Cathedral of the Theotokos of Great Grace

Cathedral of the Theotokos of Great Grace

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Homily for the Feast of the Annunciation - March 25, 2018

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

Exactly nine months to the day before the Feast of the Nativity, we celebrate the Annunciation that the Archangel Gabriel makes to Mary. There is mystical significance for this date for pious tradition tells us that Adam, the first man, fell into sin by disobedience to God and was cast out of Paradise by the Divine Majesty.

Pious tradition also tells us that on this same day in the month of March, Cain murdered his brother Abel; Melchisedech made an offering to God of bread and wine in the presence of Abraham, and Abraham put forward his son Isaac as a sacrifice unto God. Tradition also tells us that March 25th is the same day that St. John the Baptist was beheaded, that St. Peter was delivered out of prison, and that it was the day upon which our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified.

While it is highly unlikely that these events all occurred on the same day, our Christian forefathers and foremothers wanted to emphasize the deep spiritual connection between them all. This is probably best summarized by St. Irenaeus of Lyons when he wrote, “The knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the Virgin Mary set free through faith” (Against Heresies III, XXII, 4.).

It clearly shows how Jesus came to bring about a new creation and to undo the disobedience of Adam and Eve with total and unwavering obedience. The alignment of events reminds us that Jesus came to defeat sin and death, and open up the gates of heaven to a new Promised Land. On this day Jesus became the true Lamb of God, who willingly sacrificed Himself on the wood of the Cross. It was the day that Jesus came into the world in the womb of Mary and the day when Jesus left this world to the womb of the tomb.

The spiritual symbolism of this day connects everything in salvation history, showing the wondrous providence of God. March 25th may not have been the historical day of the Crucifixion or of any of these other events, but the connections among them all is real and profound to contemplate.

This morning’s Gospel reading is very beautiful and very significant: “And in the sixth month, the Angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee, called Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary.

And the angel, having entered into the house, said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.” Hearing him speak, Mary was troubled at his words and thought to herself what manner of salutation this should be.

And the angel said to her: “Fear not, Mary, for you have found grace with God. Behold you shall conceive in your womb and shall bring forth a son: and you shall call His name Jesus. He shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father: and He shall reign in the house of Jacob forever. And of his kingdom, there shall be no end.”

And Mary said to the angel: “How shall this be done since I have not known man? And the angel answering, said to her: “The Holy Spirit shall come upon you, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow you. And, therefore, also the Holy One which shall be born of you shall be called the Son of God. And behold, your cousin Elizabeth, she also has conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her that is called barren. Because with God, nothing is impossible.” And Mary said: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word. And the angel departed from her.”

Our Lady uttered her fiat -- her words "Let it be done to me according to your word" -- and the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity condescended to take on a human nature and become a man. God became a man! 

At the moment that Gabriel spoke his words, the Word of God is forever united to humanity; At that moment, God begins to have an adorer who is His creature, and the world a mediator who is omnipotent; and, to the working of this great Mystery, Mary alone is chosen to cooperate by her free assent.

Through the holy encounter of Mary and the Archangel Gabriel, the entire earth is changed as is the whole of humanity forever. The earth cowers at the very countenance of the God who created it and deigns to come to dwell upon it. All of creation rejoices at the coming of the Lord and a simple ordinary Virgin agrees to become the tabernacle of the Light that never sets, of the Eternal Fire that is pure Love.

Yes, the whole heavens were moved by this indescribable act of immense love, and we Orthodox Catholics are moved yet, honoring Christ's Incarnation at each and every Divine Liturgy when we bow profoundly in gratitude during the Creed, at the words "…and became man.” 

We are reminded every morning at Matins of the Archangel Gabriel’s announcement, Mary's fiat, and the Creator of the Sun and Moon and Stars deigning to take on a human nature, all according to prophecy:

“...Hear ye, therefore, O house of David: Is it a small thing for you to be grievous to men, that you are grievous to my God also? Therefore, the Lord Himself shall give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and His name shall be called Emmanuel. He shall eat butter and honey, that He may know to refuse the evil, and to choose the good” (Isaiah 7:13-15). And, “There shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse [David's father], and a flower shall rise up out of his root” (Isaiah 11:1).

It is through Our Lady that the Ancient of Days sprang from the root of Jesse according to the flesh, thereby restoring the Davidic Kingdom and coming to reign as King of Kings from the Heavenly Jerusalem.

Tertullian (b. c. 160) writes of the significance of Mary's heritage when arguing against those who denied Christ's human nature: “Now, since He is the blossom of the stem which sprouts from the root of Jesse; since, moreover, the root of Jesse is the family of David, and the stem of the root is Mary descended from David, and the blossom of the stem is Mary's son, who is called Jesus Christ, will not He also be the fruit? For the blossom is the fruit, because through the blossom and from the blossom every product advances from its rudimental condition to perfect fruit. What then? They deny to the fruit its blossom, and to the blossom its stem, and to the stem its root; so that the root fails to secure for itself, by means of the stem, that special product which comes from the stem, even the blossom, and the fruit; for every step indeed in a genealogy is traced from the latest up to the first, so that it is now a well-known fact that the flesh of Christ is inseparable, not merely from Mary, but also from David through Mary, and from Jesse through David.”

The Feast of the Annunciation also explains what Our Lord’s being born of a woman teaches about the dignity of women. Would Christ have been any less a man had He not been born of the Virgin Mary? Being God Himself, Jesus could have come into this world by any others means. He did not have to be born of a human woman. Many people throughout the centuries have questioned why God would choose to be born of a woman. Why should He not choose to be born of a woman? Why would He avoid it?” Certainly, the Eternal Word did not believe that He would in some way be defiled by a woman’s womb! 

Truly, it must be acknowledged that if the Lord had willed to become man without being born of a woman, it would not be difficult or impossible for His Sovereign Majesty. For as He could be born of a woman without a man, so could He also have been born without the woman. But by being born of a woman, the Lord God purposed to show to us some high mystery. By being born of a woman, He showed us that mankind of neither sex should despair of its salvation, for the human sexes are male and female. If, therefore, being a man, which it pleased Him assuredly to be, He had not been born of a woman, women might have then despaired of themselves, calling to remembrance the sin of disobedience of our first parents, which separated them from God. Women would have then thought that they had no hope at all for redemption and that they were cursed forever had Christ chosen a way of coming into the world other than being born of a woman,  which is the way God had intended from the beginning of time for the human race to procreate.

God designed to come among us as a man to join Himself to us and us to Him and to restore what was lost by our first parents. By His coming into the world as a man and being born of a woman, God has restored the beauty, importance, and uniqueness of both the male and female sexes.

