Sunday, September 03, 2006

Servants of God

+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.

Our Gospel Lesson this morning (Matthew 19:16-26) features the familiar story of the wealthy man who came to Jesus saying, “Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” Jesus told him to keep the commandments of God, and when he answered that he had, Jesus further informed him that he still lacked one thing: “Go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven.” At this the man went away sorrowful, for he owned much.

Many Christians probably overlook this passage thinking that the instruction to sell their possessions doesn’t apply to them. However, if we take a deeper look we can find an underlying principle here that very much does apply to each of us. That principle is this: to be a follower of Jesus Christ each of us must learn to detach ourselves from the love of possessions and the false sense of security they arouse, and develop an attitude of surrender in regard to everything we own, counting it all as ultimately belonging to God and not to us.

A few weeks ago in my last homily I briefly touched on the idea that we are called by God to be stewards of earthly things, not owners of them. What is the difference between the two? A steward is someone who acts as an administrator of another’s wealth or goods. This wealth does not belong to him but he has been entrusted with it by the owner and is responsible for utilizing it in accordance with the owner’s will, also understanding that he is accountable to that owner and will answer to him. For the Christian this means that there is only one true owner of all things in life and that is God. However difficult this concept may be for good capitalists to grasp, the reality is that whatever degree of wealth a person has attained in this life has been allowed by God. We tend to think that we worked for it, we earned it; God had nothing to do with it. Such an attitude can cause us to behave very foolishly with that which God has entrusted to us.

The one inescapable truth in life is that we are only here for a very brief time. We are to use that precious time and anything else that God entrusts to us for His glory, in the service and care of others, and in the pursuit of our salvation. We are to think of ourselves not only as stewards but also as pilgrims traveling through this world on our way to the next. The image of a pilgrim is one of a person unhindered by an excess of worldly goods or cares. He is a traveler and therefore goes light, carrying only that which he needs. Should he acquire more than he personally needs, he gives the excess away to fellow pilgrims rather than burden himself unnecessarily.

The bible gives us many such images, yet most Christians set these examples aside and prefer to model themselves after the rich fool who built great storehouses and contented himself that he many goods laid aside for years to come, but then suddenly died.

This basic principle that the wealth and goods we temporarily have under our control are not our own but God’s goes hand-in-hand with another basic Christian idea, namely that our very lives do not belong to us, but to God. The scriptures tell us that we were bought with a price, and having been purchased by God, are no longer our own masters in life, but have God as our master.

I have a very important question to ask you: Do you see yourself as having been bought by the blood of Christ and belonging now to God? Do you consciously and deliberately live each day as if you were the servant of God, and your life and everything you have in your care is now the property of your new Master to do with as He pleases? Do you consider yourself accountable to God in every area of your life, and are meticulous to seek out and be obedient to His good and sovereign will with this truth in mind?

Once again I fear that many Christians fail in this regard and frankly refuse to become servants of God. There exists within each of us an unwillingness to lay down his life and renounce all things for Christ’s sake and the gospel’s.

Our fallen nature rebels against servitude, demanding that we retain control of our lives. We want to decide when, where, and how much of our lives we will give to God, and what we can acceptably hold back from Him. We tend to react badly when we are told what to do, whether by the scriptures or by holy tradition, or by those in authority over us in the Church. Let us just say that if we are given a general instruction to tithe, or to roll out of bed earlier on Sunday to come to matins, or perhaps are given some penance by our father/confessor, we may or may not follow this, depending on how we feel. If we fudge with the fast or our rule of prayer or some other aspect of our Orthodox Christian life, we justify this on the basis that these things are hard for us and therefore, apparently, optional.

But is this the attitude of a good and faithful servant of God? Do we habitually parse things out in our minds a little too much in order to justify doing what we want? In His infinite mercy, God provides us with many assaults on our stubborn will, in order that we might learn to submit to Him, since our first and ultimate sin is rebellion against God Himself. In His wisdom, He provides us with imperfect rules and imperfect men to follow, not for us to judge them and determine if they are worthy of our obedience, but rather that we would simply learn the saving grace of obedience itself.

