Faith During a Pandemic

When confronted with illness, most especially when healing does not come, we are tempted to challenge God, “Why!?” The same was true for the Disciple who were unable to heal a boy who had a demon. Christ’s response to them, and to us, “Because of your unbelief.” We must take the seed of faith planted by our parents at our baptism and nourish and cultivate the seed to become a great tree of faith strong enough to move mountains. The seed of faith requires prayer and fasting and the sacramental life of the Church. We need to stop asking why, and start praying and fasting and give the seed of faith some attention. We can no longer let the seed of faith to be ignored in our life.

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Thank you for tuning in to another episode of Be Transfigured, where we invite you to live a new life in Christ. We pray that this episode is a blessing to you, and will inspire you to rededicate your life to Jesus Christ. We invite you to join us for worship or study at the Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Tarpon Springs, Florida, where visitors are always welcome. We'll be back in a few moments to share some more information about our ministry.

As is always the case, the gospel this morning is beautifully relevant for our day today. Sometimes you have to really search to see how it speaks to us for our modern day but I think today, especially in the middle of this pandemic, this morning's gospel speaks to us crystal clear about what God wants for us in our life.

Here is this man who comes to Jesus and he says, "Lord have mercy on my son. He's sick. He throws him into the fire. He falls into the water. I brought him to your disciples and they could not heal him." And sometimes, after now more than six months of this pandemic, we might be asking ourselves, "God, what's the deal. We have been praying. We have come to church and still this pandemic is spreading throughout our world." And I bet still the Lord has the same response, "How long do I have to be with you? How long do I have to bear with you?" Imagine how that must've tore straight to the heart of that man.

Instead of hearing God's first response, "Oh, παιδί μου (O my little child) come please." Instead, the first words he heard from God were, "Rebuke." As if in 21st century language, God might say, "Really, are you kidding me?" He says, "Bring the boy to me." And he casts out the demon. Now the story doesn't end there, as we know, because the apostles now were confused and I suspect a little offended because they go to him privately now. It's just Christ and his disciples and they say, "Excuse me, Lord, why could we not cast it out?" And the Scripture says, so Jesus said to them, "Because of your unbelief. For assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move and nothing will be impossible for you."

Now there my brothers and sisters is where most of our Protestant brothers and sisters end the story because the next verse is not in their Bible. The verse that we heard this morning, where Christ says, "However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting." Is not in most of the English translations of the Bible that are printed today, and yet it is there in the original Greek. And so we have an additional benefit as Orthodox Christians in that we hear the original every Sunday and we know that Christ’s rebuke, his chastisement of not only the Father, but again of the holy apostles. Now these holy apostles were following him here and there. They had in theory, given up their lives to follow him. And he says, "Because of your unbelief..." And so here we are six months into this pandemic. And from what I'm reading and hearing, it's going to be at least another six months before this is behind us. And so we are tempted to ask God the same thing. Why? Why has God not taken this pandemic away from us? The answer is the same. Because of our lack of faith.

You see my brothers and sisters, when we take God's word into our hearts and we let it grow inside of us like that mustard seed. In time, with proper attention, with proper nourishment, with proper cultivation, that little teeny mustard seed so tiny, becomes a big tree, but it doesn't happen overnight. It takes time. And that same mustard seed just like our faith is tested in the desert. Goes through droughts, goes through storms, and sometimes maybe a branch might break off. In horticulture that's called pruning.

Many of us at least our shrubs and our trees we prune. I fancy myself, at least at a hobby level a gardener. I probably spend more time playing in the dirt than I do actually getting any kind of food from my garden, but it's a hobby. But I know that even the crops need pruning and attention. You can't just put the seed in the ground and walk away and expect something to happen. The same is true with our faith, my brothers and sisters, especially for those of us who were born Orthodox. The seed was planted by our parents at our baptism. It's up to us to nourish the seed. It's up to us to cultivate the seed from the seedling, to a small little plant, until eventually our faith has blossomed and grown into this great tree, where Christ says nothing will be impossible to you. If you say to that mountain, "Move from here to there," the mountain will move.

When we pray, when we fast as Orthodox Christians, we are tending that seedling. When we fast, we're learning to take the weeds out of our life, to prune the bad branches so the good ones grow. When we come for holy confession, it's like taking and loosening up the soil to get all of the weeds and the other things that are growing and trying to choke out the seed out of the way. And when we come for Holy Communion, it's the most rich fertilizer for the seed of our faith. And then it comes back to the question again, why is the pandemic still here?

Maybe the answer my brothers and sisters is so that God is giving us inspiration to give the seed of faith some attention in our heart. Maybe this pandemic is our opportunity to realize that we have allowed our faith to just sit there and take care of itself. Maybe these struggles that we're going through today, my brothers and sisters, are being allowed as a blessing from God so we can rededicate our faith as Orthodox Christians to a life of prayer and the life of fasting and the life of the holy sacraments, not just on the great holy days.

Saint Basil told us over 1,600 years ago, Saint Basil teaches us that we should be prepared to receive Holy Communion, now listen to this, because this is all part of nourishing that seed of faith. Saint Basil the Great tells us we should be prepared to receive Holy Communion every Sunday, every Wednesday, and every other day that it is offered. How else is the seed of faith going to be nourished in our soul? How else are we going to take that minuscule seed planted by our godparents or our parents when we were little babies and nurture it to grow into this great tree of faith if we don't give it the attention that it deserves?

And so God is reminding us, my brothers and sisters, how long is he going to be with us? How long is he going to bear with us? How long is he going to be patient with us? How long are we going to remain faithless, letting the seed tend to itself instead of living the Orthodox life, being fervent with the Orthodox life, tilling the soil every now and then, feeding it, pruning it? And that's when God says nothing will be impossible for us. Most especially our salvation in the kingdom of heaven. Glory to God for all things.

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