Archive for May, 2009

Why Do You Stand Gazing Up into Heaven?

May 27, 2009

Thursday, May 28, 2009

jumpWe read from the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles for the Feast of Our Lord’s Ascension into Heaven. I always thought it funny how when Jesus was ascending to His Father before His disciples how two angels appeared and asked them why they are gawking upward.  I always imagine the disciple’s jaws dropped and necks craning and thinking they probably would have remained that way indefinitely unless the angels intervened. Jesus prepared His disciples for three years for this moment and they should not have been surprised. But now their Master and Teacher has bodily left them and they were to go to Jerusalem and await the descent of the Holy Spirit. The Lord was passing on the ministry of His Church to His disciples. It must have been a terrifying and anxious time for them.

I am sure there are many of us who remember getting behind the wheel of a car for the first time. We’ve had plenty of time watching others drive, but when it came time for us to take the wheel many of us just stared at the dashboard in front of us in disbelief. We took the hold of the wheel and gave it a squeeze; maybe gave a little turn to the left or right. Gave the key a turn and put it in gear. The instructor (or parent or whomever) gave the command, “Okay, let’s get going.” Probably for the disciples it was more like jumping out of a plane. Going at it for the first time without being in tandem or without their instructor, but instead they would hear, “Why do you stand there looking down? You’ve been prepared for this. This is your time. Jump!”

But once in gear or racing toward the earth at breakneck speed the experience is in the moment. I remember driving my junky car around feeling free and adventurous; the wind blowing through my hair (no, it wasn’t a convertible). I am sure the feeling is much more extreme with skydiving or else people wouldn’t still be paying to do it. The apostles had to wait another ten days but I am sure the day of Pentecost was a very similar experience for the disciples. Instead of a car or a plane they were soaring full of the Holy Spirit. With boldness and full of joy they went forward proclaiming the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

I wonder why we don’t experience this every time we gather and partake of the Body and Blood of Christ. When we celebrate the Divine Liturgy we ask the Holy Spirit to descend on us just as He did on Pentecost to manifest us as the community of God! Why don’t we feel that same freedom, adventure, boldness and joy? After ascending the heights do we hear the angels crying to us, “Why are you just standing there, JUMP!”

Not Abiding Alone

May 25, 2009

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.” (John 12:24)

seedsJesus said these words to Andrew and Philip when they came to Him saying that Greeks at the feast wanted to meet Him. Our Lord’s time had come for His Passion. The fruit of His labor was at hand. Jesus had no time for any more meetings. Jesus speaks of His glorification as a grain of wheat being planted and unless it “descends into the earth and dies it remains alone.” I never really caught the “alone” part of the verse before. I checked the Greek word used in the New Testament and it is monos. We use it in the English language as a prefix for words like monogram, monopoly, and monologue meaning to exist to itself, or excluding another. Jesus is not just talking about His death and resurrection as something He does on our behalf but a reality we become part of. The seed dies and produces fruit that causes shoots to sprout forth upwards from the earth. The top of the wheat grass produces a multitude of new seeds that the farmer uses to multiply his crops. Jesus could have stayed around and shared the Gospel message to the possible new Greek supporters of His ministry but He had more important work to do; to enter into human life in every conceivable way, even into death so that He no longer existed as life outside of His creation. He entered into it at His Incarnation and sanctified it with His presence; but gives true life abundantly by giving His life to it and simultaneously destroying the power of death. It is not just something imparted; it is something ontological that has to do with our very being. God is sharing His life us. No, He is offering His life for us even now. Eternally, once and for all.  We are the seeds on the top of the sprout of Christ’s death and resurrection. We no longer live apart from Christ;  His saving work has produced a community of “Christians” who partake of the well-springs of Life in Him.

Herein lies the basic definition of a Christian community. To go from the top of the wheat grass as a seed and to descend. We are to allow Christ’s life to germinate and sprout within us. This can only happen by existing apart from ourselves; not mono-lithically. A Christian community is about living for the other and “hating” our own lives. This word “hate” in the New Testament is misunderstood in today’s jargon. It does not mean to detest or despise ourselves. The best understanding is to “love less.” We must descend so others may be lifted up. Allowing the very life of Christ in us showing forth by how we relate to others. Christ didn’t convert the Greeks in the gospel of John with fancy words or impressing them with His power. He drew them to Himself by being lifted up on the Cross (vs. 32).

This is a hard message for us Americans who grow taught to expect “things” because we “deserve” them. Bumper stickers with the creed, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” Accumulation of wealth and prestige become something we strive for without even putting much thought into where it is leading us. I think the current global economic crisis gives us a partial glimpse. How many times a day we are acting out of our own best interest; looking out for our own self-preservation. This way of life, Christ says, leads to a loss of our own life. Quite like a seed that sits on a shelf. By being preserved it is denied its true potential and reason for existing in the first place. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Cor. 5:17)

God’s Glory Manifested

May 24, 2009

Monday, May 25, 2009

blameJesus answered, “Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” (John 9:3)

This Sunday’s Gospel reading was about the healing of the man blind from birth. The Pharisees were obsessed with this healing to the point where the man who had just regained his sight comically asks the Jews if they also want to become Jesus’ disciples, which by the way enrages them. But the verse that always struck me was Jesus’ answer to His disciples’ questions regarding the condition of the man’s health. The disciples wanted to know if it was the man’s sins or his parent’s that caused his blindness. It sounds bit harsh to speak of a child yet to be born responsible for his life long condition of lack of sight. Of course we can see it as a metaphor for “spiritual sight” but we must agree that all sickness derives from sin. But again it is the answer that Jesus gives to His disciples that is intriguing, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.” (vs. 3) Is Jesus saying that this poor man was blind from birth just so God can show His power over it? Seems kind of harsh, doesn’t it? I don’t think that is what our Lord is saying. Neither is He negating the fact that human sin is the cause of all blindness, whether physical or spiritual (doesn’t need to be culpable sin).

