Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, Christ is in our midst! The Psalmist cries out,“Ἡ βοήθειά μου παρὰ Κυρίου, τοῦ ποιήσαντος τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ τὴν γῆν.” In English, “My help comes from the Lord, He who made the heavens and earth.” My help comes from the Lord, He who made the heavens and earth. It is so, that if God removed from us His grace, for even just a brief moment, all of existence would be destroyed. Our help comes from the Lord, and not our help alone, but life itself is from He who strengthens us. Sometimes we think, ‘Why me’ or ‘Why is there suffering? Where is God in all this.’ But our Lord is with us, our Lord is always with us, it is not He who forsakes us, but rather we who so often abandon Him. We oftentimes, follow not in the example of the All Holy Mother of God, the Panaghia, standing at the foot of the Holy and Lifegiving Cross, but react to trouble like the Apostles, scattering into the wind. 'My help comes from the Lord,' we read in Psalm 120, 'He who made the heavens and earth.' Without our God, the Father who is everlasting, His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and the life-creating Holy Spirit, one Triune God, without God, we can do nothing. In the Gospel, the Evangelist John, the beloved disciple of our Lord, reveals the Lord’s teaching, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” My dear friends, do you hear these words, have you listened attentively to what is shared with us for our eternal salvation, our Lord says, “Without me, you can do nothing.”
Couple this message from our Lord, “Without me, you can do nothing,” with Saint Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians, “Brethren, God who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God: not because of works, lest any man should boast.” A brief pause, Saint Paul here is not saying that our actions have no merit, that the little good that we accomplish in this life is of no value or importance, this would stand contrary to Christ’s teaching and example. Saint Paul is protecting his spiritual charges in Ephesus, and us too, from the awful sin of pride. We are saved through faith and works, our salvation is from the Lord. In the Epistle of James, considered by the Church, yes, the same Church which would author and eventually compile the canon of the New Testament in the 4thcentury, to be the first text of the New Testament, in James’ letter, this the bondservant of our Lord, the first Bishop to the See of Jerusalem, martyred for his faith in the year 62 AD, from him we read, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” Saint James writes these words following the martyrdom of Aghios Stephanos, Saint Stephen the first Deacon of the Church. Deacon, or rather in the Greek, Diakonos, meaning in English, ‘Servant.’ A person who performs service to others. Both faith and works matter and are unto our salvation, in fact, they matter a great deal as we will again see.
Continuing with the Epistle, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Listen carefully again to this last verse and keep it in your heart as we prayerfully meditate upon the words of the Gospel. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” We are created for good works.
As we have heard before, we have been saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved. We alone, without our Lord can do nothing, and we are created for good works. Our Lord and Savior, the hope of our salvation, Jesus Christ, offers a powerful message in the Gospel reading of the Rich Man and Lazarus.
There was a man of great wealth and possessions whose name is of no import, because his life was forgotten and his name lost, as he too was lost in the worldly abyss of sinful chaos and death. This rich man sowed in his life the seeds of egoism, pride and blindness. Ignoring the urgent needs of Lazarus, who, full with sores and empty of stomach, lay at his gate. Day in and day out, the Rich Man, adorned with fine purple linen and full with life’s pleasures, passed poor Lazarus, never even remembering this poor beggar’s existence. Both the Rich Man and Lazarus died, but even before the Rich Man died, he was already buried, buried under his possessions as Saint John Chrysostom says by, ‘couches, rugs, furnishings, sweet oils, perfumes, large quantities of wine, varieties of food and flatterers.’ When Lazarus died, he was carried by the angels into the bosom of Abraham, the one who shared philoxenia, hospitality, to the angels, the Trinity. As Lazarus was in heaven, the Rich Man, the poorest soul was in the bowels of death, pleading to have Lazarus dip his finger in water just to cool his tongue, the Rich Man’s cries were ignored, he was truly now without hope and in complete separation from goodness and virtue by a great gulf, an impassable chasm.
We are created for good works as the Apostle Paul reveals, it is precisely these good works which the Rich Man failed in every regard to execute during his life. One may, in a state of delusion say, ‘I am saved,’ or think themselves guaranteed a place in paradise based upon mere words, but let us take great care to never fall into this demonic snare so popularly espoused, especially these days. This heresy of instant salvation regardless of works, is not a new heresy, nonetheless it is one to strongly oppose. It is imperative that we live a life of faith in Christ, in His Holy Church, that we actively participate fully in the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church, to be filled by His Word, and Holy Scripture, to absorb and study the lives of the Saints, and to live according to His commandments and example. Included in this, is to offer good works, the good works we were created for, remembering from the Gospel of Matthew, “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’
Without our Lord we can do nothing, yet with Him our true help, nothing is impossible. “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes,” Mark 9:23. Let us follow in the awesome example of our Lord, and may He grant us His patience, love and compassion, so that each of us may go forth and accomplish the good works for which we are created. Let us soberly reflect upon the situation of the Rich Man in the Gospel passage and may we never be so bold and selfish as to ignore the suffering of others. There are more Lazarus’ about then we care to realize, may our Lord illumine us as to how best to serve and embrace each one, always and forever, amen.