Tag Archive for: Lent

Lenten Journey Day 40 – Worship

Lenten Journey Day 40 – Worship

What a beautiful day today is. It is day 40 – forty days ago we began this Lenten Journey. We feel a sense of accomplishment. It is a good feeling. It has been 40 days of fasting – abstaining from certain foods. It has been 40 days of intensifying our prayer life. It has been 40 days of charitable giving, not merely by writing out checks but giving pieces of ourselves. We have counted our blessings and our talents, contemplating our purpose and function within life and our world. It has been a time of reflection.

It is perfectly natural for us to look back today, perhaps even revisit some of the themes that we explored during this Season. In looking back, though, we must be honest. If not, we will be betrayed by our attitudes and actions.

Today as we gather on this 40th day of Lent we arrive as new creatures. We have been transformed. We have changed, perhaps not to the exact place we would like to be, but the change is noticeable. In particular we have a new outlook. We see ourselves differently, as individuals and within the structure of our communities and the world.

The one topic that follows, naturally is “Worship.” It is the one area that we have not explored. It is the most extraordinary and natural. It is the final step we need to take during this Lenten Season.

In worship we understand ourselves in relationship with God in a rather unique manner. Worship is not prayer . It is praise. Worship is not asking. Worship is giving. It is giving ourselves and humbling ourselves before that which is greater than ours self. And so, Worship is the final step in the Lenten period.

It has been a beautiful journey this year because we have grown, both individually and together. By listening, by talking, by sharing, by extending ourselves, that is, by Loving! Think of it for a moment. The Love that we share with others defines who we are in, for and around life itself. And we have a new definition today. We have a new lease on life today! We have opportunity to come face-to-face with this holy season, to look at the resurrection with new eyes. Our eyes are focusing beyond crucifixion and we see the empty tomb. We witness and become part of the Tomb.

Imagine that…. Sitting in the Tomb of Jesus. Imagine waking up after the torture of crucifixion. Imagine waking up after a burial. We can now share properly what we were intended to share from the very beginning – to become participants in the salvation process. It is not a question of being saved, but one of being a participant. And that is where worship grants us a perfect model.

Worship in the Armenian Church is participation. It is an act of participation. It is not witnessing, but throwing yourself into it holistically with all your senses. To visually see what is around you – the visual delights, the colors, the candles, the flowers. To smell the aroma of the flowers at the altar as well as the incense that takes our prayers to heaven. To be able to hear the beautiful tones and tonalities of the angels. Not saying I don’t understand so let the angels come to me, but rather asking, how can I fly with the angels. How can I participant? Our sense of touch is also important in the Worship services. We have to touch each another. We have to physically love one another. We have to kiss each other to say “You are important in my life just as I would like to be important in yours.” In that touching process we begin to understand what it means to put our feet in the shoes of others. In the shoes of our brothers and sisters, of our people, of others who are struggling. We place our feet in the shoes of others and we understand their difficulties. Perhaps the loss of a job? The loss of a loved one? Perhaps they have an inability to process the spirituality, to process the love that God has put in our heart. And so we reach out to one another physically.

Finally we appeal to our sense of taste. We participate by communicating, by communing with the Holy Eucharist, with the precious body and blood of Jesus Christ.
So we see that worship really is that final step in the Lenten Journey. It is a step that allows us to go beyond Lent, so that taking what we learned during these 40 days, we can apply it and make it a reality in our life, every single day and every single moment, in our relationships with one another, to draw on what we learned in the past, but not to stay there in the past, and to say that the life before me is so beautiful that I’m ready to walk. I am ready to take on the challenges. I am empowered by God. I have been given a new lease on life with Jesus Christ as my savior.

Jesus Christ. Love incarnate. I have been given a new lease on life through Jesus, through love.

We conclude with a meditation on John chapter 15, Jesus, the True Vine. Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.

This concludes the Lenten Journey.

The daily messages continue tomorrow with the Holy Week series at Epostle.net

Lenten Journey Day 38 – Happiness & Blessings

Lenten Recipe

Recipe 38: Peach Salsa

Lenten Journey Day 38 – Happiness & Blessings 

The Declaration of Independence of the United States proclaims that people are endowed by their creator to have the unalienable right to pursue happiness. Striving for happiness can be expensive for many. Some people forget and forsake all else for the sake of happiness. Often we view happiness as an end in itself, forgetting that happiness can serve a greater end, and that end we call life.

In the Sermon on the Mount our Lord Jesus Christ offers a plan for happiness, which many times seems to be at odds with the perspective offered by the world. Rather than focusing on pride, Jesus recommends being humble. Rather than pushing for pleasure or possessions Christ says true joy is found by helping others. Instead of pushing others out of our way, Jesus tells us to minister to them. His prescription for happiness seems to be at odds with the rest of the world.

