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Sermon given by Father James (Bohlman)

On Sunday September 24th, 2017

At St. Mary Magdalene Church

Rincon, GA

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

 

2 Cor. 6: 1-10

Luke 5: 1-11

 

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

 

Glory to Jesus Christ!

 

After cleaning out his office files one Monday afternoon, a federal employee was faced with mountains of old documents and reports. He stacked them on top of his wastebasket with a sign reading: “Rubbish.” The next day, the papers were still there, so he added the words: “Please remove.” On Wednesday, nothing had changed, and therefore a more explicit notice was used. “This is rubbish,” it said. “I do not want it. Please remove.” Thursday revealed the need for still stronger words: “This is RUBBISH, REFUSE, GARBAGE. Get it out of here!” This sign had been heatedly scrawled with a red felt-tipped marker. On Friday, the papers were still not removed. However, a small note in pencil had been written beneath Thursday’s sign. It read: “Cannot remove unless marked ‘Trash.’“ 

 

Isn’t governmental mindset a wonderful thing?! Sometimes two people can even be talking on two different wavelengths without realizing that is what is happening. The same can happen in our relationship with God: He speaks one thing about ourselves, but we hear another, especially if we get an inkling that what he is saying is something that we don’t want to hear. There can also be a disconnect between what we think about our spiritual life, and how we actually live… and that is usually what God is trying to tell us about! Just because we are good at our work job does not mean that we know what we are doing in all other areas of our life, and this is especially true when it comes to those uncomfortable moments when God asks something of us that either doesn’t make sense to us or that we simply don’t want to have to do.

 

In this morning’s reading from the Gospel according to St. Luke, we are told that after the disciples had spent a full night of fruitless fishing Christ called out to Peter and told him, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Peter immediately countered this command with his protest of “But we have toiled all night and caught nothing.”

Are we so unlike Peter? God tells us to fish in our deep waters and our first impulse isn’t to obedience, but to telling him why we can’t do what he asks of us; it’s no wonder our kids do the same thing to us when we tell them to do something! Instead of approaching God with a mindset of obedience, we don’t hesitate to tell God what we want him to do, or what we will put up with, or… more to the point… what we simply will not accept.

 

There was a series of "God Speaks" billboards that appeared in the Metropolitan Dallas-Fort Worth area. The billboards are a simple black background with white text. No fine print or sponsoring organization is included. The sponsorship for these “God Speaks” billboards is anonymous. The following are a few of the posted billboards:

 

What part of ‘Thou Shalt Not’ didn’t you understand?” – God

 

We need to talk.” – God

 

You think it’s hot here?” – God

 

Have you read my #1 best seller? There will be a test.” – God

 

And finally: "Don’t make me come down there.” – God

 

There are times when we think we know how the story is going to end… which is usually the way that we want it to end… and when it doesn’t we can feel miffed. There are times, especially when we are angry, when we not only imagine saying some unpleasant things to God, but actually do so! Sometimes, we are so sure that we know more about everything than everyone, including God! Sometimes we even think that we can make an end-run around what God tells us to do or to not do!

 

At some point, however, God brings every one of us to a place where nothing works and at that point we can feel as if we are in over our head. And this is exactly where we need to be, for at such times God is bringing us to an end of relying upon ourselves, and to the beginning of our truly relying upon him. What we sometimes lose sight of in situations where we are not the ones in control is that God is taking us into deeper waters in order for us to have a deeper relationship with him! He takes us to a place where we have to realize our dependency upon him. But those deeper waters scare the bejezus out of us. When God takes us into our deep waters, sometimes our first impulse is to accuse him of not loving us; otherwise, why would he bring us to a situation which creates such worry and stress within us? But there is another way to look at such situations. Perhaps our “deep water” moments are the only way that God can make us look to him instead of to ourselves.

