Is That Your Final Answer?

Passages: Acts 23:12-35; 1 John 5:13-21; John 12:12-23
Ընթերցուածքներ՝ Գործ. ԻԳ 12-35; Ա Յով. Ե 13-21; Յով. ԺԲ 12 – 23

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

Is that your final answer? In 1999, the ABC network premiered the well-known show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”. Contestant in the hotseat, answered a series of multiple-choice questions that had a certain value and each correct answer locked in the winnings. If a wrong answer was given, the contestant risked losing it all. As a contestant gave their answer, the host, originally Regis Philbin, would ask, “is that your final answer?” This question sometimes made the contestant second guess themselves, push them to see how confident they were. As great as it was watching contestants win money, almost all of us who watched at home did what? We played along. We were confident in our answers. We had nothing to win or lose but the thrill of knowing the answer was exciting. Some of us may have even laughed at how the contestant didn’t know and of how smart we were. We all like that feeling of being right; of having confidence.

Confidence is always seen as a good trait. Lack of confidence can take us towards doubt, fear, anxiety, and ultimately disbelief. This is true about gameshow answers, but also as students taking a test, a parent trying to figure out how to raise a child, an employee completing a task, each one of us trying to navigate our lives and our relationships, and most especially our faith in God. If we are not confident, if we are unsure, we begin to second guess ourselves, and begin to doubt our faith, and so we become fearful, fall into anxiety and ultimately because we are shaky and we begin to fail we might say we don’t know, we don’t believe or we don’t care. Sometimes this uncertainty has little consequence such as not doing well on a school test, or not getting that prize on the gameshow; but sometimes the magnitude and consequence weighs far more heavily such as when we are facing life and death, persecution, temptation, etc. As the Church, as Christian’s we often say, we need to have faith. Faith is confidence. Faith is trust and certainty that when we face important questions and difficulties, we will remain confident to face and answer. As St. John writes in his 1st letter, “And this is the confidence which we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of him.” Where does that confidence come from? Is faith something we grow or something we are perhaps born with? It comes from wisdom and knowledge.

That is why when St. Mesrob Mashtots formed the Armenian Alphabet, the very first sentence, the first words that were written in Armenian was Prov. 1“That men may know wisdom and instruction, understand words of insight, receive instruction in wise dealing, righteousness, justice, and equity; that prudence may be given to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth—the wise man also may hear and increase in learning, and the man of understanding acquire skill, to understand a proverb and a figure, the words of the wise and their riddles. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Faith grows overtime from wisdom and instruction. To puts down deep roots, then sprouts forth branches. Those branches is the faith which will give fruit. Therefore, to know the Lord, to know God, to trust God and be instructed by God – to have confidence and faith my dears especially in times of uncertainty begins from deep roots in wisdom, instruction and knowledge. Our Christian faith is not about knowing mere facts or answering Bible trivia. The Devil and demons know about God. As Christian’s we are called to Holy Communion – which is intimacy. In other words, wisdom, and knowledge for a Christian, for us, confidence and faith come not from knowing about God but knowing God.

What’s the difference? When we come to Church, when we listen to Badarak, when we pray the hymns, read the Holy Scripture’s, when we pray at home privately, or when we are listening to a sermon – is it to learn about God? After all, we want to learn who God is correct? We want to understand what scriptures teach us about God? Right? My dears, knowing about God and knowing God are different things and when we come to Church and do all this it is to learn from God. Meaning that our wisdom, instruction, knowledge, faith and confidence come from God Himself.  Christian faith, confidence as St. John writes it, is a revelation from God and that revelation from God is what makes us certain of the hope, love, mercy and strength that we each have in God regardless of what questions we may face in life.

Imagine a car my dears. We all know how to drive a car and we all know how to fill it with gas and check to see the external features of the car like a flat tire to make sure it is safe.  But would we say we know how a car functions without the understanding of all the internal component, electronics, engine mechanisms, etc? If we say yes, and our car breaks down, we would be able to fix it ourselves because we know claim to know the internal workings of the car. Yet, the reality is most of us don’t know how a car really functions and so when that check engine light comes on or that car makes a noise we take it to a mechanic to fix it. We may know things about cars, we may know a few of the external things but those things when help us when we are having real car trouble. The same is with out faith my dears. If all we know is things about God, we merely focus on the external things, the things that help us use our faith to go from point A to point B; but what about when we begin facing real problems, when the check engine light of our faith turns on? Unless we know God, we will remain helpless.

