prejudice that makes one group of human beings despise another for no other reason than the accident of birth or color of skin. By the simple act of talking to the Samaritan woman, Jesus demolished the social, political, and racial barriers of His time. As a man He talked to a woman. As a rabbi, He spoke to an immoral woman. As a Jew He spoke to a Samaritan. Completely ignoring these distinctions, He goes straight to the central point ó what He has to offer every person of every race:

"If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water'' (John 4:10, 11).

If only you knew the Gift of God! But we can know! The Gift of God to man is none other than Jesus: "This is eternal life that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." Jesus speaks of Himself as the Gift of God and the living water. But the woman sees only a weary pilgrim not the One Who came to bring rest to weary souls. She sees the thirsty traveler not the One Who came to quench the world's thirst.

"Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep; where do you get that living water"' (John 4:10).

The well is deep ó it is true ó and we need something to draw with. It is a long way from man to God. But Christ is the One ó the only One ó Who can bridge the gap and bring the living water to our thirsty soul. We have not something but Someone to draw with.

"I do not know what heaven is going to be like," said a Christian, "but I know it will be a place where the language of love will be spoken and I am trying to learn that language now. It will be a place where honesty and purity will be the order of the day, and I am trying to incorporate those things into my life so I will feel at home." He was developing the power to appreciate such a place as Heaven might be expected to be, so that he would have something to draw with when he arrived.

"Sir, you have nothing to draw with." Jesus needs nothing to draw with. He is the well. He is the living water.

"Are you greater than our father Jacob who gave us the well?" (John 4:12)

He is indeed greater than Jacob ó far greater. But He does not go into that now. He proceeds to make one of the greatest statements He ever made: "Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life" (John 4:13, 14).

Jesus declared that He could give permanent satisfaction to the parched human spirit. The water He gives is as a spring welling up constantly. It is never exhausted, never grows stale. Never can His resources be drained dry. And if He lives in us neither will ours! For we shall be spring-fed by Him.

Here is the thirst of the soul for God of which the Bible speaks so often. "To the thirsty I will give water without price from the fountain of the water of life" (Rev. 21:6). God says in Jeremiah, "My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns, that can hold no water" (Jer. 2:4). There is no substitute for the living water. If we try to quench our spiritual thirst with anything less than God, we shall remain thirsty. "He who comes to me shall never hunger, and he who believes in me will never thirst," said Jesus.

Hearing these words the Samaritan woman replied,

"Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw" (John 4:15).

It could be that the Samaritan woman was tired of her life, tired of men, tired of adultery, tired of being a social outcast, tired of pretending to be satisfied when all along her life was no more than a living death. So when she heard this talk about the living water that satisfies completely, her soul fairly shrieked, "Give me this water."

But before the Samaritan woman could receive this living water, she had to face herself honestly. She had been living in sin and was unwilling to admit it. So Jesus says to her,

"Go, call your husband, and come here" (John 4:16).

True Christianity begins with a sense of sin, with repentance. Jesus intended to bring out her sense of shame and sin. "Go and face the truth of the life you live; then come and receive the water of life." To us He would probably say, "Go call that person whom you have wronged. Go call that slander which you uttered against your neighbor."

The Samaritan woman stiffened as if a sudden pain had caught her. She became defensive. "I have no husband" she said (John 4:17).

This was an honest confession as far as it went, but it did not go far enough. Jesus said to her, "You are right in saying, 7 have no husband;' for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly." (John 4:18).

Though these words came from ancient Sychar, they sound as if they come straight from modern Hollywood. The man with whom she was now living was not a husband. Neither were the others. To Jesus marriage was a sacrament. It was sacred. There has always been something not only sinful but also neurotic about illicit sex. It is a symptom of inner emptiness. People try to find in it the answer to some of their deep frustrations: their lack of importance, their lack of success, their lack of closeness with their mates, their lack of identity, their lack of religious conviction, their lack of fulfillment as human beings. No doubt the Samaritan woman had sought such fulfillment in her illicit life but when Jesus brought it up she began to feel that He was "meddling" in her personal life. So she did what millions of people have done ever since, when religion demands a change in their conduct: she changed the subject. She began talking about the religious differences between the Jews and the Samaritans. She was not really interested in these differences, but they took the spotlight off herself.

Finally she said: "I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ); when he comes, he will show us all things" (John 4:25).

"I who speak to you am he" (John 4:26).

Jesus declares for all generations to hear that He is the Messiah. The greatest mystery of faith is announced not to the disciples but to this foreigner. "I am he" ó the One you have been expecting, the One who brings God to you, the One who brings you to God, the One who has the power to forgive sin, the One who gives direction to your life, the One who has overcome death. "I am he."

She came to draw water. When she realized she had found the True Well, she left behind her water jar, as the disciples had abandoned their nets. Hardly a convert yet already a missionary, she ran to the village to tell her people: "Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?" (John 4:29).

Her heart burns within her. She cannot keep silent. She feels compelled to lead others to the Messiah. Yet she does not say, "You must believe what I say," rather she tells them, "Come, and see for yourselves." They came and after seeing the Lord, they said, "It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world" (John 4:42).

 

Healing of the Blind Man.

Having Eyes, We See Not (John 9:1-38).

Of all our physical faculties, we cherish most the ability to see. We would rather lose our hearing, or our ability to speak, or even our arms or legs than to lose our sight.

Today there are many people who see with their eyes but their hearts are blind. As our Lord said, "Having eyes, they see not" (Mark 8:18). A tourist took one look at the Grand Canyon and said to the guard, "Where is the golf course?" When the guard told him there wasn't any, he said, "What do you do around here?" In the presence of one of the most sublime and awe-inspiring spectacles of the world this man saw nothing. He had eyes but his capacity to see beauty and grandeur had not been developed. Having eyes, he saw not.

Elizabeth Barret Browning wrote:

Earth's crammed with heaven,

And every common bush afire with God;

But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,

The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

Our trouble today is not that we are physically blind but that we are spiritually so.

Helen Keller who was born blind and deaf was visited one day by a good friend who had just returned from a long walk in the woods. "I asked her what she had seen," said Miss Keller. "Nothing in particular," was the reply. "It might have been unbelievable," Miss Keller said, "had I not become accustomed to such responses, for long ago I became convinced that those who have eyes actually see very little."

Seeing, really seeing, makes every day a new revelation of God. Emerson said once, "If the stars should appear but one night in a thousand years, how many men would believe and adore and preserve for many generations the memory of that one night of magic mystery." But we get used to it, never see the stars, or if we look at them they seem like wall paper in a waiting room. Having eyes, we see not. Like the blind man in today's Gospel lesson we, too, need to be healed by Jesus. For we are blind in so many ways.

Willful Blindness.

Much of our blindness is willful. How easy it is to shut out the world. All we need do is pull down the two window shades of the body: the eyelids. How well I remember the story of two Americans traveling through Africa on a train. They were in one of those destitute African villages. A crowd of starving African children gathered about the train and peered hungrily through the windows. In order not to let this scene interfere with their enjoyment of the meal, the two Americans reached up and pulled down the shade.

Many of us are guilty of pulling down the shade on the needs of our world. We are blinded by our tremendous wealth. We cannot imagine a Biafran mother having to decide which one of her three children she must let die for lack of food, or the 150,000 people who sleep on the sidewalks of Calcutta every night because they have no home ó not even a crude shack; or the unthinkable poverty of millions in South America who eat out of garbage cans and drink polluted water without any hope of help, or the indescribable poverty and malnutrition that exist right here in the slums of our American cities. It is so easy to shut all this out of our lives and be blind to it.

There is an old Chinese story of a man who lusted after gold. One day he went to a jewelry store, grabbed some gold, and ran. After the police arrested him, they asked, "How could you rob somebody else's gold in broad daylight and in front of all those people?" The prisoner answered, "When I reached for the gold, I saw only gold. I didn't see any people."

Could it be that this is part of our problem: we are so blinded by gold, by our materialism, by our search for profits that we don't see people any more? Remember the story Jesus told of Dives, the rich man, and Lazarus, the poor beggar who lived outside his door, eating the crumbs that fell from the rich man's table. The rich man never exploited Lazarus or fleeced him; he simply never saw him. He was totally blind to his existence.

Isn't this our problem: we don't see. We don't see the misery on earth; we don't see those two people out of every three in the world who are starving. All around us there are people living in distress, in despair, in loneliness, in sorrow, in sickness. Do we see them? We have learned to walk down a street and never see any of the people who, with us, crowd the sidewalk. Even more than the blind man in today's Gospel we need to ask Jesus to restore our sight that we may see the suffering and afflictions of our fellow humans.

One person who did not suffer from this kind of blindness was Dr. Tom Dooley, the young ex-Navy doctor who dedicated his life to providing free medical service to the natives in Laos. He said one day, "I certainly cannot see God when I look at a Mercedes-Benz convertible. But in the jungle it is easier Ö Sure, I would like to stay here and drive a convertible, drink Scotch on the rocks, and date pretty girls, but / keep seeing these broken, swollen human beings." The Lord had restored his sight!

Other Kinds of Blindness.

We are blinded by color. We refuse to see the image of God that abides in every human being ó white or black, red or brown. Our cities today are suffering because of our racial blindness which is basically a spiritual blindness. How desperately we need Jesus to restore our sight that we may see and respect God's image in every person.

Some of us are blind to the things that are close to us; we can see only what lies in the distance. We are farsighted. We can easily see our neighbor's sins but not our own. We think we possess the truth and reject the point of view of others. How desperately we need to pray, "Lord, let me receive my sight that I may see and remove the log that is my own eye before I concern myself with the speck in my neighbor's eye."

How blind we are to our friends and loved ones! In the play "Our Town," Thornton Wilder, the author, has Emily relive after death one single day of her earthly life in Grovers Corners, and we hear her pleading with her mother, "Oh, mamma, just look at me one minute as though you really saw me!" We may look at people but we really don't see them. We look through them. We may as well be blind.

Dr. Paul Tournier tells of a brilliant surgeon in New York. He was extremely successful. There was only one thing wrong: his wife was very nervous. He sent her to a psychiatrist who suggested that he was not paying enough attention to her. One day the surgeon began to feel terribly responsible for his wife's nervous condition. He knew that simply sending her to a psychiatrist would not discharge him of his responsibility. While he was leading a most thrilling life at the hospital, performing operations, saving lives, doing research, writing for medical journals Ö back at home his wife was dying of emotional starvation. And he had been blind to it all.

How much we need to pray: "Lord, let me receive my sight that as I work to serve others, I may not be blind to the needs of my loved ones.''

How often we hear people complain, "I waved at him on the street, but he ignored me." People look at us with their eyes but not with their heart. Like the little girl who complained to her mother, "But, Mommy, you're not listening to me." Mother objected, "I am listening./' "But, Mother, you're not listening with your eyes." How we communicate with our eyes! A hateful look, a cold fishy eye can shrivel up a personality and freeze the marrow of the blood. But a pair of sparkling eyes, what cheer and sunshine they can bring into life. "Lord, let me receive my sight that I may look at others with love and zest."

Spiritual Blindness.

Finally, there are those who are spiritually blind. They simply do not see God. Some people see God everywhere. They see Him in every tree, in every mountain, in every ray of sunshine, in every event, in every person. But the spiritually blind see Him nowhere.

I am reminded of John Burroughs the great American naturalist. He made a neighborly visit one day to a woman who knew his great love for birds. She said to him, "Why is it, Mr. Burroughs, that you have so many birds at your place, but I don't have any birds at all in my yard?" John Burroughs had just been watching in absorbed fascination all sorts of birds flying amidst the shrubbery and trees in the lady's yard. He replied, "Madam, you will not see birds in your yard until you have birds in your heart."

And perhaps we can say the same to those of us who are spiritually blind. We miss seeing God in the world because we do not have enough of God in our hearts. We have failed to cultivate the vision of God. We have trained our eyes to see things, to count dollars, to measure distances, but we have neglected the most important capacity that belongs to man, the capacity to see God through prayer and worship.

If we are to see again, a miracle must take place. Jesus must touch our eyes as He touched the eyes of the man born blind. Then we will begin to see. Then we will come to realize that without Jesus no man can truly see and with Him no man can be truly blind. He is the opener of the eyes of the soul, and without Him it is always darkness. "I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life."

The daughter of Joseph Stalin, reared within the very citadel of godless materialism, testified to having been like a blind person who suddenly was touched by Jesus, saw the light and offered herself for baptism. Even today Jesus opens the eyes of the soul.

There is a story of a lonely man who felt so rejected by the cold city in which he lived that he decided to kill himself by throwing himself in the river. As he left his room, he told himself, "If I meet someone on the street whose eyes catch mine, who somehow takes notice of me as a human being, I'll turn back. Only then." So he began his walk to the river.

Here the story ends. But it poses this question: suppose he had met you on the street, would he have turned back?

 

Ascension Day.

"He Ascended into Heaven."

Four of the greatest miracles of Christianity are: the Son of God becoming the Son of man, the Resurrection, the Ascension into heaven, and His coming again to judge the world. It was a great day for our planet when the Son of God appeared upon it in the likeness of our flesh. It was a momentous day when He rose from the grave. It was a majestic day for the Church when a cloud received Him out of sight. It will be an even greater day for the world when the ascended Christ shall return in glory.

Let us concentrate on the miracle of the Ascension: what it is and what it means.

Just as the Lord Jesus came to earth in a supernatural way so He left in a supernatural way. One of the best descriptions of the Ascension is found in Acts 1:9-11, "And when he (Jesus) had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, ĎMen of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.í Ď

"Lifted Up."

The words "and when he was lifted up" do not mean that Jesus was elevated so many feet above sea level. They mean that through His ascension Jesus entered a higher existence. When a school boy says that he has been promoted to a higher class, we do not take him to mean that he was transferred from a classroom on the ground floor to one upstairs. Likewise, the words "and he was lifted up" mean that Jesus was promoted to glory, to a different realm of life, to heaven.

It is interesting to note that when one does go "up" into outer space, one enters a new and different realm than what we know here on earth. For example, scientists tell us that by the end of this century we will be able to break the light barrier just as we did the sound barrier. In other words, men will be able to travel at the speed of light, i.e., 186,000 miles per second. To reach the nearest star at that speed would require ten years: five years to go and five to return. We here on earth will be ten years older when the astronauts return but they will be only ten days older. Why? Because when they break the light barrier, they reach the point where time almost ceases to exist. Time in space is not as it is here on earth. It is a completely different realm. So it is that when the New Testament says that Jesus "was lifted up," it means to say that He entered a new realm of life completely different from what we know here on earth.

"A cloud took Him out of their sight."

In the Bible, a cloud is a sign of the presence of God. It was a cloud which enveloped Mt. Sinai as God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. When Jesus was transfigured we read that "a bright cloud overshadowed them" (Matthew 17:5). It was probably from a cloud that Godís voice came when Jesus was baptized saying, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am pleased." So when we read in Acts, "A cloud took him out of their sight," it means that Jesus entered into the very presence of God.

Why did He go Away?

Why did Jesus go away when there was so much He could have done here on earth? The answer was given by Jesus Himself: "It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you" (John 16:7). Jesus tells us here that His human form will be replaced by the presence of the Counselor, the Helper, the Holy Spirit. He will bring us into much closer contact with Jesus than His human form could bring about.

Seen in this light, the Ascension and Pentecost are not two separate holy days. The Ascension is a prelude to Pentecost. Jesus goes away that He may send the Holy Spirit. He goes away in order to change the form by which He will work among us. Now He will work through us, the Spirit-filled, Christ-filled members of His body, the Church.

Humanity Ascends with Christ.

Jesus came down from heaven as the Eternal Son of the Father, but when He went back to the seat of honor and glory at Godís right hand, He took with Him our human nature. He returned to His Father as God-man. It was our nature, in everything except its sin, that sat down at the right hand of God. The Son of God descended to become one of us and ascended to enable us to ascend with Him. Through the ascension and enthronement of Christ, all human nature has been enthroned at the right hand of the Father. Since the manhood of Jesus was taken up to the heavenly places, our manhood will also be taken up. The Ascension is proof that man was made for heaven not for the grave, for glory not for corruption. St. Paul does not hesitate to describe Christians as "enthroned above the heavens, in Christ Jesus."

He Ascends to Reign.

The Ascension was the enthronement of Jesus. It was His coronation as King of the Universe. Jesus ascends into heaven to resume His universal rule and dominion. This is brought out beautifully in one of the icons of the Ascension where the iconographer depicts the ascending Christ as growing larger and larger until the earth itself becomes no bigger than a ball which He holds in His hand. In other words, through His ascension Christ is no longer a prisoner of space and time. He is no longer confined to Palestine in the first century A.D. He now transcends space and time as Ruler of the Universe.

A Friend Awaits us in Heaven.

When Jesus ascended into heaven, He passed into another world, spiritual, invisible, yet just as real as the world in which we live today. This tells us that we mortals may be at home somewhere else in this vast universe than on earth. "I go to prepare a place for you that where I am there you may be also," said Jesus. The Ascension gives us the certainty that we have a Friend not only on earth, but also in heaven. He is our forerunner who has gone on before us to prepare for our arrival. To die is not to go out into the dark; it is to go to Him.

He Will come Again.

The message of the ascension concludes with the announcement of the return of Christ: "This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11). The Ascended Jesus is Lord of the future. He will return one day in the same manner as He ascended. He left in person, He will come back in person. He left in His glorified body, He will come back in His glorified body. He left in sight of men, He will return in sight of men. Only then, as we read in Revelation, not a mere handful of select disciples, but "every eye will see him" (Rev. 1:7). Before His judgement seat will appear every person who ever lived. No Christian can take lightly his ultimate appearance before God ó when all his thoughts, words and deeds will be laid bare. The great mystery of Godís grace is that He who will judge the world is the same One who gave His life to save the world!

He Prays for Us.

Jesus ascended into heaven not to end His work for us but to continue it ó this time as our great intercessor before the throne of God. Even before His Ascension Jesus prayed to God for us. He prayed for His disciples, especially for Peter that his faith might not fail him. In His sublime prayer at the last supper He prayed for all Christian believers, past, present and future. Now that He is in heaven He continues this intercession. ".. . who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us" (Romans 8:34).

If it helps to know at times that some wife or little child, or blessed mother or father, or true friend is praying for us, if the thought of those prayers helps and strengthens and purifies, so that our hearts are brave again and strong, how much more will it help us to remember that the Ascended Christ is now our great intercessor in heaven ever praying for each one of us?

"While He Blessed them..."

St. Luke records that as Jesus was ascending into heaven, He raised His hands in blessing: "Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them" (Luke 24:50-51). His whole life among us was a blessing. He died as a blessing. He rose as a blessing. He left His followers with a blessing. In almost every icon He is pictured with His hand lifted up in blessing. It is His blessing that the priest bestows upon the congregation when he says, "Peace be with you." And now through His Church He seeks to enrich all of us with the greatest blessing there is: the promise of pardon and peace and life with God.

A Continuing Ascension.

Our Lord promised the disciples that they would see "heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man." What do these words mean, "the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man"? They refer to the continued presence of Christ in the world even after His ascension. Christís coming into the world marks the opening of heaven. He came down the ladder from heaven and ever since then heaven has remained open. We may say that Christ Himself is the ladder ó the only way to the Father and to heaven. There is a contstant stream of traffic on that ladder. Those angels ever going up and coming down are our prayers. Up to gain help and inspiration ó down to bring a little bit of heaven, a breath of Godly air into this world of struggling humanity. "Prayer," writes St. John of the Ladder, "is a continuous ascension to heaven." We may add, so is the liturgy and the reading of Godís word ó a continuous ascension to where God is.

For Us.

In conclusion we remember that everything Jesus did, He did for us. For us He ascended into heaven. For us He sits at the right hand of the Father. For us He pleads and prays. For us He has gone to prepare a place in the presence of God. For us He has opened heaven that our prayers may ever ascend to Him. For us He shall come again to take us unto Himself that we may ever be with the Lord.

 

Fathers of the 1st Ecumenical Council.

The Least Boring Life Ever Lived (John 17:1-13).

A pastor announced from the pulpit one Sunday morning that there would be a special meeting of the church's board at the close of the service. When the meeting was called to order, it was discovered that a total stranger was present.

The pastor explained to him that there must be some mistake as this was a meeting of the church's board. The man apologized by saying that when the pastor announced a meeting of the "bored" he thought it meant him, because no one in the congregation was more bored than he was.

Boredom: A Disease.

Boredom has been called the number one American disease. Doctors testify that a large percentage of patients who come to them are not physically ill, but are bored to death with their station in life.

A Boston priest, noted for his suicide prevention work, recently called boredom the first step toward self-destruction.

Ours had been dubbed the atomic age; but one might also call it the age of ennui, boredom. Perhaps people in rich powerful America are more bored than people elsewhere. One report has it that American kids are even "fed up" with sex. So they've turned to drugs.

More sin is due to boredom than to anything else. People will do almost anything to escape it. They will drink, drug themselves, sell their bodies and their souls, fling themselves into crazy causes and even start wars to escape the misery of being bored. Anyone who can discover the cure for boredom will put an end to one of the greatest causes of human tragedy.

Before taking his life a certain person wrote: "I have run from wife to wife, from house to house, and from country to country in a ridiculous effort to escape from myself. In so doing I am very much afraid that I have brought a great deal of unhappiness to those who have loved me Ö No one thing is responsible for this suicide and no one person ó except myself ó I did it because I am fed up with inventing devices for getting through twenty-four hours a day."

Psychiatrists are disturbed by an odd upsurge of troubled husbands and wives. They have no serious marital or monetary problems; their health is good; their children reasonably obedient. But they complain of feeling vaguely depressed; often become violently irritated without reason. They lie awake at night, plagued by inexplicable bouts of anxiety. Some confess to seeking solace in secret drinking. These people are bored.

Tielhard de Chardin wrote in "The Future of Man," "The greatest enemy of the modern world, 'Public Enemy No. 1', is boredomÖ Mankind is bored. Perhaps this is the underlying cause of all our troubles. We no longer know what to do with ourselves."

Few things are more miserable than boredom. Is it any wonder people will do almost anything to escape it.

Causes of Boredom.

One of the basic causes of boredom is not so much that life is boring as it is that man has made himself boring. Someone once said, "What a bore it is, waking up every morning to the same old person!" That's boredom! Disgust at the staleness of one's personality! or at having to face the same guilt feelings day after day and night after night. But the good news of the Gospel of Jesus is that one does not have to remain the "same old person." We can be forgiven. We can develop. We can experience the joy of spiritual growth. We can rise above sin and stale-ness. Christ can make us new persons with a brand new attitude toward ourselves and toward life. He can put a new glory in our hearts.

One person writes, "How any human being can live in this fascinating world of ours and be bored is too mysterious for me to understand. My most disturbing thought is that there are not enough years left in my life to see all the things I want to see, read all the books I want to read, meet all the people I want to meet." Christians have far more reason than Nietzsche to cry out. "Is not life a hundred times too short for us to bore ourselves?"

One of the basic causes of boredom is emptiness of soul. The bored people are the empty people, people with nothing to live for and nothing outside themselves to fix their affections upon ó the "hollow men" T. S. Eliot talked about, for whom life is void of meaning.

When looked upon as emptiness, boredom is good news. It is proof of our higher heritage. It is a sign that man was made for God, for the invigorating, enduring, satisfying life only He can give. Boredom means that the infinite in us will not let us be satisfied with the finite, with the little bubbles we clutch at to fill the soul.

Some time ago there was a song called, "Is That All There Is?" It told of a young woman who expected something more out of life than she ever received. When she was a little girl, her daddy took her to a circus. She watched all the acts, always expecting that finally the really big event would occur. But after she had seen all the animal tricks, the clowns, and the daring high wire performers, she asked, "Is that all there is? Is that all there is?"

And that's the way she went through life, asking, always asking, and expecting that somewhere along the line the great event would happen that would shower her life with meaning and give her the total excitement and glory she was looking for.

What she was really looking for was God, Who alone could give her life meaning. Dr. Carl Jung said once, "About a third of my cases are suffering from no clinically defined neurosis, but from the senselessness and emptiness of their lives." We are not thrilled with life because we are not thrilled with God. It is the Eternal God who gives meaning and purpose to life. And without purpose, without a goal, life becomes extremely boring.

A prominent American who visited Sweden was told by a young Swede, "You know, we've had this permissive society now for a generation. Anything goes and we are filled up to here with it. We're sick of it. Let's walk down some of the main streets of Stockholm. Do you see much laughter, much joy, much happiness?" There were hundreds of young people, but there was something missing. They looked bored. They had one of the highest suicide rates among young people in the world. Why? Because permissiveness without discipline does not bring happiness. Happiness and peace are found in God, in a personal relationship with Jesus, and in a disciplined life.

The Cure.

Kirkegaard said once, "Whoever is without God in the world soon becomes tired of himself and expresses this loftily by being bored with life; but he who has fellowship with God lives with One Whose presence gives even the most insignificant an infinite significance."

Dag Hammarskjold discovered the truth of this by saying yes to God. From that hour, he says, "I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, thereafter, my life in self-surrender, had a goal."

As Secretary-General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjold was a man of affairs, deeply immersed in the hurly-burly of international politics and social problems. Yet in addition to his public life in the world, he maintained a daily personal contact with God. It was this communion with God that gave direction to his life and a zest for his work.

Possibility for boredom in life is vast. Consider, for instance, eating three times a day, or working, doing approximately the same thing day after day. Married, you look at the same person every morning, conversing in the same manner each time, using the same gestures. Life is repetition, and where there is repetition there is monotony and where there is monotony there is the danger of boredom. What can save us from boredom is more devotion, more dedication, more love, a great purpose.

When life is lived in daily communion with Christ, it becomes renewed, challenged uplifted, invigorated, enhanced, empowered. But it requires discipline: beginning and ending each day in fellowship with Christ through prayer; seeking to do God's will in every situation; worshipping Him in church on Sunday; receiving Him in the Sacraments and bearing the burdens of our fellowmen.

The Least Boring Life Ever Lived.

One of the least boring lives ever lived was the life of Jesus. It was a life full of enthusiasm and glory because it was a life filled with God, with an all-consuming love and a supreme purpose. Nowhere is this more evident than in the great priestly prayer of Jesus to His Father which was read in today's Gospel lesson: "I have manifested thy name to the men whom thou gavest me out of the world. ... I have given them the words which thou gavest meÖ While I was with them, I kept them in thy name. ... I have guarded them and none of them is lostÖ But now I am coming to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves."

Where does one detect boredom in these words? Is it not rather the joy of having a great mission to perform and having fulfilled it? Of loving God, conversing with Him, serving Him and ultimately returning to Him?

If life has been boring for you, try this prescription. It is written in the spirit of the priestly prayer of Jesus:

"Why Am I Here?"

Give me a field Ö give me a field

Where I can use my strength for God,

A field in some forsaken place

Almost forgotten in a stony patch,

A field that needs two human hands to till,

That needs a heart that prays,

A voice that sings a song.

I know that somewhere there is such a field,

In the community where I now live,

Within my own church it is untilled,

A place where weeds have had a chance to grow,

Where soil is hard and hungry for some food,

Perhaps too dry from thirst

For springs of water clear.

Give me a field like that,

Perhaps a field among our youth

Who stumble on their way to find the light,

Or long to cry in someone's arms,

Or tell that no one else has heard;

I want to help to give them love

And place a lamp into their hands.

I want to stand where God wants me,

I want to work because the day is late;

Soon comes the night when labor has to cease

And God will bid His own to go to rest;

I want the words "well done" said to me,

I want to look into my Father's Face

And hear Him say, "You did your best for Me."

ó Thyra F. Bjorn

Sunday of the Fathers.

The Dangers of a Rich Tradition.

The truth of the Orthodox Christian faith can never be based on one personís experience or thought of God, but on that of the whole of redeemed humanity. An Orthodox Christian would never say, "This has to be the truth because I know. I had a special revelation from Christ or the Holy Spirit." That "special revelation" must agree and not depart from the collective Christian experience of the Church as a whole from the apostles down to the present. The Church Fathers are not dead. They still speak to us of their vast experience. We benefit from that experience. We still drink from the wells of their inspiration and wisdom.

We Owe a Great Debt.

We owe a great debt to the Church Fathers. Where would we be without the liturgies of St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great? the beautiful kontakia of Romanos the Melodist? the precise definitions of Orthodoxy by St. John of Damascus? the glorious Nicene Creed? the exquisitely magnificent hymns written by monks and fathers in the early monasteries where prayer was a way of life? the inspiring Jesus Prayer? the definitions of Christ and the Trinity as formulated by the Ecumenical Councils? the sublime icons? How many others have labored in our behalf that we could come to this hour as Orthodox Christians? All that we have, all that we are, the great treasure of our faith has been bought with enormous price. We are not our own. We were bought with a price none can repay. We are debtors living on great gifts from the past.

Hopefully, what Edward R. Murrow once said of Britainís heroic stand against Nazi tyranny may be said of us: "Unconsciously they dug deep into their history and felt that Drake, Raleigh, Cromwell, and all the rest were looking down at them and they were obliged to look worthy in the eyes of their ancestors."

Witnesses to the True Faith of Christ.

The Orthodox Church honors the Fathers not because they are witnesses of antiquity, or of a very ancient faith. She honors them because they are witnesses of the true faith, witnesses of the truth of Christ. This is the faith the apostles received from Christ and passed on to us (I Cor. 11:23). The Church Fathers are witnesses and guarantors of that complete and unaltered truth given to us by Christ and the Holy Spirit. Thus, behind Basil and Chrysostom, John the Baptist and John the Theologian, Gregory of Nyssa and Symeon the New Theologian ó behind them all stands Jesus Christ and His saving truth. We are not saved by the Church Fathers, but we are indebted to them because they are the earthen vessels who bring to us the great treasure which is Christ.

The Danger of a Rich Tradition.

There is a great danger involved in possessing a rich tradition as we Orthodox Christians do. One of the dangers was pointed out by the historian Gibbon who describes some of the degeneration of Christianity under the Greek scholars of the 10th century, who handled the literature and spoke the language of the spiritual but knew not the life: "They held in their lifeless hands the riches of their fathers without inheriting the spirit which had created and imparted that sacred patrimony. They read; they praised; they compiled; but their languid souls seemed alike incapable of thought and action." Admittedly, Gibbon was for the most part ignorant of and prejudiced against the Eastern Church. Nonetheless he points out a real danger for those who have inherited a rich patrimony.

Another danger is that our theology become merely a theology of repetition. While referring to the Fathers is a method of maintaining continuity with the faith of the early Church, the practice can undermine and restrict the theological vigor of Orthodox theology. We are not just pulled by the past; we are also pulled by the future. There has to be a balance between the two. The pull of the past can be so strong as to neutralize the pull to the future. We must be open to the old without being closed to the new. The present is more than just clinging to the past.

Another danger of inheriting the rich tradition of the Fathers is pointed out by Professor von Campenhausen: "The Fathers had become so holy that in the end they could no longer beget any sons who were their equal in vitality Ö Imprisoned in their own territorial and cultural confines, their Church rested upon its own perfection. It trusted in an unchanging and indestructible continuity with the apostles and Fathers of the past whose achievements it admired so much that it failed to observe the changing nature of the problems which faced theology. It preserved their intellectual inheritance without doing anything to renew it" (The Fathers of the Greek Church by Hans von Campenhausen. Copyright e Pantheon Books, a Division of Random House, Inc. Used by permission).

Another way of stating this would be to say that we live by clipping coupons. Our fathers and grandfathers amassed the capital. Boasting about how much they had on deposit, we live on the interest without adding to the capital. But when the capital is used up, the coupons are useless. We have to keep adding to the capital.

We have two kinds of possessions ó the things we inherit and the things we achieve. A rich inheritance can often make us complacent and prevent us from achieving.

Preserving the treasures of the past is important. But Orthodox Christianity is not just a past greatness. The Church Fathers have established the foundations. It is up to us to keep building on those foundations.

A Procession.

When the 1964 Olympic Games opened in Tokyo, the Olympic flame was brought by plane from Olympia, Greece, the site of the first Olympics in 776 B.C. From the plane the burning torch was carried by relays of runners, who passed the flame from one to the next until it reached the site of the games. It linked the Olympic Games in Tokyo with their source in the past.

As Christians we are all "torch bearers." We have received the light of life from its source in God. The torch was handed to us by a great line of believers stretching back to Christ himself ó apostles, martyrs, saints. It is our privilege and duty to pass it on to others.

Einstein said once, "A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life depend on the labors of other men, living and dead. I must exert myself in order to give in the measure as I have received and am still receiving." Think of those 318 blind, crippled Church Fathers meeting in Nicea in 325 A.D. to pass on to us the lighted torch of Christ. Think of what they suffered to place the torch in our hands today.

Violinist Jascha Heifetz has virtually retired from the concert stage to devote his talents to teaching. Explaining why he did this, he said, "I should like to pass on what I know to my pupils. To be an artist is like being entrusted with something precious for a brief time. It is the duty of an artist to hand it on, like those Greek runners who passed on the lighted torch, one to another."

We are all entrusted for a brief time with something precious ó the Lord Jesus Christ "in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" and, as the Gospel says, "whom to know is life eternal." This is the lighted torch we are to pass on to our children and to our friends who do not know Christ.

To Have Fathers is a Permanent Dimension of the Church.

St. Symeon the New Theologian regarded as the most dangerous heresy the notion that the Church no longer possesses the same fulness of the charismata as it did in ancient times. The same gifts are assured to those who today, as yesterday, seek them in humility and self-surrender. To have Church Fathers is a permanent dimension of the Church.

We Orthodox have a great past, a great tradition. We are proud of this. But we must not live in the past. Where are our John Chrysostoms today? our Basils? our Gregories? our Athana-siuses? our Johns of Damascus? We have the apostolic doctrine. We have the apostolic succession. But we can have, too, the apostolic power of the Holy Spirit to produce new and powerful witnesses for the Lord today, new Church Fathers ó not carbon copies of the old but originals as they were. For God is always more interested in producing originals than carbon copies.

The Orthodox Church is not a museum of the first thousand years of Christianity. We must not succumb to the temptation that the Fathers have said everything and that all we have to do is to repeat them verbatim. Father Florovsky has reminded us that the notion of "father" is not limited to the period called "Patristic." St. Gregory of Palamas, for example, was a "Church Father" in the fourteenth century. To repeat, to have Church Fathers is a permanent dimension of the Church. The Fathers beget us in the faith that we in turn might become fathers, that is, free creators under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit who empowered and guided the early Fathers.

The Challenge to Orthodoxy Today.

I should like to close with a challenge addressed recently to Orthodox Christians by Krister Stendahl of Harvard: "The word Ďgiftsí comes easily to my mind when I think about the Greek Orthodox Church. It must be wonderful to be able to call oneís own in a very special manner the Greek Fathers, to participate directly and by oneness of language in the world of the Apostles and the Apostolic FathersÖ

"Great gifts, indeed, are yours in the Orthodox Church. So great that they may have overwhelmed you and given you the feeling that you can never hope to emulate that greatness of the greatsÖ . With fear and trembling, I must remind you of the manna in the wilderness. According to the Bible, we know that the manna could not be stored, not even from day to day. Israel had to trust that the gift would be renewed as needed, and those who worked to keep this lavish gift, preserving it for future use, found that it spoiled overnight. That is a word of warning, I think, for anyone who thinks that the gifts of the past, the gift of traditions, can save the Church and feed its people.

"Thus I would love to think that faithfulness to your Orthodox heritage must include a bold recapturing of the fearless and sometimes risky creativity of your great fathers. For their gift was not only their thoughts, but their very style of continuing creative exploration of the faith. I see no valid reason why we should not ó by the help of the Spirit ó expect your Orthodox theologians to become again the pioneers of theology. To be guardians of the faith is not enough Ö You can do it, and we others are eager for your gift."

 

Pentecost.

When the Orthodox Church celebrates an event in the life of our Lord, it does not simply commemorate or remember the event. It re-lives it so that we today may experience it for ourselves. It brings the past into the present. In many ways it is like that TV program that was shown a few years ago called "You Are There," which made present again and re-lived before us actual historical events. It made us feel as if we were actually there.

In this, the Orthodox Church is very much like the Jewish synagogue. When our Jewish brethren observe the exodus from Egypt (the Passover) they re-live the event in order to experience it personally. The ancient rabbis taught, "In every generation every man should look upon himself as if he personally had experienced the exodus from Egypt." As one rabbi said, "The Passover says to us, 'Don't just discuss the exodus, feel it! The experience changes your outlook on life...'' Thus the Jews observe the Passover today by eating the same unleavened bread and chewing the same bitter herbs as their fathers in order that they may in some way feel for themselves the bitter plight of their ancestors when they were slaves in Egypt. The past is made to live in the present so that the Jew today may feel as if he himself were brought out of the slavery of Egypt by God.

We Orthodox Christians do the same. We try to re-live the religious event we observe on a particular day. This is why at Christmas we sing, "Today Christ is born in Bethlehem of the Virgin ..."

During Holy Week we sing: "Today there stands before Pilate the Lord of Creation ..."

"Today there hangs on the Cross He who has suspended the earth in the midst of the waters ..."

The Holy Week and Easter services in the Orthodox Church, for example, are designed to help us experience the Passion of Christ personally, to make us feel that it was for us Jesus died on the cross, to lead us out of the slavery of sin and death to a new life.

Christianity is not only about events in the experience of God; it is also about the way we today can participate in these glorious events. f

Let us share a series of examples from Scripture.

St. Paul writes in Colossians 3, "If you then have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God." The amazing aspect of this verse is that St. Paul is telling us that we can be related to Christ in such a way as to have participated with Him in the great victory of His resurrection. He speaks of being raised together with the Lord Jesus Christ. This truth is expressed in the Easter hymn of our Church: "Yesterday, O Christ, I was buried with You; today I rise with You. ..." St. Paul expresses it again in Ephesians 2:4-7, "But God who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive with ChristÖ . and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus."

In another New Testament book, Galatians, we are told that we participate also in the crucifixion of Christ: "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in ;the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." In Colossians 3:3 we read, "For you have died, and your life is hid with God in Christ.''

Our involvement in Christ's crucifixion and resurrection is expressed in the Sacrament of Baptism. The baptismal immersion in water symbolizes death, since a person cannot live long under water. Yet, we are not kept under water. We are raised to signify the resurrection. As St. Paul says, "We were buried therefore with him (Christ) by baptism into death so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life." In the Orthodox Church the Sacrament of Baptism is the personal Good Friday and Easter of each believer. Through this sacrament we die and rise again with Christ.

Thus, through faith, baptism and daily repentance we die to sin and are raised by Christ to a new life where we "seek the things that are above."

When the Bible speaks, of Christ's second coming, it speaks also of our participation in it: "When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory" (Col. 3:4). In I John 3:2 we read, "Beloved, we are God's children now, it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is."

We participate in the Last Supper. As our Lord gathered His disciples together in the Upper Room, so He calls us together in every liturgy and addresses to us the same personal invitation He addressed to them, "Take, eat, this is my Body Ö Drink ye all of it, this is my blood Ö He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I in him." Each Holy Communion is a Good Friday, since "every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord, until he comes" (I Cor. 11:26).

We participate not only in the crucifixion, the resurrection, the Second Coming, the Last Supper, but also in the Ascension. Christ our Lord ascends so that we may ascend with Him. What is the liturgy, what is prayer, but the constant ascension of man into the presence of God?

Since today we celebrate the great feast of Pentecost we must stress also our participation in this great event. As the Holy Spirit came on this day nearly 2,000 years ago to fill the disciples with God's presence and power, so He will come to each one of us today as we kneel shortly in prayer. He will come to fill us with the same Power, the same fruits of His Presence: "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Galatians 5:22). He will come as refreshing water to man's parched soul: "If anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink," said Jesus. "He who believes in me as the scripture has said, 'Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.' Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive" (John 7:37-38).

Prayer.

Come, light unfading; Come, holy Comforter, Come, fill us with God's presence; Come, make our bodies Temples of God; Come, fill us with power to overcome; Come, restore the image of God in us; Come, strengthen our faith; Come, empower us to speak and work for You in the world; Come, forgive our sins; Come, breathe into us the life of God, immortal, everlasting; Come, Holy Spirit, Come!

Pentecost.

Experiencing the Presence of God.

First man: "How did you make all your money?" Second man: "I formed a partnership with a wealthy man." First Man: "How did you do it?" Second man: "He had the money and I had the experience." First man: "And was it a successful business for you?" Second man: "Immensely so. When we dissolved a year later, I had the money and he had the experience."

Experience is a great teacher.

Mark Twain, in his reporting days, was instructed by an editor never to state anything as a fact that he could not verify from personal knowledge and experience.

Every so often a person says, "I go to church, I pray, I try to give my life to God, but He seems far away, and nothing happens to me."

If one starts questioning these people, one will usually find that they never did have any joyous sense of the presence of God in their lives. They had been in contact with the forms of religion but never the Spirit. It was an inherited religion passed down through their family. There is no life or power in that kind of hand-me-down religion. It is not personal. Each person has to have his or her own experience of God.

Three Kinds of Knowledge.

"Of the three ways of acquiring knowledge," said Roger Bacon, "authority, reasoning, experience, only the last (experience) is effective."

Walt Whitman was listening one night to an astronomer lecturing on the stars. The hall was stuffy, the lecture dull, and the charts even more dull, until, says Whitman, I could no longer bear it. I rose and wandered out into the night and looked up at the stars themselves. I was overcome with breathless wonder.

There are people today who do the same with their religion. They stay inside poring over the charts and diagrams, memorizing the number of sacraments, concentrating on the mere mechanism of faith. They will not walk outside to see the stars for themselves. They need to proceed from theory to experience, from knowledge about God, which is abstract, to knowledge of God in Christ, which is personal.

For example, every Easter the church is filled to overflowing. If the Easter crowds really believed in the resurrection of Jesus, really believed it, church would not be half-empty on the Sunday following Easter. It would be bursting at the seams. The resurrection is real, but people need to experience it in their own lives. They need to experience the power of Christ to resurrect them from their own dead hopes, dead dreams, dead lives, from the deadness of sin, to a new life, a life of glory and peace and hope and joy in the Lord.

God cannot be fully expressed. In fact, a God fully defined is no God, but He can be experienced. He expressed Himself once in the Person of Jesus. The purpose of that expression was that He might be experienced in the lives of His people as Emmanuel ó God with us.

St. Macarius states that Christians do, and even must, experience consciously the presence of the

Spirit in their hearts. His definition of the Christian faith as a personal experience of God was adopted by St. Symeon the New Theologian and other great saints of our Church.

The great appeal of the charismatics today is that they satisfy the need for man to experience God. The appeal to the intellect, though necessary, is not enough. The heart, too, has needs of which the intellect is unaware. God can be known intellectually, but He becomes real when He is experienced personally.

No one can ever prove to you that Christ is the Son of God. Youíve got to find out for yourself. Itís like love ó you can only love by experience, not by reading it in a book.

Come and See.

That is why the call of God in the Bible is: "Come and see!" When Andrew found Christ, he said to his brother Simon, "I have found the Messiah, the Christ. I do not ask you to take it on my word. I ask that you come and see for yourself." After the Samaritan woman found Christ at the well, she ran to her people and said, "Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?" That night when they came back, they said to her, "Now we believe, not because you told us: for we have seen and heard Him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world!"

Faith is not something that must be intellectually understood as much as it is something that must be experienced and lived. When asked by a Moslem disciple how he could experience Allah, the Sufi mystic simply slipped off his large cloak and stepped out into the pouring rain. Lying on the grass he opened his mouth and spread his arms. Then, turning to his questioner, he said, "Thatís how I experience God."

That is one way of saying that God is not to be found at the end of an argument or syllogism. God is not a concept or an idea to be argued about; He is an old name for a profound experience. "Taste and see that the Lord is good," said the Psalmist.

Faith is an experience of God, a living relationship of love with Him in, with, and through His Son, Jesus. Listen to the Apostle John: "That which ... we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands Ö (this) we proclaim to you" (I John 1:1-3). Our Orthodox Christian faith is based on the Bible and on Sacred Tradition, but let us not forget that the Bible and Tradition become real when we experience Godís presence, power and love personally in our lives. "We have seen Ö we have heard ... we have touched." We have experienced.

Being an Orthodox Christian is far more than being able to produce a baptismal certificate; it is a personal experience of the Risen Christ living and reigning in our lives. It is inner peace and freedom, a new sense of direction and purpose in our lives.

Experience Precedes Understanding.

We can have experience long before we have explanation. In fact, experience comes before understanding. Without the experience first, we have nothing to reflect on but abstractions and theories. All of manís attempts to describe beauty are nothing compared to actually seeing and smelling a beautiful rose. As Orthodox Christians we believe in the Holy Trinity, i.e., that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But first, man experienced God as Father. He experienced God as Son in Jesus. He experienced God as Holy Spirit on Pentecost. After the experience came the explanation that we call Holy Trinity. If we separate the experience from the explanation we are talking of empty abstractions. "One thing I know," said the blind man who had been healed by Jesus, "that whereas I was blind, now I see." The experience changed his life. The experience led to faith ó a faith that was unshakable as it was real.

How do we Experience God?

How do we gain this personal experience of God that we have been talking about? How did the apostles gain it? It came to them on the day of Pentecost. Jesus commanded them "not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which he said, you heard from me, for John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy SpiritÖ you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:4-5, 8).

When the Holy Spirit came on Pentecost, he brought a new and powerful experience of Godís presence and power in their lives. They were never the same again. The experience of God in their lives through the presence of the Holy Spirit was powerful and personal.

"I know him in whom I have believed," said Paul. I know from experience. "I am persuaded that nothing shall separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus." "I know that all things work together for good, to make men Christ-like, when the heart loves God." "I know that if the earthly tent we live in is dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavensÖ" - "I know." Here is a faith that was born not of argument or discussion but in the inner experience of living by faith and prayer, obedience and love in the Holy Spirit.

It is not enough that the Christian believe that Jesus Christ or the Holy Trinity lives in him, said St. Symeon. That presence must be operative in a way that is consciously experienced. We should be aware of that divine life moving and operating in us just as a pregnant woman is aware that new life stirs within her.

What people want to hear is not Godís lawyers presenting logical arguments for His existence but Godís witnesses sharing from personal experience what God has done for them. And this is what the early Christians were: witnesses, martyres. In the words of E. S. Jones: "God? They knew Him! Miracles? They themselves were miracles! Resurrection? They had gone through it! Heaven? They were living in it! Hell? They had escaped it! Reconciliation? They rejoiced in it! Eternal Life? They possessed it!" ("Selections From E. Stanley Jones" by Eunice and James Matthews. Published by Abingdon Press. Used by permission).

Pentecost was the day on which the apostles experienced Godís powerful presence in their lives through the Holy Spirit. Through prayer every day can be Pentecost. For, it is through prayer that the Holy Spirit comes to us today.

One Manís Experience.

Let me conclude with the personal testimony of one manís experience of Godís presence and power in his life.

