• 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! I’d like us to consider one of the phrases from this morning’s Epistle reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatian Christians. In the third verse of the reading, St. Paul writes: “For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law” (Galatians 6: 13a). Basically, in this reading, St. Paul is addressing the issue of circumcision. The Christians who were formerly Jews wanted the Gentile converts to Christianity to also fulfill the old law. Specifically, in this instance, for the males to be circumcised according to Jewish tradition, and then be baptized into the Body of Christ. St. Paul was not a supported of this position, as we clearly heard this morning. And this verse gives one of the reasons why, but it also gives us more. It gives us, as Christians in 21st century America, a warning. St. Paul says that the people who are wanting to force Gentile converts to keep one particular aspect of the law, these people aren’t keeping the whole of the law themselves. St. Paul uses this reasoning against the Jewish Christians. And we hear a similar argument leveled against Christians today. Ghandi once said that he was very drawn to the Gospel of the Christians, but he would never seriously consider conversion because he never met a Christian who could live what that Gospel taught. And I don’t know how many times I’ve heard similar arguments from people who don’t really consider the Gospel of Christ as a possibility for their life. “I can’t join the Church because all the people are hypocrites, no one really tries to follow the teachings of Christ, they preach one thing and do another,” and so forth. In today’s environment, we also hear a similar statement in discussions about Christianity and Islam. The Muslim, we’re often told, lives his faith 100%. He does everything his faith calls him to do. But the Christian seldom enters very far into living his faith. And we cringe at these accusations, and we make excuses, we say they aren’t fair, nobody’s perfect, we all sin. But we don’t ever address the fact that perhaps we’re failing to live our faith. St. Paul uses this same technique that we react so strongly against in his arguments against the stance of the Jewish Christians. How can we call someone to a life that we don’t live? How can preach a Christ that we don’t really know? How can we preach don’t lie or steal, if we lie and steal every day? The Fathers make this point constantly: we can’t offer to others what we ourselves don’t have. People see through a hollow façade very quickly. This is the point of the verse we highlighted—the Jewish Christians are appealing to a law they don’t even keep. As the society around us looks at us, who preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Orthodox Christians in McComb, MS in the year 2007—what do they see? Do they see us casting stones from glass houses? Trying to take the speck out of our brother’s eye while the log is still in our eye? Or do they see sinners struggling with every ounce of will and grace that God provides to live the life that Christ calls us to offer. To be a Christian is a serious matter. Christ says, “whoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in Me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea” (Mark 9:42). And I can’t imagine it being much better if we offend those who have the potential to believe, and because of us they’ll never give the Gospel a serious chance. Sometimes we need to be reminded that others see what we do. They hear our words, they examine our lives. Do we try to live the Gospel we claim to believe, the Gospel we proclaim to others? If the people we know would consistently answer “no,” then there’s potential that we’re a stumbling block, that we’re causing others to be offended. It’s a reality that needs our very careful consideration. We’ll end with a very relevant quote from St. Ambrose, one of the Elders of Optina Monastery. “We should and must take special care that our self-indulgence does not hinder the salvation of our neighbor, his spiritual peace and spiritual progress. For this, we will give a full account to God, if we are not careful. It is the Christian duty to help in the salvation of our neighbor, not to impede it.” (Living Without Hypocrisy: Spiritual Counsels of the Holy Elders of Optina, p. 105) Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!