To know about God and to know God are different things. And as Christian’s we are called to know God because it is that knowledge that gives us strength, that gives us the confidence of faith in times of turmoil, doubt, fear and uncertainty.  Today as Armenian Christian’s we celebrate what is known as Second Palm Sunday, where tradition says, as dictated by the illusive Armenian writer Agathangelos, that while St. Gregory the Illuminator was imprisoned in the pit, the angel of the Lord would come and comfort him. One day the angel did not return, and Gregory was unsure as to why. Yet, he remained prayerful and trusted in God. When the angel returned the next day and Gregory asked why the angel did not come, it replied that just as we here celebrate Christ’s glorious entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, likewise, the angels in Heaven celebrate the Risen Christ’s entrance into the Heavenly Jerusalem, after His Holy Ascension.  To some of us this might be a nice story but to St. Gregory, who knew Christ intimately, this revealed that Christ Jesus, that God is a God of action. That just as Christ said, I go to the Father, that in my Father house there are many rooms, that Christ was crucified, buried and rose from the dead to redeem all Creation and not just humans. This reveals, my dears, who Christ Jesus is the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow. That He is Hosanna in the highest, King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

He is the one that looks beyond our sins, beyond our brokenness does not abandon us. He is with us in the prison, in our pit of despair, in our hour of need; Christ Jesus is our hope and resurrection; He is the way, the truth and the life, the gate and the shepherd, the vine and the logos; He is God. And when we call upon him with confidence, meaning with faith, then He will hear us and be with us. However, my dears that confidence comes from knowing Him; that knowledge and wisdom comes from Him. For this reason, Christ says, “When they deliver you up, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (Matt. 10:19-20)

Therefore, my dears, before life puts us in the hotseat, before we face life’s questions of faith, before we come up against the trials and temptations that exist in our everyday challenges as individuals, as parents, as students, or whatever we may do in life, we should ask ourselves, do we come to know God or are we merely satisfied with knowing about God? The answer will ultimately affect our faith, and our confidence when we begin to struggle with darkness and sin. Christ Jesus came to know us and be known by us; to love us and be with us; to reveal to us and equip us with everything we need to live this life in a way that prepares us for eternity. Christ Jesus gave us the Church, Holy Scripture, the clergy and all this to help us learn and when we do fall into doubt, when we are uncertainty and our check engine light comes on, we can always come back to Him. But unless we come and confess our brokenness to Him, unless we open the Words of Scripture and are filled with wisdom, unless we repent and desire to know God intimately through Holy Communion, we will remain as fools who despise wisdom and knowledge; our faith will not take us far and we will feel abandoned on the side of the road and risk losing it all. We will fall into doubt, fear, anxiety and ultimately disbelief when we are asked, “is that your final answer?”

Let us pray for each other my dears, that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit awakens our heart, mind and soul and create in us a desire to know God, to love God, to be in Communion with Him. To have confidence, to remain firm in our faith no matter what challenges we face. To face the darkness, the hate and prejudice of the world and remain confident that with God nothing is impossible. And may our lives bear witness to others of the love of God for all creation, for all creation speaks of the His eternal glory in Heaven and on earth, and we with the angels in Heaven affirm, Amen!

Mom’s Home Cooked Faith

Passages: Acts 20:17-38; 1 John 3:2-6; John 9:39-10:10
Ընթերցուածքներ՝ Գործ. Ի 17-38; Ա Յով. Գ 2-6; Յով. Թ39 – Ժ10

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Krisdos Haryav I Merelots, Christ is Risen from the Dead!

