Let The Buyer Beware!Fr. Barnabas Powell
“OK, so what’s the catch?” The guy had just given me his best pitch for a timeshare vacation package at the resort we were enjoying in the Dominican Republic. (Beautiful place, by the way). They told us that if we went to this presentation we could get exclusive access to the 5-star restaurant at the resort and prefered seating! So, we agreed. Sitting there and listening to this pitch, I recalled all the other times in my life when I was younger and had not been sufficiently suspicious of an offer “too good to be true.” Being distracted can cost you, but staying focused always helps! As the old saying goes, “Let the buyer beware!”
Ever since there was that little incident in the Garden with a snake, we humans have had to continually learn the hard way that you gotta read the fine print! But that’s not bad. In fact, it’s when I am most attentive to the particulars that I find myself the most confident and undistracted. But how do I maintain the attentiveness necessary to not fall for a con? How do I stay attentive so that I don’t buy into the lies of the spirit of the age? And, more importantly, how do I teach my children to stay attentive to avoid the pitfalls life throws at them?
Look at our lesson today in Colossians 1:18-23:
BRETHREN, Christ is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him, provided that you continue in the fight, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which has been preached to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.
The city of Colosse was about 12 miles from the city of Laodicea, you know, the city mentioned by John in Revelation. It was in Asia Minor and had a growing Christian population since Paul had planted the church there during his missionary journeys.
Unfortunately, the growth of the Church there also meant the growth of some bad theology! It’s always been this way. The devil is always trying to plant weeds among the good seed of the Truth. We shouldn’t be surprised by this. And, in fact, we should both expect it and prepare for it. That’s a good thing because it means we can never put our faith in “automatic pilot.” We have to stay vigilant. We have to stay awake. We have to pay attention to the details! Hey, this sounds like it’s going somewhere!
The Colossians had fallen for a bad theological pagan teaching about “elemental spirits.” What that was was the teaching that there were some basic “spirits” that created the world and ran the world. Paul wants these faithful to know that Jesus is the Creator and Supreme Lord over all spirits and He should be the focus of our worship and devotion, not these other “ideas” that constantly threaten to divide our devotion! So Paul tells these believers that Jesus is the head of the body. Jesus is the beginning. Jesus is the “firstborn from the dead.” And Jesus is “preeminent (great word)” in everything. In other words, our focus must be on Christ so that we won’t be distracted and fall for a message that is “too good to be true.”
And then Paul tells us how to keep from falling into that trap. He tells the Colossians and us that we have to do our part to stay focused. We have to keep fighting, stay stable and focused, and don’t “shift” from the Gospel. Of course that presupposes you know what the Gospel is, doesn’t it? So, do you? Do you know what the Gospel, the Evangelium, is? Paul says it a few verses later in verse 27 – “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” The Good News is a Person, Jesus Christ.
The key to staying attentive is staying in love with God! Every day the Church gives us practical disciplines such as prayer, fasting, and practicing generosity that builds my ability to filter all of my choices through the wisdom of the Faith. But I won’t be able to do that if I remain ignorant of this Faith. I won’t stay awake if I treat the spiritual disciplines of the Church as “optional” or “that’s just for monks and priests.” I set myself up to be conned when I take my eyes off Christ!
Sts. Marcianos and Martyrios the Notaries are a perfect example to us of men who refused to fall into bad theology and be conned into a smaller life than a life lived in faithfulness to Christ. These men were faithful followers of Jesus in the 4th century. St. Marcianos was a subdeacon and St. Martyrios was a chanter. They lived at the time when the Arian heresy was flourishing in the Roman Empire. This bad theology taught that Jesus was not equal to the Father and was just a “little god.” Of course, the true Faith preserves the fullness of the wisdom of God in teaching that Jesus is Fully God and Fully Man. As it says in the Creed about Jesus, He is “God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten and not made; of the very same nature of the Father, by Whom all things came into being, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible.” Sts. Marcianos and Martyrios refused to be sold a bill of goods by the heretics and they were beheaded by the Arians in the year 346 AD. These heroes of the Faith understood the difference between healthy truth and sich heresy and they refused to abandon truth for the sickness of bad theology!
Today, are you attentive enough to avoid being sold a bill of goods that turns out to be a bad deal in your faith? Do you know how to focus on Christ so that you won’t be distracted by the temptations of bad theology? If you will simply keep fighting, stay focused, and be faithful to the fullness of the Faith preserved for you and given to you as a gift you’ll reap the blessings of wisdom by living a Normal Orthodox Life!
P.S. You struggled well even from earliest childhood, O wise Martyrios and all-blessed Marcianos, and kept unchanged the Faith held by the Orthodox; for you cast down Arius, the blaspheming apostate, as you followed after Paul, your divinely wise teacher. Wherefore with him you also have found life, as God the Trinity’s excellent champions.
You still have time to register for the event in Irvine, CA at St. Paul’s parish! Fr. Barnabas would love to meet you!