Avoid Those

Passages: Isaiah 63:7-18; 2 Tim. 3:1-12; John 6:22-38
Ընթերցուածքներ՝ Եսայ. ԿԳ 7-18; Բ Տիմ. Գ 1-12; Յով. Զ 22-38

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!

In the 6th century, there was a beautiful woman by the name of Mary who lived as a prostitute. She began her life following the passions of the body, running away from her parents at the age of twelve from Alexandria. There in Egypt, she lived as a prostitute for seventeen years. One day, she met a group of men heading towards Jerusalem for the Feast of the Holy Cross; so Mary decided to follow these men and tried seducing them as they traveled. When the group reached Jerusalem and went to the church of the Holy Sepulcher, for some reason Mary felt pushed back. It was as though she was prohibited from entering by an unseen force.

She tried three times, but she remained outside of the church and no one understood why she could not enter the Church, and what kept her away. It is said that when Mary the prostitute tried entering and was denied, she looked up and saw the image of the Holy Virgin Mary, who was crying. All of a sudden Mary the prostitute began to weep and prayed with all her might that the Theotokos might allow her to enter and see the True Cross, the Church and the Holy Place she had come to. Through prayer she promised, she would renounce her worldly desires and go wherever the Theotokos may lead her.

My dears, how would we feel if a well-known prostitute or criminal walked through the doors of our Church? What if someone in our family or friends lived in such a way, how would we treat them? Perhaps we don’t know any prostitutes or hardened criminals but St. Paul describes other sinful people “men [who] will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, fierce, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of religion but denying the power of it.” (2 Tim. 3:-25). As Christian’s we are called to be loving and forgiving. We know from the Gospels the story of St. Mary Magdalene for whom Christ defended by telling the Pharisees, “He among you who is without sin, let Him cast a stone upon her.”  (Jn. 8:7) In contrast, St. Paul continues in 2 Timothy by saying, “Avoid such people”, avoid the types of people who he just listed(v. 5). I remember one day, during Sunday School one of the kids asked me, “if someone is sinning and we don’t accept sin yet, we are told to love everyone, how do we balance the two?” That is a great question, because I’m sure many of us often feel this pull in two different directions; how do we remain loving and accepting of each other, family, friends or strangers while also rejecting sinners among us?

My dears it is easy to reject, turn away and avoid sinners. It is easy to look away and not associate with the evil doers. I doubt any of us regularly deal with prostitutes, murderers, thieves, or those we would categorize as real sinners. However, when we look at the words of St. Paul and the message of Christ, we see a very clear lesson: Yes, avoid evil and those who live in such a way, however, do not think that we each are not equally as guilty of sin as well. We each have our sin, our own lies, temptations, and darkness. We may not physically be a prostitute, but we have sell our minds and bodies to godlessness and succumb to passions in other ways. We may not be murderers or thieves and yet, when we reject one another and judge or ridicule one another we kill the spirit of love that God demands from us. Therefore, we must first look within ourselves. Especially those of us who call ourselves followers of Christ, we must also ask who exactly are we following and why?

“Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.’… Then they said to him, ‘What must we do, to be doing the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’”(v. 26-29) My dear brothers and sisters, has God been good to us? Have we seen His blessings in our life? Do we live a somewhat comfortable life where we can freely attend Church, pray and share in fellowship? Good. However, if that is the only reason we believe in God, then we believe, as Christ is telling us here, because our stomachs are full not because we believe in His message. There are many people in the world who have not had the opportunity to fill their stomachs, to live in warmth, with a roof over their head, a loving family by their side, a community to lean on and so they have lived in a world guiding by sin. However, Christ is not for making us feel full and comforted by the material; Christ is for all those who hunger to know God. To know God begins with acknowledging that we are all sinners, to repent, to come and be in communion with God through the body and blood of Christ Jesus which is the forgiveness and cleansing of our sin. Only then through continual communion and understanding we begin transforming and learning how to love others and ourselves even though sin exists.

My dear brothers and sisters, let us not look to see and appreciate what God has done for us but rather look to see and know God. Let us not look and condemn the sins of others in this world but rather look to our own sinfulness and condemn that which pollutes and restricts us from coming to God in the same way Mary the prostitute was unable to enter the Church.

After praying to God and repenting of her life for 47 years in solitude, Mary met a priest named Zosima in the desert. Knowing who Zosima was and his life story despite never having met him before, she asked Zosima to meet her again the following year at sunset on Holy Thursday by the banks of the Jordan. Zosima did exactly this and Mary appeared on the opposite side of the Jordan; crossing herself, she miraculously walked across the water and met Zosima. Mary then received Holy Communion and walked back across the Jordan, where she immediately passed away in the Lord.

For the life she lived, St. Mary of Egypt in her sinfulness was restricted and blinded from coming to God and entering the Holy Church. Do we think about how we enter our Church? We walk into our Church every Sunday without a thought to our sinfulness and the life we live. Through prayer and repentance, St. Mary of Egypt strived to know who God is not for earthly gain but for true Communion and God accepted Mary not merely into a physical Church but into the Heavenly Kingdom. Yet, we may not say a single prayer all week, not confess and repent of our sin and we might come to Church when it is convenient for us or only remember to come when life is easy and we aren’t busy.

My dears, we must be like St. Mary of Egypt and learn from her example, as we must also learn from all our saints. Accept our sinfulness, spend time daily in sincere prayer, confess our sins, repent, rehabilitate and transform and come to receive and be in Holy Communion with God the Father, through God the Son, Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Will we struggle and fail? Absolutely! That is why we have a priest and community to lean on. Will God’s love cease when we fail? Never. God will transform and heal us of any brokenness and darkness. Entering into communion with Him, we will enter the doors of the Church and accept in love others who enter regardless of their brokenness. For Christ calls each of us, Christ seeks out each of us, Christ will not reject any one of us if we only would not reject Him. May the grace of the Holy Spirit guide our hearts and minds to this truth, for God loves us all and in Christ Jesus desires communion with all of us now and always, Amen!

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