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Sermon given by Father James (Bohlman)

On Sunday August 27th, 2017

At St. Mary Magdalene Church

Rincon, GA

(and for the missions in Helena, GA & Big Island, HI)

 

1 Cor. 15: 1-11

Matt. 19: 16-26

 

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

 

Glory to Jesus Christ!

 

One day at school, for the very first time in her life Little Olga heard the story of "Snow White." She could hardly wait to get home from nursery school to tell her mother. Slamming the backdoor open and charging into the kitchen, with wide-eyed excitement Little Olga retold the fairy tale to her mother Lucinda, just in case she also had never heard it. After breathlessly relating how Prince Charming had arrived on his beautiful white horse and kissed Snow White back to life, Little Olga asked loudly: “And do you know what happened then?" Lucinda replied, "Yes, Sweety, they lived happily ever after. Frowning, Little Olga replied, "No… they got married."

 

Too often things refuse to turn out the way that we want them to! This morning’s Gospel reading is about what we do when life, or Christ, gives us some bad news about ourselves. In presenting this scene to us this morning St. Matthew is suggesting that we, just like this morning’s young man, might not be as good as we presume ourselves to be. And yet the good news is that we can change. The bad news about that is that we have to change no matter how we feel about it!

 

What exactly constitutes being “good” is precisely at the heart of this morning’s Gospel reading in which a rich young man approached Jesus and asked, “What good thing must I do that I may have eternal life?” Jesus responded by telling him to keep the commandments, to which response the young man replied, “All these things I have kept from my youth.” Like this morning’s rich young man we too sometimes presume that we are good enough. But if we are such morally good people… then why do we still enjoy a good gossip? Why do we cheat when no one is looking? Why are we jealous of someone else’s sudden good fortune? Let us ask ourselves: Are we, here this morning, any better this morning than we were when we heard this Gospel passage last year? Or, a year later, are we still automatically presuming that we are “not so bad”? Do we begin our day by asking ourselves, “How can I be better today? What do I still lack?” Or do we presume that because we were not so bad yesterday that we are good enough today? Such a mindset sees no reason to change or to become better.

 

After graduating from the Seminary a newly ordained young Priest was assigned to Pastor a country church. After arriving, he thought it would be a good idea to get to know the area and his neighbors, so he set off on an all-Saturday walk around the local farms. He came upon a farmer busily working in his field and, not sure that the man was a Christian, with all the pomposity that he could muster the young Priest asked “Are you laboring in the vineyard of the Lord, my good man?"  Not even looking up from his work the farmer replied, “This ain’t no vineyard you fool! These are soybeans, not grapes."  Realizing that he’d asked the question in the wrong way, the young Priest said, "You don’t understand. What I’m asking is: Are you a Christian?"  Again, with the same dismissive disinterest the farmer replied, "Nope the name is Jones. The Christians live next farm over.” Undaunted, the determined young preacher said, “What I’m asking is, are you lost?"  Looking up, the farmer frowned as if he couldn’t believe his ears and replied, "Nope! Lived here all my life." Now that the young Priest could see he had the farmer’s attention he asked, "Are you prepared for the Resurrection?" To the Priest’s surprise the farmer seemed genuinely interested and replied, "When’s it gonna be?"  The young Priest smiled and replied, "Well, it could be today, tomorrow, or the next day!"  Taking a handkerchief from his back pocket and wiping his brow, the farmer remarked in a monotone voice, "Well, I’m terrible busy with harvest right now, so I’d appreciate it if you didn’t mention it to the wife. She don’t get out much and if she hears about it she’ll want us to go all three days!"

 

This morning’s question of “What do I still lack?” turns out to be a profound one. In our case, it is not that we think that we are perfect; rather, the problem is that we think we’re not so bad: We don’t rape, we don’t shoplift from Walmart, we haven’t mugged any old ladies this past week. The problem is that with the standard of “I’m not so bad”, it becomes impossible for us to perceive that we are, really, “not so good”. The fact is that even though we may not have killed anyone last week chances are good that we did not hesitate to participate in killing someone else’s reputation by repeating rumors about them. Jesus Christ makes clear that the origin of our sins and of our sinning is rooted within the deep orientation of our heart.

