Today’s Sermon: The Truth Is In The Trinity

We need to be very careful of the ministers and ministries we follow.  Not everything that proclaims Jesus Christ is Christian.

The Hospitality of Abraham (forerunner of the Holy Trinity)

THE TRUTH IS IN THE TRINITY
Luke 3:21, 22

From the time of the apostles to the foundation of the Baptist church, all Christians believed in that God revealed and reveals himself in three persons; God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.” I offer you two sources. From our own Articles of Faith we have these words: …that in the unity of the Godhead there are three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; equal in every divine perfection, and executing distinct but harmonious offices in the great work of redemption. As the early church fathers established Christian doctrine, St. Basil of Cappadociea gave us this standard from the scriptures: The Holy Spirit is one and we speak of him as unique since through the one Son He is joined to the Father. He completes the all-praised and blessed Trinity. For 2,000 years it has been understood by all denominations that no matter what we believe about specific items of doctrine, no one can claim to be a Christian without believing in the Holy Trinity.
Alas, things have changed due to modern Christianity’s perpetual rejection of tradition and falling for anything that is popular. There is a false doctrine that is common among some TV ministries and those who watch them called Oneness Pentecostalism. This doctrine teaches that God is only one person by reveals himself in three different modes or manifestations. Looking at the website of Bishop TD Jake’s Potters House Ministry, this is what his church teaches about God: There is one God, Creator of all things, infinitely perfect, and eternally existing in three manifestations: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (http://www.thepottershouse.org/Local/About-Us/Belief-Statement.aspx). Because of the popularity and size of his and similar ministries, many Christians are being led into this rejection of Christian belief. Those who do not believe in this modalistic doctrine don’t want to speak against it because they feel that as long as God is praised and souls are being saved, we shouldn’t “hate” on such ministers. After all, it is written “Whoever is not against me is for me.”
But, how can one be for Jesus and reduce Him from being the person of salvation to being a mere mode or manifestation? Looking at the Gospel text this morning, we see that a person came to be baptized. Another person took on the bodily form of a dove and descended on Him. And yet another person spoke from heaven and declared the person being baptized as His Son. There are three distinct and separate entities present. This is why we baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is why the core of the ancient prayers and worship services are in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I offer you today brothers and sisters that the 2,000 year-old doctrine of God In Three Persons is the true and only doctrine of the Holy Trinity for us to believe in and follow.
We describe God as love and the one who loves. True love has to be shared by at least two parties. Thus, out of the love that He is, God the Father divinely and mysteriously begotten the Son. Jesus was not created by as Adam was. Nor was he born of some goddess. Love comes forth from Love and it is beyond our comprehension ans humans. In order for a father and son to have love, there must be a Spirit of Truth between them as love does not exist between two persons where falsehood is present. The father sends forth this spirit of truth toward the Son. Thus God, the three persons of the Holy Trinity, is love as the two persons are bound together by the third person. The Father is the fountain-head of Love. The Son is the object of Love, and the Spirit of Truth binds them together. God is one in three persons. It doesn’t make logical sense because 1+1+1 does not equal 3. But, as we walk by faith and not by sight, we accept the Trinity as the Great Mystery of the God who’s ways are not our ways and who’s thoughts are not our thoughts. God the Holy Trinity is Love.
The glaring failure of modalistic doctrine, God as one person in three modes, is that such a God cannot be love as it has no other divine person to love nor has no spirit to make the love true. Such a god cannot give love because he can’t give what he is not. He can give law as in modern Judaism and Islam. He can give rules for a civil society and a peaceful existence. He can give logic and reason. He can even give a few anointings, breakthroughs, and miracles. But without love, as Paul described, this sort of god is nothing more than sounding brass, a clanging cymbal, and nothing that such a god does can profit him anything. Judaism pointed the way to God. Islam has some rules to live by. Modern modalist can make people feel good and get happy. But as none of them hold to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, the God in Three Persons, they cannot lead us to salvation as salvation is an act of Love.
Consider that the Son, Jesus, was without sin. Yet, He submitted Himself to John’s baptism of repentance for the remission of sins and He prayed. The Son, this person of the Trinity is holy in his own right. Yet he takes on the form of corruptible flesh and obeys the prophetic pattern of cleansing established by another person of the Trinity, the Father: The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.” Even though it made no sense for Jesus to have to be baptized for repentance and remission of sin and to pray, the Son lovingly obeys the Father.
Consider also that the Son, Jesus, already had power enough just by being who he was. Gabriel, and unborn John, the heavenly host, Simeon, Anna; they all knew that Jesus was the savior. And what happens to the one who is already known to be Holy? The Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon Him. The Holy Spirit came down on the one who was already Holy. This was done not out of necessity. It was done to show those gathered then and us today that the Holy Spirit is lovingly with those who are lovingly obedient in repentance and prayer.
Consider thirdly that the Son, Jesus, was already the Son of God. This is what the Archangel Gabriel announced to Mary: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore also, that the Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.” By Himself, or with the aid of the Holy Spirit, Jesus could have performed a number of miraculous signs and wonders to show that He was the Christ. Yet, there is no confirmation like direct confirmation from the source. God the Father gave no dramatic earthquake, mighty thunder, nor some other demonstrative announcement of Jesus as the divine Messiah. A loving voice came from heaven saying, “You are my beloved Son: in You I am well pleased.”
In the early formation of Christian doctrine, the early fathers saw in apostolic tradition and the scriptures that at the baptism of Christ, there were three distinct and divine beings present. And at the first two Great Councils of the Church in 325 and 381 AD, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity was established as an essential Orthodox belief. We Baptist also searched the scriptures and in every version of the Articles of Faith we accept that the One True God there are three persons; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. I therefore urge us brothers and sisters not to stray from the truth of 2,000 years. Let us not get caught up in the popularity and hype of modern modalism. Salvation comes only from believing in the Holy Trinity. As we lead lives of repentance and prayer as Jesus did, the Holy Spirit will be our guide, and God will confirmed the baptized believers as his children.

