SERMON FOR CHEESEFARE SUNDAY
February 26, 2017
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!
A few days ago there was a terrible scandal that was reported in the papers, on the internet, on TV. This particular scandal had nothing to do with politicians, or Town Hall Meetings, or poisoned North Koreans. It was a scandal involving a Marathon. Did you hear about it? It was actually a Half Marathon held this past Sunday in Fort Lauderdale Florida. The facts in brief are these:
A runner, who initially claimed the 2nd place award, admitted this week to cheating. J. S. was disqualified after race officials questioned her run data. The New York food blogger, and former Huffington Post contributor, later confessed to cutting the course in a long statement posted to Instagram. In the post, Ms. S. explained why she cheated, saying it was because she "wasn't feeling well." The runner also admitted that she got caught up in the moment and that’s why she pretended she ran the entire course. (As a side note, the photos and videos showing her accepting the second place prize do not reveal any discomfort or health concerns on her part, just broad smiles and “hamming” it up in front of the camera.) According to a company that investigates marathon cheating, Ms. S. cut about 1 1/2 miles off of the course. How did she do it? By diverting from the authorized path and riding a bike. That’s right, you heard it, riding a bike. She tried to cover up her dishonesty by rigging her GPS tracker, but it didn’t work. Only after being caught did the runner admit to and apologize for her actions. Needless to say, J. S. was stripped of her medal and released from her running association.
So, we’ve got to ask ourselves, what made her do it? We can’t know with any degree of certainty what was going on in her head. But we can speculate for the purpose of illustration only, that it was to “appear to men” to be running, and running in such a way as to be admired.
St Paul talks about our ascetical effort as being like a race. He says in 1 Corinthians 9:23-25, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”
And in 2 Timothy 4:7, written shortly before his death, the Apostle wrote to his spiritual son, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
In the Gospel this morning, our Lord teaches us the right way and the wrong way to enter into the race course that is the Great and Holy Fast. Did you know that the Church calls Lent a race course? It does. Listen to the “Prayer Behind the Ambo” which comes at the end of the Presanctified Liturgy:
O Almighty Lord, who hast made all created things in wisdom, and by Thine inexpressible Providence and great goodness hast brought us to these all-holy days, for the purification of body and soul, for the controlling of carnal passions, and for the hope of the Resurrection; who, during the forty days didst give into the hand of Thy servant Moses the Tables of the Law, in characters divinely traced by Thee: Enable us also, O Good One, to fight the good fight; to complete the course of the Fast; to preserve inviolate the faith; to crush under foot the heads of invisible serpents; to be accounted victors over sin; and uncondemned to attain unto and adore the holy Resurrection. For blessed and glorified is Thine all-honorable and majestic Name, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.
So what does Jesus tell us about how we are to run this race of the Fast?
1.) Start off by forgiving everyone. We’ll do that this evening, liturgically, but we should have begun this work already in our hearts. If we forgive, God will forgive us. Tonight we will pray fervently for the extra grace required to truly forgive.
2.) Don’t make a big show about your fasting. Keep it to yourselves. Keep it private. Don’t look at what anybody else is doing. Wash your face, don’t look sad. Don’t cover yourself with sackcloth and ashes, except inwardly.
3.) Supplement your fasting with almsgiving. We increase our treasure in heaven by distributing our earthly treasure among the poor. Have you heard that caffeine will increase the effectiveness of aspirin? So will almsgiving enliven and empower your fasting and prayer. These are our instructions from the Lord. Forgive, pray, fast, and give alms. This is the Marathon of Great Lent. Don’t cut out anything. Don’t cheat. Just run. Everyone who runs, wins! Let me conclude by reading an anonymous work, a poem, if you will. It is called “Old Man, Why Do You Fast?” And this is how it goes:
“A son once approached his father and asked, ‘Old man, why do you fast?’ The father stood silent, bringing heart and mind together, and then said:
‘Beloved son, I fast to know what it is I lack. For day by day I sit in abundance, and all is well before me; I want not, I suffer not, and I lack but that for which I invent a need. But my heart is empty of true joy, filled, yet overflowing with dry waters. There is no room left for love. I have no needs, and so my needs are never met, no longings, and so my desires are never fulfilled. Where all the fruits of the earth could dwell, I have filled the house with dust and clouds; It is full, so I am content—But it is empty, and so I weep. Thus I fast, beloved, to know the dust in which I dwell. I take not from that which I might take, for in its absence I am left empty, and what is empty stands ready to be filled. I turn from what I love, for my love is barren, and by it I curse the earth. I turn from what I love, that I may purify my loving,
and move from curse to blessing. From my abundance I turn to want, as the soldier leaves the comfort of home, of family and love, to know the barrenness of war. For it is only in the midst of the fight, in the torture of loss, in the fire of battle, that lies are lost and the blind man clearly sees. In hunger of body and mind, I see the vanity of food, for I have loved food as food, and have never been fed. In weary, waking vigil, I see the vanity of sleep, for I have embraced sleep as a desire, and have never found rest. In sorrow, with eyes of tears I see the vanity of pleasure, for I have treasured happiness above all, and have never known joy.
I fast, my beloved child, to crush the wall that is my self; For I am not who I am, just as these passions are not treasures of gold but of clay. I fast to die, for it is not the living who are raised, but the dead. I fast to crucify my desires, for He who was crucified was He who lived, and He who conquered,
and He who lives forever.’” Amen.