St Paul the Apostle Orthodox Church
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/ Weekly Message / Weekly Message 02-12-12: Prodigal Son

Prodigal Son


Through the Prophet Jeremiah, our heavenly Father spoke these words: Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord Jeremiah 9: 23, 24. We know the highest aspiration of the human soul and mind must be to know the one living God, to enjoy him and serve him with gladness.


The good news is that a vast majority of our fellow citizens report a belief in God. Indeed, pollsters indicate that only a bare faction of Americans are atheists or agnostics. If we take the data at face value, we would think America must be experiencing a great revival and spiritual recovery. This, however, is hardly the case. Do people around us live as if they believe in the God of singular holiness who hates sin? Do Americans fear a God who shall surely judge sinners? Do Americans find their security in a God of omnipotence who holds all creation by the power of his might and the exercise of his providence? Do Americans believe in a God who created the heavens and the earth and everything in it? Do Americans find their hope in a God who is rich in mercy? Do Americans believe in a God who established a vehicle for their salvation, his Body and Bride in our midst, his dramatic sign in this empty world of his on-going love?


The bad news is that the God in whom millions of Americans believe is not the God who has revealed himself in Scripture, in salvation history, who has come among us to redeem and restore us and save us because we cannot save ourselves.


And of course, the most important and pertinent question we must ask and address ourselves is do we faithfully uphold in our daily living the presence of Christ among us? One man who was questioned answered he believed in an ordinary God, meaning a God whom you believe in for a pollster, but certainly not the God who rules the universe, or a God who can change our life, surely, not the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, clearly not the Holy Trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Are there continuing spiritual problems in the world because we who belong to him, do not witness appropriately?


This one man's response is sadly indicative of contemporary belief in God. It is not a true belief at all but superstition at best. We are standing once again where the Apostle Paul once stood on Mars Hill in Athens, in the midst of the Areopagus and said, Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. For a while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship and I found an altar with its inscription, 'To an unknown god.' Therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you Acts of the Apostles 17: 22, 23.


Our message must be the same: "Men and women of America, we observe that you are religious in all respects. We have seen your altars and your crystals; we have heard your prayers and have watched your lives; we have observed your worship and heard

your conversations. What you worship in ignorance, this we proclaim to you."


The unavoidable truth is that most modern Americans do not know God, not the God whom we worship, not the God genuine believers follow. Ignorance of elementary basic truth revealed to us by our heavenly Father through Jesus Christ come among us in the flesh is rampant and now expected and respected. People are perishing because of a lack of knowledge. Remarkably, this is a problem inside as well as outside the Church. Many Church members are as ignorant of the true and living God as in the general public. Too many pulpits are silent and compromised. The "ordinary God" of popular belief is the only God known by so many. The true God of revelation, the God of truth, the Almighty God who established our vehicle of salvation, our blessed Church, is unknown in as many pews as He is unknown in the world at large.


Not only is the problem rooted in the godlessness of our age and in secularization of our culture, but also within the Church which is not preparing priests and deacons to preach the unblemished truth and challenging listeners to live uprightly in response to God's first shown love. The disease is also found in what is called "modern theology." For too long we have had so-called theologians who have told us we must outgrow the primitive belief in God found in the uncompromising truth revealed to us in Scripture and expounded in the teaching authority of the Church. For too long we have been told that our heavenly Father lacks the power to effect his will among us. For too long we have seen the God who self-revealed himself, replaced with a god of modern theologians, a god who generally means well but cannot accomplish his own will. This kind of god is a spectator, not sovereign. We have not lived up to the challenges of our blessed faith and so some have in our history split away from us and made revolution in god's thinking acceptable and respectable. If you do not understand, you go off on your own. If you do not appreciate the wisdom of God, like a fool you separate yourself and try to make it on your own, outside the Body of Salvation. We are content to contrast our own insights and opinions with those of God and leave behind what He expects of us, pursuing our own more important personal misunderstandings, sharing and passing them down to our children.

We call upon a witness to set this case with clarity. This is an unlikely witness, but a man with powerful testimony. His name is Nebuchadnezzar. Once one of the greatest kings of all history, one of the most effective builders, one of the most illustrious warriors, one of the most brutal tyrants ever to sit on a throne - Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. Three times he attacked Judah. Three times he defeated the children of Israel because of their lack of faith and trust in Almighty God.