God willed to be born of a woman to honor and extol women for all time, giving them in the person of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, the most perfect example of goodness, holiness, purity, and faith. In the Mother of God, we see the first Eve as she was before the Fall. Thus, the Theotokos has become a source of hope for all people everywhere because her life is what the lives of all men and women should be.

By becoming a man and being born of a woman, it is as if God has said, “That all may know that no creature of God is bad, but that unregulated pleasure perverts it, I choose to be born a man and be born of a woman because in the beginning I made them male and female and commanded that they be fruitful and multiply. I do not condemn the creature which I made, but their sins which I did not make or cause to be.”

By becoming a man and being born of a woman, God has exulted both the male and female species. By being born of a woman, God has blessed and made holy a woman’s womb, for He Himself deigned to dwell within it for nine months. Thus, childbearing and childbirth take on a sacramental nature for by Mary carrying Christ in Her womb and by giving birth to Him, two natural human experiences are intimately united and associated with the divine.

God has truly honored womankind. Women were the first to announce to the Apostles the Resurrection of Christ. The woman in Paradise announced death to her husband but the women in the Church announced salvation to the men. The Apostles were to announce the Resurrection of Christ to the nations, but the woman announced it first to the Apostles. It was the women who followed Christ to Calvary and stood at the foot of the Cross as He died and agonizing death, but it was the Apostles who abandoned Him and fled in fear when He was arrested.

Let no one then question why Christ would be born of a woman; for God chose to honor all women by being born of one of their kind. Such, therefore, is the honor and dignity of childbearing and giving birth for they are not merely natural human processes, but human processes sanctified and made holy by the very birth in human flesh of the Creator of all, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.

The parallel between Eve and the Blessed Virgin Mary is why Our Lady is referred to as “the New Eve,” as Christ is referred to as “the New Adam.” St. Irenaeus wrote in his Apology, Book II, Chapter XII: “Those, therefore, who allege that Christ took nothing from the Virgin do greatly err, since, in order that they may cast away the inheritance of the flesh, they also reject the analogy between Him and Adam. St. Luke, in telling the genealogy of the Lord Christ, carried it back to Adam, the first man, indicating that it was He who regenerated them into the Gospel of Life, and not the other way around. And so, it was that the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the Virgin Mary set free through faith.”

There is something I want you to keep in mind: note that St. Luke said that the Virgin Mary was “espoused” to St. Joseph. During the time in which Mary and Joseph lived, marriage customs were much different than they are today, especially here in America. Holy Scripture uses the terms “espoused” and “betrothed” to describe the relationship between Mary and Joseph.

Betrothal in the time of Mary and Joseph was a covenant pledge, a legal and binding agreement where a man and woman are pledged to each other, sometimes in an agreement arranged by the parents without the children’s knowledge. A betrothal, however, is not the same as an engagement, especially as we understand the meaning of that word today. On the contrary, betrothal meant the ratification or sealing of a marriage agreement but not the consummation of the marriage.

The consummation of a marriage (sexual union of the couple) would normally not take place until well after the betrothal, sometimes even a year later. The period between betrothal and consummation of a marriage was a period in which the fidelity of each of the parties to the agreement is tried and tested. During this time, the couple is considered to be “espoused” or wedded to one another, but the marriage is not consummated.

In the betrothal or “Kiddushin” as it is called in Hebrew, there is a pledge given and a covenant entered into. After the Kiddushin, the couple were taxed together, referred to as man and wife, considered married by law in terms of inheritance, etc., and they could only separate through divorce, and then only if the marriage had not been consummated. But the couple did not live together until months or even a year later when they would have a celebration of their marriage vows, at which point the groom would take his wife to their new home (called "home-taking" or nisuin). 

Many of you may find this ancient custom familiar, and it is. It is the same custom and tradition we have in the Italo-Greek Orthodox Catholic Church. It has been a long-standing custom in our Church and reflects not only our religious practice but the cultural heritage of the Sicilian people. Marriage and family have always held an important place and played an important role in the life of the Sicilian and Italian people.

I tell you of this custom because there are many people today who propose the idea that the Theotokos was “an unwed mother.” The push to prove that the Virgin Mary was an unwed mother is an attempt to normalize unwed motherhood, or to take the shame out of it (“the Virgin Mary was an unwed mother, so big deal!”). While there are certainly valid and acceptable reasons for a woman to be an unwed mother (for example, in the case of rape), having a child outside of wedlock should not be considered the norm.

To bring a new life into the world is one of the most wondrous powers God has given to both women and men. For a man and woman to come together in marriage as one body and give themselves to each other in the conjugal act is to be active participants, co-workers, if you will, with God in His continuing act of creation. This honor and dignity are never to be taken for granted. It is a grave and awesome responsibility which should not be entered into lightly.

The Feast of the Annunciation is the Feast of Life and Love. To truly understand its real meaning, we must immerse ourselves deeply into the exploration and contemplation of God’s divine plan for man. However, this is an endeavor we cannot undertake by ourselves; we must look to Holy Mother Church to guide us and accompany us in our quest to find the Truth and understand it. Then, and only then, shall we be able to see things as they truly are. Then and only then will each one of us be able to give our own “Fiat”, our “Yes” to God without fear, hesitation, or doubt. Then shall we be able to say like the Virgin Mary, “Behold the servant of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to Your will.”

Amen.







Thursday, June 21, 2018

Homily for the Feast of St. Joseph - March 19, 2018

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

Seven days before the Feast of the Annunciation, which is celebrated on March 25th and which commemorates Gabriel's visit to Mary announcing that she is to give birth to the Messiah, we meet St. Joseph, her spouse.

St. Joseph was born in Bethlehem and worked as a carpenter, an occupation he later passed on to his Son. He became betrothed to Mary, a consecrated Virgin, in order to serve as her protector. Apocryphal writings indicate that Joseph was an older man at the time, and was a widower with grown-up children, but there is no way to know for certain.

When Mary came to be with child, his confusion and resolve to "put her away privately" in order to spare her any public humiliation was done away with when an angel of the Lord visited him in a dream and explained things to him. And Joseph, rising up from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him, and took unto himself Mary, to be his wife. After Jesus was born, an angel again appeared to St. Joseph and told him to take the Holy Family away to Egypt in order to escape the wrath of Herod. After time in Egypt, an angel came twice more to St. Joseph: once to tell him that Herod was dead and that the family could return to Egypt and then again to counsel Joseph regarding his uncertainty about returning to Jerusalem. The next, and last, time we hear of St. Joseph in Sacred Scripture is when Jesus was "lost" in the Temple:

Let us consider together what the biblical texts tell us about St. Joseph. Though there are not many words, they have profound meaning for all of us as we seek to live a life of holiness, no matter what our state in life or vocation. They are of particular importance for men but certainly apply to all men and women.

