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November 2017

Sermon given by Father James (Bohlman)

On Forgiveness Sunday

February 26th, 2019

At St. Mary Magdalene Church

Rincon, GA

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

 


Rom. 13: 11-14:4

Matt. 6: 14-21

 


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

 


Glory to Jesus Christ!

 


A teacher gave her class of 11 year olds the assignment to get their parents to tell them a story with a moral at the end of it. The next day when the kids came back, one by one they began to tell their stories. Ashley said, "My father is a farmer and we have a lot of egg-laying hens. One time we were taking our eggs to market in a basket on the front seat of the car when we hit a big bump in the road and all the eggs went flying and broke and made a mess." The teacher asked, “And so, what is the Moral of the story?" Ashley replied, "Don't put all of your eggs in one basket!" The teacher said, "Very good." Next little Sarah raised her hand and said, "We are farmers too. But we raise chicks for the meat market. One day we had a dozen eggs, but when they hatched we only got five live chicks, and the Moral of this story is, "Don't count your chickens before they are hatched." The teacher said, "That was a fine story Sarah.” And then, with some trepidation, the teacher asked, “Little Igor, do you have a story to share?" Little Igor replied, "Yes. My dad told me this story about my Auntie Zelda. Auntie Zelda was a flight engineer on a plane in the Gulf War and her plane got shot down. She had to bail out over enemy territory and all she had was a bottle of rum, a machine gun and a machete. She drank the rum on the way down and then she landed right in the middle of 100 enemy troops. She killed seventy of them with the machine gun until she ran out of bullets. Then she killed twenty-five more with the machete until the blade broke. And then she killed the last five with her bare hands." Horrified by this story, the teacher, who had turned white, reluctantly asked, “And what, Little Igor, did your father say was the Moral of this horrible story?" Little Igor replied: "Stay away from Auntie Zelda when she's been drinking."

 


Today is Forgiveness Sunday, and one can only imagine the offenses that Auntie Zelda might have to ask forgiveness for were she with us this morning! Forgiveness Sunday… already! Great Lent is waiting for us right on the other side of this afternoon’s door! Last Sunday, Meatfare Sunday, was the last day that we will partake of meat until Pascha. Today is called Cheesefare Sunday, the last day for the consumption of eggs, milk, butter and cheese. At Vespers today the Great Fast begins. But this Sunday has to do with more than just food which is why this Sunday is also called “Forgiveness Sunday”. As a Priest who hears many confessions I can tell you that it is possible that we sometimes choose to not forgive someone their offense even when we have no idea why we can’t or won’t forgive them! Sometimes, all we know is that it can feel so perversely satisfying to stay mad at someone! Sometimes, though, the offense that we imagined was not even real; sometimes it was actually we who were in a mood and just primed to take offense! Sometimes, there is also a certain perverse satisfaction in viewing ourselves as the injured party, and, sometimes, we would rather carry on about how we’ve been wronged than to forgive the other the injustice; after all, if we forgive them then what would we have to complain about? Take my word for it, the less spiritually mature we are the easier it is to find things about which to complain!

 


Some people complain about co-workers, and the following are some of the complaints uttered by angry workers:

 


Said by one worker to another and overheard in the break-room:

"I will always cherish the initial misconceptions I had about

you."

 


Yelled aloud from within a hot office cubicle: "This isn't an office.

It's hell with fluorescent lighting."

 


And finally, this said to someone at the copier: "You are

validating my inherent mistrust of strangers."

 


Why do we think that it is even occasionally all right for us to take out our displeasure on others? Why do we act as if we are owed everything by Life? Aside from Thanksgiving Day, are we at all actually thankful to God… or to anyone?! Are we thankful that God and others have forgiven us our stupidities?! Maybe we don’t forgive others because we are not grateful for kindnesses extended to us? Maybe we don’t even reflect upon the kindnesses given to us? Maybe we think that we are owed everything just because we are us! As our Orthodox theology makes plain… we were brought into being in order that we might become like God… and the fact is that what God forgives, God forgets about! Despite how much fasting we do and all of the Church services that we come to, is our determination to hold onto grudges, our unwillingness to forget an injustice… a proof of our unwillingness to become like God?

