Required to Reconcile

MP3 Audio: WS330368_Dn-Joseph_Required-to-Reconcile.mp3

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, July 27, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

Transcription by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services.

~

Gospel Reading: Matthew 5:20-26

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. God is One.

Those of you who are parents, have you ever had a day when each of your children gave you a hug in the morning and said, “I love you,” but then they proceeded to fight with each other? There is nothing that so grieves the heart of a father as having children who are at odds with one another. A good father, a good mother, desires peace in the family and peace in the home.

Likewise, there is nothing that so grieves our Heavenly Father’s heart as having children who fight with one another. God knows that sibling rivalry is what led to the very first murder, when out of envy, Cain killed his brother Abel. And throughout history, every murder, every war, and every act of violence has happened for the same reason: as God’s children, we are not loving one another and reconciling with one another.

To harbor anger in a relationship is to harbor the seed of murder. That is why Jesus includes His command for reconciliation in His passage where he speaks about murder. If lust is equivalent to adultery, then illicit anger is equivalent to murder. Whether you are the one who did wrong, or whether you are the one who has been wronged, Jesus says it is your responsibility to urgently seek reconciliation with your brother.

We all know that Scripture says this. Yet, so often, this command is not obeyed. Why is that? What reasons do people give for not obeying this clear command of Christ?

Confrontation

Some people simply respond by saying,

“I don’t like confrontation. It makes me uncomfortable.”

Yet God commands it! Saying, “I don’t like confrontation” is comparable to saying, “I don’t like honesty. I don’t like chastity. I don’t like being faithful to my wife.” Christians obey Christ. They do not determine the course of action based on what they don’t like.

Futility

Another reason people give for not obeying Christ is:

“It won’t work. You don’t know my family like I know my family. You don’t know my friends like I know my friends. Jesus gave a good command here, but in this case, I already know it won’t work. So I won’t do it.”

God knows all things, and He commands you to do it. You know few things and have determined that his commands don’t work?

I remember one time I sat down to talk with someone about something that they had against me. I suspected ahead of time that it might not go very well. Indeed, much of the conversation did not go well. I sat and listened as they got angry, raised their voice, accused me of doing horrible things, and even threatened to kick me out of their home. I did not respond in anger. I listened. I explained reasons why I was not guilty of doing the things they accused me of. Eventually, they cooled down. They said they were not upset with me, that everything was okay between us. They even promised to talk directly with me in the future if they were ever upset with me again.

Here’s the point: Even if you go into it thinking that it will not work out well, you may be wrong. You are not God, so you are not as good at predicting the future as you might think you are. Even if the person you confront responds with anger initially, everything still may work out well in the end. Even more importantly, you need to do what God commands you to do, regardless of the results. Christians do not base their actions on what they think will work. Christians base their actions on the commands of Christ.

Pride

Another reason people do not obey this command is probably not a reason that they will verbalize to you out loud, not something they will say. But inside, they will say,

“I don’t want to admit that I was wrong.”

You may realize that the other person has the right to be angry at you, because you are the one who is guilty of wrongdoing. But if you are unwilling to repent of your sin, and you are unwilling to ask your brother to forgive you, then how can you expect God to forgive you? If you are willing to repent of your sin, but you just can’t bring yourself to tell your brother that you were wrong, then pride is getting in the way.

There is nothing that repulses God more than pride. If you want to have a close relationship with Jesus, then you are going to have to humble yourself, not only before God, but also before your brother. Have the humility and the courage to look your brother or your sister in the face and say, “I was wrong.”

Delayed Obedience

“I don’t like confrontation” is no excuse, because followers of Christ do not base their actions on what they like. Instead, they obey what Christ has commanded.

“It won’t work” is no excuse, because followers of Christ do not base their actions on predicted results. Instead, they obey what Christ has commanded.

“I don’t want to admit I was wrong” is no excuse, because followers of Christ do not avoid repentance, and followers of Christ do not harbor pride. Instead, they obey what Christ has commanded.

After considering all this, we may finally admit,

“Yes, I need to sit down and talk to that person and seek reconciliation. I just don’t have time for it right now. In a few weeks, when the time is right, then I’ll do it.”

This is where we need to remember that delayed obedience is disobedience. If Dad tells you to clean your room, you are not being obedient if you say, “I’ll do it later.”

To be obedient to God, you must not only do what He tells you. You must also do it when He tells you. In regard to reconciliation, Jesus says it is extremely urgent. You must do it now. You must do it immediately.

Prior to the death and resurrection of Christ, people worshiped God with animal sacrifices. They’d bring their sacrifice to the altar, confess their sins in the presence of the priest, and then a blood sacrifice would be offered to God. This pointed forward to the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. Jesus said that reconciliation was so urgent that you should actually interrupt your worship of God just to make sure your brother doesn’t have anything against you.

Jesus did not say, “go ahead and offer your sacrifice, and then reconcile with your brother as soon as it is convenient for you.” Instead, Jesus said to leave your gift at the altar, go reconcile with your brother, and then return to the altar to complete your sacrifice to God. The point here is that God will not accept your worship if you are at odds with your brother, and you are refusing to reconcile.

After the death and resurrection of Christ, we have the Eucharist. We feast upon the Body and Blood of Jesus Himself. The Eucharist has taken the place of the Old Testament blood sacrifices. If reconciliation with your brother was a requirement in order for God to accept your animal sacrifices, then how much more reconciliation is a requirement now, in order for God to welcome you to His table to take the Eucharist? Jesus is teaching us that reconciliation is so urgent that we must do that first, before we take the Eucharist.

Imagine a church community where every person is so diligently seeking reconciliation, that even when the smallest tensions arise in relationships, there are multiple house visits and phone calls throughout the week as each and every person urgently rushes to make sure all of their relationships are entirely at peace, before they dare to partake of the Eucharist on Sunday morning. This is not some far-off ideal. This is not just a church that would be nice to have. This is the only kind of church that is being faithful to Christ!

If you are a Christian, then being content with broken relationships is not an option. If you claim to follow Christ, then you must seek reconciliation with your brothers and sisters in Christ. This is what God requires. To avoid reconciliation is to avoid being a Christian.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. God is One.

~

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, July 27, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

Transcription by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services. Dormition Text Services offers full-service secretarial support, including transcription and publishing services, to Orthodox clergy and communities. 

Posted in 2014 Homilies, Fr. Joseph Gleason, Matthew 5:21-26, Orthodox Homilies, Reconciliation, Spiritual Living | Leave a comment

Commanded to be in Unity

MP3 Audio: WS330367_Dn-Joseph_Commanded-to-be-in-Unity.mp3

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, July 20, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

Transcription by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services.

~

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Our God is One.

Our Epistle reading for today starts with a command: “Dearly beloved, be ye all of one mind” (cf. 1 Peter 3:8). This is not a suggestion. Saint [Peter] is not saying that this is something that would be nice to have theoretically. It’s a command! He says, “Do this. Be ye all of one mind.”

What does it mean to be of one mind? It means that you think the same way; you reason the same way; you understand in the same way. Being of one mind is the opposite of division, of sectarianism, of individualism. To have a whole group of people be of one mind is to say, “I need to conform to the truth.” It’s not to say that the truth needs to conform to me.

This is not the only place in Scripture that we see this requirement, this command given to us by God. It is throughout Scripture. We see it in today’s Epistle [in 1 Peter 3:8].

  • 1 Peter 3:8: “finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous”
  • Romans 15:5-6: “Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”
    — He doesn’t say “glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with many different ideas, many different minds, many different mouths.” He says to do it with one mouth and one mind.
    2 Corinthians 13:11: “Finally, brethren, farewell. Become complete. Be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you”
  • Philippians 1:27: “Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel”
  • Philippians 2:2: “Fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind”
  • Ephesians 4:4-5: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism”
    — There are not many bodies of Christ; there is only one. There are not many Lords; there is only One. There are not many Christian faiths; there is only one. There are not many different baptisms; there is one.
  • 1 Corinthians 1:10: And as if all of that were not clear enough, Saint Paul really drives the point home in Scripture in 1 Corinthians 1:10. Listen to this: “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment”

This is the word of the Lord. This is the word of God. This is Scripture. They are not suggestions. They are commands. Unity of belief, unity of faith, even unity of thought and understanding and judgment, is actually a requirement from God.

So when we look out across this country today, and we see 30,000 different understandings, different faiths, different ways to understand God, and Christ, and the Scriptures, and the faith, when we see people radically disagreeing with each other over how baptisms should be done, radically disagreeing with each other over how sins are forgiven, how salvation is obtained, whether the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ or merely symbolic. . . We have the Baptists arguing with the Presbyterians, arguing with the Lutherans, arguing with the Anglicans, arguing with the Catholics, arguing with the Orthodox. This is division. This is sectarianism, and it is direct disobedience to what has been commanded in Scripture.

God never left the option open to us to come up with our own ideas for what the Christian faith is supposed to look like. He didn’t leave it up to us. He taught the Twelve Apostles the same doctrine. He gave them the same practices. He started one Church, not 30,000 different churches. And throughout Scripture, as we have just read, over and over and over, we are commanded by the Word of God to be of one mind, to think the same way, to believe the same things, to speak the same way, to understand the same way.

There is no point at anywhere in the Bible that you can turn, where Jesus or any of the Apostles say, “Hey, do whatever is most comfortable for you. Believe whatever you want to believe, and God will be with you.” That’s not biblical. That’s not scriptural. Scripture says that if we are to be Christians, then we are all to be of one mind.

Now, according to the Word of God, if everyone in the Church is supposed to think and believe the same, that means everyone — including me, and including you — has to change. Thus, we see two radically different versions: one on this side, and one on this side. Two versions of thinking:

One [says], “When you get a church going, what you need to do is bring everybody in, realize that they’re from different backgrounds, realize that they have different ideas, different interpretations, different understandings, and just don’t worry about all that. We just get together for fellowship, to be kind and nice to one another, to eat together, to be friendly, to go quilting together, to go hunting together, to play basketball together. We enjoy our face-to-face time. We enjoy our fellowship. We enjoy worshiping together. Oh, but everybody is still going to believe differently, because everybody has different ideas; everybody thinks differently.”

Then you have what Scripture says, where everybody is supposed to be of one mind, one doctrine, one faith, one belief. Unity — no division whatsoever!

To stay this way, like some churches think that we should do, where everybody just has different beliefs, different faiths, different interpretations: that’s disobedience to God’s Word. To leave a congregation or to leave a church in that state is to say, “Division is fine; difference of thought is fine; different beliefs are fine. It doesn’t really matter.”

Scripture says, “Be of one mind; think the same things; speak the same things. Let there be no divisions among you.” And the only way that you’re going to get from here [division] to here [unity] is for everybody to change, because naturally, when you bring 20 or 30 or 50 or 500 people into a single room, are they all unified? Do they all think exactly the same things about baptism, and the Eucharist, and salvation, and family life, and marriage, and child-raising? No! The only way that we are going to come to this unity of belief — this unity of faith that is commanded by God — is for every single one of us to be willing to change.

It is not a club where everyone hangs out and enjoys each other’s company while continuing to believe whatever they individually want to believe. Instead, each one of us needs to be challenged to repent so that our beliefs and thinking come into agreement with what the Church has historically taught on all things.

How are we not supposed to do this?

