sunrise

A Diary of the Apostles Fast (Third Thursday): Ending The Journey (this part of it)

Tomorrow is the Feast of St.s Peter and Paul.  I intend to eat a fair amount of dead animal.  I may wake up early to spend some time on a mountain Saturday.  Sunday, I will attend divine liturgy at a Greek Orthodox Church.  This journey of the Apostles Fast is coming to an end.  In all honesty, I am going to miss it.  Oh, I will still maintain and seek to expand my prayer life.  And I will keep the weekly fast on Wednesdays and Fridays as well as be more conscious of my eating on other days.  But, the weeks of fasting have been very interesting and inspiring for me.  God revealed and reminded me of his truth.

Daybreak (© John Gresham)

Prayer means more than giving thanks, praises, and asking for stuff.  Prayer is seeking unity with the Lord.  For those who are new to following Jesus, praying without a disciplined spiritual life can be expected.  But, a shallow perception of communication with God must be outgrown.  The seeking of divine guidance must be perpetual in our hearts and minds.  Too often, we pray for immediate results.  We live in a culture that seeks tangible and well-defined conclusions, and the sooner the better.  This is a very dangerous prayer life.  Suppose we get the results when and the way we want them?  Then arrogance quickly sets in as if we are proven better than others because we have the results.   Complacency is another risk; that one need not pray again unless another need or want arises in our lives.  Suppose we don’t get the results, or get them in a later time in a way that doesn’t please us?  Two possibilities are ready to distort our souls. We may disbelieve in the loving God who answers prayer as we didn’t get our results.  We may also chase after spiritual snake oil salesmen posing as ministers of the Gospel who boast that they can get you the results we are looking for.

A consistent and perpetual seeking of God; this is the type of prayer that doesn’t rely on gratifying results.  When they come, one with such a prayer life remains humble.  When they don’t come, the one remains patient and relies on God’s wisdom.  Results and lack of them are mere stones on the pathway to the eternal.  This is one reason why hermits and monastics can remain in secluded prayer unbothered by the world around them.  This is one reason why the martyrs faced death with a sense of joy and peace in mind.  If we were all thrown to the gladiators and wild beast or were made to live in ascetic cells, having this sort of prayer life would be a bit easier as we would have nothing else to seek after and death would be just moments away.

The challenge for us who are not in monasteries and coliseum is to be consistent and perpetual seekers of God.  This is why the morning and evening Orthodox prayers guide us in seeking mercy.  This is why there are prayers of the Hours and cycles of fasting.  This is why monks, nuns, and other seekers desire an inward prayer of the heart and silently move their lips as they offer up the Jesus Prayer.  The early church fathers gave us traditions of fasting and prayer that have encouraged the rejection of this world and withstood great persecution.  Arrogance, complacency, disbelief, and gullibility await those who have no depth in their spiritual selves.  Thus, our prayers must be continuous to withstand and overcome these adversaries.

Thank you for your time.  I pray God will also bless you in the journey of life.

A Pursuit Of The Spirit Of Christ: Consistent Testimony

… Behold the Lamb of God!

John 1:36

A Mattaponi Dawn (© John Gresham)

There is something to be said for consistency.  That what is spoken one day is the same as the days before and for days to come.  A true testimony does not change.  But, it remains the same.

One day, the religious leadership approached John the Baptist asking if he were the Christ or one of the prophets.  He denied claims to both.  He quoted the words of Isaiah and pointed that the great Messiah was yet to come with a greater baptism.  But John did not claim any position that was not his, even though he could have claimed the lesser of the two.  John kept to the task of baptism for the remission of sins in humble obedience to God.

The next day, John identified and proclaimed the one he spoke of the day and days before.  “Behold the Lamb of God!”  John was a good man and, rightfully, drew a crowd of the faithful.  But, the Lamb of God was (is) the perfect offering without blemish or spot.  The true first-born.  This Lamb would go down and rise again, thus able to take away the sins of the world.  He will baptize with the Holy Spirit, a power that shows he is the Son of God.  As in the day before, John didn’t speak of his greatness.  He bore witness to something greater.

And still the next day, John makes the same proclamation as he sees Jesus.  John has two of his disciples standing with him and made no gesture nor spoke in protest as they left him to follow the One he spoke of.  The baptizer has seen the one who offers the greater baptism.  The precursor has laid down the path as prophesied.  With the Lamb present, John understood that he his position had to decrease.  There was no point of his disciples following him any longer as there was a greater one for them to follow.

