• Epistle Reading
  • In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be! Our Epistle reading from St. Paul this morning is a very interesting text. He’s making the case that the ministers of the Gospel (the Apostles) should be supported in their work by the faithful. He even says (in vs. 6) that they (the Apostles) have a right to marry and to refrain from secular work, in order to spend their time ministering to the flock and preaching the Gospel to the lost. This is a very practical text—there is no “spiritualization” of the topic, St. Paul simply says what needs to be said. And we find it read on a Sunday morning, just like we’ll hear the Gospel exchange between Christ and the rich young ruler—where the rich man leaves Christ because he’s unwilling to part with any of his money. We hear these passages read on Sunday morning during the Divine Liturgy because sometimes we need to hear about money. It’s been my practice, in the two years since my ordination to the priesthood, to never speak about money from the ambo, to never preach regarding money or tithing. But the Holy Spirit didn’t have these sentences appear in this letter that would later be canonized as Sacred Scripture by accident. And the Father’s of the Church don’t have us hear these readings for nothing. So this morning, we’ll spend a few moments thinking about the place of money in the life of the Christian. And more directly related to our Epistle reading—money and the Church. Now, we can get together and talk about all sorts of things together as Christians and go home happy. We can hear a homily calling us to give our hearts and lives to Christ, or to struggle against some particular passion that has us in it’s grip—and we find ourselves nodding in agreement and bolstering our energy to follow Christ and fight against the demons. But more often than not, when we start talking about money, we get very uncomfortable. We’re much more willing to consider giving up our hold on most anything before we consider giving up control of some of our hard-earned cash. Why is this? The Scriptures say—“The love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Timothy 6:10). Our attachment to our money is directly linked with what the Father’s of the Church would call Satanic pride. An inordinant love of ourselves. A love of self that would be willing to allow others to suffer. A love of self not in the image of God, but a love of self, a pride, that is totally consuming and focused on ourselves. And this sounds really dramatic and ugly. And spiritually it is, and it can manifest itself in some very unpleasant ways. But the majority of us are at least somewhat tempted by this Satanic pride, and in our modern American culture we can especially see this reflected in the way we deal with our money. Money is used to obtain the things we want or need—so the way we deal with our money is reflective of how we view our own importance. Some of us horde money—we have money just sitting in the bank, or on the stock market, or in cars and houses—ready to be withdrawn at a whim to finance some other desire or pursuit, or to save us from some immanent danger. And others of us on are on the opposite side of the scale—we spend every dime we get and more in order to give ourselves everything that we possibly can afford that we think we might like to have. And any call on us to give up part of our money…we perceive that as a call give up some control, to give up some of the things we want…we literally feel that people are trying to take something of our lives away. This feeling is simply devilish. No sum of money can protect or save our lives in this world. It affords no real safety net—neither in the things we buy nor in just having it sitting around. The things that money can buy are all passing away. Remember the words of Christ—Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:19-21) And we’re not the only culture to ever have suffered from this obsession with our wallet. It’s all through the Scriptures, and the annals of history. Including our Epistle reading today—the Corinthians didn’t want to let go of their resources (whether it was money or food or clothing) to help support the ministers of the Gospel. St. Paul says the Apostles should be able to marry and support families and refrain from secular work—and the Churches should support them in this, so that they can preach the Gospel and build up the Body of Christ. And St. Paul wouldn’t have to write about this if it wasn’t a problem. And perhaps this isn’t our particular problem in this local parish—obviously you support a married priest and his family in order to have a full-time minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But on the larger scale, we have to examine ourselves and ask—are we slaves to money? Are we overly concerned with the financial and material things of this world? Are we giving of our blessings for the support and building up of the Body of Christ here in McComb and the in the surrounding areas of South Mississippi? Which leads us to ask the question that St. Paul doesn’t directly address in this morning’s Epistle: why do we give to the Church? Why do we tithe of our things to God? St. Paul’s approach this morning was on a practical physical level. We tithe in order to support the work of the Church (priests, bishops, buildings, programs, insurance, outreach, missions, etc). And there’s also another level, the ascetic life of the Christian. The reality revealed in the Scriptures is all we have comes from God. We give a tithe to the Church, a portion of our blessings, literally “tithe” signifies 10%, whether it’s money or crops or whatever God has blessed us with. We give a tithe in recognition that we are simply stewards of the things of God. Nothing we have is our own—it’s all on loan from our Creator. And if we look into the New Testament and the writings of the Fathers, especially the Fathers of the Egyptian Desert, we see that since all things come from God, we give all things back to God. That has to be our inner approach to life. The Desert Fathers say that we spend what we must in order to sustain our lives, and the rest of our blessings God has given to us for the support of the poor. We give away what we don’t absolutely need so that we don’t get hung up on money, and begin to go down that path to destruction. God blesses us with money as a way to provide for the necessities of our lives. But if need be, remember what we should be willing to suffer from last week’s Epistle reading–the Apostles went hungry and shabbily clothed and were even beaten for the sake of the Gospel of Christ. We need to tithe as much (or more) than the Church needs us to tithe. God will care for His Church. As St. Paul says this morning, the Apostles do without and make do so that the Gospel of Christ will be preached. Whether they are supported or not, Christ will support His Church. But we need to recognize in our daily lives that all things come from God. And if we’re not faithful to rely on Him to provide for us—then we’ll have nothing to give alms with, no money to tithe or give to the poor, because we’ll be too concerned with caring for ourselves…taking ourselves out of the hands of God. Archbishop DMITRI made a wonderful point at our Diocesan Assembly recently regarding this topic—he said that if we give to God the things that are His, then what remains we receive with a blessing…he said the 90% of our income that remains after tithing to God will do much more than the 100% that we think we need so badly to get things done. Paul puts this question before us this morning…where do we place our trust? In the things of this world that money can buy? Or in the one Who gave His life that we might be restored to life, and share with Him in the eternity of His Kingdom? Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!