I didn’t know!

Sermon for Sunday May 25, 2019

Passages: Acts 20:17-38; 1 John 3:2-6; John 9:39-10:10

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen!
Christ is Risen. Քրիստոս Յարեաւ ի Մեռելոց. (Krisdos Haryav i merelots)

There was a man who was speeding down the highway. All of a sudden, he sees police lights behind him, frantically and in a surprise he pulls over, honestly confused as to what he had done. The police officer approached the car and asked “Sir do you know why I stopped you?” “No,” replied the man. “You were driving over 100 miles down this highway, that’s illegal,” replied the officer. The driver confused asked, “why does it say 101 on those signs?” Now the police officer confused answered “because this is highway 101.” Apologetically, the man said “I am so sorry officer I didn’t know, may I please borrow your phone?” “Why?” asked the officer. “My brother is driving on 401.”

I am sure many of us have heard this humorous story. The first time I heard it, the man who was speeding was Armenian. Regardless of the ethnicity of the man, the story has no ending because of its nature of being a joke. But almost all of us know what it’s like to be pulled over. And the excuse, “I didn’t know” does not hold merit. Not just for driving but all legal matters. As adults living in today’s society we must live according to a certain rules and laws and our lack of knowledge or our lack of agreement with certain rules does not negate our responsibility of living accordingly.

What about within our Christian faith? As humans we know that we are sinful. Throughout scripture, history, current events, our own personal lives we see the sinful, godless behavior – whether it is hateful ideologies, bigotry, sexism, racism, mistreatment of our fellow man and all creation, etc. sin is evident. 1 John 3:4 states that “Every one who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness” What is sin? lawlessness. And freedom from sin, freedom from lawlessness comes only through Christ Jesus – who came to die for our sins. To defeat death and raise us up. This is why we are constantly called to repent, to turn away from our sinful life, confess our sins and ask God for help. Not the confession, which we do here on Sundays, which often feels like a laundry list of things we may or may not have done, recited in a language we may or may not understand. But a real confession, a personal opening up and sharing with God through the priest in order to receive forgiveness, to be put in the right.

Though one thing that strikes me often is the line in the confession that we read here in Church, “willingly and unwillingly, knowingly and unknowingly.” In the secular system of law we just said that there is no excuse for not knowing the law, and in our Christian faith we are asking God for forgiveness for our sins, or lawlessness, of those thing we did even without knowing. Yet, because faith is a matter of eternity and our relationship with God, I wonder, and many people have asked me what about all those people in the world who did not know about God or have a chance to come to faith in Christ? What about people who did their best to live a life of faith but had doubts or difficulty, or because of darkness and hardship they strayed away from faith and didn’t learn what it means to really be a Christian?

My dear brothers and sisters, unlike the laws of man – which are fallible and created to bring temporary sustainability, the laws of God which is the love of God is there to bring people, bring creation closer to God, to foster a deeper relationship. If we truly understand laws vs. love of God we understand that there is no such thing as committing a sin unknowingly or unwillingly. As humans, we have been given free will. We have been given choice. It is our choice, right or wrong, left or right, our will or Gods will. Whether education, family, culture, surrounds, etc. influence us, ultimately all decisions are ours. But what we cannot choose is what we do not know. In secular law there is no excuse of not knowing, yet, for God who is just, loving, caring not knowing is part of life. Jesus tells the Pharisees, “’For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.’ Some of the Pharisees near him heard this, and they said to him, ‘Are we also blind?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.’” If we are blind, if we do not know, if as humans in our frailty did not learn, never had the opportunity to learn about our relationship with Christ, then we are not at fault.

Therefore, there is no sin that is done either unwillingly or unknowingly. Whether you want to call it our conscience, the little voice in our heads, or the gut feeling, we all know right from wrong. And we make our choice freely. Even if we have not come to Church or Bible Study, sometimes we naturally know. St. Paul writes that Gods law is written on the hearts of man. We already know. But if we honestly do not, then we are not at fault. In Armenian we have a great saying, “do not be ashamed for not knowing, be ashamed for not learning” – Ամօթ չէ չգիտնալը, ամօթ է չսորուիլը

My dear brothers and sisters, our real lawlessness, especially for us in Church and to us who have been given the opportunity to know is that we are too often careless about our faith. We are satisfied by cheap grace. We think that coming to Church on Sunday, volunteering, signing a check, or maybe serving in choir or on the Altar is enough for our faith. No my dear brothers and sisters. Not even becoming a priest is enough. As I said earlier, the secular laws are there to keep us in place, but Gods laws are there to raise us up, to help build our relationship with Him. That is why Christ continues by saying, “I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.” (v.9) It’s not wrong to not know it is wrong to be lazy, careless and not learn. It is wrong to be satisfied with the external expression of “christian living” but not desire a deeper relationship and understanding of who God is. Because being satisfied with what we see is the same as watching someone cook a delicious steak but never actually eating it. What benefit is there? If anything we are left more hungry and dissatisfied. That is why too many people today struggle with their spiritual lives.

