Monday, June 28, 2010

“It has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” Matthew 13.11

Jesus was known for telling parables during His earthly ministry. It was He preferred method many believe because we understand truths given as stories much better than as a list of facts. We grow up attending school reading and solving “word problems” for this same reason. Jesus said to His Disciples, and therefore to us, “Blessed are your eyes for they see and your ears for they hear.” (Matthew 13.16)

We have been blessed to receive the truth of God from His own lips in the person of Jesus. This truth has been maintained and protected by the Church since the days of the Apostles as they were commanded by Jesus after His resurrection. “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28.18-20)

This Great Commission, as it is called, commands the Church not only to make disciples of Jesus Christ but gives the Church the responsibility to protect the truth and hand it down to succeeding generations within the Church. We believe this process is being protected by the Holy Spirit as Christ said, “When He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth.” (John 16.13)

Friday, June 25, 2010

Who’s Got Your Back? Jesus, That’s Who!

CSI, NCIS, Law and Order…the list goes on. Wherever you turn there is a “cops and robbers” TV show playing. In fact, ½ of the current favorite television programs are based upon this concept and each week partners struggle to fight crime or solve murders. What makes the shows so successful is the partner interaction from show to show and crime to crime where partners “go all out” to watch their partner’s back.

Did you ever wonder, “Who’s got my back?” In the Gospel we hear, “There met Him two demon-possessed men, coming out of the tombs, exceedingly fierce, so that no one could pass that way.” (Matthew 8.28) These two men were overcome by such wild demons that they lived among the graves in the wilderness. Even their families could not protect them. I bet they ask themselves, “Who’s got our backs?” every day!

The answer is simple. God does! The demons said to God, “If You cast us out, permit us to go away into the herd of swine.” (Matthew 8.31) God gave them permission and the two men were healed from their struggle and worshiped God. Even though their families were unable to protect these men, God was always watching out for them and never let the demons hurt them beyond their ability. We know this because the men had enough self-control to approach Jesus in the first place.

Just when we think life is out of our control or we have been abandoned, let’s think of this story in the Gospel and remember, “God has our back” and that’s all that really matters.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

There are some things I just don't get...

There are some things I just don’t get and I don’t mean I don’t understand the science. I actually do. I don’t get the logic. Science is a gift from God and is (or at least is used to be) based upon our ability to observe certain things. For example, as long as we observed that the Sun revolved around the Earth science believed it to be so. Now that we can observe that the Earth revolves around the Sun we know it to be true. The need to absolutely prove facts with empirical evidence is the very foundation of science……until it comes to creation.

Creation is the one area of science that seems to absolutely ignore observation. I was recently watching the Science Channel and a program about creation. The program was discussing Inflation Theory (for more information on Inflation Theory see ) which attempts through complete fabrication to explain why the universe defies our own observation and logic. In a nutshell scientists can’t figure out why, based upon how we observe the universe NOW, the average temperature throughout the universe is nearly constant. Based upon the current rate of expansion of the universe (that’s the part we can observe) temperature couldn’t possibly be the same if the universe has been expanding ever since the so-called big bang. One of the preeminent authors on this theory, Alan Guth, in The Inflationary Universe, A Quest for a New Theory of Cosmic Origins, wrote, “In the late 1970’s Linde independently invented much of the inflationary universe theory.” (emphasis mine).

Admittedly there are many things about how our world works that we don’t understand nor can we observe them. However, if science is to maintain any sense of integrity, it should remain loyal to empirical evidence. At least the theory of evolution is based on what is observed to be mutations in the fossil record though I reject that also on the basis of having no empirical evidence when it comes to cross-species evolution. There just isn’t any evidence of half-ape/half-man…..there just isn’t. Nor is there any evidence that a fish with a single bad fin could find itself surviving walking on shore.

So I just don’t get it…..God acting in creation is just as observable to science as inflation. Why can’t we just accept that God did it… answers many more questions than it raises.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Holiness is a Process We Call Theosis

Saint Paul said,
“And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness.” (Romans 6.18-19)

For me this is a reminder that just as we got deeper and deeper in sin over time, it will take time for us to become deeper and deeper (or more properly higher and higher) in holiness. Since we did not become totally depraved overnight we should not expect to become totally sinless and holy overnight. This process of becoming holy, what we call Theosis, is a gift of God for repentance but takes genuine effort on our part.

Our effort is what is blessed by God in our decision to obey His desire for us. We must choose to walk in the Light of Christ and be led out of darkness by His Light.
“This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1.5-9)

“We have fellowship with one another,” is another way of expressing our intercommunion with each other and Christ within the Church. When we maintain our life within the Church of Christ, we walk in His light. When we depart from the Church we risk walking on our own and becoming lost in the darkness. The Church has been established by God to guide us on our journey toward holiness. The Church offers us tools established by Christ Himself with which the work of Theosis is accomplished.

Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are the three tools that shape our human life modeling our desires and actions after Christ. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are used to re-train our bodies out of darkness and into the Light of Christ. But these tools are without meaning on our journey to holiness without the Eucharist – Holy Communion. Without Communion prayer is just words, fasting is just a diet and almsgiving is just a tax deduction.

Engage the journey to holiness and embrace Christ!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Is Christian Humility Un-American?

It has become popular in recent years to speak of the selfishness of Americans. Throughout the world Americans are considered wasteful and greedy when compared to other nations based upon our consumption of natural resources but the ridicule isn’t limited to other nations. Indeed in recent months, United States government officials across our great nation have become very vocal against huge corporations such as BP for caring more about profits and less about the “little people” that make America such a great country. On the surface it might seem even honorable to speak out against such examples of greed and extreme wealth.

However a closer look at both the politicians and others protesting across the country reveals a much different picture. What was once a nation of hard-working honest citizens, has become a nation of lazy “I want it my way” protestors. Even “American Religion” can be characterized as selfish. We want church services to last as long (or more importantly, as short) as WE want them. We want them to look like WE think they should. We even want the church to teach what WE declare to be true. And if anything is said or done that I disagree with the church is wrong and must be corrected!

Christian humility is quite different however. “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof.” (Matthew 8.8) These are the words of a military leader and very powerful member of society. “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) In today’s society it would be unheard of for such a powerful man to admit he wasn’t worthy of anything…..let alone a visit from God.

And God honors his humility, “Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!” (Matthew 8.10) True Christian humility understands that, despite our extreme wealth and power (or lack of it) Christ still honors us with life and His blessings. When we show this level of humility to God and those around us, He will say to us, “Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you.” (Matthew 8.13)

It might be un-American, but it’s true!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Fear is not Worth the Worry

At a time when our country was suffering great difficulties a newly elected President said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” When President Franklin D. Roosevelt said these words he wasn’t trying to boost faith in God, admittedly. In the Gospel our Lord says, “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.” (Matthew 6.32-33)

We gain nothing by worrying. Anxiety cannot heal us. It cannot put food on our table. It cannot put gas in our car. It cannot pay our bills for us. On the other hand doctors have shown us that anxiety DOES put stress on our hearts and can cause high blood pressure and a number of other physical illnesses. Jesus said, “Which of you by your worrying can add one cubit to his stature?” (Matthew 6.27) God has promised to take care of our needs when we choose to obey Him and follow Him.

Our role in our relationship with God is not to sit back and let God pour blessing over us, but to follow Him to His kingdom and to love Him. President Roosevelt led our country into action to work and rebuild a struggling society in 1933 which despite his efforts continues to struggle today. God has sent His Son to lead us into action and rebuild our struggling faith and promises that when we follow Him all our needs will be met and we will inherit eternal life. “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” (Matthew 6.33)

Fear not…have faith instead!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

God is Calling Us – Are We Even Listening?

He doesn’t know it, but Bill Cosby helped me understand two things: what it’s like to have children and the concept of obedience. And I doubt very seriously if he realized then, or now nearly thirty years later, that both concepts are theological truths. One bit he used to do was called “The Come Here” bit which included yelling, “come here… come here… come here… here here here here here here here here…etc” to his children before they would obey him and come. I have a friend though who has learned how to combat this reality in children. Since his daughter was just a toddler he would call her to come to him. She would come and clean up a mess she had made but sometimes it was just because he needed someone to share ice cream with. The daughter learned that by hearing her father’s call and obeying his call she might get ice cream just as easily as she might have to clean the kitchen. That is one family that has proven Bill Cosby wrong…at least some of the time when their daughter hears and obeys.

At certain times in our lives we all have the opportunity and blessing to obey someone’s call. It may be our parents when we are children or it may be our commanding officer in the military. But one thing is clear; we cannot obey that which we do not hear. That is what made Bill Cosby so funny, not the pain of disobedience so much as the humor of getting his children to hear him in the first place.

In this morning’s Gospel we hear Jesus Christ calling His first Disciples. “Then He said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.’” (Matthew 4.19) Peter and Andrew were hard at work fishing when Jesus called to them from the shore. Think of the image for a moment: they were on the water “casting a net into the sea.” (Matthew 4.18) I doubt they were expecting someone to call from the shore and but I’m sure they expected what happened next: “They immediately left their nets and followed Him.” (Matthew 4.20)

Peter and Andrew were disciples of John the Baptist so they were prepared for the Messiah. They were well versed in the Scriptures (Old Testament) to recognize the Lord when He appeared and called to them. They were prepared to drop everything and obey God, and immediately God made good on His promise. “And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people. Then His fame went throughout all Syria.” (Matthew 4.23-24)

John the Baptist was a preacher of repentance and high moral living. His disciples were called to a life dedicated to austere spiritual preparation to receive the Messiah. John the Baptist preached “Repent! Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight.” (Matthew 3.3 quoting Isaiah 40.3) When Peter and Andrew heard the voice of the Messiah coming from the shore they dropped everything and followed Him. We can be sure that they didn’t expect ice cream but a life of spiritual discipline and obedience to God.