 


I am sure that those teachers among us this morning have, at times, been occasionally tempted to say what they really think of particularly difficult or obstinate students. Well, some teachers who were fed-up did misguidedly write down some comments for which they later repented. The following four examples are actual comments made on students' report cards by teachers in the New York City public school system. All of the offending teachers were officially reprimanded:

 


The first: “Your son is depriving a village somewhere of its idiot.”

 


The second: “Your son sets low personal standards and then

consistently fails to achieve them.”

 


The third: “If this student were any more stupid, he'd have to be

watered twice a week.”

 


And finally: “It is impossible to believe that the sperm that

created this child beat out 1,000,000 others.”

 


It is not only teachers, office workers, and fellow-parishioners who occasionally lash out at others; as Lucinda and Fred so often illustrate, spouses also often have a ready target at hand for their anger and sometimes say things for which they later (if not almost immediately!) regret. Recognizing our human failing to offend others, once a year the Church provides us with an opportunity to wipe the slate clean with each other through today’s Rite of Mutual Forgiveness. Why does the Church choose to begin Great Lent this way? The answer is: Because there can be no genuine reconciliation with God unless we are at the same time reconciled with one another, and that reconciliation begins with forgiveness… the asking for it, and the giving of it. Will we ask for it this afternoon? Will we mean it when we say “Please forgive me”? And will we… finally… freely grant it to others, thereby proving that we are… actually… Christ’s disciples?!

 

 

 

Glory to Jesus Christ!

 


Sermon given by Father James (Bohlman)

On Meatfare Sunday

February 19th, 2017

At St. Mary Magdalene Church

Rincon, GA

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

 


1 Cor. 8: 8-9:2

Matt. 25: 31-46

 


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

 


Glory to Jesus Christ!

 


As their 15th wedding anniversary was approaching, Fred wandered through the mall trying to stumble upon the perfect anniversary gift for Lucinda, and there… in a novelty shop… he found it: A small, cute, pink “Pocket Tazer” that Lucinda could keep in her purse. Once home from the mall Fred changed into his summer shorts and sat examining the Tazer. Putting on his reading glasses Fred read in the accompanying instructions that the Tazer already came with two tiny triple-A batteries installed. Reading that, Fred wondered, “Well, since the batteries are so tiny, will this thing actually keep Lucinda safe?” Then Fred read that a one-second burst from the Tazer was supposed to shock and disorient an assailant; that a two-second burst was supposed to cause muscle spasms and a major loss of bodily control; and that a three-second burst would purportedly make the assailant flop on the ground like a fish out of water. Looking at the 5 inch long, ¾ inch circumference device Fred thought, “It looks more like a toy than a weapon.” So Fred… being Fred… thought, “I’ll give myself a one-second zap and see what happens” and held it against his bare thigh. The next thing that Fred knew he was waking up on the living room rug with tears in his eyes, his body soaking wet, his left arm jammed under his body in the oddest position and tingling in his legs and arms. What Fred had not known was that there is no such thing as a one-second burst when you zap yourself since… due to muscle contraction… you cannot let go of the Tazer until it is dislodged from your hand by violent thrashing about on the floor. After some time spent panting on the floor, Fred sat up, observed that his bent reading glasses were up on the fireplace mantel and wondered, “How did they get up there?” When Fred gave Lucinda her anniversary gift he also told he about his mis-guided episode, and she laughed so hard that she cried and almost threw up. Now, whenever she needs to win an argument with Fred all she has to do is to pull the Anniversary Tazer out of her purse!

 


Now the men here this morning might be thinking that that was a little harsh, maybe even as harsh as this morning’s Gospel reading about the punishment of the goats. All of us, in fact, may feel a bit uncomfortable due to this Gospel passage’s in-your-face unpleasantness. However, with this morning’s Gospel passage Christ asks us to give some deeper consideration, no matter how disconcerting, to our last days, and to the eternity that lies beyond them. This morning’s Gospel speaks about priorities and about a coming judgment, a judgment where the nature of our eternity will be determined. Jesus speaks about a time when all of the material things that we currently value won’t mean a thing. The only thing that will matter is: What is Jesus’ judgment of me and my life? Do I measure up to his Gospel? Am I one of the sheep, as I presume… or am I, unbeknownst to me… one of the goats?

