Our Light in a Dark World
Christmas Eve 2020
The Gift of Stewardship
December 20, 2020
One of the most beautiful practices of the Christmas season is the exchange of gifts. Yes, the gift itself is often exciting, but the underlying message is the most important part. What does the gift mean? What is the impetus for the gift? What does the act of taking the time to consider, acquire, or perhaps physically create, a gift say about the importance of your relationship with the other person? It. is. everything.
The Divine Liturgy, itself, is an exchange of gifts. We know that everything in our lives, every good and perfect gift comes from God (James 1:17). Among the things we find in creation are wheat and grapes. We take this wheat and grapes and spend the time to gather them, to work on them, to transform them into something new: bread and wine. We put some of ourselves into this work and into the gift itself. The gift represents our very selves.
We then bring these gifts, the bread and the wine, to God’s house and hand them to the priest to make the final preparations before we offer them back to God out of thanksgiving for His blessings. In the Divine Liturgy, the priest prays “for the gifts presented” and that God will accept them upon His heavenly altar and then, in return, send back down to us “the divine grace and the gift of the Holy Spirit”. There is this continual and reciprocal giving: God to us, us to God, and then back again to us. This is the nature of our relationship with God, encapsulated in the Divine Liturgy.
This, in a way, is the image of Stewardship. Stewardship is how we care for the things we have received from God. If we fail to recognize the gifts He has entrusted to us, we fail to be good stewards. We hear in the creation account of Genesis that God created humans and gave them the authority and responsibility to be stewards of the world, i.e. to care for, protect, and cultivate it … all with the purpose of returning it back to God in thanksgiving.
We have been entrusted with the great responsibility of stewardship for this parish, St. Philip of Nashua. This can look like serving on committees like Buildings/Grounds to care for this literal building and property. Or, stewardship can look like preserving the teachings and traditions of the Orthodox Church by sharing and modeling them with our families: children and adults alike. Religious Education and youth work are critical to the life of St. Philip, and we welcome anyone who can offer their talents to share the transformative beauty of a life in Christ. Of course, the church will not survive without the financial support of our faithful. This is also part of stewardship. We do ask that you prayerfully consider what you can give to support this community. Christ reminds us that we place our treasure where we open our heart. The things we love dearly are the things we financially support, and my prayer is that your hearts have been warmed by Christ through this church. It is my own goal to help provide opportunities for spiritual and personal growth.
True stewardship cares for what we have been given so that we can pass it on to others; we must preserve what we have received, but not in a static or frozen way. We must protect what has been handed down to us, but we must also cultivate it; we must allow it to grow, to transform through our openness to the guidance of the Holy Spirit into something greater, something brighter, and something stronger than how we received it.
Recall for a moment Christ’s parable of the talents, when one servant buried what his master entrusted to him to multiply, out of fear that he may not be successful in his attempt to increase it. This servant was chastised by the master when it came time to report his efforts because he had wasted the opportunity he was given. He was called a “wicked and lazy servant”! God forbid. We, each of us individually and our parish as a whole, must be like the servants who multiplied what they were given. We must prayerful consider how the Holy Spirit is guiding us. Are we being called to greater involvement in the church? Are we being called to a greater witness to the society around us? How can we transform our own hearts and our community into a more complete and true image of Christ? If we do this honestly and humbly, we hope to hear from our merciful Master, “well done good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23).
Transformation is at the core of Christian message… Christ comes to us and transforms our sorrow into joy; loneliness into community; stagnancy into growth; slavery into freedom; death into life; mundane into extraordinary; mortal to incorrupt; earthly into heavenly.
Much the same way that we transform wheat and grapes into bread and winethrough our love and effort and then offer them back to God from whom we first received them, we must also take this beautiful parish and invest ourselves in it’s growth. We must offer the witness of this community back to Christ. When our offering is acceptable to Him, He then bestows upon us even more mercy, love, and abundance.
We pray in the Liturgy of St. Basil, “Remember, Lord, those who have brought You these gifts, and for whom … they were offered. Remember, Lord, those who bear fruit and do good works in Your holy churches, and those who remember the poor. Reward them with Your rich and heavenly gifts. Grant them in return for earthly things, heavenly gifts; for temporal, eternal; for corruptible, incorruptible” (Anaphora of St. Basil).
Today is Stewardship Sunday, a day to open our eyes to the opportunity we have before us. I see in this parish family beauty, I see love, I see good and faithful stewards in every sense of the word. I pray for and challenge each of us (including myself) to consider how we can continue to open ourselves to the love of Christ and the inspiration of His Spirit. We must recognize how we can take the blessings we have received and offer them back to our Lord. When we do this in sincere faith and love, we will receive back from Him abundant blessings; heavenly things in return for earthly things.
