Planted in Communion to Flourish

Passages: Isaiah 5:1-10; 1 Corinthians 6:18-7:11; Matthew 19:3-12

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

Walking down the beautifully decorated Church aisle, a bride and groom prepare to step onto a new path. A life of communion that has been ordained by God from the beginning of creation. Two individuals coming together in Holy Matrimony is not just as a contract but, is a mysterious bond which will require continual dedication and openness, in order to produce a life of love. As the proverbial words teach us, “a wedding takes a day, a marriage takes a lifetime.” Especially for us, the blessed sacrament of marriage as Orthodox Christian’s is much deeper then the magnificent service, which takes place in the Church sanctuary.

Seeing the union of 1 man and 1 woman for us is directly example of our union with God. Just like a marriage is not defined as a contract or a moment, neither is our communion with God defined by a contract such as membership dues or certificates. Communion with God like a marriage takes a lifetime to develop. But what does our communion with God look like and can that communion be broken? The prophet Isaiah likens our union with God to that of a vineyard and the vine-dresser.

We are the seeds that have been carefully planted and tended to in the garden. “My beloved [God] had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines;…” (vv.1-2) God our creator gave us life, and blessed us by giving us all the tools we need to flourish and grow. If you’ve ever seen how grape vines grow, it is continual and outward but it takes time.

And so, God planted us so that we would grow and we too would begin bearing fruits. Our communion with God, through the Holy Church is likewise. We have been given the tools to grow and flourish. Within us has been planted our faith, which must bear fruits. Our growth and outreach is endless and the fruits we bear are like the sweet grapes. Yet, the prophet Isaiah continues, out of our hardness of heart we chose to bear thorns. (Isaiah 5:4; Matt. 19:8) We denied our groom, our master, our creator and we chose to divorce Him by our actions. We chose not to grow and bear fruits through our actions. This is where image of marriage and of the vineyard come together.

My dears, a communion blessed by God whether it is a physical marriage of man and wife or of us, the Church and Him must produce fruits. If we are dishonest, complacent, arrogant, aggressive, careless, lustful, etc. in our married life – then rather than sweet fruits, we produce thorns that begin to choke and kill our union. If we choose sexual immorality, defile our temples, seek not Gods love but rather look for self-satisfaction and fulfillment in other materialistic and temporal values – then rather than sweet fruits, we produce thorns that begin choking our communion with God. This image of vines and marriage perfectly illustrate our communion with God in the sense that God has created us for a purpose. God has fortified us and blessed us with the tools to flourish and bear sweet fruits. Yet, when we deny God just as when we deny our husband or wife of the love that unifies us – then we deny that purpose of the communion and we deny the blessings it brings, thus we begin to divorce and breaking of communion – which is what sin is. Sin is not a list of bad things we do. Rather, sin is breaking, divorcing and denying God’s communion. However, my dear brothers and sisters, if we live according to God commandments to love, to repent, to forgive, to protect, to create – then the fruits we bear will continually grow and spread throughout the world in the same way grape vines do.

This is done firstly, by coming to God and walking down the Church aisle just like a bride would – walking to our groom and receiving the Holy Communion – the body and blood of Christ Jesus because our communion is only through Christ Jesus. We, the Church, are the bride and Christ is the groom – who has come after us. Christ is the vine and we are the branches. In both these Biblical images we see that without Christ – we have no communion; without Christ we will remain fruitless. Therefore my dearly beloved brothers and sisters, we must examine ourselves, and the fruits, which we bear according to our faith. We must examine and test, who are we in communion with, Christ Jesus or something else?

Our communion with God, like the union of marriage, is not a piece of paper, nor is it a moment in time – it is a sacramental work, which takes a lifetime to flourish and strengthen. Like a marriage, like a vineyard, it does not take 1 day but continual work is necessary so that sweet fruits will be produced rather then thorns. For this to happen, God has already provided us with the tools and means to flourish.

We must choose to remain in communion with God and through our actions – to cover this world with His divine blessings. Doing so we will cover this world with love and compassion. Doing so, we will produce fruits, which will continue to produce more fruits and thereby, we will glorify Father, Son and Holy Spirit forever, Amen!

