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403homily for 7/4/10 - P6 - gifts of grace

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  • Fr David Moser
    Jul 6, 2010
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      Romans 12:6-14

      Every year around Thanksgiving there is a fundraiser in town for the
      food bank. Throughout the year, school children and other volunteers
      make ceramic bowls for this fundraiser. The people who come to the event
      make a donation and select a bowl and get some soup to put in it. The
      bowls are at once all the same and again all very different. They are
      made with the same stuff, with clay and glazes which are then baked to
      make them hard and shiny, but this same stuff is shaped and colored
      differently by each hand that touches it. The end product is a bowl, but
      each bowl is different showing the imagination and creativity of the
      person who made it.

      God gives to us all His grace which is, according to the Fathers, His
      divine energy. This same grace is given to each of us, however, it is
      used and seen in different ways in each person as we work out our
      salvation. The Apostle today refers to this when he says that we are all
      given different gifts of grace – not different graces but that the same
      grace of God that is given to us has unique characteristics in each
      person. Therefore, to some, he says are given prophecy, or ministering
      (serving), or teaching, or exhortation, or giving, and so on. Whatever
      the gift, he says, let us use it with diligence. The key here is not the
      kind of gift that God might give to each person, but that we use the
      grace that God has given with diligence, with care, with zeal. First is
      the necessity of using the grace of God that is given to us for we
      cannot leave it unused. As we noted last week in the gospel of the
      deliverance of the demon possessed men, they were delivered from the
      power of the demons by the grace of God because they responded and used
      that grace to resist the evil one. On the other hand, the townspeople,
      when offered the same grace, did not use it but remained enslaved to
      their passions. So also for us the first and most vital necessity is to
      use the grace that God gives and not let it sit idle and ineffective.
      This is the reason that the scripture and all of the saints tell us that
      we must “work out” our salvation. God gives us the raw material (his
      grace), but we must use it and allow it to act in our lives.

      In each person that grace is incorporated and shaped by the nature of
      that person and it takes on the characteristics of that nature. Thus for
      some the grace of God manifests as prophecy, or the ability to discern
      and speak the words of God. For others the grace of God manifests as
      ministering, that is serving others and caring for the flock of Christ.
      In some we see that by the grace of God they are able to teach and in
      others that they exhort. Some have the spirit of giving, charity and
      hospitality while others manifest leadership and still others acts of
      mercy. This is the list that the apostle gives us, but it is not an
      exhaustive list of the gifts of God, only one that provides examples.

      When he first speaks of the gift of prophecy, he sets the tone for all
      the other gifts for he says that it is exercised “according to the
      faith”. This is important not only for prophecy but for all these gifts.
      St John Chrysostom, in explaining to us what the Apostle meant here,
      tells us that to exercise our gifts “according to the faith” means that
      we must do all things within the boundaries of the faith that we hold,
      that is the tradition, doctrine (teaching) and practice of the Orthodox
      Christian Church. We must not use our gifts and abilities in a self
      willed manner but we must submit to the teaching of the Church. Thus in
      order to use the grace of God effectively for our salvation we must stay
      within the limits prescribed by the Church. If we go off on our own and
      introduce novel ideas, novel practices, novel doctrines and so on, then
      the use of God’s grace will not only be useless but will be to our
      condemnation. The gifts of grace can only be used effectively within the
      walls of the Church in accordance with and in submission to the
      tradition of the Church.

      In this list of gifts we see that some seem to be greater than others.
      The first gifts mentioned, those of prophecy, serving, teaching &
      exhortation describe not only in the literal use of words which are the
      titles of the ordained offices but also in the primary duties and
      responsibilities of those who are ordained. This tells us that these
      gifts are most often found among those who are ordained or who are
      candidates for ordination for their spiritual nature has brought them to
      this place within the order of the life of the Church. But, St John
      Chrysostom cautions us, these gifts are not found only among those who
      are ordained but to some degree they may be exercised throughout the
      Church. In addition, those who are ordained manifest these gifts
      differently according to their nature. Every one of us may encounter any
      or all of these gifts in our own lives at one time or another for God
      gives them to Christians as necessary for the welfare of the whole
      Church. However, no matter where we find them in our own lives, they
      must be used in accordance with our own place in the order of the life
      of the Church lest they bring not salvation and benefit, but chaos due
      to our own self will.

      Also the Apostle indicates that these gifts are used “in proportion” to
      the faith that we have. This tells us that in order to properly develop
      the characteristics and gifts of grace in us to their full potential we
      must deepen our faith by the tried and true path of salvation laid out
      for us by Christ – to deny ourselves, to take up our cross and to follow
      Him. Thus the importance of self denial, that is of ascetic labor
      (especially fasting) to quell the passions and sinful impulses and
      drives in ourselves. Also the necessity of dying to the world, of
      setting our values and priorities not only the things of this life, but
      on those of the next. And finally to follow Christ, that is of living
      within the limits and at the direction of His Body, guided in all things
      by the tradition and life of the Church. Thus there is a kind of
      hierarchy to the exercise of the spiritual gifts indicated in the
      examples given us by the apostle. Those who are beginning in the
      spiritual life exercise the simpler gifts of acts of mercy, giving and
      hospitality. But the higher gifts, for example caring for the corporate
      life of the Body (ministering), teaching and prophecy are manifested by
      those who are advanced and experienced in the spiritual life.
      Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos in his writings on the cure of the
      soul links this spiritual maturity and thus the ability to manifest the
      higher gifts to the levels of ordination within the Church. He tells us
      that those who would be ordained as ministers, as priests, as bishops
      must exhibit beforehand in their lives the spiritual development,
      experience and maturity that will allow them to manifest the gifts that
      are necessary to their calling. Thus it is best not to seek particular
      gifts according to our own self will but rather to accept the simpler
      gifts that God places within the grasp of each of us, laying first the
      spiritual foundations, as the Apostle instructs us: “Let love be without
      dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.
      Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour
      preferring one another; Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit;
      serving the Lord; Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing
      instant in prayer; Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to
      hospitality. Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not.” If
      we do these things, then we will be ready to use the grace that God
      gives us in the working out of our own salvation and for the benefit of
      the life of the Church.

      Christianity is not a passive faith, but an active one. We are given the
      grace of God and expected to use it. But we must use it in accordance
      with the faith that we have. That faith is given to us in the
      traditions, doctrines and life of the Church. That life should be our
      guide in all that we do so that the grace of God can work most
      effectively in us. The manifestation of God’s grace in each of us is
      shaped by the personality, the unique characteristics of every person
      and comes out as spiritual gifts, expressing the grace of God in us. In
      order to receive and use these gifts, it is necessary to follow the path
      of salvation given to us by Christ to “deny yourself, take up your cross
      and follow [Christ]”. The Apostle gives us practical directions about
      how to set this basic foundation for the working of the grace of God in
      us and as we incorporate these things in our lives, the gifts that God
      gives will shine forth in us to the benefit of the Body of Christ and to
      His glory.


      --
      Archpriest David Moser
      St Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church (ROCOR)
      Homilies: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/propoved/
      Website: http://stseraphimboise.org