Anointed As Christ

Passages: Isaiah 20:2-21:6; Galatians 4:3-18; Luke 4:14-23

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

In 2016 of April, the Armenian people, like today, faced a war with Azerbaijan. This war lasted roughly 4 days, during which time many lives on both sides were lost. Along with the loss of life, the countless wounded and injured began there journey of recovery. Some more severe than others, but each one on their own process of rehabilitation. A young soldier, who had lost his leg, began his sessions of therapy, learning to stand and walk again, something we all take for granted. In an interview a

reporter asked him, now that there is another war happening and he being disabled is not able to fight alongside others, what does he fill his day with? The young man answer, “I enjoy planting flowers and watching them grow. There is something special about seeing that which you’ve cared for and tended to go through the process of budding, growing and flourishing.” When asked about the future, he answered, “Before the war, I had many plans, but today whatever I can do I will do.”

My dears, not many of us know what it is like to live directly in war. Even less of us know what it is like to see death and even personally be disabled by the atrocities of war. Yet, we all know what it means to question and wonder, what will we be able to do, have, and achieve in the future. Especially in times of failure, adversity, and challenge we have all questioned our future. Even if, we have not seen war and we have been blessed to live in a place where we have countless opportunities, we often ask, what can we do, what should we do, and ultimately what’s the point? In the Gospel of Luke today, we read of how Christ Jesus, in the synagogue, read from the scriptures and made an astonishing announcement. He read from Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed,to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” (vv.18-19) And then Christ Jesus, rightfully of course, declared that those words were fulfilled through Him. He is the anointed one, who must preach, proclaim, heal and set free.

To say that Jesus Christ knew what His future was in this earthly life is obvious because Jesus was born for one purpose – to set us free from sin. Yet, for the rest of us, our future plans are not so concrete, and we don’t know what purpose we have in life, especially, when we face constant failure, devastation, sickness, pain, war and loss. We know by reading scripture, that Jesus Christ came into this world to suffer, die and be raised from the dead – that is what Christ came for. However, my dear brothers and sisters, what we all fail to do, is to understand that when we read scriptures, we not only see Christ’s purpose but also our very own. As Orthodox Christians, we are taught, that when we read scripture, we see God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit – throughout. All the individuals, the events, the history, etc. – from creation to revelation is our story and our communion with God. However, the key is in the details. The prophecy in Isaiah, fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ, mentions that he was anointed to fulfill His purpose. Just as Jesus was anointed at his baptism and revealed to us as Christ, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit to begin his ministry, guess what? We each likewise, are anointed at our own baptisms.

Either as babies or as adults, when we come to the Holy Font and the priest pours that Holy Oil (Myron) out and chrismates our forehead, eyes, ears, nose, mouth, heart, back, hands and feet – we each, become Christ, which literally means anointed. So if we read scriptures in this light, anytime Jesus proclaims that He must do something – we must begin seeing that it is “WE” who are called to do the same. We are called to preach the Gospel with the lives we live, proclaim God’s truth, heal the sick and through Christ Jesus set free. Our purpose in life, whether we are priests, doctors, homemakers, or teachers, cooks, or soldiers, musicians or actors, disabled or able bodied, young or old, male or female, black or white, Armenian or American – every one who believes in Christ Jesus, who has been baptized and anointed by the Holy Spirit is given the same task and purpose.

That is why St. Paul in Galatians teaches, “through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir. (v.7) [who has received the same Spirit, that came down upon the Jordan at Jesus’ baptism].

All those distinctions we have here in this life, such as jobs, age, geography etc., merely enhance how we fulfill our purpose. As a priest, it’s relatively simple and straightforward; As parent, it is to raise our children with the love and fear of God in their hearts; As a soldier, it is to desire to live in peace and answer the call to defend; As a teacher, it is to educate and foster creativity and beauty in the hearts and minds of your pupils; As an artist, it is to create that beauty to share it with the world; As a lawyer, business owner, accountant, etc. it means to be fair and sound when judging and not taking advantage of people. And if and when we face limitations, when we face pains and sickness and all forms of darkness, it is for each of us to never lose sight of God’s love and light, who continues to light our path.

My dears, we may have plans for the future, and perhaps they will workout, perhaps they may not. Yet, when we realize that our true purpose in life is do what Christ did, then no matter what we achieve or when we achieve it, as long as we answer God’s call each as anointed ones – we will succeed. Just like that brave soldier, we will see the seeds that we have planted throughout our life, bud, grow and flourish. Through the grace of the Holy Spirit, may we always plant good seeds, may we always bring love, healing and hope in our actions and choices into this world. Amen!

