[Weekly - Su/M] What did you learn/teach at church?

Yesterday's sermon at our church was on the early church and specifically what it can teach about church planting today. Our interim pastor focused on the church at Antioch as described in Acts 11:19-30:

The Church in Antioch
19 Those who had been scattered as a result of the persecution that started because of Stephen made their way as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, speaking the message to no one except Jews. 20 But there were some of them, Cypriot and Cyrenian men, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Hellenists,[a][b] proclaiming the good news about the Lord Jesus. 21 The Lord’s hand was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord. 22 Then the report about them was heard by the church that was at Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to travel[c] as far as Antioch. 23 When he arrived and saw the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged all of them to remain true to the Lord with a firm resolve of the heart, 24 for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And large numbers of people were addedto the Lord. 25 Then he[d] went to Tarsus to search for Saul, 26 and when he found him he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught large numbers. The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch.

Famine Relief
27 In those days some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch.28 Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and predicted by the Spirit that there would be a severe famine throughout the Roman world.[e] This took place during the time of Claudius.[f] 29 So each of the disciples, according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brothers who lived in Judea. 30 They did this, sending it to the elders by means of Barnabas and Saul.
Continuing in the You, Me, and Family series, this weekend's sermon was on Marriage and Romance. Sermon wasn't just for married folks, of course. It was really good. Embed as always!

Good stuff thx for posting! I don't always watch the videos, but I watched this one. I never really thought of the Single life as a time for preparation for Marriage in that way. Great inspiration!
This week was Marriage and Money. Spectre-6 was fussier than usual, so we weren't able to catch as much of it (by ability to hear or ability to focus) as we'd like. But, as usual, here's an embed!

Our interim pastor taught on the 3 "lost" parables in Luke 15 (the missing sheep, the missing coin, and the prodigal son). He taught on what the 3 parables had in common as well as what was different. He offered some fresh perspective on the parable of the prodigal son and highlighted the elder son's failures, both in terms of actions and attitude.
Yesterday was Parenting and Children. Comically, I wasn't able to actually listen (listening to the video now) because I had to hang out in the hall to take care of a fussy Spectre-6 while my wife was working in kids ministry. haha

Our interim pastor taught on 1 Thessalonians 5:16-19 this past Sunday and expounded on the commands, "Rejoice always," "pray without ceasing," and "in everything, give thanks."

This week was Marriage and Money. Spectre-6 was fussier than usual, so we weren't able to catch as much of it (by ability to hear or ability to focus) as we'd like. But, as usual, here's an embed!

I keep looking at the misspelling in the title of the video (no worries, @Kendrik, you spelled marriage correctly in your post) and I think my right eye just started twitching. :|
hahaha... I even told the guy who's responsible for media about the typo; he said he fixed it. Guess not. :p
Our interim pastor taught on 2 Corinthians 9:6-14 this morning. It's a text that I'd sometimes heard twisted to the speaker's ends in a previous church I attended (which trended heavily toward "Prosperity Gospel" teaching), so it was refreshing to get a more grounded take on the passage in its context. Yes, money is indeed addressed in the chapter, but God desires more of us than our money. He desires our obedience and trust. He provides the "seed"--whether money, skill, time, energy, or whatever other resources we have at our disposal--and we decide how much of those resources to give toward His Kingdom. It was a very challenging message for a person who's terribly frugal on all fronts and very protective of his (admittedly very little) free time.
Our interim pastor taught on Ephesians 4:17-32 today and, wow, it's packed full of good stuff. He used an outline of Paul's "3-step program" to help organize the teaching:

  1. Put off the old
  2. Renew your mind
  3. Put on the new

That outline is extremely simplified and the teaching went much deeper. The sermon was an excellent reminder of humanity's default state (separated from God and unable to figure out our way back on our own) and the need to be in the Word daily to align our perspective with His so we can be useful to others and bring glory to Him.
Well, as mentioned elsewhere, I don't currently have a local church -- the nearest one of my personal denomination being over 60 miles away and closer alternatives not proving to be productive replacements -- but I do have national/international church resources to draw from for support and continued growth in the meantime.

This week I was going through teachings on disability inclusion in the body of Christ, which is a particularly meaningful topic to me since disability support and advocacy is the main focus and motivation behind my spiritual and vocational work in online ministry and game environments, so I thought I'd include it here in case anyone else is interested.

EDIT: Turned out to be too long for a single post, so I'll split it into three. All as quotes, though, to keep it from taking up too much scroll space.

THE BODY OF CHRIST: A Place of Welcome for All People, Including People with Disabilities

The Church as Communion

The Church is by definition a place and a process of communion, ever open to and inviting all people without discrimination. A place of hospitality and welcome, in the manner of Abraham and Sarah in the Old Testament, as described in the scene of Genesis, chapter 18. An earthly reflection of the unity of God as Trinity. A community of people with different, yet complementary gifts. A vision of wholeness and healing, of caring, and sharing. The Gospel of Christ challenges us: "Just as the body is one and has many members ... so it is with Christ" (1 Cor. 12.12)

We all accept and proclaim that this is what the Church is and stands for. Why is it then that, all too often, certain people among us and around us -- usually those whom we consider as being unfamiliar or strangers, as somehow being different or perhaps disabled -- are marginalized and even excluded, whether by our attitude or by a lack of accessibility? Wherever this happens, even by passive omission, the Church is not what it is called to be. The Church is denied its reality.

When we think of people with disability, we frequently think of them as weak and as requiring care. Yet, in his epistles, St. Paul implies that weakness is not a characteristic of an individual or a particular group, but of the entire Church. In the Church, we are called to act differently: "On the contrary, the parts of the body which seem to be weaker [notice that St. Paul does not say 'actually are weaker'] are indispensable" (1 Cor. 12.22). What we need to realize about responding to those among us with disabilities is that we're in this together.

The Revelation of Gifts

Perhaps, then, it is the starting point in our attitude and in our response that requires revision and redirection. For we should consider not simply the particular needs, but also the unique gifts of people with disabilities. In another passage on the Church as the Body of Christ, St. Paul writes: "For as in one body we have many members, and not all members have the same function, so we, though we are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another ... We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to each of us" (Rom. 12.4-6) Every child and every adult, those with disabilities and those without disabilities alike, bring specific talents and special gifts to the Church.

The Reality of Disability

The fact is that disability is a natural occurrence in our lives. We all experience disability -- whether in the form of illness or injury or difficulty -- at some point in our lives. All of us are touched by disability in some way or another and at some time or another. We all hold the treasure of God's life in fragile earthen vessels (cf. 2 Cor. 4.7). However, for some people, a physical, mental, or sensory impairment substantially limits their daily activities.

Disability affects people of all background, nations, and races, of both genders and any age. In fact, people with disabilities comprise the largest minority group (close to 20%) of the population. In the words of columnist George Will, "the most striking fact about the disability population is that it is the most inclusive. I will never be black, and I will never be a woman, but I could become disabled on the drive home tonight."

Each of us is vulnerable to disability, whether genetically or circumstantially, by disease or by accident. A disability stems from an impairment that is either congenital, or the result of disease, injury, or the aging process. According to the World Health Organization, impairment is the loss of any kind of function -- physical, intellectual, or sensory. There are, for example, more than fifty-four million Americans with physical, sensory, or mental disability of any kind. Yet a person with a disability is not necessarily handicapped except through architectural and attitudinal barriers created by others.

Handicaps are actually the barriers that we create for people with disabilities by excluding them socially and physically.

A person with a disability may suffer from some form of impairment; yet this same person does not have to suffer a handicap caused by his human or physical environment.

The Centrality of the Cross

The way we respond to persons with disabilities is essential to the Christian message of the Cross. The presence of disability in our lives directly challenges fundamental assumptions and stereotypes that we have acquired over time. Such attitudes lead us at times to connect disability with shame, sin, or a lack of faith. At other times, we submit to the temptation of either validating or else "venerating" suffering in the lives of people with disabilities with remarks such as: "You bear your burden so well."

We must remember that, for us Christians, the Cross of Jesus Christ is a symbol of life. Even when Christ rose from the dead, He did so with the wounds that He suffered on the Cross (Luke 24.36-39). And when St. Paul confessed his own "thorn in the flesh," he received the revelation that God's "strength is perfected in weakness" (2 Cor. 12.7-8). Indeed, long before any of the Gospel miracles of healing, perhaps the earliest account of God's word being heard through disability is the example of Moses' speech impairment in Exodus (4.10-17). Here is an example of a person with a particular disability being chosen by God -- not simply in spite of his disability, but with his disability -- to be a leader among the people of Israel.