Posted in Baptist Doctrine, Early Church History, false doctrine, Father, Gospel of Luke, Holy Spirit, Holy Trinity, Jesus, Orthodox Doctrine, orthodox icons, sermons | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Today’s Sermon: Antioch Still Matters

Saints Peter and Paul at Antioch

St. Simeon called Niger

Patriarch John X of Antioch

ANTIOCH STILL MATTERS
Acts 11:25-26 & 13:1-3

Two thousand years ago, there was a city and a region in eastern modern-day Syria called Antioch. The city, which no longer exist, was on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and the land was between the coast and the city and region of Damascus, which is still the capital of Syria. After the stoning of the deacon Stephen in Jerusalem, the early Christians scattered to various parts of the world. Some like James the brother of our Lord remained in the city. But, some went to Rome, others to Alexandria, others to a tiny village called Byzantium which would later be called Constantinople. Still others went to nearby Antioch. These cities became the five major headquarters of the Christian Church each with its own bishop.
Since then, the church has had many divisions. The bishop of Rome felt himself more important than the others and made up his own Catholic church with changes to the original doctrine. A German monk, Martin Luther made changes to Roman Catholicism including changes to the scriptures. An English King, Henry XIII, made himself the head of his own Anglican (here in America, Episcopalian) church. Some English colonist took Luther’s version of the Bible and became Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterians, and later Pentecostals. Now, anyone who has a Bible and can preach can make up his or her own church. Today, there are about 40,000 denominations and non denomination in America alone. Yet, with the churches they established, the churches of Jerusalem, Constantinople, Alexandria, and Antioch continued to practice the same Orthodox Christianity they learned from the Apostles and the first believers.
The fact that Christianity still exist in Syria is often forgotten or ignored in the recent news reports. People tend to forget that Syria has been a haven for religious minorities since it became an independent nation after WWII. President Bashir Assad and his father before him has continued to allow the church where Barnabas and Paul continue as it did since 33 AD alongside a Muslim majority in peace. Today, much of the focus on the conflict in that land revolved around the use of chemical weapons. As of now, there is no proof that the Assad regime alone is responsible for the use of these horrible tools of war. Thanks be to God that the Syrian government has accepted the plan to give the ones they have and the plan is to be watched by international observers.
Yet, no one is pressuring the rebel Free Syrian Army to stop allowing Islamic extremist to commit horrific atrocities on Christians and moderate Muslims. While there are some rebels who have legitimate gripes against the Assad regime, the rebels are also made up of terrorist groups such as al-Queda (the same people who gave us the 9/11 attack) and the Muslim Brotherhood (who is carrying out a campaign of terror against Christians in Egypt). And the atrocities committed by these groups in Syria are well documented. Two Christian bishops, one of them the brother of Patriarch John X of Antioch, have been held hostage since April. In every village seized by the rebels, Christians have been forced to leave or convert to Islam. This weekend in the village of Maalouda should have been filled with Christians celebrating the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. But the rebels captured the city, desecrated the churches, and the Christians who were not killed or captured have fled this town where the faith was practiced for 2,000 years.
I offer you today brothers and sisters that we should pray for and stand with the Antiochian Christians and all who are suffering at the hands of the terrorist in Syria. We should urge President Obama and our law makers to stop giving military aid to the Free Syrian Army as long as it has al-Queda, the Muslim Brotherhood, and other terrorist organizations among them. Reading the scriptures, we can see the Godly example that the early believers from that region has set for us.
It was at Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians, or “little Christ.” These men and women had a reputation of prayer, fasting, and doing good for others that was seen and teased by the locals in Antioch. The Jews who lived there scoffed at the idea that the disciples believed that Jesus was the Christ. The Romans, Syrians, and others didn’t think much of them at first. But, the more these disciples resided in the city and region, the more they influenced people to join them in the faith. This ought to be a testimony we all aim for. That people may laugh at us and joke on us for being serious about living as new creatures in Christ. But the more they see us, some of them will change their minds and follow us as we follow Him. Today, we say that we are the only version of the Bible most people will ever read. Back then, the Bible hadn’t even been written yet and they were already living the life. Therefore, we have the example. Pray, fast, love others in such Spirit and truth that people will call us Christian not simply because we go to church. Folk should call us Christian because that’s the way we act. The Antiochians gave us the example.
