In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen
“People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway. If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway. What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway. Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway…”
These words, which I am sure many of us have heard, are the words that the saintly Mother Theresa wrote on the wall of a children’s shelter in Calcutta, India. Though she adopted and changed them from the original Kent Keith poem, the prayerful message describe not just her but what she believed that each one of us must do in this world. To forgive, be kind, work hard, be honest and sincere; To create, live joyfully and be good. Not because there is no pain or negativity around us and not even because it will help stop the negativity and pain. Rather, she believed that by doing what is right and good, in spite of all the negativity, it is ultimately a reflection of us. Unlike Mother Theresa, who living in some of the worse conditions in India, we live in the United States where for the majority of us we are blessed with clean water, with shelter and with modern medicine. We have such an abundance of food in our homes that our garbage is full of more food then some of impoverished families in India eat regularly. We have peace on our boarders, and temporary shelters for those who do not have a home. No, life is not perfect and sickness and pain are rampant, yet, with all the blessings that we have how many of us act, live, or even think in the way Mother Theresa calls us to be?
Some will say, she was a saint, and she had a following. My dears, as our Church Father’s say, “every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.” Saints in the Orthodox Church are regular people like you and me who choose every day, with every decision to place their faith in God and use the blessings He has given us to bless others, in spite of the sins, disease, viruses, wars and pains around us. Saints loved when they were hated, they taught when they were persecuted, they created when other’s destroyed around them. Saints give whatever tiny bit they could and God used them to bless others, to teach, to lift and to instruct others. We see this especially clearly in last part of today’s reading, where Jesus uses the widow as an example.
We all know the story of the widow who gave 2 pennies verses all those others who gave out of their abundance. Yet, what many of us fail to realize is that Jesus here is not only speaking about the material or financial giving – but giving of ourselves, a denying of oneself out of love. Because to deny our own selfish desires, deny our comfort, deny our own will and to give all of ourselves to God through love, we learn to reflect Him and bring His love and care into this world regardless of the material pain or loss. The brave soldiers of Armenia and Artsakh this week, just like the countless soldiers from the United States and around the world who answer the call to defend freedom, justice, peace and all good, do so because they understand that despite everything, all the pain and suffering in this world, what their love and good reflect is something and someone much greater then who they are. My dears, we are not all able to take up arms and go to war. And often we may think that we are too small, or our actions will not have the same impact as other’s – perhaps we feel we are not educated enough. Or perhaps we think we’ve already done something, let someone else participate.
My dears, if we think such ways, that we have done enough, we have loved, cared, forgiven, donated, created, repented, etc. enough, then we are not denying ourselves but rather, denying who we are called to be. If we think we are too small or not strong enough, think of the parable of the mustard seed. I personally know of nurses and doctors, here in the United States, who are leaving the comfort of their jobs, and families in order to go and help others. This past week I saw a story of a child, who in Armenia is selling walnuts in the streets in order to send the money he saved to the soldiers – where his brothers and father are fighting. He was able to collect almost 80 thousand dram, roughly $170, as part of his contribution. I know someone in our Chicago community, who has taken out their 401K retirement and has given all of it over to www.himnadram.org. Giving ourselves over to God is about the spirit by which we act, react, listen, etc. When we give ourselves over to God’s Will, meaning we pray, confess and repent our sins, when we read scripture regularly and ask questions to learn, when we use what we have learned to direct our choices, our actions, etc. then God takes us, small or big, educated or not, entitled or not, old or young, takes us and makes us the saints, creates in us the fortitude to do what is right regardless of what is taking place around us.
Sadly, however, too many of us, give to God out of the abundance rather than the whole. We donate when we have something extra. We give but look to see who else is giving and adjust ours accordingly. We come to Church, when there is nothing better to do or we didn’t sleep in. We volunteer our time reluctantly, so that either Der Hayr will stop asking or so that others will not gossip about us. We call Der Hayr only when we get sick, when we have a bone to pick, or to ask questions only when we want to justify our own actions or lack of actions. I remember one day, when I was doing ministry in a prison in New York, an inmate asked me, “Can I sell drugs or prostitutes, if I use the money to support my family or donate a part of it to a Church?” Too often, my dears, we look to God out of the abundance of our time, and out of our desire to justfiy ourselves rather, then give our time and heart fully over to Him. We answer only when it’s convenient but are quick to blame when pain, sickness, war and devastation happens to us.
The beautiful words of Mother Theresa, which is about all of us and for all of us, ends with this “In the end, it is ultimately between you and God. It was never between you and them.” My dear brothers and sisters, be a child of God, love, care, create, do, give, forgive, listen, tend to others not because we are fighting someone or something else, but because it is who we are.
Give everything not because we are expecting a return or because we have extra. Let us not be like those who only do things for show, as Christ teaches about the Pharisees who only love those who love them back. Let us also not think we don’t have anything worth giving, or that we could never be like Mother Theresa or other saints. We are all sanctified through our baptisms and we are all called to be the servants of God in this world. Give everything, always, give yourself out of love. Pray for peace and also be peaceful; Pray for justice, and also act justly; Pray for forgiveness and begin forgiving. Do it anyway, because in the end it is between you and God. A God who loves us all and desires to be in communion with us always, through Christ Jesus, through whom we learn what it means to be like God our Father and to be cleansed by the Holy Spirit, so that no matter what pain, isolation, suffering, war or sickness we see, we will do better anyway, Amen!