Personality Cult

We are not a personality cult. You should never, ever just say, “Here’s what I think, and here’s what I do, because we should do whatever the preacher says.” That is how cults get started. That’s where get the Jehovah’s Witness. That’s where we get Christian Science. That’s where we get Mormonism. There are many, many more examples that I could give. When you allow one person to stand up in front of you, and you simply [say], “I’m just going to do whatever the leader says. I’m just going to think whatever the preacher thinks. . . .”

That’s not how we do this, because he himself may be wrong on some things. Indeed, if we are all to be of one mind, that means that even the preacher needs to be humble enough to repent, humble enough to change his mind and bring his own mind into conformity with the truth. That means I don’t get off the hook; you don’t get off the hook. Every single one of us is challenged and required by God to be humble enough to change your mind and to repent.

Partial Agreement

We are also not supposed to think alike in the sense of the “least common denominator.” “Well, we may disagree on 98% of things, but at least we agree on two or three basics. I mean, you know, Jesus is God; the Bible is God’s Word; and Jesus is the only way to heaven. We have perfect unity on those three things. Isn’t that great?”

Paul did not say, “be of one mind on three basic things.” The Word of God does not say, “be perfectly in agreement and thinking on two or three basic things.”

What does it say in Scripture?

“Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you” (1 Corinthians 1:10).

He didn’t just say “no divisions on the basics.” He says “no divisions on anything.”
” . . . that there be no divisions among you but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment”

That is what Scripture says. As far-out as that seems, as unattainable as that may sound at first, that is what Scripture requires. That is the goal that we work towards.

So how do we do this? If you can’t just listen to me and do whatever I say, then what do we do? Scripture gives this high and lofty command. It gives this command over and over and over. How do we fulfill it? How do we do what God requires of us?

Look at Scripture

One of the things that we do is that we look at Scripture. But there are two different ways to look at it:

Interpret for Yourself?

You can take all of your own backgrounds, and prejudices, and ideas, and you can sit in a corner by yourself with the Bible and not pay attention to anybody else but just read the Bible for yourself and come to conclusions. Then Betty can do the same, and I can do the same, and Jon can do the same. If all of us in this room do that, we’ll come up with thirty different interpretations of what the Word of God says. Just reading the Bible for yourself, setting yourself up as the interpreter of Scripture, is how we got into the mess in the first place. That’s how we ended up with the divisions between Orthodox, Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians. So that can’t be the correct route.

Interpret through the Church.

The way we must read Scripture and interpret it must be in line and in agreement with how the Church historically has interpreted Scripture, even before these divisions took place. That means that you go back and you say, “In the first thousand years of the Church, before any of these divisions existed, how did the Church interpret Scripture?”

In the first thousand years of the Church, did the Church interpret baptism as being efficacious? Yes. Did the Church interpret Scripture as saying that baptism should be given, not only to adults, but also to infants? Yes.

This is how we do it on every doctrine: We read Scripture. We study Scripture. But we make sure that we are seeking Scripture as it in interpreted historically by the Church – not just in our own minds when we are reading it by ourselves, but reading Scripture in line with how the Church has historically interpreted it.

Ecumenical Councils

There are also seven Ecumenical Councils. It’s not only in the fourth century that a group of godly men got together, and the Holy Spirit led them to say, “Okay, which books belong in the New Testament, and which books do not? Which books belong in the Bible, and which books do not belong in Scripture?” But the Holy Spirit also, during that same period of time, drew holy men of God together into what are called the “Ecumenical Councils.”

In the first two Ecumenical Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople I, we receive a clear articulation of the doctrine of the Trinity. If you believe in the doctrine of the Trinity, you can thank the men at the first two Ecumenical Councils. If you believe the Nicene Creed, you can thank the men full of the Holy Ghost at the first two Ecumenical Councils.

But there are not only two. There were seven of them, and all seven were centered around “who is Jesus Christ?” and “how do we receive Salvation through Jesus Christ?”. The first two councils focused on His deity, putting down the Arians, putting down this blasphemous idea that Jesus is not God, lifting Him up as the second Person of the Trinity, God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten not made, of one essence with the Father.

The first two councils focused on his deity, and then the next five councils focused on different aspects of Christ’s humanity — that Jesus is one person, not two; that Jesus has two natures, not one. He has a divine nature and a human nature. He’s fully God, and He’s fully man. He has two wills: a human will and a divine will. Then finally, in the Seventh Council: if you are human, then you have a physical appearance; and if you have a physical appearance, then your image can be painted. To say that we cannot or should not paint icons, have images of Jesus Christ, is tantamount to denying His full humanity.

The first two Ecumenical Councils focused on the deity of Christ. The next five Ecumenical Councils focused on the humanity of Christ. They directly affect our doctrine in a number of ways. There are multiple doctrines in which we can go back to these seven Councils and say, “Here’s what we decided.” For example, in the Third Ecumenical Council, Mary is called the Mother of God. This wasn’t even intended to be an exaltation for Mary.

Calling Mary the Mother of God is a protection of the deity of Christ, because Who was born of Mary? Jesus. Well, is He God or not? If she is not the Mother of God, then Jesus is not God. You cannot fully believe in the deity of Christ if you’re not willing to call His Mother the “Mother of God.”

Now, does that mean that she is pre-existent and that she gave birth to God the Father? Of course not! Calling Mary the Theotokos, calling her the Mother of God, simply means that the Person she gave birth to in Bethlehem on that first Christmas is God. When you call her the Mother of God, you are making a statement about who her Son is.

In the Fifth Ecumenical Council, she is called the Ever-Virgin Mary. She was a virgin both before and after giving birth to Christ.

In the Seventh Council, there is an anathema given to iconoclasts, to anybody who says, “No! Absolutely no icons, no paintings. We don’t need any of that.”

Patristics

We look at Scripture the way it has been interpreted by the historic Church. We look at the seven Ecumenical Councils through which the Holy Spirit has spoken to His Church. We also look at the writings of the early Church Fathers.

Now, who are the early Church Fathers? These are simply early Christians who were faithful to Christ and followed the teachings of the Apostles. Examples would be: Saint Ignatius of Antioch. He was ordained to the priesthood by Saint Peter the Apostle himself. There’s Saint Polycarp. He was a disciple of John the Apostle. Honestly, who are you going to trust more: preachers who knew the apostles face to face, or some random guy when you turn on the TV? As for me, as for this church, we will trust the guys who knew the apostles and their disciples — those first few hundred years of faithful Christians who were so near in time to the apostles that they faithfully kept what had been taught.

An example of this would be a book that was written about the year 120 AD, called the Didache, “The Teachings.” You look throughout Scripture, and you find that Christians are commanded to fast. We even see the indication in Scripture that the example set in the early days was fasting twice a week. But search the whole Bible, and you will never find out which days it’s supposed to be. Do we fast on Monday and Tuesday? Do we fast on Saturday and Wednesday? If you read the Didache, in the year 120 — written just a few years after the passing of the apostles — it explicitly says that our fasting every week is to be on Wednesday and Friday. There are numerous other early Church Fathers that write the same thing.

So we know from Scripture that we should fast. We assume it should be twice a week. But it is from the writings of the early Church Fathers and through the traditions of the Church that we learn which days of the week. It’s Wednesday and Friday.

Liturgies

We are also brought into a conformity of belief in the truth by looking at the historic liturgies of the Church. The Holy Spirit speaks through His Church in Scripture, in the Councils, in the writings of the Fathers, and in the liturgies that we use every week to worship God. As one example of this: What do we believe about the Eucharist? Well, you can go to Scripture and see that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ. That’s clearly set forth. But you can also go to the liturgy.

In almost every Orthodox liturgy that is used on Sunday mornings throughout the world, there is this prayer: “I believe, O Lord, and I confess . . .”[1] Do you remember the rest of it? In this prayer, we confess that this is “truly [Christ’s] own precious Body” and that “this is truly [Christ’s] own precious Blood.” We confess that in our prayer with our mouth every Sunday before we come to take the Eucharist. This is the Body and Blood of Christ.

It’s not only in Scripture; it’s not only in the writings of the Church Fathers; but it’s also in our liturgies.

Ancient Hymnography

We can also look at the ancient hymnography of the Church — the hymns, the songs that the saints of old have written and that have been sung for hundreds of years in the liturgies of the Church.

This is one example: A few weeks ago, I preached on the Ascension of Christ, when Christ Ascended into Heaven. Remember, I told you that for the thirty years prior to that, the Father and the Spirit were not twiddling Their thumbs up in Heaven just waiting for the Son to get back home. No, the Trinity was never separated. As God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were always together in Heaven. Even when Jesus became Incarnate and walked on the earth, the Son of God was not absent from Heaven; He didn’t leave Heaven. At the Ascension, it was not a return of the Son of God to Heaven. At the Ascension, as deity, He was already in Heaven, but His human body was on earth. What happened at the Ascension was that his human body, his humanity, was taken up into Heaven.

I didn’t just make that up. One of the main sources I went to for understanding this and talking about it were some of the ancient hymns of the Orthodox Church, which explicitly say this: that the Son was not absent from Heaven; but that it was in His humanity, His human nature, His human body, His human will, His human mind, His human soul — the humanity of Jesus was caught up into Heaven at the Ascension. This is something we learn doctrinally from the very hymnography of our Church.

Iconography

We are also brought to a oneness of faith, a oneness of mind, and a oneness of understanding of the truth through the icons — the historic iconography that has been used throughout the history of the Orthodox Church.

Just as one example, think of the Harrowing of Hell. After Good Friday but before Easter Sunday, before Pascha, on Holy Saturday, Jesus was in Hades preaching to the spirits in prison. Ultimately, He conquered death, and hell, and the grave, and there are many people who were in Hades that he took with him out of Hades as he conquered hell, and many people of old, trusting in Christ, went to be in joy in Paradise.

In the icon of the Resurrection, there is a painting of Jesus Christ clothed in shining white, standing above the broken gates of hell, utterly conquering death. With one hand, he is pulling Adam up out of the pit. With the other hand, he is pulling Eve up out of the pit. This isn’t just a pretty picture. This is our faith! This is what we all, in unity, believe.

God commands us to be of one mind. He commands us to have one faith. The way that He does this is to give us the Scriptures interpreted historically by the Church. He gives us the seven Ecumenical Councils. He gives us the writings of the Church Fathers. He gives us the liturgies of the Church, the ancient hymnography of the Church, and the historic iconography of the Church. That is why you can go to Orthodox Church after Orthodox Church across the world and find people who are of one mind, who believe one thing.

Now, some people would say, “This all sounds very good, but if you’re looking at the historic teachings of the Church about Scripture, you’re just looking at the teachings of men. If you look at the seven Ecumenical Councils, they’re impressive, but those are just the teachings of men, and we know men are fallible. Yes, it’s wonderful that you have all these writings of the early Church Fathers, but after all, they were just men. The liturgies of the church, those were written by fallen men. The hymns of the Church were written by men, and the icons were painted by men. So how can we really trust any of it?” They try to take the high ground by saying, “All I’m going to trust in is the Word of God. I don’t want the words of men. All I want is the Word of God.”

So I invite you on a little experiment. Get your Bible out, and read it from cover to cover, from Genesis to Revelation. As you go through the Bible, I want you to keep a big notebook, and I want you to write down everything that was written by God. I mean, where did God, with His own hand, actually write anything?

