Sunday, July 6, 2008

Holy Pentecost

June 15, 2008

"And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were dwelling, and there appeared to them as it were, tongues of fire resting on each of them."

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

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory Forever!

Today is the fiftieth day, it is the end of the week of weeks, it is the great feast of Pentecost. In the Old Covenant, Israel was delivered from slavery in Egypt and traveled for nine days to Mount Horeb, Sinai. And after the tenth day Moses ascended to God by ascending the mountain, and for forty days he fasted and prayed, and on the fortieth day God wrote with His finger on stone tablets the laws of the Old Covenant.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, having come down, having conquered death and risen from the dead, remained with his disciples for forty days and then ascended in glory; and after nine days on the tenth day, the spirit of God came down and wrote with God’s own finger on the fleshy hearts of his people the law of the new covenant. This is in a real sense the birthday of the New Testament Church. We don’t say the birth day of the Church because the Church began with Adam. It was established with Abraham; it throve through the Old Testament, at times being diminished, and at times prospering; but it was the community called from the nation of Israel from Abraham’s seed.

Now, each of us here, in our own ears in the language our mothers taught us, the gospel of Christ proclaimed, and from every nation and kindred we are gathered together to become one race, one nation. When I hear about the racial politics of liberation theology, which really began with quasi-Marxists in the Roman Catholic Church, what astonishes me, what throws me into an absolute confusion, is how these people who study the same scriptures I study, cannot understand that although in the world there are all kinds of conflicts, all kinds of old scores to settle, all kinds of abuses that have been committed and endured, that Christ came to lay aside, to conquer all that. That in Him there is neither Jew, nor gentile, Scythian, Parthian or Mede, Greek. But that we are all made one, that we are all begotten again as a new race, and that for us to find in our Christianity someway of dividing us from the rest of humanity, rather than uniting us, is itself a perversion. Wives have the right to be angry with their husbands because they are often oppressive and dominating; Husbands have the right to be angry with their wives because they’re often sneaky and deceitful. And still, in Christ, the love that He gives conquers all of that. We do not seek in Christ our rights, to manifest justice as the world sees justice, to get revenge, to extract punishment, to win conflicts, to be victorious. We don’t strive to say, “I’m ok and you’re not ok.” We strive to be one people, we strive to overcome those things that pertain to our fallen nature, not to put them on our banners and wave them in the air.

Now you may say to me then, “Well, how come we celebrate here Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Ukranian, and Greek holidays and special events? Isn’t that divisive?” Well, no it is not. It is rather a celebration of the parts, the pieces, the organs, of the cultures from which God has put together His body in this place from many more places. From Scotland, and Ireland, and India. For God has called us all out. The word ekklesia, the word from which we get the word church, means “those who have been called out.” In Greek society it was the assembly that was called out from among the citizens to govern the city. The people who sat on the trial of Socrates were the ekklesia. The people who had been called to senate. And we have been called out from the peoples of the world to be the servants of Christ: all made of one accord, a beautiful display of every color of eyes and of hair and of skin, of every accent, of every taste in food and art, in dance and music, all called together in the temple of God to be one people.

What we celebrate today is Life. As I was standing out here earlier in the week I was contemplating this tree in the front yard that the city forester says we have to cut down. It makes sick b/c the tree is green, but the city forester wants to give some tree trimmers some money, or he’s afraid it’s gonna fall on somebody, and it’s probably the latter. And as I think about that, about this tree that appears to have life in it, and yet we’re told is dead, is practically dead, I think of two things: Of people who have been given life by Christ through baptism, whose roots have been watered with the water of new life, and who have been fed with the bread of heaven, and cultivated in the Holy Spirit by the myrrh that anointed their bodies and who never the less think that their Christianity is a thing they can put in a drawer and perhaps in time of crisis or the time of their death can take that out and place it over their heads, like the inscription “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us” that we put on the head of corpses. But if we do not have life in us, even though there may be the residual traits of life, that we are cut off from Christ and we will not bear fruit. The Lord has said to us, “I am the vine and you are the branches.” The reason that we wear green on Pentecost, and not red for the fire, is because it is the feast of life. And we understand that you can take a vine and you can cut it off from its plant and for a while it will appear to have the signs of life as this tree out front has the signs of life, but if its roots are not in the ground, if the nourishment of the sap is not running through the veins of that plant, it will eventually shrivel and die and will not bring forth fruit.

On the iconostas, behind the roses are branches of a plum tree and they remain green, and they probably will for a few days. Those are branches that grow downward, and those are the ones that I cut off, the ones that are growing downward. But that plum tree was destined from the time it was planted never to bear fruit. Why? It was not in the plum tree to bear fruit, it was raised, it was bred by someone to have flowers, to appear to be filled with the grace of new life, but it is incapable of transmitting new life. And for that reason, that plum tree will never bear plums. I like the tree, Matushka likes the flowers, and every time I look at it, it makes me angry that it’s not going to grow plums. And there are some people who outwardly appear to be filled with life, with spiritual life. They know how to pose it, they know how to go through the motions, but they are not allowing God’s grace to transmit itself through them to enrich and save and glorify others. And so, they are like that tree that Jesus saw, remember the fig tree on the way to Jerusalem that became an icon of Jerusalem itself? He drew near and He willed to find figs on it and there were none and He said, “Let no figs grow on you, no, not forever.” And when they returned from Jerusalem the fig tree had dried up and died.

No, our life in Christ is not, because, as some of our Pentecostal friends say, “The Spirit fills me and I am a Spirit-filled person;” it is because the Spirit fills the Body of Christ and I am in the Body of Christ. If you cut your finger off, the Holy Spirit cannot make that finger continue to live because it’s cut off from the body in which life resides. And if we are cut off from the body of Christ, even though we may have that residual life in us, the sap may be in the branches, it will dry up, it will desiccate, it will not bring forth fruit. This is the Father’s will, He says, “that ye abide in me and I in you.” So, He said, “It is my Father’s will that you should bear much fruit.”

And as I thought about this tree that we’re going to cut down, I thought about another tree – one right out here. In 1988, that tree was visibly falling apart, it had been stunted by lightning some time in the 20s; it had been struck by lightning and blasted. But it continued to live, and we thought “We’d better cut it down.” And the men went out and they took their saws and they started to cut - like men like to do with chain saws. They started to cut away, and what did we find but that in the bosom of that blasted tree was a tree that had grown up. That it had sheltered and nurtured new life from its own roots within its dying body. You can see that tree out there, and you can see the icon of the mother of God where every morning some of our women in the neighborhood came and said their prayers. And you can see the cavity where its mother filled in and supported it as it grew up. Someday that will have to be cut down, because it’s a fallen world, unless the Lord comes quickly. But I call it the Resurrection Tree because to me it represents our community here which many people thought was blasted, was dying, was destined to someday pretty soon to have some forlorn priest sing, “vetch nay ya pam yat” one more time and then shut up the doors. And yet it has grown up from its roots. Oh you may say, “We don’t have a thousand people here,” and that’s true. But we have sent almost everyone who was here 20, 30 years ago to the kingdom of heaven to await the resurrection, dying with Christ’s body and blood in their bodies, renewed and confessed and anointed and ready to enter into eternal life. And so our community is not to be numbered by how righteous, holy, pious, godly we appear to be now, but by how much life has gone on before us, which is the promise of what we are to become. For like the tree that begins as a twig and then grows up into a sapling and then into a young tree and then into a mature tree, we are just as much alive in Christ when we are those little seedlings, we are just as much trees filled with his life as we are when we’re sapling and when we are young trees and when we are full grown trees. Let us then accept the spirit of God, poured out on us not in perceptible tongues of fire, but in the uncreated light descending upon us and enlightening our hearts, and let us hear the Lord say to us “It is the Father’s good pleasure that you should bear much fruit. Abide in me and I in you as I abide in the Father and the Father in Me”.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirt, Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

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