Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
Welcome to The Daily Prayer Team messages, each day includes a passage of scripture, a reflection and a prayer. Sponsored by Saint John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL.
The Lord said this parable, “A man once gave a great banquet, and invited many; and at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for all is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it; I pray you, have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them; I pray you, have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the servant came and reported this to his master. Then the householder in anger said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and maimed and blind and lame.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges, and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet. For many are called, few are chosen.” Luke 14: 16-24
Just about every church has had the conversation lamenting all the people who once used to go to church and have left. This is especially true when a new priest comes to town and there is the hope the “many who have left will come back.” Great care is taken to do things to appease the ones who left and moved on, or those who left because they were disgruntled. When people think about growing the church, they think of bringing back the ones who have left.
People who used to attend church and no longer do cannot be considered “un-churched,” because they know what the church is, or they have come to church enough to render an opinion that it is not for them. It would be fair to categorize people who fit this description is “de-churched,” as in the word detached. They were once attached, and now they have decided to detach.
A second category of people who don’t attend church regularly are the “nominally churched.” These are people who come to the church occasionally, such as on Christmas and Pascha. Great care is taken in many churches to encourage these people to come more often. Priests think “If I give the right message and say just the right thing, they will come more often.”
The problem with ministering to the de-churched and the nominally church is that we tend to become focused on selling a product rather than giving a message. There are priests who think, “If I promise to get church over by 1:15 a.m. on Pascha more people will come, and if they see it can be done very fast, maybe they will come again.” Again, this message focuses on a product, church attendance.
The focus needs to be on the message and the message is Christ, our Savior, incarnate in the flesh, crucified and Resurrected, opening now a path to Paradise for all who believe. We are hopefully all familiar with the Great Commission—that we are all to “go”, “make disciples,” “baptize” and “teach.” This commission is given to everyone who enters the Orthodox Church through baptism.
Today’s Scripture passage from Luke 14: 16-24, talks about a great banquet. If we acted out this story as a play, the characters would include the man who gave the banquet, the people who were invited, the servants of the house who announced the banquet was ready, and then the great masses of people of the city. The host of the banquet is the Lord. We are the invited guests. He continually invites us to Him, through worship, the Eucharist, prayer and in so many other ways.
We play the role of the invited guests. We are invited to attend His banquet. We have a daily choice when it comes to attending. We can joyfully attend, or we can make an excuse not to. We have a daily choice to reflect God’s glory in the way we behave. We can choose the way of Christ or we can choose the way of the world. Those who decided not to attend banquet came up with various excuses. Two of the excuses concerned material things—one man had bought a field and wanted to see it, and a second man had bought five yoke of oxen he couldn’t wait to try. The third excuse almost seems noble—He decided to take care of his new wife and declined the invitation.
There are many de-churched and nominally churched people who make the same excuses: “I’m too busy,” “I work a lot of hours,” “we’ve got family in town,” or “I’ll try to make it when I can.” In the Parable, the master who had chosen to invite some very specific people became very enraged with his original guests. He didn’t tell his servants to go and compel the originally invited guests to come. He didn’t try to come up with some gimmick to make his banquet more attractive so that they would leave their excuses and come. Instead he sent his servants to the highways and hedges of the city, to invite anyone they could find to come to the banquet. If we follow Christ’s teaching from the Scriptures, we should not be giving our attention only to the de-churched and the nominally churched. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with inviting someone back to church or encouraging them to come more often. However, we should be inviting people who don’t know Christ to know Him, and we should go after the un-churched and invite them to come in.
There is an ever growing percentage of people who used to come to church and don’t anymore. And their children are becoming a growing percentage of people who have never heard of Christ, the unchurched. There is a growing percentage of people who are going through life who feel that their life has no purpose and no meaning. They have gotten tired of the “rat race” and as they get older, they start to realize that there has to be more to life than working, making money and spending it. These are the unchurched, the many who we should be inviting to Christ and to the church.
There is a critical difference between talking about Christ and talking about the Church, however. We will get to that in tomorrow’s reflection.
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none that does good. The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any that act wisely, that seek after God. They have all gone astray, they are all alike corrupt; there is none that does good, not one. Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread,, and do not call upon the Lord? There they shall be in great terror, for God is with the generation of the righteous. You would confound the plans of the poor, but the Lord is his refuge. O that deliverance for Israel would come out of Zion! When the Lord restores the fortunes of His people, Jacob shall rejoice, Israel shall be glad. Psalm 14
We need to go after not just the de-churched and the nominally churched. It’s the unchurched that Christ sends us after!
The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
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