Appreciate It. Practice It. Or Lose It!

Appreciate It. Practice It. Or Lose It!

“Father, you simply have to MOVE!” With that, my doctor, who was in the Marines as a young man, made it clear I had to change my sedentary lifestyle if I was to be healthy. In other words, if I didn’t start moving and exercising, I was going to lose my health. I had to use it or lose it. That wake-up call was just what I needed at the time. But, I confess, it didn’t last. Oh, sure, I did start exercising more, and I got on that treadmill that had become more of the “clothes hanger” than a workout machine. But as time passed I made excuse after excuse as to why I just didn’t have the time to exercise.

And that lasted until last year when I had a health scare that prompted my youngest daughter to look at me with a very worried look and say “Dad, I sure hope you get to know my children” Wow! That day I began to get serious about paying attention to my physical health. 50 pounds lost later, I’m on my way to better health.

And you know what I discovered? I really hate exercise! I don’t like low carbs and high protein diets. Being disciplined is tough, and I am not nearly as consistent as I need to be. But I’m getting better as I insist that my feelings and my desires be my servants and not my masters. I am grasping just why spiritual disciplines are so hard and why the Church constantly calls us to an attentive lifestyle. It’s when I treat my spiritual health as just a hobby that I discover my spiritual life getting weaker and weaker. And that’s why Jesus told the People of God in His day that the Kingdom of God is going to be taken from them and given to others who will appreciate it and won’t take it for granted!

Look at our lesson today in Matthew 21:43-46:

The Lord said to the Jews who had come to him: “I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it. And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but when it falls on any one, it will crush him.”

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. But when they tried to arrest him, they feared the multitudes, because they held him to be a prophet.

Once again Jesus confronts His own people, and especially the religious leaders of the people since it is they who are most responsible to lead the people to dynamic and active participation in the faith. And the Lord doesn’t mince words. In fact, reading today’s Gospel Lesson really does show why the leaders hated Jesus. He left them with only two choices: Repent or kill Him. We know what they chose. And in doing so, history tells us by 70 A.D. the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, and the city of Jerusalem was burned to the ground, the population was exiled and the area was renamed by the Romans!

The Lord tells these religious people “Use the Faith or lose the Faith.” Many thousands decided to “use the faith” and formed the Christian Church’s nucleus. But so many others decided to reject the Faith, and look what happened. The Holy Spirit came to a group of Gentiles, foreigners, and now all the tribes of the earth are participating in this Christian message centuries later! And the Orthodox Church continues the Mysteries of both the Temple and the Synagogue.

So, what blessing and warning should we take from this Gospel passage this morning? Well, the blessing is actively staying engaged and purposeful in our faith increases the strength of the faith we pass on to the next generation. The warning is if the People of God, shaped by centuries of scripture, prophets, and Temple worship, could miss the Son of God, then we today cannot ever believe our faith will sustain itself on some “automatic pilot” attitude. If we pass on a weak faith to the next generation, we shouldn’t be surprised to see the Faith go to “another nation” that WILL take it seriously and actively practice it! Of course, during times like these, we run the danger of training people to not gather together and make visible the Kingdom of God given to us. But, even in times of pandemic, we are not excused from actively practicing our faith and making our home “the little church” where the Faith is STILL passed on to the next generation regardless of the hardships of the moment!

Today, your faith is strong in direct proportion to your practice and your love for your faith. The goal of the faith isn’t some thoughtless habit as much as it is about a dynamic relationship that becomes so “normal” and active that it is only natural that the generation following you would keep the faith active and alive in their lives as well. And that doesn’t happen automatically. It happens when we purposefully practice, share, and teach this life-giving Faith. In other words: Go to Church and Be Orthodox On Purpose!

P.S. Dear Lord, please help me not to neglect my Faith, or take it for granted. I am not immune from having the Faith taken from me and it being given to another who will appreciate it and practice it. Please forgive me, Lord, when You and Your wisdom are far from my thoughts and actions. And grant me to see Your Faith as the very center and source of meaning for my life every day! Amen

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