The Confident Life of a Disciple: Believing and Belonging—Part Two

The Confident Life of a Disciple: Believing and Belonging—Part Two

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Listen Now. We will now be including the daily reading of Epistle and Gospel with The Prayer Team.

ENGAGED: The Call to Be Disciples

Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  Matthew 28:19-20

Confidence at the End of Life

Peter answered Him, “Lord, if it is you, but me to come to You on the water.”  He said, “Come.”  So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus; but when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out “Lord, save me.”  Jesus immediately reached out His hand and caught him, saying to him, “O man of little faith, why did you doubt?”  Matthew 14: 28-31

Good morning Prayer Team!

I guess the place where the “rubber meets the road” as far as confidence in faith goes is when life ends.  None of us knows how long we are going to live.  I’m zipping along in my mid-40s at present, and while I could die today, it is statistically unlikely.  For people who are in their 70s, 80s and 90s, confronting an unsure mortality is a more frequent thought.  People my age and younger (and even some who are older) don’t really give the end of life much thought.  Time is on our side, we think.  We’ll deal with it later.  The challenge comes when “later” arrives and we are at the moment we confront our mortality.  For far too many, this time becomes a time of terror and confusion, rather than joy. 

In the Divine Liturgy (as well as Vespers and Orthros), we pray a petition: “For a Christian end to our lives, peaceful without shame and suffering, and for a good account before the awesome judgment seat of Christ, let us ask the Lord.” (From the Divine Liturgy, Holy Cross Seminary Press, 1985)  This petition, essentially, prays for us to have a good death—one that is peaceful, free from guilt and shame, as well as free from physical suffering, and for us to have a good defense of our lives before the judgment seat of Christ.  The concept of a “good death” is supposedly being ingrained into our consciousness from the time we are old enough to understand words. 

If the average life expectancy is nearing eighty years, that’s a lot of Lent and Holy Week journeys, it probably includes dozens (if not hundreds) of sermons on the Resurrection of Christ.  Everywhere we turn in the Bible, we find messages of hope when it comes to eternal life and the kingdom of God.  Why is it, then, that many people who die (I’m not sure if it is most, but it is certainly many) die with a question mark on their heads?  Yes, many people face death not with confidence and joy, but with terror or uncertainty. 

I remember back to my school days, particularly college, that I struggled to face tests and examinations with confidence.  I frequently worried that my brain would freeze up when it came time to take a test.  I eventually learned to be a confident test taker.  And I did that because I stopped cramming for tests, hoping I could retain the information just long enough to release it from my mind when the hour of the exam came.  I learned how to pace myself with reading, how to take good notes, and how to pinpoint what kind of material I was likely to see on the test.  And even though I might be a little nervous for a test, or anxious to just get it over with, I didn’t ever walk in for an exam thinking “I’m going to fail today.”  I also didn’t walk into an exam with a sense of cockiness either.  I approached my tests with respect and with preparation and then went to take them with a quiet confidence that I had at least prepared as well as I could.

The ultimate “exam” in life is the exam before the awesome judgment seat of Christ.  This is why we pray so frequently for a good accounting there.  We want to be able to pass Christ’s examination of our life so that He will grant us entrance into His heavenly kingdom. 

Perhaps part of the problem is that we don’t talk about heaven enough, or the judgment.  We don’t talk about the end, and so we don’t really give much thought to the journey to the end.  So we journey through life, unsure of the end goal and as we get closer to the end of life, we wonder if our journey is leading us to the right destination, and we may even wonder what the destination is. 

The destination is the Kingdom of God.  The goal is to reach heaven.  The purpose of this life is to prepare for everlasting life.  In the previous unit, we discussed the stewardship of our whole lives, and how God wants to tell us “Well done, good and faithful servant. . .enter into the joy of your Lord.”  (Matthew 25:21)  The destination for everyone is an accounting before Christ, where He will judge the totality of our lives based on two things—did we love Him and did we serve others?  Many people fit Christ into a convenient compartment—they love Him on Sunday mornings when they go to church, they serve others when there is recognition to be garnered.  This kind of life will not inspire confidence at the end of life.  The key to our life is to love God every day, to have loving God as the umbrella under which we live our entire lives.  And the key to serving is to love others when no one else is looking, when there is no earthly reward, and even when it’s not convenient.

People carry umbrellas to avoid getting wet.  Under an umbrella, one might not stay totally dry, but one has confidence that they will stay essentially dry and protected from the rain.  If we live our life under the umbrella of God, loving Him and serving others, on a daily basis, looking for opportunities to do each, we can feel a sense of confidence as we walk through life, especially as we confront our mortality and life comes to a close. 

Among the most joyful things I have experienced as a priest are people who come to the end of their life with joy.  I watched people die with confidence and with joyful expectation.  This is not arrogance or pride, but joy, that they’ve lived life in a Christ-centered way, and are now eager to go and meet Him, to have their exam, and to inherit the Kingdom of heaven.  When you know you have studied well, you can’t wait to take the exam, pass the class and move on.  When you’ve lived a good Christian life, there should be joyful as you prepare to take the final exam, pass the judgment and move on to eternal life. 

This is the whole message of Christianity—the Resurrection of Christ makes our entrance into heaven possible.  The way we live prepares us for our accounting before Christ.  When we live a Christ-centered life, loving Him and serving others, the exam opens the door to heaven.  The key is keeping our eyes on Him, not only when we are at death’s door, but every day.  Today’s scripture verse about Peter walking on the water illustrates what confidence in Christ is.  As long as Peter kept His eyes on the Lord, he could walk on water.  The storms raging around him didn’t inhibit his journey.  When he focused on the storms, he became uneasy and began to sink.  When we keep our eyes on Christ every day, regardless of the storms raging around us in life, there is no reason we won’t be able to walk on water to reach Him.  When we keep our eyes on Him, we will have confidence, not only getting out of the boat and walking but as we get closer to Him.  When we keep our eyes on Him, we will have confidence, not only when we are young and feel invincible, but when we are older and confront the day we will actually meet Him. 

For a Christian end to our lives, peaceful, without shame and suffering, and for a good account before the awesome judgment seat of Christ, let us ask the Lord. (From the Divine Liturgy, 1985)

The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims His handiwork. Day to day pours forth speck, and night to night declares knowledge; there is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.  In them He has set a tent for the sun, which comes forth like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and like a strong man runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens and its circuit to the end of them; and there is nothing hid from its heat. The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; The ordinances of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover by them is Thy servant warned; in keep them there is great reward. But who can discern his errors? Clear Thou me from hidden faults.  Keep back Thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord my rock and my redeemer. Psalm 19

Think about the destination.  Let it inspire your journey today!

 

+Fr. Stavros

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Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

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” and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.”