Sunday, July 13, 2008

What is the Church?

Tell me if the following dialogue sounds familiar to you? “What are you eating? Baklava, it’s really yummy, want to try some? Hey you’re Greek right, do you believe in Zeus? No, we are Greek Orthodox. Is that Jewish? No, Christian. Do you believe in Jesus? Yes. Oh, I didn’t know that. Can I taste that bakalava? Sure….” For those of us who grew up Greek, that was, and maybe still is, a routine dialogue with our friends, but why?

Why don’t people ask us if they can try our Church instead of our food? Of course you know we can’t really answer that question. We cannot ‘get into’ someone else head to know really what makes them ask questions. I do know that, but there has to be a reason people don’t ask us if they can try our Church. Perhaps maybe it has to do with how we portray ourselves to others. I know as a child I never offered to share my faith with my friends. After all, they weren’t Greek, so why would they want to know about my Church?

The fact is my brothers and sisters in Christ that people DO want to know about our Church. Just ask those people here this morning that are here not because they married a Greek but because they discovered the Orthodox Church on their own. Ask them, and they will tell you that a lot of people “out there” would love to know about what goes on “in here” every Sunday…they just don’t know who to ask. So this morning we are going to talk about what the Church IS in a real sense for our lives today in 21st Century America so maybe, some day, when someone does ask us, we’ll be ready.

In this morning’s Gospel Christ tells the Apostles, “You are the light of the world!” (Matthew 5. 14) and He also calls Himself the Light of the world. (John 8.12) So if Jesus is the Light of the world and His Apostles are the light of the world that means the Church is the light of the world – or Christ Himself – and who is the Church… us! Christ says it also in the Gospel of John, “that they [those who believe in Christ] all may be one, as You Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.” (John 17.21) It is God’s desire that we actually become united with Him.

We become one with Him when we believe in Him and are baptized and Chrismated into His Holy Church. We mystically become THE LIVING BREATHING JESUS CHRIST on the face of the Earth. What a wonderful gift God has given to us. Saint Athanasios the Great said, “God became man so man could become God.” This is not just a saying but a reality. We have been blessed to participate in the divinity of God and all its blessings.

These blessings come with responsibilities and we have responsibilities just as Jesus Christ Himself had. It is these responsibilities that we heard of in both the Gospel and Epistle this morning. “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven.” (Matthew 5.16) and Paul says, “Those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works,” (Titus 3.8) because as the Apostle James said, “Faith without works is dead.” (James 2.26)

My brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus came into the world for one purpose…to save the world from being dead. Our mission, if in fact we are the actual living breathing Jesus on Earth today, can be no less. We are called as Orthodox Christians to save the world – one person at a time. The Gospel lessons the past few weeks have been leading us to this point this morning.

On Pentecost we were told that if we believed in Christ we would never thirst and life would burst from us like a raging fountain. (John 7.38)

The next week we were told that if we confess Christ in front of others we will receive a hundred fold. (Matthew 19.29)

Then we were told if we repent we will receive the keys to the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 16.19)

Last week Jesus told us that if we would only trust Him and not worry that all of our needs would be met. (Matthew 6.33)

And finally this week we are called the light of the world, so how can we sit here this morning and be satisfied with a half empty church when there are thousands of people “out there” in Florence who want to know who Jesus Christ is. Don’t they deserve to be saved? I have said many times in the past month that everything we do as a parish comes from the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the manifestation of our complete unity in the divinity of God and if we are unified with God, really unified with Him, then we should be doing everything with Him…and that means saving the world.

The early Church took this mission very seriously. Many times we read of the Grace of God in the Book of Acts dwelling with the Church “and the Lord added to the Church daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2.47) The early Church was dedicated to caring for each other as if they WERE IN FACT one. And what about Paul? He took his saving message of Jesus Christ outside the early Church and invited others…and thank God he did. If Paul remained only with the Jews, we might actually still believe in Zeus. Thank you Saint Paul. And thank you Saint Paul for offering us such good advice today. “But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions for they are unprofitable and useless.” (Titus 3.9)

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we ARE the light of the world and just as with any other light; we will be seen by others because the world is a dark place. Will they see foolish contentions or good works? And when they see us, will the praise God or call us hypocrites? Half of all Americans go to Church. Here in Florence, that means there are almost 40,000 people who either don’t know who Jesus Christ is or just don’t know who to ask.

This week we began the preparation for our Greek Festival. Several thousand Florentines will come looking for a Greek Festival. When they come in September for lunch and ask what are we eating, will we just tell them about baklava or will we allow the light of our good works shine so they see Jesus Christ?

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