 


At first glance, this morning’s Gospel passage seems to suggest that Jesus’ judgment of those on his right… the sheep… was based upon the things that they did for the poor, the implication of this being that Christians are to earn their way to heaven by giving to charities and doing things. But this is a misunderstanding: good deeds are not automatically a ticket to heaven since it is possible to do a good deed for someone even when not intending to do good by them at all! For example: I give you a big bouquet of flowers. At face value this looks like a nice thing… unless the viewer knows that I know that you are highly allergic to the pollen in flowers, and that I am deliberately trying to make you miserable. What Christ is asking us to consider by teaching this morning’s parable, is: What motivates our heart?

 


About 2 years after the Tazer incident both Fred and Lucinda realized that the success of their marriage required that they go to a professional Marriage Counselor for some help. When they were all seated the Counselor asked, “So what seems to be the problem in your marriage?” Well, that question opened the floodgates for Lucinda and she proceeded… for 15 minutes… to enumerate the manifold difficulties of living with Fred. When she seemed to run out of either evidence or air, the Counselor got up, came around the desk to where Lucinda sat, yanked her to her feet, embraced her and kissed her passionately, sat Lucinda back down and went back to his own seat on the other side of the desk. Lucinda sat there is a confused daze. The Counselor said to Fred, “Now that is what your wife needs at least three times a week. Can you do this?" Fred thought for a moment and then replied, “Well, I can drop her off here on Mondays and Wednesdays, but on Fridays I go bowling.”

 


I suspect that Fred is not the only one who does not get it, as the confusion in our own lives makes clear, we who call ourselves Christ’s disciples. Just being present here this morning does not mean that we are actually Christians any more than standing in a garage makes us either a car or a mechanic! Often, what we do reveals what our heart wants, and sometimes what our heart wants is far from Christian! This morning’s Gospel reading makes the point that our actions spring from what is in our heart… think of the bouquet of flowers… and that in the end we will be held responsible for what our heart has wanted and what we have done… or not done! When Jesus says that those on his left… the goats… will not enter heaven because of their lack of kindness to the poor, the sick and the needy, he is really saying that their lack of compassion is evidence of a heart made indifferent by self-centeredness.

 


We here this morning presume that we are either good people or, at least… that we are not so bad. Yes, those of us present here this morning don’t rob banks, don’t steal from others, don’t run over old ladies… but that doesn’t mean that we are good! Maybe we just never had the opportunity to BE that bad! When we look outside of our assumption that we are not so bad, we can come to see things about ourselves to which we have been blind. Like most of Jesus’ parables, this morning’s Gospel story asks us to look outside of our assumptions about ourselves and about our relationship with God. This Gospel passage is a reminder that our actions with others are a reflection of the kind of relationship we actually have with God; if… like Dives and Lazarus at his gate… we cultivate an ability to ignore those around us, then it is quite likely that we actually do the same to God, no matter how many prayers we say each night.

 


An elderly woman approached the local country church and was discouraged by the many steps that she would have to climb to get into it. Luckily for her, one of the Ushers noticed her out there, and seeing the look of consternation on her face he came out, down the steps, gave her his arm and slowly escorted her up and into the foyer of the church. In a kindly tone of voice he asked her, “Where would you like to sit, Ma’am?” With gratitude the woman replied, “The front row please.” With concern in his voice he said to her confidentially, “Oh, Ma’am, you really don’t want to do that. The pastor is really boring.” In umbrage the old lady shook his arm off of her hand and said, “Do you happen to know who I am?” The startled Usher replied, “No Ma’am, I don’t.” Straightening up to her full 5-foot height she replied, “Well I am the pastor’s mother!” Without missing a beat the Usher asked her, “And do you know who I am, Ma’am?” The old lady replied, “No.” Responding with “Good,” the Usher ran out of the church.

