Matthew 馬太福音9:1-8 Romans 羅馬書12:6-14
2013.8.4 sermon by Fr. Jonah
使徒保羅還談到「仁慈」，這也是我經常提起的主題。念誦「求主憐憫我」的同時，我們應該提醒自己，「我」不只是自己，還代表了其他人。擁有仁慈和善解的美德，才稱得上是一位基督徒。St. Issac the Syrian曾說：「什麼是純潔的心靈？一顆純潔的心靈會因為對所有人、所有受造物的愛而燃燒。」我們對萬物的愛，對動物、石頭…的愛，都會讓我們的心變得炙熱。充滿愛的心靈就是純潔的心靈。
2013.08.04 Romans 12:6-14 The Christian Practice
Romans 12:6-14 New King James Version (NKJV)
6 Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; 7 or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; 8 he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.9 Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. 10 Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; 11 not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12 rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; 13 distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
I wanted to remind you that [the day after tomorrow ], on the sixth of August we celebrate the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ, but because that is just a normal day and you work, we will have Divine Liturgy and a celebration on Monday at 8:00 PM we will have the Liturgy here. Please come.
Today I wanted to say a few things from the Epistle because it was so beautiful, so useful and so practical, and because it has to do with the everyday life of the Church. The Apostle Paul writes to the Romans and he gives practical advice. He speaks first about the gifts that everybody has in the Church. There are different gifts: not everybody has the same gifts in the Church. Of course we all have the gift of faith, which is a great gift of God; this is the same. And there are many other gifts that we should have, which is love, of course, as we will discuss later.
But somebody could say, “Well, I don’t have any gift.” That is impossible; everybody has a gift of God. Even our life is a very precious gift of God. And not only our life, but our relationships, the people we love, everything we love, it’s a gift of God. Also, even to suffer is a gift. If somebody says, “I’m not rich, I have nothing.” Even to suffer and take this suffering, not cursing God but taking this suffering as participating in the suffering of the world, it’s a very great gift. And so everybody has something.
Apostle Paul here speaks first about some special gifts and then about the gift that everybody must have. The first he mentions today is the gift of prophecy. When we say prophesy, we must understand that prophecy is not just to say what will happen tomorrow or what will happen after ten years. It can be this, of course, but the most important thing is to proclaim the word of God. In the early Church, prophecy was very strong, and the first successors of the Apostles were the prophets. And after the prophets later we see people permanently established in places: the bishops, the priests, the deacons and so on. But even in the Old Testament, the prophets did not only speak about the future, but about the present, because they say what is the will of God for me, for you, for everybody to do today.
And prophecy is also about the past. For example, Moses is a prophet, but he spoke about the past, how God created the world. So the Church has prophecy, but this prophesy is within the faith: the prophet is doing whatever he is doing in order to establish the faith and the Christian life.
The Church always has prophets. Today, there are still holy people, who are holy people in the Church; I have met people like that. Father Porphyrius and other people I met on Mount Athos, there were prophets among between them. And the other thing that Apostle Paul says is about serving in the Church. Serving is not only that I serve, of course, God; all of us understand that we serve God. This is why many times that we that we have a service today, you see, a service of God. And also, the priest serves you. You don’t serve the priest, but altogether we serve God. So we must remember this thing, that in the church we serve, and we must keep the idea that we serve, not that we come here to be served. And it is very important, especially in the Chinese world, that people know li [sometimes translated politeness or ritual] how to serve. A friend of mine, who is a professor here in Taiwan, told me that his father was a very famous professor in Harvard and he took his son to study in Harvard, but he put him to work as a waiter in a restaurant. And some other people asked why, since he had enough money, he put his son to work serving other people? He said, “He will learn how to serve. This is a very great thing” If we don’t learn how to serve when we are young, later when you are married how will you learn how to serve each other?
The way that people behave in the church reflects the way they behave with each other outside the church. The way that we eat and the way that we sit and we may take one seat for my bag and one for my clothes, and I don’t care that other people may not have a seat – this shows very practically the ultimate pride.
Another thing in the Church that is very important is teaching, and this is why the sermon is actually part of the liturgy. It should come after the Gospel, but we do it at the end of the service because, unfortunately, many people do not come at the proper time, but at least we do it.
