Passages: Is. 22:15-24; Eph. 1:1-14; Lk. 8:17-21
Ընթերցուածքներ՝ Եսայ. ԻԲ 15-24; Եփ. Ա 1-14; Ղուկ. Ը 17-21
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!
In 1993, Bett Midler sang in the children’s Halloween movie Hocus Pocus, the famous words “I put a spell on you, and now you’re mine…” from the 1968 classic song. Today being Halloween, many of our kids will be out trick or treating, perhaps hearing this song, as countless dress in various costumes and participate in the festivities. Now there are plenty of arguments as to whether or not we as Christian’s should even celebrate Halloween.
For many it is deeply connected to satanic and demonic worship, witchcraft, and overall evil. For many others it is merely a secular celebration to dress up, watch scary movies and get free candy. Regardless of the roots and cultural practices that are associated with Halloween, and whether or not we as Christian’s should or should not participate in those practices, in North America majority of us already do. However, I wonder how many of us truly care to understand vs. how many of us merely go through the motions?
Truthfully too few of us care to learn the history or significance connect with this or many other celebrations. Whether Halloween, Mardi Gras, Christmas, Easter, both secular and Christian practices, how much of it is just going through the motions vs. understanding? Christmas has become an occasion for carols, gifts, trees and dinners rather than blessings and worship and celebration of Christ. Easter is about the bunnies, colored eggs, watching our kids get feet washed by Der Hayr, or listening to hymns like “Oor Es Mayr Eem”, rather than witnessing to the Passion, Crucifixion and empty Tomb of Christ. We bring our children to Church to be baptized without significant thought to what baptism means or requires of us. We send children to Sunday School, as if it was a day care service but as adults, we don’t come to Church nor even care to be schooled ourselves. Once we start dating and it is time to get married, we come to Church and ask Der Hayr for a good date for the wedding service and if he can do it in a barn or on the beach yet, have no idea what marriage means to our faith. We light candles in the back, cross ourselves occasionally, receive Holy Communion while remaining in the dark and disconnected from God. We only go through the motions.
My dears, while this may not be true for all of us, on some level it is the truth that all of us are guilty. Admittedly, there is a benefit to going through the motions however, if we remain only in motions and have no desire to learn, we are hurting ourselves only and not reaping the true benefits of our faith. This is evident from our Churches remaining empty, our Bibles being covered in dust; our mouths and hearts are closed off and our hands stuck in our pockets. Now of course it is unreasonable to expect us to know everything and to remember and in Armenian we have a beautiful saying, ամոթ չէ չգիտնալը – it is not wrong, or it is not something to be ashamed of if we don’t know. However, not having a desire to learn, to ask, to grow is not only shameful but it is destructive to us as humans and especially as Christians. St. Macarius the Great teaches, “Someone who is seriously troubled and seeks and asks of the Lord continually will soon find redemption and the heavenly riches.” Meaning my dears, that if we thirst for God, ask questions, seek out His Will, what we find is not merely answers to political questions, or answers in how we can bring more people to Church to volunteer for the festival, but rather we find redemption, we find healing and true riches.
But where do we begin to look, where do we ask? Our first place my dears, is by coming to Church and looking to our Holy Scriptures. Remember what I said, how we go through the motions but don’t really understand? Even the way we often read our Holy Bibles is done merely as a motion rather than a prayer and with understanding. How often is it that when we read the Holy Bible it is like reading any other book. However, the Bible, the Holy Scriptures is not a history or science textbook, it is not a self-help, motivational quote book we turn to when we feel anxious. It is not a legal document, fiction or entertainment. Rather, it is the living breathe of God which teaches us how to be in Communion with Him, how to live our life in Him, how to be a Christian not only in motions but in truth. For example, where do we learn about our Christian faith? The Gospel.
I wonder, how many of us know what the word Gospel means? We use it regularly and when we want to emphasis that something is truthful, even if has nothing to do with Christ, what do we say? “It’s the Gospel truth.” Gospel my dears, in Armenian is Աւետարան (pron. ave daran) meaning good news. It comes from the Greek evangelion, where we also receive the English word to evangelize. It is the victorious and good news of Christ Jesus, who is God the Son, who became man, who lived and suffered like us and who took on our sins, while remaining sinless, by dying on the Cross and after three days in the tomb was resurrected by the Father and gives us eternal life free from sin. This is our belief as Christian’s and if we don’t believe this then we are not a Christian, plain and simple. However, even if we verbally say we believe, we still have questions and want to learn. So forget for a moment the Greek or Armenian word, after all most of us speak English better.
What does the word Gospel mean? While English was not around when the Gospel was written, it has a significant lesson to teach us. The Old English/Germanic word is actually “God Spell” or “good spell.” While at its core it also means good news, today being Halloween if we hear “good spell” we might begin to think that the Gospel is some kind of magic. Yet, spell doesn’t mean some sort of incantation, but rather it means a story. A powerful story, a narrative of who Christ is and what He did and does for us. But it is also our story for the Gospel is the human narrative, a powerful, enchanting story or spell which calls and invite us to learn, to feed off of, to ask and seek out. The God spell is not like the Halloween song, “I put a spell on you…” because God has not cheated or manipulated us. However, the Words in the Gospel are powerful, healing, transformative, captivating, educational, and what is spelled out in these words is meant to educate us to know how to live our faith in a meaningful way, rather than merely motions that we go through.
My dears, we have questions. Good because answers are only as valuable as those who care to ask for them. God answers, God has spelled it out for us so that we can find redemption and healing. As the Gospel reading of today begins, “For nothing is hid that shall not be made manifest, nor anything secret that shall not be known and come to light.” (v. 17) Therefore, let us not be ashamed if we don’t know, let us not be afraid when we doubt or struggle. Let us celebrate by going through the motions but also remaining vigilant and attentive that we need to seek and ask, we need to learn and grow. So that the real evil of this world, will not cheat us, break us, lie, and manipulate us. For though God has not put a spell on us, we are His and He calls us back to Him in love and hope through Christ Jesus. As St. Paul teaches, “He destined us in love to be his [children] through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.” Let us therefore, ask and learn in order to understand how to truthfully glorify our Heavenly Father, the Son and Holy Spirit in our faith, through our actions in a meaningful and understandable way. Amen!