Sermon ~ The Acceptable Time

I am conflicted today, and have been all week, about what to say to you today.  We stand on the brink of war, once again, and I am conflicted between what our Holy Church teaches about war and how evil it is and wanting to do something to being an end to terrible suffering.  It is as if we have the means to help someone but we just don’t want to.  But on the other hand will what we do make things worse, and in this case I believe that military intervention in Syria will make a bad situation even worse for those who live there.

The use of chemical weapons has to be one of the most heinous crimes that mankind can commit upon itself but so is the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women, and children for nothing more than being Christian and living in a place where that is not very popular at the present time.  But where will this end?  Sure, we can fly over there in matter of hours, drop a few bombs, and be back in another few hours as if nothing happened.  We can launch a strike from one of the many war ships we presently have anchored off shore and not even see the destruction that will be caused, but to what end?  We have involved ourselves in a region of the world that we can never hope to understand and with all of our many, good intentions, and military aid, we have inflamed a region that was already on the brink of disaster.

I am thankful, as I stand here this morning, that the President seems to be coming to an understanding that the vast majority of the American people and the world do not support such military intervention and he is going to ask Congress for the approval, my prayer today is that they seek wisdom and will not, as the British Parliament did this past week, give approval to this notion that dropping bombs will make the situation better.

Can we help, yes we can, should we help, yes we should, but with aid to those who are in the most need, the innocent.  We can bring humanitarian aid to that region or help in the refugee camps that have been established in the neighboring countries.  Each missile that we would launch costs $1.5 million dollars; imagine the amount of aid that would bring to people who have been suffering so long.

The message of the Gospel is peace; the message of Jesus is Peace, peace and love.  At each Sunday Liturgy, as I process with the Book of the Gospels, the word of God, we hear the words from the Sermon on the Mount, Blessed are the Peace Makers for they will be called Children of God.  As I carry the Good News, the very words of Peace, we are hearing what will become of those who pursue peace; they will become children of God!

Then we hear the Gospel for today.  Jesus returns home and attends synagogue as is His custom.  He is asked to read the passage from the Scriptures and He chooses the passage from the Prophet Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”

With these words, Jesus has anointed a new ministry here on earth that is not about the temporal things of this world but about the eternal.  He is proclaiming in a loud voice for all to hear, that He has come to preach to those who have been forgotten in this world.  The long awaited Messiah has come not to free those held in physical bondage but to free those held in spiritual bondage and show how that is to be accomplished, by loving God and by loving ones neighbor.

He has been sent to preach to the poor, not just the material poor, but to the poor in spirit.  He has come to calls sinners to repentance and to show them that the way they are living their life is not acceptable, but He will also show them the way.  He did not come and say, what you are doing is okay, not He came to show them that their lives, their lives of debauchery and immorality, were not right.  He did not come to condemn them for what they have been doing but to show them the way to repentance and reconciliation.

He has come to being healing to the broken hearted.  Yes He performed miracles and healed people of their physical ailments but what He actually did was to heal those wounds that are deep inside that can only be healed by love and the knowledge that God loves you not matter what you have done.  We are all created in the image and likeness of the God of love, and although we have gone astray, His love for us never dies and what Jesus came to do was to show us this eternal truth and to teach us how to love each other as God loves each and every one of us.

He has come to being liberty to those in captivity.  Again, not physical captivity, for this world will all pass away, but those who are held captive by sin and feel there is no way out so they sink deeper and deeper into despair and fall further away from the love of God.  I talk with people all the time who are so deep in their own sin that they have no idea how to climb out.  They cannot see how it is even remotely possible that God loves them.  We have to show the way to the light and help them climb out of this pit of despair and bring them to the loving knowledge of God.

We can do this by helping with the physical.  Someone who is hungry, or thirsty, or naked, needs to have their material needs met so they will then be ready to have their spiritual needs met.  This is what I mean when I spoke of bringing humanitarian aid to those in the Middle East.  Those who have had to flee their own homes with no more than the clothes on their backs need help and we can bring that help both physical and spiritual.  The Orthodox Church, under the banner of IOCC, has been working in this part of the world for many years and brings food, water, clothing, and hope to people whose lives have been destroyed by the calamity of war in their own countries.  One way we can help bring aid and comfort is to support their work.  I sent an email this week detailing how we can help.  Please consider a donation to help in this way.  Unlike most charities, our Orthodox charities spend most of the donated money on direct aid and not on inflated salaries for their executives.

We bring liberty to captives by bringing them to loving knowledge of a God who loves them.

Jesus came to bring sight to the blind, yes those who are physically blind that He healed, but most importantly to those who are spiritually blind.  Those who think they know better than God, those who think it is okay to pick and choose what commandment they want to obey and those they think do not matter anymore because society has told them so.  The world is spiritually blind because the world is run by the one who rejected God and who was cast out of heaven.  Who are we choosing to follow?  The one who is out for our destruction or the one who gave His only Son so that we might have eternal life?

He came to those who are oppressed, yes those oppressed by the very governments that have been set to rule over them, but more importantly those who are oppressed by their spiritual leaders.  Those who wish to control every aspect of their lives.  Those who betrayed their calling to ministry by their sinful ways, those who bring shame on God’s church by their scandalous behavior, those we covet the riches of this world and steal from the house of God and those who have stolen the innocence of the children of God and those who set themselves before God.  Those who live better lives than those who they have been sent to serve.  Those who feel they should be served first and receive the choicest cuts and who desire the best seats, those who refuse to humble themselves but require humility of those they serve.  These were the ones Jesus was making reference too when He spoke of a wicked and perverse generation.  The Church is supposed to liberate not hold captive those whom God brings.

The passage ends with these words, “to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”  This is the time of the incarnation, when the Kingdom of Heaven has come to earth.  Jesus brought the Kingdom of God to earth through His birth and it is here for all of us to take hold of.

Jesus transferred this ministry to His Apostles and by our baptism to all of us.  We have to carry this ministry forward in the face of all that the world throws at us.  This is the acceptable time, now is the time to do this.

We need to pray for those who are suffering things that we will, I hope, never understand.  We need to pray for those in power that they will use that power judicially and for the right reasons and if necessary that the military becomes necessary, that it is used for peace and not extend the violence in the world.

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