The dome on top of this church shines brightly for Nashua. May our hearts be open to being transformed into the “image of His glory” (Romans 8:29); may we shine as brightly as our dome to reflect Christ’s image and His love, and “tell about the wonderful things [Christ] has done. He has called us out of darkness and into His wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9). May we take up our call to be stewards of creation and stewards of this parish, commissioned to spread to those in darkness His great and abundant mercy for years to come, unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Stop and Smell the Roses
December 13, 2020
There’s a famous and wise idiom, which I think most are familiar with, that instructs us to “stop and smell the roses”. An 80’s pop-culture movie said it this way, “life moves pretty fast; if you don’t stop and look around once in a while you could miss it”. No matter the speaker, the message hits home for us; we are busier than ever and when we are busy, our minds are preoccupied with all kinds of things (some helpful and important, others less helpful), and when our minds are full of to-do’s and checklists and schedules, we rush right past the beautiful and important things and people around us.
Christ understood this about human nature (He was human, after all), and so he spoke to our obsessing with being busy in the Gospel today. He tells a parable of a ruler hosting a great banquet, a magnificent feast unlike anything else, and he invited many people to attend the celebration. Unfortunately, several people were caught up in the highway of life and they offered excuses why they could not attend. So the master invites others, because he desires his house to be full.
The parable of the Great Banquet has a simple lesson for us. We are too busy. We are too distracted. The heavenly banquet is here and now and we do not, or will not see it.
To speak plainly, this heavenly banquet is the kingdom of heaven! The Kingdom of Heaven is not a tropical paradise. It is not an eternal vacation. It is not sitting on clouds playing harps. Christ tells us “the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”! It is here! It is now! It is open for our participation not just when we die, but now. We participate in the Kingdom, we attend this great banquet when we fulfill in every moment the purpose we were created for; to become gods. Yes, we all have within us the image of God, but we also have the capacity and duty to fill out that image. There is a difference between a superficial resemblance and a deep, penetrating, existential likeness. The goal of the spiritual life, in fact the goal of life itself, is to become gods - not for our own glory, but to pass on all honor to the one true God, in whose image we exist.
This union with God is the primary foundation and goal of all existence. When we become more like God by worshipping Him and operating like Him, we actualize the kingdom of heaven here and now, present within us and among us and around us. We do not look to the future or the past to find it. We cannot even escape it, although we can choose to ignore it.
We have all been invited to the Greatest Banquet, but we are so busy that many times we do not realize what we have been offered. We make excuses for any number of reasons. We all know what our personal excuses are. Sometimes it feels like they choose us and we’re just along for the ride. So how do we gain control of our spiritual steering wheel? We must name our excuses without judgment. Only when we name our excuses or our struggles, do we gain the power to properly order our lives - to embrace the Christ within our truest selves, to act, operate, and be like God in as many moments as we can.
We are invited to join this great banquet at every moment of our lives. If we don’t stop to look around, to smell the roses, we may miss the invitation entirely. We may be so caught up in our busyness that we reject the invitation. But, whenever possible, we must slow our lives down so we can realize and embrace the divine majesty of the moment, every person, every choice… unto union with God, Himself.
Call Forth Beauty
December 6th, 2020
“Unless we look at a person and see the beauty there is in this person, we can contribute nothing to them. One does not help a person by discerning what is wrong, what is ugly, what is distorted. Christ looked at everyone he met, at the prostitute, at the thief, and saw the beauty hidden there. Perhaps it was distorted, perhaps damaged, but it was beauty none the less, and what he did was to call out this beauty.” +Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom) of Sourozh
How easy is it for us to point out what is wrong, or malformed, or sick, or different in others! Many times it is just as easy for us to focus only on our own perceived faults and overlook the inherent value we each have. Remember what we spoke about last week, about the presence of God placed in every person, conveying inherent value, magnificence, and beauty that resides in each of us.
Let’s look at two examples whose contrast highlights the temptation humanity faces between shaming someone or glorifying God within them.
The Gospel reading shows us the leader of the synagogue shaming Christ for healing a woman who was physcially struggling for 18 years, and even tries to shame the woman! He failed to see the beauty within her; all he could see was a woman who was deemed “a sinner” and therefore unworthy of his time or care. Christ, of course, saw himself being reflected in this woman and allowed her to straighten herself up after a lifetime of physical and social pain. The synagogue leader was unable to help this woman because he cared nothing for her.
The Epistle reading is appointed for our beloved St. Nicholas, a bishop who throughout his whole life, in imitation of Christ, called out the beauty in people. As a bishop, he was in a similar position to the synagogue leader, but he lived and loved very differently. He saw a family beaten down with financial pain which led to social anxiety. With three young daughters who were destined for a life physical slavery, he did not tell them to figure out their lives for themselves. He took it upon himself to provide them the money needed to be married and live a life of freedom. This is what Paul mean’s when he teaches us that by bearing one another’s burdens, we fulfill Christ’s teaching. Nicholas saw not a family with a history of poor decisions, but a family of people struggling in life, in need of compassion. He called our their beauty and shared what help he could.
