Sunday, November 26, 2006

What must I do?

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

Whenever I hear this gospel passage (Luke 18:18-27) it takes me back some 30 years to the time when, shortly after becoming a Christian, I moved in with four other young Christian men in a house we rented in North Seal Beach. As you might imagine with five marginally-educated yet highly-opinionated young men all under one roof, we had many lively theological discussions, often generating far more heat than light. During one such bull-session, I pointed to this very passage and asked, “Why is it that Jesus didn’t seem to know the gospel?” Jaws dropped and eyes bugged as I continued, “I mean, if this man had come to any one of us asking what good thing he had to do to inherit eternal life, we would have told him that salvation is based not on works but on faith in Jesus Christ alone.” I then pointed out that Jesus did not give that answer. Jesus actually told the man to keep the commandments of God, and what was even worse, to sell his possessions and give to the poor and then become His follower. “Given this golden opportunity to preach the gospel clear and true,” I asked, “why did Jesus mess it up with all this works theology?”

Well, my roommates gave me that look of pity that so often appeared after every opening of my mouth, and explained that the young man in this story had the “old testament mindset” (Gee, that’s a strange thing for a Jew of Christ’s time to have!) of trying to gain salvation through good works. For this reason, Jesus gave him a verbal beating as if to say, “OK, wise guy, you want to earn your way to heaven? Then keep the WHOLE Law of Moses, in perfection, and if THAT’S too easy for you, then sell your entire house and everything in it and give it all away!” They insisted that Jesus was rough on this man in order to make him realize that such a path to God was impossible for any man to keep, and that this realization would somehow lead to him see that all he really needed to do to be instantly saved was just believe in Jesus.

In other words and according to them, Jesus really didn’t mean what He said here. He didn’t really want this guy to keep the commandments or to sell his possessions, any more than He expects any of us to do that. He just wanted the man to believe.

As I tried to stretch my tiny mind around their logic, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Then why didn’t Jesus just say what He meant?” As I continued under their tutelage for the next several months, I learned from them that there were apparently many things that Jesus said that He didn’t really mean. He didn’t really mean that those who believe and are baptized will be saved. He didn’t really mean for us to literally eat His body and drink His blood. And in Matthew 25 He didn’t mean to suggest that eternal life might be decided on whether or not people had fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, or cared for the poor or the sick during their lifetimes.

Unfortunately, these interpretations were not unique to my former roommates alone, for I have since heard many preachers teach the same things. It seems there are many people today who have a hard time believing that Jesus really meant most of the things He said in the gospels, especially when they cause a conflict with contemporary doctrine.

A couple of years after that, as I began to be exposed to the writings of the early Church Fathers, I was shocked to discover an entire body of Christians who did not systematically explain away the teachings of Jesus, but in fact believed that He truly meant every word that He had said. Can you imagine that? Going back and rereading the gospels with this new perspective (Which is actually a very old perspective!) caused me to see how much “spin” we evangelicals had been trained to place upon the scriptures in order to make them fit with our teachings. Far from being the “bible literalists” we prided ourselves on, I saw that we had twisted the true meaning of the scriptures and had very effectively nullified the word of God by our modern traditions of men.

This realization marked a new beginning in my life that was at once very exciting and entirely sobering. I was overjoyed at finally being able to accept the scriptures for what they actually said. At the same time I began to realize that the days of the “free ride” were over in regard to my Christian life. The scriptures which call for us to “sin no more” and to strive earnestly toward the holiness which pleases God could no longer be marginalized, as if simply believing in Jesus did away with the need for all that. I began to see that what I did with my faith, and whether or not it worked its way out in my life, now mattered a great deal more.

So does this mean I have I set aside a pure faith in Jesus Christ and begun to trust in my own works to gain the kingdom of heaven? Not at all! Rather, I now understand the scriptures which teach, “For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast.” And oh yes, let us not forget the rest of the passage so seldom quoted, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Strictly speaking, salvation is not of faith alone nor of works alone, but of Christ alone, who gives us both the gift of faith and the gift of good works that we might live them both out and fulfill our calling as God’s workmanship.

My brethren, the Orthodox Christian life is indeed a narrow and difficult way, especially when compared to the “Pop” Christianity of today. God calls us to take the pursuit of our salvation seriously, and to strive for our utmost level of commitment and holy living. This means that there will certainly be struggle in our daily lives, for sin comes so easily and holiness seems so elusive. In the Church we are given the “Medicine of Immortality” in Christ’s Body and Blood, and the many ancient and powerful spiritual tools to aid us and help keep us focused. We have the light yoke of Jesus Christ to gently and graciously guide us in the learning and the doing of that which is pleasing to God. And we are also incredibly blessed to have the stories of the Lives of the Saints, and the eternal witness they provide of people who indeed sold all their possessions to follow Christ unhindered, or who fought bravely against the godlessness of their age, and who laid down their lives in every conceivable way including martyrdom in order to please the God whom they adored.

With so much going for us, can we see that it is only our own spiritual sloth that paralyzes us and keeps us from fulfilling our calling as God’s workmanship? In my opinion, much of the modern traditions of men which nullify Jesus’ teachings are maintained less to preserve a “pure, biblical faith” than to free men from the obligation to struggle and to pursue the narrow and difficult way of salvation in the Christian life. Many evangelicals rise above the limitations of their “official” doctrine to indeed work the works and live the lives which are pleasing to God, whereas many Orthodox equipped with the true teaching utterly fail to live it. Good for them; bad for us.

Let us understand that we are saved only by Jesus Christ, and only when we cooperate or synergize with Him in fulfilling God’s will throughout the course of our lives on earth.

May God help us to continually better ourselves in this regard and not leave undone the work which He has entrusted to us. Let us learn to believe and to live in such a way that glorifies Him, and unites us to Him unto life eternal.

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

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Helena's Blessing

Over the last twenty years since my ordination to the holy priesthood within the Eastern Orthodox Church, I have experienced nearly every reaction from other people that a priest might reasonably be expected to have, ranging from the genuine piety of those who love Christ and thus give honor to His servants, to the hostility of those who stridently reject traditional ecclesiology, and with that, the need for an ordained priesthood.

However, last Sunday after the Divine Liturgy at St. Barnabas, I was treated to the one reaction that above all others I personally cherish.

This occurred when young Helena, one of the many toddlers in our parish, approached me at coffee-hour (The time of fellowship after the divine services) and babbled something to me in her delightfully unintelligible toddler-English. As is usual for me, and with the utter cluelessness of an adult who is no longer fluent in such a wonderfully complex pre-language, I just smiled dumbly back at her and replied something like “Oh, is that so? Well, isn’t that just grand!” Usually a response along those lines will light up her whole face, and she will then waddle off to her next great adventure. But on that day, something rather different happened.

As I sat there, earnestly pretending to understand whatever the heck it was that she thought she was saying, it soon became obvious that she was not getting the response from me that she desired. Her joyous expression, underlined by her beautifully sweet and semi-toothed grin, soon dissolved into the very picture of royal impatience as, like a princess, she stood before me waiting for me to fulfill her regal demands. Just like Strother Martin and Paul Newman in that famous scene from the movie Cool Hand Luke, what we had between us was a genuine “failure to communicate”. Looking at her, I asked, “What is it, Sweetie?” I didn’t have to wait long for her answer. Immediately she grabbed my right hand with both of her pudgy little toddler hands and pulled it toward her lips to plant a loving kiss upon the back of it. “Oh, you want a blessing!,” I said, and promptly formed my fingers into the “IC-XC” shape which spells out the first and last letters of the words “Jesus” and “Christ” in Greek, and traced them in the Sign of the Cross over her in the traditional manner. The instant return of her joyous smile assured me that I had finally stumbled upon the right comeback. Thusly satisfied to have received the blessing of her priest, she then spun a bit unsteadily on her heels and ran off to her mom who was standing a few feet behind her, watching with joy.

As I sat there in the wake of her absence, I contemplated what a beautiful thing it was in which I had just been privileged to participate. I couldn’t help but recall to my mind the story in the gospels of the parents who brought their little children to Jesus to be blessed by Him. His disciples took offense at this, and told the parents to stop wasting the Master’s time. Perhaps they thought Jesus’ message was for adults only, even as the many Protestant denominations today which refuse to allow small children to be baptized or to become participants in the Eucharistic community. Jesus rebuked His disciples, telling them to permit the little children to come to Him unhindered. In another place in the gospels He told us that unless we ourselves “become as children” we shall not see the kingdom of heaven.

