Humble, Persistent, Faithful Prayer for Others

MP3 Audio: WS330339_Dn-Joseph_Humble-Persistent-Faithful-Prayer.mp3

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, March 16, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

~

Gospel Reading: Matthew 15:21-28

And she said, “Truth, Lord, yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.” Then Jesus answered and said unto her, “O woman, great is thy faith. Be it unto thee even as thou wilt.” And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, our God is One.  Amen.

It’s a very fitting Gospel to read during the season of Lent. Lent is known as a time in which we increase our fasting. But as Fr. Michael has told us, it is useless to increase your fasting unless, at the same time, you also increase your praying. And so we come to this passage where we learn what it means to pray rightly. We learn how to pray well. Jesus praises her. Jesus gives her what she requests. So we need to look at how she prays so that we may imitate her example. This Canaanite woman prays humbly. She’s humble.

Many times, when we say that we’re praying, what we’re actually doing is whining with an “amen” at the end. “Lord, please make me not hurt so bad, please heal me. Please fix my finances. Please make my kids like me. Please do this. Please do that.” We whine, we complain, we moan, we groan, and once we have laid out all of our grievances before the Lord, once we’ve given him this long list of all the things we think we deserve, then we say, “In Jesus’ name, amen.”

Her prayers are not like that. When she first prays to him, beseeching him to heal her daughter, he doesn’t even answer her. It’s as if he ignores that she is even there. She doesn’t get upset. She doesn’t demand her rights. Her response is to worship him. She doesn’t get upset that he said he was only sent to the lost sheep of Israel. And when he calls her a dog, she doesn’t get her feelings hurt, she doesn’t stomp off mad, she doesn’t even disagree with him. She’s so humble that, when Jesus calls her a dog, she says, “Truth, Lord, yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.” And even here, in her statement about the crumbs under the table, she shows humility. She realizes that, to cast a demon out of her daughter, to heal her daughter who is vexed with the devil, Jesus doesn’t need the whole loaf of bread or even a slice. The power of God is so incredible that just a few crumbs will do. She realizes that what she is asking of him is not hard for him. She recognizes that she’s not asking him to do the greatest thing that he can imagine doing. She realizes that he is so powerful, that he is so glorious, that he is so wonderful, that even just a few crumbs from his table will be enough to heal her daughter.  From beginning to end in this passage, at every step of the way, this woman is humble.

This woman is also persistent. Have you ever really poured your heart out to the Lord, beseeching him in prayer for something, asking him to do something for you or for your family? Did you really mean it? Was it really poured out from the depths of your heart?  Now, in some of those cases, did you really pray hard…once…and then you failed to do it again, and again, and again, and again? You see, the first time this woman asked, Jesus didn’t even answer. You ever feel like God responds the same way sometimes when you pray, when I pray? We shouldn’t stop there. If she had stopped there, her daughter would not have been healed. She asked again and his answer is not very promising. So her response is to worship. She asks again, and his response is almost insulting. Have you ever asked and asked and asked and the answers don’t get any better; they get worse? That’s what she was getting. I mean, would you rather Jesus ignore you or call you a dog? The silence almost seems better. But she just keeps it up, humbly and persistently, again and again and again and again asking the Lord for what’s on her heart. Our prayers not only need to be humble, they need to be persistent. That’s why Lent is not a weekend. It’s forty days. We need to be persistent, we need to stick with it.

This Canaanite woman prayed humbly. She prayed persistently. And she prayed faithfully – with faith. Sometimes we fear that if we ask again and again and again, if we pray the same thing over and over and over, “Well, isn’t that ‘vain repetitions’?”  It is if you pray without faith. If you just come to go through the motions, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy Kingdom come, thy will be done…mumble, mumble, mumble…” “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed…mumble, mumble, mumble…”  Those are ‘vain repetitions’. And it’s not just pre-written prayers, but the prayers that we pray over and over, “Lord, please help my finances. Lord, please help my leg get better. Lord, please help my COPD get better. Lord, please help this. Lord, please help that, blah, blah, blah, mumble, mumble, mumble…” We pray those kind of prayers over and over and over and sometimes there’s not a lot of faith there. They just become ‘vain repetitions’. But she prays the same thing over and over and over and Jesus does not accuse her of praying with vain repetitions. He says, “O woman, great is thy faith.  Be it unto thee even as thou wilt.” Repetitions are good! VAIN repetitions are bad. Make sure that you are persistent. Make sure that there are repetitions. But do not pray without faith, or else they will be vain ones.

This woman prayed humbly. This woman prayed persistently. This woman prayed with faith. And another thing I think is very powerful here is that she was praying for someone else.  True, she says, “Have mercy on me.” But after saying, “Have mercy on me,” the request that she actually makes is not for her health, not for her finances. Her request is for her daughter. Do you realize how many times throughout the New Testament Jesus heals children? And as far as I can remember, in every case it was because of the prayer of a parent. The parents in Scripture do not say, “Well, I’m going to wait until you reach the age of eighteen and then you can decide whether you want to be demon possessed or not. I’m going to wait until you’re an adult and then I’ll let you decide for yourself whether you want to meet Jesus or not.” No, parents brought their little children unto him. And Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, for of such is the Kingdom of God.”

Jarius – Jesus comes and heals his daughter. This woman, this Canaanite woman says, “Have mercy on me.” And she asks Jesus to cast the devil out of her daughter. Through the prayers of parents, children are healed, children are saved, children are brought to Jesus.  If you look at your children, if you look at your grandchildren, and it grates on you because there is some sin in their life, they are being vexed by a devil in one way or another, they are sick in one way or another – whether physically or emotionally or spiritually – are you just waiting for them to come to Jesus on their own, or are you bringing them to Jesus?

Are you humbly, and persistently, and faithfully pounding on the door of heaven, asking Him to have mercy on your son, on your daughter, on your grandchild, on your spouse? Or do you never get to those prayers because you’re spending too much time just praying for your own problems? It’s good to pray for your own problems. It’s good to take your own requests to the Lord. But look at what great things happen when this woman prays for somebody else.

She prayed humbly. She prayed persistently. She prayed faithfully, believing that he could and would answer her request positively. And, in this case, she was praying for someone else, someone other than herself. As we go through this season of Lent, let our prayers be like hers.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Our God is One. Amen.

~

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, March 16, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

 

Posted in Fr. Joseph Gleason, Matthew 15:21-28 | Leave a comment

Spiritual Weapons of Mass Destruction

MP3 Audio: WS330337_Sdn-Jeremy_Spiritual-Weapons-of-Mass-Destruction.mp3

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, March 9, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Sdn. Jeremy Conrad.

~

Gospel Reading: Matthew 4:1-11

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, our God is One. Amen.

About one hundred two years ago, a massive ship – so large they called it “The Titanic” – was built. Have you guys heard the story of the Titanic? Over 2000 people were on board and they said that this ship was unsinkable. And as it made its maiden voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, it was going too fast, they were not paying attention, they thought that the little iceberg they saw in the distance was just that – a little iceberg – and chose not to navigate around it. And that massive ship, the Titanic, struck that iceberg – not the part they could see – the part they couldn’t see. And that ship, the hull, was breached, and water flooded into that ship and many, many lives were lost. The majority of the people on the boat died, froze to death. They drowned and they froze to death. A few were saved to recount the story, and that’s how we know a lot about what happened.

They thought what they saw was all that there was, but what they couldn’t see was what killed them. Have you ever heard the saying, “That’s just the tip of the iceberg”?  That’s what happens. All we look at is the tip of the iceberg, and we forget that nine tenths – ninety percent of an iceberg is actually underwater – you can’t see it. You don’t know how big it is. You don’t know what shape it’s in. You don’t know where it’s at. All you see is the tip of it. And if that’s all you focus on, your ship can hit it and sink.

Have you ever heard the term, “anthropomorphism”? This is where we attribute human characteristics or behaviors to things that are not human, such as to God, to an animal, or to an object. There’s a lot of cartoons that have talking cars, talking animals. We’re attributing human characteristics to them. Have you ever heard someone say that during the Spring, the warm weather comes and the sun smiles down upon us? The sun does not have a face. It does not have a smile. And yet we’re attributing human characteristics to the sun. This is called an “anthropomorphism”.

And of course we know that, since the Incarnation (which, by the way, we are celebrating in two weeks and two days from now at the Annunciation on the 25th of March), but at the Incarnation Jesus Christ – the second person of the Holy Trinity – became human. He took on flesh. He took on physical matter. And therefore, God in the Second Person does have human characteristics. He does have hands. He does have eyes. He does have a body.

But often, in Scripture, God the Father is also described with human-like attributes. Have you ever heard it said that Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father? Is that possible? Does God have a right hand? Have we ever heard that God can see us, that God hears us? The Bible even says that incense is a sweet-smelling aroma to God. Does God have a nose that can smell incense? These are possibly anthropomorphisms that we, as humans, ascribe to God, and we attribute those characteristics to Him. We’re going to come back to that in a second.

Over the past several months, several in our parish have been doing a lot of reading and studying about what happens when we die. And we’ve read a lot of books by Church Fathers, other Saints, and other people who are writing about Church Fathers and Saints, to try to discover what the mind of the Church is regarding when we die. What happens at that moment when our souls separate from our bodies? And a reoccurring theme is the idea that when people actually die – that they’re pronounced clinically dead – but then they’re resuscitated, so they’ve died and they’ve come back to life. [This has been reported] throughout the centuries, and across all different kinds of cultures. So this is not just a current-day American phenomena. This is across centuries of study, across many cultures around the world. People who have experienced death often recount the events that happened during the time where their souls were separated from their bodies.

And here’s what I find interesting about that:

  • These people hear conversations going on around them when they’re in the room, separated from their bodies.
  • These people see their own bodies lying on the operating room table, or in the Emergency Room.
  • These people actually experience a modicum of fear when they realize that they’re touching people and talking to people, and the people don’t feel it, don’t hear them, and it frightens them.
  • People recognize their own family standing around them. They know who they are.
  • And [later] these people are able to recount what they heard, what they saw, and what they felt, during the time they were separated from their body . . . . They’re able to talk about what they heard, felt and saw.

Now, how does this happen? This is what’s interesting to me. How does this happen? If the eyes, and the ears, and especially the brain are lying down on the table down there, how is it that these people are hearing, and seeing, and remembering, and recognizing people, and having experiences outside of the body? How is it that the things that we see with – our eyes – are down there on the table, and yet these people are seeing? How does that work?

Could it be that the senses of vision, of hearing, of touch, and taste, and even your memory and things like that, don’t reside – like scientists like to believe – in our eyes?  Maybe they don’t reside in our ears and our tongue and our nervous system and in our brain? Maybe memory is not actually located in the brain?

And here’s what else I find interesting:

  • People who, while they’re on earth, are blind, when they die and their body separates, and their soul is separate from their body, they can see. And when they are rejoined to their body, they’re blind again.
  • And people who are deaf on earth when they’re living, when they separate, they can hear. But when they’re rejoined again, they are deaf again.

I’m just wondering . . . Is it possible that our senses are actually located permanently in our souls, instead of in our physical bodies?

  • Maybe our eyes are just connected to the soul’s sense of vision.
  • Maybe our physical ears are just connected to the soul’s sense of hearing.
  • Maybe it’s possible that our memories, our thoughts, and our emotions are just connected to the soul through our brains . . . that it’s not residing in the brains, it’s just where it’s connected.
  • Maybe our senses are actually some of God’s energies, some of His communicable attributes. (The Orthodox Church separates things of God into “essence” and “energies”.  Essence is who He is, and we can never be exactly God and who He is.  But there are things about Him that He communicates to us.) We are said to be made in His image. And some of those things in which we are made in His image, it’s possible that the senses – our senses of sight and hearing, touch – those are things that He has communicated to us as human beings, but they are clouded due to our fallen nature.
  • Maybe our spiritual eyes are the “true” eyes, and they more-closely resemble the eyes of God, our Father.
  • Maybe the ears we see here are not what God has. Maybe . . . the ears that we hear with when we’re separated from the body, more-closely resemble the ears of God, our Father.
  • And maybe what we call anthropomorphisms of attributing human-like characteristics upon God is actually the reverse.
  • And maybe it’s God-like characteristics being attributed to human beings, so that what we call “ears” aren’t really ears; what we call “eyes” aren’t really eyes. What God has for eyes, and ears, and the right hand of God, and his nose to smell incense, those are the “true” eyes, ears, nose – the true senses. And we’ve been given, although clouded, a sense, a kind-of an idea of what that is to see. When God sees, He truly sees. When we see, we kind-of get an idea of what it is to see like God. We get an idea of what it is like to hear like God. We’ve got the copy, not Him. He’s the original seer. We are the ones who are the copy.

And if this is the case, and I do believe that it is, then nothing you see right now with your physical eyes is completely real. Nothing you smell, nothing you hear, nothing you taste, nothing you feel . . . you are not experiencing complete reality with your senses, as a lot of people believe they are. Everything we experience with our body’s senses is only partial reality; you’re only getting a piece of it. And . . . because Creation since the Fall has been fallen, and it’s mortal, and it’s physical, we’ve been given fallen, mortal, physical, fleshly bodies in which to move around in this world.  We have to.  But we’re not only physical; we’re spiritual too.  There’s two parts to us.  That’s when we separate, there’s two parts to us.

And the world knows this. I’ve mentioned this in a homily, I don’t know, months ago, that the world knows this because they know that the separation of the body and the soul is not the normal way of doing it. What they call a body without a soul – a corpse, or a zombie – that’s how the world describes it. Or the soul without a body is a ghost. Both of them are scary because it’s not natural that they be separated. They have to be together in order to be natural, the way that we’re supposed to be. So we are both physical and spiritual.

And that’s not to say that the material world itself is evil. It’s not! When God created the world, everything He made He said was good. But this creation, according to Scripture, is fallen and it awaits the second coming of Christ, just as we do. There are people who, even today, believe that what is flesh, what is material is evil.  They call them Gnostics and it is with a “G”.  G-N-O-S-T-I-C-S. And it has to do with this idea of spirit and of the spirit world being what is true and what is good, what is eternal, and that the flesh world isn’t.  But Gnosticism is considered a heresy of the Church. And the reason it is, if that were true and the physical world were evil, then our bodies which are temples of the Holy Spirit are evil. The Cross that Jesus died on – which we venerate – is evil if flesh and matter is evil.  The waters of Holy Baptism would be evil. The relics of Saints that we venerate would be evil. And what’s worse, the Body and Blood of Christ – both on the Cross two thousand years ago and those that we celebrate on our Eucharistic altar – would be evil.  It’s not true that flesh and matter is evil. It’s just fallen. It has been corrupted and it awaits restoration in Christ just like we do.

