WORK IN THE VINEYARD TODAY

“What do you think? A man had two sons; and he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not’; but afterward he repented and went. And he went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?’ They (the chief priests and elders) said, ‘The first.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.

A DIGNIFYING DECISION

“He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one as he has made up his mind (προαιρεῖσθαι), so let him give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor 9: 6-7) God grants me the diginity of having a choice, in this whole business of self-offering and giving. Just as He has given me certain gifts freely, just because He wanted to, so does He leave it to me to share of these gifts, if I want to. That’s why the cross-carrying, self-giving way, His way, is dignifying. It grants me the right kind of humble self-acceptance and dignity, because God allows me, and nobody else, to make the decision

WE DO NOT LOSE HEART

“…So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Cor 4: 16-18) How helpful and comforting is this passage, not only in our ageing process, but in dealing with the death of loved ones. “We look not to the things that are seen,” as we tended to do, when they were still with us, “but to the things that are unseen.” Because our relationship with those de

NOW IS THE DAY OF SALVATION

“…But the rulers scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!’ The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him vinegar, and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’ There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’ One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!’” (Lk 23: 35-39) How ironic is this repeated demand, that Christ prove Himself as “King” and “save” Himself and us, – right at the moment when He is accomplishing just that, the salvation of the world. But these people don’t see it, because they are too busy “savin

I SHALL NOT WANT

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want; In a place of green pasture, there he has made me to dwell; beside still water he has nurtured me. He has converted my soul. He has led me on the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they have comforted me…” (Ps 22: 1-4, Septuagint-translation) The “place of green pasture” is a place of God-reliance, as distinct from self-reliance. It is a mindset and, if you will, a heart-set, inside of me. But it doesn’t remove from me, or remove me from, “the midst of” potentially-scary situations, responsibilities, insecurit

EXERCISING PRAISE

“We who mystically represent (μυστικῶς εἰκονίζοντες) the Cherubim, and who sing to the Life-Giving Trinity the thrice-holy hymn, let us now lay aside all earthly cares that we may receive the King of all…” (Cherubic Hymn, Byzantine Divine Liturgy) What is the point, one might ask, of “mystically representing” (or, more specifically, “being icons of/images of” εἰκονίζοντες) the Cherubim? First of all, we are proclaiming our unity with all faithful, God-praising creation, both visible and invisible. And we “exercise” a capacity we share with the invisible creation: Praise. We are “doxological” beings, meant to “bless” or pronounce “good words” in God’s good world. But we need to “exercise” o

TAKING CARE OF THE HEART

“The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.” (Lk 6: 45) Let me first take care of my heart this morning, letting God’s grace or “good treasure” in. Because really, I won’t be able to speak to people in any truly “good” and nurturing manner, without the abundance of God’s grace in my heart. When I re-connect with God wholeheartedly, His presence clears away any “evil treasure” cluttering my house, so it can let in the “abundance” of God’s wisdom, patience, humility, compassion, and love – all essential elements for acting or speaking in God’s p

TRANSITIONING FROM NIGHT TO DAY

“…Besides this you know what hour it is, how it is full time now for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed; the night is far gone, the day is at hand. Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light;” (Rom 13: 11-12) These transitions – from darkness to light, and from sleep to waking up – happen every day, in my physical world. But they also happen daily inside me, in a spiritual sense, and that’s what St. Paul is talking about. He’s saying, wake up again today, and choose light. “Cast off the works of darkness,” whatever bothersome darkness may have clung to you from yesterday, and “put on the armor of light.” I am

THE GOOD SOIL OF PATIENCE

“And as for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bring forth fruit with patience (ἐν ὑπομονῇ).” (Lk 8: 15) It is not an overnight process, the whole business of “bringing fruit” from the “seed” of God’s word planted in our hearts. It takes time. That’s why it takes “patience,” which is the power to wait. “Patience” in Greek is “ὑπομονή,” meaning, literally, a “remaining behind”; It’s a holding out in wait, to see what God sends next. I need this capacity, this power, simply to wait things out, practically on a daily basis, on the occasions when I don’t know how or whether to react. So, patience is what fills the space of

