Sunday, February 22, 2009

Christ’s Time Machine – A Glimpse at Our Future Judgment

In the famous book by HG Wells, “Time Machine” a clever inventor discovers a way to travel across time and soon finds himself over 800,000 years in the future. This book was made into a movie twice in 1960 and again in 2002. The movie was one of my favorites growing up as I often thought about what it would be like as a time traveler. I even made my own time traveler mini-movie in the 1980s. I know I’m not alone. It seems our society is obsessed with knowing the future. We even try to make investments on “futures” in the Stock Market.

It is investing in our future that this morning’s Gospel is about. God gives us a rare glimpse into the future kingdom and how the world is going to be judged. Christ says, “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats.” (Matthew 25.31-21) It’s almost like Matthew has given us a ride on a time machine. It isn’t every day that the Lord shows us the future. In fact Christ says, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only,” (Matthew 24.36) and yet He reveals how judgment will take place in the future.

I doubt any of us would not make a hundred investments in the future if we had a time machine. This morning’s Gospel should be just as promising for us. Last week I spoke about reading the map to eternal life. This morning God gives us the map. “Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’” (Matthew 25.34-36) Do you see the joy in this Gospel reading? Every time we help others we are investing for our future in heaven.

We have been given a ride on a time machine this morning my dear brothers and sisters. We have been given the blessing to see what will get us into heaven. Christ says, “Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” (Matthew 25.40) Christ shows us that when we see Him in others we are investing for our future. If we saw Jesus Christ begging on the street corner wouldn’t we help Him? If we knew Jesus was in McCleod Hospital, I bet we would wait in line to go see Him. In fact, when we are able to look at a beggar on the street and see Christ, then we can “inherit the kingdom prepared for us from the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 25.34)

Listen again to how simple it can be. “The the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick or in prison, and come to You?” (Matthew 25.37-38) There isn’t any long instruction manual. There isn’t a long list of step-by-step rules. There is simply to see Christ in others and help them and we will inherit eternal life. (Matthew 25.46)

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, Great Lent is only one week away. In only 8 days we will begin our intense preparation for Pascha and today the Church is reminding us, by showing us the future, why we do what we do as Orthodox Christians…because we love God. When we love God it is impossible for us to ignore others. When we love God it is impossible for us to allow someone to die of hunger or thirst. What could we possibly do to help?

God doesn’t expect each of us to save the world. That is His job. He has given each one of us talents that can be used to help others. St John Chrysostom says, “He, being gracious, requires only what is within our power.” (Homily LXXIX on Matthew XXV) He doesn’t even expect us to seek out EVERY hungry person and EVERY prisoner. That would be impossible. All God asks is that whenever we encounter people, we treat them as if they were Christ.

We don’t always know who Christ will send to our door asking for help. Sometimes it can be an angel sent to test our faith. Sometimes it can be a demon to temp our pride. Just the other day a woman came to the Community Center asking for money. I don’t know if she was an angel or a demon or just a woman needing help. I didn’t give her any money but I must confess to you that I have been praying she wasn’t an angel. If she was, I sure failed that test.

We will fail at times to live up to the challenge in this morning’s Gospel my dear brothers and sisters. And when we do, God will be waiting for us to return so He can restore us to our full glory. During Great Lent this year, the Church will continue to offer many opportunities for us to focus our attention on God and we should take advantage of these tools to help us along the way.

The tools are prayer, fasting and almsgiving and during Great Lent we are encouraged to increase all three in our lives. Starting tomorrow we are encouraged by the Church to fast from all meat until Pascha – for those of us who do not have a medical condition which requires us to eat meat. During Great Lent there will be services in the Church 5 days each week for prayer and worship. We should come to as many of these services as we can. Finally, we should each take the time to consider a special charity to support this year. Saint John Chrysostom suggests that the money we save by fasting should be given to the poor. In fact, each of our children will be given a special Missions Box for collecting money during Great Lent. Just because our children have the box doesn’t mean we can’t also put in money.

If we each do these few things, then no matter who God sends to us for help, we will know how to help them. In the book “Time Machine” the inventor risks his own life to save the life of a complete stranger whom he meets in the future. Who will we save in our future? Thank God He has given us a glimpse into the future so maybe it can be us who is saved.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Path to Life or the Path to Death, Which do you Choose?

