15 February 2010

Sermon from 14 February: Forgiveness Sunday

The root of the word “disciple” is “discipline.”
And to be a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ is to take his yoke upon ourselves:
the disciplines of prayer, and fasting and almsgiving.

But why these three disciplines?
Why prayer, and fasting, and almsgiving?

There are two reasons, beloved:
First, because they call us back to the life of paradise.
Adam prayed…he spoke with the Lord on a daily basis. He was not surprised, after the Fall, that the Lord would come to walk in the Garden in the cool of the day.

Adam fasted…or at least, he was called to fast from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, to show his obedience and love for the One who made him in his image. When he broke that fast, he lost Paradise for himself and for us.

And what of almsgiving? There were no poor in the Garden, only Adam and Eve, supplied with everything they needed. But almsgiving is precisely the confession that God provides and has provided us with all we need to love and serve him.

So when we pray, when we fast, when we give alms,
We remember the life of Paradise, the life from which we have fallen.

The second reason we pray, and fast, and give alms, is because they draw us to the Second Adam, the Lord Jesus Christ.

All his life is a life of prayer
He prayed in the Temple…before choosing the disciples…in his time of deepest woe in Gethsemane—yes, and on the rough wood of the Cross, where he prayed “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” At all times and place, he prayed.
Even after he rose again, St. Paul tells us that Christ “lives to make intercession for us.”

He fasted.
When Christ came to redeem us and restore us to Paradise,
The first act of his ministry for us
Was to fast for forty days and nights.
“My food is to do the will of him who sent me,” he told his disciples.

And he gave alms. Though he had no place to lay his head, he freely gave of his time and his life, to help those in deepest need. He taught the poor, he healed the sick, he raised the dead, he cast out demons.

By his prayers, by his fasting, he gave to us the alms we need the most:
Not this life, extended out longer, with a little more comfort;
But his own indestructible life, a life in union with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Today, this Forgiveness Sunday, we take those disciplines on ourselves in a deeper way.

In a few moments, we mark Forgiveness Vespers.
Each of us asks every other one for forgiveness;
Each of us responds, in return: “God forgives, and I forgive.”
We cannot soar to the heights of discipline, if our leg is fettered with bitterness.
And how we respond to others’ faults will determine how our Father deals with ours. Freed from resentment, we can devote ourselves to prayer.

For the next number of weeks, we will fast from meat, and fish, and dairy.
Not to “earn points” with God—he doesn’t need our fasting
Not to show ourselves better—remember, the Devil is the best fast-er of all—
But to raise in ourselves a hunger for God,
A remembrance how totally we depend on him for our daily bread.
Beware of self-chosen fasting: “I’ll fast from this, or from that.” Let us rather submit ourselves to the mind of the Church, the mind of Christ, and take his yoke on ourselves.

And we give alms: maybe through “Food for Hungry People,” or “OCMC”, or even more local avenues of ministry—God grant us an Orthodox “Project Hope” some day! We give up things that will perish, to gain things that last forever. We lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven.

During this Lent we enter into spiritual combat with principalities and powers—
Or rather, we remind ourselves of the never-ending battle
which began when we were washed in the waters of Holy Baptism
and anointed with Holy Chrism,
and first tasted the life-giving flesh and blood of the Son of God.

We embrace the way of the Cross, the Holy Passion of Christ our God for us,
So that we might rejoice in his glorious Resurrection.

So come, beloved of God,

Let us lay aside the cares of this life
Let us take on ourselves the gentle yoke of Christ
And let us journey with him to Jerusalem, where he must suffer.

Let us see, as he suffers for us with outstretched arms on the Tree,
His gracious invitation for us to return to Paradise.
Let us go with the women to his empty tomb,
and awaken from our normal slumber of doubt and laziness,
to the great glad tidings that the Son is risen!

As St. Paul tells us in today’s epistle: “Brethren, salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed; the night is far gone, the day is at hand. Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”

1 comment:

Emily H. said...

Father bless.

Thanks for posting this - we had to miss Forgiveness Vespers because of travel, so it's good to still hear a sermon from Forgiveness Sunday.