Gladiator Bowl

This weekend is the mega weekend of sports for football fans as Super bowl 54 kicks off Sunday afternoon. We humans like to be entertained and we are willing to pay for it!  Super Bowl LIV is expected to have a 500 million dollar economic impact to the region that will pour into South Florida restaurants, hotels, airports, transportation services and small businesses as over 100, 000 visitors go to experience the game. However there is an expense involved as well. Miami-Dade County is expected to spend more than $14 million of taxpayer funds to subsidize expenses tied to hosting the game. That includes $10 million for event preparations, police and fire department expenses, and a $4 million payment to the Miami Dolphins for attracting the sporting event to South Florida.

What is this great thing they call the Super-Bowl? I often reflect on this one game which is the highlight of the NFL season as the gladiator bowl, drawing a comparison to the bloody entertainment of the ancient Romans and a remembrance of the great slave Spartacus fighting for his freedom!  And then I ponder about how much of my time and energy are invested in this type of behavior while people are still cold and hungry, and yet I am easily distracted by this form of entertainment, just like the Romans. Sometimes I must admit it is just about me as I distract myself into my comfortable shell, oblivious of my neighbor!  

I saw a meme this week that stated: “Church should be your excuse for missing things, not vice versa! We heard in the Gospel reading this morning: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which hath been lost.” [Lk. 19:10] Currently 40 million people struggle with hunger in our nation and 15 million folks live in homes that are identified as food insecure, meaning that they do not always have access to adequate amounts of food to maintain an active, healthy lifestyle, according to data released by the USDA in September 2017. The USDA found 1 in 6 American children may not know where their next meal is coming from. 

Yet in this Nation, sixty-five percent of Americans still identify themselves as Christians. (https://www.pewforum.org/2019/10/17/in-u-s-decline-of-christianity-continues-at-rapid-pace/) Have we as “Christians” become removed and distant from our fellow man or as Christ phrased it, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’ [Mt. 19:19]  Is this why Christianity is on the decline? I know for a fact that This-self is not hungry or in need, but I am no so confident about you which is exactly my point!? Have we become accustomed to letting our government and it’s failing social programs that just do not encompass all those ta are in need, replace our responsibility from embracing the poor and separating us from our neighbor? We don’t care enough to communicate and pride disables some folks from seeking help. Are we family?

When Jesus goes to the home of Zacchaeus, Zacchaeus who had not been living a Godly life promised he would give half of all his goods to the poor and make right anyone he had cheated fulfilling the beatitude: “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.[Mt. 5:6] Through the love of Christ a transformation of a self-seeking heart into someone that will no longer be a spectator in life, but fully invested in the super-bowl of Christianity, not just for one great game or the last game at the end of the season, but every day and every hour! Dearest Lord, may we hunger to be more like Zacchaeus!

Fr. Gabriel Weller 2/2/2020

GIFT CARD

 

My recent birthday presented me with some plastic money or gift cards. Gift cards have become popular as they allow the giftee the chance to pick out exactly how and when they will spend the value of the precious plastic gift.

After all when it comes to gifts of clothing, there are some folks who have a slightly different taste than mine and try to make me more urban than my fertile country roots want to allow! And of course there is always the obstacle of size variations differing from manufacturers. Although some believe the plastic gift card is too impersonal and rather a cold birthdays embrace, it has become an ever so popular convenient prize.

In the past, I have misplaced a gift card or two; maybe my value of them was not as high as it should have been. When I eventually remember where I stashed them or stumble upon them as I perhaps look for something else I safely put away; when I go to use that found gift card It still has the same value or same amount of worth as it did when I received it.

A thoughtful gift is always of great value but honestly, the greatest gift I have ever received is the gift of grace. We heard in the Epistle this morning, “But to each of us was given grace according to the measure of the gift of the Christ.”[Eph. 4:7] Grace is not a manmade textile nor can it be corralled upon a plastic card. Grace is an energy mediated to mankind by a loving God through the works of the Holy Spirit. We say in the Trisagion prayer: “O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere present and fillest all things, the Treasury of good things and Giver of life…” The Holy Spirit’s general ministry towards all of creation in which He fills all things with the energies of God in His role as the Divine Agent of Him by Whom “all things have come into existence”. (Col. 1:17)

We know that sin entered into the world with the first-made, Adam. In Romans 5:17 we read: “For if, by the offense of the one, death reigned through the one, much more they who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.” [Rom. 5:17] Saint John Chrysostom describes it this way: “He does not here say ‘grace,’ but ‘abundance of grace’ (perisseivan th“~ cavrito~). For it was not as much as we must have to do away the sin only, that we received of His grace, but even much more….For Christ paid down much more than we owe, even as the boundless sea is much more than a little drop.” [Hom. 10, P.G. 60:522 (cols. 476, 477).]