In the infancy narrative offered to us by the Apostle and Evangelist Matthew, we find a unique focus on Joseph, the husband of Mary. After tracing the lineage of the Savior from the perspective of Joseph (Matthew. 1: 1-7), we are introduced to Joseph's response to God's invitation. This was, so to speak, Joseph's “Annunciation.” Too often we forget that an angel also appeared to Joseph, to prepare him for the significant role He would play in God's saving plan for the whole human race. He was invited to exercise his human freedom, to give his assent to the Lord's invitation - and he did. His manly response to God reminds all men that actions speak louder than words.

From antiquity, Christians have reflected upon Joseph as a model of genuine manly virtue - and for good reason. His response to the angel teaches all men how we are called to respond to God's invitations in our own lives. We use an expression to refer to men who are comfortable in their skin and content with being men. We say of such a man: “He is a man's man.” Joseph is a true man's man. He was a man of few words, he spoke through his actions, and he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded. Joseph's response was action.

St. Joseph was a man for others. Though the Scriptures say so little about Joseph, even that absence speaks volumes. Why? Because for Joseph, he was not the one who was important, others were. He loved Mary above himself and his behavior was just a result of his love. He was prepared to do the right thing when she was found to be with child. He could have chosen otherwise. How refreshing this upright manly behavior is in an age where men often cower in the face of difficulty.

Joseph was a man of faith and courage. Along with loving his betrothed, he loved His God courageously. He had a close, intimate personal relationship with the God of His Fathers. In fact, this just man was, in a sense, the last Patriarch, completing the lineage. Through his response of faith, He would receive the great gift promised for all men and women and hold in His arms the One that His fathers had only longed to see. God's messenger, an angel, visited Joseph in a dream.

Joseph was ready to receive. He was disposed of not only to the encounter but to the invitation it presented to pour himself out in love and for Love. He heard the message and, without hesitation, did what the Lord commanded! This is, in a real sense, Joseph's fiat, his “Yes”, his exercise of human freedom to advance God's eternal plan. How refreshing such manly faith and courage are in an age filled with cowardice, rebellion, and self-serving behavior.

Joseph was a humble man. There was not an ounce of false bravado or machismo in this servant of God. Named after the great Patriarch who was sold into slavery in Egypt; Joseph bore the name with similar humility. As the Old Testament Joseph embraced his lot, rejecting the temptation to bitterness or victimhood, and came to rule Egypt, forgiving the very brothers who had sold him into slavery; so too this son of the Covenant embraced the One who would establish the New Covenant on the altar of Calvary.

In the manner by which he lived his life, Joseph becomes a model for all men who choose to walk the way of the Cross. Joseph emptied himself of self and became filled with the love and life of God. He gave himself fully to God by accepting his unique and specific vocation as guardian of the Redeemer. The child Jesus, God in the flesh, was given to Joseph. A carpenter, Joseph taught this child how to work with wood. That was, after all, all he had to give. During these so-called “hidden years", Jesus was with Joseph and Joseph was with Jesus.

Joseph uniquely participated in the mystery of God’s plan of redemption by simply being the man he was called to be. How challenging in an age of narcissism and inordinate self-love. How many so-called “real men” today would do what Joseph did or behave the way Joseph behaved?

Since the early 17th century, the Italo-Greek Orthodox Catholic Church has observed St. Joseph’s Day on March 19th, the day assigned the commemoration by the Roman Church. This seemed fitting to the hierarchy in that St. Joseph has always been held in high esteem by the Sicilian people, both Orthodox Catholics, and Catholics. As in the Roman Church, St. Joseph is honored as the patron saint of husbands and of all workers.

The simple carpenter who taught the Word Incarnate, the Child Jesus, how to work with wood, is a man we hold to be an exemplary model of what it means to be a man. This man, who was the foster father of the Incarnate Word of God and Whom he loved with all his heart, shows us how to be focused yet caring, strong yet compassionate, protective yet nurturing, determined yet loving.

This same Jesus who learned to work with wood from the hands of Joseph would, during his 33rd year, save the world through the wood of the Cross. In an age that has lost its way, given over to the selfish pursuit of illusory pleasure, Joseph should again be lifted up as a model, particularly to men who desire to follow Jesus Christ.

Over two millennia, the mission of Jesus has continued through His Body on earth, His Church. He has entrusted the work of that mission to all men and women who accept the invitation to empty themselves of themselves in order to be filled with the very life and love of God and then be used in His redemptive mission for the world.

Through the fount of living water called Baptism, God invites each one of us into His new family, the Body of His Son, the Church. He still gives His message to men who, like Joseph, cultivate ears to hear and then choose to exercise authentic manly virtue and act out of courage. He still invites men to turn the ordinary into extraordinary through cooperation and participation. He is truly looking for a few good men like Joseph who will work in the workshop of the world that He created in order to recreate it anew in His Son.

In this age so desperately in need of men of courage, we need to turn to this man's man named Joseph. We need to follow his example by courageously, humbly and faithfully loving Jesus Christ.

We need to learn to give our “Yes” to the God whose love always invites participation. Joseph is our teacher and shows us the way, a true Man's Man, calling all men to follow Jesus. Teaching us that actions speak louder than words.

Tradition tells us that Joseph had the great honor to have died in the presence of Our Lady and his Son, which fact makes him the patron of a holy death. Because during his life he was given the great responsibility of caring for and protecting the Virgin, who is the Mother of all Israel, and her Son, St. Joseph is considered the patron and protector of the entire Church.

As you all know, St. Joseph's Day is a big feast for the Sicilian people because in the Middle Ages, God, through St. Joseph's intercessions, saved the Sicilians from a very serious drought. I am so happy to see many of you wearing red, although no one can tell me why we do! The best answer I have heard is that we wear red because it represents the red of the Sicilian flag. I guess that is as good a reason as any.

Today, after Divine Liturgy, I will bless our parish St. Joseph’s Table, which you saw to the left as you entered the Chapel. Our "la Tavola di San Giuse" is laden with food lovingly and generously prepared or in other ways provided by many of our parishioners, even those who were not able to be with us this morning. Even though some you have erected St. Joseph’s Tables in your homes, please remain with us for a few minutes to partake of the food we have here. What remains will be donated to one of our local soup kitchens.

