This homily was preached on Sunday morning, June 8, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.
In the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, our God is One. Amen.
Can you imagine what it would have been like to be at Mt. Sinai at the very time that Moses was receiving the Ten Commandments from God? Put yourself in the shoes of the Israelites after countless generations in slavery, in bitter bondage and hard labor. You have witnessed things in your own lifetime with your own eyes that other people only imagine and read about and dream about. You have seen God send the ten plagues upon Egypt. You’ve seen Moses say, “Let my people go.” And you have left. And you’ve seen Pharaoh pursue with his armies, with his chariots. You’ve seen the water parted. You’ve crossed on dry ground and then you’ve seen that same water drown all of the Egyptians.
And now you come to Mt. Sinai. After experiencing all of these wonders, you finally approach the manifest presence of the living God, and it’s not just a candle burning, it’s not just a little boat of incense, it’s an entire mountain set on fire. Dark clouds, thick smoke, lightnings, thunders, rumblings, and, yes, the top of the mountain literally set on fire.
Can you even imagine? There’s no doubt in your mind, there’s no doubt in your heart that the same God that sent the plagues, the same God that delivered you from those plagues, the same God that released you from slavery, the same God that brought you across the Red Sea and killed your enemies, is the same God that has come down in fire and smoke on the top of this mountain.
Like the Israelites, would you yourself not tremble? Would you yourself not have a holy fear before such a God? They heard his voice and it was too much for them to bear. They told Moses, “Let God speak to you, and then you tell us what he said, and we will obey whatever he says.” Multiple times they say this. “We will obey whatever the Lord says. Whatever he has commanded, that will we do.” They’re given the Ten Commandments. The Law has been written on stone by the very finger of God, and they have promised to obey. The calves have been slaughtered. The blood for the sacrifice has been brought forth and a portion of that blood is sprinkled on the people, as Moses says, “This is the covenant between you and him this day.” And they promised that they would obey.
It was dangerous for sinful man to approach the living God. Only by the grace of God could even Moses himself dare to climb that mountain. And there was this time of preparation before it was time to go up, before it was time to hear directly from God. They warn everybody, “Do not get anywhere near the mountain. Do not touch the mountain. Don’t even let an animal run over. Don’t let a goat or a sheep run up and climb on this mountain. If an animal touches the mountain, you have to kill it. If a person touches this mountain, you just might drop dead, because you’re a sinful man, you’re a sinful woman, coming too close to our God who is a consuming fire.”
And then there came one who was greater than Moses – Jesus Christ himself. And he did what the Israelites could not do. You see, because of their sin, they could not touch this mountain. Because of their sin, they could not ascend to God. But Jesus, God himself, became incarnate in our flesh. He took upon himself the flesh of humanity. He took humanity upon himself at every stage, from conception all the way to death. He took every stage of humanity and he redeemed it. And having become incarnate, having redeemed humanity, as God he takes our humanity and he ascends to the Father forty days after his resurrection. And now, as a man, the second person of the Trinity–Jesus Christ himself–stands in his human flesh in the unveiled presence of the Father. Jesus did what the Israelites could not do. For he was like us in every way, except he had no sin. The Israelites could not ascent Mt. Sinai, but Jesus has ascended into the heavens. And because he has ascended into the heavens, the Holy Spirit is able to come and dwell within us.
You see, the Feast of Pentecost did not begin in the New Testament. In the Old Testament, it was also called the “Feast of Pentecost” or the “Feast of Weeks”, for it is approximately seven weeks – if you include the first day and the last day, it is fifty days. In the Old Testament, they would have the great Feast of Passover celebrating their deliverance from Egypt by the hand of God. They would have the killing of the Passover lamb. The lamb would be spread on a cross of wood, and roasted and eaten, and its blood at that first Passover had even been spread over their doorposts. Fifty days after their deliverance from Egypt, they have the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai. So a miraculous deliverance by God, culminating in a great meeting with God, and a reception of his Law.
