More than a favor!

Sermon for Sunday November 24, 2019
Passages: Isaiah 36:1-9; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10; Luke 12:13-31

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

The other day while I was listening to the radio, an ad began with the sound of jingle bells. And the announcer asked, “when you hear that sound you know what time of the year it is?” What would we answer? Thanksgivings or maybe Christmas? Yet, the announcer immediately began yelling “its the season for shopping…” It’s no big secret that once summer vacations wrap up and schools begin, the majority of us begin preparing for the expenses of the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons, which can be anything from extravagant dinner tables and parties to far more expensive gift exchanges, travel, splurging on items we want for ourselves, etc. As the humorous yet, painful statement reads, “the day after we express what we are thankful for, we go crazy to buy the things we want.” Tis the season!

The Gospel today begins with a man who comes to Christ and asks that Jesus become a mediator or a judge, in a dispute between his brother and him. As Christians we all know that Jesus is a just judge and so who better to make your case to. But I want to take a step back and ask, what do we know about the background to today’s Gospel? Today’s reading of Luke begins with a man from the multitude, “from the crowds.” And this is important to understand because we see that Jesus was not sitting alone. He wasn’t having coffee with the Disciples or chatting with someone. We read from the start of this chapter that in this moment, Christ Jesus is surrounded by thousands of people. He is teaching and speaking to everyone equally – not privately. And what really strikes me is what he is teaching in the verses prior to this: “And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God; but whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God…” (vv. 8-9) Now, a question to ponder for all of us for a moment, why were their thousands of people listening to Jesus speak? His reputation preceded him as a wise healer, teacher, prophet, etc. 

Repeatedly we see how the disciples, the Pharisees and the people at large witnessed, observed, heard the miracles Jesus did, the teachings he gave and the life that he lived. Perhaps none of these people had a full grasp of who Jesus Christ was – the Son of God who has come to bring salvation to the world. Perhaps this was not understood but everyone openly had seen the works of Christ. That is why Jesus was constantly surrounded, that is why people took time off work, packed up their belongings and followed Jesus. That is why this man, out of all these thousands of other people seized the opportunity to ask Jesus Christ for a favor.

My dears, this man represents each one of us. We are each part of the multitude, one out of the thousands and millions who hear Jesus Christ teach every Sunday. We have learned his teachings, we have observed his healings, we have each in our lives somehow witnessed to the greatness and the love of our faith in Christ. Yet, like this man, how many of us go to Christ merely for a favor? We seize our opportunity to communicate with God and stepping forward from the multitude, we stop short of asking for greatness and merely ask for something small. Thus our faith in God remains only surface level in as much that “we believe because we get.”

Perhaps the multitude did not know who Christ truly was, because it had not been revealed to them yet. But we know who Jesus Christ is. The Only begotten Son of our Father in Heaven – God in flesh, revealed to us, who came out of the love of the Father to die for our sins, so that we may live. And yet, when Christ becomes for us a magician or a friend to whom we go to for “favors” we are in fact committing the one act that Jesus speaks about earlier – we deny God in front of others because we deny who He really is. We don’t only deny God with words – we do so by our lives. Lives that have seen all those great things God has blessed us with and yet, still we go to Him for the simple, mundane and ultimately that which is not going to strengthen our communion with him or each other. 

Our God is not a God of favors – He is Love. Our God is not a God of tricks – He is Action. Our God is not a God of means – He is Life. So when we go to God, when we pray, why do we limit our prayers to mere simple desires or favors, limited in the material. Rather, if we seek righteousness, if we seek wisdom, if we seek communion with God, as we read in the Gospel of Matthew, God will bless us with these and more (6:33).

My dears, the radio ad began with the sounds of Christmas and drew the listeners attention to shopping and material gain. So I ask us, when we hear the teachings of Christ Jesus, when we read and listen to scripture, to the Divine Liturgy, when we attend Church and are consumed by the sights and smells of the Holiness, where does our attention draw to? A bearded man who we go to for favors? Or an all loving, all powerful, compassionate God and all His blessings of love, hope and resurrection, of communion? Tis the season, yes my dears. And for us, this season serves as an opportunity to turn back to, repent and renew our communion with God in order to truly understanding of who Christ Jesus in our lives, a life that is called to glorify Him eternally, Amen!

