06 July 2014

Homily for 6 July 2014

         Some years ago I considered entering the Army Reserves as a chaplain, to help supplement my income as a pastor. Very quickly I discovered the difference between life in the Army and life in the Church. The chaplain I was talking to, needed a form of some kind. “Corporal Smith!” he called out. “Yes, sir!” the corporal replied. “Get me form such-and-such,” the chaplain said. “Yes, sir!” the corporal said, and went immediately to carry out the command. I remember thinking, “Wow, would church be different if pastors could get that kind of response!”
         The man in today’s gospel understood the power of a word. Like any officer in any army from that day till our own, he needed only to express his will, and others would jump into action to make sure it happened. Armies rely on the power of a word.
         So it was that when Christ offered to come to his house, to heal his servant, the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should come to my house; but say the word, and he will be healed. For even I am a man under authority, and I say to one man ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another ‘Come,’ and he comes.”
         Consider his words. In the first place, he admits his own unworthiness. One of the other Gospels mentions that the Jews say, “He is worthy that you do this, for he loves our people and built us a synagogue.” He thought himself unworthy, and others thought him worthy. Most of the time, things are opposite: we think ourselves worthy, and others say, “Well, not so much.” What else explains how quickly we become angry?...how we complain when suffering is our lot in life?...when things don’t go the way we think they should?
If I truly believed I was not worthy, I would not grumble under suffering…I would be slower to get angry and frustrated…I would see each day, with all it brings, as a gift…I would learn to call on God fervently, from the heart, for help in all things.
Note, also, that the centurion compares himself only with Christ. When he says, “Even I am a man under authority, and my words are obeyed,” here’s what he’s saying. “If I am under authority and men obey me, how much more will sickness obey you, who are enfleshed God.” His words powerfully confessed the power of Christ to do what he willed.

         There wasn’t much that made Christ marvel. In fact, I could find only two such times. He marveled at the unbelief shown him in Nazareth, and he marveled at the faith of this Gentile centurion. With a word, he healed the servant.

         The Greek word for ‘word’ is logos. It also means ‘reason.’ Careful observers of our country and world may wonder whatever happened to it. Where did reason go, when we try to fix the problems of other countries, and neglect our own? Where did reason go, when we are giving our children 17 trillion dollars in debt and at the same time admitting more wards of the state? Where did reason go when our so-called war against radical Islam has resulted in the destruction of Christianity in the Middle East? I could go on and on; the examples are endless, both in our nation and, if we look closely, in our own lives.

         What, then, shall we do? There is precious little I can do with the world system as it lurches toward irrationality. But there is much I can do in my own life. To begin with, I can learn how precious and powerful is the Word of God. We Orthodox must be careful to cherish the written Word of God, the Holy Scriptures. If Protestants do no honor to the Scripture by a low view of the Church, it is also true that Orthodox do no honor to the Church by a low view of Scripture. Do we read it? Do we tremble at it? Do we seek to order our lives according to it? “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
         Further, I can learn from the centurion how to see myself. “I am not worthy.” As Solzhenitsyn reminds us, we were not put on this earth to become happy. In this brief time we live in the light, let us meditate on the love of God in Christ, how that he made us out of nothing, and when we had fallen he did not cease to do all things until he brought us to heaven, and gave us his kingdom to come.
         In a few moments, he gives us that kingdom once again in the chalice. He who healed the centurion’s servant with a word, now comes under the roof of our souls to feed us and nourish us and heal us and forgive us. Let us not take this great gift for granted, beloved, but let us receive it in humility and thanksgiving. As St. John Chrysostom says in his pre-communion prayer, 

“O Lord my God, I know that I am not worthy nor sufficiently pleasing that Thou shouldst come under the roof of the house of my soul for it is entirely desolate and fallen in ruin and Thou wilt not find in me a place worthy to lay Thy head. But as Thou didst humble Thyself from on high for our sake, so now humble Thyself to my lowliness.As Thou didst deign to lie in a cavern, in a manger of dumb beasts, so now deign to enter in to the manger of my beastly soul, and into my soiled body.And as Thou didst not disdain to enter and to eat with sinners in the house of Simon the leper, so now be pleased to enter into the house of my soul, humble and leprous and sinful.And as Thou didst not cast out the prostitute, the sinful woman who came to touch Thee, so have compassion on me a sinner who comes to touch Thee.And As Thou didst not abhor the kiss of her sin-stained and unclean mouth, do not abhor my mouth, worse stained and more unclean than hers, nor my stained and shamed and unclean lips, nor my still more impure tongue.But let the fiery coal of Thy most pure Body and Thy most precious Blood bring me sanctification, enlightenment and strengthening of my lowly soul and body, relief from the burden of my many transgressions, protection against every action of the devil, repulsion and victory over my wicked and evil habits, mortification of my passions, accomplishment of Thy commandments, increase of Thy divine grace, and inheritance of Thy kingdom.For I do not come to Thee in presumption, O Christ my God, but made bold by Thine unspeakable goodness, lest I stray far away from Thy flock, O Master, and become caught by the wolf of souls.Therefore I pray Thee, O Master, for Thou alone art holy, sanctify my soul and body, my mind and heart, my muscles and bones. Renew me entirely. Implant Thy fear in my fleshly members and let Thy sanctification never be removed from me.Be my helper and defender, guide my life in peace and make me worthy to stand at Thy right hand with all Thy saints.By the prayers and supplications of Thy most pure Mother, of Thy spiritual servants, the most pure angelic powers, and of all the saints who from all ages have been well-pleasing to Thee. Amen.”


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