Wednesday, October 2, 2019

A Worshiping Eucharistic Community is Evangelism

Dear Friends,

On Sunday our sermon was about Evangelism. This is because the Great Commandment was central to the daily gospel reading and it seemed like a good time to address this crucial topic in that venue. You can see the sermon here if you didn’t get a chance to hear it on Sunday:

It is important for us reach out to others via our example of having Christ abiding within us. So first and foremost – we must work on our own salvation if we hope to attract others to Christ. In fact, I would argue, the most important part of Evangelism is not focusing on intake (physically bringing new people into the parish), but on inner life – the inner life of each of our parishioners and the inner life of our parish as a whole. In order for people to STAY once they visit they need to find Christ abiding within. Within each one of us, and within our community. That is not to say we are going to put Evangelism on hold until we get this 100% right! That is to say, we need to spiritually walk and chew gum at the same time – we need to work on ourselves and our community while, AT THE SAME TIME, we are inviting others to join us.

Struggle is central to the Christian life. Success only comes before work in the dictionary. I know people don’t like it when I say that. I’m not sure why. That saying applies to me too. Maybe people don’t like it because it is so true and so contrary to the prevailing winds in our society. I’m not sure. It doesn’t matter. Whether we like that saying or not it is true and everyone knows it. :) We need to work. We need to struggle spiritually NOT JUST FOR OURSELVES, but for the good of those that we will influence. That is right – salvation is not just about our own reward – it is about how we can bring others to Christ too through our example. Theosis is not something that is ever finished. We don’t transform ourselves into the sons and daughters of God and then take a break for the rest of our lives! We LIVE our faith, hopefully in a more Christian way every day. And that process of struggle is attractive to others. If we invite people to join us and they find a bunch of “perfect people” in the spiritual hospital they are going to be discouraged. “How can I become perfect like these people here?” But thank God – I know that I have a long way to go to get to perfection and I suspect I am not the only one.

So let us struggle for our transfiguration in Christ! And as we do, others will visit the spiritual hospital which is the Holy Church and see that this is a place of struggle, but also of healing imbued with God’s love. For in the spiritual hospital we find the only true healing from the Physician of our Souls, our Lord Jesus Christ. Through our personal struggle we will inspire others to join us in the spiritual hospital. So the point is not that we don’t do Evangelism until we are all perfect – we do it by STRIVING for that perfection. That is the personal side of Evangelism – the seeking of salvation for ourselves, and through that process, helping others with their struggle for salvation.

Let’s now talk a little bit about how we move ourselves closer to the definition of a parish according to the Mission Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church. A parish is, according to that document, a worshiping eucharistic community with God as the center and the faithful gathered around God’s altar, helping each other spiritually to attain salvation. For as we’ve said many times: we are saved in community and we perish alone. If then, we are striving to live this definition – EVEN IF WE NEVER PERFECTLY ATTAIN IT – others will want to join us. Why? Because that is what a parish has been since the time of the Apostles. We’re not making stuff up here! We are not doing something new! We are trying to live out the lives that Christians have always lived in community. That is a strategy that has brought new people to Christ by the hundreds and thousands since the Apostles went out to preach! We don’t need to reinvent the wheel here – but we do need to use the wheel that we’ve been given. Odd metaphor, yes, but let’s let it play out and see if it is helpful for us.

1. Worshiping: we do pretty good here by some standards. We serve a lot of services and a lot of folks participate in those services. We could do better however, and we should challenge ourselves in this regard. First – we don’t have nearly enough people who attend the evening services on a regular basis. The Vigil is not for the clergy – it is for the community! And it is the MOST educational of all the Divine Services. If you want to learn about your faith you can learn the most at the Vigil. If you plan to partake of Holy Communion then you NEED to be at the evening services the day before. That is the time to confess – not on Sunday morning. We allow folks to confess on Sunday morning out of economy – we understand that not everyone can get there for Vigil. But can almost no one get there? Not by a long shot. We should not be lazy here – but we are. We must be honest. And as for worthily preparing oneself to partake of Holy Communion, attending the evening services is a crucial piece of this. If you just can’t make it then please join us on our LIVE STREAM. But if you just don’t feel like, or it just isn’t convenient – then push yourself to do it and get there. Vigil is not optional! AND ALSO: we’ve got to do a better job of being to Divine Liturgy on time. I get it – if we started at 8:00 a.m. folks would trickle in. But we start at 10:00 a.m.! You get yourself to work and your kids to school by 8:00 a.m. every weekday. We visibly show that we don’t have God’s house as a high priority in our lives by coming late to Liturgy. Of course that will happen occasionally. But the church is not usually full until half way through the service. How would it work if the clergy came half way through the service? :) Remember: the clergy are not some special class of Christians. We are Christians just like you. Our ministry is mostly worked out in ordained ministry, but that doesn’t mean we are better! We come early to the services and frankly speaking so should everyone else. And if you aren’t there by the time of the reading of the gospel it really isn’t appropriate to partake of Holy Communion. WE DO WELL HERE BY SOME STANDARDS – but we can do better. And in order to really do Evangelism well we need to do better.

2. Eucharistic: we do pretty well here I would have to say. Many people partake of Holy Communion regularly in our parish. Thank God for that! Usually it is about 50% of those present for Divine Liturgy. That is good. But we could do better. Not by expecting those who regularly partake to partake more often, but by expecting those who rarely partake to partake more often. How often we partake of Holy Communion is an intimate question. There is not really a right or a wrong, but we should all strive to partake AT LEAST monthly, if not more often. Many people partake more often – but many partake very rarely. Let us encourage our parishioners to worthily partake of Holy Communion more often so that our witness to those we are evangelizing will be even better than it already is. “Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.” (John 6:54-56)

3 Community: we also do pretty well here. But we could do better. Our Greeter Ministry is a mess. We have one poor person struggling to welcome people while trying to take care of her family too. That is just silly! Where are our greeters!? This is the first and simplest piece of Evangelism: welcome visitors. Challenge yourself dear friends! And if greeting isn’t your thing, then pick one or two other ministries that you can help with from this list:

Everyone should have one or two things on this list that they participate in regularly and actively! Our Christian lives are a struggle. Not a struggle to avoid doing our fair share so that others are killed for having to pick up the slack from our laziness. Not that kind of struggle. A struggle to minister to others in the name of Christ. This is how we live out the gospel in our lives – by serving others in the name of Christ. “ For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45) If we bear the name of Christ, that is, if we call ourselves “Christians” then we emulate Christ in this way: we minister to others. Our Volunteer Opportunities give you that chance. That crucial part of bringing the Liturgy into our lives outside the Liturgy. We need this! And this is why we give you these opportunities. Yes – we need help to do all that needs to be done as a parish. But YOU need the opportunity to live the gospel message. And when we all do that as a community our Evangelism will be incredibly strong! And when we don’t – our Evangelism will be weak because it will be hollow. Just like telling our kids not to do something and then doing it ourselves. “Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.” (James 2:18) WE NEED TO SHOW – TO LIVE – OUR FAITH BY OUR WORKS. The work of living the gospel. Then we will fully be a Community as envisioned by the definition of what a parish is.

There is a financial piece to this too. “Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, ...” (I Corinthians 16:2) Supporting the parish is not an option if we want to call ourselves Christians. It has always been the case that those who can support do support. If you are destitute then know that you will find help here. But few of our folks are destitute. It is a matter of priorities – and we speak our priorities very loudly by how we choose to spend the 100% of our income that the Lord has blessed us with. He asks us to give Him back 10% for His House, the Holy Church. We won’t berate the point here. Please have a look at this page to learn more – but please do not forget – part of Evangelism is making sure that God’s House is in good financial order:

Evangelism is sharing the gospel with those who do not know it. But in order to share it we must fully embrace it ourselves. We have many positive aspects of this life in our parish now, but we all need to work on ourselves and our parish in order to be an example to those that we invite and who find us on their own. The news is good: we are moving in the right direction. And the news is good: we still have some struggle to get to where we need to go. And the news is good: if we continue to work on ourselves personally and on our community corporately the Lord will continue to bless us. And the news is good: we all know now that Evangelism is important and that doing nothing is not Evangelism. Doing nothing is not an option. Unless we want a museum for a parish. But I don’t think anyone wants that. I certainly don’t! We are called to be alive in Christ – not to preserve the past for the sake of the past. Museums are important! But parishes that are museums die. That is not why we have joined ourselves to this vibrant Christian Community – our St. Vladimir parish!

Let us thank God that He allows us to progress and that He allows us to continue to struggle! And if any of the words above pricked your conscience: thank God! The priest’s job is to challenge. Why? Because Christianity is a challenge. God’s challenge to us to not just be a good semi-pagan, but to be transformed into His sons and daughters. That takes work and we have to be challenged to do that work. Otherwise we’ll just waste the valuable time the Lord has given in this life – the time He has given us to work out our salvation. This is why we are given life – so that God might share His love with us. Let us put Him first and get to work in that regard. If we do – we’re going to have to redesign that new church – it is going to be WAY TOO SMALL!

In Christ,

Fr. Gregory

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