Finally, at the Last Supper, as at every Divine Liturgy, we recall the words of Christ holding before us, "for the life of the word," His own damaged and disabled body: "Take, eat; this is my body, which is broken for you." (Matt. 26.26) Inter-dependence is the key here. Even though the secular world stresses independence, we are called to live as a community dependent on God and on one another. No one of us should be considered a burden for the rest; and no one of us is simple a burden-bearer. "We all bear one another's burdens in order to fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal. 6.2)

Our ministry to children and adults with disability presents us with more than a chance to serve our neighbor. It presents us with a challenge to our culture where worldly image (rather than God's image) is a priority, where ideal perfection is valued and weakness disdained, and where virtues alone are emphasized and failures are concealed. It is a witness to the centrality and visibility of the Cross in our lives and in our intentions.

When dealing with suffering and sickness, we are often tempted to ask: "Why?" "Why me?" "Why my child?" Yet, much like the mystery of the Cross, life is not a theoretical question to be explained or a philosophical problem to be resolved. It can only be explained and resolved on a deeper, personal level. It is a paradox that can only be comprehended and confronted through compassion and love.

Families and Disability

In addition to the theological and spiritual dimensions, we should also be aware of the manifold practical responsibilities that families face when dealing intimately with disabilities in one form or another. The first of these is the purely physical burden which all of us are obliged to carry together, in accordance with the advice of the Apostle Paul. When we are not aware of this reality, we place an additional challenge on families. "For, while all must carry their own loads," nevertheless we are all also called to "bear one another's burdens" (Gal. 6.5,2) When we voluntarily, compassionately, and joyfully stand beside and respond to the needs of another member of the living Body of Christ, then we are in fact responding to Christ Himself who made it clear to us that: "Just as you do to one of these, who are members of my family, you do it to me" (Matt. 25.40)

Equally important, in terms of supporting families who deal with disabilities, is the way in which we may alleviate the emotional burden often placed on them by our society. We must confess that we have in the past stigmatized disability, identifying it with sin and incurring a sense of guilt. This is a difficult myth to dispel. When we are tempted to consider disability as punishment from God, or perhaps tempted to consider disability in a more refined way as being a test from God on that person or their more immediate family, we should think otherwise. And when families are weighed down by such feelings imposed on them by generational or cultural attitudes, we must be swift to awaken them -- and ourselves -- to the reality taught to us all by Christ. When asked about the man born with blindness, our Lord responded that: "neither they [with disabilities] nor their families have sinned. but they [who have a disability] are born into this world in order that God's works might be revealed in them" (John 9.3) Each of us is born the way that we are -- with the gifts that we all have, as well as with the weaknesses that we all have -- "in order that God's works might be revealed in us."

Churches and Disability

"Welcome one another, as Christ has welcomed you"
(Rom. 15.7). Welcoming every baptized Orthodox Christian to full parish membership is enriching for the community as a whole. All of us -- those with and without disability -- are invited by God to the abundance of life as well as a fullness of faith and ministry, including worship, leadership, study, and service. Therefore, each of us should ask of ourselves and of our communities: Do we consider ways in which people with disabilities may participate in liturgy (in congregations, in services, in choirs), in administration (by inviting them, by offering a ride, perhaps by simply changing a venue), in education (for children, for adults, for older adults), in pastoral ministry (with visitations, with fellowship, with phone calls)? And area we imaginative, sensitive, and flexible in our considerations? Do we work to dispel misunderstandings and make all aspects of parish life accessible to persons with disabilities? Do we see people with disabilities as givers and not always -- or only -- as receivers?

Perhaps each parish can assign an advocate for people with disabilities. This person may possibly be -- may even preferably be -- a person who has a disability. Remember that an individual who lives with disability may be better able to understand or respond to others with disabilities. The appointed advocate should be someone comfortable treating people with disabilities with respect and not pity, with empathy and not charity. Perhaps one parish can cooperate with a neighboring parish to ensure that services are provided collectively, such as an accessible van and liturgies for those disabled but perhaps uncomfortable in a crowded church. This is not to segregate them, but to make them feel welcome and safe, eventually attending services with the entire community. This collaboration among parishes is another aspect of community. At all times, the guiding principle must be the conviction that we are incomplete -- we are less than whole -- without the gifts and talents of people with disabilities. We are not a full community without one another.

