Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Pain of Selfishness Runs Deep

In the story of the rich man and Lazarus we find a deep chasm between them in death. Both have died and both are in the presence of God but both are not in Heaven. In death the rich man was suffering while Lazarus was comforted in the bosom of Abraham. In life the rich man spent each day ignoring the needs of Lazarus while he himself enjoyed a life “clothed in purple and fine linen, and he fared sumptuously every day.” (Luke 16.19) His selfishness blinded him to the needs of Lazarus who was laying begging at his door for a few crumbs. In life the rich man was comforted while Lazarus suffered.

In death the suffering rich man calls out to God saying, “’Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’” (Luke 16.24-26) Even in death the rich man ignored the needs of Lazarus for his own comfort. His selfishness was so great that even the torment of hell was not enough to convince him to have compassion on Lazarus. According to the Church Fathers, the great gulf represents the impossibility of repentance in death. Repentance is only possible in life.

Selfishness, looking out only for our own needs, creates a great gulf between us and those who are in need of our love and assistance. By looking outward to the needs of others rather than inward to our own needs we are able to defeat selfishness in our lives and experience the joy that comes from loving others. When we love others more than ourselves, then we will be rewarded by God in Heaven. Then God will say to us, “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 25.34)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Addiction is no Match for God

I found this story on the internet about a complete stranger named Bill:

“I remember waking up in the morning. My first thought would be ####, not again, not the fact that woke up with a headache and feeling sick, but the fact that I woke up at all, again. I knew that I was in for yet one more day of doing the same thing over again. I would then look at the ceiling and if there was ceiling above me that was a good sign if it looked familiar that was better sign because it meant that I made it home that would take a walk around my apartment. I would try to piece together the night before by scene were my clothes and up and whether rate kicked in the front door again. Wake up, work, get messed up, black out, pass out. That was my day each day every day.”

Addiction is a crippling reality for many people in our society, even for some in our Church, but it is not limited to drugs and alcohol. Some people are addicted to power, gambling, eating, shopping, the internet, video games, pornography, smoking, work, or even sex. These addictions in ways similar to drugs and alcohol create an environment where we sometimes feel out of control, like we are not controlling our own bodies. What we are addicted to becomes our only source of comfort in a world where stress combined with a feeling of loneliness and isolation can drive us into a life of depression and fear. But there is hope.

There is hope in this morning’s Gospel story about a man possessed by so many demons, that like someone with an addiction he often lost control of his own body. “There met Him a man from the city who had demons for a long time. And he wore no clothes, nor did he live in a house but in the tombs. For it [the demon] had often seized him, and he was kept under guard, bound with chains and shackles; and he broke the bonds and was driven by the demon into the wilderness.” (Luke 8.27,29) Doesn’t this sound just like Bill’s story? Haven’t we heard many stories about addicts who have lost their homes and walk the streets with little or no clothing because their addiction has driven them out into the wilderness?

St Cyril of Alexandria writes, “In great misery and nakedness, he wandered among the graves of the dead. He was in utter wretchedness, leading a disgraceful life.” (Commentary on Luke, Homily 44) St Cyril could just have easily been saying this about any person suffering with an addiction in our own city. And it’s not just addiction. He could be saying this about a variety of issues in our life. There are many things that sometimes take control over our lives. Even work, if we allow it, can take over our lives and force us to spend less time with our family and God than we would like. And that’s the point….IF we allow it.

“Now a herd of many swine was feeding there on the mountain. So they [demons] begged Him that He would permit them to enter them. And he permitted them.” (Luke 8.32) The demons had no power unless God allowed it. Listen to what happened to swine: “Then the demons went out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd ran violently down the steep place into the lake and drowned.” (Luke 8.33) If God had allowed it the demons would have driven the man over the cliff too, but He didn’t allow it. God was protecting that man because He knew the man wanted to be saved.

The Gospel tells us the man met Jesus. He didn’t wait for Jesus to come heal him. Instead, he found enough courage and strength to drag his body to Jesus Christ so that he could be healed. The demons didn’t have enough power to stop him and they don’t have enough power to stop us. Demons only have as much power as we give them. If we want to be healed from our addictions of life or if we want to be freed from the slavery of life that keeps us away from our family and God, then we must find the courage and strength to come to God so He can heal us; and God will help us with that too. God has all the power in the world to do what He wants.

