This homily was preached on Sunday morning, May 18, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.
Gospel Reading: James 1:17-21
In the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, our God is One. Amen.
We read today in the Epistle of James the Apostle:
“Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness and receive with meekness the engrafted Word which is able to save your souls.”
There are a lot of congregations in the world that recognize the importance of the Word of God, the preaching of the Word of God, the study of Scripture. It’s a mistake if that’s all you do: if you forget about the Liturgy, if you forget about the music, if you forget about the sacramental life of the Church. But there’s another danger. You see, Churches that understand the importance of Liturgy, the Churches that understand the importance of the Sacraments . . . some of them forget the importance of the Word of God, the central importance of Scripture, the fact that the Word of God engrafted in your heart is able to save your soul.
But how does it save your soul? How does it do it?
I want you to imagine that you just got the worst news of your life. You have talked to the doctor. The doctor has run tests and has confirmed it’s not benign. It’s cancer, and it’s not operable. And you have a maximum of six months to live, six months to get your ducks in a row, six months to say goodbye. How would you feel at that point? How dejected would you be, how depressed, how sad? How much of a shock would that be to you now at your age today, if you found out that you have a maximum of six months remaining on earth? They bring you to a room with nine other people who have just received the same diagnosis, for the same type of cancer.
And then, miracle of miracles, the Angel of the Lord appears! The angel of the Lord appears with a prescription in his hand, and he guarantees that this prescription is able to save your life. And he writes out ten copies of it, and hands one to each person, including you. Now, how would you feel? How happy would you be? How joyful would you be? The news of the cancer would have been such a shock. But now, to receive this prescription in hand for this medication that is guaranteed by God himself that it is able to save your life – you could walk out of there with joy. You’d show that prescription to your spouse, to your children; you’d say, “I’m free! I’m home free! I’m going to be healed! I’m going to make it through this!” But in just a few short months, there are some funerals for some of the people in that room. Even though they received this guaranteed prescription that is able to save their lives, some of them still go to their graves, killed by the cancer.
Throwing Away the Prescription
You see, just as you walk out of the hospital, you look down and you see a couple of wadded up prescriptions on the ground. And you unfold them and you look and you realize, there’s a couple people in that room that just didn’t believe it. They thought they were seeing things, they didn’t buy it, and they didn’t even hold onto the prescription; they just wadded it up and they threw it away like trash. The prescription is not going to do them any good. It was able to save their lives, but they just threw it away.
My friends, the Word of God is a prescription that is able to save your souls. Don’t just wad it up and throw it away. Don’t leave the Bible on the shelf. Don’t leave the Scriptures in a corner collecting dust. It says in the Psalms, “Lord, your Word I have hidden in my heart that I might not sin against you.” It’s not going to do you any good as long as it’s closed. You have to open it. You have to hold it near your heart. You have to read it. You have to memorize it. You have to learn it. You have to let it become a part of you. You have to drink in the very Word of God from the Scriptures. You drink it in through reading it, through hearing it in sermons, through studying it, through reading what the Church Fathers have said about it. Make the Scriptures – make the Word of God – such a central part of your life that you know them, that they are a part of you. Because, no matter how good the prescription is, it is not going to do you any good if you just wad it up and thrown it away. You have to hold it close to you. You have to read it. You have to have it close to your heart and in your heart.
Not Getting the Prescription Filled
Those two people died because they didn’t keep it. But your heart is broken because two of your friends who were also in that room – they also went to their graves – you attended their funerals not many months after this event. And it was a very curious thing that many people talked about, very unusual . . . for at both funerals people walked down, and they walked past the casket to pay their last respects, and at both funerals, there was a cold, dead hand in the casket just grasping and clutching the prescription, holding it close to their heart!
You see, all those months they had held it close to them, they never let it go, they read it, they memorized it . . . but they never went to the pharmacy and filled it.
I’m sorry, but a prescription that’s able to save your life won’t do you any good if you don’t fill the prescription. Just last night we talked about one of those medications called the Eucharist – the Blood and the Body of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus himself said in John 6 that, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. There’s the prescription. You’ve got to go to the pharmacist – you’ve got to go to the priest – to get the prescription filled. You’ve got to take the medication. You can’t just read about it. You’ve got to take this medicine of immortality that is an antidote to prevent us from dying.
Oh, but that’s not the only prescription in Scripture. There’s also this prescription for baptism, for the washing away of your sins. There is a prescription for confession, for confessing your sins, having your sins forgiven by God. There is a prescription in Scripture for husbands to love and cherish their own wives as much as they love and cherish their own bodies. It says right there in Scripture that your very prayers can be hindered – God can close up his ears to your prayers – if you are not loving your wives and treating them the way God wants you to treat them.
Wives, the Bible has a prescription for you to respect your husband. And there’s nothing in there about whether you think he earns it or not. It just says, “Wives, see to it that you respect your husbands” . . . “submit to your husbands.” “Children, obey your parents.” That’s a prescription given to you in Scripture.
Scripture doesn’t just talk about our relationships, it talks about our pocketbooks, our money, our bank accounts. You turn to the book of Malachi, it says, “Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed me in tithes and offerings.”
“Well pastor, don’t talk to us about money.”
Hey, I don’t have any skin in the game. I don’t make any money here. That’s the nice thing about volunteer work – you can talk about money – because I don’t get paid anything by the Church.
Even in the Old Testament, even before Christ came, the standard was ten percent. If a hundred dollar bill comes into your home, ten of those dollars go to God. If a thousand dollars come into your home, a hundred dollars goes to the Church. If ten thousand dollars comes into your home, a thousand dollars goes to God.
And it’s a double-edged sword. You see, if you don’t do it, God says you are robbing God – you are a thief. But he says, if you do it, it’s like medicine. The way he words it in Malachi, he says,
“If you will bring your tithes into the storehouse, God himself will open the floodgates of heaven and will pour upon you such blessing that you will not even be able to contain it.”
Do you think God meant it when he said that? Or do you think he was lying? Well, if he meant it – if God’s telling the truth – that’s medicine, that’s healing. But you’ve got to fill the prescription. And in this case, the priest isn’t the pharmacist . . . you are. You fill the prescription. You tithe.
If you turn to the book of Tobit in the Old Testament, in chapter four and in chapter twelve it tells us that “alms delivers from death.” Now, alms, that’s not tithes and offerings. Alms is different. Alms is where you sacrifice your own money for somebody less fortunate than yourself, to help the poor. There was no command given in Scripture for you to give them a fifty-question questionnaire to find out whether you think they deserve it or not, to find out whether they’re worthy. What hypocrisy! If you truly believed that only the worthy should have money in their hands, then you would give away every penny that you have, because you don’t deserve any of the money that you have. You are not worthy. I am not worthy. Help the poor. Pour out your heart to love those who are in need. Give alms. For as it says in Scripture, alms delivers from death. Well, isn’t death what we’re trying to be healed of around here? Isn’t sickness and suffering and sin what we’re trying to be healed of? There’s the prescription . . . give alms. And once again, you are the pharmacist. Don’t just read it in the Scriptures, but fill the prescription. Do what it says.
And I’m pretty sure that I’m staying in context with what the Apostle James meant, because if you go to the very next verse in the book of James that we read from this morning, he says,
“Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For he that is a hearer, but not a doer, is like a man that beholds his face in the mirror, and then turns away and forgets what he saw.”
The Word of God is a mirror – you open it up and it rips you open just like heart surgery. It cuts and it divides like muscle from bone, like tendon from ligament. It cuts exceedingly fine, it lays you open and you see yourself, whether good or evil. Don’t walk out of here and forget what you saw. If you see any area where you need repentance, any area where you need to fill the prescription and obey God, then repent immediately, because you’re not guaranteed tomorrow. Repent while it is still called “today”. Don’t just read the prescription. Don’t just hold it close to your heart. Don’t just memorize it, but fill the prescription. Take the medicine.
Drug Interaction Precautions
See, the first two people died of cancer because they didn’t keep the prescription – they threw it away. The next two people died of cancer because they kept it, but they didn’t fill it. Alas, there are two more people who died. They kept the prescription, they didn’t throw it away. And they went to the pharmacist and they filled the prescription. And they started taking the medicine, but they still died.
How many of you have ever worked in the medical industry? I’ve been an EMT and know we’ve got a nurse, we’ve got . . . you were a CNA . . . we’ve got a number of people here that have been in the medical field. Have you ever heard of a “drug interaction precaution”? “No mono-amine oxidase inhibitors, no MAOI’s.” Or, more likely, “Don’t take this with alcohol.” Have you ever seen that on drugs? Don’t take this drug with alcohol. We’re not saying you can’t have a drink. Just don’t drink it when you’re taking your medicine.
