We all know that if we want to do better at something we have to work for it. This has been ingrained in us since our youth that when learning or refining a skill, excepting some circumstances, you will see results related to the effort you put into it. But this isn’t just for skills; our managing of money, our investments, relationships, and hobbies will reflect the work that we’ve put into it. If I don’t practice woodworking I’ll never graduate beyond easier boxes and pizza cutters, athletes suffer if they don’t eat a carefully planned diet. The bottom line is if you’re only going to put in a little, if you want to do the absolute minimum you’ll get the absolute minimum result. What if we turned this a little and said the same for our Church? That by providing and doing the bare minimum we’re only going to get a bare minimum back? What if we gave all out to the Church? What would we encounter? This is what St. Paul is addressing in this passage.Continue reading
I’m a little behind on getting my sermons up, but I’ll be caught up this week.
(Sept. 17) In 2007, actor and philanthropist Alec Baldwin got into a little trouble. The media outlets had gotten a copy of some voicemails that he sent to his daughter. They were awful words that he spoke, and it left a lot of commentators and others confused and upset. We see this kind of thing happen a lot in the media, some person who talks a good game, someone who says they want to change the world for the better (and gives money or work towards it) then scandalizing people by their gross behavior.
St. Paul tells us that it’s not he who lives but Christ who lives in him. It’s no longer his own will but the will of Christ that guides his actions, as he says at the end of this reading “the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
This changes the narrative. It’s not a call for humanitarian work; Christ loves us and also gave himself for us. And in today’s Gospel Christ tells us what we are to do if we were to follow him. ‘For whosever would save his life will lose it, and whosoever loses their life for the sake of the Gospel’s would gain it. If you consider how brutal a symbol of the cross would be at that time, you can understand how serious Christ was concerning our own dedication. As I said last week, we’re called to just be nice people, we’re not called to give money to our favorite charity. But rather Christ calls us to a life of holiness, a life conjoined with God, a life transformed by God. And then we’re to take that transformation, that gospel that so deeply affected us, and spread that out to the ends of the earth. Being a Christian is a hard task.
But it’s not just remembering to say your prayers or show up to Church on time.
It’s taking up your cross when:
- You help a co-worker who had previously “sandbagged” or otherwise hindered you
- you don’t give someone money but instead try to actually help them
- you’re forbearing and loving towards your wife, treating her as Christ treats the Church
- you’re submissive to your husband when you might disagree
- you come to church even though you’re so tired.
- You make the effort to go to church even when your kids are crazy.
- You don’t just love a person who hates you but actively pray for them and their salvation.
- Students speak up for what’s right in their schools. And I mean boys, you’re not taking part in the rough talk towards girls, or the silly macho act towards a marginalized kid. And girls it means not joining in the gossip and meanness that you hear in the school. Not a single one of you would appreciate it happening to you.
As I was thinking about this sermon I also reminded my daughter she needed to empty and load the dishwasher, her nightly chore. Instead of just doing the chore she has to make a number of excuses. “I don’t want to do it” or “Do I have to do it” or my personal favorite “Why can’t they do it?” Honestly, how much do we hear that in our own communities? We have to be the agents of action and change, we can’t rely on anyone else, we can’t point fingers or make excuses. We’re all called to pick up that cross and follow Christ.
The great irony of these examples is that as hard or inconvenient as they seem you cannot avoid being changed. Not only are you going to benefit someone else you are progressing along the path of Salvation. You’re transforming the world while being transformed, but we’re busy telling God we don’t want to do it, that it’s too much of a bother for us, or that someone else could take care of it.
Brothers and sisters, if we are to call ourselves Christian then the ideal is to pick up our cross and walk. Our call is to endure the sufferings, the little annoyances that come in our daily lives, exuding the light and love of our savior, Christ Jesus, for the benefit of the whole world.
If you’ve never read St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians you really should. Paul is addressing something disturbing that he’s heard, that there is someone preaching a different gospel than what was given to them originally, a person who is telling the Galatians they must be circumcised to be actual Christians. It’s a beautiful letter, full wonderful testimony of Paul’s story and his exhortations to the church in Galatia not to fall into the trap of trying to fulfil the Law, but rather to fall into the promise of God, the fulfillment of the Law, that being Christ Jesus. It’s in this Epistle that we learn the fruits of the Spirit and how they differ from the fruits of the flesh. We’re called not to be slaves to the law but a new creation in Christ!ij The passage we read today, which is the closing of the Epistle, says as much.Continue reading
I was going through the used books section of Goodwill the other day when a title popped out at me. It was by a well-to-do Christian businessman, titled How to make a Hell of a Lot of Profit and Still Go to Heaven. It was a guide for ethical money making. Whether his argument is good, I can’t say, but it certainly hearkens to Christ’s words today regarding those who are rich, and the seemingly impossible task that rich people have in obtaining salvation. Christ isn’t mincing word here, there’s no explaining it away, and a preliminary assessment seems to support the claim.Continue reading
In the 70’s there was a man named George Price, a man famous in the circle of theoretical biology, who wrote an equation to try and explain the biological drive of altruism. There had been one already written, and it explains that we love our neighbors because it helps to further our gene pool. According to scientists, the same thing that drives us to be nice can also be the same thing that would drive us to be totally cruel. In other words, there is no such thing as selfless altruism.