If He wanted, God could say (He could even just will it) to this Church, “Lights, go out, and they would.” If God desires something, nothing can stop Him but He doesn’t force us to come to Him. God has given us the greatest gift, the gift of freedom, so He will never force us to do anything against our will. He even allows us to use our freedom to turn away from Him. That is how much He loves us. And too many times we do use our freedom to walk away from God just like the crowd in this morning’s Gospel. “Then the whole multitude of the surrounding region of the Gadarenes asked Him to depart from them.” (Luke 8.37)

St Ambrose said, “People are the authors of their own tribulation. If someone did not live like swine, the devil would never receive power over him” (Expositions of the Gospel of Luke, 6.48-49) We can presume from this and from the Gospel that the man had allowed the demons to enter him in the past. It isn’t so hard to believe. There are many times, even today, that people play with evil. Even something that seems innocent like reading the coffee grounds after a cup of Greek coffee. Even when we pretend “just for fun” to read the future or speak with fortune tellers, we are inviting evil into our lives. Whenever we choose to allow demons into our lives then they can control us. As I said, the point is IF we allow them.

So we must not allow them. It is always easier to stay away from evil then to remove evil once we invite it into our lives. We must take time every day for prayer. We must fast and help the needy. Don’t forget the warning of Christ, “However, this kind does not out except by prayer and fasting.” (Matthew 17.21) There are certain evils in the world that can only be defeated with prayer and fasting. With prayer, fasting and almsgiving we can avoid evil in our lives.

But sometimes we make mistakes and get into habits that take control over our life. Do we want to be set free from the demons in our lives? Do want to get the control of our lives back? If we do, then we must find a way to drag ourselves to God and ask Him to save us. We can’t do it on our own and God won’t force us. We have to ask Him and then He will use His power to cast the demons out of our lives. If we have addictions in our lives like alcohol or drugs or work or any other habit that is controlling our lives, then all we have to do is find enough courage to come to the Church and ask God to help us. And He will. And if we have friends who need help, we can bring them too. God will help anyone who asks, “For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3.23)

He will help us just as He helped the man in this morning’s Gospel. We have examples in our very own community how God has used His power to heal the sick and He will do it again. All we have to do is ask.

After Jesus healed the man He said, “Return to your own house, and tell what great things God has done for you.” (Luke 8.39) This is exactly what Bill from our story is doing. Bill has been sober for sixteen years and runs a website to help people with addictions. God has done great things in our Community; the least we could do is go out and tell everyone what great things God has done for us, and then bring our friends who need help to the Church so they can ask God to make them better.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Danger of Playing with Evil

Nobody argues that playing with fire isn’t dangerous. We all know many house fires are caused by children playing with matches or adults being careless with lit cigarettes. This is why millions of dollars are spent each year teaching fire prevention…and yet still we need fire fighters. I suppose it is because sometimes we let our guard down and forget the lessons we learned about proper fire safety and fire prevention. In fact it is when “we least expect it” that fire can destroy our homes and cause disaster in our lives.

The same is true for evil although we don’t always admit it. When we play with evil or are careless with evil, just as in the case of fire, we can be destroyed. “There met Him a certain man who had demons for a long time. And he wore no clothes, nor did he live in a house but in the tombs. For it had often seized him, and he was kept under guard, bound with chains and shackles; and he broke the bonds and was driven by the demon into the wilderness.” (Luke 8.27,29) This is the affect of evil when we allow it into our lives. We are led into the wilderness and suffer.

We should understand that evil can only take control of our lives if we or God allows it. “So they [demons] begged Him that He would permit them to enter them [swine]. And He permitted them.” (Luke 8.32) The demons could not even enter a herd of pigs without God’s permission and they cannot enter our lives without His or OUR permission. But too often we not only allow them…we invite them every time with encourage, participate in, or tolerate works of the devil and his demons. Once we have allowed demons into our lives, we have given them the power to control us. The following list are just a few examples of dangerous activities that invite evil into our lives: Reading horoscopes; Reading coffee grounds (even if “for fun”); Having or allowing our fortune to be read by a fortune teller; Using mind-altering drugs which alter our judgment; Wearing or encouraging scary monster or demon costume for Halloween.