Well, these two guys, they were drunks. They kept the prescription, the filled the prescription, they were faithfully taking the medicine. But every time they took the medicine, they downed a pint of whiskey. And the alcohol that they drank in that quantity messed with the medication just a little bit, and they died even quicker than they would have if they hadn’t have taken the medicine.
You see, in the book of James, in our Epistle reading today, it tells us about a little drug interaction precaution. It says, “Lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word which is able to save your souls.”
It doesn’t just say, “Here’s the word that’s able to save your souls.” First, it gives you the drug interaction precautions. It says, “Lay aside the filthiness. Lay aside the naughtiness. That stuff is like mixing alcohol with your medicine.”
You can be chaste. You can be generous with alms and with tithes. You can be faithful to your spouse. You can love your children. You can do all of the things that you know you should do. But, over here, are you harboring some wickedness? Are you holding onto some greed? Are you holding onto some lust?
Knowing full well the command that Scripture gives to parents to raise your children up in godliness, not just for an hour a week or an hour a day, but literally from the time they wake up until the time they go to sleep at night – 24/7 – Scripture commands you to raise up your children in the fear and the admonition of the Lord. For a part of that day, do you send them somewhere for an hour, or for two hours, where somebody who is ungodly is raising them up in something other than Christianity? Where some non-Christian influence is having its way with your children who have been created in the image of God? Scripture says that your children are to be rendered unto the Lord alone. Are you rendering unto Caesar the thing that is God’s?
You see, we can do this right, and this right, and this right, and that right. You don’t have to break all Ten Commandments; you only have to break one of them.
You can be generous, you can worship God alone, you can be honest, but maybe you’re just a thief – there’s your drug interaction. Your greed, your theft, can destroy your very soul.
Perhaps you’re very generous with your money. Perhaps you are diligent in the way that you raise your children up in godliness 24/7 without exception, but you hold onto lust. You hold onto filthy thoughts, you hold onto naughty thoughts. You don’t act on them, but you dwell on them, you think about them, you saturate yourself in them, even though you know what Jesus said. You know he said that to think it is to make you guilty of doing it. You can be generous, you can be a faithful parent, you can be a loving spouse, but you can just hold onto lust and it can destroy your very soul.
These are the drug interaction precautions. You can keep Scripture close to your heart and memorize it. You can take the medicine, you can take the Eucharist, you can do all these things that Scripture says, but if you’re intentionally holding onto sin and refusing to let it go, you are endangering your soul.
Two died because they didn’t keep the prescription. Two died because they didn’t fill the prescription. And two died because they ignored the warnings.
Not Finishing Your Medicine
There are two more funerals, even after those six. You see, there are two people who kept the prescription. Not only did they keep the prescription, but they filled it. They went to the pharmacist, they took their medication, and they did what it said. Not only did they do what it said and take the medicine, but they even avoided the drug interactions; they even avoided the things that they were warned to stay away from. And still they died. Why?
You see, the prescription was very clear. It says, “Take this pill once a day for six months.” And they faithfully filled the prescription. And they faithfully took the pill once a day for five.
You see, three months into it they were already feeling so much better. The cancer was already in remission. And, finally, by the fifth month they said,
“Man, I feel as good as I did when I was twenty. I’m so healthy, there’s no sign of there being any cancer left in me. This medicine has worked so well, there’s no need for me to take it anymore. I’m just going to cruise. I’m just going to coast.”
Any of you in the medical profession, you know . . . However much medicine you’re given, how much of it do you take? All of it. You don’t take half of your medicine and then stop. You don’t take three quarters of your medicine and then stop, or you endanger your life. You risk getting deathly ill again.
King Uzziah is one example that breaks my heart. For over fifty years, he was a good, holy, godly king of Israel. He is praised by God in Scripture as being good and godly, ruling Israel for over fifty years. And then he decided that he had been good for so long that he could stand to be just a little less vigilant, that he had earned the right to pretend that he was a priest, even though he was not a priest. He was a king, and he walked into the temple and he presumed to take some of the duties of the priesthood on himself, and instantly God strikes his head with leprosy. And now this king that had faithfully served God, and faithfully led Israel for over fifty years, is now an outcast in his own country. He now has to go outside the city, outside the gate – and even in death he is separated and not buried near the other kings – for he was buried as a leper, the fifty years of faithful service forgotten. He died an outcast.
You see, if you’re climbing the “Ladder of Divine Ascent”, climbing rung after rung throughout your life and finally you get up to that twenty-ninth rung, just before you reach the top, if you fall off of that rung, God’s not going to say, “Good job, you almost made it.” No, no, no, no, no . . . the higher on the ladder you are, the closer to heaven you are, the higher up you are, and the farther you will fall and the harder you will hit when you do fall. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve served God. It doesn’t matter how faithful you’ve been. It doesn’t matter if you have served God night and day for seventy five years . . . you don’t ever give up. You don’t ever stop. You don’t ever figure that you’ve done “enough”, and now you can just cruise on into heaven with your foot off the gas. We’re commanded in Scripture to “be sober, be vigilant, for your enemy the Devil as a roaring lion prowls about seeking whom he may devour. Therefore, remain steadfast in the faith.” Are you remaining steadfast? Are you holding on? Are you persevering? Because I don’t care how faithful you are, I don’t care how pure you are, if you do not persevere, you will not make it. You have to remain faithful all the way to the end.
Ten people with terminal cancer. Ten people receive a miracle from God. The angel of the Lord shows up and gives them ten prescriptions and a promise to all ten of them saying, “This prescription that I’m giving you is able to save your life.” And eight lay dead in the ground. Because, you see:
- The prescription won’t do you any good if you don’t keep it.
- The prescription won’t do you any good if you don’t fill it and do what it says.
- The prescription won’t do you any good if you ignore the warnings.
- And the prescription won’t do you any good if you do not persevere and follow it all the way through.
The Word of God is able to save your souls. You need the Word of God. You need the Scriptures. You need the Bible. It is able to save your soul . . . IF you keep it, read it, memorize it, hide the Word of God in your heart. IF you fill that prescription, and do what it says.
Don’t just read about Baptism and the Eucharist, and faithfulness to your spouse, and faithfully raising your children, and faithfully giving of your money to God and to the poor. No, do what it says. Don’t be the fool who holds the prescription in his hands and fails to ever go to the pharmacist to fill it. Keep the Word of God. Obey the Word of God. Fill the prescription.
Avoid the things that you’re warned to stay away from, that would be sin: filthiness, wickedness, naughtiness. Any song, any television show, any book, any thought that would turn you away from Christ, get it out of your house, get it out of your mind. Be absolutely merciless against sinful influences in your home. Eradicate them. Be determined that your home will be a haven for nothing other than godliness and holiness and submission to Christ. Don’t even let one demon live in one corner of your home – you can’t afford it. What if you survive and make it to heaven, but that demon gets one of your grandkids? Is it worth it? Eradicate sin from your home. There’s your drug interaction precaution.
And not only must you keep the Word of God, not only must you obey the Word of God, not only must you avoid the things you’re warned against and avoid sin, but you also must persevere until the end.
A Story of Two Sons
“This is so daunting, Father Deacon. This is so daunting, Pastor. There’s so much, and there’s so many ways in which I fall short. How am I ever going to make it?”
Let me ask you something: Let’s say you have two sons and you tell them to mow the lawn. You send one to the front lawn and one to the back. The first son is diligent, he works hard, he checks the oil, pours gas into the mower, he starts it up, and he’s working hard and he’s sweating, and he’s not perfect . . . he misses a few spots. But you look out there and you can just see, he’s intent, he’s working, he’s pushing, he’s doing the best he can, he’s really pouring his heart out because he loves his dad. He loves his mom. And he trusts his parents. And since they have asked him to do this, since they have entrusted him with this task, he is doing it diligently. He doesn’t do it perfectly. His weed-eating needs some work. When he was mowing, he missed a couple of spots, but man, you could see his heart was in it.
The second son in the backyard. You look through the window and you see, about five minutes into it, he started sweating a little bit and he just decided it was too hot, so he just let go of the lawn mower and he walked around and just started looking at stuff around the yard and kicking a pine cone. And he finds his way out into the front yard and picks up some rocks, and when you finally walk up to him, he’s throwing rocks at cars that are going by. He’s not even trying. His heart is not in it. He’s making no attempt to be diligent and hard-working, and loving and obedient to his mother and father.
Which son are you going to give a pat on the back, and which son are you going to take on a trip to the woodshed? Neither one did their job perfectly, did they? But which son are you going to praise for diligence, and reward for diligence? And which son are you going to have a conversation with that he doesn’t enjoy?
Let me ask you something . . . Do you want God to pat you on the back? Or would you prefer for God to take you to the woodshed?
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, May 18, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.