Sermon – The Fourth Sunday of Great Lent 2021
The Fourth Sunday of Great Lent
By V. Rev. Timothy Baclig
April 11, 2021
If Great Lent is to become a means of spiritual transformation before the time of the forty days ends we must ask ourselves some serious questions if we have not yet made a commitment to allowing the Lenten season to become a time of renewal for us as Orthodox Christians. One important question is: What is God’s greatest challenge to me. Another is: What am I willing to reasonably do? Do I truly desire to do begin doing things differently?
Often our response to these questions is like the disciples in today’s Gospel, who without prayer and fasting were weak in spiritual power. However, it would help us to think of fasting in terms of what not only pertains to food—what we eat, but also our time management, or the use of our talents and skills, as well as our resources.
Each and every day, you and I are challenged to take control of the passions of our life: those things that become the stumbling blocks and distractions in our quest for God’s Kingdom. It could be an obsession, an addiction, or compulsive behavior. We are unable to controlling any of our passions without first accepting responsibility for our failings and our weaknesses. This cannot be done with a nonchalant attitude. After accepting responsibility for our failings and weaknesses we must also identify what is a sin; what hinders or even breaks our relationship or communion with God and with others. This means recognizing that it is wrong and acknowledging that it must end. In doing so, we must also be determined in doing our best not to perpetuate sinful actions or to entertain temptations. We must also not be discouraged by our weaknesses or failures. For some sins it may require more time to overcome. For that reason a person may choose to abstain from the Sacrament but not in church attendance.
We learn from behavioral psychology that it takes thirty days for a habit to be broken or for a new habit to be established. Thirty days, however is only a plateau in one’s recovery. When we struggle with a vice or any sin, we must make a very conscious and intentional effort of seeking to find God’s perspective when we acknowledge that something is wrong. This effort must be prompted and motivated by our love for God. It is a purposeful attempt to seek God’s higher objective for our life and then to commit ourselves to positive action. Any successful recovery involves being aware of the influences of: 1) the people in our lives, 2) the places and environment of our choosing, and 3) the things that we find ourselves dependent upon. Our aim must be: a positive affect with the support of good influences, which may involve our friends and loved ones; to be a good husband or wife, parent, godparent, teacher, employer, model and example.
We each choose whether to be an encouragement or discouragement to others; of support or neglect, a stronghold of faith, or of no faith. This also means that we must be very selective in who we are trusting in sharing our personal thoughts with. Not everyone is a “confidant.” But every person who keeps his or her sanity confesses. It may be a hairdresser, a psychologist, a therapist, a good friend, a teacher, a parent, an employer, a classmate, or a priest! The Sacrament of Confession with a priest in the church, however, is unique. A good Confession in the Holy Sacrament brings “closure” to our resolve with the Prayer of Absolution and is prescribed by the Church for our healing. It is culminated in the Sacrament of Holy Communion: “…for the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting.”
We find many examples in the Bible of people who knew what they had to do and simply did it. One is of four men who, while facing obstacles, were determined to bring a paralytic man to the Lord for healing (Luke 5:17-26). They took action upon the need of the paralyzed man and helped brought him to the Lord. Another example is Jesus’ encounter with the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-15). When Jesus asked the man if he wanted to get well, the man who only had excuses, responded with great pessimism: 1) Others go ahead of me, 2) I have no one to help me, and 3) I cannot be healed. Three negatives which only resulted in no results.
Life’s most difficult challenges require bold and courageous steps. Faith is the spark of hope and love is the energy that moves one to act. A serious desire or a good intention is never enough to achieve results. When you or I say that I don’t feel motivated, we surrender ourselves to our condition and circumstances. Waiting for something to move us or waiting for someone to do something for us is to concede helplessness. In some cases it is a sign of self-centeredness and unwillingness to accept responsibility. It can also be failure to recognize one’s calling.
God’s promise to Abraham (mentioned in today’s epistle) was not a promise without Abraham’s obedience. In other words, God’s promise to Abraham was based upon Abraham’s faithfulness. The same could be said about the Holy Virgin Mary who was chosen because of her choice to obey God.
The boy with the evil spirit in today’s Gospel lesson was helpless. Reading further, we find that the boy’s father was also helpless. Hear his words to Jesus: “…if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” Can you hear his desperation? To paraphrase the father’s cried: “If you can in fact do something, let me see that you care, and please do something to help us.” To which Jesus responded: “If you can?” “Everything is possible for him who believes.” Now notice what the next words of the boy’s father were: “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief.” Sincerity is the point where positive action has its best chance. However, being sincere begins with the choice of being humble.
Today’s gospel lesson is only the beginning of what was to become the Disciple’s greatest challenge. The passage in Mark’s Gospel continues: (Jesus) said to (his disciples), “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.” (verses 31b-32) “…they did not understand… and were afraid…” Such was also the case after the crucifixion when the Disciples ran away to hide.
Fear can be one’s greatest enemy. Fear also can become something far greater than the infliction of a disease. However, we are told that “There is no fear in love” (I John 4:18) and “Perfect love drives out fear”. Such love was the supreme sacrifice by our Lord on the Cross. St. John Climacus said, “Fear [appears] if love ever departs, for the man with no fear is either filled with love or is dead in spirit” (p. 287).
O Christ our God, in faith and love we draw near to Thee with grateful hearts for your mercy and the forgiveness of our sins. O Holy Spirit, guide us in the way of salvation that we may overcome our fears by seeing the Cross of Christ our God, and glorify His Holy Resurrection!