27 April 2010

Sermon from the Sunday of the Paralytic

One Russian priest says that today is the feast-day for all us paralytics. That’s what we are, isn’t it?

Beside our mortality, which leads us to fear, and bondage to sin…
Beneath our sin, which leads us to put ourselves at the center…
There’s also our weakness, which leads us to despair.

Weakness was the paralytic’s problem. Thirty eight years he lay near the pool. Throughout that time, he saw the waters stir, and others enter, and come out healed. But he himself could only watch: so close, and yet so far. No wonder that when the Lord said, “Do you want to be made well?” he answered “I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up.”

Do you know your weakness? I’m often struck by the words of Isaiah, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way.” Weakness isn’t the same as sin. Weakness refers to those parts of our nature which have become exposed because of our ancestral sin. Weakness was no problem before the Fall, because we were covered with the glory of God. But when we fell, we lost the glory and so became weak. That’s why the Scripture says that the first thing our first parents noticed after the Fall was that they were naked…vulnerable…weak.

We are, all of us, weak. Some of our weaknesses are natural, common to us all: we all hunger and thirst, we all grow tired, we all die. And some of our weaknesses are personal, unique to each individual. Some struggle with physical limitations; others deal with depression. These things aren’t sin. But they remind us of our death, and can lead us to sin.

How do we deal with our weakness?
Some folks deny it. “Everything’s fine!” they’ll tell you…even when it’s not.
Others cover it. The schoolyard bully…the brash business man…the politician who says he’s retiring ‘to spend more time with his family’ when the polls go down…
Still others sink under its weight. “That’s just the way I am,” they’ll say, and thereby excuse themselves from ever growing, or changing.

Not so with the paralytic. He didn’t deny his weakness, or cover it up: how could he? Nor did he sink under its weight, and despair. He persevered. He waited patiently for the Lord. St. John Chrysostom says, “Astonishing was the perseverance of the paralytic, he was of thirty and eight years standing, and each year hoping to be freed from his disease, he continued in attendance, and withdrew not.”

Let us learn from the paralytic, beloved.
Let us not cover our weakness. Let us not deny it, or despair of it.

But let us learn to wait for the Lord…to bring it before him in prayer, as did St. Paul. He wrote the Corinthians: “lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

It may be that the Lord will heal us by his word, as he did with this paralytic. “Take up your pallet and walk,” he said, and at once the man went home.

It may be that the Lord will tell us, with Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you; my power is perfected in weakness.” Indeed, may God deliver us from thinking we have no weakness! We must all be afflicted with some weakness in this life, and even when we are healed of one, we will have still others until the work of Christ is completely finished, and we see him in glory.

And let us beware, lest our weakness become a cause of sin. When the Lord encountered the paralytic after the healing, he said, “See, you have been made well. Go and sin no more, lest something worse befall you!”

No matter what, let weakness teach us humility…let it teach us to trust Christ who can sympathize with our weakness, because, being God, he became man, and bore our common weakness—he hungered, and thirsted, and grew tired. He even embraced our death, not because he had to, but willingly, freely, and full of love. Let us look to Christ, risen from the dead, who trampled down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowed life.

26 April 2010

If it looks like a...

Interesting article in USA Today, 26 April 2010 on using church buildings for commencement ceremonies. The ACLU is threatening to sue a school board in Enfield, Connecticut for using an area megachurch as the location for the Enfield commencement. Here's the relevant quote:

"Greg Stokes, a pastor who chairs the Enfield school board, says The First Cathedral, a Baptist megachurch in nearby Bloomfield, Conn., is a generic space. 'If you...walked into the main auditorium, you would not recognize yourself as being in a church.'"

I was reminded of the Orthodox cathedral in Almaty, Kazakhstan--the second-tallest wooden building in the world. When the Bolsheviks took over, they couldn't figure out what to do with the space. They tried it as an art gallery...a lecture hall...but it was made to be a church, and is useless for any other purpose.

What does architecture confess about theology?

06 April 2010

Things I was reminded of...

...during our Paschal celebration.

First, how I feel or think at a given time isn't the most important thing. The fact is that the tomb is empty and Christ is risen. Everything else, all our spirituality and singing, our ascetic labors--all is founded on Christ's actual resurrection or it is worthless.

Second, we need each other. When you walk around the outside of the church, and a breeze blows out one's candle it's not so bad when there's someone else around from whose candle one's own can be relit. "We are damned by ourselves. We are saved in community."

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!