I only know of two places: One was with the Ten Commandments. The finger of God wrote in the stone, and the children of Israel received the Ten Commandments. Okay, that counts. God wrote that for sure. He sure did! Then in Daniel chapter five, at Belshazzar’s feast, when he was committing idolatry, lewd acts, and blaspheming God, this disembodied hand appears in the wall and writes, “MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.”[2] That very night, his life was taken from him, and he died, and the kingdom passed to someone else. I’ll count that. God wrote that.

You may say, “But the rest of it is God’s Word, too! I mean, there’s a lot of things that Jesus said.” That’s true. Jesus said a lot of things, but He didn’t write them down. Look throughout all of Scripture and you will not find any case in which Jesus wrote something, except when he wrote in the sand, and we don’t even know what he wrote.

So there is the second category: Every time that God said something, but somebody else wrote it down, we’ll put that in a different category. God didn’t write this, but God did say it, and somebody else wrote it down, so we’ll count that. Okay. It will be sort of like a red letter Bible. Go to the Sermon on the Mount where somebody is taking a transcription of what Jesus is saying.

Well, the first notebook was very, very thin. There are very few things which God Himself wrote with His very own hand. This second notebook is going to be a little thicker. It’s going to include all the things that God Himself said that somebody else was writing down.

But by far, the thickest notebook is going to be the third one: where somebody else was talking, and somebody else was writing. Read through most of the New Testament. Read the Epistles of Paul. Read large portions of the Book of Revelation. Read large portions of the Gospels. In much of that, it is not God talking; it’s not Jesus talking; but it’s His followers. It’s his apostles. It’s men! Fallen, sinful men!

Then you say,

“Wait a minute! That’s still the Word of God! Scripture is still trustworthy. It’s still the Word of God.”

And I say,

“How is it the Word of God? God didn’t say it. God didn’t write it with His own hand. How is it the Word of God?”

Then you say,

“Well, those men were filled with the Holy Spirit. Yes, they may have been sinful, fallen men, but they were full of the Holy Spirit; and when they were speaking, when they were writing, God made sure that they said the right thing.”

And I say,

“I rest my case.”

That’s exactly how it works. A group of men wrote the books of the Bible. We can trust that the Holy Spirit led them to write it correctly. That’s why we believe it’s the inspired Word of God. A group of men put the books of the Bible together so that we would have a Bible. We can trust that the Holy Spirit led them to do it correctly. That’s why we trust in the Bible. And a group of men met together in each of the seven Ecumenical Councils. We can trust that the Holy Spirit led them to come to correct conclusions. If you can trust in the majority of the Scriptures because you believe that the Holy Spirit is able to keep fallen men from speaking error or writing error, then we can trust the Holy Spirit to lead people into truth under other circumstances too — such as the compilation of Scripture or the seven Ecumenical Councils.

In Scripture, God commands us to be of one mind in unity of faith with no divisions among ourselves. We are all commanded to believe and teach the same things. We cannot fulfill this command as long as we hold on to personal pride. The only way we can come to a unity of belief is by humbly submitting to what Christ has taught through His Church for the past 2,000 years.

In this country, it is common for people to say, “I’m looking for a church that believes the same way I do.” In other words, they are saying, “I am right, and for a church to be right, that church has to agree with me.” That is pride.

What should we do? What we should do is join the Orthodox Church, and then ask the Church, “What do I need to believe?” In other words, the Church is right, and we are the humble students who are coming to learn. This is the humble path.

1 Corinthians 1:10:

“Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”

1 Peter 3:8:

“Finally, all of you be of one mind”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. God is One.

~

[1] A prayer of Saint John Chrysostom before receiving Holy Communion. Text available here: http://orthodoxfaith.co.uk/prayer.html http://www.orthodoxprayer.org/Communion_Prayers.html http://www.gometropolis.org/orthodox-faith/church-and-sacraments/holy-eucharist/prayers-before-and-after-communion/ etc.

[2] Daniel 5:25, translated thus in Daniel 5:26-28 (KJV):
MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it.
TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and found wanting.
PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians

~

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, July 20, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

Transcription by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services. Dormition Text Services offers full-service secretarial support, including transcription and publishing services, to Orthodox clergy and communities. 

Posted in 1 Corinthians 1:10, 1 Peter 3:8, 2 Corinthians 13:11, 2014 Homilies, Ephesians 4:4-5, Fr. Joseph Gleason, Orthodox Homilies, Philippians 1:27, Philippians 2:2, Romans 15:5-6 | Leave a comment

Did Jesus Lie?

MP3 Audio: WS330365_Dn-Joseph_Did-Jesus-Lie.mp3

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, July 13, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

Transcription by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services. 

~

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. God is One.

“Can the blind lead the blind? Shall they not both fall into the ditch? The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master” (Luke 6:39-40).

I’d like to read a prophesy from the Book of Isaiah which has a very important part throughout the Gospel of Luke. In Isaiah 61:2, it says:

“the spirit of the Lord is upon Me because of which He anointed Me. He sent Me to proclaim good news to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to preach liberty to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to declare the acceptable year of the Lord” (Isaiah 61:1-2).

[This is] a prophesy of the Messiah, a prophecy of Jesus Christ. And centuries before Jesus was born in Bethlehem, it was prophesied by Isaiah that Jesus would preach the Gospel to the poor, heal the brokenhearted, preach liberty to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind. In the 4th chapter of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus Himself reads this prophesy from the Book of Isaiah, and He says that it is a prophesy of He Himself:

Then Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and news of Him went out through all the surrounding region. And He taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all. So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read.  And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”

Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:14-21)

Jesus quotes Isaiah’s prophesy and says that He Himself is the fulfillment of that prophesy. Then, throughout the rest of the Gospel of Luke, whenever Jesus heals blind men, He demonstrates that He is the fulfillment of that prophesy.

In the 7th chapter of Luke, John the Baptist sends two of his disciples to ask Jesus about His identity. They say, “Are You the coming one, or do we look for another?” They weren’t asking if Jesus is an amazing person. He could have proven that with just any old miracle. They were specifically asking whether Jesus was the Messiah, the fulfillment of the prophesies in Scripture. In the same hour that they asked this question, Luke 7:21 says that Jesus “cured many of their infirmities and plagues, and of evil spirits; and unto many that were blind he gave sight. Then Jesus answering said unto them, Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me” (Luke 7:21-23).

Just like Jesus had done in the synagogue earlier in the Book of Luke, Jesus again points back to Isaiah’s prophesy which said that the coming Messiah would preach the gospel to the poor and give recovery of sight to the blind. In response to the disciples of John the Baptist, Jesus refers to Isaiah’s prophesy and demonstrates the prophesy’s fulfillment by healing blind men before their very eyes.

In the 18th chapter of Luke, as Jesus came near Jericho, there was a blind beggar by the side of the road who cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Luke 18:38) Jesus again heals the blind, demonstrating that He Himself is the fulfillment of the messianic prophesy in Isaiah.

In Luke 14, Jesus gives a parable of the kingdom of Heaven where “the poor, the maimed, the lame, [and] the blind” are invited to the great feast. Of course, their invitation to the kingdom implies their ultimate healing. Jesus doesn’t invite the blind into His kingdom so that they can stay blind. He invites them into His kingdom so that they can receive their sight.

There is one more place in the Book of Luke where Jesus discusses blindness. That is in today’s passage from the 6th chapter of Luke. Jesus says blindness is not only a physical problem, but also a spiritual problem. Just as physical blindness can make one fall into a ditch, spiritual blindness can make one fall into heresy and damnation:

“And He spoke a parable unto them: ‘Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into the ditch? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher'” (Luke 6:39-40).

He’s not only speaking of physical blindness here, but of spiritual blindness. Just as Ron here would not hire a blind man to be his guide, physically, to take him around town, so none of us should look to spiritually blind teachers to guide us around.

Imagine that you are blind. Multiple people are vying to be your teachers. How do you figure out which teachers are blind and which teachers can see? Get each teacher alone in a room and try some simple tests. Hold up a certain number of fingers on your hand, and ask them how many you’re holding up. Get a booklet that you’re already very familiar with, and ask them to read it for you. If you were blind, and a person failed simple tests like these, would you accept that person as your teacher? Of course not! Then you would have the blind leading the blind and both of you would fall into the ditch.

Now, in the world of Christianity today, there are tens of thousands of teachers, and they’re all saying different things. Take ten different Christian teachers, and you’ll get ten different stories about who God is, how you should worship Him, what salvation is, and how you can be saved. You don’t want your teachers to be spiritually blind. They may be very charming, sincere people, and they may speak with great confidence, but if they are blind, they are still going to lead you into the ditch.

How can you weed out the blind teachers? How can you find a teacher that can actually see? How can you stay out of the ditch?

I propose a simple test. Let us check the accuracy of the Bibles that they use. If you were faced with 100 different Bible teachers, you might become frustrated and confused trying to figure out which teachers are trustworthy and which teachers are just blind guides. But suppose that these teachers all used different versions of the Bible. You’d begin to look at them carefully, and 99 of these Bibles have verses in them which say, “Jesus is a liar.” Only one Bible says that you can trust what Jesus says. Would that help you narrow down the playing field?

Would you trust any teacher who uses a false Bible, or would you rather put your trust in the one solitary teacher who has an accurate copy of the Scriptures? In Luke chapter 4, Jesus talks about healing the blind, and He quotes from the 61st chapter of Isaiah. We know that Jesus is trustworthy. We can trust that he quoted Isaiah accurately. But when we review various versions of the Bible, are they in agreement with what Jesus said? Or are there certain copies of Scripture that would make Jesus out to be a liar?

Let’s compare Isaiah 61 in various translations of the Bible:

The King James Version [is] the most popular version ever printed in the English language. Isaiah 61: “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.” That sounds familiar doesn’t it? Did you notice something missing? It says nothing at all about healing the blind. It’s absent. It’s not in the prophecy. Yet when you turn to Luke chapter four in the same King James Bible, when Jesus reads from Isaiah, He says the prophesy does predict that the Messiah would heal the blind. Was Jesus lying? Was Jesus mistaken? Or do we have a false Bible on our hands?

The NIV [is] another very popular English translation of the Bible. “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” That sounds very similar doesn’t it? Did you notice anything missing? In Isaiah 61:1-2 of the NIV, it says nothing about healing the blind. It’s absent! It’s missing! Yet, if you go to Luke chapter four in the same NIV Bible, when Jesus reads from Isaiah, it does prophesy that the Messiah would heal blind people.

When John the Baptist’s disciples came to ask Jesus for proof that He was the Messiah, what good would it do for Jesus to heal a blind man as fulfillment of a prophesy that didn’t even exist? There is something very strange going on here. We could look at numerous other Protestant translations of the Bible and find exactly the same problem. Isaiah’s prophesy in those Bibles says nothing about healing the blind. And yet in the New Testament, when Jesus quotes from Isaiah, He quotes Isaiah’s prophesy differently.

Now let’s turn to Isaiah 61:2 in the Orthodox Study Bible:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me. He sent me to proclaim good news to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to preach liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to declare the acceptable year of the Lord.”

The book of Isaiah prophesies of Jesus Christ, telling us that one of His defining characteristics will be His ability to heal the blind. This prophesy is referred to again and again throughout the New Testament as evidence that Jesus is the Messiah, in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesy. Yet, according to the King James Version, this prophesy is nowhere to be found in this passage from Isaiah. Likewise, according to the New International Version, Isaiah never prophesied this.