When Christa’s dad was in the military during Desert Storm about 24 years ago or so in the early 90’s, he was stationed in England as a medic. He was far away from the actual fighting, far away from the battle’s front lines. And he was relatively in no danger of being harmed by enemy combatants. If, however, he had been transferred to Kuwait or Iraq where the battle was during his time in the military, the danger of physical harm would have likely been elevated and the likelihood of injury and even death would have been more real to him.

When we, as Orthodox Christians, sit in our homes, and we go about our daily affairs, and we work and we play and we sleep without ever engaging the enemy. Like Christa’s dad, we are in relatively no danger of being harmed by the enemy. It is when we move ourselves onto the front lines of the battle that the danger of harm, and injury, and even death is more likely; it’s more real for us.

We talked about this last night briefly at Vespers, but yesterday, Christa and Landon and I went to Evansville to participate in the “Forty Days for Life” event. And basically what this is is a time when people who want to stand up for Life and work for an end to abortion during the forty days of Great Lent, we all basically make a concerted effort to ramp up our prayers to this end. We do peaceful protests and things like that in front of the Planned Parenthood clinics. We just walk around them and pray for the babies, and pray for mothers, and the fathers who are caught in Satan’s trap. And as we drove over to Evansville, I told Christa: Satan doesn’t really know much about us in this battle. We’ve talked about it a lot. We’ve prayed from a distance. We’ve even blogged and Facebooked about it a few times. But we’ve been “back in England” as far as this battle is concerned. Once we get to the Planned Parenthood, once we get to this stronghold of Satan, we’re going to get noticed. Maybe not by the employees, maybe not by passers-by or anything like that. But we’re going to get noticed by the real enemy! We’ve just moved ourselves to the front lines of battle when we do this.

Have you ever heard the saying, “Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight”? Kind of a stupid thing to do, right? Well, too many times, this is what Christians are doing. The battle for Life, the battle to end abortion, is not a physical battle. Coming with physical weapons is like coming to a gunfight with a knife. This is a spiritual battle. And I just heard this on the radio . . . “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” It’s not about debate. It’s not about angry bickering. It’s about love and prayer. And no amount of logical debating, angry arguing, passing of laws, voting, blogging or bombing abortion clinics is ever going to fix this battle. We’re not going to win this battle [by those means alone] because those are physical weapons. This is a spiritual battle, and the weapons that we use in that battle that WILL win, and they are thousands of times stronger than the physical weapons that people try to use. Our weapons are prayer and fasting and love. Those are the main three.

And the thing is, it’s impossible for those people who have no idea that this is a spiritual battle to actually know what is going on. They have no clue. And I’m fine with that, because as long as Pro-Choice advocates, and Planned Parenthood employees and legislators just think that we’re peacefully protesting, they’re going allow us to stand right on the front lines of the battle and lob the most destructive weapons at our enemy and they even don’t do anything about it because they don’t see them. They don’t realize that there’s a physical and a spiritual. They operate only in the physical, and so we can stand physically on their front lines and spiritually lob weapons right at their Planned Parenthood clinics, and they have no idea we’re even doing it. They don’t care because they don’t see it. We walk around appearing to be benevolent and peaceful, and all the while we are sending “shock and awe weapons of mass destruction” right into their stronghold of the enemy. And it’s because of this that these SCUD missiles are hitting in there:

  • That there are women who are changing their minds about abortion and they go and they decide to . . . miss their appointments because they feel bad, . . . somebody says, “I’m praying for you” and that was enough to make this girl change her mind and to have this baby.
  • There are babies who are being allowed to be born simply because a group of people were standing out there with signs.
  • There are employees of abortion clinics who, at one time, were strong, strong, staunch supporters of abortion and “women’s’ rights” who are now standing against that culture of death and standing up for Life.
  • And our prayers are even weakening the enemy’s hold on the actual physical buildings. A lot of clinics are being closed all around the United States.  There is a . . . 400-mile stretch of east Texas, I think it’s between Houston and New Orleans, Louisiana, without an abortion clinic – none. Because they’re getting shut down. Mississippi has one abortion clinic left in the entire state, and they’re getting ready to shut it down.

This is not because of debate. This is not because they’re bombing those clinics. This is because we appear to be peaceful, praying, standing on the sidewalks in front of the building, and we’re attacking them harder than they’ve ever been attacked. That’s why this is winning.

So, yesterday, while we were praying and we were walking around, a Planned Parenthood employee steps outside and told Landon and I that we were on private property. We weren’t, but that’s all she could come up with, I guess. And I told Landon, I said, “Don’t worry about it. She’s not our enemy. She’s actually trapped BY the enemy. And the enemy has her trapped and tricked to believe that she’s not. He’s got her blinded. He’s got her looking solely in the physical world instead of in the spiritual world.” So we started praying for her and for the other people who are working in that clinic yesterday and in other clinics around the world. It’s just more Patriot missiles finding their target, and it’s from point-blank range. I was . . . able to shoot missiles at the enemy with her being right there, and she didn’t even know it.

Those who are NOT Christians do not know this, because they only live by the flesh and not by the Spirit. They are blinded by the flesh and therefore they cannot even comprehend anything other than what their senses of their physical bodies will deliver to them. Even if we tell them what we’re doing, they can’t understand it and they go on allowing us to fight this battle from the front lines almost as if we’re cloaked, because if they can’t see it or feel it or hear it or touch it, then it isn’t real for them. And yet it’s reality that they’re least connected to. They are disconnected from the reality of the spiritual world.

And, sadly, there’s a lot of Christians, people who call themselves Christians and know what I’m saying is true, and they still don’t live like it’s true. And they go about their lives and they never really stop to think about what’s going on in the “real” world beyond what their senses can deliver to them.

And because of this, a lot of Christians don’t pray, because prayer is a spiritual weapon and it’s only effective in a spiritual world during a spiritual battle. And since they live as if they’re only in the material world, they don’t pray because they don’t see any benefit of prayer.

People don’t fast like they should, because fasting doesn’t have an effect in the physical world. It only has an effect in the spiritual world. And since we’re only living in the physical world, and not looking at the spiritual world, we don’t fast because we don’t see any benefit to it.

And even Jesus told His disciples that there are some spiritual battles that can only be won through prayer and fasting. But too many Christians, they use only their physical senses, they don’t see it, and therefore they don’t engage in the spiritual warfare that is going on right in front of them. They see the tip of the iceberg; they don’t see the other ninety percent that’s under there because they’re only looking at what they can see. They don’t look at what’s “real”. And they crash their family ships right into those icebergs. Often this is actually happening right in people’s homes, and in their families, and they gratify their physical eyes with the television and with the Internet, and they don’t see the spiritual battle that’s actually being waged against their spouse’s soul. They gratify their physical ears with music and with laughter and completely miss the spiritual battle that’s being fought in their child’s bedroom next door. Just because these battles are not national news and they’re not televised doesn’t make them any less dangerous. On the contrary, it is one of Satan’s tactics to distract you with a huge battle at the abortion clinic, all the while secretly ramming a sword of bitterness through your family.

As Orthodox Christians, it is important for us to remember that we are not citizens of this world. We are not citizens of this fleshly, material world any longer. Our citizenship is in heaven. And, therefore, we should not live as if the physical world is all that there is. The physical world is passing away, and thankfully it’s going to be remade at some point in the future, and we’ll have a new heavens and a new earth. But what is real – what is “reality” – is permanent, and it’s only accessible for us right now if we unplug from our physical senses and our fleshly desires, and we start to fast and pray and love other people and start fighting this spiritual battle that’s going on in our families and in our world from a spiritual standpoint instead of from a physical standpoint.

And that’s how it ties in today with the Gospel reading. After Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, he had already been fasting for forty days and forty nights and Satan thought, “He’s weak.” Guess what? He was at his strongest!  He’d been fighting a spiritual battle already, and preparing those weapons already. And Satan comes to him and says, “If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” And Jesus answered him and said, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”

Did you see that? Jesus said, ‘physical bread is not what I need. I need the Word of God!’  Jesus was living in the “reality” of the spiritual world, fasting, and praying and meditating on God’s Word. And it was sustaining him, and it is exactly HOW he defeated Satan! It wasn’t a byproduct, that’s HOW He defeated him . . . fighting in the spiritual world. In each of the three temptations that are recorded for us . . . Satan tries to appeal to Christ’s flesh, asking him to live in this material, physical, fleshly world. And all three times Jesus responds with a jab from the sword of the spirit – the Word of God. Satan was trying to fight in the physical realm, and Jesus defeated him in the spiritual realm. And when Jesus defeated him, the devil left. He split. And, guess what? Spiritual beings then came and ministered to Jesus.

Just this past week, on Ash Wednesday, Father Michael said that during Great Lent, our status as a target is at its highest point. We begin to fast more than during the rest of the year. We begin to pray more than during the rest of the year. We attempt to be more humble, more repentant, and more benevolent in our almsgiving. And these things, being spiritual weapons, catch the attention of our enemy, and he begins to attack you more frequently and more strongly than usual because, all of a sudden, you’re using spiritual weapons . . . so you’re catching his attention.

  • So don’t be surprised when there is more fighting in your home than usual; Satan doesn’t want you to fast for forty days and forty nights of Great Lent. He knows what happens when someone who loves God does this. We just read about it.
  • Don’t be surprised when items in your home break or when things don’t go as planned or when financial issues arise. Satan is attacking you in the physical world, trying to distract you from the reality of the spiritual world.

So instead of letting him win the battle by making you put down your weapons, hold them up even higher; fight him even harder. If you resist Satan, he WILL flee from you. And Jesus showed us how to do it. We just need to do like he did. Fast more. Pray more. And when Satan flees, don’t be surprised if angels come and minister to you as well.

A month ago, February 2nd, we celebrated Candlemass. Father Michael was here. And our culture on the same day celebrated Groundhog Day. I think we got the better deal, but that’s just me. On that day, the culture, in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, they said that the groundhog “saw his shadow” and it signified six more weeks of winter. And it was true; we’re still dealing with it. Well, we are in the First Week of Lent, and I hate to tell you but when I got up this morning, I saw my shadow and I have to report that there are six more weeks of Lent ahead of us. But be strong during this battle. Put on the FULL armor of God so that you can stand against the devil. Stand firm, fast, and pray, and love.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, our God is One. Amen.

~

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, March 9, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Sdn. Jeremy Conrad.

Posted in Matthew 4:1-11, Sdn. Jeremy Conrad | Leave a comment

Preparing for Lent

MP3 Audio: WS330336_Fr-Michael_Ash-Wednesday.mp3

This homily was preached on Wednesday, March 5, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Fr. Michael Keiser.

~

Gospel–Reading: Matthew 6:16-21

“Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

As I was coming up here yesterday, I was reflecting and thinking, you know, “What can you say on the thirty-ninth Lent you’re starting as a priest?” I mean, somewhere along the line you figure you’ve pretty-well covered it. Even if you’re talking to different congregations, you sometimes wonder, “Are they listening at all?” So I just want to do some reflecting today upon how important this time is going to be, this period until April 20th.

This is our time. This is the time for sinners. And I’m kind of guessing you’re one of them. This is not the time for the righteous. This is not the time for the holy or for those who think they’ve got it right finally, and can spout to you chapter and verse about canons and food and prostrations and what you should eat and what you should not eat. I think many of those people are already lost unless they just get a real repentance of heart. But this is the time for sinners, and it always comforts me when I read in the Bible that Jesus said, “I have come not to bring the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

“While we were yet sinners,” Paul says, “Christ died for us.” And that’s one of the reasons, frankly, why he spends so much time hanging out with people that others thought probably didn’t belong to the Kingdom, probably shouldn’t be counted as part of Israel, probably shouldn’t be people that a decent, upright Rabbi should be talking to. And yet, always he came for the sinners, and that means he came for you and for me.

We enter into this fast with a sincere heart which we hope will result in change, without trumpeting, without talking about what we’re doing – because no one should know that except God and, if necessary, your confessor – without comparing fasting rules. “Well, I’m doing . . .” No one is supposed to know anything about this. Nothing! Nobody! It’s between you and God. And like I said, if you need to talk to your priest about it then you do that. But . . . it indicates a lack, frankly, of a sincere heart if we get involved and do those things.

Paul says the outward man is dying, but the inner man is being renewed, and that’s the kind of change that we’re looking for. We’re not necessarily looking for better external circumstances. We’re not necessarily looking for better pay. Those things are not bad; I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t get them if you can. But I mean that’s not what we’re doing in this particular period. We’re not focusing on how we can consume. Those who call this a consumer society are dead right, I mean we consume and consume and consume and don’t even think about what we’re doing. We’re seeking that kind of inner change, inner transformation, which will truly allow us to be detached from all those things that we just love to have in our lives. A genuine sense of detachment. Not disgust, not condemnation. I mean, I love a decent air conditioning system as much as the next man, but the fact is that you can look at these things and say, “Ok, this we have, this is good, but if it crashes tomorrow, I’m still in Christ. Just perspiring more.” So a separation from our need for all of those external things which have come to mean so much for us.

We should, during this time of Lent, be encouraging one another. It’s often I said that you’re not supposed to be talking to people about what you’re doing. But if you have a problem, if you’re struggling, if you really feel like you’re kind of floundering in all of this, then yeah, you should talk to somebody. And you should talk to somebody within your family here. You should talk to me.

The reason so many people’s Lenten efforts tend to crash and burn – and not just if they’re new at it, people who have been Orthodox forty years can have their Lenten efforts crash and burn easily, so don’t feel bad about it. The reason for that is that we still try to go it alone. We still kind of stand there and think, “Okay, it’s me and the devil. Bring it on!” And we get flattened. Very few of us have the kind of strength that it takes. I mean, when Anthony did that in the desert, the demons physically beat him up. You want that? No. So, I mean, you don’t just go for it and see if you can survive on your own. And if you’re having a struggle, you pick up your phone, you call someone and say, “You know, this is really…I’m really struggling with this thing here. You know, I drove past Wendy’s yesterday and went through the drive-thru just for the smell. Didn’t order anything but I as I went through there.” That’s okay for you to share with a brother or a sister. So you can talk about it; then you can seek their prayer and their support.

All too often, we say we’re being submissive to God, but in fact, even in our Lenten discipline, we’re being submissive to our own will. To a will that says, “I want to do this, I want to do that, I want…” In many ways, we’re a lot like Peter, that big floppy Saint Bernard of an Apostle that would pee on the rug and lick your face, say, “I’ll never deny you Lord. I’ll be there to the very end. You can depend on me.” Or, “Don’t say that, Lord. You can’t go up to Jerusalem.” Jesus says, “Get thee behind me Satan.”

