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November 2017

Sermon given by Father James (Bohlman)

On Sunday October 8th, 2017

At St. Mary Magdalene Church

Rincon, GA

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

 

2Cor. 9: 6-11

Luke 7: 11-16

 

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

 

Glory to Jesus Christ!

 

Lucinda decided to do volunteer-work at the local nursing home which specialized in care for people in the severe stage of Alzheimer’s. On her first day at the home she went around smiling at patients and asking them if they needed anything, or if there was anything that she could do for them. Approaching a tiny, bird-like little resident Lucinda was concerned that she not startle or frighten the fragile-looking little woman so she gently asked her, "Do you know who I am?" With a sweet smile the resident replied, "No, but if you go to the Front Desk, they can tell you."

 

We spend our whole lives trying to find out who we are. Jesus Christ tells us that we are children of God. Our culture also tells us who it thinks we are, and its answer is vastly different from Christ’s. For example, our culture fools us by teaching us that we don’t have to face anything that disturbs us… and what could disturb us more than the knowledge that we, like the young man of Nain in this morning’s Gospel, will one day die? Do we accept that death is a stop that we will be forced to get off at, or do we believe our culture’s fairytale that Life must conform to our wishes?! In our youth-oriented culture we avoid talking about death. Happiness in our culture is all about youth, about being in one’s physical prime, about gaining enough money to be able to do anything that one wants. But the fact is that even with money or without money… we must all face death, and a degree of happiness would be possible for us were we to accept that reality with equanimity rather than to live our lives as one long frenzied attempt to avoid knowledge of the inevitable. For Christ, death was an everyday reality, and shortly after Jesus healed the Centurion’s servant he traveled toward the city of Nain; along the way he came across this morning’s widow of Nain who was accompanying her only son’s body to the graveyard.

 

Last year, after having dug to a depth of 10 feet in Britain, British scientists found traces of copper wire dating back 200 years and came to the conclusion that their British ancestors already had a telephone network more than 150 years ago. Not to be outdone by the British, in the weeks that followed, an American archaeologist dug to a depth of 20 feet, and shortly after, a story was published in the New York Times which stated that American archaeologists, finding traces of 250-year-old copper wire, concluded that their ancestors already had an advanced high-tech communications network 100 years earlier than the British. Not to be outdone by either the British or the Americans, one week later the Western Australia’s Department of Minerals and Energy reported the following: "After digging as deep as 30 feet in Western Australia’s Pilbara region, archeologists reported that they found absolutely nothing, and have therefore concluded that Australia had already gone wireless 250 years ago."

 

Sometimes, what people teach us is not true. Our culture teaches us that happiness resides in money, gems, cars and various other objects, and yet there are so many people today who constantly complain about their lives and yammer on about how unhappy they are! How is it possible that we can look into a refrigerator full of food and say, "There’s nothing to eat"? How is it possible that we can open a closet full of clothing and complain, "I don’t have anything to wear"? It is possible because we are ungrateful… which is the end result of believing our culture’s Gospel of The Self which says that Life owes us whatever we want! Such a self-centered orientation does not grow compassion in our hearts such as Jesus exercised in this morning’s Gospel.

 

Some of us give away unwanted clothing to Goodwill and we think that our charity is a sign of our compassion for others. The fact of the matter is that charity is not compassion if we are giving away what we either no longer want or simply don’t need. This morning, we are told that when Jesus saw the widow mourning the loss of her only son, he had true compassion on her, and that is the real key to happiness: Compassion for others. Compassion, however, requires concentrating on others rather than on ourselves and this flies directly in the face of our culture’s gospel of the Self. This morning St. Luke makes the point that the exercise of compassion on others can even bring the hearts of others back to life!

 

One day a teacher was discussing laws with her young charges and stressed how laws help people in living with other people. She then gave them the assignment of going home and making up some new laws that would be good for us all to live by. The next day the children made the following offerings of new laws:

 

Michael, age 9, said, “My new law is that when your dad is mad and asks you, ‘Do I look stupid?’ don’t answer him. Also, never tell your mom that her diet’s not working.”

 

Beverly, age 9, said, “Never hold a dust buster and a cat at the same time.”

 

Lauren, age 9 said, “Felt markers are not good to use as lipstick.”

 

And finally, Joel, 10 years old, said, “Don’t pick on your sister when she’s holding a baseball bat.”

 

New truths to live by! The problem with Truth is that, sometimes, it hurts! And the truth about our inner life is that when we do not cultivate compassion we automatically assume the worst about others which then affects how we view others. To exercise compassion we have to stop staring at our own navel and start becoming concerned about someone other than ourselves. Being concerned about others certainly goes against our culture’s emphasis on the self: self-fulfillment, self-discovery, self-satisfaction! But our culture’s take on how to pursue happiness is wrong: Once we stop pursuing a happiness centered upon ourselves we can discover that the exercise of compassion towards others somehow causes a deep and longed-for happiness to bloom within our own shriveled hearts. Christ has, of course, said something about this by stating that it is in the losing of one’s life that we gain it. This morning Jesus Christ tells us that it is by the exercise of compassion upon others that we bring both them and ourselves back to life: Now THAT is true happiness!

 

 

Glory to Jesus Christ!

 

 

 


Sermon given by Father James (Bohlman)

On Sunday October 1st, 2017

At St. Mary Magdalene Church

Rincon, GA

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

 

2Cor. 6: 16-7:1

Luke 6: 31-36

 

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

 

Glory to Jesus Christ!

