Thursday, November 27, 2008

The 20th Sunday of Pentecost

In the name of Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Glory to Jesus Christ!
Glory Forever!

I want you to think about this man. We hear about him three times a year. It is because there are so many lessons in this story that we hear it over and over again. He was a man who had been possessed by a demon because he lived in the land of the Gadarenes. These were Syro-Greek, that is Greek Syrian pagans. They worshiped idols and they raised pigs. And when Jesus, at the man’s behest, delivered him from the demons, cast the demons out and they ran down into the sea and drowned themselves, having possessed the pigs, then some things happened almost instantly. First, the people of the town came and they asked Jesus to go away. You see, they were pig farmers and they’d rather have their demons and their pigs, than not have their demons and not have their pigs. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with pigs. We know that for us, that we can eat all manner of meat. But for them, this was their business and they would rather have their pigs, their swine’s flesh with the devils than to have the devil take it away and not have this particular source of food and of income.

The man out of whom Jesus had cast the demons… Think about it. This man was not in hell, he was worse than that: hell had been in him. Not just one demon, a legion of demons, a number of demons, were abiding in him. He was filled with terror all the time. Now this man knew what had happened. Suddenly, for the first time in a long time he had become a human being again and not just a house for the minions of hell. So he asked Jesus if he could go with him. And Jesus says, “No. You stay here and tell the people what has happened.” Now when Jesus went to Samaria and spoke to the Samaritan woman, the Samaritans having been sort of half Israelites, they immediately began to convert. But these pagans… They didn’t begin to convert when they saw this man delivered from the devil. Rather, they just wanted Jesus to go away. But Jesus left the man as a witness because for now, he was preaching to the Jews. But the time would come when his disciples would go to all those cities of the gentiles and proclaim the gospel. And that man’s job was to be there as a witness. He could say, “Yes. What they’re saying is true. The man they say died and rose from the dead – he came here and drove demons out of me.” How do you think he felt, being the only believer in that whole Decapolis, those ten towns? Very lonely? Well, perhaps, but also very grateful.

Now we Orthodox people are blessed in this country. It looks like every time you turn around, there’s a new church built. I told the Greeks and the Syrians I don’t have to start missions. All I have to do is put my finger down on a map and say, “I think I’m going to start a mission there,” and then they start one and it saves us the money. There are Orthodox churches everywhere now, and so we cannot really be too far from a church where we can’t get to one. We always have a chance to be with Jesus, to be with our brothers and sisters in Christ, to attend the Divine Liturgy. But there are people in the world who are not blessed that way. Father Matthew Olson, a dear friend of mine who was an army chaplain – now he’s a marine chaplain – he’s off in Iraq. He sent me an e-mail.
He said, “Father, what should I do?” You see, I’m old and all these young guys ask me questions. He said, “There’s no other Orthodox person here. I can’t serve the Liturgy by myself.”
And I told him, “Read the typicha in the church, read your pre-communion prayers, take part in the body of Christ in the tabernacle, and receive communion. You don’t have to do it every week, but as often as God makes you feel like you are drawn to do that.
Here’s a priest who can’t celebrate the liturgy because you have to have another Orthodox Christian to say, “Lord, have mercy,” because Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” I want you to pray for Father Matthew. I want you to pray that he, like that demoniac, that man who had the demons cast out of him, will be such a great witness to Christ that a bunch of those marines are going to want to become Orthodox. And then to have at least one person when he wants to stand at God’s alter and celebrate the Divine Liturgy, who can say, “Lord, have mercy,” for him.

But I want you to think about this too: In a real way, although in church you’re surrounded by your fellow believers, in your life, you’re not. The most recent statistics say there are about 2 million Orthodox in this country. I think there’s really 4 million. The problem is, in America, unless you belong to a church and give money, they don’t think you belong to that religion. We have lots of people who think they’re Orthodox, who claim to be, who don’t belong to a church and who certainly don’t give money. But, these people are still believers. But still, you’re pretty much alone in this country with all these millions and millions of people in it. What are you supposed to do? The same thing that Gadarene demoniac did. You’re supposed to tell people what God’s done for you. Not go knock on doors. Gloria’s not got to go out and say, “Let me give you an Orthodox pamphlet.” No, Gloria’s supposed to, when she’s at work and somebody says, “I’ve got a big problem,” tell them what God says about their problem and then tell them how she learned this in her church. And then, maybe, they will begin to long to have Christ and His holy Church as well. That’s another lesson for us.

So, brothers and sisters, what I want you to think about today is, whether you’re surrounded by fellow believers or whether you’re alone – the only Orthodox person in a certain place, in a certain business, in a certain town – you’re not alone, because where you are you’re encompassed by a great cloud of witnesses, by all the Saints and the angels. And that you’re here in this world to transfigure, to save it, to witness to Christ. If the churches were all closed down tomorrow – if we were all like Father Matthew, if it was like Albania where they killed all the priests and shut all the churches under _____, if it were like that, most of us believers would be very saddened. Our hearts would be broken. Yet we have this treasure, richly given to us, pressed down, running over in abundance. Grace and services served in our church, a beautiful temple. And we should use it, we should employ it, we should embrace it. We shouldn’t just set it aside and say, “Well, it’s there if I really think I need it.”

We’ve learned today these things then: We’ve learned that we need to be witnesses to God when we are not surrounded by other living, Orthodox Christians to support us in our witness. We are the means for saving others. We are to pray for those who don’t have these means. People who are isolated, ministering to those dying marines but unable himself to serve the liturgy. To hold up our prayers so that he will have us near him by prayer. And that we should prize what we have: God’s grace and mercy, His mysteries, a temple, the priesthood, and the gift of being able to serve, and love, and know Him, and to know Him through one another.

In the name of Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Glory to Jesus Christ!
Glory Forever!

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