Odd Couple

Sermon for Sunday December 29, 2019

Passages: Isaiah 41:4-14; Hebrews 7:11-25; Luke 19:12-28

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!

One is neat, one is a slob. Both are divorced and need a place to stay. From 1970 to 1975 a new sitcom aired known as the “Odd Couple, which featured  two men who had almost nothing in common apart from their need of a place to stay. What drew these two men together over a 5-year period however, made audiences fall in love with their antics and charades and the title of “odd couple” never left them no matter how close they came to each other. This past week, the Armenian Church celebrated the “Odd Couple.” No, I am not speaking of the beloved characters of Felix Unger and Oscar Madison, but rather another odd couple, who much like the characters in the show, had nothing in common and they came from very different walks of life – St. Peter and St. Paul.

St. Peter was a simple man, a fisherman, who right from the early ministry of Jesus, followed, learned and was known by many as one of Christ’s most beloved disciples, so much so, that in the Gospel of John we read of how Jesus makes Peter the keeper of his Church – what has fueled much of the Roman Catholic Churches doctrines. Peter was not educated, he was not an orator. In fact, when we examine his life, Peter failed over and over again even while he was with Christ.

On the other hand we have St. Paul, a man who was very well known in the Jewish world because he himself was a very educated man. He was a student of Gamaliel the Elder, one of the leading authorities within the ranks of the lawmakers of 1st century Judaism. St. Paul began his journey as someone who persecuted Christians. As we also remember St. Stephen this week, we read of how St. Paul or more correctly at the time Saul, was the one holding the cloaks of those who were stoning Stephen to death and looked on approvingly. St. Paul was not with Jesus and as far as we know, he never sat with him, ate with him nor physically witnessed the acts Jesus did during his ministry. Yet, again St. Paul’s letters to the Churches he founded are the plurality of the books in our New Testament to which we turn to as guides. And now when we look at both Peter and Paul’s relationship, it’s safe to say, they didn’t get along at first – they were an Odd couple.

We read of how after Saul was baptized and became Paul, as the Apostle to the Gentiles as he is later known as, Paul didn’t see it as a necessity to follow the “rules” of Judaism when converting to Christianity. Something the other disciples, especially Peter, initially followed very strictly. Even the issue of money arose between Paul and Peter such as how should the monies of the early Church be handled, where should it go, etc. Yet, through their human frailty but Christian humility this “odd couple” shaped and grew Christ’s Church from Palestine, all the way to Rome, France, Greece, Spain and ultimately the rest of the world. This odd couple, just like all of our saints, though very different, lived to the best of their human ability a life centered on Christ Jesus.

A life, that requires 2 things: 
1) The sacrifice , burial and resurrection of Christ Jesus for us and our sins…


2) Acceptance of all that Christ has done and therefore, work.

Part one is independent of us. Whether we believe in God, how much we believe, if we are strong or weak in our understanding of God’s love for us, part one has been done. St. Paul teaches that if Christ had not died and rose from the dead, our faith, our preaching is all in vain and pointless. But He in fact has rose from the dead thereby also giving us resurrection. Christ Jesus has already sacrificed himself and is sacrificed every Sunday on the Holy Altar. So what about the second part?

For this we turn to today’s Gospel, where Christ teaches us through a parable this exact thing in a way we can understand.  A man gives money out to his slaves and says, “do business with this (meaning use it), until I return.” And upon returning, he called all those he had given money to and demanding to see what they had done with them. The two who had used it in various ways and grown the money were blessed and rewarded with more, but the one who hid the money out of fear was punished and stripped of even that amount. It is likewise with our faith.                                                  

God, through Christ Jesus, has already given us salvation, through grace has given us the means, the tools, by which we then must “do business with.” Meaning we are endowed, we are trusted, through the Holy Spirit, to bring forth the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). And so Jesus is asking, what will we do with what we have been given when God calls us and demands from us? Here is a thought, as we now are on the cusp of New Years, a new decade, a new day, a new moment; as we are making resolution to get healthy or be smarter with our time and money, we are also called and again given an opportunity to invest. To take what we have been given and do something with it, understanding what it is that we are investing in.

If we are trying to be healthy, we can either invest in fake diet fads or invest in time to eat healthy and go to the gym. If we are trying to be smarter with our money, we can either keep buying lotto tickets or build a business or make educated investments. To invest in our faith, we can either hang up blue eyes, light a candle and “pray” when something bad happens, or we can be loving, forgiving, compassionate and do everything we can to build communion with God, without excuses. Regardless of where we are coming from, how old we are, how educated we are – just like Peter and Paul, just like every single saint, all of us, even if we have nothing in common, we have equally been given the same grace and salvation, the same tools, and we have been given the exact same opportunity to use those tools in various ways to invest, to use, to produce communion with God.

My dears, we are in the Christmas and New Years seasons. Where our homes are adorned in decorations as a joyful sign of the holidays. Imagine if we each became a joyful sign, a decoration that adorned this world with the love, hope and faith of Christ Jesus to all. Then perhaps, there would be no “odd couples” because what unifies us is stronger and deeper than our education, our external dress and even our past. What unifies us all, what defines us, what we are invested in is Christ Jesus.