I’ve mentioned before that I was active in Boy Scouts when I was young. One of the lessons I learned as a scout, and I learned many, happened one weekend in the mountains of Colorado. Our troop separated into two teams. Each team was dropped off at a different spot and our goal was to make our way over the mountain and meet the other team for dinner. I was put in charge of the map for our team and we began our journey. It didn’t take long before we realized that we were on a trail that wasn’t on the map, so we gathered together and attempted to relocate ourselves on the map. We argued over which way was correct and eventually found ourselves very lost in the mountains. Meanwhile the other team was already over the mountain and enjoying a relaxing dinner. While we were pitching our tents in the darkness of an unknown valley, the other team was enjoying the evening campfire. The two teams had chosen two very different paths over the mountain.

Our journey through the mountains of Colorado was much like our journey through life. We follow a certain path that we believe will get us to where we want to be. At first, the path seems like the right way until we realize that either the map is wrong or we are lost. It happens slowly at first. Our path was so close to the path on the map we didn’t realize we were headed in the wrong way. We could have turned back, but instead we kept moving until we were totally lost.

This morning’s Gospel has a similar story. The younger son took his inheritance and followed his own path. His path led to sin and death. Saint Luke writes, “The younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want.” (Luke 15.13-14) The younger son could have realized his path was wrong and return to his father, but instead he continued on his way and risked death and took a job feeding a bunch of pigs. “And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.” (Luke 15.16) The younger son was totally lost and near death.

Sometimes we need to be totally lost before we can realize we are on the wrong path. The only way out when we are so totally lost is for us to admit defeat. The younger son quickly realized that he was about to die. At the same time he knew that even his father’s servants had a better life. He realized that the only way to avoid death was to return to his father and admit defeat. He said, “I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.’” (Luke 15.18) Only in complete humility could the younger son realize he was lost. If only he knew how to read a map, maybe he wouldn’t have been lost.

His map, and our map my dear brothers and sisters, of course is the Word of God. Holy Scripture makes very clear the path we are supposed to follow in life. When we don’t understand the map, or worse, when we don’t even read the map, we get lost. In boy scouts our team was trying to get over the mountain, but in life our goal is to have eternal life, or it should be. The path to eternal life is Love.

“And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?’ So he answered and said, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.’ And He said to him, ‘You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.’” (Luke 10.25-28) Nowhere does the Lord say stay focused on yourself and you will be saved. Nowhere does Christ say worry about your own needs. Christ continues to reveal that loving our neighbor can only be expressed in charity to others. This is the path to eternal life. Our map is quite clear. The Word of God is quite clear.

The younger son did not show love for his brother, his father, nor anyone he encountered because he was only thinking for himself. And thinking only about himself led to death rather than life. The younger son wouldn’t even wait for his father’s death to collect his inheritance. “Father give me the portion of goods that falls to me.” (Luke 15.12) He had to have what was his due NOW! What he received was a life of struggle and poverty. Even the pigs ate better than him. We could say he wasn’t reading his map very well.

When the younger son realized he was totally lost, he “came to himself” (Luke 15.17) and decided to return to his father not as a son but as a simple servant. “I am no longer worthy to be called your son,” (Luke 15.19) he decided to say to his father. But there was a surprise waiting for him. His father never stopped waiting for him to return. As soon as the father saw the son in the distance he went running to him “and had compassion on him, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.” (Luke 15.20) The son was immediately restored to his original glory as the father’s son.

We have a decision my dear brothers and sisters. Which path do we as a community want to follow; the path toward eternal life or the path toward death? The choice is ours to make and nobody else’s. Our map is clear if we choose to read it and since it never goes out of date we can trust the path it reveals. The path to eternal life is “Love God with all our heart, mind and soul and our neighbor as ourselves” and charity for others. If we choose the path of the prodigal son and think only of ourselves, whether as a community or as individuals, that path leads to death.

When our team realized we were on the wrong path, we didn’t have the courage to trust the map. Instead we kept insisting the map was wrong. The map wasn’t wrong, we were.