Archive for June, 2009

Thornbushes and Thistles?

June 16, 2009

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

angryBeware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. (Matthew 7:15-21)

This past Sunday I was attracted to a beautiful plant that just blossomed this past week. It is under the dogwood tree just outside the entry into the Church. The flowers are a beautiful bright yellow and I don’t remember them from years prior. I even pointed them out to some parishioners as we spoke after the Divine Liturgy out front. All the other plants and trees have already blossomed and dropped their petals weeks ago around Pascha time and this plant in particular brought back memories of the Paschal celebration of Christ’s victory over death. The yellow flowers were inviting and beautiful. I am no connoisseur of plants so I cannot tell you the type of plant it is at the moment. I learned long ago that the colorful petals of the plant are to attract bees and such to help in pollinating other plants. People are compared to plants when Jesus speaks about those who are of God and those who are impostors.

Jesus says that no one goes to gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles. We can deduce that Jesus is saying that no one wants to go through the trouble and pain of being punctured by thorns and thistles to gather grapes and figs, but I don’t know of any thorn bush or thistle that grows grapes and figs anyhow. We would be at the wrong plant! If we were looking for grapes and figs we would go to the grapevine and fig tree.

The same applies in our Christian life. We should abide by the fruit of God and the fruit of God only grows on that plant which is planted in God’s garden. If we search anywhere else we partake of a different fruit, or no fruit at all. St. Paul taught that,  “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness, self-control.” (Galatians 5:22) All these virtues above speak of another as their destination. The only other fruit St. Paul talks about is the fruit of the flesh, meaning that which satisfies our own desires.

If we choose to live for our own needs then we a re a plant that is not inviting and beautiful but rather thorny and isolated. A plant that does not have anything of real value to offer. The plant that is inviting and beatiful draws everyone nearby to partake and share in its glory and thereby also brings with it new plants and new life! It is nurtured by God and it shows in its radiance and brilliance. Our life and how we live it is the testimony of God for others to see and we invite others to partake in the fruit of God’s work.

Unity in Spirit

June 9, 2009

Monday, June 8, 2009

sheepMatthew 18:10-20 “Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven. “For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost. “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? “And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. “Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish. ” Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. “But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ “And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. “Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”

This is the gospel reading for the Monday following Pentecost Sunday. This Divine Liturgy is typically not well attended and many miss this special teaching from our Lord in a Liturgical setting. How are we to respond to each others shortcomings; our sinfulness? Jesus clearly outlines for us how we are to respond, a progression  of action, and the reasoning behind the protocol. If we don’t like another persons actions or are offended we are to go to them privately and tell them how we were affected by their actions. Imagine how much nonsense were could avoid if we just followed this first piece of advice. To have the boldness to go directly to the source of our hurt instead of speaking about them behind their back or just going around carrying a grudge. If that doesn’t work then we ask told to go again to that person with two or more people as witnesses. We are not to assume that the witnesses are just there on behalf of the one with the complaint. The witnesses could also be there to mediate between the two or clarify any misunderstandings by either party. If that fails then the matter is to be brought to the Church body.

The most important thing we can draw from this gospel reading is that our Lord wants us to put great effort into reconciliation. It can be so easy for us to write somebody off or to just remain mad. But Jesus calls  us the sheep of His fold, and He wants doesn’t want to lose any of us!  This topic always reminds me of the parable of the Prodigal Son when after the younger brother comes home after squandering his inheritance on loose living and given a feast in celebration for his return how the older son responds. The older son becomes upset with his father for giving so much attention to the return of his younger son when the older son was always faithful yet seemed to go unnoticed. The father’s reply speaks volumes of the generosity of God, “Everything I have is yours!” The older son is being invited to celebrate the reconciliation of his younger brother. When I hear this gospel I envision the feast for the son as the Kingdom of God. The older brother is standing before the entrance witnessing the glory of the eternal Kingdom but yet refusing to enter because he could not be reconciled with his brother. The older brother could have been the most righteous an faithful person to God but was unwilling to be reconciled with his brother and therefore denies himself communion with God because it also meant communion with his brother. The father pleaded with his son to enter into his joy. I try to picture myself before the banquet doors and I peer in at people who have cause pain or hurt in my life and I wonder if I am able to cross the threshold if invited. The Father’s joy is our reconciliation.