For those of you who have asked me to come and bless your home St. Joseph’s Tables, I will do the blessings in alphabetical order beginning at 1:30pm. I have allotted 20 minutes for each blessing. I believe this will allow me ample time to get all the tables blessed before dinner time. This year’s offering for blessing your St. Joseph’s Table will be three Sfinge di San Giuseppe (one for each member of the Holy Family). These will be in addition to the usual fava bean and your prayers, of course. 😊

As usual, I, along with my two trusted assistants here, will be on the lookout for the best St. Joseph’s Day Table. The winner of the contest will receive a $100 gift card for the Olive Garden and four movie passes to the Marquee Cinema.

Tables will be judged on the basis of authenticity and adherence to tradition. This means that every table must have three tiers and consist of the following: an icon and/or statue of St. Joseph properly placed, food proper to the feast and season of Great Lent; 12 different kinds of fish (representing the Twelve Apostles); bread and wine (symbolizing the Last Supper), Pineapple (symbolizing hospitality); lemons (symbolizing zest for life); red eggs (symbolizing the Resurrection); water (Symbolizing the source of life); incense (symbolizing our prayers rising to God); a crucifix, three candles (symbolizing the Holy Trinity); a white linen table cloth (symbolizing the Burial Shroud of Christ); white lilies (representing St. Joseph): white roses (symbolizing the Virgin Mary); white lace (symbolizing the beauty of the Eucharist); and, finally, fava beans and St. Joseph’s Bread. Also, please make sure that baskets containing your prayer petitions are close at hand that I may easily collect the petitions and place them near the Holy Table.

I want to ensure that when I come to your home we are not unnecessarily rushed through the blessing of the table, so please do not plan for the re-enactments of the “Tupa, Tupa.” As meaningful and enjoyable as they are, a tight schedule just does not allow for it.

Today is a special day for all Sicilians and Italians everywhere. Not only does it have significant cultural meaning for our people, but it is also a day of profound religious and personal meaning, especially for the young men and men of our parish. I encourage you all, especially our young men, to embrace and hold up St. Joseph as a model for what a real man should be.

And for those of you, men and women, who are fortunate enough to have a job, offer up your labors and efforts at work to the glory of God. By St. Joseph’s example, Almighty God has blessed and honored physical labor as a noble endeavor. We should not look upon physical work as a burden that has been laid upon us because of Adam and Eve’s disobedience but rather as an opportunity to use our creative talents and skills for the glorification of God.

May St. Joseph, guardian, and protector of the Most Holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary and of Our Lord Jesus Christ, inspire you to good works and noble living. May you, through his example of simplicity, obedience, trust, and faith, ever protect the children entrusted to your care, labor fruitfully and conscientiously in the vineyard of the Lord, and be found worthy of a happy, holy, and peaceful death, and a good defense before the awesome Judgment Seat of Christ.

Buona Festa di San Giuseppe!

Amen.


Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Great Lent /St. John of the Ladder - (March 18, 2018)

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

This morning’s Gospel reading is a story told not only in the Gospel of St. Mark but also in the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke Usually, when the same story is told in all three of the Synoptic Gospels, it is safe to assume that the event was significant enough to warrant the special attention of each of the Gospel authors. But what exactly is so special about this particular event that caught the attention of Saints Matthew, Mark, and Luke and caused them to tell us about it?

Of the three accounts of the story, St. Mark provides the most details. From him, we get a fairly clear picture of what happened. It was certainly a humiliating experience for the disciples, that is for sure. Crowds of people were following them and when they were faced with the boy with the evil spirit, they tried to deliver him but found they were completely powerless. Everybody witnessed their confusion and humiliation, and it was natural that after Jesus had performed the miracle and set the boy free the disciples should come to Him and ask, ”Why could we not drive it out?” Let us take a few minutes and look more closely at this incident, at the disciples and at the question they asked.

We begin with a boy who had an evil spirit, who was possessed by ”a spirit that had robbed him of speech”
(Mark 9:17). The disciples faced a demon-possessed boy. It was common in those days, as it is in these days, for people to become possessed by evil spirits, and in a real sense, the situation that faced the disciples is the same situation facing the Church today. Many people around us are gripped by sin and controlled by Satan.

This is not popular doctrine and not universally accepted, but St. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians makes it clear that unregenerate men and women are living their lives under Satan’s domination. (Ephesians 2:2-3). Every person who has rejected God is controlled by the spirit of evil. If God is not present in your life, then the evil one is; he is constantly leading you astray, telling you that what is right is wrong and what is wrong is right. Is it any wonder that our society and the world are so messed up? Because we have pushed God away, we no longer know what truth is. Even worse, we make up the truth as it suits us. This is the great joy of the devil. He rejoices when faith in God is diminished or lost. Weak faith or no faith at all impede us from doing the work of the Lord. A weak faith may have been why the disciples could not help the boy in this morning’s Gospel lesson.

The boy’s situation was tragic. The disciples sought the healing of the boy, but they failed completely. It was a tragic failure; they were helpless and powerless. This was more tragic because Jesus had expressly given them the power to work miracles and they had previously exercised this power successfully. But for some reason, they could not help this young boy. Given their previous successes, the disciples were naturally taken aback by the fact that they failed on this occasion. Have there not been times when we have felt the same way, when we have consistently been successful in our endeavors and then comes that moment of utter failure?

All around us there are people in need and we, as the Lords disciples, to whom He has given the mighty power of the Holy Spirit, are powerless to do anything to help. We see few conversions and little evidence of Gods power working through the ministry of the Word and through our churches. We have elaborate and sophisticated organizations,  large committees, full schedules of carefully planned meetings, all kinds of modern methods, and we even have the money, but instead of bringing souls to Christ, we spend all our time doing community service projects, fighting for the underdog and downtrodden, and being the champions of causes that are dear to our hearts. Serving others is definitely a good thing. In fact, serving others is mandated by the Gospel. Unfortunately, however, the way in which we serve others is not entirely what the Gospel has in mind.

The shift by many in the Church to an obsession with social justice as her primary outreach to the world distracts the divine mission of the Church, which is the salvation of souls.  By emphasizing social justice over the Church’s mission of saving souls, the realities of personal sin, repentance, faith, and conversion are diminished or lost altogether.  All around us the need of lost souls is desperate. There is spiritual ignorance, an increasing moral drift, drug addiction, sexual perversion, increase in crime, and the tragedy is that the Church is failing to check these evil trends. The crowd says, “They could not…” It is a public failure and a humiliating experience for us. The Church of God in a Devil-possessed world seems powerless to cast out the devils of unbelief, immorality, increasing divorce and the mounting tide of evil. “Why…?”
 
