Are we free?

Homily 466 – 6th APE
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
August 1, 2021
Epistle: (110) Romans 12:6-14, (125) 1 Corinthians 1:18-24, (330) Hebrews 11:33-12:2
Gospel: (29) Matthew 9:1-8, (60) John 19:6-11, 13-20, 25-28, 30-35, (38) Matthew 10:32-36; 11:1

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

The gospel reading of the paralytic who is forgiven is one of the best illustrations of how the world is in conflict with the Gospel, and how the Church leans more to the world than to Christ.

That’s a very harsh statement, and difficult to hear, particularly since the Church is our mother. And, if I’m honest, it isn’t the entire Church that moves according to the world and not the Gospel. There are pockets of men and women, faithful and pious, who in humility follow the Lord.

Lord, may we all find those pockets! I’m so thankful that our Bishop, Archbishop Alexander, is one of those who pursue truth, the Gospel, and pursues Christ, who is Truth, regardless of the whims of the world.

But let’s go back a moment.

What do I mean that the paralytic being forgiven illustrates the world in conflict with the Church? And why is it important?

The expectation of the crowd, and the institutional Church of the day, the ecclesia of the Jewish faith, was focused not on forgiveness, not on salvation, but on earthly healing.

The experiences here on earth were more important than the eternal experiences in the Kingdom of God. To experience life without pain or problem – that was the objective of the world, and in the reality of the faith of the day.

Christ upsets that order, as we know. Christ tells the paralytic, cheer up! All is good! You are forgiven!

To which the institutional faith, the scribes, those responsible for the faith, cried “Blasphemy!”

Again, driving a distinction – the right to forgive was God’s and God’s alone. And that right was not in this world unless it complied with the Torah.

The Torah that they were responsible to manage and safeguard and, to an extent, rule upon.

What was impossible was that this itinerant rabbi, this Jesus of Nazareth, could offer forgiveness, and claim to be God.

We know what happens next. In order to know that Jesus has the power to forgive, the paralytic is healed.

But the objective, the destination or target, if you will, never changes. It isn’t this world, it isn’t healing, it isn’t avoiding pain. It is the Kingdom which is to come.

The world, the society in which we live here in the United States, tells us our value is only our contribution to our bosses. Be they managers or supervisors or customers, our value is determined by their opinion of us.

And if we do not enrich someone else through our efforts – be it monetarily or through experience – we do not have value.

Through this, society tells us we are free! Free to work, or not to work. Which is ridiculous – we might as well say we are free not to eat, or breath, or seek shelter.

Our bosses, for those of us who are employed and not financially independent (which is an entirely different topic of worldly behavior), our employer has control over the majority of our lives.

And those controls are not those of our choosing, in most cases. Certainly not democratic.

In other words, the freedom we proclaim is a complete illusion. It doesn’t exist. We are not free, because if we hold no currency, we do not exist in society, beyond being objects of pity.

How different is the Kingdom of God, beloved!

We are loved, we are cared for. We may not always be comfortable or pain-free – but we are deeply loved, and we are connected to the source of life, and of healing.

And most importantly, we are forgiven! We are forgiven for our pride, the root of all sin. Pride is the word that the Elders and Teachers of the church use.

I prefer the term “self-interest.” That is what Adam and Eve were forgiven for in the Garden, and what we are forgiven for now. We act in our own self-interest, and we are forgiven for doing so.

Not that we may continue in self-interest – never! But rather that we may become the ones who act in self-denial, mirroring what our Lord and Creator Jesus did by becoming incarnate and offering Himself on the Cross.

That each of us and all of us act in a manner that enriches and supports all of those around us, trusting God to supply our needs.

To my own shame, and I beg forgiveness of you and from the Lord, I have been guilty of this grave transgression.

I was deceived in my prior job. The evil one told me that by doing better financially, I could avoid being a burden on the parish. I could give back money to the parish, and to those around me.

But what I realize now is that God didn’t want just money. The tithe and sacrificial money offerings to the Church are important for us, but not important to God.

What God wants from us, from me, is our being. Our time in fellowship with Him and with others. Attention to the needs of those around us.

What God wants from us is our love, first for Him, and because of Him, for everyone around us.

How are we do live in the world but not of the world? We have to use the exchange currency of the world. At this time I don’t see that as optional. We have to work, if we are able, again, I don’t see that as optional.

But what we can and must do is use the resources generated through our effort, use the money and power and prestige and whatever other benefit we gain, for the betterment of everyone around us.

That they too may know that God has the power to forgive sins.

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