We often, you know, play chicken with God. “I’m going to do this, I’m going to do that.” And since, by the end of the first or second week of Lent, that usually has failed completely, we reverse our narcissism and say, “Well fine, I won’t do anything then. I can’t do this. I won’t do anything.” Rather than rationally and objectively looking at what you’re trying to do during Lent in terms of fasting and praying and what have you, seeking counsel on it and saying, “Maybe, just maybe I tried to do too much,” we retreat into our egos and say, “Well, if I can’t do what I want, I won’t do anything at all.” It’s like we’re five.

In fact, I know some five-year-olds who would handle it better. I think I told you a couple years ago about the priest that I had and was mentoring out in Arkansas who called me just before Lent and said, “I’ve been praying about this and this is what I want to do – I’m not going to eat (the guy must have weighed 250 lbs), I’m not going to eat anything until sundown, I’m going to celebrate Mass every day, I’m going to get up every midnight and say prayers. I’m going to do this, that, and the other thing. What do you think about that?” It’s not like he was discussing this, but, “What do you think about that?”

And I thought, “That’s wonderful. I would suggest, however, that you go down to Target and get yourself a big piece of white pasteboard and a red marker. And you draw a big red circle in the center of that, and smaller circles outside, and wear it on yourself, because you just set yourself up for attack.”

That priest is now divorced, suspended, got some woman living with him . . . that life his entire life collapsed. He went into drug use. Because he tried to play chicken with God. He didn’t discuss what he wanted to do. He just announced, “I’m doing this.”

So faithfully and rationally and consistently find a Lenten discipline you can do, and once having done that, we can find other things. And it will grow, and deepen, and you get better at this. It’s a lot like athletics. You have to build up your endurance. You have to build up your strength. Renew the inner man. Renewing the inner man restores our original beauty. It cleans everything inside. I’m not talking about outward beauty. I’m not suggesting we should go for ugly either, but the point about Lent is, that interiorly, with your fasting, with your praying, with your discipline, you’re seeking to clear your nous.

I’ve talked to you about this before – the nous – that reasoning part of the soul which gets so darkened and polluted by sin that we cannot communicate with God. That gets clearer. I’m not going to tell you it’s going to get completely clear by the end of Lent, but it will get clearer, and God will be better able to communicate to you. You will be better able to hear and to communicate with him. That’s what transforming the inner man means, when Paul writes that.

And recognize that, in the Orthodox tradition when we talk about fasting, we’re talking about fasting not just from food, but from every kind of evil that is out there. Because you can fast with your actions as much as you can fast with your food. So you seek to cut yourself off from all those things that darken your soul – not just the triple cheese burgers and that sort of thing – but all those things that can darken our soul: The anger, the vengeance, the sense of resentment, the emotions and passions we carry around with us all the time which, quite frankly, we enjoy. We really do enjoy them. And we carry these DVDs around with us of all these delicious, delightful hurts that people have done to us – some real and some probably totally imagined. And the simple fact is, we enjoy playing the DVD so we can go back and see what THEY did to us, and how totally justified we are in our response, how totally fine it is that we’re responding this way because, after all, look how deeply they hurt us. And then, of course, we come here and worship the One who when he was reviled, reviled not again, who accepted death upon a cross rather than a fight. But the fact is we often deliciously remember the hurts and slights because they justify the hurts and slights that we give to others.

So you abstain from things such as despondency and idleness. You fast from things such as sluggishness and sloth, jealousy, strife, a malicious self-indulgence and self-will, and I’m instructing you as your father in Christ from this moment forward, the only thing you want to do on the Internet is send email.

If you want to go on Facebook and check how Aunt Tilly is doing in Iowa, that’s probably okay. But go on no – ZERO, ZIP – blog and websites that have the word “Orthodox” in them. The Internet is probably one of the biggest instruments of disunity in Christ’s Church that exists. And I’m convinced those guys out in Silicon Valley must have had horns on them when they were developing this thing. It is simply an electronic form of gossip. And we go on and we view this stuff and we get confused, and we get depressed, we get sluggish. But the Internet has just given a tremendous megaphone to thousands of idiots who, up until now, have been confined to their own village, all of whom also seem to have had a large dose of grumpy mixed into the chrism before they’re brought into the church, and many of whom seem absolutely convinced that they were brought into this church to explain to us how we should be doing it, and how the way I do it is wrong, or the way you do it is wrong, or the way in which they do it is the only right way.

Do not look at them until after Easter. Hopefully you’ll be weaned from the habit by then and won’t ever look at them again. All of these things divert, distract, prevent us from praying, prevent us from reading Scripture, prevent us from thinking, and therefore should not be done.

Be watchful for the tricks that the evil one will pull out and will try to snare us with during Lent. You know, there’s a tag line in, I think it’s one of the Vespers services in the Eastern Rite, during this period in which Adam says, “The food that killed me was beautiful to behold and sweet to eat.” He’s referring, of course, to the fruit he took from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. But inside that fruit, which “was beautiful to behold and sweet to eat”, what was there? Death! Death for him, death for Creation, death for all of mankind. But Satan excels at presenting us with things that look good, feel good, taste good and sound good and yet, ultimately, lead us to a spiritual and emotional death.

Remember Satan is the one who can appear if he chooses to as what? An angel of light. The evil one can appear as an angel of light. So can his minions. So he attempts to distract us with illusions. He himself appears as an angel of light: he can take that which seems bad and make it seem good, he can take that which tastes bitter and make it seem sweet, he can take that which is ugly and make it seem beautiful, as a trick, as a delusion, as something which can lead you literally to self-destruction.

I don’t know if I’ve ever told you about the monk, Hero. Hero was a monk back in the fourth or fifth century in some monastery somewhere in the middle-east. And Hero, you know, was a pretty good monk. He was humble, he prayed, he fasted, he loved, he counseled, he consoled. And then, one day, this being appeared to him as an angel. Now if this ever happens to you, the one thing you’re supposed to do is ask, “Who sent you?” Because they cannot lie to you. And if Satan sent them, they’ll tell you, even if they’re standing there looking like the Archangel Michael. Not having had a problem with too many angels appearing to me, it’s not something I’ve personally had to do, but this is what the Saints who have had to do it tell us they do.

So this angelic being appeared to Hero and he says to him, “God is very pleased with you. You are a good monk. You are a faithful monk. You are a disciplined monk.” And he kept appearing to him and talking to him about this. And after a while, Hero began to believe it. And the being said to him, “God is so pleased with you, he wants to give you a proof of how pleased he is. So he has sent me to tell you that nothing can ever physically harm you. You need not fear death.” And so Hero, to test this, went upon the walls on the monastery and threw himself off. He killed himself.

And it was with great effort the other monks – who had seen what was going on and had tried to talk to him about it – convinced the Abbot that he should not be excluded from the cemetery as a suicide. There are canons that say that if you’re under delusion, if you’re distracted (that is the term they used), but if you’re under delusion, if you’re under demonic influence, then you can have Christian burial, which is why my son was buried out of a church.

But Hero himself never got it. Even as he was lying, dying on the ground, he was convinced that what the angelic being had told him was true. Well, the angel was a demon. The angel was a demon who was sent specifically to destroy this man, and succeeded marvelously. Because, I mean, if an angel came to me – again not something I’ve had to beat off particularly – but if an angel came to me and said, “You know, you’re really a good priest. I mean, you’re faithful, you get stuck in airports, you do this, you do that,” I’d probably be like, if he came to me on a bad day, I’d say, “Really, that’s cool. Wow!” Because I’m no more discerning than the next guy. That’s the sort of thing you have to watch out for during Lent. Now, it’s probably not going to be something deep like that. But remember that the angel is one tricky guy and he will stop at nothing, refrain from nothing, to try to entice you into evil.

A few last things:

Focus on your duties. If you’ve got a job, focus on it. In the monasteries they say, “Work with your hands,” and some of you have the opportunity to do that. That’s good. I find it very helpful; that’s why I garden. It helps you focus. But whatever your job is, whether it’s outside the home, inside the home, whether it’s taking care of the children or anything like that, focus on that and do it to the glory of God and do it well. That should be part of your Lenten effort.

Bear one another’s burdens. Paul says, “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” So be on the lookout during Lent for somebody who might be having a hard time and doesn’t want to admit it, or somebody who needs some support – I’m not suggesting you do an intervention or anything silly like that – I mean support them, be with them, tell them, “I’m praying for you this Lent; I know it’s your first one,” or “I know you’re fairly new at this,” or “It might be your fortieth one, but I’m with you in this. If you need to talk, talk, we’ll get together, we’ll pray, we’ll study, whatever.” Bear with one another’s burdens. That’s what it means to be a community. And if someone comes to you and does that, don’t get all huffy about it and all offended, “I’m doing fine! Why, what do you think?” Just accept whatever they say. If they’re right, be grateful for it. If they’re wrong, it comes from a pure heart. Don’t worry about it; just ignore it. You don’t need to respond to it.

And love one another. Love one another. That’s what we’re here for. We love Him because He first loved us. But love one another. Support one another. Pray for one another. And so fulfill the law of Christ.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, God is One. Amen.

~

This homily was preached on Wednesday, March 5, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Fr. Michael Keiser.

 

Posted in Fr. Michael Keiser, Matthew 6:19-21 | Leave a comment

Ash Wednesday 2014 – Imposition of Ashes

Posted in Western Rite Orthodoxy | Leave a comment

Healed For Service

MP3 Audio: WS330335_Dn-Joseph_Healed-For-Service.mp3

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, March 2, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

~

Gospel Reading: Luke 18:31-43

“For He shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked and spitefully entreated, and spitted on. And they shall scourge Him, and put Him to death and the third day, He shall rise again.”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, God is One. Amen.

In this passage from the Gospel of Luke, we see a pitiful, poor, blind man, helpless beside the road, begging for bread, for spare change, for anything that a kind soul might be willing to give him. Then he hears that Jesus is coming by, and he beseeches Jesus to heal his sight. Jesus heals the blind man.

Have you ever tried to think about life from the perspective of this blind man who now could see? Now that he could see, he could try to go get a job. He might have an income now. He might be able to marry. He might be able to have a family. It may be that Jesus not only gave him his eyes back, but his entire life.

If you were this blind man, what would be going through your mind? At first, you’d just be amazed at everything, “I can see the sky, I can see the ceiling, I can see the walls, I can see the snow and the ice, and I can see the trees, and I can see the grass, and I can see the road, and I can see my feet and my hands, and I can see!  You’d be excited about everything that you could possibly see. But then your imagination would start getting a hold of you. “I wonder what things my eyes are going to see? I wonder what things are just around the corner in my life? I’m going to go work hard. Am I going to go find this field that I can work in and earn some money? I wonder what my house is going to look like once I have money to buy it? Am I going to meet a beautiful woman? And now that I can see, and now that I can get a job, she’s going to marry me. I wonder what my children are going to look like? I’m going to be able to see my kids!” He was probably very excited, looking forward to all the things that he would see.

But earlier in this passage, Jesus was telling his disciples about things that they would see, and they simply did not understand. For you see, what Jesus said was coming soon, was not weddings or the births of children, but it was the cruel torture and murder of the Son of God.

“For He shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked and spitefully entreated, and spitted on. And they shall scourge Him, and put Him to death.” When Jesus healed the eyes of this blind man, he was healing him just in time for him to see this horror. The man may have had grand plans for the things that he was going to see, but if he stayed anywhere near Jerusalem, what he was going to see was going to be crowds of people screaming at the tops of their lungs, “Crucify Him!  Crucify Him!” What he was going to see was an innocent man, shamefully condemned to a criminal’s death, carrying His own Cross on His bloody back, dragging it down the Via Dolorosa, on the way to His own execution. If this man was anywhere near Golgotha, then what he would see with his own eyes were the hands of the Man who had healed his sight, nailed to the Cross of a common criminal.

Have you ever seen something in this world that is so horrible, that at that time, you almost wished that you didn’t have your sight? And I have to wonder, when this man saw the innocent Son of God being cruelly whipped, mocked, nailed to the Cross, and ultimately killed, insult being added to injury as the spear of a Roman soldier pierces His dead side, blood and water pours out – if this man saw this with his own eyes – I have to wonder if there wasn’t just a part of him that said, “I almost wish I couldn’t see. I almost wish that I was still blind.”

You see, this was not the only blind man in Israel. All of the men that thought they were well, all of the men that thought they were healthy, all of the men who were following Christ, were blind. Jesus told them plainly, “Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man shall be accomplished.” The prophets already told you about it. You’ve already read the book of Isaiah. You should know this is coming. “For He shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked and spitefully entreated, and spitted on. And they shall scourge Him, and put Him to death. And the third day He shall rise again. And they understood none of these things as this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken.” 

Then the very next verse says, “And it came to pass, that as He was come nigh unto Jericho, a certain blind man sat by the wayside begging.” This is the man whom He heals.

Often in Scripture, instead of giving us explicit commentary, it will simply take two events and put them side-by-side, and then expect us to figure it out. You see, it’s told that Jesus prophesied His own crucifixion, and death, and resurrection, but that His apostles were blind to what was coming. And the very next thing spoken, is that this blind man is begging, and Jesus heals him so that he can see. See, not too many weeks hence, the apostles saw with their own eyes that Jesus was illegitimately condemned to death, that He was scourged to within an inch of His life, that He was cruelly tortured, made to carry His own Cross, that He was crucified and cried out, “It is finished,” gave up His spirit, and died. The spear of a Roman soldier pierced His side. They took His body down from the Cross and laid Him in a rich man’s tomb.

What the Apostles did not understand from hearing mere words, they understood when they finally saw it with their own eyes. What the Apostles did not know ahead of time from the prophecies, they knew when they saw it in its bloody gore, face to face. And three days after that, they also were witnesses to the Resurrection, seeing that this innocent Man, this Son of God, could go all the way to the very depths of death itself, descending even into Hades, and that He could still conquer it, that He could still come back – and that they themselves, if they would but follow Him, would make the same trip down into death, down into martyrdom, but then back to life in the Resurrection.

In our lives we often pray for healing. Sometimes it’s for things just like this, praying that our eyes will work better, that the blind will see, that our ears will work better, that the deaf will hear, that our wisdom will be increased so that we can have a better understanding of what to say, what to think, what to do, what to feel. We pray for God to heal our hearts, to give us greater compassion and love for one another. We pray for opportunities to show that love. And just as with this blind man, so often God answers our prayers positively. He gives us better physical health, He helps our finances, He increases our capacity for compassion and love and wisdom, He opens up opportunities for us to serve and love people in our families and our church and in our community.

But just as this blind man didn’t know what was coming, and how difficult it would be to witness the things that he would soon see, so it is with us. For God never gives gifts without added responsibility. You see, if God gives you a stronger back, He’s also going to give you a bigger cross to carry on that back. If He heals your eyes, He’s going to let you use those eyes to see the wicked, torturing and apparently triumphing over the righteous.  If God increases your wealth, God is going to provide enough poverty in others for you to meet their needs with that wealth. If God increases your wisdom, rest assured you’re going to face the trials and the temptations and the struggles in life which are going to require every last ounce of that wisdom that He has provided you with.

You see, with health, with resources, with capacity, comes added responsibility. God does not give you greater and greater gifts so that you can relax. God gives you greater gifts so that you can use them to the full, for the building of His kingdom, and for the furtherance of His glory in the world.  God does not give you talents and wealth, and health and opportunities, so that you can sit back, put your hands behind your head, and be like a fat cat just lapping up cream on the top of a warm rock. No! God gives you great resources so that you now – by His grace – you have the ability to make great sacrifices for Him. To whom much is given, much shall be required.

I believe it was King Solomon who once wrote in Scripture that “with increased knowledge and increased wisdom comes much sorrow”. The more knowledge you have of God’s Word, the more grief will enter your heart when you see yourself or other people in your family whom you love, that fall short of what God has called us to. The more wisdom God gives you, the more pain and grief it is going to cause you when you see people behaving foolishly. Just as this man had his eyes healed only so that – not many weeks hence — those eyes could behold the Crucifixion of the Son of God, in so many cases, the healing that we receive is simply a preparation for a holy suffering that we are yet to experience.

We are now entering the season of Lent – a time for fasting, a time for prayer, a time for repentance, a time for our very hearts and souls to put on sackcloth and ashes, and to fall on our knees before God in humility and repentance.

This is a time for forty days for us to mourn our own sins, to flee from those sins, to flee – not as Adam and Eve, our parents, fled from the face of God hiding from His voice – but to flee from our sins and run into God’s arms, for He it is, through the Cross, Who has made the only provision that is available for us to be saved from those very sins.

Without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins. Without humility, without suffering, without sorrow, there is no repentance; there is no cleansing.

You need to recognize that we are sinners. We need to recognize that we are the blind man. We are the ones who need to be healed. We need to pray to God that He would cleanse our hearts, that He would help us to put away sin, and that He would help us to walk with Him on this Lenten journey towards the Cross, as we ourselves pick up our own cross and follow Him. For only if we follow Him in his Crucifixion, will we also be allowed to follow Him in His triumphant Resurrection from the dead.

Pascha is coming! The Resurrection of the Son of God is coming! But you cannot get there without first going through Lent, without first going through the Passion, without first going through the Crucifixion and the burial in the tomb. So now, let us prepare to walk with Him on that road to the Cross, knowing that the Cross is the only path that is made available to us which will lead to Resurrection.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, God is one. Amen.

~

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, March 2, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

Posted in Fr. Joseph Gleason, Luke 18:31-43 | Leave a comment

Four Soils Inside The Church

MP3 Audio: WS330334_Dn_Joseph_Four-Soils-Inside-The-Church.mp3

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, February 23, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

~

Gospel Reading: Luke 8:4-15

“But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it and bring forth fruit with patience.”

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, our God is One. 

Some of the seed that is sown doesn’t even get a chance to sprout. The birds swoop down and they pick it up. It has no chance. According to Jesus, this is the devil taking the Word out of our hearts. Some of the seed sprouts. There’s no moisture. The ground is shallow, and in the heat of the day when temptation comes, the little plant shrivels up and dies. There’s no fruit. Some of the seed sprouts and grows, but then it’s choked out by the weeds and dies and there’s no fruit. And only some of the seed gets good soil, and grows and bears a crop.

It’s easy for us to believe that this parable is for those outside the Church. But you see, that’s a different kind of soil altogether. For those that are not in Church, those that are not hearing the preaching of the Word of God, they’re not getting any seed sown on them at all. If you show up – if you hear the preaching of the Word of the Lord – that gives you the opportunity to be one of these four soils.

You see, there are people in Church that have the Word of God planted, and then the devil steals it out of their hearts, and it doesn’t even sprout. There are people in Church that hear the preaching of the Word of God, and they receive it with joy and it starts to grow, but there’s no root. There’s no moisture. And the moment that temptation hits, that little plant is dead. In Church, there are people that hear the preaching of the Word of God, and the roots start going down, and the plant starts growing, and then all the entertainments and the riches, and the cares of this life choke out that little plant, and there’s no fruit.

Thankfully, in Church, there are also the hearts that are good soil – that are receptive to the Word of God. The weeds are plucked up, the roots go deep, and the moisture is drawn up into that little plant. And even in the heat of the day when temptations come, the plant stands strong, and it continues to grow, and it bears a fruitful crop.

The First Soil – Seeds Devoured by Birds

How does it happen in Church? How does it happen that you can be a person who loves God enough that you want to show up, that you care enough about worshipping Him that you’re here this morning, and yet still the devil could steal that Word out of your heart and make it bear no fruit? How is that possible? Let me tell you a couple things that are very, very common. And even those that have been Christians for decades have to guard against this, because it’s one of the devil’s sneakiest ways of making you think that you’ve heard the Word of God and taken it to heart, when actually the devil has simply stolen it out of your heart, so that it puts down no root.

First way he does it is through daydreaming, pretending that it’s only your warm body present here that God is requiring. You’re physically present, but mentally you’re falling asleep, you’re looking out the window. . . “Oh, that’s a cool car going by there. I wonder who just bought that model?” . . . Distracted by a squirrel going up the tree . . . You start thinking about that camping trip you’re going on, that fishing trip you’re fixing to go on, that flight you’re fixing to take. And five minutes pass, and you don’t even realize that you haven’t heard a word that has been said. So right in Church, the very time that you’ve come to worship and to hear the preaching of the Word of God, the devil can steal that Word out of our hearts simply by our lack of attention – simply by our daydreaming, the wandering of our mind.

The second way that he does it is by simple assent. You hear a sermon preached that says, “Give alms to the poor”, and you say, “Oh, I agree with that!” And simply because you said you agree with it, you pat yourself on the back as if you have already obeyed it.

You hear preached, “Study the Scriptures,” and you say, “I agree with that. People should study the Scriptures.” And since you agreed with what was preached, you pat yourself on the back and pretend that you’ve already obeyed it.

You see, agreeing with the truth of what has been said is different than obeying what has been said. There’s not a person here today that will say that giving alms to the poor is a bad thing. There’s not a person here today who will say that tithing is a bad thing. There’s not a person here who will say that daily family prayer is a bad thing. There are a thousand things that we could preach out of the Scriptures, and everybody here in unanimity would say, “I agree, that’s true! We should do that!” And so often we stop right there. The devil tempts you to believe that just because you said, “Amen!”, that you have already obeyed it.

That’s not true. You see, on that last day, when Jesus the righteous Judge stands and has all the world for all time set before Him – countless billions of people – and they are divided as the sheep and the goats – the sheep to His right Hand and the goats to His left – when that happens, He is not going to say, “How many of you said ‘Amen’ when the pastor said to visit the sick and the prisoners? How many of you said ‘I agree’ when I said to minister to the broken-hearted? How many of you said ‘that’s true’ whenever I said you need to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and give drink to those who are thirsty?”

Not once does Jesus ever ask the sheep or the goats, “How often did you verbalize agreement with me?” No. Jesus asked, “Did you actually feed the hungry? Did you actually visit prisoners? Did you actually clothe the naked? Did you do it?”

The devil can so easily snatch that Word out of your hearts, so that it doesn’t even sprout, because he tells you, “Oh, you already agreed with what the pastor said. So, since you’ve agreed with it, you’ve already done it. So go and be at peace. You’re already right with God.”

No. Let’s look at our actions and see whether our actions are in obedience to what Christ has said. The devil can snatch the Word from our hearts through our daydreaming. He can snatch the Word from our hearts by us giving an assent, an “Amen”, but then believing that we have somehow already obeyed just because we said an “Amen”.

And then the third way is this: Amy hears the word of God preached, and she thinks, “Yep, my husband really needs to do that.” Lori hears the word of God preached, and says, “Yep, if my son would just do what the pastor said, everything would be alright.” Russ hears the word of God preached, and says, “Well, if Jeremy would just do what the pastor said, then everything would be okay.”

Have you ever been guilty of this? I have. I think we all have. Have you ever heard about what gossip is? Gossiping is confessing other people’s sins. It’s a sin! It’s a grievous sin of the tongue. And what I’m talking about now is just another version of gossip. It’s kind of an internal dialogue, but it’s the same thing. You’re turning attention off of your own sin, and your own accountability, and your own responsibility, and you’re diverting your thoughts to how your brother is sinning, and how they need to fix themselves. It’s just like gossip. “I’m not going to repent. I’m not going to confess my own sins. Oh, but I’ll confess your sins all day long.”

“Oh, I’m not going to listen to this preaching, and hear the Word of God, and let it sprout and put down roots in my heart. That would require a change in my lifestyle. I’m not doing that. But, man! If the Word would sprout in your heart and you would change your lifestyle, now, I’d be okay with that.”

Do you ever hear the preaching of the Word of God calling for repentance on some sin, and your first thought is not, “How have I sinned in this way? How can I repent? How can I change my own ways?” But your first thought is, “Well, if my husband would just listen to this . . . If my wife would just listen to this . . . If my kids would just listen to this . . .”

Let that be your second, or third, or fourth thought. But let your first thought be for yourself. For it is you who will answer to God for your own soul. You cannot plow the soil of another person’s heart. But you can plow your own. You can water that soil, pull the weeds up from that soil, till that soil, shoo the birds away, and protect that seed that has been planted so that it will grow, put down roots, and bear the fruit of godliness in your own life.

Don’t waste your life, leaving your heart hard, while you’re trying to plow the hearts of others. Start with your own heart. Repent of your own sins. And then you will become godly enough that you will be able to turn your attention to helping others.

So, those are the three ways that the devil steals the word from our hearts:

  • Daydreaming
  • Pretending that agreement is the same as obedience
  • Turning our thoughts to the sins of our brothers, instead of to the sins of ourselves.

The Second Soil – Dried Up Roots

Now the second soil – the birds did not get to it. The seed actually sprouted. That means you got past the birds. You got past these first three things. And now the Word of God that has been planted in your heart has actually sprouted, and little roots start to go down. You start feeling the pangs of repentance. You start feeling the joys of forgiveness. You start getting more serious in your obedience and in your walk with God. But it’s shallow. And it’s not watered daily with prayer. . . . you start off with true joy and it even says in Scripture that you “believe for a while.” Ultimately the sun rises in the sky, the heat of temptation overpowers you, you wilt, and your roots dry up. There’s nothing left but just a little dead plant where that seed of the Word of God used to be.

How does this happen? One of the pictures given in Scripture is in the book of James: a man who beholds his face in a mirror and sees himself for who he really is. That’s what happens to us when we look in the Word of God, when we are called to repentance. We think we’re wonderful, we think we’re clean, and then we look into this mirror of Scripture and we see, “Oh! I’m dirty.” It’s disconcerting to see your hair all messed up and dirt all over you, and realizing that your soul still needs a bath. But this picture in the book of James is of man who looks himself in the mirror, sees who he really is, and then turns away and forgets what he saw (James 1:22-25).

You see, this soil is the soil is the person who goes to Church. They don’t daydream, they don’t point the finger at anybody else, they don’t even pretend that agreement is obedience. No, they listen attentively. They hear the Word of God preached. It sprouts in their hearts. They begin to repent. And then by Monday, they forgot what the sermon was. Because Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, they’re not praying. They’re not worshipping God daily. They’re not reading their Scriptures. They’re not making any effort whatsoever, six days a week, to obey what got their attention on Sunday when they heard the preaching. Have you ever been guilty of this one? I have. [This is] something for every one of us to repent of, for these are sins that all of us have been guilty of at one time or another.

When that Word of God gets a hold of you and you feel that initial sting – that recognition that there’s something you need to repent of and change – and you start to feel that initial joy of being that much closer to God because you’ve repented, don’t let go of that!

How many of you have ever been camping? Have you ever started a fire? A campfire to cook on? I’ve done it countless times. How well does it work for you if you get your match or your lighter stick, and you get a log, and you just try to light that? How well would that work for you if you did that? You’re not getting a campfire, are you?

Okay. How well does it work for you, if you take a little piece of paper or kindling, and a little twig, and you light that, and the flame starts, so you start cooking your burgers over that? That doesn’t work either does it? How quickly does the kindling go out? Just like that!

You see, you’ve got to have both. It’s important to have that initial sting from the Word of God that calls you to repentance – that initial joy that gives you the motivation to start working on obedience and repentance in that area of your life. But the sermon that you hear this morning, that’s just the kindling. If you don’t take that kindling and put bigger twigs and sticks on top of it, and then big logs on top of that, you’re never going to get that raging fire that you need to warm the home of your family and to cook your food. Coming to Church, worshipping once a week, hearing the preaching of the word of God – that is the kindling that you have to have to get the fire going.

Then comes the hard work of Sunday night, Monday morning, Monday night, Tuesday morning, Tuesday night, Wednesday morning, Wednesday night, Thursday morning, Thursday night, Friday morning, Friday night, Saturday morning, back here for Vespers Saturday night – constantly, daily, multiple times daily, you’re buried in the word of God – seeking to make its precepts written in your own heart. You’re constantly participating in family prayer on a daily basis. You’re constantly having personal prayer, just you and God, on a daily basis. You’re pursuing righteousness as the thirsty deer pursues the stream of water.

That’s the log that you put on the fire. And you have to have both the kindling and the log if you’re going to have a workable campfire, or a fire in your fireplace. Don’t just have shallow roots. Don’t be just satisfied with that initial joy, that initial repentance. But let this go so deep, that your entire life is defined by repentance and your pursuit of obedience to the Word of God.

The Third Soil – Choked By Thorns

The third soil is choked out by weeds and thorns. How many of you have experienced some weeds and some thorns in your life? I’ll raise both my hands on that one. I think we’ve all had our share. See, the devil knows he’s in danger if he can’t steal that Word out of your heart. And he’s in even more danger if you’re soil is not shallow, and if you’re watering it daily. So if he can’t attack the plant itself directly, then he’ll attack it indirectly, by planting other things in your life that will try to crowd out that little seedling, and see to it that it never bears the fruit of godliness in your life or in the lives of your children.

This third soil really feels like they’re a good faithful christian, because this third soil is the person that comes to church and hears the preaching of the Word of God. They’re not daydreaming, they’re not blaming anyone else for their sins, they’re taking it personally. They’re not pretending that agreement is the same as obedience. And they’re not forgetting about it when they walk out the door. They’re actually trying to practice what they hear preached in the Word of God on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Sounds like a very faithful Christian. But then the car breaks down. Then that family member gets sick. And then, somebody that lives under your own roof starts treating you nasty. And then you get sick. Then you check your bank account and there is no money in it. Then you call your friends and your family and of course, their bank accounts have no money either.

