Archive for October, 2016

The Preacher and Jerry Springer

October 29, 2016

springer

I don’t know if you ever watched the Jerry Springer Show on television.  It’s been on for many years and is still quite popular.  Basically, people come on the show to tell the world about their problems and sins. Most often, people tell about some affair with the love interest of a friend or relative.  It’s something of a public confession. Most of the time, the offended spouse or partner comes out, and it ends in physical violence. The audience roars in laughter and approval. Americans seem to love this kind of thing.

Here is one story that Jerry Springer would love. A preacher, a supposed man of God, had the audacity to sleep with a prostitute. He wanted her to stay with him, so he gave her a lot of money. They had two children out of wedlock. The prostitute was torn emotionally. She wanted to continue to sleep with her clients, but the preacher was a jealous man who did not want any rivals.  Knowing the kindness and generosity of the preacher, she wanted to remain faithful to him but she thought often about her lovers. The preacher promised that if she would just stay with him and be faithful, he would marry her, make her respectable, and give her many gifts.  What would she do? Who would she choose- her clients or the preacher? Yes, Jerry Springer would love to have these folks on his show.

It might surprise you to discover that the preacher is the prophet Hosea.

Although this story can be found in the book of Hosea, it isn’t clear if it literally happened as some kind of prophetic sign, or is just an allegory told to make a theological point. Either way, what is the message of this story?  Hosea represents God and Israel is the prostitute; that is Israel constantly goes after the gods of other nations. Despite this sad situation, God tells Israel that if she will repent and return to Him, he will marry her, bless her and will proudly proclaim to the world that He is the God of Israel.  Would Israel remain with God, or go elsewhere? The history of Israel shows that this was not an easy choice for them. Sometimes they were faithful, many times they were not.

What does this story have to do with us?  Forgive me for saying this, but spiritually speaking, we are all prostitutes. We seek out other lovers for what we believe they can give us. We are torn in our hearts because we know how loving and kind and generous God is and can be.  We also know that He is a jealous God.  So sometimes we draw close to God, but most of the time, we pursue other gods. What are the gods that we chase after?  They are our ideals, passions, fantasies and desires.  Some of our gods are mental and some are physical.

Hosea shows us that despite this condition of being divided in our loyalty, God continues to loves us completely. He does not disdain us and would marry us if we would just repent and be faithful. To be married to God means that we will come to know real intimacy with Him. He will know us and we will know him in deep and abiding love. He will be our God and we will be his people.  How did Jesus put it? Eternal life is know the Father and the Son whom He has sent. We will know him, not just know about Him.

What will we do – continue to play the harlot and pursue our lovers or repent and be married? If we pursue other lovers, God will continue to love us, but eventually we will grow old. Our lovers will abandon us and we will be left alone. If we choose God, we will be blessed with a life of real intimacy and we will know that love forever.

It seems like a no-brainer, but we humans seem to love playing the harlot. Sadly, because of our divided loyalty, we may only know about the greatest love of all when we could live in that love and have it live in us.  You may feel ashamed because of your past unfaithfulness. Your past doesn’t matter.  God loves you and would marry you today. So, repent and come home. A marriage feast has been set for you and God will clothe you in a wedding gown of righteousness. He will make you beautiful beyond anything that you can imagine and he will be proud to claim you as His own.

So, what are you waiting for?

Enemies

October 16, 2016

public-enemy-1931

When you consider the things that Orthodoxy asks of you –fasting, prayer, church attendance, tithing, study, etc. – it’s a pretty demanding business. What else could anyone ask of you? Well, if you think these things are hard, listen to Jesus:

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners    love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He is kind to the ungrateful and selfish.”

Love your enemies? Jesus must be kidding. In fact, He is not, and he put his words into practice, even to the Cross. Often,  I don’t love the people I call my friends. I don’t know how in the world I’m supposed to love my enemies. The word “enemy” means someone that I don’t like or actually despise. How am I supposed to love them?  What living person has no enemies?

A mafia boss on the island of Sicily was on his death bed. He called for the local priest to come see him and hear his confession. He had decided he wanted to get right with God before he died. The priest came and, before he began to administer the sacraments, said, “Part of getting ready to die is that you need to forgive all your enemies.” The mafia boss said, “Father, I don’t have any enemies.” The priest was surprised and said, “That’s amazing! After all the years of your violent and criminal life, you must have enemies!” The mafia replied, “No, Father, I really don’t have any enemies. I killed them all.” (Fr. Andrew Harman)

This isn’t what Jesus meant, but is there a way that we can come to love our enemies? Father Andrew Harmon, Pastor of St. Matthew Antiochian Orthodox Church, North Royalton, Ohio suggests the following:

  1. Pray –I wonder how often we think to pray for our enemies. Why pray for them? Mainly because only God can heal the wounds of the heart. In praying for our enemies, it may be our hearts that are healed.
  2. Thank God for something good about your enemy– We tend to think of our enemies as being devoid of anything good. The fact is that they are no more evil than we are, and we believe that there is some good in ourselves. Dwelling on what is good rather than what is evil may result in realizing that like our enemy, we are a mix of good and evil. Maybe it was my evil that contributed to the conflict. Maybe, in the remembrance of wrongs, I have forgotten the part that I played and have made my enemy to be more of a villain than they deserve.
  3. Shift your anger – One of the great roadblocks to creating peace is anger. Because of anger, we will not listen to any suggestion that reconciliation is possible. What does it mean to shift anger? It means to turn the power of anger against the root of habitual sin in our own hearts instead of outward against people who offend us. If we did this, we would soon be saints. Ask St. Moses the Black.

