Virtues or infirmities? [text & audio]
25th Sunday after Pentecost
Sermon on the Gospel lesson from Luke 13:10-17 & Epistle reading from Ephesians 4:1-6
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
There she was, in the synagogue, among other believers like herself. But there was one difference between her and the others, one stark difference – she was bent over and unable to stand up straight.
Imagine every waking hour only seeing your own feet. Imagine not being able to stretch out and inhale lungs full of air. Imagine recalling all of the sinful acts that led to being bound and tortured by Satan.
Make no mistake about it, Satan and all the evil spirits desire nothing but our suffering. They tempt us, put all sorts of traps and road blocks for us, but they cannot bind us and possess us unless we let them. And we let them through our sins. Especially the sins that we stubbornly refuse to see or to confess.
The woman from today’s Gospel lesson was bound by Satan for eighteen long years. Perhaps she even came to terms with her infirmity, with her state of being.
But there was One in that synagogue on that day Who did not accept her as she was, Who did not want her to remain bound by Satan.
You see, He knows what we can be, He knows of our high calling because He created us and gave us this calling. He knows that we are imperfect and broken, but capable of perfection in Him and through Him.
The posture of this woman, being bent over, signified her being humiliated, brought down by Satan. She could not look up to behold the glory of God; she could not even look up at Christ before He healed her. She could only look down, down at the mud and trash under her feet.
Interestingly, Saint Paul, in today’s reading to the Ephesians, talks about walking “with complete lowliness, humility, and patience.” These three Christian qualities play a great role in our lives today.
Being lowly, humble, and patient is portrayed as a weakness in today’s society. At the same time, according to the powers that be, we are expected to be submissive, tame, and long-suffering, and obedient. And if we refuse, there have already been hints of threats that we may be brought down and humiliated into submission.
For a Christian, lowliness, humility, and patience are good qualities, or virtues. The thing about these qualities, however, is that we can either choose to do them of our own accord, where they can become virtues, or be forced into doing them against our will, as they become infirmities. In either case, we will possess these qualities.
The woman in the synagogue, who was bent over, had these as infirmities, as the Lord clearly says. She was forced into submission by Satan, she was brought down.
Today, a lot of us willingly become submissive, soft, and tame by assuming the crouching, bent over, position of the woman.
What does this remind you of?
And I am as guilty of this as anyone. Satan does not even have to trick us into binding us. We let ourselves willingly be bound by him.
These devices are not the problem, however; they are the symptoms of the problem. If there were no phones, or if some of us might think that, since we do not have phones, then we are not like that, there is always something else – crouching over a newspaper full of lies, or at the TV with even more lies, crouching over our deceitful egos and prideful self-righteousness.
All of these things, and many others like them, are symptoms of the problem; and the problem is sin, lack of repentance, and laxity in our efforts towards piety.
Once we become lax, we become submissive like cattle. We let ourselves be muzzled and restrained, walking only in the direction we are told. That’s what these phones, and technology in general, and other tools represent.
And, just to be clear, I am not suggesting that we should shun technology. Even though going through a tech detox is not the worst idea, especially during fasting periods.
What I am saying is that we need to use all these tools at our disposal carefully and properly. We need to balance it out with appropriate Christian actions. (I will get to what these actions are in a bit).
It’s safe to say that technology is being used today to make sure we keep our eyes only on what someone else wants us to keep them on.
This includes the hysteria and the very real threat of coronavirus. This includes all the “research” that all of us are doing about the statistics, vaccinations, mandates, lockdowns, and the rest. All of us are experts and epidemiologists and doctors and policymakers by now. And this also includes the political mess on the left, as well as on the right, in the center and in all the corners.
We may think that we are “researching” and “educating” ourselves about these issues, but in reality we are only consuming information that someone else wants us to consume. There may be a grain of truth here and there, but it’s only there to keep us engaged like cattle, walk only in the direction we are told to walk.
This narrow-mindedness is cultivated intentionally. The cattle needs to keep its eyes on the screen, and not pay attention to what is going on around. It’s like horses in Central Park with their blinders. They cannot see what’s in the back or to the sides, they can only see what’s in front of them. And what’s in front is not always the full picture; sometimes what’s in front may be just the backside of another horse.
Being bent down, we can only focus on earthly things, on proving ourselves that we are “right” and trying to convert others to the same point of view. Being bent down we cannot seek higher things, things of God, we cannot seek the truth.
All of this is cultivated, again, intentionally by the enemy. And the enemy is the same being that bound the woman for eighteen years. It’s Satan. It’s not any human being, even if they are in service to evil. The enemy is always, and always has been Satan.
He uses everything at his disposal, including and especially present technology, to humiliate and alienate us, to bend us over, so that we would not be able to stand up straight and see the truth.
So what do we do? We need to cultivate our souls and bodies in virtues, in lowliness, humility, and patience, because we either choose to do them or we are forced into them.
The enemy has many weapons at his disposal, and so do we.
Like the woman who was bent over, we cannot neglect the worship of the Church. No doubt it was very hard for her to get up that Sabbath morning and go to the synagogue; but she was there because that’s what faithful people do. And there she encountered Christ, and there He laid His hands on her, and there He healed her. She was physically touched by God.
In the worship services of the Church, during the Divine Liturgy, we are physically encountering Christ in His Body and Blood. He physically touches us for no other reason than to set us free from our own infirmities. We can’t call ourselves Christians if we do not worship.
So that’s number one, in order to cultivate lowliness, humility, and patience as virtues we need to be in the Church.
Number two, in some of the prayers of our tradition we ask for God’s grace to be able to avoid the various subtle snares of the evil one. As tempting as it may be to keep tabs on the enemy to know what he is up to, you know, “research,” the best way to avoid falling into his traps is do just that – avoid them. When we “research” his traps, we already engage with him, which is the opposite of avoiding. His traps are subtle and they are various; we cannot outsmart the father of lies, so avoid his lies.
And lastly, to cultivate the virtues of lowliness, humility, and patience we need to remain one body, one Church. And that means that if someone is annoying us, we respond with patience. If someone is wrong about something, we bear with them in love. Let them be wrong, it does not matter (as long as they are not wrong about the core beliefs of Christianity, in which case correct them with love).
Unity in the Church does not mean that everyone thinks the same thing or agrees about everything. Unity in the Church means that we come together, with all our infirmities, to be touched by Christ, and to build up each other in faith.
The enemy is cunning and his traps are many, but it is easier to avoid them when we journey this life together and choose to be lowly, humble, and patient.
To the Lord Jesus Christ, Who always extends His hand to touch us and take away our infirmities, together with His Father, and the Holy Spirit, we give glory, honor, worship, and obedience, always, now and ever and unto ages of ages.
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