 

An Orthodox Priest took a seat in a dining car on a train traveling along the Hudson River. Opposite him at the table was an atheist who, seeing the Priest’s clerical collar, started a discussion by saying, "I see you are a clergyman." "Yes," came the reply. "I am a minister of the gospel." The atheist then said, "I suppose you believe the Bible." The Priest responded, "I certainly do believe that the Bible is the Word of God." The atheist then asked, "But aren’t there things in the Bible that you can’t explain?" With humility the Priest answered, "Yes, there are places in the Bible too hard for me to understand." As though he had just cornered the priest, with a triumphant tone the atheist asked, "Well, what do you do then?" Unruffled, the clergyman went on eating his dinner which happened to be Hudson shad, a tasty fish but noted for its bony structure. Looking up, he said, "Sir, I do just the same as when eating this shad. When I come to the bones, I put them to the side of the plate and go on enjoying my lunch. I leave the bones for someone else to choke on."

 

Maybe we don’t know as much about everything as we think we do. Maybe we even don’t know as much as God does! Maybe when Christ tells us to go back out and fish in those deep waters that we find so disconcerting… maybe we should just do it instead of telling him why we can’t and why we won’t! In this morning’s Gospel reading Jesus invites us to walk away from our usual way of thinking and living and in our discipleship to him, like Peter, James and John, to follow him out into the deep. We might not have to walk away from a boat as did the Disciples, but there are plenty of other things in our lives that we need to walk away from in order for our relationship with God to actually deepen.

 

 

Glory to Jesus Christ!

 


Sermon given by Father James (Bohlman)

On Sunday September 17th, 2017

At St. Mary Magdalene Church

Rincon, GA

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

 

2 Cor. 4: 6-15

Matt. 22: 35-46

 

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

 

Glory to Jesus Christ!

 

Fred and Lucinda went out to a nice restaurant. After getting settled and placing their orders, they noticed a bedraggled woman two tables away, with 3 empty martini glasses on the table, who was busily swigging the gin in her fourth glass. Since Fred kept staring at her Lucinda asked, "Do you know her?" Fred sighed, "Yes. She's my ex-girlfriend. She took to drinking right after we broke up 30 years ago.” "My Lord!" Lucinda exclaimed. "Who would have thought that a person could go on celebrating for that long?!"

 

Even though Fred is sure that he is the center of the universe, Lucinda sees it as her job to keep reminding him that he is not. Fred, however, is not the only person here this morning who thinks that everything is about himself. Our current culture tells us that we and our desires are what matters in life. Paul Vitz, a psychologist at New York University, has written about our cultural shift towards the “autonomy of the self”, or, what he calls, “Self-ism”. In his book entitled the Cult of Self-Worship he elaborates on Self-ism calling it the modern version of the myth of Narcissus, who falls in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. This narcissism is evident in everything in our culture from advertising to self-help psychology to New Age spirituality.

 

The basic premise of Self-ism is that it does not allow… and in fact, is even hostile to… social bonds with others and obligations to anyone other than one’s self. Self-ism is all about rights! and freedom!, and nothing about duties and obligations. Self-ism creates a narcissistic mentality where each person thinks they are some kind of deity. This orientation makes us a nation of 250 million Supreme Beings. WE are the deity whom we worship and we will have no others preferred before ourselves! So, then, what do we make of Christ’s words in this morning’s Gospel reading?:

 

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

 

Despite what Fred might think, loving our neighbor as ourselves is not the same thing as seeing and adoring ourselves in others. We may be tempted to think that because we are called “Christians” the heresy of Self-ism does not apply to us. But Orthodox Christian Americans are not immune to this insidious spiritual disease. In the grips of this disease the temptation is to define others as being “not us”.

 

Are you tired of feeling guilty about your sins but too embarrassed to come to Confession? I’m not making this up… but there’s an app for that! On February 9th of 2011 CBS News reported a new application for the iPhone called the "Confession Booth app”. All you do is confess to your iPhone! The app sells for $1.99 and is described as the "perfect aid for the penitent." The program lets users compile a list of their sins. Users get taken through the Ten Commandments, with questions attached to each. The app then displays the sins along with an act of contrition for the penitent to recite and… voila!... no more embarrassing Priest to contend with!

 

Sins that we should confess are not only about bad things that we do, but also about good things that we avoid doing. Have we here this morning become so caught up in our culture’s lie about pursuing ourselves that we don’t even bother to get involved with the needs of others? Hearing Christ’s command this morning to love our neighbor as ourselves, can we Orthodox Christians justifiably mutter “I don’t want to get involved.” Do we extend a helping hand to those of another socio-economic status, or of another political persuasion, or of another sexual orientation, or of another religious affiliation? Or to anyone?!