4, Treat them kindly – Finally, Jesus tells us that it is not enough to good to people we                   like. We must do something good to our enemies like turn the other cheek or walk                the extra mile.  We are to be like our Father who is good to the evil and well as to the              just; who causes the rain to fall on the fields of the righteous and the unrighteous.                 So, Jesus said that we should be like Dad. In doing good things, we may find that we               will change a heart and gain a friend. We might discover the treasure of true                              humility.

In conclusion, listen again to St. Bishop Nikolai Velimirovic:

“Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Enemies have driven me into Your embrace more than friends have. Friends have bound me to earth, enemies have loosed me from earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world.

Enemies have taught me to know what hardly anyone knows, that a person has no enemies in the world except himself. One hates his enemies only when he fails to realize that they are not enemies, but cruel friends. It is truly difficult for me to say who has done me more good and who has done me more evil in the world: friends or enemies.”  (an excerpt)

Do good to your enemies. Be like your Father in heaven. Loving your enemy will change your life, and save your soul.

i no longer live

October 2, 2016

christ-in-me

 

i use to think that the Cross of Christ was something upon which we hung our sins so that we wouldn’t have to suffer for them later. That was a rather shallow view of it.  Jesus made it more -he said that we would have to deny ourselves, pick up a cross and follow him.  i realized that the Cross had to move from Calvary into my heart. Well, that has been a struggle because while my heart wants to live forever and is grateful for all that Jesus did for me, the heart also wants to pursue its own pleasures, dreams, and ambitions. To have the Cross in my heart and the self-denial that follows is directly opposed to the fantasies of my life.  For this reason, though sin is hard to bear, the Cross is very hard to bear.

In Galatians 2, St. Paul puts forward an astonishing idea. “i have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer i who live, but Christ who lives in me.” It’s one thing to believe that Christ died for me. Its another thing to say that i was crucified with Christ. St. John Chrysostom says that in these words he alludes to Baptism. In baptism, one dies to the old self and is freed from the tyranny of the past, the world, and one’s own ego. So many people struggle with themselves. They constantly complain about some failing, uncontrollable passion, a bad \attitude, being judgmental, etc. It disturbs them that these failings and passions never seem to change though they struggle mightily with them.

Imagine if there was no “i” in the equation. It is no longer “i” who lives. If there was no “i”, then there would be nothing for the devil to attack. There would be no uncontrollable passions, no bad attitudes. There would certainly be no despair and no fear. There would be no temptations. As the old saying goes, “a dead man cannot sin.”   Elder Porphyrios says the following:

“In the Church which possesses the saving sacraments there is no despair. We may be deeply sinful. But we make confessions, the priest reads the prayer, we are forgiven and we progress towards immortality, without any anxiety and without any fear. When we love Christ, we live the life of Christ. If, by the grace of God, we succeed in doing this, we find ourselves in a different state, we live in another, enviable state. For us there is no fear; neither of death, nor of the devil nor of hell. All these things exist for people who are far from Christ, for non-Christians. For us Christians who do His will, as the Gospel says, these things do not exist. That is, they exist, but when one kills the old self along with the passions and desires, one gives no importance to the devil or to evil. It doesn’t concern us. What concerns us is love, service to Christ and to our fellow man. If we reach the point of feeling joy, love, worship of God without any fear, we reach the point of saying, It is no longer I who live; Christ lives in me. No one can prevent us from entering into this mystery.”

How do we reach this state of joy, love, and worship of God without fear?

Foremost, it is with faith-faith that Christ died for me; faith that i no longer live; faith that it is Christ who lives in me; faith in all that he gives me so that He may live in me: Baptism, Holy Communion,  the Bible, the Church, confession, etc. Faith that he will never leave me, nor forsake me, no matter what i do or how many times i fall.

Then we reach this state by theosis, by the process of salvation. By the Holy Spirit and the grace given to us, we work out our salvation in fear and trembling. We embrace the disciplines of faith, not to gain God’s favor nor do we do them to keep the rules. We do them so that we can reach that state of being where we know, and no longer doubt, that i no longer live, but it is Christ who lives in me.

Finally, it is by love that we come to the place where we are not only made in His image, which all people have. We attain his likeness as well. Since God is love, to look like Christ is to look like love itself. Love compels us to pick up his cross and follow him. It is by love that I am crucified to the world and the world to me. It is love that makes the “i” go away. Then on Judgment Day, when God looks at me, it is not “i” that he will see. It is Christ in me that He will see.