But to teach in the Church, it and it is not everybody to be a teacher. It is not for everybody to introduce Christianity, our faith, to others; you must have the blessing of the Church. It is different to say, “Christianity is very good. Come, I will show to you.”: but not to create different small denominations in the Church. And also, another point is that the teacher must have students: if the people don’t want the teaching, what’s the point of the teachings? It is very important that people want the teachings. My very painful experience is that many people want anything except the teachings of the Church. Many times I tried to have Bible study here, but the people would only come once; all the other Fridays they would go out to drink beer. And other times, when we did it in the Taipei Main Station because people said it was not easy to come here, only two people from the church, Pelagia and another one, were coming, nobody else.
So I say it is very important that Christianity is not a theory; the Orthodox Church is not something we have in our pocket just in case of the next life. The refusal of teaching is a refusal of Jesus Christ’s teaching, and of Jesus Christ himself. So once more, I remind you from the painful experience of this church, please consider again.
And another thing that Paul says today is about comfort: that the Church must comfort and the people of the Church must comfort each other. Because unfortunately today many people not only don’t comfort – when they see somebody suffering they beat him more. There are many things that even modern psychology says about people, that we are not as good as we think we are. And we have a lot of weakness in our heart, and a lot of complexes, a lot of problems. Many people, for example, have a complex of feeling low self-esteem. The result is to attack everybody who helps them and everybody who really loves them. Why attack a person who loves them? Because they know that that person loves them and will not attack them back; they would not dare to do this to other people who don’t care for them. And of course in doing this they feel that they can do something, they can make the other suffer, and that is an achievement. (Actually, here in our church I have seen this many times.) And it is a very painful achievement.
We must understand that because we say that we are Orthodox, this Orthodoxy is not a mask that we put on to come to church. Many Chinese people like to have a uniform, but Orthodoxy is not having a uniform and coming here dressed in a special way, putting on an Orthodox mask that you take off when you go out the door. So we bring our diseases to the church to be cured, or at least to be less – not to be more. This torturing, which is so common today, continues to the family, to friends, to every human relationship.
And the Apostle Paul also speaks about leadership because, of course the Church needs some leadership. And this leadership is not only a leadership, for example, of who is responsible here: I am the leader here and my leader is the bishop. It is not only this. Leadership is everybody to start to do something. For example, I can speak of Johanna because she is not here. She started singing and cooking. We must be careful because when you do something in the church you should not consider that it is about you, and you control everything, because if we do this we will lose our soul in every good thing we do. Fore example, if you cook food for the church, but then you judge and condemn the others because they don’t clean anything and don’t care, you will lose your soul. Johanna actually says she cooks for the children of God.
So leadership is for everybody. And you should understand that the leader is not to give everybody an easy target because you don’t know how much struggle, how much love, how much pain the leader has to live here and take the responsibility of the church. There are many, many things that you don’t know, that are necessary so that this Liturgy can be peaceful and at least there is a place where it can be done with the peace and the love of God. As Apostle Paul said, I need your prayers because it’s not easy to come here and find everything; you don’t know how much pain is behind.
And now Apostle Paul speaks about something else, which I will say many times because he speaks of it. Mercy, you must have mercy. And when we say, “Lord have mercy,” we must remember to have mercy on each other. Mercy and understanding. A Christian who is not merciful is not Christian. St. Issac the Syrian ays, “This is the pure heart: to have your heart be burning for mercy to every person and every creature” for the birds, for the animals, for the stones, for everything..A merciful heart is a pure heart. And I would dare to ask only mercy from you. It is so difficult to ask for friendship. It is so difficult to ask for understanding. All that I can ask for is a little bit of mercy. Life is very hard; it is merciless. We know that there are always misunderstandings, and they will be for as long as the world exists. But at least we could have a good attitude, or if we don’t have a good attitude but if we have a merciful heart, at least we will not strike the others. So it is something that we must be trained in, to have mercy. For all these things we hear of from the Apostle today, and they are such practical things, we must have training. I will say more about this training later, but I will remind you about it now.
Paul says now for everybody to have philadelephia, which means to have brotherly love, to consider each others as brothers and sisters here, not to come here just like strangers you happen to see because they happen to sit in the next chair, and not to say even hello. And because of this, we must train ourselves to consider everybody as our brother or sister. If we cannot consider someone as our brother, at least we should not consider him as our enemy, or as the object of our torture. I was thinking to encourage you to buy punching bags, like the ones they use for boxers to train, so you could have in your house something to hit, because if you hit this bag then you will not hit your friend, your wife, your husband, or anybody else. From a psychological standpoint, this is disassociation, so if you need to beat something, beat this, don’t beat another person.