Today as we are winding down our Lenten journey, taking those final steps on the road toward Holy Week we start putting pieces together. Fragments seem to collide with each other, right before our eyes. We have a new understanding of what that happiness is all about.

You were given this prescription at an early age, you probably read it several times, heard in many times but never made the connection that it was a prescription. It is a special healing for each and every one of us. It is an opportunity for us to connect to something greater than ourselves. It is a prescription for happiness. We call it the “Beatitudes.”

In the Sermon on the Mount (chapter 5 of the Gospel of St. Matthew) Jesus utters these words and speaks to the heart of a hurting people. He speaks to the soul of a people who need healing. These people are not members of any particular ethnic group. In fact, these people are all of us, they are you and me. Through the centuries we have opened these pages and have been inspired and found hope in tomorrow. In the dreams that we dream and surely those dreams being actualized are the happiness that you and I seek.

Today as you and I are finishing this Lenten season let us read the Beatitudes – this prescription for happiness. As you read, take your time to meditate on how these words speak to you. Contemplate the meaning of the words today and how they might have been interpreted before you started the Lenten Journey. We have tried to alienate ourselves from the pace of everyday life, and we have found a life that is full and rich. It is full of sacrifice, as our Lord Jesus Christ says, “He who is going to follow me must pick up his cross and follow me.” Further He sets a beautiful gardening metaphor for growth, by saying, “Unless a grain of wheat falls in the earth and dies it remains a single seed, but when it does die it produces much harvest.” Jesus in talking about His own resurrection, invites us to participate in a life of giving, of loving. It is a life of sharing, which makes it a life of fullness, where real happiness is instilled in our heart and can never be taken away.

The Beatitudes are the hope that Jesus gives us.

You who have gone through 38 days of the Lenten season with heightened prayer, with fasting with giving of charity. You will hear these words for the first time in a new manner as a prescription and formula for sacrifice, love and happiness. Let us pray the Beatitudes:

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Lenten Journey Day 26 – Courage

Lenten Recipe 
Recipe 26: Cold Noodles in Spicy Sesame Sauce

Lenten Journey Day 26 – Courage 

During Lent we have become aware of the curtain drawn across the altar of life. That curtain is the obstacle that prevents us from seeing the wonders and the beauty of God – the obstacles that prevent us from maximizing our potential. That curtain has been lowered because of our fears, and the only way for us to bring it up, the only way for us to open that curtain is to combat our fears with courage.

Because God resides within us we know that the potential for courage is within us. Courage comes from within where God has placed it.

At the Last Supper, Jesus asked his disciples to look within. In the Gospel of John, we read Jesus’ final discourse (Chapter 16 and on). Jesus asks his disciples to act with love and with humility even in the face of the unthinkable, at the most horrid of endings. At the Last Supper he discloses to his disciples that he will suffer an unthinkable death. He will be humiliated before humanity. The same creature that received its life from Christ, will now kill the Christ. The same life that was formed from those hands, will now take those very hands and drive nails through them! And yet, Jesus says, have courage. In no uncertain terms he demands it of each of us who sit across from Him at the table. His words, “Courage! The victory is mine. I have overcome the world,” are words that should resound, should reverberate in the deepest pockets of our souls.

Our curtains need to be opened. The obstacles need to be removed. It’s all in our hands. We can do it if we have the courage. So let’s find that courage. It’s easy. Here is a small Lenten exercise for today. Imagine yourself sitting across from our Lord Jesus Christ at the Last Supper. As he spoke to his disciples 2,000 years ago, today he speaks to us, in the same language, knowing that ahead of Him lies the cross, and acknowledges the certainty of the resurrection. Now listen to his words carefully. “Courage! The victory is mine. I have overcome the world!”

It does not matter what difficulties we have ahead of us. It does not matter what kinds of obstacles there are. There may be crosses that are huge and torturous. There may be crosses that we find difficult to raise. There may be crosses that are merely stumbling blocks. It does not matter. With courage, we can carry those crosses. And we can find the resurrections. As we find, they are sitting on the other side of our curtains.
Open the curtains! Remove the obstacles! Put fear aside. Have courage – a courage that comes from within and without. Understand yourself as a creation of God, standing with Him during his trials and tribulations on the cross because, as you know, He is standing with you at your trials and your tribulations, guaranteeing you a resurrection.

Let us pray now the prayer of St. Nerses Shnorhali:
You who bring back the wanderers, turn me from my evil ways into good ones and imprint upon my soul the recollection of the dreadful day of death, the fear of hell, and the love of your kingdom that I may repent or my sins and do righteousness. Have mercy upon all your creatures and upon me, a great sinner. Amen. (I Confess with Faith, 17/24)

Lenten Journey Day 25 – Fear

Lenten Recipe

Recipe 25: Curry Butternut Squash

Lenten Journey Day 25 – Fear
By this 25th day of the Lenten Journey we realize many things have changed in our lives. It may seem as if our surroundings have changed when actually we are now perceiving things differently. We have a broader understanding of our prayer life. We communicate with God and with our self. We understand our fasting as a means of discipline, and of course, our giving – reaching out to others with compassion – as an articulation of faith. On this 25th day of Lent, we understand that beyond these 40 days, there is a the journey of life. What we gain from Lent, we will carry for the rest of our life.

