What shall I render unto the Lord for all that He has rendered unto me?
These are the words of the king and prophet David, recorded in Psalm 115.
What shall I render unto the Lord for all that He has rendered unto me?
When we search out all the things that we have, all the things rendered unto us by the Lord, we find very little, [almost] nothing of our own which we can render back unto Him. We can only apply some small effort towards harvesting the fruits of the things which He Himself planted and caused to grow. The parable about the wicked husbandmen (Matthew 21:33 – 42) was told against the Jewish leaders who rejected Christ, but it absolutely can be applied to us.
Our loving God has prepared and planted the vineyard. He has set a hedge about it and dug the winepress and built a tower and He has entrusted it to us, to apply some small effort toward harvesting the fruit, the fruit of His labor, and to render them to Him in their season. The Jewish leadership at that time, at the time of the prophets and of Christ, did not do this. That is, they did not obey the Lord their God.
In the “woes” section of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says, “Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin and omit the weightier matters of the Law, justice and mercy and faith” (Matt 23:23); and “all their works they do to be seen of men” (Matt. 23:5); and “they’ve loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:43). And they didn’t obey their master: they did not render fruits in season, but they even killed the master’s servants and his son.
And then in this Gospel account we hear them pass sentence on themselves. When the Lord asks what the landowner will do to the wicked husbandmen, they reply, saying, “He will destroy those wicked men miserably and give the vineyard to other husbandmen who will render to him the fruits in their season.” Now, this has taken place. The vineyard has been taken away from the unbelieving Jews, the Old Israel, and given to the New Israel, the Church, which is us. And we are called to tend the vineyard and to render its fruits in their season, that is, through obedience to our Master, to apply our own efforts toward the work He has set before us.
Three things that prevent us from obeying
So the Lord has prepared everything and we have only a small effort to apply to do His bidding, to tend the vineyard which He has planted, but nonetheless there are hindrances and our society today is no small hindrance because it promotes what we ourselves already struggle with and that is: three things. Three things that prevent us from obeying. The three things that cause us to fall into disobedience.
First, love of power; second, vainglory; and third, pursuit of temporal things. These are all things that our culture cultivates in us.
Well, for the first one, we might say, we’re not really interested in power. I don’t want to have a great deal of power. But how do we behave when we find ourselves in a situation where we feel we’re out of control? We don’t have any control, we feel powerless, how do we behave then? What do we allow ourselves to do, or to not do in order to get back to some sense of control over a situation.
And with vainglory, we’re wanting to feel good about ourselves, but based on nothing. Based on nothing substantial, that is. The praise of men, our own opinion of ourselves, based on the little knowledge we have about life in the world. What would we do in order to be able to think well of ourselves, to be affirmed by others. What disobedience to our Master might we participate in for that?
And thirdly, the pursuit of temporal things. We are so preoccupied, very often, with temporal things and in pursuing them we forget about the Master altogether and anything He may have called us to. What disobedience to our Master would we commit in order to pursue temporal things?
These three things, they cause disobedience in us and they press upon us in our culture, jeopardizing our place in the Kingdom. So what are we to do? St. Paul in his Epistle says, “Watch, be alert, stand fast in faith, be brave, be strong. Let all that you do be done with love.” This is the exhortation of St. Paul to the Corinthians as he closes his first epistle to them. “Watch, stand fast in faith, be brave, be strong. Let all that you do be done with love.”
Remember this when you feel powerless. Remember this when you have fallen out of favor with the world.
Remember this when all around you is calling for your attention, “pursue me, pursue me.” “Watch, stand fast in faith, be brave, be strong. Let all that you do be done with love.” Watch, pay attention, don’t let yourself wander and just drift. Don’t be naïve. There are wolves out there, trying to catch you. Stand fast in faith. Have faith. But also study the faith. Study the Scriptures. Read the lives of the saints, those who stood fast in faith.
Our bookstore is open now, Wednesday afternoon, Saturday afternoon. If you don’t have something to read, come to the bookstore and get something to read to help cultivate faith so that you may stand fast in it.
If you don’t have time for reading, you can listen. Ancient Faith Radio, audio books, there’s so much out there these days that you can easily access, especially Ancient Faith Radio, and there’s so many good things on it, recorded things, live things, thousands of things to listen to, and I’d recommend especially the recorded Bible Study called, “Search the Scriptures.” Absolutely fantastic Bible Study going through the whole Bible.
And pray for faith, pray, pray, pray. Pray that God will strengthen your faith. For faith is a gift, but it also increases with desire and by pursuit.
And be brave, because you will be afraid, do the right thing anyway. This is the definition of being brave: when you are afraid, do the right thing anyway.
Be strong. You will be weak, but don’t give up.
There are patterns, behaviors, rhythms of Christian life, which do not fit well or sit well with modern society and as we are products of modern society, they don’t fit well or sit well even with ourselves sometimes.
Be brave, be strong… do them anyway.
If we maintain these patterns, behaviors, and rhythms, we will find peace. We will become closer to Christ. We will harvest fruit and render it to our Master.
Patterns and cycles
And what do I mean by all these patterns and behaviors? The whole moral life of Christians. Stick to it, regardless of what our society says. The cycles of prayer, daily prayer, at specific times, morning and evening, and all the time. And weekly patterns: Saturday night vigil, Sunday Divine Liturgy. And the monthly cycle, major and minor feasts throughout the year. And the annual cycle of Great Lent, Pascha and the Pentecostarion. Also regular confession, not sporadic, but intentional, to have a regular pattern of confession, the sacrament of repentance, of reconciliation.
Be brave. Be strong. Do these things.
And “let all things be done with love.” Or the other way around, let nothing be done with malice. So, watch for the wolves. Do not compromise the Faith. Learn the Faith and do not compromise it. Have courage to do what is right, contrary to those around us who would say otherwise. And do not give up even when there are obstacles. And in and through all of this let there be love.
All of the above, everything we do, must be done with love, without malice. And if we do this, we will render fruit to the Lord of the vineyard when its season comes. We will render our fruit to the Lord Who has rendered so much to us. And this will not only glorify His name, but in turn we will be glorified with Him. There’s no other way. If we want power, then be with Christ. He will give you power. If we want glory, true glory, not vainglory, then be with Christ. He will give you glory. And if you want possessions, don’t settle for temporal possessions, go to Christ and He will give you eternal possessions. Amen.
This sermon was given by Fr. John Miller at Joy of All Who Sorrow on Sunday, September 6, 2020. Many thanks to Fr. Stevan for transcribing this sermon from the recording.
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