Fifth Sunday after PentecostRomans 10:1-10
The last few weeks, we’ve been talking about choosing who you would have as a master. In today’s Gospel, we see two ways in which we can serve Satan, or the flesh, as our master. The first is to be totally sold out, to be demon possessed. The other is to cooperate with that, while not necessarily being totally committed; that’s what the people of the town were like.
The demoniacs were not born demoniacs. There had to have been a point in which they openly invited the possession, or, at the very least, allowed themselves to become involved with something that opened themselves up to it.
In the same way, there are two ways in which we can have Christ, or righteousness, as our master. The first type is to believe, kinda. We can believe with our minds, give intellectual assent, even support the church. We might even be moral people. But there is no renewal of mind, renewal of heart.
The other way is what Paul is talking about in our Epistle. “ For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved”. What is the heart? In both Jewish and Greek thought, it is the organ that gives physical life and the place where you think and make sense of the world—where you feel emotions and make choices. And Plato argued for the dominant role of the chest in love and in negative emotions of fear, anger, rage and pain.
Believing with the heart is transformative. It is a belief that changes who you are, that informs your senses and your choices. It is a belief that has not just intellectual effect, but emotional. It is a belief that is not only a religion, but a relationship.
In a relationship, there is communication. We communicate with God through prayer, but how does He communicate with us? There are many ways, but we need to learn to listen.
One way is through the Liturgy. There is a great symbolism in it. Knowing the symbolism, we can use our imagination to envision the liturgical actions as recreating, acting out, those events in Salvation History.
Most of us have the prayerbook, “Hear Me, O Lord”. Let me quote from the brief commentary on the Divine Liturgy. “The Small Entrance symbolizes Jesus Christ as He made his first appearance to preach the Good News after His Baptism in the River Jordan”.
God speaking to us through the Liturgy is not confined to knowing the symbolism, though. Some years ago, I put on an LP that I hadn’t heard in perhaps 20 years. I remembered every word of every song. Those songs had become burned into my mind, into my heart if you will, through repetition. And I remembered them without even thinking about them.
The same happens to us when we set out to remember the hymns of the Liturgy - the antiphons, the tropars, kondaks - all of it. With a little effort on our part, they become part of us. Now, instead of just enjoying them like we would with some silly pop song, imagine singing them, memorizing them, and dwelling on the meaning. Don’t you think God will speak to you, to teach you, through those hymns?
He also speaks to us through icons. As an example, think of the icon of Pentecost. Looking at it, contemplating it, we begin to share in the grace of that day, and our Lord begins to teach us through it.
In the same way, he teaches us through Scripture - through hearing it in the Liturgy, through singing portions during the Liturgy, and through our individual reading of it. The psalms are the prayerbook and the hymnal of the Bible. The books of Proverbs, Wisdom, and Sirach give practical advice for living. St John Chrysostom recommended Bible reading, and at least one saint read all four gospels every week
And they work together. We can look at the icon of Pentecost, read of the day in the book of Acts, and pray the troparion. “Blessed are you, O Christ our God. You filled the fishermen with wisdom, sending down upon them the Holy Spirit. Through them You have caught the whole world in Your net, O Lover of mankind, glory be to You!”.
You see, the hymns we sing, the Liturgy we pray, the scripture we read- they are Christ’s message to us, allowing us to review, to think about all He’s done. If we approach these with a prayerful attitude, looking for Him to speak to us, we can be sure He will.
Pray to Him, asking that He speak to you as you read, pray, or sing. Trust me, He’s waiting for you to ask. You don’t have to do everything. He just asks that you move in His direction.