You’re hit once, you’re hit twice, you’re hit three times, and it just doesn’t stop. Like a trained boxer, the devil just pummels you and pounds you and hits you and beats you, until finally you say, “You know what? Forget this! I don’t have time for daily prayer. I don’t have time to read my Bible. I’m so exhausted. I’m so tired and so fed up with all of this junk, that I just need a couple hours to zone out and watch the football game.” So you just sit there on the couch and you watch the football game for a couple of hours, and you drink your beer. “I just need a couple of hours to zone out, and goof around, and email, and My-Space, and Facebook and Twitter. I just need some time to go hunting. I’m just going to go shoot some squirrels and let my mind clear.”

Now here is where the devil is at his most insidious. Because let me ask you something. Is there anything wrong with hunting? No, there’s not. Is there anything wrong in moderation, once in a while, just sitting down and watching a ball game on T.V. ? I don’t have a problem with that on occasion. Is there anything wrong with reading stuff on Facebook or on your email? No, there’s not.

See, if the devil can’t get you with outright sin, he will get you by taking good things, decent things, and tempting you to put such a priority on those things that you crowd out the most important things in your life. I don’t think God is going to get after anybody for watching a football game. But woe unto the person who doesn’t have time for Scripture because of football. God is not going to get after anybody for squirrel hunting. But woe unto the person that’s out squirrel hunting instead of leading his family in daily prayer. I don’t think God is going to pick on anybody because they sent a quick note to a family member on Facebook, or email. But woe unto the person that will spend two or three hours surfing the internet, and then they’re just too tired to spend fifteen minutes studying Scriptures, praying with their family, making that next step in their lives where they know they need repentance and obedience to Christ. You see, the good is the enemy of the best.

Is it wrong to go shopping at Walmart or the mall? Not necessarily. There are things that we need to buy. Russ, let me ask you something. When was the last time (when you were a lineman) that you missed getting up on the electric pole and working hard, because you just didn’t have time that day? You needed to go do some shopping for some shirts and some ball caps and stuff. Did that ever happen, Russ? [Russ shakes his head “no”.] You mean you found other ways to . . .

Let’s say the coal mine. You worked in the coal mine for a while, Henry David. Henry, you still do. When was the last time you said, “You know what? I’m going to be about two or three hours late going to the coal mine because I want to go do some fishing.” Has that ever happened? Not even once? [Henry and Henry David shake their heads “no”.]

So you’re telling me that hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of times, you show up to work on time, and your kids see you show up to work on time, and you don’t miss because you needed to go fishing? [None of you] missed because you needed to work on the car? [They shake their heads “no”.] I mean, the car broke down – that’s really important – you gotta work on the car. You still found a way to work? [They nod their heads “yes”.]

How important – through your kids’ eyes – do you think they believe your job is to you? You know, at your home when your kids were growing up, how important do you think they believed that your job was to you? Very important! Christa, when you worked at Windmill Apartments, how often did you show up two or three hours late because you had a knitting bee to go to, or you had a TV show you wanted to catch up on? It never happened. How important do you think your friends and your family believed that your job was to you? And at the coal mines, if I were to ask Daphni or Hunter or David or Nancy or Henry David or Dion or Maria – any one of them – and I were to say, “How important is it to Henry that he makes it to the coal mine on time, every time that he’s supposed to be there?” What would they tell me? How important is it?

Another question for you: What is more important, meeting your family’s physical needs, or meeting your family’s spiritual needs? Which is more crucial? Which is going to be more dangerous to your family if you don’t supply those needs? There’s nothing wrong with knitting bees or baseball games, or squirrel hunting or shopping at the mall, or email or Facebook. These are all good things that can be put to good use. But if we would not let any of those things crowd out our need to be at work so that we can feed, clothe and shelter our wives and our children, then how much more should we not let little things like a broken down car, or a sick family member, or no money in the bank – how much less should we let little things like that get in the way of our daily inculcating our families in the teachings of Christ. Every day of the week!

And I’m not just saying to bring your kids to your church. That’s not even close to enough. That’s just the start, that’s just the kindling. Seven days a week, you need to be sitting down with your family and looking at the Scriptures. You need to be standing with your family in prayer, when you rise up, when you lie down, when you’re at home and when you go out by the way, all day, every day, everywhere that you are (Deuteronomy 6:4-7). Are you taking every possible moment that you can, to make sure that your wives, that your children, that your grandchildren, are being corrected any time that they’re falling into sin? That they are being brought back to the straight and narrow and are being pointed towards Christ? That they are being warned of the dangers of rebellion and laziness and neglectfulness?

I’m not worried so much about raising up the next generation of Presidents and lawyers and teachers, and computer engineers and coal miners and linemen. What I’m wondering, is where is the Church going to be a generation from now? Where are we going to get any priests? Where are we going to get any monks and nuns? Where are we going to get some godly fathers and mothers with backbones, standing up against the world and protecting their children against all the countless wicked influences that are trying to work their way into our homes?

Yes, you need to feed your children. Yes, you need to clothe them. Yes, you need to shelter them. And then after you’ve done all those things, then you need to move on to the important stuff: raising them to be godly men and women, who in the next generation will be the leaders in the Church, whether it’s wearing robes up here, or whether it is simply being faithful fathers and mothers in their own homes. That is what we are called to.

We’re not called to receive the Word with joy, and to put our roots down a little bit, and then to have those little plants crushed and crowded out by all the cares of this life. All the broken down car engines, and all the troubles at work, and all the sicknesses, and all the financial stresses – those are the weeds! Those are thorns! And I don’t care how many there are, you pull them up or you push them to the side, to make sure that the Word of God has the priority in your life, and that nothing is more important than that. That nothing competes with that. That nothing gets in the way of that precious little plant that just sprouted up when the Word of God was planted in your heart.

The Fourth Soil – Good Soil that Bears Much Fruit

And then finally we come to the last soil. The good ground are they which in an honest and good heart, having heard the Word, keep it and bring forth fruit with patience. The Word of God is not just something to be heard. It is something to be kept. To be obeyed. To be done. To be lived out through your fingers, and your feet, and your tongues, and to bring forth fruit – not with impatience demanding immediate results – but to be brought forth with patience. Not trying to obey God’s Word and then getting angry because within a week you haven’t got the response that you wanted. No, I’m talking about spending the next 5, 10, 20, 30 years if necessary, weeping and praying before God, repenting daily, learning more and more about His Word, worshipping faithfully every day of the week, so that whether it’s three days from now or whether it’s thirty years from now, that your life and the lives of your family finally bear this fruit of godliness that will carry your family, not just in this life, but into eternity.

I leave each one of us with a question. The question is not, “What soil do you believe is best?” That’s a no-brainer. We know which soil is the best. The question is not, “What type of soil do you want to be?” That’s a no-brainer. Everybody wants to think they’re the good soil. The drunk on the corner that never goes to church thinks he’s got good soil, and that he’s basically a good guy. I’m not asking you what soil you want to be. I’m not even asking what sort of soil did you usually think of yourselves as. We deceive ourselves all too easily. If you’re in the habit of thinking of yourself as good soil, that’s not what I’m not asking you either. And I’m definitely not asking you what kind of soil your husband is, or your wife is, or your kid. It says here in the Word of God that the good soil is that those who have an honest and a good heart. So no self-deception here. No lies, not even to yourself, not even in your mind. Be honest.

Look at your life over the past 24 hours, over the past week, over the past month, over the past year. And with full honesty – not opening your mouth – but just in your mind, in your heart, have brutal, 100% honesty and ask yourself, “What type of soil have I been?”

Over the past year, how many times has the Word of God been planted, and you didn’t even hear it because your mind was somewhere else? It didn’t even touch you because you were thinking of how it applied to someone else. It didn’t even prick your conscience because you convinced yourself that just agreeing with it was good enough, and the same as obedience. How many times in the past year has the Word of God been planted? You’ve heard it. It started sprouting, you received it with joy, you began repentance, and then after a day or two passed, you just forgot all about it.

The plant shriveled up. Temptations came. The plant died and bore no fruit. And how many times in the past year has the Word of God been planted in your heart and you receive it with joy? It starts to send down roots, and you even take efforts to start following it on a daily basis. And then you allow the cares of this life, the cares of this world – things like physical health, and finances, and entertainment – to crowd out these little plants that were sprouting. To crowd out the Word of God. To cause them to shrivel up and die. And to bear no fruit.

Be honest with yourself. Look into your own heart and ask, “What type of soil have I been?” And if for the whole past year without fail, you’ve always been the good ground, the Word of God sprouts and you protect it, and you pull up the weeds, shoo of the birds and the seed always sprouts, grows and finally bears fruit in your life, then praise God! But in all honesty, if you can see that you have been any one or even all three of these other soils, you need to take this as seriously as a heart attack. As seriously as an attack from some foreign army that came over onto our own soil, and they’re shooting at us right here in Omaha. Take this as seriously as if you just got fired from your job. Take this as seriously as if they just foreclosed on your house, and there’s no food to feed your kids. Because this is even more serious than any of those things.

If you have been any one of these other three soils, then with a firm resolve, determine to repent. Determine that from this day forth, you are not going to let the devil steal one seed out of your heart. You’re not going to permit one day to go by that you cast off that which you learned yesterday, and just go about your merry way. You’re not going to let one day go by that you permit the cares, and the troubles, and thorns, and the weeds of this life, to crowd out the things that are most important. Put Christ at the very center of your heart and your life and your affections. Not tomorrow, today. Because the Word can be planted, but only you can choose what sort of soil is in your heart. Only you can choose whether to plow that ground, or whether to leave it hard and shallow.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, God is One. Amen.

~

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, February 23, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

Posted in Deuteronomy 6:4-7, Fr. Joseph Gleason, James 1:22-27, Luke 8:4-15 | Leave a comment

The Big Green Monster (Envy)

MP3 Audio:  WS330333_Dn-Joseph_The-Big-Green-Monster.mp3

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, February 16, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

~

Gospel Reading: Matthew 20:1-16

“Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own?”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, our God is One. Amen.

Today we speak of a big green monster named “Envy”.  It’s a deadly monster that has devoured many a soul. First thing we need to realize about envy is that it’s not just an aspect of our culture, it’s not just something that kids do or something that adults do, but it is a SIN. Envy is something that is condemned multiple times in Scripture. Second thing we need to realize is that it’s a deadly sin. I’m not sure if there’s any other kind of sin, but I just want to specify here – envy is a DEADLY sin.

Now, it’s similar to greed, but it’s not exactly the same. Envy and greed both say, “There’s this thing that I lust after, this thing that I want, this thing that I have to have, and I want it NOW!” But greed stops there. And we all know that greed is a bad thing, right?

Envy is just a little different. You see, for greed to be involved, you don’t need another person. You can simply look at a toy that you really want to have; you can look at a pile of gold that you really want to belong to you; you can look at an outfit that you think is just the most beautiful thing in the whole world, and looking at these things, you can have greed. But you cannot have envy. To have envy, you need another person involved.

Here’s how envy works: You have two brothers, or you have two sisters, and they’re getting along just fine. And then one of them gets something that the other does not have. Prior to that point, neither one of them had it. Prior to that point, both of them were just fine. But “BECAUSE that other person got it, and I didn’t, now I want it.” That’s envy.

It’s the type of greed that says, “[You] better not give my brother any more than you gave me; you better not give my sister anything that I don’t get.” That is envy. And it’s a very deadly type of greed because it involves another person, and it is the opposite of love.

Think about how envy is the opposite of love. Well, if you love your brother, if you love your sister, then anytime that something good happens to them, you’re going to rejoice. You’re going to be happy about it. Anytime something difficult, any time something bad happens to them, you’re going to be upset about it. Envy turns this on its head. A person that is grasped in the clutches of this green monster, they do just the opposite. They see something good happen to their brother or to their sister and they’re not rejoicing; they’re not happy. Their heart shrivels up, and their face shrivels up, and their mouth shrivels up, and you can almost see the fangs start to poke down from their teeth as they say, “Well, they got it; I deserve it too. I want that too. That should be mine!”

That’s not love – that’s the opposite of love. It’s that same type of spirit that rejoices when evil comes to a brother or to a sister. “Aha! That bad thing happened to you, but it didn’t happen to me. Ha ha ha.” That’s that same spirit of envy, of selfishness, of desiring good for oneself but evil for one’s brother, of not being happy when something good happens to your brother or your sister, but desiring it for yourself.

How do we see envy manifest itself in real life?  Well, we see it manifest itself with adults in the cliché that you’ve heard, “Keeping up with the Joneses.”  You’re in America, your closet is full of plenty of clean outfits for you to wear, but then that friend of yours goes to the mall and they get something that’s just really nice, really new, and you think, “Well, I don’t have one of those. I need to go and get that.” Somebody gets a new shotgun or a new pickup truck and you think, “Well, my car works fine and I’ve already got a gun, but I don’t have that brand, and I think I need to go get the same thing so that I have the same thing they do.”

[And for the kids,] a good friend of yours gets a really beautiful expensive doll or expensive dinosaur toy – something like that – and you may have had your room just full of dolls and full of toys, all that you need to play with all day long. But you don’t have THAT doll; you don’t have THAT toy.  And [whining] “I want that one!” Sometimes the adults don’t sound too much better, by the way . . . “I want that one!”

I think we’re all well acquainted with envy; we all know how ugly it can become. We even go into debt as a society because we’re determined to “Keep up with the Joneses.” We see the way people live on television shows. We see the way people live down the street. We see the way other family members live and we think, “Well, I deserve that same standard of living. I don’t care if I go into debt-slavery for the rest of my life; I’m going to make sure I’m driving the same car as everybody else, and I’m wearing the same clothes as everybody else, and eating at the same nice restaurants, because I deserve it.”

“I deserve it” has led many people into sin, many people into envy, many people into debt, many people ultimately into slavery.

So we know what envy looks like. We’ve experienced it, we’ve fought against it, and we’ve felt a revulsion towards it when we see it in others. How do we guard against it? How do we stop feeding the green monster?

It’s amazing how many commands in Scripture there are thatwhen you follow themwhen you obey them, they actually help you obey the other ones because they’re all linked; they all work together. Think of that passage in Romans where God says, “Owe no man anything but to love one another.” Stay out of debt. Love-debt is fine, but that’s a different type. Stay out of money debt. Just right there, if we said, “Look, I don’t care how much I want those clothes, how much I want that nice dinner at a restaurant, how much I want that new shotgun or that new pickup truck.” If we just said, “I’m not going to spend money if I don’t have it; I’m not going into debt,” how much of the “keeping up with the Joneses” would stop right there? Because you’d say, “I only have this much money, I have this many bills – electric, food, rent – I don’t have enough money left over for that new pickup truck or shotgun or hundred-dollar night out at the steakhouse.”  A lot of “keeping up with the Joneses” would disappear right there.