What’s in a Name?

June 4, 2009

Thursday, June 4, 2009

And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. (John 16:23)

gigTonight I am going to SOHO to see my cousin. He is touring with a band from overseas and I am really looking forward to meeting up with him because its been years since we’ve seen each other. Because I have this relationship with him I am on the VIP guest list and have special access. Very cool. I can go tonight and say, “Hey, I know Dean and I am on the list.”

In the 16th chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus is preparing the disciples for His Ascension to His Father. They will not be able to have this face to face contact they have been accustomed to. He assures them that if they ask their Heavenly Father, in Jesus’ name, they will receive. They know Jesus  personallyand have a special relationship with Him. Jesus called His disciples friends (John 15:15). Jesus tells them that they have the use of His name for their needs, and it grants them special privileges. St. Paul writes about the power of His name, “That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth…” (Phi. 2:10). And Jesus urges them to make use of His name so “that their joy may be full.”

Through our baptism we also have been granted this privilege. St. Paul preached in Galatians, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (3:27). Of course this doesn’t mean that we go around expecting our whims to be fulfilled like magic. Tonight at the show I am not getting gifts. I am not the center of attraction, but I get to be a part of it in ways others cannot. I also don’t want to be the guy who misuses the privilege and embarrass my cousin.

In the name of Jesus we are able to partake of something much larger. Life is the great ongoing gig and we can get to partake of it with special access.  We can feel honored even though we have done nothing to deserve the VIP status.  What we can do is be grateful and make the most of the blessing, everyday. And we look forward with hope for act II the great gig in the sky (reference thrown in for all of us Pink Floyd fans).

The Spirit Reveals

June 2, 2009

June 2, 2009

However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. (John 16:13)

hsJesus prepares His disciples for His departure to the Father with these words. He must go so that He can send the Holy Spirit.   The end of the above verse where it says, “and He will tell you things to come” (NKJ), should not be taken as some sort of gift of knowing the future. The literal Greek translation is, “and He will tell you of the coming (things).” It is very clear what Jesus is saying. The Christ is spoken of throughout the Bible with the Messianic title “the coming (one)” as for example in Matthew when John the Baptist sent two of his disciples to go find Jesus and ask Him if He was the Coming One (Matt 11:3). And as the Messiah Jesus ushered in the Kingdom which is to come, and it is the Holy Spirit is  who reveals the “coming of the Kingdom.” The Holy Spirit is not only the revealer of the coming Kingdom but of all things of God, “the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.” (John 14:26)

At every Divine Liturgy we gather as members of God’s Kingdom and ask the Holy Spirit to make these things known to us. In St. Basil’s Anaphora (Offering) prayer we pray for the Holy Spirit to descend upon us and the gifts of bread and wine to reveal these things as the very body and blood of Christ. It is by the Holy Spirit that all things are revealed. Jesus Christ opened to us everlasting life by His Passion and glorious Pascha from death to life and it is the Holy Spirit that bestows this life upon us.

But the real question is how do wee see this concretely working out in our lives? What actually happened last Sunday at Church? Am I any different because of it?