In the effort to respond appropriately to persons with disabilities, older adults may especially be called upon to be our greatest "allies." Above and beyond most people, older adults are able to assist as volunteers and as caregivers; after all, they very often are the backbone of our families and churches. Not only are older adults in a position to understand the reality of repercussions of disability in people's lives, but they can also teach us how to relate to persons with disabilities. Ultimately, we are to treat any person who has a disability with the same dignity and respect that we treat older adults in our community. Surely we would never dream of segregating or excluding our parents or grandparents and other older members of our communities.

Finally, it would serve us well to remember that responding to the particular needs of our neighbor is a commandment for all, not simply an option for some or even a vocation for the skilled. There may be times when we will feel that there is not much that we can do individually or as a parish, that we or our community have little to contribute. At those moments, it may be helpful to recall the words of Christ at the miracle of the feeding of the multitudes (Mark 6.30-44 and Mark 8.1-10). While the disciples complained that they did not have the capacity or capability to feed the crowd, yet Christ insisted that they should not depart hungry (Mark 8.2-3). "You give them something to eat," He said (Mark 6.37). And indeed they were all fed, and there was plenty that remained.

Overcoming Inhibitions

It is normally our inhibitions that create additional handicaps for the disabled because many people are uncomfortable around people with disabilities. Such discomfort often stems from prejudice (whether vocal or silent, historical or cultural) and fear (of misunderstanding the medical or social aspects). Of course, fear of the unknown or unfamiliar is natural, at least up to a point.

Yet we do know that all people are "created in the image and likeness of God" (Gen. 1.26), that each of us reflects a part of that divine beauty and mystery, even if we do so in a blurred and broken way, in some incomplete and limited way. We also know that Jesus Christ assumed human flesh (John 1.14), thereby rendering the flesh of all of us honored and holy.

So when meeting or greeting people with disabilities, the best approach is openness. We should not presume to know their "needs." Rather, we should be prepared to consult with persons with disabilities before making decisions or determinations about accessibility, availability, or attitude. We should be willing to learn in order to avoid assumption. The only rule is sincerity and dignity; the only approach is consideration and respect. If unsure, if you think someone might need assistance, just ask. And don't act before any offer of assistance is accepted. Follow instructions. And look at the person. Don't ignore or pretend not to notice the disability. The disability is a part of the person, one characteristic -- among many -- that renders him or her unique.

Disabilities are one thing: they stem from impairments that are congenital or the residual effects of disease or injury. But handicaps are quite another: they are neither physical nor mental conditions. They are the architectural and attitudinal barriers that impede individuals from functioning in a non-friendly environment. In other words, a person is handicapped by a barrier or obstacle. Our goal is to create a barrier-free environment, a space where all are and feel welcomed and where the entire Body of Christ is equally nurtured. And a barrier is any space to narrow, too high, too low, too unstable, or too hard to manipulate or negotiate.

Remember, however, that the most important accommodation that every church can offer someone with a disability -- above and beyond ramps and facilities -- is the gift of genuine friendship. And there is very little "cost" and "change" involved in this gift. This includes embracing persons with long-term illness -- depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia -- as well as members of their family, who so often feel themselves alienated or isolated.

It is also helpful to know that not all disabilities affect a person's intelligence. For instance, cerebral palsy and intellectual disability are two very different things. They may occur in conjunction, but not necessarily and not always. In fact, most people with intellectual disabilities can read, write, work, and lead productive, independent lives.

(continuing... [Final])
Practical Guidelines

When meeting people with disabilities, the best thing to do is to be an open slate. Be willing to learn and make no assumptions. For instance, don't assume that all people who use wheelchairs can't walk, or that someone with a cane needs help crossing a street. There are no fixed rules.

And remember three things: i) Believe it or not, disability is not contagious; ii) most people with disabilities want to promote understanding. So if you have questions about a disability, just ask -- of course, within polite boundaries and only if your question is relevant to the conversation; and iii) people with disabilities would rather dwell on their strengths than weaknesses. Then again... don't we all?

If you think someone needs help, ask. It is always okay to ask; it is not okay to assume. Once you ask, don't act until your offer is accepted. Some people prefer to go it alone; simply follow their instructions. Always speak to the person you're addressing, not to a companion or interpreter (if there is one).

