Passages: Zech. 2:10-13; 2 Corinthians 6:16-7:1; Luke 1:39-56
Ընթերցուածքներ՝ Զաք. Բ 10-13; Բ Կորնթ. Զ 16 – Է 1; Ղուկ. Ա 39-56
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!
One day a young pastor, in a relatively poor neighborhood, led a group of faithful throughout the streets where he and his flock handed out bagged lunches to the homeless. He observed the different types of people he met along the way. Some were young, old, men and women, drug users, alcoholics, all kinds of people who through life’s different circumstances and challenges had unfortunately ended up homeless. Among those homeless were also a few some prostitutes, regular, but also cross-dressing prostitutes – men who dressed as women and who sadly lived a life of godlessness, perversion, and exploitation.
Regardless, the young pastor gave them sandwiches as well, and even invited them to come to his Church if they would like. Sadly, the reality is most of the time when we as pastors and priests invite anyone to come to Church the answer we receive is, “thank you Der Hayr or pastor, we’ll think about it, or we’ll try” yet, majority never come. In the same way, one of the cross-dressing prostitutes said to the pastor, “thank you pastor, I’ll think about it.” Weeks passed, months passed, and the pastor continued with his ministry, occasionally driving down the street where he had handed out a meal and an invitation. One day, while delivering his homily, he saw a couple of new women quietly walking in and sitting in the very back of the Church. No one gave notice or anything, but the pastor made a mental note to go up after the service and introduce himself. As he went up to them and extended his hand, he recognized these women as the cross-dressing prostitutes. One of them came up to the pastor and said they had accepted his invitation and came to see the Church. And while the pastor struck up a conversation with them, from the side he noticed (and pastors notice a lot of things) that some people were looking at these prostitutes with disgust and rejection. It was only natural because regardless of their appearance or homeless stature, majority of society does not associate with prostitutes or drug abusers. When the prostitutes had left the Church and had said they would return soon, one of the parishioners came up to the pastor and asked, “what did they want? Money?” The pastor said “no, they were searching for God and want this Church to be their home.” The parishioners surprised and alarmed asked, “does that mean they are coming back?” To which the pastor responded, “let us pray they do.”
My dear brothers and sisters, in 2 Corinthians we read, “What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God… beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, and make holiness perfect in the fear of God.” As Christian’s and as children of God, we are called to be cleansed from every defilement – such as hatred, perversion, malice, lust, bigotry, superstitions, laziness, etc. We are called to confession, repentance, and Holy communion by which God cleanses us of those vices and passions and makes us into His temple. However, I wonder, how would we behave towards prostitutes, criminals, the homeless, those considered on the bottom of the totem pole of society if they walked into our Church today? Perhaps it’s difficult to be accepting of individuals like that as there might be a danger of what they will do such as they might have a weapon, etc.
So let me ask a different way; how would we behave, receive and act if someone we don’t like, someone who has hurt us, someone who has betrayed us, or is dressed in a way we don’t like, or smells strange, or is mentally handicapped, how would we feel if they came searching for God in our beloved little Church today? If we are honest with ourselves, most of us, here or watching at home, would not be open or accepting. We would not only physically be guarded, which is not wrong, however, though we might not say anything publicly but in our heart and mind we would be cursing them and wishing they would just go away: “What do they want? Why are they here? Can’t they see they’re not wanted?” St. John Chrysostom teaches us, “If you are coming to Church looking for Holy people, you are in the wrong place. However, if you have come looking for God, then you are on the right path.” My dears, why do we come to Church?
Are we here because Der Hayr has a nice voice or gives a decent homily once in awhile? Are we here because our parents or grandparents helped build this Church and so we have an obligation? Are we here because it’s Sunday and the weather isn’t the best and there is free coffee in the hall, so we decided to come to Church? Or are we here seeking out God? Coming to Church because we enjoy the Badarak, because we want to honor our families legacy, or because we can share in fellowship in the hall is a good thing. But these should not be the reason we come to Church. We don’t come to Church to seek like-minded people or to listen to the latest gossip rather, we come to Church only to seek God and to listen to His message in our life; to be transformed and challenged. Or else all of this is a waste of time and even though we are here, our hearts and minds are not cleansed, and we do not become the temple of God.
My dear brothers and sisters, we all have darkness in our life. We all have battles we face daily, sickness we fight privately, anger we deal with regularly and many other struggles that we can only overcome with God. It may be easy to judge those who outwardly dress, act, or live differently than us, such as a cross dresser, prostitute, or homeless beggar in the street. However, when we, who have put on Christ through our baptism, judge others out of hatred and bigotry and we do not live with repentance and humility – we become a cross dresser, who puts on a garment foreign to who we are called to be. When we place our trust in other worldly things, superstitions, and beliefs – we become the prostitute who sells our soul to godlessness and idolatry. When we come to Church making excuses as to why our hearts can’t change, or why we know better than the “others” – we become a homeless beggar, who does not dwell in the house of God but searches for scraps of hope in darkness.
And so as the young pastor responded to his parishioner who asked, “you mean they’re coming back”, I pray, let us all pray, that this Church be the place where the sick, homeless, abandoned, hated and broken come searching for God, where we come searching for God. Because the Church is a place we find healing, comfort and peace. The Church is a hospital for the sick and infirmed. The Church is our home, where all are invited to gather no matter life’s circumstance, in order to change and grow. For it is here we begin our communion with God, through the body and blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who died for us, gives us life and cleanses us of sin. It is here we learn to become a temple of God void of idols. And when God is in us, He will work through us, to invite, feed, clothe and heal others.
Our beloved and blessed Virgin Mary, when speaking to Elizabeth quotes the Psalmist, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden…” God has regarded our low estate and has lifted us up – God knows that we are all broken and lifts us up. Let us humble ourselves, come here seeking Him only, and He will raise us up, heal us and bring healing to others through us. For we are the temple of the living God, where Father, Son and Holy Spirit reside. God cleanses us, vests us in His beauty and makes us His living presence in this world so that we will go forth, teach and preach by extending out our loving hands and inviting others to come here as well. Thereby, glorifying our Heavenly Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, eternally, Amen!