We’re All Just Children

Passages: Is. 3:16- 4:1; 1 Corinthians 1:25-30; Matthew 18:10-14

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

During a town hall meeting, the pastor of a Church got up and spoke about how blessed he was to be the leader of such a kind Church. As part of a desire to show community, the pastor invited anyone who would also like to share stories about their Church. A number of individuals got up and people spoke about how much they loved their Church because all their friends and family were there. “We have such a friendly Church, here with all our friends and family…Because friends are a really good thing and in this Church we’re all friends so this makes our Church very welcoming and friendly.” No one from the community shared stories about faith or about ideas for outreach. Everyone just affirmed how they were all friends and so their Church was also friendly. “’See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father…’” (vv. 10-11)

When we read this passage to not despise these little ones, many of us take a very literal translation as to not despise children. The reason for this is because a few verses back, Christ speaks about us welcoming children in his name and about having pure faith like children. However, something all of us tend to forget (especially as we grow older) is that we are all children. Regardless of our age, of our profession or statues in life, we are each children.

My mother often likes to remind me of no matter how old I get, no matter big I am or how long my beard is, I’m still her baby and she says, “as long as you have a parent around, you will always be their child.” Though for some of us our earthly parents may have passed, God our Heavenly Father is always present and so we are all still children. Through our baptism, the priest anoints us as “adopted children of God.” So today’s Gospel, whether it refers to physical children or spiritual children, it appears very simple. We as the children of God must not despise each other, correct?

Today’s Gospel passage my dears is not only 1 sentence, but rather it continues and it speaks about the lost sheep. What does the lost sheep have to do with not despising children? If we all agree that we here in this Church, as members of this Church family are all children of the same God, then who among us is the lost one? Who is this lost sheep? It is easy to say that we are children of God, when we all identify with the same God as our Father. Similarly, it is easy to say we are all friendly, when we all are friends. But our true nature of how friendly, loving and welcoming we are shows in how we treat those who are not our friends or family. We show our true understanding of being God’s children with those who may not necessarily agree or recognize that they are also God’s children. In fact, if we look at this verse in different languages or translations, such as in Armenian, it doesn’t say do not despise but rather mi arhamarhek – don’t ignore. Christ Jesus here is drawing our attention to this exact point.

It’s not about loving little children, nor is it about loving our Church family; my dear brothers and sisters, our faith demands that we love, care and accept every child of God, regardless of if they are acknowledging it or if they are lost. God our Father, is the God of all creation, all humanity, and every child. In fact, even we have sometimes felt despised and ignored or unwelcome in our homes, our Churches and in our physical and spiritual families – we have felt like we don’t belong. At times even we have become separated from the 99 and gotten lost. Regardless, Christ comes after us and desires us. Christ teaches us that we all belong to His Father. That is why Christ teaches us that we must also go after each other, care and love each other – all of our brothers and sisters. We as his children who recognize our heavenly Father must humbly reach out to all regardless of if they accept or recognize that they too are our brothers and sisters.

It may be difficult to accept, but just like in our biological families not everyone agrees with each other and not everyone gets along always, but regardless, family remains family. Likewise, through our faith in Christ Jesus: We won’t always agree with each other, we will argue and fight. Some of us will reach levels of education and job opportunities, others, will not. Some of us will succeed in everything we try and some of us will not. Yet, we all remain a family. St. Paul invites us to ask ourselves and think, what kind of person are we, or were we, when we began to feel our faith in God grow? When God called us and when we recognized we were God’s children? Did any of us not have struggles, or battles, or disagreement or pain? Where we so wise that God decided to use us? Or did God love us regardless of all our shortcomings and helped us grow.

We are all sinners equally and God desires and calls us His children equally because it is He who will cleanse us of our sins. My dears, we must be equally accepting and loving of each other, whether we are successful, whether we are young or old, whether we are lost or found – Christ says, do not despise, do not ignore these little ones – meaning love everyone. Our Church is the home of every person who seeks God – Armenian or not, sinner or not, Orthodox or not, because by truly being loving, kind, compassionate, friendly and welcoming, those who are on the outside, those who do not recognize their childlike state, they will come into the fold, and for them the Heavenly angels will rejoice.

My dears, with everything being politicized and divided in this country and in our homes – our faith in God our Heavenly Father unifies us as His children. We are unified and in communion with Him through Christ Jesus, who died for all of us, who calls and searches for us, and who cleanses us of our sins. We must begin by recognizing that we are all His children. Even if some of our brothers and sisters are still looking for home. We must change our understanding that we are loving not because we love our friends but because we love everyone. We must look to God’s wisdom who calls each of us His child. Amen!