Mobility impairments. When arranging to meet someone with a disability, be sure the location is accessible (including parking lots and bathrooms). For people with mobility limitations, ask if they require accommodations (such as elevators or ramps). If you think a problem may arise, change the venue and inform the person ahead of time. Here are some helpful hints about people who use wheelchairs and scooters, which are a source of freedom and mobility for those who can't walk or have difficulty with movement or endurance. A wheelchair is part of an individual's personal space. It is good to respect that space. It is not polite to touch or lean on someone's wheelchair without permission. Always ask before you move a person in a wheelchair -- out of courtesy, but also because this may affect their balance. If a person is transferring from a wheelchair to a car or chair, don't move the chair beyond easy reach. And if you are having a long conversation with someone in a wheelchair, it will make both of you feel more comfortable if you are at eye level.

Speech impairments. Remember to be patient when a person with speech impairment is speaking. Don't finish a person's sentence or anticipate their response, although it's okay to repeat or rephrase their words to be sure you understand. If you have difficulty understanding what someone is saying, don't be afraid to ask them to repeat it one or more times. Never pretend or presume to understand when you don't. And, finally, be aware that most people with speech impairments can actually hear; exaggerated volume doesn't make it easier for them to understand.

Visual impairments. When you meet people with visual impairment, remember that there are many degrees of visual impairment. White canes are used by people who have restricted vision as well as by those who are totally blind. When approaching a person with vision impairment, announce yourself and introduce anyone else who may be with. Before shaking hands, say something like: "I'd like to shake your hand." Inform the person who is visually impaired when you are about to leave. If asked, offer your arm as a guide (never simply take the person's arm) and inform the person of any obstacles such as curbs, steps, or low arches. When offering a seat, place the person's hand on the back or arm of the chair. And, though tempting, don't pet or speak to a person's guide do without the permission of the person. Guide dogs are at work, even when sleeping under chairs.

Hearing impairments. For people with hearing impairment, again remember that there are various degrees of hearing impairment. Some people develop hearing loss after learning to speak. Others are deaf or hearing-impaired from birth and may communicate by sign language. And keep in mind that even when people use a hearing aid, sounds may seem distorted. To secure the attention of someone with hearing impairment, touch that person lightly, or use another physical sign or gesture. Always speak clearly and closely. Again, exaggerated articulation or gesticulation does not make it easier to understand you.

A Vision for the Kingdom

It should be the dream and desire of us all, -- someday soon, we hope -- to see the ways of inaccessibility and discrimination, of ignorance and segregation, of patronizing and exclusion, pass away through the example and covenant of Christ (2 Cor. 5.17). "For you are all one in Christ ... There is no such thing as Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female" [and St. Paul could quite easily have added "disabled or non-disabled"] (Gal. 3.28)

We should all promote and work sincerely for a Church where there is ample room for all. After all, this is the literal meaning of the Greek work for forgiveness (syn-chore-sis). The Church should have a breadth that makes all its members comfortable, and where no member is stifled or excluded.

Nor is this vision a goal merely for the future. For us, especially, as members of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, it is an established policy. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was the first comprehensive civil rights legislation to protect people with disabilities. Even before it was signed into law in 1990, the Clergy-Laity Congress of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in North America, held in San Francisco in 1982, accepted a recommendation by its General Assembly that parishes make every effort to become more accessible to people with disabilities.

One Parent's Reflections

Whenever I imagine persons with disabilities, I think of Christ Jesus. As Christians, we worship a God who became flesh and lay powerless, motionless, and utterly disabled on the Cross. Ours is not a God of power and might, but of vulnerability and woundedness. So often we choose to forego or forget the crucifixion, preferring to turn directly to the resurrection. Christ rose from the dead with His wounds. We too shall discover Him in our wounds, and we shall discern His presence in our vulnerability and courage to live the lives we have been given.

Whenever I reflect on persons with disabilities, I think primarily of persons, not of disabilities. People with disabilities are human beings, as we all are. Individuals with disabilities are created in the image of God, as we all are. Our brothers and sisters who live with disabilities are fragile, as we all are. I have learned that a person's disability is seldom the source of his or her greatest pain. The greatest pain is fear: fear of rejection, the fear of being a burden, the fear of losing one's former identity, often the fear that nobody values them; it is the absence of love, and trust, and touch. Show me any person -- "abled" or "disabled" -- who cannot identify with this profound sense of suffering!