Was Jesus confused? Was the Son of God misquoting Scripture? Of course not! Jesus was not confused, and it would be silly to suggest that the Son of God would misquote the Scriptures which He Himself inspired. If Jesus reads a passage from the Book of Isaiah, then we can rest assured that He is providing an accurate quote from the Old Testament.

But if the words of Jesus are accurate, that means there are inaccuracies in the Book of Isaiah in both the King James Version and the New International Version, and a whole host of other protestant translations. Those versions of the Bible have tried to change the Word of God. Unanimously, every version of the New Testament agrees that the Orthodox Study Bible contains the correct reading from the Book of Isaiah.

There is more. . . .

In Romans 3, the Apostle Paul quotes from Psalm 14. Yet when you check Psalm 14 in the King James Version and NIV, the full quotation is nowhere to be found in the Book of Psalms. Only the Orthodox Bible gets it right. In Ephesians 4, the Apostle Paul quotes from Psalm 4, yet the King James Version and NIV do not have this quotation. Only the Orthodox Bible gets it right. The book of Hebrews quotes from Psalm 40 where the incarnation of Jesus Christ is prophesied. Yet in the King James and NIV, this prophesy is nowhere to be found. Only the Orthodox Bible gets it right. In the Book of Acts, Deacon Stephen quotes from Genesis 46. Yet in the King James and NIV versions of Genesis, this quote cannot be found. Only the Orthodox Bible gets it right. In 1 Peter, the Apostle Peter quotes from Isaiah 53, but the King James Version and NIV versions of Isaiah read differently. Only the Orthodox Bible gets it right. In the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul quotes from the tenth chapter of Isaiah, but the King James and NIV do not have this quotation. Only the Orthodox Bible gets it right.

There are many, many other examples that can be given where people in the New Testament quote passages from the Old Testament, and the Orthodox Study Bible is the only Bible containing the correct Old Testament reading. So, who are the blind guides and who are the false teachers? If we accept the King James Version, the NIV, or any other mainstream Protestant version of the Bible, we would have to assume that the Apostle Paul was mistaken, Stephen was inaccurate, Peter was confused, and Jesus was lying. That is the logical result of accepting a Protestant copy of the Scriptures. But if we accept the Orthodox Study Bible, we are not faced with these difficulties.

When Saint Paul quotes from the Psalms, you can actually look in the book of Psalms and find what he was quoting. When Saint Peter quotes from Isaiah, you can read the Book of Isaiah and find the verse he was referring to. When Jesus Himself quotes from Scripture, you can read the passage He was quoting from, and it actually matches what Jesus says in the fourth chapter of Luke.

The Bibles are different from each other because they are translated from different sources. Historically, the Orthodox Church has always accepted the copy of Scripture which is known as the Septuagint, and the Orthodox Study Bible has been translated from this ancient source. Meanwhile, Protestants have consistently accepted the copy of Scripture which is known as the Masoretic Text. These two versions of Scripture do not agree with each other.

When Jesus and the Apostles quote Scripture in the New Testament, they quote from the Septuagint, and not from the Masoretic Text.

Fr. Joseph's booklet is now available in print.

Fr. Joseph’s booklet is now available!

So today, we are faced with thousands of Christian teachers, all of them competing for your allegiance. So many of them are nice, charming, sincere, and they display great amounts of confidence. Which teachers are you going to follow? Will you follow the teachers who only use false Bibles, or will you follow teachers who recognize the accuracy of the Scriptures as they have been preserved for 2,000 years in the Orthodox Church?

“And [Jesus] spoke a parable to them: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into the ditch? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher.”
(Luke 6:39-40)

When it comes to the Word of God, choose your teachers carefully.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. God is One.

~

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, July 13, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

Transcription by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services. Dormition Text Services offers full-service secretarial support, including transcription and publishing services to Orthodox clergy and communities. 

Posted in 2014 Homilies, Fr. Joseph Gleason, Isaiah 61, Luke 14:7-14, Luke 18:31-43, Luke 4:14-21, Luke 6:36-42, Luke 7:19-23, Masoretic Text, Orthodox Homilies, Septuagint | Leave a comment

St. Athanasius on the Psalms

From a letter written by St. Athanasius:

The Book of Psalms has a certain grace of its own. For in addition to the other things in which it enjoys fellowship with the other books of the Bible, it possesses this marvel – that it contains all the emotions of each soul and their various changes. Thus, through hearing, it teaches us not only not to disregard passion, but also how to heal passion through speaking and acting.

There is also this astonishing thing in the Psalms. After the prophecies about the Saviour and the nations, he who recites the Psalms is uttering the rest as his own words, and each sings them as if they were written concerning him. And it seems to me that these words become like a mirror to the person singing them, so that he might perceive himself and the emotions of his soul. For in fact he who hears the cantor receives the song that is recited as being about him, and either, when he is convicted by his conscience, he will repent, or hearing of the hope that resides in God, and how this kind of grace exists for him, he exults and begins to give thanks to God. Therefore, when someone sings the third psalm, recognising his own tribulations, he considers the words in the psalm to be his own. And then when someone sings the fiftieth, he is speaking the proper words of his own repentance. If the point needs to be put more forcefully, let us say that the entire Holy Scripture is a teacher of virtue and the truths of faith, while the Book of Psalms presents the perfect image for the soul’s course of life.

Such, then, is the help for mankind to be gained from the Book of Psalms. It is important not to pass over the question of why words of this kind are chanted with melodies. For some of the simple among us, although they believe indeed that the phrases are divinely inspired, imagine on account of the sweetness of sound that the psalms are sung for the sake of the ear’s delight alone. But this is not so. For Scripture did not just seek pleasant things; even these have been fashioned for the benefit of the soul. This is because it is fitting for Divine Scripture to praise God not in compressed speech alone, but also in the voice that is richly broadened.

Some things are said in close sequence; such as the Law and the Prophets and the histories, along with the New Testament. But on the other hand, some things are expressed more broadly, such as the psalms, odes, and songs, so that men will love God with their whole strength and power. Just as the harmony that unites flutes effects a single sound, so also, seeing that different movements appear in the soul, reason intends man to be neither discordant in himself, nor to be at variance with himself.

Reason intends the soul possessing the mind of Christ to use this as a leader, and by it to be a master of its passions. A man then becomes a stringed instrument and, devoting himself completely to the Spirit, obeys the mind of Christ, which acts like a plectrum in all his members and emotions, thus enabling him to serve the will of God. The harmonious singing of the Psalms is a figure and type of such order and tranquillity. For just as we discover the ideas of the soul and communicate them through the words we put forth, so also the Lord, wishing the melody of the words to be a symbol of the spiritual harmony in a soul, has ordered that the odes be chanted tunefully, and the Psalms recited with song.

St Athanasius, Letter to Marcellinus, 10-12, 14, 27-29; CWS (1980) tr. Gregg.

Posted in LXX - Psalm 50, Psalm 3, Psalm 51, Psalms | Leave a comment

Taming the Tongue

MP3 Audio: WS330363_Dn-Joseph_Be-Sober-Be-Vigilant-(over-the-tongue).mp3

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, July 6, 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. God is One.

In our Epistle reading today, we read a verse which is very familiar to us on a daily basis, for all of us who pray compline.

Be sober! Be vigilant! Because your adversary, the devil, walketh about seeking whom he may devour.

If you were just having some fun, having a camping trip with your family at a nearby lake — you don’t really watch out for lions around here, do you? — Because we’re in Illinois, we don’t have wild lions running around, as far as I know. So your guard is not up. Sure, you might see some wild squirrels, some deer, maybe even a skunk or two! But you really don’t worry a whole lot about running into wild animals that are going to come and kill you and your family, and eat you.

If you were going on that camping trip in Africa, how might you prepare differently? You might still go on the camping trip. You might still have a cookout. You might still have fun and enjoy fellowship with your family. But you would prepare just a little differently, wouldn’t you? You would make sure that if any lion comes anywhere near your tent, that you’re gonna be ready! You’re not gonna let your guard down. You’re not gonna walk away for even five minutes, if you know that a lion might come in and attack one of your children. If you know that there are lions around, you will be sober! You will be vigilant! You will be watchful, knowing that there are prowling lions out there, just waiting to devour you and your family.

It’s not the only place in Scripture, that Satan is called a lion. In Psalm 91, we read this prophecy of Christ and of all those who follow Him:

“Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder. The young lion, and the dragon, shalt thou trample under feet.”

Here we have one verse in Scripture that brings all these images together and calls the devil a lion, a snake, and a dragon. And it says that those who follow Christ will trample him under their feet. This is not just a battle for our physical lives. This is not just a battle for the lives of our children. This is a battle for their souls! This is a battle for eternity.

You see, when the devil prowls about seeking whom he may devour, he’s not merely seeking to kill your body. His goal is to drag you, your spouse, your children, and everybody else that he can, into Hell! So be sober, be vigilant, and don’t let that happen!

With that sort of sobriety in mind, I want you to imagine something very difficult, something devastating, something upsetting. But don’t just listen to my words; I want you to form a mental picture of this happening. Jesus comes and He talks to you. I want you to imagine that this is real. Jesus walks up and He talks to you, face to face, just like you’ve always dreamed of. You’ve looked forward to this day all your life, and finally, Jesus is standing right there. And He is talking to you face to face. Jesus looks at you and He says,

“For years, you have said that you love Me, and you have said that you are a Christian. You are in church every weekend. You tithe a tenth of all your income. You’re working hard to bring the rest of your family into the church. You pray twice a day. You study the Scriptures diligently! I just want to make sure you understand . . . your religion is worthless!”

How would it make you feel, emotionally? After all that you’ve said, after all that you’ve done, if Jesus himself looked you in the eyes, and said, “Your religion is worthless”? It cuts to the heart, doesn’t it? It would be a fearful, scary thing to hear from the lips of God.

Now, according to Scripture, religion can be a very good thing. The book of James tells us about a pure and undefiled religion which is pleasing to the Lord. So how much would it bother you if Jesus told you that your religion is worthless? If Jesus looked at everything you say and do, and then He told you that your religion was without any value, how devastated would you be? In James chapter 1, verse 26, we are warned of a very dangerous sin — a sin which is so vile, so wicked, and so destructive, that it can render your practice of Christianity to be without value. James 1:26 —

“Those who consider themselves religious, and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues, deceive themselves and their religion is worthless.”

I didn’t write this. This is the Word of God. This is Scripture. “Those who consider themselves religious, and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues, deceive themselves and their religion is worthless.”

As it is written in Proverbs 18:21 —

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.”

You see, it’s not just killing, and stealing, and immorality, that we need to guard against and be vigilant against. Satan would love nothing more than for you to be living in chastity your entire life, to never kill anybody, to never hurt a fly, to be a fine upstanding citizen who goes to church every time the doors are open — and still to go to hell because you would not control your tongue.

Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary, the devil, is a roaring lion who walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.

What part of the lion’s body is it that devours you? It’s his mouth! I’ve never seen a lion devour anything, with anything other than his mouth. But this lion is unique. Instead of using his own mouth to devour you, he uses yours. By getting a hold of your tongue, the devil devours your soul, and destroys your family and your church in the process. We are going to look at a number of Scriptures in Proverbs, in James, in various places, where we see from the Word of God itself — from the Scriptures themselves — just how destructive the tongue is.

