By Evan Kardaras, Sub-Deacon at St. Mary & St. Mina Coptic Orthodox Church, Bexley, Australia.
(Sermon given at a Sunday Liturgy, November 2016)
Good morning brothers and sisters in Christ. Today I’d like us to have a look at one of the themes presented in today’s Readings. The theme I’d like us to look at is “the path that leads to life”.
We hear in the Pauline Epistle, St Paul, praising the Thessalonians because their faith had grown exceedingly. And how do we know that their faith had grown exceedingly? St Paul answers this in saying “they abounded in love toward one another”. So through our loving and serving others we demonstrate that our faith is indeed growing and flourishing. St Paul continually praised and boasted in the Thessalonians. Through their lives of faith, patience in their sufferings and great love, they showed they were on the path that leads to life, eternal life with our Sweet Jesus.
In the Reading from the Catholicon, St Peter tells us how to practically walk on this path that leads to life. How to mimic the Thessalonians and also become worthy of eternal life with our beloved Lord Jesus. St Peter starts by telling us to be serious and watchful in our prayers. Serious and watchful. How many of us can say that we are serious and watchful in our prayers? How many of us believe that prayer is one of the most important tasks we need to perform each day?
How many of us see prayer as a means to connect with our all-loving and all-merciful God, and the only means whereby we can gain the strength to walk on the path that leads to life? Our Holy Church actually stresses this, and reminds us repeatedly, that it will be difficult for us to spend eternity with Jesus, if we can’t spend some time with Jesus each day here on earth in prayer.
The early Christians prayed seven times a day, every three hours or so. I think in our times if we can pray once a day, for even fifteen minutes, according to our strength, that God will smile upon us and reward us for this little offering with abundant grace. I know this may be going back to basics, but many times it’s the basics that will allows us to grow into the people that God wants us to be.
The Church in her wisdom knows that prayer is a challenge. It’s not easy. So she has given us tools to help us. We have the Agpeya, which is a little prayer book, with wonderful prayers and psalms. This is the book that the Early Christians used to pray seven times a day. We can use this little book to start our own committed daily prayers, even for 1fifteen minutes or so a day. This will really allow us to feel God’s presence more.
It is indispensable and extremely necessary, for anyone that really wants to grow closer to Jesus and to grow in virtue to have a daily prayer rule. Without a committed prayer rule, it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for us to grow into the people that Jesus wants us to be. So this is the first step, the first admonition by St Peter, to be serious and watchful in our prayers. This is the first step on the path that leads to life.
St Peter then tells us that above all things we are to have fervent love for one another, and gives us the amazing promise that “love will cover a multitude of sins.” That if we strive to live lives full of love and sacrifice toward others, that this love will intercede for us before our Lord, and incline Him to be merciful for our sins, that we commit in weakness and in ignorance.
What a beautiful promise brothers and sisters. That if above all things we have fervent love for one another, this love they will cover our sins before the Lord. St Peter expands on this theme of love and tells us to be hospitable to one another, to serve one another without winging or complaining. How many times does someone pop over to visit us at home on an evening after work, and we get grumpy because he has spoiled our relaxation time?
This visit can be an opportunity to be hospitable, to show the love of Jesus and gain a crown from the Lord. This visit can help us grow in patience, generosity, kindness, humility and thus through such a simple daily occurrence we can become little images of Jesus in our daily lives.
St Peter goes on to remind us to use our talents and gifts in loving and serving others. We all have gifts. A gift can be patience, kindness, our ability to show empathy, our ability to share words of encouragement, any gift. He tells us to use these gifts in loving and service others.
It amazes me time and time again, that it’s the simple things when done in love that will change us and the world around us. We may have dreams to travel abroad, do mission, preach Christ in distant lands, but ultimately, I have in front of me, here and now, everything necessary to become a saint.
It starts in our own homes, in how we treat our parents, our partners, our siblings, our neighbours. Our sacrificial love starts here and now. It’s pointless to travel to distant lands to preach Christ, if I still talk back to my mother, or whinge when my wife asks me to go and buy the milk. All around us are the occasions necessary to become like Jesus, to become Saints.