 

When Fred’s next-door neighbor Leroy became a widower he sort of disconnected from everything and pulled into himself. One day while shopping at the Farmer’s Market he saw, and inexplicably fell violently in love with, the ancient widow Alvida Jones. After months of looking at her from afar at the Farmer’s Market, Leroy finally concluded that he loved her so much that he wanted to ask her to marry him. Being really nervous about the whole thing Leroy decided to call her and ask her over the phone. When she picked up she said in her sweet voice, “Hello?” Just hearing her voice speaking to him, Leroy almost swooned, but summoning up his courage he asked, "Is this the Widow Jones?"  Again sweetly, she answered, “Why, yes, it is. But if this call is about magazine subscriptions, I have enough already, thank you.” Before she could hang up Leroy blurted out, “No, it’s not about that. Could I ask you a question widow Jones?” Again, in that disorientingly sweet voice she replied, “Why yes dear, go ahead.” Leroy thought: She called me dear! Quickly gathering his senses he asked, “Widow Jones, would you marry me?"  Without even a pause the Widow replied, "Yes… but who is this?"

 

We’re always so sure that we’ve got the whole picture, aren’t we? We are sure that we see ourselves as we really are, and that in thinking that we are “not so bad” that there is really no urgent need for us to become better. So then what do we do when Christ bursts our bubble of self-contentment this morning by informing us that there is still something lacking from our supposed goodness, that what we lack is a heart that is convinced that there is a real and subtle sinfulness that lays hidden deep within our heart, a sinfulness that needs to be searched for and corrected; after all, if I am “not so bad” then what’s the problem?!

 

We have much to learn from recovering alcoholics who, in order to be “recovering”, have had to accept, at some point, that no matter how many drinks they never drink again, they are, and will always be, an alcoholic. We need to obtain the mindset that convinces us that no matter what sins we do not currently commit, we are basically a sinner because our heart is chronically attracted to the enticing glitter of sin. Being convinced, however, that we might still be capable of sin can engender within us an orientation which requires of us the vigilance of our ongoing repentance. Let us not presume that we are not like this morning’s rich young man just because we are not rich. It has been rightly said that there are none so blind as those who are self-satisfied. This week, each morning before we get out of bed, let us ask ourselves what we still lack, and then spend the rest of the day trying to find out.

 

 

Glory to Jesus Christ!

 


Sermon given by Father James (Bohlman

On the feast of the Dormition, 2017

At St. Mary Magdalene Church

Rincon, GA

(and for the missions in Helena, GA & Big Island, HI)

 

Phil. 2: 5-11

Luke 10: 38-42; 11: 27-28

 

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

 

Glory to Jesus Christ!

 

A new soldier was on sentry duty at the main gate for the first time. His orders were clear: No car is permitted to enter through the gate unless it had a special sticker on the windshield. Later that evening a big Army car rolled up to the gate; in the back of the car was an important General. But the car lacked the requisite sticker on the window.

 

“Halt!” commanded the sentry, “Who goes there?” “General Brandon,” came back the reply. The sentry declared, “I cannot let you go through the gate, you have no sticker on the windshield.” Annoyed, the General instructed the driver, “Drive on through.” The sentry stepped in front of the car, preventing it from going forward, saying, “Halt! I have orders to shoot if you try to get in without the sticker.” Again, the General instructed the driver, “Drive on!” Confused, the sentry stepped up to the General’s open window and said, “General, I’m new at this. Do I shoot you or the driver?”

