St Paul the Apostle Orthodox Church
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Weekly Message 07-25-10: Ninth Sunday

Ninth Sunday

Lord, save me! ...0 you of little, faith, why did you doubt?


Our Lord demonstrates forthrightly today the process of conversion is never over. It is an on-going continuing development in our living in union with the Lord, Who consistently stretches out his hand to confirm us in faith even when we waver and perhaps sink in doubt.

We are thus reminded of the words of our Lord in another instant, "Unless you are converted and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" Matthew 18: 3. It is a small text, "Be converted," but a huge subject, a subject of huge importance, around which clusters the issue of eternity. This is a subject of personal concern; much more important than making a living, getting on in the world, having a good reputation in the community or being well informed about issues important in our day. All the matters are of no weight at all when compared to the question which our Lord admonishes Peter for lacking. "Are you converted to Christ?" in other words, do you implicitly believe what our Lord says and teaches and represents?

The question of our eternal blessing or woe depends on the question of our conversion. There are few subjects on which many well meaning people are more in the dark. Worse still often those who talk most about it and are loudest in urging its necessity, know less about it. Why this should be so we can scarcely tell. It is certainly not because the Word of God is so misty that no one can know what it teaches. It must be so because many are unwilling to search the Scripture with a view of bowing to its authority and direction as taught by Christ's Body and Bride. It means making our reason captive to the will of the Lord. Too many would rather consider their will, their feelings and impulses for guides and standards than the teaching of the Divine Word. Today we will consider its actual meaning.

Inquiring first into the meaning of the term, we rind that to convert means "to turn," "to turn around," to "to change." We find this is also the clear and unmistaken meaning of the Latin word which is the root of its English descendant, and the same is true of its Greek forebear.

It is as if a traveler discovers he is on the wrong road, he turns about, faces the right way and gets on the right path - so the unconverted sinner, when he realizes he is traveling the broad road that leads to destruction, turns, or is turned around and gets on the narrow way that leads to life.

We find this comprises two distinct steps. The first is penitence or contrition. The sinner realizes what he is, where he is and where he is going. Realizing he is on the wrong path, seeing as he never saw before the deep depravity of his own heart, the heinousness of his sin, the justness of the judgment of God and the wrath to which it exposes him, he loathes that sin, he mourns over it, and he desires to flee from it and longs for deliverance. This is what God's revelation to us in Scripture and the teaching of the Church identify as repentance. This penitence or heart-felt sorrow for sin and earnest desire to be free from it is the very first step in conversion.

The second step is faith in Jesus Christ. We long for deliverance, crying out for forgiveness in the sacramental Mystery of Reconciliation We look to Christ and we realize that by his life and death and resurrection He has wrought out a complete salvation for us. Even after our baptism, even after living seriously a Christian life, we can slip, we can be seduced, we can fall off the path to destruction in sin and so we must again and again be converted over again to the Lord. We must always be sorry for our misfortune and correct it. We must always get up after falling down. It is crying out to the Lord, "If you can make me clean," "Lord, I believe, help my unbelief, and finally concluding after confession of sinfulness, join Thomas in affirming, "My Lord and my God." Or triumphantly with St. Peter today, "Truly, you are the Son of God."

This is faith; it is the follow up on conversion which must take place multiple times daily. It is getting of the road of destruction and turning one's back on it. It is walking on the bright pathway, turning from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to the glory and triumph of our God. It is reaching out to the Lord and grasping his affirmative hand; it is union with the Lord. It is knowing and understanding, in spite of our limitation from time to time, that the strength of the Lord is available always to us if we seek it and use it. It is being confident when we sink in sin that the Lord is willing to retrieve us.

It is plain all of us need this conversion. We can never be content without it. We cannot survive without using its grace. Penitence is not something that goes before conversion and something that automatically follows after. Both must constantly be renewed in mind, soul and heart as the Church prescribes.

So, who is it that needs this grace and blessing? The self-evident answer is all who belong to the Saviour and even those who do not because when we sin we lose our status before the Lord and must be reinstated as opposed to those who never have been allied All who do not have in their hearts true penitence ongoing for sin and genuine unbroken faith in Christ. Whenever we find true penitence and true faith, there we see a converted person; and conversely, where these elements of new life are wanting, there is a sinner in need of change.

Not all who are baptized remain always true to their covenant. There are those who throw away the grace of the Cross and the fullness of the resurrection tomb. They become prodigal sons, wanderers from the Father's home and protective care. That is us and all of us need on-going conversion because without it we are eternally lost. There is absolutely no salvation, no heaven, for those who remain and die in an unconverted state. We see without a change in mind, without a change in heart and soul, without the help of the Lord in today's gospel narrative, Peter would have been drowned, would have perished.

Let us understand why the Church insists we worship on Sundays and holydays. It is because faith comes by, faith is sustained and affirmed by "...hearing the word of God."

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