Our Relationship with God
Sermon by Bishop David (Bishop of NY & NE, USA)
Article by St Mark’s Youth
If an Orthodox Christian were asked to name the most important thing regarding their spiritual life, the answer would be “my relationship with God”. How well we know God, through not only our personal but communal worship, ultimately determines our salvation. This important relationship is determined by our understanding of who God is, i.e. the God-image we have created in our minds. The focuses of today’s sermon are the famous Parable of the Talents and The Prodigal Son, taken from the Gospel according to St Matthew (Matthew 14-30) and St Luke (Luke 15:11-32). By analyzing the three main characters of these parables, Bishop David talks to us today about three different levels of relationships.
1. The Relationship of the Slave
In the parable of the talents, upon being asked for a return on the talent he had received, the wicked servant said “Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed” (v 24). Already, this servant created the false image of a purely vengeful God in his mind. A God who is unfair and claims what He has not worked for. Hence, due to tremendous fear, the servant said, “I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground” (v 25). We must ask ourselves, is this me? Is this how I view God? Bishop David says that the problem with this relationship is that it is based only on fear of God or the gravity of His punishments. There is a lack of love in this relationship. If our image of God is like this wicked servant, then we will very likely behave like him and likewise be cast “into the outer darkness” (v 30).
2. The Relationship of the Hired Servant
Using the example of the parable of the prodigal son, Bishop David reminds us that a hired servant is one who works, earns his pay and leaves at the end of the day. When the son returned to his father, he asked to be treated as one of the “hired servants” (Luke 15:11-32). Bishop David teaches us that the secret in this parable is that the son did not want to come back with all his heart but rather wanted to work as a hired servant. The son forgot who he was to his father and just wanted things of this world. Do we have this transactional relationship with God? Do we come to God chasing after money, careers or good grades rather than Him? As sayedna said, “This is the problem with the hired servants. They come to church because they need something from God.” Like cleaner fish to a whale, so also are these hired servants to God. Once again this affiliation with God emerges when one imagines God as merely a giver of things and not a Giver of life.
3. The Relationship of the Son
The relationship of the son is ultimately centered on love for God; As it is written, “We love Him because He first loved us”. The son realises that by grace, through baptism and living the life of the church, he will inherit the kingdom of God and so, in turn, seeks after it. The son’s eyes are not focused on the Earth, but rather, on God and His Heaven. He correctly understands God to be the one who “so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever should believe in Him should never perish but have eternal life”. (John 3:16). When God gives the son things, he is joyful not because of the gift but because God is the Giver. Bishop David provides us with a very beautiful example to explain this relationship: When a husband gives a wife a wedding anniversary present, though the gift may not have much value itself, the wife is extremely joyful because it came from her husband. Likewise the source of the son’s joy is God and subsequently, his relationship is one of love.
May the Lord give us the grace to understand that we are His beloved children whom He holds dear. As it is written, “he who touches you touches the apple of His eye” (Zechariah 2:8). We pray that the Lord give us a better understanding of who He is so that we may worship Him in love and enter into His joy in the last day.
Glory be to God Amen.