Tag Archives: 1 Corinthians 16:13-24

Detachment

August 26 (O.S., August 13), 2018: Afterfeast of the Transfiguration; Martyrs Anicetus and Photius (Photinus) of Nicomedia (305); Hieromartyr Alexander, bishop of Comana (3rd c.); Martyrs Pamphilus and Capito.

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 16:13-24
Gospel: Matthew 21: 33-42

Ss Cyril & Methodius Ukranian Orthodox Mission, Madison, WI

Notice in the parable that Jesus doesn’t accuse the tenants of being unfruitful. These are not individuals who neglect the work they’ve been given to do. The conflict arises precisely because they are productive workers who anticipate a bountiful harvest.

Surrounded by beauty and wealth, the tenants became envious. They didn’t forget they were tenants. Rather, their unhappiness with their status cause them but envied the owner.

Or rather, their envy causes them to feel unsatisfied with the work they’ve done.

Whenever in the Gospels we hear about a rich harvest, we are meant to think about the evangelical mission of the Church. And this is what the parable is about.

On one level, Jesus is inditing the Jewish authorities not only of His time but all those in Israel who persecuted the prophets. As the heirs of those who for generation after generation rejected those God set over them, it isn’t a surprise that the authorities of His time will reject Jesus and turn Him over to the Romans for execution.

On another level though, the parable is directed to the Church; to us.

There is an unfortunate tendency for Christians to forget that we aren’t the owners of divine grace. Much less are we the source of the divine life that God pours out on His people by the power of the Holy Spirit through the sacraments.

No, we are stewards of grace.

It is our task, our calling, and great honor, to discern the presence and the shape of that grace in our own lives and the lives of those we meet.

Again, we are the stewards of grace.

Sometimes though I am tempted to forget this. When I do, there is a subtle (or maybe not so subtle) shift in my attitude.

I allow envy to take hold of my heart. As it does, my relationship to the things of God and to the People of God becomes corrupt. Over time, envy gives way to a proprietary attitude. Like the tenants in the parable, I come to think I own the Church.

In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis points out that one of the devil’s tricks is to get us to ignore the vast difference between “my boots” and “my God.” Many of us forget, for example, that “my parish” is more like “my God” than “my boots.”

This temptation is all the stronger when, as the parable highlights, the evangelical mission of the Church is bearing fruit. How easy it is for the priest or the lay evangelist to confuse his efforts with the grace of God. It is this that Jesus condemns in the Gospel.

And He condemns not only the attitude but those who hold to it. We must not, our Lord tells us today, allow a proprietary attitude to take hold in our hearts. To guard against this I need to foster a sense of detachment.

Detachment doesn’t mean indifference but an awareness that everything and everyone in my life comes to me as God’s gift to me for His glory, my salvation and the salvation of the world.

Detachment means always struggling against the temptation to confuse “my God,” “my spouse,” “my child,” “my vocation,” and yes, “my church,” with “my boots.”

Detachment, in the final analysis, means remembering that I am not the owner or source of grace but its steward.

Important here, as well, is that I remember that I am only one steward of grace among many. Detachment means that I am aware that God has entrusted me with only one part of His Kingdom.

Whether large or small, great or humble, our responsibilities are limited.

My brothers and sisters in Christ! We are all of us always tempted to envy in the spiritual life. We are all of us always tempted to think that we own the things of God.

We need to be on guard against this attitude, we need to remain detached. To accomplish this we must, as St Paul tells the Corinthians, “Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong. Let all that you do be done with love.”

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Homily: Stand Firm in Christ

Sunday, September 3, 2017: 13th Sunday of Matthew; Anthimus, Bishop of Nicomedea, Holy Father Theoctistus and his fellow struggler Euthymius the Great, Polydorus the Martyr of New Ephesus, Translation of the relics of St. Nectarius the Wonderworker, Bishop of Pentopolis, Chariton the Martyr, Phoebe the Deaconess.

Ukrainian Orthodox Mission, Madison, WI

Epistle:1 Corinthians 16:13-24
Gospel: Matthew 21:33-42

Here in Madison, I have two distinct, but related, pastoral roles as a priest.

For the last several years, I’ve worked with the Orthodox Christian Fellowship at the University of Wisconsin. Campus ministry has always been a special love of mine because it was a college student that my faith was kindled.

My second role is a new one that begins today with the first Liturgy of a mission so new it doesn’t even have a name. We’re just the “Ukrainian Orthodox Mission of Madison.”

Because we are new, we don’t have a church. We’re renting space from a local Protestant community. We’re here this morning with a folding table for an altar, icons on plate holders on that table serve as our icon screen, and we share our “sanctuary” with tables and chairs only recently stacked against the back wall.

