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Sermon given by Father James (Bohlman)

On Sunday March 19th, 2017

At St. Mary Magdalene Church

Rincon, GA

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

 


Heb. 4: 14-5:6

Mark 8: 34-9:1

 


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

 


Glory to Jesus Christ!

 


When Fred’s neighbor Leroy was in his twenties, a police officer stopped him for speeding down Main Street. ''But officer,'' Leroy said, ''I can explain.'' In no mood for bartering, the Officer snapped back at Leroy, ''Just be quiet or I'm going to let you cool off in jail until the Chief gets back.'' Leroy persisted, ''But officer, I just wanted to say...'' The Officer replied, ''And I said KEEP QUIET! Now you're going to jail!'' A few hours later, the officer checked up on his prisoner and said to Leroy, ''Lucky for you the Chief is at his daughter's wedding and should be in a great mood when he gets here.'' ''Don't count on it,'' Leroy said. ''I'm the groom.''

 


Some marriages have a rocky start, some don’t, but it is guaranteed that a marriage goes bad when one or both parties start to think: “What’s in it for me?” At the heart of marriage is the issue of self-control, and self-control is rooted in self-sacrifice; when someone becomes unwilling to sacrifice for the other spouse… the marriage is basically over. Our culture today, however, tells us that we don’t have to make any compromises with anyone because everything is about “me” and “my” take on things; is it any wonder then that 2 out of every 3 marriages today now end in divorce? According to Jesus Christ, however, life is actually about the sacrificing of “me”, not the hanging onto of “me”. The question for us here this morning is: Whose disciple are we, really: Our me-centric culture’s, or Jesus Christ’s?

 


If the answer to that question is “Jesus Christ’s” then we have to give some serious thought to the dismaying and inconveniencing issue of self-sacrifice. When we look at Christ’s self-sacrifice on the cross this morning, as American’s do we think… in the deepest, darkest part of our hearts… that maybe he was just a little bit crazy? And does that thought then let us off the hook, let us off the cross of our self-sacrifice with the thoroughly me-centric conclusion that self-sacrifice is simply “going too far”?! All too often we middle-class, American Orthodox Christians prefer our discipleship to Jesus Christ to be like our food: Fast, easy, and at no cost to us. But Jesus Christ doesn’t do “at no cost to us.” In this morning’s Gospel reading Christ tells us what the consequences are of our being his disciples: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."

 


For we Americans self-denial is not easily embraced since our culture tells us that we should never be inconvenienced. There’s no way around it: If we are to actually be followers of Jesus Christ, there is work for us to do which requires the choosing of self-sacrifice over self-obsession. Some mistakenly think that this means that we should seek to be miserable, but Jesus is not saying that self-sacrifice requires that we seek out pain needlessly; instead, he is saying that if we truly aspire to be like him, to do God’s will in our lives, then we must be willing to do what he has done: To carry the cross that comes to us. This means to bear a sudden difficulty without snarling at others. At least a part of the reason why we don’t embrace self-sacrifice is because our culture says that we don’t have to; in fact, our culture stresses that happiness comes not from self-sacrifice, but from making the self the focus of our attention: My plans, my desires… me, me, me! As a result, even we American Orthodox Christians may well view self-denial with not only distaste, but as actually optional and as an interference in our pursuit of happiness.

 


Sometimes, in our pursuit of happiness, we can find ourselves hauled into court. The following are the actual recorded questions that lawyers have asked while questioning someone in court:

 


Lawyer: What is your date of birth? 
Respondent: July fifteenth. 
Lawyer: What year? 
Respondent: Every year. 

 

Lawyer: How was your first marriage terminated? 
Respondent: By death. 
Lawyer: And by whose death was it terminated? 

 

Lawyer: Can you describe the individual? 
Respondent: He was about medium height and had a beard. 
Lawyer: Was this a male, or a female? 