 

Now that’s obedience! And obedience is at the heart of the Theotokos’ life, no matter what emotions she was undergoing. There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who wake up in the morning and say, "Good morning, Lord," and those who wake up in the morning and say, "Good Lord, it's morning." The attitude with which we face situations makes all the difference in the world, especially when we are facing situations that frighten us. When we are in a storm of pain and distress, we need to call to mind, as did the Theotokos, that God is even there in the distress, just as he is in the happiness and the blessings. This realization is one that the Theotokos, whose Falling Asleep we commemorate today, knew and lived throughout her whole life.

The feast of the Dormition probably dates from the late fifth century, although it may be even earlier. It was always celebrated in Jerusalem on the same date as now. In Egypt it was celebrated on January 18. Later it spread to other places, some choosing August 15 and some January 18. In the 7th century, however, the Byzantine Emperor Maurice decreed that the Dormition was to be celebrated everywhere on August 15, Later the Pope adopted the same date for the feast in the West, and it has been celebrated on that date in both East and West ever since.

In the West the feast is called the Assumption, for both Roman Catholics and Orthodox believe that Mary was assumed bodily into heaven. There is, of course, no mention of this in the New Testament; in fact, there is very little mention of the Mother of God in the New Testament. The story comes from apocryphal sources. We believe it, however, because it accords with the most ancient experience of the Church.

The Old Testament tells us that Enoch and Elijah were assumed bodily into heaven. We believe therefore that Mary, who is without personal sin and was chosen because of her goodness to be the Mother of God, must at least have been assumed, without corruption, into heaven. Indeed, Tradition states that when her tomb was opened so that the Apostle Thomas… who was, once again, late to the scene… could venerate her body, they found the tomb empty.

However, although Orthodox Christians believe that the Theotokos was assumed, bodily, into heaven, this belief has not been made into a doctrine of the Church, as it has in the Roman Catholic Church. The Orthodox Church has generally avoided formulating doctrines about the Mother of God. We are required to believe only that she is the virgin mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God, both God and man. But the story of Mary's assumption into heaven does indeed accord with the Church's experience, and is therefore believed by Orthodox Christians.

A judge grew tired of having the same town drunk appear before him. When the drunk was, yet again, hauled before the judge, the judge glared down at the man from high up on his bench, and thundered, “It is the sentence of this court that you be taken from here to a place of execution and there be hanged by the neck until dead!” The drunk promptly fainted. The judge then said, “Strike that from the record; I’ve just always wanted to say that.”

What do we do when we panic? The drunk fainted, but what about us? In the midst of our terrible emotions, we sometimes act as if we don’t trust God: We don’t pray, we stop coming to church, we dismiss fasting as irrelevant. In short, we try to solve the pain by ourselves, assuming that God cannot be found within our difficulties. Not so, the Mother of God. Her whole life is an example of turning to God, and of trusting in God, of trusting that what looks like the end, will not be the end with God. Can the same be said of us?



Glory to Jesus Christ!

 


Sermon given by Father James (Bohlman)

On Sunday August 6th, 2017

At St. Mary Magdalene Church

Rincon, GA

(and for the missions in Helena, GA & Big Island, HI)

 

2 Peter 1: 10-19

Matt. 17: 1-9

 

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

 

Glory to Jesus Christ!

 

Fred and Lucinda were travelling from Memphis to Nashville. The trip was progressing along fine until they began having car trouble. Pulling into the nearest gas station the mechanic struck up a conversation with Lucinda and asked, "Where are you headed?" Lucinda replied, "Nashville." Fred, who was extremely hard of hearing, impatiently enquired, "What did he say? What did he say?" Lucinda replied, "He asked where we were going and I told him, Nashville." Then the mechanic enquired, "Where are you coming from?" Lucinda said, "Memphis." Again, Fred demanded, "What did he say? What did he say?" Lucinda patiently replied, "He asked where we were from and I told him Memphis." The mechanic sighed, "Memphis. I once knew an old lady from Memphis who was the meanest, rudest, ugliest old bag that there ever was. She’s the reason I moved here." In a state of agitation, Fred demanded, "What did he say?" Lucinda looked at Fred and replied, "He said he thinks he knows your sister."

