Sunday, January 28, 2018

Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee 2018 (adult)

Luke 18:10-14

Once upon a time, some time around the beginning of Lent, two Orthodox Christians were going to church. Since it was the beginning of Lent, their priest had mentioned at some point in the past weeks about the sacrament of confession. As they were going to church, one of them thought, "God, I thank you that I have not killed anybody; I have not stolen, I give some money to the church; I don't really need to go to the sacrament of confession," while the other prayed:

Lord Jesus Christ, my God, loose, remit, forgive, absolve, and pardon the sins, offenses, and transgressions, which I, a sinful, useless, and unworthy servant have committed from my youth up to this present day and hour, whether in knowledge or in ignorance, whether by word or in deed, whether in my intentions or in my thoughts, whether by habit or through any of my senses.

In case you're wondering, that last fragment is from one of the prayers from the service of preparation for holy Communion prayed by St. John Chrysostom. It feels strange to think that a saint, one of the great saints of our Church, who is commemorated a couple of times during the year, and then in a couple of days, with St. Basil and St. Gregory, as one of the Three Hierarchs—what a strange thing that that he read, St. John Chrysostom, this morning's gospel, and he looked at the Publican and he took that to heart, that he really looked into his heart to see what is there. He didn't look at those around him; that's not the measuring-stick. It wasn't for St. John Chrysostom, and it is not for us. Our measuring-stick is to be holy as God is holy, as we are reminded in both the Old and the New Testaments.

Okay, we may say this prayer was St. John's, and maybe he had done something that we don't know about that he really needed to repent of. But the Church this morning in Orthros, and starting today and going through Lent sets before us and sings in Orthros and, if I may make a small parenthesis, in the prayers that we are looking at in our religious education series—we looked at the prayers in Orthros—and one of the prayers says, "Grant us to chant with understanding." So not just to say the words and say them beautifully, but to understand what we are saying and to apply it to our lives and let them come into our hearts.

When I ponder in my wretchedness upon the many terrible things that I have done, I tremble for that fearful day, the Day of Judgment. But trusting in the mercy of Your compassion, like David I cry to You, "Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your great mercy."

It is typical to read these and apply them to ourselves, to think that they should apply to us. We don't live in a world that is particularly focused on self-reflection, and I think most of us know that we have a certain part of ourselves that isn't quite what God would like us to be, what He calls us to be. It is uncomfortable to sit and think about that and admit that to ourselves and—well, I was going to say, "God forbid," but that sounds strange—God forbid we have to say it in front of the priest!?

It can be difficult, but when Christ said that the kingdom of God is taken by violence, He doesn't mean physical violence. It means that trouble that we have to take up with our own selves, to look for God's illumination so we can see ourselves as we are, and we take up this work of repentance. Again, it's not about "Well, I'm better than him, I'm not as bad as people a couple of steps away from here at the jail or the people who have to go into drug rehab programs" or whatever other comparisons we come up with. That's not our measuring stick. We are called to be holy as God is holy, and that takes some discomfort. It takes reading this prayer of St. John Chrysostom’s before God in preparation for holy Communion. It takes reading or singing through these hymns that are placed before us in the Triodion, in the lenten period, and saying, "You know, these do apply to me, because I may not have murdered and I may not have stolen, but this, that, or the other thing are in my heart. I've been angry, I've gossiped"—who knows. We know that we're not quite holy as God is holy.

The period of Lent is a period of work, of hard spiritual work. So let us look at these prayers. If you'd like a copy of the preparation of holy Communion, let me know. They are part of the prayers we've been looking at in our educational series, and I can print a copy for you. If you're able to, come to Orthros or to Vespers and see and hear the things that we chant, on the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee or on the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, because the hymns, many of them, are written in the first person, and they're written so that they bring us to repentance, so that we have the opportunity to throw away all the things that have accumulated in our souls and be resplendent with the light and brightness of God, the likeness in which we have been created.

May God guide us there, to be able to stand before an icon of Christ, taking time on our own, meditating on those things that we have fallen short of the glory of God and ask God for forgiveness and guidance, that we may draw near to Him and that we may fulfill the calling of becoming saints. May God grant us the strength, the wisdom, the grace, the patience, the courage to do this, and may we do it so that we may have true joy and peace in our hearts and, with that joy and peace, lift up our voices in thanksgiving and glorification to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.



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