And their obedience to God was rewarded just like my friend’s daughter is rewarded when she obeys her father. “I will make you fishers of men.” If they obeyed the Lord then they would gather people as plentiful as they used to gather fish in their nets. The Gospel tells us, “Great multitudes followed Him – from Galilee, and from Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan.” (Matthew 4.25) In fact, as we just celebrated two weeks ago on Pentecost, it was Peter who spoke to the multitudes. “And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, ‘Be saved from this perverse generation.’ Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.” (Acts 2.40-41)

My brothers and sisters, the same call goes out to us to be saved from this perverse generation and follow the Lord. Any cursory reading of the daily newspaper reveals a society that has lost its way. Our society has turned away from humility and embraced self-serving pride; turned away from chastity and embraced sexual immorality; turned away from modesty and embraced opulence. It makes one wonder if Jesus were to return today if the newspapers would even run the story for fear the story wouldn’t sell enough newspapers.

Jesus is calling us today to follow Him. Whether we are restaurateurs or lawyers or bankers or teachers or priests, no matter what profession we are, the Lord is calling us today to follow Him and He is expecting us to obey Him. And when we do He will reward us with eternal life. Remember what we heard in the Gospel last week: “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or fathers or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundred fold, and inherit eternal life.” (Matthew 19.29)

After the Lord called Peter and Andrew, He called James and John, the sons of Zebedee, “and immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him.” (Matthew 4.22) James and John left not only their fishing business like Peter and Andrew; they left their father behind. They were willing to be totally vulnerable, without any business to “fall back on” just to be near the Lord and follow Him. Jesus said, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me.” (Matthew 10.37) James and John loved the Lord more than their fishing business and their father and they were blessed by God for their obedience to follow Him.

Jesus is calling us today my dear brothers and sisters and He will bless us when we obey Him and follow Him. He will bless us like He blessed the Saints we remembered last week for the Feast of All Saints. He will bless us like He blessed Peter and Andrew, James and John. He will bless us when we obey Him so let’s get going.

The time has come for us to drop our fishing nets and follow Jesus Christ to the kingdom and we will become fishers of men and women who will “gladly receive His word” and embrace the Church and a life dedicated to God above all else. Let’s face it; God has already blessed us in our Community. In our Community we have successful business owners, teachers, nurses, bankers, landlords, developers, the list goes on…and that’s just the material blessings. He has blessed us with many healthy, dedicated and loving families who support each other through hard times and sing and dance with each other during joyous times. But He wants more for us. He wants us to welcome Him into our lives gladly and full of love. He wants us to truly live in communion with Him.

He desires for us to know Him intimately through Holy Communion but during the summer there will be many distractions and temptations that will try to draw us away from God. We MUST be willing to follow God and put God FIRST in our lives during the fun-filled summer months. Maybe the words of Saint John Chrysostom will inspire us this morning. He says, “Because such is the obedience which Christ seeks of us, as that we delay not even a moment of time though something absolutely most needful should vehemently press on us.” (Homily XIV on Matthew)

Peter, Andrew, James and John all had VERY IMPORTANT things to do when Jesus called them but they chose to hear and obey His call and immediately followed Him and they were blessed by God. Today the Lord has called us. Will we hear and obey Him or will we make Him call and call and call. Something tells me it won’t be as funny as Bill Cosby’s comedy act and this isn’t for ice cream….it’s for real.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Obedience Begins with Hearing

In the Orthodox Church we often refer to “hearing the Gospel” rather than just reading it, especially in the context of Liturgy. One basic reason is that we must first hear the word of God before we can obey the Word of God. Saint Paul says, “How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 10.14,17) Even the word “obey” (υπακοή in Greek) is derived from “listen” (ακούω in Greek) leading us to this see the connection between listening and obeying.

In the Gospel of Matthew we hear Christ calling His first Apostles: “Then He said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ They immediately left their nets and followed Him.” (Matthew 4.19-20) Peter and Andrew were not only brothers; they were also followers of Saint John the Baptist who had taught them the Lord was coming. The Baptist pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is He of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me.’” (John 1.29-30)

The first Apostles heard about Jesus from John the Baptist and were fully prepared to obey Jesus Christ when He called to them. We now have heard the same call from Christ to follow Him. Are we ready to obey?