 

This morning’s Gospel passage is all about the Disciples’ astonishment when they suddenly realized that they had not really fully known who Jesus was.



Already in the fourth century The Transfiguration, counted by the Church as one of the “Twelve Great Feasts,” had an important place in the Church calendar. The origins of this feast go back to the first centuries of the young Christian church. Although the event celebrated in the Feast occurred in the month of February, forty days before the Crucifixion, very early the Feast was transferred to August because its full glory and joy could not be fittingly celebrated amid the sorrow and repentance of Great Lent. The sixth day of August was chosen since it is forty days before the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, when Christ’s Passion is again remembered.

 

In this morning’s Epistle reading St. Peter takes great pains to remind us that the Christian faith is based upon historical facts and not upon fairy tales or things speculative. Peter urges us to remember that the faith is based upon eyewitness accounts:

We did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father the honor and glory when such a voice came to him from the excellent glory: ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’. And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with him on the holy mountain.”

 

St. Matthew was one of those eyewitnesses, and in this morning’s Gospel reading he tells us: “Jesus took Peter, James and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves…Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here.’…While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear him!’”

 

The transfiguration of Jesus’ face and clothing was not a change into something new, but rather an uncovering of who he really is: the glory of God revealed in the Son.

 

As we grow in life many people teach us many things, beginning with our primary teacher, our mother. Mothers teach us about religion: "You’d better pray that grape juice will come out of that carpet." They teach us about logic: "Because I said so, that’s why." They teach us about irony: "Keep laughing and I’ll give you something to cry about." They teach us about stamina: “You’ll sit there ’til all that spinach is finished." They teach us about weather: "It looks as if a tornado swept through your room!" They teach us to question ourselves: “WHO do you think you ARE?!”

 

About one week before the Transfiguration Jesus had asked His apostles the question: "Who do people say that I am?" They replied, "Some think that you are Elijah or Jeremiah or one of the other prophets. Some even think that you might be John the Baptist come back from the dead." Then Jesus asked them, "But what about you? Who do you say that I am?"

 

Aside from the proper theological answers that we all know we should give to this question… do we, really, know who Jesus is?

 

The Greek word translated as "transfiguration" is the word "metamor-phothe," from which we get "metamorphosis." As any student of biology knows, a "metamorphosis" is a transformation, a complete change of appearance and form, such as when a caterpillar turns into a butterfly. In regard to Christ’s transfiguration, it should be noted that this exterior revelation of his interior reality occurred while Jesus Christ was in the midst of prayer.

What Christ’s transfiguration on Mount tabor shows us is that prayer changes us, allowing God’s image within us to shine forth. It therefore becomes necessary that our prayer-life be connected to all of the various and mundane aspects of our life; that we throw our prayer, like a handful of yeast, into that dough which is our daily life.

Martin Niemoller has written: “In Germany, they first came for the Communists and I did not speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me… and by that time, there was no one left to speak up for me.”

When there is no one left to help us… is that the only time we pray? If we couple our complicated daily lives with prayer then our work is transformed and we are transfigured. Aside from what this does for us individually, there is also a communal aspect to the transfiguration to which we are all called. As members of Christ's Body we are called to be an extension into our time of Christ's incarnate presence. In our times and our culture, we are called to be the presence of the living God in this world. This occurs when we are gradually transformed, more and more, into the likeness of God Himself.

It is a pious Orthodox custom to offer fruits to be blessed on this feast. This offering of thanksgiving to God reveals to us something important…and that is that just as fruits ripen and are transformed by the summer sun, so too man is ripened and transfigured through prayer. This afternoon, let us ask ourselves: Does this feast, one year later, find me a bit riper spiritually? And if not… then why not?

 

 

Glory to Jesus Christ!

 

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