Whenever I consider the way we treat persons with disabilities, I think of human -- all too human -- walls. Walls that shut people in. Walls that prevent people from meeting and talking to others. In days gone by, people with disabilities were sometimes kept behind actual walls, inside institutions. Now they are a part of mainstream society. Yet they may still find themselves isolated, alienated, imprisoned in sadness, without a sense of community and belonging. Now there are walls of shame. Walls of prejudice. Walls of hatred. Walls of competition. Walls of fear. Walls of ignorance. Many are excluded from churches, whether because the buildings are inaccessible or -- worse -- because the parishes are -- or appear -- unwelcoming. However, largely due to the ADA laws that facilitated public awareness, many of these physical and emotional walls are crumbling, bringing solace and solidarity to disabled individuals and their families.

Finally, whenever I address persons with disabilities, I think of a young man that I know so well and love so dearly. And I think of the many children with disabilities in our communities, both known and unknown to me. The young man that I know has a name and a story. And I know that he also prefers that we notice his face, and not his braces or his canes. He is a young man with dreams. He also has cerebral palsy. He knows his limitations, just as he recognizes the limitations of those around him. He appreciates that not everyone has the capacity to embrace him. This, he is convinced, is their disability, not his. He has dignity for self and reverence for others. Above all, he has a sense of gratitude. He has learned to balance a healthy sense of dependence with a liberating sense of independence. He challenges my understanding of love and respect. His disability allows him to see more clearly, live more freely, be more human and, therefore, so much more like God. How can I ever be thankful enough to God for this?
Interim pastor continued teaching on Ephesians on Sunday (2/17). Specifically, he taught on Ephesians 5:1-21:

1 Therefore, be imitators of God, as dearly loved children. 2 And walk in love, as the Messiah also loved us and gave Himself for us, a sacrificial and fragrant offering to God. 3 But sexual immorality and any impurity or greed should not even be heard of[a] among you, as is proper for saints. 4 Coarse and foolish talking or crude joking are not suitable, but rather giving thanks. 5 For know and recognize this: Every sexually immoral or impure or greedy person, who is an idolater, does not have an inheritance in the kingdom of the Messiah and of God.

6 Let no one deceive you with empty arguments, for God’s wrath is coming on the disobedient because of these things. 7 Therefore, do not become their partners. 8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light— 9 for the fruit of the light[c] results in all goodness, righteousness, and truth— 10 discerning what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Don’t participate in the fruitless works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to mention what is done by them in secret. 13 Everything exposed by the light is made clear, 14 for what makes everything clear is light. Therefore it is said:

Get up, sleeper, and rise up from the dead,
and the Messiah will shine on you.[d]

15 Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk—not as unwise people but as wise— 16 making the most of the time,[e] because the days are evil. 17 So don’t be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 And don’t get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless actions, but be filled by the Spirit:

19 speaking to one another
in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs,
singing and making music
from your heart to the Lord,
20 giving thanks always for everything
to God the Father
in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
21 submitting to one another
in the fear of Christ.

The outline in brief was:
  • Walk in love (5:1-2)
  • Walk in purity (5:3-5)
  • Walk as children of light (5:6-14)
  • Walk in wisdom (5:15-21)
This week, the story of the prodigal son was covered with the following application...

This parable offers us insight into the world in which we live. It is a world where the activities of people are disconnected and not ordered toward the fulfillment of God’s divine purpose for life. It is a world of incoherent pursuits, of illusory strivings, of craving for foods and drinks that do not satisfy, a world where nothing ultimately makes sense, and a world engulfed in untruth, deceit and sin. It is the exact opposite of the world as created by God and potentially recreated by his Son and Spirit. There is no cure for the evils of our age unless we return to God. The world in which we live is not a normal world, but a wasteland. This is why in the Slavic tradition of the Orthodox Church the reading of Psalm 137 is added to the Matins service for this and the the following two Sundays. This nostalgic lament of the Hebrew exiles states: "By the streams of Babylon we sat and wept as we remembered Zion. On the willows we hung our harps, for how could we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land” (Psalm 137).

Here we can see the challenge of life in this world and the alienation from God that can happen when sin reigns in our lives. As a result of sin in our lives, we lose the joy of communion with God, we defile and lose our spiritual beauty, and we find ourselves far away from our real home, our real life. In true repentance, we realize this, and we express a deep desire to return, to recover what has been lost. On this day the Church reminds us of what we have abandoned and lost, and beckons us to find the desire and power to return. Our Heavenly Father is waiting and ready to receive us with His loving forgiveness and His saving embrace.
On the Third Sunday of Great and Holy Lent, the Orthodox Church commemorates the Precious and Life-Giving Cross of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Not only does the Sunday of the Holy Cross prepare us for commemoration of the Crucifixion, but it also reminds us that the whole of Lent is a period when we are crucified with Christ.

