March 15th, 2020

2nd Sunday of Lent

SERMON FOR 2nd SUNDAY OF THE GREAT FAST
Hebrews 1:10 – 2:3 & Mark 2:1-12

Praying is hard work, isn’t it? We open up our Prayer Book, or we take out our prayer rope, or we’re standing here in the temple, and what happens? Our minds begin to wander, we start thinking about this and that, and before long we realize that we are totally disengaged from the prayers. We aren’t focused at all on what we’re supposed to be focused on. We are completely distracted. Our powers of attention are very weak, aren’t they? And the demons take advantage of that weakness by providing us with a river of “logismoi,” that is, thoughts, fantasies, memories, and daydreams, all of which are designed to divert us from our prayer. What can we do? We have to rip our focus back on the prayer. Even though we don’t feel like it, we have to force ourselves to pray. St. Ambrose of Optina wrote, “If you do not feel like praying, you have to force yourself. The Holy Fathers say that prayer with force is higher than prayer unforced. You do not want to, but force yourself. The Kingdom of Heaven is taken by force (Matt. 11:12). Abba Agathon, one of the desert fathers, said, “In order to pray a man must struggle to has last breath.” And that’s the truth. Great Lent, the Great and Holy Forty Days, is much the same. It’s a struggle. It makes us force ourselves. It’s goal is the rip the focus of our lives away from this world, its cares and temptations, in order to concentrate on the “one thing needful” (Luke 10:42). And what is that “one thing needful?” It’s our salvation. St. Paul in this morning’s reading from Hebrews wrote:
“Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away. For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him” (Hebrews 2: 1-10).

It’s so easy to drift away, isn’t it? It’s so easy to neglect our salvation. We don’t mean to, it just happens! It’s so hard to do on our own. It’s so hard be be a Christian all by ourselves. That’s why our holy Church gives us this particular Gospel reading today. What does it say?

Then they came to Him, bringing a paralytic who was carried by four men. And when they could not come near Him because of the crowd, they uncovered the roof where He was. So when they had broken through, they let down the bed on which the paralytic was lying. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven you.” (And then, after a bit of a kerfuffle with the Scribes, the paralytic) arose, took up the bed, and went out in the presence of them all, so that all were amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We never saw anything like this!’”

Focusing on our salvation during Great Lent means getting closer to Jesus, being healed by Jesus. We are like the paralytic and we can’t do it alone. So how did he accomplish it? He did it with a little help from his friends, four of them. They carried him to Christ. In our case, we get a little help too, from our fellow believers, our fellow parishioners, and indeed, the whole Orthodox Church, who are on this journey with us, who are in the temple for the special services with us, who are praying with us and for us. After all, salvation is a community experience, not an individual one. The famous Russian theologian, philosopher and poet Alexei Stepanovich Khomiakov wrote:

“We know that when any one of us falls he falls alone; but no one is saved alone. He who is saved is saved in the Church, as a member of her, and in unity with all her other members. If any one believes, he is in the communion of faith; if he loves, he is in the communion of love; if he prays, he is in the communion of prayer. Wherefore no one can rest his hope on his own prayers, and every one who prays asks the whole Church for intercession, not as if he had doubts of the intercession of Christ, the one Advocate, but in the assurance that the whole Church ever prays for all her members” (A.S. Khomiakov, The Church is One, IX,6).

During the Fast we need to pray for each other, care for each other, encourage one another, and cheer for each other. Right?

I’m going to end with three quotes from Holy Scripture:

1 Thessalonians 5:11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

Deuteronomy 31:8 It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.

Psalm 55:22 Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.

Amen.