Good News, Bad News and Really Good News

For those of us Gentiles in the Church, we are reminded that we were brought into the Church by Christ because the Jews were disobedient to God. That’s good news for us. However, Saint Paul reminds us that we are strangers, adopted into the Church, and if God removed the Jews who were native to the Church, He will not hesitate to remove us if we are disobedient and selfish with the Church. Then there is the really good news! There is still time for us. We are still able to change and live obedient lives, producing fruit for God. When produce the fruit of the Spirit, “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control,” (Galatians 5.22-23) God will grow the Church into a beacon of hope and light.

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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 St. 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.

In this morning's gospel, there's good news, and there's not so good news. I don't want really want to call it bad news, but let's face it. It's bad news. But there's also really good news. So I want to start this morning with the good news because after all, the word gospel, Ευαγγέλιον means the good news from God. And so the good news, my brothers and sisters for those of us Gentiles is that in this morning's gospel, Christ talked about how the Jews were going to eventually lose their position in the church. This morning's gospel, we have always understood from the very beginning was a parable about disobedient servants. It says the master, οικοδεσπότις is the word in Greek. And I might add it's the same word that we use when we talk about stewardship in the church. So that should be in the back of our heads as well.

It talks about the steward of the vineyard. And he set up this beautiful vineyard, he puts the wine press in, he puts the tower up and he says, "Now look" to the workers. "I'm going to leave and I'm going to come back and I expect to have some fruit from the vineyard." And when he sends his servants to them at the time of the harvest, we remember the story. We just heard it. They killed the servants. He sent more servants. They killed the servants.

Finally, he sends his son who we know in this parable is Jesus Christ. He sends his son and the workers thinking they're all sneaky. They say, let's kill the son, and then we get the whole vineyard to ourselves. And as the Lord is telling this story, he asks, "And what is going to happen? What is the master going to do when he comes?" They answered him. "He will destroy those wicked men miserably and lease his vineyard to the other vine dressers, who will render to him the fruits in their seasons." And that is the good news for us Gentiles, for those of us who were not born Jewish because the Jews were disobedient to God, he gave us the church. He gave us the power to become his children, the new Israel. That's the good news.

The bad news, as we are reminded by St. Paul, is a warning for us who are now in the church. And I would say most especially, but not only, but most, especially for those of us born in the church. Because we tend to have this misunderstanding of some kind of birthright, some kind of special capacity within the church because we were born here. And so the warning that St. Paul reminds us of my brothers and sisters, is that if those who were native were pulled out, we cannot be so arrogant to think that God will not also remove us from the church if we are disobedient servants, if we do not do with the fruit of the church as God wants us to do. And that's a heavy warning.

I was reading a Facebook post from another priest as he was preparing for today's sermon. And he said, "It is not good enough to just be Orthodox." And what he was trying to help us understand, we've had the conversation here before. It is not what we call ourselves. It's how we live our life. Are we obedient servants to Christ? Do we take the vineyard that has been given to us? Do we take the church? Do we receive the church? And like that word, οικοδεσπότις, are we good stewards of God's church? Or, like the wicked servants, do we think to ourselves how we can keep it for ourselves? They killed the prophets and they eventually killed Christ, wanting to keep everything for themselves. How are we acting? Are we bearing fruit with God's church?

As a reminder from the Book of Galatians, the fruits of the Holy Spirit, love, joy, peace, long suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control and gentleness. Now, I must confess to you. I'm still working to perfect this list. We are all still working to perfect this list. We are all still, if we try, we're all still workers in the vineyard to produce this fruit for God. But it will be taken away from us if we become selfish servants of God. If we think that we can keep this church just for ourselves, God will take it from us and give it to another, just as he did to the Jews. And that is very clear, not only from this morning's gospel, but from the warnings of the great St. Paul.

And now for the really good news. It's not too late. The really good news is we can hear this morning's gospel, we can accept this morning's gospel as warning for our life, and we can change and we can repent. And we can begin living as obedient servants of God, desiring to bear fruit with his church, desiring to do with his church as he, the master, desires. He does not want us to keep this church for ourselves. We are the foreigners. We Gentiles are the foreigners. We are not natives in the church. The Jews are the natives. We were let in by God. Who are we to think that we can keep anyone out of this church just because they don't look like us or sound like us or come from the same island as we do? That was the mentality of the Jews, and they lost the kingdom and we were let in.

And so my brothers and sisters, take the really good news today. There's still time for repentance. There's still time to change our life. It's not too late for us because we are still alive. Now, my challenge is not a simple one, but it's a basic one. From this moment on, we must begin to live as if we are servants of God and his church, not owners of his church. God is the master. We are the servants. And if his desire for us is to reach out and make his good news and his hope for a new tomorrow, open for all people, then that's exactly what we must begin to do.

117 years, this church has stood in the heart of Tarpon Springs and still I meet people, whether we choose to believe it or not, who don't think they're even allowed to come to church here because they come from the wrong part of the world. Shame on us. I know it's not an easy thing to hear, but it is the warning in this morning's gospel. But it's never too late. We can make a difference by telling our friends, and especially during this pandemic, we all know people who are suffering, many of them from depression, because so many are not even leaving the house. Some have lost their businesses, some have struggled to even put food on their table.

We can be there for them. We can be servants of God, to show them love, and patience, and kindness, and joy, faithfulness, self-control and gentleness. Not simple, but basic. And that's the really good news of God, is that we have today to start new, to truly live as his obedient servants and watch this church grow into the beacon of hope and light, not just for Tarpon Springs, but all of Tampa Bay. Glory to God, for all things.

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