Sermon – The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost 2019
The Tenth Sunday of Matthew
By V. Rev. Timothy Baclig
August 25, 2019
You and I, from time to time, discover that our life’s journey may include overcoming many obstacles. Some of them can be described as “mountains” that may seem insurmountable.
In today’s Gospel lesson we hear Jesus say to the disciples: …if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible to you…
It would be very easy to focus upon this one verse of today’s Gospel lesson in such a way that Bible verse can be used as a tool in achieving something we want, something which may appear impossible to attain, something we have our heart set on. All too often Bible verses are used in this way; like using a magical formula in difficult situations. While there is nothing wrong about doing so, and while something we desire and want for ourselves may in fact be acquired, it is important to understand that all of the scriptural verses of the Bible, especially those that we love to read or quote, are embedded within a greater context that provide for us a deeper understanding of our Holy Orthodox Faith. The subject of our personal faith, however, happens to be the central point of today’s lesson.
The conversation that Jesus has with His disciples in today’s lesson is based upon their questioning Him regarding why there were unable to heal a boy suffering from epilepsy. Jesus’ response at first sounds like a contradiction: He begins saying “Because you have so little faith” (v. 20). He goes on to say: “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed… nothing will be impossible to you” (vs. 20-21). The point being that it is not the quantity or volume of one’s faith that makes the difference. However verse 21 (not recorded in the New Testament Greek text, but the older Aramaic text), and heard in today’s reading reveals the following words: “But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”
It is not by accident that this lesson occurs during a time when we are within a period of prayer and fasting. It highlights the fact that having faith, or even as some would say, “being a positive thinker” or “being an optimist” is not the whole story. An earnest devotion and an intense desire for God with the discipline of prayer and abstinence are, at times, essential components for a transformation of one’s life.
We live in a time when desiring God - having Him as an intimate part of a person’s life is not something as common as it once was. Because: 1) people’s lives are busy and often preoccupied; 2) Doubt and pessimism is is pervasive in our day: “God, if He exists…,” is in the minds of many, unfortunately, even when tragedies hit. Do you know why? We live in “godless times” when people’s ideologies have been influenced by secular thought. And so the fact is: If you and I want our children and grandchildren to know and to love God, our lives have to reflect our own living relationship with Him.
So why do some still seek to have God (Christ) and their participation in the church as an essential part of their life? And why does it matter to be baptized, married or buried in the church? Is it something we do to please our parents? It is because the Orthodox Church provides a beautiful ceremony? In many cases this is true. However, there should be much more inasmuch as it pertains to what we believe personally.
During the ministry of Jesus extortionists and harlots were transformed into new men and women of the Kingdom. Zacchaeus was liberated from his life of greed. Mary Magdalene was freed from guilt. The disciples, who at times, were weak and cowardly, became fearless witnesses of Christ. There are numerous examples in the New Testament that testify to men and women who by God’s grace and mercy experienced the “mountains” and heavy burdens of sin, guilt, sickness, and fear lifted from their life. Christ’s promise to all was: “Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads and I will give you rest” (Mt. 11:28). And again: “In the world you will suffer. But be brave! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33)!
Perhaps one of the best examples of the power of faith is the remarkable change of St. Paul, who was first called Saul: the relentless enemy of Christ who became a great apostle. The raging hatred was exhibited by Saul replaced by a burning love of God in Christ from which nothing could ever separate him (Rom. 8:38-39). He was newly named Paul, and the former persecutor of the Church became its greatest missionary. The power of faith behind St. Paul’s new life and amazing mission is summed up with these words: “It is no longer I who life, but it is Christ who lives in me. This life that I live now, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave His life for me (Gal. 2:20).
This transformation is often misunderstood. To be more like Christ and to allow the likeness of Christ to shine through in our life does not mean a diminishing of our personhood, only the putting aside of our egos. It is rediscovering our humanity, and in doing so, learning to be truly repentant and thereby to become “truly human.” Desiring God has to do with our need for healing and the forgiveness of sins.
Similarly the image that is presented in today’s Gospel speaking of mountains as great obstacles—is not so much the physical mountains, but the great burdens that weigh heavily on us; those great, or what we might consider: insurmountable challenges in our lives. In the case of the Apostles, their lack of faith or powerlessness was directly related to their lack of prayer and fasting. And concerning prayer and the practice of abstinence, it is important that we not overlook an aspect of prayer that involves our need to repent, and in some ways, our need to “let go” of those things that we often think are so important and so necessary, which actually are precisely the things that are the stumbling blocks, if not the “mountains” in our life. Those things that actually separate us from God!
Throughout my years in the priesthood, over and over again, I hear the stories our faithful whose lives were shaped by the lives of their parents and grandparents, Godparents and teachers – people of faith who did not hide or create a façade for any of their struggles and difficulties. They were men and women who were unafraid of being human. Consequently, they allowed God to be God and never presumed to be in-charge of everything. They were hard working people; people with a lot of passion and love for all that they did for the benefit of their children and grandchildren. If you ever had the opportunity as I have to observe and spend time talking to them, these were men and women, met every personal challenge with a deep faith and trust in God.
We are blessed to have some still among us who have a wonderful story to tell. Their stories are always with a lot of laughter and great joy—that are the true evidence of their faith and love of God; and most importantly, their humanness. They understand that the best joys in life are the simplest and least complicated and yes, the best gifts are the gifts that are of the heart.
Today our expectation is for instantaneous change. It is the reason why our Lord’s words in today’s lesson sounds so easy; like a simple pressing of the delete button on our computers. But this is not how it works for ourselves spiritually. Just think of the hours, the months, and years it takes for an Olympic athlete to achieve what they have. Do you think that any of their accomplishments were attained by memorizing or relying upon verses of scripture? Perhaps. But do you think that that was all that was necessary for them to be successful? And even in being successful, what do you suppose is eternal about their achievement? What do you think that their awards and medals will always remain with them? No. It is who they have become. It is what they mean to all of us who they represent. It is what all of that time and effort, personal sacrifice and discipline did in helping them to be who they are.
You parents, grandparents, stepparents, foster parents Godparents have so much to give your children and grandchildren. I am not talking about your material things; not the material gifts that pass away, no. They are the gifts of your story; the gifts of your life and experience, the lessons of faith that help them to understand and truly believe and grow from all that are good, truthful, honest and praiseworthy. Don’t kid yourself or believe the half truths of accomplishing anything on your own! Your children love you and respect you. They need you; and today more young people are returning to live at home. Don’t worry about being technologically challenged. Those computers, iPhones and iPads don’t have an ounce of blood in them. They will never become a substitute for a mother, father or godparent. Don’t miss the opportunity to help your children through your love to receive the best and most valuable building blocks for their lives and their future. It may be precisely that grain of mustard seed that will help them to move mountains!
O Holy God, who rests in the Holy Place, Thou who was transfigured before Thy disciples on Mount Tabor, we your servants are mindful of our need to amend our lives. As we face the great or insurmountable mountains in our lives we call upon Thee knowing that we are unable in and of our own strength to command them to be removed. We beseech Thee, hear us, and be a help and aid to us that we may be transfigured by your great light. And by your illumination, grant us faith to persevere in facing what you have prepared for us as the way of salvation. For Thou art the illumination of our souls and bodies, O Christ, our God and unto Thee do we ascribe glory together with Thy Father who is unoriginate and Thine all Holy good and Life-giving Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. A-men.