THE MYSTERY OF RECIPROCITY! – Almoutran
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THE MYSTERY OF RECIPROCITY!

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Presentation by

Father Isaac Henke

Midwest Spring Gathering in Livonia, Michigan

March 8, 2003

THE MYSTERY OF RECIPROCITY!

Good afternoon, (Sayidna, reverend clergy, guests, and faithful of the Midwest Region) – Christ is in our midst!

I am Father Isaac Henke, the priest and pastor of the wonderful parish of St. John Chrysostom Church, an Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana. I am much honored to be here with you this afternoon at the beautiful Basilica of St. Mary’s in Livonia, Michigan.

In Proverbs, chapter 11, verse 24, we find these words:

“One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.

Although I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, an expert on the subject that we will be discussing in this session, I do so out of love and obedience to His Grace, Sayidna Demetri, and with more than just a little trepidation. I am here to speak on the subject which is at the core of servanthood — that of stewardship. We will be looking at it from a slightly different perspective than is usually taken.

Before we begin, let us ask God’s blessings upon us and this study – using the prayer of an American Saint, Innocent of Alaska:

“O Lord Jesus Christ, to Thee [we] cry: hearken unto [us], Thine unworthy servant[s]. Enlighten [our] minds that we may truly and clearly describe Thy way into the Kingdom of Glory which Thou, in Thy mercy, hast granted us! Grant that those who …listen to [these] words may be filled with Thy love, enlightened by Thy knowledge, and made strong by Thy power. Warm our hearts with Thy Spirit, [that] we shall joyfully and fervently go the way which Thou hast shown us.”

For Thine it is to save us; and to Thee we ascribe glory, to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. Amen!

Let us begin:

At one time there was a display at Ripley’s “Believe It or Not” which showed a plain bar of iron – with a value of $5 at that time. The exhibit went on to make a strake demonstration of how that one bar’s value could be changed by its use. The same bar of iron if made into horse shoes would be worth $50. If it were made into needles, it would be worth $5,000. If it were made into balance springs for fine Swiss watches, it would be worth $500,000.

From this we are to understand that the raw material is not as important as how it is developed – how it is used. God gives each one of us spiritual gifts – personal spiritual talents. What is the value of our personal spiritual talents? Their value to God – truly, their value to our brother and sisters, to us, as well as the world — will be dependent upon how we develop them through our involvement in godly servanthood.

I have entitled today’s discussion, “The Mystery of Reciprocity!” What do I mean by this?

MYSTERY:

First, let us quickly examine the word “mystery.” We understand the word mystery to mean something which is strange, unfamiliar, new, hard to grasp. For instance, to me, the Eight Byzantine Tones, computers, rap music, and females — among many other such things — are mysteries. This does not mean that they cannot be grasped, only that I do not grasp them very well at all.

However, when we speak about the mystery of spiritual topics, we are speaking about a matter of heavenly things touching upon earthly thing; which can also be a definition of a sacrament. Such phenomenon cannot be well defined with human words; for they are beyond our words.

In our Orthodox Christian Faith we understand that the Mysteries of God must be experienced. We can, and do, write volumes upon volumes of books trying to define heavenly realities. Yet, one simple moment of godly enlightenment – of experiencing first hand the touch of God upon our life — will instill in us more than all the books in the world can teach us.

It is faith and trust in God – taking Him at His Holy Word – which causes us to first, act in obedience; and then, to experience the things of God. A Heavenly Mystery cannot be absolutely defined in human terms; but it can be absolutely experienced in human life.

For example – let us look for just a moment at the concepts of love and commitment. We can look these words up in a dictionary and gain some mental understanding of their meaning. But, is it mental understanding that we really desire? No! We want to experience love and commitment first hand.

I was able to come face to face with the spiritual reality of love and commitment. In August and September of 2001, I lay in a hospital room very ill, and at times even close to death, over a period of 31 days. God’s love and commitment took on a special reality for me – indeed, it took on a face. For I experienced them through my wife, who stayed by my side, sleeping every night in an uncomfortable chair next to me, holding my hand, caring for my needs, depriving herself, praying for me, even directing the healthcare professionals, and giving me all the strength and courage she could muster for those 31 days.

Now, I can tell you that this is love and commitment, and you may even believe me. However, until you experience something similar, you will not fully understand my experience – it will remain a mystery to you.

RECIPROCITY:

Now, what about the word “reciprocity?” Again, if we were to look it up in a dictionary we would be told that it means: The quality or state of being reciprocal: mutual in dependence, mutual in action; mutual in influence; i.e., to give and to receive in turn.

From a scientific standpoint, looking at the laws of physics, we are told that reciprocity means that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. For instance, if I were to take a tennis ball and throw it hard against a wall – what would happen? Presuming that my aim is even half way accurate, the ball would bounce back towards me! This proves this law of physics known as reciprocity to be valid.

What does this mean to me as a servant of God? Jesus speaks to us on the subject of reciprocity, defining it in very simple terms: You reap whatsoever you sow.

