This sermon was preached by Father Joseph Gleason on Sunday, May 17, 2015, at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.
Transcription by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services
Epistle Reading: James 1:22-27
Be ye doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit
Our God is One.
A man meets with his friend and admires his luxurious wool sweater. The comfort, beauty, warmth, and craftsmanship is exquisite. He asks his friend where he can get one like it. The friend replies, “This sweater is one of a kind. I made it myself. Would you like to make one for yourself?”
“How can I do that?”
“First, get the right kind of sheep. Feed it right. Care for it carefully, and it will give you excellent quality wool. Next, when it is springtime, you need to carefully sheer the wool from the sheep. Then wash it. After that, you need a good spinning wheel. With practice, you can learn to spin your sheep’s wool into high quality yarn and thread which you can use for making your own clothes. Finally, you need to learn how to knit. With practice, you will be able to knit your homemade yarn into the most excellent sweater you have ever owned.”
The man was impressed with the excellent quality of his friend’s sweater, and he knew he could never find anything like it in a department store. So, with great excitement, he went to Amazon.com and purchased stacks of books. He bought books on raising sheep; he bought books on spinning thread; and he bought books on knitting.
Over the next several years, he became an expert on all of the available literature on these subjects. When he met sheep farmers, he would talk with them for hours. When he met people who owned spinning wheels, he would sit, mesmerized, watching them spin thread. And whenever he saw afghans and clothes that had been knitted, he closely studied the craftsmanship and had detailed discussions with the people who had made these things with their own hands.
Years later, in tears, this man sat down with his friend. “I’m so upset. I’ve put in the past ten years studying everything I can about sheep, wool, and knitting, but I have absolutely nothing to show for it. I don’t even have one homemade sweater in my closet. I feel like I’ve gone through all of this effort for nothing. It just doesn’t work.”
The friend said, “How are you doing with your knitting? Have you at least made some afghans or something?”
“Oh. I don’t have any knitting needles. I don’t know how to knit.”
“Well, how are you doing with spinning thread? Is your spinning wheel working okay?”
“I don’t know how to spin thread. I don’t own a spinning wheel.”
“Well, how are your sheep doing? Are they healthy?”
“I don’t have any sheep.”
The friend replied, “Reading about sheep is not the same as raising real sheep. Talking about thread is not the same as operating your own spinning wheel. Having conversations about knitting is not the same as actually knitting something with your own hands. Reading books about sweaters is not the same as making sweaters. Knowledge in your head will do you no good until you actually start applying it to your life. If you want to get anywhere, then you actually need to do something.”
BE YE DOERS OF THE WORD
There are people who attend church regularly, read stacks of books about Orthodoxy, have conversations for hours about Orthodoxy, and yet they do not put what they learned into practice. The church attendance is good. The reading and study is good. And the conversations are good. But they are not sufficient. By themselves, they are not enough to make you a faithful Christian. To be a faithful follower of Christ, it not only matters what you think and what you say, it also matters what you do.
According to Holy Scripture, God judges our actions. God judges our deeds. God judges our works. And if you are not doing the deeds of a Christian, then no amount of Bible reading or church attendance is going to save you. God does not just want to know what you believe with your head. God also wants to know what you believe with your tongue, and your fingers, and your feet. He wants your entire body submitted to Him, not just your mind alone.
The Wise and Foolish Virgins
In Matthew 25, Jesus gives us three parables to teach us what the Judgment will be like.
The first parable is of the Wise and Foolish Virgins.
There are ten virgins who are waiting for the marriage supper. Obviously, this is a picture of the marriage supper of the Lamb. Are you going to be included in it, or will you be barred from its gates? And this is not the story of the five virgins and the five prostitutes. No! They’re all virgins, all ten of them. All of them have kept themselves pure. All ten of them have kept themselves free from sinful activities. They’ve kept themselves free from lust and gluttony and these sorts of things. These are ten virgins.
But, when you read the Church Fathers on this passage, you see that there is also the oil in their lamps. Their virginity is a picture of their purity, them avoiding sin, but the oil in their lamps is a picture of their good works done in the power of the Holy Spirit. Five of them are well-prepared and have enough oil in their lamps to make it all the way to the marriage supper of the Lamb. But five of them are foolish, and their oil runs out, their good Christian deeds run out too soon.
Then, when the time comes, just being virgins is not enough to get them into the supper. They also have to have their light burning. They have to have the oil burning. They have to have the good deeds, the good works. They knock on the door, and they pound on the door, and they say, “Please, please, please let us in.” And Jesus says, “I don’t know you.”
The second parable in Matthew 25 is The Parable of the Talents.
The master gives a certain number of talents to the first servant. He diligently works with it, and by being faithful with it, he does business, and he multiplies it into twice as much. And he gives all of it back to his lord when he returns. The lord says, “Because you have been faithful in this, look, I’m going to put you in charge over ten cities.”
The second servant, the master had given less money, but that servant was faithful with what he had. He worked hard, diligently. He did business. He doubled the money, and he gave all of it back to his lord when he returned. And the lord said, “Because you have been faithful in this, I am going to put you in charge over four cities.”
And then there is the third servant. The master gives him one talent, and he does not waste it on wine, and women, and song. He doesn’t spend it on himself. He doesn’t go out and squander it. He doesn’t steal it. The only thing he fails to do is to work with it, to multiply it, to take that money that his master had given him, to go do business, to double it, and to present it back to his lord to show himself fruitful with good deeds. That same talent of money that his master had given him he buries in the ground. And when his master returns, he just gives it back to him. And his master says, “You wicked and lazy servant.” Then he is cast out where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth.
The Sheep and the Goats
The third parable in Matthew 25 is of the Sheep and the Goats.
The sheep are at His right hand. The goats are at His left. To the sheep, He says, “Welcome, thou blessed of My Father, into the kingdom that has been prepared for you. For I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink. I was sick and imprisoned, and you visited me.”
They said, “When, Lord, did we ever see you hungry, or thirsty, or sick, or in prison?” And He said, “I tell you the truth: Inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these My brethren, you have done it to Me.”
Then He turns to the goats, and He says, “Depart you cursed into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry, and you gave me nothing to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me nothing to drink. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.”
They [said], “When, Lord, did we ever see you hungry, thirsty, sick, or in prison, and not try to help?” He said, “I tell you the truth. Inasmuch as you have not done it to the least of these my brethren, you have not done it unto me.”
In the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, He doesn’t ask them how much Scripture they memorized. He doesn’t ask them how many Sundays they were at church. He doesn’t ask them how many times they worked to learn what the Lord commands. The only thing He judges is whether they followed what the Lord commands. You see, learning it is not enough. You have to go do it. The only difference between the sheep and the goats, according to the Scriptures, is between what they did and did not do.
A Vision of Heaven
Revelation Chapter 20, starting in verse 11:
Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. (Revelation 20:11-12, NKJV)
Revelation 19 is also very interesting. It says:
Let us rejoice and exult and give Him glory because the wedding celebration of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. She was permitted to be dressed in bright, clean, fine linen (Rev. 19:7-8, NET).
Now, this is a popular picture of Heaven, a popular vision of Heaven that people have in their heads. That is, [the popular picture is] of the Saints of God dwelling in the presence of God dressed in robes of white. We picture these sparkling, clean, shining white garments. But what are those garments? Where do you get those? You can’t go to Wal-Mart and get that white garment.
In Revelation 19:8, it finishes: “For the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.”
I am going to repeat that: “The fine linen IS the righteous deeds of the saints.” Do you want to wear a white robe in Heaven? That robe is your good deeds. If you do not do good deeds, you will not have a robe to wear in Heaven.
[In] Matthew 22, Jesus gives another parable of judgment and the marriage supper of the Lamb when he gives the Parable of the Wedding Feast:
But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ (Matthew 22:11-13, NKJV)
Do not go to the marriage supper of the Lamb without a wedding garment. Don’t try to get into Heaven without a white robe which is the righteousness, the righteous deeds of the saints.
I KNOW YOUR WORKS
At the beginning of the Book of Revelation, Jesus sends letters to seven churches calling them to account for how faithful they have been to him. Some of the churches have been more faithful; some have been less faithful. Jesus says different things to each church, but there is one thing which Jesus says to each and every church without exception. At the beginning of every letter, Jesus says, “I know your works.”
To the Church at Ephesus: “I know your works . . . Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.” [Rev. 2:2,5]
To the Church at Smyrna: “I know your works . . . Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” [Rev 2:9,10]
To the Church at Pergamos: “I know your works . . . I have a few things against you . . . Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.” [Rev 2:13,14,16]
To the Church at Thyatira: “I know your works . . . and as for your works, the last are more than the first . . . all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works.” [Rev. 2:19,23]
To the Church at Sardis: “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent.” [Rev. 3:1-3]
To the Church at Philadelphia: “I know your works . . . you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name . . . you have kept My command to persevere . . . Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.” [Rev 3:8,10,11]
To the Church at Laodicaea: “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth . . . [You] do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked — I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. 19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.” [Rev 3:15-16, 17-19]
And today, to the Church here in Omaha, Jesus says likewise, “I know your works.” Jesus is in your home every day, and He is paying attention to the things that you do.
DEMONSTRATING OUR CHRISTIAN FAITH
- In your family, husbands, do you show love to your wives? Or do you love your games, your guns, your, hobbies, and your career more?
- Wives: Do you show respect and obedience to your husbands? Or do you pout and complain whenever you don’t get your own way?
- Children: Do you obey your parents? Or are you rebellious?
- In your day-to-day life, do you humble yourself before other people? Or do you demonstrate pride?
- Do you eat light, healthy food to God’s glory? Or are you guilty of gluttony?
- Do you guard your eyes and your thoughts? Or are you trapped by lust?
- Do you respond to your spouse and children with patience? Or are you guilty of selfish anger?
- Do you give alms and help people who are in need? Are you generous? Or are you enslaved to greed? Do you work hard to pray with your family every day, to provide for your family both physically and spiritually, to clean your home, to diligently teach your children everything they need to know to be faithful Christians? Are you setting that example in every area of your life? Or are you guilty of sloth and laziness?
The only way we can be acceptable in God’s eyes is for our actions to be in obedience to Christ. Our Christian faith is demonstrated in the way we speak to our spouses, the way we speak to our children, the way we diligently teach our children, the way we clean our homes, the way we work to provide for our families, the way we generously give to those in need, and the way we share the Gospel with those who need it. It’s all action words. Your faith is shown in the way you speak, teach, clean, work, give, and share the Gospel.
Our Christian faith is demonstrated by the way we spend our time and the way we spend our money. I have long said that if you want to see whether a man is really a Christian or not, if you want to see whether a woman is really a Christian or not, just look at their checkbook and their calendar. Anybody can talk a good talk. But look at their checkbook, and look at their calendar. Where did they spend their money, and where did they spend their time? You show me that, and I will show you who or what they worship.
It is not good enough for us to assess our convictions. We also need to make an assessment of our actions, for Jesus knows our works.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit
God is One.
This sermon was preached by Father Joseph Gleason on Sunday, May 17, 2015, at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.
Transcribed and formatted by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services. Dormition Text Services provides full service secretarial support (including transcription and publishing services) to Orthodox clergy and parish communities.