Sermon for Sunday February 3, 2019
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Through all my years of seminary, one of my biggest worries was in the topic of sermons or homilies. The reason for this was because I quickly learned that in order for me to understand the Christian faith, its beauty especially in relation to me as an Armenian and a person living here in the United States, it could take years of unending study. St. Basil teaches us that Holy Scriptures are an endless well, out of which we eternally draw out living water. So how much could I really teach in a 10-15 minute sermon? Every week when I think about what I can learn and in turn teach from scripture this thought process goes through my mind.
From scripture, we never really hear about how long Jesus preached for. We know that people followed him everywhere. But these multitudes had jobs, families. To be frank they had lives. And yes, today we have smartphones and busy Sunday schedules, being Superbowl Sunday as it were, so our attention spans are much shorter. But I highly doubt that attentions spans was much more lengthy back then, and I am doubtful that the Apostles or other followers of Christ memorized word for word what was taught. In fact I know for certain, because if they had, they would have not needed to be reminded repeatedly and nor to be inspired by the Holy Spirit. Especially when we closely examine some of the teachings of Christ that are very theological, we see that the disciples had difficulty understanding let alone us. But Jesus always spoke through parables and especially through practical concepts for his Jewish audience to understand.
In today’s Gospel for example Christ teaches about him being the bread of life that comes down from heaven. For us this concept may be foreign. But for the Jewish people listening, what he is referring to is in the Exodus story. In the wilderness, God fed his people bread from heaven (manna), but those who ate it eventually died. Here, Jesus claims to be “the bread which came down from heaven,” (John 6:48-58) and all those who eat of it will live forever. In the Badarak, the priest prays: O Lord our God, who sent our Lord Jesus Christ, the heavenly bread, the food of the whole world, to be savior and redeemer and benefactor, and to bless and to sanctify us. And as the Very Rev. Fr. Daniel Findikyan writes in his commentary, “Jesus is using the heavenly manna as a point of reference well known to his audience…” Meaning when Jesus says I am the bread that comes down from heaven, the Jewish people know exactly what he is talking about.
What about us? How can we understand this and what can be understood through this image of the bread coming down from heaven? This past week was cold to say the least. Whether we stayed at home out of necessity or choice, we all could easy follow on social media and television the effects of the cold weather. And to add to the cold, what else did we have? Snow! As children when we saw snow we got excited. The prospect of school being cancelled or being able to sled down nearby hills was exciting. But how many of us have watched how snow falls as adults? Where does it fall? Everywhere. Snow covers the entire landscape with a pure white sheet. In big cities like Chicago it is difficult to fully appreciate but when you go to rural areas or in the mountains, there is nothing like the sight of freshly blanketed snow in the morning. It’s almost like the world’s blemishes and dirt disappear and instead a new world is revealed. During the time of Exodus, the manna that came down from Heaven likewise, covered the land. And all Jews were taught to go and collect the manna, because that manna was life, it is what sustained and gave nutrition to the Jews during their exodus.
This does not mean when it snows, you should go out and start collecting it. But the image that Christ is giving of the manna coming down from heaven and my image of snow covering the world draws us to image of who is faith for? For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. (v. 40) The will of God the Father is that EVERYONE, not just the Jews or Greeks. Not just the Armenian’s or the attendees of St. Gregory. As St. Paul’s words say, during our baptisms, in Christ there is no Jew, Greek, male, female, etc. We are all God’s children. Salvation and freedom from sin in Christ Jesus is for everyone.
Just like the snow that falls does not have prejudice as to where it falls but rather covers the earth, likewise, the love of God falls on all who seek and desire him and covers over all. The faith, hope, resurrection, forgiveness and freedom of sins is given to all who believe in Christ Jesus. What does the priest say when he turns to the people with the chalice? Sa e huys, harutyun, kavootyun yev toghootyoon meghats…Holy Communion – the body and blood, the living bread and wine that has come down to us from Heaven, Christ Jesus. And when we live in the sacramental life of the Church, being baptized and washed, covered in Christ – we too are invited to partake of this life-giving bread.
Yet, how many of us are ready to accept this? I often wonder, do we want to believe? Do we want to accept that faith is also for us or would we rather run and hide hoping because it might be easier. To have faith also draws us to have a certain responsibility. Because as Christian’s, as the children who bare the name of Christ we are called to be imitators, icons, reflections of Christ Jesus in this world. In the first few lines of the Eucharistic Prayer, the longest and most important prayer of Badarak (see pp. 29-39 in the Divine Liturgy book), the priest prays, “Having taken the Church to be a people to himself, made his own those who believe in you, and was pleased to dwell among us in a ponderable nature, according to the dispensation through the Virgin, and as the divine master-builder building a new work, he thereby made this earth into heaven.” Through Christ Jesus we have been made a people to God. We have all been chosen. We have been chosen to live and through Christ Jesus do his work which is to make earth into Heaven.
Picture that freshly snow covered world. Does our faith, our love, our hope, which we have been given by God also extend to all without prejudice or spite? This does not mean we accept everything that everyone does. No! But do we accept everyone as God does, through love and forgiveness? Do we pray for everyone, our friends, our loved ones, and also our enemies? Do we pray for them or do we pray they be changed or replaced to someone we like better? Or do we deny others and thereby also denying ourselves – as the Lords prayer says, “forgive us as we forgive.”
This morning as I was getting ready, I saw a cute little advertisement on social media. It was two children hand in hand walking towards Church. And the caption read, Love is taking someone to Church with you. If we truly believe we are saved, if we truly believe of this faith that has been given to us through the sacrifice of God, then we must share it. Lent is upon us. Soon we will be fasting and preparing for Easter. I invite us to take this advertisement to heart and for Great Lent, it is one month away so I will remind everyone, let us try to bring one person with us to Church every Sunday. That is 7 Sundays. 7 friends or loved ones, or colleagues or maybe someone who we know who needs to be shown love from Christ. Maybe we will not fully master faith in 7 Sunday’s but the love of God will be felt. And in return we too will continually find God’s love in our lives. We too will eat from the Heavenly bread that comes from heaven and gives us eternal life – Jesus Christ.
Let us all pray that our faiths daily be like the snow that covers the ground, so that as in the words of St. Paul we, “Do [y]our best to present [y]ourself to God as one approved, a workman who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” May God’s Divine love and salvation flow through us and into this world, as a workmen with the word of truth, for the Grace of God to reach all the dark corners of the world and to glorify him eternally, Amen!