These past few days we have studied the story of the Dishonest Steward and contemplated on the theme of stewardship, that is, being entrusted by another to look over assets. We are entrusted by God to look over His greatest gift to us: the life that we live. We are managers of that life.

Remember that in the story of the Dishonest Steward, we find a person who is commended for his shrewdness. Shrewdness is one man’s talent, while others may shy away from such expressions because of fear. That fear, in turn, prevents us from maximizing our potential. The fear of the unknown is high on the list of fears, along with the fear of the self, the fear of being put down. There are so many dimensions to fear, and whatever they may be, we realize that fear prevents us from maximizing our potential.  Fear is the hurdle to overcome. The obstacles to win the race of life are many. Overcoming fear is our first step.  Think about it in your life – all the dreams that you have, all of them are attainable, so what prevents you from reaching those goals if not fear?

In our churches we cover the altar during the Lenten season. That curtain symbolizes sin, the separation between us and God due to sin. Because of our imperfection, we sin. And yet, perhaps that curtain can best be described as fear, as the fear that really prevents us from seeing the beauty that is all around us. Seeing the potential we have within us.
Beyond the parable of the Dishonest Steward, Jesus uses other parables to explain stewardship to us. Among them he speaks of stewards who are fearful; that is, people who are entrusted with life but fear to explore it. One such parable reminds us of three men who are entrusted with different amounts of money. To the first, $10,000 dollars is given; to the second, $5,000; and to the third, $1,000. When an accounting is required – “What did you do with the money that I gave you? – the first one says, “I took the $10,000 and I invested it. And I took some risks with it, but here it is. I have produced an additional $10,000.” The second man did the same thing. He took the $5,000 and he multiplied it and gave back $10,000 – “Here’s $5,000, and here’s $5,000 more that I invested and am giving back to you!” But the third of these stewards was fearful. To him was given $1,000. And he was scared. He was scared of humiliation. He was fearful that he might be condemned if anything happened to that money. Rather than understanding that money as a tool, he took it and kept it in his pocket, as if it had intrinsic worth in itself. When asked for an accounting of his stewardship, he reached into his pocket and gave back the $1,000. Nothing was lost! Not a penny! But he was condemned. He was condemned because what was given to him was kept and not utilized. He was scared to use it. He had that fear that each and every one of us possess: the fear of succeeding.

The reasons for those fears are many. They go back to our childhood and to our relationships with people who have demanded of us. Some of them are because of physical inabilities, handicaps or illnesses. They are all the same, and each of them accordingly prevent us from realizing our dreams, from reaching the goals that we set for ourselves and more importantly, from reaching the goals that God wants us to set for ourselves.

Each of the stewards in this story are given different amounts to remind us that life deals out different hands to different people. Some may have more, and others may have less, but in each case we have a responsibility to take what is given to you and maximize it. I invite you today to really think about that stewardship that God has entrusted us with – the life that you have – to end the fears that prevent you from really maximizing yourself and the potential that God has placed inside of your heart. There are so many beautiful things all around you, and I invite you to look beyond the material gains. This is not an exercise in prosperity but an exercise in fulfilling the dreams of your heart and of reaching the potential that you have.

During this Lenten Journey we realize that the curtains in front of us need to be drawn, and that we do want to see the beauty in life. Because we want it, we know that God has placed that desire in our hearts. Let us seek the beauty that God has set up all around us and know that with his help those potentials can be realized and actualized.

We now pray the prayer of St. Nerses Shnorhali
Protector of your Creatures, by the sign of your holy cross, keep my soul and body from the allurement of sin, from the temptation of the devil and unjust people, and from all perils of soul and body. Have mercy upon all your creatures, and upon me, a great sinner. Amen. (I Confess with Faith, 14/24)

Lenten Journey Day 24 – Rock, Paper, Scissors

Lenten Recipe

Recipe 24: “Berry Good Chili”



Lenten Journey Day 24 – Rock, Paper, Scissors
One of the early games we learn as children is the game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. Standing across from our opponent we produce one of these symbols as a hand gesture. A flattened hand is the symbol of paper, a clenched fist is a rock, and two fingers extending forward are scissors. Each item in this trinity has its own strength as well as its own weakness. Each has power over another and is overcome by another. Scissor cuts paper but is crushed by the rock. Paper covers the rock but is shredded by the scissor. Rock breaks the scissor but is made invisible by the paper.

