Between the Presence of Christ

1]  Often times Christians speak about our life on earth as being a time between the first and second comings of Christ.  He came first into the world as a baby, lived a human life, and was executed as a criminal, only to rise from the dead.  He ascended to heaven and promised to return to earth at the time of the judgement day.  Our life on earth is thus always between the first and second comings of Christ, we live in His presence and between His presence.

2]  The Evangelist Matthew in his Gospel also presents us a view of the Messiah in which at the beginning of the Gospel we are told Jesus is God  with us (Matthew 1:23) and at the end of Gospel (Matthew 28:20) we are told He is with us always to the close of the age.  The entire Gospel is written as if between the presence of God in the incarnation of Christ and His ascension into heaven and promise that He is with us always.

In Matthew 1:1-16 we read the Genealogy of Jesus Christ.  We realize all these generations, no matter how great these people are in Israel’s history, have passed away.  None of them represents the abiding presence of God in the world.  In contrast to the generations is Emmanuel, God with us.  God’s presence with us  continues forever in Christ, and is not completely dependent on any one generation.  Each generation passes away but the Word of God lives forever.

“Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel” (which means, God with us).  (Matthew 1:23)

Matthew’s Gospel moves quickly from Christ’s birth to His temptation as an adult by Satan.  Satan tempts Christ with the claim that Satan himself has the power to give Christ all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.  Jesus rejects the offer and the claim.  Christ in fact will wrest any such power from Satan through His own death on the cross and through His resurrection from the dead.

Again, the devil took Jesus to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”   (Matthew 4:8 -9)

We see in Matthew’s Gospel it is Christ’s willingness to reject Satan’s offer and to reject the satanic ideas of power and glory which will lead to Christ’s receiving the glory of God.    Christ’s life  witnesses to the power and glory of God which is so different than worldly ideas of power.  So on Palm Sunday , Christ our king, rides humbly on a donkey into Jerusalem.  A few days later, Christ dies on the Cross as the King of Glory.

Then we come to the concluding words of Matthew’s Gospel:

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”   (Matthew 28:16 -20)

St. Matthew begins his Gospel narrative telling us that Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us.  He ends his Gospel by having Jesus proclaim that He (Jesus) is with us always even to the end of the age.   We live in this presence of Christ even though we live between Christ’s two comings to earth.

3]   Liturgically we show our life between the incarnation and the second coming in the church by the way the icons are arranged and by our receiving the Body and Blood of Christ in this time between the two comings –   between the Icon of the Theotokos and the Icon of Christ which show us His incarnation and first coming, and His coming again in His Kingdom.


RSVP: The Messianic Banquet

Eaeh year in the Orthodox calendar during the Nativity Fast the Gospel lesson from Luke 14:16-24 is proclaimed on a Sunday a few weeks before Christmas.  The parable is often interpreted as one of the parables of the Kingdom of God, this one referring particularly to the Messianic Banquet to be experienced at the end of this age.

At that time, the Lord Jesus said, “Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my regrets.’  Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my regrets.’ Another said, ‘I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ And the slave said, ‘Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.’ Then the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.’”

Fr. John Behr comments:

“Coming together now, to get ourselves ready, we hear a familiar but very striking parable from Christ. A man is ready to give a great banquet, and sends out his servant to call the invited guests. But they all make excuses – and how familiar these excuses are: some need to work their fields or look after their animal, they need to take care of their business; while others are now married and need to look after their families.

The host doesn’t simply abandon the idea of having a banquet; he instead changes his guest list. He invites all those who had absolutely no expectation whatsoever that they would ever be invited to such a feast. He invites the maimed, the blind and lame, all the outcasts of society who live on the streets and in the lanes begging for their food.

Then, as there is still more room, the net is cast wider, this time going outside the city to the country roads and fields, so that, he says, the house will be full; and then he adds, full that ‘not one of those who were formerly invited shall taste my banquet.’Clearly, the point of the parable is to question the confidence of those who think that they will be present at Christ’s own messianic banquet when he comes again in glory. All those who were assured of a place turned out not really to want it. So, we need to ask ourselves, do we really think that, when we are called, we will act any differently from those in the parable? Why should we think that we will have the conviction and the strength to act differently, when even the disciples of Christ didn’t?” (John Behr, The Cross Stands Still While the World Turns, pp 107-108)

The Last Judgment (Meatfare 1995)

 Sermon notes for  The Last Judgment      February 26, 1995     Matthew 25:31-46  

  The Last Judgment is coming!

