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PRAY

November 19, 2023

PRAY
Friday was the US Marine Corps 248th Birthday, and yesterday, we honored and are inspired by those who have sacrificed to serve and protect others. On this Veterans Day, we honored our veterans’ unwavering commitment to preserving our freedom. Their sacrifices, whether on the battlefield or on the home front, have been instrumental in safeguarding the liberties and opportunities we hold dear as Americans, freedom of our Faith, and we are forever grateful. Your legacy, and the legacy of all veterans, is a testament to the strength, resilience and unity of our great military services.

This Veterans Day, I’m encouraging everyone to expand their thanks and reach out to a veteran they care about; either friends or family members. Listen to their story to better understand their time in service, and advocate for them. It’s important that all veterans feel respected, connected and supported.

We’re uniquely aware of the challenges of the military community and acknowledge that some veterans have burdens and scars from their service days that may not be visible but are their painful reality. Veterans die by suicide at a rate of 1.5 times that of the general population.  So today I ask, I request, that you pray continuously for our Veteran’s, on a daily basis, especially for our dear brothers and sisters, who are here today, in Church, with us, who have served. Thank them, and pray for them.

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Ephesians 2:4-10 & Luke 8:26-39

“And God, Who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He has loved us…”

God loves you; God loves you so greatly that even while we were yet immersed in sin, still He came to us and delivered us, and raised us up, that He might show us the surpassing riches of His grace. 

This is important to remember at all times, and especially in difficult times, when we think we perceive that God is far away.  Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth, but, in our weakness, we sometimes fail to recognize God’s closeness and care for us.

In today’s Gospel, the God/man, our Lord Jesus Christ, came to a city, and was greeted not by the citizens of that city, but by a naked, hostile, demon possessed madman, who lived in among the graves of the dead, for there was no place for him among the living.  Perhaps another person might have turned around and went to a more hospitable place, but Jesus approached the madman and looking beyond the fearsome exterior, He saw the tormented soul of this man and had compassion on him.  Jesus did not condemn this man, nor did He fear him, but He drove out the demons which were tormenting the man. The demons then fled into a herd of swine grazing nearby.  The demons caused the swine to go into a frenzy, run off a nearby cliff and drown in the sea.  The pigs were lost, but the man was healed, now clothed and in his right mind. 

 

Only at this point, the people of the town came out to see Jesus – and at seeing the former madman delivered of his madness and healed, they took almost no notice.  What they did see, was, their herds of swine had run off the cliff into the sea and were drowned.  Rather than glorifying God that their neighbor was healed, they saw only their drowned swine and grieved the loss that those animals represented, money.  They asked Jesus to leave their city – to go back whence He had come, because they didn’t want to risk losing even more than they already had.

Here is an example of God’s great love for us.  When He comes to us, He is greeted by our nakedness (the nakedness that Adam and Eve tried to hide), by our hostility and rage, and by the ugliness of our situation.  His love is so great, however, that He doesn’t go away waiting for us to get our act together, but reaches out even in the midst of our madness and rage, and heals us. 

He frees us from the power of our sin that has a hold of us, that He might then raise us up to heaven and share with us the riches of His grace – indeed that we might be filled with His Divine Light and live in eternal union and communion with Him.

This loving-kindness of God towards us, is not just a theoretical or general compassion for mankind, but it is personal to each of us.  When God comes to you, He sees past the ugliness of your sin, of your fear, of your enslavement and torment.  He is not driven away by your hostility toward Him.  He sees not the ugly exterior, but sees to the heart; He sees your pain; He sees your disappointment; He sees your fear, He sees your sorrow and despair.  He sees the one that He created, the one that He loves, underneath all of that ugliness and hostility, and He is moved by His divine Love and compassion.  He reaches out and releases you from your captivity and restores you to the path of salvation.  He gives you again the ability to choose Him and to leave behind your former life of enslavement.  Like the former madman, He clothes you with His grace and makes a place for you beside Himself.  God loves you and He has prepared a place for you.  That place is not only an idea or a hope, but a reality.  God showed us what He has planned for us – those “exceeding riches of grace”.

We acquire this grace by living the life of righteousness, the life that God provides for us through the Church.  St Seraphim related to his disciple, “As for fasts, and vigils, and prayer, and almsgiving, and every good deed done for Christ’s sake, they are only the means for acquiring the Holy Spirit of God.”

Grace is the gift of God, it is not the “natural” result of works, but rather God uses our works to bestow His grace on us.  His grace is planted in our hearts, like the seed of the sower of which hear, in the parable, and there it rests, growing and spreading in accordance with our cooperation with its actions. 

Like the leaven hidden the lump of dough, that grace spreads throughout our whole being and begins the work of our transformation.  St Seraphim, in speaking about the effects of grace, describes grace as the light and warmth of the Holy Spirit. 

 

The fathers teach us that this miraculous light of grace is indeed the uncreated energies of our God – and by the presence of that grace in us, we are transformed, transfigured, and we shine with the uncreated light of Christ, and are united with God Himself, through grace, participating in His life. 

When God comes to us He sees us naked, hostile, out of control and living in the graves as though dead.  There is nothing in us that would attract Him, and yet He loves us and reaches out to us.  He sees us not as we appear, ugly and repulsive, but He sees us, as we can become when transformed by His grace.  He frees us from the passions and the sin which enslave us and offers us instead, His grace.  All we have to do, is reach out and begin to acquire that grace.  As we gather this grace, He himself will transform us.  This transformation is not anything we can do of our own strength; He accomplishes this by His grace.  We only act on our faith – faith that He loves us, faith that He is there to rescue us from our sins, faith that every time we reach out to Him, He is there ready to receive us.  By faith, we fast and pray; by faith we resist temptation; by faith we repent, trusting that He is ready to forgive us; by faith we receive the sacraments; by faith we come to church.  By faith we gather His grace and we are transformed, no longer ugly, naked, hostile and living in darkness – but we are clothed with His divine light, we are filled with His love, we radiate the beauty of His countenance. 

While we were yet sinners – while we were still ugly, naked and hostile – Christ loved us and came to free us from our sin and to fill us with His Grace, transforming us into His likeness and uniting us to Himself.  God loves you and desires your salvation.  He raises you up to sit in the heavenly places that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness towards you.  And we demonstrate His Grace and love for us, as we love one another, as He loves us.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner!!!


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