Sunday, February 28, 2010

Come and Be Healed by God, Our Anchor

Driving through any town you can’t help but notice strip malls. They are everywhere and you can find just about any sort of store in one from pet stores to insurance brokers and restaurants. And there is normally one very important element to every successful strip mall – the anchor. What makes strip malls work, or any malls for that matter, is the presence of a large store that draws customers into the parking lot. In fact, many small shops will not locate their business in a strip mall that doesn’t have some sort of anchor. The anchor can be anything, but the most common is a grocery store. Everyone needs groceries and even if they never think about the others stores that share the strip mall with their local grocery store, when a need for something comes up, subconsciously they know what stores are near the grocery store and suddenly they know exactly what stores they see every week while they are loading groceries into their trunk.

Just like strip malls, our life needs an anchor to succeed. Our life needs something around which to focus our attention. For many of us this anchor is our job simply because that is where we spend the majority of our time. But life can be different and will be different if we focus our life around a different anchor, just like small stores are different based upon the anchor store in a particular strip mall because the success of a particular anchor store attracts attention. It is only natural that our eye is drawn to parking lots filled with cars rather than vacant lots. We somehow know, intuitively, that a full parking lot means happy customers so every business benefits from a full parking lot.

This morning’s Gospel is about full parking lots, a successful anchor, and happy customers. Jesus, He’s the anchor, was preaching in a house that was full of people “so that there was no longer room even near the door.” (Mark 2.2) This crowd drew the attention of four men. These four men saw the crowd and knew something good must be happening so they carried their sick friend over to the house to be healed by Jesus but they couldn’t get inside because of the crowd.

It reminds me of a restaurant in Denver that we used to go to all the time. It was in a strip mall and was so successful you had to wait at least 45 minutes on any given night for a table…and they didn’t take reservations so you waited with the rest of the crowd seeing and smelling the delicious food being served all around you. By the time it was your turn for a table it was all you could do to contain yourself. If you could eat standing in the aisle you would have, the food was so good. It was amazing for sure.

So you can only imagine how amazing it must have been hearing Jesus Christ preach the word of God in that house that day. There was the excitement of a large crowd amplified by words that must have worth the wait for these four men…but they didn’t wait because they could not contain themselves. The Gospel says, “And when they could not come near Him because of the crowd, they uncovered the roof where He was and let down the bed on which the paralytic was lying.” (Mark 2.4)

These four men must have known about the power of Jesus Christ because they refused to wait. Their friend was sick and needed to be healed. Word had spread about Jesus so much that people were coming from all directions to be healed by Him. These four men had great faith in the power of Jesus to heal their friend. “When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven you.’” (Mark 2.5) WHAT!? Forgive sins? The men wanted their friend to be healed! At least, that is what I would have thought, at that moment.

Do you see how Jesus Christ works so patiently while the four men acted so impatiently? Jesus knew He would heal the man, but first He took the opportunity to teach the others around him about the power of God. It’s almost as if Jesus says, “Hi, thank you for coming. How many are in your party? Five? You may wait over here? It should only be a few minutes.” After just a few moments, Jesus healed their friend, “and all were amazed and glorified God saying, ‘We never saw anything like this!’” (Mark 2.12)

Sometimes, like a good restaurant, we have to wait and be patient to receive God’s blessings. He knows exactly what we need and when we need it. Just because we have come to this Church this morning and placed some personal demands upon God, doesn’t mean He is forced to act upon our time frame. He is God after all! “Who are we to reply against God?” (Romans 9.20)

My brothers and sisters, just like in this morning’s Gospel, Jesus Christ has come into this house to preach the word of God. He is among us this morning in the Eucharist and has invited us and all people to come and spend some time with Him. His reputation precedes Him. We know from the Bible, the Church, and the Saints that He is full of mercy and compassion and that He will heal all those who are sick. Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” (Mark 2.17)

Each one of us is in need of a doctor, some more than others, but each of us is sick and Jesus Christ, God Himself, has come to us to heal us. Do any of us have anxiety, let’s bring it to Him and He will calm our hearts. Do any of us feel depressed, let’s come to Him and He will lift our souls. Do any of us have physical pain, let’s come to Him and He will cure the pain that distracts us from loving Him. There is no problem too great for God to handle when we come to Him in faith.

Four men had the faith strong enough to bring one friend to Jesus Christ to be healed because He could not bring himself. My brothers and sisters, the faith of the Church is strong enough for us today. The faith of the Church has carried Orthodox Christians for 2000 years and it can carry us if we have the faith to allow it. The paralytic in this morning’s Gospel went willingly up on the roof to be healed. He was not forced by anyone and God will not force us. We just need to be patient and committed to God and He will heal us just like He healed the paralytic.

