23rd Sunday after Pentecost
Ephesians 2:4-10 / Luke 16:19-31
The Gospel for this Sunday tells us the story of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man, who had every earthly luxury was blinded by his illusion of self-sufficiency and gave no thought toward God or toward others… leaving poor Lazarus to lie begging at his gates.
Both men soon died… Lazarus was taken up to heaven, to the bosom of Abraham, and the rich man found himself in the torments of hell. After such a life of importance and wealth, the rich man takes nothing of his luxuries beyond the grave and, isn’t it interesting to note that history does not even remember his name! What a shock awaited him when the thin veil of this earthly life was torn away from his eyes! The treasures that he laid up for himself on earth were worthless to him now… and even less than worthless, for they hung like lead weights that pulled him down into the very depths of hell. Now that the veil of life was lifted, he could finally see the reality of the spiritual life, of the eternal life of the soul.
In his despair he pleaded that his kinsmen might be forewarned so that they could understand and make repentance while they still had breath. But Abraham replied that even if one were to rise from the dead, they would not be persuaded to change their ways.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ!... This Gospel message speaks directly to our hearts! We live in the wake of One Who has indeed risen from the dead. Christ has risen from the dead and yet do we heed the word of God and the good news of the Gospel?
Do we understand the reality of spiritual life and the eternal life of the soul? We must strive to live our life in the context of eternity, in the knowledge and awareness of the One Who has risen from the dead. Remembering God at all times is one of the surest ways to refrain from sin and to not deaden ourselves to the needs of others.
Cultivating an active awareness of the presence of God is essential if we are to live our lives with our spiritual eyes open. How will we treat each other if we’re aware of the presence of God? How will we behave in all aspects of our life if we’re aware of the presence of God? How will we treat our spouse, our children, our co-workers, our fellow parishioners, and every soul that we might meet?
This is the great mystery and the great key of our life! God is present. He is not a distant Observer from afar, He is everywhere present and fillest all things and He gives us life out of the abundance of His love, that we may be transfigured and raised up together through the abundance of His love.
As the Apostle Paul writes in today’s Epistle, God has “raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
My dear brothers and sisters of St Herman’s… the messages of today’s Gospel and Epistle readings give us a clear picture of what we must be as a church.
It is through the Church that God makes Himself most perfectly present. In living the life of the Church we experience the reality of the One Who indeed rose from the dead, giving us the Gospel message of repentance and salvation. And it is in the Church that God makes Himself present through the grace and mystery of the Sacraments… those soul healing medicines which unite us to Christ and to one another.
Let us love our Church for what is truly is… the precious place where God makes Himself most intimately present!
The Apostle Paul speaks today about how we are raised up together and made to sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. This is our mission as a Church – to support each other, to pray for one another, to co-suffer with each other – and in so doing, to be raised up together, and to ‘show the exceeding riches of God’s grace and His kindness towards us in Christ Jesus.’
As I stand here today, as your priest and your servant… this is my prayer for our parish… that we may be raised up together in our realization and appreciation for the great mercy and love which God bestows upon us. That we may participate in the life of grace in Christ… We do this by entering into and taking upon ourselves those divine attributes of God – His mercy, His compassion, His patience, His love.
It is providential that we have these readings on this day when we have our Annual Parish Meeting, where we will talk about the business and health of our church. This is the hallmark of a healthy church – that it is a place filled with the love and the grace of God and that within her, we may be raised up together to the heavenly places of Christ Jesus. May God grant us this vision and understanding… from that love will flow our fidelity to our Orthodox faith, our zeal in striving to follow the commandments of Christ, and all good things profitable to our souls.