An ongoing joke among church families is how long it takes to get ready for church on Sunday mornings! Of course, this isn’t true of going to work or going to school, or going to a game, or a dance or most other social and work-related events. But, when it comes to church services, well, the excuses fly!
But in reality, we all suffer from this tendency to not be ready when the time comes. We know we should! We know we can. But, despite our best intentions, it seems there is a spiritual conspiracy to keep us from worship and arriving on time for services.
I tell my own folks, if you arrive too late to have heard the Gospel proclaimed, you are not prepared properly to receive the Eucharist. That’s actually a pretty old discipline in the Orthodox Church, but, still, it’s a good rule of thumb to use.
So, how can we address the seemingly human-wide struggle to be ready at the right moment?
Look at our lesson today in Matthew 10:1, 5-8:
At that time, Jesus called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every infirmity. These twelve Jesus sent out, charging them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And preach as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying, give without pay.”
OK, let me set the scene for you. Jesus’ public ministry has just begun. He’s been baptized by St. John the Forerunner and He has gathered His disciples, which include both the 12 Apostles and the 70 disciples that surrounded them. The Lord is sending these out two by two to spread the word of the coming Kingdom of God. They are to preach, heal, and cast out demons. In other words, they are to be the first wave of attack against the kingdom of darkness and the reign of death in the world.
And Jesus gives them specific instructions. He tells them to go “nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Really? The Lord will use Samaritans and Gentiles as His ministry grows as examples of great faith and extraordinary belief. But He tells His disciples to avoid these groups. The Gentiles were anyone not born in the lineage of St. Abraham and under the covenant that God made with Abraham and his descendants. The Samaritans were “half-breeds.” They represent the people in history who were at one time part of the lineage of Abraham but had intermarried with pagans and had become influenced by these foreign religions and mixed the Faith with paganism. But why avoid them?
Because the first group that needed tending to was the “lost sheep of the house of Israel!” They were the ones who had been formed by 6000 years of Temple worship, stories, wisdom, scripture, preaching, prayers, prophets, and even times of exile for breaking the covenant with God. They should have known better. They had had all the advantages of wisdom, scripture, and prayer, and they still wandered away from the Lord. They get to hear the Good News first because they had been prepared and they should have been ready.
And many did believe! What was 120 followers of the Lord in the Upper Room on the Feast of Pentecost in Acts 1 grew to over 3000 believers by Acts 2! And the vast number of converts to the Faith of Christ in the first few years of the Church were Jewish believers! In fact, Rome considered the nascent Christian Church as a sect of Judaism until the events after 70 AD and the destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. The Children of Abraham should have been ready. Sadly too many were not and they missed the fulfillment of all they had in the Faith of Abraham.
But that’s such a familiar story. All the benefits, all the advantages. And still we humans squander opportunities. It happens in all our lives. What’s the missing piece that makes us so susceptible to “not being ready?” The answer isn’t mysterious or even complicated. But it isn’t easy. What you and I have to embrace is ATTENTIVENESS! We have to stay focused on the right goal. And that goal is to understand you were made in God’s image to become LIKE Him SO THAT you will ultimately become who you really ARE! Stay Attentive and staying attentive means always making sure your faith takes top priority in your life!
Today, are you ready? You’ve had all the treasures of the Faith for generations. You have the Holy Scriptures, and you have the liturgical life of the Church to form you and keep you focused in the right direction! So, what are you waiting for before you actually live Orthodox on Purpose?
P.S. Dear Lord, it’s so easy to point out where others have missed opportunities in their lives because they weren’t focused in the right direction. But this is so very true of my own life as well. Please help me start with myself and not worry about the speck in my brother’s eye! Being attentive to You and Your work in my life is easily lost in this chaotic age. Please help me be quick to repent when I’m distracted from You! And help me have the courage to take up the spiritual treasures given to me by Your precious Church! Amen