The disciples asked Jesus privately this same question: “Why could we not cast it out?” This indicates the shame, humiliation, and disappointment they felt. Certainly, the disciples did many good works in Christ’s name. So too, many of us do good works in Christ’s name, but when it comes to the really important things, like converting souls and building up the Body of Christ, we fail in our efforts. Not that our efforts are not well-intentioned, but there is something missing from those efforts.

But what a good thing it is if we can find grace to ask the same question as the disciples: “Why…?” How necessary it is, when we fail, to ask ‘What has gone wrong?’ It is important to ask why we, individually as Christians, and corporately as the Church, are often powerless and unsuccessful in our efforts to evangelize and bring souls to Christ. It is vital to make a right diagnosis when we come to the Lord in humility and confession, and ask Him, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

It is easy to do things like feeding the hungry, visit those in prison or in the hospital, clothe the naked, etc. But these works alone do not convert souls and bring people into the Body of Christ, the Church. There is so much more to it than just doing good works and fighting for social justice.

There were three reasons why the disciples failed in their efforts to cast the demon out of the boy. The first was their lack of faith. In St. Matthew’s account of the story, Jesus tells His disciples they could not cast out the devil, “Because you have so little faith” (Matthew 17:20). The disciples did not have the faith to believe that Jesus could operate through them and give deliverance. We often fail for the same reason. We doubt the ability of Jesus to put forth His power and work through us.

The second reason was for a lack of prayer. Certain situations require urgent and persistent prayer, and if this is deficient there will be a deficiency of power. Evidently, the disciples had not prayed enough, they were powerless. How challenging when our own ministry may be powerless and fruitless because we fail to pray because we fail to make God a part of our work. Here we must ask ourselves the question: “Am I doing God’s work or am I doing this for myself, to satisfy my own ego and build a reputation for myself in the eyes of others?”

The third reason the disciples failed was for a lack of fasting. Fasting denotes such an intensity of desire and purpose that we are ready to put aside legitimate things to seek God’s face and get His blessing. It may mean denying ourselves secondary things for a time so that spiritual power may be released and souls who are in bondage may be delivered and converted to God. Fasting purifies and strengthens us both spiritually and physically that we may do the work of God with a clearer mind and heart.

When we rid ourselves of worldly desires and preoccupations, we allow God, in the Person of the Holy Spirit, to fill us with Himself so that God’s Word and power can work freely in and through us. This, subsequently, makes our work God’s work. We merely serve as God’s instrument and vessel.

If the disciples had been in touch with the Lord by faith, prayer, and fasting He would have performed this miracle through them. It is His power that is at work anyway. We have no power in and of ourselves to heal anyone. It is Christ that works through us.

How far are we willing to make a voluntary denial of things, which of themselves are quite lawful and legitimate, in order that God’s face may be sought in earnest and persistent prayer and that souls may be delivered from terrible bondage? Faith, prayer, and fasting will achieve victory even under the desperate conditions we face today. But let us conclude on a note of victory; let us witness the putting forth of God’s power through the gracious ministry of our Lord Jesus.

Amen.


Saturday, March 31, 2018

Homily for the Third Sunday of Great Lent/Adoration of the Holy Cross - (March 11, 2018)

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

We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You! For by Your Holy Cross, You have redeemed the world!

Jesus made it very clear that He “must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.” After this intense teaching time, which included a public rebuke of Peter, Jesus then called the crowd and His disciples together. This word “call” means, “to call to oneself, to summon hither, to bid to come.” Jesus is calling them to huddle up because He has something very important He wants them to know. After describing His fate, He describes what it means to follow Him.

The call that Jesus makes is to everyone, but there are also conditions to following Christ. We see this in the use of the word, “if.” There are four conditions to following Christ. They are desire, denial, death, and devotion. We will soon discover that these conditions are the demands of discipleship, and they cannot be dismissed or downplayed.

Desire. The first condition a person must have is a desire to become a disciple: “If anyone would come after me…” The heart of the matter is a matter of the heart. The phrase “would come” is the idea of intentionality and involves the will. In order to be a disciple of Jesus, you must first want to be a disciple of Jesus.

I love that the call of Jesus goes out to everyone and anyone: to the curious crowd (those nearby), to the committed core (the eleven) and even to the counterfeit (Judas). It strikes me that these three groups are still present today. Some of you are curious about Christ, others of you are committed to Him, and a few have a counterfeit faith. Notice that Jesus is about to give the same message to each of the groups as He calls everyone to Him. It does not matter what you have done or how you have been living. Everyone is welcome. Romans 3:23 states that “all have sinned” and Acts 10:34 says, “…everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.”

Notice the phrase, “come after Me.” This has the idea of movement, of lining up behind the Lord, following wherever He goes. We do not walk in front of Him and ask Him to catch up with our ways and wishes. No, we get behind Him, so that we walk where He walks. We walk after Him, not ahead of Him.

Do you have the desire to follow Jesus as one of His disciples? I am not talking about being just a follower, but a true disciple of His. Many people are followers of Christ, but very few are real disciples. They choose not to be disciples of the Savior simply because they do not have the desire to do so. Listen. Until you desire to be a disciple, you will not be one. If you desire Him more than anyone or anything else, you will be a disciple. In the Book of Psalms, we read: “Who have I in heaven but You, O Lord? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides You.” (Psalm 73:25). Discipleship will cost you your life.

The second condition for being a disciple is to deny self: “…let him deny himself…” Everything within us screams against these words. To “deny” means, “to refuse.” This is the same word that describes what Peter did to Jesus. One Bible Dictionary puts it like this: “to disown and renounce self and to subjugate all works, interests, and enjoyments.” Check out what Jesus said in Luke 14:33: “So, therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be My disciple.”

Denying self is not the same thing as self-denial, like not eating chocolate, going on a Facebook fast, or not rooting for the Yankees (though that would be a good idea). Denying self means I stop thinking I am always right, I stop living in my own power, and I refuse to pursue my own pleasures because I no longer belong to myself. We see this in the First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians: “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So, glorify God in your body.” (Corinthians 6:19-20). In short, I must give up the right to run my own life because I no longer own my own life. I have been bought with the blood of Christ and I now belong to Him.

Every morning when we arise from sleep, among our morning prayers should be the prayer: “Father, glorify Yourself in my life this day at my expense.” Most of us, me included, are fine with glorifying God, but we do not really want to do that if it costs us something. We cannot fully follow Christ while living our lives any way we please.

