Sunday, July 12, 2009

Caution!!!!! Dive at your Own Risk! (on Matthew 8.28-9.1)

When I was in sixth grade my class went on a weekend fieldtrip into the Rocky Mountains. One of the activities we enjoyed was an afternoon at a large swimming pool and at that pool was a high dive. I had never been off a high dive before. My friends convinced me to climb up the ladder and there I stood at the end of the diving board looking down into the deep water where I was sure I would drown to death if I jumped. I thought to myself that someone would have to be crazy to jump off that board into the deep….

Last Tuesday, our society took that jump off the deep end. But unlike a child that tip-toes to the end of the diving board and peeks over the edge of the high dive only to run back to the ladder in fear, our society took a flying leap off the deep end with its eyes closed. With the death of Michael Jackson, the so-called King of Pop, our society has finally made the jump into the abyss with thousands of broadcast hours on hundreds of stations and in countless movie theaters and street corners throughout the world being dedicated to the media coverage of his death, autopsy, estate battles, memorials services and public tributes, and there is sure to be more to come. Any effort to direct attention away from Michael Jackson is considered disrespectful by many or at the very least cold hearted by some.

Cold hearted are the words that should come to mind when we hear this morning’s Gospel story. After Jesus healed two men who had been demon possessed for many years, he faced a crowd of cold hearted, selfish, money hungry herdsmen. The demons were so fierce that no one could pass by without being in danger, and rather than be happy for their fellow human beings, “Behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus. And when they saw Him, the begged Him to depart from their region.” (Matthew 8.34) And why? All because Jesus allowed the demons to enter the pigs, “and suddenly the whole herd of swine ran violently down the steep place into the sea, and perished in the water.” (Matthew 8.32)These men who had been watching their fellow human beings suffer for so many years cared more about the lost profit of the pigs than the saved lives of those two men. Talk about cold hearted.

Doesn’t this sound similar to last week’s news? I heard in one radio report last week that t-shirt vendors were complaining when the expected crowds at Michael Jackson’s memorial service were smaller than expected because they couldn’t sell enough t-shirts. T-shirt sales at a memorial service? Is that what our society has come to? Yes…..I’m sorry to say that is exactly what our society has come to and it is no surprise. The memorial service was for the “King of Pop” after all – a man who had given his life over to drugs, scandalous living, and sleepless nights to please a crowd of complete strangers who were paying very large ticket prices …. just to be buried in a 24K gold casket at the young age of 50. This was the last chance to cash in for so many people who had made their fortune off of Michael Jackson and they were not going to stand for any loss of profit. Even the City of Los Angeles, who I’m sure made millions in tax revenue over the years because of Michael Jackson concerts, is asking the public to help pay for the more than $1 Million security costs. If this isn’t off the deep end….I don’t know what is.

My brothers and sisters in Christ it is not too late! Even if our society takes that leap off the deep end, we don’t have to go over with it. We can be like child who errs on the side of caution and returns to the ladder. We can turn back toward God now while we still have a chance. Even with the demons of the world fighting against us as they fought against the two men in this morning’s Gospel, God will protect us. Look again at the story this morning. We know the two men were being tormented terribly by the demons, but the demons have no power against us! We are protected by God as long as it is our will to be protected by God. The demons would have killed the men if they could. Instead they had to settle for killing a herd of pigs. “There is no one who does not enjoy the benefit of God’s providence” (Homily XXVIII On Matthew, sec 4)

Just like God protected the two men, God can protect us. He has more than enough power. But just like the herdsmen lost their entire herd, God can also let us lose everything if we care more about making a profit than we do about our fellow human beings who are suffering around us. And we can’t just think that somebody else is going to help. Every day more and more of our society takes the same plunge as those poor pigs over the deep end.

My brothers and sisters, as a society we are no different from the herdsmen in this morning’s Gospel and we are watching our brothers and sisters suffer around us while we risk losing everything. Who here has not been consumed with the news since last October about the suffering economy? Have we been just the least bit concerned about the suffering of others, who are complete strangers, around us? You would think that our churches would be filled to capacity, standing room only, there is so much fear about bankruptcy and lost pensions and declining housing markets. But as a society our eyes continue to be focused upon our wealth and the daily losses of our investments and spending as many days as possible at the beach while at the same time lives around us, like the recent story about our own Governor, continue to wallow in the mud with the pigs. Don’t look now but the pigs are headed over the cliff….

We are standing at the end of that high dive peaking over the edge at the deep below. We have a choice to make…turn back toward God or jump with the pigs…and there is only one result to that jump….death.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Don’t Take My Word for It, Trust in the Word of God

Most all of us, if we have watched one late night movie or daytime TV show in the past ten years, know about OxiClean. We know about its cleaning powers because of the words of one man – Billy Mays. Billy Mays was known as a pioneer in the infomercial business on cable TV and was able to convince millions of viewers like us to use OxiClean to get out tough stains with just air and water. His infomercials were fun to watch and if you have ever used OxiClean you know how well the product works. Those of us who watch late night movies will miss his energetic voice and words of persuasion.