"I was taken into a lead-lined room containing the huge ĎEldoradoí gamma ray machine. A beautiful physiotherapist put me on a table and set things up for my treatment, carefully shielding all of my body except the parts containing the deadly malignant cells doing their devastating work.

"She then left the room, and the enormous door quietly glided into place, leaving me in absolute silence. This can be, and often is, a frightening experience to the patient. A red light glows in the semi-darkness and there is a soft humming sound as the healing gamma rays pass into your body.

"I had thirty-six treatments. Each was a time of great blessing and communion with God. It was a lonely place until I remembered that I was not alone, except that I was alone with God. What an opportunity for cleansing and healing!

"During each treatment I talked with Him, knowing that He was listening. I asked for forgiveness, cleansing and healing. I asked Him to pour into my being His own powerful, loving, healing rays along with the gamma rays from the machine. I thanked Him for the healing that had already begun and asked Him to strengthen my weak faith. I was assured that He was there and listening, and more often than not tears of gratitude ran down my cheeks. Never, before or since, have I felt closer to my Lord Jesus Christ. My prayer always ended, ĎI am willing to accept whatever you have for me.í

"One day (my wife) Lillian was sitting in the waiting room during my treatment. Beside her sat a woman who was waiting to be called in for her first treatment. She was so frightened and upset that in desperation she turned to Lillian and told her all about it. Lillian simply told her what I did when I went in: ĎTake God in with you,í she said, Ďand you will not be alone.í

"When the woman came out, she was radiant. ĎIt was the most wonderful time of communion and renewal ó and I had no fear whatever!í She had had a new experience of the presence of God" (From "Today Is All You Have" by Overton Stephens. Copyright ę 1971 by Zondervan Publishing House. Used by permission).

 

 

4. Sundays after Pentecost.

1st Sunday of Pentecost.

(Matthew 10:33, 37-38, 19:27-30).

A railroad worker said once, "I never work on Sundays except for the Lord." "What's the pay?" he was asked. He replied, "Well, the pay isn't so hot, but you can't beat the retirement plan."

In today's Gospel lesson Jesus speaks as it were of His retirement plan; He speaks of rewards. Peter asks Him, "We have left everything and followed you. What, then, shall we have?" Jesus replies, "Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man shall sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones Ö And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters... or lands, for my name's sake will receive a hundred fold, and inherit eternal life."

When we read these words, some wonder whether Jesus is trying to bribe us into the kingdom of heaven with the promise of thrones. Far from it! Jesus pointed out often that to be a Christian is costly. He promised His followers persecution and a cross. He Himself said in today's Gospel lesson, "He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me." Jesus never tried to bribe people into following Him; He tried to challenge them. He never promised that there would be a kind of squaring up of the balance sheet in this world. He did let us know that in this world it would seem as if goodness did not pay and virtue did not have its reward. But God has not only this world in which to repay. He has all eternity. After all, if our deeds always received their immediate reward in this world, then virtue would become a racket.

Still there are those who feel that the reward motive should have no place whatsoever in the Christian life. As Dr. Steimle says, "They are embarrassed by the continual emphasis on reward in the Bible: eternal life, abundant life, treasure in heaven, sitting on thrones, pie in the sky." These people feel that we must be good merely for the sake of being good, that virtue is its own reward, that the whole idea of reward should be eliminated from the Christian life. Someone said once that he would wish to quench all the fires of hell with water, and to burn up all the joys of heaven with fire, in order that men might seek goodness not for any reward but for its own sake. We cannot but agree. Yet Jesus speaks of reward repeatedly.

He speaks of it in today's Gospel lesson. "Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sistersÖ for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life." Elsewhere He tells us that the right kind of charity, the right kind of prayer, the right kind of fasting will have their reward. In the Beatitudes, He says, "When men Ö persecute you ... on my account, rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven." In Luke 14:12-14 He says, "When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends ... or cousins or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.''

If He doesn't wish to bribe us, then why does Jesus talk about rewards? Simply to assure us that life is not meaningless, that we reap what we sow, that this is not a crazy, insane universe, that there is a God who rules over it, who sees to it that the faithful as well as the unfaithful have their reward.

Let us remind ourselves at this point that all that God gives us is GRACE. We cannot earn what God gives us; we cannot deserve it; we cannot put God in our debt. What He gives us is given out of the goodness of His heart. What He gives us is not pay but a gift, not a reward but grace. This is why what God gives us is so way out of proportion to what we can ever do: ' "Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it ever entered into a man's heart what things God has prepared for those who love him."

There are three types of Christians. One type is the Christian who does the will of God because he is afraid of going to hell. We call this person a slave because he does everything out of fear of what the Master will do to him.

The second kind of Christian is called the hireling. He works for hire as workers who work for pay. If he does any good, he does it only because he expects God to reward him. He wants to be paid for all he does. This is the person who tries to bargain with God: "I'll do this for You, Lord, if you'll do this for me/' Jesus spoke of the hireling when He said of those who do good that they may receive glory from men, "Verily, I say unto you, they have received their reward."

The third and highest kind of Christian is he who loves his fellow man spontaneously without ever thinking of hell or getting a reward for anything. As we read in "The Way of a Pilgrim," "God wills us to come to Him neither as slaves or mercenaries but in the manner of sons and daughters who lead honorable lives for the love of Him and from the eagerness to serve Him."

One morning a little boy put a piece of paper beside his mother's plate. On it he had written: "Mother owes John:

For running errands: $.25

For being good: $.10

For taking music lessons: $.15

Extras: $.05

Total: $.55

His mother smiled but said nothing. At lunchtime she placed the bill with .55$ on it by her son's plate. But there was another little bill that read: "John owes mother:

For being good: $0.00

For nursing him through a long illness: $0.00

For shoes, clothes, gloves, playthings: $0.00

For all his meals and beautiful room: $0.00

Total: John owes mother $0.00

Tears came to his eyes. He threw his arms around his mother's neck and returning the .55$ said, "Take the money back, Mom, and let me love you and do things for nothing."

How inspiring are examples of Christians who worked for God not as slaves or mercenaries but spontaneously out of love for Him. A. J. Cronin tells of a nurse who for twenty years, single-handedly served a ten-mile area in England. "I marveled," he says, "at her patience, her fortitude and her cheerfulness. She was never too tired at night to rise for an urgent call. Her salary was most inadequate, and late one night, after a particularly strenuous day, I ventured to protest to her, 'Nurse, why don't you make them pay you more? God knows you are worth it,' 'If God knows I'm worth it,' she answered, 'that's all that matters to me.' " She was working not as a slave or a mercenary but out of pure love for God.

A church volunteer worker was making the rounds in a hospital, bringing cheer to patients and helping them in many little ways. A patient noticed by her tag that she was affiliated with a certain church. He asked, "Are you hired by the Church to do this work?" "Oh no," she replied quickly. "We are volunteers." Before she had a chance to explain further, the patient asked, "Why?" She replied, "I love the Lord, and this is one way I can express it, by helping others."

The patient found this hard to believe. "You mean you don't get paid? You do this for nothing?"

"We do it for something," she smiled ó "for the hope that we can bring comfort to you who are sick and share with you our Savior's love and strength."

The man was quiet for a few moments, then replied, "If the church really cares that much about us sick folks, maybe there is still hope for this old world of ours."

A missionary doctor in Korea who had just performed major surgery on a poor peasant woman was asked, "Doctor, how much would you be paid for an operation like this back in America?" He replied, "About five hundred dollars." "How much will you be paid for it here?" Looking at the poor Korean woman who had begged him to save her life, he replied, "For this I will get her gratitude and my Master's smile. But that is worth more to me than all the money that the world can give."

The strange thing about the attitude of Jesus toward reward is that He promises it to those who are obedient without thought of reward. In the parable of the Last Judgment when Jesus says to the righteous, "Come, O Blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you ..." they are caught by complete surprise. They ask, Why, Why, Lord? What did we do to deserve this? And Jesus had to tell them: "I was sick and you visited me. ..."

The world has its own rewards: money, recognition, honor, but none of these can ever compare to the reward God has in store for those who serve Him every day in so many little ways not as slaves or mercenaries but of a spontaneous and grateful love for what He did for us on the Cross: "Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sistersÖ .or lands, for my name's sake will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life."

A prayer by Ignatius of Loyola sums up well what we have said: Teach me, Good Lord, to serve Thee as Thou deservest; to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not heed the wounds; to toil and not to seek for rest; to labor and not to ask for any reward save that of knowing that I do Thy will, through Jesus Christ, the Lord. Amen.

 

3rd Sunday of Pentecost.

(Matthew 6:22-23).

One summer a tailor toured Europe. Somehow he arranged for a meeting with the Pope. When he returned to work, his friend eagerly asked, "Tell me, Art, what kind of man is the Pope?" Art pondered a moment, then answered, "He's a 39 short."

It is a truism that we see as we are. The painter sees the world in color, the sculptor in form; the musician perceives the world in sounds, and the economist in commodities. Show two people the very same picture, and each will see something different in it. Two men look out through the same bars: one sees the mud, the other sees the stars.

We tend to see and hear things not as they are, but as we are. He who is filled with hate sees only hateful people. If we feel insecure inside, other people will seem to threaten us. We are constantly judging others by ourselves. The thief is far more suspicious of his fellow men than is the honest man.

There is a story about a king in an ancient kingdom who chose a good man and a bad man from among his people. To the good man he said, "Go out into the kingdom and find an evil man." The good man searched and searched, but he could find no evil man. To the bad man the king said, "Go out into the kingdom and find a good man." The bad man, too, searched and searched, but he could find no good man. We see as we are.

We see only the things in which we are really interested. Some young men reported after they had just come home from the First World War that Paris was a terrible city of dirt and filth and nothing but brothels. Others reported it was a beautiful city of cathedrals and lovely parks. We see as we are.

We see only what we have prepared ourselves to see. Why was it that only the Wise Men saw the star? Because only they were looking for the star. Why was it that only Simeon and Anna recognized Jesus as the Savior of the world when Mary brought Him to the Temple on the fortieth day? Because only they were expectantly looking for Him. An astronomer will see far more in the sky than an ordinary man. An artist will see far more in a picture than one who is not an artist. It is said that a member of his congregation greeted the famous preacher Henry Ward Beecher at the church door after a worship service and said, "Dr. Beecher, you may be interested to know that I counted a dozen grammatical errors in your sermon this morning." Another worshipper that same morning said to him, "Today I found God." Both men had listened to the same sermon. Both had found what they were prepared to find. We see as we are.

On a tour of the Swiss Alps, a tour guide was pointing out the spectacular beauty of the snow-crested peaks, the bubbling mountain streams, the mirror-like lakes and the majestic skyline. One unappreciative heckler kept saying, "What is so wonderful about that?" The tour guide quickly replied, "Man, if you haven't got it on the inside, you'll not see it on the outside."

What is inside is all-important. If we do not have God on the inside, we shall never see Him on the outside. If we have Him inside, we cannot help but see Him everywhere: in every bird, in every sunset, in every tree, in every fellow human who hungers or thirsts.

Jesus once said, "The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness" (Matthew 6:22-23). The eye is the window of the whole body. By "eye," Jesus means the soul of man. If the soul is unclean; if it is obscured by prejudice, hatred, lust, self-conceit; if it is obsessed by envy and jealousy, it will distort our entire vision. We shall see people and things not as they are, but as distortions of our hatred or envy. "Eyes and ears are bad witnesses to those who have barbarian souls," said Heraclitus twenty-five centuries ago.

Pointing at a neighbor's wash in the back yard, a housewife said, "Just look at those clothes on the line ó so gray and streaked!" A friend replied, "It looks to me as if the clothes are very clean. It is your windows that are dirty."

If life looks cloudy, maybe it's our windows that need cleaning. Jesus is always calling on us to keep the windows of the soul clean through daily self-examination, repentance, and confession. If we don't, we shall be constantly seeing others not as they are but as we are ó hateful, envious, conceited, selfish. "Better keep yourself clean and bright," said George Bernard Shaw, "you are the window through which you must see the world." And Jesus said, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."

Prayer.

Lord Jesus, You came to make all things new. Cleanse us. Make us new inside that we may see life as You want us to see it, clearly, and with Your perspective. Amen.

7th Sunday after Pentecost.

Do you Believe that I am Able to do This?" (Matthew 9:28).

Two blind men cried out to Jesus, "Have mercy on us, Son of David." Jesus asked them, "Do you believe that I am able to do this?" They replied, "Yes, Lord." Then He touched their eyes, healing them of their blindness.

"Do you believe that I am able to do this?"

Is He able? He who said, "All power in heaven and on earth is given unto me?" Is He able? He who said, "Do you not know that I have power to summon twelve legions of angels Ö?" Is He able? He who proclaimed, "I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me though he were dead, yet shall he live?" Is He able? He who created the universe out of nothing; He who placed power in the atom; He who healed the sick and raised the dead? Is He able? He who said to Job, "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?" Is He able?

People are trying to save themselves these days by all kinds of power: white power, black power, water power, air power, flower power, and political power. All the powers have failed, and only one remains: Godís power. "Christ," said St. Paul, " Ö the power of God and the wisdom of God."

To know God in Christ is not an intellectual discovery. It is that, but it is far more. It is an experience of power, not something that we achieve, but something God puts into us. Ask the twelve fishermen how they were able to shake themselves free of their weaknesses and go out to change the world; and they would answer, "It was not we, it was nothing at all in us ó it was Christ!" "Do you believe that I am ableÖ .?" Yes, Lord!

Ask the reformed alcoholic or drug addict how he was able to free himself from his terrible addiction, and he will say, "It was not I, but Christ in me! Without His power I would still be enslaved." "Do you believe I am able...?" Yes, Lord!

When I bungle things and make a sorry failure of my life, Christ does not come to me and say, "You must try again! You must try harder than you ever tried before." There is no gospel in that; it would only drive me to despair. Instead He comes to me, and says, "Get closer to God, and He will do it for you! Come closer to Me, and my strength shall be yours." "Do you believe that I am able Ö?" Yes, Lord!

A father lost his only son in a tragic accident. His whole world collapsed. He said later, "Three ways were open to me: despair, drink, or Christ. I chose Christ, and thatís where the power came from." Do you believe that I am able Ö?" Yes, Lord!

Gert Behanna of "The Late Liz" had gone through the hell of alcoholism. Several times she had tried suicide. Finally, she was referred to a psychiatrist. As she stumbled from his office, she found herself pronouncing a word she had never said before except in profanity. "I donít need a psychiatrist. What I need is God." That evening she fell to the floor by her bed and prayed, "Oh, God, if you are anywhere about, I hope youíll help me, for I sure need it." "In twenty minutes," she said, "it was all over." Christís power came into her life and she has been a new person ever since. "Do you believe that I am ableÖ?" Yes, Lord!

Listen to the testimony of another Christian, "I always knew that Jesus was necessary, but I never knew till now that He was enough." He is enough. He alone is able!

Christís power is available to those who believe in Him, who surrender their broken, empty lives to the fullness of His grace. Christ did not say to His apostles, "Go into all the world and good luck." He said, "Go Ö and be sure of this ó / will be with you always, even to the end of the world. I will never, never fail you nor forsake you." It is in this personal, vital relationship to the living Christ that we find power to overcome. The trouble with many of us is that we do not expect or anticipate the power that comes from Christ. We do not really believe in it, so we do not receive it. We look to other powers that invariably fail us.

The blind men came to Jesus with their blindness. He touched them. They were healed. We, too, may come to Him today with our weaknesses, our sins, our problems, our own blindness. Like them we may say, "Have mercy on us, Son of David." He will ask, "Do you believe that I am able to do this?" If our answer be, "Yes, Lord," He will fill us with an inner power that will be beyond what we ever imagined. "Never was anything like this seen in Israel." And never will anything like this be experienced in our life once we receive the infilling of His presence and power.

We are told that we face impending power shortages today. Power blackouts and brownouts are certain to increase. But for those who truly believe in Jesus and yield their life to Him and His Holy Spirit, there will never be any power blackouts or brownouts. The power behind us will always be greater than the task ahead of us.

Listen to the personal experience of St. Paul, "My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:19).

"Do you believe that I am able to do this?" Yes, Lord!

Prayer.

"Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen" (Eph. 3:20-21).

 

8th Sunday after Pentecost.

God Can Use You (Matthew 14:14-22).

According to a certain legend, when God was creating the world, four angels came to Him, each with a question. The first one asked the scientistís question, "How are You creating the world?" The second asked the philosopherís question, "Why are You creating the world?" The third one asked the question of all self-seeking persons, "May I have it when you finish?" The fourth and last angel asked the Christianís question, "May I help?"

This is the question Jesus loves most as we see in todayís Gospel lesson. Faced with a crowd of hungry people, the disciples were ready to send them back to the villages to buy food for themselves. Jesus said, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat." Whereupon the disciples replied, "We have only five loaves here and two fish." Jesus replied, "Bring them here to me." Then, blessing the little batch of food, He was able to feed all five thousand. St. Matthew is careful to tell us that there were even twelve baskets full of leftovers.

Why Doesnít God do Something?

How often we hear the complaint, "Why doesnít God do something?" Why doesnít He feed the hungry? etc." We seem to forget that God has chosen to "do something" through us, His instruments, the members of His Body. He has chosen to do His work in the world today through us who are His people, His Church. "They need not go away; you give them something to eat." We must take whatever we have ó our five loaves and two fish ó and bring them to Jesus. He will bless what we bring and use it to help our fellow humans,

"I Chose You."

"You did not choose me," said Jesus to His disciples, "But I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide..." (John 15:16). Jesus is telling us, "I have a task for you to perform that no one else but you can do. That task may be to speak a word of comfort or encouragement; it may be to guide the footsteps of a child growing to maturity. Just as the Father chose me to do His work, I have chosen you to carry it further, making each one of you an extension of Me in the world."

John Henry Newman was so fully conscious of having been chosen by God to serve Him that he wrote,

God has created me to do Him

some definite service;

He has committed some work to me

which He has not committed to another.

I have my mission Ö

I am a link in a chain,

a bond of connection between persons.

He has not created me for naught.

I shall do good, I shall do His work.

I shall be an angel of peace,

a preacher of truth in my own place Ö

If I am in sickness,

my sickness may serve Him;

in perplexity,

my perplexity may serve Him;

if I am in sorrow,

my sorrow may serve Him.

He does nothing in vain.

He knows what He is about.

Such as you Have.

We do not have to possess great talents to serve Him. We serve Him with what we have. "There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what are they among so many?" asks Simon Peter (John 6:9). But Jesus says, "Bring them here to me/í A miracle happened that day because a boy offered to Jesus the one thing he had. What a Church we could have if people offered to God what they had. If we have a voice, to use it in the church choir. If we can teach a little, to do so in Sunday school. If we have a skill or craft, to use it on our church buildings. If we have a home, to open it to lonely people. If we have a car, to give an older person a ride to Church.

Albert Schweitzer said,

"Open your eyes and look for some man, or some work for the sake of men, which needs a little time, a little friendship, a little sympathy, a little sociability, a little human toil. Perhaps it is a lonely person or an invalid ... to whom you can be something Ö search and see if there is not some place where you may invest your humanity ... do not be satisfied without some side line in which you may give yourself out as a man to men. There is one waiting for you if only you are willing to take it up in the right spirit."

But I am only One!

"But I am only one person. What can one person do?" If you allow this argument to keep you from giving yourself, remember that among the five thousand people who were in the crowd, it was only one person, a young lad, who brought to Jesus the elements with which He performed a miracle, the five loaves and the two fish.

I am only one person! But so was Columbus! So was Alexander the Great! So was Paul! So was the one lad in the great crowd! So was Jesus! It was one man who founded the Red Cross; one man who devised the Braille system.

I am only one ó but I am one,

I cannot do everything, but

I can do something.

What I can do ó I ought to do,

What I ought to do ó by the

Grace of God ó I will do.

Nobody Needs Me.

One of the books by Agatha Christie begins with the story of a man who tried to commit suicide by throwing himself down a cliff. He escaped death by falling on a jutting tree. At the hospital he told his nurse that he did not wish to live anymore, since no one needed him. After some thought, the nurse said, "Maybe God has need of you!"

The glorious news is that God does have need of us. He who needs no one, has in His condescension stooped to work in and through His obedient children. "Without God, we cannot. Without us, God will not." "Pray as if everything depends on God. Work as if everything depends on you." You are important to God. No matter how insignificant your life may seem, it is distinctly unique in this world. God works through every human being to fulfill His plan for the world. Unless you fulfill this God-given mission, something in this universe will remain forever incomplete. This is how important each one of us is in the eyes of God.

How?

How can God use us? There is only one way. We must make ourselves utterly available to God and to our neighbors. God does not ask you about your ability ó only your availability. He provides the ability. The supreme question is: are we available to Him? Moses made himself available and God provided the ability for him to do great works in His name. So did the humble fishermen and countless others.

A very ordinary man named Aeschines once came to Socrates. "I am a poor man," said Aeschines. "I have nothing else but I give you myself." "Do you not see," said Socrates, "that you are giving me the most precious thing of all?" Jesus can work wonders with people who will give Him themselves.

Asked about the tremendous power which enabled him to do so much for Christ, a great preacher replied, "God has had all there is of me." Is there anything higher or more noble in life than for us to dedicate ourselves in complete self-surrender to the Lord Jesus and let Him use us?

Three Trees.

There is a fable of three trees that grew in the days of Christ. One said, "When I grow to be a big tree I will be cut down and made into lumber. That lumber will be used to build a big hotel where kings will lodge." The second tree said, "When I grow up I want to be cut down and made into lumber to build a big ship that will cross the ocean." The third tree said, "When I grow up I want to remain in the forest and point men to God."

None of the three trees got its wish. The first tree grew up and was cut down, but the lumber was used to build a little manger. The tree complained and complained, until one night the Son of God and the Son of Man was born there. Then it was at peace.

The second tree was cut down and made into lumber to build a boat to sail on the Sea of Galilee. It complained and complained, until one day the Son of God and the Son of Man stood on its deck and spoke wonderful words of life. Then it was at peace.

The third tree was cut down and made into a cross. The tree complained and complained, until one day the Son of God and the Son of Man died upon that cross. Then it, too, was at peace.

Whatever our lot in life, God can use us! Let us be willing to let Him use us according to His will.

Examples.

Following are a few examples of how God has used others when they offered themselves to Him.

When General Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, was told that he had lost his sight and would never be able to see again, he said, "I have done what I could for God and for the people with my eyes. Now I shall do what I can for God and the people without my eyes."

An older woman walked up to the pastor following a worship service, and said, "I retired a few years ago, and there were so many things I wanted to do in the church. I had dreamed of giving all my time to God and His Church. Shortly after my retirement, I was stricken with arthritis. I canít do the things I dreamed about, and there are times I canít even attend Church." Then with tears in her eyes, she said, "But I can do something: I can pray."

A blue-smocked lady walks the corridors of a hospital, helping patients. One of them sees her pin and asks her if she is with a church. "Yes," she replies. "Are you hired by them to do this work?" "No," she replies. "We are volunteers." "Why?" he asks. "I love the Lord, and this is one way I can express it, by helping others." He seems to find it hard to believe. "Donít you get paid? You mean you do this for nothing?" "We do it for something," she smiles ó "for the hope that we can bring comfort to you who are sick and share with you our Saviorís love and strength."

A friend had prevailed upon a businessman to take Jimmy, a victim of cerebral palsy, to his special school one day. The man reproached himself, because he had allowed his busy day to be interrupted with a job that could be done by just "anybody."

As soon as they started, Jimmy asked: "Are you God?" "No, Iím not God," came the reply. "Do you work for God?" "No, I donít work for God, but why do you ask these questions?" asked the businessman. "When I asked my mother who was going to take me to school," Jimmy explained, "she said she didnít know, but God would take care of it."

After a period of thoughtful reflection, the man said, "Sonny, Iíve never really thought much about working for God before. From now on you can be sure that I will work for Him in every way I can."

Prayer.

Merciful Heavenly Father,

When there is a need for teaching,

teach through me.

When there is need for a message,

speak through me.

When there is a need for love,

love through me.

When there is a need for music,

sing through me.

When there is a need for understanding,

listen through me.

When there is need for counseling,

advise through me.

When a gift is needed,

give through me.

Whenever prayer is needed,

pray through me.

When a helping hand is needed,

reach through mine.

by Alma Hendrix McNatt

 

9th Sunday after Pentecost.

Looking To Jesus (Matthew 14:22-34).

A large passenger ship was crossing the Atlantic. The ocean which had been so blue and peaceful early in the afternoon suddenly became a black and angry sea, dashed with foam and white caps. The terrible storm sent most of the passengers to their staterooms. Some of the less fearful gathered in small groups along the deck to watch what was going on. As one of the officers of the ship passed by, a passenger asked him, "Do you think we are going to have a bad night?"

"Yes, I think it will be quite stormy/í he replied. Then he added reassuringly, "But there is nothing to worry about. We have a fine ship and plenty of sea room."

Just then a vivid flash lightened the sky. The same nervous passenger exclaimed, "Look at the storm!"

"No," the officer countered, "Donít look at the storm, look at the ship!" Then very calmly he proceeded to tell about the construction of the boat and how it would be able to ride out any storm. Though he didnít minimize the difficulty at hand, he had firm faith in his vessel. He was confident that it was sufficient to withstand any storm.

We, too, must face storms of life. God never promised if we would follow Him, we would escape the storms of life. He did not exempt even His own Son from the cross. What God does promise us, however, is strength to face adversity. No matter how heavy our cross, His grace will always be adequate.

The secret of weathering the storms of life successfully is to look at the ship instead of the storm. Instead of looking at our troubles and being overcome by fear, we choose to look to Jesus and place our faith in Him who can calm even the stormiest sea.

We find an excellent example of this truth in todayís Gospel lesson.

When Peter saw Jesus walking on the water, he said, "Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water." Jesus asked him to come. "So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus; but when he saw the wind he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ĎLord, save me/ Ď

Peterís difficulty was that he took his eyes off Christ. He looked at the waves, the water, the wind; he looked at this own fearful heart instead of keeping his eyes fastened on Christ who was beckoning to him. He became so preoccupied with the problem (the wind) that he forgot the solution (Christ).

It has been said that man has three eyes ó the eye of sense, the eye of reason and the eye of faith. The eye of sense he has in common with all the animals; the eye of reason in common with all men; the eye of faith in common with all of those who commit their life to God. Each eye is higher than the other. By the eye of faith we "see" God and life comes into true focus.

It is important that we look at the right things in life. Whether we look at the storm or at the ship; whether we look at the waves or at Christ has much to do with our survival.

One day a person riding a bicycle saw a stone lying on the road. He wanted to avoid hitting it so he kept his eye fastened on it. The result was that he went right over it. The jolt nearly knocked him off the bike. He realized later that he had kept his eye on the wrong place. He should have kept it on the path where he wanted to go; not on the rock where he did not want to go. For we are drawn to that on which we fix our gaze. When the author of Hebrews urges us to look to Jesus (Hebrews 12:2) he uses the Greek word "aforontes" which means to fix oneís gaze upon Christ by turning oneís eyes away from everything else.

The best way to overcome sin is to remove our eyes from that which tempts us and fasten them on Christ through prayer. "Looking to Jesus" (Heb. 12:2).

We try not concentrate our attention on the obstacles we meet in life. The more we look at the obstacles, the more they confuse and overwhelm us. It was when Peter turned and looked at the wind and waves that he began to sink. As long as he kept his eyes fastened on Christ he walked on the waters as on a rock. The more difficult our task, the more terrifying our temptation, the more essential it is that we look to Jesus.

Five boys, playing out in the country one winter day, decided to see who could make the straightest set of tracks in the snow. They were very careful to put one foot directly in front of the other, but when they had crossed the clearing and looked back, they saw that one track was curved, one was crooked, and two were zigzag. Only one boy had a straight track. When they asked him how he did it, he replied that he had not looked at his feet; he had picked out a tree in the distance across the clearing and had walked straight toward that tree.

If we are to leave a straight track in our daily walk for others to follow, we must have our minds centered not on ourselves but on Christ. We are to "run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus Ö" (Hebrews 12:2). Just as sailors steer the course to their destination by the stars, so we Christians steer the course to our destination by the Lord Jesus.

When we are troubled, there is no good in keeping our mind pounding on the problem. Nothing comes of that but more darkness. The more you keep your mind on your own weakness, the weaker you become. Youíve got to lift your eye of faith to where strength is. Youíve got to fix your thought on Jesus as Peter did when he felt his feet slipping into the sea. As someone said, "When we look within ourselves we see our weaknesses and get discouraged; when we look around us we see the confusion and get distracted; when we look above us and see Christ we get empowered."

A person said once that he had hit bottom, and couldnít handle his life any more. Upon hearing this, a friend congratulated him. "Thatís odd," said the troubled person. "You congratulate me because I have hit bottom?" "Thatís right," replied the friend. "Because when you hit the bottom, you canít go down any further. The only direction you can go from now on is up. So thank God that you have hit bottom and are not going to go any further down. Look up to Jesus in faith. Put your life in His hands and let Him pull you up from the bottom and place you where you belong ó on top of life." No matter how low you may have fallen, look to Jesus and be lifted up!

A diamond assessor has a difficult job. He has to examine hundreds of diamonds each day and place each one in a tray marked according to its own particular value. He was asked how he could look at all those diamonds each day and not be confused, not lose his sense of values. He replied that every half hour he would lift up his eyes and look at a perfect diamond which he kept before him. The look at that flawless diamond would restore his sense of values! Jesus is Godís perfect Son. By looking constantly at Him and measuring all things in the light of His perfection, we keep a sense of what is really important in life and what is not. Look to Jesus and let Him sharpen your vision of lifeís true values.

A missionary who had to bury his young wife with his own hands after only a few months on a South Pacific island, said, "I should have gone mad and died beside that lonely grave if it had not been for Christ and the comfort He gave me." Look to Jesus in your sorrow and He will give you the "peace that passes all understanding." He alone has words of eternal life. Look to Him in your confusion to find the way, in your weakness to find strength, in your sin to find forgiveness.

Let us return for a moment to the Gospel lesson. When Jesus saw Peter sinking, he "immediately" reached out his hand and caught him. He did not let Peter go down twice, catching him the third time in order to teach him a lesson. He did not let him thrash about wildly in the waves. He immediately stretched out his hand and caught him. Jesus was where He was needed. He always is and will be even till the end of time. He is our ever-present help. So as we run the race of life we shall ever look to Him in faith.

In the words of Annie Johnson Flint:

"I donít look back; God knows the fruitless efforts, the wasted hours, the sinning, the regrets; I leave them all with Him who blots the record, and mercifully forgives and then forgets.

"I donít look forward; God sees all the future, the road that, long or short will lead me home, and He will face with me its every trial and bear for me the burdens that may come.

"I donít look round me\ then fear assails me, so wild the tumult of earthís restless seas; so dark the world, so filled with woe and evil, so vain the hope of comfort or of ease.

"I donít look in; for then I am most wretched; myself has naught on which to stay my trust, nothing I see save failures and shortcomings, and weak endeavors crumbling in the dust.

"But I look up ó into the face of Jesus, for there my heart can rest, my fears are stilled; and there is joy, and love, and light for darkness, and perfect peace, and every hope fulfilled."

 

10th Sunday after Pentecost.

Moving Mountains (Matthew 17:14-23).

When the disciples asked Jesus why they were unable to heal the epileptic boy, He replied, "Because of your little faith. For truly I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ĎMove from here to there/ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you."

A Sunday school student said once, "The Bible says we can move mountains with faith. Well, how come we donít move mountains with faith? How come we use bulldozers?"

The problem here is the meaning of the word "mountain." It is obvious that its meaning is symbolic. It stands for all the troubles and difficulties that block our path like a veritable mountain and make life impossible for us. Real mountains do not stand in our way any more. We have invented giant earthmoving machines to flatten them. Recently we read of the completion of a tunnel through one of the highest mountains in the Alps. Earthly mountains no longer stand in the way of man. Neither should other kinds of mountains. Jesus tells us that real, honest, sincere faith in Him generates power great enough to move mountains.

Man Is Bigger than any Mountain.

Man was created by God to be bigger than any mountain, even though he stands only six feet tall. He has a head on his shoulders with a brain, and this is what places him above all other creatures. If he cannot climb the mountain or tunnel through it or walk around it, he builds a plane and flies over it at thirty thousand feet. Today, no physical mountain can stand in manís way.

Neither should any other kind of mountain. This is what the Lord Jesus is telling us in todayís Gospel. There is no mountain of difficulties that a man who believes and prays cannot surmount.

It Works!

St. Paul, for example, had a mountain in his life. He tells us about it in his second letter to the Corinthians: "And lest I should be exalted above measure Ö there was given me a thorn in the flesh Ö For this thing I besought the Lord three times, that it might depart from me." The Lord gave Paul power to overcome this mountain. He was not defeated by it. The "thorn in the flesh," obviously some kind of physical illness, did not put Paul in bed as an invalid, but drove him to greater dependence on Christ and greater power.

Jesus faced such a mountain in his life. In the 26th chapter of Matthew we read of the experience He had in Gethsemane. "Then said Jesus to the disciples, ĎMy soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here and watch with me.í And going a little farther he fell on His face and prayed, ĎMy Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from meÖ . Ď Ď How painful was this mountain of suffering that Jesus faced! Yet He was not defeated by it. He overcame it. He changed the cross into a marvelous resurrection experience for Himself as well as for those who believe in Him.

There are others. Helen Keller was blind and deaf, but she was not defeated by her great mountain. She once wrote, "I thank God for my handicaps, for through them I have found myself, my work, and my God."

A famous auto racer who had won the Indianapolis 500 and many other races turned to the old tranquilizer, alcohol, to escape from the tensions of his profession. He became an alcoholic. His career was on the verge of being ruined. But he turned to Christ for help, and through Christís power he was able to move the great mountain of alcoholism from his life. Later, when a reporter asked him if winning the Indianapolis 500 was the greatest victory of his life, he said it wasnít. The thing that meant more to him than winning the 500 was to know that through the power of Christ he had conquered himself.

There is no mountain in life that is bigger than Christ. He is bigger than any temptation; bigger than any sin, any failure; bigger than any difficulty, any problem. When we place our life in His hands, He gives us the power to become bigger than we ever dreamed we could be, bigger than our illness, bigger than our weakness, bigger than our hatred, bigger than our prejudices, bigger than our defeats.

"Jesus answered and said unto them, "If you have faith Ö you will say to this mountain, ĎMove from here to there,í and it will move, and nothing will be impossible to you."

Prayer.

Lord, give us this faith that moves mountains. You alone know the difficulties, the pains, the problems that loom before each one of us as impenetrable mountains. Lord, we believe, help our unbelief, strengthen our faith. Amen.

 

11th Sunday after Pentecost.

The Miracle of Forgiveness (Matthew 18:23-35).

A boy once went out of his home to do something his parents felt was wrong. He was involved in an accident and lost both his legs. When his parents saw him he said to them, "Will you forgive me?" Running up to him they both hugged him and said, "Of course, we have already forgiven you." And he answered, "Then I can live without my legs."

Few people can live without forgiveness. Our Lord spoke often of forgiveness. Once He told a parable on why we should forgive. Called the parable of the unmerciful servant, it is a commentary on two things Jesus said, "Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy" (Matthew 5:7) and "Forgive us our debts as we have also forgiven our debtors" (Matthew 6:12).

The unmerciful servant, Jesus said, was forgiven a debt of 10,000 talents by his master. Immediately afterward he went out and choked a fellow servant who owed him only a few pennies.

The debt which the master forgave the servant was 1,250,000 times greater than the debt owed by the fellow servant. The contrast between the debts is staggering. And the point Jesus is making is that nothing people can do to us can in any way compare to what we have done to God. It was our sin that brought about the death of His Son. If God has forgiven us that great debt, which is beyond all paying, then we must forgive the lesser offenses of our fellow humans or we can never hope to find mercy. "So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart," said Jesus.

This is what has been called THEREFORE ethics. Because the Lord has forgiven us the tremendous debt of sin, which we could never repay or cancel out by ourselves, therefore we are obligated to forgive all those who have hurt us.

God does not Forgive as We Do.

What if God forgave us the way we at times forgive? We say, for example, "Well, Iíll forgive, but I wonít forget." What if God said that to us? We say, "Iíll forgive, but Iíll have nothing more to do with you." What if God said that to us? We say, "Very well, Iíll overlook it this time, but if this happens once more ó just once more-itís the end." What if God said that to us? Fortunately for us He does not.

The Miracle of Forgiveness.

Of course, someone will always object, "How can you expect me to forgive so-and-so after all heís done to me?" If we could only say these words and look at Christ, Iím sure we would hear Him say, "Yes, but what about your evil thoughts? What about your doubts? What about the task you failed to do? What about the lie you told? What about the hurt you inflicted with your sharp tongue? What about your hatred? Have I not forgiven you your great debt? Then why should you not forgive the debts of your fellow men and women?"

"Sir, I Never Forgive."

A preacher once said to Governor Oglethorpe of Georgia, "You had better forgive that man who did you wrong. Donít hold a grudge." To which Governor Oglethorpe replied, "Sir, I never forgive." The answer he received is valid for us: "Sir, then I hope you never need to be forgiven." Lord Herbert said, "He who will not forgive another has broken the bridge over which he himself must pass."

Why We Refuse to Forgive.

The main reason most of us do not forgive is that we do not want to. Refusal to forgive makes us feel morally superior to the other person. Yet the bitterness and the hostility inside spreads like a fast growing cancer. It makes us sour and irritable. We develop a martyr-complex. We begin to pity ourselves. Before long we even begin to enjoy our misery. Few people are more miserable than those who refuse to forgive.

Jesus tells us that another reason we refuse to forgive is that we do not see ourselves as guilty before God. The man who has accepted Godís forgiveness as his only hope of heaven is one who cannot refuse to forgive another.

No Better Way to Get Rid of Enemies.

There is no better way to get rid of enemies than through forgiveness. An old fellow interviewed on the radio said, "Iíll be ninety years old tomorrow and I havenít an enemy in the world." The announcer said, "Thatís a happy thought." "Yep," he said, "Iíve outlived them all." Thatís a good trick if you can do it. Another person, a Spanish patriot, lay dying. His priest asked him if he had forgiven all his enemies. "Father," he smiled, "I have no enemies. I shot them all." Thereís a terrible penalty to pay for destroying oneís enemies that way. But when Abraham Lincoln was asked one day about his enemies, he said, "Madam, I have no enemies. I have destroyed them all by making them my friends through forgiveness!" There is no doubt that this is by far the best way to destroy oneís enemies.

One of the fringe benefits of forgiveness is emotional and physical well-being. A sick person who was suddenly healed of anemia was asked by his doctor if anything out of the ordinary had happened in his life lately. "Yes," said the healed person. "I have suddenly been able to forgive someone against whom I had a terrible grudge; all at once I felt I could, at last, say yes to life."

The Miracle of Forgiveness.

Forgiveness works real miracles in the lives of those who give it as well as those who receive it. A nurse pleaded to be forgiven for a mistake that resulted in the death of a patient. Forgiven, given a second chance which she desperately needed in order to prove herself, she went on to become the head of a large hospital, one of the most honored nurses of her country.

A Korean student studying in Philadelphia was brutally and senselessly killed by a group of delinquents. The boyís parents, devout Christians, sent a letter saying, "We are sad, now, not only because of our sonís unachieved future, but also because of the unsaved souls and paralyzed human nature of the murderers. We thank God that He has given us a plan whereby our sorrow is being turned into Christian purpose Ö Our family has met together and decided to petition that the most generous treatment possible within the laws of your government be given the criminals." They sent $500.00 (five times the per capita yearly income of Koreans). "We are daring to hope that we can do something to minimize such criminal actions which are to be found, not only in your country, but in Korea, and, we are sure, everywhere in the world."

This letter from Korea deeply stirred the conscience of the Philadelphians to new concerns for the problems of their city. One church raised $1.6 million for social work. The city raised a scholarship fund to bring other Korean students to the United States for study. It was a miracle of awakening and concern brought about by the Christian forgiveness of the slain boyís parents.

First Aid.

First aid teaches us to take care of little cuts immediately because, left unattended, they turn into dangerous sores. A wise person gives first aid even to a little cut before it gets worse.

The little "cuts" are the daily disagreements we have with family members and friends. A little grudge, a little grievance nursed, pondered and brooded over, can become a cancer in our souls. We are to take care of these grudges immediately lest they grow and make us enemies. We are to treat them with the "first aid" of forgiveness. "Never let the sun go down on your anger," said St. Paul. Take care of it immediately. Forgive even as you have been forgiven by Christ. Forgive that same day, that same moment, to prevent the spread of the cancer of hatred. Nothing relaxes and reduces the load of hostility as much as forgiveness. There is no more effective "first aid" for mending broken relationships.

How Many Times?

Peter asked Jesus one day, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Seven times?" Seven times is a lot of times. Some of us have not been able to forgive even one time. But Jesus replied in effect, "Peter, thereís no limit to forgiveness. Not seven times but seventy times seven!" Thatís four hundred and ninety times! In other words, forgiveness is not an act. It is an attitude ó an attitude that is born of the fact that we Christians, who have been forgiven a debt we could never pay, are to go out into the world, armed with the spirit of forgiveness: to heal the hurts, right the wrongs, and change society by the spirit of forgiveness.

Dial Forgiveness.

Telephone companies now have direct distance dialing. By first dialing a code you can dial your party direct.

God has had this system in operation since the world began. The code is forgiveness. If we are holding a grudge against another, we are blocking the prayer line to God. So our calls donít get through. St. Paul said to the Ephesians, "Let all bitterness and wrath and clamor and anger and slander be put away from you, with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you" (Ephesians 4:31). St. Paul knew the code.

How many lawsuits would be dropped if we forgave? How many ulcers and heart attacks would be prevented? How many marriages saved? How many parent-child rifts spared if we were kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another even as God in Christ forgave us?

 

12th Sunday after Pentecost.

Let Go! (Matthew 19:16-26).

A person accidentally slipped and fell of a cliff. On the way down he grabbed hold of the branch of a tree and remained suspended there. He started praying as he had never prayed before: "Lord, save me! Lord, Lord!" Suddenly the Lord answered, "Yes?" The man pleaded, "Save me, Lord!"

"Have you attended Church?" asked the Lord.

"Yes, I did whenever I could, but I promise never to miss if You will save me."

"Have you kept the ten commandments?"

"Yes, as much as I could. I promise to obey them to the letter if You will save me."

"Have you said your prayers every day?"

"Yes, Lord, but just get me off the side of this cliff and Iíll be the best praying man in the world."

"Have you given generously to the work of my Church?"

"Yes, I think I have, but Iíll give even more generously in the future. Just get me off the side of this cliff."

"Do you trust Me?"

"Yes, Lord, of course I trust You ó completely."

"Then let go the branch."

Let go the man-made crutches you hold onto. Replace them with a tight grip on God.

Let go the sin that has possessed you. It seems that we become so accustomed to our sins that we feel comfortable with them and refuse to let go.

Let go that hatred. How many times have we heard people say, "Iíll do anything for You, Lord, but just donít ask me to forgive so-and-so."

Let go that alcoholism. A short time ago there was a convention of Alcoholics Anonymous at the Leamington Hotel. Three thousand well-dressed, dignified persons attended the banquet ó all of them former alcoholics. Those who had remained dry for one year were asked to stand up. Then two years, then three. A fellow priest who was there told me that it was the most inspiring sight he had ever seen. All of those people had been brought back from death to life because they had let go the branch, the bottle, arid trusted God.

The rich young man in todayís Gospel lesson came to Jesus seeking eternal life. Knowing that his besetting sin was love of money, Jesus prescribed the remedy: "Sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." The Gospel says that "when he heard this he became sad, for he was very rich. Jesus looking at him said, ĎHow hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!" In other words, how hard it is for those who become so attached to their riches, so enslaved to their material possessions, that they cannot let go because their possessions have become their god.

Like the young man in todayís Gospel lesson, how many there are today who want everything that Christ has to offer: forgiveness, peace, assurance of life eternal with God ó but they donít want to let go their false gods, their besetting sins.

So, the Lord asks us today:

"Do you trust Me?"

We reply,

"Yes, Lord, we trust You."

"Then let go," He says. "Let go the demons, let go the death that is within you."

We reply prayerfully,

"Lord, I let go trusting that You will bring me back to life."

 

13th Sunday after Pentecost.

The Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen (Matthew 21:33-42).

Jesus tells a parable. An owner rents out a vineyard. Again and again he sends messengers to collect the rent. Finally he sends his son feeling that they will respect him. Seeing the son, the tenants decide to kill him that the inheritance might be theirs.

The interpretation of this parable is obvious. The vineyard is the Jewish nation. The householder who so carefully planted the vineyard and hedged it in and made everything ready for the time when it should bear fruit is God, who chose the Jews to be His people, protected them from their enemies, nurtured them in His truth, and trained them in His ways. The cultivators to whom the vineyard was loaned are the Jewish leaders in the succeeding generations. The series of messengers who were sent by the householder to receive a percentage of the fruit of the vineyard and who were stoned and killed are the prophets who were sent by God to Israel to speak His word, and to remind them of their destiny. The householderís son who was sent as a last appeal to them is none other than Jesus Himself.

This parable was spoken by Jesus on Tuesday of Holy Week just before His crucifixion. It was designed to awaken the Pharisees, the scribes and the priests to the terrible sins they had committed in the past against the prophets and the great sin they were about to commit against Godís own Son.

Jesus has much to tell us in this parable about God, about man, and about Himself.

Godís Love.

First, about God and His love. One would have expected God to put his foot down and destroy those tenants who had taken over His property and treated His servants so shamefully. Instead, He keeps making repeated attempts to win them over by sending more and more messengers. Godís love for man is truly incomprehensible! Who among men would tolerate the cruel treatment that Godís servants were subjected to? Who among men would think of sending his own son to a people who had beaten, killed and stoned others that had been sent? Yet this is exactly what God does! "They will respect my son," he says. "But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ĎThis is the heir; come, let us kill him and have the inheritance.í And they took him out of the vineyard, and killed him."

We shall never come to terms with this parable unless we see ourselves involved in it. How do we treat the messengers God sends us today? Certainly, we do not stone them. Weíre not that cruel any more. We have other ó more refined ó ways of getting rid of them. We ignore them. We pay lip service to them. We call ourselves Christians and are members of the Church but the real God some of us worship is not Christ but self. We have many ways even today of rejecting Godís messengers.

"They will respect my son" said God. Is not this the chief end of man? To respect the Son of God when He comes with His claims and promises? To follow Him single-mindedly as Lord and find in Him the fulfillment of life?

Godís Generosity.

The parable tells us secondly of Godís generosity. The vineyard was not a wilderness; it was already "planted" and equipped with everything that was necessary to make the work of the cultivators easy and profitable. It was fenced in by a thick-set thorn hedge to keep out wild animals and thieves. It had a wine press and a watchtower which provided lodging for the cultivators and a spot from which to watch for thieves. Is not God just as generous with us? He not only gives us a task to do; He also gives us the means to do it. He gives us the gift of life; He entrusts to our care this whole big beautiful earth; gives each one of us special talents; He endows us with a mind to create computers and spaceships and solve intricate problems. Truly who is more generous than God?