What I find interesting about today’s Gospel Lesson is that when the rich man was given an instruction that he didn’t wish to follow, he didn’t pretend to be obedient, he simply walked away with great sorrow. He knew that to follow Christ meant he would have to obey Him, and at tremendous personal cost. Perhaps he needed to go think about that for awhile. By contrast, we don’t necessarily go anywhere, but perhaps secretly turn away from Christ in our hearts. We still come to church, but we just don’t obey Him. This is a very sad state, and people who live that way have absolutely no joy.

Yes, there is much in this Gospel story that applies to us. We too are called to surrender everything to our Master; to commend ourselves and each other, and all our life unto Christ our God. And just as it was hard for the rich man to obey, so it is often hard for us. But nobody promised us that it would be easy. No one ever said the Christian life would be anything other than one of surrender and struggle to be obedient to God. The only promise that we have is that if we do these things, we will find joy and life eternal in God’s kingdom. God is a good and just Master, and obedience to Him is rewarded way out of proportion to the sacrifice made. If we lay everything down at the feet of Christ, we will gain back a thousand times as much and more. If we measure out our obedience to Him on a tiny scale, we will lose all, and even what we now have will be taken from us.

Let us take these words to heart and reflect on them, and learn to surrender our lives completely unto Jesus Christ our Lord.

+To the glory of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.


At 9/03/2006 9:39 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

As i recall, wan't Jesus asked that if a rich man couldn't achieve Salvation how could anyone?

with God, all things are possible was the reply that was given.

Nice sermon Ere, it is a cause of reflection on service to God.

At 9/04/2006 8:29 AM , Anonymous Bruce said...

The Sunday of "The Rich Man" has always been a memorable one for me Father. I have heard you speak on this before and it has always stuck with me.

So disturbing that Christ said "sell all you have and give it to the poor". I had always been taught in my prior faith ----"Here's what Christ really meant"..... They always would tell me what Christ REALLY meant on so many passages. How did they know??? But their take here was that "Christ looked at the man's heart and saw that his possesions possesed him". This is why Christ said this to the man. They would say that "Christ's words to us would not be like this". Personally, I find the first part of their interpretation of this to be a reasonable view, thought not foolproof. However, if this is the correct view, then is it not safe to say that Christ may indeed say this very thing to quite a large percentage of Amercians? If this doesn't represent us- (our possesions possessing us) then what does?

Thanks you again for this blessed homily Father.

God have mercy on us all,


At 9/04/2006 9:24 AM , Blogger Fr. Michael Reagan said...

There is a story of a monk who went to his elder to report that he had been given two small gold coins by visiting relatives. He asked if he could keep them, and the elder said no. "If you keep these two coins, no matter how small their value, you will fall to the temptation to trust them more than God," the elder explained.

I think we all trust in our possessions more than we realize. If we have money in the bank we say, "I am protected in case of emergency". If we own a telephone, we feel less of a need to stand before God and pray fervently for our children and friends each day; we just call them up and say, "How ya doin'?" If we own a car we say, "I will go here and do this"; we don't say, "If God wills I will live and perhaps go here today and accomplish what pleases Him".

These things and many more like them are very subtle, but they combine to lessen our trust and reliance on God because we have them to turn to in times of need.

I think every Christian should learn to examine himself to see if he is owned by his possessions, rather than the owner of them. Do we trust in what we have more than God?

At 9/04/2006 12:09 PM , Blogger Aaron said...

i don't care much for my posessions...besides my brewing equipment...everything else i'd gladly give up...oh and my poppers for roasting coffee, but seriously everything else can be kicked to the curb...ohhh, and our air conditioned car, really that's it everything else is up for grabs....dang it, forgot about my climbing gear, not quite ready to give that up, oh and my backpacking equipment, need that too. See, i can easily give almost everything up!

At 9/05/2006 6:30 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

A old Baptist saying is "I haven't seen a luggage rack on a hertz"

Naked we came into this world, naked we go out. We don't really "own" anything at all.


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