BE SEPARATE FROM THEM

“What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, I will live in them and move among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore come out from them, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch nothing unclean; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.’” (2 Cor 6: 16-18) How is one supposed to do that, “come out from them and be separate”? Who are “they” anyway? That depends on historical context. Originally, this call was addressed in the Old Testament to the priests and Levites, specifically of God’s chosen people, who had

CELEBRATING HER COMING

“In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why (πόθεν, from where) is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?...” (Lk 1: 39-43) The Mother of God is not one who self-isolates and stays home, when it’s time to “suit up and show up.” Just as Her Son is One Who comes, “and comes again” (καὶ πάλιν ἐρχόμενος, и паки грядущий), to us, throug

SERVICE vs. BONDAGE TO OTHERS

“After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, thatyou also should do as I have done to you.’” (Jn 13: 12-15) What is the difference between the kind of ministry Jesus is talking about, “washing one another’s feet,” – and the wrong kind, for example, of people-pleasing? Christ is the difference, with the freedom He provides. That is to say, when ministry is done in connection with Him, it is fueled

TO GAIN THE WHOLE WORLD

“…For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life (τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ, his soul)? For what can a man give in return for his life (his soul)? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holyangels.” (Mk 8: 36-38) God slows me down, when it comes to my instinctive human ambition “to gain the whole world.” Because when I take care of my “soul,” making time every day for some prayer, contemplation, and self-examination, I don’t have quite enough time to keep up with all the demands and competition “in this adulterous and sinful genera

PEOPLE-PLEASING

“Pilate went out again, and said to them, ‘See, I am bringing him out to you, that you may know that I find no crime in him.’ So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe.. When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, ‘Crucify him, crucify him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no crime in him.’ The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law, and by that law he ought to die, because he has made himself the Son of God.’ When Pilate heard these words, he was the more afraid… Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, ‘If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend; every one who makes himself a king sets him

CONTENT WITH WHATEVER I HAVE

“…Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have been instructed (μεμύημαι, initiated), in being well-fed and in going hungry, in having plenty and in being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Phil 4: 11-13) Meanwhile, the Rolling Stones witness, “I can’t get no satisfaction.” And that’s true. It’s true that “I,” on my own, without God, cannot be fulfilled. It is only “through Him,” as the Apostle witnesses here, that I somehow, in ways I don’t understand, find contentment “with whatever I have.” And it’s no

RECOGNIZING HIM AT LITURGY

“…Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’” (Lk 2

SEEING THINGS AS THEY ARE

“Glory to You, Who has shown us the light!” (Byzantine Matins, Great Doxology) Indeed, God shows me “the light,” specifically His light, to see things as they are, rather than how I might imagine them to be, when left to my own “lights.” On my own, without a God-centered focus, I tend to slip into a distorted vision of things; I begin to see “more” or “less” than there is, in the various realities of my life. For example, I might “see” my financial situation as “less” than it is, when I’m not embracing gratitude. Conversely, I might see “more” than I actually have, and spend unwisely. I can also distort my relationships with people, including myself, burdening them with unrealistic expectati

IGNORANT RIGHTEOUSNESS

“…I can testify that they have a zeal for God, but it is not enlightened (οὐ κατ᾽ ἐπίγνωσιν, not according to full knowledge). For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they have not submitted to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” (Rom 10: 2-4) Here St. Paul is talking about those in Israel who “strive for the righteousness based on the law” (Rom 9: 31), having lost sight of the Law-Giver, God. Because God had changed the manner, the way, in which He shared His righteous Being with us, sending us the “end of the Law,” – and these people couldn’t accept tha

GETTING UP TO PRAY

“In the morning, while it was still very dark, he (Jesus) got up, went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’” (Mk 1: 35-36) Very strange, this thing Jesus does, ahead of a day of preaching throughout Galilee. The One, as I might think, Who needs the least “preparation” before speaking, is for some reason getting up earlier than everyone else, to pray before going out to preach. Why does He do this? Because it’s natural. Jesus “is” and behaves in the natural way, the healthy way, a human being does, if the human being is sane and healthy. He maintains a healthy connecti

FROM SLAVERY TO FREEDOM

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery… For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another take heed that you are not consumed by one another.” (Gal 5: 1, 13-15) So, we are not “consumers” of one another. Other people, the Apostle is saying to me, are not to be seen by me “as an opportunity for the flesh.” They are, rather, an opportunity for service. “Through love,” he says, “be servants of one another.” T

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