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Weekly Message 01-24-10: Pharisee and Publican

Pharisee & Publican

Unfortunately, the miserable Pharisee in today's prescribed gospel narrative never heard of utilizing his five senses in worshipping our God. Instead, from every direction within himself, he creates havoc of soul and mind by approaching God totally and completely from a dastardly sinful perspective. If only the Pharisee had taken seriously and lived the words of the Old Testament Psalmist, "To do your will, 0 my God, is my delight, and your law is within my heart. I announced your justice in the vast assembly; I did not restrain my lips as you, 0 Lord, know. Your justice I kept not hidden within my heart; your faithfulness and your salvation I have spoken of. I have made no secret of your kindness and your truth in the vast assembly" Psalms 40: 10, 11.

Our senses complement each other and help us interpret difficult concepts that lead us to a greater understanding and service of our Creator/Maker. Have you ever noticed how things often taste like they smell or look like they sound, or feel like they look? In nature, our God engages all five senses and our blessed Church is the only one, as the Body of Christ which worships totally and completely, that is, employing the giftedness of the senses to elevate our glorification of God to actual heavenly worship. It is only the complete man who uses all his senses in praise and prayer. Yes, everyday places like restaurants, theme parks, shopping malls and rock concerts have copied the approach of the Church and come alive to our senses. It is from the very teaching of the Lord himself that we enjoy total and complete, therefore heightened and fulfilling worship. The Pharisee mentions his approach to God through the senses, but stifles their fulfillment by being satisfied in their negative expression and therefore being proud he is not able to bring about the rightful fulfillment of the senses in worship experience which every man is created for.

The entire characterization of our physical parish church is a vehicle for learning and enhancement of worship, because senses do affect learning styles. Some people are more visual for example, while others learn best from hands-on experience. All this we have available in the perfect worship we participate in at our parish church.

Here we learn our God speaks to all five senses in worship and exalts their use for the advancement and fulfillment of the soul. Music is an obvious way to worship by using our sense of hearing. We use the only natural, not artificial, man-made instruments to glorify our God. It is sad that in some churches because they do not understand what worship is, they have resorted to musical instruments to cover up the horror of their singing. In the Old Testament Church, our God commanded the voice be used so man could hear and be spiritually uplifted and stimulated by the richness and truth of his revelation to us. It is again only in our Church that the proper approach is made and lived to respond to the sense of hearing.

Here is how we can engage our senses of sight, taste, touch and smell.

Sight is a powerful sense. Imagine the first time your saw your favorite painting or a depiction of our Lord in a magnificently executed icon. Think of the ways light affects our lives. God's revelation to us teaches we are to let our light shine before the people of the world so that they may see our good works and praise the Father in heaven (Matthew 5: 16). Obviously we use sight dramatically in worship. The icon screen, the iconography on the walls and in the windows of our churches challenges us to remember we participate in heavenly worship where we are surrounded by the saints and angels, in the actual presence of God! We are no longer on earth, but are mystically transported before our God. We can also engage our sense of sight more intentionally. The expression of joy on a worshipper's face affects our worship. The posture of prayer inspires us to pray as well. The vestments of the priest and servers reinforces our presence before the throne of God. The icons we venerate can present profound truths in a memorable way. The burning candles remind us of Christ burning out his life to save our souls. Photos of our children and grand children impact us each time we look at them. They evoke wonderful emotions and memories. Think of how the iconography in worship inspires believers to greater levels of commitment and triggers truths they hold deep in their hearts to be expressed and lived. And this is the only authentic Christian art form given the world by our blessed Church. Icons express in a physical way mystical spiritual truths.

Is it possible to use our sense of taste in worship? Emphatically yes, since it is to receive the Blessed Eucharist, the precious Body and Blood of our Saviour that we come to worship, to be here nourished by heavenly food. Each of our senses has a direct connection to the brain. We taste the Body and Blood of our Saviour as we experience the result of the descent of the Holy Spirit. Taste helps us understand spiritual concepts. David says, "Taste and see how good is the Lord" Psalms 34: 8. So we physically taste the Lord and become like him if we cooperate with his grace. We become what we eat as the Greek truism teaches us. We hunger therefore for that which tastes good. So we hunger for the Lord which is why the Church prescribes us to fast before receiving, not that it makes us better, but that we actually experience hunger for the nourishment we receive in Christ. We know food that tastes good gains our attention and our God is food for our soul. He makes us understand and experience what He means when He says, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry and he who believes in me will never be thirsty" John 6: 35.

Like taste, touch is engaged metaphorically and actually in worship. When we feel "touched" by the Lord we are having a spiritual experience, not a physical one. God also uses our physical bodies to touch a world with physical needs. Hugs represent love, brotherhood, friendship. We touch ourselves with the sign of the cross. Touch is a very real expression of love and is an extension of the heart and soul. Touch connects one soul to another as when we greet each other and exchange the kiss of peace. The laying on of hands for healing, anointing, commissioning and showing compassion is an outward expression of a deep spiritual connection. Another way that God uses touch in worship is through music. It is the touch of the skillful singer that brings life to words expressing the teaching of Christ. The voice actually resonates with those who hear it. And of course, we are God's instruments. The touch of God's hand on our life is like that of a Master Musician "...because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else" Acts of the Apostles 17: 25.

Smell indicates a sense of presence. When people smell something, they do not have to see it to know that it is really there. In our church we use candles to remind us we worship a God who is pure Spirit and cannot be seen but is actually with us. Smell of incense inspires to prayer more intensely so that our prayer, as God's revelation teaches us, can rise before the throne of heaven and be acceptable there. Smell can indicate the quality of something. When we visited, worshipped and prayed before the miraculous Icon of Our Lady of Chicago some years ago, just as soon as we entered the church there was an aroma, a very pleasing and other­worldly type of aroma. You knew the eternal encountered the physical then and there. When something smells good, as in our church when incense is used, when the candles are burning, like food, like a fresh pillow, the air we breathe, is perceived as clean, healthy, good, desirable, inspiring and uplifting. St. Paul in this instance also teaches us "Our lives are a fragrance presented by Christ to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those being saved and by those perishing" 2 Corinthians 2: 15. Nobody, including our heavenly Father enjoys a bad smell.

And it is a bad smell coming from the Pharisee we see today that we might avoid him and his example and follow that of the repentant and penitent publican.

When we determine we can do something positive, but figure someone else can do it, we sin by omission. When circumstances are such that our contribution to the success of an endeavor will promote it and assure its far-reaching well-being, but we just do not follow through, our neglect is sinful.

For a follower of Christ, one of life's most haunting regrets is to realize that we never shared our faith in Jesus with others. We cannot alter the past. But we can ask our God to forgive our silence and turn our regret into determination to tell people within our reach about Christ and how He affects and inspires our life. An the easiest way to live faith, share faith and practice faith, is to let our senses enrich and delight us in worship.

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