Thursday, April 27, 2017

Salvation is more than just eternal life

There are many who challenge the Orthodox Church on the question of salvation. We are asked, “Are you saved?” The normal Orthodox response is something along the lines of “I was saved. I am saved. I am being saved.” For Orthodox Christians the question of salvation is a question not of a single moment in time, but a process of the heart. I recently offered a sermon, “Are you saved? I hope so.” You can watch it here.

But what if salvation wasn’t about eternal life? What if you lived forever whether or not you were saved? It really all depends upon what you are hoping to be saved from in the first place. Are you hoping to be saved from death? Then that part was already accomplished when Christ died and resurrected. Maybe you are hoping to be saved from the struggles of life? Every day Christ saves us from the struggles of life. Even in our most severe pain, Christ reminds us that pain is only temporary and comfort is just around the corner.
Here is today’s Gospel Reading: John 5:24-30 (RSV) - The Lord said to the Jews who came to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. Truly, truly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself, and has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment. I can do nothing on my own authority; as I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of the Father who sent me."
Maybe you want to be saved from hell. That is a different story. Physical salvation is guaranteed to all who hear the word of God, as we hear in today’s Gospel “all who are in the tombs will hear his voice.” Once we are in our tomb we will hear God’s voice. What will matter then is whether or you not you want to hear His voice, whether or not you desire to see His face, whether or not you have chosen to love Him. Whether we experience His voice as salvation or hell will depend only on our heart, and how our heart has governed our life.

This is the truth we celebrate when we proclaim Christ is Risen! This is the Good News, that Christ has conquered death. I guess the “not so good news” is that salvation is more than just eternal life.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Today....WE FAST!

Since today is the first fast day since Pascha, it seemed appropriate to post on the subject. Every year after Pascha I welcome this day with open arms, thankful I am able to fast again because it helps me. Fasting helps me learn to stop putting myself first. As we heard more than once during Great Lent, Christ said, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him DENY HIMSELF, [emphasis mine] take up his cross, and follow Me.” (Mark 8.34) We cannot begin to follow Christ until first we learn to deny ourselves and take up our cross. Fasting helps learn how to do this.

Fasting is a spiritual discipline first and foremost. Like any commandment from God, fasting is meant to teach us how to live. When we fast as the Church guides us, we very quickly learn to embrace the art of following rather than leading. We must follow Christ into heaven. We can’t lead Him into heaven. Fasting as the Church guides us helps to perfect the skill of following Christ. This is why I always speak of the importance of not choosing our own fast, but fasting as the Church guides us. When we choose our own rules, we quite frankly are not learning how to deny ourselves, but the opposite becomes true. It begins with, “I think fasting should be like this...” and ends up with, “I think the Gospel means this...”

But that is not the only benefit to fasting. In my case, and I know in the case of many others, fasting is a physical blessing. Ever since Pascha I have been celebrating by making my way through the food chain and enjoying all the foods I missed during the Great Fast. Now I’m feeling a bit sluggish since I haven’t been eating properly. If you have been a Be Transfigured Ministries fan for any length of time, you know I struggle with overeating. I don’t hide it. I can’t hide it. But I do struggle with it. So in my case I look forward to today as the day I am able to get back to proper eating. In my case fasting is a gift of God to help me reassert self control, and for that I am thankful.

The life of the Church has so many benefits since it is guided by the Holy Spirit. If only we took the time to learn about why we do what we do as Orthodox Christians, a main purpose of this ministry, and embrace that when we follow the life of the Church we benefit both spiritually and physically. So today.....WE FAST!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A Christian Should be Sober Minded

Yesterday I was listening to the radio and heard a comment about how many times a child smiles per day as compared to how often adults smile. The numbers were drastically different which came as no surprise, but I was struck by the “compelling need” some adults feel to always be smiling. It seemed as if I was being told, “If you don’t smile, then you are an unhappy person,” or worse, “I must somehow be less loving because I don’t smile as much as a child smiles.”

I understand that children are laughing and playing much more than adults, but I’m not sure that is a bad thing. It isn’t that I think adults should be happy, but is “being happy and smiling” the sign of a healthy adult perspective? Consider today’s Epistle Reading:
St. Peter's First Universal Letter 5:6-14 (RSV) - BRETHREN, humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time he may exalt you. Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you. Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, first in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish and strengthen you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen. By Silvanos, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God; stand fast in it. She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings; and so does my son Mark. Greet one another with the kiss of love. Peace to all of you that are in Christ.
St Peter is challenging us today to be “sober” and “watchful” in the face of suffering and temptations from the devil. As adults we understand the real struggle of life which explains our less frequent smiles than little children, but the lack of a smile is not the same thing as being despondent. Being sober minded is about vigilance and readiness to fight the temptations thrown at us by the devil. A child seemingly never-ending laugh is more about innocence than joy.

There is a difference between having joy and always smiling, just as there is a difference between sober minded and depressed. A Christian is to be filled with joy that Christ is Risen as we are still celebrating Pascha, and sober minded that even though Christ is Risen, the devil lurks behind every corner waiting to devour us.