Equipped!

Passages: Colossians 2:8 – 15; Lk. 2:21

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

Breathing heavily, he could hear his heart thumping in his ears. The pressure was building. He had not even stepped out on to the platform yet, and sweat was dripping down his face. He stepped up to the bucket of chalk and wiped his palms. Making sure he had fully covered his hands, he tightened his belt and made sure all his equipment was check. Moving up to the bar, he got under 850 lbs and got ready to squat. Controlling his breathing, he knew he was prepared for this lift. He was ready, he had the mindset, he had prepared, he was equipped to make this work. Holding in his breath, he squat the heavy weight. People cheered and screamed all around him, but all he could hear was silence, all he could hear was the internal voice, you are ready. And slowly but surely, he stood back up with what felt like the entire weight of the world.

Recently I saw an advertisement for police/security. It had 2 people side by side. One was a fully equipped soldier with a gun,  bullet proof vest, combat boots and glovesDUj9gb1U0AA5e8J. Everything to protect him and to get the job done. Next to him was a regular man, dressed in a green dress shirt, slacks, runners, regular wrist watch and cellphone. If you had seen him walking down the street, you would not say there is anything special about him. However, there was one additional thing on this advertisement. The civilian, had dashes on him, pointing out his hands, his eyes, mouth, ears, and cell phone. And the advertisement it said, we are all equipped to stop terrorism.

This idea and what it was emphasizing resonated with me, because it wasn’t about stopping terrorism or crime, but rather about being aware of how equipped we are to deal with such situations. Even with out own lives, whenever we face trials in life whether it is with our health, work, relationships, school, social justice issues, etc. we begin to question why God allows us to face crisis, pain, isolation and hurt. Our faith strains and we seek God either initially or eventually, looking for answers in our prayers for questions. Then we begin to question whether we are even able to handle the situation we are in. Some of us may use scriptural references about how “God will not lead us, where he cannot protect us” or “God never gives us more than we can handle” Yet, how aware are we of the truth behind those words, when we are isolated, when we are struggling.

St. Paul in his letter to the Colossians writes, “See to it that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ.” He is warning us to not merely go after empty statements or slogans, philosophies. We spew out scripture; we quote poster boards, yet it falls on empty deceit. We put our hope in the words and not in the WORD, Christ Jesus. For this reason, St. Paul continues, “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness of life in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.”

About a month ago, we looked at the vestments of the clergy in the Armenian Church. Each piece had a theological and practical application to it. Yet, ultimately the vestments reminded us that we are equipped by putting on Christ and through Christ we have been equipped to not only have faith but also to use that faith against the tyranny, against the pains and darkness of this world. The soldier, the civilian and the weightlifter are all equipped to take on the challenges presented to them. Through training, through an awareness of what equipment they have at their disposal, each of them has an understanding of their role in overcoming obstacles.

What about us? In moments of pain and sin we ask where is God? Yet, we don’t come to Church, we don’t pray, we don’t open the Word of God, our Bibles and we don’t speak to our priests. And when we do, it is either superficially or because we have tried every other means. Does reading your Bible cure cancer or feed the hungry? Does talking to your priest or lighting a candle make the pain go away? Perhaps not. But these are tools, they are equipment given to us to bring us to a place of awareness of how we are equipped through Christ Jesus to grow in our faith and to use that faith in overcoming our pain.

My dear brothers and sisters, Christ Jesus is born and revealed. Last week, celebrating Christmas and Theophany we understand that Christ was born. How aware are we of his revelation in our lives? How aware are we of the tools and training we receive in Church, from our baptisms, through the Word of God, to not defeat sin which has already been done by Christ Jesus on the Cross but to grow in spite of it. This is done in small ways and as well as large. We hear about someone miraculously being healed of cancer we say Praise God. What about when we see a child praying? What about when we see forgiveness and love being shown to someone? This is faith applied.

These are all applications of those tools we have been given. Sure a child praying doesn’t cure cancer. It does teach us however, that just like that weightlifter who feels like the weight of the world is on his shoulders, that when we feel likewise, through the person of Christ Jesus and the tools we have been given of faith, we are equipped to grow and use that faith to help this world grow. Christ is born and revealed, Blessed is the revelation of Christ and may that revelation create in us an awareness of faith.

Anything you can do, I can do better!

Sermon for Sunday December 30, 2018

Passages: Isaiah 51.15-52.3; Hebrews 13.18-25; Luke 22.24-30

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

Depending on where you live in Illinois or at least in the Chicago general area, you are either a Cubs or Sox fan. If I were to poll a 1,000 people as to which is better, undoubtedly there would be a disagreement.

