29 January 2012

Homily on the Canaanite Woman

Which of us here wouldn’t welcome a deeper, more abiding faith? With all the problems in our broader world, and the troubles in our own hearts and lives, a strong and vibrant faith could help us cope with life’s twists and turns.
All of us want it. The question is, how do we get it? We need not buy lots of books. We don’t have to travel on distant pilgrimages. We don’t have to change our address, or our job, or even our parish.
No; for each and every one of us, the answer’s much closer to home. Take a look at the woman in today’s Gospel. She had a daughter, every mother’s dream…but her dream had become a nightmare. Her daughter was demon possessed.
When she heard that Jesus had come to her neighborhood, she went to ask his help. “Lord, have mercy; my daughter is demon possessed.” And how did he respond?
First he gave her silence. But she wouldn’t quit.
Then he told her he was sent only to Israel. But still she begged.
Finally he said, “It isn’t right to give the children’s bread to the dogs.”
She took him at his word and said, “Yes, Lord—yet even dogs get the crumbs.”

To us, it may seem as if the Lord is being cruel. We get so caught up in the coldness of his words, that we miss the warmth of his heart. And that’s because, I’m convinced, our experience of him is so different from hers.
We want to have deeper faith, but we don’t realize that the troubles, and problems, and sins we face in ourselves and in those we love are all the means God uses to strengthen our faith. We’re like a man who goes to the gym, and sees all the equipment, and says, “How will I ever get fit?”
Think about that problem you’ve been struggling with. Perhaps you told it to the priest in confession. Perhaps you’ve kept it bottled up inside. Then late at night, it all comes rushing in…a sinful habit you struggle to break…a relationship all in tatters… the loneliness of someone who’s single but doesn’t want to be…or the heartbreak of those who want to be parents, but can’t quite seem to conceive.
What’s the problem? What is it you carry around inside? Beloved, that’s the thing God means to strengthen your faith. For the woman, it was her daughter. For you—well, only you can say.
We must learn to tie the Gospel together with the pains and struggles we face—not only the little ones, but also the big ones, the ones we’ve gotten used to, the ones we think nothing can help.
“But I’ve tried to do that,” you say, “and it didn’t make a difference.”
When I taught at seminary, I met a most remarkable man. Cliff Lloyd was a Welshman who served in World War II. After the war, he helped in training troops. When he emigrated to Canada, he earned a PhD and was founding president of a university. But then he got a very bad stroke. It affected his speech and his mobility. He retired.
One day he phoned me. He was 76 year old, and wanted to get a theological degree. At first I tried to discourage him. But he wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. The last time I saw Cliff—and he got his degree, by the way—he told me, “I have something for you.” Then he gave me a paper with a drawing on it. A large bird has just swallowed a frog. But the frog’s two arms are coming out of the bird’s mouth and grabbing the bird by the throat. Below the picture, the caption reads, “Never give up.”
Take a look this morning at your deepest hurts and heartaches—the things you just can’t wrap your mind around. Don’t just learn to live with them. See them for what they are—the parts and places of your life where God is working, calling you To call on him…
To exercise your faith…
To learn to persevere, like this Canaanite woman…
To say, with Jacob of old, “I will not let you go until you bless me.”
Our greatest problems are really our greatest opportunities, to learn with this woman to pursue God: to ask, and seek, and knock, and not be turned away until we have touched his very heart.
For his heart towards us is good, just as it was towards her. “Oh woman,” he said, “your faith is great. Let it be done as you ask.” And her daughter was healed instantly. The Lord is not cruel; how could he be? He died for us. The Lord is not apathetic; he came from heaven to seek and save us. The Lord is not powerless; he who made everything from nothing can give you what you need. He who raises the dead can surely bring new life to your heart and home. He who forgives sinners can cleanse you, and make you white as wool.
So keep on asking…keep on seeking…keep on knocking. He promises that everyone who asks, receives; everyone who seeks, finds; and to everyone who keeps knocking, the door will be opened. Let us try his words and prove that he is faithful!

22 January 2012

Homily on Zacchaeus

They say that curiosity killed the cat, but curiosity brought Zacchaeus life. He was curious about Christ, and when he heard that the Lord was coming to his town, he did a very cat-like thing: he climbed a tree.
Why the tree? For one thing, he was short. But that wasn’t all. For him to get in the midst of a crowd could be dangerous. After all, he wasn’t the favorite man in town. He was a chief tax collector, and he was very good at his work.
He must have thought things through, too—like a cat planning to catch its prey. Jericho was a big, busy city with lots of streets and lanes. Which street would Christ come down? Which tree on that street would be best to climb?
So there he was, perched in his tree like a cat. But when the Lord passed by, the game of cat-and-mouse was reversed. Christ stopped in his tracks, looked up, and caught Zacchaeus where he was…he caught him with love.
He called Zacchaeus by name. “Zaccchaeus,” he said, “come down. I must stay today at your house!” When we hear it, we might miss the word “must.” “I must stay today at your house.” It wasn’t an option. It was part of his plan, all along.
Quickly Zacchaeus scooted down the tree. He didn’t worry what others thought. He didn’t think about what other plans he might have had for the day. He was completely captured by Christ’s love.
The crowd complained…they always do, don’t they? So Zacchaeus said to Christ, “Look, Lord! I give half my goods to the poor; and if I’ve taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore it four-fold!” Think what this meant: Zacchaeus was sold out for Christ. He was choosing to go from riches to rags. He was choosing poverty; or rather, he was making friends by means of mammon.
Today, in the midst of winter, the smell of Spring is in the air—the Lenten Spring, that is…the light of repentance. It’s only a few short weeks till we begin our journey to Christ’s cross and tomb—and then, the joy of Pascha.
For on that day when Christ called Zacchaeus down from the tree, he was very near the time when his journey took him to another tree—the cross. There he hung between heaven and earth as the noblest fruit. By being raised on that tree, he overcame the fall that resulted from another tree. He put death to death by death, and brought our life to light.
Today the Lord Jesus passes by again. He calls us by name. He bids us come down from the trees we’ve put ourselves in…to come to him for salvation—healing and wholeness.
So let us loose our grip on the things that hold us back: our pleasures and possessions, our sin and selfishness. Let us, like Zacchaeus, find our pleasure in giving away possessions. Let us who receive Christ’s very life in the Eucharist, learn to share that life. He who gave himself into death for us, will provide the things we need to live with him, and bring us at last to his heavenly Kingdom, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

21 January 2012

A homily by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich

About God's omniscience and providence

"Even all the hairs of your headare counted" (St. Matthew 10:30).

Brethren, "the hairs of your head are counted" much less the days of your life! Do not be afraid, therefore, that you will die before your appointed time nor yet hope that you will somehow be able to extend your life for one day against the will of Him Who counts and measures. Let this knowledge teach you meekness and fear of God.

"The hairs of your head are counted" much less your sufferings on earth! Do not be afraid, therefore, that you will suffer more beyond measure. Fear even less that your sufferings will remain forgotten and unaccounted for by Him Who sees all. This knowledge will teach you patience and confidence toward your Creator and Provider.

"The hairs of your head are counted" much less your friends and enemies on earth! Do not be afraid, therefore, that you will have either too many friends or too many enemies. Neither be afraid that your enemies will overcome you nor be assured that your friends will defend you. Concern yourself only that you have God for a friend and do not be afraid of anything. Behold, He is your only friend Who loves you without change.

O Good Lord, Wise Provider Who knows the number, measure and time of all, banish from us every fear, except the fear of You. That through fear of You, we may arrive to the pure and holy love toward You, our Creator and Benefactor.

To You be glory and thanks always. Amen.

01 January 2012

An insight from MacIntyre

"...the adherents of a tradition which is now in this state of fundamental and radical crisis [in context, a 'a state of epistemological crisis'] may at this point encounter in a new way the claims of some particular rival tradition, perhaps one with which they have for some time coexisted, perhaps one which they are now encountering for the first time. They now come or had already come to understand the beliefs and way of life of this other alien tradition, and to do so they have or have had to learn...the language of the alien tradition as a new and second first language.

When they have understood the beliefs of the alien tradition, they may find themselves compelled to recognize that within this other tradition it is possible to construct from the concepts and theories peculiar to it what they were unable to provide from their own conceptual and theoretical resources, a cogent and illuminating explanation--cogent and illuminating, that is, by their own standards--of why their own intellectual tradition had been unable to solve its problems or restore its coherence...

In this kind of situation the rationality of tradition requires an acknowledgement by those who have hitherto inhabited and given their allegiance to the tradition in crisis that the alien tradition is superior in rationality and in respect of its claims to truth to their own."

Alasdair MacIntyre, "Whose Justice? Which Rationality?" pp. 364f

MacIntyre succinctly captures my journey from Lutheranism to the Orthodox Church.

From a hot summer day in 1984 when layfolk participated in an ordination, to the 2004 convention of the LCMS when, for the first time, the non-ecclesial nature of the Synod was clearly visible to me...from the Good Friday afternoon in 1987 to the afternoon of July 23, 2005 when I was chrismated--I gradually came to see that things in Lutheranism which initially annoyed were, rather, signs of systemic brokenness and decay; and that things in the Church which initially struck me as fragments of truth and beauty were, in fact, part of a consistent and complete whole which could no longer be denied.

All this I write, not to offend Lutheran friends, but to serve as a monument for my own memory.