Thursday, January 26, 2012

Ancient Humility for the Modern World

In the Gospel of Matthew 15.21-28, (also in Mark 7.24-30) our Lord teaches just the sort of humility He expects from us when a woman approaches Him for a miracle. “He answered her not a word.” (Matthew 15.23) Only after she persisted did He answer, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” (Matthew 15.26) And this He said only after she begged Him a third time to heal her daughter. Most of us would have left feeling alone after being ignored the first time. Almost all of us would have left feeling dejected after being told, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matthew 15.24) But after the final blow of being called a “little dog” I doubt any of us would have stayed to beg for someone else. But this woman did just that.
Her faith was so great that she was able to swallow her pride and accept that she wasn’t worthy of God’s time. And in fact she was not worthy, nor is any of us for that matter. All she desired was a “few crumbs” of His time to heal her daughter. She did not ask for herself but for her daughter. She called out to the Lord, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” (Matthew 15.27)

She wasn’t putting herself down. She wasn’t beating herself up. And she didn’t argue that she was worth His time. Nor did she suggest she was special and demanded better treatment. She was accepting her place in total humility to the Lord and she heard Him say, “O woman, great is your faith!” (Matthew 15.28)

In today’s world we would likely stand boldly and declare that we deserved better. We, being urged by our social surroundings, would be offended that anyone, “let alone God” would dare to call us little dogs. But this woman didn’t…and God blessed her. That’s something to think about.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Jesus is Coming and I’m Fixin’ to Get Ready for Him

Christmas is past now and the decorations have been put away. Our children have already grown tired of their new toys. Life goes on…until tomorrow. That’s right; life does go on, sometimes even without our realizing it.
In just two weeks we will enter the Triodion Period, a season of preparation for the Holy and Great Fast, and the Church brings us together to hear the story of Zacchaeus who “sought to see who Jesus was.” (Luke 19.3) This man, short and filled with sin, “ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way.” (Luke 19.4) He wanted to experience for himself who Jesus was. We can presume from this story that he heard about Jesus because His Name was gaining great fame. But Zacchaeus also knew he had to be ready for Jesus, so he made plans.

The Triodion Period of the Church is a time when we can prepare for our Great Lenten Journey. But today we are looking ahead and asking what we need for that journey. Zacchaeus knew he needed to run ahead and climb up high to be ready.  If we want to see who Jesus is, we also need to get things ready. We need to check our calendars to make sure we have time to attend Church services and time set aside for personal prayer. We need to check our grocery list and pantry to make sure we have enough Lenten food to eat. We need to find our Bible and have it ready for the extra readings. (We might even want to start reading it now to get a head start…) If we want to see Jesus, we can’t wait until He arrives. Otherwise we will be filled with distractions and another Lenten season and Holy and Great Pascha will pass right on by without us.

Jesus honored Zacchaeus’ preparation and said, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.’ But when they saw it, the all complained.” (Luke 19.5,7) Jesus honored the work and preparation of Zacchaeus and He will honor our work and preparation. Some might complain about us, but we will hear the words of our Lord, “Today salvation has come to this house.” (Luke 19.9)

Friday, January 13, 2012

How do you Give Thanks?

There are so many ways to say thank you. You can call. You can send a card or email. You can Facebook it. You can even Tweet it! But what’s the best way to say thank you to someone who has given you more than you ever imagined? How do you say thank you to that special person who gave you life? And I’m not talking about your mother.
How do you say thank you to God for everything He has done for you? Is a card enough? Is it enough to list your Facebook status as “thanking God today for my blessings,” which I must admit I read almost every day? In the Gospel of Luke we hear of 10 men who were healed by the Lord of a horrible disease. Jesus commanded them to “’Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed.” (Luke 17.14) By showing themselves to the priests, according to the Law, these men were to offer an offering (sacrifice) of thanks. From the ancient times of the Old Testament (affirmed by our Lord in this story) offering a sacrifice of thanks to God for healing was considered an integral part of the healing process.

But there was more thanks to be given. “And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks.” (Luke 17.15-16) The Lord blessed Him for this while asking, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine?” (Luke 17.17) This is the complete and total gratitude that is blessed by God.

We may not have Leprosy, but we have been blessed by our Lord. Why not choose to offer God the thanks He deserves? If you really want to offer thanks to Him for your blessings, you will hear this Gospel and follow the example of the one single man. Bring your offering of thanks to the Church in your weekly Stewardship and then stay and worship Him. By living this way you will hear the words of our Lord directed at you, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17.19)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Faith-Life Disconnect

One main purpose of this blog is to inspire readers to put their faith into action.

