God Will Not Forget

Hebrews 6-10

“God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue to help them.” (Hebrews 6:10)

Over 40 years ago I memorized this verse of Holy Scripture. It remains one of my favorite verses and one that I return to often as a reminder to myself and the people I have the privilege to serve. When we help others, we are doing something that God will remember about us.

There is an amazing story about a man named Peter who lived in the 6th century. He was the chief tax-collector for all of Africa under the Emperor Justinian. This was a position of power and Peter was a very wealthy man. He was also known as a very cruel, harsh, and selfish man. He was a heartless man who cared nothing for the poor and needy. He was used to walking by beggars without giving them notice, but one day a particular beggar kept groveling at his feet which annoyed Peter greatly. He was carrying some bread and in his anger, he threw a small loaf of bread at the beggar. When the beggar grabbed the bread, Peter went his way.

A few days later, Peter had a dream that he had died. He watched as the demons placed all his evil deeds on one side of a scale weighing it down completely. A question was asked: “Is there anything to put on the other side of the scale for Peter?” The angels looked at each other and finally one of them spoke up: “He did throw this small loaf of bread at a beggar, but it was in anger.” The bread was put on the other side of the scale and immediately the scale was balanced.

Peter awoke from the dream, pondering what he had just witnessed. He thought that if one small loaf could have that much impact, what would happen if he did more. At that moment, he repented of his sinful way of life and began to give freely to those in need. His life became one of alms-giving. He is recognized as a Saint of our Faith and a part of the “Great Cloud of Witnesses” that pray for us.

“God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue to help them.”

Someone might ask the question: “Well, who are His people that I might help them?” If you recall, Jesus was once asked a similar question by someone wanting to justify himself: “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus’ answer is what we call the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

In the midst of this pandemic that we find ourselves in, there are countless opportunities to “help His people.” The people of your parish may need help or at least of caring phone call; your neighbors may need toilet paper (smile) or something more; the local food banks still need food to give those in need; the shelters and missions of your area still need clothing and financial help…and the list can go on and on. When we realize that “His people” are the human beings made in the image and likeness of God…that is everyone (no matter how tarnished that image and likeness might appear to us).

May the example and the prayers of St. Peter the Tax-Collector open our eyes to the needs around us each day.

 

Walking with the Wise

Article - Wise Counsel

“He who walks with wise men becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” (Proverbs 13:20)

This morning the Governor’s order for those of us in Colorado to stay at home went into effect. Since we can’t be physically walking with wise people or fools, what does Proverbs 13:20 have to do with us right now? Even in our homes we are continually making decisions on who we will be hanging out with…on television, in our readings, phone calls, etc. So with that in mind, let’s consider this proverb and how it might speak to us.

This proverb is illustrated really well by a story in the Old Testament (1 Kings 12-14) about the son of King Solomon.  His name was Rehoboam.  When he inherited the kingdom from his father, he had it made.  He was King over a rich and prosperous nation.  He only had one decision to make as he began his reign.  The people came to him asking how he would rule them.  They asked him to not treat them harshly but to be kind to them and, if he would be, they would serve him well. He told them to come back in three days and he would give them an answer.  First he sought the advice of the elders (the wise ones).  They told him that if he would be kind to the people, they would always be his servants.  (Jesus said something similar: “If you want to be great in God’s Kingdom, learn to be the servant of all!”)  Rehoboam then went to his “friends” (the fools), seeking their advice.  They told him to place heavy burdens on them and to be cruel to the people…“scourge them with scorpions”…rule them with an iron fist.  Rehoboam decided to walk with his “friends” and followed their advice.  The result was a total disaster.  The people rose up in rebellion and the kingdom was divided in two, Judah and Israel…with continual war between the two sides.  Rehoboam ended up losing everything of true value and had no peace in his life.

In our lives, we too have many decisions to make that will greatly impact our lives and the lives of others.  Who do we call our “friends” and who do we go to for advice?  Ultimately, there are only two kinds of advice…”godly” or “ungodly”.  The advice will either lead you on the right path or down the wrong road (sometimes it seems like the right path is a backpacking trail going up a mountain and the wrong direction seems like a freeway that is so easy to travel on!).

When you are in need of advice, bear in mind that everyone will have some for you! Everyone else can tell you how you should live and what you should do.  The real key is who is that someone else.

Many people really want to change their lives for the better, but for some reason they can’t seem to make much progress.  There are many issues involved with this, but one big factor is the people that are influencing their lives the most.  It is important to realize that usually people become like the “friends” they are around the most.  If someone is around many positive people, they will likely be more positive (of course the opposite is also true).  If someone wants to become a better person, they would do well to look for “friends” who will challenge them to improve spiritually, morally, and in every area of life (or at the least, not be influencing them the other direction!).  Keep in mind these “friends” include such things as television, books, phone calls, etc.

Perhaps we could restate Proverbs 13:20 in even simpler terms: “You can’t soar with the eagles if you’re walking with the turkeys!”  Being confined to our homes does not mean that we should not be seeking to be with the wise. Take time each day to study the daily readings from Holy Scripture and/or pick a Book of the Bible to study. Also, take time to read books that will inspire your spiritual life. Listen to positive programs such as podcasts on AncientFaith.com.

