MP3 Audio: The-INs-and-the-OUTs.mp3
This homily was preached on Sunday morning, June 29, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Sdn. Ambrose.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, our God is One.
Have you ever been, or known somebody who has been, the teacher’s pet? The chosen one for the teacher? My grandmother went to be with the Lord in December of 2012, and was notorious for showing favoritism. For a long time it was my Dad who was her favorite son, and I don’t know what he did, but he was “in” for a while and then he was “out.” It ended up being his younger brother who was the favorite one. With her as well, I was her favorite grandchild, especially over my sister. My sister and my grandmother did not see eye to eye on a lot of things. And for the person who is out, it didn’t feel very good. Sometimes it didn’t feel good for the person in, seeing what they were doing to the person who’s out, but there is usually a favorite employee, usually a special child, somebody they treat a little bit differently – maybe it’s the baby, maybe it’s the only daughter . . . right? . . .
Typically what happens though, is when you have more benefits like that, or when you’re chosen like that, you end up with more responsibility too. You’re the one they go to if something needs to be done. You’re held to a higher standard. We’ve had many pastors growing up, that their children should have been held to a higher standard, and often they were the ones that were the most rebellious. Do you find that? They call that the pastor’s kid syndrome.
Well in Genesis, chapter 12 initially and then in 15, God makes a choice. We read in Scripture later in the New Testament that God does not show favoritism, but that’s not quite the whole story. God does show favoritism, but it is not based on anything we’ve done, not based on who we are. God’s favoritism is basically shown towards certain people based upon what His plan is. He’s executing a plan, and He needs certain people in certain places to make this happen, so He shows favoritism that way. But it’s not based upon who the person is.
Abraham met with God, and God created a covenant with Abraham. And some of the things that were promised to him were blessings, were land – he was promised land – he was also promised many descendants. [He was promised] that his descendants would number as the stars and the sand of the seashore. [There was] nothing Abraham had done; although when the covenant took place, he had faith in that, and that was credited to him as righteousness. But it was clear that Abraham was chosen out of everybody else who was on the earth at that time; he was the chosen one. Abraham had a wife named Sarah, and she had a handmaid, a helper named Hagar. And because Abraham and Sarah could not have children, because Sarah was barren, they concocted this idea that Abraham would be with Hagar. And he and Hagar had a son named Ishmael, probably a teenager at the time that now Sarah has a baby. Sarah has Isaac. And God going against local custom, did not choose the firstborn Ishmael, but he chose Isaac. Isaac was chosen over Ishmael. And God did it!
Isaac had two sons, Esau and Jacob. Esau was born first. Yet God chose Jacob, and it certainly wasn’t for anything Jacob had done, because he was chosen before he was born, and Jacob was a rascal anyway. God had a plan, though. God chose Abraham, God chose Isaac, God chose Jacob. Jacob’s sons created the entire nation that we call Israel, and Israel is Jacob’s new name, his name after knowing God. God re-named him basically. And Israel – the nation was chosen over every other nation, over Egypt, over Canaan, over the Assyrians and the Greeks and the Romans, on and on through the centuries, Israel was the chosen people. He gave them special favors, He destroyed nations and moved them out of the way so that Israel could move in.
But He also required more of them. It wasn’t to the Gentiles that the Ten Commandments were originally given. It was not with the Gentiles that God would come and meet with them in the Tent of Meeting in the Tabernacle. It was not with the Gentiles that God required feasting and fasting, abstinence and laws for sacrifice. So while they were His chosen people, and He pretty well parted the waters for them – not just at the Red Sea, but their entire existence – He also had a higher standard for them to live in. And yet from Exodus, all the way up to Jesus’ time and beyond, they were continually rebelling. The chosen people were rebelling over and over again. You hear about it in the book of Judges. They are rebelling against their judges, and they sin, and God raises up a judge to try to save them, because they’ve cried out for help. They turn back to God and they live righteously for a brief period, and then they fall into sin again. Typically it’s idolatry. It’s one of the biggest problems that Israel had, was realizing that we only have one God. And they did it over and over and over again, killing each other, coveting each other, and doing things that all of those Ten Commandments were forbidding, and they were doing them anyway. They killed prophets, they disregarded anything that God had to say through the prophets, and through His angels. Ultimate rebellion was killing Jesus. Now we know that Jesus gave His life willingly. But those that are culpable, those who were responsible for committing the murder of the Son of God, were the chosen people, the ones who were in! [They were] the favorite ones; those were the ones that killed Jesus. And even in that, they were still called the chosen ones.
And we see this true even as Jesus goes through His ministry. The three years of His ministry, He has very little to do with anyone outside of Israel. Once in a while He’ll talk to somebody – a Samaritan woman at the well. He’ll heal someone that has faith in Him. But He tells people, “I didn’t come for you guys.” And even one woman says, “Yes, but even a dog gets to come and eat the crumbs off of the Master’s table.” The Gentiles were considered dogs, especially the Samaritans. The chosen people were Israel. Now, it’s important to realize this. Israel is “in” and Gentiles – which is everybody else – is out! According to God and His chosen plan, Israel is in and the Gentiles are out. Now how did one become a part of Israel? How did you become “in” in that day? Well, there was a couple ways. You could either be born into it, or you could request to join. You could be a Gentile that requests to join. Either way though, there is a process that had to happen.
Circumcision for the males. Whether you were born or whether you joined from the outside, you had to be circumcised. And once you healed up from that, you had to not just say, “I’m circumcised, so I’m in! Whoo!” No, you had to commit to keeping the feasts and the festivals. You had to participate in the fasts and the sacrifices. I was telling my family earlier today that there was one temple in Jerusalem. But Israel was big enough that everybody didn’t want to have to travel to Jerusalem every Sabbath day, so they placed synagogues in various cities all around. So on the Sabbath day, instead of going to Temple, you could go to synagogue. And you wouldn’t get the sacrifices – that happened at the Temple – but if you were going to be a part of Israel, you had to observe the Sabbath day and you went to synagogue, and you heard the prayers, you sang the Psalms and heard homilies, you were taught in the synagogue, and you took your whole family. And then several times a year, there were Temple ordinances that you had to participate in. This was what was required to be part of the chosen. So whether you were born into it or whether you joined, you had to be circumcised, you had to participate in the life of Israel. [That is] the way it worked. There were prayers and there were rules. And if you did all those things, you were in! If you didn’t do those things, they were out! So let me ask you, could someone who was out, become in? Sure. They just had to follow those rules.
Could someone who was in, become out? You sure could. How would they do that? How would they get out?
Well, a friend of ours told us that he lost his position as pastor of his church because he read too much Scripture in church. I hope you guys don’t. Well, I’m not your pastor anyway, so you can’t kick me out, so I’m going to read a lot of Scripture today. Our Gospel reading for today, there is a parallel — a parable as well — and we’ve read it recently, actually. I can’t remember how many weeks ago, but we read about the King whose Son was getting married, and he was having a wedding party for his son, and they invited people, but they didn’t come. Anyway, that is the parable or the comparable parable — I’m not even trying to rhyme, but it’s happening – to the one that we read today from the Gospel of St. Luke.
And if you remember, it says a man gave a great supper and invited many, and sent his servant at supper time to say to those who were invited, “Come. All things are ready.” But they began to make excuses about why they couldn’t come.
“I bought a bunch of land, I gotta go check out my land, this is a nice piece. You know, I can’t leave and go to a party, I need to go tend to my land.” Someone just said, “I just bought this car . . . “ No, oxen — not only are they for work, but they were for transportation — ” . . . and I need to go take care of my oxen.” “I just got married. I got a honeymoon, I gotta take care of my wife. It’s a good thing, but I can’t come, so would you please excuse me from coming?”
And the Master — the King — was very upset.
Let me tell you something on the side here. If a king invites you to a party, you go. You don’t turn him down.
These people are still rebelling. They are the ones who are in! They are the ones who are invited. They are the ones who he says to “come on, come to the feast . . .” And they make excuses after excuses about why they couldn’t come, and they were rebelling. And instead of the in coming in, at the end he said, “I say unto you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper!”
