Sermon for Sunday March 22, 2020
Sunday of the Unjust Judge
Isaiah 65.8-25; Philippians 3.1-4.9; Luke 17.20-18.14
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!
There was a faithful man who attended Church everyday. He knew the sharagans (the hymns), and prayers all by heart and with love and joy he attended as often as he could. He was active and participated in every way he could and he volunteered and helped other congregant’s come and worship. However, one day, as the man was in his prayers, he overheard someone in the congregation ridicule him. Hurt, the man slowly distanced himself from the Church and the people. He became bitter and grouchy and eventually, he just stopped going to Church. Days, weeks and months passed, he did not come to Church because he had been hurt and did not want to return. One day, his priest came knocking on his door. Angrily, seeing the priest, the man blurted, “come in.” The priest walked in and found the man sitting by his fireplace, rocking back and forth not even acknowledging the priest. The priest came, sat down next to him and for a few moments they stared at the crackling fire. Without saying a word, the priest grabbed the metal tongs and took one of the logs off the roaring fire and placed it on the stone floor. At first the log kept burning, but slowly and eventually, the logs embers died and it went out. After a few more minutes the priest picked the log back up and placed it back in the fire and within moments the log reignited and the fire grew stronger. Both the priest and the man stared at the fire. The priest got up without ever saying a word and walked to the door opening it, stepping out about to leave, when the man immediately said, “Thank you, Father, I will see on Sunday.”
My dear brothers and sisters, today and in these days, many, if not all of our Churches remain empty from your presence. Because of the sickness and virus of Covid-19, we have been limited in our comings and goings and we are being taught to “socially distance” ourselves from one another in order to prevent the spread of today’s viral pandemic. However, my dears as important as it is to socially distance ourselves in order to prevent the spread of today’s virus, what we must not allow ourselves is to grow spiritually distant from one another and break communion with God. The Church as a physical building, a sacred home, serves as the heavenly realm on earth, the hospital for the spiritually sick, where we must gather and consume the body and blood of Christ Jesus, the Holy Eucharist. In these times, we are being taught that we must not go to Church to prevent sickness, yet, how many of us have kept a distance from Church, distance from God through our own choice for whatever reason, before “social distancing”?
Though social distancing was not practiced, how many of us have stories of hearing of how people distance themselves from each other because of how others look at how we have dress, how we talk, vote, sing or laugh? How many of us have felt this way? How often have we felt isolated, distant and alone even when we have physically gathered in Church? In cases like these, the Church no longer feels as the place of healing. We feel it is better to socially, emotionally, physically and ultimately spiritually distance ourselves, rather than deal with the virus of judgment and condemnation. Much like the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in today’s parable, both were physically in the Temple praying, yet they were very distant in heart and mind.
Through of the sin of arrogance the Pharisee, we read of how he physically, socially and spiritually distanced himself from the tax-collector and doing so he ultimately distanced himself from God. Yet, even then the tax-collector, who could of easily heard the open criticism about him, he did not wane in his faith and he did not get up and leave or distance himself but humbly continued to pray, in order to strengthen his communion with God. The tax-collector understood that just as he is a sinner and he is in need of healing, so too is the Pharisee. By not distancing himself from God in his heart and mind, the tax-collector prayers ultimately cleansed him of the virus of sin and strengthened his communion with God.
My dearly beloved brothers and sisters, we are all in need of healing today. Not only of physical viral infections, but also of the infectious mindset that we are better than others. If the Church is a place of healing, if the Church is a place where by communing with God, we become inflamed with His Divine love and light, therefore as children of God, through the lives we live and by how we treat one another, we must become a source of healing, a source of love and light. We must become Churches for the rest of the world and for ourselves, so that when we are in darkness, when we are being judged and are falling victim to sickness, when we are forced to not be able to gather in worship in Church, our own fires remain lite and do not die out. How is this done?
As we learn from the first parable today, through continual prayer. St. John Chrysostom teaches, that no matter where we are in the world, whether we are physically isolated or socially distancing, in a hospital bed or in quarantine at home, in a palace or in the desert, we become the Church by setting up an altar to God in our heart and mind through prayer. God our Father, hears those humble prayers and lifts us up, not because we are better than others but because He loves us, and because He desires for us to share that love with all creation.
This week has taught us and perhaps the coming weeks will enforce even more, that the Church, this body of Christ is not limited to the walls of a building only. Yes it is necessary to come and gather in a Church, because it is here where we receive that fire that keeps our faith burning. It is here, this physical presence of a sacred place, where the Eucharist, the body and blood of Christ is celebrated and offered up to us as “hope, resurrection, forgiveness and expiation of our sins”. However, our prayers are heard no matter where we are in this world. Our prayers are heard from the depths of our hearts and they are echoed and rise up as incense to God our Father – whether those prayers are said here in Church or in our own homes. Those prayers are heard because of the love of God which is given to us in order for us to begin to love each other.
My dears, God is allowing us to use this time in our lives, this opportunity of staying home, to spend time with our families, reflect and pray. We are in the second half of the season of Lent, and God has given us this time to fast not from foods alone, but from arrogance, anger, judgment, laziness, malice, racism, etc. God has created this day to teach us that no matter where we are, no matter what sickness, fear, darkness pain or isolation we face, we can build communion with Him through our prayers. “And even when we feel as though we are praying alone, the choir of saints and the hosts of angels surround us” – St. Clement of Alexandria.
My dears, I invite us to find a few minutes each day to stop, to breathe, to pray, to pick up our Bibles and read – and to do it with our families. To call each other on the phone or online using social media and the electronic devices we have been blessed with to remain connected to each other, because by creating communion with each other, our communion with God only grows stronger, the fire of our faith gets brighter and warmer. We have nothing but time in this moment, we have nothing but this opportunity, and we need nothing but the love of God, which is emanated through Christ Jesus to us. And if we have questions, reach out to your priest and ask. Because by doing so, our light grows, our love grows, our faith grows and we each become the presence of the Church and of God in the lives of one another. By doing so, even when practicing social distancing, we remain connected to God, we remain inflamed and thus bring healing to this world and remain spiritually and emotionally connect to one another.
May we through our prayers, in these difficult times be protected by the Holy Cross. May we remember in our prayers each other by name, our leaders by name. Let us remember our doctors and physicians, nurses and first responders and all those who put the lives of other ahead of their own safety. Let us remember all those across the world who have died or are battling this virus. Let us remember to keep praying, and the grace of the Holy Spirit will be with us all, Amen!