September 19, 2012

Tempted to lose heart?

“And let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart.” (Galatians 6:9)

At the very start of his public ministry, after being baptized by John, Jesus is led by the Spirit not to crowds and teaching and healing, but into the desert by himself, to fast and be tempted by the devil. And it’s at the end of those forty days, when he’s most hungry and tired that the devil brings out the heavy artillery. The devil’s timing is perfect; because it’s when we are weary in well-doing and losing heart that we are most vulnerable. Curiously, the devil doesn’t offer Jesus all sorts of fleshly delights. His methods are much more subtle, twisting bits of truth out of shape. “You’re hungry? You are the Son of God, no? Then use your power to satisfy yourself, turn this stone into bread.” Jesus refuses. “You want to serve the world? Give your life for the world? Look at all you could do if you had real power, the power of this world that I can give you as the prince of this world.” Jesus refuses. “You’re not really convinced that God is your father and loves you, are you? Test it out, prove it, throw yourself off the temple roof. Surely, if he really is your loving father he will protect you. Won’t he?” Jesus refuses.

Telling lies, undermining trust and twisting the truth are the devil’s specialty, right from the beginning, as in Genesis 2-3. The Lord told Adam and Eve, “You may eat of every tree in the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat…” (Gen 2:16-17). But the serpent comes to them and asks, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden?’” (Gen 3:1). As I read some of the postings on the internet about the dastardly things that supposedly go on in our little church, it’s clear to me the devil is at work twisting, turning, leading people astray, as he did to with Adam and Eve and as he tried to do with Jesus.

The spiritual forces of evil are very subtle, aiming to discourage, dishearten and divide. Be on guard and vigilant about what you hear, what you read and what is posted. “Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted…Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that will he also reap” (Gal 6:1,7). 

Prayers for the Opening of the United Nations

Patriarch Bartholomew
UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos

Bishop Mark of Baltimore (accompanied by Andrew Boyd) represented the Orthodox Church in America at the prayer service last Monday marking the opening of the United Nations General Assembly. The service was hosted by the Vatican’s Mission to the UN at the Church of the Holy Family in Manhattan. I sat down yesterday with Bishop Mark and asked him about the event.

Cardinal Egan, the former Archbishop of New York, read a passage from Sirach and challenged faith leaders to work for peace and the betterment of the human condition. The church was full, but by far the majority of participants were associated with UN offices and diplomatic missions. Among the speakers was Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations. He admitted that in his post he has seen the best and worst of humanity, sometimes in a single day, as on July 26th when he witnessed the results of a genocide against a Muslim community and then on the same day carried the torch for the Olympic games. A few hymns were sung by a choir, and petitions were offered in the official languages of the UN: Chinese, Arabic, Spanish, French, Russian and English.

Bishop Mark felt it is important for us to be represented at such events, especially at a time when religions are often part of the conflicts around the world. The UN has helped avert tragedies and promoted cooperation. “This reflects the image of God in all human beings and restrains the hand of some nations.” The human condition can indeed be improved, he said, but ultimate peace can only come from God. “As a Christian song in the 70’s said, ‘There will never be peace until Christ sits at the conference table.’”