Godís Trust.

In addition to Godís love and generosity the parable tells us of Godís trust. The owner goes away and leaves the vineyard in sole possession of the cultivators. They are under no restraint whatsoever. He trusts them completely. They are to be their own bosses running the vineyard as they see fit with no one standing over them. Doesnít God pay us the same compliment? Doesnít He give us the freedom to run life as we choose? Truly, one of the wonderful things about God is that He allows us to do so much for ourselves. He endows us with the great gift of free will.

Godís Patience.

The parable tells us of Godís patience. The master sent messenger after messenger to the tenants "to collect his debt." Not once or twice but countless times He gave the cultivators the chance to pay the debt they owed. When the first messenger was abused, He did not treat them with vengeance. He gave them chance after chance.

How wonderful the patience of God! If God had been a man with human reactions, He would long ago have smashed this universe to bits in sheer despair at the sins and follies of men. But not God! He is patient with each one of us even in our sinning. He does not cast us off. To the very end, as with the penitent thief, He waits for us to repent and return to Him. An atheist once tried to prove that there is no God. Dramatically, he pulled his watch and said, "If there is a God, I will give Him one minute to strike me dead." The audience waited through the minute which seemed interminable. Finally, someone rose and asked, "Does the little man think he can exhaust the patience of Almighty God in one minute?"

Godís Judgment

The parable speaks of Godís judgment. God is very patient. Men might even take advantage of His patience but in the end come judgment and justice. Godís forbearance is long but in the end He acts. Having sent His Son into the world in the person of Jesus, God can do nothing more. There is no further appeal. Ultimately we are all to be judged by our response to Godís Son.

"When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?" They said to him, "He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons." The great task which should have belonged to the Jews, said Jesus, will be taken away from them and given to the Gentiles. The Jews should have been the nation to lead all men to God. Instead they rejected Godís Son when He came; so the task of evangelizing the world would be given to the Gentiles whom they despised.

God is merciful, patient, generous, trusting, but He is also just. The cultivators thought that they could kill the son and possess the vineyard for themselves. They must have thought that the owner was too far away to act or that he was dead. Many today still feel that way about God. But He is still very much alive and in charge of things. Because of this, the day of reckoning always comes. He has placed us here in positions of trust, but one day He will return, and, when He does, He will have the right to expect something from us.

Manís Sin.

In addition to speaking to us of Godís love, trust, generosity, patience and judgment, this parable tells us of manís sin. We see it in the stoning and killing of the prophets. We see it ultimately in the crucifixion of Godís Son. "This is the heir; let us kill him and have the inheritance." We see manís sin also in the tenants trying to possess the vineyard. They claim for themselves what has only been lent to them. The stewards try to become the owners. They try to "play" God. They lose sight of the fact that they are tenants enjoying a vineyard they did not plant. Donít most of us do the same? We have this "master-of-the-house" attitude especially when weíve been a little successful in life? We assume all the credit for our success.

A teacher once said to a student, "Youíre a gifted boy." The student blushed and hardly knew which way to turn. He was embarrassed and self-conscious because he felt the talents belonged to him. What the teacher meant when he used the word "gifted" was that his gifts were not his but were entrusted to him by God. How often we try to take over the vineyard and forget the owner? We receive the gifts and forget the Giver.

The Son Himself!

Finally, Jesus says something very important about Himself in this parable. Last of all, says the parable, God sent His Son to them. He had sent servant after servant, messenger after messenger. Now comes not a servant or a messenger, not another Moses or Isaiah, but the Son Himself, God in Person! The parable contains one of the clearest claims Jesus ever made of His uniqueness. He is superior to even the greatest who came before Him. They brought Godís messages; He brings God Himself. They revealed Godís plans; He opens Godís heart. They told men what God wanted; He shows them God in Person. St. Mark expressed it this way, "He had yet one, a beloved son: He sent him last unto them." The author of Hebrews says, "In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son ..." (Hebrews 1:1-2). Here is Godís last word, Godís final invitation, Godís ultimate appeal. This is it! There is nothing more God can do. In his final days, just before His crucifixion, Jesus used this parable to make it crystal clear to the leaders of Israel exactly who He is and what His mission is.

Far from being an "absentee" landlord, who long ago created this world for Himself, then left it and forgot all about it, God is One Who is constantly present, caring, loving, patient, generous, sending messenger after messenger, ultimately even His own Son to offer us the gift of heaven.

 

14th Sunday after Pentecost.

"Friend, How Did You Get in Here Without a Wedding Garment?" (Matt. 22:2-14).

A common nightmare is dreaming that you are at some important event, such as a wedding, a reception, a conference, or a church service, improperly clothed or not clothed at all! If you have ever been at some social event improperly dressed, you know how embarrassed you can become.

Nakedness has special meaning in the Bible. It is used to describe manís standing before God. Having sinned against God, Adam and Eve suddenly became aware of their nakedness. When they heard the voice of God they tried to hide. Adam hid among the trees. We today have our own trees behind which we try to hide from God the nakedness of our soul. We try to hide behind university degrees, stocks, bonds, real estate, furs, diamonds, jewels. We try to hide behind the masks we wear. We pretend to be what we are not, thinking that this way we will hide our nakedness.

No Wedding Garment Jesus once told a parable of a man who came to a wedding feast. The king came in to look at the guests whom he had invited to a wedding feast. He saw there a man who had no wedding garment. Here we need to understand that in those days the host who invited guests to a marriage feast, provided each one with a special wedding garment. This was to be worn upon entering the banquet hall. Upon seeing the person with no wedding garment, the king said to him, "Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?" The guest was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, "Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness."

There is another marriage feast to which the King, who is our Lord, invites all of us. It is the great banquet of the Last Supper: the Sacrament of Holy Communion. This is a real wedding feast because through this Sacrament the Lord Jesus actually weds himself to us and we to Him in the most intimate relationship that exists between God and man: "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I in him" (John 6:56).

The parable tells us that there was one man who had not taken the trouble to come properly prepared. Could it be so with some of us? We approach the Sacrament without having truly repented. Our sins may be hidden from human view. Our fellow parishioners may not suspect us. But there is One who knows, One Whom we cannot escape. It is a terrible moment when He says to us, "Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?"

The Proper Wedding Garment.

What is the proper wedding garment? How does one obtain it?

The same God who invites us to the marriage feast, also provides a wedding garment for all who would come. Man does not buy or earn this wedding garment; it is given to us by God. It is the gift of God. It is the white robe of salvation in Christ. St. Paul speaks of this robe when he says, "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Gal. 3:27). At baptism we are cleansed of sin. We are made pure. But we also put on Christ as we put on a new suit or dress. Yet it is not only at baptism that we put on Christ; if we are true Christians, we are to put Him on every day. Every day we are to put on "the mind of Christ" (I Cor. 2:16) so that we think what He thinks, see what He sees, will what He wills. Every day we are to put on His compassion, His kindness, His lowliness, His meekness, His patience, His forgiveness and above all His love, which binds everything in perfect harmony (Col. 3:12-24).

Yet when many of us come to the great banquet of Godís presence, the Sacrament of Communion, we come as we are. We come with little or no sorrow for our sins. We come with little or no determination to overcome and forsake our sins. We come feeling that God will forgive us anyway; itís His business to forgive just as itís a bakerís business to bake bread. We come and then we go back to the same old sins we were committing before. We take Godís love and justice lightly. We come without real repentance. We come trusting in our own goodness, feeling that we have done so many good works that even God himself is indebted to us. He must accept us. We come wearing the garment of our own self-righteousness and pride. This is exactly the garment the king does not recognize as His own. "He saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ĎFriend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?í " The guest was speechless.

Come Better than You Are.

When God invites us to the wedding feast He does not say, "Come as you are." He says, "Come better than you are. Come clothed with Christ." When the priest invites us to partake of the Eucharist during the liturgy, he faces the congregation with the chalice and says not "Come as you are," but "Come, with the fear of God, with faith and with love." Come, but before you come, make sure you destroy the old sinful man within you. Make sure you have repented of your sins and confessed them. Make sure you detest them, and have decided to forsake them. Come, but before you come, take off the masks of hypocrisy. "Put to death Ö what is earthly in you: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire Ö covetousness Ö anger, malice, slander Ö foul talk" (Col. 3:5-9). Come, but before you come, make sure you put on the wedding garment of the King: put on Christ. Come clothed with repentance, forgiveness, love, and humility.

You Stand on Holy Ground.

God said to Moses at the burning bush, "Do not come near. Put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground" (Exodus 3:5).

God asked him to remove the habitual shoes with which he walked around every day, for he was now standing on holy ground. Should it be any different for us when we stand on the holy ground of His presence in the great Sacrament of Communion?

When we come into the presence of God, we donít wear casual clothes as if it didnít matter much. This is why the Orthodox priest does not wear his everyday street clothes when he celebrates the divine liturgy. He wears special clothes called vestments to denote that we are to come into the presence of God not as we are, but better than we are, clothed with Christ.

A Cover for Manís Nakedness.

Man today experiences a deep nakedness; it is nakedness of the soul: a soul that has lost God. Man has tried to be his own God and has thus come to discover his weakness and insecurity. Look, for example, how naked men feel in regard to the H-bomb. How naked they feel in the presence of disease, illness, and death. This is perhaps why, when a man finds salvation in Christ, he speaks of being "clothed" in it. Emil Brunner, the theologian, says, "We must Ö wrap ourselves up in the grace of God in Jesus Christ just as a little child, when it becomes afraid, wraps itself up in the apron of its mother, has a good cry there, and is ... so comforted that it jumps again happily in the street."

Our great need today is to wrap ourselves up in the grace of God regularly through faith, prayer, the Bible, the Sacraments and the total relinquishment of our life into His hands. The person who daily wraps himself up in the grace of God covers the nakedness of his soul, and is "clothed" with a security that fears neither illness nor death. In the words of the Apostle Paul, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Ö No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loves us" (Romans 8:35-37).

Prayer.

"Into the glorious company of Thy saints how shall I enter, Lord; I who am so unworthy. For should I, too, dare to enter the wedding chamber my robe betrays me, for it is not a wedding garment and I shall be bound and cast out by the angels. Cleanse my soul, O Lord, from wickedness, and of Thy compassion save me."

(Prayer from the Orthodox Service of Preparation for Holy Communion.)

 

16th Sunday after Pentecost.

The Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30).

"All men," says the Declaration of Independence, "are created equal." But how equal are we?

There are many playwrights, but how many Shakespeares? many painters, but how many Rembrandts or El Grecos? many musicians, but how many Rachmaninoffs or Carusos?

We are all equal in that we have a common origin. We are all children of God. We are all equal in worth to God. Because of this, we all have equal and inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But apart from this ó our relationship to God ó there is literally nothing in which all persons are created equal. For example, we are not equal in native capacity or intelligence. This is what the Master tells us in todayís parable of the talents. The three servants in the parable were not equally endowed. One was given five talents, another two, and the third one, "to each according to his ability" (Matthew 25:15). No two persons are alike in ability and thus no two persons are alike in talents. Some have stronger bodies than others; some have more brilliant minds; some have better opportunity to develop their capacities; but every child born into the world receives from the hand of God a specific endowment. No child of God ever receives less than one talent!

The majority of men and women are endowed neither with five talents nor with two, but with one. As one author said,

"In every generation there are a few people who are born with exceptional ability ó four-leaf clovers, so to speak, in the field of life. But the clover which keeps the fields green, feeds the cows and the bees, giving us milk and honey, is the three-leaf clover, the common ordinary kind."

Most of us are three-leaf-clovers, people of average ability, endowed not with five or with two, but with one talent. The woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those who sang best. The trouble is that we refuse to accept the facts about ourselves. We hesitate to come to terms with our limited talents. We try to conceal our one talent either by developing a superiority complex, bragging as if we had more than one talent, or by developing an inferiority complex, denying even our one talent.

St. Paul has another word for "talents." He calls them charismata. The Greek word charisma means something that is given to man by God which man himself could not have acquired or achieved on his own. For example, a person might practice the piano for a lifetime, and yet never play like Gina Bachauer. The great artists become great not solely through practice; they have something more, a charisma, a gift of God. Friml, the great composer, at age 80, said, "I am so full of music that if I donít sit down and write, I will burst." Call it talent, call it charisma, it is a gift of God.

No two persons have the same number or kind of talents. Sometimes we forget this and we begin to compare ourselves with others. We say, "If I had So-and-Soís wealth, or his great influence, or his power, or his personal gifts, how much I could do!" But the real question is, "What use am I making of what I have?"

No man is judged by what he would do if he were someone else, but rather by what he is doing with the gifts he has. I shall not be judged for not being a Moses or a St. Paul, but because I was not myself. God judges every man by a separate yardstick according to each personís ability and talents.

Unreasonable Expectations.

There is great danger here with parents who make unreasonable demands on their children, expecting them to achieve a five-talent brilliance in life when God has endowed them with one talent. Or the parents who compare one child to the other, forgetting that no two children have the same number of talents or the same kind. The result is that the one-talent child develops the idea that it is not worthwhile to develop the talent that he does have. "Why try? I can never hope to do as well in school as my sister or make the football team like my brother." Thus the talent that the child has is oftentimes lost, and a sense of inferiority is permitted to ruin his life. The greatest of all fairy tale writers ó Hans Christian Anderson ó got his start from a publisher who one day saw some of his writing and said, "Not bad. Keep trying. Iíll help you/í Here lies one of the greatest contributions of the parent to the child: to discover what talent God has given each child and to encourage the child to develop it. A beautiful poem was written about children by Miriam Dale,

I am a little child

I paint fearlessly

I hammer loudly

I build recklessly

I read imaginatively

I write originally

I sing rapturously

May man never quell my creativity

Just refine it!

The three servants in todayís parable were equal not only because they were all alike recipients, but also because upon all three was laid equally the responsibility of using what was given. Jesus said, "Unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required." Since our talents, be they many or few, are given to us by God, it is to Him that we are all at last accountable. He does not judge us by the size, the amount of our returns, since those who have been given much will obviously make a bigger return. He judges us rather by the degree of faithfulness with which we have used our gifts, be they many or few. Because we do not have the same number or kind of talents, God will not expect the same performance from all of us. In fact, He will expect our performances to vary greatly. In only one way will He expect our performances to be equal: we should all be faithful.

Jesus thus introduces a new standard of evaluating people. By our standards the great man is the greatly gifted man. By Godís standards the great man is the greatly faithful man. Look at the parable. Jesus does not say to the one who has received five talents, "Because you have been faithful in great things enter into the joy of your Lord," but He says even as He would have said to the one-talent man, "You have been faithful in little, and because you have been faithful in little things, enter into the joy of your Lord."

The One-Talent Man.

The one-talent man did not know the importance that his master attached to the little service that he could have rendered. For the little service that comes from a one-talent man in Godís eyes is equal in value to the great service that comes from the five-talent man. In the parable, Jesus called the one-talent man a "wicked servant" not because he was a murderer or an adulterer, but simply because he hid his talent in the ground. He had something he could use for God, but he failed to make use of it. Edward Hale said,

I am only one,

But still I am one.

I cannot do everything,

But still I can do something;

And because I cannot do everything

I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.

It is because of our faithfulness in little things that the Lord will one day promote us to glory. We shall not be blamed for having only one talent. But we shall be blamed for not using that one talent. When we say "using" a talent, we must exercise care in how we use it. Talent isnít enough. We must ask ourselves, "Talent in the service of what values? Talent in the service of self? Talent in the service of greed? Or talent in the service of Christ and our fellow humans?"

Use It or Lose It.

The man in the parable who had only one talent was afraid to invest it. For if he lost it, he would have lost all he had. "Safety first" was his motto. But how wrong he was! We never really save our talent when we bury it. Godís law for life is, "If you do not use it, you lose it." For example, perhaps we have only a little faith. Bury the little faith we have and we lose it. Use it and we increase it. Our gift for prayer may be small. Bury it and it becomes smaller. Use it, and it is enlarged. Perhaps we have only a little human understanding, compassion and kindness. Bury it and it will disappear. Use it, and it will grow. Use it or lose it. But you canít bury it.

God has given each one of us some unique talent or capacity which no one else in this world possesses. Each one of us has a certain way of being helpful to others, and an ability to do certain things as no other person can do them. This gives every man, woman, and child the value of uniqueness. The world would be less if we had not been born. We have added something that was not here before we came. That something is from God, and it is precious beyond all price. Think not then that we donít matter. God has entrusted us with something He gave to no other person, and the way we use it is just as important to Him as the way our most gifted men and women use the talents they possess. As Edwin Mark-ham says,

"There is waiting a work where only your hands can avail: And so, if you falter, a chord in the music will fail."

Creativeness in the world is, as it were, the eighth day of creation. As Christians we are called to be instruments of God in the continuing act of creation through the development and use of our talents.

Jesus once told a story about a fig tree. After three years during which the tree bore no fruit, the owner grew impatient and ordered it to be cut down. But the gardener asked for one more yearís grace to see if he could not cultivate it so that it would produce. But he concluded with these words: "And if it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, cut it down" (Luke 13:9). Just to stay alive is not enough. We are here to produce.

Sometimes we look at a great person and we say, "Isnít he a gifted individual?" Yet are we not all gifted? Even the one talent is not ours, but a gift from God. These gifts are Godís investment in our life. The point of the parable is that God expects a return on His investment. One day He will ask us to account for what we did with the gifts He entrusted to us.

"You have small talents" someone said to a Christian. And the Christian replied, "Yes, but I have a great God." "He who abides in Me," said Jesus, "and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit."

"Stir up the gift of God that is in you," said St. Paul to Timothy.

Prayer.

We thank you, dear Lord, for endowing each one of us with talents. Help us to remember that these are the means You gave us for fulfilling our mission on earth, for enriching not only our own lives, but also the lives of our fellow humans till that great day when we shall be called before You to render our account.

 

17th Sunday after Pentecost.

The Canaanite Woman and Intercessory Prayer (Matthew 15:21-28).

Bob Hope said once, "I thought it was wonderful when Astronaut Gordon Cooper prayed during his 17th orbit. That was the place to do it. From there it was a local call!"

If anyone ever put in a "local" call to God, it was the woman in todayís Gospel lesson. She came to Jesus in person, pleading desperately in behalf of her sick daughter. Here is a wonderful example of intercessory prayer.

What Is It?

Intercessory prayer is praying for others as the Canaanite mother prayed for her daughter. We identify ourselves with the sufferer and are willing to take up his burden. It is an expression of love; we care enough for others to share their burdens by praying for them.

The great litany at the very beginning of the liturgy is a good example of intercessory prayer. It is an all-embracing prayer showing the Churchís concern for everyone and everything in the universe.

We have many examples of intercessory prayer in the Bible. We have the prayer of Jesus for Peter: "Simon, Simon, behold Satan demanded to have you that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren" (Luke 22:31, 32). Here we see the power of Christís prayer strengthening Peter when his faith is tested. St. Paul writes to the Thessalonians, "Brothers, pray for us" (I Thessalonians 5:25); to the Romans "... without ceasing I mention you in my prayers Ö" (Romans 1:9); to the Colossians, "We have not ceased to pray for you" (Colossians 1:8-9). The Apostle James writes, "The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects" (James 5:13, 16). Through intercessory prayer we Christians have the tremendous privilege of bringing our fellow humans to the throne of Godís grace. It is love in action. The prophet Samuel said, "... God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you Ö" (I Samuel 12:23). The Christian prays not only for loved ones but also for those who are hard to love. "Pray for those who persecute you," said Jesus in Matthew 5:44.

Comedian Bob Hope was aboard an airplane which was caught in a storm. The plane rocked back and forth with frequent elevation drops. The passengers displayed tenseness. Looking across the aisle, he noticed a man praying. Not lost for words even in great crises, he tapped the man on the shoulder and asked, "Say, would you mind making that a package deal?"

Intercession through which we express to God our concern for others makes every prayer what it really should be: a "package deal." One person takes the newspaper with him every night when he prays. He reads the birth notices and prays for the babies who were born that day. He reads the marriage notices and prays for the couples who are to be married. He reads the deaths in the obituary column and prays that Godís comfort may come to those who have lost loved ones. There is no end to the number of persons we can bring to the throne of Godís grace through intercessory prayer.

The Chaplain of the United States Senate was asked once, "Do you pray for the Senate?" "No," he replied, "I look at the Senators and pray for the country." After all, it isnít only senators who need prayer.

The "Hold-Up" Prayer.

Some time ago a ministerís wife wrote that she had been using her "hold-up" prayer for a certain person ó "just holding you silently in Godís presence for a while," she said to him.

Hereís how she explains the prayer, "On numerous occasions in my life I have felt a certain lifting of spirit that meant just one thing: someone was praying for me. This knowledge sends me to my knees to pray for someone else. I donít try to tell God what that other person needs: He knows. My aim is simply to hold that person up before God for a while, in love and wordless concern."

If someone has been unkind, hold that person up in Godís presence. If a child has been difficult, hold him up for God to embrace. Friend, enemy, husband, wife, neighbor, priest, world leader ó hold each up to receive our Lordís love. Who can tell what changes would result if enough people did this every day of their lives!

One housewife found a new way of praying one day while ironing. She got to thinking about how many lines there were ó bus lines, telephone lines, clothes lines, fishing lines. "Why not a prayer line?" she asked. So she strung up a short rope across one corner of her kitchen. On it she hung cards with the names of shut-ins, of the sick and the bereaved. As she ironed she prayed for those people by name.

Father John of Kronstadt writes, "Pray for all as you would pray for yourself, with the same sincerity and fervor; look upon their infirmities and sicknesses as your own, their spiritual ignorance, their sins and lusts, as your own, their temptations, misfortunes and manifold afflictions as your own. Such prayer will be accepted with great favor by the Heavenly Father, the most gracious, common Father of all, whose boundless love embraces and preserves all creatures."

One Who Prays For You.

Perhaps you feel that while you pray for others, no one prays for you. I call upon you today to remember that there is One who is always praying for us: our one and only Intercessor in heaven who stands before the throne of God the Father and prays for us unceasingly, Jesus our Advocate, who shed his tears for us, who shed his blood for us, who prays for us now, as He prayed for Peter, that our faith fail not.

Frank C. Laubach has written, "Most of us will never enter the White House and offer advice to the President. Probably he will never have time to read our letters. But we can give him what is far more important than advice. We can give him a lift into the presence of God, make him hungry for divine wisdom, which is the grandest thing one ever does for another. We can visit the White House with prayer as many times a day as we think of it, and every such visit makes us a channel between God and the President" (Prayer the Mightiest Force in the World by Frank C. Laubach, Spire Books. Used by permission.). Truly, there is no place intercessory prayer cannot reach, no door it cannot open.

Mr. Laubach also believes in what he calls "shooting" prayers toward people either on the street, on a bus, or wherever he may be. He describes how he sits on a bus and looks around at the other passengers. He picks the most discouraged face and aims prayer at the person, saying to himself several times, "Jesus will help you." "Flashing hard and straight prayers at people in a bus while repeating, ĎJesus Ö Jesus Ö Jesus ..." will sometimes make those near you act as if they had been spoken to." He tells how suddenly a scowl is replaced by a smile because of the prayers and love that he "shoots" at people.

Living Examples.

A powerful story of intercessory prayer was told by an alcoholic who was taken to a hospital a few years ago. He was placed in a room with three other patients who did nothing but scream. When night came, he prayed to be able to sleep, but the screams continued.

Then suddenly he changed his approach; he began to pray for his three roommates. "May God give you peace," he said quietly over and over. The screams stopped. "Not only that," the alcoholic reported later, "it was as if something broke in me. Praying for them released my own tension. I was free." A short time later he was well enough to go home.

I share with you another experience that happened in our own congregation. Our Friday prayer group had been praying for a parishioner who was going through a very painful and dangerous post-operative experience in a hospital. At the exact time he was being remembered in prayer by the group, the patient who was sleeping, felt a sense of the presence of God as he had never experienced it before. He dreamed that the priest was by his bedside praying for him. This was so real he woke up expecting to find the priest there. But the room, of course, was empty. Yet the sense of Godís presence remained with him and proved to be the turning point in his illness. It was later, as we talked together, that we discovered that all this had happened at the exact time the group had united their hearts in prayer for him.

In 1938 a monk died on Mt. Athos, Archimandrite Sofrony, whose biography "The Undistorted Image" was written by Rosemary Edmunds. He was a very simple man, a peasant from Russia. For a long time he was in charge of the monastery workshops on Mr. Athos where Russian peasants would work for a year or two to earn some money and go back home to support their families. One day other monks who were in charge of other workshops said, "Father Sofrony, how is it that people who work in your workshops work so well while you never supervise them, while we spend our time looking after them and they try continuously to cheat us in their work?" Father Sofrony replied, "I donít know. I can only tell you what I do about it. When I come in the morning, I never come without having prayed for those people and I come with my heart filled with compassion and with love for them, and when I walk into the workshop I have tears in my soul for love of them. And then I give them the task they have to perform in the day and as long as they will work I will pray for them, so I go to my cell and I begin to pray about each of them individually Ö and when the day is over I go, I say a few words to them, we pray together and they go to their rest." Here again we see what intercessory prayer can do when it is combined with sincere love and compassion.

The Misuse of Intercessory Prayer.

Like every good thing, intercessory prayer can be misused. Strange as it may seem, it can become a way of washing our hands of people. "Iím praying for you," can be used as an escape from involvement. As someone said, "I was lonely and you left me alone to pray for me."

Here we must emphasize that prayer is a cooperative effort between God and us. Once we have prayed we must set out to make our prayers come true. We must back them up with all we have. There is no point in praying that the lonely be cheered and the sorrowing comforted unless we are prepared to do something for the lonely and the sorrowing. Prayer is not pushing all the work off on to God. God does not begin to help us until we begin to help ourselves.

Two brief examples may help us here.

A priest once asked Pope John to pray for the paralyzed wife of a friend. "We can do more than that," said the Pope. He immediately called for his car and had his driver take him with the priest directly to the house of the paralyzed woman where he chatted for some time and then prayed for her, much to the delight of the woman and her family. Prayer was combined with a visit to show personal love and concern.

A poor farmer had an accident one day and broke his leg. That meant that he would be laid up for a long time, unable to work. His family was large and needed help. Someone organized a prayer meeting at the church to pray for his family. While the people were asking God to help the family, there was a loud knock on the door.

Someone tiptoed to the door, opened it, and there stood a young farm boy who said, "My dad could not attend the prayer meeting tonight, so he just sent his prayers in a wagon/í And there was the wagon loaded with potatoes, meat, apples, and other produce from the farm. This is what intercessory prayer is all about. Far from being an escape from involvement. It motivates us to help the person being prayed for in whatever way we can.

Living as We Pray.

I knelt to pray when day was done,

And prayed, "Lord, bless everyone,

Lift from each saddened heart the pain

And let the sick be well again."

And when I awoke at break of day,

And carelessly I went on my way.

The whole day long I did not try

To wipe a tear from any eye.

I did not even go to see

The sick man just next door to me.

Yet once again when day was done,

I prayed, "Lord, bless every one,"

But as I prayed, unto my ear

There came a voice that whispered clear,

"Pause, hypocrite, before you pray.

Whom have you tried to bless today?"

Godís sweetest blessings always go

By hands which serve Him below.

And then I hid my face and cried,

"Forgive me, God, for I have lied.

Let me live another day,

And I will live the way I pray!"

Author unknown

18th Sunday after Pentecost.

"Put Out into the Deep" (Luke 5:1-11).

A passenger on one of the old Mississippi steamboats said to the captain one day, "Captain, I suppose you know every shallow spot in the river." "No, I donít," replied the captain. "It would be a waste of time." "What! A waste of time? If you donít know where the shallow spots are, how can you pilot the boat?" "Yes, a waste of time," the captain repeated. "Why should I go kicking about among the sandbanks. I know where the deep waters are."

In the Gospel lesson today Jesus said to Peter, "Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch." The disciples had been fishing all night without catching a thing. The reason for their failure was that they were too close to shore. Peter obeyed Jesus and the result was the largest catch of all.

"Put out into the deep." These words are symbolic of the way we live. Too many of us skim the surface of life, we hug the shore. If we really want to live, we must launch out into the deep, and putting our faith in the Lord Jesus, let down our nets.

"Put out into the deep." Somehow these words express so well the mind and the heart of Jesus. He was forever inviting people into deep waters, realizing that there was little worth taking in the shallows.

"Put out into the deep." Truth is not always on the surface. The surface is that which is on top; that which we see first. To get to really know persons and things we have to penetrate below the surface. Truth is deep. That is why first impressions about people are often so wrong, so superficial. It is when we pierce a deeper level of a personís character that we get to know the truth about him.

"Put out into the deep." The Kingdom of God is love and joy and peace. But Godís kingdom is not to be reached by living on the surface. God is in the depths. Paul Tillich called Him the "inexhaustible depth and ground of all being." To reach Him we must break through the surface. We must penetrate the deep things of ourselves, of our world, and of God. We must ask deep questions: What is the meaning of my life? Where did I come from? Where am I going?

I recall the owner of a sailboat saying, "Among the many things sailing has taught me, one of the most important is the adventure of getting out of the harbor into the deep where the wind and the waves wait for the sailboat. There is no sailing as long as one hugs the shore or stays tied to the buoy. One has to move out of the shallow waters into the wind and the waves. This is where the mysterious power called the wind can move the boat and where the thrill of sailing comes."

Is it not the same with our faith? As long as we hug the shore, making sure we can touch bottom, we shall never know the thrill of swimming, of relinquishing ourselves to the water and letting it hold us up. The famous Danish philosopher Kierkegaard used the illustration of the swimmer who wants to keep a toehold on the bottom rather than trust himself to the water. He is not really a swimmer until he ventures out into the deep, abandoning the support of the toehold for the support of the water. Faith is like lying on "70,000 fathoms of water," relying solely on the buoyancy of the sea. In other words, we are either going to trust the water or we are going to trust our own foothold on the bottom. The Christian is one who is called to move out of the shallows of self-trust and into the deep of a total relinquishment of his life to Christ as Lord and Master. Only then will he be able to feel the everlasting arms of God upholding him as he lies on "70,000 fathoms of water."

Occasionally, people have seen a strange sight at sea. The wind, the tide, and the surface ice will all be going in one direction, but moving majestically against these forces will be an iceberg. There is a reason why the iceberg moves against the wind and tide. Only a tiny part of the iceberg is visible above the surface. Deep down in the water is the base which is controlled by more powerful and deeper currents than those on the surface.

So it is with the Christian who puts out into the deep of a total faith, a total relinquishment of his life to Christ. He is controlled by deeper, more powerful currents than those on the surface. He moves against them with a clear, strong purpose. To change the metaphor a little and use the words of the Psalmist, "He is like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers" (Psalm 1:3).

Prayer.

Dear Lord, in response to Your call to "put out into the deep," may we launch out from the shallows into the depths of Your boundless love. Help us to sever the ties that hold us in the shallows of a purposeless existence. As the disciplesí boats were filled to overflowing with fish when they obeyed Your command, so we pray, fill our lives to overflowing with Your power, peace, and joy as we relinquish our toehold on the bottom and make the leap of faith into Your loving arms. Amen.

 

19th Sunday after Pentecost.

"But Love Your EnemiesÖ" (Luke 6:31-36).

The acid test of love is not whether we love our friends, but whether we love our enemies. A great Russian Saint asked, "How do we know whether a person abides in God and is sincere in his Christian faith? There is no other way of ascertaining this than by examining the personís life to see if he loves his enemies. Where there is love for oneís enemy, there also is God." That is the great test of whether we are in tune with God; for that is what God Himself does. He sends His rain on the just and the unjust. Chesterton said once, "Love means to love that which is unlovable, or it is no virtue at all."

Impractical?

But to love our enemies in a world like ours seems highly impractical. To love your enemy ó some object ó is to allow him to take advantage of you. To love your enemy is to let him step all over you.

So we thought, until psychology and psychiatry came along and taught us a few things about hostility and hostile people. Specifically, they told us that a hostile person hates because he fears you will strike him; so, to protect himself, he strikes first. He is hostile because he expects vilification and hatred from you. The last thing he expects is love. So if, instead of hatred, you give him love, you will disarm him. Love is what he craves more than anything else. Love is the only thing that can destroy his hostility.

"Give him the devil!" said someone to a friend who had suffered an injustice at the hands of a third party. The reply he received was truly inspired, "Heís already got the devil. Iíd like to give him God." To love your enemy is to give him God.

But does God expect us to love the sin and the evil people do? Of course not. He expects us to hate the sin but to love the sinner. But isnít this splitting hairs? How can one distinguish between the sin and the sinner? Yet we make this same distinction every day with ourselves. We do terrible things; we commit egregious errors. We hate the errors we commit, but we continue to love ourselves. Do the same with others, said Jesus. "Love your neighbor as yourself." Hate the sin; love the sinner. Someone expressed it this way, "To love oneís enemy does not mean to love the mud in which the pearl lies, but to love the pearl that lies in the mud."

Why?

Why must I love my enemy? That I may be a child of the Father. "Love your enemies Ö and you will be sons of the Most High." God wants me to be what He is. He loves His enemies. He does good to those who hate Him. He prepares green pastures for us when our just reward would be a desert. He leads us by still waters when we might have expected a land of drought. While we were yet sinners, God loved us and died for us. Shortly before He died Jesus told His disciples: "A new commandment I give unto you; that you love one another, even as I have loved you."

"Love your enemies." The man who makes your misery his policy, who dogs your steps, who sets snares for your feet, who twists your words, who is always pointing out the fly in the ointment, and who is never happier than when he is slowly dropping bitterness into your cup; your enemy, love him. Love him for My sake, says Jesus. Love him "even as I have loved you." But love him also because your enemy is first of all an enemy to himself. The bitterness which he drops into your cup has, first of all, poisoned his own cup. Forget the superficial injury he inflicts on you and think of the fatal injury he is inflicting upon himself. On your part he creates bitterness; on his part he commits suicide.

As the great Russian priest Father John of Kronstadt writes in his inspiring book "The Life of Christ:" "Every person that does any evil, that gratifies any passion, is sufficiently punished by the evil he has committed, by the passions he serves, but chiefly by the fact that he withdraws himself from God, and God withdraws Himself from him: it would therefore be insane and most inhuman to nourish anger against such a man; it would be the same as to drown a sinking man, or push into the fire a person who is already being devoured by the flame. To such a man, as to one in danger of perishing, we must show double love, and pray fervently to God for him; not judging him, not rejoicing at his misfortune. For My sake, says Jesus, but for their sakes, too, Ďlove your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you and persecute you.

We are to love people not because they are attractive but because they need love. The very fact that a person dislikes you may mean that he needs you. His soul is warped by his hatred of you, and you alone can warm him and free him. Ashley Montagu has written, "Show me a hardened criminal, a juvenile delinquent, a psychopath or a Ďcold fishí and in almost every case I will show you a person resorting to desperate means in order to attract the emotional warmth and attention he failed to get but which he so much desires and needs. ĎAggressiveí behavior when fully understood is, in fact, nothing but love frustrated, a technique for compelling love ó as well as means for taking revenge on society which has let that person down, disillusioned, deserted and dehumanized him. Hence, the best way to approach aggressive behavior in children is not by further aggressive behavior towards them, but with love. And this is true not only for children but for human beings of all ages."

Thus, two major reasons why we should love our enemies is first that they need love; and, second, love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.

A third reason is fairly obvious. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate. Only love can break the vicious circle. A man once bought a farm and was walking the bounds of his new property when he met his next door neighbor. "Donít look now," said the neighbor, "but when you bought this piece of ground, you also bought a lawsuit with me. Your fence is ten feet over on my land."

Now this is a classic opening for a feud that could go on for centuries and create generations of enemies. But the new owner smiled and said, "I thought Iíd find some friendly neighbors here, and Iím going to. And youíre going to help me. Move the fence where you want it, and send me the bill. Youíll be satisfied and Iíll be happy."

Well, the fence was never moved, and the potential enemy was never the same again. He became a friendly neighbor. Love quenched the fire of hatred.

The ultimate reason why we should love our enemies is expressed in the words of Jesus: "Love your enemies Ö and you will be sons of the Most High." We are all potential sons of God. Through love that potentiality becomes actuality. We must love our enemies because only by loving them can we know God and experience the beauty of His holiness.

How?

How is it possible to love oneís enemy?

1. It is not possible unless one first loves God. Jesus gave us the clue when He said, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength and with all thy soul, and thy neighbor as thyself." If you love God with your whole being, then you will love your neighbor, even though he be an enemy. Such love is a gift of the Holy Spirit abiding in us.

2. "Do good to them that hate you," said Jesus. St. Paul says, "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drinkÖ . overcome evil with good" (Rom. 12:20-21). Do something good for your enemy and it will surprise you to find how much easier it will be to love him. It will help him remove the bitterness from his heart. But overcoming evil with good means that we must take the first step; we must begin by doing some kind act. "That enemy is best defeated who is defeated by kindness."

A wise physician said once, "I have been practicing medicine for 30 years, and I have prescribed many things. But in the long run I have learned that for most of what ails the human creature, the best medicine is love."

"What if it doesnít work?" he was asked.

"Double the dose," he replied.

3. Jesus says, "Pray for them who Ö persecute you." Remember them on your knees. Name them quietly and kindly in the most secret place. Offer them the highest privilege it is in your power to grant ó the privilege of being remembered when you are face to face with God. No person can pray for another and still hate him. One of the best ways of killing bitterness is to pray for the man we are tempted to hate.

4. Look for some good in your enemy. There is good as well as bad in the worst of us. Fr. John of Kronstadt writes: "When your brother sins against you in any way ó for instance, if he speaks ill of you, or transmits with an evil intention your words in a perverted form to another, or calumniates you ó do not be angered against him, but seek to find in him those good qualities which undoubtedly exist in every man, and dwell lovingly on them, despising his evil calumnies concerning you as dross, not worth attention, as an illusion of the Devil. The gold-diggers do not pay any attention to the quantity of sand and dirt in the gold-dust, but only look for the grains of gold; and though they are few, they value this small quantity, and wash it out of heaps of useless sand. God acts in a like manner with us, cleansing us with great and long forbearance."

5. Do good, pray, look for the good in your enemy, and finally develop the capacity to forgive. Without forgiveness it is impossible even to begin the act of loving oneís enemies. This forgiveness must begin with the one who has been wronged. Only the injured person can pour out the warm waters of forgiveness. Here is an example:

On April 9, 1968 ó the day of Martin Luther Kingís funeral ó a white bus driver named Martin Whitted was pulled out of his bus in San Francisco by eleven black youths who savagely beat him and left him mortally wounded. He died shortly thereafter. Tension rose in the black and white communities. Rumors of violence began to spread. Then Dixie Whitted, the bus driverís widow, appeared on television. Her reaction to her husbandís murder was something moving, something extraordinary, something not of this world. Quietly she spoke of her love for her husband and her faith in Christ. She told the people to refrain from violence, to be peacemakers instead. Through the power of Christ, she said, she had no bitterness or hate. She asked that a memorial fund be established not for herself but for all the young people in the area where her husband was killed.

The results of her compassionate act were electric. Cynical television crewmen cried. A Stanford coed called in to say that her whole life was changed by this Christian witness. A prisoner, who identified himself as a negro, wrote to Mrs. Whitted: "I owe you a debt. You have never known me but because of your way, your deep understanding, the beauty of your refusal to hate ... Iíll never be able again to hate collectively all white men. What a monument you and your children are to your husbandís memory."

"But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful."

 

20th Sunday after Pentecost.

The Widow of Nain ó How to Handle Grief (Luke 7:11-16).

Those who have fought on the battlefield tell us that the loss of a comrade is more painful to a soldier than a bullet through his own body. One can imagine how painful must have been the grief of the widow in this morningís Gospel lesson on her way to the cemetery to bury her only child ó a son.

"A large crowd was with her," says the Gospel. But no matter how many people around her, she was now alone, aware only of her pain and grief. She had no one. In the beautiful city of Nain all she could see was two graves ó that of her husband and now that of her only son.

This is the story of one woman. It happened long ago and far away. But isnít it really everyoneís story? Life can be beautiful for a while, but inevitably the day comes when it is no longer so. There is suffering; there is trouble; there is war; there is fear; there is death.

The result of all this suffering is grief ó an utterly painful experience that every single one of us must at some point in life come to terms with. Most often it is a pretty devastating experience.

It is not only death that brings on grief. There are many other experiences of loss in life that bring on the same kind of pain. The loss of a job, the failure to receive an expected promotion; having to move from a place you love and leave behind dear friends; separation or divorce, forced retirement when you have to leave behind the work that has been a vital part of your life for so many years, the giving up of a child through marriage or a child going off to college or into service, a sudden setback in oneís health, a financial loss ó all these experiences cause grief. They are like amputations; they destroy a part of us; they bring death to a part of our lives.

How does one handle grief effectively? Someone has said that grief is one of the daggers that life throws at us and it makes all the difference in the world whether we catch it by the blade or the handle.

We live in an age of miracle drugs. There are few pains that science today cannot lessen or eliminate completely with the so-called pain pills. Yet, there is no pill or sedative that can ease the anguish, loneliness and suffering of a grieving and broken heart.

Medical authorities tell us that the mismanagement of grief causes all sorts of illnesses from ulcers to diabetes to psychosis. It may even lead to suicide. Many times we read in the newspaper a news item that concludes a suicide story with the statement, "Relatives say that Mrs. So-and-so had been depressed since the loss of her husband six months ago."

Some people feel that the greatest cure for grief is time. Yet time alone will not heal grief completely. Time can do terrible things to grief. It can turn it into bitter resentment which can poison the body and the mind. If we are to cure grief we must cooperate with time in ways that are constructive ó a few of which we shall now mention.

Express It! One of the most serious mistakes we can make is to refuse to express our grief, to keep it bottled up, or, as some people say, "to keep a stiff upper lip." It is such unexpressed grief that causes all sorts of physical and mental ailments. Modern psychiatry has emphasized that when the eyes refuse to cry, other organs in the body will begin to cry with all kinds of psychosomatic illnesses resulting.

One young pastor who lost his wife through cancer refused to talk about it with anyone or shed tears. In fact, he conducted the funeral himself. Some of the people in the congregation said, "What faith!" Others who knew better said, "What foolishness!" It was not long before he collapsed in the pulpit. The diagnosis was emotional exhaustion due to unresolved grief. Hospitalized for three weeks, it was not until he began to talk about his wifeís sickness and death and the great loss to himself and the children that he began to regain his composure. There is an extreme necessity for grief to be expressed.

Let the Tears Flow.

A very constructive way of expressing grief is to let the tears flow. The stoic philosophers used to advise, "Donít mourn. Self-control is the answer to sorrow." Jesus taught the opposite, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." In other words, "Blessed are those who go through the difficult task of mourning, for they shall find healing comfort."

In our culture we often equate tears with weakness. "Big boys donít cry," we say. We even say, "If she had enough faith as a Christian she would not cry." Yet tears have nothing to do with weakness or lack of faith. When Lazarus died, St. John writes in 11:35, "Jesus wept." And the next verse says very simply but profoundly, "And the Jews said, ĎSee how much he loved him.í " The fact that Jesus wept teaches us that sorrow is natural. Jesus wept even though He knew that life is eternal. Tears are an expression of love. Even the sure knowledge of eternal life will not take all the grief out of the human heart when we lose a loved one. St. Paul says, "Do not grieve as others who have no hope." He is not saying that we should not grieve; he is saying that we should grieve with Christian hope.

The Jews in the days of Jesus had some very healthy customs pertaining to mourning. As we see in the Gospel today, friends would surround the grieved persons to help them in their grief. "A large crowd from the city" was with the widow of Nain. Deep sorrow lasted for seven days. The first three were days of weeping. During the first week one could not anoint himself, put on shoes, engage in any kind of study or business, or even wash. This time was to be spent in total mourning. One had to face his loss and express the grief. Everything that distracted a person from this primary task was removed. Then followed thirty days of lighter mourning. To this day our Jewish brethren are not wary of expressing grief.

The Greeks are very much like the Jews in this respect. It is interesting that the Greeks have been Christian longer than any other European people. The greatest feast of the Orthodox Church is Easter celebrating the resurrection of Christ as well as faith in our own personal resurrection. Yet the Greek people wail loudly at funerals and speak of departed loved ones with tears in their eyes. Not to do so would be considered unnatural. To facilitate the healthy expression of grief, our Church sponsors memorial services on specified Saturdays throughout the year and on anniversaries of our loved onesí passing. The Church has always realized that in many ways a grieving person is like a steam engine. Unless the steam can escape in a controlled way, pressure will build up and the boiler will explode.

Guilt.

Rare is the person who has suffered a grievous loss in death who does not experience some guilt. We recall the many things we left undone, or the unkind things we did to the deceased. The husband feels he should have been more considerate of his wife; a parent feels he should have spent more time with his child; a wife feels she should have made fewer demands on her husband. Part of our guilt comes from the fact that, after a person has died, we can no longer make it up to him in any way.

The trouble with such guilt is that we expect ourselves to be perfect. We expect ourselves to be superhuman or even God. We must realize that we are all frail and imperfect beings. We need to accept Godís forgiveness, to forgive ourselves, as our loved ones in the other world would surely forgive us, and, above all, to be kind to ourselves instead of harsh critics.

Self-pity.

One of the most unconstructive ways of dealing with grief is to allow it to lead you to self-pity. The cure for self-pity is to take your mind off self and think of others. Consider an example. One lady loses her son, a medical student. She places her spacious home at the disposal of medical students and does everything she can for them in memory of her son. She turns the loss of her son into gain for other peopleís sons. She is adjusted and happy. But another woman who loses her son shuts herself off from the world and goes into excessive, unhealthy grief. She becomes miserable. It is no wonder that self-pity has been called the most disintegrating of all emotions.

Faith.

To see how faith can help us in our grief let us go back for a moment to the Gospel lesson. We can see the widow walking behind her sonís coffin on the way to the cemetery. Her hopes, her aspirations, her dreams were being buried in that coffin. "A young man who had died was being carried out" to the cemetery, says the Gospel. The procession of death was making its way through the city gates.

But there was another procession that day: Jesus and His disciples, and "a great crowd Ö with him." The two processions met at the city gate. The motherís grief touched Jesus and He said, "Do not weep." Then He laid His hand on the coffin and commanded the dead one: "Young man, I say to thee, arise." And he who was dead, sat up, and began to speak. And Jesus gave him to his mother.

Two processions! At the head of one is a corpse, symbolizing despair, grief, sorrow, the helplessness and the hopelessness of man. At the head of the other is Christ, the Eternal One, the Savior, sent to stop manís tragic trek to the grave, to offer him salvation, hope, peace and life eternal. Small wonder that "fear seized them all!" Small wonder they cried out, "God has visited his people!"