Sox_Or_Cubs_Debate_600

Even if you aren’t a sports fan, from a very young age, we innately grow up with this sense of competition. From academia, athletics, business, politics etc. To be faster, stronger, smarter, more successful. Ultimately to be right! In Armenian I have heard a saying, which states, “no one judges the victor.” Perhaps while competing or working away, we make certain decisions that are questionable by others. At times rightfully so, but at times because they don’t understand. Like how some Cubs fans can’t understand how others like the Sox and visa versa. Only after victory or becoming successful do people stop judging us. We were right. We won!

This rhetoric of being right or the best is overwhelmingly evident in today’s politics. The left vs. the right. Who is the greatest? Or as Trump so eloquently puts it in almost all of his speeches, “No body can do it like me. I am the best.” Regardless if you like Trump or not, whether you identify as blue or red, Cubs or Sox, whether math or music is your forte, the competitive spirit is in all of us. For some it is loud and boisterous; for some it is done quietly behind the scenes. In fact, the disciples themselves show this competitive spirit in the Gospel today. “A dispute also arose among them, which of them was to be regarded as the greatest.” (v. 24) This entire week, leading up to New Years and Christmas, in the month of December the Armenian Church remembers and celebrates some the greatest teachers, prophets and saints of the Christian faith. King David, St. Paul and Peter, St. Stephen the Protomartyr, the Zebedee brothers James and John and so forth. For the Armenian Church these feast are called Avak Don or The Great Feasts. Yet, when we read the words of these saints or their lives, we do not see ultimately this competitive nature. Rather we continually see humiliation, perhaps persecution and failure.

For this reason Christ rebukes his disciples by saying, “‘The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves…’” (v. 25-26) Hey Peter, hey James, don’t be like everyone else. Don’t be like those so-called leaders of the non-believers who each one tries to raise themselves up above other. Rather, Christ is teaching the disciples and us, that as Christian’s our driving force or greatness is in our willingness to serve, to be humble. None of us would say those saints were failures, yet, they would argue that their success came through God alone. Because Christ is not saying don’t be competitive or don’t try your hardest. Lest we take this teaching of Christ to be encouraging of laziness. Christ isn’t saying be lazy. On the contrary, the example he gives is of a servant of the table.

A waiter. Someone who takes the orders, cleans, serves, etc. I personally believe that everyone should have to work as a waiter for a year of their life, in order to feel what it means to run around serving others. We’ve all been to restaurants. When the waiter is lazy, slow, inattentive, and rude; what do we think first? “Well that’s coming out of their tip.” In fact a waiter can ruin our entire night. But when our waiter is kind, smiling, pays attention to what we ask and helps us to the best of their ability, even if they sometimes mess something up, we want to reward that behavior. Because though he is a servant of the table, though he may have forgotten the straws, without him or her we would not eat, we would not enjoy our night out.

Likewise, Jesus Christ is teaching us that as Christian’s, as children of God, we are called to show the same love and humility that we have seen through the actions of Christ Jesus. By humbling ourselves, we begin to see eye to eye with those around us. We become empathetic to the needs of others. We see God in each person in the streets, from the greatest of saints to the greatest of sinners. We see that failure or our shortcomings are not a sign of our worth, for our worth is not in our dress, in our rank, nor in our temporal success. St. Moses the Strong teaches, “if a man does not put himself in the attitude of a sinner, his prayer will not be heard by God.”

In this season of celebration of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and tomorrow New Years, do we see ourselves as higher or superior to those around us? We may say no. But our actions speak louder than our words. And through the advice of St. Moses, our actions will speak louder than our prayers. In what do we put our value? My dear brothers and sisters, let us take the words of St. Paul and likewise, ask that we each pray for each other and for those who are not here among us. Christian, non-Christian, male, female, black, white, blue, red, cubs or sox, we are all created equal. Our value is in the image of God in which we are created, not in our degree of success. And we all rise and fall together. There is something we often forget. If we try to raise ourselves up, we need to begin by stepping onto something and/or unfortunately someone. However, if we humble ourselves and have the hope, love and compassion that we are taught to have, then by raising others up, they to can pull us up with them. For that is the essence of our faith.

So yes, be competitive in school, at work, on the field. But do so in a way that brings glory to God – by seeing each person around you as a beloved child of God. And when we do so, our prayers will be heard. Therefore, may 2019 be a year of strength, hope, love, empathy and prayer. God willing the coming year is an exciting year for us. Therefore, as a family let us all rise up together by the grace of the Holy Spirit and in the glory of God. Amen!