 


It has been said that having a sense of humor helps in getting through Life’s difficulties, and yet there are times in life when a certain seriousness is called-for; Great Lent is one of those times! Even before arriving at Great Lent, the Church tries to ready us for our upcoming involvement with the ascetical effort necessary in order for us to change by presenting us with 5 preliminary Sundays, each one proclaiming that Great Lent is on its way. Today is known as “Meatfare Sunday”, the last day until Pascha when the consumption of meat is allowed. This day is called Meatfare because during the week following it a limited fasting… meaning, abstention from meat… is prescribed by the church. With Meatfare Sunday the Church now begins to adjust us to the great effort which she will expect from us seven days later when we officially begin Great Lent. By giving up meat this week, the Church gradually takes us into that effort. Meat, however, is not really the issue at the center of this coming struggle to regain our spiritual balance, which is why the Church also calls this Sunday “Judgment Sunday”… as in today’s judgment of the Sheep and the Goats. The struggle, therefore, is not with meat, but with our heart’s ongoing impulses to non-Christian behavior.

 


This morning’s Gospel reading is like a slap across our face by our teacher, Jesus Christ! This Gospel passage is meant to be harsh because it is a call for us all to “WAKE UP!” Given that this morning’s Gospel reading is one of the most harsh in all of the Gospel readings, it behooves us to take Christ’s assessment of either our “sheep-ness” or of our “goat-hood” seriously because… like it or not… the ending of this morning’s Gospel makes clear that there is such a thing as an awareness that arrives too late, and that is what being a goat is all about when the Gospel declares about the goats: “And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

 

 

 

Glory to Jesus Christ!


Sermon given by Father James (Bohlman)

On Prodigal Son Sunday 2017

At St. Mary Magdalene Church

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

 


1 Cor. 6: 12-20

Luke 15: 11-32

 


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

 


Glory to Jesus Christ!

 


A bus load of ladies from the Parish Sisterhood had a tragic accident and they were all killed so all 50 arrived at the Pearly Gates together. St. Peter was taken by surprise and said, “I’m sorry ladies, but due to redecorating there isn’t room for you yet so you’ll all have to spend some time in hell until your rooms are ready.” Well, the devil reluctantly agreed to offer them the temporary accommodations, so down they went. Three weeks later St. Peter phoned down to hell and said, “Okay Beelzebub, the rooms are all ready so you can send the ladies back up to heaven.” The devil protested saying, “Oh, can’t I keep them for just a little longer?" St. Peter asked, “Why?” The devil replied, "Well, only 2 more cake sales and we'll have raised enough money for the air conditioning!" 

 


If any of us are now sitting here thinking, “Hmm, hell has air-conditioning? Maybe being bad really does pay off”… I wouldn’t count on it! In our self-deceptive thinking we sometimes come to the conclusion that if we refuse to reflect upon our actions with one another, if we choose to remain ignorant of our sins, then God also doesn’t know about them! The problem with this line of thinking is that the desires of our unexamined heart can cause us to make other choices which we both come to regret and which, in the end, make us exiles from home, exiles from our family, and even exiles from our own heart. This estrangement… this “exile-ment”… is exactly what this morning’s Parable of the Prodigal Son addresses.

 


In this morning’s parable the younger son rejects his relationship with his father and wanders away, only to later come to the realization that, in rejecting his relationship with his father, he has become an exile from his very own heart.

 


The following are answering machine messages for people who automatically assume that the other person is the problem:

"Greetings, you have reached the Sixth Sense Detective Agency. We know who you are and what you want, so at the sound of the tone, please hang up."

 


"Hello. I'm Douglas's answering machine. Goodbye!”


"This is not an answering machine; this is a telepathic thought-recording device. After the tone, think about your name, your reason for calling, and a number where I won’t reach you.”

 


Why is it that we often assume that it is the other person who is the problem when our life is littered with the evidence of our own mistakes?! How many times this past year have we said something to someone, often in anger, that turned out to be ill-advised and left us estranged from them, a mistake that left us not able to recognize who we are or why our heart would have caused us to say what we said? This is the experience of being an exile. This morning’s parable also shows us that the way to end our exile from one another is by repentance, by eating a bit of crow, and by turning around in order to head back home. In the end, repentance is about repairing relationships.

