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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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