In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!
If I were to ask, what is your favorite verse or passage in the Bible, most of you would be able to approximately describe where it is found in scriptures or give a verse and chapter number. I remember back in High School many of my friends, who came from other Christian backgrounds, would quote verses from scripture to me as a reference the same way I would quote movies or poetry.
John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world”; John 1 – “In the beginning was the Word”; Psalm 23 – “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want”, etc. Yet, the numerical organization or division did not exist in ancient times when scripture was written. Faithful knew what the scriptures said, even if they couldn’t necessarily point it out. Additionally, some of the subtitles we find in scriptures did not exist such as “Sermon on the Mount” or “Jesus Feeds the 5,000” and many others. Scripture was not read in the way we read it today.
Some of us, when we read the Holy Scriptures, come to it with reverence and devotion. We come seeking answers to our pain and loss. Still other’s come to read the Holy Scripture to learn and gain knowledge. And if we are honest, majority of us go through our scriptures merely to fact check what it says regarding a matter that interests us. “What does the Bible say about gay marriage?”; “what does the Bible say about how I should vote, or how I should manage my time”; “did Jesus really say x,y and z”; “Did Solomon really have that many wives”, “Did David really kill Goliath with only 1 stone”, Etc. We come to the scriptures looking for self justification for the lives we live. We search out trivial and often pointless answers. Trivial and pointless because the scriptures were not written for the purpose of how too many of us use it today.
Truthfully, this misuse and misunderstanding of what the Holy Scriptures are for also extends to other aspects of our faith. If I were to ask about your favorite service or prayer that we sing and celebrate in Church, you would be able to tell describe to me all the details. Yet, because of the misunderstanding of the prayers, we see the services in Church merely as a performance, a concert, or if we do come with genuine faith, we come only when we’ve hit rock bottom. And so coming to Church becomes a task rather, then a blessing. Actively volunteering and participating in Church events or groups becomes a burden rather, then an opportunity for ministry. Even the more religious personal practices of fasting, praying, lighting a candle, singing in choir or serving on the altar, becomes for us an inconvenience rather then a means to grow. And because of this misuse and misunderstanding of what it is we are really doing here, all of a sudden, those favorite passages we have or the services and hymns we enjoy merely become motivational quotes, mantras or philosophy and the teachings of the Church become easily replaceable by the “new” or modern.
However, my dear brothers and sisters, as Armenian Orthodox Christians, who have over 1,700 years of Christian roots, we need to understand that everything that we receive from God in a tangible form, such as the Holy Bible or the practices of the Church, the Traditions such as fasting etc. they are not created merely to gives us information, to be mantras, or to fill our time until the next best thing. They are not motivational quotes and philosophy to enjoy and repeat in the same way we would repeat literature or theater. Rather, just as the verses and titles were created to help guide us, likewise, each and every word of the Holy Scriptures along with the practices of the Church are here to guide us; but to what?
Today the Armenian Church is in its 4th week of Great Lent, a fasting period, and this day is known as the Sunday of the Steward. Apart from the Parable of the Unjust Steward, we also read of a warning Christ gives to us about the love of money and power and as well, teaches us the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. What ties these three teachings together on the surface is closely related to money. Yet, when we look deeper at Christ’s words, what is it that we are actually being guided towards? My dears, we are being called to be different, to be changed, to be better through God.
The past several weeks I have spoken about Heaven and Hell and what our understanding is of these in our lives here today and as well as, tomorrow in eternity. In our weekly Bible Studies, we have been examining the Book of Revelations to understand what all this means for us. And what is crucial to remember is that our faith as Christian’s, as children of God, is not about getting into Heaven or learning how to avoid Hell. Our purpose, our reason for being a child of God, of our Heavenly Father is so that we are in communion with Him and so we bring Him into the lives we live. That is why, taking advantage of the titles in scripture we enjoy now adays, in St. Paul’s letter today under the title “The Old Life and the New” we read that, “Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (vv. 22-24) In other words my dears, what we read, hear, see, inquire from these words and the rules and services that are taught to us in the Church serve as tools and guides by which we come into communion with God and through whom we are renewed to be different. When people ask, “why do I need to be a Christian to be a good person? Are atheists who do the same good thing I do not good?” The answer isn’t that what the atheist is doing is not good but rather, the truth that we must face is what we are doing as Christian’s is not in fact good but lazy.
The steward in today’s parable was doing his job. However, because of the choices he made he was not a faithful steward; he was abusive and manipulative. We, likewise, the stewards of this world that God has created for us have a job to do. As a Christian steward, to truly be in communion with God, to do our task, we must be drastically different in how we live our lives. This does not mean go out into a desert, become a monk or don’t have likes and dislikes. To be renewed, as St. Paul says, is to trust in God fully even when we may struggle to understand how. To be renewed, means to examine the life we live and search for Christ’s presence within it. To be renewed, means to live by these words that we call the breath of God. Because “All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness,…” (2 Tim. 3:16) For we are the light and we must go and light the darkness, in the same way we have been illuminated.
If we are in have a business, we must immerse ourself in the words and teachings of scripture to see what business practices you live by. If we have a family, we must examine the teachings within the heart of the Church to see how we are called to be a spouse and raise our children. If we are a student or have parents we take care of, we must live by the instructions from God who shows us how we behave. No matter what we do, where we are in life, how old, how broken, how strong, the color of our skin, the language we speak, our stature or income, etc. what God has given us through the Holy Scriptures, through the practices of the Church is not information or history but renewal and tools to grow in our communion with Him.
Therefore, my dears, as we continue to journey through this time of fasting and prayer let us seek not self justification, philosophy or information but purification and renewal through God. May we look for God’s presence not just in the Church walls or paintings but within the walls of our homes and our heart, and on the canvas of our self portrait that other’s will see. As Christian’s let us be the difference from everyone else, the light for others, so that when people look to us they will see the living words of God through our actions. Doing so may we shine brightly and may we glorify God our Father, the Son and Holy Spirit in all aspects of our lives, Amen!