Remembering God

SDecember 2 (O.S., November 19) 2018: 27th Sunday after Pentecost; Prophet Obadiah (9th c. B.C.). Martyr Barlaam (304). Martyr Heliodorus (273). Martyr Azes, and with him 150 soldiers (284). Ven. Barlaam and Monk loasaph, prince of India, and St. Abenner the King, father of St. loasaph (4thc.). Ven. Hilarion of Georgia, wonderworker of Thessalonica (875). Ven. Barlaam, abbot of the Kyiv Caves (1065).

Ss Cyril & Methodius Orthodox Church, Madison WI

Epistle: Ephesians 6:10-17

Gospel: Luke 12:16-21

Glory to Jesus Christ!

Sometimes what Jesus doesn’t say can be as important as what He does say. The parable we hear this morning is a case in point.

The Rich Fool is not condemned for his care and skill as a farmer; he is a good workman “and the worker is worth his wages” (see Luke 10:7; 1 Timothy 5:18). And anticipating a great harvest, he carefully assesses the cost and not only lays a foundation but successfully builds his barns (see Luke 14:28-29).

All of this is to say that, in a different context, the farmer’s actions are not only prudent but commendable. In his actions at least, the farmer is the model of the “wise and prudent steward” who being trustworthy in small things, is judge able to be faithful in great things as well (see Luke 16:1-13).

Nor is there any indication that the farmer failed in his obligation to pay tithes or care for the poor. Jesus doesn’t say of the farmer what He says to the scribes and Pharisees, the hypocrites who “pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith” (see, Matthew 23:23).

Nor is the farmer condemned for the mere fact that he is wealthy.

No by all outward appearances, the rich farmer is a good man and an observant Jew. But God doesn’t judge by appearances (see 1 Samuel 16:7), God knows not only what we do but what is in our hearts (see Jeremiah 17:10, Proverbs 21:2, 1 Corinthians 2:11).

And in his heart, the farmer is a fool. In his heart, this otherwise good man and obedient son of the Law says “there is no God” (Psalm 14:1, Psalm 53:1). Tragically, the Rich Fool loses his salvation, he suffers condemnation, not for what he does but for his forgetfulness of God.

Like the Rich Fool, we are all of us tempted to live as if there was no God. We are all of us inclined to a life of “practical atheism.”

We sometimes imagine that our evangelical task is to correct theological errors. While the teachings of the Church are important, they are in a sense secondary. What is primary is that people remember God.

I know from my own life, it is easy enough to go through my day forgetful of God, to live the life of practical atheism that I mentioned a moment ago.

Living in Madison, we encounter everyday men and women who are generous of heart and who work tirelessly for the betterment of others. Whatever else might be said of the Madison in general and the University in particular, the practical love of neighbor is at the very center of both.

And yet, how many of our neighbors live not such much indifferent to God as unaware of His presence in their lives? As a consequence, they never know that they are loved by the Creator of the Universe?

St John Chrysostom says that when Jesus calls us the “salt of the earth” (see, Matthew 5:13) He means this: While He has redeemed the world by His death and resurrection, it belongs to us keep the world falling back into corruption. We are not the redeemers of the world, we are not called to save anyone.

What we are called to do, is to remind people of the presence of God in their lives. By our words and especially are deeds (see, James 2:14-22), we are witnesses to not simply the presence of God in human affairs but His great love for each and every single human being.

To be faithful to our calling we need to remember not only that everyone we meet is loved by God but that, turning now to the epistle, the opponent in our evangelical work is not other people but the enemy of souls. We “do not wrestle against flesh and blood,” St Paul reminds us, “but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

When we remind people of God’s presence and love in their lives, we oppose no one but the devil who with his fallen angels seeks to distract humanity from experiencing God’s love. In his envy of us, the enemy of souls makes himself the opponent of patience, kindness, and courtesy in our hearts, our families, and society.

In opposing the distractions of the devil, we become not only leaven for a more just and humane society (see, Luke 13:20–21) but co-workers with God for the salvation of the world (see 1 Corinthians 3:9).

My brothers and sisters in Christ! We have one task and one task alone: To remind people of the loving presence of God not simply in the life of all we meet. We are called to remind people that God dwells in each human heart.

By our witness, we invite people to enter into their own hearts and there find there the God Who from before the beginning of the world loves them and called them, even as He has called us, to live lives that are”holy and without blame” (see, Ephesians 1:4).

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Homily: Suffering Transformed

Sunday, December 10, 2017 (November 27, OS) 27th Sunday after Pentecost. Great-martyr James the Persian (421), Ven. Palladius of Thessalonica (6th-7th c.), 17 Monk-martyrs in India (4th c.), Ven. Romanus the Wonderworker of Cilicia (5th c.).

Ss. Cyril & Methodius Ukrainian Orthodox Mission

Madison, WI

Epistle: Ephesians 6:10-17
Gospel: Luke 13:10-17

Until she met Jesus, the woman in the Gospel had not stood upright for 18 years. For 18 years, she has looked down at the ground. For 18 years, she was unable to look up at the sky, see the horizon or look directly into the face of her loved ones.

253499-pThere’s no doubt that the woman lived a hard life. Only a generation or so ago, it wasn’t uncommon to meet people who–like the woman in the Gospel–were bent over from a life of hard manual labor, poor nutrition and sickness. Today, thank God, we rarely encounter individuals like the woman in the Gospel because there are so few people in her condition.

Ironically, because we are wealthier and so healthier, we often have an unbalanced view of suffering.

The absence of the kind of physical suffering we see in the Gospel means we tend to be upset by things our grandparents and great-grandparents would simply have ignored. When I was a boy, I remember my grandparents talking rather, matter a factly, about siblings that died when they were children. One of my uncles drowned as a boy while his brother, my grandfather, looked on helplessly. My grandmother told me about her sister, my aunt, who died in the first hours after birth. And then there were the others who died because of an illness or injury that today we can cure with a quick trip to the doctor.

And at one time or another, all of my grandparents told me how he or she was one of 5, 6, 8, or 12 who lived. All of them had several siblings who died in childhood. Though my family was poor when I was a boy, I simply had no frame of reference for seeing my siblings die in childhood.

Today these things sound unimaginably to many of us. And to these unimaginable losses we should add the experience of many who, only a generation or two ago, suffered the indignation of casual racism, ethnic and religious prejudice, drunkenness and physical violence in the home. And of course, there was a life of hard manual labor, the absence of central heating, much less air conditioning, indoor plumbing and modern pharmaceuticals.

Because we are, thank God, largely protected from the kind he day to day experience of the kind of physical suffering we see in the Gospel we don’t have a proper understanding of suffering. Sometimes, like I said, we are overly sensitive to even small slights.

But not infrequently, we tend to romanticize suffering. We might even go so far as to think suffering is a good thing. In this, we are simply wrong even if not intentionally cruel for thinking as we do.

Suffering is evil.

To fail to understand this is symptomatic of a malformed conscience and a lack of sensitivity to the grief–large and small, extraordinary and ordinary–that afflicts those we meet.

Suffering is evil and as Christians, we are obligated to alleviate suffering when it is within our ability to do so. The only limit to our obligation, beyond what we are capable of doing, is that we not seek to care for some at the expense of others. I can’t lift your burden only to inflict suffering on someone else. As St Paul reminds us, we cannot do evil that good might result (Romans 3:8).

While suffering is evil, in Christ it can be turned to a good purpose.

We need to look no further than the woman in the Gospel. It was her suffering that leads her to Christ. And with the healing of her body, she also received liberation of her soul. “[O]ught not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound—think of it—for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?”

In Christ, suffering is transformed. But, and this can’t be emphasized enough, the transformation of human suffering requires that, as Paul says in today’s epistle, that we “take up the whole armor of God.”

Before all else, this means that I must lay aside my belief that I have any other opponent in this life beside the devil. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

The true cause of human suffering and sorrow is found in the enemy of souls.

It is the devil’s lies that lead to the corruption of the body and the myriad divisions that afflict the human heart and society. Until I accept this–which is to say, until I repent of my sins–suffering will always undo me.

At the heart of the Gospel is the truth, ratified by generations of Christians, that apart from Christ, every sorrow, every loss, every disappoint, every betray, every physical, emotional or social pain, has the potential crush me. It’s easy to think weak or morally lacking those who are undone by suffering we think minor. But when I do, I reveal my own lack of spiritual maturity.

My brothers and sisters in Christ! Let us see human suffering for the evil it is and move to alleviate it when we can. It is in Christ, that every loss becomes a gain because in each loss I discover my need for Him Who in a few days will come as a little Child to save humanity.

As Christ has done for us, let us do for others. We can be for others as Christ is for us, however, only to the degree we have purified our hearts through the grace that comes to us through the sacraments and the ascetical disciplines of prayer, fasting, almsgiving and manual labor.

Let us, in other words, put on “the whole armor of God” so that by faith we “quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one” who seeks to do us harm.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory