16 June 2013

Sunday of the Fathers of the First Council

            In our day and in our country, when you don’t like something about your church, it’s no big deal. You just move on down the block and start a new one. It’s happening here in Dorr: there are little break-off groups from local congregations meeting, one at the township hall and another at Sycamore Elementary.  And all that makes sense, if church is something we create. No wonder that according to a recent Pew study, there are about 41,000 different denominations in the US today!
            But that’s not how they saw it in the early days of Christianity. Christianity became legal in 313 AD, and soon thereafter, a priest of Alexandria named Arius began to deny that Jesus is God. St. Paul had warned the Ephesians, “from among your own selves will arise men speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.” Why didn’t Arius just try to start his own church? Why did he try to upset the faith the whole world knew?
            It was everybody knew--even him-- that the church isn’t something we create. It’s something we receive from the hand of God, through the hands of those who served before us. Christ doesn’t have many bodies, but only one body. And that body isn’t some spooky spiritual thing. Just as, in the days of our Lord’s ministry you could point out his body, so also when he ascended into heaven you could point out his body, the Church. And the Church was one.
            It’s worth noting how the issue was dealt with. Arius didn’t try to start a new church.  Nor did all the other bishops  just ask the Roman bishop to tell them what to believe. No; just as happened in the time of the apostles, the leaders of the church got together to discuss the issue. And so, 318 bishops from all over the Christian world gathered at Nicaea.
            What was at stake was nothing less than eternal salvation. For if Christ is merely a good man, the first and greatest creature, then God remains infinitely distant from us and we are on our own.  You cannot give what you do not have, and if Christ is not true God, how could he give us the divine life and glory?
            Guided by the Spirit, the holy fathers proclaimed the truth: Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, begotten eternally from his Father without mother, and begotten in time from his mother without father. Our God is not a vague force or power, an abstract concept.
            Nor do we call God “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” because we project earthly, human ideas onto that which cannot be known. We call God “Father” because he has been revealed to us by his Son made flesh. The Son poured out the Spirit from the Father onto us, to make us what we are: children of the Triune God. As we sing each Sunday morning in Matins: “God is the Lord and has revealed himself to us.”
            Eternal salvation is to know and love and live in the life of the Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As the Lord says in today’s Gospel: “And this is eternal life, that they know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou has sent.” And we know the Father through the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit, as Paul says elsewhere: “No one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.”
            That one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is known in Christ’s one body: the Church. See how Christ prays in our Gospel: “Holy Father, keep them in Thy Name, which Thou hast given Me, that they may be one, even as we are one. Just as Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one in essence and undivided, so also the Church is one. And just as Father, Son and Holy Spirit live one undivided life of love, so also with those joined together in one Lord, one faith and one Baptism.
            So let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Let us not grow cold in love, uncaring and insensitive to each other’s needs. But let us grow in prayer, in works of mercy, giving special honor to those who are weak and struggle. Let us not love in word only, but in deed and truth, and show ourselves to be children of the one true God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

10 June 2013

Homily for the Marriage of John and Nicole Schupra

            Today Christ visits your joy. Today he comes to help your gladness. Here, today, just as so many years ago at Cana in Galilee, he is present; and with him his holy apostles, eyewitnesses of his glory; and with him his most pure Mother, who sees your needs and intercedes for you.
            John and Nicole, today he who joined our first parents, joins you together as husband and wife. You will notice that you speak no vows; we offer only prayers, and God himself does the work. And there’s a reason for that.
            When a parent crosses icy pavement with their child, they don’t have the child take them by the hand, but rather they take the child by the hand. The parent’s outstretched hand holds better than the child could hold. Just so, today the risen Christ extends his hands to both of you. He takes your weak hands in his strong hand, and joins you together in one flesh.
            Marriage is God’s work, his doing. We don’t get to define marriage, any more than we get to define day and night, sun and stars, seedtime and harvest.  We receive it as a gift, his gift.
            Today is all joy; but it won’t always be so. There will come times when your resources fail, times when you are at wit’s end. Perhaps it will be the shadow of disease, or too much month and too little income, or the challenges of parenthood—I am no prophet; I don’t know what challenges will come, I only know that they will come.
            At those times you can rejoice that you have a swift defender and helper, the Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary. Just as she was present at Cana, so she is present in your marriage. Just as she saw the needs of that couple, and presented them to her Son, so she will present to him your needs. Don’t be shy to ask her prayers and intercessions. She will intercede with motherly boldness to her Son and God.
            And at her prayers, he who made the water into wine, can and will turn the water of your struggles into the wine of his joy and gladness.
            Did you notice, in the Gospel, that only the apostles got the whole picture? The servants who filled the pots, poured only water. The master of ceremonies tasted only the best wine. But the apostles saw it all, the water become wine, and they believed. When Christ God does his work, he hides it from most, and shows his glory only to a few.
            For in the end, what is the point of marriage? Marriage is not simply an antidote to human passions, a divine cure for physical desires—though it is that. Nor is it simply companionship, having someone else to walk with together on the road to the cemetery. No; marriage is, most of all, a path of deification: a way we walk on the way to sharing God’s glory, his very life. You two are, in the words of St. Peter, “joint heirs of the grace of life.”
            Someone has well said that God writes straight with crooked lines. In all the twists and turns, the things you cannot even imagine now, he will be writing. For us, it remains only to receive and cherish this gift God gives, this union he creates…to present to him your needs, to serve him and each other with body and soul, and, with the apostles, to be eyewitnesses of his glory.
            Today, Christ visits your joy. Today he comes to help your gladness: in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.