In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
Diratsoo how do you know I have faith or that my faith is weak? Countless times when I have conversations with people and we speak about how genuine our faith is, the conversation leads eventually to well how can you measure how much faith I have or how much faith someone else has? What is faith? How do we measure it? Is it by the clothes we wear, the style, the length, the color? Perhaps it is by how big of a check we send to our Church or charity, or the size of the fellowship we host after Liturgy. Can faith be measured by the music we listen to or the people we associate with? Perhaps these are measurements of our faith, perhaps not.
I have always wondered why we as humans desire to quantify everything, even our faith. We measure our calories to lose weight, we measure recipes to make delicious food, we measure our heights and weights and compare it to those around us in order to find an answer to a question not worth asking. Some things are needed to be measured, because they give us a result we aim to achieve. To quote the great Galileo, our mentality is very much, “Measure what can be measured, and make measurable what cannot be measured.” However, I believe the question to pose to us here my dear brothers and sisters, is not how large is my faith but what is the aim we hope to achieve through our faith, by what are we measuring our faith?
I read a humorous yet, sad story about when white missionaries came to Africa. The missionaries brought with them the Bible, and thinking they are the civilized society, they decided to teach “wild” Africans about the Bible. They brought the Bible, the locals owned the land. So the missionaries said to the locals, “Let us pray,” and asked the locals to close their eyes and bow their heads. By the time the lengthy prayer was over, the missionaries owned the land and the African’s had the Bible. This story really resonates in my heart when I ask, what is the aim of our faith? Do we use faith to justify our mistreatment of our environment and others around us? Do we use faith to raise us up onto a pedestal and look down upon those “heathens” below us?
Strangely enough when I examine this “style of faith” I am reminded of the words of Karl Marx’s criticism of all religions but especially the Christianity of his day “religion is the opiate of the masses,” – that which puts people to sleep, which blinds us and numbs us to reality, while the ground under our feet is taken away. In the Gospel story today Christ speaks, “Beware of the scribes, who like to go about in long robes, and to have salutations in the market places and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” (vv. 38-40) These teachers of faith, externally expressed their faith and looked for rewards for their measured faith by praying longer and with more emotion, by making sure their presence was felt when they entered the room yet, internally the measurement, the justification they truly gained was as vile as the rotting bones of the dead in tombs, as Christ calls them later.
When I read this I can’t help but picture some of those televangelists who are screaming and yelling because they “feel the Holy Spirit within them.” Though I cannot judge them all, but many who listen to them and those who don’t pray with such fervor often wrongly wonder why their faith is supposedly “weak.” I would argue because the purpose of these teachers is not to enrich the lives of their flocks with God’s commandments and love, no it was to, as Karl Marx emphasizes, blind the people to a false understanding of faith, one completely based on external satisfaction.
In fact the disciples themselves were not far from this criticism either. After Christ’s ascension, many times we read of how St. Paul and the other disciples argued about circumcision, was it necessary or not? Eventually, coming to the realization, that the external expression paled in comparison if it did not reflect the internal faith – for in Christ there is no Jew, nor Greek, no male, nor female, no slave or free – St. Paul’s words which we read during our baptism. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters again I ask what is the measure and the purpose of our faith?
The purpose of our Christian faith is the person of Christ Jesus. To be in communion with God through Christ Jesus. Because by being in communion with God we share in the living Word of God. As Christian’s we are directly involved in the work of salvation, as co-creators and co-rulers. Christ has come and died for our sins. Through His resurrection we are raised to life by being baptized in the Church. However, unless we desire to go to God and be union with Him, our salvation will merely remain a long-winded prayer or hymn on paper. Our faith will become for us an opiate, artificially numbing us towards the need of a real deep relationship with God, yet in truth the sickness of our sin remains. And unfortunately, when we try to measure our faith by our emotions or lengthy prayers or whatever earthly measurement, we will always fail. Those prayers, those emotions all external expression should be a natural overflow of what is already inside us, of our union with God.
How does this union happen, how do we come to God? For this we look to the remainder of the Gospel story. “And he sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the multitude putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came, and put in two copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him, and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For they all contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living.”(vv. 41-44)
My dear brothers and sister, coming to God means giving up all we are to God without excuses, without an artificial consumer mentality that God needs our money or our feelings or our long-winded prayers. By literally laying down in front of God, God will raise us up. Who can tell me the Armenian word to worship? Երկիրպագեսցուք. It literally translates to “to bow down and kiss the earth.” As Orthodox Christian’s by participating in the sacramental life of the Church, humbling our selves to the point that we are bowing down and kissing the earth, meaning by confessing, repenting and approaching the Holy Altar and by taking the body and blood of Christ, we receive forgiveness of our sins, we receive the tools by which we become participants in our salvation through Christ, by which we join in union to God. The tools which then we receive here we must then take out there and shown through our actions towards each other.
Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. What is the aim of our faith? When we have faith, we have been fed, we have drunk from the unending font, we have been clothed in the light and we have been freed from the shackles of death. And with that faith we must then feed the hungry, we must give to the thirsty, we must clothe the naked and we must be with the enslaved. And our Father who sees us doing these not for personal gain but for the glory of the Kingdom of Heaven, only then will we be rewarded. Only then will we find the true measure of faith- the love of Christ Jesus.
My prayer is my dear brothers and sisters, that we place our aim in God, to be in union with Him and to take his boundless and unconditional love to those who have been blinded and numbed by this world. Let us not measure our faith according to our standards but through Christ who became the measurement of Gods love. Let us not worry about the length of our prayers but the length of our hands. May we always give of us truly, even if it is only 2 coins worth. For God can take the smallest seed and make the greatest of forests. That is faith in Christ Jesus.