Maybe a better way to look at it is to see Jesus redirecting his disciples (and the reader) from the consequences of sin to the Glory of God. Jesus is taking them (and us) from the level being fixated on the consequences of sin and raising them (and us) to a knowledge of God’s creative and restoring power. This verse is immediately followed with Jesus proclaiming,” We must work the works of Him who sent me, while it is day…as long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Jesus is saying there are two ways of looking at hardship. The first would be to place blame, stay on the level of sin, debate it perhaps. The other is to have God manifest His glory in overcoming sin by His grace. To have God perfected in our weaknesses; to have the Father’s work shine through us.

Too many times we want to stay on the first level. We are comfortable there. We really don’t believe things can or will change. Even Scripture cries out to us, “I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and indeed, all is vanity and grasping for the wind.” Yes, we are fools to think that we will live in a world without “thorns and thistles” in our garden, but this is not what Jesus unveils to us. He reveals to us the freedom from it while being in the midst of it.

Wouldn’t community life be much more fulfilling if we had this mindset. Instead of staying on the level of placing blame, and debating the issue, making charts, and replaying the crime over and over again in our mind when there is a trespass; imagine, rather,  saying, “It is not sin, but that God may be glorified!”

As we have been singing since Pascha, “let us embrace each other. Let us call brother’s even those that hate us! Let us be illumined by the Feast!” The world will not change, it is us who must change our hearts and minds in the light of Christ cross. Jesus spoke to His disciples before His passion,  “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

Opening Doors

May 20, 2009

doorThursday, May 21st, 2009

Acts 14:20-27 (Epistle)

20 However, when the disciples gathered around him, he rose up and went into the city. And the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe. 21 And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.” 23 So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed. 24 And after they had passed through Pisidia, they came to Pamphylia. 25 Now when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. 26 From there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work which they had completed. 27 Now when they had come and gathered the church together, they reported all that God had done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.

The Work of the Disciples

This reading picks up after St. Paul had just healed a man from Lystra who was crippled from birth. The people misconstrue the disciples as gods who have appeared before them in the form of men and try to offer them sacrifices. The reaction of the people caused much dismay and frustration for the disciples (they ripped their clothes as a sign of grief and unbelief). The disciples earnestly tried to explain how it was Jesus Christ who was working through them. This must have caught the attention of the Jews who were visiting from Antioch and Iconium because they convinced the people to stone St. Paul. He was dumped outside the city gates presumed dead. Yet, when the other disciples “gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city.”

We must ask ourselves, “What was Paul thinking?” Why would he enter back into the city after barely escaping with his life. The next morning he went on with Barnabus to Derbe. It is there that after they preached the gospel that “they had made many disciples.” Great; but then we read on  that immediately after they “returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch.” Huh? Lystra is the town where St. Paul healed the cripple and ended up getting almost stoned to death by the persuasion of the Jews visiting from Iconium and Antioch!

So many of us fear the possibility of conflict. Just the thought of it may cause a queasy stomach. Yet St. Paul is not afraid to meet it head-on with his fellow disciples. But not before St. Paul strengthened the souls of the disciples and professed that “through many tribulations we must enter the Kingdom of God.” St. Paul understood clearly that the preaching of the Gospel and the everyday trials of life that come from the kerygma (preaching/proclamation) cannot be separated from the message it proclaims. Rather it should be embraced! For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son so that He may endure us, endure the cross, opening to us the gates of Paradise.  The disciples went on establishing the faith. They travelled through Pisidia, Pamphylia, Perga, Attalia, and finally reaching Antioch. They reported to all of the Church how God blessed their work and “opened the door of faith” to the Gentiles. St. Paul and the disciples opened doors of faith to others not just by words, but by enduring others; being for them the very image of Christ. They were willing to endure the demands and abuse of others for the Gospel’s sake. For it is the Gospel. It opens doors.

But What Does This Have to do with Community

This Blog is supposed to be about dealing with one another in a community. Whether it be a community of people in recovery, a community of believers like a Church, or even a small family. The Christian dynamics should not change. So what does today’s reading have to do with relating to others as a communty? I would say that where two or three are gathered in the name of God, we have a community. True community is the work of God with Him in the midst of it. Our Lord sent His disciples out “two by two before His face into every city.” St. Paul arose and did God’s work surrounded by the diciples. St. Paul departed to Derbe not alone but with Barnabus; a community of two. We also must do God’s work as a community. There is no other way about it. I hear people say they can know God by being alone with nature, like fishing; or by meditating at home alone. They say they don’t need “church” or “organized religion.” They look at the fallen nature of their fellow humans and see them as an obstacle to knowing God, of actually perverting the knowledge of God. Maybe they are partly afraid of conflict. Afraid of accepting the fact that we are all on equal ground in the eyes of God. Accepting the fact that we do not hold the secret combination to open the Gates of the Kingdom.

God himself is One but He is also a community of Three – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. One in essence and being, yet individual in person and activity, working in perfect harmony. If the very Godhead itself is a harmony of persons, perhaps we can come to the knowledge of God through cultivating harmony with others. By enduring their shortcomings and torment we more importantly may open to them the door of faith.

  • Conflict should not be feared but seen as an opportunity to be an example of Christian charity, compassion, patience, and love.
  • Conflict is not resolved by determining who is right and who is wrong but through compassion.
  • Remember God is always bigger than our problems.
  • “So if you are standing before the altar in the Temple, offering a sacrifice to God, and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there beside the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God” (Matt. 5:23).