Sermon ~ Be Patient in All Things

I have always enjoyed reading Saint Paul.  He has a way of getting right to the heart of the matter without mincing his words.  He tells it like it is, which in his day was rare and today should be a lot rarer than it is.  Although he told it like it is, he never did it out of malice and he always, under line always, did it with love.

Writing to the Church in Rome, Saint Paul lays out some rules if you will.  He speaks to them about the grace that has been given to us.  You see, we are all given gifts by God, we may not know what they are or we may be hiding them for some reason or another, but all of us have been given graces.  By virtue of our baptisms we have become members of the God’s family and with that comes a certain amount of responsibility.  We are not alone in this for, believe it or not, we need each other.  There is no such thing as a solitary Christian or a Christian in isolation.  Even the hermits of the early Church that fled to the desert were not alone for long as the people came from the cities.  So we all have gifts and we need to exercise those gifts.

Today’s Epistle reading is a great illustration of what this truly means.  In the first few verses, St. Paul lays out the various roles in the Church.  “Although there are many members of the body, they do not all have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ and individually members of one another.”  We are family, and with that comes some responsibility.

St. Paul goes on to say, that the gifts we have been given differ according to the Grace that we have received, and then he names a few, prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, liberality, leadership, diligence, but then he tells us what we must do with all of these gifts.  If you re-read his words that we just heard moments ago, you will discover that what St. Paul is saying is that no matter what your job or station in life, whatever it is that you are doing we must do it to the best of our ability because by doing so, we bring glory to God.

But the same is true on the other side.  If we are not using our gifts to the full potential, and if we are not doing whatever it is that we are doing to the best of our ability, then we do not bring glory to God and that, in an Orthodox perspective, is not living up to the promises that were made on our behalf at our baptism.

When we call ourselves something, and I don’t care what that something is, it comes with roles and responsibilities that we have to live up too.  Some of us are parents, and that has a responsibility, the greatest responsibility if I might add, but we are also children, brothers, sisters, workers, employers, etc. but we are also Christians and more specifically, Orthodox Christians and that has to mean something.  If we are not practicing our faith to its utmost, then we are not bringing glory to God, and that is what St. Paul is warning us of in this passage today.

There is a line from the Book of Revelation that speaks about what will happen to us if we do not practice our faith at the highest levels.  The writer of Revelation calls us lukewarm and we will be spewn from the mouth of God.  We will be cast out.  I have said this before, Orthodoxy is not just another faith group or denomination, Orthodoxy is, and has to be, a lifestyle.  We are called to be different; we are called to rise above the pettiness of this life to something greater than ourselves.  We are called to care for those less fortunate and to be the voice of the voiceless.  We are called to take stands on issues and not back down no matter what pressure we are getting from the world.  That is what it means to be Orthodox and it is not easy.

But, St. Paul does not stop there, he writes to the Church at Rome, “be kindly to affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another, not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer, distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.”  What Saint Paul is saying here is that we have to think of others before we think of ourselves!  That is what it truly means to be a Christian, putting others before ourselves and our own wellbeing.

And how are we to do this, with love, brotherly love and affection.  But notice towards the end of what he said that we must be patient in tribulations.  I find it somewhat amusing when Christians complain about how the world treats us.  Where in Scripture does Jesus ever say, follow me and life will be easy.  Where in Scripture does Jesus say, follow me and you can continue to do whatever you want regardless of the consequences.  Where in Scripture does Jesus say, love everyone, except those who hate us.  The answer simply is nowhere.  Nowhere in Scripture does Jesus say that if we follow Him our life will be easy.  But, in many places He tells us just the opposite; He tells us that our life is going to be difficult and that the world will hate us, in fact He tells us to remember that when the world hates us, it hated Him first!  But we are to fact tribulations with patient endurance.

We are to see to the needs of the saints, that is all of us by the way, and we are to practice hospitality.  Then comes the most challenging part of what St. Paul is instructing us to do; “bless those who persecute you.”  And just to make sure we understand he adds, “Bless and do not curse.”  We are not only to pray for those who persecute us, but we are to bless them!  We are to impart God’s blessing on them, the same blessing that we impart on those we love and cherish in life.  That is the essence of Christianity.

But how are we supposed to do this?  The fathers and mothers of the Church teach that if we are living a true Christian life, if we are participating in the life of the Church, if we are availing ourselves of the Sacramental life of the Church, if we are “continuing steadfast in prayer, then this will natural for us because the life of the true Christian is all about love, love of God and love of neighbor.  Love, not hate, not curses, but love, unconditional love.  That is what it is all about that is what led Christ to the Cross and that is what should be our guiding principal.  If we truly love one another, with the love of Christ, then the rest will work itself out.

Take St. Paul’s words to heart today and during this Dormition Fast and pray that we might all be able to live them to their fullest.

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