From Gremlin to NASCAR

MP3 Audio:  Gremlin-to-NASCAR.mp3

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, July 7, 2013,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Sdn. Ambrose.


Matins readings:  Jeremiah 23:23–32 / Matthew 7:13–14, 21–29

When we read the readings, I thought it very interesting. I pored over these over and over last night, just trying to find out why the church brought these two particular readings together. . . . the gospel that we read from is two different sections, with a middle section removed. And I got into looking; that middle section is actually going to be read seven weeks from now on the eighth Sunday of Trinity. So they are not leaving it out completely, but it did get left out. So I am trying to figure out as I read through these why the church chose these particular three passages basically to go together today. And it was kind of interesting, as I started looking into it a little bit more, because there are three comparisons that are made in these different Scriptures. I’m gonna go back over a couple of them with you . . . just to show you what happened here.

In the book of Jeremiah, when we read it, there’s a comparison between a false prophet and a true prophet, one who’s true. God says that he has heard that there are prophets who are prophesying lies in His name, saying, “I have dreamed, I have dreamed.” And He says that this is a deceit in their own heart. They are prophets of the deceit in their own heart. And He also says they steal His words out of the hearts of His people from their neighbors, and He says He’s against them. And so He says that His people–at that point it’s Israel–are in error because of the lies and the recklessness of the false prophet.

But it specifically says they are prophesying lies in His name. . . . Then He contrasts that and He says, “The prophet who has a dream, let him tell a dream, and he who has My word, let him speak my word faithfully.” “What is the chaff to the wheat?”, says the Lord. “Why are you listening to false prophets when you’ve got true prophets around?”
He said you should know the difference. “Is not my word like a fire, and like a hammer that breaks the rock into pieces?”

If we’re truly of God, we’ll know, based upon what the people are saying. And so God is against those who use His name, and tell lies or prophesies in His name. That’s the first comparison.

Then we go to Matthew–when we read the Gospel today–the first part of it is Matthew verses thirteen and fourteen. And this is where we get the narrow gate versus the wide gate, and we have a comparison there. And then we get to the wise man and the foolish man building their houses, one on the rock and one on the sand. So we have three different comparisons.

If you think about in Matthew’s Gospel, the first part where we talk about the gate, a lot of people talk about the straight and narrow, right? It mentions the wide gate and the broad way. So there are three parts to this. The gate is wide, the way is broad, and it says it leads to destruction. And because it’s so broad and so wide, it says many people find it. That’s an easy one to locate.

Do you think that these people who are on this broad way believe that they are going to their own destruction?

A lot of times the people who find this gate, it’s not that they’re looking for destruction, it’s that they are looking for the easy way. They’re looking for the easy way to get there, and they find themselves walking down to destruction. Where instead, the narrow gate is listed as the difficult way. It’s the tough way. But it is the way that leads to life, and there are few who find that. So we’ve got this comparison going on.

And then when we talk about the two houses, the foolish man on the sand:  Imagine the ocean coming in and going out, as the tide rolls in and rolls out as the waves come in, this sand that’s down there at the bottom. And then as you look up a little higher–you’d have to climb some rocks to get up higher, out away from the surf, away from the ocean. You’d have to be up higher.

If you wanted to build your house, the easiest way is to not climb the rocks, to not climb that whole mountain up there. Just stay down where it’s easy. Pull in some driftwood, build your little house down there on the sand, and live that easy life. 

Or to be safe, you take your family–you may have to drag the wood from down below–but you end up climbing up this rock, and building your house up on the rock. And there is safety. There is strength.

And the difference isn’t the house. The difference isn’t even necessarily the man building it. It might be a very strong man in either place.

It’s the foundation he built it on.

And that foundation was chosen, because one was easy, and one was difficult, and he chose the easy way.

And I think a lot of times in our life, we are looking for the easy way out. We don’t want to do our family devotions every day. It’s hard to remember to do that. It’s hard to remember those kind of things, to wake up in the morning, to go do your family worship, to go stand in front of your icons and to do that. That’s a hard thing to do.

It’s hard to provide for your family. It’s hard to get up and work when you feel like just relaxing. It’s hard to do that sometimes.

It’s also hard to live a life for Christ, especially under persecution. And yet, that’s the way in the narrow gate, the narrow way, that is difficult. It says it’s a difficult way, but it leads to life.

But few find it. Why do think that few find it? Because it’s tough. It’s a tough life.

So whether or not you are traveling on the narrow or the broad way, is a decision based on whether it’s easy or tough, oftentimes. Whether or not you’re building your house on the sands or on the rock, is a decision based on whether it was the easy way.

