At that time, the parents brought the child Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtle doves, or two young pigeons.” Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Symeon, and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And inspired by the Spirit he came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel. And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him; and Symeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher; she was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years from her virginity, and as a widow till she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she gave thanks to God, and spoke of him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. And when they had performed everything according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
Simeon says to Mary “a sword will pierce through your own soul also” God was speaking to Mary ahead of time about the moment when she would watch her son die.
“Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.” (John 19:25–27)
Mary and John (and others) stood at the cross watching. Everyone else ran away. Why is it hard to stand at the foot of the cross? Because I don’t want to see the calling that God has for me to love others no matter the cost. Standing at the foot of the cross is not just about seeing what Jesus has done for you. It is about seeing what Jesus is calling you to do together with him. Standing at the foot of the cross is to look squarely at the theosis that God calls you to, and to understand how much that will cost you.
When Jesus says to John, “here is your mother,” he is not saying, “take care of her as if she was your own mother” (although John did that). He was saying, “when you are willing to stand at the foot of the cross, you have become one with me. You have become a son of Mary.” When we are willing to sacrifice together with Jesus Christ, we become one with him.
There are great costs to being a Christian:
There is a psychological cost. We have to admit that we do not have the answers. We have to admit that this Christian religion might have something to teach us. It’s a psychological cost of shifting our view of the world, and being willing to be challenged in our assumptions.
There is an emotional cost. We are being taught. We admit that we need to be humble, we don’t know everything. It hurts to find this out.
There is a social cost to being a Christian. Our friends and family will know you’re a Christian. Do they understand? Do they think it’s weird? Do they think you’ve joined a cult?
If you came from another Orthodox Church to this one, do your friends and family think you have left the real Orthodox Church and gone to a second-rate Orthodox Church? Maybe your church membership challenges their assumptions about the relationship of ethnicity to Orthodoxy.
There is a practical cost in terms of time. It is the cost of showing up regularly, attending. You have to prioritize, and say no to other activities sometimes. You have to miss sleeping in on Sunday. There is a cost of time and energy. Maybe you serve in one of the ministries, or on the Parish Council. There is a cost to your whole family in terms of the time you spend.
There is the cost of regular confession: admitting your faults and your bad habits and your embarrassing secret sins. This is an emotional, existential cost, a cost to our ego, the cost of our self-determination, the cost of losing our tidy self-perception and being willing to see ourselves from a less flattering point of view.
There is a financial cost. This church does not receive any money from anywhere except from its members. We expect a 10% tithe from our members. That is the biblical model. 10%. That is our expectation.
At some point the cost becomes too much. At some point we say, “that’s enough. No more.” Let’s be honest, for most of us the point at which we say, “that’s enough” is in our bank account.
We are willing to admit we are wrong, that we are sinners, that we need to be taught because within the church community that kind of humility is not shameful and is actually seen as a sign of earnestness and spiritual-mindedness. No one in this room is going to think less of you because you came to confession with tears. Quite the opposite.
Many of us come to church because we are filled with a sense of awe and warmth and beauty, because we receive the body and blood of Christ.We walk away feeling renewed and strengthened. So while there is a bit of a cost, for example dragging a whole flock of children to church is hard, it’s a cost. While there is a bit of a cost, for many of us is not an overwhelming cost.
When you get asked to do work in the church, now it begins to chafe a bit. Okay, what kind of work? Will it involve going outside of my comfort zone? Will I need to challenge myself? Will it interfere with my other activities? Will it interfere with my children’s activities? Then I might start saying no.
At the end of the day the one area where the vast majority of people will draw the line, is money. Will I sacrifice my vacation for the church? Will I sacrifice putting in a new patio and buying a new barbeque for the summer? Will I sacrifice Netflix in order to tithe? Will I go out for dinner less often? Will my kids do one less activity? Will I drive a cheaper car in order to give to the church? Will I forego upgrading my computer and my TV for the church?
Most of the time the answer is no.
The life of Christ is a life of giving. Jesus is hanging on the cross calling you to a life of giving. And when it gets to be too hardand we draw the line, we are like the disciples who walked away.
Many priests would make an argument about arithmetic at this point in the sermon. The argument goes that the benefit of eternal life with Christ outweighs any and all costs. It’s a cost-benefit analysis. And people say, “Look how much Jesus has done for you, can’t you do a little for him?”
