In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. God is one. Amen.
The gospel today from the ninth chapter of the Gospel of St Matthew tells of many miracles performed by Jesus Christ—teaching and healing many people. Than Jesus Christ says in the verses immediately following the verses read today: “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few; pray therefore [for] the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.” Preaching on these verses, St John Chrysostom has pointed out, and I quote, that Jesus Christ “Himself is the Lord of the harvest; He himself is the Master of the prophets. For if He sent them to gather the harvest, it is clear they do not harvest what belongs to someone else. Instead, they harvest the things the He sowed through the prophets.” St John concludes: “In calling their ministry a harvest, He was encouraging them but also empowering them to this ministry.” In other words, Jesus Christ Himself is the Master—the greatest of all the prophets. He scatters seeds for growth. He sows belief in Himself, commitment to the Church that He is founding. Christ empowers the disciples to ministry—that is, to be His servants, to seek His will in their lives.
OK, you might perhaps be thinking as I did at first on reading these verses: “Yes, I know that there is much work to be done to enable the Church to grow. I know the workers are few, but my time and abilities are limited by many commitments. How can I help? How can I be more of a part of the work of Christ and His Church here on earth?”
In the opening line of the reading from chapter 15 of the book of Romans, that we have just heard, St Paul gives us the answer: “Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves.” St Paul rightly sees himself as a strong follower of Jesus Christ, yet notice that he sees that many other followers of Jesus Christ are not as strong as he is. So how are those who are weak to be made strong? St Paul’s answer is clear, and I quote: “Whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus.” In other words, reading the Scriptures gives us hope. For St Paul, the Scriptures meant the Old Testament; for us, the Scriptures means the whole of the Bible.
St John Chrysostom offers us a profound interpretation of these verses: “These things were written so that we might not fall away, for we have many battles to fight, both inward and outward. But being comforted by the Scriptures we can exhibit patience, so that by living in patience we might dwell in hope. For these things produce one another—hope brings forth patience, and patience [brings forth] hope.” That is an exciting interpretation of how to be Christian—read the Bible, be patient, hope that your life and your ability to serve Christ and His Church will go well. Then continue on that path. My experience is that St Paul is right: the more you read the Bible, the more patient and hopeful you become. The disciples of Christ in the first century did not have an easy life. They struggled inwardly and outwardly—inwardly with their own hesitations and confusions, outwardly with those who did not wish to believe in Christ, who wished simply to live a comfortable life in the world. And yet, and yet, the path to the Lord is clear—in the first century and in the twenty-first century and in all the centuries between. Read the Bible, be patient with yourself and with the Lord, who often acts very slowly over many years, and be hopeful.
However strong we are as Christians, we are all Christians. As Orthodox Christians we have received a special gift in the Church and its sacraments which increase our strength—the Divine Liturgy and the opportunity to receive Holy Communion. Yes, it is good to come to church and to identify ourselves as Orthodox Christians. However, throughout our lives we need to grow stronger and stronger in our ability to receive God’s love and to love other people. Once we have begun to read the Bible, to be patient with ourselves and with the Lord and to hope, then we become stronger and stronger Christians by going to Holy Communion. Please, I can tell you from experience in my own journey that in order to be strong, whatever our age or situation, we each need to read the Bible, to be patient, to hope and to attend the Divine Liturgy and to go to Holy Communion.
Parents, if you wish to teach your children to follow the path of Jesus Christ, they need to see that you are following that path. If you bring your child to Holy Communion and do not go yourself, you teach your children that Orthodox Christianity is for babies. That is not a correct interpretation of Orthodox Christianity. Whatever our ages, we are all Orthodox Christians together; and we are all challenged to grow closer to Christ and His Church.
I close with a personal experience that I had a few weeks ago. I was chatting with another Christian—a lecturer in robotics at a nearby university. I looked up the definition of robotics later—“the branch of engineering concerned with the design, construction, operation and use of industrial robots, which incorporates many of the concepts used in artificial intelligence.” I asked him, “What kind of robotics do you teach?” He replied, “Biomedical. Don’t scratch too hard.” In other words, “Don’t ask too many questions. Don’t intervene too much in my work and my life.” Now, I hope that I haven’t scratched too hard today in your life, your conscience or the way you practice Orthodox Christianity. But do remember and pray these two verses, first, from the 9th chapter of the Gospel of St Matthew and second, from the 15th chapter of St Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. First, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few; pray therefore [for] the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.” We can all pray for that harvest in ourselves, our parishes, our local communities, our nations and the world. Second, “Now, we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves.” Read the Bible, be patient, be hopeful and come to all of the Divine Liturgy and Holy Communion whenever you can.
And so, we ascribe as is justly due all might, majesty, dominion, power and praise to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, always now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.