Dwight Moody told a story of a man who was asked by his ten-year-old son, "Daddy, why don't you ever go to church with us?" The father replied, "I don't need to go to church, son. My faith is established." Later that same day the man drove his horses out of the barn and hitched them to a buggy. As he and his son drove out of the yard, the horses became mired in a mud hole. The man tried in vain to extricate them, whereupon the boy observed: "They're not going anywhere, Daddy. I believe they're established.
How established is our faith? We may feel our faith is so steady and secure that there is no need for us to do anything else. We feel comfortable with our life and our relationship with God. That could be a good explanation for not attending Divine Liturgy week after week, month after month or arriving 45 minutes to an hour after the liturgy begins. That might be why we neglect to pray or read the sacred scriptures day after day. It may be the reason for turning our back on the poor and the needy who ask for our help. Our faith is so steady and secure that we feel no need to grow in it. If that is the case then we are just like Dwight Moody and his horses—stuck in the mud!
Today is the First Sunday of Great Lent, what we also call the Sunday of Orthodoxy or the Sunday of Icons. On this day every year we read the Gospel of John 1:44-52. We hear that Philip told Nathanael that he and others had found the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth (v.45). After Nathanael questions whether the Messiah could come from Nazareth, Philip answers him, "Come and see" (v.46). This phrase, "Come and see" (Greek "erchou kai ide") is simple yet powerful. "Come" implies movement from one place to another. The fact that Philip and others "found" Jesus implies that they were searching. They were moving from one place to another, looking for the one whom Moses and the Prophets wrote about (v.45). The message is that: If we want to find Jesus, then we must move from one place to another. In other words, if we want to see the Messiah, then we must change. We must grow and mature. Many other people moved to see Jesus including Andrew and John (Jn.1:35-42); Zacchaeus who climbed a tree; the Centurion; Mary, Peter, John coming to the tomb; the Paralytic (6th Sun. Matt.); the Paralytic w/ four friends; the Samaritan woman at the well. Movement is a subtle, yet central aspect of each of their stories.
One of our basic human needs, besides food and water, is for safety and security. It affects everything we do. After we feel safe and secure, usually we focus our energies on improving our comfort. So, it's one thing to have a place to sleep, it's another thing to have a mattress to sleep on and still another thing to have a sleep number bed. All our routines of life are meant to give us a sense of safety, security and comfort. The world, society and people around us are not constant. They are always changing and we expend a lot of energy and resources to adjust to those changes in order to keep ourselves safe, secure and comfortable. We experience physical and emotional stress as we see things change around us. It does not matter whether the change is positive or negative, it is still stress inducing.
Our relationship with God has many similarities to our pursuit of safety, security and comfort. We feel safe if we have a faith or belief in Jesus Christ. We feel more secure if we think we are following His commands and doing His will. We feel comfortable if think we are going to heaven. We want these to be set in place so we don't have to worry or get stressed out about them. Typically, we only go so far and then think we have arrived at our destination. Unfortunately, some churches and church officials teach this very thing, including the "Once saved, always saved" approach to salvation. "Come and see", well I came and I saw, now I need to get back to more important things.
This is not how our relationship with God works. In the scriptures, after people make a move to come and see Jesus, He does not tell them, "Ok, you're all set, go back to what you were doing before." Rather, He commands them to further movement and change with words like, "Go; Follow Me; and Give." In other words, if we want to have an authentic relationship with God and other persons, it by definition, must be changing and growing. It cannot be "established". We cannot be stuck in the mud. Have we ever said to ourselves, "I have never seen or experienced God or at least not for a long time"? Well, maybe it's because we never moved, we never changed, we never grew up or matured. Once we stop changing, we stop coming or going, then we stop seeing God in our life.
Jesus is the One who never changes. That's why God calls Himself, "I AM" or "O WN". That's why St. Paul says in Hebrews 13:8 "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever." That's why Jesus says that He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. We are the ones who must change in order to become like Him, to fulfill the image and likeness of God within us.
Many people reacted to Jesus and His teachings with indignation and seething hatred because He was telling them that they must change. That stressed them out because they loved their safe, secure and comfortable lives more than they loved God. Is it any different in our own day when people get upset with the teachings and traditions of the Church that constantly tell them to move from one place to another in terms of spiritual maturity?
John the Baptist preached "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." Jesus preached the same message. Repent (Greek "metanoia") means to change. Especially during Lent the Church encourages us to repent, to change, to move from one place to another. The pillars of Great Lent are Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving. Prayer is a movement of our soul, changing it's focus from inward or earthly to outward and heavenly. Worship is a moving from home or work to God's house. Fasting is a change of our appetite/desire for food into one for God. Almsgiving is a moving of material resources from ourselves to others.
Are we having difficulty believing that anything good can come from all of this? "Come and See!" Amen.
Fr. Richard Demetrius Andrews is the pastor of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Fr. Andrews is the past president of Minnesota Eastern Orthodox Christian Clergy Association (MEOCCA), and a volunteer chaplain with the St. Paul Police Department.