In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This Sunday we read very important words and admonitions from the Apostle Paul. He beseeches us that we receive not the grace of God in vain. This is something that you should ask: whether or not you receive God's grace in vain or to good purpose, every day.
His admonition is not something that is a rhetorical question. It is meant to be answered. All Christians must answer it. The more holy a Christian is, the more often he considers this question, and the more often he wonders whether or not he has done enough.
St. Paul goes on to describe the ministry of being an apostle but really, by extension, the life of any Christian. Not all of the things he says would apply to us directly, but most of them do. And then he goes on after giving this list of things that is very important to look at closely. At the end he says that he lives as sorrowful yet always rejoicing.
This is a key to the victorious Christian life, to always have sorrow and rejoicing. The world doesn't understand this. The world really doesn't like sorrow, so they try to always replace it with something that makes them happy, whether it is for a little time or a long time, whether it's artificial or natural, they want to feel happy, not to be sorrowful.
The Christian, on the other hand, courts the feeling of sorrow and desires it. We're not talking about sorrow that is depression and despondency and feeling like there is no meaning in life, or that there is nothing good that is happening in our lives, or that all is difficult and all is terrible. That is the sorrow of the unbeliever.
Our kind of sorrow is that perhaps we have not received all of the grace of God properly and some of it was in vain. Our sorrow is that we wish to do good but sometimes we do not. Our sorrow is that God loves us and we do not love Him enough in return. This is Christian sorrow.
But it is also mixed at the same moment, in the same breath (I don't mean the inhaling and the exhaling), inhale sorrow, exhale joy. I mean in the same moment, in the same instant we feel sorrow we also feel rejoicing because we are Christians, and God has come and become man so that we could become perfect. This is something to rejoice about. We sorrow about the things we are not and then we are happy and rejoice about the things that we are becoming.
It's important to ask yourself this question all the time: Have you received the grace of God in vain? And it's important to measure yourself against the Scriptures, against the lives of the saints, to see whether or not you are living a victorious life.
Let's look at some of the things Saint Paul said right after he said, "I beseech ye that you receive not the grace of God in vain.” Then he quotes Isaiah and he says, "now is the accepted time, behold now is the day of salvation." This, I would suggest to you, is a sort of mnemonic. Everything that you do every day is the time for salvation—not later but today.
So everything is important. Everything you think and do and say, the person you are, the person you are becoming at that moment is important, and is the acceptable time. If we put off our salvation until later, later may not come. But even more than that: it’s something that people can accept, but it sounds kind of trite in some ways, and it's very difficult when you're tempted in the moment, to realize, okay, I could lose my salvation because of this. We don't think like that. But we could think: This is the time for me to show that I'm a Christian. Now is the moment. And if you always think that you are in the "now," to live according to how Christ lived, this will help you immensely.
He goes on to say many things about the ministry, but as I said, this applies to us too, although not exactly as he said. For instance, he says: In all things proving ourselves as the ministers of God (you can substitute, "as Christians") in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses.
Now, much of his distress was physical. You can see in the Acts how many things happened. One time he had to escape being murdered by being let down in a basket from a high wall. Many times he was whipped; shipwrecked, I think, twice. Many distresses. If you had asked him what distressed him the most, it would be that his flock did not always receive the Word of God. This should distress us the most. Everyone should have this distress.
Look out in the world. Look at how empty people's lives are. This should cause you distress and sorrow. Everyone should feel this, not just the pastors, not just the bishops. Everyone. You must feel the pain in the world. This is part of being a Christian.
Then he says, in stripes and imprisonments. Perhaps that does not exactly apply to us. At least not now. In tumults and labors. Well, if you care about people, you will find that there are tumults because we are messy. People's lives are messy. Our own lives are messy, and when you care for people, it's a big mess. And how can you care for people when there's such a mess? Only by faith in God. Because it's way too big for us, it's way too complicated for us; it's way too tiring for us.
He goes on to say, in labors and watchings and fastings. “Watchings” meaning watching yourself that you do not fall. The watchings come about with fasting, with the reading of the Scripture, with coming to the services, with confession, with communion, with efforts in all things.
Then he says, "by pureness and by knowledge". Our world is far from purity. Impurity is in the air we breathe now. We are to live by pureness and by knowledge—the knowledge of God. The knowledge of God only comes about by striving for purity, by striving to follow the Commandments. It doesn't come about by reading books. It comes about by living what's in the books. By longsuffering, because that's the archaic word for patience. By kindness.
Then he says, by the Holy Ghost. Perhaps that should give you a shot of electricity down your body. Do we live by the Holy Spirit? Are we vessels of the Holy Spirit? We should be. By love unfeigned. Not to put on pretenses. By the word of truth. You had better know what the truth is if you're going to speak it. You can't know what it is unless you live it. You can read about it, you can spout it off, but unless you live it, you do not speak by truth.
And, he says, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness, and he goes on and says many other things.
And at the end of this long list of things, most of which apply to us directly, he says: As sorrowful yet always rejoicing."
Brothers and sisters, I beg you to cultivate this feeling of sorrow in your heart, sorrow for your own sins, sorrow for the situation of those in the world. Not out of judgment on them, but out of deep sorrow that there is so much pain, that there is so much aimlessness and uselessness in the world, that people you love are having troubles and you don't know how to help them.
Cultivate this feeling of sorrow. Don't be afraid of it. Don't let the world tell you that you shouldn't feel it. You should cultivate it, and if you cultivate it carefully, you will always have with you joy.
If you only have sorrow then there's something wrong; there's some sin that is keeping you from feeling joy as well. Perhaps it is pride, vanity, or self- indulgence. Those are typical things that can keep us from feeling joy. It could be other sins as well. You should feel sorrow and joy together, at the same time. And then it is, as the church calls it, sweet sorrow, joyful sorrow.
So let us cultivate this feeling in our hearts, and let us ask ourselves every single day: Have we received the grace of God in vain or not? Don't be afraid to answer the question. And don't be afraid to say: I have not received it properly. Because really, let's be honest—that is really the truth about some of the things we do.
And then run to God in repentance—in sorrow but in joy, because He's your father, and you can cry out, “Abba, Father” to Him and He will help you. But He can only help you if you ask.
So with the apostle, I beseech you that you do not receive the grace of God in vain.
The blessing of the Lord be upon you through His grace and love for mankind always now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.