For centuries, the Israelites celebrated both of these things: Passover and Pentecost. It says in Scripture that Jesus is our Passover Lamb. We know that after he rose from the dead, he was with his disciples for forty days, and then he ascended into heaven. And then ten days later, on the fiftieth day, we find out what the Feast of Pentecost is really all about, for it is fulfilled in the New Testament Feast of Pentecost.
In the Old Testament, man had sinned, man had refused to fulfil God’s command to be fruitful and multiply and spread over the whole earth, and so to forcibly spread them over the whole earth, God confuses their languages at the Tower of Babel. They can’t understand each other anymore, so they separate and they go off their own different ways. At Pentecost, those filled with the Holy Spirit speak the praises of God and everybody understands those praises clearly in every language at the same time. It would be like if I’m preaching right now, and simultaneously, you hear me speaking Spanish, you hear me speaking Chinese, you hear me speaking Hebrew, and you hear me speaking English. That’s a miracle from God. You’re doing good if you can speak several languages, but you’re doing even better if you can speak them all at the same time. It’s a miracle of God; it’s a reversal of the Tower of Babel. Now, instead of languages being confused to separate people, the Gospel has brought everyone together. And now the praises of God are called forth in every language. In the Orthodox Church at Pascha is a very common practice for “Christ is Risen, Indeed he is Risen” to be repeated over and over in multiple languages. [Greek] Χριστός Ανέστη, Αληθώς Ανέστη! They’ll say it in Russian, they’ll say it in Greek, they’ll say it in Serbian, they’ll say it in Latin: Christus Resurrexit! Vere Resurrexit!. And we see that Babel has been conquered by the Cross, for now all peoples, all nations, all tongues, all tribes will praise the living God.
The Old Testament Feast of Weeks was a celebration of the first-fruits of harvest. And in the New Testament, we see that the Feast of Pentecost is where we see the harvest of the first-fruits of the Church.
In the Old Testament, the Feast of Weeks was a celebration and a remembrance of the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai, when the Law of God was written on stone. In the New Testament Feast of Pentecost, we find that the Law of God is not written on stone, but it is written on human hearts. For now it is no longer just this external thing that’s “out there” that we’re commanded to do, and in fear of death and hell, we get white knuckles and we try to force ourselves to do what we’re commanded. But it is written on our hearts, and we see that the Law of the Lord is not burdensome. His yoke is easy, his burden is light, and he gives us the laws that he gives us, because he loves us and because it is through following those laws that we show our love for him and for each other. The Law is no longer external, but it is internal, written on our hearts as long as we are sensitive to the Holy Spirit.
In the Old Testament at Mt. Sinai, the Law was given, and the people promised to obey. But there was no honeymoon period. You don’t even have a few years or even a few weeks where everybody obeys God. Right there at the Mt. Sinai is where we get the golden calf. Right there at Mt. Sinai, right after they’ve seen all these miracles, after they’ve been delivered, after they’ve been released from Egypt, after they’ve seen the fire on the mountain and they’ve heard the voice of God, they build a golden calf and name it “Yahweh” and they start worshipping it. And if you read in Exodus 32, the response of this godly man Moses was something that just might shock us today. He asked, “Who is on the Lord’s side? Who is with me?” And the sons of Levi all said, “We are with the Lord; we are with you.” And he said, “Therefore, take up your sword and kill every man his brother, his neighbor.” And so the Levites, the priests, they took their swords and they went throughout the camp and they were stabbing people and chopping off heads – it was a very bloody day. The Law was given, the people had broken the Law grievously with this golden calf, and the response from righteous Moses was for the Levites to take their swords and start killing people. And about three thousand people were put to death that day.
