What lies Within

Sermon for Sunday June 23, 2019

Passages: Zechariah 3:7-4:9; Hebrews 9:1-10; John 10:22-30

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

Once upon a time, in a faraway land,
A young Prince lived in a shining castle.
Although he had everything his heart desired,
The Prince was spoiled, selfish, and unkind.
But then, one winter’s night,
An old beggar woman came to the castle
And offered him a single rose In return for shelter from the bitter cold.
Repulsed by her haggard appearance,
The Prince sneered at the gift,
And turned the old woman away.
But she warned him not to be deceived by appearances,
For Beauty is found within.
And when he dismissed her again,
The old woman’s ugliness melted away
To reveal a beautiful Enchantress.
The Prince tried to apologize, but it was too late,
For she had seen that there was no love in his heart.

Those who know me, know that I really love Disney. The cartoons, the amusement park, the stories, they all capture the imagination of a child and to this day, I am sure like me many of you enjoy Disney. And one of my favorite cartoons produced by Disney was Beauty and the Beast. Perhaps it was because I related to the beast, who was large and loud. Regardless, much like any of those classic cartoons, each story had a deeper lesson, something to take away and learn from. And the opening prologue of beauty and the beast illustrates a very powerful message, one that is deeply scriptural. The beast, who was still a prince, because of his arrogance, pride and lack of love as is stated, was blinded and deafened to the warnings and truth of the woman who had come to him for help. He could not recognize what was being offered to him. Much like the Pharisees in the Gospel, because of their sinfulness, their arrogance, pride and lack of love in their hearts, they had become blinded to what was taking place in front of their eyes. They could not understand who Christ was and what was being offered to them.

Repeatedly we read about how those men, who were considered educated and law-abiding, argued and fought against Jesus and what he and his disciples were doing. And in today’s Gospel, we see them out of frustration acting out, “So the Jews gathered round him and said to him, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.’” Who among us hasn’t asked this question? Who among us has not asked “where are you?” Now a days especially, with articles being no longer than 250-500 characters, we want the answers fast and plain or else we just move on to the next thing.

How does Jesus answer us? “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep.” (vv. 25-26) Jesus is saying I showed you through my actions. What actions? He hadn’t been crucified or raised from the dead yet. He hadn’t even raised Lazarus. So what works done in the name of Father? Only a few weeks ago we read in the narrative about Palm Sunday, that people believed because he had raised Lazarus from the dead. So people saw the extraordinary and said, yup that’s our guy. Yet, at this point though Christ had performed many miracles and healed many, the people were not satisfied – they remained blind. Because they’re arrogance, pride and lack of love had blinded them to the greater gift that was being offered to them – the love of God.

We often say that God is love, yet, we then begin defining Gods, we define love in our own way, through our own understanding. This is why certain Church practices over time get twisted and even perverted. We confuse the unconditional love of God with the unconditional approval of God – which does not exist. If God approved unconditionally then Christ dying for us on the cross was pointless. No, rather the unconditional love of God proves exactly the fact that no matter who we are and what we do God’s love is present but we need to recognize it and begin living it in our own thoughts, words and actions – our external must reflect our internal. In Zechariah we read, “If you will walk in my ways and keep my charge, then you shall rule my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you the right of access among those who are standing here.” (v.7)

You see, God is placing a condition; if we walk in his ways and keep his charge, meaning commandments, then we will be blessed. When we put away our own arrogance, our own preconceived concepts of right and wrong, when we focus on the image of God that we are created in, and through repentance, we turn away from sin only then will we recognize and see Christ Jesus and who he truly is. We will recognize the deeper beauty of our faith, an intimate relationship as children of God. We will know who Christ is not 2,000 years ago, but we will know who Christ is, where Christ is today. Because Christ is known through his works, as he said.

My dears, those works are done through each one of us. How we treat each other, how we show love and respect even with those who we do not agree or approve of. By recognizing what Gods true and freeing love is, and by living it likewise through our own actions we begin to be Christ for others to see. And ultimately we begin to see Christ in each other.

As the prologue of beauty and the beast says, the ugliness melts away to reveal beauty. Christ’s love melts away the ugliness of this world so that when we see a beggar in the street, we see Christ. When we see the prostitute or drunkard in their darkness, we see Christ. When we see people struggle with addiction, brokenness, when we see tears and when we see smiles, we see Christ. As St. John Chrysostom teaches, if we don’t see God out there, we will never see him in here. And it is this beauty that is revealed to us.

The beauty that we are all created in God’s divine image, we are all his children. A beauty of a life founded in Christ Jesus who loves us and gave his life for us, in order for us to live. And when we live that life and remain in Communion with Christ – we strengthen our communion with God – because the Son and the Father are one. Meaning when see Christ in each other and in ourselves, we see a living God, a loving God, a forgiving and compassionate God who loves us each and desires for us only the best.

Will we like the prince, like the Pharisees and other Jews, become blind and search for love and beauty according to our limited ideas? Or will we allow Gods divine love to open our hearts and minds and to cleanse of our sinfulness in order for us to immediately recognize who God is in our lives? I invite each of us to reflect and search our hearts and minds – to approach the Holy Altar not with our own ideas but according to Gods commandments. May our works likewise reflect Christ in the world, so that when people see us and hear that we are Christian, they will say “here is Christ, here is a true Christian – a healer and a witness of God’s love in this world.” May the grace of the Holy Spirit be upon us and enlighten our hearts and minds to see Christ in our lives, Amen!