What are some of the characteristics of little children that our Master would want us to imitate? For one thing, children only know what they are taught. They naturally absorb the customs and traditions of the good families they are raised within and do not seek to reinvent these to suit their own whims. They delight in hearing the old stories from their grandparents and perhaps even great-grandparents, and by these priceless experiences, gain a sense of rootedness, identity, and belonging. With such a firm foundation established for them in their youth, such children are more likely to maintain the family customs, and in time, pass them on to their own children. Families such as these are truly blessed.

Little Helena is lucky to belong to two families; one, the earthly family of her bloodline, the other, the heavenly family of God which is called the Church. As her heavenly family imprints its customs and traditions upon her earthly family, she in turn absorbs the Christian way of life from them. From the moment of her baptism, 40 days after her birth, she was brought into the “community of the faithful” and given the Precious and Life-giving Body and Blood of Christ to nourish her new and growing life in Him. She has been carried into church by her parents or grandparents since her infancy, and watched as they revered the holy icons, or lit a candle in prayer, or read from the Holy Scriptures, or bowed when the deacon censed them, or kissed the hand of the priest. Quite naturally she has taken to these outward expressions of faith, as in fact nearly all children who are exposed to them do. She did not choose to become an Orthodox Christian; that choice was made for her by her parents. But as she grows, the foundation that is now being formed for her will make it much easier for her to accept the faith of her heavenly (And earthly) family as her own. Perhaps one day she will pass on the customs and traditions of her family to her own children, as indeed Orthodox Christians have done for nearly 2000 years.

Many Christian believers today have not been exposed to these customs and traditions of the ancient Orthodox Church, or perhaps have been influenced by “protestant” beliefs to be suspicious of them. Perhaps some may even be personally offended at the idea of a toddler seeking the blessing of a priest or kissing his hand. I suppose we could say that such people are at least in good company, for our Lord’s own disciples once made this same mistake. However, it would be so much better for these people (And for their children!) to look beyond such initial reactions, and to engage in a personal and open-minded study of historic Christian Orthodoxy. While there are many who do not yet realize this, the Orthodox Church is truly their “family” as well. The customs and traditions of the Orthodox Church represent the full expression and realization of the Christian faith delivered to the apostles “once, for all” and handed down within the family ever since. These things represent the common inheritance of all Christians. Though many believers may presently be estranged from this family and may not understand many of its customs, the Orthodox Church warmly welcomes all of its children back and beckons them to experience what they have been missing. Those of us who have accepted this invitation and have been received into the Orthodox Church as converts, have truly understood ourselves as “coming home” and have learned to deeply appreciate our Christian ancestors for all that they accomplished to keep the family intact and well for our sakes.

I suppose one day young Helena will grow up and look back on her childhood experiences with a similar gratitude. On that day she will bless God that she did not have to go looking for her spiritual family, or wonder if such a family even existed. Having been raised in the Church, she will always know she is one of God’s family, and have that wonderful sense of belonging so vital to human beings. I felt very happy for her as I saw the joy in her face over the blessing I gave her. Yeah, maybe she is a little too young to understand what it all means to her now. But one day she will understand, and loving her Lord Jesus Christ just as her family taught her to do, the joy she experiences even now will be made complete.

Blessed is our merciful God!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

A Reflection on Mary and Martha

Mary and Martha, the two sisters of Lazarus, loved the Lord Jesus with all their heart and ministered to Him. From the gospels it is clear that Jesus also loved this little family and treasured His moments with them. It was this Lazarus whom Jesus had raised from the dead as a sign of the universal resurrection to come. After this sign, Jesus came into their home for a meal, and sat teaching all those present while Martha went about the business of preparing the food and serving. Much distracted by all the work, and resentful that her sister Mary simply sat at Jesus’ feet listening to Him instead of sharing her burden, Martha suddenly blurted out to Jesus, “Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? Bid her therefore that she help me”. And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled by many things. But one thing is needful, and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