In Proverbs, we’re told that the tongue is destructive to friendships:

“A perverse person stirs up conflict and a gossip separates close friends.” (Proverbs 16:28)

“A hypocrite with his mouth destroys his neighbor, but through knowledge, shall the just be delivered.” (Proverbs 11:9)

“Without wood, a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down. As charcoal to embers, and as wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome person for kindling strife. The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts.” (Proverbs 26:20-22)

“But no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil full of deadly poison. With the tongue, we praise our Lord and Father. And with it, we curse human beings who have been made in God’s likeness.” (James 3:8-9)

“A gentle answer turns away wrath;
but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
(Proverbs 15:1)

All of these are quotations directly from Scripture, telling us that if you want to destroy a friendship, you don’t have to steal one thing from them. You don’t have to hit them one time with your fist. All you have to do is open your mouth, and you can destroy a friendship.

Scripture says that the tongue is destructive to your brothers and sisters, whether in your family, or in your church family:

“Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister, or judges them, speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it.” (James 4:11)

“Do not grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, for you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!” (James 5:9)

According to Scripture, you don’t have to strike one of your brothers or sisters. You don’t have to steal anything from them. You don’t have to physically hurt them in any way. If you want to destroy your brothers and your sisters, all you have to do is open your mouth and speak evil of them.

Scripture says that the tongue is destructive to a marriage:

“A foolish child is a father’s ruin; and a quarrelsome wife is like the constant dripping of a leaky roof.” (Proverbs 19:13)

“Better to live in a desert than with a quarrelsome and nagging wife.” (Proverbs 21:19)

“A quarrelsome wife is like the dripping of a leaky roof in a rainstorm. Restraining her is like restraining the wind or grasping oil with the hand.” (Proverbs 27:15-16)

You want to tear a marriage apart? You don’t have to commit adultery. You don’t have to squander all the money. If you want to rip your marriage apart, all you have to do is open your mouth. Whether you’re the husband or the wife, all you have to do is open your mouth and be quarrelsome, be nagging, be negative — using your tongue to tear your spouse down, rather than build them up.

According to Scripture, the tongue can be destructive to your very soul:

“He that keeps his tongue keeps his life;
but he that opens wide his lips shall have destruction.”
(Proverbs 13:13)

“A fool’s mouth is his destruction;
and his lips are the snare of his soul.”
(Proverbs 18:7)

“Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue keepeth his soul from troubles.” (Proverbs 21:23)

And then that verse that we already looked at:

“Those who consider themselves religious, and yet, do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves and their religion is worthless.”
(James 1:26)

Using nothing but this one little muscle, this one little tongue, this tiny part of our body — if we’re negative, if we gossip, if we speak badly about other people, we can destroy friendships. We can destroy our brothers and sisters, and family and church relationships. We can destroy our marriage. And ultimately, we can destroy our very soul. And with nothing other than our tongue, we can drag our own souls to hell.

Why are sins of the tongue so deadly?

When you sin with your tongue — by speaking badly about other people — you are sinning against the truth, you are sinning against humility, you are sinning against love, you are sinning against relationships, and you are sinning against the very concept of repentance itself.

Sinning Against the Truth

When you speak badly about somebody else, it is rarely just a simple account of some fact that you witnessed. You add to the story by judging their motives, and pretending that you know why they did what they did. Whenever you judge incorrectly, your gossip becomes slander. And when you slander, you are speaking lies. If you want to know what their motives are, then ask them.

Sinning Against Humility

The reason that you can so confidently believe that you can accurately judge the motives of others, is because you have a pride problem. You are way too sure of your own abilities. The truth is that you are not as smart as you think you are. You can misjudge another person’s actions. You can think that other person is rude, unloving, angry, or upset, and you can be dead wrong. Stop trusting in your cunningness. Stop trusting in your own ability to judge the hearts and motives of other people. If you want to know whether they have certain motives, then humble yourself enough to ask them!

Sinning Against Love

Scripture says that “love keeps no record of wrongs.” Love is patient, kind, and seeks for the best in others. If you are running off at the mouth, tearing other people down, you are showing them hatred instead of love.

Sinning Against Relationships

Christians are supposed to build close relationships between spouses, siblings, children, neighbors, and fellow members of the church. But sinning with your tongue tears relationships apart. Consciously use your tongue to build relationships up, rather than tear them down.

Sinning Against Repentance

Walking with Christ requires repentance. But if you are spending time focusing on the sins of others, that indicates that you are not spending enough time focusing on your own sins. Stop confessing other peoples sins, and start confessing your own.

A lot of times when we speak badly about other people, when we spend a great amount of time talking about how evil this person is and how evil that person is, how wicked that person is and how terrible this person is, it’s because we are terrified of being silent for long enough to turn our thoughts inward, and think about how well we measure up to Christ.

I can talk about righteousness. I can condemn sin all day long, as long as it’s somebody else’s sin. But if I stop focusing on anybody else’s sin, that doesn’t leave anybody’s sin for me to consider but my own. And that’s painful. That’s humbling. That’s not fun.

But you cannot repent of your sin, until you close your mouth long enough to discover your own sin. Focus on yourself. Our sin-detectors work very well when we are trying to seek out sin in others. What we need to do is take that same ability, and instead of focusing on anybody else, we need to take our sin-detectors and point them at our own hearts.

When you look at other people, you don’t know their motives. But in your heart of hearts, you can look at your own motives. When you look at other people, you don’t know for sure what they are thinking, when they do what they do. But you can look at yourself and you know what you are thinking. If you want to be a good judge of sin, if you want to have enough information to judge a person guilty of sin, the person about which you have the most information is yourself. You don’t have to guess what you’re thinking. You don’t have to guess what your motives were. You can turn your sin detector inwards. And if you see that you fall short in this way, or in that way, you can be confident that you have something that you need to repent of.

True Repentance Requires Action

We need to remember that repentance is far more than just saying, “I’m sorry, please forgive me.” Repentance means you literally turn around, you start walking the other way, you do the opposite. If you fall on your knees before God because you’re a thief, and you say, “God, please forgive me,” you still haven’t repented of your sin, until you return that which you have stolen, and you start giving, rather than stealing.

If you have walked down an immoral pathway with somebody who is not your spouse, and you say “God, please forgive me,” you still haven’t repented until you turn your back on that relationship, and you have gone back to your spouse, and you are living a godly, pure life with them.

And so it is with our tongues. If we’re cursing other men, if we’re gossiping against other people, if we’re saying negative things about other people, we can ask God to forgive us all day long. But we have not truly repented until we take hold of our tongues, ask others to forgive us for our slander, and not only cease to use our tongues for wickedness, and negativity, but start using them for the opposite. The people that you used to speak negative of, are you intentionally starting to speak positive things to help build them up, to help draw them closer to Christ? Have you started using your tongue to start building up relationships, building up your marriage? If not, then you have not yet repented.

It says in James 1:26, “Those who consider themselves religious, and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues, deceive themselves and their religion is worthless.” Let us take this admonition seriously. Be sober and vigilant with your tongue, so that Satan does not use it to devour you and your family.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. God is One.

~

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, July 6, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

Posted in 2014 Homilies, Fr. Joseph Gleason, James 1:22-27, James 3, James 4, James 5, Orthodox Homilies, Proverbs 11:9, Proverbs 13:13, Proverbs 15:1, Proverbs 16:28, Proverbs 18:21, Proverbs 18:7, Proverbs 19:13, Proverbs 21:19, Proverbs 21:23, Proverbs 26:20-22, Proverbs 27:15-16 | Leave a comment

The INs and the OUTs

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.

 

Posted in 2014 Homilies, Acts 10, Luke 14:16-24, Orthodox Homilies, Other Homilies, Zechariah 7 | Leave a comment

Five Ways to Respond to Correction

Most people don’t like being told they are wrong. Most people don’t want to receive a rebuke. Offer reproof to the average person, and that person will think you are being “mean”.

Thankfully, not everyone is average. Some people want to have their errors pointed out, so they can correct them. There is a particular sort of person who wants to receive reproof:

Rebuke a wise man, and he will love you. (Proverbs 9:8)

Holy Scripture is clear. If you love receiving reproof, then you are wise. If you hate receiving reproof, then you are not wise. Simple as that.

Tell a man that he is wrong, or tell a woman she is wrong, and there are at least five potential responses you can expect. Two of these options take the path of wisdom, while three of these options go down the path of folly, destroying relationships.

Option #1: Respond with Gratitude — Repenting

Since a wise person loves to receive correction, the automatic response should always be gratitude. You carefully listen to the reproof, and you honestly consider whether you could improve in that particular way. You are thankful that the other person gave you an opportunity to become more like Christ. With joy and repentance, you immediately seek to change your ways. This is a good, holy, Christian response to correction.

Option #2: Respond with Gratitude — Respectfully Disagreeing

Even in cases where correction is unneeded, the wise person still has gratitude when receiving reproof. When someone brings up a perceived problem, that gives you an opportunity to provide a reasonable explanation, thereby clearing up any misunderstanding. If people were not willing to share their concerns, then you would have no way to offer a proper response. With patient and respectful discussion, you gently disagree with the person who offers you reproof. This, too, is a good Christian response to correction.

Option #3: Respond with Anger — Arguing

Anger is frequently a symptom of wounded pride. A person responds in anger, thinking that the reproof is undeserved. Or perhaps more frequently, a person responds in anger because the correction *is* deserved. The person is simply not willing to repent. Instead of responding with wise gratitude, the person responds with foolish anger. — Anger is destructive, and it frequently destroys relationships.

Option #4: Respond with Silence — Stewing

Have you ever seen a child pouting quietly in the corner, after getting in trouble? The kid’s face is red with anger. There is no repentance, and there is no arguing. The rebellious child is stewing. Immature adults often respond in a similar way. They are not willing to repent, and they are not willing to gently discuss the disagreement. So they just bottle up their emotions inside, like a pressure cooker. Eventually the pressure has to be relieved, either by repentance, discussion, an angry argument, or by leaving. — Stewing is just a silent form of anger. It is destructive, and it frequently destroys relationships.

Option #5: Respond with Silence — Leaving

Some people are so offended by reproof, that they are willing to destroy relationships in response to it. Tell a man that he is wrong, or tell a woman she is wrong, and the person cuts ties. There are people who leave marriages, leave friendships, and leave churches, merely because they are unwilling to receive correction.  — Leaving is obviously destructive to relationships.

Holy Scripture has a lot to say about people who do not want to receive correction. For example:

He that refuses correction despises his own soul,
but he that hears reproof gets understanding.
(Proverbs 15:32)

He who loves instruction loves knowledge,
but he that hates reproof is brutish.
(Proverbs 12:1)

St. John Chrysostom says that Christians are supposed to correct one another’s faults, and to reprove one another. Consider this excerpt from his 18th homily on the book of Ephesians:

It is for this that you have speech, it is for this you have a mouth and a tongue, that you may correct your neighbor.. . . There is no evidence of friendship so true as never to overlook the sins of our brethren. Did you see them at enmity? Reconcile them. Did you see them guilty of covetousness? Check them. Did you see them wronged? Stand up in their defense. It is not on them, it is on yourself you are conferring the chief benefit. It is for this we are friends, that we may be of use one to another.

