Trust God

 

“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?”

 

“Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? . .  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:25-27,34)

 

“If you believe firmly that God cares for you, then you do not need to worry about the body, nor need you be concerned about discovering ways how to conduct your life. If, however, you doubt God’s care, and want to look after yourself without God, then you are the most miserable person imaginable.”  (The Wisdom of St. Isaac of Nineveh, p. 6)

(II) Whom Do You Seek?

Sermon notes for 16 July 2017

See previous post: (I) Whom Do You Seek?

This Gospel lesson begins with some folk seeking Jesus – to bring him a paralytic.  The lesson doesn’t say what the people coming to Jesus were looking for, but Jesus sees their faith and pardons the paralytic of his sins.  We might infer from this that this is exactly what these folk were seeking from Jesus.  They will by the end of the story get even more – the paralytic will be healed.  But it is possible that the man wanted forgiveness more than anything else and Jesus correctly discerned this.

Gospel: Matthew 9:1-8
So Jesus got into a boat, crossed over, and came to His own city. Then behold, they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.” And at once some of the scribes said within themselves, “This Man blasphemes!” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins” – then He said to the paralytic, “Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.” And he arose and departed to his house. Now when the multitudes saw it, they marveled and glorified God, who had given such power to men.

Why did Jesus heal this man?  To prove he was not blaspheming, and that He really did have the power to forgive sins.   Jesus’ initial and prime response to their faith is to forgive the sins of the paralytic.  Jesus heals the man only as the afterthought, to prove that his words about forgiveness are real.

We often love miracles of all sorts, but in Christianity they are supposed to be signs pointing to the Kingdom of God.  They are not the main attraction.  Yet the attraction of miracles, and even magical events captures the attraction of many Christians.  In loving the miracle, they can lose sight of its importance and meaning.

Note:  In the Gospel lesson, the people marveled, not that the man was healed, but that Christ has the power to heal!  They actually are on to something important and aren’t being distracted by the miracle.

The Gospel lesson begins with some faithful people seeking Jesus out.  In response to their faith, Jesus forgives.

Last week, I asked you to think about, “What is my question for Jesus?”  The paralytic’s question may well have been, “Can you forgive me?”

Today, I ask you something Jesus asked, “Whom do you seek?”

We might think that seeking Jesus is always a good thing, and it is, except that sometimes people do seek Him for wrong reasons.  We can think back to the Garden of Gethsemane.

Then Jesus, knowing all that was to befall him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When he said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. Again he asked them, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he;  . . . So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews seized Jesus and bound him. (John 18:4-11)

The men coming to arrest Jesus were seeking Him!  And note that Jesus does not disseminate or obfuscate in His answer.  He plainly and truthfully says that He is Jesus.  He accepts all who seek Him!  He is not worried about their motives.  If they are seeking Him, they are on a right path, even if they don’t know it.  He doesn’t try to avoid them or escape them.

But some do seek Jesus to be rid of him.

Sometimes people are seeking Him and yet can’t see Him even when He is right in front of them

Jesus said to Mary Magdalene, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).   (John 20:15-16)

Why couldn’t she see Him?  She was looking for a dead man.  She didn’t understand yet who He is.  So her wrong understanding prevented her from seeing Him exactly as He is.

This can happen to any of us if we fail to seek out the risen Lord, but rather only want a miracle worker or a magician or a slave to clean up our messes and our lives.  If we aren’t looking for the risen Lord, we will miss Him entirely even if he stands right before our eyes.

This is also how sometimes our desire for and love miracles can blind us, for we seek the magic and the power but not He who is empowered to save us.  The Magi of Matthew 2 were able to find the Messiah, even if He was still but a young baby because they were looking for the King of the Jews – they were looking for who Jesus is rather than whom they imagine Him to be.  The stars and the angels guided them right to Jesus.

If we seek Jesus for who He is, we will find Him and be able to see Him.