 

And finally: Lawyer: Doctor, how many autopsies have you performed

on dead people? 
Respondent: All of my autopsies are performed on dead

people! 
Lawyer: Yes, well, do you recall the time that you

examined Mr. Dennington? 
Respondent: The autopsy started around 8:30 p.m. 
Lawyer: And Mr. Dennington was dead at the time? 
Respondent, visibly annoyed: No, he was sitting up on the table wondering why I was doing an autopsy!

 


I suspect that the Doctor responding to those inane questions would have been happy, at that moment, to have that lawyer up on his table! Since happiness can mean different things to different people what, in the end, really is “happiness”? By way of answering this question, in this morning’s Gospel, Jesus Christ poses another disturbing question to his disciples: “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? What will a man give in exchange for his soul?” According to Jesus Christ, happiness is not found in possessions, or in getting our way in an argument, or even in getting rid of the weekend’s houseguests; according to Jesus Christ happiness comes from losing: Losing our self-protectiveness, losing the desire to come out on top, losing our preference for ourselves by sacrificing for others. In other words, according to Jesus Christ, happiness comes from self-sacrifice. And the happiness of losing is not something that our culture understands!

 


Leroy and Fred walk into a bar. Fred approached the bartender and made a bet with him by saying, "I'll bet you $1,000 that I can put a shot glass at one end of your bar and use your soda water hose from the other end of the bar and fill that shot glass without spilling a drop." The bartender, knowing a fool when he heard one, laughed and said, "You're crazy, but you're on." So Leroy positioned a shot glass on one end of the bar, gave the signal to Fred at the other end of the bar, at which point Fred picked up the hose… and sprayed soda water everywhere: All over the walls, over the bar top, all over the bottles of booze, and all over the bartender. The bartender roared with laughter and when he could catch his breath said to Fred, “Okay you jerk, now pay me my $1000!” Fred, chuckling and smiling, happily paid up and the bartender asked, "What are you smiling at? You just lost $1,000!" When Fred had counted out the last of the money, he replied: "Well, you see that guy in the cowboy hat over there crying at that table? While we were outside, before we came in, I bet him $10,000 that I could spray soda water all over your bar, your walls, your liquor AND you, and not only would you not be mad… you would laugh hysterically about it!"

 


Sometimes things are not quite as they appear to be, and sometimes the sacrifices that God asks of us… our little crosses… can take us by surprise, or shock us, or make us feel uncomfortable; and yet, our salvation requires that the uncomfortable be embraced. The point of this morning’s Gospel reading on this third Sunday of Great Lent, this season of repentance, is to get us to re-evaluate our discipleship to Jesus Christ by thinking about how we deal with the unexpected crosses that come our way each day. Do we view them as an interference in our plans? Do we blame God for sending them our way? Or do we view them as God’s way of trying to tell us about ourselves? Jesus Christ frames the issue best when he asks in this morning’s Gospel reading: “What will a man give in exchange for his soul?”

 

 

 

Glory to Jesus Christ!


Sermon given by Father James (Bohlman)

On Sunday March 12th, 2017

At St. Mary Magdalene Church

Rincon, GA

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

 


Heb. 1: 10-2:3

Mark 2: 1-12

 


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

 


Glory to Jesus Christ!

 


Did you know?

That there are 118 ridges around the edge of a dime? 
That a dragonfly has a life span of 24 hours?
That a "jiffy" is an actual unit of time equal to 1/100th of a second?
That Peanuts are one of the ingredients of dynamite?
And finally, that if the population of China walked past you, in a single file, the line would never end because of the rate of reproduction?

 

There now, we can all consider ourselves informed and knowledgeable. However, one of the things in life that may yet still be a mystery to us is why we sometimes automatically view others as either friend or foe. This morning’s Gospel reading from St. Mark is about friendship and about its healing power. We all know the basics of the story: 4 friends lower their paralyzed friend into Jesus’ presence; Jesus heals him of his paralysis, and the man gets up and walks away. St. Mark doesn’t tell us much about the paralytic man in this passage. We don’t really know for sure what kinds of medical treatment he had sought to treat his condition. But one thing that St. Mark makes clear is the healing power of friendship.

