Episode 369 – Immediate Response to Follow God

The world is at war with the Church, trying to convince us what is good and what is not good. The world believes that life is disposable. The Church teaches that life is sacred. When we choose to follow Christ, and leave behind the world, it begins with not allowing how the world thinks to influence the way we think. The world will not wait for us to ponder the pros and cons of following Christ. We must choose immediately to leave the world behind and follow Christ. We must choose to live a NEW LIFE with Christ.

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My brothers and sisters, we heard in this morning’s gospel about a woman who for 18 years was living a tortured life by the devil. 18 years she had been unable to find any kind of comfort or healing from anyone, from her friends, from the doctors, from the apostles. No one could heal her. I want you to imagine going through life, even for one day, let alone 18 years bent over, staring at the ground, having so much weight upon your shoulders you can’t even lift up your head to look up to God.

This is the torture that this woman lived through for 18 years. No one could help her. Finally, when she went to God, it happened to be on the Sabbath, and when God healed her, he touched her, she was able to stand up straight for the first time in 18 years. And what was the first thing she did? She was praising God. And what’s the first thing the crowd did? What’s the first thing the Pharisees did? They began to punish her. “How dare you come on the Sabbath to be healed?”

Christ, we know the story, he corrects them because in their mind she was less important than even the donkeys in the stable. He says, “Even your animals on the Sabbath, you’re going to go. You’re going to untie them so they can go get a drink. You’re not going to help this woman who the devil has bound for 18 years? She’s not worth something?” You see, they had forgotten what God had given them. They were so preoccupied with crossing the “t’s” and dotting the “i’s” they had forgotten that God gave them the Sabbath for a reason, and the reason was so they could focus on God.

They could find peace and quietness in their world because they were so strict with the rules. All the work stopped on Saturday, not so they could stay home and sleep, but so they could focus on God. God gave them the Sabbath so they had time for him. This is why it was so painful to watch them get mad at this woman. The one thing that should have been blessed and accepted and endorsed on the Sabbath was this woman being made well, having time to worship God. The one thing that they should have wanted to do on the Sabbath, they tried stopping her.

But I’ve got news for us. This story is not just about them, it is about us. God has given us the church. He’s given us a way of life as orthodox Christians, a way to pray, a way to worship, a way to focus our attention on God. And what do we do? We leave God to whatever we don’t have anything else better to do. Maybe we say our prayers when we wake up, but if we wake up late, the first thing we do is we skip our prayers so that we can get to work on time. If a friend calls and says, “Hey, let’s go fishing.” We are up before the sun.

But we live five minutes away and we can’t get to church on time. We have forgotten the blessings that God has given to us. God has given us this glorious cathedral. Yes, we have to repair it, but we repair it, not so we can show the world how beautiful our church is. We repair the church so we have a place to be with God. Because this woman in the gospel had nowhere else to turn but to God. And my fear is that as the world continues to go astray, it’s going to become easier and easier for us to forget God’s church. Because we don’t want to go out into the world and be called names from other people. And I hear it sometimes, “Oh, they think they’re holy. They go to church all the time, oh this, oh that.” Just like the crowd in this morning’s gospel.

But here’s our chance. We are in our nativity fast. As Orthodox Christians, we are preparing for Christmas with prayer and fasting and taking care of the poor. Not because fasting is some checkbox that we’re going to mark off, but because when we fast, we learn to pay attention to God. When we allow the life of the church to become our life, instead of considering the life of the church as rules that limit our behavior, I invite you to look at the life of the church as opportunities to focus on God. In our daily prayers, in coming to church as often as we can, not just on Christmas, Epiphany and Pascha, not just for weddings and funerals, but as often as we can. Not because it’s going to somehow make us more eligible for heaven, but because this is where we spend time with God, in his church.

And we, blessed as we are, one of the only churches in America that is open seven days a week, that has services seven days a week so that we can spend time focusing on God. This is why he gave us the church. This is why he gave the Jews the Sabbath. Don’t become a hypocrite, as in this morning’s gospel. Don’t try to dissuade. Don’t try to push people away from spending time with God. But more importantly, we need to come and spend more time with God, in our prayers and in our fasting.