[Another strategy is] just simply cultivating a spirit of humility, simply being aware and mindful of the fact that Scripture calls us to love our brothers. The next time you see a friend blessed financially, or blessed relationally, or blessed with their health, or blessed in any other way, REJOICE! Praise God! Thank God!

Some people are in the habit of praying, but their prayers are nothing more than a list of complaints. “Lord, I want this to be better, and this to be better, and please take away this and take away that, put a stop to this and put a stop to that, heal me of this and heal me of that.” [And] those are all good requests.

How much of our prayers are also gratitude? “Thank you, Lord, that my aunt was just blessed financially. Thank you, Lord, that my cousin just had this good thing happen with her health. Thank you, Lord, for my friend down the street, and the fact that he was blessed, and able to get that new pickup truck and that new shotgun. Thank you, Lord; that person was so nice that they gave my older sister this really cool necklace, this really nice doll.” Get into the habit of having gratitude, of opening your mouth in prayer, praising God, thanking Him – not just for the things He’s done for you – but get into the habit of thanking Him for the gifts that other people get.

See, that’s the opposite of envy. Whenever you want to stop a particular sin, you don’t just stop it – you start doing the opposite. And the opposite of envy is to give thanks vocally for the good that happens to other people. When somebody else gets a good gift, when somebody else has good fortune, when somebody else has “good luck” or whatever you want to call it, when good things happen to other people, see them NOT just as luck, but see them as blessings from God and give God thanks for those things.

But there’s another aspect of envy that we often do not see as envy. And even as we try to teach and guard against it, it is easy for parents to fall into the trap of feeding envy with their own children. And that’s something that we need to identify, it’s something that we need to do away with. And the Gospel for today, the parable for today from the mouth of Jesus, is perfect as an antidote against this sort of envy that we are in such danger of actually inculcating into our children.

To put it in today’s terms, I want you to imagine that you agree with somebody to work for five dollars an hour. And you work hard! It’s back-breaking hard work, you work straight through the heat of the day, and you’re out there in the fields, bent over, lifting heavy things from 6:00 in the morning until 6:00 in the evening – twelve hard hours of labor.  And you’ve been promised five dollars an hour for this hard work. So at the end of this long day, your day’s wages will be sixty dollars.

At 5:00 PM, the guy that hired you sees somebody that’s out of work. He needs to feed his family too, he’s sitting around because nobody has hired him, and he [the boss] says, “Look, get out there, help out, let me see you doing some hard work, help me in the field, and I’ll pay you.” So he gets out there and he’s working right beside you and he puts in one good hour. He works hard, but not for twelve hours. He works hard for one hour. And he gets the same sixty dollars. That means you just got paid five dollars an hour; this other guy just got paid sixty dollars an hour for the same work. What’s the first response that comes to mind? “That’s not fair!” How often have you heard a child speak these words?  All too often it’s not snuffed out in childhood, and we even hear that from the mouths of adults. “That’s not fair.”

And I love what Jesus says in this parable. He says, “Friend, I do thee no wrong.” He doesn’t dance around it. He doesn’t make any excuses. He admits it. “Yep, I paid this guy sixty dollars an hour, and I just paid you five dollars an hour. I did you no wrong. What I did is fair. What I did is right. What I did is just.” He says, “Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own?” In some translations it actually uses the word “just”, which is the word “fair”.  He says, “Is it not JUST that I do what I will with my own? It’s FAIR that I do this.” If anybody wants to tell you that this story is not fair, Jesus says in Scripture that it IS fair.

The reason we don’t think it’s fair is because we have hearts that are inclined towards envy. You say, “How could this be envy? Isn’t everybody supposed to be treated the same?” Ahhh, there you go. This idea that each person needs to be treated the same is just a softened way – it’s a culturally-acceptable way – of packaging envy and trying to make it look good. Now, we may not ever stand up in front of our children and say, “I encourage you to be envious. I want you to grow up to have lots of envy in your heart my son, my daughter.” We don’t do that. But how often, in family after family after family, have you seen one kid complaining because there were seventeen sprinkles on his cupcake but his sister got twenty two? And so you’re getting these little sprinkles . . . “Okay, here’s five more sprinkles – okay, now you’re even.” “His piece of cake is bigger than mine!” “I only got ten dollars in my birthday card and my cousin got twenty five.” Does this sound familiar? Have you ever heard a child speak this way, saying, “That’s not fair,” because something that they got is less than what their brother or sister or cousin got? That’s envy.

I can hear Jesus, the good Parent, saying the same thing: “My child, I did you no wrong.” “I told you that you were going to be getting ten dollars for your birthday. Are you saying that I owed you twenty five? Are you saying that you deserve more? Should you not be rejoicing that – out of my generosity – your brother whom you say you love has received more? That your cousin whom you love has received more?” 

Whenever a brother or sister or cousin or neighbor kid receives something really wonderful, and we feel as parents that we have to scramble around to make sure that every kid in our whole family got exactly the same treatment, we are teaching them that envy is justice. We’re teaching them that greed is good.

Right in our faces, Jesus says, “No, it’s my money. I’m the one doing the hiring. And if I want to pay this person five dollars an hour, and this person sixty dollars and hour, that is fair. The work is worth five dollars an hour. If I promise you that I will pay it and then I only give you three dollars an hour, then I have cheated you. That’s not fair. But we agreed on five. You worked and I paid you five. That’s fair. That’s what we’ve agreed on.  If I choose to be generous to this person over here – and yeah, I know they only did one hour of work, and I paid them five dollars for that – but I went ahead and gave them another fifty five on top of that because I know his wife and his kids need to eat, and I chose to be generous here. Is that being unfair to you? Because I’m generous to this man here, am I suddenly obligated to be equally generous to you? No! It is lawful for me to do what I will with mine own.”

Now, as we’re going down the straight-and-narrow path, we know it’s possible to fall off into the gutter. And it’s good to stay out of the gutter. But so often, in trying to run away from one sin, what do we do? We cross too far over the road and we end up in the other gutter. There’s always a gutter on the other side. Now, what are we in danger of if we treat our children differently, if we don’t make sure that they all get the same amount of money, the same amount of gifts, the same amount of everything? Well, we run the danger of showing favoritism. Well, that would be wrong too, for a different reason. But that would be wrong too. It would be wrong to intentionally always put eighty percent of your resources and gifts into this one child because you love them more and you care about them more, and then the rest of your children just to kind of throw the crumbs at them. That’s not what a loving parent does. That’s not how a parent properly raises up and nurtures their children. That’s not Godly. And so it is right that we turn our backs on that sin, and we try to get away from it. But we have so turned away from it that we’ve fallen in the ditch on the other side of the straight-and-narrow path.

The ditch on the other side of the straight-and-narrow path is the ditch of envy, where we teach our kids that “you have a right to the same thing that everybody else gets. If somebody else gets a hundred dollars, you have a right to a hundred dollars. If somebody else gets a trip, then you deserve a trip. If somebody else gets a present, well, it’s only fair, it’s only right, it’s only just that you get the same present.” You’re training them up in envy and greed. And you’re teaching them the opposite of love. You’re not teaching them to rejoice in good gifts that come to their brothers and sisters.

So what is the straight-and-narrow path in the middle? How do you keep from showing favoritism, and at the same time how do you keep from teaching your kids envy? The answer is LOVE! You should not take any thought whatsoever towards trying to make sure that all of your children get all of the same stuff, all the same money. But you should go to a great amount of effort to make sure that they all receive an equal amount of love. That takes work.

You see, it’s actually easy – if you’re a lazy parentit’s easy to make sure they all get the same amount of money, the same amount of sprinkles on their cupcakes, the same amount of outings, the same amount of treats, the same amount of desserts. That’s actually easy.

What’s harder is to get to know your child, to pray for your child, and to look at your child’s personality and say, “What do they need to grow closer to Christ? What is going to benefit them? What is going to help them grow spiritually?”

And it’s not just little children; it’s adult children. Do you need to treat all adult children the same way? No! If you have one child that lives all alone and he has a really good, well-paying job, and then you have another child who’s also an adult, they’re a single parent, they have five kids that are barely scraping to get by – if you make a gift of a thousand dollars to that child, to that family, are you obligated to give a thousand dollars to the guy that’s living alone and is making money hand over fist? No, you’re not.

Is it because you love them differently? No, it’s because they’re different people in different situations. This person over here needs financial help. This person over here might do better with a gift of an Orthodox Study Bible.

Now, that’s not to say it’s wrong if you happen to spend the same amount of money on two different kids. If you happen to give the same gifts to two different kids, that’s not necessarily wrong, but it should not be automatic. Ages can be different. Some children may be able to handle certain challenges that you place upon them, whereas other children are not ready for that yet. Certain children may be spiritually ready to handle certain valuable gifts, whereas with another child you may look at them and say, “At this time, if I give them this particular gift, it’s going to lead them off into materialism. It’s not going to help them, it’s not going to be good for them.”

And part of this whole training is simply to teach our children from the Word of God. How often have we ever sat down with our kids and just read them this passage from the Gospel of Matthew? The next time your kid gets something less than another kid gets, and your kid’s response is, “Well, that’s not fair! He got more than I got!”, our response should be to sit down with the Bible, open up to the Gospel of Matthew, and read this parable, and say, “Well, Jesus says that it is fair. Jesus says here that there is no requirement for everybody to get absolutely equal treatment.”

We’re not slaves to treat everybody identically. We also should not be arbitrary or show favoritism. What we should do is to have an equal love for each one of our kids, for each one of our neighbors, for each one of our family members. And with each child, and also with each adult, say, “Okay, what is going to be good for you? What is going to be good for you? What is going to be helpful for this person over here? Well, what is going to be helpful for this other person over here?”, realizing that the answer to each question is going to be very different.

There may be some people in your lifewhom it would be good and beneficial for you and themfor you to just write a check for five hundred dollars and hand it to them, because they need that help, and you are confident that it is going to go towards a good use.

There may be other people who you would damage spiritually if you gave them a penny, and the best thing you can do for them is to give them a prayer and a card. Write them a letter. Give them the gift of your time. Go spend time with them, drinking coffee at their house, mowing their lawn, helping them with something they need help with. But don’t give them any money.

If you help one family member in a big way, never feel any guilt or compunction that you’re now obligated to spend the same amount of time and the same amount of money to equally help other family members, or other neighbors, or other friends in the same way.  You do not have an infinite amount of money. You do not have an infinite amount of time. And the people you deal with do not have all the same needs. What one person needs, another person may already have fulfilled, but they may have different needs. This takes work, it takes love, it takes getting to know people on a personal level, it takes prayer, and it takes humility on our own part not to salve our own consciences by saying, “Well, I gave a hundred dollars to this kid for Christmas, so I’m going to give a hundred dollars to every other kid for Christmas.”  Or, “I went and I helped this kid do this, so I’m going to help them all do that. I sent this one on a trip, so I’m going to send them all on a trip. I gave this one kid a doll, so I’m going to make sure that all the girls get dolls. And however much I spent on that doll, I’m going to spend the same amount of money on the boys because we’ve got to have everything the same.” We need to get rid of that mentality altogether. Throw it out the window. Throw it out the window entirely.

In Scripture, we even read about cases where the oldest son in a family would receive a double inheritance. And nowhere in Scripture do you find a hint of anything saying that was unfair. You see, the idea at that time in that culture was: If you’re the oldest son, you get twice the inheritance. But you also get twice the responsibility. For if you’re the oldest son, it’s your job to take care of mom and dad when they get older. Am I saying that our culture today needs that specific way of doing things? Not necessarily. My point is, even in biblical times, not everybody got the same inheritance; not everybody got the same treatment. Some people receive more responsibility as they are able. Some receive less, simply because they’re not able. Some receive more financial blessings, because they have the God-given capability of handling it. Other people are given less in the way of finances, simply because God knows this person will be helped spiritually more by being poor, than they will be helped by having a million dollars in their bank account.

Our goal needs to be holiness. Our goal needs to be helping people on their path spiritually. We need to think more about their souls than we think about treating everybody the same. And if our goal is their spiritual growth and their spiritual benefit, then we will escape this green monster of envy.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, our God is One.

~

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, February 16, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

Posted in Fr. Joseph Gleason, Matthew 20:1-16 | Leave a comment

Raising Children in Wartime


This homily was preached on Sunday morning, February 9, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

MP3 Audio:  WS330332_Dn-Joseph_The-Wheat-and-the-Tares.mp3

~

Gospel Reading: Matthew 13:24-30

But he said, “Nay. Lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest.”

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

In the beginning, our parents Adam and Eve fell. The first Adam rebelled against God. He ate the forbidden fruit. And when God confronts Adam, He tells him about the consequences of his sin. When God confronts Eve, He tells her about the consequences of her sin. Now when God confronts the serpent, He says something that is very interesting. God is speaking to a snake, in Genesis 3:15. And speaking to this snake, God says, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between her seed and your seed.” This is called the protoevangelion, the very first preaching of the Gospel in Scripture. Thousands of years before the birth of Christ, you have God giving a prophecy of the birth of Christ right here in the book of Genesis.

Well, where is the prophecy in here, in Genesis 3? God says, “First of all, I will put enmity between you, the serpent and the woman.” Well, there was no enmity between them to begin with. She was actually following the serpent. She was in league with the serpent. She was doing what the serpent had told her to do. Following the serpent’s lead, she even took the sin that she had committed and she tempted her own husband with that same sin. And he too, committed it. But in God’s mercy, He says, “I’m going to put enmity between the snake and the woman.” To be at enmity with the serpent is to be friends again with God. And God goes farther. He says, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, AND between your seed and her seed.” Now anybody here who knows basic biology knows that women don’t have seed. There’s only been one person in the history of the world who has been born of a woman only, with no interaction with a man, no contribution from a man. That would be Jesus Christ. This is a prophecy of the virgin birth. That somebody would be born the seed of a woman.

But the prophecy is bigger than this. It’s also the prophecy of the Church and of spiritual warfare. For not only does God say that “I will put enmity between thee and the woman”, but “between your seed and her seed.” You see, the serpent too, has seed. The holy, pure, virgin birth is not the only birth that has ever taken place. Those who follow the seed of the woman, those who follow Christ, are not the only people that are born in this world. There are also born many who are the seed of the serpent. And so we see here in seed form, here in Genesis 3:15, a prophecy of all that is to come: a prophecy of the virgin birth, a prophecy of the warfare between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, between the Church and between the forces of Hell.