When we participate in these activities or even “approve of those who practice them” (Romans 1.32) then we are playing with fire and we will get burned. Playing with matches isn’t safe and neither is playing with evil. Just look what happened to Adam and Eve when they played with the Devil…

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Power of God Has Been Given to Us

There is a story about a Russian Cathedral. In 1883 the Cathedral of Christ the Savior was consecrated along the banks of the Moskva River in Moscow. At the time it was a tribute not only to Christ Himself but to the power of God that had protected the Russian people against the 600,000 invaders led by Napoleon. In that Cathedral Tsars were crowned and buried. It was the focus of all Russia as the Mother Church until it was destroyed by Stalin in 1931 to make room for a monument to Socialism and the Soviet Empire. During the construction of the Palace of Soviets, as it was to be called, constant obstacles prevented the completion of the new monument. The constant flooding and sinking of the foundations coupled with the constant lack of funding caused the Soviet Government to abandon the project and the site remained empty until it was finally converted into a swimming pool in 1958. For fifty years the Cathedral had stood as one of the largest Orthodox Christian Churches in the world: a testimony to the Power of God and His protection of His people. In 1995, after more than 60 years of Soviet attempts to crush the Faith of Orthodox Christians, following the end of the Soviet Empire, the Cathedral was rebuilt on its original site and stands today as a symbol of the Triumph of Faith in Christ and the Power of God.

There are some great parallels between the history of the Orthodox Church in Russia and this morning’s Gospel. “Then the seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.’ And He said to them, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightening from heaven. Behold I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you.” (Luke 10.17-19)

Now listen to the words of the Russian Emperor Alexander I in 1812: “To signify Our gratitude to Divine Providence for saving Russia from the doom that overshadowed Her and to preserve the memory of the unheard of efforts, loyalty and love for our Faith and Homeland displayed during these difficult days by the Russian people, We hereby intend to build a Cathedral in honor of Christ the Savior in our capital city of Moscow, wherein the appropriate Decree will be issued in due time. May the Almighty bless Our intentions. May our intentions be fulfilled. May the Cathedral stand for many centuries. Let the incense of thanksgiving, together with love and a desire to imitate the feats of our ancestral feats, burn before the holy altar of God for many generations.” (

The Russian people just like the seventy apostles understood that their protection and power to defeat evil came directly from God and not from their own abilities or wisdom. But if this example of God’s power isn’t enough to convince us maybe this story will. A member of our parish family was diagnosed earlier this year with a tumor between his eyes. After months of study, a recent MRI revealed no tumor. Praise God. There has been no surgery and yet today there is no tumor. What do we think? Was this a coincidence or a miracle? The Power of God is working in our community! There are other examples that I have mentioned before but this remains the most amazing. Praise God for his healing.

There are so many reasons for us to rejoice in the Power of God and we should rejoice, but Christ says, “Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10.20) It is no coincidence that miracles continue to happen in our Community. Whenever we choose to trust in the Word of God and live our lives and direct our parish according to His will for us in our lives, He will protect us. He protects us because our names are written in Heaven. Our names are written in heaven because we have become children of God as He promised. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right be become children of God: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1.12-13)

Jesus Christ says, “He who hears you hears Me… I thank you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and revealed them to babes.” (Luke 10.21) For those of us who have been blessed to hear the word of God in our hearts God has revealed His wisdom. To those who have not heard Him in their hearts, those of the world, His wisdom is foolishness. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.’” (1 Corinthians 18-19)

My brothers and sisters the wisdom of the world is destined to fail because the world has Satan as its father. (John 8.44 “You are of your father, the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do.”) Jesus said, “Now is the judgment of this world. Now the ruler of this world will be cast out.” (John 12.31)We have a choice to make: do we wish to follow Jesus Christ who has the power to defeat evil, or do we wish to follow the wisdom of the world which is destined to fail? The choice is ours to make, but it comes with consequences.