A real disciple of Christ lives actively the life of Christ. A true disciple of Christ thinks in these terms:  I simply want to serve; I want to help; I make myself available; It is my duty and my obligation; I want to give my hands and feet to Christ; This is my home, so I want to help; I want to do what I am gifted to do; I am grateful for what Christ has done for me so I want to give something back in return; I love my brothers and sisters and want to show my love for them in Christ. These are the words and thoughts of a true disciple of Jesus Christ. But they are more than that. They are given substance and form by tangible and visible works, works that, if rooted firmly in Christ and in the heart of the believer, will bring forth fruit in abundance to the glory of God.

If we want to be real disciples of Christ, then we must be willing to break up with our own selves. There is really no room in our lives for our own self-interests and those of Christ. Our self-interests should be only those of Christ. Either self is on the throne of our hearts or Christ is. Discipleship will cost you your life. That brings me to the third condition of discipleship, which is death.

The first two conditions are desire and denial. As if those are not difficult enough, Jesus next calls us to die: “…and take up His cross…” Crucifixion was a common Roman punishment, with over 30,000 nailed to crosses during the lifetime of Jesus. Everyone knew that the cross was an instrument of shame, suffering, torture, and death. When a person took up his cross, he was beginning a death march.

Unfortunately, we have romanticized the cross and turned it into something we put on our walls or wear around our necks. When we do reference this verse, we often say something like, “Well, I guess that’s just the cross I must bear” and normally it refers to putting up with an obnoxious relative, or living with an illness or some other affliction, or putting up with a spouse’s snoring or stinky feet. You may think these are crosses you have to bear, but you do not know just how lucky you are that you do not have to carry a cross for real. Remember that the cross was carried by condemned criminals and ended with a humiliating and excruciatingly painful and agonizing and slow death. Everyone knew that the person who was to be crucified was saying goodbye to everything and that there was no turning back.

As Orthodox Catholic Christians, we called to crucify the cult of self-fulfillment, self-promotion, and self-centeredness. We are to die to our rights – the right to be right, the right to take revenge and the right to fight. Interestingly, according to almost universal tradition and archaeological evidence, the Apostle Peter ended up literally fulfilling this when he was crucified, reportedly upside down, for his faith in Jesus Christ. It is reported that all of the remaining apostles (after Judas committed suicide) died martyr’s deaths. Discipleship will cost you your life.

The fourth and final condition for discipleship is devotion. After getting our desire right, denying self and dying to sin, Jesus gives the fourth condition for discipleship in the last part of verse 34: “…and follow me.” To “follow” means, “to go with” and the tense is ongoing, meaning we are to be constantly following Him. At the core, the word “disciple” means learner, follower, and doer.

Here is what I have observed over the years: the depth of one’s devotion will determine their impact. The words we use are important. While there is nothing wrong with saying things like: “I’m a Christian” or “I’m a believer” or “I’m an Orthodox Catholic Christian,” I have been trying to identify myself this way: “I am a disciple of Jesus Christ.” I have also found that asking someone if they are a “Christian,” is not all that helpful because almost everyone says they are. But when I ask someone if they are a disciple of Christ, I find that I am able to cross the bridge to a conversation about the Orthodox Catholic Faith and Church much quicker.

Jesus fought against having false converts by making sure people knew there was a cost to following Him. I think of the rich young ruler in the Gospel of St. Mark who came running up to Jesus to find out how to obtain eternal life. When Jesus challenged his idolatry of self and the pursuit of possessions, we read these sad words in verse 22: “Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” I find it very interesting that Jesus did not chase after Him or water down the demands of discipleship. Jesus does not lower the bar. Commitment to Him is costly. Discipleship is demanding. The man was sad, but he would not deny himself or put to death his devotion to material things.

In the Gospel of St. Matthew, Jesus said it like this: “And whoever does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:38). Cross-bearers are called to follow the Crucified One. Discipleship is demanding because we are called to die to our desires. St. Luke adds that dying to self and to sin is to happen on an ongoing basis: “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23).

It is easy to add Jesus as a friend, almost as easy as it is to add a friend on Facebook; it is much more difficult to be His disciple. Jesus is not an app that you add to your life. Because He is Lord, He wants your whole life. Are you willing to renounce every person, every possession and especially yourself in order to be a disciple of Christ? Will you put your faith over your family and over anything else that has been first in your life? What is it that is keeping you from following fully? Jesus is very clear about what it means to be one of His disciples: “So, therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:33).

Discipleship will cost you your life. After the call to discipleship and the four conditions – desire, deny, death and devotion, Jesus concludes with three cautions.

The first is this. If you focus only on your own life, you will lose it. We see this in verse 35: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” If you try to hold on to what you have, you will miss what Jesus wants to give you. When you settle the surrender issue and commit to following Christ at any cost, you will end up saving your life. We would do well to adopt the Apostle Paul’s purpose statement from Acts 20:24: “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”

Do not miss the additional clause that St. Mark adds: “but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” We are to lose our lives in service to the lost as we proclaim the Gospel. We are to spread the good news in this community and throughout the world.
When we lose that which has always been so important to us, we end up finding that which we have been searching for all along. Speaking of those who are completely committed to Christ, Revelation 12:11 says: “…for they loved not their lives even unto death

The second caution is: if you focus only on your own success, you will lose your soul. Jesus asks two probing questions in verses 36-37: “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?” Jesus is using economic terms here – profit, forfeit and return. You could gain everything and lose your very soul. You could make a lot and but end up in hell. Here is a question to ponder: Will I spend my life for the Savior or will I waste my life on this world?

The third caution: If you are ashamed of Christ, He will be ashamed of you. Look at verse 38: “For whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” There is a cost to discipleship but there is an even greater cost to not following Christ. We are called to confess Christ and not be ashamed of Him, which will become increasingly more difficult in our culture in the months and years to come if the Gospel does not penetrate the hearts and lives of all people.

Whether or not the world is sanctified and the hearts and lives of non-believers are turned to God depends upon whether or not we are ready and willing to take up the Cross of Christ and follow in His footsteps. Though God can do everything, we too, as disciples of His Son, Jesus Christ, must do our part in the divine work of sanctifying the world and those that dwell in it. By our example and witness to the life, love, and Gospel of Christ, we will lead and accompany those who have not yet received the Light to a new life in communion with the Holy Trinity.

Let us not shrink back from the Savior. Let us not waffle with His words as we live in this adulterous and sinful generation. Do not bail on the One who will never fail you. It is time for the Church to be the Church, to be bold in our witness and loving in our Gospel.