Each item in its own right has seeming power and at the same time is betrayed by its own intrinsic weakness.

This week we have been examining our lives in terms of stewardship, that is, what is our responsibility and purpose in life, have been entrusted with the gifts of God, the greatest of which is our life! Being managers of life means we have to coordinate the working of our breath, smile, heartbeat, feelings and actions. We each have, like the rock, paper, and scissors, our own weaknesses and our own strengths. 

In a society that places so much emphasis on outward appearances, unfortunately, it is easy for us to overlook some of our greatest strengths. The Lenten Journey has given us opportunities for introspection and to identify our strengths. By viewing our self as a steward of God’s goodness, we quickly realize how special we are as a unique creation of God. That is, we may be thin and fragile like the paper, but we have unique qualities which can show its strength and tenacity over the hard rocks of life. Individually, we have unique qualities, but in the grand playing field of life, we bring our talents together for the betterment of the team, the whole.

Today we look at the talents that God bestows upon us. How do we use those talents to overcome the difficulties in life? Are we a piece of paper? Can we cover the rocks in our lives? Perhaps we are scissors and we can cut the paper that hide and blanket our progress. And if we are rocks, we must use that mass to crush the scissors that tear us apart. We have these strengths within us. It is just a matter of spreading those unique qualities on field and realizing with so many different people and different talents, we are playing on an even playing field.

God gives us the unique strengths. To drive that power, he gives us freedom, love, and compassion. We are called to explore all the dimensions of life so that we can maximize our potential. As we live life we begin to notice our weakness and that gives way to fear. It is only natural. Now we understand that to overcome those fears, we need not to look without, but to look within. Our strength is within us. Sure, we may be scared. But consider on the even playing field, that it may be something as simple as a piece of paper that is covering us, shadowing us, preventing us from seeing all of the beauty around us. Quickly, we realize that we have within us the scissor to cut apart that paper. We may be scared of those scissors that are tearing us apart, that are leaving us in bits and pieces between family relationships, our work and our love. But we realize that we have the rock within us to crush apart that hatred that divides us from the things that we love. And of course, we may be fearful of some of the rocks that can unexpectedly crush some of our enjoyment. But right away let’s remember that much like the paper there are parts of us that can become the shadow, the umbrella over those rocks, over those difficulties to prevent those rocks from ever surfacing or even getting close to us. We do have that strength within us. Lent gives us this opportunity to inventory those strengths as well as our fears, and realize that we can overcome the bad with the good.

A simple childhood game, “Rock, Paper, Scissors” and the week of the Steward reminds us of our strengths and weaknesses and how we manage them. Life has its ups and downs, with moments of difficulties and moments of happiness and glory. But in all things, we are one with God when we take advantage of the gifts that He has given us. Celebrate the talents that make us who we are.

Let us pray the prayer of St. Nerses Shnorhali:
Oh Christ, who are the living fire, inflame my soul with the fire of your love which you did set forth upon this Earth that it may burn the stains of my soul, sanctify my conscience, purge the sins of my body and kindle in my heart the light of your knowledge. Have mercy upon all your creatures and upon me, a great sinner. Amen. (I Confess with Faith)

Lenten Journey Day 22 – Stewardship Training

Lenten Recipe

Recipe 22: Susty’s Super Tofu Salad

Lenten Journey Day 22: Stewardship Training

This is the week of the steward. Yesterday we read the story of the Dishonest Steward in the Gospel of Luke, in which Jesus uses the metaphor to point to our responsibility in life. We are called to be managers of the life and the talents that God has given us. He asks us to use those talents with our brothers and sisters here in this world.

By using the metaphor of stewardship, Jesus makes it very clear that we are accountable for our life. One day, like the manager or steward, we will be asked to produce a record, an accountability of our stewardship. What did we do with what God has given us? Did God give us talents? Did He give us an ability? Did He give us a smile? Did He give us a heartbeat and a breath? What did we do with that gift? What did we do with our lives?

Imagine giving a gift to a friend or a loved one. Wouldn’t you like to know that your friend enjoyed that gift? At some point wouldn’t you ask your loved one, “What did you do with that gift that I gave you? Did you enjoy it?” And certainly, how hurt you would be if that person had taken your gift and stored it in a closet or worse yet, just thrown it in the trash and never once paid attention to it. Likewise, God wants to know that the gift He has given us, that most valuable commodity – the breath that we breath, the heart that beats, the smile that comes from our hearts – is being used, and is being used wisely. Ultimately, is it being used to spread love of God to others. That is the demand put upon us as stewards of God’s gifts. We are stewards of our lives. We are responsible for the talents that are given to us, to share them, use them, and to give an account of How? Where? And What did we do with all that God has given us?

Among the seven deadly sins is a sin called “sloth” perhaps the one most misunderstood because it points to inactivity whereas the other sins require us to be active, to engage in the sin. This one sin is defined by just being lazy, by not doing something. Now think of that for a minute. Why would that be a sin? How can not doing something be a sin?

