Who Are You?

Sermon for Sunday February 16, 2020

Passages: Isaiah 63:18 – 64:12; Titus 1:1 – 11; John 7:37 – 52

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

Who are you? On the surface this question seems simple. If I were to ask anyone of you here, I would get a simple response of I am (fill in the blank). Delving much deeper, we can again ask this question, who are you, as a stepping-stone to understanding the deeper individual each one us is. Who are we at home, who are we at work, with our friends, families, when we are alone. Knowing who we are is a very crucial part of growth and experience and we have spoken about the importance of exploring our own self’s, testing ourselves as St. Paul says, in order to see whether we are of righteousness or evil, of God or of the world.

But today as I ask who are you, I am not asking us to examine ourselves but rather, how many of us have asked God, who are you? Recently, a new series came out on Netflix, which a number of people recommended I watch, called Messiah. Without looking at the premise too deeply, one theme that kept repeating with the main character was people’s curiosity and questioning of, “who are you?” Movies and stories aside, I think it is very natural to ask God who he is. If Jesus was to appear in front of us and speak and do the extraordinary acts that he has done any one of us would ask, who are you. Whether it be today, tomorrow or even 2,000 years ago, people have asked God and more directly Jesus – who are you? So who is Jesus?

Sadly, many of us don’t ask this question sincerely or from a desire to increase our communion with God. The person of Jesus has been examined historically and theologically throughout the centuries, and perhaps a handful of us would be able to provide some sort of an answer as to who Jesus was. Over the last several weeks throughout the Gospel readings in John we see how Jesus is repeatedly laying out the framework for this question. Three weeks ago, we read the ever famous passage of John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world, He sent his only begotten Son…” Two weeks ago, we read of how the disciples were caught in a storm and Jesus, walking in the storm said, “It is I, do not fear.” And last week, we saw how the people who followed Jesus, were only doing so to fill their own appetites, their stomachs, rather than desiring to be fed by what is eternal.

Today’s reading begins with the words, “On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’”” John makes a point to mention that when Jesus spoke, it was the “last day of the feast, the great day” because it was the Feast of Tabernacles (see Leviticus 23:36, 42-43, II Maccabees 10:6). And on the last day of this feast, priests drew water from the pool of Siloam and brought it to the temple to be mixed with wine and the mixture was poured out at the foot of the altar for purification. My dears, St. John’s emphasis on the last day, or the great day shows that this is the climax, the conclusion of the Feast and when Jesus states that he quenches the thirsts of those who need water, Jesus is saying on this last day that, I am fulfillment of this feast, I am the Omega, the fulfillment of prophecy – the body, bread from heaven, the blood, the wine, both from Communion, and waters of our baptism, that together purify us and cleanse us of our sinfulness.

Jesus very plainly is laying out who he is, not as our physical eyes can see, but as who he is when we look with spiritual eyes after we have been illuminated. The difference between physical and spiritual eyes is that, as we read, even those who were with Jesus, even those who saw, who ate, who were healed, even those Pharisees who knew the laws and prophecies, they all continued argue and misunderstand who Christ Jesus is and asked “who are you”. Their blindness was not in the question they were asking, but rather, in the why they were asking. And this is what we find in St. John’s Gospel readings throughout the last few weeks and it is this that we must ask ourselves, especially as we begin to prepare for our Lenten journeys towards Pascha.

Why are we asking to know who Jesus is? Are we asking because we desire to learn the history of a 1st century Jew, born in Bethlehem? Or, are we asking to know because we desire the fullness of Communion through Christ Jesus with God the Father? We have all in some way, shape or form “seen” and have been “fed”, but when it comes to knowing who God is, do we understand why is it that we are trying to learn and understand? If we want to know who Jesus was back in the 1st century, there are plenty of National Geographic, and Church history textbooks which argue about who Jesus was.

But what we are being invited to do is know who Jesus Christ is yesterday, today and forever more: God, who took on flesh, becoming human. Who thirsted, who hungered, who willingly suffered as a human, just like we do.

But because he remained undivided from His divinity – meaning He is, was and will forever be God, through His death and resurrection, He raised us to life. And he did this in order to create a full communion with each one of us, with all humanity and all creation, not because he felt bad for us but because he, God, is love.

My dears, this is not something that is easily understood. Many theologians and priests can attest to that just by looking at Church history and how many times this topic has been argued. Who is Jesus? However, asking who God is, asking Jesus, who you are is not a sin, it is not devious, it is not destructive, if, we are asking with a genuine heart, for a thirst and hunger of being filled with the love of God. What God desires most, above all else, is not that we do not question, but rather we question from a place of desire to grow towards him, in oneness with Him, in Communion with Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Therefore my dearly beloved, as we prepare next week to start our Lenten period of fasting, prayer, repentance, charity and mercy – I pray that we take time to examine our thirst and our hunger, in order for us to understand not who Jesus that man was, but who Jesus Christ is. Only then, will we be able to fully greet each other on Easter with the words of Christ revealed in us. And as Christ is revealed in us, He will then also be revealed through us to others who will ask, who are you, Amen!