 

A young police officer was taking his final exam for the police academy when he came upon the following question: 

 

"You are on patrol in the outer city when an explosion occurs in a gas main in a nearby street. On investigation you find that a large hole has been blown in the footpath and there is an overturned van nearby. Inside the van there is a strong smell of alcohol. Both occupants--a man and a woman--are injured. You recognize the woman as the wife of your Chief of Police, who is at present away in another country. 

A passing motorist stops to offer you assistance, and you realize that he is a man who is wanted for armed robbery. Suddenly a man runs out of a nearby house, shouting that his wife is expecting a baby and that the shock of the explosion has made the birth imminent. Another man is crying for help, having been blown into the adjacent canal by the explosion, and he cannot swim.

Describe in a few words what actions you would take."

 

The young man thought for a moment, picked up his pen and wrote: "I would take off my uniform and mingle with the crowd."

 

Lest we think that Christ’s command this morning to care for our neighbor more than for ourselves only means to avoid doing them ill, let us consider that Christ never took a reactive approach to things, but rather stressed our being proactive. This means that, yes, we should avoid harming others, but more importantly, we should DO good for them! Doing good for others can have many expressions. For instance, making hospital visits is not just the work of the clergy; anyone can do it! It’s easy enough to be motivated to visit a family-member when they are in the hospital, but how about visiting someone we don’t even know, bringing to them some expression of Orthodox care? How about leaving anonymous bags of groceries by the front door of someone having a tough time? How about just generally inconveniencing ourselves for others?

 

This afternoon, let us give a few minutes to reflect upon how we, as Orthodox Christians, treat those who are “not us”. Let us ask not only whether or not we care about others, but more importantly… is that care getting translated into caring actions towards others?!

 

 

Glory to Jesus Christ!


Sermon given by Father James (Bohlman)

On Sunday September 10th, 2017

At St. Mary Magdalene Church

Rincon, GA

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

 

2 Cor. 1: 21-2:4

Matt. 22: 1-14

 

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

 

Glory to Jesus Christ!

 

In an attempt to make peace after their latest argument, Fred offered to go with Lucinda to do the food shopping. Surprised and pleased by the offer, Lucinda accepted. Near the end of their shopping they had only about 10 items to pay for so Fred suggested that they use the Self-Serve checkout. Lucinda replied, “I don’t know how it works,” so Fred said, “Just follow me and I’m sure we can figure it out.” And wouldn’t you know it, a few of their items did not have the necessary bar-codes on them, which the machine detected, so the monitor instructed them to place the items, one at a time, on the scale and then to push the “no code” button. The first item was a tomato, so Fred placed it on the scale and pushed the button even while saying to Lucinda, “Now how is this machine going to know what I just asked it to price?” But then, there it was: “Tomato”, and the price. Fred said, “Wow, that’s amazing! Let’s try that again.” This time it was a single lemon. And again the machine got it right: “Lemon”, and the price. By this time Fred could not figure out how the machine could know so he put the ground coffee on the scale. Now the store had run out of the regular coffee bags and in their place had left unmarked brown paper bags, so Fred was sure that there was no way that the machine could know what it was being asked to weigh and price. He hit the button and, sure enough: “Ground coffee”, and the price. Completely mystified, Fred went over to the bored teenager overseeing the automatic registers and asked, “How does this machine know what we put on the scale?” The young man grinned and then revealed the great mystery to Fred when he said: “I watch you from here and then I tell it.”

 

There are many puzzling mysteries in Life other than checkout machines, and sometimes our best guess turns out to not be good enough and, as a result, things don’t turn out as we think they should. This reality should give us pause to consider how our eternity will turn out and by telling this morning’s parable Christ tries to get us to look at our response to God’s invitation to get ready to join him at the eternal feast. Elsewhere in his Gospel Christ cautions, “…for you know not the hour.” The parable that Jesus tells this morning is not really about weddings, but about the danger of our indifference to God:

 

A certain king arranged a marriage for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come… they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business.”

