It’s the Small Things

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit…

One thing I often wonder about is the small things. How the smallest of things work together to make the big things happen. And one of the things that intrigue me the most about the small things that work together is us, our cooperation with each other and especially God. To co-operate or to work with someone takes a lot of energy. Working with those around us requires patience, may be a lot of patience, especially when the person in front of us doesn’t necessarily understand or appreciate the cooperative efforts being used to get a task done.
 
Throughout scripture we find several versus and stories of God working with humanity and his creation to bring about his Divine Will. We see this in today’s Gospel account of when Mary visits Elizabeth. We all know the story of how the child in the womb of Elizabeth jumps at the sound of Mary’s greeting. Yet, we often look past the beautiful words Mary speaks poetically as she says, “Magnify me O Lord…” She is reciting the Psalms and prophets and through her song Mary is reminding us that she is not just a Virgin who gave birth to the Son of God; she is also blessed by all generations through her action, through her humility to the will of God.
 
Every Sunday, as we come together and celebrate Badarak, the breaking and sharing of bread and wine, Christ body and blood, we offer ourselves as gifts to God, as disciples for doing his will and work in the world. As a community we bring to God our most basic needs, offering our whole life, and ask him to take us, change us, use us and give himself back to us, as his own Body and Blood for forgiveness, healing, and salvation. So Badarak is not only about God’s plan to share himself with us, but also about changing us into the people God wants us to be, the Body of Christ, nourished to carry out the mission of the Church. In both these instances we see a definite cooperation between God and humanity. Yet, many times I struggle with okay apart from Church how else does God use me? As a pastor it may be easier then for others. My job title requires of me to be a teacher of God to those around me. Yet, even I admit, getting lost in some of the administrative work or day to day tasks of priesthood, sometimes I struggle to find God working with me or using me for good.
 
This reminds of a story I read many years ago of a young man going from school one day. He was the average, popular, jock kid who maybe wasn’t the smartest of all. One day, walking home on a boring Friday afternoon, he saw his classmate heading home with what looked like an entire locker full of books. Thinking that this guy must be a geek, he watched how a few other guys from school knocked the guy over and ridiculed him. Feeling bad he went over to help him gather up his things and they even walked home, talking to each other. The popular jock even invited the geek over to hang out over the weekend. Over the years, these two became very good friends. Upon graduating each would go off to a different college but they would remain friends forever. Our geeky friend was, to no ones surprise, the valedictorian and as he got up to give his speech everyone listened in shock. “Graduation is a time to thank those who helped you make it through those tough years. Your parents, your teachers, your siblings, maybe a coach — but mostly your friends. I am here to tell all of you that being a friend to someone is the best gift you can give them. I am going to tell you a story about the first day I met my best friend. I had planned to kill myself over the weekend. I had cleaned out my locker so my mom wouldn’t have to do it later and was carrying my stuff home. Thankfully, I was saved. My friend saved me from doing the unspeakable.”
 
We live in a quantitative society, where we measure our worth by how much money we make, how many friends we have on social media, what hangs in our closet etc. Unfortunately many of us fail to see the worth of our actions when we want to see God working in our lives. We look for miracles, we look for immediate answers, we look to find worth in our actions. Yet, my dear brothers and sisters, why is it we look for worth in only our big actions? When someone stops a bullet, or prevents a terrorist attack from happening. When a doctor heals an incurable disease or when someone walks away from a horrific accident. We say Park Astudzo, Thanks be to God. Yet, I am sure many of us would not see God in a kid being nice to someone being bullied; we do not see God in us opening a door for someone who is unable to; we do not see God in a smile or a gesture of kindness.
 
Yet, my dearly beloved brothers and sisters, that’s where God’s cooperation with us is found. A women giving birth, a jock helping a fellow classmate, a bullet being stopped, us celebrating Badarak, all of these actions are example of us working with God only when we do so out of love for God and each other. No matter how big or small it may seem, natural or miraculous, each of these actions can serve the glory of God or the glory of us. We can go to Badarak and feel self righteous and judgmental – rather than be repentive, humble and ask for God’s mercy. We can “make friends” to satisfy our own self worth rather then see the worth of the person we are befriending. We can heal all sickness and become arrogant, rather then thank God the true physician.
 
My dear brothers and sisters, our love for the Virgin Mary as stated in her poem is not stemmed because she merely gave birth to a child. No, rather we love her because she is the example for each of us that if we act out of love, if we humbly accept God in all our actions, great or mundane, if we see Christ in everyone and not merely in the supernatural, then we too will fulfill our share of God’s Divine plan. As children of God, we are called to be co-rulers, co-creators and co-heirs to the Kingdom of God. God desires to work with us. Why? Simply because he loves us! This means that each of us as individuals and collectively as a Church are a part of his plan of salvation, a direct link in the chain chosen by God for his purposes. The mission of the Church isn’t about satisfying our personal agendas or even the agenda of a single parish community, but all together we make up the Body of Christ. As a parish, as individuals on a daily basis, do we magnify the Lord? Are we just as joyful as the Mother of God in her song of praise, knowing that God also chooses us to be a part of his divine plan? Are we fellow workers with God as I Corinthians 3:9, “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.”

Let us pray for the Holy and Ever-Virgin Mary to show us truly what it means to live according to God’s commandments, to live and fulfill his will and to co-operate with Him and may we each look for God’s love, hope and resurrection in everything from the smallest acts to the truly miraculous ones.

We All Need A Belt

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit…

Who can tell me how many types of belts there are? Belts to keep our pants on, for design, for weightlifting etc. Each has its purpose correct? But in essence they are all for the same purpose, a belt is meant to support our back, while of course holding our pants up in some cases. There are many style of belts. Belts that have a functional purpose, belts that are needed for safety, belts that are won, bebelt-of-thorin-oakenshield-2lts that show authority, belts that show power. When we as priests are vested and we put on the belt over our stomachs, the prayer we read is, “May the girdle of faith encircle me round about my heart and my mind and quench vile thoughts out of them; and may the power of your grace abide in them at all times, by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ to whom is befitting glory, dominion and honor…” And this belt that clergy wear is not an Armenian or even Christian idea. Aaron, the brother of Moses also wore a belt as instructed in the OT, “And you shall weave a girdle embroidered with needlework, of blue, purple and scarlet.” This is also reflected in Eph. 6:10-20 in St. Paul’s words of the Armor of God, “Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth,…”

And today, the Armenian Church is celebrating the Feast of the Discovery of the Belt of the Virgin Mary. A story not found in scripture but again in Holy Tradition of the Church. If you want to know why this story is important, read today’s Sunday bulletin. Needless to say for life in general and for us Christian’s belts hold an important place. And it may surprise some of us that today on this feast day our Gospel reading is not about a belt but rather about troubled waters.

“And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great storm of wind arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” 

Yes we all know this story all too well. We have heard it as children, we have read it ourselves, and I believe that we have each experienced this tale in our own lives. Our faith is strong, we feel at peace with life and we are in the presence of God.

Yet, all of a sudden something bad happens, we are hurt, we lose our jobs, we feel the loss of a loved one, we hear a bad diagnosis, or we fall into a temptation we have worked so hard to avoid. And in that moment, when our boat has taken on so much water we are about to sink, we turn to God and say, God do you not care if I perish? One of reasons this passage is dear to me is because we can relate. We have all felt overwhelmed to a point of sinking. In fact often times it is this overwhelming feeling that causes many people to abandon their faith. That is why Christ is asking here, where is our faith?

When life is peaceful and easy, when we are succeeding, it is easy to say Park Astudzo, Glory to God. Yet, with that same mouth in trialing times we say Ur e Astvadz, Where is God? Being a Christian is not easy my dear brothers and sisters. Being a Christian does not equal success according to today’s standards. Being a Christian is about not having to equate ourselves with today’s standards. Because having faith in Christ, being a Christian is about taking on pain, taking on darkness, taking on death in order to rise with Christ. As Christian’s we are called to put on our Armor, to put on our belts to protect us and support us in those times. Only the blind are ignorant of pain. In fact we have a saying ignorance is bliss. Meaning in today’s worldly understanding, to be in peace you need to be STUPID.

Yet, Christ is asking us to open our eyes, to trust in Him and to have faith, not because life is easy, No. Rather, because even from the depths of the sea, even when we have sunk to the bottom, have fallen into temptation, are bruised and beaten and cannot hold on any longer, EVEN THEN, we will rise. For the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4) St. Paul emphasis an interesting point here. We who are comforted are called to comfort others as well.

The disciples, who were with Christ day and night, who ate with him, lived with him, they too feared and misunderstood. They too needed comforting. And only after this do we read of them going out in the world and healing and preaching. Meaning, we have been given a tool. Our faith, which has helped us rise, which helps us rise, which will continue to help us rise, is a tool, is a belt by which we are called to be support to others. To help others rise. When I lift heavy weights and I wear this belt, I still have a buddy of mine stand near me for extra support. Likewise us, when our life is with Christ, when we have girdled our selves in truth, we still need each other to help support, because we are the tools that God uses to accomplish His divine will on earth.

My dear brothers and sisters, put on the belt, put on the Armor of God. Girdle yourselves with faith, so that we will be protected from the fiery arrows of the evil one, so that we will remain strong in the face of darkness with the Sword of Righteousness. So that we can protect those around us. Because we are a family, of different heights, weights, occupations, mentalities, skin colors, talents, hopes and dreams, success and failures. Yet what unites us, what binds us is our faith is Christ. A faith not built on shaky ground, but on solid foundation, bound with the belt of truth to support us.

Therefore, as the prayer of priestly vesting says, may the girdle of faith encircle us, around our hearts and minds, to quench vile thoughts, may the power of grace abide in us at all times. May we be strengthened by the Holy Spirit, girdled by truth, by which we will not be afraid of the darkness in our lives, but with Christ will rise above the waters and with us help raise others in the name of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and always, Amen!