Therefore, as we approach the upcoming New Year, pray to evaluate and understand how and where we are investing our faith in? Are we hiding it away for whatever reason, and for which we will answer for or are we using it and will see the return bring more blessings? May the grace of our Lord Christ Jesus be with us, which has been given to us freely, and may we glorify God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, by using that which has been given to us to bring blessing to all other in this fearful world, Amen!

Which is true?

Sermon for Sunday December 22, 2019

Passages: Isaiah 40:18-31; Hebrews 4:16-5:10; Luke 18:9-14

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!

“Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”
“Remember no one is perfect and Jesus loves us all.”

During this time of year, as tinsel is bought, presents are wrapped and trees and front lawns are decorated with manger scenes, the arguments of what and how we celebrate this time of the year are endless. Without getting into the semantics of greetings or the date of the birth of Jesus, many personal ideas of what Christmas is actually about are expressed both from the pulpit and from one another. Often the two mainstream ideologies are that because Christmas is about Jesus Christ coming into world, we must be loving and forgiving and bring kindness to all just as He; or a much harsher reality that, acknowledging who Jesus is and our salvation through Him, we much tirelessly remember to always be in a state of repentance and prayer following the rules set before us for the greater good of our souls. So which is true?

On occasion I remember being asked why certain Churches speak about doom and gloom, whereas other Churches speak about joy and celebration. However, what we often forget is that both sides of the coin are ultimately founded upon 2 principles: 1) We are all sinners and 2) We all need Christ Jesus. Today’s Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector is also addressing the same two arguments. One man who is learned in the “rules” of the faith and who is on the surface level exemplary, and another man, who seeing his weakness without God lowers himself in humility. And this is a parable many of us are very familiar with. We know it is about humility and that God raises those who humble themselves, “I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Yet, in today’s unbalanced world these two images of faith have become extremes. Too many of us focus on the Jesus being the nice guy and only on the surface level appearing to have faith, but likewise, too many of us also feel so disconnected and cut off from God we beat ourselves down. “I am so sinful that not even God could forgive me.” However, both my dears, completely miss not only the beauty of this season but they also deprive us of the communion with God we receive in the reality of what Christmas is.

Acknowledging that we are sinners is absolutely crucial and important, because only by acknowledging is the first step to looking for a remedy. We must all fully understand, that we are no better than others and that we are each chief among sinners. However, to only say we are sinners is not enough because we often don’t understand what it means to sin. Before receiving Holy Communion, we read a list of “sins” or repeat the words Megha Astoodzo but rarely do we contemplate what it is that we confessing too. If we grew up in Sunday School, our idea of sin is best described as an act or thought against the rules of the Church, against God: We did a bad thing. Yet, my dears, sin is everything and anything that breaks communion with God.

This means anything that cuts us off from coming to Church is sin. Anything that cuts us off from each other is sin. Anything that cuts us off from praying and participating in building up this body is sin. If we prefer to sleep in rather than go to Church, we sin. If we walk past a beggar in the street or look to others as lesser, we sin. If we rather sit at home and watch football or baseball, we sin. If we gather in Church for prayer but are more concerned about the bills at home, or our work, or something else is on our mind, we sin. Not because sports, or sleep or worry are sins but because they separate us from God – and sin is everything that separates us from God. Let me take it further, if I as a priest don’t teach truth of faith and only become a buddy or friend for all of us, I have sinned. Because sin is everything that ultimately cuts us off from our faith and our growth in our faith.

If any one of us from priest to greeter, choir to Sunday school student, anyone coming to and/or serving the Church begins to think that we are better because we are hear or because we “know” the rules of the Church – we are sinning. If anyone begins to think they are unworthy to attend Church or are weak and sinful and so they begin practicing an overly zealous idea that I’m not good enough – they are sinning. Because both are extreme approaches which ultimately breaks our communion with God – and that is sin.

Christmas, Easter, Badarak, every feast of the Holy Church, ultimately our faith is about communion with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. A God that loves us so deeply that instead of raining wrath, He came down, became human in order to raise us up. Raise us from our graves, from our knees and from our brokenness. And by doing so He also taught us to raise others up, to heal each others brokenness, to humble ourselves not because we are worthless, but because only by stepping down can we pick others up.

Therefore my dearly beloved, to find purpose and reason for this season we should not be concerned whether there is a manger scene in front of city hall or a Christmas tree in the White House. We should not worry about why certain people focus on the joy vs. why some people focus on the gloom of humanity. What are we focused on? Rather, who are we focused on? If we are focused on Christ Jesus, then we should do everything to strengthen our communion with Him. If we are focused on Christ Jesus, then let us humble ourselves as Christ humbled himself in order to help raise each other up. Tis the season of celebration of Christmas, whether it is today, Dec. 25th, Jan. 6th or everyday. To do it justice, to celebrate properly, to grow in faith: we must lay down all power, all honor, all reputation, all vanity, all arrogance, all ego, all individualism here at the Altar of God. Let us therefore, focus on Christ Jesus, not in a manger scene but the living God who is offered up to us every Sunday as we gather for Holy Badarak through the Divine Liturgy. For Communion with God, communion with the saints, communion with each other, Communion is the only way we can be separated from sin and joined to God.

So let us repent for the kingdom of heaven is near and let us love one another for we are all in need of the love of God. And let us remain prayerful and vigilant always to do all we can to not sin but remain joined to God, who raises us and ignites in our hearts the light and love we celebrate in this season and thereby glorify the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!