I don’t think Jesus took the easy way. And I don’t think the apostles took the easy way. And I don’t think our saints, that we are supposed to be looking up to, took the easy way. We need to be taking the tougher way.

And interestingly enough, in each of these instances, those who are wrong actually believe that they are right. That’s the key here.

Think about the prophets. They are prophesying lies in the name of Christ, believing that they’re true. And it says they are prophets by the deceit of their own heart. They are being deceived by their own heart. And they turn around and deceive other people, but they think that they are doing what’s right.

When people–many find the broad way that is the easy way–they probably think that they are on the right path. They don’t realize that path leads to destruction.

And the man who builds his house on the sand, probably built it when there was no storm. It seemed like the easy way. It seemed like the right way, and he built it that way.

In the book of Judges, several times over, we hear one particular line that’s said. “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6, 21:25). It didn’t say what he did was right, it said he did what was right in his own eyes. So he got to be the decider, the chooser, of what was right and wrong. And when that happens–you guys probably remember the stories of Judges–over and over and over again, Israel would fall into either captivity, definitely into moral failures and sins, into idolatry, over and over again. And it would take a judge or a ruler of some type to come and to bring them back again. Oftentimes also through either war, or through famine, or through captivity–things like that–but eventually they would be brought back. But the story that is portrayed in Judges is people who continually keep doing what is right in their own eyes, instead of doing what is right in Gods’ eyes. And so a lot of people are seeking it. It says here twice, many go in by the broad way that leads to destruction.

We get to the part where, “Not everyone that says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ . . .” It says that “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name?”
have we not prophesied in your name?

Can you imagine getting there, getting to the judgment, and you thought that you had done right in your own eyes? You thought you had built your house, and yet it was on the sand. You thought that you had taken the right road. And you end up there, and Jesus says,

“I don’t know you.”

“But we have been prophesying in your name.”

“I don’t know you.”

“But we have been casting out demons and performing miracles.”

“I’m sorry. I don’t know you.”

What kind of difference would that make to you if you thought the two different answers you’ll hear when you get up there are, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” or, “I don’t know you.”  That’s the choice that you have to make.

So when you take this road in life, the broad way, the easy way, is the one where He says, “I don’t know you.”

That’s not what I want to hear.

A life for Christ is very full of hard work. It’s full of toil, and it’s full of suffering, and if you came to Christ–if you came to the church–hoping for sunshine and roses (in this life anyway), then you came to the wrong place.

There was a song sung by the Cathedral Quartet, a southern gospel group–I’ve got it on a record still–and they talk about, “before Christ, lonely days” and is kind of slow and somber. And then after they found Christ, “but now it’s sunshine and roses.” They actually sing that. That is what they are portraying. That is not the Christian life that I live. I don’t experience sunshine and roses all the time. And I’ll tell ya, neither did the apostles. Most of the prophets didn’t. Jesus sure didn’t. I’m sure there were good days, but sunshine and roses in this life are not what you’re expecting.

We are called to be like Christ, and we are called to be like Him in His sufferings too, to take up our cross. And that doesn’t sound like a very easy path to me, to be carrying a cross everyday.

Have you ever noticed how, I don’t know if you have pets–if you have a chicken, or if you have a cat, or a dog–you ever notice how they recognize each other? There could be a yard full of other animals, but the two dogs will end up together, the two cats will end up together. It doesn’t matter how young they are either. A little cat, a little kitten, will go to where the other cats are, because like recognizes like. Deer do it in the forest. I mean, animals do this, they recognize each other based upon what they see in the other one. They recognize themselves.

And according to this, true godliness is recognizable by Christ, and often by us too. We have–in the verses of Jeremiah–we have the faithful prophet. He said, “Is not my word like a fire, and like a hammer that breaks a rock into pieces?” He says, “You’ll know My words. I know them. You’ll know My words are true; you’ll feel them in you.”

And yet we get down to the part where we hit the judgment, and Christ doesn’t recognize those people. “I don’t know you.”

It isn’t that you say, “Lord, Lord.”
It isn’t that saying, “Lord, Lord” isn’t a good thing. It is.
It isn’t that saying, “Lord, Lord” isn’t salvific, it won’t save you. It will. 
But there’s another part to it.

These people weren’t living also what they were teaching, what they were saying. In fact, it says they were practicing lawlessness. And Jeremiah says they make the people err . . . by their lies and by their recklessness. And then in Matthew, Jesus tells them, “Depart from Me. I never knew you, you who practice lawlessness.”

So you can say, “Lord, Lord,” all you want. You can prophesy in His name. You can cast out demons in His name. You can perform miracles in His name. But if you are practicing lawlessness, if you’re not living it, that gets you what?