You may have heard of the golden calf when you were in Sunday school as a kid, but you probably didn’t get any coloring sheets for the three thousand being killed by the Levites. In the New Testament Pentecost, it’s not three thousand dead, but its three thousand saved. For we read in Acts 2 that after the Holy Spirit came upon them and they were filled with the Holy Spirit, and they were preaching the glories of God and the Gospel, and Peter preached to them, this whole crowd of people were cut to the heart and they repented, and they too were baptized both in water and with the Spirit. And it says in Acts 2, that day there were about three thousand who received the word with joy, and were baptized and were saved.
Three thousand dead at Mt. Sinai.
Three thousand baptized in Acts 2.
At Sinai, man could not ascend the mountain to the presence of God. Men could not even touch the mountain. They had to stand far back away from the mountain, because their sin made them unworthy to approach the flaming fire of his majesty. Oh, but in Acts 2, in the New Testament Pentecost, it is the men and the women themselves who are on fire. For it says it was like cloven tongues of fire upon their heads.
Remember the last time in Scripture that you saw something on fire and yet it wasn’t burned up? The burning bush. God manifested his presence to Moses, and Moses took off his sandals, for he was standing on holy ground. God reveals his name to Moses – “I am that I am” – and it is at that point that God sends Moses on his great journey, his great adventure, where he would confront Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt and then ascend Mt. Sinai. The bush was on fire and yet it was not consumed. Mt. Sinai itself was on fire, and yet it was not consumed. And now that Christ has taken our humanity into the very presence of God, we now are on fire and are not consumed. Do you realize that once you are baptized, once you are chrismated, once the Holy Spirit of God himself has come to dwell not just with you but inside you, that you are a little Mt. Sinai? You are a little burning bush? For now God has come to inflame not just a bush, God has come to inflame not just a mountain, but you who also are made of the earth, you who also are made of the dust, now the flame of God rests on top of you, and within you.
Isaiah himself, in his magnificent vision, ascended, and in his vision saw the very throneroom of God – the train of his robe filling the temple with glory – and an angel takes a burning coal and touches Isaiah’s lips with it, and yet his lips are not burned. His sin is purged away, he is cleansed. He touches the fire, but he is not burned. This is a picture of the Eucharist. This is a picture of coming in direct contact with God himself and surviving to talk about it. You see, if the Israelites on their first Pentecost, if they had even touched that mountain or dared to climb it . . . because they were impure, because they were unholy, they would have dropped dead. But in the Church, we approach a mystery that is so profound, something that is so awesome, that now – not only can you touch Mt. Sinai – you can become Mt. Sinai. You can become that place on earth where God dwells, where the fire of his presence burns, and yet you are not consumed, for you have been cleansed of your sins.
The Spirit comes not just with instructions. You see, the Israelites received instructions: You shall have no other gods before me, you shall honor your father and mother, you shall not kill, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not covet . . . They knew what to do. But they didn’t have the power to do it the same way that you and I have. The Law, the instructions, they can tell you what to do. Mentally you can agree – “I know that I should stay away from idolatry. I know that I should honor my parents and obey my parents. I know that I should love my wife. I know that I should respect and submit to my husband. I know that I should do this with my money and this with my time. I know all of these things, but I just can’t seem to get myself to do it.” Have you ever been in those shoes? You’ve got all of the commandments, you’ve got all of the instructions in the world right up here [in your head] and you can’t get them to come out here where your hands are and your feet are . . . and your tongue. You know how you should act, and yet your tongue doesn’t cooperate. You know what you should do, but your feet and your hands just don’t do it. You can’t quite bring yourself to do it. The Greek word is δύναμις, (dunamis) “power”, like a dynamo. When the Spirit indwells you, he gives you the power to do it.