When we drive by strip malls we can’t help but see the signs inviting us into so we can purchase what we need. What we need is right here in God’s House. Come to God’s House and be healed! There is always room is God’s House for one more. Come to God’s House and take a moment to listen to the Word of God. Take a moment out of your busy schedule and come spend some time with God. Come to Him! He is here and He is waiting for you…just for you. Come!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

When the Word of God is Preached, People are Healed

In the Gospel there is a bold image that should inspire us. Jesus was preaching in a house and a great crowd had gathered to hear Him. The Gospel tells us, “Immediately many gathered together, so that there was no longer room to receive them, not even near the door.” (Mark 2.2) The house was completed filled up and still people were bringing their friends to be healed. Jesus never allowed the crowd to distract Him from His mission to heal the sick when four friends tore open the roof and lowered their sick friend in front of Jesus to be healed. “When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven you.’” (Mark 2.5)

This is the joy of our faith my dear brothers and sisters. When we gather to hear the word of God and worship Him people’s lives, our lives, are changed forever. We are healed simply by our faith and willingness to be present with God in His House and we can offer healing to our friends when we bring them to meet God. After the miracle healing “all were amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We never saw anything like this!’” (Mark 2.12)

We must never feel like we do not belong in the House of God just because we might be different from the crowd. The paralytic and his friends did not allow a physical difference to keep them from approaching God for healing and neither should we. The Church is for all of us no matter who we are or no matter where we were born and God has enough love to heal us.

If you are in need of God’s healing, physically or spiritually, come to His House and hear His Word and worship Him and your life will be changed forever. And if you have a friend that needs God, bring your friend too. There is always room in God’s House.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness.” Isaiah 5.20

We are faced every day with choosing Christ or the world, whether it is in our place of work of the Church itself. The world, because it is held hostage by the devil, continues to try to convince us that evil is good and that darkness is light. This war is waged within our flesh as Saint Paul says, “for the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil that I will not to do, that I practice.” (Romans 7.19)

The only way to defeat the flesh is engage the battle with prayer, fasting and almsgiving (works of charity) for the Glory of God, that our “light so shine before men, that they may see [our] good works and glorify [our] Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5.16) “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.” (Romans 8.5) When we practice prayer, fasting and works of charity we are putting the flesh to death for the glory of God.

Embrace Great Lent as the battle between flesh and spirit and glorify God!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

“Therefore my people became captives, because they did not know the Lord.” Isaiah 5.13

How many times have we felt like captives? Whenever we make statements like, “I can’t go to Church because I have to work,” we are being held captive by a lifestyle that is not from God. There is never a time when we are forced to work on Sunday rather than being in Church. If we are in a job that forces us to miss the Divine Liturgy on Sunday, we should not be in that job. It is still against the law in America to force us to miss our worship for work. I know that many of us choose to work rather than find another job, which just leads to feelings of captivity, but we must find courage in Christ that when we choose Him then He will protect us and provide for our needs. NEEDS is the determining word here. Multiple flat-screen TV’s and cable TV are not needs. When we insist upon working for these pleasures rather than be satisfied with what we have been given it is no different than handing ourselves over to be held captive.

Taking the lead from the Prophet Isaiah we know that we are set free from our captivity by knowing God. The question is: How can we know God? The answer is found in His Church and in His Holy Scriptures. God has revealed Himself to us. We cannot learn about Him using logic or research. Anything we know about God comes to us from Him. When we read about Him in the Holy Scriptures we are reading about how He has chosen to interact with His Church throughout the centuries. If we truly want to know Him, we must be in communion with Him.

Jesus Christ said, “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You. For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me.” (John 17.6-8)

And again He said, “However, when He, the Spirit of Truth, has come, he will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Him, for he will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.” (John 16.13-15)

And again He to His Apostles, “All things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit.” (John 15.15-16)

From these few verses we can better understand that it is God that reveals Himself to us and He has chosen to do so through His Church. If we are feeling a sense of captivity to the world, Great Lent is a good opportunity to rededicate our lives to Christ and His Church so that we can come to know the Lord and be set free of our captivity.

Friday, February 19, 2010

“To forget God is the cause of all sins.”

This brief quote from “Lenten Spring” by Father Thomas Hopko is a grand statement. In his daily mediations for today, the fifth day of Great Lent, he reminds us that we are living in a foreign land. We were created to live with God in Heaven and our journey on Earth is only temporary but we cannot become complacent as the Jews did in Babylon. They became accustomed to living in a foreign land and forgot God.

Many of us no longer consider our journey here as visitors because we have settled and made this foreign land our home. I am not speaking of living as foreign immigrants in America, though there are definitely similarities. Most Greek immigrants never intended to stay when they first walked through the gates of Ellis Island. My grandfather, for example, only intended to stay a few years – just long enough to earn some of the gold just lying around at the time. He arrived in America at 23 years old and was buried here at 84. He did go back “home” but it was a visitor. America became his home and he became an American.

As Christians, we can never forget that life on this Earth is only temporary and that our life with God will be for all eternity. We cannot allow ourselves to become accustomed to life here, surrounded by temptation and amoral standards of life. We must struggle every day to remain focused upon God and our relationship with Him.

This is the benefit of our Great Lenten journey. We have the opportunity to rekindle our relationship with Him before it is too late. We have the chance to dedicate our lives to Him rather than to the “American Dream” which is dependent only upon selfish desire and individual moral interpretations. We must embrace our Great Lenten journey with prayer, fasting and almsgiving as a “living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.” (Romans 12.1)

Referring to Psalm 136 (Septuigant) Father Thomas Hopko writes, “The things of the world creep up on us to destroy us. We hardly notice it happening. Lust and pride and covetousness begin, little by little, to take over our lives. Their enslaving power always begins with little things. This is the spiritual meaning of the last line of Psalm 136, which scandalizes many people when they first hear it in literal terms. The “little ones” must be killed. The small temptations, the petty demons, the little sins, seemingly so innocent, insignificant and harmless, must be dashed upon the Rock of Christ. Otherwise they grow big and become strong and destroy the heedless and negligent with their lethal power.”

Psalm 136 (King James Version)
The Mourning of the Exiles in Babylon

1 By the rivers of Babylon,

there we sat down, yea, we wept,

when we remembered Zion.

2 We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.

3 For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song;

and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying,

Sing us one of the songs of Zion.

4 How shall we sing the LORD's song in a strange land?

5 If I forget thee, O Jerusalem,

let my right hand forget her cunning.

6 If I do not remember thee,

let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth;

if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.

7 Remember, O LORD, the children of Edom

in the day of Jerusalem;

who said, Rase it, rase it,

even to the foundation thereof.

8 O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed;

happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us. Rev. 18.6

9 Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth

thy little ones against the stones.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

“Trust in God with all your heart, and do not exalt your own wisdom.” Proverbs 3.5

What else can be said? We struggle with this reality every day as human beings living in a society that exalts the individual above all other logic. We are encouraged by society to strive for excellence in our jobs not for the glory of God but so we can have large bank accounts. We are taught to trust in our own judgment when it comes to questions of morality. “Nobody can tell ME what is right and what is wrong!” This is our common American mantra.

A life in Christ is different however. We are asked to place our faith and hope and heart in God rather than ourselves. After all, it was individual wisdom that caused our ancestors in the Garden to sin against God. The words from Proverbs today can be a wake-up call for us this year during Great Lent. If we have fallen victim to the temptation of trusting our own wisdom rather than the wisdom of God, let us take advantage of Great Lent with fasting, prayer and almsgiving to redirect our lives toward God.

Each Orthodox Christian Church throughout the world is holding services nearly every day, if not every day, giving us an opportunity to come to God’s House, the Church, and seek forgiveness for turning away from Him. The Church offers the Mystery (Sacrament) of Holy Confession especially during these holy times of Great Lent for us to approach God in repentance.

Embrace Great Lent with prayer, fasting and almsgiving as an offering and labor to God. “Honor the Lord from your righteous labors, and offer Him the first fruits from the fruits of your righteousness, that your storehouses may be filled with abundance of grain, and your winepresses may gush with wine.” (Proverbs 3.9-10)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

“So I waited for it to bring forth grapes.” (Isaiah 5.2)

These words ring clear today on our second day of the Great Fast especially for those of us who have not brought forth the fruit of our faith in Christ. The Prophet Isaiah warns, “But now I will tell you what I shall do to My vineyard: I shall remove its wall and it shall be for booty. I shall break downs its wall and it shall be trampled underfoot.” (Isaiah 5.5) What will happen to us if our faith does not bear fruit? These words are verified by Christ, “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit He takes away…he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.” (John 15.1-2,6)

Let us embrace this Great Lenten journey and rekindle our relationship with God. Let our lives bear fruit for the glory of God. What is that fruit? “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Galatians 5.22-23) We develop these fruits through the Orthodox discipline of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving which we are encouraged to increase during this time of Great Lent.

Have a blessed and FRUITFUL Lent.

Monday, February 15, 2010

“Let us all make haste to humble the flesh by abstinence”

“Let us all make haste to humble the flesh by abstinence, as we set out upon the God-given course of the holy Fast; and with prayers and tears let us seek our Lord and Savior. Laying aside all memories of evil, let us cry aloud: We have sinned against You, Christ our King; save us as the men of Nineveh in days of old, and in Your compassion make us sharers in Your heavenly kingdom.”
This hymn from the Vespers of Forgiveness held in Orthodox Churches throughout the world last night leads our minds to the proper understanding of the Great Lenten Journey. We have embarked upon a journey of humility as the Publican and repentance as the prodigal. We gathered last night to seek forgiveness from God and each other as an act of spiritual cleansing for the Great Fast. Today is “Clean Monday” and is a day of strict fast. If one is able we should abstain from all food today as an offering to God for the love and forgiveness He has bestowed upon us.

We cannot earn God’s love with works of fasting and charity. We can only express our love for Him in our actions toward each other and ourselves. Let our fasting be done in secret as an offering to God rather than other people and Our Father “who sees in secret will reward us openly.” (Matthew 6.18)

My brothers and sisters, embrace the Fast as preparation not only for the celebration of the Greatest Feast of the Resurrection, but as preparation for battle with the evil one who will stop at nothing to trick us to turn our backs on God. We are at war with evil and we have been blessed with the discipline of fasting to train our flesh for the battle.

Let us present our bodies “as a living sacrifice to God, holy, acceptable to God.” (Romans 12.1)

Have a blessed and fruitful Great Lent