 

In other words, the guests did not take the invitation seriously. Those who were hearing this story when Jesus told it would have been shocked by the disrespect manifested by the invited guests. In those days, a large wedding was the social event of the year. The feast lasted for days and sometimes even weeks. Messengers would have gone out months in advance and delivered personal invitations to all who were on the guest list. The thought that someone would refuse to attend any large wedding feast would be almost unheard of. The thought that someone would refuse to attend a wedding feast given by the king despite having already committed to attending, would have been inconceivable.

 

And yet… Jesus specifically speaks about their motivation when he says, “They made light of it.” It is quite clear that Christ is implying that the king in the parable represents God the Father. We here this morning probably think, “I would never make light of any of God’s commands.” Really? Can we afford to be so sure that we don’t make light of what God whispers to us in our heart?!

 

Three contractors were taking a tour of the White House. One was from Minnesota, another was from Tennessee, and the third was from Chicago. While walking along on the tour they couldn’t help but discuss business… what each one was currently building, the costs involved, etc. A White House official overheard them talking and approached them. He said, “I couldn’t help but overhear you guys; are you Contractors?” They all admitted that they were and the official replied, “Come with me, I might have a job for you.” The three men immediately puffed up with importance when they entertained the possibility that they might be doing some work on the White House, which would look GREAT in their advertising! The official brought them to some broken cast-iron fencing at the rear of the White House and he asked them if they would like to submit a bid for the job. Of course, all three men jumped at the offer and whipped out the measuring tapes and pads of paper that all contractors seem to always have at hand. After making calculations, the contractor from Minnesota said, "Well, I figure the job will run about $6000 but I’m willing to do it for you for $5500: $1500 for materials, $2000 for my crew and $2000 profit for me." The Tennessee contractor then said, “I also think it will run $6000, but I’m willing to do this job for just $700… $300 for materials, $300 for my crew and only $100 profit for me." Finally, the Chicago contractor leaned over to the White House official and whispered, "$2,700." In astonishment the official whispered back, “That’s higher than the Tennessee guy, why should I hire you?” The Chicago contractor whispered back, "$1,000 for me, $1,000 for you, and we hire the guy from Tennessee to fix the fence." The official said, “You’re hired!”

 

Even though many of us would not like to admit it, like the White House official at least some of our decisions are made out of self-interest… despite what we know God asks of us! The thinking behind this casual disobedience seems to be, “I have plenty of time in the world, I’ll get around to it.” This thinking persists even though Christ has warned us, “You know not the hour.” The fact is, however, that we cannot hoodwink God about our motivations and those motivations will determine our heavenly reward… or lack thereof. The harshness of that fact is what Christ is pointing out through the harshness of the parable’s ending when the King says about the man who arrived not suitably attired: “Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Christ is saying that this unhappiness is what will happen to us if we make light of accepting God’s invitation to do what is required in order to join him at the heavenly feast.

 

Tomorrow our nation will commemorate that horrific day of 9/11, the day 16 years ago when over 3000 people suddenly found themselves freed from the bonds of earth and unexpectedly standing before the throne of God. It can happen to us as well, and just as unexpectedly, and this is precisely Christ’s point when he cautions, “You know not the hour.” With this morning’s parable he is saying: Whatever state we are in when we arrive before God will betray our readiness to be with him, or our disregard of all of his invitations to get ready!

 

In this morning’s parable Christ is saying that the feast is ready; if the guest is also ready, then he shows up at the feast in suitable attire. Arriving in shoddy clothing says, clearly, that one did not take the invitation seriously, that one did not prepare oneself for the event, and maybe, even… that one just did not care about the one who issued the invitation. When it comes time for each of us to enter the eternal banquet hall, will we be suitably attired in righteousness? Through the telling of this morning’s parable Christ is presenting us with the discomforting reality that even God himself cannot save us from the foolishness of our ongoing disregard.

 

 

Glory to Jesus Christ!

 


Sermon given by Father James (Bohlman)

On Sunday September 3rd, 2017

At St. Mary Magdalene Church

Rincon, GA

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

 

1 Cor. 16: 13-24

Matt. 21: 33-42

 

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

 

Glory to Jesus Christ!

 

While driving home from church Lucinda remarked to Fred, "Did you see the ridiculous hat that Leroy’s wife was wearing?" Focusing on driving Fred absentmindedly replied, "No, I didn’t." After ten more minutes Lucinda commented, "Did you see that scandalous new dress that Mrs. Smith had on?" Fred replied, "I’m afraid I didn’t." Turning in her seat Lucinda snapped back at Fred, “Well! A lot of good it does YOU to go to church!"

