In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Repetition is the best way to learn. All of us have things in life we want to remember and hold onto. Whether it is part of our long-term memory or short term, knowing and recalling information is a necessary life skill. For example, when we meet someone for the first time or when we are learning something new, psychologists suggest we repeat it 3 times in order to remember it well. Growing up, when I was learning piano, I would repeat the bar or measure of music several times before moving on. This was not just to familiarize myself to the music but to make it part of my muscle memory. When studying, it is recommended that we read aloud, so that our ears are listening; and when possible, to write down what we want to learn, so that our hands will learn as well. The more we use a name, listen to a song, fulfill a new task, or create a habit, we become better at it through repeating. In fact, to create a new habit it is suggested that we force ourselves to practice it a minimum of 30-60 days and if we want to break a bad habit, we need to work on it for 90 days. In other words, my dears, the more we say, do, and listen to something, the better we become at it, the more familiar it becomes and overtime, becomes part of muscle memory or second nature. This is true not just about our everyday experiences but additionally about our experience and understanding of God.
We’re in Church today, and we are here in different capacities and reasons. Some of us are here seeking healing, while others are here for hope. Some are here because our parents told us to go to Church, while others are here because they are in search of something. Regardless, there is something that unites us all – we all have ideas, and thoughts, about God. Who is God? Who is Christ? Who is the Holy Spirit? This is such an important question and one that perhaps we rarely ask ourselves except in times of difficulties. Yet, in the same way memorizing and learning new things in life help us grow as a person, likewise, to know who God is is the fundamental part of growth in our Christian faith. To know who God is, strengthens our faith not just for the moment but for all our lives. To know who God is, helps us answer our difficult questions about such things as sickness and suffering. To know who God is, begins to answer our understanding of knowing who we are.
In today’s Gospel, when the Pharisees asked Christ by what authority he was doing all his miracles and teachings, what they were revealing to us is that even though they who are known as teachers of the law, meaning they were educated, they are deep in the theology, deep in the rituals and rules of Judaism, they could not and did not recognize Christ Jesus as God, as the Messiah from the prophecies. As the Prophet St. Isaiah warns, “For you have forgotten the God of your salvation, and have not remembered the Rock of your refuge; therefore, though you plant pleasant plants and set out slips of an alien god, though you make them grow on the day that you plant them, and make them blossom in the morning that you sow; yet the harvest will flee away in a day of grief and incurable pain.” God had become alien, unrecognizable, and fruitless to them warned Isaiah, and when grief comes, when difficulties come, what is known will flee away. Who God is, had been limited to transactions, if we pray God will give us; or God was seen as a boogie man, someone to fear. This is unfortunately how most of the world today sees god. If God is real, then it is a controlling, arbitrary being of power. Or God is like a magician or as Karl Marx taught, god and religion are an opiate for the masses, a crutch for the disabled that numbs pain but in truth has no real sustenance. If the world and atheists such as Karl Marx who are distant from God misunderstand Him, what excuse do the Pharisees or even us have in not knowing God? After all, we are here; we pray and say we believe. Yet, my dear brothers and sisters, in the same way we learn new habits, songs, skills, names, etc. by repeating and internalizing them, I wonder how much time, effort and repetition to do we give to knowing who God is? And I don’t mean repeating the sign of the cross, or coming to Church and saying Der Voghormya (Lord have mercy). After all that is what the Pharisees did. What I mean is how often do we personally spend internal time with our God, growing and knowing Him?
As Armenian’s we like to say that we are the first Christian nation, and we have over 1700 years of Christian history. This is beautiful but why? What did the people of Armenia over 1700 years find and see that they wanted to know God in their lives? My dears, our people, God’s children examined themselves as St. Paul says. They looked within their hearts, their minds, and souls to seek and ask do I know God? Does God know me? Do I know who I am? These are crucial questions we must ask ourselves and of our Christian faith, because they begin to answer all the questions of our life. It is easy to say God is love, God is good, God is merciful. Yet, what do those mean? This is important because St. Paul invites us to ask are we love, are we good, are we merciful? The French philosopher René Descartes coined the term, cogito, ergo sum, meaning “I think therefore, I am.” And this term referred to our ability to use our minds, our imagination, our skills and therefore, manifest who we are as living creatures. Yet, I would argue that today we have changed this term to “I think I am therefore I am” and applied it to God. We think God is, therefore He is. Rather than learn who God is through the Holy Church, through the Sacraments, through conversations with the priest, reading the Holy Scriptures and Church Fathers, we have decided that God is who we think He is. We have begun to create God in our own image rather than, learn to know who God is and understand that we have been created in His image and likeness. And by diminishing God to our standards, we have diminished who we were created to be.
For some of us here, we might be falling asleep or think that this is too philosophical or too difficult to comprehend. Isn’t a sermon supposed to be a word of hope, a message to apply to our lives? Yes, it is my dears and this is the hope. That God is knowable to all of us, God sent His only begotten Son, Christ Jesus to reveal to us His love, his goodness and mercy in a way that is not limited to our understanding but rather, lifts us up to His level and reveals to us who we are. In today’s worldly standards, we might define ourselves through our failures, our shortcomings, our sexuality, or skin color and demographics. We define our worth through our diplomas, and bank accounts. Yet, none of these define us or decide our value. Only by growing and seeking Christ in our life, learning and making faith part of our “muscle memory”, only then we do see our true value. Only then in times of tribulation and persecution, in the face of evil, sickness and even death, we will know our Heavenly Father as the unfailing God, the God who does not abandon us, does not turn away, does not look at our physical abilities but heals us of our disabilities and seeks our availability to teach, to love, to heal those around us who are likewise seeking to know Him. Theology is the pursuit of truth, and God has revealed His truth to all of us and made it accessible for us to learn and know. Not for mere knowledge but to bring God into this world through our lives. That is why it is important to learn who God is, and who we are. That is why it is crucial to read and learn by internalizing the Word of God and making it part of our short-term and long-term memory, our muscles memory and nature.
Therefore, let us examine ourselves as St. Paul commands, know that Christ Jesus must be in us. Let us challenge one another to read scripture daily, pray continually, come to confession with an open heart to be healed, and take advantage of all that God has given us. Create a habit of faith, and if repetition is the best way to learn, let us repeat the love of God in our life. God desires to know us, and to be known by us. Only then will we be able to find peace, love, mercy, hope and compassion. Only then will we through our lives be the very presence and knowledge of God to those around us. Only then will we give glory to God our Heavenly Father, through wisdom and knowledge from the Holy Spirit, in this life and for the life to come, Amen!