Saturday, November 28, 2015

If it hurts it might be your pride

Today’s Gospel Reading: Luke 10:19-21 - The Lord said to his disciples, "Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you; but rejoice that your names are written in heaven." In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will."
Jesus promised the disciples that nothing would hurt them, but as we know only one of the original twelve died of “natural” causes. The rest were martyrs. We became His disciples and people hurt every day, physically and emotionally. What did Jesus mean when He promised that nothing would hurt us?

I received a note from someone recently asking advice on how to respond to a situation when they were hurt. The person asked, “In orthodoxy we are taught to turn the other cheek when someone strikes us.  I have followed this throughout my young life however now I wonder if there was something more to that?” YES, there’s always more to the story. The idea of turning the other cheek is more about US than the person who hurt us. Let me explain.

We pray in the 50th Psalm, “Against You only have I sinned.” If our sin is only against God, then the sins of others are also only against God, even though we may feel the action. The call to turn the other cheek is to guide us into NOT taking personally the sinful actions of others. In fact, it is our sinful pride that we think that any sin could be against us, because in our mind it is ALWAYS about us. We must remember the context of the “turn the other cheek” command of God. (see Matthew 5.39) Jesus is helping us to resist evil. Among the turn the other cheek commands are the following commands:
" You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' "But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. "If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. "And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. "Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away. " You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' "But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, "that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. "For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? "And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? "Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5.38-48)

So what is it that hurts when someone sins? Our pride is hurt, and that then becomes our sin. What about the physical pain we feel from others? Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10.28) The only damage done when someone hurts us physically, if we hold off our pride, is a simple flesh wound. Flesh wounds might hurt for the moment, but they heal. We often think the WORST possible thing someone can do to us, from our earthly vantage point, is to kill us. That ultimately is what Jesus wants us to understand from today’s reading. EVEN if they kill us, that doesn’t hurt us because Jesus has conquered death. We will live forever with Him. What will hurt much more ‘later’ is the hell we created by pride and our own sinful passions. 

Friday, November 27, 2015

Back to fasting

With yesterday’s 24 hour respite from fasting (in America) for the only day nationally set aside to thank God for our blessings in the rear view mirror, we return today to the Christmas Fast. The Christmas Fast, meant to prepare our soul to encounter Christ at His Nativity in a few short weeks, is rarely practiced in America, at least from so-called cradle Orthodox. With “the holidays” and “holiday parties” at every corner, it has become increasingly difficult to fast for the forty days before Christmas.

From my perspective the difficulty is what brings the benefit. Fasting in and of itself doesn’t bring much blessing. It in fact is the very willingness to depart for the secular trends that nourishes our soul. Think about it this way; if every time we were faced with the choice between the Church and ‘society,’ we chose society, our soul would sink deeper and deeper into the pit. On the other hand, when we are willing to at least attempt to choose the Church’s way of life over the society, we have already won the first battle, if not the entire war.

When I teach fasting to teenagers I often say, “If you can’t say ‘no’ to a hamburger, what makes you think you can say ‘no’ to sex on a Friday night?” Likewise, if we can’t for a few short weeks care more about our soul and fast in preparation for Christmas rather than attending every holiday party we can fit into our schedule, what makes us think we will be able to choose other holy options in our path? Once we have accepted that society is the way we choose, what chances do we have to be generous rather than greedy, sharing rather than selfish, honest in business rather than shrewd, content rather than contemptuous?

These are the real battles of a Christian in society, and fasting trains our body and soul to choose the holy life of the Church, which has been guided by the Holy Spirit, rather than the secular life of the world, which is guided by sin and evil. So today, the day after Thanksgiving, having given thanks to God, we return to fasting....for the good of our soul.

Have a blessed remainder of the Christmas Fast.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Give thanks to the Lord for He is good! for His mercy endures forever!

Psalm 135 (136)
  1. Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.
  2. Oh, give thanks to the God of gods! For His mercy endures forever.
  3. Oh, give thanks to the Lord of lords! For His mercy endures forever:
  4. To Him who alone does great wonders, For His mercy endures forever;
  5. To Him who by wisdom made the heavens, For His mercy endures forever;
  6. To Him who laid out the earth above the waters, For His mercy endures forever;
  7. To Him who made great lights, For His mercy endures forever --
  8. The sun to rule by day, For His mercy endures forever;
  9. The moon and stars to rule by night, For His mercy endures forever.
  10. To Him who struck Egypt in their firstborn, For His mercy endures forever;
  11. And brought out Israel from among them, For His mercy endures forever;
  12. With a strong hand, and with an outstretched arm, For His mercy endures forever;
  13. To Him who divided the Red Sea in two, For His mercy endures forever;
  14. And made Israel pass through the midst of it, For His mercy endures forever;
  15. But overthrew Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea, For His mercy endures forever;
  16. To Him who led His people through the wilderness, For His mercy endures forever;
  17. To Him who struck down great kings, For His mercy endures forever;
  18. And slew famous kings, For His mercy endures forever --
  19. Sihon king of the Amorites, For His mercy endures forever;
  20. And Og king of Bashan, For His mercy endures forever --
  21. And gave their land as a heritage, For His mercy endures forever;
  22. A heritage to Israel His servant, For His mercy endures forever.
  23. Who remembered us in our lowly state, For His mercy endures forever;
  24. And rescued us from our enemies, For His mercy endures forever;
  25. Who gives food to all flesh, For His mercy endures forever.
  26. Oh, give thanks to the God of heaven! For His mercy endures forever.

Since today is the ONLY day in our Nation’s public life that has been set aside to give thanks to God for our blessings, seen and unseen, I offer this prayer from Be Transfigured Ministries. Have a blessed Thanksgiving.