We put on Christ at our baptism rejecting Satan. It becomes very specifically the act of a person’s death and resurrection in and with Jesus. Christian baptism is man’s participation in the actual event of Pascha. It is a “new birth by water and the Holy Spirit” into the Kingdom of God (Jn 3.5). We then chant the words of the Apostle Paul as the newly-baptized is led in procession around the baptismal font three times as the symbol of his procession to the Kingdom of God and his entrance into eternal life: “For as many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Alleluia” (Gal 3.27).

But just as I misplace my plastic gift card, I can also choose to turn my back on Christ and His grace and allow my baptismal garment to be stained. Saint John Chrysostom writes:“If He “lighteth every man that cometh into the world,” how is it that so many continue unenlightened? For not all have known the Majesty of Christ. How then doth He “light every man”? He lighteth all as far as in Him lies. But if some, willfully closing the eyes of their mind, would not receive the rays of that Light, their, darkness arises not from the nature of the Light, but from their own wickedness, who willfully deprive themselves of the gift. ‘For the grace is shed forth upon all,’ turning itself back neither from Jew, nor Greek, nor Barbarian, nor Scythian, nor free, nor bond, nor male, nor female, nor old, nor young, but admitting all alike, and inviting with an equal regard. And those who are not willing to enjoy this gift, ought in justice to impute their blindness to themselves; for if when the gate is opened to all, and there is none to hinder, any being willfully evil remain without, they perish through none other, but only through their own wickedness.”

The gift of grace is as valuable now as it ever was! With every stain I paint on my baptismal garment, His grace washes it clean with my sinfulness confessed and His Body and Blood ministering to my wounds. St. Clement of Rome states it this way: “Let us fix our eyes on Christ’s Blood and understand how precious it is to His Father, for, poured out for our salvation it has brought to the whole world the grace of repentance.” Even if you have misplaced your faith and turned your back on God, His grace for you is still there, awaiting you. God’s love for you and I is so intense but yet He leaves the gate open, it is your choice to surrender your brokenness and failures and let Him bind your woundedness with His selfish grace that yearns for all of mankind to come home. We need you and want you! He needs you and wants you! We are family!!!

 

Fr. Gabriel Weller 1-26-2020

Birth of Goodness

We often romanticize about the birth of Christ and the Christmas story. We reflect on the angels, the most pure virgin, the obedience of Joseph and the lowly manger. We quickly forget that God took the form of flesh during a time of unrest and persecution. His arrival was not met with parades and shouts of jubilation throughout the world. Parts of the world reacted with evil as we heard in the Gospel reading this morning. (Mathew 2:13-23) His birth story sounds familiar as we remember the birth of Moses and the wicked orders given by Pharaoh from the time before the great Exodus:  “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” (Exodus 1:15-22)

Listen to the horrific recount of today’s Gospel story from our dear saint, Nikolai Velimirovich: This frightening command of the king was carried out to the letter. His soldiers beheaded some of the children with swords, smashed others against stones, trampled others underfoot, and strangled others with their hands. And the cries and wails of the mothers rose to heaven, lamentation, and bitter weeping; “Rachel weeping for her children” (Jeremiah 31:15, Matthew 2:18), as had been prophesied.

Herod asked the High Priest Zacharias about his son John, so that he might kill him, since he naturally thought that John was the new king. As Zacharias did not turn John over, he was slain in the Temple by order of Herod. After murdering the children of Bethlehem, Herod turned against the Jewish elders who had revealed to him where the Messiah would be born. He then killed Hyrcanes, the high priest, and the seventy elders of the Sanhedrin. Thus, they who had agreed with Herod that the new Child-king must be killed came to an evil end. After that, Herod murdered his brother, sister, wife and three sons.

Finally, God’s punishment came to him: he began to tremble, his legs became swollen, the lower part of his body became putrid, and worms came out of the sores; his nose became blocked and an unbearable stench emanated from him. Before his last breath, he remembered that there were many captive Jews in prison, and he ordered that they all be killed so that they would not rejoice in his death. Thus, this terrible ruler gave up his inhuman soul and handed it over to the devil for eternal possession.  (Saint Nikolai Velimirovich)

Listen now to these words, God does not fear evil, it is the other way around. That is why Herod and Pharaoh acted as they did. That is why we today struggle so much to be a Christian nation. Evil reacts to separate us from God, from our salvation. Evil loves power and money but our Lord was born into the flesh poor and humble. It is easy for good people too lose their vision in this walk of life as evil distorts truth, folks identifying as Christians find themselves supporting wickedness or perhaps the lesser choice of evils, abandoning the laws given to mankind by our Creator. Our actions are causing us to react with evil choices!   

After the Nativity, 14,000 innocent children lost their lives as evil reacted to the birth of Goodness. Is it a wonder that we here today struggle along the narrow path with such cunning wickedness always seeking opportunities to cast darkness over our attempts to climb the ladder of divine ascent? Is it a wonder that we still today believe our understanding or our translation of what a Christian is suppose to be instead of submitting to the Almighty’s light of perfection and judgment. Sin is sin, and we are all in need of a Savior and the birth of Goodness in every corner of our lives! Christ is BORN!  Will you glorify Him?

 

Fr. Gabriel Weller 1-12-2020

Make Your Christmas Light Brighter!

Here in the Valley, a lot of us begin the season of the Nativity by transforming our homes into a festive reminder. It takes some work, butthat is the point. All transformations take some work! I don’t want to get into the debates over trees, decorations and lights and their origin, I just want to reflect for a minute on our local seasonal tradition that helps us center our life on Christ and His birth!

Now my wife is the driving force to my many hours of decorating. It simply brings us joy. When I say us, as a martyr we are one, but her half does enjoy the results of decorating more! Happy spouse, happy house! In the decorating season, since we celebrate the Nativity on the old calendar, we are able to purchase decoration replacements and such at a heavily discounted price after the Pope celebrates his!! Each year I replace more of the old incandescent lights with more efficient and much brighter led lights and they even now seem to do all kinds of light shows and sequences and they normally stay up till February.

Back in the day we would spend hours troubleshooting our strings and strings of lights to replace the burned out bulbs and reuse them year after year. Now they last longer and are bargain priced at the end of the season so if they are too time consuming to repair, we toss them. I don’t think we have over-done it, but you can actually walk around the outside of our mountain home in the darkest of nights and have your path illuminated by our festive Christmas lights. Maybe the Whos from Whoville would give their approval!

However, there is some darkness in a corner of our home that I am still working on! It needs some festive light! This darkness is somewhere woven into my soul and I have yet to spend the effort to transform it to a brilliant light. We heard in the epistle today: And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. [Eph. 5:11] Saint John Chrysostom says: For just as when a candle is set, all are brought to light, and the robber cannot enter, so if your light shine, the evil being scrutinized shall be easy to capture. So then it is needful to expose them….Paul did not say ‘judge,’ he said ‘reprove’ (ejlevgcete)….What Paul is saying is of this sort. As a wound, so long as it is imbedded and concealed, running beneath the surface, it enjoys not a bit of attention, so also sin, as long as it is hidden, being as it were in darkness, is daringly committed with full license. But as soon as it is made manifest, it becomes light; not indeed the sin itself—for how could that be?—but the sinner. For when he has been brought out to light, when he has been admonished, when he has repented, when he has obtained pardon, hast thou not cleared away all his darkness? Hast thou not then healed his wound? Hast thou not called forth his unfruitfulness into fruit? Either this is the meaning or else what I said above, that your life being manifest is light. For no one hides an irreproachable life; whereas things which are hidden, are hidden by darkness covering them.” [Hom. 18, P.G. 62:127 (col. 122); cf. Bl. Theophylact, P.G. 124:408 CD (col. 1108).]

The Gospel writer John says it this way: “And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness overcome it not.”(John 1:5) We have a choice, to keep our wounds and sinfulness hidden in the dark, forever chained to the chill of death, or we can transform those thorns in our flesh by exposing them to His warm brilliant healing light. St John Chrysostom words it this way: “Since then neither death nor error can overcome it, since it is bright everywhere and shines by its proper strength, he says, ‘The darkness overcame it not.’ For it cannot be overcome, and will not dwell in souls which wish not to be enlightened.” [Hom. 5, P.G. 59:39, 40 (col. 58) A dark soul creates a shadow like a tall wall blocking the light. In this festive season, make your life with Christ brighter by replacing those burned out broken bulbs with His renewing light illumining your path to salvation.

Fr. Gabriel Weller 12-15-2019

It’s MINE!

 It’s mine, no, I had it first! I can still hear the squabbling sounds of young children not wanting to share. And I can also remember the tug of war battles I have had with my siblings as we each tried to gain dominance over a thing we each wanted and thought we desperately needed or deserved. We heard in the Gospel this morning: “But God said to him, ‘Fool, this night they demand thy soul from thee; and what thou didst prepare, for whom shall it be?’ “Thus is the one who treasureth up for himself, and is not rich toward God.” [Lk. 12:20-21] Perhaps at that age we were too young to understand the gift of sharing!

It’s mine; it is my turn! I hear this at church some too as people become less of a servant and more about demanding that their wants and needs be met. The church is one body, when a part of the body suffers, the whole body in affected! We all need to be here, it is our prescription for healing.

It’s mine; you always get the first pick. So many things sparkle and glitter and after we possess them, they lose that appeal and end up at a yard sale or deep in the closet or thrown up into the attic of our stuff-museum. “The bread you do not use is the bread of the hungry. The garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of the person who is naked. The shoes you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot. The money you keep locked away is the money of the poor. The acts of charity you do not perform are the injustices you commit,” so says Saint Basil the Great!

 

It’s mine, I need all this money for my stuff and its monthly payments, and God will just have to wait! Someone else will take care of the poor; after all they continue to make bad choices that keep them cold, naked and hungry! The celebration of Thanksgiving is about giving alms and sacrificing our time for others. As Saint Maximos the confessor said: “He who gives alms in imitation of God does not discriminate between the wicked and the virtuous, the just and the unjust, when providing for men’s bodily needs.”

 

As we begin this advent journey to Bethlehem, I hope and pray that we all can be less distracted with the mess and stress of stuff and family dynamics, and more open and observant to see those ways we can help our brothers and sisters in our families, here at church, at work, next door, and all those struggling to survive. The Nativity season is about giving through unselfish love and therefore as Saint Clement writes: our “Sins are purged by alms and acts of faith.” (St. Clement of Alexandria)

 

Our Father through His abundant mercy has given us the greatest gift and He was born poor, without stuff, in a barn amongst the animals and laid in a feeding trough or manager where the animals were usually fed their sustenance. And through His birth in a trough we all have been fed the necessities of the most precious everlasting life. May the mercy we have all been shown be an unlimited resource as we transform the world through Christ-like love, one act at a time, one person at a time, with continued repentance and service to all of God’s creation, the wicked and the virtuous. The world is need of a Savior; we simply have less time for stuff and need to spend more time working in His vineyard, being truly thankful for all that we have been given. Everything that is, is HIS!

 

Fr. Gabriel Weller 12-1-2019

Those Who Touch, Believe!

And Jesus said, Who touched me? When all denied, Peter and they that were with him said, Master, the multitude throng thee and press thee, and sayest thou, Who touched me?”  [Lk. 8:45]

We all go about the motions of trying to be a good Orthodox Christian and we may be certainly in the crowd but are we touching Christ? We can say our prayers and practice all the Christian virtues but skillfully neglect that thing that separates us from God. That thing is different for everyone. We have all been sinfully disfigured and wounded and therefore struggle to put all of our faith and trust in the great healer. At times, we seem to get just close enough without total surrender, keeping our options open so we can once again flee, licking our wounds and disappearing into the throng of bystanders, unwilling to change and experience true liberty. And just like the crowd in the Gospel reading today we press up on Christ, while still protecting our injuries and failures, finding comfort in the bondage and chains of slavery of past wrongs, whose memory have become our norm and our thin cold blanket of comfort. As Saint Ambrose writes: “For those who throng do not believe; those who touch believe.” [Saint Ambrose [Ib., Bk. VI, §57.]