The parable that we see today in the Gospel of Matthew is the same picture. It is the picture of the seed of the woman being sown by God, and the seed of the serpent being sown by the enemy, from whence we get the wheat and the tares (the weeds).

This is a farming community. We have corn, soybeans, pumpkins, and I’ve even seen tobacco grown around here. I’ve even prayed for a grass fire during that time. We’re a farming community. We plant good seed into the ground to provide good gifts for families, to feed hunger. And there are weeds. The farmers know that there are thorns. There are weed trees. There are all sorts of nasty, ugly things that pop up and try to ruin the crop. And so it has been with men since the beginning of time. You have the seed of the woman, those who follow Christ faithfully. And you have the seed of the serpent. Notice Scripture does not call them “innocent bystanders”, “innocent savages”, or “people that just tried to find the right way, but didn’t quite make it.” No. Scripture says that this is a spiritual head-to-head battle between the forces of good and the forces of darkness: Good and evil. Light and darkness. Heaven and hell. The seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent.

And there’s no third team. There’s nobody in between. You’re on one side, or you’re on the other. And here Jesus talks about the Kingdom of Heaven being like a field. It is sown with good seed, and it is sown by the enemy with bad seed, with weeds.

Now the first conclusion understandably that many people come to is, “Well let’s just go and get the tiller out and take care of those weeds!” But even here in our farming community, we know that many times the weeds are in such places, and they’re in such close proximity, and the roots are so intertwined, that if you were to go out there and till up the ground to take care of those weeds, all you’d be doing is destroying half your crop. It’s not nearly so simple that we can have a holy war, because “this country is all good Christians,” and “this country over here is all these bad people.” No, you go try to pull up the weeds too soon, you go out trying to kill people who are not Christians, you’re going to end up hurting a lot of Christians as well. It’s why God says, “Don’t do that. Just let them grow up together side by side.” Is that because God is soft on sin? Is that because God is not going to judge wrongdoing? Is God just going easy on them? No.

Jesus very, very clearly says the day is coming, that even before the wheat is harvested, all those weeds are going to be plucked up by their roots, they’re going to be gathered into bundles, and they’re going to be burned in the fire. This is a picture of the Lake of Fire, of Hell, of eternal torment. Judgment is coming for the weeds. Don’t you worry about that. Judgment is coming for the weeds. But it’s not your job, and it’s not my job, to be vigilantes and to go out there with a gun and to try to pick off the weeds, and to try to purify the human race. God says, “No, no, no, no, no!” That’s God’s job. Let them grow up together, and when judgment time comes, God knows how to burn the weeds and how to gather up the wheat into His barn.

That tells us what we’re not supposed to do. But what are we supposed to do? Well, there is something about this passage that really should get our attention. This is a war. This is not just any war, or a war. This is THE war, the biggest war of all time, between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, the seed of the wheat and the seed of the tares (the weeds). And what does God say? He said, “It’s not just going to be over there that the weeds grow. They’re going to be growing up right in the middle with you. That means yes, even in America, you’re going to find some weeds. Not just in Syria, not just in China, not just in other countries out there, but in America, you’re going to find weeds. Not just in America, but in Illinois, you’re going to find some weeds. In your own family. Among your own friends. On your own block.” Jesus even warns that for some people, for many people, it will be in their own household.

One of the hardest words that Jesus speaks, He speaks in Scripture and He says, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace. I have not come to bring peace, but to bring a sword, to divide a father against his son, a mother against daughter, brother against brother.” (Matthew 10:34-36) Now is that because God does not want unity, and forgiveness and reconciliation? No. If everybody would do what God wanted them to, then we would all repent. We would all become Christians, we would all reconcile with one another and we would all get along. The sword that He brings is not because He has a desire for dissension. But it is because there is an irrevocable dissension between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. You can’t make Heaven and Hell get along. They are absolutely, irrevocably at odds with one another. And so let’s say you have a household where some repent and follow Christ and others do not. Maybe you’re at peace before, because the entire household was the seed of the serpent. The moment even one person accepts Christ and gets serious about their walk with God, guess what? You’ve just brought the front lines of this epic battle into your own home. And the only way there will be absolute peace in that home again, is when everybody in the home is on the same side — whether you apostatize and now your whole family is the seed of the serpent again, or everybody finally repents and your entire household is part of the seed of the woman.

Jesus has no pleasure in dissension and in families being broken up. But you know what? He’d rather see that in your home, than see all of you be the seed of the serpent. And I think every one of us in this room at least – I know in my own family and in other families and friends – most people I’ve talked to [here] are serious about their faith. You can look at people in your own family, people that share your last name, who are not the seed of the woman. They are not following Christ. It’s not some weeds way out there in some other country, but they are weeds that are grown up in the midst of your own family, intertwined together, roots growing up right next to the wheat. And you see, if those were to be uprooted right now and thrown into the fire, it would totally disrupt the wheat. It would hurt the whole family. Things would not go well.

And so God is patient, not because He is wanting to indulge the weeds, but because He has mercy on the wheat. Because He loves His sheep, He puts up with the goats for awhile. So we need to be mindful, we need to be prayerful, and we need to fall on our knees before God, asking Him that just as He was merciful with us – that even those family members that are closest to us, those friends that are closest to us, those co-workers that are closest to us, our neighbors that are closest to us – that they too would switch sides, that they would stop being serpents, that they would stop being weeds, and that they would join ranks with the seed of the woman, covered by the blood of Christ and living for Him.

Another thing that we should take from this realization that the weeds and the wheat are growing up side by side is that we cannot, we dare not, live our lives as if everybody were wheat. Now let’s think of it in the terms of warfare. Currently, as far as I know, the state of Illinois is at peace. Yes, I know that there are American soldiers out somewhere else, fighting on somebody else’s land. But here, at home, I haven’t seen any tanks go down Main St. in Omaha. I’ve not seen anybody in foxholes shooting guns across the front lines. At least from a human standpoint, from a national standpoint, we are at peace. There is no fighting going on here.

And so what do we do? We enjoy our lives. We feast. We relax with our families. We seek to enjoy the good life insofar as we can.

How would things change if this became the front lines of World War III? What if the Japanese or the Germans were over here again, not in Pearl Harbor, but right here in Illinois? In Omaha? You wouldn’t worry too much about whether or not you have a FOID Card, would you? You wouldn’t worry too much about whether this caliber or that caliber of gun happened to be registered in your name or not. If had a gun in your hand and ammunition, you’d defend your family.

Would you take a nice leisurely walk outside with your wife and kids as if there was nothing wrong? Or would you tell your kids, “Look, I know you like to run and play outside, I know you like to do these things that are fun. But just one stray shot and your head is going to be busted open. You stay in that house and you get down in that shelter. I’m going to go out alone, and I’m going to scrounge around and find just enough food for what we need, and I’m going to get back here as soon as I can and I’m going to take care of you. But don’t you go outside!”

Then your boys get a little older. And they’re getting old enough and strong enough, and you’ve been working with them enough, that you realize that they can contribute to the fight. So you finally start letting some of your sons outside. You let them come shoot at the enemy. Even then, are you going to say, “Okay. You’re grown now; go have fun. Go to the movies, go to the grocery store, go play kickball, go play Frisbee.” Or are you going to say, “No, no, no, no, no son. Even though you’re an adult, all it takes is one bullet and you’re dead.”

We need to be so serious. We need to be so vigilant. If we were in wartime in Southern Illinois, and your life was in danger and your children’s lives were in danger, would you spend more time playing football with your son, or would you spend more time making your son do push-ups? Would you spend more time out shooting squirrels with you kid? Or would you spend more time in target practice, telling your son, “Look, one of these days the enemy might come right over that hill. And if he comes towards this house to hurt us, this is how you defend your family.” It’s a whole different mindset, isn’t it?

Christa, your Dad grew up in exactly that sort of environment. Do you think his parents, during peacetime, would have had anything against him spending hours outside playing and having fun, running and playing, and just being a kid and enjoying life? But is that the kind of childhood that Jurgen got to experience? No.

Here he is, 4 or 5 years old in Bremerhaven, Germany – this little kid. And he didn’t even know this was strange, and he didn’t even know this was unusual; this was just life. Air-raid sirens would start whirring, just filling up the entire town with this horrible noise. And they knew that one more time, “Here they come again, these bombers are going to start flying over.” And those bombers don’t care whether the people down there are soldiers or civilians, whether they are men or women, or whether they are five-year-old children. The bombs don’t ask any questions. And so all the kids would hurry up and they’d go inside, and they’d go down into this shelter. And everybody would be scared, and you would hear the bombs dropping and the ground shaking. And finally the air-raid sirens would stop, and the skies would be clear, and everybody would stay in these shelters just a little bit longer. “Is it safe to come out? Is it safe to come out?”

So finally an adult peeks out and there’s no planes. So everybody comes back out to see what kind of damage there is. There is very often virtually no food, so that boiled fish bones – you’d have this real light soup that was from boiled fish bones – and that’s all they had to eat that day. And then it would happen again. He’d be outside. He’d be just inside the house. And the air-raid sirens would start going again. Again, all adults, all children, would have to go down into the shelters.

Now, if I told you that I raised my kid that way, you might easily say, “Well, that’s no way for a child to grow up! That’s not going to give this child a very positive outlook on life, if you’re always telling him to stop playing outside and to go underground and eat this nasty fish soup. Children need to play! Children need to have fun!”

If he had been allowed to play, and been allowed to have fun, he would be dead.
You do everything differently when you are in war.

And one of the reasons that the enemy keeps choking us at the very root with its weeds, one of the reasons that the enemy keeps stealing our children and getting them involved in the things of the devil, is because we are trying to live the “good life,” instead of preparing our children for war.

There may be no bombs dropping in Omaha, there may be no planes flying over, but in my Bible it says that there are no exceptions anywhere in the world. We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers and spiritual rulers of darkness in wicked places (Ephesians 6:12). This is a war. This is a battle. And it’s far worse than anything that ever happened in Normandy. Far worse than anything that ever happened at Pearl Harbor. Because the worst they could do is to kill your child. But the worst the devil can do is to drag your child’s soul to Hell. Which is the worst violence? Which is the worst attack?

If you knew that the bombs were about to start dropping, how quickly would you get your little ones underground? As your little ones start growing into adults, how hard would you work with them to toughen them up to be powerful warriors to fight the enemy and to defend the family? And yet, what weenies we often are when it comes to preparing our children for spiritual warfare. We need to harden them up. We do not live in peacetime. We live in wartime. This is bigger than World War III. This is war against the world, the flesh and the devil. The devil is insidious; he will stop at nothing. And he will use absolutely any means at his disposal to deceive you and to distract you, and to get you involved in anything other than protecting your family. Stop thinking of this as peace time. Start thinking of it as war time. Realize that the devil plays for keeps, and he plays to kill.

Toughen up yourself, your wife, and all of your children. Realize that sin itself is the enemy, and drive it far from your home. Every speck of it. Be merciless to it and eradicate it. Be satisfied with nothing short of a  home – the four walls that you live in – that it is a sanctuary for God, for Jesus, for the Holy Spirit, and for the angels. And not one demon is allowed, not through a song, not through a book, not through a movie, not through a dirty joke!

If you’re going to be a godly husband, father, wife, mother, parent, then you’ll be as merciless with sin in your home as you would be merciless to an Arab, Japanese, or German enemy coming up over the hills with a gun about to kill your family. That is how vigilant you need to be in your home. That is how serious you need to be, realizing that this is a time of war. And the weeds – the seed of the serpent – they are not “way over there somewhere” and “we’re all safe and at peace over here.” Oh, no, no, no, no . . . according to this parable that Jesus taught, the weeds and the wheat are right up next to each other. The roots are intertwined, so much so that you can’t even pull up the weeds without hurting the wheat.

And if we would realize that we are currently in a spiritual war, in a spiritual battle, then we would have a different view of how vigilant we are with our marriages, with the way that we raise our children, with the way that we evangelize and bring others to Christ. We would not treat Christianity as something really wonderful that we’d like people to share in. No, we would treat it as life and death. And that’s exactly what it is.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Our God is One.

~

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, February 9, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

Posted in Ephesians 6:10-20, Fr. Joseph Gleason, Genesis 3, Matthew 10:34-37, Matthew 13:24-30 | Leave a comment

The Presentation of Christ

MP3 Audio:  WS330331_Fr-Michael_Presentation.mp3

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, February 2, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Fr. Michael Keiser.

~

Gospel Reading: Luke 2:22-40

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

The time from the Nativity at Christmas to today, is the story of offerings made in two directions. At Christmas, we commemorate God’s offering to us His Son, the One who Malachi refers to in the Epistle – “The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to His temple.” But that’s a prophecy of the second coming, rather than a prophecy of the first. Because the first coming of Christ is very gentle, very calm, almost hidden, not too many people know about it. Oh, some shepherds get the word and eventually the wise men show up, you know, things like that. It’s undoubted that that couldn’t happen without people in the area picking up on something. But the fact is, He didn’t show up with a big “G” on His sweatshirt announcing whom He was. Very quiet, almost stealthy, as He comes into the world that He Himself had made.

The first offering, of course, was the making of the creation itself, and our being planted to dwell within it. God offers the creation to mankind, specifically to Adam and Eve, but to all the world. And He says, “You can live in this garden in which you will have everything in it that you will ever need. And the only thing you have to do . . . you don’t have to work, you don’t have to punch a clock, or anything like that. You don’t have to wear clothes. You’ll be totally relaxed and whatever. And we’ll talk to each other, we’ll have this close relationship. The only thing, the only rule I’m giving you is that we got this tree over here, it’s called the Tree of  the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and you’re not ready for that yet.”

There is no indication that that kind of knowledge (which is what it’s talking about when it says, ‘eating of the fruit’) would not eventually be something that we would not participate in. But as is so often the case, patience is a problem. And Adam and Eve just couldn’t wait. And when Satan tempts them and says, “He’s treating you like children, really,” (which was perfectly appropriate for them emotionally). “I mean, if you want to be grown ups, if you want to be like Him, you gotta eat of that fruit, and that’s why He doesn’t want you eating it. Because once He knows that you eat that, you’re going to know what He knows.”

And so for that one breaking of the rule, the relationship between God and man changes. And the close intimacy that we had is gone. No longer does the Scripture talk about God walking in the garden in the cool of the day and Adam and Eve conversing with Him – anything like that. The whole thing changes. There was a gap. There is a great gap between us and God and from that point on, we engage in this practice of trying to get close to God again, in any way that we can. And we tried several different covenants – You know, several different agreements, in other words with God – We’ll do that. It’s always, “I’ll be God; you do this . . .” and it was never a negotiation on His side; it should not have been. We’re always trying to figure out how to get back to where we were, but because of the fall, because of this separation that now existed between ourselves and God, it became almost impossible for us to even hear His call.

