Sermon for Sunday February 9, 2020
Passages: Isaiah 63:7-18; 2 Timothy 3:1-12; John 6:22-38
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Ungodliness, self-serving and a society of self; Comfort and the avoidance of pain and pursuit of self indulgence; Hedonistic morals and ethics and an abandonment of family; Self-serving leaders and a culture of barbarism and feelings. These statements could easily be a description of today’s 21st century society. Yet, this is not an image of today, not of last year, nor is it an image of what is yet to come. Rather, this is a very real picture of what 5th century Rome looked like after it fell to the Barbarian hordes. Rome and the grand Roman Empire, the metropolis, the center of culture, religion, art and political ideals had been torn and ripped to shreds not only externally but also internally by the collapse of its society. A few centuries before the fall of the Roman Empire St. Paul wrote, “You must understand this, that in the last days distressing times will come. For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, brutes, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power.” (vv.1-5) What was written in the 1st century by St. Paul and what we see as the image of society at the end of the 5th century during the fall of the Roman Empire is also what we are seeing today in our society.
A society that celebrates personal feelings, fulfillment of desires and a love for self. A culture that celebrates ungodliness and hates good, searches for sexual deviance and destroys the Godly ordained norm of person and family.
Where leaders are sheep and wolves are seen as shepherds. We have become, my dears, a society of children following the pied pipers. It is a grim image to say the least.
The reason as to why our families, communities, societies, etc. why we are all in this repeated state again and again, can be seen as multi-faceted and we can have lengthy discussions as to how and why. But, this disconnect of humanity and Godliness is not only something we see in history but it is present even during Christ’s ministry – when God was physically with humanity. Reading today’s Gospel we understand that there is a misunderstanding if not a blatant disregard for what Christ Jesus is doing and teaching vs. and what majority of the people who claim to follow him desired. Jesus gives that example of the followers of Moses, who in their time of need were blessed by God with Bread from Heaven, Manna, in order to feed their physical hunger.
Instead of glorifying God, rather, than seeing God’s divinity in their struggles and pain, the Israelites gave credit to Moses and their own abilities. In short “the Israelites in the wilderness refused to acknowledge or trust God for who he is, that he would provide for them no matter their situation or circumstance,” the same way the current followers of Jesus were blind to who Jesus is and are deaf to what he is saying.
How many of us likewise come to Church, call ourselves followers of Christ or believers in God only after, only if, or especially when we are “fed”? We don’t need to have bread come down from Heaven or to have 5 loaves feed 5,000 to see how we are fed. I have heard repeatedly from men and women who have served in the armed forces, that they lost their faith when they saw the atrocities of war. Or how many of us have questioned God’s existence or will when we are in pain? Yet, when we are healthy, when we are safe, when we are physically and metaphorically “fed”, it is easy to believe, it is easy to “see” the will of God. But this is not true knowledge of God.
Many people believed in Christ because they were fed, because they saw signs. When the Roman Empire was flourishing, when the Churches of St. Paul were growing, ungodliness was dormant. Our devotion to our self-indulgences and desires were kept quite out of a greater desire to understand God. However, when life gets tough, when we make excuses and begin compromising our faith in order to please our friends or even our egos, than we begin to starve. We search to be fed but remain blind and distant from God, who is here to feed us, to love us, to nurture us. And the further we get, the more we hunger until eventually we begin to feed off the temporal, the sinful, the self fulfilling and destructible. Having not been properly fed or nourished, our communities, our families, our leaders, our self begins to decay and fall apart and we again in thirst and hunger asking, where is god? St. John Chrysostom says, “I [Jesus] fed your bodies, he says, so that after this you might seek that other food that endures, which nourishes the soul. But you run right back to that food that is temporal. Therefore, you do not understand that I [Jesus] lead you not to this imperfect food but to that which nourishes not only the body but the soul.”
My dears, how many of us only feed off of what God offers, only seek Christ when life is easy and for the momentary satisfaction of our stomachs? God’s love, God’s care, God’s nourishment and feeding is more than mere bread. Rather than turning to political leaders, rather than looking to those who have deep pockets, we must first begin by turning and looking to God because it is God who gives us the tools, who makes us the vessels and the sources of good in this world.
If we who claim to believe but have turned away from Him and only come to him when it is convenient for us what change, what good are we speaking about?
Psalm 50 (51), which is used very heavily in the Armenian Church reads, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.” God creates in us by feeding us, teaching us, guiding us in order for us to than go and teach others the ways of God. That is what believing in God, that is why glorifying God for what He has given to us means – faith shared, God known is to show God. That is why the Church is a family, is a community, it is a hospital where the sick having been healed begin healing others. That is what it means to be fed and that is the only way we can overcome our self-egos, our self desires and the darkness that we call light in this world.
We may argue that it is too difficult, there is too much pain and suffering, too much of self-serving in today’s world. My dears, it is the same today, that is was in 5th century Rome, that it was in the time of St. Paul and in the time of Jesus. There is nothing new to our struggles, the only difference is now we post everything online. Elder Philotheos of the Eastern Orthodox Church reminds us – Joseph was in Egypt, in the barren dessert and in the place of sin, yet he did not sin because he continued to choose God and draw near. Adam was in Paradise, where sin did not exist but because Adam distanced himself from God, he disobeyed God and listened to the devil, he lost paradise and sinned. Therefore, it is not the place or times we live in but the manner of our hearts that saves us. My dears, what are our hearts searching for? To feed our hunger? What hunger are we trying to satisfy? Our stomach’s, our egos, our self or our hunger and thirst for God? If it is God then we must draw near to Him, we must repent – meaning turn to Him, confess and humble our egos, be part of this Church, this hospital and search for healing in order to likewise, go out and feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and lift up society. Only then will we truly know Christ Jesus and the will of God. Only then will we truly be fed and satisfied. Amen!