 


Since 1368 this second Sunday of Great Lent has also been dedicated to the memory of St. Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica, even though one notices that neither the epistle nor the gospel for this day have any direct bearing on him. This is because the commemoration of Palamas was only introduced in the 14th century, when the liturgical structure for this Second Sunday of Great Lent had already been established along different lines. St. Gregory Palamas was a Greek theologian and an exponent of that approach to prayer known as Hesychasm. This term means “to be silent” and this approach to prayer concentrates on the proper use of the Jesus prayer, on one’s posture and breathing during prayer. This approach attempted to bring about a union of the mind and the heart of the one employing it. And union of the mind and heart IS what Great Lent is about; it… like friendship, like forgiveness… is about healing.

 


Fred and Lucinda were shopping in their local supermarket.  When Fred picked up a case of Heineken and put it into their cart Lucinda barked, “What do you think you're doing?!” Fred replied, “Well, they're on sale, only $15 for 24 cans!” Lucinda said, “Put them back, we can't afford them”, so, reluctantly, Fred put the case back onto the shelf. But he was steaming. A few aisles further on Lucinda picked up a $30 jar of face cream and put it into the basket. Thinking that he would give her a taste of her own medicine, Fred barked, “What do you think you're doing?!” Startled, Lucinda replied, “It's my face cream. It makes me look beautiful!” Unable to control himself Fred said, “So does 24 cans of Heineken and it's half the price.” Fred never knew what hit him.

 


The funny thing about being family is that even if things are difficult, even if we refuse to speak with one another, we are still family. Friendships, on the other hand, can come to an end if there is no forgiveness forthcoming from at least one of its participants. Are we listening to what God is telling us this morning in the Gospel reading, particularly about forgiveness and the friendship that forgiveness facilitates? During this coming third week of Great Lent, let us question our unwillingness to be a friend to others, or to even be friendLY to others! Let us also wonder at what part the issue of “inconvenience” might play in our un-friendliness. How many times in our life have we, unlike this morning’s 4 friends, failed to “do whatever it takes” for someone simply because embracing inconvenience… was just not convenient? We should also wonder to what extent this issue of “convenience” affects our relationship with God. Is it not possible that one reason we do not come to Great Vespers on Saturdays is because it is not convenient? Does this mean that we will love God only so long as he doesn’t inconvenience us

 


A study on the effects of alcohol and fat-intake was recently completed. The study was designed to investigate whether or not alcohol and fats affect longevity. The following are the results of that study:

 


The Japanese eat very little fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than the British or the Americans.
The French eat a lot of fat and also suffer fewer heart attacks than the British or the Americans.
The Japanese drink very little red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks than the British or the Americans.
The Italians drink excessive amounts of red wine and also suffer fewer heart attacks than the British or the Americans.
The Germans drink a lot of beer and eat lots of sausage and fats and also suffer fewer heart attacks than the British or the Americans.

 

After crunching all of the data the study concluded: Eat and drink whatever you like… it is apparently speaking English that kills you!

 


Despite all of the information inundating us today, do we really know what we are doing? Let us take some time this afternoon to think about the disparity between the love that we profess as Christians and what, at our angriest, our actual behavior communicates to others. Let us finally stop believing the fairytale that we tell ourselves about ourselves and accept that we might not be so good a friend to others as we’d like to think that we are. Let us determine that this afternoon we will seek out one person with whom we are at odds and re-establish our friendship. We are now entering the third week of Great Lent, and it seems the right time to ask the question: What are we doing about forgiveness in our relationships this Great Lent? Are we doing anything about it?! What are we willing to do about forgiveness this next week? God doesn’t ask that we do anything as dramatic this coming week as tearing off a roof; all that he asks is that we be willing to be a friend by forgiving someone.

 

 

 

Glory to Jesus Christ!

 

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