While some may take Jesus’ words as a rebuke of Martha, I personally never understood them in that way. For one thing, it is hard for me to imagine Jesus doing anything to humiliate His friend in front of her family and everyone else present. It is likely His words were filled with kindness and love, and like the flipping of a light switch, suddenly brought to Martha the understanding and perspective she needed at that moment. Furthermore, although we are not told of her reaction, I rather doubt that she turned on her heel and stormed out of the room in a huff, to spend the next half-hour angrily banging pots and pans around in the kitchen! In my mind’s eye I can see her nodding her head in submission to the Lord and taking her place beside Mary, perhaps exchanging a smile and a warm squeeze of the hand with her as the two sat together listening to the remainder of the Lord’s teaching. When Jesus had finished, it is almost certain that the two sisters arose and went out to the kitchen together to complete the serving and to tend to their guests.

When Jesus spoke to Martha of “the one thing needful,” did He mean to say that there is never a place for service and good works? Certainly not! After ministering to them by the teaching of His word, Jesus then had the need to be ministered to Himself by the loving labors of these two women. We might even say that Mary and Martha are the two sisters representing devotion and good works that must live within the heart of every true Christian. As St. Ephraim the Syrian one wrote, “Blessed is he who with all reverence, like Mary, remains at the Lord’s feet (in prayer), and, like Martha, hastens to receive the Lord and Savior (with good works).”

In truth, both things are needful. A life spent only in an abstract reflection upon the word of God but never in the living out of it, is a life that profits little. Similarly, should we only live as “the busy bee,” constantly doing all the behind the scenes work of life or even of the parish, but seldom taking the time to sit quietly at the Lord’s feet and allow ourselves to be ministered to by Him, our Christian lives will remain empty of the one thing that gives them meaning in the first place.

Blessed are the two sisters, Mary and Martha, and blessed is the Christian who welcomes them both into his or her heart! May the prayers and intercessions of these two sister-saints beloved of Christ move us to imitate them both, and lead us toward the devotion and good works that represent the fullness of our life in Christ.

To God be all glory, honor, and worship. Amen.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Rich Man and Lazarus

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

This morning’s Gospel Lesson is the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. Over the years, I have heard many Christian teachers claim that one should not attempt to derive doctrine from the parables of Christ, asserting that they utilize confusing symbolism and hidden meaning, making it difficult to clearly understand what Christ is trying to say, thus leading to the possibility of doctrinal error.

However, it seems to me that there are plenty of people who misunderstand and misinterpret even the plain and straight-forward teachings of Christ, such as where He says, “Unless a man is born again of water and the Spirit, he shall not see the kingdom of God,” or where He says, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you”. These are both very clear and direct statements of Christ, understood by the apostles and the Church from Day One to apply to Holy Baptism and the Eucharist, respectively. Yet today many Christians no longer care to know what the apostles or the early fathers actually taught, or what the early Church believed. They no longer measure their own beliefs by this yardstick, but are content to accept contemporary doctrinal models, even if that means creatively reinterpreting or outright dismissing certain portions of the Holy Scriptures that just don’t quite fit.

Case in point: our parable this morning. There are things here which align with historic Christian teaching quite well, but which tend to make many modern believers cringe.
For example, when the eternal destinies of these two men were prefigured by the one being carried away by angels to Abraham’s Bosom, and the other descending into the torment of Hades, absolutely no mention was made of the personal faith of either of them. For many of our brethren today that’s a positively ghastly omission! What’s even worse is that Father Abraham told the Rich Man that Lazarus was being comforted because his life had been one of abject misery, whereas the Rich Man was being tormented because he had lived a life of great comfort coupled with a callous neglect of the needs of those around him. This would seem to move us even farther away from the modern notion that salvation is entirely a matter of “right faith” alone and has nothing to do with one’s earthly “works” or way of life.

We begin to understand why the parables of Jesus are not so popular today. And not just the parables, but much of our Lord’s teaching as well. For, while He spoke often of the need to believe in Him for eternal life, He also spoke throughout the gospels on the need for charitable works and righteous living as well. In fact He summed up His teaching on this matter by warning us, “Not all who say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,” shall see the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of My Father who is in heaven”. Clearly, not all who merely believe and call Jesus “Lord” will be saved, but only those who do the will of Jesus’ Father in heaven. This is important for all of us to remember.

