Living a Serious Life in Christ
Over the past several Sundays, I’ve been preaching on topics related to our seriousness and our commitment to following the ways of our faith and developing a vibrant, living, dynamic relationship with Christ. The recent Sunday Gospel stories, along with those coming up in February, give us much to reflect upon.
One week I focused on the story of Zacchaeus and the theme of distractions. I highlighted something that St John of Kronstadt wrote about this danger of distractions 100 years ago.
St. John noted how the people of his day have given in to superficial distractions in life that create four dangerous temptations for a Christian. Such distractions have:
1) led people to forget how to lead a serious life, a life focused on the “other,” on doing good for others instead of taking more interest in simply fulfilling one’s own desires;
2) made people bored with pursuing a mature spiritual life, with all the effort and ascetical struggle that comes with a sober life in Christ;
3) guided people to focus on superficial pursuits, whether on materialist gains, the latest social or political fads, or a never-ending consumption of entertainment;
4) confused people in understanding what is the ultimate purpose of life and what will bring about the deepest meaning and happiness in life. Distractions keep us from discovering that the deepest purpose of life is our relationship with God, loving Him above all else, and in loving our neighbor.
Imagine, St. John was disturbed by the distractions he saw in the early 1900s pulling people away from faith and the Church. He could have never imagined the constant distractions that bombard us each and every day today in the 21st century. What would he say today if he could see how our lives would be dominated 24/7 by our addiction to our phones, by all that the internet has opened up to us, and the constant attention of social media?
Distractions distract us from what is most important in life, from our relationship with God, and our relationship with our neighbor, the “other.”
Yet there are examples in Holy Scripture which remind us of people who broke through all the distractions of life, and discovered the “pearl of great price.” These are the men and women who discovered that “one thing is needful” and pursued that one thing, the kingdom of God, with all their heart. The disciples were such people. The faithful women who followed Jesus, and ministered to him were others.
Of course, a positive example we heard about during one of our recent Sunday readings was Zacchaeus, the corrupt and self-centered tax collector, who meets Jesus, and allows Christ to even come to his house. This encounter transforms him from a dishonest, broken man to a new creation. “Today, salvation has come to his house,” Jesus proclaimed. Zacchaeus reminds us that there is always hope for all people!
Yet, for every Zacchaeus, there are also plenty like the rich, young ruler who asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. When Jesus looks into his heart, and sees what entangles his heart, he says to the man, “Go, sell all that you have and come, follow me.” This radical call and invitation was met only with fear and uncertainty. The rich young man preferred his riches and lifestyle over following Jesus. And thus, he walked away from Christ with sadness.
Many in the world do the same as the rich, young man. Very few follow the path of Zacchaeus and the disciples. What about us? What are we willing to do to walk with Christ? How are we willing to sacrifice in our own lives to truly put Jesus first, and become one of His faithful disciples?
We heard on another Sunday St. Paul warn, “Do not accept the grace of God in vain.” And this epistle reading was on the same Sunday we heard the Parable of the Talents, where the Master gave three servants different talents, and then tested them on what they would do with their talents. Two of them worked hard, and doubled their talents, acting as faithful and trustworthy servants, while one was lazy and did nothing with what the Master had given him, except make excuses for his behavior and blame others for his laziness.
Again, these words can challenge all of us to sincerely look at our own lives, and to reflect on what we do with the gifts that God has given us. Our Lord has given us His grace in abundance, at our baptism, in our life in the Church, each week in the Divine Liturgy when we are united with Him through the Mystery of Holy Communion. We have received his grace. But have we “accepted the grace of God in vain?”
We all have been blessed in countless ways, spiritually, materially, and with the opportunities we have in life. What have we done with these gifts? Have we been “good and faithful” stewards with all that God has given us? Have we used His gifts to glorify His name and bless others, or have we hoarded them for ourselves and our loved ones?
We don’t receive gifts from God to keep them to ourselves. God doesn’t give us His grace to simply bless us. God blesses us, so that we can bless others. God gives to us, so that we can share with others. God fills us with his love, so that we can love others. God forgives us, so that we can forgive others. By giving away God’s gifts and talents, they only will abound all the more.
St. Paul warns us to “not accept the grace of God in vain.” We can avoid this great temptation, by learning to share His grace, share His blessings, share the talents He gives us with others, and thus watch them increase in our lives.
After the Sundays of Zacchaeus, and the Parable of the Talents, we have the Sunday of the Canaanite woman, who persistently sought after the help of Jesus, and whose humble and strong faith astounded even the Lord and all his disciples. This woman reflected a person whose desire for Christ stood above all else. Even though she was a foreigner, and even a seemingly helpless, desperate woman, she displayed a faith that Jesus marveled at.
Every Sunday we come to Church, we come to encounter God and to listen to Him speak to us through Holy Scripture and through our worship. In fact, each and every day we are called to make a connection with God, feeding our souls and minds by reading the Bible and nourishing ourselves with His holy word, as well as with our prayers. When we strive to connect with God daily, we will see how relevant these Biblical stories can become in our own lives
During this month of February, we will enter the Triodion Period, which is a special three week period leading up to the beginning of Great Lent, on March 11th. Each of these weeks will have other biblical stories that we are all familiar with, but which each have profound lessons for us to learn for our journey of faith. Pay attention. Listen. Strive to hear God speaking to us through these holy words!
With love and gratitude in Christ our Lord, +Luke
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