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