Each of us may feel beaten down, broken, anxious, or emotionally ugly. But Christ sees none of those things. Whatever infirmities, whatever sins, whatever suffering, our essence, the truth of who we are, is untouched by them. We are, underneath the rubble of our lives, beautiful. He sees in our innermost heart his own image, much the same way a parent looks upon their child with admiration and care, no matter their choices or the state of their life. Christ helps us because he sees in us an inherent beauty and value. Do we see that value?
One of my favorite sayings is, “you cannot give what you do not have”. How can we call out the beauty in others before we call out the beauty in our own selves?
This is our task: to find a silent place, to hear his voice, his call to our inner and true self, and allow the beauty that we are to rise and take its rightful place as guide and mentor; to allow the Spirit of God to transform our pain, to make our suffering into joy, and to empower us to call out the beauty of others.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
A Life Worthy of Our Calling
November 29, 2020
I would like us to focus on the epistle reading from today, taken from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians; I’d like us to highlight what this passage teaches about our interior lives, and how that interior life manifests and blesses our exterior life.
We just celebrated the beautiful holiday of Thanksgiving: a day when we express our gratitude to God and each other for the blessings in our lives. While this is a secular holiday, it is also the Orthodox “every day”. Christians are taught to “give thanks in all things”. Each time we celebrate the Divine Liturgy we receive the Holy Communion and participate in the Eucharist (Ευχαριστία), the divine giving of thanks.
By communing with God through the Eucharist, we become more like Him. We live out the plea of St Paul we heard this morning in the Epistle reading to the Ephesians to “lead a life worthy of our calling”. What is this calling? What are we called to? As we often do, we find our answer in the context of this passage; in looking at the prior chapter, we find Paul teaching the Ephesians that our calling as Christians is for us to know God in such an intimate way that “Christ may dwell in our hearts; that we may be able to comprehend the width, and length, and height, and depth of Christ’s love” (that is to say, the immensity and accessibility of Christ’s love). Christ’s love is everywhere! It is is all around us and within us; it permeates our interior life. The challenge is for us to realize this! How do we recognize the love of God within us? How do we recognize God’s love around us? How do we open ourselves up to be changed by His love?
I’d like to use our Thanksgiving holiday as one example.
Thanksgiving is hard for many families. Many of us have family members of varying of opinions, political loyalties, social ideologies, sports allegiences, philosophical schools of thought, etc. All too often we let these secondary alliances define our interpersonal relationships and interactions. We all know that it is like for family gatherings to be stained by people’s insistence on highlighting division instead of love. Perhaps we have relatives who care more about arguing their ideology than cultivating their family relationships. Perhaps we have been that relative? This year, also, has brought up more dangerous opportunities for division: not simply philosophical ones, but the very difficult choice to not gather with loved ones, in order to protect them. Perhaps we feel disappointed in family that did not visit, or sad to miss them, or lonely in not feeling welcome to visit, or we may even feel angry. No matter what we feel in these situations, St. Paul has an important teaching for us to remember.
Remember our calling as Christians to be filled, changed, and overflow with Christ’s love. St Paul reminds us to live a life worthy of this calling; to live in a way that is in line with Christ’s love; to make choices through our actions and our words that reveal Christ’s love. If our interior life is one of a calm and peaceful ocean, then peace and calm with flow from within us throughout the world around us. Paul instructs us to conduct ourselves in meekness, in humility. If I believe what I do and Uncle Bob believes something different, how am I called to conduct myself at Thanksgiving dinner? With humility. I must choose to put aside our political differences for the sake of my loved ones. For, as Paul puts it, “to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”. When we do this we place the person in front of us above and more important than any label.
We may ask, “What if my soul isn’t filled with peace a calm? Am I hopeless?” Not in the least. The good news, brothers and sisters, is that this formula works both ways: on the one hand, if we have a soul cultivated in peace and overflowing with love, then our actions will manifest it. The world around us will be peaceful and our loved ones will feel our love for them, and through our love they will experience Christ. But for those of us who perhaps feel more tumultuous in our soul, any action we choose to align ourselves with the unity of the Holy Spirit will serve as an important step for us to smooth out the waves in our soul. When we realize the boundaries between us an others are an illusion, a lie, then we will be free to be united to others in the bond of love. “No one ever hated his own body”, so how can we hate our brothers and sisters who also are our body?
St. Paul said in another place, “to the pure all things are pure”. We have nothing to be afraid of when Christ is inside us, behind us, beside us, in front of us, above us, and below us.