Our Lord says:

If you love Me, keep My commandments….If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. (John 14.15,23)

Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." He said to him, "Feed My lambs." He said to him again a second time, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." He said to him, "Tend My sheep." He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?" Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, "Do you love Me?" And he said to Him, "Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You." Jesus said to him, "Feed My sheep. (John 21.15-15)

When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, 'Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: ‘for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 'I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.' Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 'When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 'Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' And the King will answer and say to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.' Then He will also say to those on the left hand, 'Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: 'for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; 'I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.' Then they also will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?' Then He will answer them, saying, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.' And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." (Matthew 25.31-46)

In a recent article ( Jim Denison calls us out as Christians. He asks, “If Christians are so engaged in our culture, why is our culture in the shape it's in?” This question SHOULD hit us right between the eyes as Christians. I believe our society has long since gone off the deep end when it comes to Christians living their Christianity, but I can’t really blame the average believer. The fault lies partly with those who call themselves (and I include myself here) Clergy/Pastors.

American Christianity has become more selfish and more pleasure driven over the years. Church attendance has become ‘where we feel comfortable’ vs. where we are formed by the Church into how God wants us to live. As Saint Paul asks, “Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, "Why have you made me like this?" (Romans 9.20) YET! Every day in Churches throughout the world, we hear statements like, “Well, God made me this way,” or “I’m not a saint, you can’t expect me to live that way,” or “If I use those sorts of ethics in my business, I’ll lose all my customers.” Christianity has become an institution where surveys and needs assessments govern ministries and policies rather than the Gospel.

In a recent poll, ( it is said that fewer than 50% of Church attendees (those who actually attend Church on a somewhat regular basis) believe that Church actually effects their lives greatly. I don’t see why this should be a surprise when just about every trend in society makes its way into the Church from worship styles to moral ethics. If today’s trend is for rock-n-roll praise bands playing for gay marriage receptions, then tomorrow is likely to be séances at funerals. Let’s face it, most Christians don’t allow the Gospel, let alone the Church, to guide them in their daily lives, and then complain that a disconnect exists between church and life.

Orthodox Christianity is about shaping our lives to conform to the Lord. In 2012 America, with teachings such as the Prosperity Gospel and an overall attitude of “since this is how I was made, it must be ok,” we will more and more be viewed as counter culture. But to this I invoke the words of the great Saint Paul when he challenged the Romans, “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12.2) And he said this as a challenge to how a Christian ought to be living after Baptism.

How are you living daily life? Does your faith in Jesus Christ affect the way you live your life? If it doesn’t, consider stopping by an Orthodox Church and discover the ancient Christian Church. Orthodoxy is a way of life….not just a doctrine. You won’t find perfect people, but you will find the Truth.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand – Matthew 4.17

Immediately after His baptism by John in the Jordan and being tempted by the devil for forty days and nights in the wilderness, our Lord’s first public sermon was just a few words, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4.17) Could the message of Christ’s Gospel be so simple? What did He mean by telling us to repent? Are we doing something wrong? Are we sinning? Are we ignoring God? And what did He mean by, “the kingdom of heaven is at hand?” If we don’t ask these questions when we hear these words, then we’re not listening.

When our Lord speaks in the Gospel we are expected to listen and take note. It is no coincidence that the clergy proclaim, “Wisdom, Let us be attentive,” before each reading of the Holy Scriptures. The reading is not just for fun, it is meant to call us to action and it demands a response from us….that is of course if we are listening.

Most of us in 2012 hear the Gospel proclaimed but never consider the words are meant for our ears. We sometimes think that the stories we hear are just nice stories about the past, but we never stop to consider what the words would mean if they were meant for us. Well the words are meant for us. God in His wisdom inspired the Evangelists to write down the basic elements of Christ’s story so that we could hear from their point of view what God wanted us to know now in 2012.

So what does it mean to repent? Repentance is “to change one’s mind or point of view or direction.” Taken spiritually, that would mean to change our mind to become more like Christ’s mind; to change our point of view to become more like Christ’s point of view; to change our direction toward God rather than away from Him. Let’s take first things first this new year…..let’s change the way we listen to the Holy Scriptures and let’s practice hearing the words as they were meant to be heard….directed toward us and expecting some sort of response.

You may be asking why the urgency? Well, that’s the rest of His first sermon. “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” It is now, not later, that Christ has established His kingdom. If we want to be with Him in heaven, we need to get ourselves ready NOW, and not wait any longer. Just because God hasn’t returned in over two thousand years to claim His Bride (the Church) doesn’t mean He isn’t coming tonight. And if He does come tonight, wouldn’t you want to be ready for Him?

Sunday, January 1, 2012

On the Eighth Day of Christmas Our Lord has a Name, Jesus

At that time, the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him. Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom; and when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the company they went a day’s journey, and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintances; and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking him. After three days, they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions; and all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. And when they saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.” And he said to them, “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” And they did not understand the saying which he spoke to them. And he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man. – Luke 2.20-21,40-52

As I have already mentioned our Lord’s birth was a beginning rather than an end. Immediately the Gospel teaches us of His ability to teach and astonish the crowds. At the age of twelve He had to be in His Father’s house (the Temple) but still He was obedient to His mother. That sounds like a pretty good New Year’s Resolution – spend more time in God’s House and be obedient to our parents.

Happy New Year!