This drove George a little crazy. A materialist and devout atheist, reportedly selfish to the core, George immediately became a Christian and set himself to being altruistic without gain. He gave away all of his money, distributed keys to his flat so the homeless could come and go. He did everything he could to give to others, even to his own detriment! He lost his life, penniless, with few possessions, in an abandoned house.Continue reading
Yesterday we commemorated the beheading of St. John the Baptist, the patron of our parish. I’ve been preaching on St. John for the last two days and since today is called the apodosis, or leave-taking, or giving-back of the feast, I’d like to take some more time to preach about him.
John is the greatest of all our prophets, because he was sent by God to announce the coming of Christ. In the Gospels he says to ‘prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’. He’s saying ‘Get ready, guys. Get yourselves in order because the Lord is coming’ and having people make confessions of their sins and receive baptism. It was of grave importance to him that everyone understood that they were soon to meet the Lord. And now, even as at that time, we 21st century Orthodox Christians, every Liturgy, will meet our Lord, mystically present in Eucharist, and it’s just as important to be prepared.
In June of this year an ISIS jihadist converted to Christianity. His story goes that he was quite comfortable and willing and happy to be killing Christians and Muslims alike, until he began to have visions in his dreams of a man in a white robe telling the ISIS man that he was killing all of his children. Then, the next day, he was given a Bible from a Christian he was about to martyr, read it, and then, being disgusted by his actions, converted. This is exactly what St. Paul was doing, as he referenced himself in today’s epistle about Christ revealing himself. He was murdering and persecuting Christians, on behalf of Jewish leaders. He says that by the grace of God is he is what he is, and that grace working in him inspired him to work harder. St. Paul here was reconciled to Christ’s body through repentance and metanoia, a change of action, a change of mindset to bring about better behavior. We’ve talked a lot about forgiveness over the last few weeks, dealing with one another gently and always expecting best intentions, but today I want to talk about reconciliation. It’s different than forgiveness, because you can forgive someone, but you might never try to reconcile! And if St. Paul can do it, so can we! What do I mean by this?
The Gospel on Sunday was the Parable of the Unforgiving Debtor. If you’re unfamiliar with the parable you can follow the link and read it. It’s pretty self-explanitory; if you’re not forgiving people then you shouldn’t expect to be forgiven by God in your own life. There’s no clever way to skirt around it. In order for us to receive forgiveness (and grace, and charity, and so on) in our lives is to in turn take those freely-given gifts and practice them towards others. As Christ says in the Gospel of Matthew when we do these things for others we are doing them to Christ.
Since I’ve been training to try a Strongman competition, but I’m also trying to lose some fat, I have to exercise self-control. I have to eat x amount of protein, fat and carbs. I have to follow particular exercising programs. When I wake up in the morning I eat a certain amount of protein, three hours later a little something else, something before I lift, while I lift, etcetera. I couldn’t do this all at once (I’m still not doing it all at once!) and so I started slow and have been gradually working my way up. I’ve seen the programs of Olympic athletes and their schedules and programs are insane!Continue reading
I’ve mentioned before that the Church, in her wisdom, will sometimes designate particular Gospel and Epistle passages for feast day that are different than what they may usually be (like, for example, if the Transfiguration falls on a Sunday). You may have noticed that since Pascha we haven’t been reading Epistles but the Acts of the Apostles. This book tells the story of the early Christian Church, especially about the ministries of the Twelve and St. Paul’s conversion and work. In the Paschal season we’re reminded in these readings the missionary efforts, the great work, and unflinching faith of the Apostles, a small, fledgling group of men and women dedicated to the Glory of Christ. This month will be my twelfth month here at St. John; I think we’ve accomplished a lot! And as we continue moving forward we’re excited wondering what else we can do. Where can we go over the next three, five, ten years? What are our values here at St. John the Baptist? We can use the Apostles very example to shape our own mission and vision for this parish community. These are the acts that built the Christian Church!