21 February 2010

Who found whom?

Jesus decided to go into Galilee.
He had a plan…a purpose…and that purpose and plan was to find Philip.
So John tells us, “He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me!’”
Jesus found Philip. He called him.

When Philip heard the Lord’s call, we’re told, Philip found his friend Nathaniel and said,
We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote—
Jesus of Nazareth, son of Joseph!”

So who found whom? Did Jesus find Philip, or did Philip find Jesus?

The answer, of course, is “Yes--both.”

Our text is a delightful example of synergy: of God’s will coming together with ours.

A few years ago, there was an evangelistic campaign called “I found it!”
Those words appeared on billboards, along with a phone number.
Those who called the number received a gospel presentation.

At the time I criticized it; I said, “We shouldn’t say ‘I found it,’ but rather, “He found me.”
Like many, I thought that the relation between God’s will and mine was a “zero-sum game.”
I was wrong.

When you play poker with your friends, that’s a “zero sum game.”
If you win money, they lose money; if they win, you lose.
There’s only so much money involved.
But if you play poker with Bill Gates, that’s a “non-zero sum game.”
If you win some of his money, he’s lost nothing,
Because in the time it took you to win, he already made more.

The relationship between our will and God’s will is a non-zero sum game.
If I say, “We have found him,”
It doesn’t take away from his glory, his honor or his might.
It doesn’t mean that he didn’t find me.
Both are true: He found me, and I found him.

But how can that be?

How can God, the one who made everything, including me, from nothing—
How can God let himself become an object of my will, my creaturely will?

The answer gets to the heart of our Christian faith:
The incarnation of God the Son.
Without ceasing to be who he is,
He became what he was not.
He who is the Son of God, forever blessed,
Became the Son of Man, and took our curse.

He made himself an object of our senses, our mind,
And yes, our will.

That’s why St. Mark the Ascetic could say,

"Wishing to show that to fulfil every commandment is a duty, whereas sonship is a gift given to men through His own Blood, the Lord said: "When you have done all that is commanded you, say: 'We are useless servants: we have only done what was our duty'" (Luke 17: 10). Thus the kingdom of heaven is not a reward for works, but a gift of grace prepared by the Master for his faithful servants. A slave does not demand his freedom as a reward; but he gives satisfaction as one who is in debt, and he receives freedom as a gift."

We work, but we receive freedom as a gift. We find him, and he finds us.

That’s also why we reverence the holy icons. St. John of Damascus says, “Of old, God the incorporeal and uncircumscribed was never depicted. Now, however, when God is seen clothed in flesh, and conversing with men, (Bar. 3.38) I make an image of the God whom I see. I do not worship matter, I [16] worship the God of matter, who became matter for my sake, and deigned to inhabit matter, who worked out my salvation through matter. I will not cease from honouring that matter which works my salvation. I venerate it, though not as God.”

The Christian life is simply a life of hide and seek:

He seeks us, and knows us before we know him, and finds us in his holy Church;
We seek him, and find him where he wills to be found—
In his holy Church,
And in the bodies of the poor.

So let us seek him, beloved; let us not become proud when we see him wrapped in lowliness.
Let us not stumble at the lowly appearance, but honor the hidden majesty.
Let us honor him in the images,
Let us honor him in each other,
And let us honor him in the poor.

"When He is hungry, let us feed Him; when He is thirsty, let us give Him drink: though thou give Him but a cup of cold water, He receives it; for He loves thee, and to one who loves, the offerings of the beloved, though they be small, appear great. …
One who is beloved desires love to be shown, not by words only, but by deeds also. For to say that we love, and not to act like lovers, is ridiculous, not only before God, but even in the sight of men. Since then to confess Him in word only, while in deeds we oppose Him, is not only unprofitable, but also hurtful to us; let us, I entreat you, also make confession by our works; that we also may obtain a confession from Him in that day, when before His Father He shall confess those who are worthy in Christ Jesus our Lord, by whom and with whom, to the Father and the Holy Ghost be glory, now and ever, and world without end. Amen."

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.”