Church is Here to Help Heal
Church is Here to Help Heal (State of the Parish Address, 12-3-2017)
Today we will have our annual parish assembly meeting to review our programs and ministries, and set the budget for next year. Parish assemblies can be a little anxiety-provoking because we tend to worry about money. Will there be enough to meet the budget? Can we afford this, can we afford that? Certainly, we need to be practical and prudent but most of all we need to be faithful to God. In the world, we are surrounded by so many people and things that influence us to minimize God’s role in our life, perhaps even doubt His existence and His great love for us.
Therefore, let us prepare ourselves for our meeting today by focusing on the Gospel reading we just heard. In the 14th Sunday of Luke (18:35-43), the blind man of Jericho sat by the road begging (v.35). When he hears a great crowd passing by, he inquires as to what is happening (v.36). They tell the blind man that Jesus of Nazareth is passing by (v.37). The man must have known of Jesus’ fame for healing people because he immediately cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (v.38). When some of the people tried to quiet/shush him, the blind man cried out even louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” (v.39). Jesus heard the blind man’s cry and gave orders that he be brought to Him (v.40). Then, Jesus does something interesting. He asks the blind man a question, “What do you want Me to do for you?” (v.41).
My brothers and sisters, here is the key to our relationship with our parish community, especially as we chart its future course today in the parish assembly meeting. The Church is the Body of Christ! (1Corinthians 12:27) and each one of us is a member of the Body. Thus, Christ is asking each one of us today, and every day for that matter, “What do you want Me to do for you?” In other words, “What do you want Me, the Church, to do for you?” Think about that. The question is meant for us to look deep within ourselves to determine our true motivations for why we are here at St. George Greek Orthodox Church.
When Jesus poses the question to the blind man in the Gospel, how does the man respond? He tells Jesus, “Lord, that I may receive my sight.” (v.41). In other words, “Lord, I want you to heal me.” Healing, therapy, curing of illnesses and sicknesses—that’s why we should be here--to receive healing and to give healing. Now, when we think of illnesses and sicknesses, our mind immediately goes to physical maladies, some are minor like arthritis and some are much more serious like cancer. But how many of us actually approach Christ in the Church for physical healing? How many of us ask the priest (who is the living icon of Christ in the parish community) to pray for us and anoint us with the Sacrament of Holy Unction? “What do you want Me to do for you?”
Even more important than physical illnesses are spiritual illnesses. The blind man is an image or a symbol of a person whose mind, heart and soul has been blinded by sin and the passions. We may be in relatively good physical health but all of us are touched, to one degree or another, by spiritual illnesses. The passions are the good, natural inclinations that have become distorted and perverted within us. They include pride, greed/avarice, anger/wrath, jealousy/envy, lust, gluttony, and sloth/laziness. The passions can cause us to sin both in what we say and what we do. Taking the Lord’s name in vain, not honoring our parents, taking another life, committing adultery and fornication, stealing, and lying are well known in the Ten Commandments. Gossip, verbal, emotional, physical and sexual abuse are also very serious.
Do we even take the time to do a self-examination to see the symptoms of our spiritual illnesses? And if we become aware of them, what do we do about them? Do we go to Christ in the Church and ask for forgiveness, partaking in the Sacrament of Confession with the priest? “What do you want Me to do for you?”
When the blind man told Jesus that he wanted to receive his sight, “Jesus said to him, ‘Receive your sight; your faith has made you well’” (v.42). Our faith, our deep abiding trust in God, is what brings healing, for both body and soul. Faith is what enables our community to bring healing to others. People talk all the time about why certain persons are less active, or no longer active in church, or they go to a different parish. I assert that the main reason, no matter what anyone else says, is because their faith in God has faltered. They might say it’s something else but if one really digs deep, this is the primary cause—lack of sufficient trust in our Lord.
The reason I say that is because it is we who confine or restrict the role of Jesus Christ and the Church in our life, not the other way around. If we do not even bother to attend Divine Liturgy and other worship services, if we do not come regularly for Holy Unction, Holy Confession and the Holy Eucharist, is it not we ourselves who limit Christ and the Church in our life? You have heard me speak many times about these issues but I do it to raise awareness that these are some of the basic symptoms of spiritual illness.
If we come late and miss most of the Divine Liturgy, but we are here on time for Holy Communion, we’ve turned the Church into a drive-through spiritual McDonalds. If mainly come for Sunday School, we’ve limited the Church to just that--a school. If we mainly come for Greek School, Greek dancing, Festival of Nations and the Greek Festival, we’ve limited the Church to an ethnic club. If we mainly come for fellowship hour or other community gatherings, we’ve limited the Church to a social club. If we mainly come to do Loaves and Fishes or FOCUS, then we’ve limited the Church to a social service agency. If we mainly come do discuss the financials at parish assemblies, then we’ve limited the Church to a business. Sunday School, Greek School, Greek Festival, fellowship, missions and benevolence, are not bad evil things. However, like our good human desires that get distorted to become passions that lead us away from Christ, the same can happen with good ministries and programs of the parish community.
The Church itself, as the Body of Christ, is not limited. For Christ Himself said the gates of hell would not prevail against it (Mt.16:18). However, the role that the Church plays in our life, and our role in the life of the Church, can be limited by us if we are not careful. In addition, if the number of parishioners who impose these limits reaches a critical mass, then the local parish will begin to contract its presence in everyone’s life, because it will not have the support necessary to bring healing. The ministries that are near and dear to us will also be put at risk too because everything starts right here at the Holy Altar, the Iero, and radiates outward from here. Diminishing God’s Holy Altar leads to self-destruction of the parish church. This is the warning given by the Prophet Zephanias, whom we commemorate today (Dec.3rd). “What do you want Me to do for you?”
After the blind man was healed by Christ, he began to follow Christ, glorifying God. And all the people who witnessed the healing, when they saw it, gave praise to God (v.43). Receiving healing, giving healing, following Christ, glorifying and praising God—this is what our life should be all about. There is a reason and a rationale for the order of the Ten Commandments that God gave to the people of Israel through Moses. The first four form the foundation of the other six and the rest of the Law. 1) I am the Lord your God and you shall have no other gods before Me, 2) You shall not make any graven image (in other words, don’t worship man-made things), 3) You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain (in other words, keep God holy, sacred and special in your life), 4) Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. The Sabbath for Christians is Sunday, ‘Kyriake’ - the Day of the Lord. Is it holy for us? How is it holy? If our relationship is with God is our first priority, then our relationships with our family, friends, neighbors and enemies will be healthy and whole. What do you want Me to do for you? Amen!