Here is the sermon I have been blessed to give today. Memory Eternal, Father Ignatius! GO BARONS!
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!
Glory Be to Jesus Christ! Glory Forever!
Welcome Home! Thank you for being here this beautiful day!
The Lenten Spring is here. As always, spring is a time of renewal, rebirth, rejuvenation and even remembrance. In a sense, it's a rebirth of the flowers and trees that slept through the winter. It's a time that in our part of the world, the land feels rejuvenated from the sun's warmth as the time of daylight grows longer and we feel rejuvenated because of it. And as it is Great Lent, we are called to remember why Christ came here for us, what He went through and is going through for us, and we're called to remember by using the same traditions and practices as those who came before us a thousand, fifteen hundred years ago did, practices set down by Christ, by Scripture, the Church, and defended by the Saints like Saint Gregory Palamas who we remember today. We are reminded of why it is so important TO remember St Gregory's struggle to show that our faith is not meant to be just understood, but, rather, it is to be experienced.
There is a uniquely American Tradition that is celebrated every spring. Whether you are there in person or in spirit, if it's spring, and if you're a baseball fan, that means spring training is underway now in Florida and Arizona, and a new baseball season is born in just a few weeks. Right now, the players are working themselves into game shape, they are taking extra time in the field and in batting practice to get themselves ready for the marathon that is called baseball season.
A few years ago, there was a story about a young man who played amateur baseball, a huge Atlanta Braves fan, and his hero was the big star of the Braves at the time, Dale Murphy. Whenever this young man came to bat in his own ball games, he copied everything Dale Murphy did when he was batting; the number of practice swings, the tapping of the spikes with the bat, adjusting the batting glove just the right way; everything that Dale Murphy did at the plate, this young man did also. He studied the swing; he held the bat exactly the same way, literally copying his favorite ballplayer to make himself a better hitter. When he was picked on for it, he would take it in stride and do everything he could to make those who mocked him pay for it the next time he came up to bat. Just like his baseball hero, while he didn't always succeed, as long as he was playing, he never stopped trying.
With the start of a new baseball season, with all the rituals that the young man went through to make himself a better baseball player, we should be mindful of why we, as Orthodox Christians, do exactly the same thing in going through the training, but that we do it for a more important reason. Just like a pro baseball player taking batting practice every day, whose very livelihood depends on getting in all that practice to be successful at hitting, usually less than one third of the time they're at bat, we do the same rituals and practices of our faith to not only be successful once in a while, hopefully more often than one third of the time, but to remember that try as we might, more often than we wish, we may be less successful in our efforts than we would like, but as long as we live, as long as there is still a game to play tomorrow, we always have another shot at redemption.
It is for those very reasons we celebrate the Triumph of Orthodoxy when we do, and how we do. We celebrate it the first week of Great Lent, and we do it not just because it's a service that we have been doing for years, but we do it to remind us of how we almost lost the icons, one of our connections to Christ, the Theotokos, the Apostles and Saints. Today, we probably don't realize just how close we were to losing something so valuable to not only the faith, but to our ability to live it, to understand it, to grow in it, and to help it grow. To experience it. It is for those very reasons we celebrate Saint Gregory Palamas today, the Second Sunday of our Lenten Spring; we do it to remind us what the task at hand is, and that task is that ours is a faith to be experienced, not because of our traditions, but with them and through them.
In today's Gospel, the paralytic that Jesus heals and forgives had to be let in through a hole in the roof where Jesus was teaching. The crowd was so big; you couldn't get to the door! Jesus was impressed by the faith of the paralytic, and those who carried him, and Christ forgave the man's sins much to the chagrin of the Scribes there. Who was Jesus to forgive sins when only God can? Well, sensing the Scribes disapproval, Jesus had the paralytic rise from his bed and walk, not only to show the Scribes who He really is, but to give them an experience it is certain they never forgot, and even then, the scribes failed to understand they had witnessed the workings of God Himself!.
If we've never experienced something, that particular something is difficult to understand, and even more difficult, if not impossible, to express. Most of us will never experience hitting a game winning home run, and we certainly can't describe that feeling! But someone who just hit that home run might say they can't describe how they feel, words fail them; they can't express what they just experienced. They're so happy they don't know what else they are feeling! And that's where the truth that there are occasions where words are not only inadequate, but unnecessary, comes shining though. Often times, in our lives as Christians, we are called to be more like the shepherds from the Nativity Gospel of Saint Luke, who were amazed at what the angel pronounced to them, but they didn't fully understand just what they were told, yet, they went, and they gazed upon the Christ Child in the manger, and in seeing, they did understand, even if they couldn't put it into words. It's the same with our traditions. We may not always be able to explain to the world why venerating an icon is important to our experience as Orthodox Christians, though we should strive to do so, but when the results bring one closer to God, closer to Christ, closer to the saints, no words are necessary or adequate. We can't even always explain our experiences in our faith, but to truly know our faith means that sometimes, when the faith shines the brightest, there's no need to.
Brothers and sisters, Dale Murphy was a baseball hero to one young man, a young man who literally copied everything his hero did all in the hope, all in the faith, that at just the right time, all those practice swings he took, all that time he spent doing exactly what one of the best baseball players of the day did, that he, also, in his own way, at his own level, could experience just what a professional baseball player experienced on those occasions he did succeed. As Orthodox Christians, if our heroes are the Apostles, the martyrs, the saints, we know that we do exactly what was won for us 1000/1500 years ago, and yes, it WAS won for us, and we do these things not because they make us better than others, but because without them, we are no different than a baseball player who skips batting practice or fielding practice, or Spring Training. We understand that if we skip those things, if we don't practice Lenten Spring, if we don't continue the practices and lessons and we forget them, if we let them get away from us, it will be more difficult to experience everything that the God who loves us more than we love ourselves, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, wants us to, and needs us to, so that His Glory can be revealed to all.
Glory Be To Jesus Christ! Glory Forever!!