As we have “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24), and will have mortified ourselves during these forty days of the Fast, the precious and life-giving Cross is now placed before us to refresh our souls and encourage us who may be filled with a sense of bitterness, resentment, and depression. The Cross reminds us of the Passion of our Lord, and by presenting to us His example, it encourages us to follow Him in struggle and sacrifice, being refreshed, assured, and comforted. In other words, we must experience what the Lord experienced during His Passion. The Cross teaches us that through pain and suffering we shall see the fulfillment of our hopes: the heavenly inheritance and eternal glory.

As they who walk on a long and hard way and are bowed down by fatigue find great relief and strengthening under the cool shade of a leafy tree, so do we find comfort, refreshment, and rejuvenation under the Life-giving Cross, which our Fathers “planted” on this Sunday. Thus, we are fortified and enabled to continue our Lenten journey with a light step, rested and encouraged.

Or, as before the arrival of the king, his royal standards, trophies, and emblems of victory come in procession and then the king himself appears in a triumphant parade, jubilant and rejoicing in his victory and filling those under him with joy, so does the Feast of the Cross precede the coming of our King, Jesus Christ. It warns us that He is about to proclaim His victory over death and appear to us in the glory of the Resurrection. His Life-Giving Cross is His royal scepter, and by venerating it we are filled with joy, rendering Him glory. Therefore, we become ready to welcome our King, who shall manifestly triumph over the powers of darkness.

The present feast has been placed in the middle of Great Lent for another reason. The Fast can be likened to the spring of Marah whose waters the children of Israel encountered in the wilderness. This water was undrinkable due to its bitterness but became sweet when the Holy Prophet Moses dipped the wood into its depth. Likewise, the wood of the Cross sweetens the days of the Fast, which are bitter and often grievous because of our tears. Yet Christ comforts us during our course through the desert of the Fast, guiding and leading us by His hand to the spiritual Jerusalem on high by the power of His Resurrection.

Moreover, as the Holy Cross is called the Tree of Life, it is placed in the middle of the Fast, as the ancient tree of life was placed in the middle of the garden of Eden. By this, our Holy Fathers wished to remind us of Adam’s gluttony as well as the fact that through this Tree has condemnation been abolished. Therefore, if we bind ourselves to the Holy Cross, we shall never encounter death but shall inherit life eternal
Our interim pastor taught on Mark 11:1-26 this morning. The pastor taught that the reason the chief priests and scribes plotted to kill Jesus wasn't his cleansing of the temple, but rather his teaching on the rightful use of the Court of the Gentiles and the temple as a place of prayer ("Is it not written, My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations?"). The people of Israel were looking for a political revolution to advance their kingdom and their agenda, but Jesus came to advance an eternal Kingdom and God's agenda.
Our interim pastor taught on John 21:1-23 and Jesus' restoration of Peter. The sermon was much-needed encouragement that God can redeem those who believe they have nothing to offer Christ and His Kingdom. He highlighted how Jesus mirrored elements of Peter's failures (e.g. Peter denying Christ three times, Jesus giving Peter three ministry tasks; Jesus first called Peter to follow him at the Sea of Galilee, Jesus restored Peter at the same location).
Our church recently appointed a new lead pastor (huzzah!), so our interim pastor is teaching a short series while our new pastor completes the transition from his former church.

Our interim pastor taught on 1 Timothy 1:12-20, preaching that we, as followers of Christ, are (1) considered worthy for service, (2) strengthened for service, and (3) placed in service.

12 I give thanks to Christ Jesus our Lord who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, appointing me to the ministry— 13 one who was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an arrogant man. But I received mercy because I acted out of ignorance in unbelief. 14 And the grace of our Lord overflowed, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, so that in me, the worst of them, Christ Jesus might demonstrate His extraordinary patience as an example to those who would believe in Him for eternal life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only[a] God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

18 Timothy, my son, I am giving you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies previously made about you, so that by them you may strongly engage in battle, 19 having faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and have suffered the shipwreck of their faith. 20 Hymenaeus and Alexander are among them, and I have delivered them to Satan, so that they may be taught not to blaspheme.
Our interim pastor concluded his time preaching at our church with a sermon on John 17:1-26 and Jesus' longest prayer during his earthly ministry. He focused on the passage's several mentions of the glory of God and what they teach us about Jesus, about us as Christ followers, and about how we should respond.