The Elect Obtained It!Fr. Barnabas Powell
“Don’t watch them make the sausage!” Good advice if you have a bit of a squeezy stomach. Having been exposed to farm life as a boy, I can tell you what my grandmother said about raising pigs: “Honey when it comes to pigs; we use everything from the rooter to the tooter!” She told me the only thing we don’t use from the pig is the “oink.” Yeah, it made me smile too.
But it also has been used to describe the backroom politics of any organization. Watching how some groups work to lead their organizations can make you cynical and even scandalized. I heard as much about how the Church operates at times. Just read church history and you will uncover some very unsavory moments, even, and especially among leaders of the Church through the centuries. When I was just learning about Orthodoxy and church history, I confess, I was shocked at the behavior of some leaders in the Church through the centuries.
And yet, the Faith, the Church survives the weaknesses of Her leaders. The Church survives the sins of Her priests and bishops and laypeople. How? Why?
Look at our lesson in Romans 11:2-12:
Brethren, do you not know what the scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? “Lord, they have killed thy prophets, they have demolished thy altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. What then? Israel failed to obtain what it sought. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that should not see and ears that should not hear, down to this very day.” And David says, “Let their table become a snare and a trap, a pitfall and a retribution for them; let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and bend their backs for ever.” So I ask, have they stumbled so as to fall? By no means! But through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean?
St. Paul tells the Roman Church that Elijah, one of the great prophets of Israel, actually asked God to judge Israel for their unfaithfulness. Elijah watched as the people chosen by God to be a witness of God’s Kingdom and love to the whole world seemed to be committed to doing the very opposite! They “killed the prophets” and “they demolished” the altars of God. Elijah was convinced he was the only “good” Israelite left. He had seen how unfaithful the People were even after God had preserved them and saved them and even established His Temple and Faith in their nation. He saw how they behaved, even the leaders, and he was convinced God should just forget about Israel. They were all bad!
He was wrong!
St. Paul reminds the Romans that God told Elijah that there was a “remnant” a group of people in the nation who were still faithful and that Elijah wasn’t alone in still loving and following God.
But then Paul tells the Romans an amazing truth! This whole sorted history has been used by God to open the door of salvation to those outside Israel! Amazing! What looked like a hopeless, all-bad, situation is actually a powerful expression of God’s love to take even the worst situation and turn it for good! And I love how St. Paul says that God bringing the Gentiles into the Faith would “make Israel jealous.” Look, those strangers are embracing what we’ve taken for granted all these years! Perhaps we should get serious about our Faith! See, good news all the way around!
Today, are you tempted to despair when you see people in the Church acting in very unchristian ways? Have you fallen into the delusion that you are the only one left who really takes the Faith seriously? Well, not to worry. There are many like you and even those who seem to be strangers and “outsiders” who are discovering the Orthodox Faith and embracing it. Maybe it will make the lifelong Orthodox who seem to have forgotten their Faith to wake up and start being Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. Dear Lord, it is so easy to get discouraged when we see even our leaders acting in ways that look horrible to others. We are tempted to throw our hands in the air and say “what’s the use.” But You prove time and again that You bring great good even from our mistakes and stumbles. Please help me remember that when I’m tempted to think I’m the only one left who cares. And help me to see how You are working to bring in all people to Your Church. Amen