“I don’t know you. I don’t know who you are.”

The two men who build their houses–one on the rock, one on the sand–it says the exact same thing about them. He says, 

“He who hears these sayings of Mine and does them”–two parts–“will be likened to a wise man who builds his house on the rock. But everyone who hears these sayings of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who has built his house on the sand.”

So here we go again. You can say a lot of things, but if you’re practicing lawlessness, if you are not obeying, not practicing what you preach, Jesus says in the judgement, “I don’t know you.”

You can also hear the words of Christ. Both of these men heard. Both of them understand. It says they hear the words of Christ. One does them, one doesn’t. And He says it’s like a foolish man, and like a wise man. So the one who hears and doesn’t do–so anytime you are sitting in a sermon, anytime you are hearing something that you read, or something that you hear on the radio, that you agree with, that you understand to be true, but if you don’t put it into practice–it doesn’t matter that you agree with it. It’s not about assent.

It’s too often that a lot of people think that they are Christians,
that they are going to heaven, because they have recited these set of facts:

“I am a sinner,”
fact number one.

“Jesus died on the cross for my sins,” fact number two.
I believe that Jesus did those,” fact number three.
Therefore I am now a Christian going to heaven,” fact number four.

They have stated facts. They might have even said a little half-hearted prayer, or even a whole-hearted prayer. But if they don’t act on that, put it into practice, do the things that Christ said, you will be like the foolish man who built your house upon the sand. And when the storm comes–it doesn’t say if the storm comes–when the storm comes, your house will be destroyed. All that you have done and all that you have worked for will be destroyed. And it’s not that one man gets a storm, and another man doesn’t get a storm. Both men get the same storm.

The storms come. The rain descended, the floods came, the winds blew and beat on the house–both houses. And yet one was built on the wrong foundation. Because, not what they heard, what they did.

A lot of people will say–people in my past life–“That sounds like works righteousness. You’re getting to heaven because of your works.” And to that I would answer, “Yep.” 

It’s first of all based upon the works of Christ and our belief in Him, and then coupled with that, our works. It’s right here. You can hear all you want. You can understand all you want. Unless you do, your house falls down and you’re destroyed.

So there are two parts to this that go together. It’s not about prophesying, although there may be that aspect to it. It’s not about stating a few facts, although there may be that aspect to it. . . . It is about choosing the narrow path. It’s about hearing and then doing together.

What we don’t want to be is one of the many–the many who find the broad path and lead to destruction, the many who say to Him, “Lord, Lord, did we not do these things?” and He says, “I do not know you.”

The only way that He will recognize us, because like recognizes like, is that we become like Him, in His suffering and His obedience.

I want to read one story to you. This is about a saint. We actually read about him yesterday, in our morning prayer. Tell me if you think that this man was seeking the broad way, or the narrow way, if you think that this man was doing as well as understanding. . . .

Sisoes was an Egyptian by birth, and a disciple of St. Anthony. Following the death of his great teacher St. Anthony, St. Sisoes settled on a mountain in the wilderness, called “St. Anthony’s mount,” where Anthony lived a life of asceticism earlier.

Imposing difficult labors upon himself, he humbled himself so much that he became meek and guileless as a lamb. For this, God endowed Sisoes with abundant grace, so that he was able to heal the sick, drive out unclean spirits, and resurrect the dead. Sisoes lived a life of austere mortification in the wilderness for sixty years, and was a source of prophetic wisdom for all monks and laymen who came to him for council and advice.

Before death, his face shown as the sun. The monks stood around him and were astonished at this manifestation. When Sisoes lay on his death bed, his face was very radiant. The monks, his disciples, stood around him. Then St. Sisoes gazed around and said, “Behold, here came abbot Anthony,” and he remained silent for awhile, and then again said, “Behold, here came the prophets.” In that moment his face glowed even more, and he said, “Behold, here came the apostles.” And following that, he said, “Behold, here came the angels to take away my soul.”

And finally his face shone as the sun, and all were overcome with great fear, and the elder said, “Behold, here comes the Lord! Look at him, all of you. Behold, He speaks, ‘Bring to me the chosen vessel from the wilderness.'” And after that, the Saint gave up his soul and the entire room was filled with a sweet smelling savour.

Sisoes died of extreme old age in the year 429 A.D.


He was prophesying. He was able to heal the sick, to drive out unclean spirits, and resurrect the dead. And his face shone as the sun. And when he died, Christ came to him and said, “Bring me the chosen vessel from the wilderness,” from Egypt. And when he gave up his soul, the entire room was filled with sweet smelling savour.

That doesn’t sound to me like, “Depart from me. I never knew you.”