There’s a part in our soul which is called in Greek, the nous. (You don’t have to remember that, but it has a special name) And the nous is that part of our soul – See, there are two parts of the soul. Part of it just keeps us breathing and moving, because the body needs the soul to live. That’s why when at death the soul leaves the body, the body dies. . . . And everything has that kind of soul. Your cat Fluffy has that kind of soul. But what Fluffy ain’t got is the nous, unless she gets really out of line. But, the nous being that part, which is the reasoning part of the soul, that part of the soul which can perceive God, that part of the soul that can hear God’s faint persistent call to mankind to respond ever since the fall.

But the problem is that the reasoning part of our soul, and Biblically that’s called the heart. The heart is the nous; it’s that reasoning part. It’s not Biblically the organ which pumps blood, although it does do that. It’s the center of where you are spiritually. It gets distracted. It gets cut off. It gets covered over. Our sins, our passions, our angers, our resentments, our aggressions, our acts of revenge, our thoughts of vengefulness – All of these things darken the nous. And Jesus refers to it as the eye of the heart. He says if your eye is not sound, the whole heart is dark. That means the eye of the heart, the soul, cannot perceive God.

See that eye? [Fr. Michael points to one of his eyes] I can’t see much out of it. I’m lucky to be getting along on one and a quarter eyes, which is why I don’t drive a lot anymore at night. I’ve got a cataract. It’s called a cataract and it’s gradually covering over my eyes. But eventually, if I’m going to be able to see anything at all, they’re going to have to do some sort of surgery, and I don’t even want to think about it. That’s what happens to the soul. All the things we do that lead away from God cover it over and we can’t see clearly any more than I can see clearly out of this eye. So if you see me coming down the road doing that [weaving hands in and out], get off!

But God kept offering. God sent people like Moses and the other Prophets to call us back to Him. He sent people like Joshua to lead His people to a special place. He sent Kings like David. He eventually, through Moses, sent the Law, the Old Testament Law. You’re familiar with the Ten Commandments, more than anything else, but there was a lot more to it. But none of that could change us. None of that could change. So to kind of get our attention – and basically that’s what His purpose was – there was never any suggestion that the Law would save us. That a law cannot do. It can tell us how to act, it can tell us the difference between right and wrong. Whether we follow it is obviously up to us. It can show us the kind of life God wants us to lead. But in of itself, whether it’s words chiseled on stone or written on paper, they cannot change us. They can only kind of point us in a certain direction. And some people unfortunately miss that point. Some of the Jews, not all, but some of the Jews felt that if you kept the Law strictly in every part, that you were living a righteous life. When all you were doing was bringing yourself to the point that maybe God could do something with you. That’s what we call justification.

Being justified, that Paul writes about, means just putting yourself in the relationship with God so that God can really start working with you. The hard stuff comes after that. But you gotta get to a point where God can work with you. I’m sure that all of us at one time or another have had problems with friends, or co-workers or maybe some family members that you just couldn’t seem to get through to. And if you’re wise, you come to the point that you can’t change them. They can change themselves with God’s help, but you can’t. And all you’re doing is beating your head constantly against that wall. It drives them and you nuts!

Well, that’s what was going on. The Jews kept beating their heads against that wall – “Why can’t we get closer, why can’t we get closer, why can’t we get closer?” – And the fact is that we have lost the ability and the power to move towards God. And so God took the final step, not the final offering that was to come, but the final step in that offering by implanting Jesus in the womb of Mary, who becomes the first temple He dwells in, by the way. Precisely because we have lost the ability, the direction and the power to move back towards God, we were just stuck marking time. He sent His Son to become one of us, so that as one of us, He could begin to lead us back, and empower us to cross that gulf that existed between ourselves and God. All of that is the story of God’s offering to us.

But also at Christmas, at the Nativity, comes the story of our beginning in a real manner to respond to God. First, with the Virgin Mary. This young girl, not much older than some in this Church. You have an Archangel appearing. You have that happen lately? I haven’t. It would have gotten my attention. It would have gotten more than my attention. And she listens to what the Angel has to say – “You’re going to bear God’s Son.” Right! She didn’t just fall off the tater truck yesterday – She asked questions. “How? I’m not an idiot; I’ve had biology. How is this going to happen?”

She asked questions, and then after this, after he says everything he’s going to say, she says, “OK. If that’s what God needs, that’s what I will do.” That’s the first act of offering back. Joseph’s act of keeping her as his spouse when he could have easily put her away and simply driven her out of the village. And accepting a role in which he would never be physically intimate with her, but would be legally responsible for her raising this kid, is the second act of offering. And after that, the shepherds coming. After that, the wise men come with their offerings, and slowly, gradually, the light begins to dawn in some hearts that God has moved. And we need to respond.

And so finally on that fortieth day after His birth, according to the Law, according to the people, after already having been circumcised according to the Law, they take Him to the temple. And here we have Simeon [and] Anna . . . who have basically spent their entire lives hanging out in the temple waiting for this guy to show up, waiting for Jesus to be brought. Simeon had been promised by God he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Christ, and he believed the promise. And he waited faithfully in the temple, until Divine insight reveals to him this couple that walks in – Because you gotta remember that people are bringing kids in all the time. They had babies just like we do.  So they are constantly bringing babies if they are close to the temple. If it’s synagogue, they would do that, but in Jerusalem, the place to do that was in the temple. So you got them coming in all the time, “You need two pigeons, thank you. Okay, sacrifice those.” – But this couple walks in and Simeon, who is blind, recognizes who they are. I don’t know that I would have had the patience to wait [so many] years for something we think God told us a long time ago. Or for Anna to do the same thing. Those are acts of offering back to God.

And then Jesus Himself begins His own act of offering on our behalf back to His Father, dragging us sometimes, kicking and screaming, closer to an intimate relationship with God, the same blessed relationship we were supposed to have at the very beginning and couldn’t hang on to! He is giving us a second chance at it. No one is forced to.

Lightening doesn’t strike from the sky. Jesus just goes around by example and teaching, drawing people back to His Father, gradually gathering a crowd until He’s arrested; then they all bug out on Him. But His act of offering continues until on the altar of the Cross He offers Himself as the ultimate sacrifice.

See, people have a strange idea about what sacrifice is supposed to be. They assume it is with a knife and with blood. And of course in the early days of the Old Testament, it was. But actually, making a sacrifice – There were other kinds of sacrifices that were made in the temple. There was the bread offering, the pure bread. There was the wheat. Oil had to be the purest virgin olive oil you could get, to be worthy to be offered up to God. And they would bring those to the temple just like we do now sometimes. Or offer the candles or what have you. You know, all kinds of things. But they had to be the best to be offered. Otherwise, they were rejected. That’s what the Levites were for. You know you had the temple priests, but the Levites were kind of like the Deacons of today – a lot of brawn and no brain – and they would be there waiting for people to bring stuff to Church, and they would say, “Oh good. Well, this goes over there, and we’ll put this over here.” You know, like Deacons were in the Early Church. They weren’t expected to do a lot except wait tables and tote barge and lift bale.

So, all of that had to be the best you could offer. And that’s what a sacrifice is. You take the best you have and offer it to somebody else, or ultimately to God. Jesus was perfect God, and a perfect human being. You and I haven’t seen this. I’ve got my fans, but nobody in their right mind thinks I’m perfect. None of us are this. But Jesus is perfect God and perfect man, so He is the perfect offering to His Father. Not because His Father is mad and somebody and has to punish them. Not because His Father likes the sight of blood. But because only in Jesus can heaven and earth meet.

God is completely uncreated. We are created. Those two aren’t going to come together. We’re never going to become God, and He’s never going to become human except through the mediation of His Word, of His Divine Word, of His perfect, godly and human nature. And so He makes that offering of Himself. And as I said last week, it continues today.

24 hours, 7 days a week, He’s in the presence of His Father, offering Himself, showing His wounds that He bore at the crucifixion, so that He could take on Himself all our sins, the sins of all the world. Not just the sins of the past. Not just the sins of the present. Every sin that has ever and will ever be created from the creation until the end of time. This Jesus takes on Himself. It’s all wiped out!

And He stands before His Father and says, “Remember this. They are with me, because I’m one of them now. I’m human; they’re human. We stand before You, and we offer ourselves to You.” And we say that. We’ll say that in a couple of minutes in the prayer of the Liturgy. I will pray that we may offer ourselves as . . . a pure and holy and living sacrifice to God. And this is the continuation of the offering that began with Mary and Joseph, that began with the shepherds and the wise men, that continued on with all of those faithful who got on board with Christ and continued to offer Him, all of those who continued to offer themselves.

We can carry candles in Church and that looks pretty, and that’s a pretty offering. But all we can truly offer is a sincere and repentant heart. All we can do is fall on our knees before God in tears, and ask for His forgiveness, for His overwhelming forgiveness and love. [We ask Him] to continue to come to us, and that we may continuously offer ourselves to Him. I said this before. You can come here every Sunday and Feast day. You can come to me to confession or to some other Orthodox Priest. You can be anointed with oil; you can come forward and receive the Body and Blood of Christ. But if you do so with a hard and impenitent heart, you will go to hell.

Continue the offering. Every day, every moment of every day that you can consciously bring it to mind, offer yourself to God. Say, “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. Lord have mercy. God accept my heart and make it Yours.” Continue to offer yourself always to our Father in Heaven, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, God is One. Amen.

~

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, February 2, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Fr. Michael Keiser.

 

Posted in Fr. Michael Keiser, The Presentation of Christ | Leave a comment

The Meekness of a Spiritual Father

st__gregory_the_great_icon_by_theophiliaSt. Gregory the Great says that a spiritual father should be gentle and meek. If he reproves a person who unintentionally sinned, this is especially true. If a person has malice, and has sinned willfully, that is a different story. But if a person has sinned out of “ignorance or infirmity”, then the priest is duty-bound to be very gentle when offering correction. St. Gregory describes the importance of gentleness at some length:

Some things, however, ought to be gently reproved: for, when fault is committed, not of malice, but only from ignorance or infirmity, it is certainly necessary that the very censure of it be tempered with great moderation. For it is true that all of us, so long as we subsist in this mortal flesh, are subject to the infirmities of our corruption. Every one, therefore, ought to gather from himself how it behooves him to pity another’s weakness, lest, if he be too fervently hurried to words of reprehension against a neighbour’s infirmity, he should seem to be forgetful of his own. Whence Paul admonishes well, when he says, “If a man be overtaken in any fault, you which are spiritual restore such an one in the spirit of meekness, considering yourself, lest you also be tempted” (Galatians 6:1); as if to say plainly, When what you see of the infirmity of another displeases you, consider what you are; that so the spirit may moderate itself in the zeal of reprehension, while for itself also it fears what it reprehends.

~ St Gregory the Great, Pastoral Care – Book II – Chapter X

Later in the same chapter, St. Gregory explains the spiritual dangers involved when a spiritual father is hasty to offer harsh correction:

And for the most part it happens that, when the faults of subordinates are reprehended with severe invective, the tongue of the master is betrayed into excess of language. And, when rebuke is immoderately hot, the hearts of the delinquents are depressed to despair. Wherefore it is necessary for the exasperated ruler, when he considers that he has wounded more than he should have done the feelings of his subordinates, to have recourse in his own mind to penitence, so as by lamentations to obtain pardon in the sight of the Truth; and even for this cause, that it is through the ardour of his zeal for it that he sins.

This is what the Lord in a figure enjoins through Moses, saying, “If a man go in simplicity of heart with his friend into the wood to hew wood, and the wood of the axe fly from his hand, and the iron slip from the handle and smite his friend and slay him, he shall flee unto one of the aforesaid cities and live; lest haply the next of kin to him whose blood has been shed, while his heart is hot, pursue him, and overtake him, and smite him mortally” (Deuteronomy 19:4-5).

For indeed we go with a friend into the wood as often as we betake ourselves to look into the delinquencies of subordinates. And we hew wood in simplicity of heart, when with pious intention we cut off the vices of delinquents. But the axe flies from the hand, when rebuke is drawn on to asperity more than need requires. And the iron leaps from the handle, when out of reproof issues speech too hard. And he smites and slays his friend, because overstrained contumely cuts him off from the spirit of love. For the mind of one who is reproved suddenly breaks out into hatred, if immoderate reproof charges it beyond its due. But he who smites wood incautiously and destroys his neighbour must needs fly to three cities, that in one of them he may live protected; since if, betaking himself to the laments of penitence, he is hidden under hope and charity in sacramental unity, he is not held guilty of the perpetrated homicide.

~ St Gregory the Great, Pastoral Care – Book II – Chapter X

The words of St. Gregory are quite striking in this passage. When a spiritual father is overzealous with reproof, the following dangers arise:

  • His spiritual children may be driven to depression, despair, and even hatred.
  • By unnecessarily wounding the feelings of his spiritual children, the spiritual father has sinned, and now himself must show penitence and seek pardon from the Lord.
  • By being needlessly harsh, “he smites and slays his friend,” “destroys his neighbour,” and has perpetrated a spiritual “homicide.”
  • By behaving thus toward his spiritual child, the erring spiritual father “cuts him off from the spirit of love.”

These are serious dangers, and they are not to be taken lightly. A doctor’s scalpel has the power to save life, but it also has the power to kill. So it is with the reproof of a spiritual father. If administered with wisdom, it can help bring his spiritual children to repentance and healing. But if reproof is administered too harshly, and without proper care, then it can cause damage that is potentially irreparable.

Indeed, there are times when the surgeon needs to use the scalpel, cutting away cancer, performing drastic, invasive surgery so that the patient’s life can be saved. And according to St. Gregory, there are times when it is appropriate for a spiritual father to speak very harshly to his spiritual children, so that they might be roused out of their slumber, rescued from the jaws of sin and death. And because of the dangers involved, such times need to be identified with great care. In most cases, a spiritual father should exhaust every form of gentle reproof first, before pulling out the scalpel and cutting the patient with a harsh rebuke.

A good spiritual father will pull out the scalpel, but only when absolutely necessary.

Gregory the Great - Pastoral Care

Pastoral Care – by St. Gregory

St. Gregory’s book on Pastoral Care been a standard text for well over a thousand years, and I highly recommend it for all readers. For bishops, priests, and deacons, it lays out time-tested principles for providing spiritual direction in a way which is beneficial to everyone involved. And for laymen who are currently seeking a good spiritual father, this book provides some very helpful guidelines. Either way, St. Gregory’s book has a lot to offer.

A free copy of his book is available online:
http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3601.htm

A hardback copy of his book is available from Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/Gregory-Pastoral-Ancient-Christian-Writers/dp/080910251X

 

Posted in Humility, Reconciliation, Spiritual Living | 3 Comments