You all have heard today’s Gospel lesson from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. His teaching was straightforward and simple.

We may try to dismiss it, or say the world has always been the way it is and it will continue this way forever. But our Lord told you and I what was going to happen. He told us how He is going to judge us when He returns to judge the earth at His second coming.

And I do not want to soften His teaching in any way by explaining His teaching in this sermon. The lesson today is sobering. My role is much like the Prophet Ezekiel who said:

Now it came to pass at the end of seven days that the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear a word from My mouth, and give them warning from Me: “When I say to the wicked or to the righteous, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning to save his life, that same wicked or righteous person shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. Yet, if you warn the wicked or the righteous, and he does not turn from his sin, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul.    (Ezekiel 3:16-21, slightly paraphrased)

You and I my friends have been warned. The good news is that we can do something about the warning right now. We all are capable of doing the loving and kind acts which Christ our Lord spoke of.

We say that Christ is our Lord and teacher, let us now do his teaching. If Christ had demanded from us some hard labor, to carry some heavy burden, we might be able to object and say “this work is too hard, I can’t do it.” But, what Christ teaches us is easy, to care for the least of the brothers and sisters, to love, to be kind, to be merciful, to share our blessings and time with those in need. As St. Basil quipped about the blessings we have received, “If you hoard them, you won’t have them, if you scatter them you won’t lose them.”

Open your eyes Christian people and look for the little brothers and sisters of Christ who are in need of what you can share with them.

Remembering as a Reason to Have Hope for the Future

Prophet Isaiah

Text for the Sermon from Isaiah 46   (23 October 1994)

 One thing very noticeable about the Prophet Isaiah is that he repeats his message over and over.   Scholars today always feel that a repeated message in the bible reflects how important the message is.  The more often it is repeated, the more significant the message.   Obviously, the Prophet Isaiah considered his message very important, because he gives us plenty of opportunities to hear it.  

  Today, we are looking at Isaiah 46.   I hope the message repeated by Isaiah through these chapters will not become boring to you, but rather they will become important to you.

“Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am he, even when you turn gray I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.”

 In the first paragraph, God continues to contrast Himself, His religion and His people with the pagan gods, religions and peoples.    Most noticeable is that the pagans carry their idols, while God carries Israel.   It is God who has carried His people through history, from the beginning of the world, through the worst and darkest times, right into the present.   And God’s unfailing promise is that He will continue to bear, carry and save us!

“Remember this and consider, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My purpose shall stand, and I will fulfill my intention,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man for my purpose from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have planned, and I will do it.”

 Then we come in the second paragraph to one of the biggest words of the entire Old Testament.  The word is “remember.”   God constantly tells us to remember in the bible.   He especially wants us to remember all that He has done in the past, so that we remain faithful to Him in the  present.   God commands us to  “remember this!”           

 What are we to remember?

We are to remember how and when and in what ways God carried and saved us His people in the past.   We need to remember bible stories to do this.   We are to remember all the events of the bible.   By remembering the past, we understand the present & future.   By remembering the past we understand that there is a continuity in God’s action between the past and how God works today.  The same God who carried and saved Israel in the most difficult times, is the same God of the Christians, and He still guides the world and He will save us.  

 When and how do we remember the past saving deeds of God?

Right here in the liturgy and if the feasts and fasts of the church!

Remembering, which is exactly what liturgical services and feast days are, is  a key to knowing God.    God acts in history in order to be known and understood.  Don’t forget that!

 Even if you cannot understand God’s current actions or plan, you know him based on past experience (remember) so trust Him!

“Listen to me, you stubborn of heart, you who are far from deliverance: I bring near my deliverance, it is not far off, and my salvation will not tarry; I will put salvation in Zion, for Israel my glory.”