The Lord has already said that the wisdom of the world will be turned upside-down. The Lord has already said it will be destroyed. If we choose the wisdom of the world, we will sink like the foundations of the Palace of the Soviets. If on the other hand we choose to follow the Gospel of Christ and live like He wants us to live, we will rise like the walls of the New Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow which holds more than 10,000 people and is the largest Orthodox Christian Church in the world.

This morning’s Gospel tells us about the seventy apostles that Christ sent out to preach the good news of salvation. The Good News is this: God became man so that man could, by grace, become what God is by nature.” (See 2 Peter 1.4) God has united humanity to divinity and this is the reason to rejoice. This is salvation. This is the reason miracles continue to happen for us in our lives and our parish. This is the power of God.

Listen again to the words of Jesus Christ: “He who hears you hears Me.” God has chosen to allow us to work with him together to bring the Good News of salvation to the world. Do you believe in the Power of God? Then go out this week and share the Good News with your family and friends, your coworkers, and anyone you meet and invite them to Church. God has come to save the world from destruction and it is up to us to help get the word out. And when we do, “nothing by any means can hurt us.” (Luke 10.19)

Friday, October 16, 2009

From the News of Our Times…

The following is a recent news article from the Associated Press about a teenage girl who converted from Islam to Christianity and her fears of being killed as a result. Unfortunately the US Government is set to make a ruling on whether the teenager should be returned to her parents despite her fear of death. With the recent publicity of hate crimes laws in Washington, D.C., one would think the government would want to protect this teenage girl. I am sharing this article with you not to show the faith of the teenager, which is obviously strong, but to show the willingness of the United States Government to allow the discrimination of Christians just because of their beliefs. This is not about poor job performance or the refusal to seek medical care; it is the systematic attempt of the Devil to use our society to defeat the Church. We are blessed to know however that the Devil has been defeated, is defeated every day when we choose to follow Jesus Christ, and will be defeated finally when Christ returns to judge the world.

Ohio Judge: State to Take Custody of Christian Convert Runaway
Thursday , October 15, 2009
Ohio can take custody of a girl who ran away to Florida, saying she feared she'd be killed for converting to Christianity from Islam, a judge ruled Thursday in a decision clarifying the girl's legal status once she returns.

The Franklin County Children's Services agency will take custody of Rifqa Bary pending the confirmation of her immigration status or her return to Ohio, according to the order by Franklin County Juvenile Court Magistrate Mary Goodrich.

The decision was supported by lawyers for the girl and for her parents, natives of Sri Lanka. Franklin County opposed the request for custody, saying it was premature until the girl was in Ohio.

Bary, 17, has been in foster care in Orlando. A Florida judge on Tuesday said he planned to send her to Ohio once he receives immigration and education documents.
Bary ran away from her parents' Columbus-area home in July. A Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation found no credible threats to the girl.
Her father, Mohamed Bary, has said the family had asked Rifqa to stop proselytizing at school because they didn't feel it was an appropriate activity there. They also told her she had an obligation to study her original faith first, before choosing another, her father said. But he denies ever threatening her.

A foster home has already been picked out for the girl once she arrives, Bonnie Vangeloff, Bary's court-appointed lawyer, told the judge.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Non-Orthodox Christians Receiving Holy Communion

I have been asked a number of times over the past several months to explain the announcement made prior to Holy Communion each Sunday regarding non-Orthodox Christians and Holy Communion. I will offer a brief explanation of why we as Orthodox Christians do not share “open communion” with other Christians. I pray these words will help rather than hinder others to understand our Holy Orthodox Church.

“Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” (John 17.11)

Shortly before His passion on the Cross, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ prayed these words that the Church would be united in the same manner as the Holy Trinity – a communion of individuals unique and distinct yet in total harmony as a community of love. The unity of the Church has been expressed throughout the centuries by the sharing of the chalice and the Holy Eucharist. It is true many non-Orthodox Christians like Orthodox Christians believe that in the chalice is the real Body and Blood of Jesus Christ and that by receiving it we commune with God Himself in a mystical way.