It was from Antioch that the Apostle Paul spread the Gospel to Asia, Cyprus, Greece, and Rome. At the time, he was still known as Saul of Tarsus. For years, he persecuted Christians approving of Stephen’s stoning. He was on his way with permission from the Sanhedrin to arrest more believers until Jesus stopped and blinded him on his was to Damascus, Syria. Even though, Saul was converted and preached Christ in that city, some disciples were still suspicious. One “Son of Encouragement,” Barnabas reached out to Saul who was at his home in Tarsus and brought him to Antioch where they and other leaders led more souls to salvation. After a year of serving there and having fasted and prayed, they were set apart by the Holy Spirit. With more prayer and fasting, they then went on their journey. In this instance, Paul and Barnabas were not fleeing persecution from the Jews nor Romans. These were missionary journeys with the specific purpose to spread the Gospel to the known world. Here is another great lesson we learned from that ancient land. That as Christians we are to encourage new believers, give them a place where they can grow and help others know the love of God through Jesus Christ. This is where we learned that we must diligently seek the will of God even more than the regular desires of the flesh and move according to the voice of the Holy Spirit. The first Christian missionaries didn’t come from London nor Liverpool. The first Christian missionaries were not Lott Carey nor Lottie Moon. Paul and Barnabas were the first Apostles to the unbelieving world and they received their calling in Antioch.
Antioch was not just a church for simple Jewish converts like the first 12 Disciples. It was a church that was for everyone and served everyone. Look at the backgrounds of their prophets and teachers. Barnabas and Saul were Rabbinic scholars. Manaen was a nobleman who grew up with the son of the Herod that tried to kill the baby Jesus. Lucius was the son of Simon of Cyrene who carried the cross for Jesus up Mount Calvary. I don’t know about Simeon’s background. But, most scholars say that with the nickname “the Niger;” he was a dark-skinned African or African descendant. When Lebanese and Syrian immigrants settled in New York, Pittsburgh, and other cities in the early 1900’s, they brought the Antiochian Orthodox Church with them. Today, the same warm spirit of welcome and desire to share the ancient Christian faith is still with them. In 1987, 2,000 Evangelical Christians diligently studied what the early church was like and found it to be Orthodox. It was the Antiochians that welcomed them into the faith. When I am not preaching here on Sunday mornings, I attend the Sunday prayers and Divine Liturgy at St. Basil Antiochian Orthodox Church in Poquoson. When I am at St. Basil, I worship with a lady who had to be baptized in secret because she was born in Communist Russia, an Ethiopian altar boy whose family came her to find better opportunities, A priest who ran into doctrinal problems with the Presbyterian Church as a result of studying in one of their top seminaries, and a hodge-podge of people of different backgrounds from all over Tidewater who desire to worship as the early Christians did. I have found this ancient church to be as welcoming today as it must have been 2,000 years ago and teaching the same doctrine as it did in the days of Barnabas and Paul.
I am not asking us to convert to the Antiochian Orthodox Church. But, we Baptist should see in the scriptures and in our hearts that our brothers and sisters who still live in the ancient land and practice the ancient faith should be prayed for protected. If we don’t want to join them, we ought to pray for them and stop supporting the people who are beating them. I like and voted for Barack Obama just like anyone else in here and believe he has done many good things as our President. But, I spoke out against how wrong George W. Bush was for starting the Iraq War which resulted in the persecution of Christians who used to live in relative peace and safety. I cannot be silent when Christianity is under threat in the place where the faith first got our name. I cannot be silent when our government is militarily supporting those who are killing the saints who are still worshiping the way they were taught by saints like Barnabas and Paul. I cannot be silent just because our President looks like us and ignore the fact that Lucius of Cyrene and Simeon called Niger looked like us too.
In 1965, the Greek Archbishiop Iakovos stepped out of his comfort zone and on the road from Selma to Montgomery. The words he offered back then ring true for us today. “The church will not be pessimistic, nor sit quietly in its handsome houses of worship while the war rages outside its churches for the bodies, minds and souls of its parishioners.” Let us pray and stand in solidarity with the Antiochian and all oppressed Christians.

Posted in Acts, Antiochian Orthodox Church, Christian Living, Early Church History, orthodox icons, sermons, Syria | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Homecoming Sunday Sermon: A Father To Come Home To

But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.

Luke 15:20

In a distant country, the prodigal son has fallen to feeding the pigs and desiring their food.  By the divine presence of God on the mercy seat between the cherubim, the Holy Spirit gives the son the ability to come to his senses and return home.  When he does, the father who is the I Am does not sit in his home on high to wait for the son.  He runs down to lovingly meet him while he is still a far off.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son

The Parable of the Prodigal Son

 

Every now and then, we hear sermons of a Father that is to mean and scary to come home to. There is an historic sermon from the Colonial Puritan preacher Johnathan Edwards entitled “Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God.” In this message, the Almighty is seen as an other-worldly titan who merely sits ready to send people to hell at the slightest act, word, or thought of disobedience. This is the prototype of the “Fire and Brimstone” message that is sometimes used to try to scare people into becoming Christians. While there are various scriptures that describe the wrath of God, over use this model of an angry heavenly father has done more harm to the spread of the Gospel than good.
Some hearing too many of these “Angry Father”messages bet a self defeatist attitude and do as they wish with the idea, “Since God is going to get me anyhow, I may as well have my fun.” Others having this scary image rebel against God becoming atheist believing that no god is better than the mean and vindictive being preached in our churches. Some Bible scholars and theologians rebel against the “Fire and Brimstone” approach with the “Just Be A Good Person” doctrine that says as long as you help people and are kind to others, you need not worry too much about morality and spiritual growth. Such doctrines create churches that allow for unrepentant homosexuals to enter the clergy and makes excuses for pastors who flagrantly cheat on their spouses. Yes, there is a day of judgement where some will be in eternal glory and others in eternal damnation. But fear and intimidation were never meant to be the main focus of the Gospel message, as it is written; For God sent His Son into the world not to condemn the World, but that through Him, the world might be saved.
In 4th century Egypt, a young man read various scriptures and saw a different type of Father. This young bishop saw a God who loves mankind so much that He pursued Him. He read in Luke’s Gospel where a shepherd left 99 of his sheep to find and rejoice over the one that was lost and found. And that a woman searched her house up and down for the one lost coin and rejoiced over finding it with her neighbors. This African man of God, Athanasius, included Luke’s Gospel as one of the 27 essential books for all Christians. That list was voted on by his fellow bishops and accepted as what we now call the New Testament. The Father that Athanasius and the early Christians saw in our text today not a harsh and wrathful being to run away from. They preached what as David sang, Our God is slow to anger and plenteous and mercy … who does not deal with us after our sins. Early Christianity preached as Jesus described in this parable, our God is the Father who comes to us with love, mercy, and compassion. He is the Father worthy to come home to.
The Father loves us enough to choose for ourselves and equips us to be ourselves. The father of the younger son gave the younger son the portion of the estate that would go to him after his death. With that kind of wealth, the young man could go and do as he wished. The father gave with no preconditions or strings attached even though he had every right to do so. He offered no threat to the son if he failed to do his bidding or follow his example. The father gave and let the younger son be himself.
Isn’t that what God does for us? He gives us freedom of choice and gives us what we need to be ourselves. We have a mind, we can choose to learn or be willfully ignorant. We can see and understand for ourselves or blindly accept what others say. God gives us this freedom because love can only exist with free will. He lets us make the choice to obey His will, or to take what he has given us, go way from his presence, and waste the gifts – waste ourselves on earthly desires.
And when we choose wrongly, we have no need to fear eternal punishment as we bring punishment on ourselves. Look at the text. The father didn’t make the son spend all his money and have friends that would leave him when hard times came. The son did that on his own. The father didn’t hire the son out to feed pigs and make him want to eat what the pigs were eating out of his hunger. The son did that on his own. The father has nothing to do with the hellish conditions that his son is in. That is the son’s making because the son chose to leave the presence and reject the ways of his father. Hard times fall on everyone, good or bad, as there was a famine in the land. But, we make our good situations bad and our bad situations worse when we choose to leave the presence and not walk in the ways of God. He has never made a hell for us (Matthew 25:41 teaches that the lake of everlasting fire was prepared for the devil and his angels). But by our choices, we make our own hell in this life and unless we repent, we will suffer a fate that we weren’t created for. We were created to be in communion and relationship with God and each other. That is why the Father made us. We can continue to choose to want to eat the pig slop of this world. Or, we can come to our senses and seek the presence of the Father.
And this Father humbles himself to come to us. While the son is still a long ways off, the father gets out of the house and runs to him. In ancient Eastern tradition, this would have been scandalous. An elder, especially a father who is in the right, would never run out and so much as greet a junior, especially a son, who is in the wrong. True justice would have that son come all the way home and face the judgment of the father and all other elders in the household. The father is overjoyed that the son has decided to walk in the right direction. The son has not said a word of repentance yet. But, the father who is in the authority and right is overflowing with so much love that he lowers himself to come to the son that came to himself.
Two thousand years before any of us were born, Our God did something no other god of any religion had ever done. He left his place of authority and judgement as He saw us at a distance. Despite our distancing ourselves from him and still being a great distance after coming to ourselves and coming to Him, He came to us. He took on flesh, was born of a virgin, faced great temptations without falling for them, taught with great authority, healed with miraculous power, died on the old rugged cross, and trampled down death by His death. No other religion teaches of a God who loves us so much that he would humble Himself and be obedient unto death, even death on the cross. A Father who would send his only begotten Son to give Himself for our salvation is a Father of great humility is more that worthy to be worshiped, praised, glorified, returned to, and to repent to.
And where there is pure repentance, there is full restoration. Notice in the 21st verse how the son does not repeat his rehearsed words in verses 18 and 19? “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.”
The son drops his pretenses of just wanting to be a servant; seeking some sort of confirmation so that he can have something basic. All he offers to the father is a pure and simple confession. Upon hearing this confession without added on conditions and desires, the father gives the son the best robe, a symbol of royalty. He gives him a ring, a symbol of authority. He gives him sandals, protection for the feet. He brings out the fatted calf and has everyone to eat and be merry for the son that was dead is now alive. The son that was lost is now found. And this restoration comes only by a sincere and true repentance.
Our father still gives full restoration to those who offer sincere and true repentance. We tend to forget this because we are too busy trying to get “anointing, empowerment, favor, the next level,” and all of these modern catch-words which often translate to a new car, house, and leisurely lifestyle. And if we get these things, we are still spiritually empty because the fullness of restoration is being hindered by us wanting basic temporary blessings instead of everlasting wholeness from the eternal Father. We must repent without condition nor expectation for the temporary. We must confess our sinfulness without desiring the things of this world no matter how good or necessary they may be.
When we confess like the son confessed, the Father heals our wounded hearts, puts our broken spirits back together, restores our sin sick souls. The father, the angels, and the saints rejoice as we have come from death to life. We are no longer lost. But we are found in the presence of the Kingdom of heaven even as we are still on this side of the Jordan. And if we continue to live in sincere and true repentance, we will enter the kingdom where there is the ceaseless celebration where everyday is Sunday and Sabbath has no end.
Yes, there is a day of judgement where some will face eternal damnation and others eternal bliss. But until that day comes, let us take joy and comfort that we have a Father who is worthy to come home to. His wish is not to have us punished forever. He wants restoration with the lost and to maintain restoration with the found. Therefore, let us always come home to the Father through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit each day and each our in the day in repentance that we will be fully restored as His children.

