Sunday, February 09, 2014

Sermon on the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee, 2014

I had quite a bit of driving to do yesterday, through a fair part of Southern Iowa. The weather wasn't entirely cooperative towards that end, but, thank God, everything went well. It gave me the opportunity to think a little bit about driving down the road. Both during the storm and immediately after the snow plows had come and especially on the highways, the road itself was actually in pretty good shape, but if you were to stray maybe six inches off where the side of the road was supposed to end—once it got to the shoulder—then things could get a little interesting. Of course, not everybody was going to drive a little bit off the surfaces of the snow and then to crash, but chances are you're going to get a little bit of a scare, have the car twitch a little bit, and, yes, eventually if you stray too far over, then you're going to lose grip, turn around, and get stuck, or even worse, have the car totaled.

And I was thinking about that in relation to the gospel lesson of today, because on the road, we have the road: the road that is clear, that is marked, and stepping off meant trouble. So I had to keep my eyes on the road; I had to keep the car pointed to where I needed to go. I couldn't really afford to relax or, who knows, change the radio or anything, because I didn't have that much margin for error. I had to keep my eyes on where I was going.

So where are we going? I hope and I pray that we all are planning or we are traveling on the road to salvation, the road to the kingdom of heaven. In order to do that, we also have to keep our eyes on where we are going. By God's grace, through his love, we have a path that is clear, that has been set forth, that has been cleared for us, and it is a path that is fully built up by the Church, by the teachings of Christ and the practices of the Church that are there exactly for that reason: to guide us to the kingdom of heaven, so that we can keep our eyes focused on Christ, so that with our efforts, and always by His grace, we may not veer off, get into the snow, and who knows what might happen. So our eyes need to be focused on Christ.

If we look at this morning's gospel, we see the Pharisee. Technically speaking, he was a righteous man. He said himself, "I fast twice a week. I give tithes of all that I inherited." But his eyes were not on God. He says indeed, "I thank You that I am not like other people. I thank You that I am not even like this tax collector." His eyes were looking all the way around, and that is a temptation for us these days, too. We have television shows that show how the rich and famous live and can easily make us look at our lives and say, "Oh, I haven't done as well. I need to have more. I'm not as successful as they are."

That is not where our eyes need to be; our eyes need to be focused on Christ. He is our goal. He is our standard. God says, "Be holy as I am holy." He doesn't say, "Be as—pick your man—Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Lebron James." He says, "Be holy as I am holy." So our eyes, the path our life, needs to be determined by exactly that.

Just as I was driving yesterday with the car and not every time we veer off the road we end up or should end up in a crash, not every time we take our eyes of Christ we are going to fall completely off the path. But the more we do it, the more chances we have to fall away. Of course, with Christ there is always, always the gate of repentance. As we chanted this morning in Orthros, "Open to us the door of repentance." That is always open to us.

I think you will agree with me that it is safer not to take our eyes off the road, not to take our hands off the steering wheel, but to be focused on Christ, to use everything that the Church puts at our disposal for our salvation so that we remain on that narrow road that leads to salvation, because in this we find not just peace and joy here, but eternal joy and in this way I pray that all of us together, here on earth and in the eternal kingdom, will joyfully and prayerfully and peacefully give glory to God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.



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