The month of Tubah is a month celebrating the salvation of our Lord which has come to all the earth. He was born for the specific purpose of saving all of humanity, both Jew and Gentile. During this month we celebrate the Nativity, the Circumcision, the Epiphany, and the Miracle at the Wedding of Cana of Galilee. It is a month of blessings.
You would never know it if you opened the news. We know of our brothers who were shot to death in Egypt. We know of the now 100,000 people that were killed in the earthquake in Haiti. We know of churches being burned in Malaysia by Muslims. There is violence and death everywhere. So how do we rejoice?
To receive blessings, does not necessarily mean only “Joy.” It means joy, but today I want to focus on the responsibility that comes with this blessing. We as individuals and the Church collectively has been called upon to proclaim and show the Joy found in Christ, and the salvation found in the Church to the world. I am well aware that I am not saying anything new. No one here would ever deny the statement I just made: We as individuals and the Church collectively has been called upon to proclaim and show the Joy found in Christ, and the salvation found in the Church to the world.
But now is a time of reckoning. Today we must judge ourselves, by placing ourselves in the words pronounced by Christ in today’s Gospel message: Luke 11:29 And while the crowds were thickly gathered together, He began to say, “This is an evil generation. It seeks a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah the prophet. 30 For as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so also the Son of Man will be to this generation. 31 The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here. 32 The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here.
What is a sign? A sign points you in the right direction. A sign helps those who are lost. The sign is not the point. If you stopped at a sign and sat under it, you would never get to your destination. Our Lord Jesus Christ, with his actions and his words, was enough for the Jews to believe. At the words of Jonah, the Ninevites repented, and yet the Jews refused to repent at Christ’s words. The queen of the South came for the ends of the earth to hear Solomon, and the Jews could care less about Christ’s words.
With these words, let us first condemn ourselves. Christ is still present on earth. The Church is his body. He is in our midst, teaching us and guiding us. Have we offered a true repentance, or has Sunday liturgy become our entertainment. Do we come to church eagerly to hear the word of God or do we come out of habit or boredom or fear? We too are in danger of being judged and condemned by the Ninevites and by Jonah. We too sometimes seek a sign—God help me in this and I’ll be a stronger believer; God if you exist, heal that person; God do a miracle and I’ll believe in you—and if God doesn’t do what we command him to do, we blame him and not ourselves.
After we condemn ourselves, let us condemn ourselves some more. Christ called us to be a light to the world, how have we shown that light? Luke 11: 33 “No one, when he has lit a lamp, puts it in a secret place or under a basket, but on a lampstand, that those who come in may see the light.” You’re lamp was lit long ago, but have people seen the light of Christ in you? If you were put on trial for being a Christian, would they find enough evidence to find you guilty?
We have to again come back to the basics and start from the beginning and make a real start. Let us again begin to grow in the right way and complete our healthy growth. If one part of any person did not form right on his body, we would say he is deformed. Let us recognize our deformity and let us be quick to fix it.
Let me pause, and state that I just came back from a four day Evangelization Conference in Seattle Washington. This conference was attended by Orthodox, Protestants, and Catholics from all over the world. The group is called Christian Churches Together, and I came home with at least two distinct lessons. 1) I am deformed spiritually, and I personally must increase my work toward evangelizing and preaching God in my community. 2) It is the responsibility of the church to teach you how to evangelize. Every Christian is a missionary, and the essential mission of the Church is to evangelize to all people. The Church exists in order to evangelize. Now look to your right and look to your left and see how many non-Egyptians are seated next here. (Incidentally, there are 3 individuals who have been coming to our church for over a year, seeking baptism. Please seek them out and make them feel welcome here.)
Now evangelization is not easy. It must be done with the Church as a goal, and must be done by remaining completely faithful to the teachings of the Church, because this command to preach the word of God cannot be accomplished without her, and even more so, it can’t be done against her. There is no way to belong to Christ and not belong to the Church. Christ says, “Anyone who rejects you, rejects me” (Lk10:16). The “you” in that verse is the Church, as seen in the Apostles. Also, St. Paul makes it clear that “Christ loved the Church and sacrificed himself for her” (Eph 5:25).
Now the process of evangelizing is long, but will you begin it with me. Will you allow yourselves to be evangelized, and learn the true teachings of the Christ and the Church, and then will you bring this message to the world? Now I’m not saying preach, I’m saying being a Christian. Let us recall St. John Chrysostom’s famous words, let’s tattoo them in our minds: “There would be no need for sermons if our lives were shining; there would be no need for words, if we witnessed with our deeds; there would be no pagans if we were true Christians.”
St. Paul tells us today that nothing matters to Christ except our faith working through love. St. John commands us not to love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. My brothers and sisters, something has got to change. We as individuals must change ourselves, and the congregation of St. John collectively has to begin to change itself. Christ did not come, give us signs, die and rise and give us a new life so that we can sit in pews every Sunday, becoming spiritually fat and malnourished in virtues that come from works.
He came to preach his message to the world, and we have been called to continue that message today. I fear these verses today. I fear them because we neither seek a sign nor do we seek to offer signs to others. We are supposed to be the sign. People are supposed to look to us and then desire Christ. Do you want people to yearn for Christ after coming in contact with you? If you want this, then the Church can help you, but if you do not want this, then think twice before taking communion, because that is the entire point of communion. We consume Christ so that He can consume us. We eat Him to become a part of us, so that He will make us a part of Him.
What are we doing for our brothers and sisters in Egypt? Sending them money? Signing some petitions? Great. Now what are we doing about Haiti? 100,000 people dead, and are we going to pretend like it is someone else’s problem? What are we doing? Let us take this opportunity to take blessings from God and help our neighbors who are in need. The Good Samaritan helped the one who was robbed and beaten, let us enter into this work and help this country in the name of God. Now give your tithes to the church as is customary and proper, but above and beyond, let us give to help rebuild this country and these people. The youth have committed $1000 to getting supplies and water to the people of Haiti, if anyone would like to make a special offering, please see me after Liturgy. Every dollar counts.
It all starts here. It all starts at this table. It all starts with a decision. Something has got to change.
Fr Daniel Habib
LA Coptic Diocese