I often hear Christians challenge the “need” for “organized religion” in their life. Many believe the Christian journey is about a singular relationship with Jesus Christ. Many believe that so long as they believe in the hear that Jesus is Lord, there is no “need” to be part of a Church community. In fact this is such a large demographic of Christians, that researchers have coined them “nones” because they belong to no denomination or Church.
The Church helps us see to silliness in having pride when it comes to our spiritual journey. “Thank You God! I’m not like all the other sinners in the Church!” If we ever witnessed a Church leader begin prayer with such a ridiculous prayer, we would turn away and run for the hills. On the other hand, Christian humility isn’t about calling ourselves ugly names either. True Christian humility is about being honest with where we are in life. True Christian humility helps us see that we are all sinners and we need God’s mercy.
Every now and then the Church is thrust into a debate by people demanding a response. Last week was the annual March for Life, and throughout the day my social media feed was filled with challenges to those who declare themselves “Pro-Life” and against abortion. Of course this is just one of the hot button topics of our day, but nonetheless, the Church is often thrust in the midst of a debate which, quite frankly is not an honest one. I’ve written before about why I do not engage in political debate, so today’s post is not about the right to life or abortion.
On the Sunday before Triodion the Church brings our attention to Zacchaeus. He was a short, rich, sinful tax collector who wanted to see Jesus. Since he couldn’t see over the crowd, he climbed above the crowd to see Jesus. When Jesus came to stay at Zacchaeus’ house, Zacchaeus promised to give half of everything he had to the poor, and return fourfold anything he had received through false accusation. It just took a little climbing and he was saved. We are surrounded by so many temptations that we can’t always see God.
Much ink has been spilled over the centuries attempting to prove the existence of God. Philosophers have published thousands of pages debating the existence of God. Hollywood has developed miles of film featuring conversion stories that have come as a result of debate. Truth is, however, you can’t prove God.
From the time Jesus began to teach, He invited us to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4.17) This invitation from our Lord is crucial to our experiencing His love as heaven rather than hell. Since our ancestors fell trap to the devil’s temptation in the Garden, we humans have been looking at the world through our fallen eyes with our fallen human condition. When Jesus invites us to repent, He is challenging us to change our mindset, to change our view point, and look at the world from God’s point of view.
I encounter many faithful Christians, both Orthodox and non Orthodox, who lament the various temptations they feel throughout the day. Look here. Do this. Say that. God there. So many temptations, such frustration. Many think that God had promised to protect us from temptation. Many believe, ‘just believe in God more, and He will place a magical sphere of protection around your mind.’ Of course, living just a few days as a believer in Christ teaches us this is just not the case. Temptation never ceases, but that is to be expected. Jesus was also tempted.
Many times I have heard that Jesus died as punishment for our sins. I have heard people say that He had to be killed (sacrificed) so we could live. I keep hearing about the death of Jesus as if that were the reason He came. The Church teaches He came to unite humanity with divinity, which is our ultimate salvation. We call it being in communion with God, but that’s not what I want to talk about today.
Take a moment and read today’s Gospel reading:
Today is the Feast of Saint Gregory of Nyssa, and since I personally know the current Bishop of Nyssa, today always plays a special reminder for me about our ancient unbroken history as Orthodox Christians. We speak about Apostolic Tradition, but we rarely take notice of it when it occurs in our presence.
“After me comes a man who ranks before me.” (John 1.30) With these words John the Baptist pointed his disciples toward Jesus Christ. He had prepared them to seek the Messiah, Who is Christ. He had promised them that someone greater than he was coming. Yesterday we celebrated the Feast of Epiphany, the Baptism of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ. As we have done for some many decades before, we honored the Feast by blessing the Spring Bayou and the entire Tampa Bay Area. In a small way, we did what John the Baptist did so many centuries ago.