Let us declare with Paul in Romans 1:16: “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” When Paul was in prison, he wrote these words of encouragement to a young Christ-follower in 2 Timothy 1:8: “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share in suffering for the Gospel by the power of God.”

The call to discipleship is costly. It means taking up and carrying the Cross every day of your life and dying to yourself and the world. But believe me, it is well worth it.

Amen.


Homily for the Second Sunday of Great Lent/St. Gregory Palamas - (March 4, 2018)

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

Holy Father and Hierarch, Gregory of Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonika, pray for us!

Man’s deepest need is not for fairness, but for forgiveness. Forgiveness is the power to liberate from past sin and restore to an individual a sense of self-worth. Forgiveness is the power to deal with justifiable guilt, not by ignoring it, but by eliminating it. Forgiveness is a cool drink of water to a dry and parched tongue. It is the medicine which heals us at the deepest level of our being. We all need forgiveness.

While we have the power to forgive others, we need to be forgiven ourselves. And we need to be forgiven by one who has the authority to forgive. Good friends who mean well may say, "Don’t worry about it," but our sin is not against them. The Bible teaches that sin is against God. When David had sinned by taking Bathsheba and having her husband killed, he cried out, in Psalm 50/51, "Against Thee, Thee only, I have sinned." Though we may sin against people, sin ultimately is against God. And while we need the forgiveness of people, we ultimately need the forgiveness of God. Only God has the authority to forgive sins.

In Jesus, we see the authority of God. So far in Mark, we have seen Christ’s authority over temptation, authority over the lives of men, authority over nature, authority to establish the truth, authority over demons, authority over sickness. Now, we will see a new authority revealed – it is Christ’s authority to forgive sin.

Our Gospel reading this morning is a rich passage. Many sermons could be preached from these verses. The gems here do not even have to be mined. They lay right on top of the ground. We shall see the faith of the paralytic’s friends, the compassion of Christ, the dealing with the root cause of all misery, and a call to obedience to the word of Christ. It is all here to instruct us on how to live.

"And when He had come back to Capernaum several days afterward, it was heard that He was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room, even near the door; and He was preaching the word to them." (Mark 2:1-2)

The scene is Capernaum. The house in which He taught is thought by many to be Peter’s. No sooner had Jesus arrived than the news spread to those around. Luke tells us that there were Pharisees and Doctors of the Law present from Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem. This was probably a delegation sent to check this new preacher out and report back to the Sanhedrin. But a great crowd had gathered to hear what this man had to say, and perhaps to see some mighty work.

There were several others who had also heard that Jesus was in town teaching. These men had a friend who was a paralytic, and they cared for him. They knew that if they could just get him to see Jesus, that Jesus would heal him. They had faith in Jesus. So, they each picked up a corner of their friend’s bed which was probably a small cot or mat and they set out to see Jesus.

"And they came, bringing to Him a paralytic, carried by four men. And being unable to get to Him on account of the crowd, they removed the roof above Him; and when they had dug an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic was lying." (Mark 2: 3-4)

We see several things in the action of the friends. Firstly, we notice that they had a faith born out of need. The need was the healing of their friend. It was out of this motive that they came to Jesus. And this must have been one of the things which made their coming even more special to Him. They believed Jesus could heal their friend. The opportunity was present for this man, and they were his friends. So, they could not just sit around and let this opportunity pass him by. Now that is true friendship. They had faith, and that faith demanded action. It was a faith born out of need.

But next, notice that their faith produced fruit in them. It was the fruit of works. This is the mark of true faith. If we have real faith, our faith will show in the things we do. James says, "I will show you my faith by my works."

This narrative reads as if told by an eye-witness. And if we accept the theory that Mark was writing Peter’s recollection of the life of Christ; and if this was, in fact, Peter’s house, we can understand why it was told in so much detail; much more than St. Matthew or St. Luke.

So, they brought their friend to Jesus. But when they got near the house, they saw that there was no room to get through. Now, if they had quit at this point, they could have had a good excuse or reason to go home. But they were not looking for a way out. It is amazing how many are looking, it seems, for a reason to get out of something. They always have a reason for their unfaithfulness to the things of the Lord. The Bible calls them excuses. But these men did not want to quit. They could not bring themselves to say, "We cannot." "We cannot" is the coward’s word. "We must" was their word. That is the earnest man’s word. That is the word Jesus would like to hear from our lips more often. They were determined that nothing would stop them from seeing Jesus. This man had the sickness and Jesus had the healing. And they must get the two together, even at cost to themselves.

And that is precisely what it took – a cost. It cost them the time to carry their friend to the house. It cost them the effort to carry him to the roof of the house. It cost them the trouble to tear up the roof and let him down. It cost them the favor of the people on whose heads the rubble was dropping as they ripped up the roof. And it cost them the money to pay for the roof to repair it. But that was what they did. That was their solution to the problem. And it was a radical solution at that. And it probably increased their faith, because difficulties test us, and thereby cause our faith to grow. But it showed their faith. It made their faith visible to Jesus and to any who saw it. Our actions will make our faith visible to the watching world. A visible faith is a faith that works and bears fruit to the glory of God.

"And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, ‘My son, your sins are forgiven.’" Notice the answer of Christ to their faith. Christ notices all sincere faith. He saw their faith and was impressed with it. If you want to impress the Lord, put your trust in Him.

Throughout the Gospels, wherever Jesus came upon people who displayed faith, He commended that faith. Our Lord is always looking for people who display faith in Him. The sudden and unusual interruption of these men was no inconvenience to Jesus. Though many of the doctors of the law were probably miffed at this disturbance, Jesus was not. But the thing which makes us indignant is our own pride. I heard one person say that the only thing they wanted out of life was a continued and exaggerated sense of their own importance. Unfortunately, that was what many of these Pharisees were laboring under. But Jesus had no such pride to make Him upset that He was being interrupted. He saw it for what it was – a calling out in faith for help. And He met the real need. He saw their faith and had compassion on them. And He went to the real source of this man’s problem. He forgave his sin.

This is a general principle in Scripture and in life. Sin is the root cause of all misery. Because of the Fall of Man, sin entered into the world. And sickness is a result of that fall in a general way. That is not to say that every cold a person might have is a direct result of some specific sin. But it is a result of the fall. Now, some sickness is a result of a specific sin committed. Such might have been the case of this man. His paralysis might have been the result of fast living in his youth. We simply do not know. But what we do know is that Jesus forgave him.

"But there were some of the scribes sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, ‘Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?" (verses 6-7). 

