The Journey Begins

Journey Begins

For Orthodox Christians around the world, a journey has begun today. It is a spiritual journey that will eventually lead us all the way to the empty tomb of Jesus Christ. For the next 6 weeks we will journey through Great Lent and then we will experience Holy Week and the incredible Feast of Feasts: the Glorious Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. A great opportunity is before us; it is not like any other opportunity. May we take serious our Faith and draw closer to our Lord than we have ever been. Let us begin our journey today.

Proverbs 1:1-20

You have probably seen some of the multitude of articles and websites discussing how much we need to work our brains to keep us thinking and make us smarter.  There are even websites that promise to increase your brain power for a small monthly fee.  Perhaps you do daily crossword puzzles or Sudoku to help you think more intelligently.  All of these things are good, but not of the greatest importance.  We all know people that may be extremely intelligent, but may not be very wise in how they live their lives.  Simply put, having intelligence does not equal being wise.

On this first day of Great Lent, there is a challenge set before us to exercise our brain in such a way as to increase our wisdom (intelligence also comes with wisdom…but not necessarily the other way around).  In the opening of Proverbs 1, we are told why King Solomon wrote the Book of Proverbs:  “To know wisdom…”  In fact he gives us a wonderful list of things that could be ours if we take time to study this book.  “A wise man will hear and increase learning and a man of understanding will attain wise counsel.” 

The Scriptures tell us that King Solomon so pleased God at the beginning of his reign, that God said:  “Ask me for whatever you want me to give you.”  He could have asked for riches or long life, but instead he asked God for wisdom and discernment.  God responded:  “Because you have asked this thing, and have not asked long life for yourself, nor have asked riches for yourself, nor have asked the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern justice, behold, I have done according to your words; see, I have given you a wise and understanding heart, so that there has not been anyone like you before you, nor shall any like you arise after you.”  (You can read that whole story in 1 Kings 3 or in the Orthodox Study Bible on page 392).

We can seek intelligence through puzzles, games, and various website brain exercises. Or during this year’s Lenten journey, we could seek wisdom through our study of the Book of Proverbs.  Each day, we can do our daily readings and find wisdom on how to live our lives.  This would be a most excellent way to exercise our brains!  How about setting aside the times spent doing a puzzle or Sudoku, and spend that time with our daily readings? What do we have to lose? Or rather, what do we have to gain?

Proverbs 1:1-20

The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel:

To know wisdom and instruction, to perceive the words of understanding,
To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, judgment, and equity;
To give prudence to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion—
A wise man will hear and increase learning, and a man of understanding will attain wise counsel,
To understand a proverb and an enigma, the words of the wise and their riddles.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

My son, hear the instruction of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother;
For they will be a graceful ornament on your head, and chains about your neck.

10 My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent.
11 If they say, “Come with us, let us lie in wait to shed blood; let us lurk secretly for the innocent without cause;
12 Let us swallow them alive like Sheol, and whole, like those who go down to the Pit;
13 We shall find all kinds of precious possessions, we shall fill our houses with spoil;
14 Cast in your lot among us, let us all have one purse”—
15 My son, do not walk in the way with them, keep your foot from their path;
16 For their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed blood.
17 Surely, in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird;
18 But they lie in wait for their own blood, they lurk secretly for their own lives.
19 So are the ways of everyone who is greedy for gain; it takes away the life of its owners.

20 Wisdom calls aloud outside; she raises her voice in the open squares.

The Journey Toward Great Lent: The Sheep & the Goats from Matthew 25:31-46

Sunday of the Prodigal Son 2019

Today, Eastern Orthodox Christians around the entire world all read the same Gospel reading concerning the Great Judgment from Matthew 25:31-46.  Each year we Orthodox come face to face with this Gospel passage, whether we want to or not.  It concerns the sheep and the goats; even more importantly it concerns who will inherit the Kingdom of God and who will not.  Both the sheep and the goats call Jesus “Lord”…the difference between the two is found in putting the love of God into action.

In our daily readings we often read about the 2nd Coming of the Lord.  The Great Judgment really puts this in the right perspective.  It is irrelevant for any of us to be trying to figure out when the Lord will return.  It really doesn’t matter if it is today or a thousand years from now.  What is really important in this whole matter is that each of us will appear before His Judgment Seat…whether He returns in our lifetime or if our hearts simply stop beating, we will be there…either as sheep or as goats…we will be there.