In its most basic understanding this means that if you plant corn, you should expect corn to grow. Or, in other words — if you plant corn, do not expect to harvest cabbage, or tomatoes, or fava beans, or anything else – for if you expect something else to grow other than corn you have deluded yourself. As Christians, what are we planting?

The Mystery of Reciprocity:

How then, does this “Mystery of Reciprocity” have any bearing upon my life of godly servanthood? How do we, as those persons who have been called out of the world to serve Christ, apply this to our lives as stewards of the talents which God has given each of us?

We are taught in Holy Scriptures this spiritual truth: Give and it shall be given unto you; pressed down, running over. For with the measure you give, shall it be given back to you!

You see, WE CAN GIVE, BECAUSE WE HAVE FIRST RECEIVED! It is worth while noting that Jesus presumes upon us lowly human beings as already having something to give. And why not? Saint Paul us that we Christians have, “been blessed with every spiritual blessings from above.”

You may say, “Wait a second Father. When were we blessed with every spiritual blessing? I just don’t seem to remember that happening!”

Well, as human beings, created in the image and likeness of God, we have a spark of god-like-ness in us at our creation. St. Maximos the Confessor teaches us that there is a part of our personal will that is the creation of God, and thus is beyond the power of humanity to alter or corrupt; it is beyond human influence, not because that influence is false or unreal, but because the creation of God cannot be corrupted or thwarted by humanity. This, he tells us, is a blessing from God, which even our fallen human nature cannot fully extinguish.

But, more so, as Orthodox Christians we are especially granted all the blessings of heaven when we were Baptized and Chrismated – when we were restored to a life-giving relationship with God!

When we were made members of Christ’s Holy Church – His Holy Body of Believers – God gave us everything we need to overcome the world; He gave us everything we need to become Saints; He gave us everything we need to become, in the words of Bishop Demetri – co-workers and co-creators with God! Did you know that?

In chapter 1, verse 17 of his Epistle, St. James writes:

“Every good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…”

You see, God began a good work in us! In fact, unless God has given us His good and perfect gifts, we have nothing to give to any one – not even to ourselves. But, glory be to God, we can give, because we have first received. As Saint John the Theologian tells us: We love God because He first loved us.

God began the work of love, redemption, salvation and holiness in our lives. Now, we in turn must work out the blessings of God in our daily lives. This means making ourselves subject to God; obeying Him; walking upon the paths of right living in God’s sight; being people who are identified with their love for each other; when we reach out the least of our brothers and sisters with compassion and our material means. This means becoming Holy as God is Holy!

We must understand that in making ourselves “subject to God” — in living as servants of God — a relationship is already in place, a relationship which presupposes the initiative of God and the response of man. In the words of Father George Florovsky:

Once the synergism of the redemptive process takes place in the human heart (once we begin working in union with God), then the existential reciprocity of grace and response is… dynamic…

Once we act upon the gifts which God has given us, then we begin to experience those things which have been previously to us — mysteries of Heaven.

A dynamic thing happens when we act in faith upon God’s Word: instead of being takers; instead of expecting something; instead of looking out for our own selves — we begin to be Givers, co-creators, co-workers with God. Yes, we begin to become more like God.

Do you want a spiritual truth to take back home with you. Then listen to this, “Nothing worth keeping is lost in serving God.”

Indeed, we must understand that GIVING IS THE NATURAL STATE OF THE UNIVERSE! One pastor wrote this:

“Let us learn… from the analogy of nature, the great lesson, that to get we must give; that to accumulate we must scatter, that to make ourselves happy, we must make others happy; and that to get good and become spiritually vigorous, we must do good and seek the spiritual good of others. A man has made at least a start on discovering the meaning of human life when he plants shade trees under which he knows full well he will never sit.”

This, my beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, is the Mystery of Reciprocity!

St. Seraphim of Sarov teachers us:

When the Spirit of God descends upon a man and overshadows him with the fullness of His outpouring, then his soul overflows with a joy not to be described, for the Holy Spirit turns to joy whatever He touches. The Kingdom of Heaven is peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Acquire inward peace and thousands around you will find their salvation.

We need to ask ourselves this question:

Are we living up to our God-ordained destiny as givers – co-workers, co-creators, as loving servants of God?

Here is the litmus test: Ask yourself this question: “When people enter into my sphere of life, and then they leave, do they leave enriched?”

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King Solomon teaches us: “The generous soul will be made rich, And he who waters will also be watered himself.”

o “He who has a generous eye will be blessed, For he gives of his bread to the poor.”

Likewise, Saint Paul teaches us:

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“But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. {7} So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. {8} And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work. {9} As it is written: “He has dispersed abroad, He has given to the poor; His righteousness endures forever.”

What does this mean to us? Do we want to realize all the spiritual blessings of heaven which God has given us – do we want the best which God has to offer? Then we must give our best!

This is not simply something we must hope for. It is something which we must take action to receive. This means that we must set FAITH GOALS.

Arnold Tonesby said, that we cannot expect to change institutions until the individuals within our institutions first change. I think we would all agree that, real changes always start on the inside of the person. Too often we look outside us for the answers. But, Jesus reveals to us that the Kingdom of Heaven is within us – it is not outside us.

A challenge to Change:

That is were we need to start if we really want to change our churches for the better. We need to start setting goals. With that in mind, let me ask you this question:

Have you, the person sitting here today, made a decision to change?

Because, when you have made a decision to make a change and you know your reasons, only then, will you harness the desire to become a better steward of your talents and resources.

I do not know what your particular reasons are for wanting to change. They could be multiple. Perhaps you do not know them completely yourself. But here are some questions which will begin to help you focus:

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When you look at your Family, your Church, your Job, your world, do you honestly like what you see?
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Are you and your Church sponsoring Missionary efforts?
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Are you and your Church reaching out to the community?
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Are you and your church a city upon a Hill, shining with the light of Christ’s love and grace?

We must stop Living in the Past: Rather we must Live the Future Now. This means that we must stop being historically minded. The Past is gone. The good ole days don’t exist now, even if they ever did. We must live in the present! We must start living within the realm of the BEHAG!

What did I say? I said we need to start living within the realm of the BEHAG! What does this mean? “BHAG” (pronounced Bee-hag) is an acronym for a “Big Hairy Audacious Goal.” A BHAG is a visionary goal which is believed to be difficult if not impossible to achieve. It is a goal which cannot be achieved by ordinary fallen human ability.

Especially with the biblical context, it is a goal not at all within the grasp of human power. Such as a Virgin Birth; overcoming death by death; raising the dead back to life; feeding thousands of people with only a hand full of food; healing the sick and lame; becoming holy as God is Holy, and so on.

Every BHAG must have a “larger than life” goal. This means that it cannot be within man’s personal expectation or power to achieve. What does this mean to us?

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It means that this Big Hairy Audacious Goal must be of God and based firmly on His Word.
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It must be God’s vision, not one’s own self concocted plan.
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“Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal is something that is so outrageous, so unthinkable and so unbelievable, that there’s no other alternative but to trust that it can be accomplished only by working hand-in-hand with God.

This is where the effective mystery of reciprocity moves out of the realm of theory, and into the reality of life experience. When God works a BHAG, His purpose is not simply to accomplish the stated goal. Rather, His purpose is also to transform the people, the organization and its leaders into a BHAG community of faith.

We need simply to look at this marvelous work of God around at this beautiful Basilica of St. Mary’s, to see the working out of a BHAG. A dream come reality! This is where the greatest results occur. This is what causes the renewal which enables these communities of faith to move on to even greater and more impossible BHAGs.

Faith and trust in God – with godly action can change the world. Are you ready to trust in God? Are you ready to change the world with the love and grace of Jesus Christ? As Christians we need to understand that God is moving us to do wonderful and great things. But the choice to follow His lead is ours.

CONCLUSION:

In Run with the Horses, Eugene Peterson tells how he saw a family of birds teaching their young to fly. The story begins with three young swallows who were perched on a dead branch that stretched out over a lake. Mr. Peterson tells us what he witnessed:

“One adult swallow got alongside the chicks and started shoving them out toward the end of the branch pushing, pushing, pushing. The end one fell off. Somewhere between the branch and the water four feet below, the wings started working, and the fledgling was off on his own. Then the second one.

“The third was not to be bullied. At the last possible moment his grip on the branch loosened just enough so that he swung downward, then tightened again, bulldog tenacious. The parent was without sentiment. He pecked at the desperately clinging talons until it was more painful for the poor chick to hang on than risk the insecurities of flying. The grip was released, and the inexperienced wings began pumping. The mature swallow knew what the chick did not that it would fly that there was no danger in making it do what it was perfectly designed to do.

Mr. Peter continues:

“Birds have feet and can walk. Birds have talons and can grasp a branch securely. They can walk; they can cling. But flying is their characteristic action, and not until they fly are they living at their best, gracefully and beautifully.

As Children of a loving and Giving God, made in His image and likeness, giving is what we do best. It is the air into which we were born. It is the action that was designed into us before our birth.

Some of us try desperately to hold on to ourselves, to live for ourselves. We look so bedraggled and pathetic doing it, hanging on to the dead branch of a bank account for dear life, afraid to risk ourselves on the untried wings of giving. We don’t think we can live generously because we have never tried.

But the sooner we start, the better, for we are going to have to give up our lives finally, and the longer we wait, the less time we have for living as co-workers, co-creators with God.

God has blessed us with the raw material of every spiritual blessings from heaven. What will we make of those raw materials? God gives each one of us spiritual gifts – personal spiritual talents. Their value is dependent on how we develop them through our involvement in godly servanthood.

As Sayidna Demetri’s speech last night challenged us to ask of ourselves: When all is said and done, will we hear the words, “Well done?” The choice is ours.

Now may God who supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food, may He supply and multiply the seed you have sown and increase the fruits of your righteousness, while you are enriched in everything spiritually for all liberality, which causes thanksgiving through us to God.”

In short: May God wake us up to our full spiritual potential to a life of loving service and blessing. Amen.