Words carry a lot of weight in our society. We are constantly being bombarded by the words of others and normally they are trying to sell us something, either a product or an opinion. Unfortunately many people use words to hurt others rather than to help. Many people use words to lift themselves above others rather than to help those around them. And words can hurt when they are used to make fun of others or to spread rumors about someone’s personal struggles and mistakes in life. It’s because there are so many painful words around us that people enjoyed listening to Billy Mays. His words were always meant to help and make our life a better place – at least cleaner and sometimes good as new.

This morning’s Gospel is about words that help – words that restore something to be good as new in fact. “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed.” (Matthew 8.8) These are the words of the centurion when Jesus promised to go and heal his servant. These are words of deep faith in the healing power of Jesus Christ. With these words the centurion was confessing that he knew Jesus was the same God that created the entire universe. The centurion must have known that no mere human being could just will something to be done. Even his own orders had to done by somebody. He confessed, “For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” (Matthew 8.9)These were the words of a man who understood the power of words but more importantly he knew the Power of THE Word!

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1.1) With these words, Saint John the Evangelist begins his Gospel. The centurion must have known through the Holy Spirit that Jesus was the Word of God. Nothing else can explain his faith that Jesus only had to “speak a word” and his servant would be healed. This is why the Gospel says, “When Jesus heard it [the confession of the centurion], He marveled, and said to those who followed, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel.’… ‘Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you.’ And his servant was healed that same hour.” (Matthew 8.10,13) What exactly was the centurion’s faith?

The first answer to this question rests, I believe, in the opening two verses of the story: “Now when Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, pleading with Him, saying, ‘Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘I will come and heal him.’” (Matthew 8.5-6) The centurion had the faith to approach Jesus. Don’t forget, the centurion wasn’t a Jew but a Roman soldier who was supposed to hate and kill Jesus. When he approached Jesus he didn’t ask for his own benefit but for the sake of his servant. In fact he pleaded with Jesus because his servant was suffering. The centurion revealed his faith in God even before Jesus promised to go and heal the servant. Although the centurion was not a Jew, he knew the commandment of God: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind … and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22.37-39) The second answer to this question follows Christ’s promise to “come and heal him.” The centurion had enough faith to know that if Jesus wanted to, He would only have to “speak a word” and it would come to pass. What great faith he had in God.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ we are called this morning to have such a great faith in God. We have an advantage that the centurion didn’t have. We know the whole story about Jesus. We know that He was raised from the dead and performed many miracles while He was on Earth. We know that when two or three are gathered in His name He is there. (Matthew 18.20) We know that “He healed many who were sick with various diseases.” (Mark 1.34) and that Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” (Luke 5.31)

Who among us is not sick? Who among us is righteous? The Church is a hospital and we are all sick, either physically or mentally or spiritually, and we all need the healing that comes from God. The only thing God requires of us is to have enough faith to approach Him and ask or “just say a word.” The Church has a long history of being a place of healing. In his Epistle, Saint James (Iakovos) writes:

“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders [Presbyters] of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins he will be forgiven. Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” (James 5.13-16)

We can see then that according to Saint James and the witness of the Church we are healed in and as a community. The servant was healed because of the actions of others in his behalf. He was healed because the centurion took action and approached Jesus and spoke words of faith. We will be healed when we take action and come to God and His Church and as a community we pray for each other that we may be healed. God has already promised that he would come and heal us. All we need to do is “speak a word” of faith and He will come and heal us.

Just like OxiClean restores clothes to brightness when it combines with water, we will be restored to brightness when we combine the water of our baptism with the action of our faith and approach God. We’ve seen the power of OxiClean, now let’s trust in the power and promise of God.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Just Say the Word

“Then God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light.” (Genesis 1.3) God created the entire universe using words. In fact, God is the only one who can accomplish a task with a mere word. The rest of us depend upon the actions of others. The centurion said to the Lord, “But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, ‘Go’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this’ and he does it.” (Matthew 8.8-9) When the centurion gave his word someone did the work. But when God says the word, it just happens. “Then Jesus said to the centurion, ‘Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you.’ And his servant was healed that same hour.” (Matthew 8.13)

This same God, who created the universe with a word and who healed the servant with mere words and who took on flesh becoming human with us, is calling out to us today with words, the words of the Gospel, and offering us His hand. If we believe in Him He will care for all our needs. Jesus says, “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat? Or ‘What shall we drink?’ or What shall we wear? But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” (Matthew 6.31-33) God has promised to take complete care of us. “Are we not of more worth than the birds of the air?” (see Matthew 6.26) He is waiting for us to just say the word – “I believe” – and He will take care of the rest.