Historians record that Nebuchadnezzar took the Jews into captivity. God's revelation shows us He raised up Nebuchadnezzar in judgment against his own chosen people. Since those whom God called to redemption and salvation as his Chosen People would not listen and remain faithful, He chooses even those who are not believers to chastise them and make them come to an understanding of their sinfulness and continuous missing of the heavenly established mark. Hence, thus says the Lord of hosts; since you would not listen to my words, lo! I will send for and fetch all the tribes of the north, says the Lord and I will send to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, my servant..I will doom them, making them an object of horror, of ridicule, of everlasting reproach Jeremiah 25: 9. The Babylonian ruler submits to the explicitly directive inspiration of the Most High God and punishes the Chosen People because theirs was not the goal and objective the Creator established for them to obtain. Pagans eagerly do for God what genuine belief fails to accomplish!


The book of Daniel records that Nebuchadnezzar was troubled by dreams and that the prophet Daniel faithfully interpreted these dreams as warnings from God that Nebuchadnezzar would be judged. He did what God allowed him to do but failed to remain faithful afterwards. The judgment finally came, as we rind in Daniel's witness to us.


All this happened to Nebuchadnezzar the king. Twelve months later he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon. The king reflected and said: Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty? While the word was in the king's mouth, a voice came from heaven saying, `King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared, sovereignty has been removed from you, and you will be driven away from mankind and your dwelling place will be with the beasts of the field. You will be given grass to eat like cattle, and seven periods of time will pass over you, until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows on it whomever he wishes.' Immediately, the word concerning Nebuchadnezzar was fulfflled And he was driven away from mankind and began eating grass like cattle and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like an eagles' feathers and his nails like the claws of a bird. But at the end of that period, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven and my reason returned to me and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored him who lives forever; for his dominion is an everlasting dominion and his kingdom endures from generation to generation. And all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to his will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and no one can ward off his hand or say to him: "What have you done?" At that time my reason returned to me. And my majesty and splendor were restored to me for the glory of my kingdom, and my counselors and my nobles began seeking me out, so I was reestablished in my sovereignty, and surpassing greatness was added to me. Now, I Nebuchadnezzar, praise, exalt and honor the king of heaven, for all his works are true and his ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride Daniel 4: 25-34.


Nebuchadnezzar - whose name invoked a pagan deity - came to know and worship the one true living God - the Most High - and to bear witness to his power and glory. The God of Daniel, the God who reduced the proud Nebuchadnezzar to the state of a wild beast, the God who restored Nebuchadnezzar's power and reign - is not an ordinary God. Nebuchadnezzar was among the world's most successful kings. It was he who built the great hanging gardens of Babylon, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. He defeated all the known powers of his day, from Egypt to Judah and to every other point on the compass. He built an empire and millions were under his sovereignty. As he walked on the walls of the royal palace that fateful day, he was filled with a pride that the world could easily understand. Is this not Babylon the Great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty Daniel 4: 27?


Nebuchadnezzar is a fitting example of the egotistical pride that has so thoroughly infected our society and age. America and much of the modern world is experiencing a "Nebuchadnezzar moment" of self-centered pride. Is not this America the great which we ourselves have built by the power of our own might, and to the glory of our own majesty? Are we not the world's only superpower? Did we not split the atom, wage war against our enemies and attempt to rule the forces of nature? Are we not the center of the information revolution, the capital of economic progress and energy, the exporter of culture, the so-called protector of freedom?


The same pride can infect smaller kingdoms well. Is this institution, this parish, our Orthodoxy not what we have built? And to whose glory? God's explicit advice to believers and to pagans alike: Therefore, 0 king, take my advice; atone for your sins by good deeds, and for your misdeeds by kindness to the poor; then your prosperity will be long Daniel 4: 24.


Nebuchadnezzar discovered that the living God will allow no competitors and will eventually make his will known once again. The word from the sovereign of all creation is this King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: sovereignty has been removed from you Daniel 4: 31. This king's humiliation was complete. But the same God who humbled Nebuchadnezzar brought him back to his senses when he repented and raised his eyes toward heaven. With his reason restored, Nebuchadnezzar praised and honored the Most High God!


The Orthodox understanding of God is rooted in his most fundamental attribute and truth, that God and God alone is sovereign. His self-revealed truth teaches us so much about the true and living God and without this revealed knowledge we would know nothing of him, for He is incomprehensible and beyond the reach of our creaturely investigation. There is so much we already know about God, but there is far more we cannot know of God, for as the apostle Paul explains, How immeasurable are his judgments and unfathomable his ways Romans 11: 33!


How blessed are we, just like the repentant Prodigal Son today, who are associated by grace with the God of the Universe because we are delightfully overwhelmed He has chosen us as his disciples, as his redeemed people, as his favorites in this fallen world!


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