Being Fed and Satisfied

Sermon for Sunday February 9, 2020

Passages: Isaiah 63:7-18; 2 Timothy 3:1-12; John 6:22-38

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

Ungodliness, self-serving and a society of self; Comfort and the avoidance of pain and pursuit of self indulgence; Hedonistic morals and ethics and an abandonment of family; Self-serving leaders and a culture of barbarism and feelings. These statements could easily be a description of today’s 21st century society. Yet, this is not an image of today, not of last year, nor is it an image of what is yet to come. Rather, this is a very real picture of what 5th century Rome looked like after it fell to the Barbarian hordes. Rome and the grand Roman Empire, the metropolis, the center of culture, religion, art and political ideals had been torn and ripped to shreds not only externally but also internally by the collapse of its society. A few centuries before the fall of the Roman Empire St. Paul wrote, “You must understand this, that in the last days distressing times will come. For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, brutes, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power.” (vv.1-5) What was written in the 1st century by St. Paul and what we see as the image of society at the end of the 5th century during the fall of the Roman Empire is also what we are seeing today in our society.

A society that celebrates personal feelings, fulfillment of desires and a love for self. A culture that celebrates ungodliness and hates good, searches for sexual deviance and destroys the Godly ordained norm of person and family.

Where leaders are sheep and wolves are seen as shepherds. We have become, my dears, a society of children following the pied pipers. It is a grim image to say the least.

The reason as to why our families, communities, societies, etc. why we are all in this repeated state again and again, can be seen as multi-faceted and we can have lengthy discussions as to how and why. But, this disconnect of humanity and Godliness is not only something we see in history but it is present even during Christ’s ministry – when God was physically with humanity. Reading today’s Gospel we understand that there is a misunderstanding if not a blatant disregard for what Christ Jesus is doing and teaching vs. and what majority of the people who claim to follow him desired. Jesus gives that example of the followers of Moses, who in their time of need were blessed by God with Bread from Heaven, Manna, in order to feed their physical hunger. 

Instead of glorifying God, rather, than seeing God’s divinity in their struggles and pain, the Israelites gave credit to Moses and their own abilities. In short “the Israelites in the wilderness refused to acknowledge or trust God for who he is, that he would provide for them no matter their situation or circumstance,” the same way the current followers of Jesus were blind to who Jesus is and are deaf to what he is saying.

How many of us likewise come to Church, call ourselves followers of Christ or believers in God only after, only if, or especially when we are “fed”? We don’t need to have bread come down from Heaven or to have 5 loaves feed 5,000 to see how we are fed. I have heard repeatedly from men and women who have served in the armed forces, that they lost their faith when they saw the atrocities of war. Or how many of us have questioned God’s existence or will when we are in pain? Yet, when we are healthy, when we are safe, when we are physically and metaphorically “fed”, it is easy to believe, it is easy to “see” the will of God. But this is not true knowledge of God.

Many people believed in Christ because they were fed, because they saw signs. When the Roman Empire was flourishing, when the Churches of St. Paul were growing, ungodliness was dormant. Our devotion to our self-indulgences and desires were kept quite out of a greater desire to understand God. However, when life gets tough, when we make excuses and begin compromising our faith in order to please our friends or even our egos, than we begin to starve. We search to be fed but remain blind and distant from God, who is here to feed us, to love us, to nurture us. And the further we get, the more we hunger until eventually we begin to feed off the temporal, the sinful, the self fulfilling and destructible. Having not been properly fed or nourished, our communities, our families, our leaders, our self begins to decay and fall apart and we again in thirst and hunger asking, where is god? St. John Chrysostom says, “I [Jesus] fed your bodies, he says, so that after this you might seek that other food that endures, which nourishes the soul. But you run right back to that food that is temporal. Therefore, you do not understand that I [Jesus] lead you not to this imperfect food but to that which nourishes not only the body but the soul.”

My dears, how many of us only feed off of what God offers, only seek Christ when life is easy and for the momentary satisfaction of our stomachs? God’s love, God’s care, God’s nourishment and feeding is more than mere bread. Rather than turning to political leaders, rather than looking to those who have deep pockets, we must first begin by turning and looking to God because it is God who gives us the tools, who makes us the vessels and the sources of good in this world.

If we who claim to believe but have turned away from Him and only come to him when it is convenient for us what change, what good are we speaking about?

Psalm 50 (51), which is used very heavily in the Armenian Church reads, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.” God creates in us by feeding us, teaching us, guiding us in order for us to than go and teach others the ways of God. That is what believing in God, that is why glorifying God for what He has given to us means – faith shared, God known is to show God. That is why the Church is a family, is a community, it is a hospital where the sick having been healed begin healing others. That is what it means to be fed and that is the only way we can overcome our self-egos, our self desires and the darkness that we call light in this world.

We may argue that it is too difficult, there is too much pain and suffering, too much of self-serving in today’s world. My dears, it is the same today, that is was in 5th century Rome, that it was in the time of St. Paul and in the time of Jesus. There is nothing new to our struggles, the only difference is now we post everything online. Elder Philotheos of the Eastern Orthodox Church reminds us – Joseph was in Egypt, in the barren dessert and in the place of sin, yet he did not sin because he continued to choose God and draw near. Adam was in Paradise, where sin did not exist but because Adam distanced himself from God, he disobeyed God and listened to the devil, he lost paradise and sinned. Therefore, it is not the place or times we live in but the manner of our hearts that saves us. My dears, what are our hearts searching for? To feed our hunger? What hunger are we trying to satisfy? Our stomach’s, our egos, our self or our hunger and thirst for God? If it is God then we must draw near to Him, we must repent – meaning turn to Him, confess and humble our egos, be part of this Church, this hospital and search for healing in order to likewise, go out and feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and lift up society. Only then will we truly know Christ Jesus and the will of God. Only then will we truly be fed and satisfied. Amen!