God has given you a gift. You do not have a right to store it in a closet. You do not have a right to take God’s gift and trash it. It is holy. It is sacred. That is what your life is. Every blessing, every moment that you have in your life is a sacred gift from God.

During this Lenten season we are taking an inventory of the different blessings we have in life. We see that we can bring life down to its bare minimum with what is essential to live and with what is essential to survive. In so doing we understand that the little, that very essential element in life, is really that blessing that God has given us. Interestingly enough, as we go through this Lenten journey, our perspective changes.

Remember a few weeks ago when we read that Jesus says, “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that is spoken by God,” we thought of it in terms of the bar essentials, the bare minimum. But today that has changed because we have changed since we last read that passage. The challenge today, on this 22nd day of Lent, is to really look at those same words “…By every word that comes out of the mouth of God…” as being the blessing, as being the fullness of God speaking to our hearts, to our ears that are listening from within and now acting. We are saying if God is speaking to us, if God is directing our ways, can we go wrong? Can we possibly be steered in the wrong direction? Can we possibly think that our actions as stewards, as managers of that God-given life can be anything but a productive one? It will be a life filled with beauty, with ambiance, with love, with all of the dynamics necessary in this life. The life we live today is an abundant one. “I came so that you would have life,” said the Lord, “and have it abundantly.” A life with Christ is a life in love. It is a life of abundance having everything that you need.

We are managers of the most precious gift given to us by God. It is not something that sits in our wallet, not something that sits in our bank account, but something that resides in the center of our being, in our heart. It is life and it is defined by the smile, the warmth and the love that comes out of us.

You are the steward. There’s no tag on your shirt that says, “Manager,” because God has placed upon you the greatest tag of all. He’s named you as His child. Take advantage today. Is there anything that speaks to your heart more than the dreams that you have – the accessibility to a life that is rich and full? It is yours. It is yours because God has placed you in charge of that life. You do not have a right to place it in a closet. You do not have a right to trash it. All you have a right to do is enjoy it. Let it flower. Let it be fruitful. Let it bring glory to God.

We will continue on this theme of stewardship as we continue on this week. For today, let us conclude with the prayer of St. Nerses Shnorhali:
Jesus, wisdom of the Father, grant me wisdom that I may always think, speak and do that which is good in your site. Save me from evil thoughts, words, and deeds. Have mercy upon all your creatures, and upon me, a great sinner. Amen. (I Confess with Faith 11/24)

Lenten Journey Day 21 – Stewardship

Lenten Recipe 

Recipe 21: Lenten Cookies

 Lenten Journey Day 21 – Stewardship

We are over half way through the Lenten season. We climbed up the hill and we are now at the summit, coming down. We look down from the summit and see two paths, one behind us and even more importantly, the path in front of us. It is this path that connects to a larger road which is the journey of life. All that we are discovering during this Lenten period is part of the self-improvement process which fortifies our position in life by granting us the tools to better meet the challenges of life, be they physical, emotional or spiritual. God gives us the tools to handle the complexities of life and to render the journey a simple one.

As we come down off of the mountain, we enter a world that is very real. It is a world filled with difficulties and challenges, but at the same time, it has many victories. It has many moments for us to rejoice and many more to enjoy. Life is very real! How appropriate, that today, at this half-way mark in Lent, the Armenian Church prescribes the Parable of the Dishonest Steward as its Lenten lesson. This is a lesson that connects us to the reality of life.

The Parable of the Dishonest Steward is given to us by our Lord Jesus. We read that there was a dishonest steward, that is, a manager. He was charged to take care of his boss’ assets and money. This man was wise and calculating. He took actions that benefitted himself and at the same time his boss. Jesus refers to him as a shrewd, and even “dishonest” manager. Jesus brings it down to this, “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”

This manager is the second character in a trilogy, like the prodigal son from last week and the unrighteous judge that we will look at next week. This character is far from the model you would expect in a religious story, and yet, Jesus uses him, he has the audacity to use him to teach us a lesson in life. It is a lesson in stewardship – managing the assets that we have in life.

Please read the story in its entirety. It is found in the first 12 verses of the 16th chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel. There are many dimensions to it. Today we will focus on the concept of managing our tangible assets.

We live in a world that is filled with real challenges. Reality is not based on or built on fairy tales or myths. Unlike playtime, life is demanding. It asks for our resources, the most precious of which is our time and effort – blood, sweat and tears. The question then becomes, how do we deal with, approach and overcome those challenges?