But God, our heavenly Father, invites us to His banquet table, not merely as spectators. Let us therefore, repent and turn back to God, confess our sins, put away lawlessness, and begin learning. Not how to swing the poorvar, but learning about how to enter the gate, how to enter a life of faith and how to be illuminate our eyes. Christ is Risen from the Dead – may we learn truly what that means.


Conversations from the Heart

Sermon for Sunday May 19, 2019

Passages: Acts 17:1-15; 1 John 1:1-10; John 7:14-23

In the name of the Father…

Christ is Risen; Blessed is the Resurrection of Christ! 

Friday morning I got up around 4 am, in order to come to Church so that I could order an Uber to the airport for my trip to New York. I had planned my time and knew exactly when I had to be at the airport. When my Uber arrived, I got in and cordially greeted the drive with Good morning and thank you. I could tell right away, the man became unsettled or nervous. He asked my name and where I was going and checked with the order that had come in through the app. Within a few seconds he asked me if I am a priest. Naturally, being dressed in my collar shirt I answered politely yes, I am the pastor of St. Gregory Armenian Orthodox Church. “What is that?” he replied. “It’s kind of like Catholic but we’re a little different” I quickly answered. He then began to tell me how he knew there was a God but struggled with his faith and was wondering if he could ask me some questions. I obliged. This was a gateway, one I am very familiar with and one I enjoy. However, as we spoke, I paid attention to the road and I felt that he was definitely taking the long way to the airport and kept saying, I wish this drive was longer since I have so many questions. In my head I’m thinking “yes but I’m going to miss my flight.” Thankfully, I did not. I just barely made it as they made the final boarding call.

This scenario of being confronted with questions everywhere I go once people know I am clergyman is familiar and honestly I do enjoy it. Not because I always have the right answers. Rather, I enjoy it because through conversations I create an opportunity to learn. Learn about people, learn about myself, and ultimately to learn about God. 1John 1 reads that, “…if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin [then we have fellowship with God].” We understand the in order to be in communion with God and to be in his light, we all, each one of us must be in communion through the blood of Christ – Holy Communion, and second in communion with one another. The joining word used is and. Not, if you would like, or, nor any other joiner. Rather, both of these points are emphasized and necessary in order to have a true life of faith done so through a both real bonding with the Church where we receive Holy Communion and with those outside the Church. It does not speak about level of education. It does not say, purity of life. It does not speak of political persuasion or job title. Rather it teaches us that the most important practice, the way to a truly deep faith and a way to obtain a pure life is through the relationship we have with each other and with Christ Jesus. Because through both these things, Holy Communion and our relationships with one another, we begin a process of learning and educating, of our hearts, minds and souls.

The Uber driver ceased the opportunity of having a priest in the car to ask personal questions about his faith. How many of us invite our own priest into our homes or seek a one-on-one opportunity to sit and talk? Too many of us worry about what we will feed priest instead of worrying about how the priest is the one who is coming to feed us. When we gather in Church and participate in Badarak, we listen to the prayers and hymns. We also add our own prayer and seek to strengthen our understanding of God. We enter into a conversation with God – prayer. We are than invited up as baptized Christian’s to partake in Holy Communion – the body and blood of Christ, which was given to us as a sacrifice. Hopefully all this ignites within us a flame that we want to grow and so we continue to also grow a relationship with our priest. But what about everyone else? I just said, that there are two necessities.

When children are mean and do wrong towards on another, we teach them by saying “put yourself in the other person’s shoes.” What about as adults? I seldom think we use this approach. Yet, as adults, as men and women this approach is much more of a necessity because we understand what it means to be misunderstood. We understand what it means to lose, to be frustrated and hurt. We have a lifetime of battles that we struggle with. And yet, in the most cliché of ways, when we say “hello how are you,” do we mean it or are we merely trying not to appear rude?

Last week, the young adult Bible study spoke about forgiveness and that true forgiveness begins when you desire the good for the other through empathy, love and hope. But the way we do this is by physically creating bonds with each other. Knowing who the person next to us is. Not just by name but on a much deeper level. That is why God came to us in the form of a man – in Jesus Christ. To know us, to share with us, to hunger and thirst as we do. And that is what we are being called to. This does not mean we agree on everything or that life all of a sudden becomes easy. No. But by being in Communion with Christ and with each other, by having conversations and relationships we begin to build. We begin to build and grow understanding that it is with each other that we continue to strengthen.

Therefore my dear brothers and sister, I invite us to create and utilizes opportunities to truly understand and put ourselves in each others shoes. Having honest conversations with God through our prayers but also with each other. Today, the Armenian Church celebrates the Feast of the Apparition of the Holy Cross. When at noon on May 19, 351, a bright, luminous cross, appeared over the skies of Jerusalem, centered over an area spanning from the Mount of Olives. Awestruck, the faithful of Jerusalem rushed to church to give thanks and glorify the Lord. My dears do we desire to see the cross in our lives? To see the light of God span over our homes, places of work and relaxation? Then let us place our gaze upon the Altar of God, let us approach with a sincere heart and a desire to understand and learn. Let us participate and receive Holy Communion and be fed by the word of God. And let us use the opportunities given to us by God – whether in the Uber, at work, at school or wherever we may be to then take that love to all those around us. For Christ is Risen from the Dead giving life to all who seek him and believe.