As you know I live in Serbia (Balkan). In my country there is something interesting related to the practice of receiving gifts and that is showing excessive gratefulness for every single thing that we get. Even a small one. I think this is similar culture and in N. Macedonia, Bosnia, Montenegro. People feel a bit uncomfortable when receiving gifts. This phenomenon dates back to many periods when people were very poor and had to literally sacrifice a lot to get a small regular gift for someone. The thing that we may often experience while giving gift to a Yugoslav person is hearing many times ”thank you”, but we should not be surprised if we get some other gift back in order to show thankfulness. This culture is specific for this part of the world. Why I started this sermon with talking about gifts getting practice in my country is related to what I read in today`s Bible reading. This inspired me thinking about the salvation that we get as a free gift. And while meditating on that I found out that people somehow feel uncomfortable with getting the gift of salvation. Seems that we often would like to add a bit of our own deeds or our own sacrifice to the most holy sacrifice that Jesus did for the sake of the forgiveness of all sins ever. In Hebrews 5:1-6 we read:
”Every high priest is selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people.And no one takes this honor on himself, but he receives it when called by God, just as Aaron was. In the same way, Christ did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father. ”And he says in another place, “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.””
Here we read that Jesus is a priest forever. We can see that in the past Israel people had many priests, one of them was Aaron who had that honor to bring many sacrifices to God. But when the time came, it was clear that human deeds, human sacrifices and all the goodness that a single human could provide was never enough to please God and to cover sins of a fallen human. There had to be a perfect sacrifice, a spotless lamb and that was Jesus.
Of course today we have bishops, priests, deacons as it was founded by apostles and we can learn a lot of all those brothers and sisters, but only Jesus is the one who saved us by grace through His mercy. In Serbia and neighbor countries people bring big bouquets of expensive flowers, they buy and bring to Christian temples expensive candles made of purest bee wax and bring many gifts to the churches which sometimes look to me (as a person looking from aside) that they believe they could add something to salvation and they can add their own gifts to the perfect gift of Jesus` sacrifice.
We sometimes fast, sometimes pray to saints and Holy Mary (to assist us in prayer to God and to pray for us) and we try to live morally and to be good people as a result of being saved by grace, by faith in Jesus and all that he has done for us. Holy Eucharist is here to remind us on the Sacrifice of Jesus. All these things are necessary and they are good but what is not God is having fear of our loving God which would lead us to depression and feeling that we will never be saved. Nowadays I also read that some number of people (so called anti-vaxers) are afraid of anti-covid 19 vaccines that billions of people have received and are receiving for almost a year. They believe that there is some satanic chip in the vaccine and that if they get it they may lose Christ and they may lose the salvation. I met many Christians in several denominations believing in these conspiracy theories and I really feel sad about that.
So today I wanted to share that as Christians we should know that God is our father and he is not some scary god who is willing to put us all in hell and who is calculating our sins. Christianity is about joy, spiritual joy of saved people. It is about feeling saved, feeling safe and feeling that God will always be here with us and for us. With all that lightening candles, incense, praying with rosary, giving charity and all other activities we do can make our lives much happier. We cannot earn salvation and all the things we do should be the result of previously being saved. And remember that it was written you are saved by grace it was not written you become perfect and sinless. Unfortunately we will make some sins in the future and during our lives. And yes we should always repent and try not to repeat them. But please don`t feel lost and depressed because of that.
From time to time we might feel week and sinful or we may feel that God is far away from us. This is all normal and in this situation we should not doubt in the gift of salvation. We all experience ups and downs, but our salvation was given as a gift when we gave our hearts to Jesus. What I would also like to emphasize here is the importance of prayer. The prayer is always powerful. Especially when we fall in sins it is very useful to pray. Or if you feel in a bad mood ask your Christian brother and sister to pray for you, ask Holy Mary, or some saint or holy angels to pray for you and with you. Jesus hears your prayer, he knows how you feel and he knows what situation are you in at the moment. He will listen.
In today`s Gospel we also read the story when Jesus healed blind man in Jericho. Mark 10:46-52
“Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.”Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”“Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.”
As many times in Bible, Jesus emphasizes the importance of faith. Here we should remember these words: ”your faith has healed you”. Every time when we ask for something we should have faith. Jesus did not tell him ”your gifts given to the local church, expensive flowers and candles, Greek expensive incense and the money you donated has healed you”. He simply stated that the faith is what he counted. Because our God is God of Mercy. I pray today for all of us to have faith and to be thankful for the mercy that God is giving us. Amen.