Sunday, June 22, 2008

Confess Christ and Live Forever

Like most of you I can remember a day not too long ago when gas was less than a dollar a gallon. When I was learning how to drive I remember paying 83 cents per gallon, but I also remember when I was a little boy just learning how to pump gas, that the price on the pump was only half what it really cost because it was so expensive. As an adult I know now about the oil embargo years of the 1970’s but I can fondly remember relatively cheap gasoline. Not anymore. Again this week the national average for a gallon of regular gasoline remained above $4 per gallon and there is no end in sight.

There seems to be no end in sight to rising costs of living, everywhere we turn from gasoline to groceries, so it seems appropriate to ask the question, “Now what?” What is the Lord asking of us now that it cost so much to live? At first the answer in this morning’s Gospel seems pretty simple. “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10.32-33) We are supposed to confess Christ in front of others. That sounds easy enough, now what? This is the same question, albeit in different words, the Apostles asked our Lord in this morning’s Gospel Lesson. Peter said, “Lo, we have left everything and followed you, what then shall we have?” (Matthew 19.27) There are two parts to this morning’s Gospel Lesson. First we are encouraged to confess Christ in front of others. Second, and this is the harder of the two for us especially here in America, we are expected to leave everything behind and follow Christ.

What does it mean for us to confess and follow Christ? Let’s start in the context of the Divine Liturgy. In a few moments we will have the opportunity to recite the Creed, “I believe in one God…..” When we do this, we are confessing Christ in front of others. But this is easy isn’t? After all, we are all believers here this morning. Confessing Christ outside the Church is sometimes much harder than inside. There are many ways we can confess Christ outside the Church but I‘ll just name a few: we can do our cross before we eat at a restaurant; we can wear our cross; or, maybe a bit more difficult, we can place an Icon of Christ above our desk at work; or we can give glory to God when others praise our accomplishments.

My brothers and sister in Christ, this is where the two parts of this morning’s Gospel come together. When it gets difficult to confess Christ in front of others we are forced to make a choice. Do we deny Christ just so we aren’t so uncomfortable in front of others or do we confess Him and risk our business or our networking or worst of all, our life? Our Lord tells us, “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, [and I might add or businesses or networking or marketing opportunities] for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.” (Matthew 19.29) This is exactly what we are doing when we choose to confess Christ in front of others especially when it isn’t easy. We are leaving behind, or at least we are willing to leave behind, the comforts of our American life and that shall be blessed by God.

Don’t be fooled. Denying Christ is easier than you may think. Just because we don’t actually deny our faith in Him doesn’t mean that we have confessed Him. Remember the story of Herod in the Book of Acts when he didn’t give God praise after offering a great speech and the people shouted, “The voice of a god and not of a man! Then immediately and angel of the Lord struck him, because he did not give glory to God.” (Acts 12.22)

There is an absolute guarantee that we will be rewarded in heaven not just IF we confess Christ but EVERY TIME we confess Him. This was told to Peter when Peter wanted to know what benefit there was to following Christ, but there can be earthly benefits as well. The Gospel is full of stories of earthly blessings bestowed to those who follow Christ. Just look at the ancient Church and see the great blessings those earliest believers, the martyrs and confessors who preserved the Faith for us to have today. Again we read in Acts, “And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all.” (Acts 4.33) The blessings of our confession will benefit not just us as individuals but the entire Church, here in Florence and throughout the world.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, today we celebrate the Sunday of All Saints, all those who have stood up and confessed Christ in front of others, all those whose names are known and those whose names are not known to us, but are known to God because they too confessed Christ in front of others. As we heard in the Epistle this morning, St Paul tells the Hebrews, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” (Hebrews 12.1)

It is my prayer this morning that we here in Florence can look up at these Icons of the Saints of God as examples and as encouragement for us to confess Christ in front of others as they did. We did not paint these Icons on the dome and hang these Icons on the walls of our church just for looks, but to remind us that others have been where we are and THEY were able to confess Christ. Why can’t we? It is my prayer that we will leave this Church this morning willing to make the difficult choice and confess Christ this week in front of others. When we do this, we and our entire community will be blessed.

In a few moments my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we will participate in the Holy Eucharist and receive into our own bodies the very Body and Blood of God. How blessed we are to be able to be so close to the same God that created the universe. This week, let’s show how grateful we are for everything God has given us and confess Him as Our God and Our Savior in front of others in our businesses, on the street and in the markets and stores of Florence or when we are pumping gas. Grace will pour down upon our Church and our Community. Don’t take my word for it, Christ said it. Everyone who leaves everything behind and follows Christ will be rewarded a hundred fold.

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