Friday, October 28, 2011

God Provides a Glimpse into Heaven

Every now and then it helps to get a picture of what our future might become. We are taught to envision our future in order that we may embrace it and work toward it. A common theme in all “get rich quick” schemes is for you to picture yourself wealthy and to begin living to get there. The same is true for our spiritual future. Thankfully God again provides us with a glimpse of our future, no to scare us, but so that we can embrace it and begin to live to get there.

In the Gospel we hear of a poor, sick man named Lazarus (not the same Lazarus that was raised from the dead) lying across the front gate of a rich man’s home begging for a few crumbs of food. The rich man surrounded and comforted by extreme wealth, remains nameless in the story as he goes about his daily life ignoring the needs of poor Lazarus. In death, the rich man suffers while Lazarus is comforted. Abraham says to the rich man, “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented.” (Luke 16.25)

St John Chrysostom says, “How then is it possible for the rich man to be saved? By possessing his goods in common with them that are in need, and exterminating out of his soul the desire for more, and in no point going beyond real need.”

It won’t be wealth that brings suffering into our future, but the lack of compassion we have for our brothers and sisters in the world who are suffering. Even in death the rich man expected Lazarus to serve him because he saw himself as superior to Lazarus. In life the rich man expected the dogs to care for Lazarus rather than reaching out to him and treating him as a brother.

Compassion comes at a price….the price of comfort. We can choose to be comfortable with our wealth here on earth or we can use our wealth to comfort the afflicted. It’s our choice, but today God gives us a glimpse of our future to help us make the right decision.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Hope for Something Better

In the Gospel we hear of a man who was possessed by demons that drove him into the wilderness. We know from the Gospel also that this man had many demons that would regularly torture him and leave him naked and alone among the tombs. We also know that this man’s condition had lasted a long time.

How can we in 2011 bring some connection to this story? First we must ask ourselves, are there any demons or forces that in effect torture us by causing us to live alone and isolated from our friends and family? Do we find ourselves driven by forces that seem to control us beyond our wishes? Do we feel at times that we are being held down by struggles that don’t allow us to recognize the beauty and hope of every day? If not for a long time, have we ever felt this even once in our life? We all struggle at some level. So how can the Gospel give us hope for a better life? You may just think the Gospel is filled with commandments from God and the Church is always “laying down the law” telling us how to live.

This Gospel is just the thing we need! Hope comes from knowing there is a better life ahead. Three words should comfort us in this story, “He permitted them.” (Luke 8.32) The demons couldn’t even enter the swine without permission from God. Even though the demons had possessed this man for so many years, at God’s commandment they left him and he was found “sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind.” (Luke 8.35)

In spite of the demons the man found the strength to approach Jesus. (Luke 8.27) To be healed by God all that is needed is for us to search our heart and choose to let God in and the demons out. We just need to approach Him. God will take care of the rest. Then once we are healed we can follow this man’s example when “he went his way and proclaimed to the whole city what great things Jesus had done for him.” (Luke 8.39)

Friday, October 14, 2011

Don’t Be Stingy with God’s Message

In the Gospel we hear one of the great Parables of Our Lord about the “Sower.” This is the only parable where Christ also gives an explanation of the meaning of the parable. We are encouraged to be good fertile soil to allow the Word of God to take root in our hearts so that we can bear fruit with great abundance to the glory of God.

There is another aspect to the parable that the Fathers of our Church bring to our attention. Saint John Chrysostom teaches, “For as the sower makes no distinction in the land submitted to him, but simply and indifferently casts his seed; so He Himself too makes no distinction of rich and poor, of wise and unwise, of slothful or diligent, of brave or cowardly.” In these words we see clearly the beautiful gift that God does not limit His love only to a select few….and neither should we.

God has given us His Gospel to share with the world. Just as the “Sower” does not carefully set seeds only into the ground he thinks is the most important, neither should we limit where, and with whom, we share the word of God. We have been given the gift of Communion with God and He has asked us to share it with EVERYONE!

When we refuse to share His Word with our friends and family, we are acting selfish rather than with Christian love. Let’s face it….the only reason a tree bears fruit is to send seeds out to make more trees. And the only reason for us to have the Church is to sow more seeds so God can harvest more Christians. “The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few.”  (Matt 9.37)

Don’t be stingy with God’s message of hope. He sends His seeds to everyone and so should we.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

So Guess Who Died Yesterday?

You guessed it…..LOTS of people but the whole world is only talking about one….Steve Jobs. Please understand I don’t deny his amazing talent (a gift from God) and that he offered society a great number of tools for us to communicate (most of which is pornography) at volumes never before available to us. And I am not going to take away his place in American history as an innovator and clearly a successful business man. But that is really all he accomplished which is why he is being made to be such the hero the past 24 hours. There are even cartoons of him in heaven helping the angles with new “apps” to make heaven run more smoothly (I suppose) than before he was around.

It would be nice as Christians though to keep his gifts to the planet in perspective…very well made technology that could have been used for the glory of God. The only problem is…it can also be used, and is often used, to work against God especially with His young children. If we really wanted to honor the great work of Steve Jobs, how about we eliminate internet porn for starters so his inventions can be used for much more good than evil?

You might be thinking to yourself, “Has Father Athanasios gone out to lunch? What’s the big deal? It’s not like we’re praising Hugh Hefner.” My perspective is one of Orthodox Christianity. All sin is the same and when someone has been given a gift by God and doesn’t praise God with it, it should be a cause for somber reflection on a wasted gift rather than how fast I get to update my Facebook status.

But who am I fooling? The American God is wealth and prestige and Steve Jobs had both, so I guess…let the praise of Saint Steve of Apple continue….

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

When Does Innocent Behavior Become Evil?

There are many things in our day that by themselves are harmless. For example: playing or watching sports, enjoying the outdoors, attending the theatre, even our actual jobs are not spiritually harmful behaviors. It’s when any of these behaviors take us away from spending time with Jesus Christ IN CHURCH that they take on the role of evil in our lives. YES!, even enjoying the outdoors can be evil when it replaces Jesus Christ as the top priority in our life.

Jesus said, “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) We cannot live without receiving the Body of Blood of Our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ – Holy Communion. The Holy Apostles knew this when they said, “But every Lord’s Day, gather together and break bread and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions.” (Didache) This was a direct reference to Holy Communion.

So…..Jesus said we would not have life if we didn’t receive Holy Communion, and the Holy Apostles whom the Holy Spirit guided into all truth (John 16.13) commanded that we should receive Holy Communion every Sunday….

When does innocent behavior become evil? Whenever it takes us away from the Holy Communion on Sunday….that’s when. I encourage you to pray about this Truth of Christ in your life and take advantage of being alive and able to repent. Saint John the Baptist said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3.2) It’s never too late to repent and embrace Jesus Christ in your life.

Evil by definition is doing something against the will of God. If your behavior takes you away from obeying Christ and receiving Holy Communion……then that behavior, though it may have been innocent, has become evil. Call your Priest and schedule a time for Holy Confession and repent welcoming Jesus Christ back to the top of your priority list.