Homily 2nd Wednesday of Lent 3/3/99
Romans 1:28-2:11 & John 5:1-18
Rev. John-Brian Paprock
O God, have compassion on us, and bless us, and manifest Thy presence to us, and have mercy on us. Amen.
"For God Shows No Partiality"
Brothers and Sisters,
How is this to be understood? We know that the greater elements of God's creation (sunlight, rain, wind, the earth) are no respecter of persons. We acknowledge in awe the greatness of creation and intuitively know that we are in the midst of creation together with all other people, whether or not they follow Christ. Yet aren't we special? Aren't we separated from the other people? After all, we were baptized and we worship the one God in church, don't we? We feel fortunate to be Christians. We are blessed. We have indeed been given a great treasure, a pearl of great price. But that in itself only makes us part of creation with a gift. Certainly, we would want everyone else to have the blessings that we have been given. But before we launch into an evangelical ministry, it would do well to remind ourselves that unto whom much is given, much is expected. As Christians, we do not operate in this world in isolation. We are entreated to be the love of God everywhere we go, with everyone we meet. We need to understand the expectations that lay before us as Christians. They are nothing less than to "Love God with all our heart, all our mind and all our spirit and our neighbor as ourselves." (I have not been able to find any escape clause for these expectations.)
"For God Shows No Partiality."
We need to recognize, not just the history, but also the present reality, that much harm is done in the name of Christ. We have no special "get out of jail" free card because we have been baptized or because we attend this Church or that Church or go to extra services during Lent. We cannot hide our shortcomings from God.
The Epistle opens with the verse: "Since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct." Let's turn this around for clarity. God gives a base or lower mind and the tendency toward improper conduct because we do not see fit to acknowledge Him. God, first and foremost. Then, everyone else - all my relations - next (including those that do not believe what I believe, those that I seem to think are worse off than me, those that are greater sinners than me...). Of what does St. Paul remind us? That we have no excuse, whoever we are when we judge another, for in passing judgment we condemn ourselves, because we are doing the same things.
Wait a minute, we say, I have never done THAT or I would never do anything like this! There will always be someone worse that we can point to that we will ever be worse than. If not in the present, we will bring up historical figures. "At least I'm not like Hitler"
But, we need not be lawyers to know that we are not perfect. As Paul reminds us "Do you not know that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?"
When we get to the point of real self-examination, not as compared to others, but as compared to being one with God, we welcome the opportunities of Lent. It is a time set-aside for purifying one's intent in service to God. We are sick and infirm spiritually, but we are near the source of healing, like the man who was ill for 38 years. And like him, when opportunities come, we head to the healing turbulence of the pool of Beth-za'tha. But then, at that very moment when we have built up our resolve to be healed, another steps down before us. How dare they? Who are they? Or perhaps, maybe they are sicker? Maybe they need it more than me? Christ will ask us if we truly want to be healed. If we do, the opportunity need not be the way others were healed before us. Take up your bed and walk! Jesus says to the infirm.
So, in both the Gospel and Epistle, there is this example and admonition to focus on ourselves "For God Shows No Partiality"
This is very much the theme of Lent that I am accustomed to in the Orthodox Church. It is a fast. Fast, as in hold "fast" to the truth. It is intended to be a time of self-reflection to purge the darkness from our souls, preparing to receive the Paschal Light to come. It is intended to be a time of discipline. It is a discipline of the forge, where gold is purified, rather than a legalism of avoidance, where certain foods go unconsumed. (Indeed, the greater fast is the fast of loving and sacrificial service to God and humanity.) There is an ascetic striving in Lent, but it interior without the outer show.
St. John Chrysostom of the Byzantine Era wrote:
Do you fast? Give me proof of it by your works. If you see a poor man, take pity on him. If you see a friend being honored, do not envy him. Do not let only your mouth fast, but also the eye and the ear and the feet and the hands and all the members of our bodies. Let the hands fast, by being free of avarice. Let the feet fast, by ceasing to run after sin. Let the eyes fast, by disciplining them not to glare at that which is sinful. Let the ear fast, by not listening to evil talk and gossip. Let the mouth fast from foul words and unjust criticism. For what good is it if we abstain from birds and fishes, but bite and devour our brothers.
"For God Shows No Partiality"
Throughout the Orthodox Church, in all its ethnic components, a prayer is recited throughout Lent (and only during Lent). In Orthodox monasteries, it is said at every service twice with four profound prostrations. In light of the message I have brought tonight, it is appropriate for me to share this prayer with you.
Before I close with that Lenten prayer, I would like to share some excerpt from A Credo For Today's Christian. This wonderful writing came to me recently via email and has quickly become a joy to my heart in holding fast to the Truths of Christianity. It was written by Fr. Alexander Men, a Russian priest martyred in 1990.
O God, Cleanse me a sinner (3x)
O Lord and Master of my life, give me not a spirit of idleness, despondency, ambition or vain talking.
But rather a spirit of purity, humility, patience and love, bestow on me Thy servant.
O Lord and King, grant that I may see my own faults and not judge my brother, for blessed art Thou to the ages of ages. Amen.