As God visited His people then so He visits us today to grant us hope and comfort in our sorrow. Because of Christ we never grieve as though what has happened to us or to our loved one is the end of the story. It is not! The presence of Christ, the promise of the resurrection, the love of God from which nothing can separate us, the assurance of forgiveness, the confidence in eternal life, all mean hope. A hope that changes the very character of our grief.

To show how Christ is still present today to comfort us in our grief, let me share with you a letter written by a daughter who had lost a child to her father:

Dear Daddy,

I have been thinking about what you said to me the last time you were here. You said that I was the most thoroughly adjusted person you had ever seen. It was a great compliment and it made me very happy. But in all honesty I must tell you that I can take none of the credit for the adjustment Iíve made since the loss of our Sharon. For without the very near presence of Jesus Christ, I never, never could have made any adjustment at all.

You see, it was all His doing. The only thing I have done is literally to throw myself at His feet in complete and utter desperation, and this was only weakness on my part, not strength. Then His love and strength began to flow into my miserable self, and I began to see again the beauty and purpose of life. Without Christís help, I would still be there, weeping and despairing. So you see, it isnít I that have made a good adjustment, it is Christ who has done it for me.

I felt I had to tell you this, because you gave me the credit when it belongs to Him. But thank you, Daddy, for giving me the compliment, because it has given me an opportunity to share with you my reason for finding peace.

Your loving daughter, Elaine.

 

21st Sunday after Pentecost.

The Parable of the Soils (Luke 8:5-15).

(Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council)

A young man was impatient. He wanted everything in life all at once. He could not wait. One night he dreamed he was in a shop. Behind the counter was an angel. Nervously he asked what the shop sold. "Everything your heart desires," said the angel. ĎĎThen I want peace on earth, an end to sorrow, famine and diseaseÖ" "Just one moment," smiled the angel. "You havenít quite understood. We donít sell fruits here ó only seeds."

It is not only great oak trees that from tiny acorns grow; most ideas and thoughts grow from seeds that have been sown in our minds and hearts. How important then are the thoughts sown in the mind!

Sow a thought, reap an act, Sow an act, reap a habit, Sow a habit, reap a character, Sow a character, reap a destiny.

In the natural world seeds are so powerful that they can push through thick black asphalt. What of the heartís seeds of love, hate, compassion, greed, envy? Let us never doubt their power to push through any part of our lives where there is an entering wedge.

John Oxenham wrote,

I spoke a word

And no one heard;

I wrote a word,

And no one cared

Or seemed to heed.

But after half a score of years

It blossomed in a fragrant deed.

Preachers and teachers all we are,

Sowers of seed unconsciously,

Our hearers are beyond our ken,

Yet all we give may come again

With usury of joy and pain;

We never know

To what one little word may grow.

See to it, then, that all your seeds

Be such as bring forth noble deeds.

In todayís Gospel lesson Jesus compares the truth, which is His word, to a seed. The seed is scattered everywhere: on the beaten path, among rocks and thorns as well as on good ground. It falls everywhere with the same possibility and promise of life and growth. Every word in the Gospels is a seed, the beginning of an endless process of development.

Sometimes we hear people say, "If only I had an opportunity to hear God speak in Person, I would run my feet bloody to get there." Yet God speaks to us in Person every Sunday when His words are read in the Gospel and preached in the sermon. God has given us His word in Church and at home in the Holy Bible. This is Godís word as surely as if God Himself were speaking to us.

The word of God is the seed: His parables, His healings, His miracles but also the Word (Logos) Himself Who was cast as a seed into the ground and buried to be raised to new life. Jesus sowed His seed oíer hill and dale, and on the last bare hill He sowed Himself. This is how far the love of God has gone for us.

The Soils.

The emphasis in the parable is not on the seed or the sower but on the soil which is the final determining factor as to whether or not the seed bears fruit. The seed falls on four types of soil, says Jesus. Three out of four reject it. I suppose this means that there are four types of people who go to church. Three out of four receive no lasting good by going. Three out of four will miss the point of this sermon or perhaps get the point and be offended by it, or perhaps not hear the sermon because their mind is on some other matter or on no matter at all because they will sleep or daydream through it.

If Christianity has experienced crop failure through the centuries, it is because Godís truth was preached but not accepted. The fault is not in the truth, the seed, but in the soil, the hearts of the hearers, where the truth was never allowed to take root.

Let us look briefly at the four types of soil as Jesus described them.

Those Along the Path.

"The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, that they may not believe and be saved."

We have heard of hardening of the arteries, but a far more deadly disease is hardening of the heart toward God. One stops the flow of blood causing physical death; the other prevents us from receiving the Bread of life causing the death of the soul. Nothing stops the word of God but a closed heart: it stops it completely; it doesnít penetrate at all. There is no softness at all in the soil to receive the life-giving seed, only a supercilious hardness. It is of these hearts that Jesus said, "Neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead."

"But," some will object, "this is an extreme case. This is certainly not true of me. In no way is my heart like the hard ground" Think again! How many times have you heard a sermon and never realized that it was for you. You were thinking of the sins of someone else and hoping that the preacher would "pour it on them." If you think hardened sinners are bad, "hardened saints" are far worse.

How Hearts Are Hardened.

How are hearts hardened to the word of God? Some are hardened by pride. They think they have the answer to every question. They do not want to be disturbed by any fresh ideas or new growth. They call it growing up and becoming wiser. Perhaps this is the reason Jesus urges us to be like little children who are forever open to new ideas. Like the soil beaten hard by many footsteps, some hearts are like highways ó hard-pounded thoroughfares. So much goes over them, such a huge volume of traffic, such a constant pounding that the word of God has hardly a chance to get through. Familiarity also induces hardness. Having heard some of the truths of our Christian faith since childhood, we take them for granted; they make no impression on us any more. Finally the heart can become hardened to the word of God through lack of cultivation. Just as no water hardens the soil, so no prayer, no church, no sacraments hardens the soul. It loses its responsiveness to God; it becomes hard. The word of God cannot get through.

If only once ó just once ó it could get through, what a transformation it would bring about. If only we would lay ourselves bare to receiving the life-giving seed, what faith it would produce, what love, what hope, what peace, what power! But we remain hard. Like the birds that snatch up the seed, demonic forces come and take away the word of God lest we believe and be saved. As the devil comes to us when we pray to steal our prayers by distracting us with other thoughts, so he steals the word of God from our hearts by thickening the surface of the heart to prevent its receptivity.

Some Fell on the Rock.

"And some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered away because it had no moisture/í Explaining this, Jesus said, "And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy; but these have no root, they believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away."

These are the people who admire the word of God. "What a lovely sermon!" and thatís the end of it. They "receive it with joy." But thatís as far as it goes. "They have no root in themselves." There are many subtle ways of rejecting the word of God. Strange as it may seem, one is by admiring it.

Let me illustrate.

The Danish Theologian Kierkegaard once told a homely parable about a flock of geese that milled around in a filthy barnyard imprisoned by a high wooden fence. One day a preaching goose landed in the barnyard. He stepped onto an old crate and began to preach. He castigated the geese for being satisfied to live in that filthy barnyard when God had given them wings with which to fly into the trackless wastes of the sky. He spoke of the goodness of God in giving the geese wings. He urged them to use their wings to fly out of the barnyard to better surroundings. This pleased the geese. They nodded their heads in approval and commented on what a great preacher the goose was. They marveled at what he had said and applauded his eloquence. All this they did. But one thing they never did. They did not use their wings to leave the barnyard. They went right back to their old accustomed haunts.

Apply this to ourselves and see how true it is! When we hear a good sermon we are eloquent in our praise of it. When we read a great verse in the Bible we are deeply moved. But then what? Most of us go back to our old ways. We hear the truth ó we may even admire it ó but we do not accept it. So we continue to live with our hatreds, our prejudices, our pride, our envy, and our wars.

Some Fell Among the Thorns.

"And some fell among thorns; and the thorns grew with it and choked it." Explaining, Jesus said, "And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature."

This is probably the saddest part of this parable. The soil that could produce greatness produces a jungle. A soil that produces weeds has great potential. It must be good soil; otherwise weeds would not grow there. But, said Jesus, the thorns grow quick and fast, and they soon choke the good seed. Now there are a lot of good people represented here. They receive the word of God and they really want to serve God. But they become involved in so many other interests that God is gradually choked out. Itís not that the things theyíre busy with are always bad; on the contrary, they may be good things, but they drain our energies and turn our hearts away from Christ. Someone has well said, "Many people give first-rate loyalties to second-rate causes." A real estate salesman said once, "My prayers donít even reach the ceiling before Iím thinking about that real estate deal thatís hanging over me." One day a church announced the reception of new members on a certain Sunday. One new member called the office and said he was sorry but he could not be present on that day. Later on in the week he called again. "I made a mistake," he said, "The Vikings are playing out of town Sunday. I can be there after all." "The thorns grew with it and choked it."

So many activities that are good clutter up our lives that they become the enemy of the best. Jesus poses a question to each one of us: what thorns are we permitting to grow in our own life that are choking at that one great central loyalty to God?

Some Fell Into Good Soil "And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold." "And as for that in the good soil," said Jesus, "They are those who hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bring forth fruit with patience."

The good ground represents those of us who receive the word of God. It becomes a part of us. We keep it in our heart and bring forth fruit with patience. It grows and slowly takes possession of our desires, our emotions, our thoughts and our actions. Little by little our lives become fruitful and God-like.

We must admit that there are times when we are any one of the three poor types of soil or we are a strange combination of all of them. There is a beaten path in each one of us and rocky soil and thorny ground. But the point Jesus makes is that soil can be improved. Hard soil can be plowed; rocks and thorns can be removed. By care and cultivation, our hearts can become fertile and productive, like "the good soil" that produces a hundredfold.

Let Him Who Has Ears Hear.

One of the key ways to improve the poor soil of our hearts, says Jesus, is by good hearing. "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God." How can we know if we do not hear?

A person boasted once of the fact that he heard a great and famous preacher every Sunday morning. He did not expect the reply he received: "What a terrible responsibility!" It was true! Anyone who hears the word of God preached is under great obligation not to criticize or compliment but to decide.

We need to become sensitive to Godís voice, as sensitive as a sleeping mother is to the cry of her infant; as sensitive as the great music lover is to the different instruments of the orchestra, able to catch a lonely wrong note from the second violin; as sensitive as a farmer is in New York City, able to hear a single grasshopper above the roar of traffic; as sensitive as those who sit in a lawyerís office listening to the reading of a last will in which they expect to be remembered. It is a law of life that we hear what we have trained ourselves to hear. Day by day may we listen to the voice of God so that it becomes not fainter but stronger as we move in years closer to our final meeting with Him.

Thereís an old Japanese legend according to which a pious Buddhist monk died and went to heaven. He was taken to a place where there were piled and labeled on shelves what looked like dried mushrooms. On closer examination, he saw they were actually human ears. Upon inquiring he discovered that they were the ears of people who on earth went diligently to the temple, listened with pleasure to the teaching of the gods, yet did nothing about what they heard so that after death they themselves went elsewhere and only their ears were saved. Only their ears reached heaven.

How often have we heard the complaint that we church people are mostly ears, that we go to church and nothing comes of it, that we substitute hearing for doing and call that serving God. It is a complaint that is painfully true. It has caused great crop failures for Christianity through the ages. ĎĎHe who has ears to hear, let him hear." Let him roll up his sleeves, pick up a hoe, plow the soil, pull up the weeds and stones and prepare to bear rich fruit for Christ!

 

22nd Sunday after Pentecost.

The Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31).

The story of the rich man and Lazarus that was read in todayís Gospel lesson touched off a revolution in the life of Albert Schweitzer. Schweitzer went to Africa in 1913. In 1921 he explained that it was this parable told by Jesus that made him leave his position as professor at the University of Strasbourg, his literary work, and his organ playing to go to Equatorial Africa as a doctor.

For Schweitzer, the rich man in this parable was the white man endowed with all the benefits of culture and science, and Lazarus was the Negro exploited and oppressed and lacking even medical treatment for his disease and pain. In short, Africa was a beggar lying at Europeís doorstep.

How awesome it is to realize that this terrible and sad story which Jesus told inspired a great man to a life of service. Schweitzer founded a hospital in Africa where he served for fifty years. Through this parable he saw "Lazarus" lying at "his" door.

Let us examine this great parable by looking at it as a drama in three acts.

Act One.

"There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate a poor man named Lazarus, full of sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich manís table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores."

The first act opens with a picture of how the rich man and Lazarus lived on earth. The rich man lived in ease and luxury. "He was clothed in purple and fine linen." He wore two-hundred-dollar suits in a day when the average working manís wage was about fifteen cents a day. He "feasted every day sumptuously." The word our Lord used for feasting describes the life of the gourmet with exotic foods and costly tableware.

Not once did our Lord criticize the man because he was rich. He never called him a cheater of the poor or even a glutton. He was a highly successful, reputable person; a good mixer, and a hard worker who loved the good things of life. For that our Lord did not condemn him.

Lying just outside the rich manís palace on the doorstep was a lowly beggar. His name was Lazarus, which means "God is my helper." And the fact is that, apart from God, nobody paid any attention to him. He was hungry. He was sick. His body was covered with ugly scabs and sores. He was so weak and helpless that he could not defend himself against the dogs that licked his sores. Dogs in the East at that time were no pets or playthings, but unclean beasts. He sought to live from the bread that was thrown out as garbage. In those days they did not have table napkins or finger bowls. Instead, the fingers of the guests were wiped on pieces of bread, and the bread tossed through the open window into the street. This was the bread that "fell from the rich manís table."

Here, then, is the picture we see in act one: the rich man covered with purple and fine linen; Lazarus covered with ugly sores. The one feasts sumptuously every day; the other tries to live with what falls from the table. The one has all kinds of servants to cater to his whims; the other has only dogs to tend his sores.

Act Two.

The second act tells of the death of the two men: "The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abrahamís bosom. The rich man also died and was buried." Weak and sick and hungry, it was not long till Lazarus died. No mention is made of a funeral. He was too poor to be able to afford one. Not only that, but he had no friends. Yet he who suffered the final indignity of being denied a decent burial; he who had no friends but dogs, is now lifted gently to heaven by ministering angels. He "was carried by angels to Abrahamís bosom."

For the rich man it was different. He "died and was buried." Here the parable tells of a funeral. The body had all the time been very important to him. So he was no doubt given a splendid burial. He was allowed to live longer than Lazarus, which is another way of saying that God, in his mercy, allowed him to live longer that he might have more time to repent.

Act Three.

The third act reveals the fate of the two men after death. "And in Hades, being in torment, he (the rich man) lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus in his bosom." They both wake up in the other world quite clear-headed. Although it is not proper to construct a theology of the after-life on the basis of one parable, there are certain very important facts that come out of this parable. First, we see that death does not destroy consciousness. The rich man and Lazarus are not asleep or unaware of what is going on about them. They are conscious. Secondly, death does not destroy identity. Lazarus was still Lazarus and the rich man was still the rich man. Death cannot change personality. The individual self lives on. Thirdly, death cannot destroy memory. The rich man remembered his life on earth. He remembered Lazarus. He remembered his brothers. Finally, death cannot destroy destiny. On earth the rich man and Lazarus traveled different roads. They made different choices. They lived in different worlds. These same worlds continued on into eternity. They are the two worlds of heaven and hell.

The parable tells us that the rich man woke up in hell, and Lazarus, the poor man, in heaven. The question is why? Why should the rich man end up in hell? What did he do to deserve such a fate?

The answer is that he did nothing. He never did anything for Lazarus. He never persecuted him. He never kicked him as he passed by. He never drove him away from his doorstep. He just ignored him. He accepted Lazarus as part of the inevitable landscape of life. Lazarus was right there at the rich manís doorstep every day, but the rich man never noticed him. When Marie Antoinette was married, she ordered that all the beggars should be cleared from the streets along which her wedding procession was to drive. She did not want any ugly or sad sight to spoil her bliss. She was at least aware of the existence of beggars. Not so the rich man of the parable. He was aware of only one person: himself. This was his sin.

The parable will have no effect on our life unless we see ourselves in it exactly as did Albert Schweitzer. And as far as this parable is concerned, we dare not place ourselves anywhere but alongside the rich man. "But," you say, "I am not rich!" But you are, compared to someone who has far less than you have. There is always someone much poorer than you. While you eat your dinner, 417 die from starvation around the world. Thatís 7 deaths every minute. 417 every hour. 10,000 deaths every day. Most of them children. But what can I do? There are many things you can do. You can contribute to one of many agencies that provide food for the hungry, or initiate a drive in your own parish to collect food for the hungry. We can be aware enough to be concerned.

But riches are not limited to material possessions. We are rich in love, in understanding, in sympathy, in compassion, in forgiveness. All around us ó and on our very doorstep ó lies a world starving for just these things: love, understanding, forgiveness.

Many times we are shocked by a suicide or a nervous breakdown in our neighborhood or in our parish. Suddenly we realize that here was a person who broke down under the lovelessness of us all; here was a person living in the shadows. And we ourselves avoided him. We felt some fear and uneasiness in the presence of his poverty and his cold bitterness. So we simply drove him into deeper loneliness. And there was no one to love him out of his isolation and lostness.

Every one of us has a Lazarus at his door. The underprivileged, the hungry, the unwanted, the unemployed, the sick, the afflicted, the shut-in, the insecure, the lonely, the unloved ó they all lie at our door in need of Godís love and ours. They need more than just crumbs from our table.

It is no sin to be rich. Father Abraham, into whose bosom Lazarus was carried, was one of the richest men of his day. But he was rich not only in material possessions but also in faith and love. It is not a sin to be rich, but it is a sin to be rich and not to care, not to love, not to be concerned, not to be aware, not to notice, not to help.

"Send Lazarus."

Being in torment, the rich man experiences for the first time something like love. He thinks of his five brothers and begs Abraham to send Lazarus back to earth to warn them of the fate in store for them if they do not mend their ways. He said to Abraham, "Well, father, I beg you, send Lazarus to my fatherís house, for I have five brothers; let him go and warn them so that they, at least, will not come to this place of pain."

Itís not real love that prompts the rich man to think of his brothers. He is hinting that he himself had not been properly warned. He is trying to justify himself by accusing God of being unfair. "If I had been sufficiently warned, if I had known that this place would be the goal of my worldly life, I would not have come here. But now at least let my brothers be warned."

"No," said Abraham, "Your brothers have Moses and the prophets to warn them; let your brothers listen to what they say."

"No," said the rich man, "Thatís not enough. But if someone would rise from the dead and go to them, then they would change their ways."

But Abraham said, "If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone were to rise from the dead."

The wonder of it all is that after Moses and the prophets God did send someone from the dead to warn us. He sent Christ. Like Lazarus, Christ was "despised and rejected of men." Like Lazarus, He lay at the worldís back door when He was born in the cave of Bethlehem. Like Lazarus, His body was covered with sores. He was "wounded and bruised for our iniquities." He came as one of us ó a brother ó to warn and save us, His five brothers. Do not expect God to give a greater sign than this; there is none greater. "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have life everlasting."

Listen carefully then as Christ speaks the word of God to you. Look at your life to see where your neglected Lazarus lies. God has placed him there on your doorstep to help you reach heaven!

 

23rd Sunday after Pentecost.

"My Name Is Legion" (Luke 8:26-39).

A prison inmate, in a series of unfortunate events, had his teeth pulled, his appendix removed, and his right arm amputated after a work mishap.

The warden visited him in the infirmary after the last accident and said, accusingly, "You canít fool me, Murphy. You are trying to escape piece by piece."

There are times ó Iím sure ó when we feel that instead of being one unified self, we are many contradicting, sometimes opposing, pieces of self. Our family pulls one piece of us. Our work pulls another piece of us. Ambition pulls still another piece, etc. We wonder where all this pulling of the pieces of self will get us.

A woman had once seen the picture of how an early Christian martyr was put to death. A horse was tied to each hand and one to each foot, and the horses were all pulling in different directions. She told her psychiatrist that was exactly her condition. She felt she was being "pulled to pieces."

The Gospel lesson today describes a man who was literally being pulled to pieces. When Jesus asked him, "What is your name?" he replied, "My name is legion." In the Gospel of Mark 5:9 his answer is, "My name is legion; for we are many." "Legion" was Latin for an army division of about six thousand soldiers. This manís personality was so torn to pieces by conflicting interests and drives that he seemed to be not one person, but a whole mob of people all pulling in different directions. The Gospel goes on to define who these many people who dwelt in this person were: "For many demons had entered him," it says.

Today we do not deny the existence of demons. If anything, we have re-discovered their existence. Even psychiatrists are admitting that there are demons: the demons of hate, revenge, resentment; the demons of greed, guilt, fear; the high-pressure demonology of modern competition, stress, conflict and keeping up with the Joneses. There are people today who are inhabited by many such demons. Their name is "Legion."

You may recall that Shakespeare made one of his characters say, "To thine own self be true and it must follow as the night the day thou canst not then be false to any man." This is good as far as it goes. But the question remains to which self shall I be true! The civic self, the parental self, the financial self, the religious self, or the society self? For my name is Legion.

There is the self I think I am. There is the self that others see in me. There is the self I present to the world. Then there is my real self that I hide from all. Our souls are like haunted houses inhabited by saints and devils. As Edward Sanford Martin says,

Within my earthly temple thereís a crowd,

Thereís one of us thatís humble, one thatís proud;

Thereís one whoís broken-hearted oíer his sins,

Thereís one who unrepentant sits and grins;

Thereís one who loves his neighbor as himself,

Thereís one who cares for naught but fame and self.

From much corroding care I would be free

If once I could determine which is me.

That is my problem. This is every manís problem. I am not one but many. "I am large," cried Walt Whitman, "I contain a multitude." There is the Child, the Parent, and the Adult in me. I am not so much a personality as a battleground, at war with myself, tugged in a thousand different directions. "My name is Legion."

The word "split" is a key word today. We have split personalities, split families, split nations, split atoms, a split world. We also have splitting headaches. We are in desperate need of a uniting power, of something to keep us from "going to pieces."

Recently I came across the following statement: "We are trying to live several lives at once, without all our selves being organized by a single mastering life within us." This is how another modern thinker has expressed it: "Several selves at once! No single mastering life within!" Jesus expressed it this way, "You cannot serve God and mammon." In other words, we were not made to serve many masters. We were not made to serve God and mammon, God and the crowd, God and Satan without "going to pieces." We try to mix things that simply wonít mix. Nitroglycerine is an explosive because its constituents (nitric acid, sulphuric acid, and glycerin) naturally do not belong together: a slight blow sends each element hurtling to its proper company. The same happens when we try to pay lip service to Christ and His Church and real service to the world or the crowd. "You cannot serve God and mammon," said Jesus. God is one. Only one ultimate is needed in life. Any more ultimates would split life into pieces.

Psychology says that in order to develop a mature personality, one must integrate oneís life around a single goal. Jesus expressed it this way, "Seek ye first the kingdom of GodÖ"

Many of our split personalities today issue from split loyalties: partly for Christ, partly for self; partly surrendered to Christ, partly not surrendered to Christ; partly for the kingdom of God, partly not for the kingdom of God. We were not made to find happiness this way. We were made to find happiness and a unified self by integrating our life around the greatest goal in the universe, God in the Person of Christ. He is the "One in Whom all things hang together," the One in whom we are complete; the only One who can hold life together and keep it from "going to pieces."

In the first World War the Allies tried the method of having many generals commanding their own armies. It failed. Then they made Foch the supreme commander of all their forces. Only then did they get somewhere. In World War II it was decided early that the invasion of Europe could be carried through successfully if, and only if, one person was placed in supreme command. That position, as we all know, was given to General Eisenhower. Where would the Allied cause be today, if we had been subjected to the frictions, vacillations, hesitations, and indecisions that invariably grow out of multiple or divided control? The confusion would be hopeless.

The principle holds true on the more personal battlefield of your life and mine. We must have one commander-in-chief, one motive over-all, one love, one God, one Ultimate: the Lord Jesus Christ. He becomes the controlling principle, like a traffic policeman who stands on duty at the intersection and controls the flow of traffic. When the traffic policeman abandons his post within us, utter chaos occurs as inner drives and urges are released from control and collide with each other causing confusion and conflict.

When we describe an immoral person as a "loose" person, we donít realize how accurate this description is. Such a person is not integrated or tightened efficiently within himself. He does things, not because he wants them, but because the crowd is doing them; or like St. Paul he feels a demonic force inside him, pushing him to do things he does not want to do. He is not one but many. His name is Legion. He needs Someone to tighten him up, to fuse him together, to organize and unify his personality. He needs to surrender his life not partly but totally to Christ, to let Christ sit on the throne of his heart, to let Christ be the Organizer, the Presiding Chairman, the Director of life. With Christís help we are able to overcome and crucify the many selves that wreak havoc within us: the ambitious self, the angry self, the jealous self, the sinful self.

Whether it is the case of the man dwelling in tombs as in the Gospel lesson, or the man or woman sitting in the pew today, the problem is the same ó a divided heart, a divided allegiance, a divided self. There is no way out of this divided condition except through surrender of the self to Christ as Lord.

"Then the people" says the Gospel lesson, "went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus, and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. ..." To sit at the feet of Jesus, to learn of Him, to let Him be the organizer of life is to put an end to the strife within the soul, to recover our sanity, to gain a unified command over the empire of our personality so that we might say with St. Paul, "This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."

 

24th Sunday after Pentecost.

Who Touched Me? (Luke 8:41-56).

There is a language that we should all learn to speak well. It is a language that really communicates; a language that expresses effectively the warmth of love; a language that can break through formidable communication barriers. It is the language of touch.

Sensitivity groups have only recently rediscovered this forgotten language. But it is an ancient language. Jesus used it. When children came to Him, He took them into His arms and blessed them. When He wanted to heal a leper or a blind man, He touched them. When He wanted to demonstrate the fathomless depths of His love, He again used touch by washing the feet of His disciples.

A juvenile judge said once that he had never seen a father, who appeared in court with his son, touch his boy or show any sign of affection. If he would only put his hand on the boyís shoulder, he said, it would transmit something. But it never happened.

Whenever I visit the sick as a priest, I hold their hand in mine as I pray. There is something about the human touch offered in love. It is the touch of Christ Himself.

Dr. Smiley Blanton, a psychiatrist, used to ask couples with marital or family problems: "Tell me, how long is it since youíve taken a walk with your arm around your wife? Do you ever get down on the living room floor and play with your children? Has your family ever tried holding hands around the dinner table when you say grace?"

The same psychiatrist laments the fact that in hospitals newborn babies are isolated from their mothers in sterile nurseries. "I would rather see those babies in their motherís arms, or in cradles by their beds, or even being held by their fathers, clumsily Ö perhaps, but lovingly and tenderly. Babies who have this privilege are likely to be more emotionally stable later on." Even babies understand the magic language of touch.

"Who Touched Me?"

The Gospel lesson today tells one of the most remarkable stories of the New Testament. It is the story of a woman who was healed by touching Jesus. She had been sick for twelve years. She had tried all sorts of remedies and consulted countless doctors but none seemed able to help her. She was afflicted with a hemorrhage which at that time was an incurable illness. Today she would undergo a hysterectomy, but such surgery was unknown at the time of Jesus. Women simply suffered.

It was not only the physical discomfort and pain that troubled her; it was also the fact that according to Jewish law a woman with a hemorrhage was considered unclean. Everything and everyone she touched was infected with the uncleanness. Such a person was expected to live a life of isolation completely cut off from public worship and from fellowship with other men or women. In fact, she should not have been in that crowd surrounding Jesus. Had the people known it, they would have screamed at her for infecting them with her uncleanness. So afraid was she of being discovered that she decided to come up behind Jesus and touch Him in secret. She was desperately eager to try anything that would rescue her from her life of isolation and humiliation.

Before she came to Jesus, St. Mark reports that this sick woman said to herself, "If I touch even his clothes I will be cured." If I could only touch Him, she must have said to herself, not on the head, I am not worthy of that; not on the hand, that would be too familiar. If I could only touch the tassel of His cloak, I know I will be healed.

All devout Jews at the time of Jesus wore robes with tassels on them which were to remind the Jew every time he dressed that he was a man of God committed to the keeping of Godís laws. Today these tassels are found on the prayer shawl that Orthodox Jews wear round their shoulders and head when they pray. But at the time of Jesus they were worn on the outer robe, and it was one of these tassels the woman touched.

When she found Jesus, he was surrounded by a great throng of people, and she had difficulty getting close to Him. But she persisted, and finally was able to touch Him. As soon as she did, she felt a surge of healing power go through her body like an electric shock. "At once the hemorrhage ceased." She knew she had been healed.

But then Jesus asked, "Who touched me?" Peter thought it was a foolish question, for hundreds of people were around Jesus all the time, jostling Him. He tried to set Jesus straight by reminding Him that multitudes had touched Him. But Jesus was not satisfied with that answer. He knew that out of that thronging multitude someone special had touched Him with deep faith and out of desperate need. Someone had made real and vital contact with Him. Someone had received healing power. "Someone touched me," He said, referring not to the crowd but to one whose faith had made her whole. To the disciples it was preposterous that Jesus would notice just one person in the midst of such a crowd. But He did! Such is the love of God! Such is His sensitivity to human need and to the touch of faith!

"Someone touched me." These are wonderful words, for us as well as for the woman who touched Jesusí robe.

They say to us that when we reach out in faith to receive help from our Lord He does know. Just as Jesus felt the slight tug of a frail womanís hand upon His robe, in the midst of a crowd pressing in on Him, so God is aware of every appeal to His mercy. Sometimes people ask, "With billions of people in this world (the multitudes) how can God know and care for me?" But Jesus shows in this story that He does know and care for even the smallest. The crowds may ignore us but not Jesus. He is never so beset by a crowd, or a universe, not to feel the touch of your hand extended in faith.

We must remember that when this woman touched Jesus, He was on an urgent mission. The only daughter of an important and highly respected person, the ruler of a synagogue named Jairus, was at the point of death. Jesus was on His way to the home. Yet even though he was on a life-or-death errand, Jesus stopped. He was not so preoccupied as to overlook a person in need. Forgetting the crowd, He saw her and treated her as if she were the only person in the world. To Jesus no one is ever lost in a crowd. He gave her His personal attention. "Who touched me?" He asked. When the woman declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched Him and how she had been healed instantly, He said to her, "Daughter, thy faith has saved thee; go in peace/í Isnít this the way Jesus treats everyone of us when we come to Him with the same faith and humility?

We Can Touch Him Today.

The story that was read in todayís Gospel lesson is not just something that happened in Palestine long ago. The Christ who was jostled in that crowd is still in our midst today. We can still touch Him by reaching out our hearts in longing and need.

Speak to Him, thou, for he hears, and Spirit with Spirit can meet

ó Closer is he than breathing, and nearer than hands and feet.

(Tennyson.)

If we realize and act on that, then we shall experience the truth of Whittierís lines: The healing of His seamless dress Is by our beds of pain; We touch him in lifeís throng and press, And we are whole again.

How?

How can we touch Jesus today?

We can touch Him through prayer. What is prayer but touching Jesus, conversing with Him, inviting Him into our life? The sick woman touched Jesus by a very simple act of reaching out. Touching Jesus today is not in any way complex or difficult or involved. It is simple. Just reach out and touch Him through prayer!

Secondly, in order for prayer to really touch Jesus and establish contact with Him, it must be not a ritual, a vain repetition of empty words, but prayer that comes from the heart and is steeped in faith. In the crowd surrounding Jesus many touched Him, but only one experienced His healing power ó the one who touched Him with faith. So today crowds of people pray; crowds go to Church but those who really touch Jesus are those who pray with faith. The Gospel makes it clear: it was faith that established contact with Jesus: "Daughter, thy faith has saved thee; go in peace."

Thirdly, we touch Jesus through the Bible and Holy Communion. When we read His words in the Bible, we listen to Christ not as He spoke to somebody else two thousand years ago, but as He speaks to us now. Jesus dwells in the Gospels. When we listen to His words, we touch the very hem of his robe. When we receive Holy Communion, we touch Jesus ó not just the hem of His robe ó but the whole Jesus. He comes to make His home within us. "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him."

Lastly, Christ touches us today through persons. His touch is extended through the skill of the surgeon, the competence of a nurse, the wise counsel of a friend, the prayers of the pious. God has chosen to work through persons. "We are fellow-workers with God," writes St. Paul. The early Christians touched Jesus and then they touched the world with the power they received from Him. They touched immorality and it turned to purity. They touched slavery and it turned to liberty. They touched the weak and they became strong.

There are so many different ways we can touch people today. We can touch them with our hearts. We can touch them with our words. We can touch them with a look. We can touch them with a smile. We can touch them with our faith, with our prayer, with our compassion, with our love, with our hope, with our humility, with our willingness to serve.

The whole purpose of Christianity is to put people in touch with God in Christ. "If I can only touch Him ó even the hem of His robe ó I know I shall be made well/í said the sick woman. We today can touch Him just as she and countless others did and still do. Alcoholics, drug addicts, Augustines, Pauls, thieves, adulterers, the sick, the lame, the blind, the deaf ó they all touched Him and received new life and power. Reach out from the crowd every day and touch Him. Touch Him with faith. Touch Him for forgiveness, for power over temptation, over fears, over anxieties. Touch Him. He will not ask, "Who touched me?" He will know.

 

25th Sunday after Pentecost.

"Go and do Likewise" (Luke 10:25-37).

The Parable of the Good Samaritan begins with a theological question, "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?" It ends with a description of a person giving first aid on the roadside. It begins with the greatest Christian commandment, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart Ö" and it ends with payment of room and board at a hotel.

Let us take a closer look at this parable which has been called by some the greatest, by others the second greatest parable Jesus ever told.

In answer to a question put to Him by a lawyer: "Who is my neighbor," Jesus told the following story. A man (no name or nationality is mentioned) was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho. He fell among robbers who stripped him, beat him, and left him half-dead. By chance the first person to come along was a priest, a fellow Jew, a pillar of the temple, a man of God, whose sacred calling it was to be a neighbor to every person. Yet, "when he saw him he passed by on the other side." The second person to come along was a Levite. He, too, was affiliated with the temple; he sang in the choir. Yet, he, too, passed by on the other side. The third person to come along was a Samaritan. He was a half-breed, looked down upon by the Jews who had no dealings with any Samaritan. Among the Jews the word "Samaritan" was the most unsavory word one could use. It meant "dog" or "devil." You remember that when Jesus asked the Samaritan woman for a drink at Jacobís well, she was so surprised that she said, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?" For the Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans. Jesus took this word "Samaritan" which at that time was the dirtiest word one could call a Jew and exalted it to the point where to call anyone a Samaritan today is to pay him a great compliment. All because of this story. What the two pillars of the temple did not do, the unknown Samaritan did. When he saw the wounded man by the side of the road, he had compassion. He went over to him, bound up his wounds, placed him on his donkey, brought him to a hotel and took care of him. He went far beyond the call of duty. He stayed with him all night. The next morning, as he was about to leave, he gave the innkeeper extra money and said, "Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back." He gave the innkeeper virtually a blank check for the wounded manís care.

What Jesus Is Really Saying.

Through this parable Jesus was saying to the Jews of His day: if a despised Samaritan, whose very name is a curse word, whom you do not even consider a neighbor, and who has an inferior faith compared to yours, if he will not hesitate to go and rescue a Jew in trouble, how much more ought you who are Godís chosen people; you who have experienced the love of God; you who have the true religion; how much more should you be willing to translate your religion into works of love.

We Are Like the Priest and the Levite.

Yet Jesus spoke through this parable not only to the Jews of old, but also to us today. What does He say?

The first point Jesus wants us to understand is that most of us are not like the Good Samaritan; most of us are like the priest and the Levite. We are too busy with ourselves to respond to the needs of others. We find a thousand excuses not to get involved. We pass by on the other side. We want others to be Good Samaritans to us, but not we to them. We are like the youngster who was asked what he learned from this story. He replied, "I have learned that when I get into trouble, somebody should help me out."

The Sin of Omission.

The sin of the priest and the Levite was the sin of omission. They did nothing when they could have done something. By doing nothing they left the wounded man to die. Is not this the most subtle kind of murder? Is it not of this sin that our Lord speaks when He says, "I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and you did not visit me." Is not the worst sin toward our fellow humans not to hate them, but to be indifferent toward them, to ignore them, to disregard them?

I never cut my neighborís throat;

My neighborís gold I never stole;

I never spoiled his house or land;

But God have mercy on my soul!

For I am haunted night and day

By all the deeds I have not doneÖ

Religion on the Roadside.

The second point Jesus makes through this parable is that religion is to be practiced not only in Church, but also on the roadside. The priest and the Levite had confined religion to the duties they performed in the temple. Jesus reminds us that the supreme test of religion was right there on the roadside and they failed it.

An atheist once asked a poorly clad youngster, "If God is love, how come He didnít tell someone to give you clothes and shoes?" The boy thought for a moment and then replied, "I guess God told somebody, and somebody forgot." The priest and the Levite forgot.

The Wounded Are Still With Us.

The third lesson we learn from this parable is that the wounded are still with us. They are not just the physically wounded, but also those wounded by misery, by unemployment, by ghetto housing, by racism, by death, by contempt, by exploitation. A person once made a study of a crowd of people waiting on a corner for the light to change. In this jostling crowd he found a boy headed for the draft board, a new widow, a woman seeking a divorce, a man with an incurable disease, a little girl with a toothache, a couple trying to borrow money, and a family on its way to pick out a casket. There you have your neighbor. He may not always be lying on the side of the road. He may be walking, driving, or even running, but he is wounded nonetheless. He needs someone to be a neighbor to him.

Who Is My Neighbor?

Who is my neighbor? Often we like to answer this question for ourselves. And we set limits. "This one is my neighbor," we say. "That one is not." To the Jew the Samaritan was not a neighbor. But the answer Jesus gives precludes us from asking, "Who is my neighbor?" For everyone is my neighbor, said Jesus. Anybody in need. Anybody I come upon by chance. Anybody regardless of color or creed. It has been said that to the Greek every foreigner was a "barbarian"; to the Jew every stranger was a "gentile dog"; to the Mohammedan every alien was an "infidel"; but to Jesus every man ó stranger or not, friend or foe ó was a "brother." So, instead of asking "Who is my neighbor?" the Christian asks, "To whom can I be a neighbor?" The only standard is, "Does he need a neighbor?" If he does, we are delegated by Christ to be it. We have no choice in the matter ó not if we wish to remain Godís people.

Gordon Allport, the Harvard psychologist, has written, "In the United States ó probably the most heterogeneous and complex society on earth ó conditions are ripe for abundant group conflict and prejudice." Yet couldnít it perhaps be true that God brought us here from all parts of the world to afford us an ideal opportunity to learn who our neighbors are?

"Who is my neighbor?" asked the lawyer. He wanted it to be difficult to decide exactly who the neighbor was. He wanted the word to remain obscure. Having told the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus asked him, "Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?" He said, "The one who showed mercy on him." There you have the true neighbor. Any man. Anywhere. In need.

The Cure for Evil.

God did not create an evil world or an imperfect world. He created a world that was originally good. It is man who through sin, through the misuse of his free will, spoiled Godís world. It is man who creates wars. It is man who creates millions of refugees after each war. It is man who pollutes. It is man who creates starvation through the unequal distribution of the worldís goods. It was a man who set upon a fellow-man on the road to Jericho, robbed him, beat him and left him on the roadside half dead.

It is as if Jesus pointed to the mutilated body lying there by the side of the road and said, "That is the road of life. That is the kind of thing you will meet continually on lifeís way. There you have your neighbor. He is the man God commands you to love."

In this world we meet suffering, pain and evil. Not that evil is Godís will. Not that it was created by Him. He wants to get rid of it just as much as we do. In fact, the Good Samaritan in todayís Gospel is God Himself. He came into the world to destroy evil, to cancel out sin which is the source of most of our suffering. "The spirit of the Lord is upon me," He says in Luke 4:18, "Because He hath anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor; He hath sent me to heal the broken hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised." Never did Jesus pass by on the other side of the road. He went wherever He knew there was suffering and need. When Jairus came to Him and told Him of his daughter at home on the point of death and besought Him to come, Jesus arose and followed him ó right into the midst of need and suffering. The answer to the question "Why did God become man?" can be given in a few simple words of the parable: He saw and had compassion and came. The helpless, mutilated body on the side of the road was none other than Humanity itself, lost in sin and doomed to death. The act of the Good Samaritan is the act of God stooping in Christ to raise us once more to health and freedom.

Jesus is still our Good Samaritan. When we are wounded, He heals us. When we have fallen, He lifts us up. When we are lost, He brings us home again. Like the Samaritan, He comes to us when all others have passed us by. He has compassion on us, binds up our wounds, and lavishes His love on us.

"Go thou and do likewise," said Jesus to the lawyer after the man had heard the story. He says the same to us today. I have been a neighbor to you. I have shown you what love is like. I have picked you up out of your lost and wretched condition and made a new man of you: I have given you the parable of the Good Samaritan to show you that it is unthinkable for a Christian to "pass by on the other side," withdrawing in aloofness from the wounds, the hungers and the needs of men.

The Good Samaritan is still the clue to the solution of many of the worldís problems today. For if we Christians had been true neighbors to our fellow humans, there would be no communism today. It is because the followers of Christ kept passing by on the other side of the road that communism came into existence: to help the poor and the downtrodden even if it had to enslave them.

Modern Samaritans.

This is not to say that there are no Samaritans today. There are. But their number needs to increase. Here are a few.

A Roman Catholic priest imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp offered to die in place of another inmate who had been picked to die of starvation along with nine others as punishment for a prisoner who had escaped. He told the commandant that he had no family and wanted to take the place of a man who had. His fellow prisoners said of him, "In a place like Auschwitz, where several hundred people died every day, it was still unforeseen that somebody would give up his life. It restored our faith in the human race/í

Kagawa, one of the great religious leaders of Japan, said that God came to him once in an isolated hut along the seaside. Stricken with tuberculosis as a young man, he was separated from even his own people, when one day a Christian missionary came to him with food and medicine. Kagawa reports that after the missionary had left, he asked himself, "Why would a stranger, not even one of my own countrymen, bother with me?" And the only answer he could reach was that God had come to him in and through this unknown Good Samaritan.

"Go thou and do likewise."

 

26th Sunday after Pentecost.

The Man God Called a Fool (Luke 12:16-21).

Ninth Sunday of Luke.

It was during a funeral. Friends had assembled by a grave at a cemetery where an old friend ó Sam ó was being buried. Sam was a tough competitor. He owned a chain of drive-ins. He never liked to lose. He was hard. Never would he let a competitor get the better of him. He would rather lose money on a deal than let a competitor beat him.

Sam played it the same way with death. As each diagnosis kept revealing a fatal illness, Sam kept shouting, "Get me another specialist." One of his arch competitors said, "When the Lord calls old Sam, he just isnít going to go."

In the end he did go. But he tried to beat the worms. He had himself vacuum sealed in an $8,000 casket. And just so no one would forget him, Sam had left instructions for a 25-foot monument to be erected over his grave. It was the tallest one in the cemetery.

As his friends left the cemetery they were heard to say, "Sam was sure a tough guy to beat."

Jesus once told a parable about a man like Sam. It is called the parable of the rich fool. The rich man in this case was a prosperous landowner. Jesus did not suggest that he was in any way dishonest. He came by his wealth through honest effort and hard work. By the worldís standards he was successful. His crops were so huge he had to expand. His one great ambition in life was to be able to take life easy, to "eat, drink and be merry." But God called him a fool. And the man died before he could enjoy his wealth. "So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God."

"The Land of a Rich Man Brought Forth Plentifully."

Let us take a closer look at this parable. Jesus begins by saying, "The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully." Sometimes a fatal accident happens in grain elevators. A worker gets buried under a mountain of wheat. Something of the sort happened to this rich farmer. His real life was buried under a huge avalanche of crops.

"He Thought to Himself."

The rich farmer "thought to himself," said Jesus. What we say to ourselves is important. It reveals the inner man. It shows who we really are. It is not what one says to his wife or pastor but what one says to oneself that shows the real person.

What did the rich farmer say to himself?

Surveying his bumper crops, he could have thought of the fertile land God had given him, of the rain and the sunshine. He could have thought of his excellent health and the many faithful workers who had helped cultivate the soil to produce such an abundant harvest. He could have thought of God and thanked him for giving him all these blessings. He could have said, "Thank you, Lord. You have given me far more than I shall ever need for myself. To let You know how grateful I am, I am going to use part of this great harvest to feed the poor."

"What Shall I Do?"

But unfortunately, this is not what he said. As we listen in on his conversation with himself, we see that he is completely unaware of what he owes God and his fellow man. His only thought is of himself; how he can best hoard everything. "What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops? ... I will do this. I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones; and there I will store all my grain and my goods." He could think of no better bank in which to store his gains than a barn!

He Forgot His Neighbors.

No less than twelve times in his brief conversation with himself, he uses the pronouns "I... I... I... my Ö myÖ mineÖ ." Not once does he think of anyone else who had anything to do with his success. Neil R. Lightfoot writes, "As he was saying to himself, ĎWhat shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?í perhaps a neighbor across the field was saying, ĎWhat can I do, for I donít even have bread for my children?í If the rich man did not have enough barns, there were other places where he could have put his grain. As Ambrose expressed it, ĎThou hast barns, ó the bosoms of the needy, ó the houses of the widows, ó the mouths of orphans and of infantsí" (Neil R. Lightfoot, "Lessons From the Parables," p. 79. Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Used by permission.). But the rich farmer could think only of himself. He was like a self-centered lady about whom it was said, "Edith lived in a little world, bounded on the north, south, east, and west by Edith."

"Soul, You Have Ample Goods."

The rich farmer continues his conversation, "Soul, you have ample goodsÖ ." His "ample goods" gave him a false sense of security. He did not need God; he did not need prayer; for he had so much else. He felt his riches to be his bulwark against all evil. He never even thought of death. In fact, his "ample goods" made it difficult for him to contemplate death. He exemplified what Dr. Johnson said once. After being taken on a tour of a luxurious estate, he remarked grimly, "These are the things that make it difficult to die."

Compare his false security with the real security of an early Christian. "I will banish you," said the Roman magistrate. "You cannot," replied the Christian. "The whole world is my Fatherís house."

"I will slay you." "You cannot for death will usher me into Godís presence."

"I will take away your treasures." "You cannot; for my treasure is in heaven."

"I will drive you away from man and you will have no friend left." "You cannot, for I have a Friend from whom you cannot separate me."

His security was founded not on larger barns and ample goods, but on God.

"Laid Up for Many Years"

"Soul, you have ample goods, laid up for many years." He forgot all about time. He thought he would live forever. He made his plans for "many years," yet he had only one day left.

"Take Your EaseÖ"

He was not going to work himself to death. He knew when to stop. "Take your ease." He was going to slow down and live. He was not going to have a heart attack. He was going to retire. He had made careful and detailed plans to enjoy his wealth at his ease.

"Eat, Drink, Be Merry."