While our situation is different from that of most Orthodox communities celebrating Liturgy this morning, it is very much like that of the early Church. Like those first Christians, we have as a community very little. And in a city where Orthodox Christians are in the minority, we are the smallest of the three small parishes.

But just as poverty and being on the margin of society wasn’t a disadvantage for the Christians at Corinth (a community to which, for good and ill, Madison bears more than a passing resemblance), it is a blessing for us as well.

Over the years I’ve heard many Orthodox Christians worry about losing their sons and daughter when they go off to college. This is a worry we share with other Christian and non-Christian traditions.

Unlike those other Christian communities though, we invest–let’s be frank–very little in campus ministry. Very rarely do students have ready access to the sacraments. Yes, local parishes are often welcoming of students when they show up. But in the main, we tend to neglect campus.

We do this not out of malice but from a misunderstanding that colleges and universities are mission fields. As such, they have their own unique culture. A college campus presents its own pastoral challenges and opportunities. If we don’t respond to these difference we shouldn’t be surprised that we lose our children when they go off to college.

Today we have our first Liturgy essentially “on campus.” Whether we will stay here is for God to decide. But for as long as we are here, or so it seems to me, we need to embrace God’s invitation to us to minister to college students.

This we do regardless of our age or education. Some of us are faculty, others staff at the UW. Others of us live and work in the area. And some of us are students.

But all of us are members of the Body of Christ. Each has his or own unique gifts and so vocation (1 Corinthians 12:12-27). This however shouldn’t cause us to lose sight of the fact that we share a common vocation, a common call, to be disciples of Christ and witnesses to His Resurrection.

We are each of us called to, as St Paul says, to “be watchful, stand firm in …faith,” to “be courageous, be strong” and to do what we do “in love.” In this our size and relative poverty can be a great advantage. Why? Because as Jesus says at the end of today’s Gospel: “‘The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes?’”

These words and those of St Paul, are directed to each of us this morning. We need to understand that these words are not simply for today but for every day, every moment, of our lives.

We must always be watchful over our own hearts so we stay close to Christ. We must be watchful as well for those moments when we can bear witness to Him.

To be watchful in these ways requires that we always stand firm in our faith. We must first commend ourselves and all those in our lives to Christ. The fathers of the Church were keenly aware that apart from Christ, the tendency of creation to change leads only to death and decay. All things change, all things pass away, only Christ remains. Without Christ, not only will even the good things in our life will disappoint us, they will fail us and yes, even betray us.

It is only in Christ that our lives, our relationships, our projects and accomplishments, acquire a lasting meaning. This is what Fr Alexander Schmemann meant when he said Jesus comes not to make bad people good, but dead people alive. What does it mean to be alive in Christ? Just this. Not simply that we endure but are constantly made new (2 Corinthians 5:17).

To remain firm, however, means more than just having an individual relationship with Christ. We must know His friends, those who love Him and those who hate Him. Above all, we must know the faith the Church. Think about what it means to know someone, to become friends.

A true friendship means I not only know you but your likes and dislikes. I know how you look at the world and what you think about yourself, other people and events. I also know those who love you and, yes, those who hate you or would do you harm.

 

This is why I say to stand firm in Christ, means as well to stand firm in the Church and to know what we believe as Orthodox Christians. The tradition of the Church is nothing more or less than the record of those who love Christ, and those who hate Him. In the Church’s teaching we discover not only Who Jesus is–the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16)–but what it means to be His friend. We learn Who Jesus is and we learn what it means to love Him with all our heart and all our soul and all our strength (Matthew 22:27).

And, of course, because we love Jesus, we love not simply those who love Him but those who hate Him. Why? Because whether we love Him or hate Him, Jesus loves all of us.

The courage and strength we need to love others is the natural fruit of fidelity to Christ. It is this love, and only this love, that will help us not only to follow Christ but to be His witnesses here in Madison, at UW, in our jobs and with our family and friends.

And because this love flows naturally from our commitment to Christ, our witness will likewise be natural. It will be spontaneous and there will be nothing artificial in our words or actions, nothing aggressive or disrespectful of others or their views. But, again, only as long as we draw near to Christ.

My brother and sister in Christ! Draw close to Him Who has drawn close to you! It is only in this way that the good things in your life will last and you will be able to fulfill your vocation has witnesses to the Resurrection!

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Love: Watchful, Faithful, Courageous, Strong

Sunday, August 30, 2015: Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost & Thirteenth Sunday of Matthew

Leave-taking of the commemoration of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist; Alexander, Paul the New, and John, Patriarchs of Constantinople; Venerable Phantinos of Calabria; repose of Venerable Alexander of Svir; translation of the relics of Alexander Nevsky, prince of Novgorod; Cyril and Makarios, patriarchs of Serbia.