I remember when I first started exercising with weights. I bought some dumbbells and started a makeshift gym in the basement. I read magazines and articles on form and routine. I wanted to start right and make it a life long commitment hopefully without injury. If you jump in too fast and lift too heavy a weight the body is not prepared; ligaments are not capable of supporting the weight and the neural system is not accustomed to the movements. Quickly you find out it is not just muscles at work but a very complex system working together that adapts over time.  Beginners see progress for a short time then quickly plateau and run the risk of overtraining or injury. Most people do not properly exercise even though they are “lifting weights.”  It is always best to train with a partner. They immediately can see imbalances or improper form and bring it to the attention of the person lifting. A good friend of mine who has been lifting for years recently confessed to me that he is amazed how he learned his right side of his body reacts to exercise much differently than his left side. When I recently lifted my partner was their to tell me that my shoulders were not in balance and therefore I was not carrying the weight evenly in the squat. I would not have known any different unless my partner was there to note these minute details in the exercise. When I was performing them by myself everything felt fine and well executed. They may be minute imbalances but they are very important in the execution of the exercise and the prevention of injury. It takes time and commitment to fix and relearn bad habits in lifting weights. I think weightlifting with a partner is a metaphor for attending Liturgy in the Spirit.

As a Christian we should approach the Divine Liturgy with care and understanding. It is to be a life-long commitment with proper understanding. Weightlifting begins before one enters the gym by knowing what the routine will be for the day, proper nourishment, and mentally running through the program in one’s mind. So also with Liturgy, one should pray, fast, meditate on the things of God. Just like my gym partner who reveals to me bad form, imbalances, and the things that are proper; at the Liturgy the Holy Spirit reveals to us Sin, Righteousness, and Judgment (John 16:8). It is when we woship in Spirit that not only our lives are revealed to us, but the joy of the things of God are made known to us.

The Anatomy of a Grapevine

June 1, 2009

Monday, June 1st, 2009

I am the true Vine, my Father is the Vinedresser (John 15:1)

vineAny quick research into growing grapes reveals the amount of work involved into producing an abundant harvest. Grapes are a high maintenance plant that require much attention to keep away disease and bugs, but the most important part of producing grapes is pruning. Vines are allowed to grow from one strong shoot directly from the roots. Any other shoots that grow from the roots are clipped back. Off shoots from the main vine are tied to the trellis and those are the vines that will produce grapes on the arms. New canes or shoots can only be produced on one year old canes thus new canes must be produced each year. As well as producing fruit for this season the shoot develops buds for next season’s growth. The farmer must prune the shoots beginning in the dormant season (winter) that show signs of not producing fruit during the growing season.

Our Lord uses the cultivation of grapes to describe our relationship to him. There is only one strong vine attached to the roots that is Christ. There can be no other source of nourishment to grow vintage grapes.  The shoots that spring forth from the vine are us and the trellis that the shoots are tied to for support is the Church.

Relationship with God is not a solitary act. Recent statistics show that many people, especially young men and women are looking for a new model to relate to God. One young man recently blogged, “I no longer go to Church, although I still believe in God. I pray at home.” Isn’t this enough? I get the feeling that many Christian’s in America have lost (or never had) the understanding of an Eucharistic Life. Being a Christian is much more than admitting that there is a higher Power. It is more than prayer, or acts of mercy, or even forgiving others.

Is it acceptable to get up on Sunday morning and choose to give blood or take the family to see a wholesome (perhaps even Christian) movie rather than going to Church? Aren’t they interchangeable? They are both “good things” right?If we strive to live a moral life and to do good to others aren’t we living as a Christians? Is that what God wants from us? In examining the teaching of the grapevine we get a true perspective. Our Lord teaches us, “Abide in me. And I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” (verse 4). Giving blood, or donating to good causes, and praying at home does not replace partaking in the life of Christ. Everything else is secondary. To abide in Christ is to be connected in Him, to be in communion with Him. We cannot bear fruit unless we are of the vine. We cannot bear fruit apart from it. The fruit is actually produced and nourished by the vine. Our abiding in Christ produces not only fruit but a healthy shoot for another harvest. We are to keep the Lord’s day sanctified because it is the day we were given a new life by the Cross. We are to go to Church on Sunday and partake of Him by the grace of the Holy Spirit because it is life-giving. We are to gather as God’s community on Sunday in the Eucharist because we cannot abide alone. For apart from Him we can do nothing.