 


And this is why, when Great Lent begins on February 26th, the season of repentance begins with the service of Forgiveness Vespers, during which service we confess to one another that, through wrong and foolish attitudes and choices, we have distanced ourselves from one another, and therefore also from the one who is the Father of us all. Forgiveness Vespers is a service of reconciliation, a moment of coming home to one another in order that we might all go home together to our Father.

 


A new Priest came to his first church, a tiny old country church. On his first Sunday there, only one person showed up for the morning service, a little old farmer in bib-overalls. When it came time for the sermon, from up in the pulpit the Priest looked down upon someone whom he assumed did not know as much as he himself did, and asked his one parishioner, "Brother, you seem to be the only one to show up this morning, should I preach, or not?" The little old farmer replied back, "Well Father, I ain't no preacher, I'm just an old farmer, but if I had a truck load of hay, and I went to the pasture and only one cow showed up, I'd still feed that cow!" Well, that was all that the Priest needed to hear and he commenced to preach like he never had before! He preached about every single thing that he had learned in the Seminary, and finally, after two hours, he finished. Looking down at the little old farmer, the Priest proudly asked, "Well Brother, what did you think of my first sermon here?" Taking a moment to choose his words carefully, the old farmer looked up and finally replied, saying: "Well Father, I ain't no preacher, I'm just a little old farmer, but if I had a truck load of hay and I went to the pasture and only one cow showed up, I wouldn't force him to eat the whole truck-load!"

 


Our attitude towards people affects how we relate to them. Like the younger son in this morning’s parable, we sometimes don’t appreciate the blessings that we have with one another, and what we misunderstand fuels the attitudes that we take, and it is often our attitude which makes for so much of the mayhem in our lives. There are also times when the attitude of this morning’s elder son, with his comment of “this son of yours”, is ours as well and causes trouble in our relationships with others. It is often only through some manifestation of repentance towards those whom we have offended that those relationships can be mended and resumed.

 


There are many things about ourselves that we don’t understand, and our mis-guided desire to get back at others fuels many of our misunderstandings with one other. Great Lent begins with the Rite of Mutual Forgiveness so that we might wipe the slate clean for each other and start over… a sort of returning home to our relationship with one another. This year, let us not put off repentance another day, not one more minute: Let us begin our journey home this morning by changing our attitude about at least one other person, right now… even before we get into our car to go home!

 

 

 

Glory to Jesus Christ!


Sermon given by Father James (Bohlman)

On Publican and Pharisee Sunday

February 5th, 2017

At St. Mary Magdalene Church

Rincon, GA

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

 


2 Tim. 3: 10-15

Luke 18: 10-14

 


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

 


Glory to Jesus Christ!

 


One beautiful Sunday morning, after the Gospel reading, the Priest announced: "My good people, I have here in my hands three sermons...a $1000 sermon that lasts five minutes, a $500 sermon that lasts fifteen minutes, and a $100 sermon that lasts a full hour. But before I give the sermon we’ll take the collection and then we’ll see which sermon I'll deliver.”

 


Depending on the results of today’s collection, beginning next Sunday I may reverse the order of the collection and the sermon.

 


It is amazing how, every year, Great Lent seems to ambush us just as soon as we have finished celebrating Christmas and Theophany. With this Sunday of “the Pharisee and the Publican” we are now on Great Lent’s doorstep. On this day we begin using the Triodion. The emphasis from now until Pascha will be on repentance, on changing our heart’s assumptions about ourselves. The verse right before today’s Gospel reading states: “Also, he spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others.” This morning’s Gospel parable has, at its heart, a warning for us about the blindness of our assumptions about ourselves.

 


The Pharisees spoken of in this morning’s Gospel reading were an ancient sect among the Jews known for their diligent observance of the outward matters of the Law. As a result of their public holiness they were thought by all… including themselves… to be righteous. The Pharisee’s prayer began well enough: “God, I thank thee…” But then his heart revealed its secret agenda when he continued: “… that I am not like other men.”The Pharisee’s great sin is summed up in his assumption, “…I am not like other men,” and it was that assumption that made him blind to how he really was.

