In the 19th century an Italian writer, Carlo Collodi, penned the classic Pinocchio about a wooden puppet who dreams of being a real boy. His creator, Geppetto, is a wood carver and he carves out this wooden puppet and names him Pinocchio, and the fairy tale takes off through learned lessons and hardships and deceit and joys and even tragedies until Pinocchio becomes a “real boy” and saves his maker from a life of lonely despair. It’s a great story and the recent animated film by Guillermo Del Toro is truly a masterpiece.
But what is it about a story that makes it so powerful? The underlying power of Pinocchio is the nagging realization that all of us really desire to become “real” We truly hunger to know who we were meant to be, and why are we here in the first place. Of course, there are varying degrees of this awareness through humanity, but, nonetheless, we all have that sneaking suspicion we were made for a purpose, and discovering that purpose, whether we are aware of it or not, really does drive much of our choices, desires, and actions.
When we take this knowledge seriously, we take our first steps in waking up to the message of Christ to satisfy our hunger for purpose and meaning!
Look at our Lesson today in 3 John 1:1-15:
The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in the truth.
Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in health; I know that it is well with your soul. For I greatly rejoiced when some of the brethren arrived and testified to the truth of your life, as indeed you do follow the truth. No greater joy can I have than this, to hear that my children follow the truth.
Beloved, it is a loyal thing you do when you render any service to the brethren, especially to strangers, who have testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey as befits God’s service. For they have set out for his sake and have accepted nothing from the heathen. So we ought to support such men, that we may be fellow workers in the truth.
I have written something to the church; but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge my authority. So if I come I will bring up what he is doing, prating against me with evil words. And not content with that, he refuses himself to welcome the brethren, and also stops those who want to welcome them and puts them out of the church.
Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. He who does good is of God; he who does evil has not seen God. Demetrios has testimony from every one, and from the truth itself; I testify to him too, and you know my testimony is true.
I had much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink; I hope to see you soon, and we will talk together face to face.
Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends, every one of them.
As usual, St. John, the Apostle of love; the disciple that laid on Christ’s chest at the Last Supper, once again uses the word “beloved” as an icon of the Normal Christian life in the community of the Faithful. And he does it so often and so well, that to miss the intention of this habit is to miss the point entirely. We are meant to be “beloved” by imitating his imitation of Jesus Christ! And being “beloved” reveals both purpose and attraction!
He gives us three icons; two positive and one negative, to illustrate the path to true Christ-like imitation and the discovery of our purpose and meaning.
- First, to imitate Christ and truly be Christian, we must “follow” the Truth. We don’t self-design the truth. We don’t make it up as we go along. We follow the truth. This means the Truth is a way of life that has been modeled before us and we then model it for the next generation. At its heart, this is what we mean when we say “apostolic succession.” It isn’t in magically transferring “power” from one bishop to the next as much as it is witnessing faithful persons imitating the wise lives of those who came before.
- Next, to imitate Christ and truly be Christian we can never put ourselves first! Conflicts always flow from self-centeredness. When I demand my way, I am laying the foundation for conflict that destroys my ability to imitate Christ. The gift of humility means I am free to prefer my brother over myself, but ignoring authority based not on demand but on a clear picture of one following Jesus, always sets me up for the damaging destruction of selfishness.
- Finally, to imitate Christ and to truly be Christian means I accept there is actually an unchanging standard to what that means. Christ isn’t an idea or a philosophy. He is a real Person. Truth be told, He is the only Real Person, and all persons who imitate Him become real persons themselves.
Yesterday we heard about the Last Judgement in Sunday’s service and said “goodbye” to meat for the Fast, and today we begin Cheesefare week and approach Forgiveness Sunday and the beginning of Great Lent. The Church gives us these two weeks of Meatfare and Cheesefare to “clean” out our homes of the central parts of our diets as we prepare, like an athlete, to enter the Area of the Virtues of the Great Fast. But this preparation isn’t punishment or deprivation for some sinister “penance” for being bad. No! It is the loving wisdom of the Lord Who desires us to constantly reorient our lives toward Him SO THAT we can become the person we were created to be! Let this shake-up of your daily routine be the wake-up call it is meant to be to prepare you for Pascha and the joys of a transformed life in Christ!
Today, are you becoming a real person? If you are, it’s because you are imitating Jesus Christ. But how do I learn how to imitate Christ? By embracing those who have imitated Him in their lives through the centuries. Let’s face it, folks, we need the Church if we are ever going to be Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. O Commanders of the Heavenly Host, we the unworthy beseech you, that through your entreaties you will fortify us, guarding us in the shelter of the wings of your ethereal glory, even as we fervently bow before you crying: “Deliver us from all danger, as Commanders of the Powers on high! “
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