A place to struggle with hard sayings.
Homily 322 – 12th after Pentecost
St. Paul Orthodox Church, Dayton, Ohio
August 19, 2018
Epistle – (158) 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Gospel: (79) Matthew 19:16-26
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.
First, I’d like to offer a word of thanks to you all, from Candy, Jonathan, and myself, and also from the faithful at Holy Transfiguration mission in Ames, Iowa.
We have been in Ames for five years, and thanks to your support in prayer and financially, we have been able to begin the work that Christ has started in Ames.
We have a building, and about 30 people on Sunday mornings. But beyond the typical measures of parish growth – we have begun a little food pantry for the neighborhood – we are in a downtown small-town setting – and we are beginning to create an outdoor meditation space for the community.
We are also preserving a building that was built in the 1920s, with architecture that is both grand but not ostentatious.
Ames is a college town, the home of Iowa State University. We have 70,000 people in Ames, 35,000 of which are University students.
And like most University towns, especially with a focus on Science and Technology, Christian faith isn’t exactly the norm.
Which means for us that one of our goals is to create a space where individuals can explore what a the Apostles called the “hard sayings” of Christ.
It is that same “hard saying” that we read in this morning’s Gospel account. The young man asks what he must do to be saved – that is, to inherit eternal life.
And Christ tells him – obey the law, which the man says he has done. Then the man asks a dangerous question – “What do I lack?”
Now, that question is dangerous, because it asks of Christ to tell us our weaknesses – the places in our life we don’t see, and perhaps don’t really want to see.
We don’t know if the man was being genuine, or trying to show off. What we do know is that Jesus found the man’s blind spot, and revealed it to him. He was bound – a slave – to his great wealth.
One part of the message Christ delivers is that we must go beyond the law and the commandments, if we desire to be united to Him. We must detach ourselves from the things – anything – that keeps us and our focus away from God.
A hard saying indeed. We should abandon our trust in ourselves, our abilities, our wealth – and instead trust God to give to us what we need. Trust God to provide for us, and to be content with what God provides.
More than that even – to trust God enough to give away to the poor. In other words, to be generous, to the point that the world begins to question the wisdom of our philanthropy.
But there is another aspect that is almost imperceptible in the Gospel account. The man, having great wealth, went away sad. And Jesus let him go.
He didn’t send the Apostles after him saying, “Hey, wait, we can discuss this!”
From the perspective of a mission parish, that is a difficult thing to do. Yet, it seems we must, because we aren’t allowed to compromise on the message of Christ – we aren’t allowed to alter the standards to accommodate or eliminate a struggle.
God doesn’t compel us to do anything. His commandments are answered out of love, not out of compulsion.
We need to be OK with that.
There will always be individuals who struggle with the commandments of Christ. Some will walk away sad, because the message of the Church is one of Transfiguration, and they don’t desire change.
Critically, though, some will not walk away, but will struggle with this “hard saying.” Many of our university students in Ames are in this category.
As the body of Christ, we also cannot compel, but instead offer a place where it is ok to struggle with the hard sayings. A place to question – to have dialogue with Our Lord.
A place where we acknowledge the hard sayings, and wrestle with them. Not necessarily a place where we go out of our way not to offend, or accommodate, or ensure everyone feels good..
Rather, a place where the person can struggle, can question, can talk – all while knowing that they are loved, and loved unconditionally. By Christ – and by us.
This is our hard saying, that we have to wrestle with. Do we, who follow Christ, have the strength of our faith to deal with those who question? Are we willing to go with people on their questioning journey? And not just go with them – but love them while we journey together?
When we journey with others, we have to question with them. Their struggle becomes our struggle too. We may know what the answers are for us – but we are asked to help them understand what the answer is for them.
People are asking difficult questions of Christians. How do we respond people who question what the Church has always taught? If they are willing, do we allow them to struggle with the saying in our midst?
Or, do we back them into a position where like the young ruler, they go away.
We aren’t asked to answer those questions. What we as the Church do is accompany each other, in community, in love, as we journey and struggle.
The Holy Spirit promises to lead us – and together we explore the questions.
Not alone. Together – in faith, and in love. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.