January 14, 2018
Dear Ones,
In today’s Gospel we heard the story about a blind man named Bartimaeus who was healed by our Lord Jesus on the road leading into the ancient city of Jericho. We know his name is Bartimaeus because St Mark tells us so in his Gospel.
In the account of this miracle, we are astonished at the faith and the determination shown by Bartimaeus to draw the attention of Jesus to himself and to his situation. When Jesus came that way, crowds were thronging, people were talking, equipment was clanging and clacking, as they followed Jesus down the dusty road. Bartimaeus was sitting beside the road, this main road through the town. He had been asking alms from passersby so that he could somehow, feed, clothe, and shelter himself. There were no social programs in those days. There were no government agencies. Bartimaeus “always depended on the kindness of strangers.” He would call out “Alms for the Blind! Alms for the Blind!” Most people just passed him by. Some muttered insults under their breath. Some derided him quite openly. But this day was different. This time, he had to make a special effort, he had to call out with all the power he had, in order for Jesus to hear him. He had heard about Jesus. He knew that people were saying that He might be the promised Messiah. And Bartimaeus knew the prophecies. He knew what the Lord had said through Isaiah the Prophet concerning the Messiah: “I the Lord God have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will strengthen thee: and I have given thee for the covenant of a people, for a light of the Gentiles: to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out the prisoners and them that sit in darkness, out of bonds and the prison-house” (Isaiah 42: 6-7). Bartimaeus had heard that Jesus had been doing exactly that. So now, in fullness of faith, the blind man cries out with all his might, (NOT “alms for the blind!” but what?) “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Some selfish people in the crowd, not wanting Jesus to be distracted away from them and their needs, tell Bartimaeus to “be quiet! Shut up! The Master cannot be bothered with the likes of you!” But marvel at the faith, marvel at the determination of the blind man to make his connection with Christ. He shouts even louder: “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Bartimaeus knew that some people doubted that Jesus was the Messiah. Bartimaeus knew that the authorities rejected the idea altogether. Yet he was un-deterred. He knew in his heart and in his soul that this was, indeed, the waited-for Christ. So when Jesus stopped and came over to Bartimaeus, He asked him: “What do you want Me to do for you?” And what did Bartimaeus say in reply? By the way, the translators get it wrong. The blind man only says three words: “Lord, to see!” (Κύριε,  ἵνα  ἀναβλέψω!) And what does Bartimaeus want to see? He wants to see the One to whom he is speaking – he wants to see Jesus. “And that has made all the difference” – to borrow from Robert Frost.
Every day, brothers and sisters, we have opportunities – opportunities to connect with Christ, opportunities to be near Christ, opportunities to be healed by Christ. Yes, the world is passing by in front of us too, with all its noise, and its dust, its flashing allurements, and all its busy-ness. In order for us to cut through all of that, we have to be in possession of a firm faith and a steady resolve to get with Christ, to petition Christ by our prayers, to be heard above the din of this world which tells us to “Shut up! Be quiet! Your faith is stupid! You are nothing! You are worthless!” No, the opposite is true. God commands us seek Him out, to look for Him always! Isaiah the Prophet exhorts us to “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call ye upon Him while He is near!”(Isaiah 55:6).  And in Jeremiah 29:13 the Lord says: “And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.” Blind Bartimaeus did just that. He called out to the Lord with his whole heart. He had no one to help him. He had no one else to rely on. His fervency of faith in God was all he required.
You know there is an interesting story in the Bible, in the Book of Judges chapter four. In it, the Prophetess Deborah says to Barak the son of Abinoam,   “Behold, the Lord, the God of Israel, has commanded you, ‘Go and march to Mount Tabor, and take with you ten thousand men from the sons of Naphtali and from the sons of Zebulun. I will draw out to you Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his many troops to the river Kishon, and I will give him into your hand.’” Then Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, then I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” She said, “I will surely go with you; nevertheless, the honor shall not be yours on the journey that you are about to take...” What happened? God, through Deborah, told Barak to take his troops and fight the enemy. He was told he would win the battle, and capture the enemy commander, Sisera. How did Barak respond to the Word of God? He said to Deborah, “I’ll only do it if you go with me.” And what was the result? Barak was deprived of the honour of triumphing over Sisera. The enemy commander evaded capture and was eventually killed by Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite.
So what is the point here? The point is that Barak had the opportunity to believe God, to trust God, and act on that trust. Instead, he asked for help, he set conditions. In other words, he failed and was deprived of his glory. Bartimaeus the blind man, likewise had an opportunity to believe God, to trust in God, and to act on that trust, which he did, fervently, lustily, vociferously, without anybody else’s help, and he was rewarded richly.
Dear ones, the story of Blind Bartimaeus' healing is a powerful example to us of how it is pleasing to God for our faith to see its opportunity, grasp it, and refuse to let it go until we receive what it is that God has desired us to have.
Jesus asked Bartimaeus, (but He also asks each one of us,) "What do you want me to do for you?" So, what DO we want? Do we want to SEE Jesus? Do we want to be touched and healed by Him? Physically? Spiritually? Then we must stir up our faith, and pray for the courage to exercise it always, all the days of our lives.  Amen.

Brethren, today is the Feast Day of St John the Baptist. Why? Because yesterday was the celebration of the Baptism of Christ by St John in the Jordan. In the Orthodox Church it is traditional, on the day following the Great Feasts of the Lord and the Mother of God, to remember those saints who participated directly in the sacred event. So, on the day following the Theophany of the Lord, the Church honors the one who participated directly in the Baptism of Christ, placing his own hand upon the head of the Saviour. This is the same one who, in greatest humility, and at the height of his own popularity with the people, pointed to Jesus and said to his own disciples: “He must increase and I must decrease” (John 3:30).  And what did Jesus Himself have to say about His cousin the Forerunner? He said: “Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist!”  (Matthew 11:11).
St Augustine of Hippo said that “John was the Voice, while the Lord is the Word.” St Nikolai Velimirovich said that by that Voice, by that call to “repentance, John prepared the way; and by baptism in water, (he) made the path straight...By repentance, the souls of men were prepared to receive the seed of Christ, and by baptism in water, to bury that seed deep in the earth of their heart.”
St John embodied in every way the content of his preaching. He could exhort the evil king and queen with the fiercest boldness, yet at the same time could yield in every way to Christ because his words were not his own words, his authority was not his own authority. He had no glory of his own. He was the moon to the Saviour’s sun. He considered himself unworthy even to be a slave who would remove the sandals of his younger cousin.
Saint John the Theologian writes of the Holy Forerunner using these words: “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light” (John 1:6-8).
That’s right. John bore witness to the Light that is Christ, the first and unique witness of that Light. He was followed by countless other witnesses, who witnessed for Christ by their words and deeds, many giving their lives for Christ’s sake (the word “martyr” or “martys” in Greek means witness).
We, all of us, are called upon to be witnesses to the Light. That is why we are Christians. To call oneself a Christian but to fail to witnesses to the Light of Christ in our lives is an exercise in futility, a waste of time. We are called to be Christ’s disciples in order to be what? A candle set on a candlestick. Are we called to be a candlestick? No! We are called to be candles; and more than candles, lit candles! (see Luke 11:33ff). “Our faith is light” says St Nikolai Velimirovich, and if our faith is fervent and warm, then our light shines brghtly. But “if the light that is in us is darkness, how great is that darkness!” says the Lord (see Matthew 6:23).
Dear ones, today let us glorify the herald of the Epiphany of Christ, the first apostle, the first martyr, and the forerunner of all true Christians – St John the Baptist. As St Justin Popovich once said: “Brothers and sisters, whenever you are in great sorrow, turn to that first Apostle of Christ, and he will help you with all of your burdens. And should some kind of misfortune happen, turn to that first Evangelist. No matter what bitterness might fill your soul, he will sweeten it with Christ’s grace, which he will mystically send down to your tortured soul from the World on High. And when you find yourself in temptations and horrors of this earthly life, run to him, to the Holy Confessor; tell him what is in your heart, pour out your sorrows and spiritual needs and rest assured that in a mystical, divine manner, he will come down into your soul and will save you, and will deliver you from all temptations and woes. But should you need to suffer for the Lord Jesus Christ in this world: should others attack you on all sides, should atheists and those who oppose Christ want to swallow you up, to destroy you for belonging to Christ, should they want to silence your voice, to stop it from speaking of Christ, then remember that first Martyr, and call out to him: O Holy Martyr, first Martyr of Christ in the Gospels, hurry to my aid! Grant that may I die for the Lord Jesus Christ, leave my body like temporary clothing, and by the path of the Holy Martyrs move to Christ’s Kingdom! He will entreat the Lord that you might also join the host of Luminaries...Оh! May his holy prayers be raised up today and tomorrow, and always, and may they be raised up for us Christians...and for all the people on this earth, that the Lord lead all to repentance, that He have mercy upon all, that He save all, that all people brought [to Him] by the glorious Forerunner, might forever glorify the One True God in Heaven and on earth, the Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom is due all honor and glory, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.”

Sunday after Nativity
King David, Joseph the Betrothed, James the Brother of God, the 14,000 Holy Innocents Slain by Herod in Bethlehem
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Christ is Born!
On the two Sundays leading up to Christmas, the Church had us pause and reflect on all of those holy forefathers, both the physically related and the spiritually related ones, who pointed the way to Christ. Today we commemorate three more saints who are closely and directly related to our Lord. They are: David the King and Prophet, Joseph the Betrothed, and James the Brother of the Lord. From each one of these righteous men – David, Joseph and James – we can learn a great deal about the spiritual life.
King David was the divinely appointed King of Israel. He is described in the Bible as “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). Although he was far from perfect, he had strong faith, and wanted God to be glorified above everything else.  David is the source of the royal line of the Jews from which both the the Theotokos and the righteous Joseph were descended. Because of this lineage, our Lord Jesus Christ could properly be called, "King of the Jews" because at least according to the flesh, He is of the House and lineage of David. Of course, according to His Divinity,  He is the maker and ruler of all creation, and therefore is not only King of the Jews as Pilate had written on the Cross, but is, in fact, the King and Ruler of all that exists. That's why in the icons where Christ is shown seated upon the Royal Throne, it is referred to as the “Pantocrator” or “Vse Derzhitel” the “Ruler of All.” David was, as I said before, a man after God's own heart. The Bible describes him as such. Even when he fell into grave sin, we see from David's deep and heartfelt repentance our own path back to God when we fall.
James, was the Step-Brother of the Lord. He was the only one of Joseph's sons from his first wife, who wished to include Jesus as a full member of the family when the question of inheritance from Joseph came up.  Hence the Church not only calls him the “Brother of the Lord,” it also calls him the “Brother of God.” For as James included Jesus in his earthly family, the Lord adopted James into the Divine one! According to tradition, he accompanied the All-Holy Theotokos when she, with the Baby Jesus and Joseph, fled into Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod. St. James was strictly devout from his youth up. Distinguished by a very ascetic way of life, he observed the strictest fasting; he drank no wine, ate no meat, didn't cut his hair, wore no soft clothes but wore only coarse camelhair cloth. When he did his rule of prayer, he frequently accompanied his prayers with prostrations. In fact, he practiced this asceticism with such fervor that hardened callouses formed on his knees, like a camel's, from the frequent prostrations. For such a virtuous life James was known to all the people as “the righteous one,” and so earned great respect among even the Jewish leaders. After the resurrection of Jesus Christ, he was accounted worthy of a special appearance of the Lord, testified to by the Apostle Paul (1 Cor. 15:7). He was the first bishop of the Church in Jerusalem. He presided over the first apostolic council, which is described in the book of Acts, and was finally martyred for his confession of faith in Jesus Christ.
Joseph, the betrothed, was chosen by God to be the guardian of Jesus Christ and His Most Pure and Holy Mother, a task which he performed with great humility and diligence.  Joseph at the time of the birth of Christ was quite old. He had been a widower for many years with at least six grown children. At the time he was chosen to be the guardian of the Most Holy Virgin he was already 80 years old, and according to the Great Collection of the Lives of the Saints of St Dimitri of Rostov, he lived to be 110 (meaning that he died just before Jesus began His public ministry).
Although he was of royal lineage (being in the line of David the King) Joseph was a poor man who earned his living as a carpenter. It was extremely hard labor, and this was his daily life. Joseph was a righteous man, that is, he heard the word of God and kept it. When the Virgin was found to be with child, he was assailed with what the fathers call “logismoi,” evil thoughts prompted by the devil. In fact, in the icons of the Nativity, we almost always see a scene in which Satan, portrayed as a bent-over shepherd, is tempting Joseph with a flood of doubting thoughts.  But an angel came to him in a dream and revealed to him that this pregnancy was not the fruit of sin, but rather that it was the miraculous fruit of righteousness and that the Virgin had been chosen by God to bear the Messiah, miraculously conceived without an earthly father.
Even though his belief was tested by the evil one, Joseph remained faithful to the word of God that had been given to him by the angel. Later, after the birth of the Child, an angel again came to him and instructed him to take the Child and his mother into Egypt to avoid the wrath of Herod. Here we see a man, over 80 years old, in obedience to the word of God embark upon a very difficult journey over the sands of the desert from Israel into Egypt, aided only by his one loyal son James.  But Joseph, putting his trust in God, obeyed. Joseph shows us a shining example of how we ought to order our own lives. Just as he did, we should trust in God; we should hear the word of the Lord and more than hear, we should order our lives in obedience to it. Just as he served God in imitation of the angels, we should serve our Lord Jesus Christ in the same way.

Fr Basil Rhodes
Today’s homily will consist of two beautiful but also important patristic quotes. It will conclude with an illustrative story. They all deal with the perfect question for Christmas – Why Did God Become Man?
The first quote is from St. Hippolytus of Rome from around 200 A.D. who said: “Our faith is not founded upon empty words; nor are we carried away by mere whim or beguiled by sophisticated yet hollow arguments. On the contrary, we put our faith in words spoken by the power of God, spoken by the Word Himself at God’s command. God wished to win us back from disobedience, not by using force to reduce us to slavery, but by addressing to our free will a call to liberty.
The Word spoke first of all through the prophets, but because the message was somewhat obscure, it could be only dimly understood. But in these last days the Father sent the Word in person, commanding Him to reveal Himself openly so that the world could see Him and be saved.
We know that by taking a body from the Virgin He refashioned our fallen nature. We know that His humanity was of the same clay as our own; if this were not so, He would hardly have been a teacher who could expect anyone to imitate Him. If He were of a different nature than I, He would surely not have commanded me to do as He did, when by my very nature I am so weak. Such a demand could not be reconciled with His goodness and righteousness.
No. He wanted us to reckon Him as no different from ourselves, and so: He worked, He was hungry and thirsty, He slept. Without protest He endured His passion, He submitted to death and revealed His resurrection. In all these ways He offered His own humanity as the first fruits of our race to keep us from losing heart when suffering comes our way, and to make us look forward to receiving the same reward as He did, since we know that we possess the same humanity.
And now for the second quote. It comes from a homily given by St John Chrysostom in around 390 A.D. in which he said: “For this He assumed a body like mine - that I may become capable of receiving His Word. Taking my flesh, He gives me His spirit. He bestows and I receive, thus He prepares for me the treasure of Life. He takes my flesh, to sanctify me; He gives me His Spirit that He may save me. Come, then, let us observe the Feast. Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been ¡in planted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and men now hold speech with angels.
Why is this? Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side all things come together and unite. He became flesh, He did not become God. He already was God. But He became flesh, so that He Whom heaven did not contain, could today be contained in a manger. He was placed in a manger, so that He, by whom all things are nourished, may receive an infant’s food from His Virgin Mother. So, He that was begotten of the Father before all ages, as an infant at the breast, nestles in those virginal arms, so that the Magi may more easily see Him. Since this day the Magi too have come, and made a beginning of standing against tyranny; and the heavens give glory, as the Lord is revealed by a star.”
So, beloved, God took our flesh so that we could be saved. God took our flesh so that we could recognize ourselves in Him. God became man so that we could see Him! Here is the concluding illustrative story which I shared another time I’m sure, but that other time might have been twenty years ago. It’s not my story, it’s one shared by the late Paul Harvey. It goes like this:
The Man and the Birds
The man to whom I’m going to introduce you was not a scrooge, he was a kind, decent, mostly good man. Generous to his family, upright in his dealings with other men. But he just didn’t believe all that incarnation stuff which the church proclaims at Christmas Time. It just didn’t make sense and he was too honest to pretend otherwise. He just couldn’t swallow the Jesus Story, about God coming to Earth as a man.
“I’m truly sorry to distress you,” he told his wife, “but I’m not going with you to church this Christmas Eve.” He said he’d feel like a hypocrite. That he’d much rather just stay at home, but that he would wait up for them. And so he stayed and they went to the midnight service.
Shortly after the family drove away in the car, snow began to fall. He went to the window to watch the flurries getting heavier and heavier and then went back to his fireside chair and began to read his newspaper. Minutes later he was startled by a thudding sound…Then another, and then another. Sort of a thump or a thud…At first he thought someone must be throwing snowballs against his living room window. But when he went to the front door to investigate he found a flock of birds huddled miserably in the snow. They’d been caught in the storm and, in a desperate search for shelter, had tried to fly through his large landscape window.
Well, he couldn’t let the poor creatures lie there and freeze, so he remembered the barn where his children stabled their pony. That would provide a warm shelter, if he could direct the birds to it. Quickly he put on a coat, galoshes, tramped through the deepening snow to the barn. He opened the doors wide and turned on a light, but the birds did not come in. He figured food would entice them in. So he hurried back to the house, fetched bread crumbs, sprinkled them on the snow, making a trail to the yellow-lighted wide open doorway of the stable. But to his dismay, the birds ignored the bread crumbs, and continued to flap around helplessly in the snow. He tried catching them…He tried shooing them into the barn by walking around them waving his arms…Instead, they scattered in every direction, except into the warm, lighted barn.
And then, he realized that they were afraid of him. To them, he reasoned, I am a strange and terrifying creature. If only I could think of some way to let them know that they can trust me…That I am not trying to hurt them, but to help them. But how? Because any move he made tended to frighten them, confuse them. They just would not follow. They would not be led or shooed because they feared him.
“If only I could be a bird,” he thought to himself, “and mingle with them and speak their language. Then I could tell them not to be afraid. Then I could show them the way to safe, warm…to the safe warm barn. But I would have to be one of them so they could see, and hear and understand.”
At that moment the church bells began to ring. The sound reached his ears above the sounds of the wind. And he stood there listening to the bells – Adeste Fidelis – listening to the bells pealing the glad tidings of Christmas.
And he sank to his knees in the snow.” Amen.

December 16, 2017; Luke 14:16-24
Dear Ones,
The Gospel this morning says, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” As I was meditating on these words, I was reminded of the days of my childhood, and the process of Little League tryouts. Little League, for those who don’t know, is organized baseball for kids. Every kid who wanted to play on a Little League baseball team had to show up for the tryouts, so that the coaches and league officials could assess each one’s abilities, strengths, weaknesses, etc. That way, they could be placed with the right team, on the right level, with the appropriate age group. Tryouts were wonderful, exhilarating, and terrifying all at the same time. But in order to play on a team, in order to be placed, in order to be “chosen” you had to heed the call for the tryouts. For the kids who loved baseball, and for the parents who were equally excited about it for their kids, it was impossible to miss the announcement. It was everywhere! It was in the local newspaper, it was on posters around town, radio stations did public service announcements, schools had flyers posted on bulletin boards. The call went out to everyone! For those children and adults who were eager, who were zealous for the game, they were waiting, watching for the date, the time, the location. But for those who were careless, for those who were inattentive, the day would come and go, and they would miss it. And what tears were shed then! Why? Because in those days, if you missed the tryouts, you missed your chance to play.
Perhaps this little story from my experience in the very early 1960’s helps us to understand what these words of Jesus mean. The Lord calls, the Lord invites, but it is entirely up to us if we pay attention to that invitation. If we are careless and inattentive, we will miss the opportunity to dine with Christ in the Heavenly Kingdom. What did the Lord say in Revelation 3:20? “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” So the Lord knocks on our door. What does that mean? It means He knocks on the doors of our hearts; not once, not twice, but every day, every hour, every minute. With the Lord there is not just one chance, one tryout, but throughout our lives the Lord Jesus Christ knocks at the doors of our hearts. We have to pay attention, we have to repent, we have to de-clutter our hearts from all the distractions, all the obstacles (such as love of sin, love of pleasures, love of the world) that reside there, so that we have enough room to invite our Saviour in. How sad and how tragic is that innkeeper who rejects the Christ-Child because there is no room in the inn!
Today’s Gospel parable emphasizes God’s great and abiding love for His creatures. The Gospel truth is that everyone is invited, not only today but throughout history. God didn’t use newspapers or radio spots, but He sent holy people, saints, prophets and kings, in order to issue the invitation to everybody to come, get closer to God. Today’s Feast is a celebration of exactly this! It is the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers, which includes the Holy Foremothers as well. And who are the Holy Forefathers? They are all the holy ancestors and prophets of Christ, who, although they lived before Him, both received and extended His invitation. They include such righteous ones as Adam & Eve, Abraham & Sarah, Isaac & Jacob, Joseph, Moses,  Elijah, David, Solomon, Daniel and the 3 Holy Youths, Zechariah and Elizabeth, and John the Forerunner. Adam and Eve? Yes, Adam and Eve. But weren’t they the cause of the ruin of mankind and the fall of creation? Well, yes and no. Satan was ultimately behind it, but yes, they listened to him and because of their sin caused the subsequent calamity. But the Word of the Gospel is not about the condemnation of sinners, it’s about the invitation to repentance, faith, newness of life and a divine meal. Adam and Eve sinned, but they also repented and lived godly lives until their deaths. They are painted on icons. They have haloes around their heads. Why? Because they heeded the call. Because they dine with Christ in the Heavenly Banquet Chamber. Because they are saints.
But the parable today is not only about those who listened, is it? It’s not only about the righteous and those who were the messengers of salvation and those who were being saved. Do you remember to whom Jesus was speaking when He shared this parable? He was dining with a leader among the Pharisees and many of his Pharisee and Scribe friends. They had invited Jesus to an earthly meal in order to either recruit Him, or trick Him into saying something blasphemous. They had no interest in the invitation of Jesus to come to Him and the Divine Meal that He would offer. St Cyril of Alexandria says: “The chiefs therefore of the Israelite populace remained aloof from the supper, as being obdurate and proud and disobedient, and scorned so surpassing an invitation, because they had turned aside to earthly things, and fixed their minds upon the vain distractions of this world” (Sermon 104 on Luke). Indeed, this parable has a lot to say about those who throughout sacred history either neglected or rejected God’s word or that of His saints. Oh, they have excuses, they have rationalizations, they have explanations. Mystically, for us today, it is talking about those who have time for every other thing other than attending the Divine Liturgy on Sunday, or those who prefer their sins over the heavenly banquet of the Messiah, or those who prefer to remain unconfessed, or unrepentant, thus depriving themselves of the Heavenly Food of the Holy Eucharist. That’s why in today’s epistle reading, St Paul exhorts us firmly to “put to death fornication, uncleanness, passions, evil desires, covetousness, which is idolatry...anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language, and lying” (see Colossians 3: 4-11). Why? Because these, and other such sins, separate us from that new man which we put on in holy baptism, and that sweet meal with our sweetest Saviour and Master, Jesus Christ.
So beloved, today let us honor the Holy Forefathers of Christ by celebrating their lives and their spiritual victories. Let us give heed to the invitation of God delivered through them to repent, grow our faith and love, and find ourselves ever-present with the Lord. Let us always strive to prepare ourselves to dine with Christ in the Holy Eucharist, by striving against sin, and confessing often. And like that cave in Bethlehem, let us prepare to open the doors of our hearts so that Christ might enter in, not just at Christmas, but every moment of every day throughout our lives. Amen.

THE TEN LEPERS, Luke 17:12-19
THE TEN LEPERS 12/10/2017
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Once upon a time there was a very popular, well-known elderly priest who was famous for his preaching. His sermons were always erudite, always patristic, always didactic, always interesting. One element to his sermons was that he always found something to thank God for. It didn’t matter if things were bad in the world, bad in the parish, or even bad for him personally. He always found something to be grateful to God for. Then came one stormy Sunday morning, when everything was going extremely badly for everyone. The weather was horrendous and many people were afraid to drive and stayed home rather than come to Church. Many in the congregation had lost jobs recently, others had lost loved ones. The priest himself was suffering from some serious health issues, along with other members of his immediate family and close friends. So when the priest finished the Gospel reading and stepped out onto the ambo to preach, a member of the congregation thought to himself, "This poor priest certainly won’t have anything to thank God for today!” Then the priest began his sermon, "Beloved Brothers and Sisters, today I am grateful to God that things are not always like this!"
St. Paul, in his first epistle to the Thessalonians wrote: "Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." (1 Thes- salonians 5:18).  Today’s Gospel is about gratitude. It’s about thankfulness.
Only one leper returned to give thanks to the God-Man Jesus Christ. Only one out of ten. That’s a pretty sad number. 10%. Jesus had sent them all, all ten, to go and show themselves to the priests. He didn’t lay His hands on them, He didn’t tell them that they were made whole, He didn’t heal them. He was testing their faith. He sent them to the priests to verify that they were free from leprosy. This was the requirement of the Law of Moses. So they went...and as they were walking they were all miraculously healed. Yet only one of the ten came back. I wonder, as I see so much hustle and bustle, so many people scurrying about the shops, how many have any thought at all about gratitude to God? Are there 10%? We need to boost that number; we need to boost that percentage, and it has to begin with US! Why? Because we are the Christians; because we are the community of people gathered-together around the Eucharist; and the word “eucharist” in Greek means “giving of thanks.”
The Advent Season, the season leading up to the Nativity (the Birth) of Christ, is a very busy time for a variety of reasons. But nothing is more important, nothing is more vital to our Advent consideration than spending some quality time working on our gratitude to God, our gratitude to Christ. Why? Because “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Christ is God’s gift to us at Christmas. Our gift to Him must surely include a huge dose of gratitude.
St. Nicodemos & St Theophan the Recluse in the book “Unseen Warfare” write: “Remind yourself often, that (God) has granted you many favours in the past and has shown you His love. He has created you out of nothing in His own likeness and image, and has made all other creatures your servants; He has delivered you from your slavery to the devil, sending down not one of the angels but His Only-begotten Son to redeem you, not at the price of corruptible gold and silver, but by His priceless blood and His most painful and degrading death. Having done all this He protects you, every hour and every moment, from your enemies; He fights your battles by His divine grace; in His immaculate Mysteries He prepares the Body and Blood of His beloved Son for your food and protection. All this is a sign of God’s great favour and love for you; a favour so great that it is inconceivable how the great Lord of hosts could grant such favours to our nothingness and worthlessness.”  And St. John Chrysostom says:
“Let us give thanks to God continually. For, it is outrageous that when we enjoy His benefactions to us, indeed every single day, we do not acknowledge the favor with so much as a word; and we behave like this, even when we know that such acknowledgment confers great benefit on us. He does not need anything of ours, but we stand in need of all things from Him” (Homilies on Matthew).
So the message (or one of the messages) from today’s Gospel, and for the Nativity Fast as a whole, is this: I should be more grateful to God. It makes sense. We can’t go to any Divine Liturgy on any Sunday, or any Feast Day, without the priest chanting “Let us give thanks unto the Lord,” with the choir responding, “It is meet and right.” “Meet and Right” means “it is appropriate and it is the correct thing to do!” Gratitude is a good thing to strive for, especially in a society that teaches us that selfishness is the stairway to success. Gratitude to God is a good thing to strive for during this holy time of fasting. We can replace the meat on our plates with a generous portion of thankfulness. How did the healed leper show his gratitude? He came back to where Jesus was, and fell down at His feet, and did what? He thanked Him! As we come and approach the Christ Child this Christmas, let us do so with grateful and loving hearts. Let us imitate the grateful leper. And how can we do that? There are many ways, dear ones. There are any ways to show our gratitude to God. We can do so by making peace with those with whom we have quarreled. We can do so by forgiving those who have wronged us. We can do so by aiding the poor, the homeless, the orphan, and the widow. And we can also do so by bringing our gifts and offerings directly to Jesus; that is to the Church, which is His Body. When we willingly and cheerfully bring our tithes and offerings to the Lord, we can, and should, offer it as a “thanksgiving offering.”  I will end with three quotes from Holy Scripture:
“And when ye will offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving unto the LORD, offer it willingly.” (Leviticus 22:29)
“Honour the Lord with thy righteous labours, and give him the first of thy fruits of righteousness” (Proverbs 3:9).
“O give thanks unto the LORD, for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever” (Psalm 107:1).

Luke 18: 18-27; December 3, 2017
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
THOSE who believe that Jesus, our Lord and Master, is also the Word of God and Second Person of the Holy Trinity, can’t help but approach Him with a certain sense of fear and awe. We don’t speak to Him in a common, pedestrian way. We don’t pray to Him using language like He’s our “good buddy.” Our Orthodox Church teaches us to pray using elevated language, precise, God-pleasing vocabulary, offered with an extremely humble demeanor. Last night, at Vespers, we heard these words extolling the virtues of the Prophet Zephaniah: “we honour thee for having the eloquence of God, being honourable and pleasing to Him.”  Eloquence. This is how the holy Fathers wrote the prayers in the Prayer Book. This is how the saints composed the Divine Services. This is how David, the prophet and King, wrote the Psalter. We speak to the Saviour as the God Who created us, as the God Who is everywhere present and filling all things, as the Lord and God Who “searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought” (1 Chronicles 28:9). But in general, in first century Palestine, the religious and political leaders were not inclined to regard Jesus as anything at all. They did not see God when they looked at Him. They didn’t even see a holy man. St. Cyril of Alexandria says, “for they, with their princes and teachers were in error, and saw not with the eyes of their mind the glory of Christ. Rather they looked upon Him as one like unto us: as a mere man” (Sermon CXXII on Luke). That was certainly the case with the rich ruler of the synagogue whom we encounter in today’s Gospel. How does he address Jesus? Does he address Him with eloquence? Does he address Him with lofty words, honorable and pleasing to God? Not at all! He calls Him “good teacher.” Not “rabbi,” not “Master.” Just “good teacher.” Good grief, even the “good teachers” of today would rather be thought of or spoken of as “educators” not merely “teachers.”
The object of the rich religious leader this morning was to trip-up Jesus in His words. I want us, this morning, to think about our words, to think about the words of our prayer – the way we pray, and the way that we think about our Lord Jesus Christ when we pray.
First of all, let me say that prayer is vital to our life in Christ. St. Theophan the Recluse says: “There is nothing more important than prayer; therefore, our greatest attention and most diligent attention must attend it.” All of us should learn to pray and continue to pray using three primary texts: 1.) The “Our Father” 2.) The Jesus Prayer or Prayer of the Heart, and 3.) The Prayer Book. The Lord Himself taught us the first two. And the Holy Church, the Body of Christ, the God-pleasing and Spirit-filled Saints, have given us the third. These are our primers, our lessons in prayer. No one can be a disciple of Christ, a student of Christ, without first learning these basic lessons. They teach us everything about Who Christ is and who we are. They teach us the language, the vocabulary of piety. They instruct us in the path to the acquisition of the virtues. They are the fundamental building-blocks of the spiritual life and the practice living theology. We must use them. We must be taught by them, moulded by them, perfected by them.
And part two of my little instruction about how we speak to Jesus, how we should pray, is about our hearts. If our hearts are not connected to the words of our prayers, then we can also be sure that we are not connected to God at all. Remember the story of the Publican and the Pharisee? The broken-hearted prayer of the Publican went straight up to God, while the arrogant prayer of the Pharisee clanked right back down on his own head! Why? Because the Pharisee “prayed with himself” which means he said the words, but he wasn’t really talking to God (see Luke 18:11).  His heart was not in his prayer. Again, St. Theophan says: “Always strive to that prayer comes from the heart and is not just thought by the mind and chattered by the tongue.” And St. John of Kronstadt wrote: “The chief thing in prayer is the nearness of the heart to God.”
Real prayer must be connected prayer. Simply reading or reciting something religious isn’t prayer. Again, St Theophan tells us: “(True) prayer is the piercing of our hearts by pious feelings towards God, one after another – feelings of humility, submission, gratitude, doxology, forgiveness, heart-felt prostrations, brokenness, conformity to the will of God, etc. All of our effort should be directed so that during our prayers, these feelings (and feelings like them) should fill our souls, so that the heart would not be empty when the lips are reading the prayers, or when the ears hear and the body bows in prostrations, but that there would be some qualitative feeling, some striving toward God. When these feelings are present, our praying is prayer, and when they are absent, it is not yet prayer.”
St. Gregory of Nyssa speaks of prayer as a sense of presence. It is an awareness of the presence of God. Prayer is the experience of God in me and me in God. It’s not something that I do, but an experience of God that I enter into. The late and ever-memorable Metropolitan Anthony Bloom once wrote that “Prayer is the search for God, an encounter with God, and going beyond this - an encounter in communion. Thus it is an activity, a state and also a situation; a situation both with respect to God and to the created world. Prayer is born of the discovery that the world has depths--that we are not only surrounded by visible things but that we are also immersed in and penetrated by invisible things. And this invisible world is both the presence of God, the supreme, sublime reality, and our own deepest truth."
Dear ones, let us love God, honour God, and show our faith in God by the way that we pray and by the frequency of our prayer. Let us strive to make sure that every word of our prayer comes from the heart, and isn’t simply a mental exercise or a duty to be completed. When we pray, let’s endeavour to actually be in the presence of God, believing that He is really listening. To Him who gladdens kings, prophets and priests, Who created His own Mother, Who summoned Magi from the East, Who appointed an angel to shine as a bright guiding Star,  Christ our true God, be all glory, honour and worship, always now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

(Luke 13: 10-17)
St Andrew of Crete, in his great penitential Canon, exhorts us, saying:
“Imitate, my soul, the woman bent earthward; come and fall down at the feet of Jesus, that He may straighten you to walk upright in the footsteps of the Lord.”
Most of the time, when we think about the condition of this poor woman, we only wonder about the cause of her illness. How was it that Satan was able to afflict her in such a terrible way? But St. Andrew wants us to think differently about her. He wants us to concentrate not on the affliction, and not really on the miraculous healing, but rather, on her reaction to the healing. What comes after the healing? What is her condition now? What does the Gospel say?
“immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.”
In Palestine there are many palm trees. The Prophet and King David tells us in the Psalms that the righteous will “flourish like the palm tree” (Psalm 92:12).  The characteristics of palm trees is that they are very straight, their nature causes them to grow and ascend – reaching up to heaven as if stretching their branches in prayer, and they bear delicious, sweet fruit. These features symbolize the characteristics of a righteous person. We see this clearly illustrated in Song of Songs 7:7, where the Church, the pure Bride of Christ, is mystically likened to a palm tree:
“This is thy greatness in thy delights: thou wast made like a palm tree...”
When the Prophet Ezekiel described the Mystical Temple to come, (meaning the glorified Church,) he described the images of palm trees that are carved on the pillars (Ez. 40:31).  This means, of course, that the Holy Church, the Pure Bride of Christ, will be composed of and held up by the righteous, those who lead upright, prayerful, and fruit-bearing lives.
So the reaction of the woman bent earthward to her healing was that she became “upright.” Not just for the moment, but for the remainder of her life. Here we are not just talking about her physical posture, but about her complete change of of attitude and behaviour. She became spiritually and morally upright, spiritually and morally straight. This is, of course, the meaning of the word “orthos” that makes up the first half of our word “Orthodox.” It means “straight.” Are we “Orthodox?” Then it means that we are sincerely striving to be straight, to be upright. The deacon or priest commands us constantly to “stand aright!” It means “stand up straight! Stand at attention and listen!” Orthodoxy means embracing the discipline, embracing our discipleship to Christ. It means living in accordance with the teachings of Christ, rather than opposing them. The woman in the Gospel, the woman who was bent earthward, had obviously NOT been doing that earlier; she was not living a God-pleasing life. This is apparent from the fact that Satan himself was occupying her soul and body. But her reaction to Christ’s word, her reaction to Christ’s touch, and her reaction to her healing, was to change her life completely. This is the point that St. Andrew wants to emphasize. The healing of a body in this world, in this life, is a temporary thing. But a changed and righteous life leads to things wonderful and eternal!
And now let’s move on to the second part of the teaching, the second reaction of the woman who was healed:
“immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.”
She “glorified God.” St. Andrew suggests that she literally fell down at the feet of Jesus, worshipped Him, and praised Him as God. This is the correct interpretation. She fell at His feet and vocally gave praise, glorifying the God-man Who had accomplished such great things in her. David, in Psalm 50, says:
“Whoever offers praise glorifies me: and to him that orders his conduct aright will I show the salvation of God.” (Psalm 50:23).
So, what does it mean to “glorify God?" I certainly WANT to glorify God in my life so that I will be shown salvation! So it means I must offer a sacrifice of praise. It’s just like we sing in the Divine Liturgy. We offer a “mercy of peace” and a what? “A sacrifice of praise!”
To “glorify” God means to offer glory to Him. The word “glory” in the Old Testament is related to God’s presence, even His nature. In the New Testament, the word translated “glory” (doxa), refers to God’s Life, His Light, His energies, His power to deify us. Only God has true glory. Our personal glory is only vainglory and pride. We only possess true glory because we participate in God’s life. It is our duty to offer back to God that which He has shared with us. What is it that we pray in the Liturgy?
“Thine own of Thine own, we offer unto Thee...”
So it’s in the Liturgy where we most perfectly glorify God.
In 1 Chronicles 16:29, we read:
“Give to the Lord the glory belonging to his name: take gifts and offer them before him; and worship the Lord in his holy courts.”
In Revelation, Chapter 4, where the Heavenly Liturgy is described, John the Theologian and Apostle writes:
“The twenty-four elders fall down before the One seated on the throne, and they worship Him who lives unto the ages of ages. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying:“Thou art worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for Thou hast created all things; by Thy will they exist, and came to be.”
There is really much more that we could say on this topic, but let’s, for the sake of brevity, re-focus on our main two themes for today: uprightness and praise. The woman who is bent earthward is a type of us all, especially us Christians. We, like her, have heard the Word of God. We, like her, have been touched by the hand of God. We, like her, have been healed, saved from sin and death, by Holy Baptism. Now we must imitate her, as St. Andrew says. We must imitate her for our souls’ sake. Let me remind you of his words:
“Imitate, my soul, the woman bent earthward; come and fall down at the feet of Jesus, that He may straighten you to walk upright in the footsteps of the Lord.” Amen.

(with heavy patristic "borrowings!)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ!
So, our choir director suddenly became ill yesterday. We need to remember him in our prayers. May the Lord grant Reader John a speedy recovery! Every so often it happens, and when it does, it reminds us that the job isn’t as easy as it seems. It’s a job that requires special skills, special knowledge, a love for God and dedication to the Church. I remember years ago hearing a story about one of our local Russian parishes that was looking for a new choir director. Their old choir director had been brilliant, but her secular job had taken her back to the East Coast. The parish was in a bad spot. Choir directors are very hard to come by. One day a certain man contacted the parish concerning the job. He met with the priest. The priest enquired about the man’s experience, what parishes he had served, his knowledge of the services, the typicon, the ustav. He asked about his philosophy of church music and church singing, etc., and etc. But to each question, the man had no real answers. He had studied music and voice with the Faculty of Fine and Performing Arts of the Moscow State University back in the nineties. He sang in some performances in Russia before moving to the US. Here, he was teaching music and voice at a local college, and performing in Russian cabarets at night to supplement his income. He didn’t have a regular parish, in fact, he wasn’t even sure he believed, but he told the priest that he faithfully attended church for Pascha and his Name Day. He had never been a choir director in a church, had never sung in a church choir, but had directed secular choral performers back in Russia. He assured the priest that he had a great baritone voice (which he did!) and that he could read and direct directly from the sheet music, even sight unseen.
As much as the priest appreciated the man’s musical training and talents, it just wasn’t a fit. It couldn’t be. Wrong person, wrong job. But there was one time in history, one defining moment in time, when only one person could fill one particular job that would mean the salvation of the world and everyone in it. And that was the role of Theotokos. Only Mary could fill that position. Only Mary was chosen by God to be His Mother. And today’s Feast is the celebration of the inauguration of this Mystery.
Today, brothers and sisters, the holy Church celebrates the joyous Entry of the three-year old child Mary into the temple in Jerusalem. She is met there by the high priest, who brings her, accompanied by young maidens, into the innermost precincts of the temple, the Holy of Holies, where the high priest himself enters but once a year. She whose womb would one day contain the uncontainable God, now enters the earthly building that foreshadows this wonder. She enters in order to be instructed and prepared by the invisible God, that she might become the Mother of His flesh.
How did this most blessed child spend her time in the temple? She learned the Hebrew language, (which nobody spoke in those days – they spoke Aramaic, the language of the Assyrians.) She had to study Hebrew in order to study the Scriptures. She spent much time in prayer, in divine contemplation, and learning handicrafts. Her love for God and her total immersion in the Scriptures was so great that she often forgot about food and drink, and an Archangel brought her heavenly food at God's request.
What an excellent example for Orthodox families: fathers, mothers, and children! As devout followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, and as dedicated servants of the Mother of God, the very icon of Spiritual Instruction, it is our duty, our obligation, to emulate her way of life. We should strive always to imitate her fervent love for God, her zeal for reading the word of God, for prayer, for divine contemplation, self-restraint, and love of labor! If we don’t want to be called false members of Christ's Church, then we should also have the same mindset as She has.
And since Mary was brought to the temple in order to be instructed in the Lord, it behooves us also to contemplate the importance of going to church for our own spiritual education and for our salvation. It is in the church where we are raised, educated, and instructed in the virtues, those passports to Paradise. It is in the Church where we receive the Holy Mysteries, which enable us to acquire those same virtues. As St. John of Kronstadt says:
“Who will show us what makes up our Christian calling and duty, of what spirit we must be, and how we should behave ourselves in various life situations? Who will give us the strength to live a holy life in the spirit of Christ? The Church gives us all this. We can receive these spiritual powers in the temple of God through the Sacraments. Here a heavenly, unearthly spirit hovers; here is the school of Jesus Christ, in which future heavenly citizens are educated. Here you will receive heavenly lessons from the Divine Teacher, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit in the Gospels. Here is heavenly food and heavenly drink, spiritual, heavenly garments, and spiritual weapons against the enemies of salvation. Here you will receive the peace that is a foretaste of heaven, so necessary to our spiritual activity and education, and strength for spiritual labors and struggle with sin. Here we partake of sweet conversation with our Heavenly Father and the Most Holy Queen and Mother of God, with the angels of the Lord and saints. Here we learn how to pray, and for what to pray. Here you will find examples of all the Christian virtues in the saints who are glorified each day by the Church. Here, gathered together in the house of God, as children of one Heavenly Father, as members of the mystical body of Christ, we learn how to love one another—member loving member, as members of Christ, as Christ Himself.
See how beneficial, how necessary it is for a Christian to visit God's church! It is a school of faith and piety founded by God, a sacred treasure. We must
love going to God's church, and while there, prepare a temple of your own selves for God. As St Peter says: “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:5). Let parents, teachers, and relatives take or send their children to church often, every Sunday and feast day without fail, and not to the theatre, where they will only learn what the young should never know. In church, they will hear the name of the Lord more frequently; they will learn the great truth of the creation of the world and mankind; they will come to know the Savior, the Mother of God, and the names of the saints. They will learn about the resurrection of the dead, the future judgment, the future life, and the eternal torments of sinners. They will learn from the Spirit of God to be good Christians; and that is more valuable than anything in the world. Amen.”



Luke 12: 16-21

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

Glory to Jesus Christ!

Brothers and Sisters,

This is Prophet Obadiah day! He is called “Abdias” in Latin, and “Abdios” in the Greek Septuagint. The Book of the prophecy of Obadiah is the shortest book in the Old Testament, having only 21 verses. The name “Obadiah” means, literally, the “servant of God.” Same as “Theodoulos” in Greek. And servant of God he was! He was a prophet who lived in the 9th Century B.C., and was a defender and a disciple of the prophet Elias (Elijah). We know very little about his life, other than he opposed the wicked King Ahab, and Ahab’s even more wicked wife, Jezebel. According to the testimony of the Bible,

“When Ahab’s wife, the impious and dissolute Jezebel, hunted down all the prophets of the Lord (because of her quarrel with the Prophet Elias), it was Obadiah that saved and hid 100 of the Lord’s prophets in caves, fifty to a cave. There he fed them and took care of them. gave them shelter and food (3/1 Kgs 18:3 ff).” Obadiah is known for his extreme generosity, his steadfastness of faith, and his humility. He had no patience for the proud, the haughty, the powerful, and the arrogant of his day. He is an example to us of a virtuous man. And remembering especially his generous heart, I move on to the main text for today.

Today we heard the Lord's parable about the man who had an over-abundance of goods and wealth. What was his solution to his overflowing blessings? To hoard them for himself; to build bigger spaces in which to store them.

So, what was the context for this parable? Jesus had been asked by a man in the crowd to act as a Scribe or what the Bible calls a “lawyer.” He had a dispute with his brother concerning his part of the inheritance from his recently deceased father. Jesus answered “who made Me a judge or a divider between you?” And He said unto them, “Take heed, and keep yourselves from all greediness: for a man's life is not derived from his possessions, by reason of his having an over-abundance.” (Luke 12:13)

Money or possessions are not, in themselves, evil. But it's what we DO with our wealth that determines our spiritual condition. It's the LOVE of money that St Paul says is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10), not the money itself. Wealth is given by the Lord for us to do good with, to share, not to gather for ourselves.

Hoarding wealth is considered by God, to be robbery of the poor; and robbery of the poor is considered robbery of God. “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto Me” Jesus said. (Matthew 25:40)

Hoarding of wealth is also considered to be robbing the Church. The Lord, through the holy prophet Haggai, asks: “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your fancy and well-built houses, while My temple lies in ruins?"

(Haggai 1:4)

St Cyril of Alexandria, in the early 5th century, wrote:

“Our virtue-loving Master wishes us to depart far from all earthly and temporal matters; to flee from the love of the flesh, and from the vain anxiety of business, and from base lusts; to set no value on hoards, to despise wealth, and the love of gain; to be good and loving unto one another; not to lay up treasures upon earth; to be superior to strife and envy, not quarrelling with the brethren, but rather giving way to them, even though they seek to gain an advantage over us; 'for from him,' He says, 'who takes away what is yours, demand it not again;' and rather to strive after all those things which are useful and necessary for the salvation of the soul.” (Sermon 89 on Luke)

In Galatians 2:20 St Paul wrote: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” We must all say: “I too have been crucified with Christ! I have put to death the hoarding ways of the flesh. I have put off the “old man” of the Law, and I am clothed with the “new man” of the Spirit via holy baptism. As Paul says in another place, “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”

(Romans 6:4)

When Paul says “it is no longer I that live” he means the fallen man of the flesh, that greedy and avaricious man that needs to be guided by the Law. The man in the crowd who wanted more of the inheritance, wanted Jesus to make a ruling in accordance with his greed, more than the Law of Moses. But Jesus said, “That's not why I'm here! That's not what I'm about!” But, he says, “you need to think not with a fleshly mind, but with one that is guided by the grace of the Holy Spirit. The Law is no longer your school master. You must matriculate to a higher education, a higher life, that is: a relationship not with the Torah, in fact, not with any written book, but a direct relationship, in faith, with Me, your Lord Jesus Christ.”

Bigger barns? We don’t think about physical barns unless we live in Yuba City or Rio Linda. But what are my symbolic “bigger barns?” This is what we should be thinking about. You know, the Christmas Season wants us to think more about giving. But what kind of giving are we doing? What presents am I buying? Am I buying more for myself than I am for others? Have I remembered to be generous to God, whose birth-day we will be celebrating? How does God want us to give? Easy answer - first of all to the poor and to the Church. The cream off the top. Ebenezer Scrooge, once he saw the light about Christmas, first helped a poor boy on the street, and then the entire Cratchit family, who were crushed by the poverty that he himself had caused. Next, he gave to a church charitable fund. And so on. So the question is, do we build big bank accounts, or big portfolios, or do we build multiple houses or vacation spots while we simultaneously rob God? May God help us to adopt a different spirit this Advent. If we would only begin to empty some of these “barns” of ours, and lead a more generous and Christian life, then we will have no fear at all on Judgment Day. What does Solomon say in Proverbs? “He that has pity on the poor lends to the Lord; and he will recompense him in accordance with his gift” (Proverbs 19:17 LXX).




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