And what is the will of Jesus’ Father? We find that taught to us in such places as Matthew 25, where we are told to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, care for the stranger, clothe the naked, visit the sick, minister to those in prison, and preach the gospel without error. In other words, we are to be the hands and feet and the heart of Jesus, and do what He would do in the midst of such human suffering. We are, after all, His Body on earth, called out from among the nations to carry on His ministry to the fallen and hurting people of this world. The things that we see that He did during His lifetime on earth, we are to continue to do, that His love might be manifested in us and through us, and that the world might know that we are His.

This is the true Christian gospel that far too often has been distorted or neglected by so many people today. And here I include Orthodox, Catholics, and Protestants alike, for we all share a measure of guilt in this. Yes it is true that some people subscribe to distorted, even heretical teachings that claim that God only cares about what a person believes and is entirely unconcerned with how they actually live. But there are many, many more believers who attend churches in which both right believing and right living are preached, yet they simply fail to live up to it.

As I look at this parable, I certainly find much that I need to pay closer attention to. I sense that I am probably not the Lazarus character here, so unless I get to be Father Abraham, that only leaves one other guy that might be me. It’s not too cool to think of myself as the Rich Man in this parable, but aside from the “dressing in purple and dining sumptuously every day” bit, in every other way the resemblance is uncanny. I am almost always far more concerned with my own life and pleasure than with the real needs of others. It is easy for me to look past those in need and ignore them. I don’t mean to paint an entirely negative picture of myself; sometimes I am the very model of spirituality. When I hear of someone’s great need I may fall piously to my knees and pray, “Oh Lord, raise someone up to help that person! Someone else, Lord, because Thou knowest how busy I am”. Yes, it is very easy for me to be too busy, too protective of my own time, and too blind and unfeeling, just as the Rich Man was with poor Lazarus.

And when you get down to it, God really isn’t asking that much of me. He simply wants me to stop living as if I were the center of my own little universe. He wants me to see that a life spent tending to myself only is not a true life at all. God is a good Father, and like all good fathers He wants His children to outgrow the narcissism of childhood and learn to love and to care for others. That is such a hard lesson for many of us to learn, isn’t it? We tend to live for ourselves or our own families, for work and for play, and make so little time for anything or anyone else. God wants us to give of ourselves for others, lest we wind up like the Rich Man in a place of torment caused entirely by our own selfishness.

Yes, this parable is vitally important to our life and instruction. Good works of charity are necessary to our salvation. It is sad that many believers today deny this, thinking all the while that they are protecting the “true gospel”. What is even sadder however is when Christians know that works of love and mercy are important, but still don’t make the time to do them. No one is saved apart from Christ. But neither can any Christian expect to ignore the needs of others and be awarded heaven strictly on the basis of his pure “faith alone”. We need faith in Jesus, and we need to allow that faith to mature in us, leading us to works of mercy, works that show forth Christ in us, works that ultimately validate our faith and give it life. May such living faith be found in each of us.

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

Friday, November 03, 2006

The Greatest Healing

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

In today’s gospel lesson (Luke 8:41-56), we witnessed two great miracles performed by Christ: the healing of the woman with the issue of blood and the raising of the daughter of Jairus from the dead. These miracles demonstrate our Lord’s absolute power and authority over death and disease, but they show us something else as well. They reveal that God is indeed merciful and the lover of mankind, and not just in a broad, collective sense. God loves each person, and is merciful toward all, with the hope that we will each respond in kind and learn to love God in return, so that we might find healing and life everlasting.

Does God bring miraculous healing to each of us, or is that only for a few? I guess we would have to say that depends on what sort of healing we are speaking of. Sickness, disease, and death are certainly a part of the human experience in this fallen world. Sometimes God intervenes to prevent, reverse, or remit these conditions in people’s lives; sometimes He does not. Human beings have pondered this enigma for thousands of years, trying to probe the mystery of God’s will to find a pattern or a reason behind this apparent inconsistency. Mature Christians have learned to simply accept that God’s will is a mystery and His choices cannot be predicted, though His love and mercy for each of us endures forever and can always be counted on.