“You’re not getting any of it. You’re out! You were the in, and now you’re the out. And now the out — the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind — they are the in.” He invited them in, filled his entire party with these people, and said . . . “the in is out; you’re getting nothing. And the out is in, and getting everything.” Why? Because they rebelled and made excuses about why they couldn’t come.
Earlier this week — I think it was Thursday evening — during our regular prayer routine and prayers that we do in our homes, an interesting pair of readings came up during our Vespers service. The first one, and it totally ties in with this, was from Zechariah chapter 7. It says, “the word of the Lord came to Zechariah” — he was a prophet about 520 years before Christ — “saying, thus says the Lord of Hosts, ‘Execute true justice. Show mercy and compassion everyone to his brother. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. Let none of you plan evil in his heart against his brother.’” The word of the Lord saying those great things, came to Zechariah, but they (Israel) refused to heed:
“They shrugged their shoulders and they stopped up their ears so that they could not hear. Yes, they made their hearts like flint refusing to hear the law and the words which the Lord of Hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets. Thus great wrath came from the Lord of Hosts. Therefore it happened that just as He proclaimed that they would not hear, so they called out and I would not listen, says the Lord of Hosts. But I scattered them with the whirlwind among all the nations which they had not known. Thus the land became desolate after them so that no one passed through or returned for they made the pleasant land desolate.”
God gives His word through His prophet and the people shrug their shoulders — they turn their hearts away — they stop up their ears, they say, “We’re not going to listen.”
So God says, “Guess what? I’m not going to listen to you either. When you pray, my ears are stopped up. And guess what else? That land that I gave you? Desolate! You’re gone.” And He kicked them out of the land of Israel and dispersed them among all those heathen and Gentile nations. Can the in become out? Absolutely! And how do they do it? Rebellion, excuses, not listening to God, not following His commands. The in became out.
The same day as we read Zechariah, we read Acts chapter 10. There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian regiment. Well, Cornelius is a Gentile, by the way, not an Israelite. . . . He is a Roman. And a centurion gets its name because “century” means 100 years, and a “centurion” is commander over 100 men. He had a pretty big entourage that he was in command of. But it says that he was a devout man, and one that feared God with all his household. He gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always about the ninth hour of the day. He saw clearly a vision of an angel of God coming to him and saying to him, “Cornelius!” And when Cornelius observed him he was afraid and said, “What is it, Lord?” And the angel of God said to him,
“Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa. Ask for Simon whose surname is Peter. He is lodging with another Simon who is a tanner, whose house is by the sea. He will tell you what you must do.”
And when the angel who spoke to him had departed, immediately Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier from among those who waited on him continually, so when he had explained all these things to them, he sent them to Joppa. “Go get Peter. I don’t know who he is, but go get him.”
The next day, they went on their journey and they drew near the city. Peter was on the housetop, the roof. It was about the sixth hour. He became very hungry and he wanted to eat. But while downstairs, when they were making lunch ready, he fell into a trance. And he saw Heaven opened, and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners descending to him and let down to the earth. In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth: wild beasts, creeping things, birds of the air, and all kinds of stuff that — if you’re in — you’re not allowed to eat. Israel was not allowed to eat certain foods. And yet this sheet comes down in front of him, and God says, “Kill and eat” . . . “Rise, kill and eat!”
Peter says, “Not so Lord! For I’ve never eaten anything common or unclean.” And a voice spoke to him again a second time, “What God has cleansed, you must not call unclean.” This was done three times. And then the object was taken back up into Heaven again. Now Peter wondered within himself what this vision had meant. . . .
Behold, the men who had been sent from Cornelius showed up to the house and made inquiry of Simon. They stood at the gate, and they called and asked whether Simon Peter was lodging there. While Peter thought about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are seeking you. Arise therefore and go down with them, doubting nothing. — Don’t doubt what you just saw in this sheet, what you just heard. — Go downstairs, doubting nothing, for I have sent them.”
So Peter went down to the men who had sent to him from Cornelius and said, “Yes, I’m he who you seek. For what reason have you come?” And they said, “Cornelius, the centurion, a very just man, one who fears God and has a very good reputation among all the nation of the Jews, was divinely instructed by a holy Angel to summon you to his house and to hear words from you.” Then he invited them in and lodged them.
The next day, Peter went with them, and some of the brethren from Joppa accompanied him. The following day, they got to Caesarea. Cornelius was waiting for them. And he had called together his relatives and his close friends. He filled his house. As Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter said, “Stand up. I’m just a man myself.” And as he talked with him, he went in and found many who had come together. And Peter said to them, “You guys all know that it is unlawful for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to anyone from another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone common or unclean. Therefore, I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. Now I ask you, for what reason have you sent for me?” And Cornelius said,
“Four days ago, I was fasting until this very hour, and at the ninth hour — 3 o’clock in the afternoon — I prayed in my house and behold a man stood before me in bright clothing and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered in the sight of God. Send therefore to Joppa and call Simon Peter. He is lodging at the house of Simon, the tanner by the sea, and when he comes he will speak to you.’ So I sent to you immediately and you have done well to come. Now therefore, here we are. We are here present before God, and we want to hear everything that you command us of God.”
So Peter, shocked, opens his mouth and says,
“In truth, I do perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation those who fear Him and work righteousness are accepted by Him. The word which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ . . . He is Lord of all. That word you know, which was proclaimed throughout all Judea and began from Galilee after the baptism — which John preached — how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. And we are witnesses to these things which He did both on the land, of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom they killed by hanging on a tree. Him God raised up on the third day and showed Him openly, not to all the people, but to witnesses chosen before by God, even to us that ate and drank with him after He arose from the dead. And He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be the judge over the living and the dead. To Him all the prophets witness that through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.”
And while Peter was speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished — the IN were astonished — as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles, on the OUT’s! For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God. And Peter said, “Can anyone forbid water, that these people should not be baptized, who received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they asked him to stay a few days. And the Bible says that his whole family — it might be that the whole group of people — that whole household was baptized.
Peter knows in, and Peter knows out. And God has changed his favorites. He says, “No longer unclean.” In is out, because they killed Jesus. And out is in, in this story. Israel kills Jesus, so the Christians — the new Israel — is now in. Traditional circumcision . . . out! Baptism with water and the Holy Spirit — which we call Chrismation — is in!
Cornelius was out. He was a Roman centurion, but the Bible calls him a “God-fearing gentile.” He feared God. How was he God-fearing? It says he was a devout man, he feared God with his whole household. He didn’t just do it himself, he taught his whole family. He got his kids, his wife, and his family involved. He gave alms generously. He prayed to God always, but he did not know about Christ. He did not know about Jesus. He did not know about the crucifixion and the resurrection of Christ. He did not know about Jesus’ ascension. He was out. But he was God-fearing, and he knew nothing about Jesus, and yet God heard his prayers. And his alms and his prayers came before God as a memorial. He was faithful to what he knew. And God heard his prayers. Was he a good man? Absolutely. Did he love God? Absolutely. Was he in? Nope. Can you love God and be a good person and be out? Yes. Why was he out? Because he wasn’t circumcised. He didn’t attend synagogues and the temple. He didn’t keep the feasts and the fasts. He was not in Israel. But God heard his prayers.
In Zechariah, God wasn’t listening anymore to the rebellious unfaithful “in” crowd. But God is now hearing the prayers of the faithful “out.” So now we have four different types of people that are shown:
First of all, of the Apostles and then Jews who are faithful to Christ, they were in, because they were in Israel. And when the new thing happened with Christ, they followed the trend and they stayed in. They became Christians. They joined the Church. They were baptized, they were filled with the Holy Spirit. So those in, stayed in, not by staying this way, but by changing. They stayed in when the change took place.
The second group of people we have, we hear about in Zechariah and Luke. They were the in, but they were rebellious. They stopped up their ears, they wouldn’t listen to God, they wouldn’t make the change, they killed Christ. They would not make that change over to the new, and so what was “in” is now “out.”
Group number one, in and stays in.
group number two, in and kicked out!
Group number three: Cornelius, the faithful out who come in. They are God-fearing gentiles. They are devout, they give alms, they give prayers. Cornelius is a man to be emulated. And he listens to Peter. He listens to an Apostle and he changes. He doesn’t hold on to his beliefs and say, “This is new, I don’t understand that!” No, he listens to a man of God, an Apostle, and he changes. And he is baptized. And the Holy Spirit comes upon him. He changes his beliefs, he changes his practices. He has faith in Jesus Christ. He brings his entire household with him. He is faithful to the Apostles, not to the religious leaders that he grew up with. And God hears his prayers, and now the out is in.
The in stayed in.
The other in was kicked out.
And now the out is in.
Logically now, we have a fourth group of people. What if Cornelius hadn’t listened? What if Peter had come and told them all this stuff about Jesus, and Cornelius said, “That’s kind of outside my comfort zone. It’s really difficult. I have to do all these things? I have to change this stuff? You know, I was raised like this. I was taught by my parents this way. I’ve always been like this.” And he starts backing away further and further from Peter, making excuses. “I bought some land. I bought some oxen. I got married. I don’t want to come to the feast.”
Those excuses are worthless. And it doesn’t matter how devout you have been up until now. It doesn’t matter how many alms you’ve given up until now. It doesn’t matter how many prayers you have prayed up until now. When God was hearing you as a faithful God-fearing gentile — when presented with the truth — if Cornelius hadn’t listened, would God still listen to him? Absolutely not. And here’s where it applies today.
There are many people who are faithful outside the Orthodox Church today. They are out. But yet they pray, they attend church, they give alms, they are devout, they homeschool their children, they are kind and loving, and they keep His commandments. They work in their churches, and they love Jesus. But they have never heard of the Orthodox Church. And God hears their prayers. They are faithful “God-fearing gentiles.” But they are not in. They are out, but they are faithful to what they know.
But what happens when God in His great mercy and love, sends someone like Peter to them — to tell them about the Orthodox Church — a friend, a family member, a book . . . and they reject it?
Now I understand the turmoil. I understand confusion. I understand questions. I understand unrest. I understand fear. We all had that when we converted into the Orthodox Church, from outside the Church. When we went from “out” to “in,” we all had those questions and fears. I’m pretty sure Cornelius had some too. But he listened. I’m not really worried about the questions and the turmoil and the fear, because that’s part of the journey, the journey into the Church.
But what about downright rejection? If you reject Christ, there’s no turmoil, there’s no confusion, there’s no questions, unrest or fear; there is rejection. “I don’t have those things because I’ve rejected it.” What about rejection? What about rejection of baptism and Chrismation? The people who reject the Body and Blood of Christ? The people that reject that there is just one Church — The Orthodox Church. What about the people who reject veneration of icons, who reject prayers to the Saints, who reject prayers for the dead? Who say things like, “We’re all on our own path. We’re just here to learn. We are all following where God wants us to go. At least you’re being obedient to what He’s shown you, and I’m being obedient to what He’s showing me. At least we’re all serving God. At least we all agree on the basics.” Blah, blah, blah!
If Cornelius had rejected Peter, he would no longer be considered a God-fearing gentile. He would have been considered a rebellious gentile. He would stay out, and God would not hear his prayers any longer. If Protestants and Catholics alike reject the Orthodox Church, no amount of devotion, no amount of prayers, no amount of alms, no amount of kindness, no amount of homeschooling, no amount of church attendance, no amount of being good, will matter. For Peter and for Cornelius, rejection of the Church was rejection of Christ. And it is the same today. A faithful Protestant or Catholic, before hearing of the Orthodox Church, is out, but still considered a God-fearing gentile. After hearing of the Orthodox Church and then subsequently rejecting it, they are now rebellious, and God does not hear their prayers any longer. And in Luke, it says, “None of them will taste my supper.”
So here’s the application. For those that are in the “in” today, in the Orthodox Church, you need to work to stay in. You need to stay faithful. You need to stay obedient, lest you be put out. And for the people that are faithful who are “out,” you need to get in! You need to get into the Orthodox Church. You need to come in through Baptism, through Chrismation. You have to join the Orthodox Church to remain faithful, lest you be kept out.
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 29, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Sdn. Ambrose.