Measure of Greatness

Sermon for Sunday November 17, 2019
Passages: Isaiah 25:9-26:7; Philippians 1:1-11; Luke 9:44-50

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

What is the measure of ultimate success? What is the measure of being the greatest? The world around us has set forth measurements and ideas of what constitutes being successful, what dictates greatness, what it means to be number one. And many of us, if not all, define our life’s achievements based on these arbitrarily defined categories. A student is the greatest when they graduate with the top marks. An athlete is successful when they get the win. A parent feels successful when they raise a child healthy and educated academically and or either wise. A businessman or women feels they are the greatest when they’ve hit their mark, achieved their goal, maybe made a good product and now they are making the money.

Yes, success and greatness are defined in very different ways, depending on what you are trying to accomplish. Yet, a question remains, is there a measurement or scale that can be used to check who is the ultimate success or the absolute greatest? Even the Apostles began arguing this point, who was the greatest among them? In fact this argument continued in much of Church history. Who was greater Peter or Paul, John or James etc. (This is a topic for another sermon) But looking at this discussion, in one Gospel account we read that they came to Christ and asked him to settle this matter.

In today’s Gospel we read that Christ Jesus became “aware of their inner thoughts…”(v.47). Yet, what I find very important here is that Jesus did not rebuke them, he didn’t argue that as children of God you must all be equal nor did he say none of you are great. Rather, Christ Jesus took a child and said “Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest.” (v.48) In other words, the measure by which the disciples were attempting to live up to as the “greatest” – that mentality had to change, because having a desire to be successful or great is not a bad thing. Working hard, being dedicated, doing what others are not willing to do in order to achieve a set goal is commendable even in a Christian faith context. Even St. Paul speaks about having run the race – having finished and having succeeded. However, my dears what Christ Jesus is inviting us to do is change our perception of what “success” or “greatness” is.

If a student from the south side of Chicago, growing up in low income housing, surrounded by gangs and drugs is able to graduate high school and find a steady job to provide for his or her family – are they the greatest? vs. A student who grew up with the best education and opportunities, who had food on the table and two loving parents that guided and nurtured them to a corporate position in this world – are they the greatest? What about an Armenian orphan who comes to the United States, after witnessing the atrocities of death and imprisonment, and through extremely hard work becomes a multi-millionaire – are they successful? vs. A parishioner of St. Gregory Armenian Church, who has had a peaceful life, and decides to open up a business and runs it successfully – are they successful?

My dears, greatness and success are not defined by the vastness or the limitation of physical achievements that we may or may not have accomplished. Rather, to be the greatest is the one who is understands in their heart the humanity and humility of serving others. To be great is to act out of love – to act through Christ JesusSt. Paul succeeded and achieved his “goals” through Christ.

One of my childhood role model’s on TV, and one I am sure many of us have also watched, is Mr. Fred Rogers. A brilliant man with a great heart. If you get a chance read his biography (in fact I think there is a movie coming out about him soon). When asked about success he answered: “There are three ways to ultimate success: The first way is to be kind. The second way is to be kind. The third way is to be kind.” My dear brothers and sisters, to be kind does not mean to not work hard. To be kind does not mean to allow others to run you over or take advantage of you. To be kind means to love all equally, to care for all unequivocally and to hope undoubtedly. To understand that others do not define our greatness or success because our greatness, our ultimate success is defined in how we treat others, how we treat the child – ultimately in extension how we treat Christ Jesus. For Christ is in each one of us – in all humanity. A humanity, for whom Jesus Christ came into this world, was crucified and resurrected – so that all who believe are saved and receive eternal life. An eternal life given to the greatest and the least. From the corporate giants and superstar athletes to the beggar in the street and the child holding a parents hand.

Because success and greatness are not defined for us Christians by the standards of this world. Success and greatness must be defined through us by how we treat ourselves, each other and by glorifying God for all He does through us. To be the greatest – treat everyone else as if they were the greatest. To be successful – see the success of those around us.

I challenge us my dears, as the year comes to a close and we look back on our resolutions and prepare to make new ones soon, I challenge us all – allow our measurement of success to not be defined by titles or material but by the communion and relationships our have created and continue to foster through Christ Jesus. When Jesus is saying “Whoever welcomes this child…,” he is saying “whoever welcomes [blank] in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me…” Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, what is the measure of greatness? What is the measure ultimate success? Our humility. Our love. Our kindness. How we welcome Christ by welcoming others, by which we break all measurements this world has to offer because what God offers us is much more fulfilling, much more desirable and truly is the greatest. Given to us freely through Christ Jesus – and strengthened through how we treat each other and this world. And God seeing our humility will raise us up to true greatness. Amen!