My brothers and sisters, I’m here to tell you, unless we embrace fasting in our regular life, we will be so focused on the world that we will forget that God is right in front of our face. This is the joy of fasting. It’s not a rule. It’s a blessing, to take our minds and turn it off the world for just a moment. Even if we’re sitting in the drive through or in the, looking at the menu at the restaurant, in that moment of determining what we are eating, we can say, “No, I’m focusing on God and so I’m going to eat something different.”

Not because of the rules, but because of the blessing. And then we’ll be able to stand up straight like this woman in the gospel. We will be able to stand up straight and be praising God continually. As St. Paul says, “Pray without ceasing.” This is our opportunity, but I’m going to warn you of something. The world is going to think we are cuckoo. The world is going to think that we don’t know the better way. Let’s show them we do. Let’s show them that we are the sane ones. We are the ones who are focusing on the good of God.

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My brothers and sisters, in this morning’s gospel, we hear of Christ calling the first disciples, and we hear a incredibly important distinction on how we must also respond to Christ. He says to the apostles, to these fishermen, follow me. And the gospel says immediately, they even dropped their nets and they followed Christ. Immediately, they left their boat and their father, and they followed Christ. And what was the reward for their immediate response? He says, they went about all Galilee. Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness, and all kinds of disease among the people.

My brothers and sisters, it pains me to acknowledge this, but we are at war with the world. The world is battling for our minds and our hearts. The world is trying to tell us what is good and what is not good. And if we want to follow Christ, if we want to see the power of God, if we want to experience his blessings, then we like the disciples, have to be willing to leave everything aside to follow God. And we have to do it immediately, because the world will not wait.

The world is demanding our attention today. The world wants us to follow as blind sheep, everything the world says is good, but we have to leave that behind. We have to be willing to follow Christ, not just think about him, not just talk about him, but actually follow him. If you don’t believe we’re at war, you have not been paying attention the past few days. Our society, my brothers and sisters, is in the middle of a moral battle about the sanctity of life. And the Orthodox Church is very clear. All life is a sacred gift from God, all of it. Healthy life, sick life, functional life, dysfunctional life, obedient life, disobedient life, it’s all sacred. And anytime our society finds joy in the destruction of life, we have a problem. And the world is trying to draw us away from God.

In the past several days, I have read too many comments by Orthodox Christians, praising the opportunities of abortion. It doesn’t stop at abortion. It pains me to say that Orthodox Christians also in favor of capital punishment. It’s not our duty to kill anyone, no matter what their situation is, because God gave them life. I’m bringing this up today because it is consuming our society. We are being led to make a choice. Do we follow the church or do we follow the world? The apostles in this morning’s gospel, they left everything behind and immediately followed Christ. Now it says they left their nets, but we also know from the rest of the gospel, that they continued to be fishermen. It’s not as if they never went back to get their nets to go fishing. Obviously, the sons of Zebedee, they continued fishing with their father, after they followed Christ in this particular story. But what’s important here is their willingness to leave everything behind for Christ. What are we willing, right now, immediately to leave behind to follow Christ?

You’ve heard me say multiple times that the word repentance, metanoia in Greek, means to change the way we think of the world. Well, this is our opportunity, my brothers and sisters, to leave the world behind and the way the world thinks, and to begin thinking of life the way God thinks. And when we follow him, truly follow him, not just talk about him, we will witness his power and his miracles. It says in the gospel that he went around, preaching and teaching, and he healed people of their infirmities and their diseases.

If our world’s preoccupation with death is not a disease, I don’t know what is. Whether it’s people praising the war in Ukraine, or praising abortion, or praising capital punishment, or this or that, we’re always trying to kill somebody. That’s the way of the world. Leave it behind. Follow God and live the life that he’s inviting us to live, a life of blessings, a life of miracles. Not an easy life. He said to the apostles, “I’ll make you fishers of men.” I like to go fishing, but I’m not very good at it. I like to say I go fishing. I don’t go catching. It’s not easy. It takes patience.

It takes hard work to be a Christian, but it’s worth the response. But we cannot afford to wait. For the sake of our souls, for the sake of our children, we must respond immediately to God, and be willing to live the teachings of Christ, even if the world says otherwise. If the world chooses to go off the ledge, let it. We don’t have to follow it off the cliff, because we’re following Christ. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s going to be blessed. Glory to God for all things.

Episode 369 – Immediate Response to Follow God

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