That’s the difference. He prophesied, but he was doing what he was prophesying. He was living the life. It said he lived a life of asceticism, imposed difficult–not easy–difficult labors on himself, and humbled himself so much that he became meek and guileless as a lamb.

That’s the type of life we are called to live.
We are to emulate these saints.

These saints were given nothing more then we have been given.
We are to emulate them.

About two years ago, I went to Antiochian Village, Pennsylvania. . . . There are relics in there . . . St. Paul was up there, another one of St. Thekla, and St. Raphael, St. Moses the Black . . . And we were able to venerate [the relics of the saints].

Well, we got to talking about saints, and “How could we ever attain to what the saints can do?” 

And Deacon Joseph said, “You’re cutting the Saints down. You’re putting them down by saying that.”

And myself and the other man said, “What? . . . They were great people! How can we ever attain to that?”

He says, “You’re putting down the saints when you say that.”

He said, “Let me ask you a question. . . . Imagine a Gremlin car from the 1970s getting in a race with an Indycar from today, or a NASCAR, alright? Would it be surprising to you that the NASCAR wins the race? Would it surprise you at all? Would it surprise you if the Gremlin won the race? That would be shocking! . . .”

Because this NASCAR is built and designed for racing, and built and designed for speed, it wouldn’t surprise any of us if it crossed the finish line laps ahead of this Gremlin, because it was designed that way. . . . actually designed to be a race car.  So it wouldn’t surprise us.

When we say that those Saints are so far above us, we could never be like them, what we are saying is,

“I’m a lowly Gremlin, here. And those ‘NASCAR’ saints are so far above me, that there is no way I could never attain to sainthood.”

It is actually putting aside all the things that the Saints did to get where they are today.
If you said,

“We are both Gremlins. And look at the race they ran! I just don’t have the energy. I don’t have the time. I like the easy life. I don’t want to practice my race. I just want to stay a Gremlin.”

Then you are not putting down the Saints. You are putting down yourself, basically.

But to say, “I could never attain to what the Saints have”, is saying that God did something to them that He hasn’t done to you. “God gave them extra special favor, extra special grace. God did it. Where they are, because they are saints, is all because God did it.” And it takes away all the–what did he say?–humbling of himself, living a life of a asceticism, and imposing difficult labors on himself, he became meek and guileless as a lamb.

If God did it all, then of course we could never be like him [Sisoes], unless God chooses to do that to us to.

But the fact is, this man imposed these things on himself. He didn’t just hear it, he did it. And that’s why he wins the race. That’s why his face shines like the sun.

Do you know that if you look at these saints and say, “I can be just like you,” that’s the truth. That’s when you build them up, because you’re saying, “I haven’t yet, I haven’t committed that yet, I haven’t imposed those difficult labors on myself yet, I haven’t humbled myself like you have, but I guarantee that if I did exactly what Sisoes did, on my deathbed my face would be shining like the sun, that the angels, the prophets, the apostles, and finally Christ, would come to us as well, to receive our souls.” God didn’t do anything special to Sisoes that He won’t do for you. But you have to do what Sisoes did for himself. You have to do. You can’t just expect it to happen the other way.

So don’t think that our saints that we read about were given some sort of special dispensation or endowment from above. We have exactly what they had. We were all “Gremlins” when we start. They have just built themselves into a speed-demon, into that “NASCAR.” They have built themselves into that, through all of these mortifications that they have placed on their bodies.

Now, we are not all called to live a life like monks. We are not all called to live like nuns. But we all are called to a life of righteousness, to take up our cross, to follow Him, and to be not just hearing, but doing.

Don’t be satisfied with who you are today. Don’t be satisfied with the life that you’re living. And I’m not talking about finances, or the home you live in, or anything like that. Don’t be satisfied with your internal life, with what’s in your heart. Don’t live like these false prophets that have deceit in their own heart, like these people who believe they are doing things in Jesus’ name, but they are not actually obeying.

We want to be like the ones who take the straight and narrow path. When God sees you–if you do these things–when God sees you, He will recognize you, because you have already become like Him.

Sisoes’ face was glowing with that uncreated light, because he had already become like God, who is Light. He had already had that happen, and God recognized, like recognizes like. And that’s what we are striving to do too.

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, July 7, 2013,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Sdn. Ambrose.

Homily transcribed by Steven T. Johns Jr.

About Fr Joseph Gleason

I serve as a priest at Christ the King Orthodox Mission in Omaha, Illinois, and am blessed with eight children and one lovely wife. I contribute to On Behalf of All, a simple blog about Orthodox Christianity. I also blog here at The Orthodox Life.
This entry was posted in Judges 17, Judges 21, Other Homilies. Bookmark the permalink.

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