But this belief in the contents of the chalice is where the similarity among Churches ends. In fact some Churches don’t even share that belief with the Orthodox Church. In our Orthodox understanding of the Eucharist, the sharing of the cup is itself possible only in unity and is seen as a result of unity rather than an agent to bring unity. In other words, as Orthodox Christians we are able to share the chalice because we are already united rather than sharing the chalice to become united.

All are welcome to attend our Divine Liturgy, but to share the common chalice which is an expression of existing unity when in fact there is no unity would be dishonest and I have yet to meet anyone who, being honest, can claim that Christianity is united with over 25,000 denominations of Christianity in the world today all claiming to be the True Church.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Tending the Garden of Our Souls, Sowing Seeds for Christ

Driving around town you can’t miss the fact that it is time to pick the cotton. Growing up in the North I never knew what cotton looked like in the fields let alone how it was picked so I was very excited last year when we moved to the South and I saw my first cotton field. It was all white like fresh snow one day and the next…it was gone. Only large bales of cotton sit in the field waiting to be transported to the mill. This year I’ve been watching the fields along Ebenezer Road and noticed something different about the cotton, it was small and the field was covered with weeds. Then I saw the cotton fields outside of Darlington and the cotton was huge without a single weed. In the fields covered in weeds you couldn’t even see the cotton but in the fields without the weeds, it looked like fresh snow which is what I remembered from last year’s crop. Then I thought about my garden at home, which right now is covered in weeds and I realized weeds and gardens don’t mix. A good crop needs fresh fertile soil without weeds.

And then it hit me. This morning’s Gospel is about gardens and weeds. The Gospel says, “A sower went out to sow his seed…” (Luke 8.5ff) The Lord tells us that this parable is about the Word of God, Jesus Christ, being sent by the Father to all of us. Each of us hears His Word. “Those by the wayside are the ones who hear, then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts. But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the words with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.” (Luke 8.12, 15) All dirt, whether it has been trampled down by traffic or covered with weeds begins as good rich fertile soil, and those of us who like to garden know, that it takes effort and constant attention to keep weeds from growing in our garden. It takes regular maintenance to keep the ground soft and not packed down by the weather.

The same thing can be said about our soul. Each of us was created by God with a pure innocent soul and without proper attention our soul can become hardened by the pressures of life. Like the cotton fields along Ebenezer which are covered with weeds our soul can become covered by sins which hide the fruit we are trying to produce for God. And just like a garden takes work, so does our soul. Gardeners have special tools to help them with weeds and rocks and hard packed dirt and there are tools for our soul too: Prayer, Fasting, Almsgiving, Confession and Holy Communion. Each of these tools is needed to keep our hearts and soul rich and fertile so we can bear fruit to the glory of God. Without a hoe, a spade, a pitch fork, water and even some good old spring cleaning, a garden will remain a field of weeds. Without our spiritual tools, our souls will remain hard and without fruit.

It doesn’t take much time in the garden before you realize that if you let the garden go too far, it becomes harder and harder to produce a good crop. When you spend time in the garden every day pulling weeds and caring for your crops they will grow large and full and produce lots of good fruit. The same is true with our soul. If we allow sins to continue they can grow out of control and take over our lives. Many people suffer with different types of addictions: food addictions, chemical addictions, behavioral addictions, emotional addictions. These all share the same reality. The longer we continue in our addictive behavior the harder it is to quit.

When a garden has gotten out of control sometimes it’s easier to just “till it under” and start over. Every season we till the weeds and old crops under and start our new crop in the fresh fertile soil. When our souls have become covered and overgrown with sin we can also start over. When we go to Confession with our Spiritual Father we ask God to forgive us for the sins we have committed and He always does. All sin is forgiven by God when we ask Him. The only sin that God does not forgive is the sin that we do not ask forgiveness for. After Confession with our Father Confessor our soul is clean and fertile and ready to receive the Word of God and bear fruit in our lives. Just like a garden needs to be turned over ever season, we need Confession every season.