We come together on Thanksgiving (or any holiday) with family, not merely to have a meal together, but to call Christ into our midst! The love of Christ is this bond of unity between all of us; it is the peace that surpasses all human limits. We are called to join ourselves to others so that through our unity of spirit, that with one voice and one heart we may praise, bless, and glorify the great and most honorable name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The Boldness of St. Katherine
November 25, 2020
There is no transcript available of this sermon. Please see the video player to the right.
I Will Tear Down My Barns
November 22, 2020
There is a misconception that the Christian life is supposed to be miserable. Why, if that is not true, would the Church ask us to fast, to sacrifice and to deny ourselves the pleasures and goods of this life? But the opposite is true in fact. True Christanity is light and life; it is sharing in the greatest hope possible!
“Come to me, all you who are heavy laden and I will give you rest”; these are the words of our Lord and these are the words of the Christian tradition. So how does this work with fasting? Although we do not use this word often in our conversation, joy is one of the main goals of the Gospel message.
Jesus came to offer the way to true joy and hope. That is the point of the Gospel today. The Rich Man thought he could find joy and fulfillment through the accumulation of material possessions, but he had forgotten the overarching truth that no matter how much you attain in this life, death will eventually take it all.
And so, as we find ourselves in the Nativity Fast, the 6 weeks leading up to Christmas, we have this Gospel lesson that maps directly onto our current lives. We fast, we pray, we give our time and possessions to those in need, with this parable in mind.
Let’s remind ourselves of the parable. We hear that a landowner received a unusually large yield from his crops, so much that his barns could not hold it all, and so he reasoned within himself to tear down his barns and build larger ones. As it would happen, he died that very night and we hear that he was unprepared for his end. The lesson Christ gives is for us to not hoard our belongings, but that by giving them to the needy, we store up treasures in heaven and so become wealthy in the things of God.
That all sounds well and good, but what does it mean for us now? Philanthropy, the spirit of giving, hospitality, are all staples this time of year, parts of joining in the “Holiday Spirit”. But why does the Church emphasize these things so intensely? It is to cultivate in our hearts true, unconditional, unjudgmental love for our fellow humans.
We eat less food and fewer elaborate meals not because those things are bad, (on the contrary they are good!) but in order for us to, in our bodies and in our hearts, identify with those who have less. We, from a position of entitlement and privilege, willinging give up our surplus, so that we can, for a time, know what it is like to be hungry; to identify with people who have a need; to identify with the least of the community.
The rich man in the Gospel tried to hoard his wealth and buld bigger barns. If you read this story closely, you will see that he uses the word “I” six times; SIX TIMES in such a short story. His focus was on himself and his wealth.
Many of you may have heard of Archbishop Anastasios of Albania. He is a wonderful, faithful, inspirational, and holy man who has worked tirelessly to build up the Christian presence in post-communist Albania. (As an aside, please keep him in your prayers, as he is currently in the hospital in Greece fighting against COVID-19.) Archbishop Anastasios has a beautiful saying. He asks the question, “what is the opposite of love?” Most commonly the answer received is “Hate. Hate is the opposite of love”. But Archbishop Anastasios changes the narrative and says, “No. The opposite of love is not hate; it is ego”. Egocentricity, looking out for me at the expense of others, worried only about myself… this is the opposite of love.
If the opposite of love is ego, then we must do the opposite of the man with the barns. We must not tear down our barns in order to build larger ones; rather, we must tear down the doors of our barns, tear down the dividing walls of hostility between us and others, and open our barns to share with anyone in need what we have been blessed with.
The Orthodox Church challenges us to fast in order to identify with those less fortunate; to fill the stomachs of the hungry and to allow our own stomachs to grumble a little bit; to experience in a real, physical way hunger, thirst, uncertainty, need. If the opposite of ego is love, then we must forego our own egocentriticy and share in the suffering so many people experience. We don’t just write a check to a charity. We feel in our body the effects of hunger (to a small and safe degree).
It’s not about being miserable; it’s not even actually about being hungry. It’s really about putting another person’s needs before our own.
St. Basil, the great philanthropist and bishop of the Church said, “The rich exist for the sake of the poor”, that is to say that the rich in every society are called to alleviate and ease the suffering and needs of the poor. Basil continues, “And the poor exist for the salvation of the rich.” It is through the relationship of those who have physical needs and others who can satisfy them, that both physical and spiritual needs are fulfilled. In doing so, we actually do fill up storehouses; spiritual storehouses in heaven, “rich with the things of God.”
If we do this, we will find that, “the stomachs of the poor are safer storehouses than our barns.”
Entrance of the Theotokos in the Temple
November 21, 2020
There is no transcript available of this sermon. Please see the video player to the right.