Why do I say that we must consider everybody as our brother or sister? Because we say in the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father,” our Father, not my Father. We can never forget that if God is our Father, he has other children. So we come to the Church not only for Jesus Christ. Of course we come for Jesus Christ, but we also come for the family of Jesus Christ, to meet our brothers and sisters. And meeting our brothers and sisters, we meet God. So the Church is a family; it is not just a group of people who come here on Sundays at 10:30 and then leave. It’s not that. And even if we are not together, we are always connected by the love of God and by our prayers: “How about you? How about her, God and everybody pray for me.” It a network of prayers. And again behind these prayers is God himself; who loves us all and unites us and he says “My children, they love each other, this is good.”
Apostle Paul also says about the honor we must give to everybody. There is no one here who is so low that he should not be respected. God respected us so much that He became like us, He became human. But we don’t respect God. If you imagine yourself becoming something very dirty, like a rat or a cockroach. No matter how bad or good someone is, we must respect him because God loves him, and he is an icon of God, and nothing, not even the Devil can take this away. I feel many times very sorry that, as Christians, we don’t have the politeness that human beings should have: to prefer the other, to say, “Sit, please,” to be very polite. I admire so much the Japanese people who bow in front of everybody. Even though they don’t know this, it is a very theological thing because, just as we bow in front of the icons we should bow in front of human beings, who are even holier icons then these [pointing to icons in the church].
So, having this politeness, Apostle Paul also speaks about something that is very important, and that can blow up everything – this is laziness. We must be very fast, our minds zealous for God, not to be lazy. My spiritual father, Father Porphyrius taught me something very important, that reason for all these things is laziness. We start a little bit, saying, “We will do this later, or tomorrow.” And after two days we gradually start to lose everything and evil things gradually start to come in. This is the Christian training, to say “I will do something now and tomorrow I will do what I have planned to do tomorrow.” All these things, I say, need training, need a program in our life, need to have – let’s say – some marks to see: did I succeed in some way, did I become a little bit better this week, did I correct some bad attitude that I have?
I remember, about the love of the Church, last year we put out that book about marriage. I gave it to people and said for people to give it to all of their friends. But I think only two persons gave it, no one else. And it was free and a good book. So the training that we should do something for the church, not giving money – you see we do not ask for money – but a little bit from your heart. And again I say, without training, forget about it, you cannot improve in Christianity. Christianity is not just an intellectual belief, like “I am Orthodox, I have a card here that says I am Orthodox.” It’s not like this. It is this practical, everyday struggle to do something, to become better than yesterday, and to do something for the Church because we are not just individuals, because the Church is Jesus Christ, here, now.
And Apostle Paul also says that we should have joy and hope in our lives. We forget many times about this, and many people think that Christians are those who are always feeling guilty and suffering. I went to a theological school here in Taiwan to introduce the Liturgy, and somebody told me that in introducing such beautiful things about the liturgy, I had not said anything about guilt. I told him that he should see a doctor because he cannot live without thinking about guilt, so he needs some psychological support. Christians must have happiness because God loves us, and we know this, and we take the Holy Communion, and we have Him in our heart, what more could there be than this? There is nothing greater than the Holy Communion in this life, or in the next life, nothing greater.
Apostle Paul also says to bless those who persecute others, and not to curse them. Apostle Paul is speaking to the Romans, and the Church in Rome was not yet persecuted at this time. He is speaking about the everyday quarrels that happen between people, about money or other things. Many people may curse others and say, “May something bad happen to you because you took my money,” or things like that. Of course, this is a very bad thing. There are people who have this as a habit, and they say for everything, curse, curse, curse. A Christian should not curse, but rather bless. Of course it is a different thing when the Church condemns by excommunication or by aphorism (which is much stronger) people who split the Church or who are heretics. This is done not because of punishment, but to help these people understand that what they are doing is putting them out of the Church, and to protect the others in the Church.
Most of all – and I will finish with this – is that Christians must always have love. Without love, we are not Christians. But this can be the most difficult thing, which is also the simplest thing. But it is so difficult because anyone can say, “I can die for you.” But i could not live with you for even one day or one week. I would crucify you after one week, but when I am apart from you I think I could die for you. When we speak about love, we must understand that we speak about God. It is not so easy. And we must simply have the words , “Oh, I have love.” This is nonsense. If we don’t try every day, if not to have love, we should at least try not to crucify our brothers or sisters, not to hit them. Later, try to help him a little bit, try to understand him a little bit. And later pray a little for him. This is how real love comes; there is no other method. So if we want really to have love, remember this: how easy it is for somebody to say, “I could die for you,” but I could not live with you. Love is the most important thing in Christianity. Try. All of us must try. May the Holy Trinity protect all of us. Amen