Notice the attitude here of the scribes toward what Jesus had done. The scribes had an inclination toward unbelief. This was especially true when what was going on did not fit their traditions or doctrines. And this certainly did not. Take note also of the logic of the scribes’ reasoning against Jesus. Here was a man proclaiming the forgiveness of sins to this sick man. But only God can forgive sins. And only God knows if sins are forgiven. It is not something you can see with the eye. "What does this man think He is trying to get away with? He is just a man. He is not God, yet He is saying something that neither He nor we can verify. Is He saying that He is God? Why He blasphemes God!" 

And so went the reasoning of the scribes. It sounds logical and seems as well like a sound argument, except for one thing: they had failed to observe the evidence and possibility that Jesus was divine, and thereby had the power to forgive sins. But they, too, were caught up in their own self-sufficiency and absorption in external trivialities to notice this fact. So, they were doubters, skeptics. They had a presupposition that Jesus was not the Christ and they could not see because of it. So, they were not even honest doubters. They did not want to see. Their doubt came from a moral condition of their heart. Because they were lifted up in their own pride and self-sufficiency they had closed off their heart to anything other than what they thought was right. This is the disease of the skeptics.

Saint Mark tells us that they “murmured in their hearts against Jesus.” This is always the outcome of unbelief. There is always murmuring. But though their murmuring was not spoken, even in their mind, it was not hidden.

"And immediately Jesus, perceiving in His spirit that they were reasoning that way within themselves, said to them, ‘Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, "Your sins are forgiven;" or to say, "Arise, and take up your pallet and walk?" But in order that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,’ He said to the paralytic, ‘I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home.’" (Mark 8-11) We see here the authority of God. This is Jesus’ response to their disbelief. Notice what He did. Firstly, He challenged their unbelief. Remember, they were just thinking these things. But Jesus wanted to confront them with the truth. So, He turned the murmur into an opportunity.

Jesus exhibited His authority to forgive by healing the man. Remember the scribes had been reasoning in their hearts that Jesus could not have the power to forgive sins because He was not God and only God has such power. And they were partly right. Only God can forgive sins. But they also acknowledged that sickness was caused by sin. Jesus had only spoken the word that this man’s sin was forgiven. He had done something which could not be seen. If He really had power, then let Him heal this man.

So, Jesus caught them in their own trap. He acknowledged that it was easier to say something one could not verify. One thing could not be verified – the man’s forgiveness from sin. Another could – his healing. So, Jesus manifested His power to forgive sins by healing this man. He demonstrated His power or His authority to forgive and release this man from the root cause of his sickness, and thereby release him from his sickness. What was done already in the unseen realm was manifest in the seen. The invisible was made visible. This was how it was. And this is how it should be in our lives.

Many say that they love the Lord. But if we have a commitment to Christ, it would show by what we do visibly. Many folks write their own rules about commitment. They say they love the Lord. Yet, they are not faithful to Him or to His Church. They say in their heart they love the Lord, yet they do not obey His commandments. They hold ill feelings in their heart towards people, but they say they love God. They do not tithe or support the Church and Her work, but they say they really love the Lord and everything they have is His.

I believe none of it, not for one minute. It is just simply a lie. They are not deceiving God, they are deceiving only themselves. If you really love Jesus, you will be faithful to His Church. If you really love Jesus, you will forgive your brother and sister. If you really love Jesus, you will tithe and joyfully and willingly help to maintain Her and support the work she does in God’s name. If you love Jesus, you will do right. If you love Jesus, you will live by His Word. If you love Jesus, you will seek Him out and bow down before Him, worshipping, adoring, and honoring Him all the days of your life.

It is high time we spoke the truth to one another. The world looks at the Church and sees so-called Christians professing to love the Lord, yet not living for Him. And they call that kind of person a hypocrite. Do you know they are right? It is time we told the truth. If we say we love God and do not follow Him, we are hypocrites. If we love Jesus, it will show in the way we live our lives. True discipleship is our love being manifested in the visible commitments we have to Christ.

"And he arose and immediately took up the pallet and went out in the sight of all; so that they were all amazed and were glorifying God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this.’" (Mark 2:12)

The authority of God manifested in the healing of this man produced the amazement of the crowd. Notice the healing and its effect. The first thing we see is that obedience to the command of Jesus was necessary. Jesus spoke the word to the man to get up and take his bed and go home. Now, this was exactly what the man could not do for himself. This was his problem. And the Lord called on Him to do what He could not do. This is what He does to us as well.

The man had a choice to make at this point. It is the same choice you have today: Will you obey the command of Jesus to do what you cannot see how to do yourself? Many of you are not obeying God in an area of your life because you cannot see how you can do it. But that is where the grace of God comes in – just at that point of obedience. This man could not see how he could walk. But he obeyed because Jesus asked him to. And the power came at that moment to walk. He was healed at the moment he obeyed the command of the Lord.

And the crowd was amazed. They may have also been caught up in the scribes’ disbelief. We do not know. But more probably, they just had never witnessed the power of God in action. They had never seen the root cause of misery dealt with, and with mercy and grace at that. So, they were amazed.

But being amazed is not being convinced. We have no indication that this crowd was convinced enough to do something about it. And we are sure that the scribes were not convinced. Even the miraculous does not convince those who have already made up their minds. But for those who will learn the lessons of faith contained in our passage today, God will meet you and do for you what He did for this man. He will touch the root cause of your sickness and minister His forgiveness and grace, His mercy and love to you.

We must see, today, the determined faith of these men for their friend. It was because of their faith that he received healing. Our faith can have such effect on others. Because of our faith, others’ lives can be touched, just as this man’s life was touched. But we must also see that true faith always produces visible action. It is a faith seen by works. Faith is the "substance." It is the "evidence." What has your faith been saying lately?

We must also see that many of our problems have a root cause in sin, which must be dealt with first. We must treat the disease instead of the symptoms. It may be that the problem you think you have is only a symptom of a deeper problem, which only Jesus can solve. Come to Him today and allow Him to heal what ails you.

Finally, we must see that if we would receive from the Lord, we must respond to Him in obedience. Even though we cannot see how we can do what He says, we must respond that we may receive that power. And it will be there when we do respond.

We must not allow ourselves to be like the unbelieving scribes. We should not be skeptics. St. Paul tells us in his First Letter to the Corinthians that "Love believes all things." That does not mean that we take everything without thinking. But it does mean that we remain open to what the Lord would tell us. It means that we will listen to hear the voice of God speak to us. What is the Lord saying to you today?

The Great Physician of our souls stands ready to heal us of the deepest diseases of the human heart. Place yourself in His skilled hands today and receive His grace and healing.

Amen.