St. John reminds us that a wise Christian will respond to correction with thankfulness, recognizing the benefits:

Wherefore, I entreat you, be ye never backward to reprove, nor displeased at being reproved. For as long indeed as anything is carried on in the dark, it is carried on with greater security; but when it has many to witness what is done, it is brought to light. By all means then let us do all we can to chase away the deadness which is in our brethren, to scatter the darkness, and to attract to us the Sun of righteousness. For if there be many shining lights, the path of virtue will be easy to themselves, and they which are in darkness will be more easily detected, while the light is held forth and puts the darkness to flight. Whereas if it be the reverse, there is fear lest as the thick mist of darkness and of sin overpowers the light, and dispels its transparency, those shining lights themselves should be extinguished. Let us be then disposed to benefit one another, that one and all, we may offer up praise and glory to the God of lovingkindness, by the grace and lovingkindness of the only begotten Son with whom to the Father, together with the Holy Ghost, be glory, strength, honor now and forever and forever. Amen.

—St. John Chrysostom, Ephesians – homily 18

We are all sinners. Therefore, we can all expect to receive correction. From time to time, people will confront us with our sins. In response, we can respond either with wisdom, or with foolishness. We can either preserve relationships, or destroy them.

If we respond with wisdom, then we will respond with gratitude. We will be thankful for the correction we receive. We will immediately and joyfully repent. Or we will respectfully and patiently discuss any reasons for disagreement.

If we respond with foolishness, then we with respond with either anger or silence. We will argue disrespectfully, we will silently stew on our grievances, or we will cut off the relationship. Each of these options is the result of pride, and each of these options is a guaranteed method for damaging relationships.

Wisdom or folly? Which response will we choose?

Posted in Humility, Reconciliation | Leave a comment

God Commands Us to Work

MP3 Audio: WS330359_Dn-Joseph_God-Commands-Us-to-Work.mp3

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, June 22, 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. God is One.

In the beginning, God created man to work:

“And the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it”. (Genesis 2:15)

Even before sin, even before the curse, even before the fall of man, we were called to joyful labor, to work with our hands, to be fruitful. After man fell into sin, God increased the difficulty of work:

“In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground”. (Genesis 3:19)

Everything God does is for our good, everything God does is for our salvation, including the consequence to which we were subjected as a result of the fall.

When God increased the pain in childbearing — which I believe not only includes the physical suffering that you endure on the day you give birth, but also all the struggles and the toils and the tears of motherhood for the decades afterward — when God increases the pain in childbearing, it is not random. It is not just to slap up on Eve, for eating the apple and for handing it to her husband. But as we read later in Scripture:

“women shall be saved through childbearing”. (1 Timothy 2:15)

And likewise with the man — God is not merely increasing the sweat of our brow, and the pain that comes to our fingers when they run into the thorns in the ground, the tiredness that comes over us from the hard labor, but the labor to which we are subjected is for our salvation.

God said “in the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground”. You see, bread is for physical life. If you do not eat, you will die. God is saying if you are going to have physical life, you are going to have to work, you’re going to have to toil, you’re going to have to sweat, you’re going to have to labor.

But you see, it’s no mistake that when we take the Eucharist, that it is bread. All the way back to the garden of Eden, God already knew that He was going to send His Son to die for us, to give His Body and His Blood on the Cross, and to give that Flesh for the life of world in the bread of the Eucharist.

And guess what? That same bread that is necessary for physical life — which you must gain by the sweat of your brow — is the same bread that becomes the body of Christ, by which you gain eternal life: that Eucharist which Jesus says, “if you do not eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no life in you”.

“By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread,” is to say that by the sweat of your face you shall be healed. You shall be saved. This work is for our healing and salvation. For women, the path to salvation involves childbearing. And for man, the path to salvation involves manual labor. All are called to hard work.

And according to Genesis 3:19, the sweat of your face by which you eat your bread continues until you return to the ground. No such thing as retirement. Never do you reach a point in your life where it’s okay not to work.

I Am My Brother’s Keeper

You go another chapter in Scripture and we meet Cain and Abel. We all know the story. He murders his brother out of envy and he asks this famous question in Genesis 4:9 —

“Am I my brother’s keeper?”

You know the correct answer to the question. Yes, you are! You are your brother’s keeper. If I’m my brother’s keeper, that means the sweat of my brow — my labor — is not only needed to feed my own face with bread; it is needed to feed my brother also. My brother has a stomach that gets hungry, and I am my brother’s keeper. Therefore, it is my responsibility to make sure that he has enough bread. And that means that I need to work.

Six Days You Shall Labor

Fast forward to the Ten Commandments, the one place in the entire Bible where God takes His own Finger and writes in stone. We can debate until we are blue in the face over the Sabbath . . . which day of the week it is, what counts as work, what doesn’t, how it still applies to us today. We focus so much on that seventh day, that day of rest, and yet so freely we ignore the other part of that same command. In Exodus 20:9 it says:

“Six days you shall labor and do all your work”

It doesn’t say three days, it doesn’t say five days, it doesn’t say six half-days, it says you work six days. Did you ever realize that’s part of the Ten Commandments? You’re commanded to work for six days a week. The Sabbath command is not just a command to rest for one day; it is a command to work for six. Being able to get by for five days a week, or three days a week, or zero days a week, is no excuse.

The Example of St. Benedict

Many throughout history have followed the rule of Saint Benedict. On average according to the rule, you would be working with your hands — laboring manually — at least 7 hours a day, for six days a week. I think that’s kind of funny that it adds up to close to 40 hours — 42 hours to be exact— plus 2 hours a day reading. That’s not reading dime store novels; that’s twelve hours a week in spiritual reading, diving deep into God and into His Saints. Plus 8 times a day of prayer. To be specific, that’s 7 times a day, and then once about midnight.

Unless you think that this was just a necessary evil, lest you think that this was not something salvific, when Benedict wrote his rule, he was dealing with a culture which disdained almost all manual labor. People had acquired slaves to handle almost everything. It was very common to find people who would do pretty much no work in a week.

He recognized the importance of work. Of labor, of fruitfulness, not so that you might spend the profits on your pleasures and go on fancy vacations, but so that you might spend the profits on loving your brother. He was so intent on it, that Saint Benedict said . . . in regard to resting for a day – he asked everybody that followed his rule to rest on Sunday. That’s the one day of the week when you do not go out and labor for seven hours. Sunday is for worship and for spiritual reading. So instead of going out and working those many hours, you worship, you take the Eucharist, and then for several hours that day you can read about the Saints. You can read Scripture.

But if you can’t handle that much reading, Saint Benedict said that you’re supposed to work on Sunday too. Rest doesn’t mean sitting on your duff and flipping on the TV. Rest doesn’t mean sleeping all day. Rest means that you rest from manual labor so you can pick up additional labor in the Kingdom of God, for the sake of learning more about Him, for the sake of worshiping Him. But if you just can’t bring yourself to read for several hours on Sunday, then Benedict said, “Okay, then that guy gets to work seven days a week.”

Laziness in regard to work is fatal to the Christian walk. According to 1 Timothy 5:8 —

”But if any provide not for his own and especially those of his own house, he has denied the faith and is worse than an infidel.”

In other words, it doesn’t matter what else you do, hard work is necessary to be a faithful Christian. You can pray seven times a day, memorize the entire Bible, go to church every time the doors are open, and still be worse than an infidel because you did not provide for your family.

Henry Gross is one the best examples I know of godliness in this regard. For decades he has provided bread for his family, working by the sweat of his brow for 50-60 hours per week in a coal mine. The Christian ideal is to lay down your life, to be willing to die for another person, and every time Henry goes to work, he literally gets buried in the ground in order to provide life for his family. He sacrifices everything he would like to do with his day, so that he can spend his entire day sweating underground with hard manual labor, just so his wife and his children and his grandchildren can have bread to eat. That is exactly the sort of thing that a godly man is supposed to do.

Laziness in regard to work is absolutely fatal to the Christian walk.

If you avoid work because you don’t like the type of work that is available to you, that’s pride. If you avoid work because you’re unwilling to be paid $8.25 per hour, that is pride.

If you avoid work because your needs are already met, and you personally don’t need any more, you are failing to be your brother’s keeper. You might not need the surplus, but your brother does. In Isaiah 58:7, what God asks of you is to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house —  yes, it actually says “into your house” — and when you see the naked, to cover him.

The Rich Man and Lazarus

Now, to today’s Gospel reading. We have the rich man and Lazarus — not the Lazarus that Jesus raised from the dead — this is another Lazarus. What we are told about the rich man is that he has nice clothes. He has good food. And apparently, he is single. He only mentions his five brothers; he doesn’t mention a wife or children. The poor man is named Lazarus. The meaning of the name Lazarus is “God helps.” The poor man is laid at the rich man’s gate. Somebody has to lay him there; he didn’t walk. He didn’t drive a buggy over; he is laid at the gate. This guy is helpless. He can’t go out and work at McDonald’s. He is full of sores. This man is sick! This is a guy from the nursing home, before there are nursing homes. This guy is desiring crumbs from the table. He is hungry. And he’s licked by dogs — unclean animals — just as unclean as swine. You don’t touch a pig and then walk into the temple of God. Well, you don’t get licked by dogs and then go walk into the temple of God. So he’s socially unacceptable. He’s unclean. However, God helps. By the mercy of God, dog saliva is a natural antiseptic. So whereas this rich man would provide no mercy, this unclean dog provides mercy from God.

Some people look at this story from Christ and they say, “Man, I wish I was rich. If I was rich like that rich man, I’d help all the Lazarus’ that I could find.”

Be careful what you commit to. Have you checked to see what the Biblical definition of “rich” is? If you turn in your Bibles to Luke 3:11 —

“John answered, anyone that has two shirts should share with the one that has none. And anyone that has food should do the same”

Please raise your hand if you have fewer than two shirts in your closet today. We all have many shirts hanging in our closet. I probably have at least ten or twelve. That means I could give away eleven of them. Now if there is anybody here who has one shirt or no shirt, then you get to be Lazarus. If you have two shirts or more in your possession, or the abilityto purchase two shirts or more, then you are the rich man. Same with food. Is there anybody in the room that has ever tried to lose weight? Be honest. Okay, you’re the rich man. Lazarus was begging for crumbs. He wasn’t trying to lose weight.

I puzzled over this passage, because the rich man is never charged with any specific sin that he committed. We are not told that he lied, cheated, stole, or committed adultery, or had any unjust gain. The one and only sin that is mentioned is a sin of omission. It doesn’t say that he slapped around Lazarus. It doesn’t say that he slept around or had a foul mouth. For all we know, this guy could have been an upstanding member of his local religious community. He might have memorized much Scripture. Whoever he is, he instantly recognizes Abraham. He instantly knows who Abraham is talking about when Abraham mentions Moses and prophets. He knows the faith. He may have acquired all of his money justly. He might have inherited it justly. His only sin — and a sin which is big enough to send him to hell forever — is the fact that he had the ability to help his brother and he failed to do it. And for that one sin, he found himself tormented in hell, begging for mercy from the very one to whom he has shown no mercy

“Therefore, to him who knows to good and does not do it, to him it is sin”. (James 4:17)

The rich man had no excuse. If the rich man was rich because he worked hard, he had the ability to spend less on pleasures so that he could share with Lazarus. If the rich man inherited wealth and did not work hard, he had the ability to spend less on pleasures so that he could share with Lazarus, and he had the ability to work hard so that he would have even more to share with Lazarus and those like him.