Do It Anyway

Passages: Isaiah 19:1-11; Galatians 2:1-10; Mark 12:35-44

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

“People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway. If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway. What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway. Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway…”

These words, which I am sure many of us have heard, are the words that the saintly Mother Theresa wrote on the wall of a children’s shelter in Calcutta, India. Though she adopted and changed them from the original Kent Keith poem, the prayerful message describe not just her but what she believed that each one of us must do in this world. To forgive, be kind, work hard, be honest and sincere; To create, live joyfully and be good. Not because there is no pain or negativity around us and not even because it will help stop the negativity and pain. Rather, she believed that by doing what is right and good, in spite of all the negativity, it is ultimately a reflection of us. Unlike Mother Theresa, who living in some of the worse conditions in India, we live in the United States where for the majority of us we are blessed with clean water, with shelter and with modern medicine. We have such an abundance of food in our homes that our garbage is full of more food then some of impoverished families in India eat regularly. We have peace on our boarders, and temporary shelters for those who do not have a home. No, life is not perfect and sickness and pain are rampant, yet, with all the blessings that we have how many of us act, live, or even think in the way Mother Theresa calls us to be?

Some will say, she was a saint, and she had a following. My dears, as our Church Father’s say, “every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.” Saints in the Orthodox Church are regular people like you and me who choose every day, with every decision to place their faith in God and use the blessings He has given us to bless others, in spite of the sins, disease, viruses, wars and pains around us. Saints loved when they were hated, they taught when they were persecuted, they created when other’s destroyed around them. Saints give whatever tiny bit they could and God used them to bless others, to teach, to lift and to instruct others. We see this especially clearly in last part of today’s reading, where Jesus uses the widow as an example.

We all know the story of the widow who gave 2 pennies verses all those others who gave out of their abundance. Yet, what many of us fail to realize is that Jesus here is not only speaking about the material or financial giving – but giving of ourselves, a denying of oneself out of love. Because to deny our own selfish desires, deny our comfort, deny our own will and to give all of ourselves to God through love, we learn to reflect Him and bring His love and care into this world regardless of the material pain or loss. The brave soldiers of Armenia and Artsakh this week, just like the countless soldiers from the United States and around the world who answer the call to defend freedom, justice, peace and all good, do so because they understand that despite everything, all the pain and suffering in this world, what their love and good reflect is something and someone much greater then who they are. My dears, we are not all able to take up arms and go to war. And often we may think that we are too small, or our actions will not have the same impact as other’s – perhaps we feel we are not educated enough. Or perhaps we think we’ve already done something, let someone else participate.

My dears, if we think such ways, that we have done enough, we have loved, cared, forgiven, donated, created, repented, etc. enough, then we are not denying ourselves but rather, denying who we are called to be. If we think we are too small or not strong enough, think of the parable of the mustard seed. I personally know of nurses and doctors, here in the United States, who are leaving the comfort of their jobs, and families in order to go and help others. This past week I saw a story of a child, who in Armenia is selling walnuts in the streets in order to send the money he saved to the soldiers – where his brothers and father are fighting. He was able to collect almost 80 thousand dram, roughly $170, as part of his contribution. I know someone in our Chicago community, who has taken out their 401K retirement and has given all of it over to Giving ourselves over to God is about the spirit by which we act, react, listen, etc. When we give ourselves over to God’s Will, meaning we pray, confess and repent our sins, when we read scripture regularly and ask questions to learn, when we use what we have learned to direct our choices, our actions, etc. then God takes us, small or big, educated or not, entitled or not, old or young, takes us and makes us the saints, creates in us the fortitude to do what is right regardless of what is taking place around us.

Sadly, however, too many of us, give to God out of the abundance rather than the whole. We donate when we have something extra. We give but look to see who else is giving and adjust ours accordingly. We come to Church, when there is nothing better to do or we didn’t sleep in. We volunteer our time reluctantly, so that either Der Hayr will stop asking or so that others will not gossip about us. We call Der Hayr only when we get sick, when we have a bone to pick, or to ask questions only when we want to justify our own actions or lack of actions. I remember one day, when I was doing ministry in a prison in New York, an inmate asked me, “Can I sell drugs or prostitutes, if I use the money to support my family or donate a part of it to a Church?” Too often, my dears, we look to God out of the abundance of our time, and out of our desire to justfiy ourselves rather, then give our time and heart fully over to Him. We answer only when it’s convenient but are quick to blame when pain, sickness, war and devastation happens to us.

The beautiful words of Mother Theresa, which is about all of us and for all of us, ends with this “In the end, it is ultimately between you and God. It was never between you and them.” My dear brothers and sisters, be a child of God, love, care, create, do, give, forgive, listen, tend to others not because we are fighting someone or something else, but because it is who we are.

Give everything not because we are expecting a return or because we have extra. Let us not be like those who only do things for show, as Christ teaches about the Pharisees who only love those who love them back. Let us also not think we don’t have anything worth giving, or that we could never be like Mother Theresa or other saints. We are all sanctified through our baptisms and we are all called to be the servants of God in this world. Give everything, always, give yourself out of love. Pray for peace and also be peaceful; Pray for justice, and also act justly; Pray for forgiveness and begin forgiving. Do it anyway, because in the end it is between you and God. A God who loves us all and desires to be in communion with us always, through Christ Jesus, through whom we learn what it means to be like God our Father and to be cleansed by the Holy Spirit, so that no matter what pain, isolation, suffering, war or sickness we see, we will do better anyway, Amen!