In today’s Gospel in the Book of John, Jesus is talking about the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. And Jesus says, “You know him, for he dwells with you and shall be in you.” The Holy Spirit was already with the apostles, he was already with the disciples, he was already helping them. But they were not yet pure. Humanity had not yet ascended into heaven into the presence of God, so he still couldn’t dwell inside them, couldn’t dwell in them. And, my friends, that’s what I need! That’s what you need! I can teach you for the next thirty years until I’m blue in the face and my beard turns gray, and you can memorize every word that I teach you from the Scriptures, and that will not give you the power to obey it. You don’t just need the knowledge; you need the motivation, you need the power – you need it in here [in your heart], not just up here [in your head].
There’s a reason that God made your brain so that it cannot live on its own. It needs the heart pumping blood up to it for it to stay alive. Your brain can memorize all the Scripture in the world, all the commandments of God in the world, and if your heart’s not pumping blood up to it, you’re not going to do it, you’re not going to live it. It needs to be in your heart.
So what does it look like? What does it look like when we actually have the Holy Spirit living inside us? Well, we end up keeping the Law. The Law does not become useless. People say, “If the Law is not good enough and following the Law can’t get you saved, then we just need to get rid of the Law. We just need to do whatever is in our heart.”
Well, that’s dangerous, because it says in Scripture that the human heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. You can truly in your heart think that you’re helping your children or your grandchildren, when you’re hurting them. You can truly believe that you’re doing the best thing for your wife or your husband, when you’re actually destroying your relationship. So just doing whatever is in your heart, that’s not a good plan. And yet strictly following these external commands and just doing whatever the Law says, thinking that all of these outward actions in obedience to the Law is going to save you, that doesn’t work either. It says in Scripture that love is the fulfillment of the Law. Now, not “love” as the world defines it, not a warm fuzzy feeling in your heart that makes you feel all sentimental . . . but “love” as God defines it, love that truly seeks the best for the other person, that seeks to impart grace to the other person, that seeks the other person’s salvation, that puts the other person above yourself, puts their needs first. This is what love looks like. And we get a picture that . . . at Sinai the Law had come, but it was not powerful enough to save them. The people knew the Law and yet they still committed idolatry and many other sins. And many of them were put to death. But in Acts 2, the Spirit comes, fills them, & three thousand are baptized. And with these thousands of people full of the Holy Spirit, how did they live?
Acts 2:42 – “And they continued steadfastly in the Apostle’s doctrine . . .” Never let somebody tell you that doctrine is not important. It’s the first thing mentioned here in Acts 2:42. The Spirit comes, the Spirit fills his Church, and now they don’t throw the Ten Commandments out the window, they don’t throw away the Scriptures. What do they do? It says, “They continued steadfastly in the Apostle’s doctrine . . .” Doctrine is still very important. And we’ll talk in a minute about how it is important – not externally following it, but using it as a gauge for your heart.
“They continued steadfastly in the Apostle’s doctrine and fellowship . . . ” Well, what is fellowship? Does fellowship meaning going to the bar and getting drunk and staying up all night partying – is that fellowship? Hanging out with your friends? No, that’s fellowship as the world may define it. Is fellowship getting together with all your girlfriends and seeing how many ways you can badmouth your husband or your parents or your kids? That may be fellowship the way the world defines it, but that’s not fellowship. It defines it for us here: “They continued steadfastly in the Apostle’s doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers.” The breaking of bread – Eucharistic fellowship, communion, coming to the Lord’s Table, eating the body and blood of Christ. And the prayers – not just whatever prayer comes to mind, even though they did that too, but “the” prayers. The Liturgy, whatever Liturgy that they had at the time, the prayers that they prayed every day. How many of us have set prayers that we pray every day when we come before God in the morning? when we come before God before sleep at night? We have the prayers that we continue in steadfastly, daily. This is biblical fellowship – it’s coming together as one body to partake of the body and blood of Christ, and to pray together as a community. That’s what fellowship is.