In the past, our Church took up the challenge of meeting each of those things the Lord says to the sheep in praise of them.  “I was hungry…thirsty…a stranger… naked…sick…in prison…and you met my needs!”  I am so very proud of the members of our Church as they have continually met the needs of these different concerns. Sometimes we met them locally and sometimes in a far off distant place.  God is Love and this is that love touching precious souls through us. This Great Lent we can again be challenged by this same Gospel passage in perhaps a slightly different way.

All of those things that Jesus expects us to be doing have as their foundation our Faith.  It is presupposed that we are already doing the things He has taught us to do:  Attending Church regularly; Praying regularly; Reading our Bibles regularly; Receiving Holy Communion regularly; Confessing our sins regularly; Fasting when it is time to fast…and the other things that are foundational to our Faith.  All of these things build us up spiritually so that we are better equipped to put our Faith into action.  This is what we should hear in this Gospel reading:  We will all be called to give an accounting of how we put the love of God (our Faith) into action.   The sheep and the goats both called Jesus “Lord” but only the sheep had put love of God (their Faith) into action.

In the parable of the Talents, one man was condemned because he simply hid his talent in the ground…he didn’t even try…no attempt was made to increase his talent.  For doing nothing, his talent was taken away.  Our Church is our talent…a gift given to us.  We must try our best to make it grow.   Putting our Faith into action is both an individual and a corporate matter.  It is something we as a Church must take seriously.  Our Church is a wonderful gift from God and we will be held accountable for what we did with that gift.

Jesus planted His Church on this earth so that every person…from every nation…from every walk of life would have an opportunity to be a part of it and to be a part of His eternal Kingdom.  (“For God so loved the world!”) In our local Church, we may not be held accountable for every nation, every people, or for the whole world.  BUT, we may well be held responsible for our little part of this world…the world that we live in each day.  We are responsible for what we do with the gift of our Church in our “world” … the area in which we are located.  Consider with me for a moment those words of Jesus spoken to the sheep and the goats at the Great Judgment and let’s apply them to the people of our “world”:

“I was hungry and you gave me something to eat.”  Many of the people around us have a spiritual hunger and they are looking for something that will truly feed their souls.  Jesus said: ”I am the bread of life.  He who comes to me will never go hungry” (John 6:35).  Has our Church offered the people of our “world” the Bread of Life?

“I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.”  Like the woman at the well, many people would love to drink the water of Christ:  “Whoever drinks the water I give him, will never thirst.  Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14).  Is our Church offering this “water” to those around us?

“I was a stranger and you invited me in.”  Do the people of our “world” even know that our Church exists…are they strangers who are unaware of our existence?  What can our Church do to truly invite them in?

“I was naked and you clothed me.”  Much like Adam and Eve (Genesis 3), many people have had their eyes opened and realize they are spiritually naked.  These people are being clothed with anything and everything this world has to offer.  The Church can offer them the greatest clothing of all:  “All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:27).  What is our Church doing to clothe the naked of our “world”.

“I was sick and you took care of me.”  When Jesus was asked why He was hanging around with sinners, He said:  “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick…for I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mt. 9:12-13).  There are so many people in our “world” that are sick with sin and our Church has the very medicine that will make them well.  The Church has always been and continues to be a hospital. What has our Church done to make this medicine available to others?

“I was in prison and you visited me.”  It has been said that the hardest prison to get out of is the one without bars.  So many people around us are living in their own personal “prison” each and every day…truly a living hell.   The psalmist knew this when he wrote:  “Bring my soul out of prison, that I might praise Thy Name…O Lord forever more”  (Psalm 141:8; 142:7).  Jesus explained how one could be set free from this prison:  “The Truth will set you free…everyone who sins is a slave to sin…if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:31-36).  What is our Church doing to set the captives of our “world” free?

It is only God who can truly help the people of this world.  But as in all things, we are called to work in cooperation with God (synergy).  We are called to do our best in bringing the love of God Who is the Truth to our “world”.  We are called to invite the people of our “world” to come and see…and experience…the love of God found in the True Faith.  We are simply called to make the attempt…to try.  It is the Holy Spirit who will touch the hearts and minds of people through our loving efforts.  Please pray with me throughout this Great Lent that God would give us wisdom to know what we can do in our “world” …using the technology and all the resources available to us…may we take this step of faith and see what God does with it.

May God help us to be His instruments of love in our world.