A false witness changes as it sees opportunity for gain, the need to conceal inconvenient truth, and threats to its status.  The true witness always points to something greater.  Gain and status are temporal.  Truth is never stopped.  It is best to understand our role in God’s will and let him have his way.  Our consistent testimony let’s him work through us for his glory.

Amen

Ambition, Aspiration, Ascension

Now when he had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received him out of their sight.

Acts 1:9

 

Falls on a Creek (© John Gresham/DCR)

 

I am not preaching to the Protestant calendar.  So today’s sermon is not the traditional 3-point message.  Thursday was the feast of the Ascension in the Orthodox Church.   I had notes to preach from the story in Luke.  But, I typed my manuscript from the Acts account to help put my own ambitions in check.

AMBITION, ASPIRATION, ASCENSION

Acts 1:1-11

(antithesis) The disciples looked at the political ambition of Jesus restoring Israel (v.6)

(thesis) Jesus taught them that they would receive heavenly power to do something greater (v.8)

(propositional statement) Jesus ascended to heaven not by the ambition of the flesh, but by his willingness to do the Father’s will (v.9)

(points)

  • Ambition is limited to human borders and relies on human abilities
  • Too much ambition is detrimental to the church and the world
  • Aspiration is energized by  Inspiration and causes us to do some peculiar things
  • Aspiration produces results for the greater good

(conclusion)  Live focused on the will of God and let the Spirit lift you here and the here after.

How To Respond To Atheism

It is no secret that atheism and unbelief is growing in our country.  I read an article in the Guardian where church membership may very well be less than the 40% mark that most of us took for granted.  With the ongoing hypocritical scandals and false doctrine in many denominations and congregations, I suspect things will only get worse.  But, just because Atheism is growing means that the faithful should do nothing.  This morning, I will preach our response.

Reflective Dawn (© John Gresham)

 

BECAUSE HE IS, WE MUST GO

Matthew 28:16-20

Thesis:  Disciples of Jesus Christ are called to declare his resurrection from the grave

Antithesis:  Like the time of the first disciples, there are forces in society that oppose this message

Propositional Statement:  We are called to spread the Gospel of Jesus despite the obstacles before us

Points:

  • We can overcome our own doubts (17)
  • We can go beyond our comfort zones (19)
  • When we go, Jesus will be with us (20)

A Eulogy for Troy Washington: A Reason Not To Grieve

We want you to be quite certain, brothers, about those who have fallen asleep, to make sure that you do not grieve for them, as others do who have no hope.  

1 Thessalonians 4:13

 

First Light (© John Gresham)

This morning as I was shooting photos at Hughlett’s Point, my sister-in-law called me to give me some bad news.  My young cousin, Troy Washington, died late last night.  This news hurt me.  Troy was only a couple of months from graduating from King & Queen Central High School.  He took college courses at Rappahannock Community College and was preparing to go the University of Virginia.  His talents on the football field and basketball court were almost as good as his academic record.  Troy was a devout Christian young man attending First Baptist Church of Hockley.  He knew how to hang with his peers, respect his elders, stay away from trouble, and make the most of the opportunities that came his way.

Immediately, I wanted to grieve about his life being cut short.  He had so much to live for.  Education, career, most likely marriage and family.  His parents shouldn’t have to bury a son.  His brother shouldn’t have to attend his only sibling’s funeral before his commencement from high school.  I couldn’t wait to see him when I visited my in-laws in Charlottesville.  I didn’t get a chance to congratulate and tell him how proud I am of him.  So, despite what was in the text, I really wanted to grieve about this.

Breakfast Ripples (© John Gresham)

But, then I thought about it.  Those who have died in Christ will arise first, and only after that shall we who remain alive be taken up in the clouds together with them.  I considered myself waiting in line to get in to a great resaurant.  There are people standing there before me and some behind me and all of us have been waiting for a long time to get in.  An usher from the restaurant comes out and walks by those ahead of me, myself, and most behind me and speaks to someone who hasn’t been in line as long as most of us.  “Sir, the owner of the restaurant has a table prepared for you now.  You don’t have to wait in this line.  Follow me, come inside, and be seated.”  Here it is, members of our family have been striving for heaven for years.  We are in our 40’s and 50’s up to our 70’s and 80’s.  And God sent and angel to a teen-ager to go ahead of us.  Troy made it to the great feast of our Lord and Savior before we did.  The rest of us have waited for a long time and God gave him the break instead of us.   Grief for a life cut short?  No, I feel glad for him.  I feel a touch of envy for him.  Instead of crying aloud in sorrow, I want to tell him, “Troy, save me a seat!  Put in a good word for me!  Look out for your cousin, boy!”