I’m going to skip down to verse 46: “So continuing daily with one accord in the temple . . . ” You see, there’s still worship at the temple; they haven’t been thrown out of the temple yet. And being filled with the Holy Spirit didn’t make them say, “Oh, a building is not important anymore.” They didn’t have any churches built yet, but they just went and they worshipped in the temple. “So continuing daily with one accord in the temple and breaking bread from house-to-house . . .” now the phrase here, that’s eating meals at each other’s houses. This isn’t “the” breaking of bread, which is the Eucharist; this is just breaking bread, which is eating meals at one another’s houses. ” . . . continuing daily with one accord in the temple and breaking bread from house-to-house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart.”
This is very important: “with gladness and simplicity of heart”. You’re doing it with joy. It’s not white-knuckled holding-on, saying, “Well, if God says I have to go take the Eucharist and pray prayers every day and have people over.” No. That’s not what this is. When they’re full of the Spirit, they do all of these things and they do all of them with gladness. Pray Matins every morning with gladness. Pray Vespers every evening with gladness. Come to Eucharist every week with gladness. Have people over to your house to eat, you go to their house to eat, with gladness. Joy is central. Joy is critical. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit! If you’re full of the Spirit, you will have joy. If you don’t have joy, you need a refill of the Spirit.
“. . . they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people . . .” They actually got along with each other. “. . . and the Lord added to the Church daily those who were being saved.” It all sounds very spiritual, and it is, for they’re full of the Spirit and taking the Eucharist, they’re praying together, they’re closely following and holding steadfastly to the teaching of doctrine.
Every day, they’re going to the temple, they’re going to a specific building, and they’re worshiping God. They’re eating meals at each other’s houses. They’re doing everything with gladness. But that’s not all. Remember when I said I was going to skip to verse 46? Now I’m going to tell you what’s in between:
And they continued steadfastly in the Apostle’s doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers. And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need… (Acts 2:42-45)
The Holy Spirit came upon these people, filled them, didn’t just give them a bunch of external things to think about and to do, but literally changed their hearts, wrote the law of God on their hearts, so that they would love God and love each other from the heart. And their obedience to the law would flow from this. The law doesn’t become irrelevant, but their obedience to it flows out of their love. Jesus even said in today’s Gospel, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” And those who do not love him, do not keep his commandments.
One of the things that they did, is that they held all things in common. They sold their possessions and divided them among everybody, as anybody had need. You say, “This sounds like communism . . . nobody having their own personal property, just everybody using what they need . . .”
Well, there’s a big difference! Communism does it by force. Communism says, “I don’t care what you want to hold onto and what you don’t want to hold onto. I’m going to take it from you, and then I’ll decide what I’m going to give back to everybody else.” That’s not what this is.This is voluntary. It’s from the heart.
But it’s also a picture of what your heart should look like when you are full of the Holy Spirit. Greed has no place in the heart of a Christian. No greed with your time, no greed with your money, no greed with your real-estate, or any of your possessions.
Down at the courthouse it may say, “Ok, this is your property, and this is your property.” According to United States law, and according to the bank, they say, “This is your money, and this is your money.” But according to the heart of every person in this room, there is no place for greed. There is no place for the word, “mine”. It doesn’t matter if one person is following Christ with all his heart, and is just barely scraping by, and another person is following Christ with all his heart, and has a million bucks in the bank . . . whatever either person needs, should be taken care of out of whatever either person has. Not out of force, not out of anybody telling you that you have to do it, but out of your own heart saying, “My brother’s in need! My sister’s in need! What can I do to help?”
“Well, I worked hard. This is my money. . . .” No, you’re not even thinking of that! You’re thinking about your brother, you’re thinking about your sister, because you love them so much that their need weighs on you far more than any sense of private property.
Your heart beats–not like Scrooge’s heart, trying to see how many coins you can stack up, trying to see how many minutes out of the day you can grab for “me time”–but with your time and your money you are so generous, because you are humble. You count others as being more important than yourself. And you look at their needs as being more important than your own.
The Holy Spirit so affected them, so changed their hearts, so gave them the power to obey God’s law, that they go above and beyond anything we’ve ever seen in God’s law. You look through the Ten Commandments, and you find, “Don’t do this, don’t do this, don’t do this, do this . . .” We look here at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit fills his people, and what you see is people giving 100% of themselves back to God, and 100% of themselves back to their brothers and sisters in Christ, to the point that none of them even remembers the word, “mine”. You don’t see one hint in here of them saying, “Ah, well, pray at the temple once a day? Maybe once a week. Maybe even twice a week if there’s a feast day. But, you know, I’ve gotta watch Seinfeld! You all get together at the temple and do your thing, you pray and everything, but I just got this new Tom Clancy novel that I need to dive into, and a bubble bath.”
Every day they were worshiping God. Every day they are praying the prayers. Every day they are taking the Eucharist. Every day, they are going to the temple. They are selling their possessions. Everything that they own, they are just putting in common, so that they can take care of everybody’s needs as they are: whoever needs food, whoever needs shelter, whoever needs clothing.
You say, “I have freely received all of these blessings from God, so I’m going to freely give all of the blessings that I can. Why? Because I love God. Why? Because I love my neighbor.” That’s the way you act with people you love. It doesn’t say that they held all things in common with everybody in Jerusalem, including the ones who rejected Christ. But it does say that they held all things in common with each other.
And you say, “Well, what about evangelism?” Jesus said in John chapter 13, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love, one for another.” There’s your evangelism: Love each other! Don’t treat this as a club . . . treat it as a family. Don’t treat the person next to you as somebody that you run into once or twice a week . . . treat the person next to you as somebody that is so close to you, that they are your own flesh and blood, somebody that you would give your time to help, somebody that you would give your money to help. And it doesn’t even cross your mind to ask for it back, because you don’t even look at it as yours anymore. You look at everything that you have received, and they have received, as blessings from God. And you look at them as blessings from God. And there is no room left in your heart for anything but the fire of God’s love.
I said I was going to tell you what good the law is. We know that we cannot use the law as an external set of commands that, “If I check-mark everything off–I externally did this. I externally did that.–Now I’m going to heaven.” That doesn’t work. You can’t do it.
I also said it’s dangerous to throw the law out and just do all of these things out of your heart. . . . If you say, “Well, I love my kids, so I’m never going to discipline them.” “I love my family and I want things to run smoothly, and my husband’s not running things smoothly, so I’m going to nag him every day, because I love my family.” . . . You get all these ideas. Well, these are not Christian ideas. These are not godly ideas. They may be from your heart, but they are from a heart that is not fully remade into the image of Christ.
So if you can’t go from your heart, and you can’t go from these external commands of the law, what do you go by?
What you do is, you follow the law, but then you check, “At what points does my heart have tension within? Where does it cause me problems?” You see, a man can go his whole life and never cheat on his wife, never commit adultery, but in his heart that’s a struggle, because in his heart he really wants to look at those dirty pictures, and he really wants to imagine adultery. And in his heart he is always telling himself, “Man, if that was just not against the law, I would do it in a heartbeat.” He is committing adultery in his heart and in his mind. Then to follow that law externally is going to put him at odds with himself. He’s going to be in tension. He’s going to find that to be a really difficult law.
Well, if you find “Thou shalt not commit adultery” to be a very difficult law to follow, because you are breaking it every day in your heart, it’s not the law that’s wrong . . . it’s your heart. There is something to repent of. And you say, “I don’t have anything to repent of. I never committed adultery.” Jesus said, “If you do it in your heart, you are already guilty.” So change your heart! Repent of that sin in your heart. Don’t just pat yourself on the back because you’ve never externally cheated on your wife. What you need to do is get on your knees before God, and ask him to cleanse your heart. And you need to be vigilant on your thoughts, so that you do not even think a lustful thought.
Externally, if you obey the example given in Scripture of giving 10% of your income, OK, great! At least you are following the external law. But what if that’s tension for you? What if there is a tension there that says,
“Man. I’m externally going to do this, because it’s the letter of the law and I know that God requires it. But man . . . I can hardly bring myself to write that check, because that’s my money. I work hard for that money. And I don’t want to give up a TV, I don’t want to cut down on what I’m buying from the grocery store, or cut down on how much I’m driving around. I want to spend all the money I want to spend, and that just doesn’t leave me 10% that I want to give to God! . . .”
If you see that tension, don’t pat yourself on the back and say, “Well, at least I have externally kept what I’m supposed to do.” Look in your heart and say, “Why is this difficult for me?” Repent of the fact that it is difficult in here [in your heart]. And don’t rest until, not only are you doing externally what is right, but repent to the point that even your heart–there’s no tension–it’s a joy! It’s like, “Man, I want to give more! 10% is not enough.” . . . Many people here in the book of Acts, they would sell everything they have, and they would give 100%. A hundred percent! Well, how do they live at that point? Well, they turn 100% of it over to the apostles. And then when the apostles saw that they needed food, or clothes, or something, then the apostles would use that money to take care of them. They just completely trusted. They didn’t stop at 10%. They just turned it all over, and they were trusting God to take care of them from day to day, and He did.
When you look at obedience and honor, it says in the Ten Commandments to “honor your father and mother”. Right? And as an extension of that, in Colossians (I think it’s also in Ephesians chapter 6), we are told, “Children, obey your parents.” And that is part of honoring them, is to obey them. Something I have been very convicted of lately, personally, that I need to repent of, and I think many of us–not just in this room but in this country–need to repent of, is how much we have watered down this command of God.
We have gotten to the point that we believe “honor your father and mother” means, “Well, I’ll send them a card on Mother’s Day, on Father’s Day. I’ll give them a hug and say, ‘I love you Dad, I love you Mom.’ As long as I do that once in a while, I have honored my father and my mother, I have done what I need to do.”
Scripture commands, “Honor your father and mother”, “Obey your father and mother”, and I have a news-flash for you: Neither command has an age limit on it. It doesn’t say, “Honor your parents, and obey your parents, until you are 18.” It doesn’t say that anywhere in the Bible.
You learn what Scripture says about the importance of a godly family, and well disciplined children, so you start disciplining your children, and you do it very well. Meanwhile, you talk disrespectfully to those same children’s grandparents. You disobey what your own parents are telling you to do. What the children are learning is, “OK, that’s how it works. I need to obey dad and mom, I need to honor dad and mom, until I’m 18. And I can’t wait until I’m 18! Because then I can treat my mom and dad just like they treat theirs.”
There is no age limit to the command!
Lori, your mom and dad are still around. Now, you’re a grandma! You haven’t lived in her home for years. You still have to honor them. And yes, you still have to obey them. Do what your mama says!
Henry, is your mom still around? [Yes.] How many years ago did you move out of her house? A long time ago. You still have to obey her. You still have to honor her.
And guess what? You two honor and obey your parents; that’s going to set a really good example, because guess what? . . . You [their grown children] gotta obey your mom and dad.
“But I don’t live at home anymore! I’ve got my own wife, and I’ve got my own children.” Where in Scripture does it say that when you get your own wife and your own children, that you don’t have to honor and obey anymore? It doesn’t.
However much you want Hunter and David and Daphni to honor and obey you, that’s how much you need to honor and obey Henry and Lori. You have lived out of the home for a while, Denise. You still have to honor and obey Dennis and Faye. They are still your mom and dad. You still gotta show them respect.
Now, do these things ever come in tension? Sure they do. If somebody commands you to do something that you know is a sin, like if somebody says, “Don’t ever go to church anymore!”, or “You need to divorce your spouse!”, obviously God is *the* Father and you have to honor and obey him first. You obey God rather than man.