But there is another kind of healing which God wills to bring to every person, which in the end is far greater than a cure for cancer or even a raising from the dead. I am speaking of course of the healing of our souls, the illumination of our hearts and the enlightening of our minds. By this we can be brought into the full communion of love with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and can live eternally with the One God in perfect spiritual harmony and health.

This healing is much more difficult to obtain than even physical healing. When we are physically sick, we earnestly desire healing, complete healing, and as quickly as possible, do we not? But when it comes to our spiritual sickness—that inner disease of soul that keeps us in a darkened state and at enmity with God—we are often less urgent and diligent in the pursuit of our healing. The simple reason for this is that we don’t particularly have room in our hearts for the love of God. There is too much other stuff in there that we tend to love more.

God has given us His Son Who united with our fallen race and raised us up again. He has granted us the forgiveness of our sins and broken down the wall of enmity between Himself and us. But we in a sense keep rebuilding that wall and keep trying to maintain a barricade between ourselves and God. That barricade is made of the many things that we love in place of God. It is constructed, not of stones or blocks, but of various idols such as the love of money or possessions or comfort, or our favorite lusts and worldly desires, or laziness, or guilt, or the fear of change. God would very much like these obstacles to be swept away that we might experience His love in fullness. But as often as He might knock them down, we stack them right back up again and hide behind them. It seems that in our present spiritual state we are not quite ready to experience the love of God, and would rather insulate ourselves from it.

This is the basic human spiritual condition that needs healing. It is much like the impulse that drove Adam and Eve to hide from God and try to avoid His presence in the Garden after their fall. Don’t we find ourselves doing much the same thing every day? How often do we hide from God and try to avoid Him?

Why did Adam and Eve hide from God, and why do we do it? In their case, they were aware that they had committed an action that damaged their communion with God, with creation, and even with one another. Like the spiritual children that they were, they sought to hide from their loving heavenly Father to avoid the consequences of their action, though the damage was already done. God gave them the opportunity to own up to their sin, even asking them, “What have you done?” But Adam blamed it on Eve, Eve blamed it on the Serpent, and the pattern of avoidance rather than repentance began for mankind.

We don’t much like to look inside ourselves to find the sins and idolatries that lurk there, and we less enjoy engaging in the work of repentance to eliminate them. Thus we often carry a daily sense of guilt and prefer to live externally and keep active doing “things” that keep us just a little bit removed from God, rather than subject ourselves to those quiet moments of reflection that may actually lead to a change in heart and to the conviction that we need to change. The Psalmist David speaks quite graphically of our inner condition when he says, “There is no soundness in my flesh because of my sin. My wounds stink and are corrupt because of my foolishness. I am troubled, I am greatly bowed down; I go mourning all the day long.” What an apt description of our spiritual sickness and the guilt and separation from the joyful experience of God’s love that it causes.

When I was on Mt. Athos last year, I experienced a few moments of what the fathers call “divine consolation”. Standing there in the darkened monastery church and praying, my heart was suddenly filled with unspeakable warmth and I felt overwhelmed by the love of God for sinners. It seemed as if momentarily the church grew a bit brighter and clearer and even the icons were smiling at me as they radiated with the love of God that fills the saints. I very nearly wept as I realized that even I, a stupid man entangled by so many sins, was loved by God. Soon that feeling passed, but was replaced by a sense that now that I had been reminded of the prize, it was time to get back to the work of repentance. I felt like a soldier in the midst of a battle to defend his homeland. Bone-tired and bloodied, he thinks suddenly of his wife and children back home and is reminded of what he is fighting for. Then he finds renewed strength and courage to engage the enemy again and be victorious at any cost.

My brethren, how important it is for you to know that God loves you. He is aware that you do not yet love Him, as there are so many other things that you love more. But know that God loves you, and that He will do whatever He can to help you tear down that barricade of your own making so that you might experience His love. God’s love is not conditional; it is only blocked by the barriers that we erect or the false loves that we treasure in our hearts. These are what our repentance must address in order that we may be healed…our souls cleansed, our hearts opened and our minds set aright. This is the healing that God desires for each of us that we may know His love and take courage in the struggle that characterizes life in this present world. God loves you and desires you to spend eternity in love with Him. May He help us all to see the joy and beauty of this and enable us to pursue it with all our hearts.

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