Posted in Christian Living, communion, Early Church History, Forgiveness, Gospel of Luke, Homecoming Service, orthodox icons, Repentance | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Today’s Sermon: Our Call to Sexual Purity

For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that you should abstain from sexual immorality;

I Thessalonians 4:3

“… For you took up the Cross and followed Christ. By doing so, you taught us to disregard the flesh for it passes away; but to care instead for the soul since it is immortal.” From the Toparion Hymn to St. Mary of Egypt

Our Call to Sexual Purity

I Thessalonians 4:3-8

(introduction)  There was probably never a time when Christians didn’t have to struggle against sexual sins

  • the Christians in  Thessaloniki  were surrounded hedonistic culture
  • St Anthony of Egypt warned that even desert monastics struggled against lust
  • many of us have one or two extra branches in our family trees

(antithesis)  The problem we face today is that the church is losing it’s aim toward sexual purity

  • Gospel artist and stars are becoming too relaxed in the way they carry themselves
  • the undercover acceptance (and sometimes expectation) of clergy infidelity
  • denominations who no longer teach celibacy before marriage

(thesis)  If the church is not offering the world a different way of living, we no longer function as the body of Christ.  We must always aim to live in sexual purity

(points)  Let us be warned

  • God avenges those who are taken advantage of (v.6)
  • Holiness is lifestyle, not just worship (v.7)
  • Rejecting sexual purity is rejecting God (v.8)

(conclusion)  Possessing our vessels in sanctification and honor (v.4)

  • Married -be with your spouse
  • Single – be celibate until marriage
  • Christ and the Holy Spirit are our aids in the struggle
Posted in Christian Living, I Thessalonians, Pauline Epistles, Repentance, self denial, sexual purity | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Today’s Sermon: Our Shared Call To Perfection

“Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”

Matthew 5:48

A wonderful word of inspiration from one of my favorite Facebook pages.

Our Shared Call To Perfection
Matthew 5:48

The pursuit of perfection is being and in some cases has been written off as the responsibility of all Christians

  • We have used scripture to excuse ourselves: “All have sinned and fallen short …” “There is not a man who does what is good and doesn’t sin” “Judge not least ye shall be judged …”
  • We clergy tend to excuse ourselves as much as the laity: Social Gospel, Praise-emphasis worship

Jesus gives the charge of perfection to all who would follow Him

  • He spoke to the multitude — the righteous, wicked, and all in between
  • He uses the word “shall” — this makes perfection not an option, but a command

Every Christian, clergy and laity, must strive to reach a virtuous, holy, and perfect life
We have perfect resources to help us reach this goal

  • A God to have a loving relationship with — our Father
  • A point of reference beyond earthly standards — in heaven
  • A bridge to carry us from where we are to where we want to be — Jesus (the cross)

“One should not say that it is impossible to reach a virtuous life. But one should say it is not easy.” — St. Anthony the Great
“With man this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible.” — Jesus Christ (Matthew 19:26)

Posted in Christian Living, Gospel of Matthew, Jesus, self examination, sermon on the mount, sermons | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Today’s Sermon: Resistance Is Required

Therefore submit to God.  Resist the devil and he will flee from you.

James 4:7

Today, we welcome six new souls into our church with the Right Hand of Fellowship and their first Communion.  Two more are being prepared for Baptism next month.  Praise God for his love and mercy!

St. Vladimir and the Baptism of Rus

Resistance Is Required
James 4:7-8 (6-10)

(introduction) There are many ministers and ministries who speak about empowerment and favor. Some of them have sound theology, others not so much.

(antithesis) There is a danger in measuring faithfulness and salvation by outward appearances and actions while nothing is done to challenge our private sins.

(thesis) Despite the number of anointings, blessings, amount of empowerment, favor, and acts of love one may have; there is no true uplift for our souls unless we resist evil in our lives.

(points) The devil runs away from this sort of resistance:

  • A radically humble submission to God (v.6, 7, 9,10)
  • Drawing near to God (v.8)
  • Seek cleansing and purity (v.9)

(conclusion) Lower yourself so that the Lord will lift you

Posted in baptism, Christian Living, communion, James, orthodox icons, sermons, Sin | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Today’s Sermon: Humility to be Carried

St. Ignatius of Antioch

 