 

Fred was having some very serious financial problems. He went to his pastor and told him of all his troubles. The Pastor told him that if he would pray then God would provide for his needs. So Fred went home that night and prayed: “Dear Lord please let me win the lottery so that I can pay all of my bills. Thank you. Amen.” The lottery came and went and Fred did not win. So he went back to his pastor to ask why God hadn’t answered his prayer. The pastor told him that you must have faith; if you have enough faith then God will always answer your prayer. So Fred went home and prayed even harder: “Dear Lord… Please let me win the lottery. I believe that you can hear me and that you will answer my prayer. Thank you. Amen.” The lottery again came and went and he still did not win. So Fred went back to his pastor and asked why God had not answered his prayer. The pastor told him that if he would repent and beg God for help He would surely help him. So Fred went home, fell on his knees and started praying: “Dear God forgive me all of my sins, I want to live for you Lord! Lord, just please...” All of a sudden a loud voice came from heaven: “WOULD YOU PLEASE BUY A TICKET!”

 

As the lottery people keep telling us, “You can’t win if you don’t play!” When it comes to logic some things, sometimes, don’t always appear so obvious to us… like anger. Anger can make us do some of the stupidest things, one of which is our refusal to forgive others. The problem for we Orthodox Christians here this morning is that when Christ speaks of forgiving others as he does in this morning’s Gospel reading, he means even those who simply annoy us by their sheer difference from ourselves! We just heard Christ command us to “Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” The problem is that, all too often, we take this to mean that we should simply do them no harm; as a result we do no physical harm to others even while we are maligning them in our hearts! Doing “no harm”, however, is not the same thing as “doing good”, which Christ also commands of us this morning: One is passive, while the other is active.

 

In this morning’s Gospel passage, Christ goes even further and specifically defines what goodness towards these others should look like: “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?… If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Love your enemies, do good.”

 

This morning, however, is not the first time that we have heard this Gospel passage wherein Christ tells us to love our enemies, which he repeatedly links with the love of God. For most of us “enemies” are those who have done us some kind of wrong, whether physical or verbal. For many of us, no matter how many times a week we go to church, there is still the desire inside of us to retaliate when we “feel” hurt by someone. All too often we make the mistake of stoking that feeling of having been hurt by replaying the scene of the betrayal over and over in our minds, all the while fanning the fire of resentment in our heart and in our mind; and then we wonder why it is so impossible to forgive others! The problem with this is that how we view others directly affects how we relate to them. Part of the reason that we find it so hard to love our enemies is because we still view them as they were in the past: As our enemies, as the ones who hurt us! We sometimes even act as if we have a right to remember the wrongs that they did to us! The only problem in remembering those wrongs, however, is that we then find it impossible to forgive those wrongs!

 

At times we probably feel it would be so much easier if we could be like Lucy in the old Peanuts cartoon where Lucy said to Charlie Brown, "I would have made a great evangelist." Charlie Brown answered, "Is that so?" Lucy replied, "Yes, just today I convinced that boy in front of me in school that my religion is better than his religion." Cautiously, Charlie Brown asked, "Well, how did you do that?" Lucy proudly replied, "I hit him over the head with my lunch box."

 

The “enemies” who Christ commands us to forgive are sometimes not those whom we hate, but simply those whom we find annoying. So what do we do about Christ’s words this morning of “Love your enemies, do good”? How can we forgive when we don’t feel like forgiving? The plain fact of the Christian matter is that we must cultivate the determination to never hold anything against others… either the wrongs they do to us or even simply their difference from us. This can be done, and it begins with deliberately calling to mind Christ’s command: “Do good to others”.

 

It seems, however, that when we are determined to be irrational and to find fault, we find it. In the same way, when we are determined to not forgive, we don’t forgive. Sometimes it seems that we would rather feel hurt than to get over what hurts us; we humans can be perverse this way. When we persist in remembering past wrongs Jesus Christ’s command for us to forgive others (which, by the way, is not a suggestion!) can seem like a call to do the impossible. At the heart of this command, however, is the reality that the “problem” of forgiveness lies never with the other person, but with us, and with how we view them! And how I view them is affected by what I remember about them. And what I remember about them is conditioned by what I repeatedly chew upon from the past.

 

Two very old ladies were playing cards. Seemingly embarrassed, one of them said, “I hate to ask you this. I know we’ve been playing cards together for years, but you know, I’m getting old and my mind is growing feeble: What is your name?”  Startled, the other old lady suddenly looked up from her cards and guardedly replied, “How soon do you need to know?” 

 

No matter what we know, there are still things in life that confuse us… like the issue of forgiveness. The fact is that forgiveness doesn’t make the other person right, it makes you free. It is easy for us to disapprove of the rich man’s miserly attitude, but when we hoard forgiveness and refuse to forgive someone either their mistakes or deeds against us… our heart can know no peace. The only way to grow peace in our hearts is by following Christ’s injunction to forgive. And he never says, “If they make amends then forgive them”; he simply says: “Love your enemies, do good”.

 

In the spiritual realm, we can’t get away with anything: What we sow is what we will reap. As Christ has told us, if we do not forgive, then we will not be forgiven; it’s simple Christian math. We disciples of Jesus Christ keep on hoping that there is some way around his radical demands upon our heart. We would rather that our following of Jesus Christ not involve any splinters from the cross of forgiveness, and we would prefer that being good did not inconvenience us or deny us the pleasure of our dislike of others. True to form, this morning Jesus Christ comes to say that goodness requires giving up of our desire for revenge, and that we must stretch the boundaries of our miserly and unforgiving hearts.

 

 

Glory to Jesus Christ!

 

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