But Jesus endured the suffering of the cross out of his love for the world. Jesus is the bridegroom who is proposing to his bride. Jesus is saying, “I love you this much, will you not come and by mine?” Jesus doesn’t want anything back from us. He just wants us.
If my life as a Christian is supposed to be a copy of Jesus’ life then the sacrifices I make are also a declaration of love to the world. Your tithe is a statement to the world about where true happiness can be found and how much you want them to find that true happiness.
It is hard to tell non-Christians that what really matters in life is the community of love that Christ offers us, when what I spend all my money on is my boat that I go fishing in during the summer, and my home entertainment system. I mean if you walk into my house and the first thing you notice is my expensive interior design and my liquor cabinet, but you can’t find the icon stand, you can draw your own conclusions about what I think gives me hope and meaning in my life.
What is the most beautiful, the most meaningful, the most life-giving thing in my life? Is it the opportunity to give the love of Christ to you? What is the most meaningful and worthwhile and life-giving thing in my children’s lives? Is it their X-box? their music lessons? their sports teams? What element of their lives am I willing to pay serious amounts of money for? What activity in my children’s lives comes first, and isnever allowed to be interrupted? Sports? Music? Social activities? Or is it Church? What do I think they need, that they must go to, and what do I get annoyed with because it conflicts with what is most important?
My kids will notice. My kids know what I think is really meaningful for their lives.
Let’s say that you put an ad in the paper to tell people about the Orthodox Church.
“Come to the St. Vincent’s Orthodox Church. We have the original apostolic faith, that which was believed “everywhere, always and by all.” Come be made into the likeness of Jesus Christ.”
And by the way, I won’t be there this week. But hopefully next week. And I believe there’s vespers on Saturdays, but I don’t remember what time because I never go. But you should go because I hear it’s pretty good.
We read the bible a lot in our church. I hear it’s a good book to read. I think I have one at home somewhere. You can borrow it because I’m not really using it.
When you come to our church consider giving some money to it. I would but I really can’t afford to right now because of the payments on my new car. I would give money to the church but my kids’ sports equipment is a lot more expensive than I realized. But you should give to the church because it’s a really good cause. I hear they do some great work.
When we are unwilling to accept the cost of being a Christian, we miss out on the opportunity to tell the world by our lifestyle and actions how much Jesus loves them.
Standing at the foot of the cross means looking fearlessly at the truth. What is that truth? The truth is that the world was created by Jesus Christ, the crucified one. Everything I have, including my breath and my heartbeat is given to me by Jesus when he died on the cross.
My children were given to me by Jesus. My wife was given to me by Jesus.My job and my house and my car and my computer and my iPad, and my furniture, and the money in my bank account were all given to me by Jesus.
And they were not given to me merely so that I could have them. They were given to me so that I could use them in order to join Jesus Christ in his life-giving sacrifice. He has given all that to me in order for me to tell the world how much Jesus loves us, and I tell them by how I use the things he has given me.
St. Vincent’s is a very generous parish. But as much generosity as there is, about two thirds of the costs of the church are paid for by the donations of only a hand full of families.
If you think that, “well that only makes sense because there are some very rich people here,” think again.
Some people are giving until it hurts. Other people give next to nothing. If you truly give 10 percent, ask Jesus to give you the strength and the humility to continue doing that.
If you can’t stand the thought of giving ten percent, ask Jesus to show you joy of taking responsibility. Ask Jesus to give you the joy and the courage and the confidence to join him as he pours out everything he has for the life of the world.
This is a letter I would like to be able to write to my children. And you can listen even if you don’t have children. Just imagine you are writing this message to all the children of the church, even if you are not personally a parent.
I love you so much that I did whatever I could to give you a life filled with Jesus Christ. I prayed with you, I invested in your church, I took you to the children’s and youth activities, even when it was hard, even if you didn’t want to go, because I knew that you needed to go.
I want your life to be filled with the love of Jesus Christ. I want you to know who you are in Christ. I want you to find your identity in Jesus. I want you to reach your potential in Christ. I know that only Jesus can give you eternal life, and so I did whatever I could to give that to you.”
Lord Jesus Christ, Our God, we are not able to let go of our attachment to material things, to money, to pride, and to let go of our fears. We are not able to trust in you fully. We are afraid to give.
Fill our hearts with the unbridled and unrestrained love that you showed us on the cross, so that we can finally begin to live a truly Christian life, the life of stewarding all things for the sake of the kingdom.