But anytime one of your parents–I don’t care how old they are; I don’t care how old you are–anytime one of your parents tells you to do something, and you know that’s a godly command, guess what? You gotta honor, and you gotta obey.
The only way you disobey is if you can prove for certain that obedience [to them] would require you to disobey God. That’s the only case that is an exception. If they tell you to do something where you disobey God, of course you don’t follow that. But other than that, honor and obey your parents.
I’ve got some repenting to do! I don’t know about you.
By the way, it doesn’t even stop when your parents die. I had the same talk with your mom and dad the other night. David’s parents aren’t alive here on earth anymore. Nancy’s parents aren’t alive here on earth anymore. And yet I asked both of them, “Do you still remember what your mom and dad said?” And they were like, “Oh yeah, we remember!” Then honor and obey them.
And the more we set that example as adults, the easier it will be for our children to see that we are not hypocrites, for our children to see that, “Man, my dad obeys his mom and dad, so I’m going to obey dad. My mom obeys her mom and dad, so I’m going to obey mom.”
It’s the Spirit living in us that gives us the power, and the heart, and the ability to love God, and to love each other, and to submit to each other, and to respect each other, and to truly live as Christians. You can’t do it without the Holy Spirit. You can’t do it without Him filling you.
You look at any of these commands in the Ten Commandments, you look at these commands anywhere in Scripture, and the ones that you already are just easily following and are praising God for, rejoice!
Any of the ones that you just look at, and they just look so difficult, the look so hard, it’s like–“I can’t give all of my time to God . . . I can’t obey God with my money; I mean, this is my money! . . . I can’t obey God when it comes to my parents. Are you kidding? I haven’t lived with my parents in 20 years. I’m supposed to still honor and obey them? Oh, this eats me up!”–The law is still useful, because wherever it eats you up when you follow it, that’s where you know that you need to fix–not just your outward actions–you need to fix your heart.
Don’t just get to the point that externally, “Ok, I obeyed whatever my Dad said to do.” No, get to the point that you do it joyfully, where from your heart you are glad to honor your mom and honor your dad, and obey them.
Don’t just get to the point that you grudgingly, white-knuckled, write out a check for 10% of whatever money came into your paycheck . . . “There it is, God!” . . . No. With joy, you’re writing out a check for 20%, because you want to see the kingdom of God grow, and you realize that you don’t need as much stuff anyway, and you just want to be generous in the things to do with God. And when you’re done doing that, you’re looking for ways that you can give alms, so that you can help the poor.
With your time, you don’t grudgingly say, “Oh great. It’s Saturday night and I gotta go to vespers. And tomorrow’s church. And there goes my whole weekend! And all of this stuff that I was gonna do . . . ::sigh:: . . .” No! . . . Joy from the heart, because, “Man! Sunday’s over, and church is over, and there are no feast days this week, and I’ve gotta wait until Saturday to go to church? Man, that’s no good. I can’t wait to get back there! Man, let’s . . . I know! After we do matins and vespers tomorrow, the next day I’ve got some time off work; I’ll tell you what . . . That evening, let’s drive over to San Damiano’s, and let’s look at some of those relics!” “You know what I’m going to do? I’m going to call up that priest that’s a friend of mine, and I’m going to talk to him about things of the Lord!” “You know what? 6 AM on Monday, let’s get up for a Bible study!” “. . . because just two measly services a week, that’s not enough. I want to live and breathe this every day!”
The law is still very useful. Wherever you don’t want to follow it, wherever you find that it’s difficult, that’s where you know you’ve got some heart repenting to do. And when you know that you’re following the law–not out of compulsion, but from the heart–that’s when you’re doing it joyfully. When every command of the Lord that you look at, looks glorious, and you can’t wait to fulfill it because that’s what you want to do, and that’s who you want to be, and that’s how you want to live your life . . . That’s the goal.
And you can’t do it on your own. You need to be filled with the Spirit.
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, June 8, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.