St Paul the Apostle Orthodox Church
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/ Weekly Message / Weekly Message 08-24-08: 10th Sunday After Pentecost
Weekly Message 08-24-08: 10th Sunday After Pentecost

Our Gospel reading this morning takes place just after Jesus returns from Mount Tabor with Peter, James and John, having been gloriously transfigured before their eyes and conversing with Moses and Elijah – an event that turned out to be 40 days before Jesus’ barbaric crucifixion and death.  As they are descending Mount Tabor, Jesus is explaining to his select trio of Disciples about the things to come as they were walking into the crowd that we hear about as our Gospel reading for today begins.

And so our appointed reading for today begins with a certain man who came before Jesus and knelt before him.  Already, from this first line of Scripture, we hear that this is not any ordinary person from town, but a certain man, a man with no faith, a point worthy of recording by St. Matthew.  While this man knows precisely who Jesus is, with full humility and respect, he approaches the Master with his urgent request, because he knows there is no one else who can help him. He is using Jesus as a last resort, rather than a first defense – a character flaw possessed by all of us as well.

He tells Jesus, “My son is a lunatic and suffers terribly.” (Matt 17:15)   By definition, a lunatic is someone who acts strangely because of the phase of the moon each month.  You always seem to hear of strange goings on, or oddities that people will do for no apparent reason, and it is always blamed on the full moon.  These types of people would qualify for this definition.  Tides in the ocean, the bay or the river vary because of the cycle of the moon, in that they are either higher or lower than usual because of the phase of the moon, so a high tide during a full moon could be viewed as lunatic.  In fact, in the strictest sense, any woman on her monthly cycle could be viewed as a lunatic.  The translation we heard this morning uses the word demented.  Some bible translations use the word epileptic, as opposed to lunatic or demented.  I believe the word epileptic is a better translation, because the fits that the boy seems to have are more in keeping with the definition of epilepsy, a common chronic neurological disorder that is characterized by recurrent unprovoked seizures.

On this day, this faithless man approaches Jesus on bent knee for help, because his son is actually under the control of the devil.  While many bible scholars feel that it is the devil causing the boys actions, I believe that because these demons have such a grip on the poor boy, the only way he can try to escape the devil’s power is by throwing himself into the fire and into the water.  Such extreme conditions!  The poor boy will either burn to death or drown in order to get the devil out of him physically, but the devil has such a clutch on him, stronger than the physical stressors placed upon him.  Something supernatural is needed to cause the devil to finally leave the poor boy, and the father is well aware of this.  Despite his lack of faith, the father knows that Jesus, by his reputation as a healer, can help him in his plight.  In fact, the man acknowledged to Jesus he attempted help from the Disciples before Jesus came down from the mountain, but they were unable to help him.  So, in the same way we ask for a customer service supervisor when we don’t get what we want, this father took his request to the next level for assistance.  

This may give us a better understanding as to the tone Jesus took in front of the man – recall that Jesus had just finished explaining to Peter, James and John how in times past, other prophets have come and were not accepted by the people, and this track record doesn’t seem to bode well for Jesus, for He is present among people who also don’t accept him, don’t recognize him, don’t understand him.  No sooner does Jesus finish this very conversation with the select few of Disciples, and walks right into a crowd of people and is approached by a man who also doesn’t understand Jesus and His power as the Messiah, yet still asked Jesus’ Disciples to help his son.  If this man had any faith at all, at best we can say that his faith was lukewarm.  Our Lord warned us of this type of limited faith.  Your faith must be either hot or cold; there is no room for merely lukewarm, for we read in the Revelation to St. John, “So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.” (Rev. 3: 16) 

I think we can better understand exactly why Jesus reacted to this man and vented out loud in his human nature, in order to make this faithless man an example along with both the Disciples as well as the others in the crowd when he said, “O faithless and perverse generation.  How long must I suffer you?” (Matt 17: 17)  After asking this question, Jesus has the child brought to him, and He rebukes the devil, curing the boy from that very moment. 

This causes the disciples to wonder out loud as to why they failed to help him, when they were given authority by Jesus as we read in chapter 10 of St. Matthew’s Gospel, where he wrote, “He gave them power against unclean spirits to cast them out, and to heal all manner of disease.” (Matt 10:1)  It’s only natural for the Disciples to ask, scratching their heads and perplexed, as if to say, “What did we do wrong?”  And Jesus’ answer to them is succinct – because of your unbelief.  Despite Jesus giving them full authority, they weren’t able to accomplish such a task because they simply didn’t have enough faith within themselves to actually do it. 

Where are we on the faith barometer, my brothers and sisters?  Is our faith cold?  Or is it hot?  Or worse still, is it only lukewarm?  For all of our sakes, I pray that our faith is as hot as it can be, for the devil is constantly lurking to get into our souls and cause mischief.  Satan is only too happy to cause strife in the home, to let things unravel that affect not only ourselves, but all those who depend on us.  That is why we must always be on guard against the Wiley assaults of the devil; for any moment of unprotected speech, unguarded action, vain thoughts or evil dreams entices him to immediately wreak havoc upon us, continuously and mercilessly.  But thanks be to God, there is a mighty Presence to help see us through every trial and temptation.  We have a Guide to keep us on the straight and narrow, for the old saying is true:  forbidden fruits create many jams.  When we are overly stressed and conceivably locked under the devil’s power of evil, who is our help?  When the devil subtly gets into our heads, and uses his influence to justify why something bad for us really isn’t such a bad thing, who do we call upon for assistance?  When we’re tempted to take something that isn’t ours, or desire someone or something that is belongs to someone else, to whom can we turn?  The answer comes right out of the Psalms, specifically Psalm 121, when David wrote:

 “I lift up my eyes to the hills.  From whence does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.  He will not suffer your foot to stumble; he who is your guardian will not fall asleep.  Behold him who neither sleeps nor slumbers, the watcher over Israel.  The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand.  The sun shall not smite you by day, nor the moon by night.  The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.  The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.” 

Jesus is our help against the attack of the devil.  Jesus is our defense against the devil’s trickery.  Jesus is our refuge against the devil’s evil thoughts, evil works, and evil actions.  Jesus is our physician of souls and bodies, to heal our physical ailments, and to remedy our spiritual diseases. We know this because this is what we have been taught from the moment we decided to follow Him.  We know this because all of this has been handed down to us by tradition, from generation to generation.  We know all of this about Jesus, we know all of this about our blessed Orthodox Church because we have FAITH.  What did Jesus tell his Disciples about faith that we heard today in this very Gospel reading?  He said, “If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.” (Matt 17: 20-21) 

Our Lord Jesus Christ loved mustard seeds, and He taught some of the most profound truths with them.  You remember His teaching about the growth of His Kingdom on the earth also taken from the Gospel of St. Matthew, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; and this is smaller than all other seeds; but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants, and becomes a tree; so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches” (Matt 13:31-32).  The mustard seed is small, but grows to something powerful.  While tiny, it is pungent and aromatic, and it greatly enhances the flavor of food.  Too much can have an adverse affect on food, but just the right amount makes it perfect each and every time.

The same can be said for us – too much zealousness can put people off.  Time and again, this happens among converts to our blessed Orthodox faith.  They start out on fire for Christ, they read up on everything they can get their hands on, about church history, about liturgical practice, about all of the saints, and about the politics between different jurisdictions; they become consumed with everything that is Orthodox to the letter, and then they begin to scoff at their friends, neighbors and co-workers, trying to convince them that their only way to salvation is through their particular brand of orthodoxy.  They may even approach the priest or deacon and accuse them of not being as Orthodox and on fire for Christ as they now are.  Over time, the zealousness fades, they lose their vigor, they find themselves shunned by rest of the community, and soon disappear into obscurity and oblivion, as a shooting star disappears after a blaze of glory in the night sky. 

Just as bad as overzealousness of faith is the lukewarm faith our Lord railed about.  Lukewarm stuff tastes horrible. It’s quite disappointing when it tastes nothing like it looks.  No one likes lukewarm coffee, or lukewarm tea. Either the coffee needs to be piping hot, or the tea needs to be ice cold. Luke warmness is a characteristic that serves no purpose.
Lukewarm food also does another thing. When you place something lukewarm by your body, it causes your body to relax. Your body starts to relax and you won't want to do anything. Hot objects and cold objects make us respond. Either we feel burned, or we feel a shiver. When something is lukewarm and it is placed near the body, it relaxes us. It soothes us and makes us tired. So it is the same with our witness to the world as Disciples of Christ. When we are lukewarm, we become tired.  We don't want to let others know about Jesus, or about God has been doing in our lives.  In short, a lukewarm faith is a lazy faith, and that is just as unacceptable as the over zealousness that puts people off.

However, the right amount of zeal mixed with humility, the knowledge of our own sinfulness and the faith recognition that God in his great mercy and love for us allows us to both forgive and be forgiven, is the recipe that allows us to be effective ministers for Christ, my brothers and sisters.  When we share this recipe of faith with our friends, neighbors, relatives and co-workers, it has the potential for a tremendous yield, when they are open to the Holy Spirit beckoning them to come home to the love and peace of the Lord.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, all of us, and I mean each and every one of us must do a better job of refining our recipe of faith and sharing it with others. This potential harvest of souls will be a welcome sight in our little parish of St. Paul the Apostle.  I mean, what better problem could we have than to say, “Where will we sit all of these people who come each Sunday and Holy Day for Divine Liturgy?” Or, “We have too many volunteers for bake sales, pirohi sales, and there is a waiting list for sponsors for the bulletin, the web site, and the Sunday socials.”  Indeed, what a wonderful predicament that would be!

As we go forward this day as Disciples of Christ, let us all vow to work on our own personal recipe of faith, so that we won’t fail as did our Lord’s first Disciples when they were unable to help the poor boy escape from the devil’s evil ways.  Let us let our own examples of faith shine forth among our friends, relatives, neighbors and co-workers so that all may want to share in what we are blessed to have as Orthodox believers.  My friends, that is my prayer for all of us this day.  Let us go forward in faith, in love, and in the peace of Christ, and let us all be a source of blessing upon those whom we encounter, from this time forth, and forevermore. Amen.

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