A good garden requires constant working of the soil and plants to produce a good crop and so does our soul. With prayer, fasting and almsgiving we work the soil of our soul to keep it fresh and without sin. When we fast, say the Fathers of the Church, we cannot want. When we do not want, we cannot be selfish. When we are not selfish, then we can be charitable to others. With prayer our Lord reveals to us through His Word, Holy Scripture and the Church, how He wants us to live. Do we remember the words of Christ last week? “But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return.” (Luke 6.35)

Isn’t it easier to keep weeds out of a garden than to remove them once they have taken over? The same is true for our souls. Nobody can deny it is easier to not begin a sinful behavior than to stop once it becomes a habit. Which is easier: to not smoke or to stop smoking after twenty years? And the longer someone smokes the harder it is to quit. When we see a weed it is better to remove it than to allow it to grow and the same goes for our soul or we risk having no fruit in our lives. Listen again to what Jesus says, “Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and our choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity.” (Luke 8.14)

Of course no garden will grow, no matter how much work we do, unless it receives water. Without water there is no life and without Holy Communion, the Eucharist, there is no life. “Then Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.” (John 6.53) No matter what we think and no matter what we have been told in the past we cannot live without receiving Holy Communion…often. I hear all the time, “Father, I was taught you should only receive Holy Communion four times each year.” This is wrong. What would happen if we only ate four times per year? Well….we would never live to eat a second time; that’s for sure. If we wish to live then we must receive Holy Communion often.

The ancient Church, with the guidance of the Holy Apostles who walked and talked and ate with Jesus Christ, knew very well what Jesus Christ said. “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (Acts 2.42) The Holy Apostles taught, “There are two ways, one of life and one of death; and between the two ways there is a great difference.” (The Didache)

The Apostles taught that prayer, fasting, almsgiving, confession and Holy Communion were required in order to follow the way of life. If we want to be good gardeners we would follow the advice of a good gardener. If we want to be followers of Jesus Christ and become “sons and daughters of the Most High,” (Luke 6.35) then surely we would follow the advice of His Holy Apostles who were found worthy “to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God.” (Luke 8.10)

Only one question remains: Do we want our souls covered in weeds so we can’t even see the fruit, or do we want to have clean fertile soil so we can “bear fruit with patience?” If we want to bear fruit in our lives we must follow the teachings of the Holy Apostles and use the tools of the Church: prayer, fasting, almsgiving, Holy Confession and Holy Communion. After all we’re not just picking cotton, we’re becoming children of God.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

First Fruits or Best Fruits?

In a conversation recently a question was asked regarding the quality of olive oil needed in the Church. My response was a simple one: “We offer God the best we have.” We grow up hearing the term “first fruits” that are offered to God but most of us do not understand the true meaning of this challenge.

Απ’αρχή is the Greek expression often translated as “first fruits” in Scripture. While this is a correct and accurate translation it does not convey the full meaning of the expression. In biblical times ‘first fruits’ did not indicate the actual first fruit to be harvested (or pulled out of the ground) but the best fruit of the harvest. Those who garden know the first is rarely the best of any crop.

Taken in this way, we can see that we should be offering God the best olive oil we have. This oil burns as a sacrifice offering in front of the Holy Relics, on the Holy Altar Table, and in front of Holy Icons, as an expression of our love for God. Would we want to express our love for God with old and low-quality oil when we use new fresh extra-virgin oil in our salads? In fact, we should offer the best oil to God and use what is left on our salads.

The same must be said for anything we offer to God: time, talent, and treasure (what we call Stewardship). When we make an offering to God, let it be the best we have; not the leftovers.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Golden Rule, A “How to get to Heaven” Manual

The weather has been getting a bit cooler lately and winter will be with us before we know it. In the mountains that means snow and snow means a new ski season is just around the corner. I used to ski a lot when I was young. The joy and thrill of skiing down the mountain is best shared with a friend. In Colorado, Monday morning conversation during ski season is consumed with ski talk (second only to Bronco-mania) as friends share the secrets of new found ski slopes where the lift lines are short and the snow is deep and there is always someone in the group who is a ski fanatic and knows all the best places. Whenever you wanted a new place to ski he was the guy who knew where to go and when. Everyone knows that the best skiers know where the best skiing is. You wouldn’t dream of asking someone who’s never been skiing where the best slopes were.

As fun as skiing is, as Christians we are more interested in spending eternity in heaven, not just a few hours on the slopes. So why would we ask, or at least follow the example of, people in our society who aren’t trying to get to heaven how to get there? Our society is filled with people who are experts in their respective professions. If you want to know how to have a successful musical career Michael Jackson is a great example of an expert who has been very successful in his professions but do you really want to end up like Michael Jackson? If only there was a “How to Get to Heaven” manual for us to follow.

There is and it has examples. The manual is called The Bible and the examples are the Saints of the Church. This morning’s Gospel lesson is a short easy manual, and if we follow it we are sure to get to heaven. Let’s take a few minutes to see just how…

This morning Jesus Christ gives us “The Golden Rule” as a way to salvation. “Just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them.” (Luke 6.31) When Jesus was asked how to get to heaven, He reminded the lawyer of the greatest commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22.37-39) This morning He tells us how to love our neighbor. “Love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil.” (Luke 6.35)

Compare that with how society tells us how to live: get what you can, as much as you can, as fast as you can, from whomever you can, however you can, and you will be happy….until of course the economy collapses. In its wake society leaves broken, hurt, bitter, wounded people. We have two options, follow society or follow Jesus and Christ and His Church. When was the last time you heard a bank say, “pay it back when you can…if you can’t pay it back, don’t worry we have enough?” If you want to go skiing ask a skier, but if you want to get to heaven ask Jesus Christ and His Church.

The Saints of our Church struggled just like we do. They were doctors, lawyers, builders, fishermen, scholars, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters. You name it; they experienced it including a lot of suffering because society was telling them to live a certain way; and the Saints refused but they were rewarded by God for their commitment to Him. This is why we surround ourselves with their pictures; so we can be inspired to follow Christ as they did.

Look around the Church and get to know the Saints we have: Saint Barbara, Saint Katherine, Saint Nektarios, Saint George, Saint Demetrios, Saint Thomas, Saint Basil, and Saint John the Baptist. Get to know their lives and use them as examples. They followed the manual and so can we.

Jesus says, “But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.” (Luke 6.32-33) Put another way, if we love like society tells us to love we are no better than society. We must not follow the example of society; we must follow the example of the Saints! As Christians we are asked to love even our enemies whether we love them or not. Isn’t that what God does for us? “While we were still sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5.8)

Saint Paul knew the risks of society. We just heard in the Epistle reading this morning, “Therefore, having this promise, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh [what Saint Paul uses to mean the worldly way of life].” (2 Corinthians 7.1) Saint Paul also says, “You [we] are the temple of the living God.” (2 Corinthians 6.16) When we follow the Golden Rule and love others as ourselves then we will love them and treat them like they are the temple of God.

What does the Golden Rule mean for us today in 2009? When we give someone our word, don’t we want other people to believe what we say? Then we should trust what others tell us and then if someone lies or forgets what they told us we should forgive them. At some time haven’t we all done this and hoped to be forgiven? When someone has an idea for something in our Church and we don’t agree, we should listen and not just throw out ideas that we don’t agree with. I’m sure others have done the same for us. And when we make decisions, we must believe that those who made the decisions didn’t mean anything hurtful to us because sometimes decisions don’t make everyone happy but that doesn’t make them bad decisions.

Once decisions are made in our Church we should all support them because we are one Church, one Body of Christ. If we continue to fight against ideas once decisions have been made we will not grow as a Community. And if we do not grow as a Community then we will surely die. Jesus Christ prayed, and we pray, for unity in the Church. “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word: that they will 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. And the glory which You have given Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.” (John 17.20-23)

There may be times when our ideas are ignored, when we are not trusted by others, when we are not respected. It is at these times we must not return bad behavior with bad behavior and that’s ok even if it hurts a little. If we are only good to those who are good to us then we will be just like the sinners.

Skiers are very loyal to the art of skiing. When there is a great mountain to ski they tell others how to get there. Jesus Christ has told His Church how to get to heaven and the Saints followed His advice. The Saints are like loyal skiers telling us in their writings, but most especially in their daily lives, how to find our way to heaven. It’s now our turn to follow the path and live like Jesus Christ wants us to live and we will become “sons [and daughters] of the Most High.” (Luke 6.36) And let’s not forget to tell our friends how to get there too! It’s a bit like skiing; heaven won’t be any fun if we are alone.