Rhode Island Council of Churches Sermon

Sunday, January 29, 2012
St. Mary and Mena Coptic Orthodox Church, Hope, Rhode Island
Reverend Clergy, Brothers and Sisters it is a joy for me to be with you on this day in this magnificent Church and to share with you some thoughts. I bring you greetings from my small parish in Southbridge, Massachusetts and I thank you for the invitation to be here with all of you today. Please forgive my voice; I am suffering from the last remnants of a cold that seems to be holding on to me.
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ. In the Gospel of St. John that was read a few moments ago we heard these words;
“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.” John 12:24-26
We have a custom in the Orthodox Church that after the death of someone they are remembered on the 40th day after their death as well as yearly for the first three years with a memorial service. The service includes prayers and the singing of Memory Eternal to remind us that we need to keep the memory of the one who has gone before us alive in our hearts. Placed on a small table outside of the Holy Place will be a tray that holds boiled wheat that has been sweetened and spiced as a reminder of the affirmation of God’s promise that those who have died in Christ will rise again to life.
Jesus often uses what I call, farm references when he speaks to His Apostles and those around Him. Some of the subtleties are lost on us in our 21st century world as many of us no longer farm. Oh sure we may have a garden out back with some tomato plants but we do not rely on the works of our hands to survive so if the plant does not grow to its full potential it does not matter. But the thing to remember is that unless the seed dies it cannot bring new life. We need to do the same thing and St. John reminds us of that in his Gospel.
When we decide to become followers of Jesus Christ we are turning our backs on the world and all of its empty promises. I am reminded of the story from Scripture of Jesus being tempted in the desert after his 40 day fast. The world is constantly telling us that if you just turn your back on Jesus all will be well. We live in a society that tells us that no one has the right to tell us how to live and how to act. And it would seem that we live now in a society that does not glorify the things of heaven but the things of earth and of the flesh. We live in a world today that tells us it is okay to do what you want, we live in a world today that has all but removed sin from our vocabulary. We live in a world that has become selfish, but we are called to be just the opposite of what the world wants of us and that is not an easy task. In order for us to become something new, like the stalk of wheat, we must first die, die to ourselves and die to the world.
The early writers of the church use the image of crucifying the flesh, not our mortal flesh but the flesh of the passions. St. Paul uses this same imagery in his letter to the Galatians where he lists the passions, or the vices; adultery, fornication, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, jealousy, heresies, drunkenness, envy, and murder just to name a few. But he does not leave us without hope as he then tells us what we can do; love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control… These are the fruits of the spirit.
Dying to one’s self is not an easy part of the journey but if we are to become a new creation dying, like the seed is the first step.
I am a monastic in the Orthodox Church. I have taken vows publically and have chosen to live a life that goes against what the world wants me to be. I will never be rich, by worldly standards and I will never be famous, infamous maybe, but after today who knows. This might be my launching pad! During the service of tonsure of a monastic I was clothed with the very garments I am wearing today.
During the Tonsure service when the Monk makes the profession of his vows, several symbols are presented to him by the Abbot. These symbols remind him of the life that he is now beginning.
It is the tradition that the new monk is given a new name as a sign of being a new creation.
This is a very visible and public way of living out the passage we heard from John’s Gospel. This is not always a practical thing of people to do. So how do we do this?
Jesus gives us the instruction Himself. When the rich young man comes to Him and asks what he must do Jesus tells him to obey the commandments of love God and love of neighbor. That is it really. We have to love God with our whole heart, mind and soul. But it does not end there for we have to then show that love of God by loving our neighbor. Not always an easy thing to do but it is not optional.
Our entire journey in the spiritual life is not meant to be a sprint but a marathon. This is another thing that goes against what the world wants of us. Instant gratification is not part of the spiritual life but is something that happens gradually over time, a life time. The seed does not spring up into the wheat stock the second it is placed in the ground; it takes time and love and care to bring it to its full potential. That is exactly what the spiritual life is all about bringing you, and me, to our fullest potential in Christ.
The theme today is “We will be changed… by the victory of our Lord Jesus Christ” we have already been changed we have already been called to be what we are called to be and that is children of the light and of the day. We have been called to be instruments of change in this world if not us then who? If not now than when?
I was reminded recently that the first word of the Great Commission is “go” we must go we must do we must become! The life of a Christian is action, we are people of action. St. James tells us in his letter that faith without works is dead. It is not enough to just love God we must love our neighbor and in order to do that we must go!
Mahatma Gandhi said that if we want to see change then we must become the change we want to see. It is like that old hymn; “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” We must not leave this place today until we all make the decision that we must die, die to ourselves and die to the world. We will in fact be changed by the victory of our Lord Jesus Christ, in fact we have already been changed but unless the grain of wheat dies it cannot bring forth new life.
I would like to end with a quote from one of my favorite saints of the Orthodox Church. St. Herman of Alaska is credited with bringing the Orthodox faith to Alaska and by doing that bringing the faith to America. He was a simple man that just loved his people, loved them so much that he was often at odds with the world. Saint Herman is a great example of how we can be transformed and then how we can transform the world. I leave you this this;
“From this day forth, from this hour, from this minute, let us love God above all, and strive to do His holy will.”
God Bless You All
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