Many times I have heard preachers and others say these words at a funeral, “He has been called from labor to rest.”  Ninety, eighty, and seventy year old saints have labored long in the world.  Sixty, fifty, and forty-year old believers may have lived  abundant, spirit filled lives.  Troy wasn’t even 20.  Labor?  I don’t think he had anything more than a summer job if he had that.  He never worked at the mill in West Point as did three generations of his family.  His only labor was pursuing knowledge, playing games, striving for excellence in his activities, loving people and the Lord.  And is there a labor more important than this?  No.  Troy did the labor of a child and did it well.  Unless we make ourselves like children, we cannot enter the Kingdom of God.  Troy didn’t have to make himself one.  He was one.  He was without the adult angers, anxieties, pains, stresses, and strains.  In his life, Troy showed us what good labor as a child was all about.  How can I grieve when God used his death to teach us a great lesson of life.

Wave on Barnacles (© John Gresham)

I do grieve because I miss him.  I didn’t see Troy often.  But when I did, I always smiled knowing that he was doing something positive.  Troy was a kid we could brag about.  And because we believe in eternal life, I can still brag about Troy.  He won’t have a cap and gown.  But he has a white robe and golden crown.  He has already moved into the Pearly Gated community.  His mansion is of a building not made by man’s hands but founded on the Word of the Lord.  I don’t have to hope and pray Troy makes something good of his life because he has made it into the life eternal.

Good-bye my dear young cousin.  You got a break ahead of me.  You can rest from your labor.  Save me a seat.  I will also be ushered in one day.

Rest In Peace Troy

The Stones We Expect

… “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?”  Mark 16:10

A Happy Easter to those of us in Western Christendom!  A Blessed Palm Sunday to all Orthodox Christians.  I will write more when I get back from Sunrise Service.  But, here is the sermon in a nutshell.

Deadfall Sunrise (© John Gresham)

Mark 16:3

THE STONES WE EXPECT

(Introduction) In his life’s ministry, we see Jesus having awesome power.

(Antithesis) Seeing him die on the cross, the women had faith enough to see where his powerless body was entombed.

(Thesis) The power of salvation goes beyond the stones we expect will block us from it.

(Relevant Question) What are these stones and why are they such a huge barriers between us and Jesus?

(Points)     1.  Our weakness

2.  Our low expectations

3.  Our lack of understanding

(Conclusion)  Those who are faithful to seek Jesus will witness the power of salvation over the stones.

Yours in Christ

Brother Cyprian Bluemood

Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene

A Lenten Journal: A Pursuit of the Doctrine of Christ (Sixth Wednesday)

“Many who are first will be last, and the last, first.”  Mark 10:31

I often believe that too many of my fellow preachers have slipped into stupid.  We have developed a culture of opulence seekers who constantly chase after the best seats, finest attire, most luxurious surroundings and we excuse this sad and pathetic pursuit as “seeking God’s favor.”  I can’t help but to wonder if we have paid any attention to the lives of the disciples and, more so, the one who taught them.

These men were not blessed by gaining anything of earthly material value.  Not Matthew, who may have been the wealthiest among them as a tax collector.  Not even the lowliest of the fishermen.  When Jesus said, “Follow Me,”  the pursuit of wealth and status for these men was thrown completely out of the window.  They all crashed in friends and relatives homes, ate whatever they could afford and made it stretch for thousands of unexpected guest, and had to borrow a donkey to go to Jerusalem.  Their lifestyle has little or nothing to do with Steve Harvey suits, chauffeur driven Bentleys, nor a fine hotel room at the conference (complete with cable TV to watch porno movies).  We have no right to criticize a secular world bent on greed when we who proclaim to be spiritual seek to wallow in status and wealth.

Dawn on the Pier (© John Gresham)

We are truly blessed and highly favored when we leave the things of this world behind.  If you mark your blessings and favor according to the stuff you get in this world, what does that say about what you will gain in the world to come?  Indeed, what does that say about your discipleship?  The disciples are to gain as much as a hundred times over for the earthly gain they had left behind.  The rich young man gained nothing as he was too attached to what he had to give it all up to become a disciple.

Every minister need not take a vow of poverty and live in a monastery.   But, we must reject the pursuit of opulence and be content with living simply.  Let us only take what is necessary for the journey.  For the reward God has for us in the eternal is greater than any “blessing” or “favor” we may receive in the temporal.

