Sunday, July 27, 2008

We Have Been Called to the Witness Stand

One of the many responsibilities we have as American citizens is to serve on Jury Duty when the need arises. We are guaranteed a trial by our peers for serious crimes we may be accused of committing. As members of a jury we are expected to listen to the evidence provided by witnesses paraded in front of us until finally the decision of innocence rests wholly upon us member of the jury. Some very famous movies have been made about this process. Two of my favorites are “Twelve Angry Men” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.” These movies, and other stories like them, focus a great deal of attention on the witness stand.
It is witness, or μαρτυρἰα, that the Church engages us with this morning. Today we celebrate the feast of St Panteleimon the Great Martyr and physician who was martyred in 305AD for giving God the credit for the healing he accomplished in his ministry. It is appropriate that we also have the story of the Paralytic in this morning’s Gospel to focus our attention on both witness and healing.
Let’s look at the context of this morning’s Gospel to see what we may take with us this week in our struggle to save the world and bring God’s people to His home. In the Gospel we see a huge crowd gathered around Jesus who was teaching. Over walk these men carrying their friend who cannot walk for himself. “When Jesus saw their faith, [the faith of the men carrying their friend] He said to the paralytic, your sins are forgiven, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.” (Matthew 9.2,6) The paralytic just laid there without saying a word. It was the faith of the friends that healed the paralytic. In the accounts of this story in Mark (Mark 2.1-12) and Luke (Luke 5.17-26), we are told that the friends actually climbed up on the roof, cut a hole in the roof, and lowered their friend down in front of Christ. Their action was like taking the witness stand and declaring their faith in the power of Christ to heal.
Just as these four men were witnesses on behalf of the paralytic who was healed, so too are we called to be witnesses on behalf of the Gospel so that others may be saved. St Paul tells us in this morning’s Epistle, “Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that you have heard from me among witnesses, commit these to faithful men.” (2 Timothy 2.1-2)
My brothers and sisters in Christ, we have been called to the witness stand. Society continues to accuse God and His Church of being out of touch with reality or being too old fashioned. The Church teaches sexual purity and marital fidelity while society teaches free love and easy divorce. We have been called to the witness stand. Society urges us to build palaces to ourselves and cheat others out of their fair share while the Church teaches moderation and sacrifice. We have been called to the witness stand not to defend Christ but to witness His Love and compassion to the world.
Our witness is not in a court of law but the court of public opinion, as lawyers are so fond of saying. Every day we are called to the witness stand and our actions, like the friends in this morning’s Gospel, bear our true hearts. The Gospel of Matthew says, “But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, ‘Why do you think evil in your hearts?’” (Matthew 9.4) What will He find in our hearts? It is not enough to come to Church every Sunday and return to the world without some impact on our actions. There is a reason the saying is, “Actions speak louder than words.” The actions of St Panteleimon and the four friends of the paralytic spoke loud and clear!
My brothers and sisters in Christ, let’s speak up this week, not in words, but in action! Right here in Florence, there are many people who need our help. The Harvest Hope Food Bank and Manna House are in great need of food. Supplies for both these are dwindling. I spoke with Harvest Hope on Thursday and they said their food shelves will be empty by Tuesday. That is only two days left of food for those who need it most. If we allow that to happen, as Christians that will speak loudly about our hearts.
Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love? Feed my sheep.” (John 21.15-19) In the ancient Church the faithful would bring food and other supplies to Liturgy with them for those in need. It the ancient Church there would be piles of food and it was the job of the Deacons to distribute the food to the widows and others in need following Liturgy. According to the Book of Acts, when this was done, “Then the word of God spread, and the number of disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem.” (Acts 6.1-7) If we are called to “bring My people to My home,” (Deuteronomy 4.10) as the Archbishop charged us with in Washington, D.C., how can we ignore this very important part of our ministry? We cannot.
I went shopping yesterday with Harry and bought $100 worth of food. Join me by going shopping tomorrow or look in your pantry and bringing food to the Church and on Tuesday we will bring it to Harvest Hope. There is a flyer here with a list of the types of food they need most.
We have also been collecting money in the Outreach Collection Box this month for Manna House. I am ashamed to say there is only a few dollars in that box. Manna House told me they will purchase dried beans with the money we send them next week. Please consider adding funds to the box before you leave today so their shelves don’t go empty.
This week we have been called to the witness stand and our actions will reveal our hearts. The hearts of St Panteleimon and the friends from this morning’s Gospel were clear – God was able to heal. As Orthodox Christians we know the power of God. He has blessed us with this beautiful Church and, for the most part, a healthy community. We know that God has the power to heal the suffering of other people. The Gospel and Epistle both remind us that we are called to witness these blessings so that others may be saved as well.
When we are called to the witness stand, what will people see in our hearts? We won’t have Atticus Finch to fight for our innocence. We will have only our actions, and actions will speak louder than words.

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