Happy Mother’s Day to all our beloved mother’s, grandmother’s, great grandmother’s, step or adoptive mother’s and motherly figures. For those of us living in North America, I remember from childhood, how Mother’s Day was that beautiful time of celebrating and remembering those women in our lives who gave of themselves, who sacrificed, taught and fed us because of their love. Especially that latter point we can almost all attest to, we all love, miss and want mom’s home cooked meal. Holy Scripture, likewise, speaks about the sacred blessing of motherhood. Whether it is the command of God towards couple to go forth and multiply, having children and filling the earth, or even the multiple stories we read of women who miraculously in the old age are able to have children, like St. Elizabeth, the mother of St. John the Baptist – motherhood is seen as a blessing. However, motherhood is not limited to merely the physical and biological giving of birth but also the giving of instruction and spiritual birth. We may think of perhaps our Sunday School teachers who were motherly towards us, or other such teachers who guided us and fed our souls and minds. Today we also celebrate them. Yet, what do they and our physical mothers have in common? They feed us. Scripture talks about the importance of being fed. Christ Himself tells the Israelites, after the feeding of the 5,000, that they seek Him because they ate, their stomachs were full.

And that is one of the reasons why as Christian’s we call the Holy Church our mother. From the Church we are born through the Baptismal font as Christ teaches us in the Gospel of John. From the Church we receive our faith formation through the sacraments, from the Words of Holy Scripture, through conversations and private confessions with our priest. But from the Holy Church we are also physically fed – through the body and blood of Christ Jesus, Holy Communion. Now you may wonder, why I keep returning to this theme of our physical or spiritual mother’s giving us food. My dears, often times, when we think about mother’s giving physical life, we tend not to speak about what takes place after the physical birth – how a mother initially feeds their child. In fact, breastfeeding is often seen as a taboo topic, one that is often even politicized sadly. Yet, the ability for a mother to feed their child, also known as nursing, is itself sacred and scripture speaks about it repeatedly. And the reason it is so important is because when a mother nurses their child, as painful as it may be, a bond is created, the child grows attached to their mother, even if they don’t understand fully what the love of a mother is. Through nursing the child receives sustenance but also protection, until such time that the child has grown and matured enough to eat solid foods.

The Holy Church my dears, is the same way.  When we repent and come to confession to receive Holy Communion, we come as children who need sustenance and protection, we come looking for healing from our brokenness and ailments. We may not necessarily understand, and we may be struggling in our faith, but Holy Communion is that act of nursing through which God reveals His love for each one of us. Regardless of how old or mature we may be, we are all children of God our Father and our Holy Mother the Church. In fact, the Coptic monk Matthew the Poor, also known as, Matta El Meskeen, teaches, “the best way to ensure the Church’s successful teaching is to nourish her children by prayer and liturgy before trying to analyze and explain them. Taste must come before knowledge…the prayers and liturgies of the Church are our best spiritual instructors, and nothing can compare to their ability to feed and nourish one’s heart and mind.” In other words my dears, what we do here in Church, from the services, to the private prayers, the sacraments, the conversations and singing, they are all means by which we taste, eat and are nursed to the love and knowledge of God. In the same way, when we are kids, we eat and taste mom’s home cooked meal and only when we are older, do we truly appreciate the love and care our mothers have given us. Likewise, when we come and receive our nourishment from the Church, eat that Holy Communion, taste that which we are given, when we have mature in faith, will we fully understand the love of God for us.

That is why in the 1st letter of John today we read, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. [we still don’t know, we have not yet matured] But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is…” When Christ appears, when we have matured, when we understand in faith what it means to say Krisdos Haryav I merelots, we will be like Him, we will grow towards full Communion in God. But until then, we as the children come to our Holy Church, our Mother, to be fed, to be lifted up, to be protected and to be nursed; to learn of the love of God, who does not reject us, who desires to call us to Him and renew us from our darkness and pain in the same way our beloved mother’s care for us and try to protect us. To those Godly mother’s, to all our motherly figures, who fed us, strengthened us we wish a Happy Mother’s Day. My dears, may we come to our Holy Mother the Church, to be renewed and fed, to learn and grow in the love of God. May we eat and taste of the Holy Communion, given to us by Christ Jesus, which is the life, hope and resurrection of us all and through which we learn to glorify God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!