From The Blog

Mission Monthly – May 2008

In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit: Christ is Risen! Christos Anesti! Christos Voskrese! Hristos a înviat! Al-Masih-Qam! Cristo ha resucitado! It is a joy to come now to this time and place, a chance to celebrate our Lord’s Resurrection. It’s been a long journey; but whether it was long for those who did start in the beginning or those who are just starting now: Blessed Feast! Let us enter into the joy of our Lord. In the journey of Lent we go through many hills and valleys. I’m sure all of us will have our own stories to tell. But really they’re all hills because we’re already high on the mountain top. It’s just a matter of degrees. When you’re above the tree line you’re always above the tree line. When you’re in the Kingdom of Heaven, you’re in the Kingdom of Heaven whether you’re having an up day or down, whether you are winning in your spiritual battles or whether the evil one may be getting the upper hand, we are always in the Kingdom of God, present in us. Our Lord said that to us and we believe His word.

As we travel through Lent and through so many things, especially liturgically celebrating the prayer of the Church, coming frequently to hear the Word proclaimed: be it in the reading of Psalms, the singing of special hymns, the reading of prayers petitioning God for mercy again and again and again, one would maybe ask the question: is it all worth it? Not that I am unrealistic but sometimes I think if it were worth it every service would be filled like this service. But we have other things to do. And it’s fine, I guess. We do pray for those who are absent from services for causes worthy of a blessing. It’s up to us to determine whether our “causes” really are worthy or if we are just being lazy. Because the problem isn’t so much about whether or not we attend ten services or twenty or one, it’s not about checking them off the list and getting a gold star. It’s about connecting. It’s about connecting with the Risen Christ. It’s about connecting with God, every day, so that when we are facing life’s greatest trials, life’s greatest temptations, that our faith is interwoven tightly within the very fabric of our nature. Because we live in a world that wants to compromise every other step, a world that wants to tell us, “Oh don’t worry about it. Take care of your own business. God understands. And, oh by the way, if you feel like falling to temptation easily, you’re only human. God understands.” This is a deception, beloved. God does understand, of course, but we cannot take it casually. We cannot take our daily decisions casually. We cannot take our faith casually. We cannot assume our love for God is solid. There are plenty of examples in the Scripture where we hear of people who thought they were doing okay but it turned out they weren’t. And how many of us here feel that secure? I know I don’t. I know God loves me and I know God has saved me, I know God is still saving me, and I know have a lot of work to do.

So this Lenten journey has to have a purpose. This coming all this time to this night when it’s easy to be filled with joy, and easy to get “into the mood” with all the candles. Everything looks good in candle light. But that’s not our faith. Our faith is not just about emotions. How do I feel today? Do I feel like believing in God? Do I feel like loving my neighbor? Do I feel like doing the right thing? Our feelings confuse us all the time. And in a world where light is dark and dark is light, where up is down and down is up, where right is left and left is right, how are we going to trust our emotions; especially if we haven’t submitted them completely to the will of God? Orthodoxy is about doing not about feeling. When God grants us feelings, a sense of His love, it’s mystical. It isn’t goose bumps you get when you hear a beautiful song on the radio, or a sunset. It’s about getting yourself up and praying, getting yourself up and worshipping, getting yourself up and reading your Bible, getting yourself up and serving your neighbor, getting yourself up and coming out of yourself and not just existing in the drama of your own mind. What problem do I have to deal with today? Oh gosh, gosh, gosh, there’s always something. Well maybe those [things] are legitimate, but often times we exaggerate and as soon as we exaggerate we’re like the man in the mirror who when he sees his face and then he turns away he forgets what he looks like. He forgets his name. Like a ship out on the ocean without a rudder, tossed by the waves and opinions of the day. There is a purpose in submitting ourselves to the will of God in the life of the Church: t’s to form us into God-pleasing, God-loving people. Very practical. Not legalism, ritualism, or anything. It’s here: subdue the flesh, subdue the mind, corral our opinions, teach us how to be humble, and be ready to serve the living God.

In [Saturday morning’s] Old Testament readings there was a particular one that jumped out. It was when Abraham was told by God, after he went through this whole process of prayer, hope, waiting, God finally sends his son, Issac. And Abraham loved Issac. But then God said, “Abraham, I need you to kill your son. I need you to show me your love.” And Abraham, a faithful man, was going to do what he was told. And this was the line that caught me in the reading, “[God said,] ‘for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.'” He didn’t hold it back. He was aware of where that gift came from, and he knew that if the Giver wanted it back he’d better give it back, if he was to remain faithful to understanding where his own life came from. He did not withhold the gift. This is our great challenge in a materialistic, self-centered, highly motivated and ambitious society, where people want to acquire security, purpose, a future – that we don’t forget where those gifts come from. That we don’t forget God; the One who gave us life itself. Abraham was ready to sacrifice the thing he loved the most. This is the most amazing thing. For many of us, we’re hesitant to give away our old clothes, the ones we haven’t worn for fifteen years, because of some memory attached to them. I’ve got a couple of those in my closet. But how are we ever going to get to that point of life where our faith is solid, founded, purposeful and we understand where life has come from and where life is going—that God has created, God will give, God will take away. Ours is just to be faithful, to live according to His commandments and to trust that everything we will ever need will be provided for us. Certainly we have to work hard. Certainly we have to be responsible in this world. But if we forget, then maybe our love for God isn’t quite what we thought it was and it’s time for us to repent. But our repentance is not without purpose and hopefully the joy we feel tonight, and I feel it, I do not know about you, that it’s something real, something permanent, something inspiring, something life changing to bring us back in accord with the way of God in whatever way we may be missing the mark.

So this is our Lenten journey, not simply to come to “the nice night of good feelings” but to come to the life of change, of faith, and love for God, and in the most practical of ways, loving our neighbor, serving our neighbor. I’m so happy to see this crowd tonight. Often times after the [procession] people go, so thank God people stayed; there must be a reason for that. I think the world is telling us something and people have a sense that things aren’t right out there. The answers aren’t in the world. The answers aren’t in our passions. The answers are in our Church, in our faith in God, in our unity of community of believers coming together to worship, praise and honor the very Creator of our lives. So let us celebrate this gift, our “Christ is Risen.” Our lives are transformed. We have been given the invitation to the Banquet Table. Let us not go away hungry because of our pride, because of our confusion. But let us come and eat with joy, for indeed this is our Savior’s pleasure that we might be with Him always, to the ages of ages. Christ is Risen!

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