Jesus tells us that the challenges of life are real. They are to be met and overcome. The resources to do so are in place and need to be used. In his words, we are called to use “worldly wealth” to network and deal with the people of this world. In other words, in this world we must use the tools that this world offers, that is the “legal tender” of this world. Don’t shun those tools by ascribing some definitions based on your moral compass. Don’t pretend that you exist in some other world that is apart from the one we inhabit. This world is very real. We need to use the means of this world to survive this world. What are those means? Our talents. The talents given to us by God.

We began this Lenten Journey by taking an inventory of the things that are essential and necessary for our lives. Today, on this 21st day of Lent, the exercise is to inventory the gifts of God in our lives. What talents do we possess? How can we use them? How can we improve our own lives, as well as the lives of our families, friends and community by the use of those talents? God has given us the resources that we need to deal with life. He has given us the ability, the strength and the courage to move forward. He has given us breath! He has also endowed us with talents. Do you sing or play music? Are you able to craft something? Do you have reasoning and logical skills? Can you invest? Can you make money? Can you heal? Can you console? Can you walk in harmony with others? These are gifts from God.

Jesus says, “He who has been faithful in a little, will be trusted with much.” Take your talent and create! Invest it and make more, whatever your talent may be. Today is the day to examine those gifts you have. You are coming into a world that has so many problems and difficulties. It needs the presence of God today. Not yesterday and not tomorrow. Today. And as an ambassador of God, that is, an ambassador of Love, you now have a responsibility to use your talents wisely to bring the presence of God into your own life as well as the lives of the people around you – your family, friends and ultimately, the world. Furthermore, you do not have a right to ignore your gifts and talents. You are the manager of your life. You must use what has been given you.

In the next few days we will be looking at the models of stewardship. We will look at our talents and understand how we are stewards of our life. How can we take those things that God has given us, and multiply them to really enjoy our life as we fill it with meaning and purpose? How can we touch the lives of others with those talents?

Let us conclude with the prayer of St. Nersess Shnorhali:
Uncreated Essence, I have sinned against You in mind, soul and body; do not remember my former sins for the sake of Your Holy name. Have mercy upon Your Creatures and upon me, a great sinner. (I Confess with Faith 6/24)

Lenten Journey Day 14 – The Prodigal Son

Day 14: The Prodigal Son

Lenten Recipe

Recipe 14: Hot and Sour Cabbage

Lenten Journey Day 14 – The Prodigal Son

Every Sunday during the Lenten Season has a unique name. Today is known as the Sunday of the Prodigal Son. Accordingly, the lesson of the day comes from the Gospel of St. Luke, Chapter 15, where Jesus teaches using a parable, commonly known as the story of the Prodigal Son.
Perhaps if nothing else reached us from the time of Jesus except for this one parable, it would be enough to explain our relationship with God. It is a story of reconciliation, and expresses the unconditional love that God has for us and therefore, requires of us.
The story of the Prodigal Son unfolds like this: A man has two sons. The younger son asks for and receives his inheritance. He takes his share of his father’s estate and squanders it on reckless living. While he has funds, he is popular with many friends. But when his money ran out, so did his friends. No money, no parties, no extravagant lifestyle, no friends, he goes out to look for work. But it is of no use. He can’t make enough to survive.
One night, when he is really down, he sees some pigs feeding and he actually considers eating the pigs’ food because he is so hungry. It is at that point that he comes to his senses. He remembers his father’s home and remembers that that his father’s servants live better than he. That night, he makes a decision to go back home –to his father – to beg for forgiveness. He even strategizes that he will ask to be taken-in as one of his father’s  servants.  
Now, while the son is returning home his father sees him on this road. His father comes running toward him, grabs him, hugs him and kisses him. He doesn’t even give his son a chance to talk nor to explain his deeds while away from home. The father then orders his servants to come around and bring him the best clothes and put the ring of authority on his hand. Then he orders a celebration! The fatted calf is slaughtered for this party.
The story of the Prodigal Son doesn’t end here. Remember he had an older brother. Now this older brother was working in the field and heard the sound of merriment and dancing. He didn’t understand and protested to his father. He said, “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!” He just could not understand the unfairness of life. He (the older brother) had done everything right and the younger brother had wasted his inheritance. “Where is the justice?” he demanded. Why is the bad guy getting rewarded while the good guy continues to labor and struggle?
The father, with compassion and understanding, explains to the older brother, “You are always with me, and everything I have is yours.  But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”
So ends the story of the Prodigal Son, but here begins a tremendous opportunity to reflect on the many dimensions of this short parable.
In the next few days of the Lenten Journey we will look at the father and older son characters separately. For today’s discussion we will focus on the younger son. Let’s begin with the young man’s desire to want a better life and to enjoy it. That is not a foreign or unusual feeling. In fact, we all have entertained thoughts of better life. Why not? Why shouldn’t we have the better things in life? For in fact, in this boy’s case, he had the means, his father had the resources, so why not take advantage of the situation and go for it all? What then is the “sin” of the younger son? He is driven by his passions and the energy that comes with youth, and perhaps a little bit of impatience. He seizes the opportunity and takes what he can! Where’s the sin?
Taking what is given to you is not a sin. That is your gift. It belongs to you. The sin is squandering the gift! The sin is taking your gift and abusing it.
One of the challenges that comes to us on this 14th Day of the Lenten Journey is to list and inventory the gifts that have been given to you. Are you using that gift? Or are you abusing it? Are you respecting that gift or are you squandering it?
God has given each of us talents. He has given us life itself. Indeed the breath we breathe is a gift, as is the smile on our face, our ability to hug and our passion to reach out. Unfortunately, much like the Prodigal Son, we squander what is given us in a reckless and sometimes abusive manner. We consume our lives with the minutia and we therefore abandon quality. God has given us a smile that would light up a room and we cover it up, we are ashamed to show that smile. He has given us the ability to talk and instead we keep our mouths closed, or if we do open it we fill it with idle conversation and gossip. He has  given us the ability to hold, lift up and to help others instead we tie our hands down and refuse to help those in need. He has given us feet to walk in the paths of righteousness and instead we take our bodies to dismal hangouts.
We are each a prodigal son. We have taken the gifts of God and instead of using and enjoying them, we have squandered, abused and wasted the goodness in a prodigal life. We have missed the mark and by missing it, we fall short of realizing and maximizing our potential.
As we are inventorying our talents and gifts from God, let us also ask ourselves how we are using those gifts. Are we squandering the precious elements of life? Or are we using those talents for the betterment of all?
Tomorrow, we will continue with the parable of the Prodigal Son by observing the character of the father. For now let us pray the prayer of St. Nerses Shnorhali
Heavenly Father, true God, who sent Your beloved Son to seek the wandering sheep. I have sinned against heaven and before you. Receive me like Prodigal Son and clothe me with the garment of innocence, of which I was deprived by with sin. Have mercy upon your creatures and upon me a great sinner. Amen (3/24)