Your Brother in Christ

Cyprian Bluemood

Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene

A Lenten Journal: A Pursuit of the Doctrine of Christ (Fourth Saturday)

And he gave them strict orders not to tell anyone about him.     Mark 8:30

There is a time for revelation and a time of silence.  Revelation too soon is a disaster to any movement.  Movements need time to properly develop and be at the right place to be effective.  The blind man at Bethsaida was given sight.  But, his vision was Bethsaida, not Jerusalem.  Peter rightly identified his Master on the road to Caesarea Philippi.  That was a circuit visit, not the final destination.  There is always the temptation to side track from the ultimate point of a mission.  Jesus refused to allow the ones he healed and his followers to do this to him.

Glass Island Dawn

Know what the will of God is in your life and resolve not to let anyone or anything side track you.  Not just bad habits, enemies, misleading influences, and misdeeds.  But, the sinister distractions of praises and victories can divert and destroy any good cause just as swiftly as the worst wicked opposition.  Stay the course with a sense of discipline and demand it especially from those who wish you well.

Your Brother In Christ,

Cyprian Bluemood

Order of Saint Simon of Cyrene

A Lenten Journal: A Pursuit of the Doctrine of Christ (Third Monday)

… “Courage!  It’s me!  Don’t be afraid.”  Then he got in the boat with them and the wind dropped.  …  Mark 6:50, 51

How patient in Jesus with us?  How much compassion did he have for our fearfulness and hard hearts?  How much mercy did he have for those who seek him?  He wanted quiet reflection time with his disciples when the crowd followed him.  He put his and the needs of his disciples aside for a while to feed souls and mouths.

After feeding the thousands who gathered around him, he sends them away so that he can have time alone to pray.  Late at night, he intended to walk on the sea, not seeking the attention of his disciples.  Yet, they saw him walking across the water and became fearful.  Jesus had scolded them once before about their lack of faith during the storm.  Surely they would be punished for not learning from their previous encounter, especially when exhaustion confronting a headwind seems to be their only difficulty.

Dawn on the Stumps (© John Gresham)

Declarative words of comfort and a hand of mercy is what Jesus gives to the exhausted and fearful followers.  “Don’t be scared!  Recognize who I am.”  And not only does he speak, the Teacher gets in their boat and causes the wind to cease.  Instead of just punishment, we see patience.  His word is stern.  But, he doesn’t do to them as they deserve.  Indeed, he acts in undeserved kindness.

Let’s not be to ready in judgement and justice.  Some fail out of simple exhaustion.   We are weak when we are tired.  Let’s be firm in reassurance and act in grace toward each other in such times.  There is more good to be done in this day before the night falls on all of us.

Yours in Christ

Brother Cyprian Bluemood

Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene

A Lenten Journal: A Pursuit of the Doctrine of Christ (Second Friday)

… “Who are my mother and my brothers?”  Mark 3:33

We have a very narrow definition of who we are related to.  For people who live on this great sphere of earth, the circle of those whom we care about is limited to the circumference of a dime.  If one is not of our household, ideology, nationality, race, denomination, or religion; we consider such as unworthy of not only care and compassion (except in times of ritual or emergency charity).  We don’t count them among our equals though God also created them in his likeness and breathed his breath in them and made them living souls as well.

Song in Fellowship (© John Gresham)

One’s bloodline has nothing to do with belonging to the family of Jesus Christ.  There was a crowd sitting around him.  Mostly Jews like himself.  But, in other stories, we see him interacting with Romans, Canaanites, and Samaritans.  And none of the Jews seemed to clam him as a relative.  Doing the will of God, Jesus says, is the standard of our relationship to one another.

This is why Gandhi told the Christian who sought to convert to Hinduism to go back home and learn to be a good Christian and then come and learn to be a good Hindu.  This is why Malcolm X no longer taught Nation of Islam bigotry after sharing the great pilgrimage with Muslims from around the world.  This is why Dr. Martin Luther King bemoaned the fact that eleven o’clock Sunday morning was (and remains today) the most segregated hour in America.  These men of faith recognized and accepted all who sought true faith and betterment for all humanity as the thread that binds us all together.  God is the final judge of all who will dwell eternity.  Thus, let us be cautious about closing our circles of the holy family too closely.  We may find we are shutting ourselves out of it.

Yours in Christ,

Brother Cyprian Bluemood

Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene