Passages: Is. 36:22-37:11; 1 Thess. 4:1-11; Lk. 13:1-9
Ընթերցուածքներ՝ Եսայ. ԼԶ 22 – ԼԷ 11; Ա Թեսաղ. Դ 1-11; Ղկ. ԺԳ 1-9
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!
In Buffalo, New York in the month of November, a 7th grader named Melvin was being constantly bullied. At his school, popularity was based on what kind of shoes you wear, how expensive your shoe was, and unfortunately, Melvin was not from a wealthy family. Therefore, the shoes he owned were not considered of high class in the “sneaker culture.” All of a sudden one day, with a bright smile Melvin came to class with a bright orange box. The class was surprised and so the teacher asked, where did you get the box? Melvin answered, a fellow student, Romello, had bought him brand new shoes. Romello, couldn’t stand seeing his classmate being bullied and so one day after school, he asked his mom if he could return all his upcoming Christmas presents and gather up his allowance to buy Melvin a new pair of Nikes. So collecting all is savings, Romello bought a new pair of shoes for Melvin. When he was asked what brought him to such a kind act, Romello answered, “shoes are meant for walking not dividing or diminishing.” As a result, not only did Melvin have a great pair of shoes but Romello’s act affected the entire mentality and culture of the school.
What can we learn from this story my dears? St. Paul in Thessalonians writes, “For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from unchastity; that each one of you know how to take a wife [husband] for themself in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like heathen who do not know God…” St. Paul teaches us that we have to live a certain way because the will of God, God’s desire for us is sanctification. What does that mean, to be sanctified? Today too many of us use our emotions to define words and sadly even the word sanctified, saintly or Holy is misused. Think about how we use that word: Holy or saintly. We say Holy God, Holy Bible, Holy Church, but also say holy cow, holy moly and God knows what other derogatory use of that word. For the Holy Church, holiness, sanctification means to be set apart, to be unique, to be different – for God. If we look at the words of St. Paul we might think it means to live a holy life, to do good and right. Yet, as we all know there are plenty of non-Christian’s who do good and right. Therefore, what does it mean to be unique and different but for God.
This means that when we say we believe in God, be also acknowledge that God must transforms our life. This transformation begins from recognition of our sinfulness and therefore, a need for repentance. That is why in the Gospel today we read, “There were some present at that very time who told him of the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered thus? I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen upon whom the tower in Silo′am fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.’” My dears, we all are equal sinners, equally broken and equally need to repent. However, to repent my dears, doesn’t mean to feel bad. Rather, repentance means to turn around.
In Armenian repentance is abashkharel, and this word in Armenian means ab to turn ashkhar – saddness. When we repent, we are called to turn away not from the world but rather from the polluted, saddened and broken world towards joy, towards God. As the Christmas carol says, “Joy to the world, the Lord has come…” All the joys of the world that we experience, all the items we can buy and fill our life with are meant to be blessings for us. However, they are not our purpose, they are not what gives us value, they are not what matters or sets up above or apart from others. Acting kindly doesn’t set us apart. It is God that sets us apart and it is for Him who we are set apart for. This mean we can enjoy the blessings of life but must do so by being different, being a light, a healing hand, a comforting shoulder, to others. Romello in the story, didn’t stop wearing nice shoes nor did he leave the school rather, he set himself apart by teaching others through his light, his hand, his care that the shoes on our feet don’t give us value. Romello changed not just his life but also the life of Melvin; he also changed the lives of those who also attended that school. That is what is means to be sanctified or set apart for God.
Likewise for us, it is not our age, our skin color, our education, our statutes or class, the shoes on our feet, the hairstyle, the make up, the Instagram post, the way we vote, the food we eat, the house we have, the language we speak, the diploma at home, etc. these are not what define our value, or set us apart. God sets us apart, God gives us value, God sanctifies us by transforming us. To be transformed, to be changed, to be illuminated through God and then to take that light and that new life in Christ to others and to all aspects of our life. In our relationships with each other; in how and why we volunteer or act charitably; in what we fill our lives with that define us; in how we think or speak; our marriages, our day to day activities, everything we do, doing it in a way that sets us apart for God. That is why we call these men and women saints – they are sanctified because they were different for God; lived lives just like us, had careers and families just like us; watched football or baseball just like us, yet, are different for God.
My dears, it is this for what we are called Christian, it is this that is the will of God, that we be transformed, we be unique, in the likeness of God by turning to Him, to joy and thereby, also transforming this world, bringing joy. In this Advent season, as we are preparing for the Nativity of Christ Jesus, of God becoming man, let us not forget that Christ came to transform us – man into being like God, sanctified and Holy. This begins when we wake up each morning and recognize that we are sinful, repenting, turning to God away from sadness, living our life with God in our hearts, lips and hands. Because let me be clear Romello, didn’t change an entire school with a pair of shoes, rather, it was love that changed everything. It is the love of God that changes us and it is through that love that we can change this world around us. A love we grow to understand when we repent and turn to God. Let us therefore use this time, as we end another calendar year to reflect my dears, on our brokenness and receive this opportunity to repent, to turn to God, turn towards joy and live our life in this world by being different and unique for God. And know that God in His endless love for us will give us the strength, hope and faith to overcome all difficulties and trials, all pain and sadness. Use that love and joy to transform this world around us and by giving glory to our Father in Heaven in all that we do and everyday, Amen!