Cheesefare Sunday Sermon by Archpriest Don Anthony Freude – Sunday, Feb. 26, 2012

Much of life is “starting over”! We want to be and to do better than we have been.

We really want to return to God, to be more faithful to the Gospel call to love as Christ loves.

God knows that this desire resounds in each of our hearts. United in the love of Christ we are, in fact, a community filled with the desire to live in the divine goodness in spite of the fact that we get distracted and out of touch with that deep desire.

In Holy Baptism we are born again and our lives are destined to become like the life of Jesus. The whole purpose of Jesus’ ministry is to bring us to the house of His Father.

Not only did Jesus come to free us from the bonds of sin and death, He also came to lead us into the intimacy of His divine life.
It is difficult for us to imagine what this means. We tend to emphasize the distance between Jesus and ourselves. We see Jesus as the all-knowing and all-powerful Son of God who is unreachable for us sinful, broken human beings.

But in thinking this way, we forget that Jesus came to give us His own life. He came to lift us up into loving community with the Father.

Only when we recognize the radical purpose of Jesus’ ministry will we be able to understand the meaning of life in the Kingdom of God; of business not as usual, but as life transformed.

Jesus spoke about “Being in the world without being of the world.” These words summarize well the way Jesus speaks of the transformed life. It is a life in which we are totally transformed by the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of love. Yet it is a life in which everything seems to remain the same.

To live a spiritual life does not mean that we must leave our families, give up our jobs; it does not mean that we must withdraw from society and lose interest in the community that surrounds us. Changes such as these may in fact grow out of our spiritual life in varying degrees for a variety of people. But the spiritual life can be lived in as many ways as there are people.

What is new is that we have set ourselves free from the compulsions of our world and have set our hearts on the only necessary thing: God alone.

What is new is that we no longer experience the many things, people, and events as distractions, but begin to experience them as the rich variety of ways in which God makes His Presence known to us.

Jesus’ primary concern was to be obedient to His Father, to live constantly in His Presence. Only then did it become clear to Him what His task was in His relationships with people.

This is also the way He proposes for His apostles and for us, His disciples.

Jesus asks for a single-minded commitment to God and God alone. God wants all of our heart, all of our mind, and all of our soul.

It is the unconditional and unreserved love for God that leads us to the care for our neighbor. God reveals Himself to us as the God of all people.

It is in God that we find our neighbors and discover our responsibility to them. We might even say that only in God does our neighbor become our neighbor.

The English author, G.K. Chesterton, was a master of paradox. Once he remarked that he preferred to look at pictures upside down. That way he said everything depends.

He meant, of course, not only would the image of the paintings appear to hang in mid-air – depending – but also being kept in place by some unseen hand.

Everything depends upon God and is mysteriously kept in place by His loving hand. Chesterton’s upside down picture simply makes more obvious what is true.

But we have come so accustomed to seeing the world on our own terms that we fail to notice the source of our life.

Great Lent is our time to rediscover the hand of God around us and readjust our sights.

These 40 days of Lent become the time when we turn our world upside-down and reassess our time, our resources and our daily activities and ultimately come to know that we depend on God.

For God has turned the world upside-down by raising Christ from the dead and bringing light out of darkness in the Paschal Mystery. Business is not as usual – everything has changed.

St. Paul exhorts us in today’s Epistle: “now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore, let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.” (Romans 13:1-12)

Our life depends on God. Great Lent is the tithe of the year that awakens us from our sleep and brings us back to that realization.

In the Gospel of Matthew, we are given a 3 part recipe not only for Lent, but for our life in Christ. Everything depends on God and not on ourselves.

Jesus exhorts us to unclutter our lives:
by fasting;
by sharing with others what God as given to us;
and by opening our minds and hearts to Him in prayer.

Our bodies are living icons of the Risen Lord and we must never let them be consumed by anything that would make us forget about God.

Fasting teaches us to turn upside-down our eating, drinking and the consumption of this world in order to discover more perfectly the Lord – our first love -. Who has been nourishing us all along.

Fasting also teaches us compassion for the homeless, the hungry, and all in need.

For in solidarity with those who suffer, we discover how God manifests His infinite compassion to us.

We fast in order to give our full attention to God by increasing our hunger for God.

Almsgiving or acts of charity – by which we freely share the gifts we have been given to those in need – may also turn us upside-down.

We may be well convinced of how hard we work for what we own and feel what we own belongs to us. But what we have are gifts from God. The psalmist persistently sings “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof”!

Almsgiving not only teaches us how God has been filling our lives with good things:

but also teaches us never to tolerate a world where the hungry are not fed, the naked are never clothed, where children sleep in the streets.

How grateful we should be to those who ask us for alms and charity, for they turn us upside-down and tell us – rich and poor alike – that we depend on God.

That outstretched hand to us may very well be for us the difference between heaven and hell.

Prayer is our conversation with God – and as in any good conversation, we listen attentively as well as speak.

During the 40 years the Israelites wandered in the desert they came to know: that God was always just in earshot, and they likewise came to value listening to His voice.

During our 40 days of Lent – we may need to examine how often we engage God in this grace-filled conversation.

Lenten prayer may turn us upside-down:

by reordering our schedules by attending the Lenten Services;

by reclaiming our attention for God and where God can speak to our hearts;

and we can receive forgiveness and give forgiveness.

Lenten prayer may even call us to be patient with God and His schedule to which we may have to adjust.

Like the chosen people of old who waited 40 years in the desert,

OR Noah who waited 40 days in the ark as God held him and his family aloft in His care, we may be led to turn to God in patient prayer.

Our Lenten prayer with God may change the way we live after Lent into Pascha.

We may find that by listening to the word of God, we depend on the Lord Who holds us aloft in His care and brings us through a desert into a new land.

We may find ourselves speaking less and listening more.

By these Lenten practices – fasting, almsgiving and prayer:

We can learn to see the “picture” of this world UPSIDE-DOWN– as depending on God– as an Icon of God’s Presence in the Risen Christ.

Every day will then be “starting over”, spending the rest of our life in peace and repentance.

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