Lenten Journey Day 12 – Sin, Missing the Mark

Day 12: Sin

Lenten Recipe

Recipe 12: Portobello Seitan Hash

Lenten Journey Day 12 – Sin
You have made it to the 12th day of Lent. Today is an opportunity to look back and say, Yes, I have done it and to look forward and say, Yes, it is possible to complete! Today is also a day not to get caught up in the foolish pride of accomplishment, and instead understanding that there is a purpose for the Journey. Lent is for the betterment of the self. By improving the self, we will be better able and equipped to affect others, society, our community and ultimately our world.

Today we will look at the problem of sin. Perhaps one of the most misunderstood concepts or themes in the Christian faith is sin. Our understanding, or misunderstanding, of sin stems from models that have been set up for us and have conditioned us since childhood. We associate sin with the bad or evil in our life because evil is punished, or at the very least, it produces unfavorable consequences. Even more, in religion, particularly in the traditional Judeo-Christian system of thought, the punishment for evil is augmented by concepts of condemnation and damnation. These models creep into our adult life and skew our perception of life. They distort our view of what life is what life can be.
The truth is, all of our actions  – not just evil, but everything we do – has consequences.  Actions are made up of emotional thoughts and they are acted out by physical means. Newton’s laws of motion tell us that to every action there is an opposite and equal reaction. This applies to the physical world as well as the spiritual world.
So let’s begin by saying that all evil is sin, but not all sin is evil.
Sin means missing the mark. Imagine a large target and in this target is the center circle. That large black circle is called the bull’s eye. Now imagine a bow and arrow in your hands. You pull back on the bow and let the arrow go. The arrow travels through space, through time and eventually it hits its destination. You have aimed for the bull’s eye, you have aimed for perfection, but somehow it didn’t make it. You missed the mark. You may hit quite a ways off of the mark, you might have hit close by. In fact, you may not have hit the target at all! No matter what the case –close or far from the bull’s eye – you  missed the mark! That’s sin. Close or far from the targeted area, it’s a sin. Sin is sin. You aimed for perfection but came short of it. You missed the mark.
Each of us strives for perfection. We all want to hit that mark, we want the best for ourselves, for our families, for our children; but we journey through space and time, much like the arrow and are influenced by many factors including the wind, freak occurrences, lack of focus or unnoticed obstacles, and we do not hit the mark.
When we hit elsewhere, what is our reaction? We go back and try again. We pull the arrow out, put it on the bow one more time and shoot again. In our lives we have opportunities to recreate ourselves and strive for the perfection no matter how many times we miss the goal. When we fail it doesn’t mean anything more than that we are human.
Let’s imagine that same bow and arrow with God being the Archer. Can you imagine what we would see? Every time that God pulls and lets go of the arrow, the arrow hits the bulls eye. It hits the center each and every time. That’s perfection. Now imagine you or I coming and standing in the same spot that God stood. We try, but miss the target. Does that mean we are evil? No. It simply means we are bad shots. It means we hit the wrong place and so we go back and we try again.
With this basic understanding of sin we can understand ourselves, and humanity, not as evil, wicked or worthy of damnation. Rather, we are striving for perfection and fall short. We are in sin.
Life gives us an opportunity try again. Certainly this Lenten Journey is an opportunity to give us a chance to look at the marks that we have missed. We must first pull out the arrows and try again, to fix relationships that have gone sour, to fix perceptions and prejudices, to try again at failed attempts of business, to improve our outlook and attitude, to try again at love. By understanding the nature of sin in this manner, we understand that the improvement we make on our self will have ramifications on the world we live in and the people we touch.
Next week we will take a closer look at what we call the “7 deadly sins” but as a prelude to that I wish to offer you a small little excerpt from a Cherokee diary. Interestingly enough, you will find an lesson that is appropriate for today.
One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes inside people. He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed arrogance, self pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, deception, false pride, superiority and ego. The other wolf is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, righteousness, compassion and faith.”  
The grandson thought about it for a moment and replied, “But Grandfather, which one wins?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
Let us pray the prayer of St. Nerses Shnorhali:
Searcher of secrets I have sinned against you willingly and unwillingly, knowingly and unknowingly, grant me, a great sinner forgiveness for since I was born of the holy font until this day I have sinned before you, by my senses and all the members of my body. Have mercy upon your creatures and upon me a great sinner. Amen  (I Confess with Faith 8/24)

Lenten Journey Day 8 – Judgment

Day 8: Judgment

Lenten Recipe

Recipe 8: Almond French Toast

As we begin the second week of the Lenten Season we explore our emotions and the actions they produce. We begin this week by looking at the instruction pertaining to judgment given to us by Jesus Christ in the Sermon on the Mount. We read Jesus’ words,
Do not judge or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others you will be judged. And with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye. How can you say to your brother, let me take the speck out of your eye when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite! First take the plank out of your own eye and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7)
In this very short passage we find a very powerful message which is instructional for life. “Do not judge,” says Jesus. In that instruction we come to understand God’s vantage point. How does God view each of us as a collective, that is, as His children inhabiting this planet?
In the eyes of God there are no differences between people. There are no races to differentiate people. We are all His children. If you think about it for a moment, you would understand the saying that all wars are considered to be civil wars, in the eyes of God. We are all His children, therefore and assault on anyone is an assault on God’s creation.
Jesus says do not judge because on the playing field we are all equals.  There is no one to judge another. Jesus goes on to remind us that God makes the sun shine down on the good and the bad because He does not differentiate between the two.  Therefore, if God doesn’t differentiate between people, who are we to dare to presume that we are better than anyone else? That is why He says look first within, look at the damages you have in your own life, remove that so that clearly you can see the greater picture. After all, that is exactly the purpose of Lent! It’s time – 40 days – where we are looking to remove those planks from our eyes, so we can see the wonders in life. We are pulling back the curtain so that we can see the good of God’s creation all around us.  Wouldn’t it be beautiful to look into the eyes of another human being and see the reflection of God? What if we could look deep into the soul of another and truly see the presence of God? Do you want to get to that point? Well, first remove the plank from your own eye, so you can clearly see the wonders all around you.
Last week, we had an instruction on prayer. Jesus teaches us the “Our Father” We pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be they name…”  The one request that we make of our Heavenly Father in this prayer is that he forgive us our sins. How? By the same measure with which we forgive others.  We say, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.” In other words, by thatsame standard we will be judged. As we read today, Jesus says not to judge. Be careful! By the same standard we judge others, we will be judged.
Indeed, today’s lesson is a simple one, yet a difficult one to actualize. But that’s what Lent is about, simple yet difficult. Take this opportunity to look at your relationships, with loved ones, spouses, children and parents. Look at relationships you have with friends, coworkers, acquaintances and people that you would like to know. Look at the judgments you make and see how artificial they are. Look at your prejudices – pre-judgments – that you make every day. We all make judgments. It doesn’t mean we’re bad people, it just means we are human. But in that humanity, take a lesson from Jesus Christ. You can find love, and that love is no farther than the people all around you. Look at the difficulties – those “planks” – that distort our perception and prevent us from seeing the beauty that is all around us.
Judge not lest you be judged. Remove the plank out of your own eye… What you will find is that you won’t be able to see the speck in your brother’s eyes. Instead, you will only see the presence of God.
Let us pray the prayers of St. Nersess Shorhali:
 Righteous Judge, when You come in the glory of the Father to judge the living and the dead, enter not into judgment with Your servant, but deliver me from the eternal fire, and make me worthy to hear the blissful call of the just to Your heavenly kingdom. Have mercy upon Your Creatures and upon me, a great sinner. (I confess with faith #22/24)