Moving along, St Peter reminds us that all our good works are not done through our own power, but through the grace of God, that’s why he reminds us to be serious and watchful in our prayers, as through prayer we gain the strength to truly love and serve others to the best of our ability.
What’s beautiful to note brothers and sisters, is that the apostles practiced what they preached. These are not empty words but words with power through their living example. We see this in the reading from Acts, that the apostles were being persecuted and reprimanded by the scribes and Pharisees for preaching faith in Jesus. Instead of becoming upset or miserable due to their sufferings, we hear that the apostles rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for Jesus. And that even though they were being persecuted daily, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.
What a powerful love they had for others, in preaching even at the risk of death, so that others may be saved, that others may know Jesus, and on top of that, they also rejoiced in their sufferings. Had exceeding joy in suffering for Christ. Can we have this joy in our sufferings? Can I smile humbly with joy, when I’m lying on the couch and my wife asks me to go get some milk? The apostles suffered so much for Jesus with great Joy. Can we have this joy in the little opportunities given to us daily, when we are called to go against our own will to serve others?
If we move to the gospel reading we see our beloved Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ admonishing us all saying “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.”
Is our Lord teaching us to hate our loved ones in these versus? Of course not. God is love and cannot preach hate. What these versus are telling us, is that our ultimate goal is to truly love God above everything, with all our being. To love Him more than our families, more than our friends, more than our own lives. If I love God more than anything else, I’ll be willing to also sacrifice my time, energy, desires, in order to serve and love others. But what this means is that I’ll be picking up my cross and following Him. How? How is loving God and my neighbour a Cross?
Brother’s and sisters we are programmed from children to be selfish, egotistical, pleasure loving and self seeking. Thus when we decide to truly love God with all our being, more than anything else, we start a war against our own nature. We have to change from a pleasure loving, selfish individual, to a self sacrificing servant, in imitation of our beloved Jesus. We are called daily to put ourselves last and put others first, in love and sacrifice, as we read in the Thessalonians and as St Peter told us to do.
That’s why Jesus tells us, that he that doesn’t hate his own life, cannot be His disciple. Because if I don’t hate my old self, my egotistical, self seeking, pleasure loving self, I cannot become the new man Jesus wants me to become. To summarise my brothers and sisters we are called to be crucified with Christ. To pick up our cross and follow Him.
We need to pray daily for strength, for courage, for forgiveness, for the needs of others, for wisdom and discernment and for the power and grace to love others and to please God. We need to be disciplined, serious and watchful in our prayers. We can use the Agpeya as a tool to structure our prayer and assist us in keeping focused and disciplined in our prayer life.
We are called to love God with all our being and have fervent love for one another. We are called to be hospitable and to use our talents and gifts in loving and serving others. We need to seek out opportunities to serve others and love them. And it’s helpful to remember that this starts from our own homes and extends out to each person we meet each day.
We are to remember that in doing this we will need allot of faith and patience, as we will be starting a war on our ego, and self seeking, pleasure loving selves. But we are also to remember that in starting this war, we are picking up our cross and following Jesus.
We are to remember that in doing this we will be slowly but surely, be walking on the path that leads to life, to Eternal Life in the presence of our all loving and all merciful Lord Jesus. Keeping this in mind, will help us like the apostles to have deep joy while carrying our cross, deep joy in our sufferings, as we look forward to our rest with Jesus when He takes us to his kingdom.
We are to remember that even if we have weaknesses and sins that “love covers a multitude of sins” and thus if we truly strive to love God and our neighbour we will become spotless and white as snow and spend eternity with our beloved Jesus.
So brothers and sisters which soil will we be today? Will we be the soil that accepts the word and bears fruit, each according to their strength? Will we leave the Church today and allow the cares of this life and the deceitfulness of riches make us lazy and forget to pick up our cross and follow the Lord?
It’s in our choice, in our power and ability, through Jesus Christ our Lord, to either spend eternity with Jesus or without Jesus. Which path will we choose?
Glory be to God forever more, Amen.