Answering when Called

Sermon for Sunday June 16, 2019
Passages: 2 Kings 2:1-15; James 5:16-20; Luke 4:25-30

Remembrance of Prophet Elijah

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

In only 2 shorts weeks, our community will gather along with many other Chicagoland Armenian’s and guests in celebration and in the election of a new priest. Yes, as that individual I am both excited and haunted by the sheer responsibility of answering this call to the Holy Priesthood. This is truly a blessed celebration, as we ask God to ordain through the imposition of our hands someone, we the people choose to lead and shepherd us towards God. Yesterday, Bishop Daniel and I read over the prayers of the service in order for me to truly understand and embrace the meaning and something stood out to me. In each of the prayers, the Bishop is asking God to bless the individual but concludes with “likewise bless all those present” – all people. Repeatedly, the term and also us or and all who are present are emphasized begging the question, who is actually being ordained? Who is answering the call?

Whenever we speak about the authority or vocation of an individual who is becoming a priest, we ask, “when did you receive your call?” Ultimately this is what being a priest is, answering a call from God to serve – the Church, the people, God. Yet, this idea of receiving “the call” is very obscure to us as Orthodox Christians. It is as though for that one individual someone may have knocked on their door and said God is calling for you to be a priest. Or perhaps a phone call, maybe another priest seeing their potential made a comment. Perhaps the heavens opened up and an angel from above said you must become a priest. I don’t know – perhaps all of the above. The reason I don’t know is because “the call” for me was not like this. And unfortunately through movies and stories, we have romanticized what being called means or what being a priest is. We have blinded and deaf to the truth.

I once read a story about a gay prostitute who lived on the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. If you saw this person from behind, you could never tell that he was a man. Very well dressed, expensive clothes and wigs. And the way they walked, from behind you would say he was a woman. One day, this man, all dressed in women’s clothing walked into a Church. What drew him in he wasn’t sure. But, he kept coming back. Until one day he disappeared. The pastor, who had built a relationship with this person, reached out but to no avail. A few years later, as the pastor was preaching, a couple walked into Church. The woman was fair but the man next to her was big, muscular, hairy and gave the impression of being a lumberjack or construction worker. As the pastor preached he thought nothing of it, new people! Afterwards, this couple came up to the pastor and thanked him for his service. However, the pastor could not help but stare into the eyes of the man, whom he instantly recognized as the gay cross dressing man from a few years back. This man had completely changed his life. He had gotten married, come to faith, and had opened up his own business. However, because of his previous life, he was sick and dying of AIDs. Regardless, the pastor embraced and received this new couple into the Church and asked for them to continue coming back. One day, the pastor received a call from the mans wife. In a broken voice, she said that the man wanted to speak with him but was too weak. The doctor’s had given him a few more days to live – his sickness had taken over. Hearing the heavy breathing of the man on the phone, the pastor only listened, thinking of what he could say to comfort this man. But instead of praying for comfort or easy passing, instead of giving him final rites and saying that Christ would meet him in heaven, the pastor prayed that God give this man strength to be a witness to others of the life in Christ Jesus. My dears, that man lived for another 4 years and began a program to help homosexual and straight male prostitutes out of the life they lived and which was ultimately killing him and them.

My dear brothers and sisters, this man did not become a priest but he answered his call. God is calling each one of us. No matter how old we are, no matter what profession, what gender, what side of the world, what political affiliation, what color skin, no matter what, God is calling. No matter if we are on the lowest level of sinfulness or we are preparing to become priests, each one of us is being called. Because we have lost sight of our relationship with God, because we have created platforms and barriers, it is this truth that we have become blinded and deaf to. St. Peter calls us a nation of Holy Priesthood. Each one of us, who bears the name of Christ, baptized children – no matter if you preach from the pulpit with your words or from the back seat of the car with the life you live.

In the later of James today we read, “The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.”(v.16) Yet, the righteous are those who are made righteous through faith in Christ Jesus. The righteous are those who listen and answer their call. A priest is not someone with special powers, or someone who is sinless. In fact the Church fathers teach us that as priests we are even more culpable and more sinful, because we know the truth and still fault. No, my brothers and sisters. God is the only one who makes us righteous. A life through the Holy Sacraments, a life lived through the Holy Church, a life in Communion with GOD bring forth righteousness – IF we answer his call. Philippians 3:9 – “and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith;”

My dear brothers and sisters, when will we answer “our call”? Serving one another, lifting each other up, sharing love and living in a life of repentance and continual communion with God. Christ came into our darkness and broke our chains. Christ came and healed the sick and called saying follow me. Christ stands in our tomb, as he did with Lazarus and calls.

And we are invited my dears to answer His call. To live a life of righteousness – to be a witness of Gods love, hope, faith and healing. To serve the Church, the people and Him. Therefore, yes in 2 weeks I will begin my new journey of answering my call, but my journey does not end there – because by becoming a priest I do not yet answer my call. No rather, everyday God will call me, just as he is calling each one of us. Today is Fathers day and we celebrate and remember those fathers and fatherly figures who have answered their calls, as physical, spiritual and fathers of all capacities. Let us answer our call, let us heed to the voice of God in everything we do, in the relationships we have with each other and with ourselves. Because only by growing in faith ourselves, will we be able to guide others. And together let us ask for the grace of the Holy Spirit to be upon us, to cleanse us, to open our eyes and hears to the righteousness of God, now and always forever and ever. Amen!

 Therefore I ask, do we hear Gods call for us? What will our answer be?!