The worship of the Church as we are gathered together in the House of the Lord each Sunday and holyday, consists in a two-fold feast. Many food chains today copy the example of the Church in offering two meals at a reduced rate. Thus has it always been for believers because we are treated to the banquet of the Lord's Supper when we prepare ourselves to worthily partake of the Body and Blood of the Saviour, being nourished on Christ himself in the holy Eucharist.
At the same time, simultaneously, we are also feasted on God's Word as it is read to us from the Epistle and Gospel Book and sung for us in melody and hymn. This too, without a doubt is communion with our God of a different, but complementary sort.
When we consider the wonderful uplifting words heard today in the epistle lesson, coming as they do from St. Paul's message to his Roman parishioners, we recognize in worship we are served a veritable banquet consisting of many varied courses. Initially, St. Paul reminds us that various believers have different gifts shared with them by the providential grace of God. "Let us use them," is his wholesome advice.
All have some unique gift or talent imparted us by our gracious God. The apostle to the gentiles mentions some of these gifts: there are people who are good in ministering to the needs of others, some are good at teaching, others at exhorting, still others at prophesying. Some are exceptional at talking, others are better off just listening. Some can sing, others pray better. Some lead, some follow. But wee cannot be leaders unless we have first learned to follow. Whatever the unique and diverse talent, these expressions of God's generosity must be offered up in service to our heavenly Father.
The old saying about our talents is that we either use them or we lose them. God takes away from us what we neglect and offers that grace to other souls who will take it seriously and develop it. How many people have we seen who were blessed but because of their ignorant neglect, found themselves bereft of heavenly gifts because they did not want the responsibility of utilizing them they did not want to be accountable before God. Our heavenly Father then takes them and gives them to a person who appreciates their strengthening blessing.
St. Paul provides a practical listing of sagacious advice. These are tasty "bites" served in this full course meal for our spiritual consumption. "Let love be without pretense." In other words we must love genuinely. Frequently on various food labels we see the word "genuine." The mark testifies the article is exactly what it is represented to be, that it is not fake, that it is not a sham. It is this precisely that our love in response to God's first shown love is to be, genuine and permanent. Not seeking to impress others, not just an address of superficial goodness, but true charity, based in an act of the will, that endures always.
Naturally then, St. Paul continues with "Hate what is evil." This sounds so easy to do. It seems everybody is against evil; everybody hates it. But this is not so. People make all kinds of excuses for doing what they want, what God explicitly forbids and become offended when they are corrected. People like to flirt with evil relatives, evil friends, evil events and turn the circumstances around so that evil then becomes good in their eyes. People are far quicker to compromise with sin and evil than they are in pursuing goodness and virtue. The apostle warns us to refrain from such mental and spiritual gymnastics and take a stand: hate what is evil and stay away from it.
Of course the opposite of this is "Hold fast to what is good." How often we hold on to evil for dear life; we clutch it with such loyalty and devotion. But this is not the practice of Christian believers. It is only the loser in Christian life who does not take a stand, who will not fight for what is right, pure, honest, true and good.
St. Paul continues with "Love one another with brotherly affection, outdo one another in showing honor and respect." A tender concern for another, even a family member or relative might mean insisting on correcting their negative and anti-Christian behavior.
The apostle continues, "Do not be lazy in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serving the Lord." In other words, get excited about the things of God and serve Christ fully and wholeheartedly. Rejoice in things of God.
"Be patient in tribulation, persevering in prayer." How desperately our age and time needs the lessons of patience and perseverance today. How upset we get when things do not go our way. Paul teaches us to be patient in our tribulations and problems. Maybe our God is directing us in a different path away from our mistakes and sins. Then he tells us the key to patience, which is patience in prayer and to never forsake praying, trusting and loving our God.
"Contribute to the needs of the saints, practice hospitality." By "saints," St. Paul describes other Christian believers who are faithful to their baptismal vocation. Help them out when they are in need, he insists. As for hospitality, our doors are always to be open to those who come in the name of the Lord. We like to help others who will help us. We like to help those who will benefit us. We praise people who do that. But it is in helping those who cannot or will not return help to us that St. Paul is talking about. We brag about how much we do for our children. What's to brag about? They are our flesh and blood. It is for perfect strangers what we do that counts. It is for those who even misuse us that our charity and goodness of soul counts. Specifically, our Lord tells us to treat our enemies with particular generosity and goodness of soul, not expecting anything in return. Any pagan will help anybody else who can be counted on to return the favor. How far we have gone from elementary Christianity. Today the good Samaritan would be thought a large fool by many so called believers. In our pride we are so worried about being made fools of that our God repudiates us.
Finally, St. Paul serves up a portion of our spiritual meal when he says, "Bless those who persecute you and do not curse them." He warns us of the poison of hatred appearing and remaining in our heart. Even if others persecute us, we are not to hate them because then we sin worse than they. We are to bless more when we are reviled and hated. The supreme example of Christ acting is when he was crucified, being mocked, tortured, is "Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing."
So we see what wondrously spiritual food is served us as we pray, praise and worship our God at the Divine Liturgy. How wise the man who prepares and studies the weekly epistle and gospel narratives at home prior to or after the Liturgy to permit them slow digestion in our mind and soul and encourages them to be absorbed into life's daily bloodstream. No wonder after hearing the reading of the scripture we joyfully sing in exaltation, "Glory to you, 0 Lord, glory to you." Amen.