For women, God’s prescription is to work hard both in childbearing and in raising those children. Men, God’s prescription to us is to work hard, to live by the sweat of our brow, to support those women and children, as well as anyone else who we have the ability to support. You cannot go to heaven if you do not love your brother. If you are not willing to work hard to be your brother’s keeper, then you do not love your brother. If you already have enough to help your brother and you do not do it, you do not love your brother. If you have the ability to work to get enough to help your brother, and you do not do it, then you do not love your brother.

Laziness — avoiding 40-50 hours a week of hard work — is self indulgence. And self indulgence is enough of a sin to send us to hell.

Looking for Lazarus

We in America have a new problem. We don’t [usually] have orphans and poor homeless, just out running most of our streets, at least not here in Omaha. So a common cop-out is to say, “Well, all this may be true, and I sure would help somebody if they really needed it, but there’s just . . . I don’t know anybody like that. I don’t know any Lazarus’.”

How hard have you looked for him? Have you gone to any nursing homes? Have you gone to any homeless shelters? I could give you an address. Who have you sought out who needs that shirt that you don’t need, that needs that food that you don’t need? Who have you sought out that needs that support? That unwed mother, instead of crucifying her for her fornication, what if you were to thank God that she didn’t have an abortion? And get off your duff and help support her and that child, so that she didn’t have to ship the kid off to day-care while she spends 16 hours a day working to support the baby.

Faithful Tithing

But lets say you look in every nursing home, in every homeless shelter, and you just can’t find a Lazarus. Well, in other areas, are you even doing the minimum? “Tithe” means “ten percent.” Work to pay it!

Now . . . in my years, I have talked to several people that have become very transparent, and they say, “Well, I think I should, and I even want to, but there’s just not enough money left over at the end of the month. Once we’ve paid everything we have to pay, there’s just no money left.”

Well, first . . . It comes off the top, not the bottom. It’s the first thing you pay, not the last.

And second, usually the people that say there’s just no money left at the end of the month, their cable TV bill still gets paid somehow. They still find money for cigarettes. They still find money to go out to eat at restaurants. They don’t just have two shirts in their closets, they have twenty, and they just bought a couple more. And truth be told, there are enough hours that they spend watching TV, reading trashy novels, hanging out on Facebook, gossiping with their guy friends or their girl friends, that they could go get a minimum wage job. And just through that minimum wage job, pay that 10% tithe. You can’t find a Lazarus? If you’re not paying your tithe, work on that.

One other thing about the tithe, it does mean 10%. I once met a guy who, I forget the exact amount, but it was somewhere in the ballpark of about $60,000 a year, and that’s a good round number. That works out to about $5,000 per month income that this guy had. And he threw about $25 into an offering plate and said, “That’s my tithe.” I was gracious and kind and didn’t say anything to the guy. But in my mind, I knew the truth. That’s not a tithe. No, a tithe would be $500 per month. If it’s not 10%, it’s not tithe. Now it’s still a gift. It’s still a good thing. I’m grateful for every child that puts a dime in the offering plate. I’m grateful if a millionaire were to walk in here and put a $5 bill in the offering. I would be thankful to God for it. But I would still know that that’s not a tithe. If it’s not 10%, it’s not a tithe. Call it something else.

Attending to Spiritual Poverty

Now lets say that you search everywhere and you can’t find a Lazarus. Let’s say that you’re already tithing. Not only tithing, but going above and beyond, and giving alms, and giving offerings, and getting as close to 100% as you possibly can. If you live in an area where there is no Lazarus materially, there are still many, many people who are Lazarus spiritually. They have a poverty of knowledge of God. Work to visit them. Witness to them. Purchase evangelistic materials to give to them. Have them over for dinner and witness to them. Make them friends, make them part of your family. And don’t tell me that your house is too dirty to have somebody over. Work to clean it up and then have them over. Show hospitality. We are commanded to show hospitality. It’s by reaching out to people in friendship, inviting them into your home, going to their home, spending your day poured out for somebody other than yourself — that is how we get this church filled. And truth be told, that is how this church is being filled even here in Omaha.

The Rich Man, the Rich Young Ruler, and the Fig Tree

The lesson for us to take from the story of the rich man and Lazarus is that not loving your brother — just a sin of omission — not loving your brother, will send you to eternal torment. The rich man could have gone to worship God daily, he could have prayed seven times a day, he could have memorized Scripture, he could have earned all his money justly, and because he was oblivious to Lazarus’ existence, because he paid no attention to him, because he did not take of what was his own and give it to share with Lazarus, he lifted up his eyes in hell. And in torment, he begged for Lazarus to dip his little finger into some water, and just to cool his parched tongue. And even that mercy was denied to him, just as he in life had denied mercy to Lazarus.

If you are rich, use of your riches to give to Lazarus, to give to the church, to spend time and evangelistic materials to purchase, to help people come into the Kingdom of Heaven. Pour out your life to love your brother in both body and soul. What Jesus said to the rich young ruler, I used to believe was just for the rich young ruler. But now I think, “It really is for us.” Jesus said, “Sell what you have, give to the poor, and come follow me.” And he went away sad, for he had many possessions. He was very clear when he talked to Christ, “I keep the commandments, I go to the synagogue, I’ve followed the commandments of God from my youth up.” He’s a good upstanding, holy, righteous person. But his only lack, according to Christ, was that he loved his riches more than he loved his brother. He would rather have his vacations and his pleasures and his fine dining and fancy clothes, than he would minister mercy to the sick, to the homeless, to the unfortunate, and to the spiritually destitute. And for this one sin, he departs from Christ. For this one sin, the rich man goes to hell.

Remember the fig tree that Jesus curses? The fig tree that had no fruit? He cursed it, and it just dried up from the roots, and it’s dead. The fig tree was not guilty for hurting anybody. The fig tree didn’t have thorns; it didn’t poison anybody. The fig tree had not attacked anybody. The fig tree did not have a branch fall and hurt somebody. The only thing the fig tree did wrong, was that it failed to produce fruit. And for this one sin of omission, Jesus curses the fig tree, and it dries up from the roots, and it was dead. It’s the rich man’s only failing. He may have done all these other things right, but he failed to produce fruit. He failed to use the fruit of his work, the fruit of his labors, to minister mercy and healing to his brothers.

Saint Issac of Syria leaves us with something to consider for the rest of our lives, something to consider every day, something to consider every time we begin to think that we’re too good or that we are too poor to work with our hands to help someone else. Saint Issac says:

“This life has been given to you for repentance.
Do not waste it in vain pursuits”.

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 22, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

Posted in 1 Timothy 2:15, 1 Timothy 5:8, 2014 Homilies, Exodus 20, Fr. Joseph Gleason, Genesis 2, Genesis 3, Genesis 4:1-15, James 4, Luke 3:1-22, Orthodox Homilies | Leave a comment

What if God was not Trinity?

MP3 Audio: WS330358_Dn-Joseph_The-Trinity.mp3

This homily was preached on Trinity Sunday morning, June 15, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

~

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, our God is One.

Today we celebrate Trinity Sunday, the first Sunday after Pentecost. We have gone through the penitential season of Lent, we have experienced the glories, the death and resurrection of Christ, the Pascha, the ascension of Christ into the Heavens at the ascension, the coming of the Holy Spirit upon His Church at Pentecost, and now that all these glories have been revealed to us we revel in the magnificent glory of knowing God himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Now, last night as we were talking, I suggested a little homework assignment. I said,

Spend some time and think about the Trinity. Think about why it is important for us to believe in the three persons of God. And how would our lives be different? How would the Universe be different? how would our faith be different if God was just one person instead of three? What difference would it make? How radically would it change things?

Did anybody come up with any ideas? Did anybody think about it and say, “Here is something that would be different if God was not Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?”

Subdeacon Ambrose: I had trouble thinking in time, so I had to think of before creation, before time. What would change if there was only a unity instead of a Trinity? And if God is said to be the Father, but he had no Son in eternity, He would not be eternally the Father. There would never be eternally the Son. So we wouldn’t have that; we would have one. And also the perfection that is in the Trinity, in that when Henry mentioned last night, love. Before anything was created, how could God had been said to be love, if He had nothing to enact that love upon prior to creation? God would be lacking in something, in a way to express Himself, if He had nothing to express Himself upon. So the only thing I could come up with why He wouldn’t be unity, why that would be bad, and there is a lot of ramification about what I said . . . what I couldn’t figure out is why it had to be Trinity, why it couldn’t be 18 or seven or whatever. Why did it have to be three, I haven’t grasped yet.

Deacon Joseph: So what Subdeacon Ambrose has said, is that it would change the very identity of God. If you do away with the Trinity, you’re not just doing away with Holy Spirit and the Son. But if there is no Son, there can be no Father, for one is not a father if one does not have a child. It also hits at the very core of God being love. Scripture says that God is love. How can He be love, if there was no one to love? We all know that self-love is of a different sort, from that type of sacrificial and self-giving love that you pour out for another person.

Anybody else come up with any differences that would occur in our faith, in our universe, in our life, in our worship, if there was no Trinity, if there was just one person in God?

Kimberly: The Bible says that God sent his only Son into the world.

Deacon Joseph: Exactly! The Bible itself would be lying, because it says God sent his only Son. So Scripture itself would be radically different if God were only one, and he were not three persons. Anybody else have any ideas how everything would be different, how things would be radically changed?

Henry David: The New Testament wouldn’t be there. . . . The Bible would be so much smaller because a lot of it covers the teachings of the Son as written by the apostles that walked with the Son.

Deacon Joseph: Yep!

Sh. Amy: All of our prayers would be different.

Deacon Joseph: Very good! Sh. Amy pointed out all our prayers would be different. Why is that?

Sh. Amy: There would be no Father, because there would be no Son.

Deacon Joseph: Exactly. She just said if there’s no Son then there is no Father. So the Lord’s prayer which Jesus commanded to pray, “Our Father, who art in Heaven . . .” how could He really be Father? How could that be His identity?

Christa: In Genesis it says that the Spirit of God hovered over the waters. And it also says let us make man so we wouldn’t even be created if this conversation wasn’t going on between more than one person of the Trinity.

Deacon Joseph: Very good! Christa is pointing to something very important. Creation itself, in just the first few verses of Genesis chapter one, has the Holy Spirit hovering over the waters, has God speaking. His voice is speaking — the Logos, the Word — that is the Son. And then it doesn’t say in Scripture, “I’m going to make man in my image.” It says in Genesis, “Let us make man in our image.” You can’t even get out of the first book of the Bible, you can’t even get past creation, without seeing God talk about Himself in plural. And that means that creation itself would be different, particularly the creation of man would be different, if God were not three persons. Because if He could have only said, “I’m only going to make man in my image,” not “We’re going to make man in our image,” then we would be different. Because however God is — whether that’s one person or whether it’s three persons — whatever image God is in, that’s the image He created us in. That means that if God was not Trinity, then we ourselves would have been created differently. Humanity itself would be different; creation itself would be different.

So lets go back over a few of these things:

Prayer would be different

The Lord’s prayer: “Our Father who art in Heaven . . .” It kind of would be hard to look at Him as the eternal Father, if in eternity He had no Son. You would not be able to thank the Father for sending His Son, if He didn’t have one. You would not be able to thank the Son for submitting to the will of the Father, if He didn’t have one. You wouldn’t be able to thank the Father and the Son for their love that they showed for us, the Holy Spirit for the love that He showed for us. You wouldn’t be able to thank the Father for sending the Holy Spirit, if there wasn’t a Holy Spirit.

