One of my favorites was in the 1969 comedy “Support Your Local Sheriff.” In this movie James Garner plays a character that becomes sheriff in an Old West town just for the money, and, well, comedy ensues. But, in the end, both Garner and the town gain a great deal as they learn to truly value what they already have!
We are so susceptible to internal and external blindness of our blessings. So much so we even have a well-worn-out phrase that says as much: You don’t know how much you have till it’s gone! Why are we humans so weak here? Well, it has a lot to do with the three great spiritual “giants” that are always attempting to destroy us: Ignorance, Forgetfulness, and Sloth. When these rule our hearts, we are “asleep” to the vast treasure we truly have. And when something isn’t valued properly; it isn’t long till it goes away!
Look at our lesson today in 1 Corinthians 9:2-12:
BRETHREN, you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. This is my defense to those who would examine me. Do we not have the right to our food and drink? Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a wife, as the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Who tends a flock without getting some of the milk? Do I say this on human authority? Does not the law say the same? For it is written in the law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not speak entirely for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of a share in the crop. If we have sown spiritual good among you, is it too much if we reap your material benefits? If others share this rightful claim upon you, do not we still more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.
St. Paul reveals spiritual insights here that will help us overcome the “giants” that steal the truly precious treasures in our lives.
First, he insists the spiritual and material are NOT separate realities! There is such wisdom in this. Our whole Orthodox faith is about destroying the false dichotomy between the spiritual and the physical. So, St. Paul ties these realities together in sharing with the Corinthian church that their physical and material support of Paul and Barnabas in their priestly ministry teaches this valuable lesson and reinforces this valuable truth in the lives of the believers. Miss this lesson and you miss valuable insight into your own faith.
Next, he exposes the power of honor and truly valuing service. How much is someone worth to you and your family who dedicates his life to helping you and your family know eternal beauty? What loss to you if there was no one who gave themselves to this work? When we devalue the faith, the worship of the Church, the liturgy, we ultimately communicate to our children these activities aren’t really important. What effect do you think that kind of de-valuing has on their faith, on their willingness to preserve the Faith for their children? The notion that we shouldn’t value with our material support the ministry of the Church is at the heart of weakened and marginalized faith in the lives of our children!
Finally, the lesson of marrying the spiritual work of the minister to the physical support of the faithful destroys the temptation to “go it alone” or reduce the faith to mere “personal belief.” The community creating value of people banding together in cooperation, communion, and common vision and purpose create such a powerful effect in each soul so joined as to be worth its weight in gold! Our modern world is such an isolated and lonely place, and the remedy for this isolation is learning the lessons of practical bonding together for a common purpose. What a powerful lesson!
Today, do you value the ministry of those who have dedicated their lives to service in the Church? Or are you bitter and angry about having to “Support Your Local” priest? Please know your inward attitude about this subject reveals a spiritual condition that, if acknowledged, can lead you to the spiritual freedom of maturity and love. Being Orthodox on Purpose destroys the temptation to allow the “giants” to steal the faith of our children!
P.S. Dear Lord, You call us to honor and support those who labor for our spiritual welfare. Your Apostle Paul told us that “a laborer is worthy of his hire.” But sometimes we are asleep to the spiritual treasures we form within our own lives by being attentive to caring for those who care for us. Lord, we are too easily entrapped with gossip and selfish living and we assume our spiritual fathers will always “just be there.” But we must care for them and their families, Lord. Help us stay attentive to this worthy spiritual discipline! Amen.