Sermon for Sunday October 27, 2019 – Discovery of the Holy Cross
Passages: Isaiah 33:22-34:1; 1 Corinthians 1:18-24; Matthew 24:27-36

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

“You can hunt us and fry us, you can turn every way, ghosts, witches and goblins are coming your way. Try as you might you can’t stop us, you’re scared. For in this night all types of monsters in your soul they will stare. Witches and vampires, mummies and ghouls, in the dark everywhere, tonight will be seen, for together this night we celebrate frightful Halloween!”

In a few short days, either our children, grandchildren or maybe even us, will dress up in various costumes of fictional characters and go out trick or treating, drinking, partying in celebration of this fall season of Halloween. Maybe we won’t be the ones who dress up and go out, but certainly either children of our neighbors will come to our doors or we will see children in the streets going out door to door asking for candy. A time honored tradition which those of us especially living in North America seem to naively commemorate or celebrate without question. And we may ask ourselves, what is the Church’s stance regarding the Halloween season? Undoubtedly, our social media pages or our email’s have been filled with images of how Halloween is not a Christian holiday or it is a pagan ritual etc. There are some, who are very strict and conservative and absolutely avoid if not condemn others who might celebrate it. Then there is the opposite side of the argument that it has nothing to do with the Church, because it is merely the childhood experience. Regardless which side of the argument you fall on, and regardless of which historical tale you read, that either Halloween was a pagan celebration or that it was a Christian celebration that was twisted and perverted overtime, regardless of these, one thing does strike me about our celebration of Halloween, our attitudes.

The childish poem which I began the sermon with, with its clever rhyme, seemed innocent – yet, by examining the words – the poem is promoting an idea that we don’t pay much attention too. Here is that poem again, “You can hunt us and fry us, you can turn every way, ghosts, witches and goblins are coming your way. Try as you might you can’t stop us, you’re scared. For in the night all types of monsters in your soul they will stare. Witches and vampires, mummies and ghouls, in the dark everywhere, tonight will be seen, for together this night we celebrate frightful Halloween!” What this poem is teaching is that no matter what you do, no matter how far you run away, no matter how hard you try – ghosts, witches, goblins, ghouls and vampires, mummies and all sorts of monsters are going to get you. Now this may seem childish, because we all know ghosts, witches, goblins, ghouls and vampires, mummies are not real, they are made up in the movies. They are fictional. But even if they are not part of reality, what they represent is. “Try as you might you can’t stop us, you’re scared…”

These fictional characters are there to scare us – meaning they are not tools of education, growth, love, hope and light. They are in and of themselves representations of evil, of darkness, of pain and suffering, of momentary satisfaction and pleasure, of lust and of cruelty. And what this childish poem is saying is – try as you might you can’t stop us. We cannot stop evil – especially when we are celebrating evil by diminishing its impact to merely a childish festival to gather candy. Again regardless of the history, have we thought about the fact that as parents, teachers, as Christian’s who identify in Christ – we all actively are celebrating, lifting up and boasting about fictional and fake characters that promote evil and yet, when it comes to our faith – “oh Der Hayr, Sunday is my one day off, I’d like to rest.”

We spend hundreds of dollars on this festival and make efforts and spend time, to go to parties and plays, yet, we make excuses when it comes to donating time, money and effort to our Church and ultimately to God? Remember what I said, it is about our attitudes, our thinking that troubles me most. In today’s society it is okay to dress up as a vampire, which is a blood thirsty creature, that is often in movies displayed as an overly sexual creature that hunts and get what it desires, yet, it is not okay to openly wear your cross around your neck and speak about your faith. We are surprised when atrocities happen, when shootings take place, when society looks for a way out through opioids and other numbing methods – and yet, we celebrate a day dedicated to monstrosities because it is an innocent children’s holiday?

My dear brothers and sisters, it is the children that are the most vulnerable. And it is us, all of humanity, we are the children – who do not see that every action, from the most important decisions of our lives all the way down to the smallest and most insignificant fictional displays of joy that we may celebrate – they all impact our lives, they leave in imprint. This does not mean that if you celebrate or dress up, or hand out candy or even have your children go out for Halloween that you are evil or promoting evil – but, what I want each one of us to think about is – how much time and effort do we take to think about these actions, reflect on our decisions, and place an importance on our small choices. How much time and effort do we dedicate to our own faith in the real person of Christ Jesus vs. some fictional monsters?

We can say happy Halloween – but in a few short weeks, we can’t say Merry Christmas. We can say Trick or Treat – but we can’t say God bless you. We can decorate our public spaces with fictional graves and corpses and all sorts of evil – yet, we can not display public manger scenes, public displays of Christian faith, we can’t even call it a Christmas tree. What are we promoting? 

As Christians, it is Christ, it is our faith that we must be promoting through the way we love, forgive, help, raise, educate and respect others. From the smallest to the greatest decisions, choices and actions. We are not in the season of Halloween, my dears, we are in the season of the Cross. And we are preparing soon to be in the season of Advent – of Christ Jesus coming into this world to fill it with love, with hope, with light, with healing – not fear, not evil, not fictional displays of joy but real joy. “For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our ruler,  the Lord is our king; he will save us.” (Is. 13:33)

I am not saying do not celebrate Halloween, but I urge us to firstly pray, to humble ourselves, to turn to God and to grow in our faith. To come to Church and bring our children to Church as easily and as willfully as we celebrate and make time for these fake celebrations. To not settle by handing out candy to strangers but by our life’s example, to hand out our faith to all those around us, whether they are knocking on our doors or not. Because on Halloween, yes children come knocking – but Christ is knocking everyday. Not fictional and dressed up to scare us. But the real and resurrected Christ Jesus – to come into our homes, to fill our lives with hope and faith.