EPISTLE: 1 Corinthians 16:13-24
GOSPEL: Matthew 21:33-42

Commenting on the parable in this morning’s Gospel St John Chrysostom says that the owner of the vineyard “did the work the tenants should have done” leaving them “little … to do.” He goes on to say that “nothing was left undone but all was accomplished.” They only thing required of the tenants was that they “take care of what was there and preserve what was given to them” (“The Gospel of Matthew,” Homily 68.1 quoted in ACCS NT vol Ib, 139) so that they could give to the owner what they owed him.

Unfortunately the tenants don’t respond with grateful diligence. While they cultivated the vineyard they do so out of greed; what they did, they did only for themselves. So when the owner sends other servants “to get his fruit” they “beat one, killed another, and stoned” a third. All this they did to avoid given the owner what was his due.

In all this says Chrysostom, the tenants display not only “their laziness” but their anger. Instead of asking forgiveness for breaking their word, they “were indignant; and though “deserving punishment, they themselves inflicted punishment.” Not only did they not “put aside their evil ways,” John says, “their disregard” for their own sinfulness filled them “with madness” and caused them to murder the owner’s son in the vain hope of inheriting the vineyard (pp. 140-141). And so what they got instead of a joyful harvest was “a miserable death.”

All of this happens because “they failed to learn self-control” and “did not put aside their evil ways” (pp. 140-141).

If I’m not careful I can find myself in much the same situation of the tenants. No, I probably won’t murder someone. But it is easy for me to neglect the gift of salvation, to fail bear the fruit of obedience “demonstrated through … works” as St John says. This is why St Paul tells the Christians at Corinth to be watchful, faithful, courageous and strong and to do all things in love.

Love is not a sentiment, it isn’t a feeling. The cliché of my youth was that love isn’t a feeling but a decision. In part yes, but this begs the question. What is it that I must decide? How must I live in order to be faithful to love?

To love someone is to want what God wants for them. In other words, love is first a matter of obedience to God. Just as it isn’t enough to have warm feelings for some, it isn’t enough to want good things for them. I love you precisely when I want for you what God wants for you.

Think about St John the Baptist whose beheading we commemorated yesterday. What does the Baptist say about himself and his relationship to Jesus? “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30, NKJV). How tempting it must have been for John to engage in sinful self-promotion. Not that John would have promoted himself above his cousin but how easy it would have been to place himself on the same level of Jesus. Or if not that, he could have just basked in reflected glory. John could have sought to be known as the friend of Jesus, His cousin and maybe even confident. But doesn’t do any of this. Instead he points people to Christ and so to Eternal Life.

If I’m not careful I can use my status as Christian or as a priest, to promote myself subtly at the expense of others. Avoiding this requires not only the self-control that comes from watchfulness but also a person fidelity to Christ and the Gospel. This is more than just a willingness to affirm the Creed. Above all it means to be obedient to the demands of my vocation. True love, love worthy of the name, requires not only self-control but a commitment—in season and out (see 2 Timothy 4:2)—to the work to which God has called me.

This vocational fidelity, though, is often hard work. Yes it is also joyful—I love being a priest—but it can be difficult to a priest. And so love requires not only self-control and fidelity but courage. This is something of an underrated virtue today not only in the surrounding culture but even among Christians. There are many reasons for this. Chief among them is that we confuse courage with bravado. Courage as both a natural and a Christian virtue is the willingness to do what is morally good, to do the morally right thing, even when it is painful. The father who goes to a job he doesn’t like, a mother who cooks dinner when she’s not feeling well, the student who studies even when it’s a beautiful day out and friends are calling. All of these are the fruit of courage. In each case the persons does what is right even when doing so is painful or unpleasant.

And so strength. Not physical strength, though sometimes that can be required, but moral strength in the sense of moral health. At the Trisagon at Liturgy the deacon turns to the congregation and says in Greek “Thinamis!” that is “Fervently!” or “With Strength!” Or more simply, “Powerfully!”

God has given each of us the power, the ability to love and to give ourselves over to Him and to each other without reservation. Just as we undervalue courage, I think we undervalue strength that comes from His grace. How easy love would be if it only required self-control, fidelity and courage. Love also requires the strength that comes from divine grace that gives us the ability not simply to sacrifice but to produce a harvest of good works. My brothers and sisters in Christ, what makes the tenants so pathetic is that they failed to use the grace they were given. After the owner Himself, they could have been masters of the Vineyard. Instead they choose greed and laziness. It shouldn’t be this way among us.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory