The reading is from the holy gospel according to St.Matthew 6:14-21
The reading today is given as the final word of preparation as we get ready for the journey called great Lent. These are the life giving words of our Lord Jesus Christ regarding forgiveness, fasting and the treasures of the heart.
Forgiveness: We start the period of Great and Holy Lent with forgiveness vespers. We are trying to ensure that we begin our spiritual struggle with the right foot forward. If you are holding a grudge against anyone right now, give it up, let it go, and move on. Listen to these words “If you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” If you have been hurt by your children, your spouse, your friends, your co-workers, the people sitting in the pew next to you or even your priest….let it go. God wants to forgive you and renew your relationships. Don’t stand in His way by being bitter and angry. Trust God and forgive others.
Fasting: It is no secret to anyone that Orthodox Christians fast. It was commanded by Jesus Christ and we have taken that commandment very seriously for almost 2000 years. There are a couple of potential problems with fasting. The first is that many people are lazy and don’t fast even during Great Lent. The second is that we mistake the act of fasting for something great. Fasting in and of itself is not great. In fact the demons never eat at all! Fasting is a tool to allow us to grow in faith and prayer. Fasting is a means for chipping away at the hard crust that surrounds our hearts. When this crust falls away, the heart is free to grow, to feel and to love. Third, sometimes when we fast we use that as a time to show off to others or to judge those who don’t fast. Our Lord Jesus is encouraging us to fast in a way that goes unseen by those around us. This keeps us from growing prideful and also trains us to remember that whatever we do for God is an act of joy. Because I know that I’m doing it for God, it takes on special significance. We do it joyfully because we know that it was given to us as a gift from Him. Don’t let fasting be a tool for your condemnation but an instrument for growing in holiness.
Finally we turn to the issue of the treasures of the heart: Great Lent has many significant aspects but this is the one that deserves our attention right now. You and I are not living up to our potential. We will be reminded of that all through Lent, as we are reminded of that when reading the Scriptures. You and I spend most of our life being pushed, pulled, distracted and hurried in all sorts of directions. We have made a general habit of placing nearly everything in life before the Church. Everything has become a priority over God, and this is proved by the way we use our time. In a way we’ve made the rest of the world our treasure. According to Our Lord that means that our heart is wrapped up in the world around us. Lent is upon us and this is a wake up call. Lent is the time to allow our whole life to revolve around the Church, which is not an earthly club or organization, but the bride of Christ. We make a habit of saying “one day I will make time for the Church,” but in truth it is the Church that makes time for you.
Have you seriously considered what it means to be an Orthodox Christian during Great Lent? For the next six weeks you are invited to make the Church your world. Even if you have been slack the rest of the year…this time is yours to get sucked into the beauty, the struggle, the peace and the joy of a life that revolves around God. These services were not created by me or the priest who served before me or any of their predecessors. They are ancient and beautiful and date back many hundreds of years, but if you skip them then this church becomes nothing but a museum that holds antiques. God is not an antique and neither is His Church. God changes lives through His Church when we give Him the space and the time to do so. Let’s not be theoretical Christians but actual Christians who love to pray together.
We will have extra services on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday of this week. We will have services on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays throughout Lent. And of course we will have services every single day of Holy Week. Have you ever wondered why all those services exist? The don’t exist for the priest. They don’t exist to go through the motions. They exist for all of you, the people of God. They exist because God is generous and invites us into His life to taste and see that He is good. This time of Great Lent is a time to collect the treasures that matter. It’s a time to really truly declare that we are not like the rest of our culture and society. We are not slaves to businesses, or activities or entertainment. We only serve Jesus Christ. Let’s take these few weeks to demonstrate that we really believe this and that we really belong to Him.
May God strengthen us and show His grace upon us through this holy fast. Glory be to God forever AMEN.