Oh Lord, help my unbelief! The wounds of my soul are more life-threatening than any disease or illness but yet I neglect their healing. I settle for mere existence, as the shadow has become comfortable, and days come and go. Loving as Christ loves seems so vulnerable and foreign, maybe I will try harder tomorrow or next week, we’ll see! We then settle for being in the pressing crowd near Jesus but not close enough to touch his garment’s hem and not close enough to heal that part of our hemorrhaging life.  

Oh Lord, heal my unbelief! Is it my lack of courage or distrust of God, or should I say that I seem to trust me more than the Alpha and the Omega? Evangelist Luke instructs us to: “Be of good courage.”(Lk 8:48) Good courage comes from above and only through ascetic struggle as we hear St. John the Theologian say: “Perfect love casts out fear” (I Jn 4,18). How then do we love perfectly while our attention seems to be on our woundedness and then our actions are deeply rooted in pain and brokenness? Is it my shame for my continued sinfulness that cripples me or my lack of true repentance? Where is my faith? Do I still love the world more than my salvation?

That thing that keeps us from being made whole differs for each and every one of us and our Lord will respond to each of us differently in way that will help us individually in our growth towards holiness if we allow Him in, into the cold shadows, into the pain and darkness, into our failures. O Lord, cure my unbelief!

Light overcomes all shadows! Reach out to Christ, the light of the world, for His mercy, forgiveness, strength, and healing as best and as often as you can. Place your feet here, at the chalice, which truly contains the Body and Blood of Christ, where we can all intimately touch His warmth and life. Just like Jarius and the woman with the issue of blood, with faith draw nigh. (Lk 8:41-56) Come out of the shadows and into the Light, for His mercy and love are what you have been longing for and what you really need! Our Savior is merciful! More of Him, less of you!

 

Fr. Gabriel Weller 11-17-2019

EASY STREET

“Now there was a certain rich man, and he was clothing himself in purple and fine linen, making merry in splendor every day. [Lk. 16:19] His choice of purple color clothing is associated with royalty. It symbolizes power, nobility, luxury, and ambition. It conveys wealth and extravagance. Purple is associated with wisdom, dignity, and independence. This rich man in the Gospel of St. Luke had it made, he was on easy street, and yet he had absolutely nothing! St. Isaac the Syrian said: “He who is master of possessions is the slave of passions. Do not estimate gold and silver only as possessions, but all things thou possess for the sake of the desire of thy will.” + St. Isaac the Syrian, “Six Treatise on the Behavior of Excellence,” IV, Mystic Treatises By Isaac Of Nineveh

When death came and it will come for us all, all of the rich man’s fine clothing, power, nobility, luxury and ambition had separated him from God and cast him into the torments of Hades. And there, in the absence of God, he finally discovered that he had wasted his time on Earth trying to be a little god instead of submitting his whole life to the One true God who is and ever shall be, and instead of learning how to be a good active Christian.

The rich man, now being tormented, then begged Father Abraham for some cool water and for Lazarus to then go to the house of his father and witness to them so they would choose a different path on Earth before it was too late. But would have that even made a difference? I see people who know better fall away from God more than I would like to admit. What will it take before it is too late?

The path to salvation is not an easy road. It is marred with potholes of struggles against flesh as we try to become a true servant of God and not of this world. For us Orthodox, we chose death to the world of passions through repentance, prayer, church attendance, and servant hood. As Fr. Seraphim Rose wrote: “Orthodoxy is life. If we don’t live Orthodoxy, we simply are not Orthodox, no matter what formal beliefs we might hold.” (Fr. Seraphim Rose)  We simply cannot become lukewarm in our practice, no matter what struggles we are facing!

And for those who have already left this Earth clinging to their purple and fine linen, loving themselves and their things more than others, St. Isaac instructs us: “In the case of all who have passed from this world lacking a virtuous life and having had no faith, be an advocate for them, Lord, for the sake of the body which you took from them, so that from the single united body of the world we may offer up praise to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the kingdom of heaven, an unending source of eternal life.” + St. Isaac the Syrian, from The Prayers of St. Isaac the Syrian

Don’t let the great lying fool trick you into spending the rest of your days parading down easy street possessed by your possessions. “Let us pray that God will give us the grace and humility of Lazarus, so that whatever our condition in life, stressed or blessed, we may be able to say with trust and conviction – “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”  Such is the way of Lazarus, and it is the way of the Saints.”  (Archpriest John Moses)

 

 

Fr. Gabriel Weller 11-3-2019

S-P-A-N-D-E-X

I have heard over the years that when it is nearing time for a wedding, folks fast and try to lose some weight. This is a routine we all do so we will fit our fatter-selves into our wedding garments, less carbs, more fruit, more exercise! Even scientist have developed a fabric to help us with this problem called Lycra or Spandex. We find this fabric woven in to a lot of our clothing these days to allow for weight fluctuation or fat redistribution!

