Passages: Hebrews 12:18-27; Luke 1:39-56
In the name Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!
If someone was to see us and say we’re so successful or so lucky because of all of our accomplishments, how would we respond? Perhaps we would thank them for their compliment; Some of us may even say it’s just a matter of hard work and dedication; Other’s still might say, we are very blessed to have been so fortunate. Regardless of our initial response, we all would know that even with some luck the truth is our success lays in how much effort we invested and what kind of sacrifices we made to succeed in our work. An athlete invests time in working out and eating properly – sacrificing leisure and sweets.
A student invests time in carefully studying and preparing for their exams sacrificing social life. A doctor invests time in learning about his or her patient’s needs in order to properly diagnose them, sacrificing personal rest. A lawyer invests time to learn the case of their client, sacrificing personal time and peace. The proverbial image of an iceberg comes to mind as we think of how little is seen above the surface of the water, when so much more lays beneath the surface.
In the Gospel today, we encounter this kind of conversation with St. Mary, the Mother of God and with St. Elizabeth, the mother of St. John. St. Elizabeth proclaims to Mary, “Blessed are you among woman, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (v. 43) St. Mary responds with, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden (vv. 47-48). In other words, Elizabeth says “you are such a blessed woman” and St. Mary immediately responds with I am only blessed because I have put my trust in God. How many of us, like Mary, would give credit to God for what we have achieved in life? Yes, perhaps we would say things like “by the grace of God” or “Park Astudzo”, yet, as St. Mary does, how many of us would give credit only to God?
My dear brothers and sisters, today’s Gospel is not teaching us to give credit to God for our hard work and sacrifice. Rather, what we are being called to is an understanding that our true blessing and success comes when we place our trust in God not only in words but through action. A few years ago, while talking to some of the counselors up at Hye Camp I was asked if I had ever seen God? I began telling stories of amazing things I have been blessed to see serving in ministry – whether in hospitals, in prisons, or even the lives of parishioners. And I was asked the question, “why can’t we see those same things as it would really help with our faith?” As I thought about the why, I quickly began to understand even for me, my trust in God didn’t begin after witnessing how God is working in people’s lives but rather, I began witnessing those things when I trusted in God.
Even in the case of my own “ministry success” or in goals we set to achieve in life, yes, we are the ones who do the work but in truth it is God who guides us, gives us patience and keeps us going – God blesses the world through us. Because the truth is that God is in our lives always regardless of how much or little we believe or see. However, only when we begin to invest time and effort into our faith, only then do we in fact see God’s presence in our lives. Only then do other’s see God through us. We don’t do it to gain favor with God. Something that is often misunderstood and criticized by our brothers from the Protestant Churches is that we as Orthodox Christian’s believe that we must work for our salvation. No my dears! Christ Jesus, through his birth, life, death and resurrection has already saved each of us. Rather, we work because we have been saved through Christ. We invest time in our faith, we pray, we confess, we repent, we love, we hope, we forgive, we donate, we show mercy, we defend, we lift up, we stand up, we teach, we volunteer, we sing, we do Badarak, etc. we put our faith into action because God already did all this and more for us. God put His love into action!
So when we begin to live in the same way, when we begin to imitate Christ as St. Paul teaches us, then like St. Mary we understand that we are truly blessed and we are truly successful, we are magnified and begin to see God only because God is in us. With our mouths we pray to God and with our hands God works through us. Therefore my dears, if we truly want to be successful, if we truly want to see God’s presence and be blessed, let us begin by trusting God not by words alone but also through our actions. Let us understand that the more we give to God, the more we will receive back. May we understand that we are only truly blessed when we allow God to bless others through us. And by blessing each other, by putting our trust and hope in God, we glorify God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit eternally, Amen!