A final thought based upon today’s Epistle lesson – Romans 12:6-14 –

Brothers and sisters, having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

Seeking Jesus requires effort and emotion, energy and enthusiasm on our part.  Look at the Epistle – it emphasizes diligence, fervor, strength, steadfastness as well as affection, rejoicing and cheerfulness.  Seeking Jesus is not for the half-hearted or double-minded.

Note as well what St. Paul says we are to do – provide for the saints and practice hospitality.  I actually think we do these two things well.    The last point comes much harder to us –  Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse!

 

(I) Whom Do You Seek?

I seek not what is yours but you”

(2 Corinthians 12:14)

Then Jesus, knowing all that was to befall him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.” (J0hn 18:4-5)

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you; for on him has God the Father set his seal.” (J0hn 6:26-27)

“For the early Christians, the Body of Christ is on the altar because He is among them. For the contemporary Christians, Christ is here because His Body is on the altar. It seems to be analogous, but in fact, there is an essential difference between the early Christians and us. For them, everything is in knowing Christ, loving Him. For us, everything is in the desire to be enlightened. The early Christians came to Communion to follow Christ, whereas now Christ is not the unique reason for partaking of Communion.” (Fr. Alexander Schmemman, The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemman, p. 31)

It is possible that we are far more interested in the gifts that we will personally receive than we are in the Giver of the gifts.  We come to church for what we can get out of it.  We lose interest in Christ, but want miracles in our lives.  We crave contact with the divine but don’t want there to be a Lord over  us.

“You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me; yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (John 5:39-40)

Mary Magdalene turned round and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (John 20:14-16)

Next:  (II)  Whom Do You Seek?

Nature As Images of Spirituality

There are many images and metaphors of the spiritual life, some more poetic than others.  Sometimes we find even among non-Christians descriptions of the spiritual life that show that indeed God distributes His words to all people on earth.

Mevlana, who lived in the thirteenth century writes:

“Become like the sun in your compassion and generosity;

Like the night, cover up the shortcomings of others;

As the rushing waters, reach out to the entire world;

During moments of anger, at times of rage, become like a dead man;

Become like the earth (humus) so people can stand firm on your foundation;

And either become that whom you manifest, or manifest who you really are.”

(Mevlana Rumi, from Andrew M. Sharp, Orthodox Christians and Islam in the Postmodern Age, p. 95).

The Spiritual Gift of Church Administration

“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues.”  (1 Corinthians 12:27-28)

“Those who bear the ministry of administration, the pastors, are also representatives of authority without which the ministry would be impossible. Authority is part of the life of the Church, which has this ministry of administration. But the ecclesial authority ought to conform to the nature of the Church and not be in conflict with it. If such authority claims to be superior to the Church then it must also be superior to Christ. This is why neither the Church nor its authority can ever be founded upon a juridical principle, for the law is external to love. Such authority cannot belong to the vicars of Christ on earth, since God has not delegated his power to anyone but has put all people in submission to Christ, ‘put all things under his feet.’ 

 In the Church, which is love, there is only the power of love. God gives the pastors not the charism of power but that of love and, through it, the power of love. The bishops who exercise the ministry of administration are the bearers of the power of love. The submission of all to the bishop takes place in love and it is only by love that the bishop submits to the faithful. All submission of one another is realized through the mediation of the love we have for Christ. The submission of all to the bishop is actualized by the love he has for all and by the reciprocal love of the faithful for him.

There can be no other foundation of power in the Church, for Christ is the only foundation of power in it. The pastors are able to have only that church Christ gives to the Church.”

(Nicholas Afanasiev, The Church of the Holy Spirit, p. 273).

Sojourning on the Way: Roadblocks

“Those who follow the path of God often experience times when the holy peace, that glorious inner seclusion of calm detachment, and the freedom they love are interrupted-when, in fact, they withdraw. Sometimes movements within the heart raise such clouds of dust within that one cannot see the path one must follow.

When we happen to experience something like this, we must realize and recognize that God allows it to happen for our own good. This is precisely the warfare for which God has rewarded his saints with radiant crowns. Remembering this, then, let us not lose courage in the trials we face. As in any other trouble, we may look to the Lord and say to Him from our heart, ‘O Lord my God, take care of Your servant, and let Your will be done in me. I know and confess that Your words and promise are true. I put my trust in them and stand firmly upon Your path.’ Blessed is the soul that surrenders to the Lord each time it experiences trouble and hardship.

If, in spite of this, the struggle persists and we are unable to attune and unite our will with the will of God as quickly as we wish, let us not mourn or lose heart, but continue to surrender ourselves to God, bowing willingly to His decisions. Through this we will gain victory. Remember the battle our Lord Jesus Christ had to fight in the garden of Gethsemane, when he cried, ‘O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.’ But he immediately added, ‘Nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will’ (Matthew 26:39). For He indeed faced all we have to face.

When we are faced with difficulties, it is best not to take any step til we raise our eyes to the crucified Christ our Lord. There we will see written in large letters how we too should behave in the hardships which face us. So let us copy it for ourselves – not in letters and words, but in actions. That is, when we feel attacks of self-loving, self-pity, we must not pay attention to them nor crawl down from our cross. Let us rather resort to prayer and endure with humility – striving to conquer our will and to stand firmly in the determination to desire God’s will to be done in us.

If we emerge from our prayer with this fruit, let us rejoice. If we fail to attain it, our soul will be left fasting, not having tasted its natural fruit.

We must try to let nothing dwell in our soul except God – even for a short time. In the meantime, do not mourn or be distressed by anything. Nor should we turn our eyes to look at the evil of others or to bad examples. Rather, let us learn to be like a little child, which, in its innocence, does not notice such things, but passes them by unharmed.” (Jack N. Sparks, Victory in the Unseen Warfare, pp. 111-112) 

What is My Question for Christ?

Sermon notes for Sunday, July 9, the 5th Sunday After Pentecost

When Hearts become flameA question that is suggested in the book WHEN HEARTS BECOME FLAME by Stephen Muse:  What is my question for Jesus?

The question I would ask tells a great deal about my relationship to Him, who I imagine He is, what role He plays in my life.

The Scripture readings for the day also have questions in them.  They however suggest wrong questions.  St. Paul (Romans 10:1-10) contrasting those who live by faith with those who try to attain righteousness through their own strict adherence to Torah suggests there are questions we should not ask because they are the wrong questions:

. . . But the righteousness of faith speaks in this way, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down from above) or, ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 

The person who believes that they can attain God’s righteousness by their own ability perfectly to keep Torah imagines that he/she can ascend to heaven, and to bring the Christ to earth.  Or, they imagine by their own ritual and moral perfection that they could even raise the Messiah from the dead.

24049955810_33de354f96_mSt. Paul says the questions are wrong.  It is not by our own righteousness that we can accomplish God’s will.  We cannot by our good works ascend to heaven, nor would we by our own righteous behavior be able to escape the depth of hell.

The questions are wrong because they reflect a total misunderstanding of the Christ, of who He is, why we need Him, what He does for our salvation.  Christ does not come from heaven to earth because of the righteousness of some on earth.  Nor does Christ rise from the dead because of the goodness of God’s people.  It is while we are sinners and because we are sinners that Christ descends to earth and becomes incarnate and then descends into Hades and rises from the dead.

So, “What is my question for Christ?”

The Gospel lesson for the day is Matthew 8:28-9:1, Christ’s encounter with the Gergesene demoniacs.   They too have a question for Christ:

“What have we to do with You, Jesus, You Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?”

23977733249_1d881d6e9b_mSt. John Chrysostom in his commentary on this Gospel notes the real difference between Christ and the demons.  The demons are terrified of Christ – they have a real fear of God.  But it does them no good, for they aren’t motivated by their fear of God to do good.

Christ, for His part, is not but gentle with the demons.  He doesn’t threaten them, though they obviously feel threatened.  Christ does not torment them, but actually grants them their request.  They want out of His presence.  Obviously they don’t even have the power to flee from Christ.  They are powerless in His presence.  They have to ask His permission to leave.  This story is used in the prayers of exorcism at a baptism.  We remind Satan, even taunt him, that he has no power when Christ is present and can only do what Christ allows him to do. Satan cannot even flee without asking Christ’s permission!

Christ treats the demons with kindness and respect, as only their creator could do.  Christ is not threatened by them and clearly not afraid of them.

The demons might have recognized the even-keeled temperament of their Creator, but they don’t.  They don’t ask the right question.  They don’t ask Christ if they could serve Him.   They may represent some kind of chaotic, uncontrolled power and evil, but they also are shown to be powerless and inconsequential by Christ.

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Proverbs tells us that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10; c.f. Psalm 111:10).   The demons have the fear of God as is shown in their attitude toward Christ.  It does them no good, as it doesn’t lead to wisdom.  They want to flee His presence rather than embrace His goodness.  Their question for Jesus doesn’t help as it doesn’t put them in a right relationship with Christ.  It is no doubt because their relationship to Christ is wrong that they ask the wrong question.

Each of us should think about what is my question for Christ?

If I say something like, “Will He help me?” – that is not a question directed to Christ but a question for our self to answer.  I need to change the question and ask it directly to Christ.  I need to talk to Him.  I need to orient my life so that I can so directly talk to Him.

If I ask, “Can you help me, Jesus?”   – the answer is yes, of course He could, but whether the help I want is in accordance with God’s will is another issue.  To ask that question seems to reflect some doubt in my heart about his ability/power or about His goodness and love.

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To ask the right question, I need to think about who Jesus is, what His will and intention is, what is He capable of?   And who am I in relationship to Him?   Depending on who I am in relationship to Him determines what I can ask of Him.

If I am His servant, and He really is my Lord, I can ask, “How can I serve You?”  “What is your will for me?”

My ability to hear His response will depend on my relationship to Him.  I need to know who He is before I can relate to Him, or ask the right question of Him.

Humanity as an Icon of God

‘The glory of God is man’, affirms the Talmud (Derech Eretz Zutta 10,5); and Irenaeus states the same: ‘The glory of God is a living man.’ The human person forms the centre and crown of God’s creation. Man’s unique position in the cosmos is indicated above all by the fact that he is made ‘in the image and likeness’ of God (Gen. 1:26). Man is a finite expression of God’s infinite self-expression. 

Sometimes the Greek Fathers associate the divine image or ‘ikon’ in man with the totality of his nature, considered as a trinity of spirit, soul and body. At other times they connect the image more specifically with the highest aspect of man, with his spirit or spiritual intellect, through which he attains knowledge of God and union with him. Fundamentally, the image of God in man denotes everything that distinguishes man from the animals, that makes him in the full and true sense a person – a moral agent capable of right and wrong, a spiritual subject endowed with inward freedom.

…To believe that man is made in God’s image is to believe that man is created for communion and union with God, and that if he rejects this communion he ceases to be properly human. There is no such thing as ‘natural man’ existing in separation from God: man cut off from God is in a highly unnatural state. The image doctrine means, therefore, that man has God as the inner-most centre of his being. The divine is the determining element in our humanity; losing our sense of the divine, we lose also our sense of the human.  (Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way, pp. 64-65, 67)

Eucharist Means Communion

“As Metropolitan John Zizioulas has recently written:

It is not by accident that the Church has given to the Eucharist the name of ‘communion.’ For in the Eucharist we can find all the dimensions of communion: God communicates himself to us, we enter into communion with him, the participants of the sacrament enter into communion with one another, and creation as a whole enters through man into communion with God. All this takes place in Christ and the Spirit, who brings the last days into history and offers to the world a foretaste of the Kingdom (The Cambridge Companion to Orthodox Christian Theology, p. 181).