In the parable this morning, the king was angry first in that the chosen people did not come. This wedding was not a priority for them; they obviously were not truly his friends. The king then invited more people, anybody! Folks did come but one man came wearing his filthy Wal-Mart spandex shopping attire instead of a festive wedding garment, he probably had not even bathed! He did not make an effort to prepare himself for this wedding and banquet. The king cast this man out into the outer darkness. [Mt. 22:13] Saint Gregory the Great comments: “It is correctly said that this man is to be cast forth into the darkness, the outer one. We call blindness of heart inner darkness, and the everlasting night of condemnation outer darkness. The condemned are cast into outer, not inner, darkness, because one who fell willingly into blindness of heart in this life will be cast forth unwillingly into the night of condemnation in the next.” [Ib., 350, 351.]

We heard: “The kingdom of the heavens hath been likened to a man, a king, who made wedding festivities for his son. [Mt. 22:2] A great banquet has been prepared for you today by your great King, have you prepared? We hear from Saint Chrysostom: “Great is the punishment for those who have been idle, indifferent, and lazy. For even as those who showed insolence and gave injury by not coming, so also dost thou by thus reclining with a life corrupted. For the meaning of filthy garments is this: to depart hence having an unclean life.” [Ib., P.G. 58:681, 682 (cols. 650, 651).]

Many folks today tell me they are Orthodox but they do not come to the wedding banquet, they always have more important plans! Maybe these folks are more of a friend of the world than they are a true friend of our beckoning King? And when you are consumed with the world you are deathly bloated and in need of Spandex! Where is there any room left for God?  Shower off your earthly dirt in confession and repentance, prepare your heart by reading the pre-communion prayers, prepare your soul by fasting, and cloth yourself in a garment fitting for a great banquet with our King, and most of all, come! You have been invited and He is expecting you to be here!


Fr. Gabriel Weller 9-22-2019

SECURITY BREACH

I have always been fascinated with technology. I enjoy that ever-changing part of my job in the electronic security business. Electronic security has many levels and normally the more money you spend, the higher amount of security you have. Higher levels of security are necessary if you are protecting something of great value or you are in an area with a lot of crime. I can remember a time when even at our home when we didn’t lock the door but now we even plant thorny bushes around accessible windows and bolt lock the doors, arm our professionally installed electronic security system and wave good-bye to my surveillance cameras as I leave the house!

The man in the parable this morning wanted to protect his vineyard. It is a vineyard of great value and lacking nothing. (Matt 21:33-42) He planted a hedge around it to keep the wild animals from destroying his vines and I can picture the wall of greenery and thorns in my mind. We don’t know what type of a hedge our Lord is referring too but Blessed Theophylact abstractly describes this great wall as the Law given to Moses. Saint Ambrose then writes: “Isaiah clearly stated that the vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel [Is. 5:7]. Who else but God founded this vineyard?” [Ib., Bk. IX, § 23.]

God has also given us a vineyard to labor in, lacking nothing! We gentiles have been grafted onto His life-saving vine. It is truly a treasure beyond measure. St. Paul writes: “For I speak to you Gentiles…if the root is holy, so are the branches.  And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you.” (Romans 11:13,16-18)

We wild gentile branches need plenty of water, pruning, protection from the cold and wild animals, fertilizing and many willing workers. The church is His vineyard and we have been given everything necessary for an enormous harvest. As King David says: ‘Perfect for Thyself this vine which Thy right hand did plant’ [Ps. 79(80):15, 16(14, 15)]. We do not want to be wicked vine-keepers neglecting this most precious gift. We want to nurture ourselves and protect that which is holy through transforming our freedom in the world to a freedom from death and decay.  

A security breach happens when we fail to protect His vineyard and some of our plants die to the frost of coldness of heart, lacking to love each other as Christ loves us! Some vines are ripped from the fertile soil by wild beasts of worldly seduction and self-satisfaction. Some of His fruit are baked in the heat, thirsting for His nourishing Word but yet our Bibles remained closed, gathering dust and we then make excuses not to come to church. We neglect to stomp out all of our passions that act like wretched insects devouring our greenery. It is a necessary process to perfect His vine so that it will yield a heavy crop, protecting it with a divine rampart of protection. There of course is a great expense for this high level of protection, you have to surrender your life and all that you are. You then have to enlist in His army of prayer warriors and be diligent with the time you have left seeking first the Kingdom of heaven! And remember, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.” (Matt 7:19-20)

Fr. Gabriel Weller 9-15-2019

BLUE RIBBON

At the recent county fair, there are several buildings dedicated to house the blue ribbon award winning pickles, pies, quilts, sewing, photographs, paintings, pigs, cattle, chickens, woodworking, you name it!! Folks from all around the area bring their best animal, works or crafts to the fair to compete with their neighbors to see who has entered the most prized works and will be judged the most perfect! These folks worked hard to achieve their blue ribbon.

We heard in the Gospel this morning about an even greater prize: “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” [Mt. 19:16] The rich young man asks our Lord if he is doing enough to be awarded the ultimate prize of heaven. There is a difference being a rich man rather than a good steward. Blessed Theophylact makes a clear distinction between thetwo. A rich man is one who has funds, and properties, and lands, and houses, and he gives to no one. He steals: He is a thief, because he is stealing from the poor. A steward is a person who has substance also. He has money; He might have land and have houses, but he also has mercy and shares his riches with the poor. Then he is a good steward of his wealth.

The young man had virtues and a strong inclination to abide by the law and he had worked hard. But he also had a love of things more than his love for God. He did not understand that everything he had is God’s and seemed to covet his possessions! There is certainly not a thing wrong with having wealth, but there is a thing wrong with being stingy!  If we chose to be comfortable and have all kinds of toys but we chose not to tithe our church and help the poor and those suffering from tragedies, we will briefly enjoy the wealth of the world but our soul will sink in the depth of poverty where the worms never cease. (Mark 9:48)

Some of us also struggle with attachment to things. We over extend our budgets in pursuit of material things we believe will bring us happiness and starve the poor and the needy and only give what is left-over to our church and His ministry. We have trained ourselves to serve an idol, a demi-god which is increasing our vanity in the world and making our salvation harder to obtain. We have become rich with stuff but lost the ultimate prize! Sometimes we get so obsessed with stuff and that buzz we get when we purchase something; it seems almost as an award for ourselves, for our efforts. Some of these demi-gods of stuff consume our precious time as well replacing our prayer time with hell. The thief uses our attachment to things to get his foot wedged squarely in the door as an unwanted intruder, ready to harm us and our families and steal our salvation!

We remember the profit Malachi saying: “Bring the entire tithe into the storehouse so that there may be food in my temple. Test me in this matter,” says the Lord who rules over all, “to see if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until there is no room for it all. (Malachi 3:10) And also our Lord’s parable in St. Luke: And he spoke a parable to them, saying, “The land of a certain rich man produced well. “And he was considering within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, because I have no room where I shall gather together my fruit?’ “And he said, ‘This will I do: I will take down my storehouses and build greater ones; and there will I gather together all my produce and my good things. “‘And I will say to my soul, “Soul, thou hast many good things being laid up for many years; be taking thy rest; eat, drink, and be merry.”’ “But God said to him, ‘Fool, this night they demand thy soul from thee; and what thou didst prepare, for whom shall it be?’ “Thus is the one who treasureth up for himself, and is not rich toward God.” [Lk 12:16-21]

So where is that line of division that separates putting away for our future retirement and being a poor steward? The ability to define the difference between ownership and stewardship is one of the hardest lessons to understand. Each and every one of us is unique and has been given free will of all of God’s creation. But our time here is limited and everything here is on loan from the Creator. Give Him His tithe and prove that you can be a good steward of talents and He will increase you. Our tithe is our best offering first, our blue ribbon achievement, with total trust in He who created it all, and we will always have enough for our families and for our future. And in that pursuit with our very best effort and His abundant grace we remember: “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” [Mt. 19:26]

 

Fr. Gabriel Weller 9-7-2019