My church looks more like an Erector Set with icons. Our choir director, Chuck Simerick doubles as the lead contractor leading the Saturday building sessions and weeknight work. It is amazing to see how we have gutted the place and put up these metal studs. After a while, there will be some drywall up as well. We have all been busy giving our hands in labor. This certainly is not an overnight process. In fact, we won’t be finished for a few months still. But, nothing worthwhile takes place in an instant. Try to microwave a 4 lb. Boston Butt and smoke another for an hour per pound at 250 degrees and see which one is edible. In speaking of new structures, the Virginia Chapter of the Brotherhood of St Moses the Black will hold its First Symposium on Saturday, September 4th at 4 pm! I am excited that my church will be hosting the event in spite of our work. In fact, I think it is symbolic that this movement to introduce the ancient faith to African-Americans, which is a work in progress, is having its first event in a work in progress. I am also excited that Sub Deacon Paul Abernathy of FOCUS Pittsburgh and the St. Moses Mission will be the guest speaker. This brother is articulate, inspiring, and filled with the grace of God! Don’t take my word for it. Check out the speech given a couple of years back. Better still, meet with us at Hampton for the symposium! Meeting Bishop Thomas last year, he said he’d be interested in an informal meeting with my (then) congregation and others in my area. I am still very interested in forming this structure; a bridge of dialogue between the African-American Baptist and the Orthodox Church. A Pentecostal Apostle and and Orthodox Archpriest in New York have done that with two East-West Meet & Greet sessions. Perhaps in October, I can bring this idea up again. We will see if God is willing. Yet, as their is a need for some new structures, I am glad to experience something that is (and should be) without change. I remember on first Sunday mornings how my grandfather prepared the communion. Deacon Joseph (“Daddy Joe”) didn’t say much when he did it. It seemed that he had his mind fixed on the task at hand. He cut the crust off of a few slices of bread and cut them in what seemed to be perfectly measured little squares. Daddy Joe had a glass bottle with some sort of bulb and tube thing on it where when he squeezed the bulb, the perfect amount of grape juice came out into each cup. Though a symbol of the body and blood to the Baptist, he prepared the Lord’s Supper with reverence. With no iconostasis blocking my view, I got a chance to watch Fr. James prepare the Eucharist. It was as if the spirit of my grandfather was right there as Fr. carefully prayed the prescribed prayers in preparing the body and blood of our Lord. The bread came from the oven of one of our members and was broken with the name of each one of us in mind and a few for any visiting Orthodox guest. The wine and water mixed appropriately as prayers were constantly offered as part of the process. Bishops and priest have been preparing the Lord’s Supper in the same spirit of reverence since the days of the Apostles. There is no Eucharist, Communion, or Lord’s Supper without reverence from the one who prepares and the one who receives. It is better not to take it at all than to take the literal (or even symbolic) body and blood of Christ with an attitude of spiritual complacency. These are holy gifts which should not be taken lightly. That we are able to serve (ordained clergy) and receive them is of the great grace of God. When we cheapen them by having the wrong frame of mind; we cheapen grace, ourselves, salvation, and God. May this not be so with us. Please, be in prayer before, during, and after partaking of this meal. As we say in our Divine Liturgy, “The Holy Things Are For The Holy.”
For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
This is the first of 3 sermons I will preach about our need for good works to show that we have faith in God. My next sermon will come from Matthew 25:31-46 and the final from Acts 2:42-47. I am grateful for the lectures on “Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy” from Father Andrew Stephen Damick for inspiring me to preach on this topic. I pray that I will correct myself by the grace of the Holy Spirit and lead others to correction as well.
THE FLAW OF FAITH ALONE: (PART ONE) LACK OF EVIDENCE
(Introduction) The Protestant Reformation leaders were right in pointing out the abuses of Medieval Catholicism, including the sale of indulgences and stressing works as a means to salvation.
(antithesis) In many of our doctrines, we ignore the point that good works are necessary as they are evidence that we have faith in Jesus Christ. As a result of our lack of this sound evidence, we run around looking for false ones.
(thesis) We must commit ourselves to good works as well as having our faith secured by believing in the Gospel.
(relevant question) Why are good works important?
- evidence of compassion (vv. 15-17)
- evidence of distinction (vv. 18-20)
- evidence of awareness of God’s will (vv.21-26)
There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.
There is a big difference between being in and out of a canoe. In the boat, I am dry. With my paddle, I am making progress to my destination. Being out of the canoe means I am in the river soaking wet. The paddle can do me little good until I get back in the boat. There is a difference between walking on and off of the trail. On the trail, I know my steps are secure. Wild animals keep their distance knowing the regular human traffic. When I am off of the trail, the ground is not as stable. Venomous snakes build their homes where people don’t tread. The canoeists who spends more time out of than in his boat cannot make an effective journey. The hiker that spends more time off than on the trail puts herself at risk for getting lost and being bitten. Anyone can capsize. But, one must get back in the boat. Anyone can stray from a trail. But one must get back on it.
Here is where there is no condemnation; when we are in Christ Jesus and we walk according to the Spirit. True faith is not “getting your praise on” for sporadic moments. It is to constantly be mindful of the Lord who loves us so much that he gave his life for our salvation. This is the boat that we progress in. True faith is more than being a moral person. It is to surrender one’s will to that of the Holy Spirit. This is the trail we walk. Be in and walk accordingly.
“The tax collector stood some distance away, not daring even to raise his eyes to heaven; but he beat his breast and said, God, be merciful to me, a sinner.'” Luke 18:13
Too often, we define a right relationship with God as being based on morality and following ritual. We don’t drink, smoke, cuss, or have sex outside of marriage. We attend church, mass, fast during lent, or read the Bible. There is no doubt that morality and ritual are helpful in society and a spiritual lifestyle. Without condemning these, Jesus teaches that they are not the things that give us justification with the Father.
Please note, the tax collector practices the ritual of going to the temple just like the Pharisee. But, being a tax collector puts him in a perpetual state of sin according to the devout Jews of the time. He makes no mention of any specific sin that many of his colleagues were engaged in such as cheating people out of money or sexually exploiting women who were unable to pay. For all we know, he may have fasted and tithed as much as the Pharisee. Yet, because of who he is in society, the tax collector regards himself as a sinner greatly in need of God’s mercy. It is the humble acknowledgement and expressiveness of his prayer that God looks favorably upon and blesses.
No matter who we are (or who we think we are), humans are constantly in a state of sin. Even those of us who are moral and practice ritual are surrounded by temptations and fall to them more often than we would like to admit. We hate even though we don’t murder, lust even though we don’t rape and have removed pens and post-it pads from our workplaces rather than rob banks. The preacher of Ecclesiastes was right to say “There is not a man on earth that does what is right and does not sin.”
To make a relationship right with God, one must do as this tax collector. Have faith enough to come into God’s presence, express true remorse, and plead to the Father for mercy. Such a humble prayer is a spiritual reset for us and leads to repentance. A lack of humility makes repentance an empty promise where the soul worsens due to arrogance. But, an expression of faith like this tax collector justifies us as righteous in the eyes of the Lord.
May the Grace of God though Jesus Christ shine on you,
Brother Cyprian Bluemood
Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene