Monday, February 20, 2017

You Cannot Silent the Gospel

There are many examples of the world attempting to silent the Gospel of Christ. It began when Herod sent out armies to slaughter innocent children as an attempt (and I repeat....attempt) to stop the Messiah. It didn’t work. Rome itself was unable to silent the Gospel even killing Christ and unknown hundreds of Christians. Eventually Rome fell to the grace of God and the Gospel was victorious. In modern times too there have been many attempts to silence the Gospel. For more than seventy years the Soviet Union attempted (and I repeat....attempted) to silence the Gospel by forbidding public preaching, teaching and outward displays of faith. Within days of the fall of the Soviet Union, Churches were reopened and thousands have been rebuilt in the years that followed. You might think the enemies of the Gospel didn’t believe Christ....
Gospel Reading: Luke 19:29-40; 22:7-39 (RSV) - At that time, when Jesus drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount that is called Olivet, he sent two of the disciples, saying, "Go into the village opposite, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat; untie it and bring it here.  If any one asks you, 'Why are you untying it?' you shall say this, 'The Lord has need of it.'"  So those who were sent went away and found it as he had told them.  And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, "Why are you untying the colt?"  And they said, "The Lord has need of it."  And they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their garments on the colt they set Jesus upon it.  And as he rode along, they spread their garments on the road.  As he was now drawing near, at the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!  Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!"  And some of the Pharisees in the multitude said to him, "Teacher, rebuke your disciples."  He answered, "I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out." Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the passover lamb had to be sacrificed.  So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying; "Go and prepare the passover for us, that we may eat it."  They said to him, "Where will you have us prepare it?"  He said to them, "Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him into the house which he enters, and tell the householder, 'The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room, where I am to eat the passover with my disciples?'  And he will show you a large upper room furnished; there make ready."  And they went, and found it as he had told them; and they prepared the passover. And when the hour came, he sat at table, and the apostles with him.  And he said to them, "I have earnestly desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you I shall not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God."  And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, "Take this, and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes."  And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body which is given for you.  Do this in remembrance of me."  And likewise the cup after supper, saying, "This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.  But behold the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table.  For the Son of man goes as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!"  And they began to question one another, which of them it was that would do this. A dispute also arose among them, which of them was to be regarded as the greatest.  And he said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors.  But not so with you; rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.  For which is the greater, one who sits at table, or one who serves?  Is it not the one who sits at table?  But I am among you as one who serves. You are those who have continued with me in my trials; and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 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."  And he said to him, "Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death."  He said, "I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you three times deny that you know me." And he said to them, "When I sent you out with no purse or bag or sandals, did you lack anything?"  They said, "Nothing."  He said to them, "But now, let him who has a purse take it, and likewise a bag.  And let him who has no sword sell his mantle and buy one.  For I tell you that this scripture must be fulfilled in me, 'And he was reckoned with transgressors'; for what is written about me has its fulfillment."  And they said, "Look, Lord, here are two swords."  And he said to them, "It is enough." And he came out, and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him.
This reading from the Gospel is read on the Monday following the Sunday of Judgment (which was yesterday this year) as a reminder of what is to come. Christ has told us exactly what to expect. Whether it was the Old Testament signs which were to prepare us for His First Coming in the Flesh, or the many signs from the New Testament that have come to pass. Christ has always prepared us for what He had planned, and His plan is to save us if we are willing.

As you make your final preparations for the beginning of the Great Fast next week, I invite you consider how you may have been ignoring the Gospel in your life. Over and over the Church calls our attention to the challenges of faith. Yesterday we learned of our coming judgment. Next week we will hear how we must forgive. We will be forever tempted to take the path of the world, but the world will never be able to silence the Gospel. Why keep trying? Wouldn’t it be easier to embrace the Gospel and Live A New Life In Christ? 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Faith in Action

On the Sunday before fasting from meat begins, known as Meatfare Sunday and also the Sunday of Judgment, the Church reminds us that judgment comes not from the bad things that we do, but the good we choose not to do. Our judgment will be whether or not our heart and eyes can see the world as God sees the world. Do we see Jesus in every person? Do we treat others as if they are Christ? The answer to these questions is determined by how we are able to put our faith into action.

It’s What You Don’t Do that Matters Most

On the Third Sunday of the Triodion, known as “Judgment Sunday” in the Church, the Gospel of Matthew 25.31-46 teaches one of the well known Parables of the Last Judgment. In the story we hear the words, “When did we see you...” both from those in heaven and those in hell. For those in heaven, Jesus says, “I was hungry and you fed me...etc.” and for those in hell, He says, “I was hungry and you didn’t feed me.”  In truth neither actually saw Jesus, so what really is this Gospel story about?

As part of the Triodion and the Church’s effort to inspire us to change our lifestyle during Great Lent, we are reminded that how we treat other people, especially the poor and needy, makes a difference in how we experience eternal life. For those who were experiencing heaven, their life was filled with love and service for others. For those in hell, although they were willing to serve Jesus Christ, when it came to others in need they were unwilling to recognize the need to help. Our Great Lenten journey, which begins in just eight days, will be affected in how we recognize our relationship with others.

In this parable, those in heaven were there not because they did anything incorrectly or acted in a sinful manner. The way the parable plays out, they actually didn’t DO anything at all, and that was the problem. By doing nothing, they kept to themselves when others were in need, in effect not living as human beings. We are only authentic human beings when we are in a relationship with other human beings. When we love, it is because we act with love toward another human being. Anything other than love toward another human being is self-love which leads to hell. This is why those who were unable to see Jesus Christ “in” those in need were experiencing hell.

So what can change? ... WE can change.

We have been given the opportunity by God, today, to change our lifestyle and live with love toward others rather than with self-love. We have been given the opportunity during Great Lent to change the way we look at our fellow human beings, and I’m not just speaking about our fellow Greeks or members of the Church. If we want to find ourselves in heaven, in the end, then we will be able to “see” Jesus Christ in the face of every human being. We will be able to recognize the need for our help for those who are hungry, homeless, sick, or just down on their luck. We will be able to reach into our pocket and rather than seeing only ourselves, see the needs of others. But we will never see Jesus “in” others so long as we are focused on ourselves.

Great Lent offers each of us a unique blessed opportunity to accomplish both. We are invited by the Church to both change our inner soul through prayer and fasting AND change the way we love others by reaching out and helping those in need. In fact we are only saved in both our internal efforts and our external acts of love. How does prayer and fasting help us reach out to others? As Saint John Chrysostom teaches...

When we truly fast, we learn to be without. When we learn to live without, then we learn to not want for much. Then, without being so focused on our “wants” we can truly see the needs of others and serve them with genuine love. We will then see Jesus “in” the others rather than seeing others just as a group of people needing things we would rather keep to ourselves. It is when we do nothing at all that neither our inner soul nor our external actions glorify God. It’s when you do nothing that we will find ourselves in hell.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Always Be Aware

One of the great gifts of fasting is the training you receive when you are vigilant. Since the first days of the Church we have been asked to fast every (with a few exceptions) Wednesday and Friday. The only way to successfully pull this twice-a-week fast off, we must always be aware of what day it is? Is it Tuesday, then pepperoni pizza it is! Is it Friday, then PB&J for lunch! You might think the Church is asking us to worry too much about the calendar, but I suggest you are denying the added benefit of learning to be vigilant. Take a moment and ready today’s Gospel Reading:
Luke 21:8-9,25-27,33-36 (RSV) - The Lord said, "Take heed that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name, saying, 'I am he!' and, 'The time is at hand!'  Do not go after them.  And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified; for this must first take place, but the end will not be at once.  And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and upon the earth distress of nations in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, men fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  And then they will see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.  But take heed to yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a snare; for it will come upon all who dwell upon the face of the whole earth.  But watch at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of man."
This reading about learning to be vigilant and that God will bless such vigilance in our spiritual life. Fasting twice a week helps to teach this vigilance if we choose to embrace it. It is when we are conscious about our surroundings, then we can remember whether the calendar says Monday or Friday. Once we have learned to be aware, it becomes much easier to keep watch for the false teachers and antichrists that will continually work to distract us from God.

With the Great Fast approaching and tomorrow being the “last day” until Pascha that we will each meat, I invite you to view the coming weeks of fasting not as self-denial or just a spiritual diet, but “vigilance training” for your soul. The false teachers have been told to us by God Himself. They will and have come to lead you astray. “Take heed that you are not led astray!” Always be aware of your surroundings!