Denying one’s self is not optional.

Homily 279 – 15th Sunday after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
September 17, 2017

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

The central practice of the Christian faith is this idea of denying ourselves, picking up our Cross, and following Christ.

Our society – and perhaps many of us – question this. Why is this so? Why would I deny myself anything?

Why would I subject myself to the indignity of putting others first?

The obvious first answer is “because that is what Christ did for you.” Your creator, the creator of everything that is, came down from Heaven, incarnate as a child, and served others.

Yet that answer, in our society, seems somehow unsatisfying. Many do not believe there is a Creator, and if there is a Creator, there is no “person” – but only a “force” or “power.”

If there is a person, the belief may or may not be the Christian God, or the incarnation, who is Jesus Christ.

Our society demands proof. Something that can be detected by the senses, observed with the eyes, touched with our hands.

As an aside – it is perhaps notable that most of the advances in modern science – especially physics, cosmology, and the like – are the result not of observation, but of mathematics.

The things that are considered very solid cannot be touched or tasted or seen or heard. Many times the struggle of the scientist is to simply detect the subject in question.

But people still don’t trust – don’t have faith – in Jesus Christ.

Nevertheless, the central practice of our faith – the denial of self – remains. We do this for reasons other than avoiding eternal punishment in an eternal damnation of whatever sort.

For us I think there are a couple of reasons for “why” we need follow the direction of Jesus.

To start – if we embody that ethos, that ethic, of self-denial, we find that we become truly human.

We – I – cannot exist in isolation, as an individual. The famous quote is “I think, therefore, I am.” But that isn’t at all the truth.

I did not originate myself. At first, humanity existed in relation to the Creator – to God. We existed at God’s desire. And that was extended – we existed in relation to other humans as well.

It is telling that the most severe punishment we have, short of death, is isolation. Be it solitary confinement or exile, humanity has known that a life of individual in isolation is no life at all.

We exist to have relationship. And relationship is best defined as self-sacrifice. Self-denial.

It is valuing others. It is, appropriately, in my estimation, defining our value by our relationship with them.

The follow up to relationship is that when we are in relationship we find happiness. We find joy. We find completion.

Our world believes in this – how many romantic movies and dramas have had the relationship where one party says “you complete me.”

You make me whole. Without relationship, we find ourselves incomplete.

And make no mistake – this isn’t just romantic or sexual. One aspect lost on our current society is the value of friendship. Not with a screen, but with a person.

People lose that connection at times. They don’t have personal relationships so on-line or movie relationships – TV relationships – become a substitute. A poor substitute.

And some identify so closely that they become antisocial. Some, very few thankfully, become psychotic, and some, again, very few, become violent.

If we desire to save our lives, we must lose them. If we desire to be first, we must be last – that is, we must be servants, and sacrifice our need and desire for the needs of others.

It is counter to our culture. The world does not desire that we follow this path. The world, our society, needs us to engage in self-fulfillment. We just need more stuff to plug in the holes where the relationships would normally be.

But the call of God, the message of Christ, is exactly opposite. Deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow Christ.

By doing so, we find love.

And when we find love, we find God. And we are healed.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

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