• 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 this morning is absolutely beautiful. Near the end of his letter to the Corinthian Christians (chapter 15 of 16), St. Paul returns to the heart of the matter. What is this Christianity all about, anyway? Throughout this Epistle, he’s written about the unity of the Church, the spiritual gifts of Her members, and the way Christian people are to live and to work together. Now he reminds us again, as he has periodically throughout this letter, he brings things to a close by reminding us that Christ is to be the focus of all we do. The Christian life, the life of the Gospel that St. Paul’s life is dedicated to, this life that we as Orthodox Christians in 21st Century America have also adopted, this Christian life is all about Christ. It’s very easy for us to get distracted, for all of the various things in our lives to eat up our time, and leave us no time or energy for Christ. It’s easy for us to get caught up in the things of this world. It’s even easy for us to loose focus on Christ by our constant focus on “church” or “religion”—getting caught up in the periphery and missing the central point. The Church is given to us as the place where man can commune with God. The Church reveals to us the Kingdom. All that she contains is for the sole purpose of pointing and leading man to Christ. Many of the Fathers, the ascetic father, the spiritual masters that have left us their experiences in writing—St. Maximus the Confesssor, St. Gregory Palamas, and others, these Fathers write that forgetfulness of God is the ultimate sin for the Christian. Our lives are to be wholly given to Christ, and living in a way where we forget this constantly is a failure of Christian life. St. Paul this morning calls us back to this beautiful simplicity of what it means to be a Christian. He begins by reminding us that the Gospel he (St. Paul) is preaching is our salvation, if we receive it, stand in it, and hold fast to it. (1 Cor. 15:1-2) To receive Christ, we receive His Gospel—we must believe what is preached about Christ. And if we receive His Gospel, and our belief-as St. Paul says-is not in vain (1 Cor. 15:2), then we will stand in the Gospel. It will be the foundation of our life, the cornerstone of all we say, do, or think. The Gospel of Christ will be our only boast, as the Apostle says elsewhere. And if the Gospel of Christ is our belief, and our guidepost in life, then we will also hold fast to the Word we received (1 Cor. 15:2). We won’t allow any part of it to be ignored or misused. We won’t allow any part of the Gospel of Christ to be changed or lost. We will hold on to the Word of the Gospel for dear life. And St. Paul continues by assuring us again: that which he delivers as the Gospel is what he received as the Gospel. He has changed nothing. He has added nothing. He has subtracted nothing. This Gospel is not of his own making, but was given to him by his experience with Christ on the road to Damascus and was affirmed by the Apostles themselves. He was taught by Christ, and those who knew Christ. And his job now was to pass on this teaching, a teaching which is sufficient for our salvation, he passed it on to us unadulterated. And what is the Gospel St. Paul received and hands on? “That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures…[and He was seen by many after His Resurrection]” (1 Cor. 15:3-8). This is the beautiful simplicity of the Gospel. St. Paul goes on to speak about his labors for this Gospel, but I really want us stop here, this morning. With the simple, yet profound message, of the Gospel. “That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.” But to receive, and to stand in, and to hold fast to, this Gospel, requires everything we’ve got. We read in the Scriptures— Where Christ said: “Remember the word that I said unto you, the servant is not greater than his Lord. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15:20) He also said: “If ye love Me, keep My commandments.” (John 14:15) St James writes: “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith [that he has received the Gospel], and have not works? can faith save him? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” (James 2: 14, 17-20, 22,24, 26) And that’s just excerpts from chapter 2 of the Catholic Epistle of St. James,..I encourage you to go home and get out your Bibles and read the Epistle of St. James, and then meditate on what it takes to be a Christian. Not only to receive and believe—but to stand in and hold fast to the Gospel. To live according to God’s revelation to man in Christ Jesus. This is what it means to be a Christian. As most of you know, my grandfather was killed in an accident on his farm a week ago today. And he had request that I do his funeral—which for a Protestant mostly means a few prayers, a Scripture reading, and a Eulogy. His Eminence blessed me to do this, so from Monday morning to Wednesday morning I was preparing my Eulogy. And when we have a chance to think about the life of another, to look back on their life on the eve of their death, it naturally leads us to reflect on our own lives as well. And on what it means to live a Christian life. To be a follower of Christ. And St. Paul sums it up so completely. We receive the fullness of the teaching of the Church on Who Christ is. We stand in this fullness, developing a relationship for our human fulfillment and salvation, with the God-man. And we hold fast to Christ. The Christian life as lived in the Orthodox Church is this simple—Christ is the measure of all things. Now obviously, this isn’t so simple in practice. We’re bombarded by temptations and distractions. But the Elder Sophrony of Essex (the spiritual son of St. Silouan the Athonite) says that all things in Christian life are possible for the one who places Christ first in all matters, and seeks only to do the will of God. Every morning in prayer, and every night in prayer, and every moment of the day, we recall to our hearts and our minds that we live in the image of Christ. We feed our desire for Christ with His Holy Body and Precious Blood in the Eucharist. We fortify our defenses with the Holy Scriptures and the writings of the Holy Fathers. We call on the name of Jesus at every moment. “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” We’re united to God in our baptism. And with the effort demanded by Christ in the Gospel, our faith is not in vain. As we strive at every moment to do the will of the Father, we’re drawn ever more into the experience of the Uncreated Grace of God, and we’re reformed in the image of Christ. May we be able to say at our end, with St. Paul the Apostle, “by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain…[and all I did was by] the grace of God which was with me.” (1 Cor. 15:10) Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!