There on plenty of good movies to watch that won’t have us walking with “turkeys (fools). One that we watch every Great Lent is “The Island” – I get more out of that each year. It does have English subtitles, but in a couple of minutes you forget they are even there. You can find it many places for free.

So let’s make the most of this time of being restricted to our homes. May the God of all wisdom guide us to make wise decisions in our lives.

 

“Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid.”

Daily Devotion for March 19, 2020

Facebook storm coming

Isaiah 11:16-12:2

 “…As it was for Israel in the day that they came up from the land of Egypt…Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense; He has become my salvation.”

Our daily reading today in Isaiah reminds us of the deliverance of the children of God when they were in bondage in Egypt. You can read the entire account beginning in Exodus 1. The people were suffering greatly and crying out to God for help. In Exodus 3, Moses encounters God in the Burning Bush and the Lord speaks these words to him:

“I have indeed seen the misery of my people…I have heard them crying out…and I am concerned about their suffering…So I have come down to rescue them…And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me…” (Exodus 3:7-9)

The Lord delivers His people from their enemy and after they had crossed the Red Sea and were safe, they sang what is called the Song of Moses (Exodus 15). The Holy Prophet Isaiah quotes this verse from that song of praise to the Lord for His deliverance:

“Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense; He has become my salvation.” (This verse is found in both Exodus 15:2 and in Isaiah 12:2)

My dear brothers and sisters, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). As He delivered His children from their enemy back in Egypt, He will deliver us from this invisible enemy we face today. He knows what is happening and He hears our prayers. Truly our prayers have reached Him. How and when He will deliver us remains to be seen, but we can be assured of His faithfulness to us.

The gates of hell cannot prevail against His Church (Matthew 16:18) and we can be confident that this coronavirus will not prevail against it either.  May we not be gripped with fear and anxiety as we hear the daily news from around the world, but rather, may our hearts be flooded with the love and faithfulness of our Lord for us. Please take time right now to meditate on that key verse from today’s reading and let His peace flow into your heart:

“Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense; He has become my salvation.”

May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus our Lord…Fr. Stephen 

The Fruit of Obedience

Fruit of Obedience

I awakened this morning with an amazing peace of soul. This seemed incredible to comprehend as we continue to hear of the spread of the Coronavirus, my concerns for the well-being of all the people of our parish, and the questions about our continued services which have been weighing on my mind lately. After my prayer time this morning and as I read the daily readings, I pondered how I could have such peace today.

One thought came to me and continues to be in my mind as I write this: There is peace in obedience. I am so often disobedient to our Lord so this peace is a very nice experience. So what is this obedience right now? As a parish, we have endeavored to do our best to be in obedience to the Archbishop’s directions and to our own Metropolitan’s guidance. It really doesn’t matter what any other church or jurisdiction of Orthodoxy is doing; we have our “orders” so to speak. Our personal opinion on any of the directives we have been given is truly irrelevant.

A couple of Sundays ago, I shared in my homily the story of St. John the Dwarf. Here’s a brief summary of that story:

One day, the abbot of his monastery gave St. John a dried up stick and told him to water it every day until he was told to stop. He could have questioned the ridiculousness of such a task, even calling it a stupid directive. Instead, he responded: “May it be blessed.” He began to water that dry stick daily, which was not an easy task since he lived in the Egyptian desert and had to hike to the river for water each day. Day flowed into weeks; weeks flowed into months…and so on. There was no sign of complaining, questioning, or arguing about why or what he was doing. He simply obeyed. This gets even more profound when you consider that he did this for three years…THREE YEARS. Wow, I have trouble obeying things for three minutes. At the end of those three years, the dry stick suddenly budded and leaves appeared. It eventually bore fruit. The abbot took the fruit and held it up to all the brethren saying: “This, my brothers, is the fruit of obedience!”

The Holy Prophet Samuel told us: “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice.” (1 Samuel 15:22). King Saul had done what he thought was right in offering sacrifices to God, but he had disobeyed Samuel. Considering the place of the offering of sacrifices in the Old Testament, Samuel holds obedience to be of the greatest importance.

The Holy Prophet Zechariah, in chapter 7 of the book of Zechariah, proclaims to us that obedience is greater than fasting! That should truly strike home as we Orthodox around the world are fasting right now during Lent.

Social media is filled right now with comments from Orthodox Christians condemning the decisions of other jurisdictions and bishops. One thing I learned long ago (the school of hard knocks), we can never be the “bishop’s” bishop. Being judgmental in this way is simply not the path of Orthodoxy. Every Orthodox Christian should endeavor to be obedient to their bishop and not worry about what others are doing in the midst of this pandemic we find ourselves in. Our bishops have an incredible task before them in considering the safety and well-being of their flocks within the practice of our Orthodox Faith. I can’t even imagine the spiritual warfare they encounter as they wrestle with these decisions. When we receive their decisions, may we also say:

“May it be blessed.”