 

And thus we have the Gospel according to our self-obsessed culture which states that the problem is always the other person, and never us. There can be many times when God just cannot get through to us about ourselves because our culture says that we don’t need to change, that we are wonderful just the way that we are. Our self-obsessed culture teaches us that we are our own reference for everything, that anything that we want to do is okay because we want to do it, and that, therefore, nothing is either right or wrong. It was just such a mindset that enabled this morning’s vinedressers to convince themselves that they could kill in order to get control of the vineyard.

 

In this morning’s Gospel reading Jesus speaks of a landowner and the farmers to whom he rented his land who in the reading are referred to as “vinedressers”. The farmers were to tend to the crop and the land, and when it was time, they were to give the landowner his share of the harvest. But when it was time for the harvest a problem arose: the farmers, no longer content to be the tenants of the vineyard, acted as if they had a right to everything! Year after year we hear this parable, and, most probably, we identify with the wronged owner. But Jesus did not tell this parable in order to comfort landowners who have been cheated and abused; rather, Jesus was giving a warning to those who misuse and abuse what has been entrusted to them. In other words, this parable is really a lesson addressed to us about stewardship and responsibility.

 

We are in serious spiritual danger today and we don’t recognize it because our culture tells us that we are just fine, that anything that we want to do is fine, and that there is no standard of goodness against which we need to measure ourselves other than our own desires. As a result we do not feel that we are accountable to anyone but ourselves. We don’t want someone telling us what to do and what kind of people we ought to be, even if that someone is God. Our culture tells us that our lives belong to us and us alone and that no one has the right to tell us that we can’t do something! As a result of this mindset we are bad stewards of the creation with which God has entrusted us since… according to our culture… not even God has the right to tell us what we can or cannot do! Our culture instills in us this motto: It is my life and I will do with it as I please. But this is not what Jesus Christ teaches, as we see in the parable of the Good Samaritan where he shows us our interconnectedness with others and our obligation to care for others.

 

The Greek philosopher Diogenes was one day standing on a street corner laughing like a mad man. One of his students became worried about the old man’s mind and came up to him and asked, “Why are you laughing like that?” Diogenes replied: “Do you see that stone in the middle of the street? More than ten persons have already stumbled on it, each one of them then looking down at the stone and cursing it… but nobody has bothered to remove it in order to prevent someone else’s stumbling!”

 

This type of thinking continues even today and is a direct result of our culture’s Gospel of the Self. The question for us this morning is: Have we here, even though we say that we are disciples of Jesus Christ, bought into our culture’s lie that we should be the center of all that we desire? Are we the sole standard of what is right and what is wrong?! Let us honestly ask ourselves: If we were the vinedressers in this morning’s Gospel, might not we also have been willing to… well, if not kill, at least to cheat in order to get what we want?

 

In this morning’s Epistle to the Corinthians St. Paul says: “Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong. Let all that you do be done with love.” Like the Corinthians, we live in a culture in which truth is regarded as relative, and where every person’s opinion is considered to be just as valid as anyone else’s. Our culture teaches us to confuse opinions with “truth”. We cannot be a Christian and believe this. Only Jesus Christ is the Truth, and his teaching is not “It’s every person for themselves!”

 

Fred’s next-door neighbor Leroy was driving along a narrow, winding road when, all of a sudden, a woman driving a large Rolls Royce came careening around the bend towards Leroy, nearly driving Leroy off of the road and yelling at him as she drove by: “PIG!” Leroy immediately retaliated by yelling back “FAT OLD COW!” and when he went around the bend he crashed head-on into the biggest pig he’d ever seen.

 

We often presume we know the whole story. We need to decide whose disciple we are: our culture’s, or Jesus Christ’s. God has given us his vineyard… which is the world… in order that we might provide for one another as did the Good Samaritan, no matter what lies our culture might tell us. Our culture also gives us the impression that there are no consequences to our not following Jesus Christ’s command to self-sacrifice. Not so, according to Jesus Christ. Let us listen, once again, to the ending of the parable that he told in this morning’s Gospel reading:

 

“He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.”

 

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