Here was one man who was not going to wait around for some imagined piece of pie in the sky. He was going to enjoy himself now. He was going to find happiness now in eating, drinking, and indulging himself.

"But God Said To Him, Fool!" At the pinnacle of his success God appears to the rich farmer and calls him a fool. We may resent Godís implication that this man was a fool. He was successful but was he foolish? After all, isnít that our philosophy of success, too, to expand our businesses, our savings, our property and to look to the day when we can say to our souls, ĎĎTake your ease, eat, drink, and be merry."

But God insists that this man was a fool. He was a fool because he was preoccupied with lesser things. Lesser things? Is making a living a lesser thing? Yes, lesser than making a life. Is finding pleasure a lesser thing? Yes, lesser than finding a purpose. Is thinking about building bigger barns and increasing oneís business a lesser thing? Yes, lesser than thinking about improving the condition of oneís soul and the world around us.

Despite his worldly success this man was a fool. He had lived only for himself. He had forgotten his neighbor. He had forgotten God. He had forgotten his real purpose in life. He had forgotten that man is not what he has. In all his efforts to get rich, he became terribly poor spiritually.

When we think of this rich farmer, most of us associate him with the big money men of our economy who control stock and own huge real estate syndicates. We very conveniently try to forget that this same foolishness can exist in all of us. How many ordinary people today live by the philosophy of this rich farmer: bigger and better barns, ample goods laid up for many years, taking it easy, eating, drinking, and being merry? Not that all this is bad in itself, but we go about it in such a way that we come out losing our souls.

"But God said to him, ĎFool!í" What do we mean by success? Success by whose standards? The Gospel lesson today tells us that God is the final judge before whom we shall stand one day. He is the One who will proclaim us "successful" or "unsuccessful." And He tells us that the truly successful are not those who have only a collection of things to show for their journey through life but those who are rich in faith and love toward God and man.

"This Night Your Soul Is Required of You."

Here is more than a notification of death. For this man was dead even before he died. Here is a call to reckoning. Here is judgment before God. Here is God telling the rich farmer that all his life had been worthless, that all his deeds added up to zero.

David A. Redding says about the manner of the rich farmerís death, "Ö God said, ĎThis night,í and he was dead. Perhaps in the frantic push to put up barns he lost his health. When he was ready to retire and live off the accumulated fat, his time was up. His death is no mystery to be solved; he simply burned himself out getting ready for the rainy day ... He had been dialing the undertaker for years by his folly Ö The man died because he was a fool. He had deliberately blown out his candle with the whirlwind of his greed" (David A. Redding, The Parables He Told. Fleming H. Revell Company. Old Tappan, New Jersey. Copyrighted l 1962. Used by permission.) God cared enough about us to give us more than just this parable as a warning. He cared enough to give us a Savior to keep us from acting like fools. He came that we might have life, not life tangled up in the money trap-but free, abundant life lived in communion with our Maker.

"Whose Will They Be?"

"The things you have prepared, whose will they be?" So completely wrapped up in self was he that he did not have any friends to whom he could leave his goods. How much did he leave? Everything he ever worked for! To nobody!

Rich Toward God.

"So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." The wealth that counts in Godís eyes is accumulated by a soul that has learned to pray, by a conscience that is clear, by a life that is dedicated to Him Who owns the land on both sides of the river, by a soul that has sought and received Godís forgiveness, by a person who believes that all the barns he owns are really Godís, given to him as a trust to be used not only for oneself but also for others. As St. Paul wrote to Timothy, "As for the rich in this world, charge them not to be haughty, not to set their hopes on uncertain riches but on God who richly furnishes us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good deeds, liberal and generous, thus laying up for themselves a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life which is life indeed" (1 Tim. 6:17-19).

One day a wealthy landowner showed a young pastor his huge farm. "Everything in that direction, as far as you can see, I own," he said. Then turning east, south and west, he said the same thing. The young pastor replied, "Youíve turned me to the four quarters of the compass, and showed me all you own. But one thing you havenít told me." He lifted his hand and pointed upward. "How much do you own in that direction?"

"So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God."

 

27th Sunday after Pentecost.

Straightening Crooked Personalities (Luke 13:10-17).

A story is told of how the wife of an American engineer brought a blessing to people in an Asian country. She noticed that the old people in a certain village all had bent backs. Upon inquiring she discovered that it was due to sweeping. The old people did all the sweeping. Since wood was too scare for broom handles, they had to sweep stooped over, and all of them, as they grew older, had crooked spines.

She decided to do something about it. She discovered some tall reeds growing in the mountains. Transplanting some of them to the yard of her house in the village, she made a broom and swept where the villagers could see her. Slowly the idea caught on and they began to use the tall reeds to make brooms which they could use while standing.

Four years after she had returned to Pittsburgh, she received a letter from the village chief in which he said in part,

"Wife of the engineer:

"ÖYou showed us a new way to sweep. It is a small thing, but it has changed the lives of our old people Ö You will be happy to know that today there are few bent backs in the village Ö We have constructed a small shrine in your memory. It is a simple affair; at the foot of the Altar are these words: ĎIn memory of the woman who unbent the backs of our people."

Straightening the Tangled

The Gospel lesson today tells of a woman who had "a spirit of infirmity for eighteen years." She was bent over, and could in no way lift herself. When Jesus saw her, He "called her, laid His hands on her and immediately she was made straight."

The first message of this incident is the power of Christ to straighten out that which is crooked ó not only crooked bodies, but also crooked lives. Of all the creatures in this world, man is the only one who was made to look up. But sin bends him to the ground. The more a man serves God, the more he will be upright, simple, and straight. The more he sins, the more bent and crooked his inner life ó his mind and his heart.

There are those who say, "You cannot change human nature." This statement is an outright denial of God ó the God who came into this world for the express purpose of changing human nature, of straightening crooked personalities. "Such were some of you," writes the Apostle Paul, "drunkards, idolaters, thieves, sorcerers. But now you are changed, now you are made over, now you are new persons in Christ."

Many times we have seen crooked rivers. In Minneapolis there is a very crooked stream called Minnehaha Creek. The reason it is so crooked is that it constantly follows the line of least resistance. So it is in life. When, instead of following Christ, we follow the line of least resistance, the end result is a crooked life.

A boy came home one day from a fishing trip. His line had become badly tangled and he was doing his best to get it straightened out again. He tried for a long time but with no success. Finally, he went to his father and said, "Daddy, my line is all tangled up. Will you please straighten it out for me?" In the skillful hands of his father the line began to straighten out like magic, and in two or three minutes it was as good as ever.

This is a parable of our lives. Little by little we get tangled up in the temptations and sins that beset us. Finally the day comes when we discover we can no longer help ourselves. Someone from the outside must come into our lives, if we are to be freed from all the entanglements. God is willing to help, if we will but come to Him with faith.

Bent Lives Made Straight.

Consider the lives of so many persons bent by alcoholism and drugs who have been straightened out by the power of the living Christ.

Consider the life of Peter bent by his triple denial of the Master, yet so straightened out by Jesus as to enable him to become the great apostle of faith who said, "Lord, you know how much I love you."

Consider the woman of the streets who was bent under the great burden of guilt. She washed the Masterís feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. She arose to face life as a new person because the Great Physician had forgiven her and made straight her crooked life.

Consider the thief crucified next to Christ ó his life totally bent by sin. Before he died, he breathed a prayer, "Lord, remember me." Suddenly the great love of God flowed into his heart, and he heard the promise, "Today you will be with me in paradise."

"Whom Satan Bound."

The first message of this story is that the God who straightened out the back of this woman continues to make straight today the lives of those who are bent and warped by sin. The second message is found in the words with which Jesus described the illness of this woman: "Öthis woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years..." We see here that Jesus attributes this womanís illness not to God but to Satan. We remember also St. Paul calling his chronic illness "a messenger of Satan." So often we associate the will of God with what is evil, with sickness and death. For example, when a manís wife died, he said, "Well, I must accept it. It is the will of God." But the man was himself a doctor and for weeks he had been fighting for her life. Was he all the time fighting against the will of God? Of course not. Christ spent His life healing the sick. Never do we see Him inflicting illness on anyone. Death did not come into existence because God wanted it. Jesus Himself wept before the tomb of Lazarus. Dr. Leslie Weatherhead said once, "If you want to say, ĎThy will be done,í say it on the morning cancer can be prevented or cured; say it when your baby is safely born and Ďboth are doing well;í say it on a bright sunny morning when you are throbbing with life; say it on Christmas Day; say it when your heart is pulsating with that joy, the source of which is the heart of God" (Key Next Door, by Leslie Weatherhead, Abingdon Press. Used by permission). For this is the will of God for man; not graveyards, disease, and calamity, but health, happiness, and abounding vitality.

Consider how many lives were bent by that terrible disease called polio. Dr. Jonas Salk discovered a vaccine that has all but eradicated polio. See how one man through his scientific research has made straight the lives of so many people. Dr. Salk was not opposing Godís will, but acting in conformity with it in making a better life possible for all people. There are so many areas in life where we can cooperate with God to help make straight lives that have been bent by sin and suffering.

Prayer.

Lord, help us to come to You with our bent lives that You may make them straight again as You did the womanís back in todayís Gospel lesson. For we know that neither a bent back nor a bent soul is Your will for man, but health and wholeness. And help us, dear Lord, as we go through life to help untangle and make straight the crooked things we meet:

Where there is hatred, to sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is discord, union;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

Where there is sadness, joy.

 

28th Sunday after Pentecost.

The Great Banquet (Luke 14:16-24).

The master of the feast made doubly sure that the guests received the invitations. He issued two invitations to each: the first was to tell each one that he was invited; the second, on the day of the dinner, to announce that all was ready: "Come; for all is now ready."

"Come!" The Gospel is not so much a command as an offer; not so much a demand as a gift ó an invitation to share in the unbelievable joy of the kingdom.

"Come!" God is expecting you! He is ready for the poor, the maimed, the blind, the lame. He is ready for those who have spent their lives in the highways and byways of life. He invites all: "Come; for all is now ready."

As a shepherd seeks for the lost sheep, as a woman gets down on her knees to look for a lost coin, as a father waits for the lost son to come home again, so God is ever seeking, calling, inviting.

"Come; for all is now ready." Come you who seek meaning for life. Come you who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Come you who falter under the burden of sin and guilt. Come you who are anxious and fearful. Come you who mourn. Come you who seek peace and fulfillment. Come "the table is richly laden. Fare ye royally on it. The calf is a fatted one. Let no one go away hungry Ö Enjoy ye all the riches of his goodness Ö Let no one mourn that he hath fallen again and again; for forgiveness hath risen from the grave. Let no one fear death; for the death of our Savior hath set us free" (Chrysostomís Paschal Prayer).

A "Come" Religion.

Dr. Karen Homey, the famous psychiatrist, talks of "the tyranny of the should." I should do this. I should do that. If we pile too many "shoulds" on a person, we can make him emotionally ill. There are many people who consider Christianity this type of tyrannical religion. To them it is nothing but a series of commandments. You should do this. You should not do that. But Christianity is not first and foremost a "should" religion. It is first and foremost a "come" religion. The great drawing power of Christ is not in His "Thou shalt not" but in His "Come to me." Come be filled with the Holy Spirit. Come be filled with the power of Godís presence. If we come to Him, then we shall do certain things, not because we "should" do them, but because we delight in doing them as an expression of our love for Jesus.

Commenting on this word "Come" and, in particular, on the words of Jesus "Come to me all you who laborÖ" St. Chrysostom wrote these precious words, "His invitation is one of kindness. His goodness is beyond description. ĎCome to me a//,í not only rulers but also their subjects, not only the rich, but also the poor, not only the free but also the slaves, not only men but women, not only the young but also the old, not only those of sound body but also the maimed and those with mutilated limbs, all of you, He says, come! For such are the Masterís gifts; He knows no distinction of slave and free, nor of rich and poor, but all such inequality is cast aside. ĎCome,í He says, Ďall who labor and are burdened!í

"And see whom He calls! Those who have spent their strength in breaking the law, those who are burdened with their sins, those who can no longer lift up their heads, those who are filled with shame, those who can no longer speak out. And why does He call them? Not to demand an accounting, nor to hold court. But why? To relieve them of their pain, to take away their heavy burdens."

He Came!

When Jesus says, "Come," He does not stand on the top rung of a long, high ladder in heaven to signal us to start climbing. For He Himself has climbed down the ladder to stand at our very elbows. He has come to us.

"For us men and for our salvation (He) came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost and of the Virgin Mary, and became man" (Nicene Creed). "She brought forth her firstborn Son and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger." He came, born in a stable. He came and died on the cross. He came to prepare the banquet of salvation for us. And now ó today ó He sends His servants to extend us His invitation: "Come, for all is now ready."

Far from being accepted, this gracious invitation was rejected. "I have bought a field. ... I have bought five yoke of oxen. ... I have married a wife ... I cannot come. Have me excusedÖ" This was the response. Is it not the same response today? Our great tragedy is that we end up accepting the wrong invitations in life. We miss the banquet, the abundant life of Christ, and settle for the lesser, and the fleeting. And Jesus still laments, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem Ö How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not" (Matthew 23:37).

"Come, for all is now ready." "But," you object, "I am not worthy to come. My clothes are not suitable. I wouldnít know how to act in the Masterís palace." None of this makes any difference. The invitation goes out to all: to those who are on the back streets, to those who live in little, dirty places, as well as to those who live in fine houses. Come! The good news is that you donít have to be perfect to come. Come as you are ó with all of your sins and sorrows, weaknesses and failures, problems and anxieties. Come to the only One who can forgive you and heal you. Come to the only One who can make you worthy.

"Come, for all is now ready." The ten lepers came; they were healed. The blind came; they received their sight. The lame came; they were made whole. Sinners came; they were forgiven; the dead, and they were brought to life. "Him who comes to me I will in no way cast out," said Jesus.

"Come, for all is now ready." Coming to Jesus is a way of life. It begins with baptism. It involves daily commitment, repentance, obedience, worship, prayer, Bible reading, and regular Communion. It involves a daily walk with Jesus. It involves not only "Come!" but also "Go!" "Go out into the world and be my disciples. Be servants. Be lights. Be salt."

None of us will ever know the wonder of the brightly lighted banquet hall, the goodness of the food, and the joy of being a part of this amazing fellowship unless we lay aside the excuses and dare to accept the invitation.

Come to Him now and be assured that on the last day He will direct to you the greatest "Come" of all: "Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world."

Prayer.

Lord, Iím coming. No excuses. No alibis. I know Iím not worthy. I come from the streets and the lanes, from the highways and the hedges. Without You, I have lived as if I were blind and lame. I come hungry and thirsty. I come to be fed. Amen.

29th Sunday after Pentecost.

"Were Not Ten Healed? Where Are the Nine?" (Luke 17:12-19).

Little junior who hadn't spoken a word in all of his six years, finally blurted at breakfast, "Mom, the toast is burning." His amazed mother shrieked joyfully, hugged him and said, "Junior, why haven't you spoken to us before this?" "Well," replied Junior, "up to now everything has been okay."

There is a tendency in all of us to speak up in criticism or complaint or prayerful intercession to God when things go wrong, and to remain silent when everything is okay. This is brought out in the miracle of the healing of the ten lepers as told in St. Luke 17:12-19.

Ten Lepers.

"And as he (Jesus) entered a village, he was met by ten lepers who stood at a distance, lifted up their voices and said, 'Jesus, Master, have mercy on us'." Leprosy was one of the most wretched and hopeless diseases at that time. It was a daily dying. Every day part of you died. Today maybe a finger would die, then a foot, or a hand or an ear would be gone. The person would slowly become a mass of ulcerated malodorous growths. Since it was contagious, the leper was isolated from society. As he traveled he had to cry out, "Unclean, unclean" to keep people from coming close to him. This is why the ten lepers "stood at a distance" when they called out to Jesus. They were not allowed to come close. Another one of the symptoms of leprosy was that the voice became merely a hoarse whisper. It must have taken a tremendous exertion of physical strength on the part of these lepers to cry out loudly enough to be heard by Jesus. This is why they "lifted up their voices" when they cried out to Jesus. In odor, appearance, gruesomeness and hopelessness, leprosy had no competitor.

The Gospel lesson tells us that there were ten lepers. It does not tell us how these ten got together in a group. They may have been a colony that dwelt together to comfort and strengthen each other in their misery, or they may have assembled in a group to impress Jesus with their misery and soften His heart toward them. There was at least one Samaritan in the group. The rest were Jews. Had they not been afflicted with leprosy, they would not have been together. It took leprosy to bridge the gap between the Jews and the Samaritans who hated each other. Had it not been for their common misfortune, these men would have had no dealings with each other. How strange that it often takes suffering and adversity to make us realize that we are all children of One God

They Came With Faith.

"They lifted up their voices and cried, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us." These words indicate that the lepers came to Jesus with faith. They called Jesus "Master," which means that they believed He was One who had unusual power. They may have heard of His healing another leper (Mark 1:40-45). If Jesus was able to heal him, why not them? So they came saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us." How great is the power of faith. "All things are possible to him who believes," said Jesus. The only limit to the power of God in our lives is the limit of our own faith.

Go to the Priests.

Jesus did not heal the ten lepers immediately. He saw fit to test their faith. He did not always do so. When a leper had come to Him on a previous occasion, he healed him immediately. But sometimes our faith needs to be made more complete. So He made the lepers walk the road of obedience.

"Go and show yourselves to the priests," He said to them. Not only was Jesus testing their faith; He was also following the prescription of Jewish law which said that any leper who was cured of his leprosy had to go to the priest in the Temple to secure a certificate of healing. Only then was he allowed to return to his family and townspeople.

"Go," said Jesus. Yet why should they go? They looked at themselves and at each other. They had not been healed. They were still lepers. The sores, the ulcers, the gaping holes, the fingers and ears and hands were still missing. How could they go to the priests looking as they did? Yet they went. They went on faith. Sometimes God answers our prayers on condition that we exercise our faith. Instead of turning away disappointed, these ten men did as Jesus commanded them. And lo! the miracle happened. "As they went they were cleansed."

We can imagine the indescribable joy they must have felt when they realized they had been healed. One would think they would rush back to thank Jesus for delivering them from this dreadful disease. But this is the awful part of the story. Only one of the ten came back to thank Him. "Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then said Jesus, 'Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?' '

Man's Ingratitude.

What is more wonderful than to be cured suddenly of leprosy? And these ten men were healed simultaneously. Together they had suffered, together they had prayed, together they were healed, together they went joyfully forward. That is, all except one. All went to Christ for healing; yet only one came back to praise Him.

How typical of man!

How quick we are to say to God when in trouble: "Lord, have mercyÖ ." How slow to say when the sun is shining: "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits."

A story is told of a chaplain in World War I whose duty it was to censor the letters written home by the soldiers. The night before they were to attack the German lines hundreds of men wrote letters home. When the battle was over, they again wrote home telling of the ordeal. The chaplain had to read and censor both sets of letters.

One fairly typical sample from a letter written before the battle is the following: "Dear Mother, we're going to attack in the morning and I've been thinking of home and you, and I vowed to God that if I come through tomorrow, I am going to be a better man." Some even said, "I believe I'm going into the ministry."

But after the battle, the tone of the letters changed completely. Writing to a friend in another regiment the same person who wrote the first letter said, "Dear Joe: Can you get leave? The last time we were in Paris, we had a hot time, didn't we? I've just come through a scorcher up front. We were near death at every moment. If you can get leave and meet me in Paris, we'll go out on the town!" Before the battle: "Oh, God, help me get through tomorrow!" After the battle: "Well, I got through, God, so I don't need You any more."

Express It!

"Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine?" Jesus expected the other nine to come back and at least give Him thanks. Why didn't they come? Perhaps they forgot. Perhaps they were too excited, too elated to think of anything except their new-found health. Perhaps some of them may have been too anxious to get home to their loved ones. Perhaps they were grateful but just didn't express it. The trouble with a great many of us is not that we don't feel deeply about people; we often feel a great deal, but we don't always express what we feel.

One of the most effective sermons was preached by a postman when the Christmas rush was over. A friend was extending condolescences over the sad plight of the postman, staggering under mountains of mail. The postman said surprisingly, "This is not the hardest part. The hardest part is to see in the post offices large piles of undelivered gifts. They do not have the right address." Gifts and messages of love undelivered!

How many gifts and messages of love we have that can bring joy to people. But do they? Are they ever delivered? Are they ever expressed? "Were not ten healed? Where are the nine?"

The Diapason of Orthodox Christianity.

Truly, where are the nine? The nine who were cleansed, forgiven, strengthened, healed, given new life and fresh hope? They are probably right here in this Church among us, for we have not yet learned to give thanks or to praise God with a loud voice. The world is gloomy; we are gloomy. The world is without hope; we are without hope. The world is downcast; we are downcast. We can manage a confession and a petition or two: a "Lord, have mercy," but a great doxology ó a song of praise ó that comes hard!

Yet the dominant theme of our Orthodox Christian faith is doxology and praise. Every liturgy in the Greek Orthodox Church is preceded by the singing of the great Doxology to set the tone for the entire liturgy which is one of complete eucharistia: gratitude and praise. "Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit ..." "Blessed be the kingdom of God the Father Ö Son Ö and Holy Spirit." This is the major theme of Orthodox worship as it was the dominant motif of the early Christians. What do we find in the New Testament? Tribulation, demons, suffering, crucifixion ó yet always with a doxology because Christ has taken the worst of man and overcome it. "In the world you have tribulation but be of good cheer I have overcome the world," said Jesus. Not crucifixion but resurrection has the last word! Not death but life! Is it any wonder that thanksgiving and praise and doxology are not only the dominant theme but also the life style of the Christian?

"Were not ten healed? Where are the nine?" Were not ten delivered from the tyranny of sin, fear, guilt, anxiety and death? Where are the nine? Have they allowed fear and pessimism to silence their praise and thanksgiving? Let them return as did the one. They have every reason to praise God with a loud voice and give Him thanks.

Prayer.

Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits, Who forgives all our iniquities and heals our diseases, Who bore our sins in His own body, Who rose from the dead to abolish death, Who daily crowns us with loving-kindness and tender mercy, Who goes on daily loading us with gifts beyond our deserving ó bless the Lord. And, O my soul, turn this unpayable debt to God into dedicated service for the sake of those who need your help and for the love of Christ, our Savior and Healer.

 

30th Sunday after Pentecost.

"One Thing You Still Lack" (Luke 18:18-27).

Just "one thing" can make all the difference in the world. A multi-million dollar post office was erected in one of our large cities a few years ago. It was perfect except for one thing. It contained no letter or package drop boxes in the lobby.

It takes no more than just one thing to alter the outcome of human events. The night of the Normandy invasion Hitler had taken a sleeping pill and left word not to be awakened. One sleeping pill to a large extent determined the outcome of World War II. One tire blown out at high speed can mean the difference between life and death. One hyphen omitted when feeding instructions to a computer sent the Venus rocket off course and cost the government $18,500,000.

Just "one thing" can also make a difference in manís spiritual world as well. It may make the difference between an abundant life and a futile life. This was certainly true about the rich young ruler who came to see Jesus in todayís Gospel lesson.

Inner Discontent Though he was rich and a ruler, he was not thoroughly satisfied. Some psychologists believe that dissatisfaction is not necessarily a sign of weakness but of growth. They suggest that the man who feels neurotic or anxious is being urged by an inner power to move on to a new plateau of growth. This means that we must not try to adjust ourselves to the present level but to heed the spurs that would drive us upward. In other words, God will not let us be satisfied with animal comforts alone, but fills our hearts with a huge emptiness until we begin to seek what the rich young ruler in todayís Gospel lesson called "eternal life."

What Shall I Do?

For the first time in his life he heard someone speak to the deepest needs of his soul, and he asked, "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" And Jesus said to him, "You know the commandments. Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother." And the young man said, "All these I have kept from my youth." With what pride he must have uttered those words! But when Jesus heard this, he said, "One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." Upon hearing these words the young man became sad, for he was very rich. He left, never to walk with Jesus again.

The Major Test.

Just "one thing" kept him away from God: his possessions. He boasted that he had kept all the commandments. Jesus tested him. He began with the first of all commandments: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." This is where the young manís status collapsed. The young ruler did have other gods before the true God. Tested directly at this point, the Gospel says, "his countenance fell, and he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions." Now he understood that the way to the heart of God is through the surrender of all other loves to a first love for God. His love, like that of many, lay in things material. Just "one thing" stood in the way of his reach for the kingdom, but that "one thing" was enough to make him lose it.

"Sell All That You Have..."

"Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, arid you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." This was a prescription for a particular person with a specific need. Jesus was not laying down poverty as either a requirement or an ideal for everyone. He was not condemning all possessions. There is no record that Jesus ever told James and John to give away their fishing boat, or that He told Mary and Martha to sell their home in Bethany. Jesus was a Good Physician, and as such did not prescribe the same pill for every patient. This young man had allowed his possessions to build a wall between him and God. Jesus, "who saw what was in man," realized this with one glance. Therefore, He said, "Go, and sell all that you have." We have called the words our Lord spoke a "prescription"; but they are more like a surgical operation. For Jesus was the Good Surgeon as well as the Good Physician. He believed in drastic remedies when the trouble was deep-seated and acute. So He says, in effect, "If your wealth causes you to sin, cut it off." This man was so shackled by his possessions that nothing less than surgery would suffice.

What is that "one thing" in our life that keeps us from God? Whatever it is, we should treat it as cancer says Jesus. Get rid of it immediately, no matter how painful the separation, and come, follow me.

To some this "one thing" may be alcohol. They had better leave it alone before it eats into the fiber of their will power and becomes a fatal illness, killing their capacity to decide for themselves.

To some this "one thing" may be success. It destroys the finer strains of character, making them arrogant, snobbish, ungrateful.

To some this "one thing" may be money. It can narrow a personís outlook in life and bring him to the point where he sees everything and everyone in terms of the dollar.

Socratic Versus Platonic Ethics.

"One thing you still lack." Yes, you say, but this young man kept all the other commandments. Why should Jesus condemn him just for this "one thing"? Socrates claimed that a person was morally acceptable if the evil points in his life were balanced by good points. If one weighed a manís vices and his virtues on a scale and found that the virtues weighed more than the vices ó this man, said Socrates, was good ó morally good. If a man were stingy, yet otherwise good, there was nothing wrong with him; if he had a bad temper but was a heavy giver to good causes, he was considered to be a moral person.

Plato, on the other hand, disagreed completely with Socrates. He taught that personality, like a chain, is only as strong as its weakest link. The ladder that lacks a rung or two is a useless thing, and a boat may sink if only one plank is rotten, though all the others are sound and watertight. Or look at it this way: would you, as a banker, want a teller who was honest 99 per cent of the time, but embezzled one dollar out of every hundred that passed through his hands? To obey the Lord in the 99 cases where it is easy to do so is no great matter. The real test lies in the 100th case where to do so is hard.

Our Lord is Platonic. He is not at all Socratic. One thing ó he says ó can make a difference. One sin can ruin an otherwise moral life. "One thing you still lack," He told the rich young man in todayís Gospel. "For whoever keeps the whole law," writes St. James, "but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. For he who said, ĎDo not commit adultery/ also said ĎDo not kill.í If you do not commit adultery but do kill, you have become a transgressor of the law" (James 2:10).

The Closed Door.

"One thing you still lack." Some of us have a certain room in our house that we do not want God to enter. We keep it walled up with concrete. For the young ruler in todayís Gospel this room was his world of finance. He did not want Jesus to enter this room. Perhaps for us this room is occupied by an overpowering ambition to beat our way to success in our career no matter how many people we have to step on. For some it may be an old sin we refuse to confess. Perhaps this walled-up room is occupied by our sexuality to which we are determined to give free rein no matter what happens and no matter what it costs. For others it may be a bottomless hatred toward someone which comes between us and God and robs us of our peace. God can have everything, but not this one thing\ He can enter every room, but not this one!

In other words, we make religion another one of the many departments of life. We have the social department, the intellectual department, the recreational department, the departments of politics, economics, business, science, and then we have the department of religion. It seems that the worst possible thing we could do today is to let the department of religion intrude into the other departments. We hear it said, for example, that we shouldnít mix religion with politics or business. Each belongs in its own realm. This is what the young ruler in todayís Gospel lesson was trying to do. God belonged in the synagogue, he thought. He had no business to be in the world of finance. But Jesus insisted that God belongs in every department of life, that all the rooms in the house which is our life must be open to Him. He keeps knocking on the one closed door. "One thing you still lack."

"Come, Follow Me."

When our Lord met Andrew, Matthew, James, John, Peter and the other apostles, He extended them an invitation, "Follow me," He said. The Gospels report that these men "left everything and followed Jesus."

That same invitation was extended by Jesus to the rich young ruler in todayís Gospel lesson "Öcome, follow me." He, too, was invited by Jesus to become an apostle like Matthew, Peter, John. If he had followed Jesus, we would be honoring his memory today as an apostle, but as it is, we donít even know his name. "One thing" kept him from God ó his love of possessions.

What is that "one thing" in our life? Is it some sin we refuse to let go? Is it some part of our life we refuse to surrender to God? Is it some love we place above our love for Christ? Is it some person we refuse to forgive? Whatever it is, Christís message to us is: Even one sin, as long as we do not forsake it and seek Godís forgiveness, can keep us out of the kingdom of heaven.

Thatís Me!

A playwright said once that the mark of a great drama is that it makes us say within ourselves, "My goodness ó thatís me." The story Jesus told of the rich young ruler is a great drama. If we look at that young man and say in our hearts, "Thatís me," it will have done its work. For then we shall be made aware of the "one thing" we still lack and turn it over to Jesus to gain eternal life.

 

31st Sunday after Pentecost.

"Jesus of Nazareth Is Passing By" (Luke 18:37).

The famous Austrian surgeon Dr. Lorenz was taking a walk one day in a Midwestern town. Suddenly he was overtaken by a violent thunderstorm. So fierce was the downpour that he ran to the nearest house and rang the doorbell. When a woman opened the door, he asked if he could come in. But the woman who was already visibly upset, cried out:

"Go somewhere else! There is trouble enough in this house."

And she slammed the door shut. When the inhospitable housewife looked at a newspaper the next day, she screamed with dismay. She saw there the picture of the great healer, Dr. Lorenz, who had come to that town from Vienna to treat a rich heiress who had the same type of rare disease as her own ailing daughter. Dr. Lorenz was the only physician in the world who could perform the kind of surgery needed to make her child well. He had come to her very doorstep, but she had slammed the door shut in his face. Now he was gone, having left for Vienna.

The Gospel lesson today tells of the Greatest Healer in the world ó the Lord Jesus, visiting the town of Jericho.

A blind man, hearing the commotion, asked what was going on. They told him "Jesus of Nazareth is passing by."

His Great Faith.

Now this blind beggar could have said, "Jesus? What can He do for me? I am blind." But he didnít. When a person really believes in Jesus he never says, "It canít be done." He knows that with God "all things are possible." So the blind man, realizing that the opportunity of his life was about to pass right in front of him, grasped it. He cried out, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"

Bystanders tried to stop him. "Those who were in front," says the Gospel, "rebuked him, telling him to be silent; but he cried out all the more." He was determined to come face to face with Jesus. Nothing would stop him. He refused to be silent, and he refused to be restrained. His sense of need drove him relentlessly into the presence of Jesus. If a man wants a miracle, that is exactly the kind of spirit he must have. He must be persistent in his quest.

A discussion was held once in a college fraternity house. The subject was, "Can we believe in God?" One student said, "Iíd give anything if I could believe in God. But I just canít." The leader of the discussion asked him five questions in quick succession: "How many hours have you spent in the past month trying to think your way through to belief in God?" "Not one," came the answer. "How many books have you read in the past year which could have thrown light on this problem for you?" "Not one." "How many people have you talked to who might have helped you find a way through some of your difficulties?" "None." "Have you attended church?" "No." "Have you prayed for guidance?" "No." This young college student had said, "Iíd give anything if I could believe in God," but he had given exactly nothing.

The blind beggar, on the other hand, gave everything. He cried out to Jesus persistently and with passionate faith despite the rebuke of the crowd, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me\" The result was that he found God. "Jesus stopped," says the Gospel, "and commanded him to be brought to himÖ" All heaven is stopped in its course; the world beyond our world is brought to attention, in all its healing power, by one cry of human need. God is always stopped by an honest cry of faith.

The Power of Prayer.

People around him try to stop him, but the blind man cries louder, "Jesus of Nazareth, have mercy on me." Hearing the cry, Jesus stood still. What a marvelous revelation of God this is! Jesus was no doubt on His way to some important mission. But above the noise of the crowd He heard the cry for help, and He stopped. "And Jesus stood still," says the Bible. Omnipotence stops on its way to hear the cry of human sorrow and misery! Prayer has the power to stop God and center His attention upon you ó just you. Suppose the blind man had not prayed? Jesus would have passed him by. And how many needs are there in your life that are not met simply because you have not prayed? How many times has God passed you by because you did not ask Him to stop?

"And all things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive" (Matthew 21:22). The limit God places is not on His ability or willingness to give, but on our willingness to ask and our capacity to believe. No greater moment comes into the life of any person than when, out of a recognition of need and faith in Christís power to meet that need, he falls on his knees in humility and begins to pray.

This man whose prayer stopped Jesus was not the ruler of the country, not some very prominent or influential person; he was a mere beggar. He was a man who was on the very bottom of the social ladder. But in the face of the need of just one obscure person, the Son of God stopped, gave him His full attention, and made available His mighty power.

"Jesus stopped Ö and asked him, ĎWhat do you want me to do for you?í He said, ĎLord, let me receive my sight.í And Jesus said to him, ĎReceive your sight, your faith has made you well.í And immediately he received his sight and followed him..." Jesus opened his eyes. He restored his sight. And the blind man saw. He saw not only the light of day. He saw also the light of life: Jesus. And "he followed him/í says the Gospel. When we come to Jesus He always restores to us our spiritual sight. He enables us to see things we never saw before. Such sight changes a manís life. He lives no longer for the passing things of this world, but for the things that endure, that last unto eternity. Such sight requires a man to walk away from his beggarís mat into the discipleship of Christ, away from prejudice into a life of love and brotherhood, away from sin to a new life in Christ Jesus. When the blind beggar received his sight "he followed Jesus." He had had enough of darkness. Now he would live in the presence of Him who was and is and will ever be "the light of the world."

When the blind beggar heard that "Jesus of Nazareth is passing by," he seized lifeís greatest opportunity and he received his sight. Lifeís greatest opportunity for us, too, is that Jesus of Nazareth is passing by ó today, now! He continually knocks on the door of our hearts. He reveals Himself to us in the Bible. He speaks to us through the Church. He offers Himself to us through the Sacraments. He is always just a prayer away from us.

Yet, are we, like the blind beggar, aware that Jesus is passing by? Do we profit by His presence or do we remain silent and inactive until He is gone? The blind beggar might have sat beside the road, listening and wondering, but doing nothing until his great opportunity had passed him by and he would have remained merely the blind beggar by the roadside. How many of us are doing just that? If we allow Jesus to pass by unheeded, we shall remain poor, blind beggars who failed to respond, to seize the opportunity that would have given us sight, light, happiness, joy and fulfillment beyond our highest expectation, leading on to life eternal as joint heirs of Jesus.

As in the case of the woman with the sick child who slammed the door shut on the only person who could heal her child, the greatest tragedy of life is not in what we suffer, but in what we miss!

To miss Christ is to miss all. To gain Christ is to gain all. "Behold, I stand at the door and knock," says Jesus. The door is your heart and mine. Will you slam the door shut with your indifference, or will you take advantage of lifeís greatest opportunity and invite Him into your life?

 

 

 

5. Fixed Feasts.

Sunday Before Epiphany.

"The Voice of One Crying in the Wilderness" (Mark 1:1-8).

Many centuries before Jesus came, the prophet Isaiah had foretold that the Messiah would be preceded by a messenger: "Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way; the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straightÖ"

Who was to be this messenger? St. Luke writes, "In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod Tetrarch of Galilee ... in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness" (Luke 1:1-2). The messenger who was to prepare the way for Jesus was none other than John, the son of Zechariah. This verse gives us the exact historical date when John began preaching. Actually it is the only fixed and precise date given in the New Testament. We know from other sources that "the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar" was the year 28-29 A.D. From this date we are able to calculate other dates in the life of our Lord. The abundance of historical information given in this verse about the beginning of the ministry of John shows the great importance which the early Christians attached to this date, for it marked, as we read in Acts 1:22, the beginning of the salvation of the world, the very starting point of Christ's public ministry. It shows also that the coming of Christ is not a myth but a factual event that took place at a specific time in history.

God does not visit His people without proclaiming His coming. Through the centuries He had sent prophets to Israel to describe the divine visitation. His coming was not unexpected. There were definite prophecies that He would be born in Bethlehem of a virgin mother, that He would live in Nazareth, that He would lay down His life as a guilt-offering for His people's sins, that He would be born of the house of David, that a messenger would precede Him to prepare the way for His coming.

The Messenger and Bridegroom.

"In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar" the messenger began his ministry. His name was John the Baptist. More than an ordinary prophet, he was the messenger and the forerunner (prodromos) who was to prepare the way for the coming of the King.

In John 3:29 John the Baptist refers to Jesus as "the bridegroom" and to himself as "the friend of the bridegroom." One of the great pictures of the Old Testament is the picture of Israel as the bride of God, and God as the bridegroom of Israel. The relationship between God and Israel was so close that it could only be likened to a wedding. The friend of the bridegroom played an important role at a Jewish wedding. He arranged the wedding and acted as liaison between the bridge and the bridegroom. He sent out the invitations and presided at the wedding feast. He brought the bride and the bridegroom together. This was exactly the task of John: to bring Israel and Jesus together, to arrange the marriage between Christ, the bridegroom, and Israel the bride. In this sense, John was like a telephone operator who, when there is a delay, often says, "I'm trying to connect you." When the connection is finally made, the operator fades out and leaves us in direct contact with the person to whom we wish to speak. John's one aim was to connect us with the One who was mightier than him, the thong of whose sandals he was not worthy to stoop down and untie.

The Voice.

For three hundred years the voice of prophecy had been silent in Israel. "There is no longer any prophet" lamented the Psalmist (74:9). Was God silent? Was He not to speak to His people any more? After three hundred years God finally breaks the silence. He sends another prophet: John the Baptizer. In him God spoke again through "the voice of one crying in the wilderness." In John men recognized once again the voice and the authority of a prophet. So they came. "There went out to him all the country of Judea, and all the people of Jerusalem." He came as the last and the greatest of the Old Testament prophets. He came to point out Him whom all of Israel expected: the Messiah, the Savior, the Light of the World. Of all the prophets to proclaim the Messiah, John was the only one privileged to point to Him and say, "Behold, the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world." That is why St. John's icon is given a position of honor next to Christ on the icon screen of the Orthodox Church. In him the entire Old Testament bears witness to Christ as the promised Savior. Grunewald has painted a picture in which he depicts John the Baptist with an unnaturally elongated forefinger pointing to Christ. This same type of finger is used in some Byzantine icons of John the Baptist to express the main purpose of his ministry: the pointing out of Christ as the expected Savior.

Behold the Lamb of God.

In the opening chapter of John's Gospel we read, "There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light" (John 1:6-8). Here was a man whose sole purpose for living was to be a witness, to speak about someone else, to introduce, to announce, to present. It was he who made the world's most important introduction; for it was he who introduced Jesus:

"Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, 'After me comes a man who ranks before me, for he was before me/ I myself did not know him; but for this I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.' And John bore witness, 'I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him; but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.' And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God" (John 1:29-34).

At first John did not know who the Messiah was; he only knew that he was somewhere among the living: "... but among you stands one whom you do not know, even he who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie" (John 1:26, 27). It was when the baptism of Jesus was performed and John heard the voice of God the Father saying, "This is my beloved Son," and saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit descend in the form of a dove ó it was then that he recognized Jesus as the Messiah and said, "And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God" (John 1:34).

Prepare the Way of the Lord.

John conceived his task to be that of preparing the way for Christ and His kingdom. Quoting from the Book of Isaiah, he said, "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God." In the old days when a king intended to visit a certain district, he sent ahead messengers to see to it that the roads on which he would travel were repaired and resurfaced. Hills were lowered; valleys were filled and crooked places made straight. So, now that God is about to begin His public ministry on earth, says John, we must prepare the way for Him. Moral obstacles must be removed. Christ will not come into a life where there are mountains of pride and stubborn prejudice, valleys of degenerate living, crooked ways of dishonesty and deceitfulness, rough places of unkindness and hardheartedness. All of these crooked ways must be made straight through repentance.

Repent!

The keynote of John's preaching was repentance. He came "preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins." He called on people to turn away from their sins to God. We heard him saying, "He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise." We hear him saying to tax collectors, "Collect no more than is appointed you," and to soldiers, "Rob no one by violence or by false accusation, and be content with your wages." John did not say that people had to live in the wilderness, eat grasshoppers and wild honey, or wear clothes made out of camel's hair, as he did. He wanted them to do only what God required of them: to repent and live a just life, not taking advantage of their fellow men. To the Pharisees who felt they had a passport to heaven because they were descended from Abraham, he said, "... do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire" (Matt. 3:9-10). What really mattered was not their roots but their fruits. Men had to realize their sinfulness before they could accept the Savior. If we think the message of John was too harsh and judgmental, let us remember that in three years Israel would crucify its King.

John's Baptism.

When a Gentile came to Judaism as a proselyte he was baptized. He needed to be washed and cleansed from the evil of his Gentile ways. But no one had even said that a Jew, a member of the chosen people, needed to be baptized. No one, that is, but John. He stood up and appealed to all men as sinners, Jews included, to come and receive the cleansing which God alone could give.

When he was asked why he baptized if he was not the Christ, he replied, "I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." John had been baptizing in the River Jordan as a token of repentance. He knew that his baptism did not regenerate or quicken the dead soul. Christ's baptism would do that. That is why he made a contrast between his baptism and the baptism Jesus would confer later.

John's Greatness.

The greatness of John lay in his faithful witness to Christ as the Messiah. His was the privilege of running before the chariot of the king and saying, "Christ has come." He was a humble person seeking no honor or glories for himself. Considering himself unworthy to unlatch the Messiah's sandals, he said, "He must increase. I must decrease." He had the moral courage to stand up before King Herod who was living with his brother's wife and say: "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." In the end this greatest of all prophets was beheaded by Herod at the request of Salome. All his life John had borne witness to Jesus. Upon learning of his death, Jesus bore witness to John. He said of him: "I tell you, among those born of women, none is greater than John" (Luke 7:28).

Prayer.

Dear Lord, we thank You for sending your messenger ó John the Baptizer ó to introduce the Messiah to us. Help us to prepare the way for Him as He seeks to enter our lives today. Let us remove the mountains of pride and prejudice, and make straight our crooked and deceitful ways through repentance. For He who comes to make His home in us is the Lamb of God. He comes to take away our sins and make us the tabernacles of His Presence in the world. Amen.

 

Epiphany.

A Sermon on the Holy Trinity.

Epiphany, or more specifically Theophany, is the manifestation, the showing forth of God in His Fullness! Christís baptism in the Jordan is a manifestation of God to the world for two reasons. First, it is the beginning of our Lordís public ministry. Jesus went down into the water of the Jordan known to most people only as the son of Mary; He came out ready to reveal Himself in word and deed as what He had been from all eternity, the Son of God. Secondly, Epiphany is the manifestation of God, because it was there at the baptism of Jesus that all three Persons of the Holy Trinity appeared together for the first time. The Fatherís voice testified from on high to the divine Sonship of Jesus. The Son accepted His Fatherís testimony, and the Holy Spirit was seen descending from the Father in the form of a dove and resting upon the Son.

"So Jesus was baptized, and as He came straight up out of the water, suddenly heaven was opened, and He saw the Spirit of God coming down like a dove and resting upon Him. And with that, a voice came from heaven, which said, This is my beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased" (Matt. 3:16).

The threefold disclosure of God is also the subject of the troparion of the feast:

"When Thou, O Lord, wast baptized in the Jordan,

The worship of the Trinity was made manifest.

For the voice of the Father bore witness unto Thee,

Calling Thee the beloved Son,

And the Spirit in the form of a dove

Confirmed His word as sure and steadfast.

O Christ our God, Who hast appeared and enlightened the world,

Glory to Thee."

The Trinity in Daily Worship.

God ó Father, Son and Holy Spirit ó plays an important role in the life and worship of the Orthodox Christian. We make the sign of the cross with the thumb and first two fingers representing the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We bring these three fingers together to signify that we believe not in three Gods but in One. We are baptized in the name of the Trinity; we are forgiven in the name of the Trinity; we are married in the name of the Trinity; every liturgy begins with the name of the Trinity; we bless the name of the Trinity: "Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit"; we are blessed in the name of the Trinity: "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all"; every Sunday we confess our faith in the Holy Trinity in the Nicene Creed: "I believe in one God, the Father AlmightyÖ and in one Lord Jesus ChristÖ and in the Holy Spirit."

Do We Believe in Three Gods?

Does this mean that we believe in three Gods?

A Jewish girl testifying for those who sought to outlaw religious practices in public schools said, "Talk about God in school was about a God who was not my God. These other people donít believe in one God Ö they believe in a Trinity ó a Father, a Son, and a Holy Spirit."

The Moslems emphasize the oneness of God. Their basic creed is, "There is no God but God, and Muhammed is the apostle of God." Again and again they stress that "God is one" and "God has no partners." They accuse Christians of worshipping three Gods ó Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is even a joke which says that Christians offer three Gods and one wife whereas Moslems offer three wives and one God!

Why Bother?

Dorothy Sayers has said, "Of all the Christian dogmas, the doctrine of the Trinity enjoys the greatest reputation for obscurity and remoteness from common experience."

If the whole thing is so incomprehensible, obscure and remote, why bother about it? When there are so many urgent, down-to-earth problems that we have to face every day, why waste time talking about Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? It is reminiscent of Cardinal Cushingís story about the time he was called on to give last rites to the victim of a fatal accident. He asked the victim, "Do you believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost?" The man opened one eye and said to those around him, "Here I am dying, and heís asking me riddles."

The doctrine of the Trinity may seem obscure and remote; yet it is one of the basic teachings of the Orthodox Church. It is basic because it tells us so much about God, about how Christians have experienced His presence in the past and about how we may experience the fulness of His presence today.

One God.

All this talk about one-in-three and three-in-one is not a lot of mumbo-jumbo. The Gospel is very positive. If the Church believes in and teaches the doctrine of the Trinity, it is for very good reason. We believe that the whole Christian Gospel is summed up in this mysterious doctrine of three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in one God.

Let us begin with the basic Christian teaching that God is one. We cannot imagine what good news this was to the pagan world which believed not in one God but in many gods. We can read in missionary books today of the tremendous relief pagans feel when they learn from Christian missionaries that, instead of a whole host of gods and spirits to be satisfied, there is only one great God Who rules over all.

It is a terrible thing to believe in many gods. If one believes in blind fate, in astrology, in lucky numbers and charms and mascots as well as in the Almighty Dollar, then oneís heart is torn apart. There are too many gods to satisfy. "No man can serve two masters," said Jesus. Anything more than one God is too many. For there is only one true God. This was one of the most precious truths that God revealed to the Jews in the Old Testament: "Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one God."

Wasnít this great truth enough? Why did Christianity have to go from the One God to the Three-in-One? Why did it have to say something so complicated about God as the Trinity? Some say that all of this was the product of the Greek mind. Philosophy ó they tell us ó somehow got mixed up with the Bible somewhere in the second, third and fourth centuries and that ruined the simple God of the Old Testament. Admittedly, the early Christian Fathers used certain words and ideas like "con-substantial" that were floating around during those centuries, but they used them in order to stammer out their reaction to an astonishing fact they had experienced through the coming of Christ. Something happened to those early disciples that gave them a more complete picture of God. Let us see what it was.

The Experience of the Early Christians.

The Trinity is based primarily on the experience of the early Christians. When they met Christ, they met God. "My Lord and my God!" said Thomas. "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God," said Peter. "He who sees me, sees the Father," said Jesus. "I and the Father are one." "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself," said Paul. Then at Pentecost they experienced the overwhelming sense of the divine Presence in their lives and they remembered that this was the Spirit of God promised by the prophet Joel in the Old Testament.

The doctrine of the Trinity was not dropped from heaven by God. In fact, the word Trinity is never even mentioned in the Scriptures. It came from the way the early Christians experienced God. It was an experience before it ever became a doctrine. The doctrine was an intellectual expression of what the early Christians found to be compellingly real in their own lives.

Peter, for example, knew God in three ways. He knew God as "Father." He knew God as "Son" in the person of Jesus Christ. And on Pentecost he experienced God as "Holy Spirit," as a Presence and Power within his own heart and within the Church.

How clearly we see the Trinity in Godís plan of salvation. "God (the Father) so loved the world that He gave His only Son (Jesus) that whoever believes in Him may not perish but have life everlasting" (John 3:16). Then Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to abide with us forever.

The Holy Spirit is as necessary for salvation as is Jesus. It was the Holy Spirit Who originally brought Jesus to us. "Joseph, Son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy SpiritÖ" (Matt. 1:20). It is the Holy Spirit Who continues to bring Jesus to us today. In every liturgy we kneel as the priest utters the prayer of the EPICLESIS that the Holy Spirit may come upon our gifts of bread and wine to transform them into the Precious Body and Blood of Jesus.

St. Paul speaks of the "grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father and the communion of the Holy Spirit." These were blessings of the Trinity that He had experienced personally. David H. C. Read says, "That there is one God, and that we know Him as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is the witness of the New Testament, the continuous faith of the Church, and the experience of every one of us who believes."

When Elizabeth Barrett poured out her love for Robert Browning she wrote, "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways." That is what the early Christians said of God: "How do I love Thee? Let me count the ways. I love You, Lord, as Creator; I love You as Savior; I love you as the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the power of Godís presence in my heart and soul."

The doctrine of the Trinity then, is an expression of the three aspects of our experience of God. We think of Him as God the Creator or Father. We think of Him as revealed historically in the Person of Jesus, the Son of God. We experience Him as a pervading, continuing presence and power in our lives ó as God the Holy Spirit.

Too Complicated?

There are people who will say, "The Trinity Ö thatís a little too complicated for me. I want a simple God, a God I can understand." Well, we shall never be able to understand God completely. This is the reason we cannot understand the Trinity. This is not to say, however, that we cannot express the Trinity in a way that is simple to understand. The Trinity means that I believe in God the Father Who made me, God the Son Who saves me, God the Holy Spirit Who lives in me. God the Father: for us in love eternally! God the Son: with us in grace, historically, but also eternally! God the Holy Spirit: in us in power, experientially, historically, and eternally! God the Father: God above me. God the Son: God beside me. God the Holy Spirit: God within me and within the Church.

The Trinity in Scripture.

The doctrine of the Trinity, which is based on manís experience of God in the New Testament, is anchored in Scripture. The Lord Jesus said in His great commission, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy SpiritÖ" (Matt. 28:19). The Three Persons are mentioned specifically yet the unity is stated in the use of the word "name" not "names." No one can be a Christian without being baptized said Jesus. And no one can be baptized except in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, which is to say that no one can be a Christian unless he believes in the Trinity. This is the great gate, the only entrance to Christianity.

We saw previously that the Trinity was present at the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. Jesus stood there as the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in the form of a dove and the voice of the Father was heard saying, "This is my beloved Son." The three Persons appeared together.

St. Paul speaks of "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit" in II Corinthians 13:14.

St. Peter mentions the Trinity in his first letter, "Peter, an apostle of Jesus ChristÖ chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit for obedience to Jesus ChristÖ" (I Peter 1:2).

There are also glimpses of the Trinity in the Old Testament. We read in the first chapter of Genesis, "Let us make man in our image and likeness" (Genesis 1:26). In the next verse we read, "And God made man in His image and likeness. The plural words, "us" and "our," seem to suggest several persons. The singular word "his," however, suggests that the several persons were somehow one.

The Hebrew word for God in the Old Testament "Elohim" is plural yet it takes a verb in the singular, and if an adjective goes with it, that too is in the singular. Three Persons ó one God!

A Mystery.

Our belief in the Trinity, firmly anchored as it is in Scripture, remains a mystery. It reveals the fulness of God to us and yet at the same time it hides Him from us. For no one can understand how God can be three distinct Persons yet one God.

When we say that the Trinity is a mystery, we should define what we mean by mystery. An excellent definition of mystery is found in the book "What is Faith?" by Eugene Joly:

"A mystery is not a wall against which you run your head, but an ocean into which you plunge. A mystery is not night; it is the sun, so brilliant that we cannot gaze at it, but so luminous that everything is illuminated by it."

This is what the mystery of the Trinity is to us, like "the sun, so brilliant that we cannot gaze at it; but so luminous that everything is illuminated by it."

There are those who refuse to believe in a God they cannot understand. They seem to forget that a God fully explained would cease to be God. To define God would be to kill Him. God is so great that He will remain beyond our complete comprehension. St. Paul sings, "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out Ö For who hath known the mind of the Lord? Ö For of him and through him and for him are all things: to whom be glory forever."

Dorothy Sayers has written, "Why do you complain that the proposition that God is three-in-one is obscure and mystical and yet acquiesce meekly in the physicistís fundamental formula, Ď2P-PQ equals IH over 2Pi where I equals the square of -1í, when you know quite well that the square root of minus 1 is paradoxical and Pi is incalculable." We readily accept this formula that we cannot understand and yet we balk at accepting the infinite God as expressed in the Trinity.

We cannot explain how the seed draws from the soil the exact chemical it needs to produce its own particular color, fragrance and fruit. We cannot explain how a homing pigeon will leave the South Pole, fly and land at the window of a particular person in an unvisited land to deliver a message. Of the billions of windows in the world, it picks the right one. If we cannot understand this, how can we expect to understand God fully and completely? If we are bewildered and baffled by the many, ordinary, natural mysteries here on earth, such as the nature of electricity, how can we expect to understand completely the nature of God?

St. Augustine was walking along the seashore one day. His thoughts were centered on the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. How could God be Three ó and yet be One? He passed a little girl filling a hole in the sand with water. He asked what she was doing. The reply was, "Iím going to empty the sea into this little hole Iíve dug." The wise theologian smiled and said to himself, "I am trying to do exactly what that little girl is doing. Iím trying to crowd the infinite God into this finite mind of mine."

It is not that we cannot understand God at all. The very purpose of the Trinity is to help reveal God to us. The water in the sand hole is part of the ocean, yet not the whole of it. Out there, there is more ó infinitely more. So it is with our knowledge of God. Though we can never understand Him completely, it is enough to know that He is a Father who loves me, a Son who saves me, a Holy Spirit who lives in me.

Analogies.

Throughout history many analogies have been used to try to help us understand how God can be three Persons, yet one God. None of these analogies is perfect, yet each helps cast some light on the mystery.

For example, a soul has three capacities: will, understanding and memory; yet it is but one soul. Water has three forms: solid (ice), liquid (water), and vapor (steam), yet its chemical composition does not change; it remains one. The sun is composed of heat, gas, and a gigantic mass of matter; yet it is one. The author of "Jesus ó A Dialogue With the Savior" writes, "The Father has a thought and His thought is expressed and pronounced by the Word (Jesus). And what is the Spirit? The Spirit is the breath which bears the words. He is the voice which conveys the Word. He is the tongue of fire." The work of salvation begins with the Father who "loved the world," is realized by the Son, and is completed by the Spirit. God the Father is the Idea, the original creative power; God the Son is the Expression of the idea in human flesh: God the Holy Spirit is the communication of the idea.

All these analogies are but weak human efforts to try to understand the infinite God. Immanuel Kant said once that there are limitations to our finite minds and that with these limitations we can contemplate but not engulf things that are infinite. When we come into the presence of God, we do not understand; rather, we bow in awe and cover our eyes, for His brilliance is so great as to be blinding.

The Real Meaning of Mystery.

It is good that God is so great, so high above our understanding. That is the kind of God we need, a God who cannot be captured with words, a God who stretches our thoughts so that we have to use symbols and sacraments to express Him.

But mystery is not enough. We canít live on mere mystery. Moreover, this word mystery never means sheer mystery in the New Testament. It means a divine secret which it has pleased God to reveal to us; a secret so mysterious that we could never even begin to discover it for ourselves by human search, if God had not taken the initiative and given us the clue. But He has done this in Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit.

And that brings us to the meaning of the Holy Trinity. What does it say to us?

How Accessible God Is.

It says, first, not only how mysterious God is but how accessible. God becomes one of us in Christ. He becomes our Brother sharing our sorrows, our weaknesses, our temptations, our suffering, our death. The ancient pagan gods dwelt high on Mt. Olympus. Jesus comes to stand beside us as Immanuel: God with us. How near, how approachable, how available, how inescapable, every day, everywhere, with ordinary people in this ordinary world ó this is the God who became man in Jesus; the God Who at Pentecost came as the Holy Spirit to abide within each of us filling us with the Presence and Power of God. God above us. God beside us. God within us. This is what the doctrine of the Trinity tells us. Without the Trinity, God would be unknowable as well as inaccessible.

When the early Fathers said that there were three "Persons" in the Godhead, they did not use the term in exactly the same way we use it when speaking of people. They used it only for the lack of another word to express what they meant. Augustine wrote, "They are certainly three, but if we ask Ďthree what?í human speech is overcome by its great poverty. Then we say, Ďthree personsí; not to express the reality, but to save ourselves from silence" (De Trinitatae VII, 8). They used the word "person" not to limit God to our level; they used it because personality was the highest they knew and God could not be less than that. He had to be more ó far more! Jesus expressed this often with His words: "how much more." "If you who are evil know how to give good things to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him."

The word "Person" was chosen to help us understand that each Person of the Trinity is Someone to Whom we can speak, of Whom we can make a request, Whom we can love and with Whom we can have a personal relationship. The Trinity, then, is like the brilliant sun, impossible to gaze into, yet illuminating our knowledge of God as One Who is approachable and accessible in Christ and through the Holy Spirit.

God in His Fullness.

The doctrine of the Trinity preserves God in His fullness. To the Christian the word "God" by itself is too vague. The Trinity amplifies and describes God more fully. To us "God" means the Father Who loves us, the Son who saves us, the Holy Spirit Who abides within us. God the Creator. God the Redeemer. God the Inspirer. Anything less than this would not be the God of the New Testament. In the words of St. Paul, the fullness of God consists of "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God (the Father), and the communion of the Holy Spirit." The only way we Christians can express everything we mean by the overwhelming word "God" is to say "Father, Son and Holy Spirit." We cannot in any way speak adequately about God without speaking of Christ and the Holy Spirit in the same breath. The doctrine of the Trinity, then, preserves God in His fullness.

We need the Holy Trinity. Who is it who does not need the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ? "You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ," writes St. Paul, "that, though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty, you might become rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9). Who is it who does not need the love of God? "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whosoever believes in him might not perish but have life everlasting" (John 3:16). Who is it who does not need the communion of the Holy Spirit? "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you" (Acts 1:8). Yours can be the grace of Christ, yours the love of God, yours the communion of the Holy Spirit. This is the meaning of the Trinity which sums up the whole Gospel, presenting us with the fullness of Godís presence, power and love. God above me. God beside me. God inside me. The French author, Francois Mauriac, said that no one created by the Father, redeemed by the Son and born again by the Holy Spirit can ever count himself unimportant. This is why the Orthodox Church never tires of singing in gratitude: "Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen."

A Hymn of Pentecost.

"Come, O peoples, let us venerate the trihypostatic Deity,

The Son in the Father, with the Holy Spirit.

For before time the Father generated a Son, sharing His eternity and His throne;

And the Holy Spirit was in the Father, glorified together with the Son.

One Power, One Essence, One Deity, Whom we all venerate and say:

Holy God, who created all things through the Son, with the cooperation of the Holy Spirit;

Holy Mighty, through whom we knew the Father and the Holy Spirit dwelt in the world;

Holy Immortal, the Spirit Comforter, who proceeds from the Father and abides in the Son,

Holy Trinity, glory to Thee."

Prayer.

My hope is in the Father;

My refuge is in the Son;

My shelter is in the Holy Spirit;

Holy Trinity, glory to Thee.

 

Sunday After Epiphany.

"The People Who Sat in Darkness Have Seen a Great Light" (Matthew 4:72-7 7).

Hundreds of years before the Savior was born, Isaiah, living in a dark time of tyranny and cruelty, foretold the coming of a great light: "The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned" (Isaiah 9:2).

"A Great Light."

The "great light," foretold by Isaiah centuries before, was none other than our Lord Jesus. He came as light into a dark world. The Apostle John writes, "God is light and in Him is no darkness at all" (John 1:5). When God created the world, He said, "Let there be light." And there was light. The point to observe here is that when God expressed Himself, there was light. The Psalmist sings it: "The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?"

Darkness came because of man's sin. Yet in the darkness God kept the lamp of His presence and grace burning. All through the Old Testament God kept promising that one day the bond of darkness would be broken. The Prophet Isaiah said, "Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you Ö And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising" (Isaiah 60:1-3).

So it seemed logical that when Jesus came the wise men should come saying: "We have seen the light of his star and have come to worship him" (Matthew 2:2). And when Simeon the aged prophet saw Mary and Joseph come to the temple to present the Christ Child to the Lord, he declared to God, "You can take me home now; let your servant depart from this planet in peace, for mine eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared for all people, a light to lighten the Gentiles, and a glory for your people Israel" (Luke 2:29-31).

Following that majestic sequence from the light of creation to the light of the incarnation, God coming down as light to become man in the Person of His Son, St. John writes, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God Ö All things were made by him, and without him was not anything made, that was made. In him was life and the life was the light of man. The light shone in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:1-5). Beautiful and true as this statement is, it is but a reflection of what Jesus, who is Himself the Light, said: "I am the light of the world; he who follows me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life" (John 8:12). And later: "I have come as light into the world, that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness" (John 12:46).

Whoever "believes in me" and "follows me" says Jesus, does not "remain in darkness" but already "has the light of life." What is this light? In Christ we know who God is. This is the light. In Christ we know who we are. This is the light. In Christ we know the way of life for which man was created. This is the light. In Christ we have the answer to the riddle of death. This is the light. All this has been revealed to us by Christ who is the Light of the World. God "has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor. 4:6).

The Visited Planet.

J. B. Phillips wrote a charming fable entitled "The Visited Planet" in the second chapter of his book "New Testament Christianity." It is the story of a veteran angel showing a young angel the vast galaxies of the heavens. During this tour of the universe the senior angel explained that the little planet, which to the junior angel looked like a "dirty tennis ball" was "the visited planet." With great skill the senior angel spun time back and said, "Now watch, something will happen on that little dark ball." And, sure enough, suddenly there was a bright flash. The little angel said "Was that the visit?" "Yes," said the older angel, "that was the visit. That was when the Son of Glory, our great Prince, went to earth to become a man." Quickly the light dimmed and in a short while all went black. "What happened?" the little angel exclaimed. The older angel replied, "They did not understand him. They refused him. So they killed him. But watch carefully now." Suddenly a flash came, so bright that the little angel was almost blinded, and he said, "What was that" "That was the resurrection. You see, he rose again from the dead, and he ascended into heaven. That is why he is here in glory now."

The senior angel paused a moment and then continued, "Now watch carefully, little angel, and you will see something interesting." And sure enough another bright flash occurred. "That was the Holy Spirit's coming at Pentecost," he said. Following that brief flash little lights began appearing here and there all over that little ball. The elder angel said, "That is the gospel being brought by the witnesses to the various parts of the world. Wherever people receive our Prince as their Savior the lights come on." At which the junior angel asked, "Will all the lights join together? When will it all become one big light?" The older angel said, "That is not for us to know. That is in the Father's good knowledge; only he knows. But one day when the Prince returns to that planet again, it will all become light forever."

The Great Candle Lighter.

Jesus came as a "great light" to those who languished in darkness. He was ó and still is ó the world's greatest candle lighter. In Him was light. The light was the light of men.

Probably no other word describes Christ so accurately as the word light. He comes as a light to those who sit in the darkness of despair. He lights candles of love, joy, forgiveness, peace, and meaning in the lives of people today.

When Orthodox Christians go to church on Sunday, they light a candle. What is this but a reminder that we have received light from Christ and that, like Him, we too, ought to be lighting candles in the lives of people.

The Feast of Lights.

In the early Church, Epiphany ó the day of Christ's baptism ó became the day on which the pagan converts to Christianity were received into the Church through baptism. Each newly-baptized convert held the baptismal candle during the liturgy. In addition to this, Christians who had already been baptized brought their baptismal candles to church on this day to renew their baptismal vows; to renew the commitment to Christ which they had made at baptism. As a result, everyone in the congregation held a lighted candle on the feast of Epiphany. The churches became a sea of lights. Hence, this day came to be called in Greek "ta Fota" or the Feast of Lights.

The Baptismal Candle.

In the early Church the baptismal candle was a symbol that the one baptized had received Christ who is the Light of the world. Kept by the one baptized, the candle was brought to Church on feast days, on the anniversary of one's baptism and for the midnight Easter liturgy. If the person was married, the same candle was used at the wedding. If he was ordained, he would light it at his ordination. When the final hour of life approached, it was lit again as the soul went forth to meet its Judge. The baptismal candle was a constant reminder for the Christian to live and die by the light of Christ.

The baptismal candle may be compared to the lamps used in the story of the maidens who awaited the arrival of Christ the Bridegroom in the darkness of the night. When the neophyte was given the lighted candle, he was urged to keep it to meet Christ at His return, like the wise maidens who kept their lamps burning for the coming of the Bridegroom. Thus the candle becomes a symbol of the perseverance of the baptized soul until Christ's return. Among the ancient Greeks the runner who had won the race was not the man who crossed the line in the shortest time, but the man who crossed it in the least time with his candle still burning. Our goal as Christians is that we may cross the line into eternity with the light of our baptismal faith still shining brightly.

The Light Has Come.

"And this is the judgment," writes St. John, "that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil" (John 3:19). Man tried to put out the light. But the light did not go out. For God Himself is the light. His light shines today proclaiming to those who live "in the region and shadow of death": "I am the light of the world; he who follows me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life."

Jesus was born at night to show us that when it gets dark in our life, when we walk in the shadows, when we are overcome by despair, He will come to be our Light and will enable us to say:

I heard the voice of Jesus say:

I am this dark world's light;

Look unto me; thy morn shall rise;

And all thy day be bright.

I looked to Jesus, and I found

In Him my Star, my Sun;

And in that light of life I'll walk

Till traveling days are done.

The light God gives for our present darkness, especially now that we stand on the threshold of a new year, was expressed so well by Louise Raskins:

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:

Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.

And he replied: Go out into the darkness and put thine hand into the hand of God.

That shall be to thee better than light and safer than a known way.

 

The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.

Sermon title: "Now Iíve Seen Everything!"

Forty days after Jesus was born He was presented to God at the Temple in Jerusalem. On February 2, forty days after Christmas, the Church commemorates this event by celebrating the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.

Jewish law specified that the first-born of any Jewish woman belonged to God. He had to be bought back by his parents. At one time the offering for this redemption was five sheckels of silver. St. Luke writes in the Gospel lesson today, "And when the days of her purification were fulfilled according to the Law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord ó as it was written in the law of the Lord, ĎEvery male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lordí ó and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, Ďa pair of turtledoves or two young pigeonsí."

This is how the beautiful rite of the "Churching of the Mother and the Child on the Fortieth Day After Birth" originated. How wonderful for an Orthodox Christian mother to come to church on the fortieth day after birth with her husband to kneel in Godís presence and give thanks, as the priest takes the child to the altar to dedicate it to the Lord even as Jesus was on this day.

When this happened in Jesusí time, there was in the Temple a man named Simeon. Simeon is described as "righteous and just." He looked for the "consolation of Israel." That is, he waited eagerly for the Messiah, the Lordís Christ.

Just as Simeon waited eagerly for the Messiah so people today are looking for a leader who can deliver them from the frightening prospects that threaten to destroy the human race. They point to the many insurmountable problems facing us today: pollution, overpopulation, mass epidemics, widespread starvation and nuclear annihilation. People are looking for a universally accepted world dictator to appear who will promise to deliver them from these evils. They may not call this ruler a "messiah," but they look upon him as filling the role of a world problem solver.

Instant popular acclaim is given any leader of prominence who displays superior qualities. The attention given to the United States Secretary of State following the announcement of peace in the Middle East a few years ago is an example. He was called a "miracle worker" by the American press.

The world stage, therefore, is being set for some kind of messiah. Two newspaper columnists recently declared that unless the problems of our world are brought under control, the world will be ready for "the rider on a white horse." This is a reference to the conquering false messiah portrayed in Revelation 6:2. In other words, because the world does not know the true Messiah, Christ, it is looking eagerly for a false messiah who will turn out to be the Anti-Christ. This is the great danger of our day.

Simeon, too, waited eagerly for the Messiah, not a false one but the One promised him by God.

"And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lordís Christ. And inspired by the Spirit he came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus ... he took him up in his arms and blessed God." It was at this moment that he spoke the words which are now chanted during every Orthodox Vesper service:

"Lord, now let your servant depart in peace as You promised; for my eyes have seen the salvation which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel."

In paraphrase the words would read like this:

"Now Iíve seen everything! Now I can die contented! I have seen Him as You promised me I would. I have seen the Savior You have given to the world. He is a light that will shine upon the nations, and He will be the glory of your people Israel."

Simeon had lived many years. He had seen and enjoyed many things, but nothing had completely satisfied him. Now he stood at the crest of his years as he looked at the baby Jesus in Maryís arms. Here was the great experience which life had promised and had not, until that moment, given. Taking Jesus into his arms, he said, "Lord, now Iíve seen everything! Now I can die contented! For I have seen the Savior!"

For us, as for Simeon, this is the whole point of life. This is why we are in the world: to see Jesus, to meet Him, to know Him personally as our Savior. God had this in mind when He made us. He will not let us be satisfied with anything less than the salvation given us in Christ Jesus.

Simeon met Jesus! So can we! Simeon held Jesus in his arms! So can we! We meet Him in prayer every day. We meet Him in every liturgy. We meet Him in the face of every needy person. We hold Him in our mind when we read His precious words in the Gospels. We hold Him in our hearts when we receive His precious Body and Blood in Holy Communion. When this happens we too can say like Simeon, "Lord, now Iíve seen everything! Now I can live and die contented! For I have seen the Savior!"

Prayer.

Lord, no false messiah for me! You are the One! Like Simeon let me embrace You as my light and salvation. Amen.

 

The Annunciation.

Good News of Christ.

The news is so grim these days that one doesnít know whether to watch the six oíclock news and not be able to eat dinner, or watch the ten or eleven oíclock news and not be able to sleep.

I read recently of a man who developed insomnia and an ulcer because he had fallen into the habit of watching the late evening television news just before retiring. He improved rapidly after a doctor, who had encountered the same symptoms in other patients, prescribed an hour of quiet reading as a substitute for TV news at bedtime.

How does one deal with bad news?

The ancient Greeks had one solution. They always killed anyone who brought them bad news. But that is no solution. The bad news remains. What do we do with it? how do we handle it?

Let us turn to Godís Word for the answer.

The Feast.

On March 25, we celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation. On this day the angel announced to Mary that she had been chosen by God to bring the Savior into the world. We call it Annunciation because it is the announcing of the greatest good news mankind has ever heard: the coming of God into the world, and more especially, into our lives, to overcome sin and death for us, to make us sons and daughters of God, heirs of His everlasting Kingdom.

No Pollyanna Religion.

The father of four children came home after a hard day at work and said to his wife, "Donít give me any bad news. If you havenít some good news, please donít say anything. I am worn out." His wife said sweetly, "Well, I do have good news for you. Three of your four children did not break their arms today."

Christianity is not a polyanna type religion. It does not begin with good news; it begins by acknowledging the bad news that exists in our world and in our lives: sin, death, suffering, despair, loneliness, hopelessness. Good news cannot be good news unless we first have a sense of the bad news of our situation.

"Whatís the shape of the earth?" asked a geography teacher. A child replied, "The earth is in the worst shape itís ever been. Itís a mess."

It was into a world full of bad news that Christ came to be good news. "And the angel said to them (shepherds), ĎBe not afraid; for behold I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lordí (St. Luke 2:10-11). Mark the words: "good news of a great joy." When Jesus began preaching in Nazareth, He opened to the book of Isaiah and read, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has annointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord" (St. Luke 4:18-19). Then Jesus said to those listening, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing" (St. Luke 4:21). Christ is the fulfillment of Godís good news! No wonder Jesus said, "I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose" (St. Luke 4:4-5). We read in Isaiah 52:7, "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good tidings, who publishes peace Ö who brings salvation, who says to Zion, ĎYour God reignsí." These prophetic words were fulfilled in Christ.

The whole life and ministry of Christ in the world is best described by the word evangelion or gospel, good news. St. Mark begins his gospel: "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God" (Mark 1:1). Gospel: good news! How hungry modern man is for such good news! When the American Bible Society called its latest edition of the New Testament ó "Good News for Modern Man" ó it had a runaway best seller on its hands in less than a month!

GOOD NEWS! Christianity is not a search for God. If it is anything, it is good news from God. It is not a human discovery; it is a revelation from God. It is not man groping and stumbling alone in the darkness, trying to find the ladder to heaven. It is God Himself coming down the ladder in His own dear Son that He may lift us out of our blindness and helplessness into His light and power.

Not good advice, but good news; not views, but news. This is the Gospel of Christ. It is primarily an announcement of what God does, and has done in the Person of Jesus. When the early apostles preached, they merely made a proclamation, an announcement of what God had done in Jesus. They called upon the people to listen to the good news: "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself" (II Cor. 5:19) and making "him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (II Cor. 5:21). But that was not all. Jesus had risen from the grave. By His death He overcame death for the committed members of His body, the Church. Then, having ascended into heaven, He sent the gift of the Holy Spirit upon the early Church, bringing them new life and power, changing their lives completely, filling them with life that was life indeed. That was the message! That was, and is, the Gospel! The entire emphasis is upon what God has done in Christ to overcome manís bad news of sin and death.

There is a beautiful story about the word evangelist, which comes from the Greek evangelistis, meaning, one who delivers good news. The word was first used, according to one source, in 490 B.C., at the Battle of Marathon, when the Persians had moved their great force toward Athens. The outnumbered Athenians met them 25 miles from Athens, fought them in a bitter battle, and finally won the victory. The people of Athens were locked in their city, frightened and trembling, not knowing the outcome of that crucial battle. A messenger was sent, Pheidippides by name, to bring the good news to Athens. Pheidippides ran every step of the way, and when he arrived his message was this, "Chairete, nenikamen!" "Rejoice, we have conquered!"

This ó and none other ó is the message of the Gospel of Christ, "Rejoice, we have won!" This is why every Christian cannot help but be an evangelist, spreading everywhere the good news of the faith. It is as if I were on my deathbed, dying of cancer, and someone suddenly came to me announcing that the cure had just been found. This is why the early Christians proclaimed the resurrection of Christ with such rejoicing and unrestrained enthusiasm. Christ is risen and our sins are forgiven! Christ is risen and death is overcome! Christ is risen to fill us with the power of the Holy Spirit! Christ is risen and with Him we too rise to a life that is life indeed! "In the world you have tribulation, but rejoice, I have overcome the world," said Jesus. Through faith, prayer, and the sacraments we share in His overcoming.

Good News About God.

The greatest good news about God is that He does not hate us. He loves us. He does not wish to punish us for our sins. He seeks to forgive. He is the Father of the prodigal who ran to welcome his returning son. Most people have an ingrained tendency to suspect that God is hostile to them. Jesus completely erased this suspicion. "For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him" (St. John 3:17). The greatest good news about God is that He "so loved the world (each one of us) that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him may not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).

The Good News of Godís Forgiveness.

Every day we are confronted with the bad news of sin. We are not what we ought to be. We know it. Our conscience tells us. Our heart tells us. Sometimes others tell us. A gnawing sense of guilt drives it home to us. What are we to do? Let us look at the New Testament, specifically at the Apostle Peter. Three times he denied his Lord. He was consumed by an overwhelming sense of remorse. He could not forgive himself for what he had done. He could never accept himself. He was deep in sorrow and despair. He felt the terrible pangs of guilt. But Peter did not allow guilt to destroy him. He thought of Someone who could mend the destructive thoughts in his heart. He thought of Someone who had said to an adulteress, "Neither do I condemn thee. Go and sin no more;" Someone who had said to a poor dying thief, "Today you shall be with me in paradise;" Someone who could reconcile him unto himself, who could forgive him and present him faultless before the presence of God. He thought of Christ. That is the gospel ó the good news of Godís forgiving love. There is no pit so deep into which man has fallen that the arm of God isnít long enough to reach down into that pit and say to the one who repents, "Son, daughter, go in peace, your sins are forgiven."

St. John Chrysostom wrote, "That one man should be punished for anotherís account seems to most people unreasonable. That all should be justified because one man had done right would be more reasonable, and more suited to God." That is the good news of Godís forgiveness in Christ.

"Where there is much sin, thereís even more grace" (Rom. 5:20). "O happy fault," cried Augustine. "If we werenít sinners and didnít need pardon more than bread, weíd have no way of knowing how deep Godís love is." For those who have sinned and know the pain of guilt, there is no sweeter good news than Godís forgiving love in Christ.

The Good News of Godís Power.

Every day we live with the bad news of manís weakness. Man has power enough when it comes to devising machines to work for him and computers to think for him, but, oh!, how weak he is when it comes to living together in love, overcoming his sins, coping with his fears and anxieties. G. K. Chesterton said once that there was only one thing certain about man; he is not what he was meant to be. And he is not what he was meant to be not only because of sin, but also because of weakness. Man lacks the power to fulfill his true self which in Orthodox theology we call "the image of God" in him. He lacks the power to do what is right. The gospel ó the good news ó of Jesus is that He brings us not only light by which to walk; He brings us also the promise of the power we must have within ourselves. That is what the apostle Paul meant when he wrote to his friends in Rome, "That I may know Him in the power of his resurrection." God offers us power in our weakness ó not "black" power, or "student" power, or "flower" power, but "God" power. The power of His presence in us through prayer and the sacraments. "My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:19). "I am not ashamed of the good news, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes," said Paul.

The Good News About Death.

We live with the bad news of death ó manís last and greatest enemy; death which comes to rip apart the ties of friendship, marriage, and love; death which will one day come to put an end to my earthly life and yours. But in the darkness of death there shines a light ó the resplendently glorious light of the Resurrected Christ, who came back from the grave and said, not. "I think there is another life," not

"I hope there is," not, "There ought to be," not "There may be," but, "I am the resurrection, and the life." That is the gospel ó the good news of Christ for my death, the good news of the death of death in the death of Christ. Apart from Christ, there would be absolutely no good news concerning death. Those who have heard and responded to the good news of Christ can say with the poet Milton, "Death is the golden key that opens the palace of eternity." When we die, we are buried in the bosom of the Son of God.

The Good News of a Great Liberator.

The Psalmist wrote, "When I was hemmed in, Thou hast freed me often" (Ps. 4:1 Mofatt). How many of us feel hemmed in? We are hemmed in by our sins, by suffering, by the death of a loved one, by fears and anxieties, by selfishness and greed, by alcohol and drugs. This is our bad news. The good news is that in Christ we have the Great Liberator who can set us free from all of these. No one can set us free as completely and as effectively as Christ if we will but surrender our slavery to His power. His announced purpose for coming into the world was to bring deliverance to captives.

So, if there is the bad news of a world gone mad, take heart, there is also the good news of One who can restore it to sanity. If there is the bad news of manís sin, guilt and anxiety, there is also the good news of a loving Savior who says, "Him that cometh to me I will in no way cast out." If there is the bad news of manís weakness, his inability to achieve his potential, there is also the good news of Godís power. If there is the bad news of suffering, there is also the good news of a God who loves and cares; a God who comes to be with us in our suffering to strengthen, comfort and support us. "Fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, yea, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand" (Is. 41:10). If there is the bad news of death, there is also the good news of the Resurrected Christ, by His death trampling upon death to grant to those in the tombs everlasting life.

Here indeed is the greatest good news in the world. The world is literally dying for the kind of happiness the good news of the love of God in Christ has the power to give. The news is so good that we cannot merely tell it; we have to sing it. This is the reason we have so much music in our worship services.

If the good news of Jesus sounds dull and stale to some of us, it is time to take a good look at our faith. Perhaps we have shut our heart to God. Perhaps we worship Him only with our lips. Perhaps we have not really believed. Perhaps a god other than Christ occupies the throne of our allegiance. Christ is Godís good news only to those who believe.

How often we hear it said of a person, "Boy, is he bad news!" Of Christ, it can be said unequivocally that He is the best news ever to hit this planet. We Christians as followers of Christ may best be described as Godís Good News People. As carriers of Godís good news we are sustained by unending hope. Suffering and defeat are known but never accepted as final; new beginnings are always possible. Energized by the Holy Spirit Who makes all things new, we light candles rather than curse the darkness, and we express in our living the fruit of the Spirit: "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control..." (Gal. 5:22-23).

One day while observing the telephone, Christopher Morley began to think of the people who were waiting somewhere to hear some good news: the unloved, the abandoned, the guilt-ridden, the sick, the dying, the enslaved, the weak, the lost. This is the good news we celebrate on the great Feast day of the Annunciation! Good news about Godís love! Good news about Godís forgiveness! Good news about Godís power for our weakness! Good news about the death of my death in Christís resurrection! Good news about our Great Liberator, the Lord Jesus, to Whom be all glory, worship, and thanksgiving now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

 

St. Paul.

(A Sermon on I Cor. 12:4-20)

Two of St. Paulís great themes are (1) union with Christ. He uses the phrase "in Christ" 164 times in his letters. (2) Such union with Christ makes us members of the Body of Christ (I Cor. 12:4-20). It is about this second great theme that we shall speak today.

A little girl was telling what Jesus meant to her. She concluded by quoting these comforting words of Jesus: "And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand" (John 10:28). Just then a joshing, doubting friend piped up with the question, "But suppose you slip through His fingers?" Quick as a flash, she replied, "Never, never! You see, Iím one of the fingers."

This little girl had caught the meaning of the St. Paulís words in I Cor. 12:4-20. A great biblical principle had lodged in her heart; namely, that "we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones" (Eph. 5:30). She knew that she had been joined inseparably to Jesus and that she belonged to Him.

When St. Symeon the New Theologian had returned from Church one day where he had received Communion, he sat down and meditated on what had happened to his body as a result of his receiving Holy Communion. These hands, he said, these feet, these eyes, these ears, so frail, so powerless are the hands, the feet, the eyes, the ears of Christ. This body, so mean, so old is the place of the divine presence. We are not just disconnected hands and feet and eyes and limbs. We are connected as members of His Body, animated and vivified by the breath of His Spirit.

When we speak of the grace of God working through the Church, we must remember that it is not only through the Church as a whole that God is working but through each individual, each one of us. We are individually members of His Body. "Now you are Christís body, and each of you a limb or organ of it" (I Cor. 12:27 NEB).

"We are your Heart."

Shortly before his death, the famous Dr. Tom Dooley returned to the United States to raise funds for his hospital in Southeast Asia. As a physician he knew he had terminal cancer and would not live long. But his main concern was whether his medical work would continue after his death.

While he was in America, a telegram arrived from some of the medical corpsmen he had trained to be his helpers in the mission hospital. The message read:

"We need you here. But while you are gone, we are the fingers of your flesh to heal the sick. We are your ears to hear their cries of pain. We are your heart to love them."

This is what Jesus asks each of us to do. We are His hands on this earth to heal the sick, to set the prisoner free, to restore sight to the blind. We are His ears to hear their cries of pain and despair. We are His heart to love them. He has no heart or hands but ours to do His work in the world today.

God Chooses a Body.

When God desired to work among men, He took to Himself a human body like ours. We call this the Incarnation: God taking on a body and living among us. With and through that body God acted during the 33 years that He lived in this world. He taught; He healed; He forgave; He offered Himself on the Cross for our salvation. Then on Ascension Day His body left the earth, and was no more active among men.

If God intended, after the Ascension, to do any more work among men, He must either bring that body back again (as He will do when He comes at the Last Judgment), or else He must use some other body. He has chosen to do the latter, i.e., to make use of some other body. This time it is not a physical body like the one born of the Virgin Mary. It is instead an organism which St. Paul likens to a body when he says, "You are Christís body." All those Christians who have been baptized, have received the Holy Spirit and share in the life of Christ through Holy Communion, make up the Body that is to be the instrument of Christís work on earth. In other words, Christ lives in all of us who share His life. He continues to work and act through us who make up His new Body in the world.

He Needs You.

Is there some wrong that must be made right? How will God do it without you? Is there some fear to be allayed in a troubled heart? How will God do it without you? Is there someone who needs to be guided to a higher road? How will God lead him there without you? Is there some home shattered by hatred that needs the love of Christ? How will Christ bring that love except through you? Toward the very end of the New Testament, we read that "God will wipe away all tears from their eyes." That He will do, but He will use your words and your compassion and the gentle touch of your hand to do it. Christ needs us. For today we Christians make up the only Body through which Christ can act to bring His love and peace to the world.

In Orthodox Liturgy and Iconography.

We are not just a collection of individual units, each standing alone, but a BODY, all members being knit and tied together in a common relation to Christ. How well this BODY emphasis is expressed in Orthodox liturgy and iconography. The walls of the church are covered with saints to make us feel that when we come to church, we come as members of Godís family. The family located in heaven and the family located on earth in this local parish ó pray together as the one Body of our Lord. We never pray alone; we pray together as a family, as a body, to our Lord. Infallibility resides not in the individual member but in the entire Body, the Church, which the Holy Spirit guides to the fullness of truth. As the priest prepares the proskomidi, he places on the paten (next to the Chalice) a square piece of bread called the "Lamb of God" which is to be consecrated by the Holy Spirit to become the Body of Christ. He surrounds the "Lamb of God" with pieces of bread representing all the saints: the departed as well as each one of us. What a beautiful picture we have here of the BODY, i.e., Christ the Head together with all of His members.

Christ is the Head.

On the long high front wall of a church that was just being completed, an artist started painting a picture of Christ as the Good Shepherd. Only the firm brush strokes outlining the head could be seen. A stranger stopped in and asked curiously, "When will the picture be finished?" A workman replied, "That picture? It is finished."

"Finished?" repeated the startled visitor. "Why all it is, is the outline of a head. Most of it is still missing ó the eyes, mouth, arms, legs and feet ó the whole body is missing!"

"You wonít see that on a wall," the workman replied. "The body of Christ is the congregation of people who will be worshipping in this church. The Body of Christ is the Church."

St. Paul writes, "He (Christ) is the head of the body, the Church" (Col. 1:18). "He (God) has put all things under his feet and has made Him (Christ) the head over all things for the Church, which is His body, the fulness of Him Who fills all in all" (Eph. 1:22-23).

St. Chrysostom said once, "Christ is the head of the body, but what can the head do without hands, without feet, without eyes, without ears, without a mouth?" The Church is the completion of Christ. So great is Christís love for the Church that He considers Himself incomplete, as it were, if He does not have united to Him as another Body, the Church.

In our Stewardship.

It would make a great deal of difference if this idea that we are members of the same Body of Christ would really get hold of us as we handle our possessions. It would show dynamically in the wills that Christians make, as well as in the lives they lead. A woman called a pastor to her bedside before her death and told him she wished to discuss the problem of making out her will. The pastor asked, "To whom do you want to leave what you have?" She replied, "I shall leave it to my family." The pastor asked, "To which family do you refer?" and she said, "Why, what do you mean? I have only one family. I have a niece and a nephew." The pastor said to her, "Havenít you forgotten something? When you accepted Jesus Christ, God became your Father and Christ became your Elder Brother. Then every Christian in the world became your brother and your sister. You suddenly became a member of the same Family, the same Body of Christ. Now you have not even mentioned in your will this great Christian family, the Church." Somewhat taken aback, the woman said, "Why I never thought of it that way." How many of us do?

We Feel each Otherís Pain.

"If one member suffers, all suffer together" (I Cor. 12:26). Plato pointed out once that when our finger hurts we do not say, "My finger has a pain"; we say, "I have a pain." Within each one of us, there is a personality that gives unity to all the many and varying parts of the body. So, every irritation, every bit of suffering ó however small, is felt at the very center of our being.

The Church as the Body of Christ is marked by the same kind of sensitivity. Hurt and suffering in any one of its members is felt by all of its members.

See how this principle works in the body. If you injure your hand, millions of white corpuscles rush through the blood stream to the hurt part and lay down their lives fighting against all infection. If even the smallest toe hurts, the eye at once looks toward it, the fingers grasp it, the face frowns, the whole body bends to it, and all are concerned with this small member. When it is cared for, all the other members rejoice. All parts of the body rush to the aid of any single part of it, for the body is one.

What a beautiful picture of how God wants us to feel pain, and care for even the least, the smallest and most insignificant member of the Body of Christ, the Church. "If one member suffers, we all suffer with it." If we do not feel this about others who are suffering, we are really not within the Church.

If a sensitive nerve is touched, it registers pain in the brain. Since our Lord is the head of suffering humanity, He feels every personís pain as His own. This is why He said, "7 was hungry and you fed me. 7 was sick and you visited me. 7 was in prison and you came to me."

We Belong to Each Other.

"So we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another" (Romans 12:5). If we are members "one of another," we belong to each other. As members of the same Body of Christ, we are all related to each other in Christ and therefore responsible for each other in His Name.

St. Basil expressed this when he wrote: "The bread that remains uneaten in your house is the bread of the hungry. The tunic hanging in your wardrobe is the tunic of the naked. The footwear that remains unused in your house is that of the poor who go barefoot. The money that you keep buried away is the money of the poor. You can tell how many injustices you commit by counting the benefits you could bestow."

Often it is because we forget that we belong to each other as members of the same Body that atheistic Communism spreads. For example, sometimes we wonder why communism spreads in Christian nations like Italy. I was told recently that when peasants from the countryside come to a large city like Milan to find work, the Church ignores them, does nothing for them, while the Communists open canteens for them to welcome them and help them find work. The Church becomes an administrative institution and forgets the greatest commandment of its Master: love for the members of the Body.

What Makes Us a Body.

We are made members of the Body of Christ through the two "social" sacraments: Baptism and Communion. Through Baptism we are attached to His Body as members. Through Holy Communion He comes to live in His members to nourish them with His divine power and presence. "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in Me and I in him" (John 6:56).

The community of people who eat the same bread, i.e., the same Body of Christ, becomes itself the Body of Christ. "The bread which we break, is it not a communion of the body of Christ? For there is one single bread; so we become one single body" (I Cor. 10:17).

St. Symeon the New Theologian expressed it beautifully in his "Divine Hymns of Love":

"We become Christís limbs or members, and Christ becomes our membersÖ . Unworthy though I be, my hand and foot are Christ. I move my hand, and my hand is wholly Christ, for Godís divinity is united inseparably to me. I move my foot, and lo! it glows like God Himself..."

As members of His Body we become "partakers of divine nature." As He shall be seated one day at the right hand of Godís throne, so we as members of His Body shall be seated there with Him. For, in a living organism is it ever possible for the head to be separated from the body?

 

St. Peter.

"Depart from me for I am a sinful man" (St. Luke 5:8).

In a moment when the Apostle Peter realized he was standing in the presence of the all-holy God, he said, "Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord" (St. Luke 5:8).

There are people who speak these words to Jesus today. They speak them hatefully and harshly. "Depart from me! Go away! Now that I know who you are I want nothing to do with you. I like my sin, my alcoholism, my adultery, my bad temper and my pride. I have learned to live with it and I donít want you around making me feel guilty. Leave me alone. Depart. Go away!"

There are others who speak these words regretfully, "Donít bother with me, padre. Iím not worth it. Iím past being saved. There was a time, once, in my youth. But itís too late now. Go away and preach your Gospel to someone else."

It was not hatefully or regretfully that Peter spoke these words to Jesus. It was rather in a voice of agony that came from the depths of his soul: "Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord! How can I be where You are, the Holy One of God? How can You and I be in the same boat? How can I, a sinner, stand in the presence of the Most High?"

The Cry of Every Sincere Christian.

This is not Peterís cry alone. It is the cry of every person who really meets Christ today and knows himself judged by the blinding vision of Godís holiness in Christ. I no longer wonder why some people refuse to darken the door of a church. They want to doubt. They want to believe that Christianity is irrelevant. They want to stand outside the Church, because it means then that nothing will disturb the sins in their lives. Outside the Church they can lead unexamined lives. Inside the Church, confronted by the glorious majesty of Christ, they will know that they have sinned and fallen far short of that glory; and seeing that it cost God the Cross to forgive them, they will realize the depth and the enormity of their sin. Easier, then, to remain outside. It is their way, and sometimes our way, of saying to Jesus, "Depart from me."

When we stand in the presence of God and see ourselves for what we really are, we know we do not belong there. We are overcome with guilt. We want to leave. "Depart from me. ..."

But did Jesus depart from Peter? Not only did He not depart, but He turned to Peter immediately and spoke words of forgiveness and acceptance: "Do not be afraid, Peter; from now on you will be catching men. From now on you will be working by my side helping me bring others to a saving knowledge of God. From now on you will be my co-worker."

Bridging the Distance of Sin.

When the first man, Adam, sinned, he departed from Godís presence. The closeness that existed between man and God in Paradise was destroyed.

A huge distance was created. It was to bridge this distance that Jesus came. He built a bridge that overcame the separation and brought God to sinful Peter and to each one of us. That bridge is the Cross. He is still on that bridge inviting us to draw near to God.

A wife said to her husband one day as the husband was driving, "Remember, dear, how close we used to sit to each other when we were first married." Looking at her from the driverís seat, the husband replied, "I havenít moved."

God never moves from our side. We are the ones who move away from Him. And when we do, we experience something comparable to hell. Listen to this description of life written by a person who had departed from God:

"I am tired of being a lonely, self-reliant adult. I am bored with liberation. Iím fed up with sexual freedom and sick to death of life without commitment. I wish I had someone to take care of me when I feel rotten. Someone who would grant me independence when I need it... I hate living in a world where love lasts only for an hour and the future is a dirty word. Iím no longer able to live by the old rules but I canít find any new rules that work. Iím beginning to feel too frightened to ever love again. Iím a lonely, self-reliant, liberated adult and quite frankly, I despise it."

The Negative Presence of God.

We ask Jesus to depart, but He will not. He stays. If it is not a positive presence of God, it will be a negative presence. The negative presence of God is best described as meaninglessness, emptiness, despair. We see the negative presence of God in the person who just spoke above. "Bored with liberation." "Fed up with sexual freedom." "Sick to death of life without commitment." "Rotten." "Dirty word." "Too frightened to ever love again." Isnít God present in these negative feelings? Isnít He trying to tell this person that true happiness is to be found not away from God but always in Him?

A spider slid down a thread from a barn roof. He built a small web, caught many flies, grew sleek and prosperous. One day, noticing the single thread stretching above the web, he said to himself, "How useless that thread! Who needs it?" He snapped it. Immediately the whole web collapsed. It was a disaster!

The thread that holds us and keeps us in touch with God is prayer, talking to Him personally each day, walking with Him. But, like the spider, we come to feel self-sufficient in our prosperity. "Prayer?" we say, "The liturgy? The Church? The Bible? Who needs it?" So we snap the thread that keeps us in touch with God. We ask Him to leave, to depart from us. Then we wonder why our universe begins to crumble around us; why there are wars and violence and hatreds; why there is meaninglessness and confusion and breakdowns.

Man is free to depart from God, but when he does he creates a hell. Yet God is present even in that hell striving with man, trying to bring him to an awareness of himself.

He Never Leaves.

"Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord." We can imagine Jesus replying, "But Peter, why should I depart? It is because you are sinful that I have come to you. I have come not as a judge but as a Physician to heal you. I have come not as a taskmaster to enslave you but as a Liberator to set you free." "For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him" (John 3:17).

We can imagine Peter replying, "Depart, Lord. I am not worthy to be brought into Your presence and into Your peace. I can hardly bear the thought that You would consider me worthy of Your love."

But the Lord will not depart when we utter these words with the same humility and penitence as did Peter. "Precisely because you confess that you are not worthy of me, I will show myself to you. Precisely because you came to me bringing nothing, with empty hands, I can be everything to you. Precisely because you feel unworthy to stand in my presence, I will say to you: ĎEnter into the joy of your Lord; now you may see face to face what you have formerly believed from afar.í Ď

Prayer.

Lord Jesus, Iím a sinner, too. Iím glad You didnít depart from Simon Peter. Iím glad you stood by him. Stand by me, too. I need You. Amen.

The Transfiguration.

The Glory of Christ.

Four important scenes of our Lordís life took place on mountains. On one, He preached His famous Sermon on the Mount; on the second, he showed His glory as God; on the third, He offered Himself in death for our sins; on the fourth, He ascended into Heaven.

Today we shall discuss the second mountain-top experience of our Lord: His transfiguration on Mt. Tabor.

What is the Transfiguration? One day Jesus and three of His disciples, Peter, James and John, went to the peak of Mt. Tabor. There an amazing change came over Christ as He prayed. The Gospel writers seem to be at a loss for words to describe fully what happened. St. Matthew says:

"And His face did shine as the sun, and His clothes were white as the light."

St. Mark reports:

"And His garments became glistening, intensely white, as no fuller on earth could bleach them."

St. Luke writes excitedly:

"The appearance of His countenance was altered, and His clothes became dazzling white."

What the apostles noticed as particularly beautiful and glorified were His face and His garments ó the face which later would be splattered with blood flowing from a crown of thorns, and the garments which would be a robe of scorn with which sneering Herod would dress Him.

It was only a small ray of Christís divine glory that the Apostles saw on Mt. Tabor. Still human language could not do justice to it. How can man fully describe the glory of God? There is nothing on earth to be compared to it. The only expressions the Gospels writers could use were: "whiter than snowÖ brighter than the sun."

Do you remember how Moses looked when he came down from the holy mountain after speaking with God? So brightly did his face shine that he had to cover it with a veil because the children of Israel were blinded by it. But the light in the face of Moses was a reflected glory. Do you remember how St. Stephen looked as he defended his preaching and miracles before the council members? We are told, they looked at him and saw his face as though it had been the face of an angel; but that too was a reflected glory. The radiance of Christ on the mountain was His very own. The divine glory of Christ did not suddenly come over Him as though God had turned a great spotlight on Him. That glory had always been there. Now it was simply shining through. For this brief moment Jesus removed the veil of His humanity to permit His disciples to see a small part of His glory as God.

St. Luke tells us that the Transfiguration took place while Jesus was praying. Is it not in periods of prayer that we are most likely to witness the glory of God? Is it not prayer that produces an inner change in man which becomes reflected in a transfigured life?

As the Transfigured Christ stood there shining in glory, two men stepped out of the past: Moses, the venerable law-giver, and Elijah, the zealous prophet. They stood there talking with Jesus about His impending death at Jerusalem: "And two men appeared conversing with Him,

Moses and Elijah, seen now in glory; And they spoke of the Death which He was to achieve at Jerusalem" Luke 9:30-31.

Why Moses? Why Elijah? Moses represents the Law; Elijah the prophets. The two appear to confirm Christ as the Promised Messiah, to prove to the Jewish race and to mankind that in Christ we find the fulfillment of the Old Testament law and prophets; in Christ we have the Son of God, who gave the Law and sent the Prophets.

Moses and Elijah had been dead thousands of years. Yet they appeared, very much alive and talking with Jesus, on Mt. Tabor. Is not this proof of the fact that God can and will resurrect the dead? As He has promised, "Marvel not at this, the hour is coming when all who are in the graves shall hear His voice and shall come forth; those who have done good, unto the resurrection of life; those who have done evil unto the resurrection of damnation."

So taken up was Peter with the beauty of the transfiguration that he suggested that they stay there always:

"Peter said to Jesus, Master

It is well that we should be here;

Let us make three cabins in this place,

One for Thee, and one for Moses,

And one for Elijah" (Luke 9:33-34).

While the apostles were standing at what seemed to be the very vestibule of heaven, a bright cloud, symbolizing the presence of God, the Father, suddenly passed over them. In reverence and amazement they listened as a voice spoke to them out of the cloud, words of eternal significance, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased, hear Him."

"Hear Him!" There are many people, myriads of teachers and countless voices clamoring for our attention, yet to only one of these voices does God command us to listen: to the voice of His Son Jesus Christ. "This is my beloved Son..." Our whole purpose in life is to listen to the voice of Godís teaching, obey His commandments and become Christ-like.

When Moses and Elijah appeared with Christ, they were also transfigured; in Christís presence they too shone in glory. We have Godís promise that every true believer in Jesus will be transfigured and will share in Christís glory, as did Moses and Elijah.

"We shall be like Him; for we shall see him as He is" (I John 3:2).

"The glory which Thou has given me, I have given them" (John 17:22).

"Father, I will that they also, whom Thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory" (John 17:24).

"This is my beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased; hear him!" Learn of Him. Obey Him. Become like Him. And eventually you too will be transfigured to shine with Him in a glory which the Gospel writers could only describe as "whiter than snow Ö brighter than the sun" and which St. Paul describes with the words, "Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it ever entered the heart of man, what things God has prepared for those who love Him."

 

The Nativity of John the Baptist.

The Miracle of Conception (Luke 1:1-80).

"But the angel said to him, ĎDo not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer is heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John Ö And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord.í The Bible often speaks of miraculous births. Many of the great heroes of the Bible were born because God made their births possible: Isaac, Samuel, Samson. Jesus Himself was conceived through a special act of God. The Gospel lesson today speaks to us vividly of the miraculous manner in which John the Baptist was conceived. All this shows that God considers the begetting of life an event that falls under His special control. We may be able to control conception today through birth control methods, but we are not able to promote conception at will. The conception of children is a miracle. The living word of God in the Holy Scriptures is constantly telling us this.

Godís View Toward the Unborn.

It is thus no surprise when the writers of the Bible express the belief that God was with them even before they were born. We read in Psalm 139:13-16, "For thou didst form my inward parts, thou didst knit me together in my motherís womb. I praise thee, for thou art fearful and wonderful. Wonderful are thy works! Thou knowest me right well; my frame was not hidden from thee, when I was being made in secret, intricately wrought in the depths of the earth. Thy eyes beheld my unformed substance..."

The opening verses of Jeremiah contain an announcement of God to the prophet that He had chosen Jeremiah for His work before his birth, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations" (Jer. 1:5, 6). In Galatians 1:5 the Apostle Paul also expresses the belief that God had set him apart before he was born.

The Bible is filled with reverence for human life, even before such life is born. In Ecclesiastes 11:5 we read, "As you do not know how the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything."

In Isaiah 44:2 we read, "Thus says the Lord who made you, who formed you from the womb and will help you."

In all these verses, and many more, we see that man from the very moment of his conception is known, loved and cared for by God. A developing fetus is human life, and human life, at whatever stage, is life that is surrounded by the protecting care of God. Those who wantonly destroy such life are guilty of a crime no matter what the Supreme Court of the United States says. Orthodox Christians look at life in the light of a much higher authority. And that is the authority of the Word of God, the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ and His Church. In the first century The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles commanded, "Do not murder; do not commit adultery ... do not kill a fetus by abortion or commit infanticide."

The fetus is a person, not a tooth to be removed at will. Justice White wrote in his dissenting opinion to the Supreme Court decision on abortion, "The Court for the most partÖ values the convenience, whim, or caprice of the Ö mother more than the life or potential life of the fetus..."

In the words of the periodical "Christianity Today," "We can be grateful that the court has not yet made the Ďrightí to abortion an obligation. It is still possible for us to consult the will of God in this matter rather than the laws of the state."

Exceptional Cases.

Our Church recognizes the fact that there are exceptional cases ó which, thanks to modern medicine, are becoming more rare ó where the life of the mother is at stake. It is permissible in these exceptional cases to use medication or medical procedures to save the life of the mother even though they might lead to the death of the infant. An example of this would be radiation therapy for cancer of the uterus in a pregnant woman. Here we are faced with a choice really between the lesser of two evils.

Many, if not most, abortions are requested and performed from eight to twelve weeks after conception. By eight weeks all the human organs are present. From then on it is only a question of growth and development. By twelve weeks the unborn child can be recognized as human without any difficulty. The child has completely human features. He can even suck his thumb.

Is it My Body?

We often hear the argument that a woman should be free to do as she wishes with her own body. This argument is not valid for the Christian. It is not our body. It is Godís temple. It is merely loaned to us by Him. And the child in the womb is not the motherís body. It is a new life, a new person, created by God in her body. "You are not your own. You were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body," says St. Paul.

It is hard enough to be a Christian but when the government comes along and condones the killing of the unborn, it makes it even harder to take a stand against all this. But we must realize that we live in a secular, pagan society which often calls right wrong and wrong right, which calls light darkness and darkness light. Our only hope is Jesus the light of the world.

The Christian Mother.

A Christian mother who loves the Lord Jesus and feels His power in her life cannot possibily consider abortion. She cannot help but know that the small life developing within her has the potential for being another person who will not just be a human being, but will have the opportunity to respond to the love and grace of Jesus. Christian parents look upon their children as the Lordís children, not only from the moment of their birth, but from the moment of their conception. And they know that these children will have the opportunity to become members of the family of God, and will be filled with the power of Godís Holy Spirit.

A woman came to a doctor one day seeking an abortion. She kept referring to the child within her as "a little collection of cells." The doctor asked her, "What name would you give the child if it were to be born?" The woman fell silent. One felt that the child, once given a name in her own mind, ceased to be "a little collection of cells" and suddenly became a person!

A person indeed! A person created in Godís own image. A person called to be like John the Baptist whose birth is described in todayís lesson: "He will be great before the Lord ... he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his motherís wombÖto give knowledge of salvation ... to give light to those who sit in darkness ... to guide our feet into the way of peace."

Prayer.

Precious Lord, not one of us is perfect. You are the only One without sin. There are so many other ways besides abortion by which we all kill life. We do it through drugs, through alcoholism, through overwork, through excessive fears and anxieties, through lack of love. Help us to come to You with repentant hearts through prayer and through the Sacrament of Confession to receive Your forgiveness which You grant so willingly to those who come to You tearfully. Amen.

 

The Dormition of theTheotokos.

The Simplification of Life (Luke 10:38-42, 11:27-28).

"But the Lord answered her, ĎMartha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.í (Luke 10:41-42).

Weíre all a bit like Martha: Jesus came for dinner and Martha spent the whole time in the kitchen with the pots and the pans "anxious and troubled about many things" while her sister Mary sat in the living room listening to Jesus. "Mary has chosen the good portion which shall not be taken away from her," said Jesus. Lots of women will never forgive Jesus for his gentle chiding of Martha. But all He was saying is that we can clutter our lives unnecessarily with so many things that we lose sight of the main purpose.

Anxious about many things.

Man is a wanting animal. There is no end to the number of things he wants. Modern advertising creates in us a feverish desire for more and more things. We are made to feel that our happiness will never be complete unless we possess the very latest model and style of whatever it is we want. As Phillips Brooks said, "We are like children with our houses strewn with half-read books and half-played games and half-eaten fruit; who stand at the doorway crying out into the open world for more instead of using and appreciating what we have already." "Troubled and anxious about many things!"

A wealthy man once entertained a preacher for dinner at his club. Afterwards he took the clergyman to his home, an impressive-looking mansion, richly furnished, equipped with no less than ten bathrooms. He showed him pictures of his yacht, his beautiful country estate, his sports equipment, his stables. The preacher remarked, "You have so much!" "Ah, yes," replied the rich man, "but the trouble with having a lot of things is that you canít control them; they control you." "Anxious and troubled about many things!"

When a visitor from Europe saw how much time and money Americans spend for entertainment he said, "What are you trying to do ó entertain yourselves to death?"

"No, Iím afraid itís just our passion for escape," replied an American friend.

"Escape? Thatís a good one!" replied the European. "You have the richest, most bountiful civilization in all of history, and you have the most satisfying way of life in the world ó to hear you talk of it ó and yet all you want to do is escape!"

One Thing is Needful.

Troubled and anxious about so many things! And yet never finding the contentment, the peace and the satisfaction we seek! What does Jesus say to all this? He turns to Martha and says, "One thing is needful."

He calls on us to simplify life, to withdraw from the distractions in order to concentrate on the one thing that is important. When Henry David Thoreau explained why he left the world and retreated to Walden Pond, he said, "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to confront only the essential facts of life, and see if I could learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear ... I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life ... (I wanted) to reduce life to its lowest (simplest) terms!"

Thoreau went on to say that he did not want the cow to milk him; he wanted to milk the cow. He believed that a man is rich not because of the number of things he has but because of the number of things he can do without.

Every airline ticket counter is equipped with scales. The scales are there to weigh the baggage each passenger takes along. Each passengerís baggage is not allowed to exceed a certain limit. If a passenger exceeds this, he must pay extra. Wise passengers go over their baggage frequently and take out gear that contributes to excess weight. Jesus tells us to get rid of the excess baggage that causes us to be "troubled and anxious." Simplify life. Reduce it, He says, to the "one thing that is needful."

What is the "one thing needful"?

As we read the epistles of St. Paul we see that he uses one phrase over and over again: "One thing! One thing!" he keeps saying. "That I may know Christ. ..." Everything else is refuse. "This one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward ... in Christ Jesus." Nothing but Christ has value. Nothing but Christ will endure forever. He is the great treasure, the "pearl of great price." "In Him reside all treasures of wisdom and knowledge." He is "the way, the truth and the life." To believe in Him is to have life eternal, forgiveness, peace, joy, purpose, meaning.

One Dominant Purpose.

The secret of simplicity is to have Christ as the one dominant purpose in life. "Purity of heart is to will one thing," said Kierkegaard. To will Christ and His plan for our lives above all else ó this is the one thing needful. To lay aside all excuses and rationalizations, to be singlemindedly for Christ and to follow Him ó this is the one thing needful. To love the Lord Jesus with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength and our neighbor as ourself ó this is the one thing needful. "My food," said Jesus, "is to do the will of Him Who sent Me, and to finish His work" ó this is the one thing needful.

When we make Christ our controlling principle, our one dominant purpose, He becomes like a traffic policeman who stands on duty at the intersection and directs traffic. He controls the instincts, the fears, the anxieties within us. When we deny Christ, then the instincts and the drives come to the surface uncontrolled and wreak havoc. When Christ is the controlling principle in our lives, all anxiety and fears are held in control. There are not many selves but one self ó the Christ-controlled self. There is an order, a unity, a purpose, a peace, a simplicity in life that only He can give.

"Mary has chosen the good portion which shall not be taken away from her." When a person chooses "the one thing needful," Christ, he chooses the "portion that shall not be taken away from him." A good question to ask ourselves about the many things we strive for in life is, "How long will they last?" Physical beauty? How long will it last? Money? How long does it last? Pleasure? How long will it last?" "Do not labor for the food that perishes," said Jesus, "but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you ..." (John 6:27). He who chooses Christ as his one dominant goal in life is no longer "troubled and anxious about many things." He has removed the distractions. He has simplified life. He has chosen the "one thing that is needfulÖ the good portion which shall never be taken away from him." "The world passes away and the lust of it but he who does the will of God abides forever."

The Beheading of John the Baptist.

"It is not Lawful for YouÖ" (Mark 6:14-30).

Everything indicates that we are fast becoming an "anything goes" generation. A student newspaper in one of our large colleges stated recently that sexual freedom is similar to freedom of religion and of speech, that is, a matter of individuality subject only to private standards of conduct. Every man must decide for himself what is right and what is wrong!

A much-married Hollywood actress said some time ago, "All right, all right! I had a baby outside of marriage. Itís not the first time it happened to a woman. But if two people love each other and are happy, is not that what counts?" And when a Hollywood actress makes a statement on a matter of morals, quite a number of people accept it as Gospel truth, the very word of inspiration.

This morality ó it seems ó is based on what everybody is doing. Right and wrong have come to be based on a study of statistics. If everybody is doing something, then it cannot be wrong; it has to be right. So it becomes a standard. A century ago Harriet Martineau wrote that the worship of public opinion was the established religion of America. Perhaps this is true. Perhaps this is why the "new morality" has caught on so quickly. It is based not on Christ but on public opinion, not on divine law but on a study of what everybodyís doing.

Making our own Laws.

According to this "new morality" there is no real, objective standard of right and wrong. The rules are constantly changing as the statistics change or as the circumstances change. So there are millions of people today, gifted with at least average intelligence, who appear to assume that there are rules for everything except life itself. There are rules in baseball, football, tennis, basketball, and hockey. There are rules in chemistry, biology, astronomy, physics, and engineering, but there are no rules for life except what we decide on. It is as if each football player makes his own rules! As if each chemist says, "Iíll make my own laws for chemistry." The "new morality" makes life like a football game where the players have moved the goal posts around so much that no one knows for sure where they are any more.

An example of what this "new morality" leads to is found in a letter to Ann Landers. A person told of how after 15 years of marriage, two couples, one with 2 children, the other with 3, decided to switch partners. So they divorced and married each otherís partner. He went on to explain what happened to these persons, "... the other man committed suicide two years later. His widow (my ex-wife) has been remarried twice since then. My marriage went on the rocks two months later because my wife (the ex-wife of the man who committed suicide) decided it was all her fault. She drove me crazy with her self-incrimination, and we got a divorce. The last I heard she was in a mental hospital.

"I have remarried and am happy now, but I donít feel I deserve to be happy because of what has happened to the rest of the foursome."

Godís Unchangeable Law.

This, then, is the "new morality." The Gospel lesson speaks of the old morality ó Godís morality! John the Baptist had told Herod the ruler, "It is not lawful for you to have your brotherís wife." This was Godís law. John the Baptist did not compromise Godís law. He did not say, "Perhaps it would be better for you if you did not take your brotherís wife." He said in no uncertain terms, "It is not lawful for you to have your brotherís wife." St. John paid for this with his head. But he could not do otherwise. As a prophet he had to proclaim Godís unchanging law.

A British chaplain, Group Captain Leonard Cheshire, said once, "If God exists and has spoken to us, then the facts he has revealed to us are no more capable of private interpretation than the facts, say, of aerodynamics." He went on to say, "When I became a pilot I had to learn the laws of aerodynamics and went to a training school with the authority to teach me. There I expected and found teachers to give me the facts ó not their own personal ideas."

On all other matters, we will readily submit to authority, but on the science of God some people rate no authority higher than their own individual conscience. So each man decides for himself what is right and what is wrong, what is law and what is not law ó something they would never think of doing in science or anywhere else but religion.

There are many opinions on any matter, but there is only one truth. Sometimes people prefer to worship the 99 opinions of men, be they actors, actresses, scientists or whatever, rather than the one unchanging truth of God.

Bishop Fulton Sheen said once, "Sins do not become virtues by being widely practised. Right is still right if nobody is right, and wrong is wrong if everybody is wrong. Some have contended that sex aberrations are as common as the common cold, but nobody has so far asked us to consider the cold normal and desirable."

Times Change.

There are those who insist that since times change and customs change, the moral code should also change. It should be revised until it conforms to prevailing practices. What these reformists fail to recognize is that everything else may change but basic moral principles do not change. If we are to have a standard, it must be absolute or it is no standard at all. If God has spoken in Christ, then what He has said is eternally and absolutely true in all circumstances, for at all times and for all people. "It is not lawful for you to have your brotherís wife."

Amending Godís Commandments.

There are others who wish to do away with Godís laws by amending the Ten Commandments to read:

"Thou shalt not stealÖ ordinarily"

"Thou shalt not killÖ ordinarily"

"Thou shalt not commit adultery Ö ordinarily"

Everything depends on the situation, they say. There are some situations in which stealing and killing and adultery are morally right. Each person decides in each situation what is right and what is wrong. Thus, man does not need the Ten Commandments any more. He doesnít even need God. He has made himself god. And this is what has put terror in lifeís face today ó man wanting to be god and acting like the devil. The result is that we have more delinquency, crime and lawlessness than ever before.

These same advocates of the "new morality" insist that there are no laws but the law of love. But they never define love. They seem to forget that Godís laws are an expression of His love. Christ did not do away with the Ten Commandments. He "came not to destroy but to fulfill the law." Love is the basis for each of the Ten Commandments. I love God, so I do not worship other gods or take His name in vain. I love my neighbor, so I do not steal from him, seduce his wife or lie to him. Law expresses what love demands. The Ten Commandments are Godís way of defining in practical terms how true love is expressed. Without the Ten Commandments each individual is called upon to decide for himself what love is, like the student who killed a coed because, he said, he loved her too much!

An old proverb says, "He who will not heed the stars, shall heed the rocks." Godís laws are like the stars or the signs on our highways. They are there to help us reach our destination. They guide us. They point out danger spots. They tell us the maximum safe speed on curves. They tell us when it is safe to pass and when not. God has placed similar signs on the road of life for much the same reason. He has placed them there out of his great love and concern for us. Through them He points the way to salvation, to peace and happiness. To break Godís laws is to break ourselves. To follow them is to find the meaning and the purpose and the contentment that God has intended us to find in life.

But there are not only signs and laws. There is the law-giver Himself: the Lord Jesus. If we will take Him with us into our life, follow His guidance, obey His direction, become His willing slaves, He will lead us to the only true contentment of the soul.

 

Sunday before the Elevation of the Holy Cross.

"God So LovedÖ" (John 3:13-17).

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).

The late Swiss theologian Karl Barth was considered by some people the greatest theologian of his generation. While he was lecturing in this country a student at one of the seminaries asked him: "Dr. Barth, could you summarize in one sentence the essence of the Christian faith?" All the seminary students were sitting on the edge of their seats, expecting to hear some great, profound, and complicated answer. Dr. Barth replied, "I have written many books on theology in which I have tried to explain the great genius of the Christian religion. I have never tried to put it in one sentence before Ö But, since you have asked for that, I think I can. The one sentence I would offer as an expression of what Christianity really is would be a line out of an old song my mother used to sing to me when I was a child long ago. It is this: ĎJesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.í " A lesser scholar than Karl Barth would not have gotten away with that, but he could, because of his great intellect, his genius, and his vast learning.

It is about this great love of God that the Gospel lesson speaks today. In fact, John 3:16 has been called ĎĎthe Gospel in miniature". If we were to lose the entire Old Testament; even if we were to lose the New Testament, our loss would be tragic, but we would still have the heart of the Gospel if we had this one verse. For in the few words of this verse, we have the whole message of Christianity: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

This coming week we shall celebrate the Elevation of the Holy Cross ó a day that commemorates the discovery of the Cross on which Jesus was crucified. For nearly four centuries the cross had been lost, buried in a mound. On this day it was discovered by St. Helen and elevated from its burial place amid shouts of joy. This is a minor detail in the history of the cross. The important thing is the cross itself, and what it means to us.

The Fathers of the Church very wisely selected the words in todayís Gospel lesson to be read every year on the Sunday before the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross because these words capture the real meaning of the cross: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."

To better understand this verse, we shall divide it into three great parts: the great FACT, the great ACT, and the great COMPACT.

The Great Fact.

The first part, the great FACT, is Godís love: "For God so loved the world." We are made aware immediately that God is love. Everything He does is motivated by love. It was love that made God fashion man in His own image, and place him in a paradise of bewitching beauty. It was love that moved God to put the Ten Commandments into Mosesí hand and to send the prophets. It was love that prompted God to send His Son into the world to make real to man the love of the Father, to reflect His compassion for the sick and those burdened with sin. It was love that led Him to the cross. It was love that made Him pray for His crucifiers: "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." It was love that made Him pause in the agony of His death to remember a repentant sinner who cried, "Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom." It was love that made Him rise from the tomb and declare: "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me though he were dead, yet shall he live." All of this great love of God is caught up and summarized in this one beautiful verse: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."

The Great Act.

The great ACT of Godís love is "that he gave his only begotten Son."

A popular monk in the Middle Ages announced that in the Cathedral that evening he would preach a sermon on the love of God. The people gathered and stood in silence, waiting for the service while the sunlight streamed through the beautiful windows. When the last bit of color had faded from the windows, the old monk went up to the candelabrum, took a lighted candle and walking to the life-size statue of Christ on the cross, he held the light beneath the wounds on His feet, then His hand, then His side. Then, still without a word, he let the light shine on the thorn-crowned brow. That was his sermon. The people stood in silence and wept, every one knowing that they were at the center of a mystery beyond their knowing, that they were indeed looking at the supreme expression of the love of God ó a love so deep, so wide, so eternal, that no wonder could express it, and no mind could measure it. This is the GREAT ACT of

Christianity ó that Godís love gave to the world what was most precious to Him: His only begotten Son.

The Great Compact.

The third aspect of John 3:16 is the GREAT COMPACT: "Whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." This is the essence of Christianity: the promise of salvation and eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ our Savior. This is the heart and core of our Christian faith: the great compact of Christianity.

Because of this compact, Victor Hugo was able to write: "When I go down to the grave, I can say, like many others, ĎI have finished my dayís workí, but I cannot say, ĎI have finished my life.í My dayís work will begin again the next morning. The tomb is not a blind alley; it is a thoroughfare. It closes on the twilight and opens on the dawn."

Because of this compact, no one need remain fallen, we have the power to rise to a new life; we need not perish. Because of this compact we who believe in Him have life eternal; we have hope, and life has eternal meaning. Thank God for the great COMPACT: "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life."

The fact of Godís great love for us demands a response on our part. St. Paulís response was: "The love of Christ controls me Ö for me to live is Christ." Our response cannot be anything less than this.

In Summary.

Summarizing what we have said, then, we find three great truths in John 3:16: First, the Great Fact: "God so loved the world." Second, the Great Act: "That He gave His only begotten Son."

Third, the Great Compact: "That whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have life everlasting."

Here in essence is the entire Gospel, the whole message of Christianity. To believe this verse is to find the heart of the Christian faith. It is to find the love of God. It is to find forgiveness, salvation, peace with God and life eternal.

Prayer.

Dear Lord, such love! so amazing! so divine! deserves my soul, my life, my all!

 

The Elevation of the Cross.

The Missing Cross.

Some of us may have seen on billboards the words: "Take your troubles to church; millions leave them there." No doubt there is great truth in these words. Christ does offer healing for troubled spirits, but is that all there is to Christianity?

It is said that in the East camels kneel before their master every evening to have their burdens removed. But the next morning, these same camels kneel before their master to receive a new burden. If we are to be followers of Christ, we must do the same. We lose our burden of sin and guilt at the foot of the cross. But we take on a new one: the burden of compassion for the sin and suffering of the world.

What the Cross Stands For.

The cross of Christ, whose Elevation we commemorate today, stands for manís salvation. It stands for pardon. It stands for Godís infinite love.

But there is a response we must make to the cross of Christ ó our own: "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me."

We love because He first loved us. We take up a cross and follow Him because He first took up a cross for us.

Is there a cross in our lives? How willing are we to follow Christ today? How willing are we to obey Him in the midst of pressure from the crowd?

How willing are we to overcome sinful habits deeply rooted in our soul? "I am crucified with Christ," wrote St. Paul. "I die daily," not a physical death but a death ó a daily death ó to selfishness and sin. How willing are we to bear such a cross?

There is a story of a pastor who was disturbed when the treasurer collared him to complain about the large number of people who gave only token offerings to the church. He was disturbed again when the Sunday school superintendent complained about the lack of teachers in the Sunday school. And then it was the choir committee, telling him of the difficulty in getting enough members together for a well-balanced choir.

The Missing Altar Cross.

The next Sunday members of the congregation wondered why the cross was missing from the altar. Some thought, "Maybe it was being refinished." All their questions were answered when the pastor made the following announcement.

"The cross, as you all know," he said, "is a symbol of Christís sacrifice for our salvation. It is also to be a symbol of our own sacrifice of self and goods for the Lord and His Church.

"Iíve learned sorrowfully that few of us are making real sacrifices. The cross is just an ornament on the altar and not in the hearts of many among us. Few are willing to sacrifice time and personal interests for the real work of the Church. So I thought it was necessary to get the cross off the altar, where it is a mere symbol, and into the hearts of our members.

The Cross in our Hearts.

"As you look at the altar this morning you see no cross. I hope it will remind you that the cross should be in your hearts, in your giving, in the services you render the Lord and His Church. The cross on the altar has no meaning unless it is also in our lives."

One of the reasons Communism often appeals to youth is its challenge to hardship and strife. A Communist leader asked a young man who wished to join the movement:

"Do you know what awaits you?"

"Yes, I know," replied the youth.

The leader went on, "Cold, hunger, contempt, abuse, prison, disease and death."

"I know," replied the youth. "I am ready. I shall endure them all."

What do we Christians have today to match this Communist spirit of self-sacrifice? Can we overmatch it? Can we "outthink, outlive and outdie" the Communists even as the Christians of the first century overcame the pagans of their day? Or have we become so saturated with love of comfort and ease that we lack the necessary strength and stamina to overcome? The only kind of Christianity that can hope to win the world is Christianity with a cross at its heart ó the cross of Jesus Christ ó and that" cross is the symbol of sacrifice unto death.

Is the cross missing today? not from our altars, but from our lives? Is it just an ornament, just a sign with which we bless ourselves?

Has it ceased to be a symbol of our sacrifice for Christ? Has there ceased to be a cross in our giving? In our serving? In our living?

A Faithful Bishop.

The year is 156 A.D. Mobs prowl through the streets of Smyrna. "Away with the Christians!" they shout. "They are dangerous people! They refuse to burn incense to the Emperor. Get Polycarp the bishop before the Roman guard gets him and throw him to the beasts!"

During the trial, a Roman officer says to Bishop Polycarp, "Have some regard for your age, swear faith to Caesar and be spared this torture."

Expressing his faith in Christ, Polycarp answers, "Eighty-six years I have been His slave, and He has done me no wrong nor denied me. How can I blaspheme my king who has saved me?"

The crowd, unwilling to wait longer, demands his death.

Polycarp is burned at the stake. Just before the fire is lit, he prays. As the crackling flames rise around him, he becomes one of the illustrious martyrs of the Christian faith.

As a bishop of the Church, St. Polycarp carried the cross of Christ on a chain suspended from his neck. But he carried it also in his heart. He carried it faithfully until the very end when he exchanged it for a crown of glory in Godís kingdom.

 

Sunday following the Elevation of the Cross.

"What Shall It Profit a ManÖ" (Mark 8:36).

Some time ago there appeared a picture on the front page of a newspaper showing a fat sultan on an old-fashioned scale. In the weighing pan on one side was the sultan, his head adorned with a silk turban, a happy smile on his face. On the opposite side of the scale was a mountain of diamonds. The news article explained that the people were giving their sultan his weight in diamonds on the occasion of his anniversary. Since he weighed 264 pounds, one can only guess at the staggering value of the huge pile of diamonds!

The picture reminds us of what Jesus said in todayís Gospel lesson. If you would place the whole universe on one side of a scale, He said, and then put one single soul on the other side, the soul would far outweigh the universe. "For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and lose his soul?"

The Soul of the Swarm.

A farmer once saw a great swarm of bees in a nearby forest. In an attempt to establish a bee hive on his farm, he bought a hive, went into the woods, caught a dozen or so bees and put them into the hive. The next day he caught a dozen more. But as fast as he caught them and turned them loose to gather honey for his hive, they went straight back ó on a bee line ó to the tree whence they came. Perplexed, he asked the beekeeper, "What is the matter with these bees? Why donít they stay in my hive?"

"The only way to move a swarm of bees to your placeí said the beekeeper, "is to catch first of all the soul of the swarm. Once you catch the soul, all the rest of the bees will come and stay with you."

"What is the soul of the swarm?" asked the farmer.

"The soul of the swarm is the queen. Catch her and all the rest of the bees, whose only object in life is to serve the soul of the swarm, will follow."

What the queen bee is to the other bees in the hive, that is what the soul is to man. All of manís instincts, desires, thoughts, and emotions obey the soul. If the soul is committed to Christ, so is man. Plato said once, "If head and body are to be well, we must begin by curing the soul."

What Is the Soul?

The soul is not a part of the body, although the body houses it. Looking at his dead fatherís body in a coffin, a youngster said, "Thatís not my father. Thatís only the house in which he once lived." Jesus corroborates this when He tells His disciples not to fear those who could kill the body, but could not kill the soul. The soul is the real you, the part of you that is spiritual and thus not subject to physical death; it is the you that hopes, aspires, prays, suffers, loves, is tempted, sins, repents, and can be saved.

An unbeliever once argued with a minister that there could not possibly be such a thing as a soul. "After all," he said, "you can go to a medical laboratory and see for yourself that man is just so much lime, sugar, phosphorus, carbon and starch."

The minister begged to discontinue the conversation, only to be met with a rebuke from the unbeliever. "That was just what I expected. When you cannot reply logically to an argument, you refuse to carry on the conversation."

"But," replied the minister, "I am a reasonable man, and as such I must decline to hold an argument with so many quarts of water, so much phosphorus, so much lime, and so much carbon."

Take away from anyone the spiritual, the soul, and all you have left are a few chemicals worth little or nothing. But add to the physical part of man the soul, and man is worth more than the entire universe.

The Greatness of the Soul.

The greatness and sacredness of manís soul lies in three facts: (1) it is created in the image of the eternal God; (2) the price paid for its redemption was the precious blood of the Son of God; (3) it is eternal and will outlast everything in the universe.

A good question to ask about anything in life is, "How long will it last?" For a moment? for a day? for a month? for a year? for a lifetime? or forever? God is forever. So is faith. So is love. So is the soul that lives with God.

There was once a king who had three hundred and sixty-five wives in his harem. He was very handsome, and loved to eat and have a good time. One day he visited a monastery. There he met a monk. He looked at him with great compassion. "What a great sacrifice you are making," he said to the ascetic. But the monk objected, "Your sacrifice is greater," he said. "Howís that?" asked the king. "Because I have renounced that which passes, while you have renounced the eternal." Truly, that alone is important which endures forever.

A man once prayed, "Lord, tie me to something eternal. I tie myself to houses and lands and stocks and bonds and by some turn of fate, I lose them. I tie myself to a loved one and a single microbe comes and death snatches her away. I tie myself to a friend and the friendship vanishes. Lord, tie me to Your program, to service in Your kingdom, to You, God, that I might be tied to the eternal." Tied to God, the soul finds eternal security.

Gaining the World.

To gain the whole world and to lose oneís soul is the worldís worst bargain, says Jesus. Here the word "world" means whatever man regards as the true essence of life. For some it is profit, for others success, for others fame, for others pleasure, etc. Suppose, for a moment, that man gains the whole world. It cannot keep him from trouble; it cannot give him peace of conscience; it cannot comfort him in sorrow; it cannot bring him peace in death; it cannot purchase heaven for him when he is gone. All he can do with the world after he has it, is to keep it until he dies; he cannot carry any of it with him to the other life.

A well-known movie star, who had gained all the world had to give, committed suicide. Commenting on her tragic life, a news magazine pointed out that she was one of the most beautiful girls alive. By using her beauty and her glamour she had married several men who could further her ambitions. She used and then discarded her husbands when she was weary of them, or they could no longer serve her. The cheapness of the treasures in which she had placed her trust was revealed in her miserably unhappy life. We cannot read her story without remembering the words of Jesus, "What does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and lose his soul?"

Losing Our Soul.

To lose our soul is to lose the greatest treasure we have. When a thief stole his lamp, Epictetus said, "It is the thief who loses. I bought the lamp; it cost me a few pennies. But it cost the thief his soul." We lose our souls when we are no longer alive to God and His love. We lose our souls when we place some other person or thing at the center of life. We lose our souls when we move away from God and no longer experience the power of His presence. We lose our souls when we feel there is .10 longer any hope of forgiveness. It was to keep us from losing our soul that God sent His Son, Jesus, to be our Savior. Through Jesus, no person need lose his soul. Through Jesus, the door to God and salvation is ever open. Through Jesus we can now become alive toward God and toward our fellow humans. Through Jesus we can gain treasures far greater in value than the entire universe. "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?"

How Do We Get Ready?

The Gospel lesson today tells us how to prepare for heaven. Jesus said, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." If we are to concentrate on saving the soul, the secret is to deny oneself, to say no to sin. When asked the secret of her marvelous success with the violin, a young concert artist replied, "Planned neglect. I deliberately neglect other things in order to concentrate on the one task that is all-important." What makes a great chess player? Planned neglect. What makes a great author? Planned neglect. What makes a great Olympic swimmer? Planned neglect. What makes a dedicated Christian? Planned neglect of the less important things in life in order to concentrate on the all-important call of Jesus: "Follow me."

Is Your Soul Insured?

"Daddy, is your soul insured?" a little boy asked his father one night. "Why do you ask that question," the father replied. "Well," said the boy, "I heard you tell Uncle David that you had your house insured, and you had your car insured, and your life insured, and I was just wondering if you had your soul insured."

Jesus is wondering the same thing. That is why today He asks each one of us, "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul? For what can a man give in exchange for his soul?"

 

St. John the Evangelist.

(September 26)

"That Disciple Whom Jesus Loved" (John 21:7).

One day a little girl visited a cathedral. She watched the summer sunlight streaming through the beautiful stained glass windows. Each window pictured one of the apostles of Jesus.

"Who are those beautiful people?" she asked.

"They are saints," her mother replied.

Months later the teacher of her Sunday school class asked, "What is a saint?" Instantly her mind reverted to the great cathedral with the sun shining through its beautifully adorned stained glass windows.

"A saint is someone who lets the light of Christ shine through!" she answered.

Such was St. John the Evangelist whom we commemorate on the Orthodox Church calendar on September 26. He was a saint through whom the love of God shone brightly ó so much so that he was called "The apostle of love."

There are times when St. Paul seems to be the greatest saint with his dramatic conversion at Damascus, his many missionary journeys, his extraordinary hardships by land and by sea, and his many grand and great statements about Christ which are read in the liturgy almost every Sunday. There are other times when St. Peter seems to be the greatest saint, especially when we remember how Jesus spoke to him more often than to any other apostle; how he called him "the Rock," and gave him a special commission to "feed my sheep." But there are other times when it seems that St. John the Evangelist is the greatest of the saints, especially when we read his marvelous writings in the New Testament: the Fourth Gospel, his three epistles, and the Book of Revelation. When we read the opening sentences of his Gospel:

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of menÖ . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father" (John 1:1-4, 14);

when we remember that it was St. John who wrote: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16); when we hear him say,

"God is love, and he who abides in love, abides in God, and God abides in him" (1 John 4:16); when we hear the comforting words of Jesus in his Gospel:

"Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me ... I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, that where I am you may be also" (John 14:1, 3); when we read the words of Jesus which John wrote in Rev. 3:20:

"Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him and he with me"; when we read these marvelously inspiring words, we cannot but conclude that certainly St. John was one of the greatest of the saints.

Yet we know that no one apostle is really greater than the other. Each one is different. Each has his own place. Each had his own unique task to accomplish for Christ. The Church needed a Paul, a Peter, and a John, just as it needs each one of us.

An Impulsive, Ambitious Person.

St. John was a man of temper. He and his brother, James, were called sons of thunder. They were men of wrath. They had the capacity to get angry. Once John encountered a person casting out devils in the name of Jesus. Since he was not one of the disciples, John was quick to forbid him to use the name of Jesus. Jesus had to tell him that this was wrong since those who were not against him were for Him (Luke 9:49-50). On another occasion John was with James when these two sons of thunder felt that the Samaritans had insulted their Lord. John was ready to pray for fire from heaven to destroy their village. "Lord," he said, "Wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven and consume themÖ ?" Again, Jesus found it necessary to rebuke John for his impulsiveness: "... the Son of man is not come to destroy menís lives, but to save them." It is not that Jesus wants His followers to be spineless. The man who has no capacity for anger is not apt to accomplish much in the world. Jesus wants men of temper, but a temper that is controlled by Christ and used in His service.

John was not only impulsive; he was also a man of ambition. Together with James, he requested the highest position in the kingdom of heaven: "Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in Thy glory." Jesus must have chosen the sons of Zebedee as His disciples knowing full well that they were men of intense ambition. Without ambition, little can be accomplished in this world. But Jesus had to teach John the difference between greatness according to man and greatness according to God. According to God greatness is measured in terms of service. Jesus came not to be ministered unto but to minister. John had yet to learn this.

"The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved."

So here we have St. John the Evangelist ambitious, impulsive, argumentative, prone to fly off the handle. He was not perfect, any more than any human being ó even a saint ó is perfect. Yet he became the Apostle of love. In fact, John refers to himself in his Gospel as "the disciple whom Jesus loved." Far from being egotistical, this statement is the very foundation of our Christian faith. For, if Jesus loved John despite his sins and weaknesses, then He can love us no matter who we are, no matter what we may have done. Each Christian could very well write his or her name and say, "Mary Smith, the woman Jesus loves"; "Tom Ames, the man Jesus loves"; "Johnny Doe, the child Jesus loves."

Yet, it remains true that even though Jesus loves all equally, John was closer to Him than any other apostle. From those who followed Him, Jesus chose twelve men that they might be with Him, sharing His mind and heart. These He trained and sent forth to preach. Within the band of twelve, there was an inner band of three who were closer to Jesus than the others: Peter, James, and John. On several intimate occasions, as when Jesus was transfigured, only these three were present. From this inner circle of three, John stood out as the disciple who was closest to Jesus.

At the Last Supper John sat by Jesus and leaned his head on the Masterís bosom. It was to John alone that Christ revealed, by a secret sign, the name of the one who would betray Him. And it was to John, standing by the Cross, that Jesus entrusted the care of His own mother. "Woman, behold thy son!" He said to Mary. And to John: "Behold thy mother!"

Johnís Response.

Jesus loved John, and John responded to this love with a devotion that knew no limits. Of all the apostles only John stood by Jesus at His trial and crucifixion. All the others had fled for their lives. Of all the disciples, John was the first to arrive at the Lordís tomb. In his great zeal he outran the others. When he entered the empty tomb and saw the linen cloth and the napkin folded separately, he understood the tremendous significance of what had happened. The others who saw the empty tomb did not believe. Mary Magdalene cried out, "They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him" (John 20:2). Peter left the tomb confused and uncertain. But when John stood within the empty tomb, he saw and he believed. He came to full belief in the risen Lord as he stood in the empty tomb, and he wrote the fourth Gospel in order that those who read may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and that believing they may have life in His name.

Having experienced the love of God at the very bosom of Jesus, John was possessed of a deep and tender compassion. It is only in Johnís account of our Lordís life that we have the story of how Jesus forgave the adulteress. After Peter had denied Jesus and others had turned their back on him, it was John who took him into his home and consoled him. Instead of rejecting Peter, John received him with love.

First Epistle.

St. Johnís first epistle uses the word "love" no less than fifty-two times. Its glory is its magnificent insistence on the primacy of love in the Christian life. Listen to what he writes:

"Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God: for God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another" (1 John 4:7-11).

The Fourth Gospel.

Living in Ephesus as the last surviving eyewitness of the life and works of Jesus, John put the story of Christ into writing at about 100 A.D. His was the last Gospel, usually called the "spiritual" gospel because he interprets the eternal significance of what Jesus said and did. For example, John records seven of Jesusí miracles in his Gospel but he calls them by a different name, i.e., signs because they indicate who and what Jesus is. For example, when John relates how Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, he makes certain to state at the same time the significance of this miracle: that Jesus is the giver of eternal life to all believers: "I am the resurrection and the life." When we read Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we get so engrossed in the details about the man Jesus that we fail to see the halo around his head. But John shows us Jesus in His true nature and setting as the Divine Lord, the Eternal Logos, the Good Shepherd, the Light of the world, the Way, the Truth and the Life. And he sums up his Gospel with that one great, golden sentence: "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."

No other book in the entire Bible has influenced the faith of Christians as much as this one. Simple peasants have had their faith deepened by reading it. Learned scholars have found its riches inexhaustible. As a parish priest I have used the Gospel of John more than any other book of the Bible in my ministry of guiding and strengthening Godís people. To the confused and the lost, this Gospel brings the message that he who follows Jesus shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life. To those who have lost loved ones through death, Johnís Gospel brings the comforting promise of Jesus, "Because I live, you shall live also." It is no wonder that the eagle was chosen as the symbol for St. John. Like the eagle, St. Johnís Gospel soars far above the others in spiritual depth and understanding.

Revelation.

Under the Emperor Domitian (81-96 A.D.) the persecution of Christians became fierce. John was arrested and exiled to the Island of Patmos. There he wrote the last book of the New Testament ó the Book of Revelation. In a time of great suffering for all Christians he wrote this book to serve as a source of inspiration and comfort to the victims of Roman persecution back home. Instead, it became a book of comfort for all time. Its central theme is the war between the forces of light and darkness. The whole book becomes a trumpet blast of hope concluding with the ultimate and final victory of light. "And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God Ö and I heard a great voice from the throne saying, ĎBehold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them ... he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more.í " (Rev. 21:2-4). Imagine the hope and the comfort these words must have brought to thousands of Christians being maimed and killed by the Romans!

Legends About St. John.

Eusebius the historian tells how St. John, having entrusted a promising young Christian to the care of a provincial bishop, came back after a while to ask how the young man was doing. Told that he had become the chief of a band of robbers, John called for his horse and made for the hills to find the outlaws. No sooner did the bandit leader recognize him than he rode off at a fast clip. John, unarmed, rode on until he caught up with him. "My son," he said, "are you running away from your father? There is yet hope of salvation for you. I will stand for you before the Lord. If need be I will gladly die for you as He died for me. Stop, stay, believe! It is Christ who has sent me to you." The young thief repented, returned home with St. John and, tradition tells us, went on to become a priest. In this story we see again the great love John had for the flock the Lord entrusted to his care.

At another time the elderly John was playing happily with a tame partridge. A huntsman carrying a bow and arrow taunted him, "Look at the old man playing like a child!" John called him over. "Do you always keep your bow bent?" he asked. "Of course not," the fellow replied. "If I didnít unbend it now and then, it would soon become useless." "Just so," nodded St. John, "I unbend for the same reason."

At last, bent by the years, John could no longer preach his sermons. Supported by his friends, he would address one simple exhortation to the faithful: "My children, love one another!" Asked why he kept repeating the phrase, the elder John replied, "Because it is the Lordís highest command ó obeying this one is enough."

Finally, embarrassed by rumors that he would not die but ascend into heaven, John resolved to die in public. When he felt that his time had come, he had a tomb dug near the altar of his church. Descending into it, he raised his hands and murmured, "Invited to your banquet, Lord, I thank you. Iím coming." A fitting ending for one who in his youth sat next to Christ and rested on His bosom!

Victor Hugo said, "The supreme happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved." It is this conviction St. John brings us. He points us to a living Lord who would love each one of us as He loved John.

St. Andrew.

(November 30)

Where do you Live?

"And they said to him, ĎRabbií (which means Teacher), Ďwhere are you staying?í He said to them, ĎCome and seeí " (John 1:38).

It is a natural instinct when we meet somebody casually whose personality impresses us to want to see more of him, to want to see him in his own setting, against his own background, where he lives! The pictures on the walls, the books that lie on the shelves, the very knick-knacks on the mantelpiece will have something, surely, to tell us about him; they will make a frame for his personality, and we shall feel that we know him better.

So it was with John and Andrew in todayís Gospel lesson. They know Jesus only as a passer-by in the crowded ways. Wanting to know Him better they ask to see where he lives: "Rabbi, where are you staying?" They seek to track Him down to his lodging. Knowing their purpose, Jesus invites them to "Come and see." He asks them to spend the rest of the day with Him. And they do.

John and Andrew were curious about Jesus. They felt that if they knew where He lived, they would know more about the kind of person He was. It is always important to know where a person lives. "Show me your home and you show me your heart." There is much truth in that saying. There are homes full of quiet peace and strength. They receive you and welcome you and your mind is rested in them. There are homes full of unrest, homes that chafe and irritate the spirit. Wealth has nothing to do with it; rather it is the quality of the emotional atmosphere. We dwell not only in material homes, but in homes made of feeling. "The humble in spirit," says a Kempis, "dwell in a multitude of peace."

"Rabbi, where are you staying?"

I share with you a well-known poem entitled How Your Child Learns:

If a child lives with criticism,

he learns to condemn.

If a child lives with hostility,

he learns to fight.

If a child lives with ridicule,

he learns to be shy.

If a child lives with shame,

he learns to feel guilty.

If a child lives with tolerance,

he learns to be patient.

If a child lives with encouragement,

he learns confidence.

If a child lives with praise,

he learns to appreciate.

If a child lives with fairness,

he learns justice.

If a child lives with security.

he learns to have faith.

If a child lives with approval,

he learns to like himself.

If a child lives with acceptance and friendship,

he learns to find love in the world.

Where a child lives ó and where we live ó has a great deal to do with what we are and who we become.

Change your Address.

Where do we live?

Do we live in fear, in hostility, in anxiety, in sin?

No matter where we live now, we can change our address. We can move to a better environment. The alcoholic who continues to frequent the lounge is a fool. The Prodigal Son changed his address. Once he came to himself, he was no longer content to live with the swine. He got up and returned to his father. He moved; changed his address.

"Why is God so far away?" someone asked. The reply he received from a friend was, "God hasnít moved; you have!" It is up to us to make the next move: back to Him!

George MacDonald, a Scottish poet, made this astounding observation to the people of his generation: "You are little children sitting on the curbstone hunting in the gutter for things. Behind you is a kingís palace, finer than Buckingham. In it your Father sits. But you wonít listen. You wonít even turn around to look. You just keep on hunting in the gutter for things, and it doesnít matter if itís rotten vegetables or pennies Ö you find there. They canít make you happy without your Father."

Where do we live?

Many of us are living in the gutter, searching for happiness where it is impossible to find it. Our Father is in the Palace waiting for us. He wants us to live with Him in the palace of love, forgiveness, understanding, and perfect peace. But itís up to us to make the move to Him. Call it conversion. Call it repentance. It is moving, changing your abode.

Where you Really Live.

Where do you live? On Main Street, on the hill, in the valley, in the city, in the country? In your body? The real you is not the house you live in, or even the body that you inhabit, or in anything that can be measured or weighed or described in terms of color or texture. Your real home is invisible. Your interests, your wants, your thoughts and your purposes are where you really live.

May I share with you a poem entitled Goshen by Edgar Frank:

"How can you live in Goshen?"

Said a friend from afar ó

"This wretched country town,

Where folks talk big things all year,

And plant their cabbage by the moon!"

Said I:

"I do not live in Goshen ó

I eat here, sleep here, work here;

I live in Greece,

Where Plato taught,

And Phidias carved.

And Epictetus wrote.

I dwell in Rome,

Where Michelangelo wrought

In color, form, and mass;

Where Cicero penned immortal lines,

And Dante sang undying songs.

Think not my life is small

Because you see a puny place;

I have my books; I have my dreams;

A thousand souls have left for me

Enchantment that transcends

Both time and place.

And so I live in Paradise,

Not here."

"Rabbi, where are you staying?"

Where does Jesus Live Today?

The question John and Andrew asked of Jesus is one we direct to God today. "Master, where do you live? Where can we find you?" God Himself answered this question in the mystery of the Incarnation. He became man in Christ. "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father" (John 1:14). When Mary bent over the crib in Bethlehem, God was there! For thirty-three years of human history it was possible to point to Jesus and say, "There is God!"

For thirty-three years, all went well and good, but afterwards? Where do we find Him now? "Master, where do you live now? Where can we find you now?" Pointing to the consecrated elements of bread and wine in the Sacrament of Communion, He says to us "Come and see." "This is my Body Ö This is my Blood Ö He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in him."

Master, where do you live? Come and see, He says, as He invites us to look into ourselves, into our own souls. It is there that He has chosen to dwell. "That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith," says Paul (Ephesians 3:17). The word used is "dwell" not "pay a visit." He wants to settle down there, live there the year round. He Who had "nowhere to lay His head" seeks to make His home in us. This is why He has chosen to come to us so simply under the forms of bread and wine. "Abide in me and I in you."

Master, where do you live? In you! He says. You have been outfitted to contain God. He waits to take up residence in us. He has claimed us as His children.

He will not rest until He has invaded our heart, and made it His throne.

Only because we are candidates for heaven and Godís presence are we different. Take that away, and we are as common as the grave. But let God in, and we have let all heaven in. The power, the peace, the love, the joy ó all heavenís riches become our riches.

We measure men by many standards. Some are rich, some poor; some intelligent, some dull, some beautiful, others plain. God has but one standard: has He been permitted residence within a heart or has He been turned out? If He has been allowed in, He has transformed man into a miracle.

Master, where do you live? Way up in heaven somewhere? Indeed not! "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We shall come to him and make our home with him" (John 14:23).

Who Lives Here?

When Satan knocks on the door of my heart and asks, "Who lives here?" I reply, "I used to, but I have moved out and Jesus now lives here." "I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me," said Paul.

"My dwelling place shall be with them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people" (Ez. 37:27).

"He who dwells continually in the secret place of the Most High; he who abides under the shadow of the Almighty, shall say of the Lord, He is my fortress." If we can make time to dwell quietly in the presence of God, He shall dwell in us and we shall have the power to live victoriously.

A pastor once visited a home to induce a family to make a deeper dedication to God. Greeted at the door by the wife, he quickly asked, "Does Jesus live here?" Running to the rear of the house, she carried the question to her husband. "Well, didnít you tell him we go to church on Sunday and put our money in the offering?" "Aye, that I did," said she, "But he wanted to know if Jesus lived here, and that is different."

We ask, "Master, where do you live?" The real question is, "Does He live in you?"

It is time to ask the other question, "Where do we live today?" What we are depends to a great degree on where we live, where we spend most of our time. We live ó many of us ó in a world of fear and bewilderment and worry, of hectic rush and unnecessary scramble; a world where we need valium in order to survive. Some live in a world of sex; it dominates their entire life. Some live in a world of money and social status. Some live in ambition and some in pride. Some live in an atmosphere of defeat and failure. Some live in an atmosphere of petty gossip or grumbling, some in negative thoughts and chronic unhappiness. Some live always in the atmosphere of grievance. Whatever happens something is sure to be wrong. How miserable they look and how miserable they can make others. Some, thank God, live in eternal serenity, radiant joy, unbreakable goodwill and inviolable peace.

"Rabbi, where are you staying?" He said to them, ĎCome and see.í They came and saw where He was staying and they stayed with him ...." They stayed with Him. Isnít this the key to it all? Always to be where God is? To let Him live in us? Isnít this the beginning of heaven here and now?

 

Sunday Before Christmas.

(Matthew 1:1-25).

"All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ĎBehold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuelí (which means, God with us)."

Not "Emmanuish", man with us; but "Emmanuel", God with us! The Gospel of St. Matthew begins with the presence of God among men ó Emmanuel ó and concludes with the promise of His continued Presence, "And lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Matt. 28:20).

How tragically true it is that Christians often think of Jesus in the past tense ó the Christ who was, or in the future tense ó the Christ who will be. How seldom we think of Him in the present tense ó God with us. Yet how much we need this promise in days of confusion, darkness, and struggle. In the Gospel of John we are told "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us." This is only another way of saying, "Emmanuel, God with us." Not in some distant heaven, not on some faraway planet, but here among us, sharing our sorrows, helping us bear our heaviest burdens, touched with the feeling of our infirmities, cleansing us of our sins, showing us the kind of life that has eternal value.

It was said of Pope Pius XII that although he used his telephone constantly, it was a one-way line: "No one can dial the Pope." Many people would say that this is one of their principal problems with God. Frequently they do not seem to be able to "dial Him/í to find Him, to communicate with Him, to reach Him. So frequently God seems far away, impersonal, unreal. But all this was changed at Christmas when God stooped down to touch earth and establish a two-way line between man and God so that now through Jesus we may "dial" God directly, find Him, communicate with Him, and reach Him through prayer, Holy Communion, the Bible, and the Church.

Christmas has a special message of comfort for the lonely. It is the message of Emmanuel ó Godís presence with us, whoever we are, wherever we are, if we will but turn to Him with as much as a prayerful sigh!

As Christians we are called upon to share the joy of Godís presence with others. For example, this Christmas look for some lonely person for whom this is the loneliest time of the year. Pay him a short ten or fifteen-minute visit, or even a telephone call. Show him that you care as Christ cares. You will come away with the joy of God in your heart. This will be His reward to you for having brought Emmanuel to fill the void of an empty heart.

A Promise Fulfilled.

Let us look at two persons who found the promise of Godís presence fulfilled in their lives. David Livingstone on his return from sixteen years spent in Africa, gaunt after twenty-seven fevers, an arm hanging useless from a lionís bite, asked the students of Glasgow University, "Shall I tell you what sustained me amidst the toil, and hardship, and loneliness of my exiled life? It was the promise ó Godís promise ó íLo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.í " Emmanuel ó God with us!

When Frederick B. Snite, Jr., a Notre Dame graduate, was traveling with his parents in China, he was stricken with infantile paralysis. The doctors gave him about a week to live. What they didnít realize, however, was the sustaining power of a great faith. He lived for years and was able to marry and have a family. Many of those years were spent encased within the walls of a huge iron lung. The malady had paralyzed the respiratory muscles and for months he was unable to utter even a word. When at last he regained the partial use of his voice, he uttered slowly the single word "God." Years later he told a priest who visited him in his Florida home:

"The one thing that sustained me during the trying period when I was unable to breathe, or to speak, was my faith in God. I knew that He was with me and that He could hear my silent prayers." Emmanuel ó God with us!

Living a "We" Life.

The promise of Godís presence helps the Christian to live a "we" life: God and I. St. Paul, for example, lived a "we" life. He testified, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." No Christian ever achieves his full potential or uses his full strength unless he appropriates the power of God, unless he lives a "we" life with Christ.

The alcoholic who has been restored through AA lives a "we" life. He has learned to say, "I cannot overcome drinking, Lord Ö but we can!" Emmanuel ó God with us!

"How can you face life so victoriously?" someone asked a Christian.

"Through prayer," he replied.

"What do you mean by prayer?"

The Christian replied, "Long ago I was so troubled about a lot of things that I almost got sick over it. I prayed to the Lord and He finally answered me. This is what he said, ĎListen, Son, there is nothing you and I cannot handle together!" Emmanuel ó God with us!

A famous surgeon would bow his head and pray before each operation he performed. An astonished reporter who once witnessed this asked him, "Do you always pray before an operation?"

The surgeon answered with a smile, "Always. Because I never know what trouble I am going to run into, and when I will have to turn the scalpel over to the Great Physician and bid Him carry on. Many times in my surgery, when I was at the end of my human ability, God has taken over where I left off." Emmanuel ó God with us!

Godís great gift to us at Christmas was neither a code of ethics nor a philosophy, but Himself! Christianity is far more than a series of commandments. More than anything else, it is a Presence: Emmanuel ó God with us! With us in trouble ó to see us through. With us in sorrow ó to brush away the tears. With us when we fall ó to raise us up. With us in weakness ó to make us strong. With us in death ó to make us confident. Yes, and with us forever beyond death ó in a place where "eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it ever entered into the heart of man what things God has prepared for those who love Him."

"Behold, I bring you tidings of great joy which will be to all peopleÖ . Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel (which means God with us)."

After Christmas ó What? The Sunday After Christmas.

The joys of the Christmas season are gone. We have exchanged greetings and presents. We have shared with others. We have feasted together and delighted in fellowship.

We have seen the angels, we have heard "... a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men" (Luke 2:13, 14).

Our hearts have been stirred by the music of angels, but now the angels, the celestial music and the vision of heaven coming down to earth have gone. "And it came to pass, Ö the angels were gone away from them into heaven Ö" (Luke 2:15).

Now we are back to earth. The depth of winter is upon us: the weather is bad. The bills are more numerous than usual. We are experiencing the let-down feeling that comes when Christmas is over. We all have it ó the feeling that is nurtured by the long time we have spent getting ready for the holiday. And then after a few hours of celebration, it is all over! We have expected so much. And the reality was so good. But it lasted so short a moment in our life! It was here like a bright, shining vision. And then it faded away and we are back in the humdrum routine with the same old problems of illness, poverty, drudgery and wickedness.

But if this is what Christmas is all about, then it is a terrible mockery. If it lifts our spirits briefly only to crush them later in utter despair, then Christmas is not joy, peace, and good will, but utter cruelty. Obviously this is not what God has in mind for us.

Let us look briefly at the Shepherds, Mary, and the Wise Men to see how Christmas affected their lives.

The Shepherds.

St. Luke tells us that "the Shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen" (Luke 2:20). The Shepherds had gone to Bethlehem with the angelsí song in their ears. They had seen the Holy Child in the manger, and had looked in wonder upon the scene. Now it was the "day after." Now they must return: go back to the fields and the nightly watching over the sheep. The same fields, the same routine; but with a difference. St. Luke has them singing as they go; as if the glory of that night would remain with them for the rest of their days.

The "day after" for them meant no let-down feeling, no day of exhaustion. Something wonderful happened Christmas Day. They had seen God. They had caught a glimpse of heaven. Everything had changed. The skies were bright with a new radiance. The old had become new. Life was shot through with a new beauty. They went back to the old life, keeping sheep on the same hills. Yet, it was a new, different life, full of praise to God and full of joy in the good news of Godís gift. The Person who made the difference was Emmanuel, God with us. As one of our young people said at a youth retreat, "The wind blows, the snow falls, but the love from His crib warms the world."

The Mother of God Now let us look at how Christmas affected the Mother of God, Mary. The New Testament gives us one of the most beautiful sayings about her, a poem in itself, when it says, "And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the Shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart." She kept Christmas in her heart and would never let it depart from her. She "pondered" in her heart all that she had seen and heard. She kept the vision alive through prayer and meditation. It would never die. For Mary there would not be the let-down feeling of the "day after."

The Wise Men.

Finally, let us look at the Wise Men. When they learned of the plot of King Herod to kill the Christ Child, they did not come back to Jerusalem, but "went another way," according to St. Matthew.

What did Matthew mean when he wrote that the Wise Men went back another way? No doubt he meant that they took another route so as to frustrate Herodís murderous intentions. But is there not more to the words than that? Canít it be true that they took another way home in the spiritual sense, too? What they had seen in the manger had changed their lives. No one who ever meets Christ with a good will returns the same way he came. Our motives, our values, our attitudes are no longer the same. The old way of life is no longer satisfying. At Bethlehem we find a new and better way to live.

The New Year, coming as it does just a few days after Christmas, is a modern revision. The ancient world had other times to mark the beginning of the year. But there is much to justify the choice of this time. How appropriate it is that we should begin the New Year a week after Christmas! Like the Wise Men, we have seen the star. Like them we have followed it to the Babe of Bethlehem. Like them, we have worshipped the Christ Child, brought Him our gifts, and received Him in the manger of our souls through Holy Communion. Now let us go another way, Godís way, leaving behind the old fears, the old grudges, the old sins, the old sorrows. Let us walk into the future with Christ, kinder, more loving, more conscious of the needs of others and ever conscious of the presence of Christ our Savior, born to be Emmanuel, God with us.

As we take down our Christmas decorations to store them in the attic or the basement, let us be careful not to take down Christ. He was meant not for the attic, but for the living room of your heart and mine the year round. After all, His presence with us is what Christmas is all about.

Thomas Curtis Clark wrote,

What do we observe on Christmas Day?

The birth of a child in a land far away?

The glow of a star oíer the desert waste? Ö

Yes, of Christmas this is a part ó

Angels and Wise Men and bright star shine;

But of Christmas this is the heart ó

Christ came to dwell in your life and mine.

If He dwells in your life and mine, there will be no serious let-down feeling the "day after" Christmas. His Presence will make all the "days after" warm with His power, His forgiveness, His grace, His love.

So our visit to Bethlehem has come to an end; and like the Shepherds we go back to our routine duties singing with renewed faith in God; like the Wise Men we return not the way we came but another way, the way of Christ, the way of peace, love and joy; like the Mother of God, we shall keep pondering the meaning of Christís birth in our hearts to give us new vision and new joy for the year ahead.

Years ago someone sent a card to a friend the day after Christmas. It captures the meaning of what we have tried to express today. The author is unknown, and yet the words speak with great truth:

When the song of the angels is stilled,

When the star in the sky is gone,

When the kings and princes are home,

When the shepherds are back with their flock,

The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost,

To heal the broken,

To feed the hungry,

To release the prisoner,

To rebuild the nations,

To bring peace among brothers,

To make music in the heart.

Alleluia! Unto us a child is born.

 

 

Christmas.

Gifts Good for Christmas and Every Day.

More and more people are asking during this season: "What did you get for Christmas?"

The trouble with this emphasis on what we get at Christmas is that the whole point of this holy season is lost. We Christians give gifts at Christmas in humble imitation of the Gift that God gave ó His only Son, our Lord Jesus. For the Christian the emphasis is on giving.

A man told what happened to him one Christmas Eve when he was a boy, after the Christmas story had been read. After he and his brothers and sisters had opened all their presents, his father asked for quiet, and said, "Of all the presents you received tonight, I want you to decide which one you like the very best, and set it in front of you."

When this was done, the father continued, "Now I want each of you to think of someone you know who is less fortunate than you, and who is not getting presents as you are, and tomorrow we will have the fun of delivering to this person the presents you have chosen as the very best."

This man said he could never forget this experience. It taught him what Christmas was all about ó when God gave to mankind the very best He had.

Let us think together about gifts the Christian can give, not only at Christmas, but every day the year round to help make real to people the true spirit of Christmas: the love of Christ.

The Gift of Time.

"The greatest gift I ever received," said a successful young attorney, "was a gift I got one Christmas when my dad gave me a small box. Inside was a note saying: ĎSon, this year I will give you 365 hours, one hour every day after dinner. Itís yours. Weíll talk about what you want to talk about, weíll go where you want to go, play what you want to play. It will be your time.í

"My dad not only kept his promise of that gift," he said, "but every year he renewed it ó and itís the greatest gift I ever had in my life. I am the result of his time."

A gift of time is not only easy on the budget, but it is personal as well. It is a rare commodity, a present planned for one person only, the recipient.

Discussing what to give her aging, ailing father for Christmas, one woman said, "Iím going to give daddy time ó much more time." What a wonderful and rare gift! We love our old folks but have, or think we have, little time to give them. When one is quite old and has only time, a little bit more of it from friends and loved ones is the most precious gift he can receive and that we can give.

The most personal, most appreciated and most unique gift that you can give is the gift of time. Your time. The valuable twenty-four hours a day that only you can spend.

The Gift of Friendship.

In addition to the gift of time, another great gift we can all give is friendship. A little girl said once, "I donít have any gifts. I canít sing. I canít paint, and I know I canít write poetry. I just donít have any gifts!"

"Yes, you do ó it shines out all over you," her mother said quickly. "You have one of the best gifts of all ó the gift of friendship. You just seem to know how to be friends with people."

Instead of asking: how many friends do I have? the Christian asks: to how many people can I be a friend? People who need people are the luckiest people in the world. I know how much I need people. Let me find the people who need me ó my friendship, my love. Let me express this friendship with a thoughtful telephone call or card, or visit, to let them know I care.

Other Gifts.

The greatest gifts are free. The gift of encouragement, the gift of saying, "I love you" to someone whose love we have taken for granted, the gift of forgiveness, the gift of saying, "Iím sorry" to someone we have hurt, the gift of understanding, the gift of really listening when another speaks to try to get his or her point of view, to try to understand how he or she really feels. We may not have what the psychoanalyst calls "the third ear," but two ears will help if they are open. People who break down are those who didnít have the opportunity to "talk through" their conflicts and stresses because they were unable to find a "listening ear," because the people with whom they did talk didnít really hear what they were saying. To be sensitive to what others are really saying, to give oneís whole and serious attention to another person, is a real gift.

The Gift of Praise.

Another great gift for Christmas as well as for every day is praise. Marriage counselors tell us that the single most important cause of divorce is when one spouse seriously damages the otherís self-esteem or sense of personal significance. Partners in marriage will endure a variety of hardships and indignities as long as they are held in some degree of esteem by their mates. All of us need praise. When we donít get it, life becomes unbearable. When we do get it, we tend to live up to it. The desire to be praised and appreciated is perhaps one of the deepest needs we have. Few gifts we can ever give are greater than praise.

How to Give.

Finally, the Lord Jesus tells us that whatever the gift we give, we should give it to the person with the greatest need, expecting nothing in return. As Jesus said, "When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your kinsmen or your rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just" (St. Luke 14:12-24). One teen-age Swiss girl who wanted to buy a gift for a wealthy friend bought a baby dress, and delivered it in person on Christmas Eve to the poorest family she could find in New York City in the name of her rich friend. Here is an example of real giving as taught by our Lord Jesus.

By far the best Gift ever offered is the One God gave when He sent Jesus. "God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." This is the best gift because it is many gifts in one. Jesus is Godís promise of forgiveness. He is Emmanuel ó God with us. Through Jesus we receive the gift of being members of Godís family, the gift of a loving heavenly Father, the gift of a God who knows us by name and cares about each of us, the gift of the Holy Spirit abiding within us with all His power, the gift of a place in Godís heaven.

What did you get for Christmas?

I got Christ as my Savior and Lord!

And because I received Him, I cannot but give my time, my friendship, my love, my care, concern, forgiveness, understanding to all.

 

 

6. Different.

 

You are the Light of the World.

(Matthew 5:14-19)

Years ago a young missionary doctor was embarking on a ship for China. Despite the pleas of his friends, he insisted on making the voyage. "Look/' they said, "you are absolutely helpless against the suffering of that giant nation. You will disappear in that vast mass of humanity. What can you do about their epidemics? What can you accomplish against war, famine, flood?"

As he stepped up the gangplank, the young doctor gave his answer: "When it is dark about me, I do not curse the darkness, I just light my candle."

One tiny candle can pierce and destroy the darkness that surrounds it.

A story is told of a man at sea who was very seasick. If there is a time when a man feels that he cannot do any work, it is then. But he heard that a man had fallen overboard. He couldn't do much, but he laid hold of a light and held it up to the porthole. The light happened to fall on the drowning man's hand, and a man caught him and pulled him into the lifeboat. It seemed a small thing to do to hold up the light, yet it saved the man's life.

Jesus said in today's Gospel lesson: "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."

It seems that Jesus is talking our language here. We all like to shine. We are only too willing to have people see our good works and praise us. But here is the hitch. Jesus does not say that people will praise us but our "Father who is in heaven." Our sole business is to glorify Him and so let our light shine that others will glorify Him too.

"Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them." These are the words of the same Lord who tells us, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven."

Notice that Jesus is not begging or pleading with his disciples. There is nothing here about trying to become the light of the world. He merely announces a fact: "You are the light of the world." This is what God chooses to make of us. This is how God uses our obedience to Him ó to illumine the darkness of the world.

No Invisible Christians.

Obviously Jesus does not mean for us to try to impress people with our piety and good works. But He is warning us that we cannot be invisible Christians. When a man becomes a disciple of Jesus Christ, he is committed to a way of life that sometimes will stick out like a sore thumb. In his attitude toward other people, in his sense of values, in the use of his money, and in a thousand other ways the Christian will be visibly different. Not because we want it that way. Not because we try to get attention. But only because God is calling us to be obedient in ways that cannot be hid. As you cannot hide a city that has been set on a hill, so there is no way that you can hide the kind of obedience that is required of a disciple of Jesus. It will shine.

High-Fidelity Christians.

The need today is for high-fidelity Christians. A high-fidelity record player is one that plays back recordings through speakers which give very high fidelity to original sounds. Fidelity, or faithfulness, is a virtue greatly prized in people as well as in record players. It means faithfulness to the original, a careful and exact reproduction of the highest standard. Because we are Christians, life for us becomes a very special high fidelity project. The original is our Lord Jesus Christ. From Him we hear what He wants us to be. And through obedience, through the grace and strength He gives us in prayer and the sacraments, we reproduce the original in our lives as faithfully as possible.

In a society that is so widely and deeply unchristian, our Lord expects us to live, in the words of St. Paul, as "blameless and innocent children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world" (Phil. 2:15).

We are not to conform to the sinful world around us. We are called to be different, conformed to God in Christ. We are called to reflect not the mores of our culture, but the mind of Christ. We are not only businessmen, waiters, bus boys, secretaries, teachers, but children of God and heirs of His kingdom. We are in this world, yet not of this world, said Jesus. We belong to God. The Gulf Stream is in the ocean, yet it is not a part of it. It maintains its own warm temperatures even in the icy waters of the North Atlantic. It creates a climate of its own wherever it goes. St. Paul said to the Ephesians: "Once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light" (Ephesians 5:8). We are called to create a "Christ" climate wherever we go.

Why Is the World Dark?

Why is the world so dark today? You say, "People don't want the light of salvation in Christ." True, but do they see it clearly in those of us who claim to be followers of the Light? Or do they see it dimly, from some hiding-place where we keep it, or through a broken glass, or in a mirror that is stained with sin?

Dostoyevsky brought this out through his saintly Father Zossima. The good priest informs Aliosha that a Christian takes on tremendous responsibility for his neighbor. You may recall his words, "The criminal in your community may be less guilty for his crime than you ó his Christian neighbor. For you could have been a light to the evildoer, yet you were not, for the man remained beside you in darkness. Had you been the kind of example you ought to have been and shone your lantern on that lost man's path, perhaps he might not have stumbled into murder. If you had loved your neighbor as yourself and lavished upon him some of the care you generously lavish upon yourself ó shared some of the warmth God has privileged you to possess ó that murderer might have been changed in time."

Think again what can happen when the light of Christ does not shine clearly through us. Henry Drummond, that great Scottish professor, gives us the story of how the Unbelievers' Club was founded in Glasgow. Some men were standing at the corner of a street when a very prosperous looking man walked past. Said one of the men, "That is the founder of the Unbelievers' Club in Glasgow." "What do you mean by that?" asked one of the men. "Why, that man is an elder of the church." "Elder or no elder," replied the man, "he is the founder of Glasgow's Unbelievers' Club." Then he told how the man's inconsistent, hypocritical life had been for years bearing such false witness to Christ that it had undermined the faith of several young men who had joined together to form the Unbelievers' Club.

Look At Those Who Come Behind You.

A small girl in a church junior choir was placed at the head of a procession for a Christmas candlelight service. After the service she said to her mother, "I looked back and saw all those people coming behind me, and I was scared!"

Think of all the people who follow behind us. Some are members of our family, others not. Yet we help influence their lives and decisions. How can we think of these people without being filled with a deep sense of responsibility?

Punching Holes in the Darkness.

A little boy sat one night at the desk in his room, his pudgy face pressed against the paned-glass as he looked out into the street. He was watching a lamplighter going up and down the streets, lighting the old gas street lamps. His mother called him for dinner; he didn't come. She had to call him a second time; still he didn't come. When a third call was necessary, the mother went to his room and found him still absorbed in the lamplighter's task. At last, aware of his mother's presence, he exclaimed, "Look! Look! There is a man out there punching holes in the darkness!"

Christ calls us to punch holes in the darkness of this world. We are to punch holes in the darkness of hatred by forgiving those who have hurt us. "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you" (Ephesians 4:31-32).

We are to punch holes in the darkness created by those who tell us that all is vain, man's life is utterly meaningless. How can life be meaningless when we think of God's great love for each one of us! "What man of you," said Jesus, "if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good things to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him" (Matthew 7:10-12).

We are to punch holes in the darkness created by those who tell us that man is utterly alone in this world, that there is no place to go for help beyond himself. "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest," says Jesus. "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Matthew 1:28-29).

There are those who suffer, who live in the darkness of loneliness and despair. We are to punch holes in their darkness by loving, caring, helping, visiting, comforting. "I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink: I was a stranger and you welcomed me; I was sick and you visited me! Then the righteous will answer Him, 'Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink! Ö and the king will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.' '

Anyone can curse the darkness that envelops man today ó the darkness of evil, the darkness of despair, the darkness of hopelessness; but to light a candle for the suffering and the lost, a candle of hope, a candle of love, a candle of faith ó this is to punch a hole in the darkness and dispel it. And this clearly is the task of the Christian.

Inspiring Examples.

A little boy was standing in an alley with a broken piece of glass, reflecting the sun to a third-story window. A man came along and said gruffly, "What mischief are you up to now?" The little boy said, "Nothing, Mister, but I have a little crippled brother living up there on that third floor. No sunlight ever gets into his room. The only sunlight he ever sees is what I reflect from this little bit of glass." How many people there are in our lives who may never see the light of Christ unless we reflect it to them?

When the Russians began their countermarch against the German attack in the early part of the war, a young German soldier was caught behind the Russian borders. One of his arms was shot. Wounded, he found his way to the home of a poor Russian peasant woman. She welcomed him into her humble house, and offered him food and rest. He did not realize that he had walked into the hands of a devout Russian Orthodox woman, until several days later he noticed an icon hanging on the wall. He could not understand why she was so kind to him when he was her enemy. He said later, "I could see God living in that home, even though I had never known Him before. I had been brought up to believe that there was no God but the State. I had been taught to hate those who professed to be Christians. I had never seen a Bible in my whole life. But I knew now that God was alive, because I could see Him there in the life of that poor peasant woman."

Later this same soldier attempted to find his way back to the German lines, became lost and returned to the home of this friendly Russian woman, only to find that the home was no longer there. Because of what she had done to befriend this German soldier, the woman's house had been burned to ashes. She had nothing left, absolutely nothing, except the heartwarmingly wonderful memory of having been an instrument in the hands of God to influence for good the life of this young man. Today this former German soldier is the pastor of a large Christian Church. All because the light of Christ's love and forgiveness shone through this humble peasant woman.

We hear it said ever so often that there is much darkness in the world today. Here precisely lies our challenge. More than ever before, Christ needs us to pierce this darkness with the light of His truth and love.

On a hot summer evening during the days of World War II, there was an air raid signal in the city of Baton Rouge. There was no raid, for this was only practice; but the residents quickly began putting out their lights. Families gathered on their porches and lawns to watch the encroaching darkness. Out of the gloom, a youngster's voice spoke: "Look, Mother, the lightning bugs haven't put out their lights. What's going to be done about them?"

"Nothing, darling," she said, "they are God's creatures and their lights cannot be put out."

As followers of Him Who is the Light of the world neither should our lights ever be extinguished.

A little girl spoke a greater truth than she realized when, gazing with delight upon the stained-glass windows in a beautiful church through which the sun was shining, she exclaimed, "Now I know what Christians are! They're people through whom the Light of Christ shines."

 

Memorial Day.

The Importance of Happy Memories.

Every year in the month of May Memorial Day comes along. It is a good thing to have a day on the calendar set aside for remembering. Remembering is important. Our liberty did not come to us without great cost. We live because men died. The Church is built on the sacrifice of martyrs. On Memorial Day we remember the dead as the Church remembers them in every liturgy. It is good to remember. Without memory we become creatures without depth or quality. He who loses his memory, loses himself. Life becomes meaningless. Amnesia ó we call it. A terrible disease!

To remember is a magnificent capacity of our nature. Without it, we would be incapable of learning from the past. With it, we can build on the past and redeem the future.

Memory can be a most precious possession ó particularly if our memories are pleasant.

We erect monuments in order to preserve memory. We take photographs in order to preserve memory. Artists paint pictures in order to preserve memory. Authors write books in order to preserve memory.

Tradition is to Remember.

The Orthodox Church places great emphasis on tradition. What is sacred tradition but remembering, remembering what Jesus did and passing it on to someone else. It is what a father tells his child; it is a form of life, a dynamic continuity.

Tradition is remembering. The Church does not lose its memory. If it does, it ceases to be the Church. The miracle of the memory of the Church can be one of its greatest contributions to the modern age.

The Brain: a Computer that Remembers.

Sometimes we hear it said that the brain is like a complex computer costing billions of dollars. Actually there is no computer built that can do what the brain does. In a few cubic inches it stores more information than can be stored in the largest computer. Further, it can do things that would stump any present-day computer. One researcher calculates the brainís storage capacity at one quadrillion bits of information ó thatís a million times a billion. With such capacity no one has ever filled the human mind to overflowing.

So effective is the memory system of the mind that nothing is ever completely lost. Under patient inquiry, long forgotten events, facts, names, can often be revived. Psychoanalysis, for example, demonstrates how much of what is apparently quite forgotten is only, like a buried city, awaiting the "archaeologist" who will dig it up.

Yet memory is often, all too often, an exasperating servant. We canít recall the title of a book read only last week. The name we know perfectly well wonít come.

We curse our bad memories. They often hide from us what a miracle it is that the past should live on in us, and work for us.

"The moment may be temporary," someone said, "but the memory is forever."

I like this aptly phrased word of warning:

"Tread softly ó the years roll out

A carpet of memories for our hearts To walk on."

"To suffer passes away," says a French proverb, "But to have suffered never passes." The memory lives on.

What you do today makes the memories that will bless or break you tomorrow.

"Rememberance is the only paradise out of which you cannot be driven For if you donít have memories, you canít have dreams" (Liz Erickson).

How important it is that we build up a storehouse of worthwhile memories as St. Paul tells us in Phil. 4:8, "Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."

How to Acquire Good Memories

How do we fill the storehouse of the mind with pleasant, inspiring, uplifting memories; memories that will make us and not break us. We can do this by reading His word and memorizing one of Godís precious promises daily, by remembering and honoring the Sabbath in Church where we come to let God fill our minds with His words of everlasting life, by remembering Jesus, the Savior, the Good Shepherd; how He forgave sinners, calmed storms, healed the sick, raised the dead and how deeply He loves each one of us. "Remember Jesus Christ" (2 Tim. 2:8). St. Basil said, "This is what it means to have Christ living in you: to have Him enthroned in your mind through constant remembrance."

Bishop Hans Lilje tells how in the days of the war he was imprisoned in solitary confinement by Hitler. Everything was taken from him. He found his strength and sanity only by going over and over the psalms, hymns and Bible verses he had memorized as a boy. He was saved by his memories.

"The Holy Spirit," said Jesus, "will keep bringing to your remembrance all that I have said to you" (John 14:26). We need these memories of Jesus that the Holy Spirit brings to us. We live by them. We die by them. They sustain us.

We likened the brain to a computer. The memory system of a computer can be cleared instantly with the flick of a switch. Our memory system, however, cannot be cleared so easily. Often the bad memories remain to haunt us through our days and nights.

James Barrie once wrote, "God gave us memory that we might have roses in December." But a memory can also be a curse. As there are roses, so there are thorns on the bush of memory. Often we recall with anguish something that we wish might be erased from memory ó but there it is. We remember the unpleasant and forget the good.

What to do with Bad Memories.

There is a way to cleanse these ugly memories, Godís way: through repentance. We bring the painful memories to God. We do not hide them. It is by remembering that salvation and wholeness come. We acknowledge them, confess them, seek His forgiveness and accept that forgiveness. Perhaps accepting is what is hardest for many of us. We almost take an unholy delight in wallowing in the mud of past failures.

Recently a person was at a conference in which he tried to help people get in touch with their memories. He was amazed at how many excruciatingly painful memories we all carry just below the conscious level. Those present reached back into childhood and the families out of which they came. One by one, the painful memories of the past were excavated and exposed to the healing, forgiving light and love of Christ. Through tears of joy, he saw people liberated to live much more abundant lives, free of the hidden hurts of the past ó healed by Christ!

There were things in St. Paulís life that he hated to remember. "I had persecuted the Church," he says, "and am therefore inferior to all other apostles ó indeed not fit to be called an apostle." A very painful memory.

But Paul does not stop there. He does not wallow in the mistakes of the past. For he is able to say, "In my labors I have outdone them all ó not I, indeed, but the grace of God working in me."

And that was the memory that kept Paul going and makes us remember him. He had good moments to remember; how Christ had forgiven him, accepted him and appointed him to be His ambassador to the Gentiles.

Prayer.

The dying thief on the cross asked You to remember him, Lord. Peter remembered what You said when the cock crowed. Help us today to remember your love and mercy, and to pass them on so that they may be a beautiful memory for tomorrow. Amen.

 

Independence Day.

How to Be Free.

As a Fourth-of-July orator eulogized our forefathers who had died to give us freedom, a youth in the crowd called out, "Why donít you tell them the whole truth? Why donít you tell them that freedom is the most dangerous gift anyone can receive? Why donít you tell them that it is a two-edged sword that will destroy us unless we learn how to use it, and soon? Why donít you make them see that we face a greater challenge than our ancestors ever did? They only had to fight for freedom. We have to live with it."

We Americans are proud that we live in a nation where we have political freedom. But the paradox is that most of us are not free. We are in bondage of one kind or another, enslaved by greed, lust, appetite, drugs, alcohol. Rousseau said, "Man is born free, yet everywhere he is in chains!"

The person whose sexual ambitions are defined by the teachings of Playboy thinks he has found freedom. It is no such thing. It is a bondage to a de-humanizing, de-personalizing use of another person. There is nothing free about this playboy. He is enslaved to his deepest compulsive desires.

If this is not freedom, what is? If political freedom does not necessarily make us free, what does?

Let us go to the Bible and to our Creator to see exactly what this gift of freedom is.

God Created Man Free.

Man is not free because the state or any other organization conferred freedom on him. Man is free because he was made in the image of God. "God created man in His own image; in the image of God created He him, male and female created He them." Man is not a robot, not a machine, to be controlled by some outside force like a wind-up doll. He is not a beast guided by blind instinct. He is man, with all the powers of decision given him by God Himself. He is free. His freedom is anchored in the God Who created him. But as soon as man forgets God, even though he does it in the name of freedom, he begins to build his own slavery ó slavery to himself or to a Hitler, or to someone or something else. That is the ultimate disaster.

"The chief source of manís dignity is manís freedom and capacity for self-determination," said Rheinhold Neihbur.

For St. Gregory of Nyssa and Maximus the Confessor, freedom is the essential element of manís likeness to God. Manís revolt against God deprived him of freedom, made him a "slave" to the "flesh," to corruption, sin and death. Our Savior Jesus came to release man from this slavery, to set him free again. "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me Ö He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives Ö to set at liberty those who are oppressed..." (Luke 4:18). The "captives" and the "oppressed" are you and I.

The thing that makes us uniquely human is that unlike the other creatures we are able to say both "yes" and "no" to God. Man does not do the will of his Creator by necessity. Unlike the stars and the animals, he can refuse to obey his Creator. For God does not want slaves but sons.

Manís desire to be free is so great ó said Dostoevsky ó that he will deliberately do the wrong thing to prove it. He wrote, "Out of sheer ingratitude, man will play you a dirty trick to prove that men are still men and not the keys of a piano ..."

Even totalitarian systems which deny that man is free extract confessions of guilt from individuals who are supposedly not free ó only products of their environments. They deny freedom, on the one hand, and acknowledge it on the other.

Nicolas Berdyaev wrote, "Dictators and tyrants refuse freedom to others, but love it for themselves, and always insist upon it for their fellow travelers and those who are connected with them. But he truly loves freedom who affirms it for his fellows."

The Orthodox Concept of Synergy.

The Orthodox Church has always taught that God created sons not slaves or robots. As such He greatly respects manís freedom. To describe the relationship between God and man, Orthodoxy has coined the word synergy (synergeia). It comes from Paulís words: "We are fellow-workers (synergoi) with God" (I Cor. 3:9). "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in" (Rev. 3:20). God knocks. He respects manís freedom. He waits for man to open. He doesnít break the door. "The incorporation of man into Christ and his union with God require the cooperation of two unequal, but equally, necessary, forces: divine grace and human will," we read in "Orthodox Spirituality." The greatest example of this is the Mother of God.

Nicolas Cabasilas writes in his homily on the Annunciation: "The incarnation was not only the work of the Father, by His power and by His spirit, but it was also the work of the will and the faith of the Virgin. Without the consent of the Immaculate, without the agreement of her faith, the plan was as unrealizable as it would have been without the intervention of the Three Persons Themselves. It was only after having instructed her and persuaded her that God took her for His Mother and borrowed from her the flesh, that she so greatly wished to lend Him. Just as He became incarnate voluntarily, so He wished that His Mother should bear Him freely and with her full consent." In the person of the Virgin, humanity gave its consent to the Word becoming flesh and coming to dwell among us. For God could not save us without our will. Synergy!

The Risk of Free Will.

Of course, there was a risk involved when God chose to give men free will. For it is free will that makes sin and evil possible. The worst thing in the world ó sin ó comes from the greatest gift man possesses: free will.

Why did God take that risk? Why do parents take that risk? Isnít it dangerous to bring a child into the world? Suppose that child goes wrong. It will break its own heart and the hearts of the parents. Then why do parents create? Because love wants objects of love upon whom it can lavish that love and be loved in return. And God is love.

Free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of robots would hardly be worth creating. They could not love, and they could not be good. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere water. And for that they must be free.

A student asked his professor: "If God knew that people would sin, why did He go ahead and make us and give us the power to choose?"

The professor looked him straight in the eye and said: "Apparently God thought you were worth the risk."

So God chose to make a universe in which there would be virtue which is conditioned upon freedom. A man can be a hero only on a battlefield where it is also possible to be a coward. He can be a saint only in a world in which it is possible to be a traitor. He can be a Peter only in a situation where it is possible to be a Judas. No freedom ó no virtue. No freedom ó no true love.

People are free to do anything they want, but they are not free to choose the consequences. You reap what you sow. "Those who sow to the flesh will from the flesh reap corruption. Those who sow to the Spirit, will from the Spirit reap life eternal," writes Paul (Gal. 6:8). "Choose well; your choice is brief, and yet endless," said Goethe.

When is One Truly Free?

A creature can say NO to God, but when he does, he loses his freedom. We can use our freedom to enslave ourselves and we often do. As Jesus said, "Every one who commits sin is a slave of sin" (John 8:34). It is when we turn and say YES to God that we regain our true freedom. We see this in the prodigal son. When he said NO to his father, he ended up in the pigsty as a slave. When he returned to his father, he regained his former freedom and changed the whole direction of his life.

St. Basil said, "The Spirit does not deprive anyone of his reasoning power and freedom; only demonic possession does this." "Make me your captive, Lord," prayed Augustine, "and I shall be free."

"Our wills are ours, we know not how;

Our wills are ours, to make them Thine"

(Alfred Tennyson).

It is in our obedience to His will that we find perfect freedom. He who is most free is he who is most surrendered to God in Christ. Christ was the freest Man Who ever lived because He had made His Fatherís will supreme: "I seek not mine own will but the will of the Father Who has sent me" (John 5:30). "My food is to do the Fatherís will," He said. "You shall know the truth and the truth will make you free," said Jesus. Only when we know the truth of the laws of aviation are we free to fly. In exactly the same way the purpose of the commandments of God is not to restrict our liberty but to set us free to enjoy the life God has given us. In His will is our freedom. "Love God and do as you please" said Augustine.

Christ is the One Who sets us free. "If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:36). "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free" (John 8:31-32). "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom" (II Cor. 3:17). Christ enables us to experience "the glorious liberty of the children of God" (Rom. 8:21).

The Word of God in the Holy Bible calls on us constantly to use our free will in order to make the supreme choice in life, the choice above every other choice; the choice on which depends eternity for each one of us; the choice for which He gave us free will in the first place, i.e., "I have set before you life and deathÖ therefore choose life" (Deut. 30:19). "No man can serve two masters" (Matt. 6:24). "Love the Lord your God with all of your mind and heart and soul and strength; and your neighbor as yourself." In this choice you will find life and true freedom.