Monday, September 09, 2013


+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” --John 3:16, no doubt the most famous verse of the bible, and with good reason. This verse combines so many important elements of our Christian faith: the love of God, the giving of His Son for our salvation, the necessity of believing in Him, and the resulting deliverance from death and the gaining of eternal life that such belief brings. And on the other hand, we can learn almost as much about our Christian faith from what this verse doesn’t say as from what it does. For example, it doesn’t say that God so loved the world that every day He just rocked back and forth in heaven with warm and fuzzy feelings for us. No, every mushy love song ever written may define love as mere feelings, but John 3:16 defines love as action: “For God so loved the world that He gave…” What sort of people would we become if we limited our love to feelings and stopped short of action on behalf of others? Furthermore, it does not say God so loved the world that He first poured out the fullness of His wrath upon His Son so that His deeply-offended personal sense of justice would be satisfied and He could finally tolerate our presence in His kingdom. Are you kidding me? What kind of monster would such a god be who put strict and unyielding justice above mercy, or wrath before love? Would you even want to serve such a god? What sort of people would we become if we imitated this god? No, John 3:16 reveals to us the true God. The God who so loved the world that He gave His Son, not demanded for His own purposes, but gave purely for our salvation and eternal life. A God who willingly set aside what was just--and even allowed INjustice to occur--in order for love to triumph. A God who acted to save us at great personal expense when we could not save ourselves. What sort of people might we become if we imitated this God? As well-known as John 3:16 is, how many folks can recite from memory John 3:17? This little verse standing in the shadow of its big brother has quite a bit to teach us as well. It reads: “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” Another word for condemn which is found in some translations is the word judge. Whichever word is used we can see that it was not the purpose or the ministry of Jesus Christ to judge and condemn the world, but purely and simply to save the world. Now we all know that there will come a Day of Judgement when, according to the scriptures, the books will be opened and all our deeds laid bare. A question we might ask is what are these books of which the prophecies speak? Are there literally dusty books in heaven in which God records our every deed, saving them up for some “Gotcha” moment at the end? (“Rut-roh, I see you drank a cup of tea before liturgy one morning; bad on you!”) According to some of our holy fathers, this is not likely the case. If you think about it, once again, what kind of god would scrutinize our deeds in this way and keep such records as if only looking for reasons to condemn us? Instead, let us consider another possibility suggested to us by these same fathers. Could it be that the books which are opened and laid bare are our very own souls? It is our souls which bear the marks, not of divine score-keeping, but of our own deeds or misdeeds in life. They either reveal, in the beautiful and elegant calligraphy of the Holy Spirit, the fruits of our repentance and obedience to Christ, or else they show forth the coarse marks and ugly stains of the sins we would not allow to be erased. For this reason, God provides every means in the Church for our sins to be blotted out and overwritten with the sweet image of Christ on every page of our souls. God does not want any person to be taken by surprise on that Day of Judgement but to open our own books now, that is to say, examine our own souls daily, and cooperate with the Spirit to cleanse and purify them. St. Paul wrote, “If we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged.” I believe this is what the holy apostle is referring to; this need to judge ourselves--our thoughts and words and deeds--every moment, and even to condemn what is wicked in us, that God can correct us and set us right before the final Judgement. Jesus said, I did not come to judge or condemn the world. If we follow Him as we should, neither will we. But at the same time, we will judge ourselves correctly and even condemn our own deeds that our repentance might be made perfect. You see, there is a right and proper place for judgement in the Christian life. It is never, however, to judge others. We are always to judge ourselves and never one another or any other person in this life. What sort of people would we become if we chose to live this way? I tell you first of all, our parish would be a place of divine and holy peace. There would be no quarreling or striving, no gossiping or scandal, no hurt feelings or pettiness, no taking of sides in issues, no them vs us. The devil could never be able to rear his ugly face among us, spreading conflict or controversy. People would be quick to forgive one another, paying attention to their own repentance while overlooking the sins and failings of others. Love would reign as we would give preference to one another and serve one another, instead of expecting or even demanding that we be recognized or validated. We would always walk in meekness and gentleness of spirit, seeking what is best for the other, while gladly accepting less for ourselves. If there is any lack of any of these good and precious things among us, it is absolutely because we are not judging ourselves rightly, but judging others instead. When we judge others instead of ourselves, we bring sorrow into the parish, we sow seeds of struggle and pain. When we judge ourselves instead of others, we bring joy and harmony and healing to all. The choice is ours. What sort of people will we become? What sort of parish, and indeed, what sort of families shall we build for ourselves? In what condition shall the books of our souls be when they are opened on that Great and Terrible Day of Judgement? It is here, among one another our brothers and sisters, that such decisions are made and the books are written for all eternity. May God have mercy on us all by helping each of us to judge only ourselves. +To the glory of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.