Humility to be Carried
Matthew 18:1-5

One of the most interesting things about early Christian history is that you learn the names of people in the New Testament that the writers don’t give. In this story of Jesus explaining who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, there is no mention of who the child was that he brought in the midst of them. The lesson Jesus was teaching to his followers was about humility and not individual humans. The grown men were questioning about who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. They wanted to attach a name to heavenly authority and honor. They wanted to attach an office or title as having a high position in the highest realm. Peter had just finished paying the Temple Tax, as Jesus instructed him. Peter and the other disciples could not have helped but to see that there was a particular pecking order of Arch-priest and priest, Master Rabbis and novices in the temple. So, out of curiosity and based on what they saw, the disciples asked Him, “who then is the greatest? Peter, James, or John because they were with You and witnessed the transfiguration? Just Peter because You instructed him on paying his and Your tax? Will You put one of us into an office as we see here? Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
Instead of naming a person or office of high power, Jesus calls a little child to them. The Gospel written does not mention his name. Early Christian history says his name was Ignatius and was described as the “one carried by God” or “Theophorus.” Little children don’t go to great places on their own. Newborns can’t crawl, toddlers don’t walk long distances, and no one can legally drive a car until their mid teens. So, for a child to go anywhere, the child has to be carried. This is the lesson Jesus teaches through a little child to the grown men around him. “Whoever humbles himself to be carried, whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
Greatness in the adult world is based on achievement by scholarship, physical ability, wise governance, and other means of accomplishment. These are all good things to strive for and can be used for God’s glory. However, if our aim is to be great in the kingdom of heaven, worldly standards of greatness are not the means in which we are judged. In fact, by using a little boy as the example before these grown men, Jesus renders all of what they have accomplished, such as seeing the Lord Transfigured and paying the temple tax, and unimportant. In fact, by using this random little boy and not the “Sons of Thunder” – James and John, the “Rock”- Peter, the “First Called”- Andrew, the “Fig tree sitter”- Nathaniel, the “Doubter”- Thomas, or any of the other disciples with their very distinctive characteristics; by using this little boy, Jesus demonstrates and says that unless you make yourself like him, you won’t even enter the kingdom of heaven, much less be great in it.
Isn’t it amazing how we (including me) grown folk sometimes fool ourselves to thinking that we are great in God’s eyes because of the stuff we have achieved, who we are, and what we are able to do? We think we can “Sho-nuff” preach and none of us had ever converted 3000 souls with our sermons. We think we can sing up a storm yet John heard the holiest hymns of victory in the Revelation. As great as we think we are in the church, it is not hard to look in the Bible and church history to find those who are greater than us. There are plenty of people around the world or just down the road that can do what we do better than we are. And, no doubt, whatever records we set today will be overshadowed by others in the future. For the sake of a good life on earth, sure, strive to do your best. Use the brain, brawn, and talent that God gave you to do something for yourself and family. If lasting greatness based on human ability is what we want to base our eternal greatness on, we are on the wrong road. Human standards are only temporary and are doomed to be forgotten. The standard set by our Lord and Savior is the only standard of eternity that we should strive for. And the example of that standard is not some man with some great name and list of achievement. Jesus uses the example of a little child.
Children are willing to be taken and put their trust in the ones that love them that carry and lead them. We grown folk, especially those of us who have earned stuff in this life, we want to make our own choices and trust our own judgement, even over those who have our best interest in mind. That is all well and good to make a living in this world. But, to enter the kingdom of God, we have to stop being grown and trust and let the one who loves us carry us to the kingdom of heaven. If we could get there on our own, there wouldn’t have been a need for Jesus to come to the earth. We could have eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and figured our own way to holiness. We could have followed the Mosaic Law to the letter and earned our way to holiness. Our knowledge of good and evil is clouded by sin so. Our road map of law is too easily manipulated by our desires. God had to come to us in flesh to take us to the kingdom. All we have to do is trust him as we know that he loves us.
To trust and accept love takes humility. We have to accept the fact that we don’t have all of the answers and still be willing to go on the journey. Sometimes the journey will be very uncomfortable and confusing (has anyone’s A/C ever blew out, or has anyone caught a flat tire on a hot summer day road trip). But, we still have to endure and continue. Sometimes we will be impatient and will want something to comfort us (from the poet Langston Hughes, “Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair”). There may even be some pain involved (what child has never tripped up, fallen and needed a band-aid). But, we look for the healing and the overall joy of arriving at the destination. This is the mind of a child. Kids have it naturally. We adults have to deliberately put ourselves in their shoes and let the love and lessons of Jesus carry us to the Kingdom.
According to early church history, the little child, Ignatius, became a Christian and eventually served as the Bishop of Antioch after Paul and Peter. He died as a martyr being fed to the lions in Rome. He died a grown man that humbled himself as a child. It is said that he didn’t run and hide from his death sentence. But, like a child, he humbled himself and met the beast that would devour him. Why would he do this? Because, like a son of a man, he was following the Son of Man who didn’t take rest in being equal with his Father, but He humbled Himself and was obedient to death, even death on the cross. And for this, He has been given a name above all other names. Ignatius was a good saint and godly role model. I am glad I learned his name. But, at the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tone will confess that HE IS LORD! And since we believe he is Lord, let us humble ourselves as children. Let him lead, guide, take, and carry us to the kingdom of heaven.

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