Therefore, my dears if we want to, let us celebrate Halloween, but let us also continually examine ourselves and the choices we make. Praying to God our Father for clarity of mind, heart and spirit. Placing our hope in the real person of Christ Jesus by whom we will conquer all evil, fictional and real, by whom the Divine power of life has been gifted to us freely in order for us to bless others as we have been blessed. And through which we continually glorify the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, eternally, Amen!

What do I owe God?

Sermon for Sunday October 13, 2019
Passages: Isaiah 19:1-11; Galatians 2:1-10; Mark 12:35-44

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

When I began to reflect and think about what message I could share with you all today, reflecting upon the Gospel – as I do every week, my first thought was where can I find a story or illustration to grasp our attentions and make this sermon relevant. Many of us know today’s Gospel story, about the women who gives out of nothing more than others give out of their abundance. So I began looking for stories about giving, sacrifice and debt. As with the majority of us in today’s technological world, one of the first places I looked was Google. Yet, as I searched for a story about giving, sacrifice and debt, all I found online was information about paying off loans and mortgages, credit card debt, etc. And as I quickly made my way through the online pages, a thought came to me, who among us doesn’t have debt? Who hasn’t had student loans to pay off, credit cards, financial hardship? Who doesn’t know what it’s like to owe someone something? Arguably all of us if not majority.  And so what could be more relevant than knowing what it feels like to be in debt? No story is necessary, because we all have our own.

Debt is one of those things, that try as you might, we all fall into. Some greater than others. Some of us for short term, some of us for long term. Yet, debt comes in many other forms than just financial. The idea of debt to society – doing good to others because of what good we have received. A debt to our parents – for the life they gave us. A debt of gratitude – to all those who stood by us. When a friend helps another – what do we often say? I owe you. What about a debt to God – for all his blessings and guidance? What do we owe to God?

Whenever we speak about the relationship of God and humanity, we often start our story in Genesis, and many of us get lost in the narrative of how God gave us life and then we sinned – we fell, we broke our promise to God. And as a result, in the Old Testament, sacrifices had to be made to pay for our “debt of sin.” We owed God for what we had been blessed with such as health, life, family, crops, etc. and as well for our sins. All throughout scripture we read our our debt had to be paid through sacrifice, of how the “wages of sin is death” as St. Paul writes in Romans (6:23) And the Israelite’s offered sacrifices to God. As a part of the sacrifices, tithing was also practiced – where families and individuals would also financially sacrifice and pay a monetary amount, a tenth of their income, towards the temple and God. In fact, that is what we are reading about in the Gospel today – “Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny.” This is an example of the worshipers tithing, after having made their physical sacrifice. And in their minds, they had paid their debt to God. They paid what they owed for all the blessings they had for that year.

Yet, as Christian’s how do we think about our debt to God? What do each of us owe to God? After all we believe that Christ Jesus, came into this world, died and “paid” for our sins on the cross – correct? Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice after which no other sacrifices are necessary, as we read in Hebrews chapter 10 – Jesus was the One true sacrifice. So what else do we owe God if our debt has been paid?

My dear brothers and sisters, going back to the story of Genesis – when God created everything – what did He command or require from humanity vs. all other creatures? To take care of creation, to watch over, to tend – in one word to be stewards. When we act in faith, when we follow God’s commandments – how many of us think of it as a purpose rather than a means? What I mean by this is, how many of us give, forgive, love, repent, pray, fast, “act Christian” because we think and believe that by doing so, I am paying my debt, I am doing my part and God will keep giving me as long as I keep doing so? I am making a sacrifice, I am paying my debt off in sorts.

Reality is too many of us. That is why many people believe that being a good person is good enough. If I’m a good person, if I am nice, forgiving and I give to charity then I have paid my debt to God or society or whatever subject matter you want to place there. However, my dears God is not a subject to which we owe anything. God doesn’t need us to pay anything off.

Being Christian – is a communion with the Person of Christ Jesus. A relationship and communion with God – not a tally, spreadsheet or invoice, where God says, “I’ve done x, y and z so you owe me blank.” Or “if you do these things, then I will continue to bless you” Our faith in God, our relationship with God is the same way our relationship is with our loved ones, our friends, our families. We act and care for thea because we love them. We do not act out of self-interest (I hope). Even if my friends never help me move, I will always help when I am called upon. Even though my child could realistically never pay me in full for giving them life, and guiding them through it, as a parent, I still sacrifice my sleep and leisure for them becaase I love them.

It is likewise with God. God loved us so much that He gave us life, knowing we would fail and sin and make mistakes. And his love continued so much He gave his one and only Son Christ Jesus to die on the Cross. He guides and directs us. He wants to be our God not so we can owe him anything but because He loves us. And for us to realize our true calling as Christians, as children of God, as heirs is seen through our actions, our trust in Him, our love shown to all creation, as he did for us.

After God had created Adam and Eve, had breathed life into humanity and made us stewards of creation, it was not because we owed him for the life we had. Rather, as stewards, as creatures made in His Divine Image, by doing as God did we begin our own journey towards becoming one with God.

My dear brothers and sisters, what could we possibly do to pay God? Nothing. For Christ Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. And what we do out of faith is not out of some idea of debt to God but is fundamentally, rooted and grown out of love. A Love for God, love for humanity, love for self and love for all creation. Therefore, let us pray to God our Father to illumine our minds and hearts, to empty our thoughts from vain ideas of being in debt to God and rather let us ask that our actions, hopes, aspirations and goals be founded in love and in the Person of Christ Jesus. And when we do this, we each will not only have stories of debt that we can relate to, but real experiences of faith which we can share with this world, spreading light in darkness and giving hope to the hopeless – and thereby glorifying our Father, the Son and Holy Spirit eternally, Amen!