So many of our prayers that we offer in thanksgiving for the different things that the different persons of the Trinity did, we wouldn’t be able to offer. It affects the very way that we pray. You can’t thank the Father for dying on the cross for you, because He didn’t. You can’t thank Jesus for filling everyone at Pentecost, because He didn’t.

Now, they are all three working together. Together they are one God. But is the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, that came at Pentecost. It is the Son, Jesus, that died on the cross for you. It is the Father that showed the love of a father, and loved you so much that He gave His only Son for you. Now, I don’t know about you, but if I had to choose between going to my death, or just standing and watching one of my children go to their deaths, I think I’d rather go to mine than watch one of my children go through that. Think of the love of the Father for you. He loved you so much, He didn’t die for you — He watched His child die for you. So our prayers would be very different.

God would be different, having no humility

In eternity past, before the creation of the universe even occurred. God Himself would be different. His  identity would be different. There could be no humility in God, without multiple persons. Because if you’re just one person existing before the creation of the world, and nothing else exists, what are you going to show humility towards? Nothing. It’s kind of hard to put somebody else first, if there is nobody else. But in eternity past, the Father loved the Son. The Son submitted to the Father. The Holy Spirit acquiesced to the Father and the Son. It’s like this eternal dance that was going on even before the creation of anything, each one lovingly submitting, each one showing love, each one showing humility towards the other.

Love would not be eternal

Love itself could not be eternal, if God were not multiple persons. Because if in eternity past there was only one person . . . to whom would he show love? Well, you could say he could create a world and then show love. But then God’s love would be dependent on us. God’s not dependent on anything, or else he’s not God.

Creation is not eternal. You mess around with the Trinity, you mess with everything. You either have to say God is not love, or if you keep saying that He is love, now you have to make creation just as eternal as he is. Which now we are into pantheism, where everything is God, or at the very least God is dependent upon the existence of  things. That’s a different kind of God.

The God we serve in Scripture says, “God is love.” We also know that He doesn’t depend on us for anything. He didn’t need to create the world. He didn’t have to. Well, if He didn’t have to create the world, and if He is love, then that means that in eternity past, before the universe was ever spoken into existence, that God is love. The Father loved the Son and the Spirit, the Son loved the Father and the Spirit, the Spirit loved the Father and the Son, before Adam and Eve were ever created. God is love.

Humanity would be different

If God was not love, if God was not humble, then how different would you be if you are created in God’s image?

Allah, the god of the Muslims, is just one person. He is not a god of love, and he’s anything but a god of humility. Is it any surprise that those who follow him often show similar characteristics? If you were created in the image of a god who is not humble, if you were created in the image of a god who is not love, then maybe you’d be justified in being selfish. Maybe you’d be justified in grinding other people under your feet, and not showing love for others.

Families would be different

How important is your family to you? Most of you have children, most of you have brothers and sisters, all of you have parents. Every single one of us that is here, has a mom and dad. Family itself,  community, that intimacy of familial relationships — that’s part of what it means to be created in the image of God. “Let us create man in our image.”

Would it be the end of the world if you had to give up your truck, Henry David? No! Would it be the end of the world if we had to give up the six-acre farm, Amy? Russ, what if you had to give up your wood-shop and your property and all your guns? Do you think you could still get by in the world? Ok, let me see a show of hands:

How many here would be willing to give up their family?

Would that be the end of the world if you lost your whole family? Pretty much, Pretty much. We don’t even want to think about that, do we? Losing a child, losing a parent, losing a sibling? Your family that you love so much, your family that means so much to you, those family relationships that give meaning to your life, we were created in that way.

We were created to have those kinds of relationships, because we were created in the image of one who has relationships even before the creation of the world. The concept of family — the concept of father and son, parent and child — it’s not something that God created. It’s not something that God invented. It’s something that is part of the very essence of what it means to be God. In eternity past, before He created a thing, God was already Father, God was already Son. Fatherhood is eternal. Son-ship is eternal. What we experience here on earth is just a copy of that, a picture of that, an image of that. But it’s not something that God just made up or invented. It’s part of who He is.

So our lives would be very radically different if God wasn’t Father, Son, and Holy Spirit:

  • We wouldn’t have a God who can say that “God is love.”
  • We would not have a God who Himself is humble.
  • Our prayers would be different.
  • God’s identity would be different.
  • And we, because we are created in the image of God, we and our entire family life would be radically different.

Because then, instead of being created in the image of the Father, and the Son, and the Spirit, we would be created in the image of just a self-centered, non-humble, loner who did not have any relationships whatsoever in eternity past. Which God would you rather be created in the image of?

A Proper Response

What response should we have? Very simple. We should have a response of gratitude and thankfulness, and we should have a response of prayerful vigilance.

Never ever let the thought go through your mind that, “Ah, the doctrine of the Trinity is this sideline thing, and you can take it or leave it.” “It doesn’t really matter what you think about it; just as long as you go to church and have your Bible and love Jesus it’s not that important.” Never let that go through your mind.

If God were not a multiplicity of  persons — God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit — the universe you live in would be so different you wouldn’t even recognize it. You yourself and every person you know would be so different that you wouldn’t even recognize it. So be grateful. Be thankful. Every time you kiss your child goodnight, be thankful for the Trinity. Every time you embrace that loved one and you feel the intimacy of that relationship, you feel the mutual humility that is shown, you feel that flow of love between you, give thanks for the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Be grateful that this trinitarian God  has created you and each member of your family in His image.

But I said not only thankfulness; I also said vigilance. Never forget that you are created in the image of God. Never forget your child and your spouse — they are created in the image of God. Your parents are created in the image of God. And if you are created in the image of God, then to do violence to those relationships is to do violence to the name of God. It’s a form of blasphemy.

You see, in our sinfulness, what if we decide we want to be selfish? What if we decide we don’t want to show any humility? What if we decide we don’t need to honor our parents or obey them? What if a husband decides he really doesn’t need to love his wife? What if a wife decides, “My husband hasn’t really earned my respect so I’m not going to respect him; I’m not submitting to him”? What if parents hearts grow cold and they do not sacrificially pour out themselves to love their children, to discipline them, and to bring them fully into God’s kingdom? If we violate love, if we violate what God has told us to enact in our family relationships, then we do violence to the very name of God, for we are created in His image. And part of being created in His image means that we are created for love. We are created for relationship. We are created for mutual humility and sacrifice.

If I were to paint a picture of Joseph Stalin, or Adolph Hitler, or Benito Mussolini, and then hold it up here, and then write under it, “Jesus Christ”, since I put the name “Jesus Christ” on that pictures would you come up here and venerate that icon? Would you kiss it? Would you bow down? It would be a lie. You are created in the image of God. Other people know it. The angels know it. And if you act in a way that violates love, that violates those family relationships, then you are telling a lie. You are acting like the wicked, and yet you still have that indelible stamp on you that says “Image of God.” You are telling a lie about who God is, by your very life.

Anytime you speak to your wife in a way that shows a lack of love, you are lying about who God is. Wives, anytime you raise your voice to your husband, anytime you speak to your husband with any hint of  disrespect, you are lying about who God is.

Children, anytime you dishonor your mother of your father, or your grandmother or your grandfather, anytime you disobey your parents, you are telling a lie about who God is. After all, in eternity, does the Son dishonor the Father? Does the Son disobey the Father? And yet stamped on you is “Image of God!” And as the image of God, you will disobey your parents, just because you happen to be over the age of 18? You’ll dishonor your parents just because you happen to be over the age of 18?

Guess what? Jesus is over the age of 18. He still honors His Father. He still obeys His Father.

Parents, to discipline your children is a good thing. But to speak to them in anger, to speak to your children with a sharp tongue, is to lie about who God is. At what point in the history has the Father ever spoken with a sharp tongue to His Son Jesus Christ? And yet stamped on you is this  indelible mark: “Image of God”. You will speak to your children this way, and you are the image of God? You are lying about who God is.

Let us be thankful for our family relationships. Let us be thankful for the Trinity. Let us be thankful for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit saying, “Let us create man in our image.” And at the same time, because we are created in His image, let us be so careful. Let us be so vigilant. Let us be prayerful. Let us be repentant. Let us do away with old habits. I don’t care if it’s hard; do away with those old habits. Put them behind you. And let us tell the truth about who God is, because you can not change the fact that you are created in God’s image.

Therefore, in the way that you treat your parents — no matter how old they are or how old you are — in the way that you honor them, in the way that you respect them, even in the way you obey them, in the way you love your brothers and sisters, in the way that you love and cherish and show compassion and mercy for your children, in every way that you interact with your family — with those that you love — exercise such a love and such a humility that when people look at you and say, “There’s the image of God”, they are not looking at a lie, but they are looking at somebody who truly is showing that image with honesty, somebody who is truly living out in such a way that somebody says, “Yes, that is what God is like. That is how the Son loves the Father, that is how the Father loves the Son, that is how God Himself shows love within the Trinity. Yes, you are the image of God. You are the image of God.  You are telling the truth!”

Let us live in that way. And when it comes to loving our family and treating those relationships correctly, let’s do that seriously. Because the command to do that is not just something that God came up with arbitrarily a few thousands years after he created us, because He felt like it. No, God lives in community, God lives in love, God lives in that eternal family. He created us in His image. And it’s only right and fitting and good that in our family relationships we should tell the truth about who God is — as Trinity — as the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Now, for the rest of your lives, if you are ever in communication with somebody out in the world and they say, “Well, I get alms and charity, and loving one another and getting together, but this whole confusing idea of the Trinity — the idea that God is three in one — why is that important? How can that possibly be a big deal?” For the rest of your lives, you will never need to answer that question with an “I don’t know.” Because now you will have several reasons that you can give them, to say, “Hey, this doctrine of the Trinity is important. It’s about who God is, in His very identity. It’s about God being love. It’s about God being humble. And because we are created in His image, God being Father and Son and Holy Spirit affects the very fiber of our being, of who we are.”

Let us remember these things, let us love God, and let us love one another.

In the name of the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

~

This homily was preached on Trinity Sunday morning, June 15, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

Posted in 2014 Homilies, Fr. Joseph Gleason, Genesis 1:26-28, Orthodox Homilies, Trinity Sunday | 2 Comments

Birth Control ==> Abortion ==> Gay Marriage

Birth Control ==> Abortion ==> Gay Marriage

As an Orthodox Priest, I can confidently say that there is a logical progression. All three of these things are connected.

The Supreme Court legalized birth control in 1965 and 1972. The Supreme Court legalized Abortion in 1973, citing the two birth control cases as precedent. The Supreme Court legalized Gay Marriage in 2015.

Birth Control:
Separate sexual pleasure from procreation. Seek for the pleasure of sexual activity, while rejecting the blessing of conceiving children.

Abortion:
Separate sexual pleasure from procreation. Seek for the pleasure of sexual activity, while rejecting the blessing of bearing children.

Gay Marriage:
Separate sexual pleasure from procreation. Seek for the pleasure of sexual activity, while rejecting any possibility of conceiving children.

For 2000 years, the Church has recognized birth control, abortion, and homosexual activity as grievous sins.

To be faithful to Christ, we must renounce birth control, and recognize it as a serious sin. Then, and only then, do we stand on the moral ground necessary to lodge an effective attack against abortion and gay marriage.

Orthodox Saints consistently call birth control a sin:
https://theorthodoxlife.wordpress.com/2015/05/18/sacred-seed-sacred-chamber/

 

Posted in Contraception | 8 Comments