 The final paragraph repeats a common theme of St. Isaiah.   The theme is meant to give hope to us today as it did to Israel 2600 years ago while they sat in captivity in Babylon.   God continues to work out His plan, His divine purpose in history.   Always remember how He has worked in the past, and do not give up hope.    The present is not more hopeless then the past.   Your actions and your activities as the faithful people of God do count.  It is worth remaining faithful to the knowledge of God and to the joyous and hopeful vision which God has given to us. 

 Let us now in this service give thanks to the Lord as we remember the cross, the tomb, the resurrection on the third day, the ascension into heaven and the Lord’s sitting at the Father’s right hand, until he comes again.


Great & Holy Monday (2010)

A main theme of the first days of Holy Week is the return of Christ – imaged as the Bridegroom coming at midnight, with those who were expecting Him being either foolish or wise in terms of preparedness.  The greatest act of preparedness according to the Patristic commentators is actively loving one another.  We don’t “prepare” by suddenly reacting to that which catches us by surprise.  Preparedness is that which we do everyday even when an expected event seems distant and remote.  We are to be disciples daily – take up your cross daily and follow me says Jesus – not just in a last-minute reaction to the end’s imminent arrival.  We are to be vigilant regarding Christ’s coming again.

“The Fathers’ commentary on the parable of wise and foolish virgins discerns in the image of the empty lamps the drying up of love…The Swiss socialist Ragaz stressed the tragic rift between those who believe in God but are not interested in His Kingdom and the atheists who want to build the Kingdom, but who do not believe in God.”    (In the World, of the Church: A Paul Evdokimov Reader)

The Coming of the Kingdom Will Not Be Televised

American Independence Day calls to mind the theme of revolution. 

One song lyrics that I liked the first time I heard it, and still like today is “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” by Gil Scott-Heron.   Though the words first came out about 1970 and refer to the civil rights movement and the black power movement, they had a simple power to them that speaks to me today, on several different levels and for different reasons.  The song is full of references to ideas and personages from the 1970’s time period and also to television commercials of the day.   

Below are a few of the lyrics I’ve excerpted from the song, which if you were around in 1970 you might remember to what they refer.   But today I think about the lyrics in terms of the Kingdom of God, and each time the word “revolution” appears, put the phrase “the Kingdom of God” into the lyrics, and think about the implication for your life, for how you see the world, and where you turn when you want to see or understand the world.

The revolution will not be televised   ….
The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal.
The revolution will not get rid of the nubs.
The revolution will not make you look five pounds thinner ….

There will be no highlights on the eleven o’clock news ….

The revolution will not be right back
after a message about a white tornado, white lightning, or white people.
You will not have to worry about a dove in your
bedroom, a tiger in your tank, or the giant in your toilet bowl.
The revolution will not go better with Coke.
The revolution will not fight the germs that may cause bad breath.
The revolution will put you in the driver’s seat. ….

The revolution will not be televised ….
The revolution will be no re-run brothers;
The revolution will be live.

I think today we are even more “commercialized” (or commercial satiated) than ever and it shapes our thinking.  We are ever more addicted to the electronic media (not just the television, though it is a big part of our lives).  We look to the media for all kinds of advice, guidance, inspiration, information, formation, and entertainment.   It not only shapes our thinking, it takes over our thinking, and even replaces our having to think.  We seem dependent on pundits, analysts, spin doctors, political consultants, and talk show hosts to tell us both what and how to think.   And the Internet, which at one time people thought would open our minds to ideas, has proven itself the perfect outlet for narrowing our minds to find that which agrees with how we already think.

While we watch and listen to all these news pre-digesters, the world is moving on, and we are looking in the wrong direction for we are no longer watching the politicians and world leaders, but we watch only those who comment on them, thus distancing ourselves from the real world the leaders are creating or destroying.  (Which reminds me of another song, TV The Drug of the Nation, by Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy – whose lyrics are also thought provoking).

To get back to my point, thinking about the Kingdom of God: The risk is Instead of giving attention to the Kingdom of God, we look to all manners of spiritual attractions and distractions to occupy our attention.  But the Kingdom of God is going to come to us live – not in or through a book, video or broadcast. 

The Lord Jesus said, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.”  (Luke 17:20-21)

It will come when we least expect it, when we are most distracted by all of the concerns of life, including the ones to which television is drawing our attention.   So to what are you paying attention?