 


Even with the best of intentions we don’t always foresee the results of the decisions that we make, and this is as true of companies as it is of individuals. For example…

 


• When Coca-Cola first shipped to China, they named the product something that when pronounced sounded like "Coca-Cola," but whose written characters actually meant "Bite The Wax Tadpole." They later changed the name to a set of characters that mean "Happiness In The Mouth."

• When Pepsi started marketing its products in China a few years back, they translated their slogan, "Pepsi Brings You Back to Life" pretty literally. The slogan in Chinese really meant, "Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back from the Grave."

• Coors put its slogan, "Turn It Loose," into Spanish, where it was read as "Suffer From Diarrhea."

• And finally… the Chevy Nova never sold well in Spanish speaking countries. The reason? It turns out that the Spanish name for the car, "No Va", actually means in Spanish… "It Does Not Go".

 


Sometimes, we discover that things need to be changed, and it may be that this Great Lent shows us that WE need to be changed! Perhaps we think that all we have to do is to attend services and we’re good to go with God. If we are so good, then how many times, like this morning’s Pharisee, have we congratulated ourselves in our hearts with the thought, “Thank you, Lord that I am not like…’ so-and-so!”Even though we may feel repulsed by the attitude and the behavior of the Pharisee, if we are honest with ourselves we will have to admit that there are more than a few times when his words are those muttered within our own hearts, even if not spoken aloud. This morning’s parable is given to us by the Fathers to point out to us that every one of us, to a greater or a lesser degree, has something of that Pharisee inside of us… at least a touch of self-adulation and self-righteousness which often comes at the expense of others.

 


Some years ago Fred got the idea to cut costs and as a result he turned off the heat in his home and bought a woodstove. And, just as Little Igor had feared, Little Igor was given the task of bringing in more wood for the stove each evening before bed. One evening when Little Igor came in with another armload of wood he said to Fred, “Dad, I think someone is stealing our wood. There’s not as much out there as yesterday when I brought the wood in.” So Fred said, “All right Little Igor, for the next few days I’ll bring in the wood in the evening.” This was music to Little Igor’s ears. During supper two days later there was a loud “BOOM!” from Leroy’s house next door; at that, Fred turned to Little Igor and said, “Okay Little Igor, you can continue bringing in the wood in the evenings.” “But Dad,” Little Igor objected, “What was that loud noise?!” Fred replied, “Don’t worry about it Little Igor. I inserted some blasting caps into a few of the logs, and now I don’t think there will be any more problems with the wood pile.”

 


It’s funny how we can think that a little bit of spitefulness is okay and won’t harm our spiritual life, while robbing a bank is completely off-limits. While we know that the good news is that we don’t have to be perfect in order for God to love us, we sometimes use that knowledge to assume that we don’t NEED to be any better than we already are! If we don’t need to be any better than we are, then why are we only too eager to engage in gossip and slander by telling someone about another person’s latest blunder? Do we really think that it is okay with God that we gossip about someone at their expense? This Great Lent we must face the fact that we do, indeed, need to become better, that we do have assumptions of which we need to repent and let go. Great Lent is a time to come to see the deluded mindset with which we have become so comfortable over this past year. Jesus Christ shared the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee with us to warn us of the great spiritual danger of thinking too well of ourselves, of cultivating an arrogant self-confidence in our own righteousness, and of the subtle contempt for others that goes along with all this.

 


This Great Lent, will we be willing to invest ourselves in our own spiritual growth, or will it simply be a time of empty practices which fail to produce any real spiritual change within us? Let us determine, this morning, that this Great Lent will be about the questioning of our assumptions about ourselves and about our supposed goodness. As we prepare to go into Lent, the Church presents us with this Gospel passage this morning by way of trying to get us to think about the change of heart that the Lenten season should help us to accomplish. Therefore, throughout this coming week…this week of the Publican and the Pharisee, this week when the Church dispenses us from any fasting… let us not assume that we are “not like other men”; instead, let us ask ourselves: What needs changing in me to which I, like the Pharisee, am blind?

 

 

 

Glory to Jesus Christ!

 

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