Becoming vessels of God.

Homily 562– 17 APE
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
October 1, 2023
Epistle – (181) – 2 Corinthians 6:1-10 and (99) – Romans 8:28-39
Gospel – (26) – Luke 6:31-36 and (54) – Luke 10:38-42; 11:27-28

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

In the Epistle reading, St. Paul quotes the prophet Isaiah, chapter 52.  In order that we may understand the significance, we need to look a bit earlier in that chapter.  What we find is that this is a passage relating to deliverance – the deliverance of Jerusalem.

Most scholars hold that this part of Isaiah was written toward the end of the Babylonian Captivity of Israel.  Sometimes called “Second Isaiah” it was likely composed not by Isaiah himself, but by someone who spoke with the same spirit and truth as Isaiah.

At this time, there was no temple.  The people of God were in Babylon – there was a remnant that stayed in Judea, but most were in Babylon.  And there wasn’t really the promise of an impending release from that captivity.  The passage St. Paul quotes isn’t one to be understood on the same level as Moses leading the people out of Egypt.

Isaiah’s perspective, shared by this writer as well, was that the majesty and glory of God was so overwhelming that military and political power faded to insignificance.  The power of God put the earthly power of the kings of Earth to irrelevance.

Isaiah says that even without a structure called the temple, and even without a tent as in the days of the wandering in the Desert, that God will dwell in them.  Unheard of, in the days of Isaiah.  God’s needed temples in which to dwell.

And God says here, through Isaiah, that He will dwell within the people.  Absurd!

Isaiah further adds a bit more context to the quoted statements.  In Isaiah, the passage of verse 11 reads:  Depart, depart, go out from there, / and touch no unclean thing; / go out from the midst of it; be separated, / you who carry the vessels of the Lord,

You who carry the vessels of the Lord.

This ties directly into this feast, the feast of the Protection of the Birthgiver of God, who was the preeminent vessel of the Lord.  But we are vessels also.

St. Paul goes on to remind the Hebrews that everything of the Temple is present within us.  And that the Temple of the Lord needed to be clean.  Everything entering the temple needs to be purified.  And although in the first tabernacle the priests entered, and the second tabernacle, the Holy of Holies, only the high priest entered and then only once a year, we can enter the tabernacle of our heart – our nous.  Where God dwells within us.

Like Israel, we live in captivity in the Babylon that is our fallen world.  We are God’s chosen, yet we live in bondage, prisoners held captive by the society in which we live.  We are no longer American, nor Ukrainian, nor Greek, nor Russian, nor Palestinian, nor African.

We are the people of God – the new Israel, held in bondage, waiting for our redemption.

Redemption – like redeeming or getting back something that we took to the pawn shop.  But Isaiah tells us that the people were captured for nothing – so money cannot redeem them.  The people of God are not being held for ransom.  Rather, we will be redeemed by God’s Glory, by His Power.

And so, in our present redemption, we need to purify ourselves, to enable ourselves to enter into the nous, the heart, where God dwells within us.

We do this by not participating in the things of the world – don’t touch them, be apart from them.  Those things should not be of concern to you – they aren’t important.

Some writers during our time would have us believe this means we all should leave the world, and live a separate life, in our own Orthodox ghetto.  But to do that misses the point – God dwells within us, wherever we are.

We have to be clean in the middle of the cesspool that is the society around us.  And St. Luke shows us the way.  We do this through self-denial.  Treating others the way we want to be treated.  We want others to deny themselves for us – so we have to deny ourselves for them.

Our desires are of no consequence.  Maybe more importantly, we can only apply this to ourselves.  I can’t apply it to you, you can’t apply it to me.  This isn’t about what someone else does or doesn’t do.  This is completely about my denial of myself.

Much like fasting, where we say keep your eyes on your own plate.  It is not our job, not even the priest’s job, to examine the lives of others, and to tell others of what we believe to be their sins.  That is the job of the Holy Spirit.  Rather the priest stands ready to help the one who wants to receive perfection, who wants to cleanse themselves, to hold God within their being.

Oftentimes during confession someone may say something along the lines of “so-and-so isn’t treating me the way I want to be treated.”  Many times, this is when someone confesses anger toward someone else.  Often it is our expectations of others that cause most of the anger and frustration in our lives, and we need to look within ourselves and determine with the help of the Holy Spirit what our expectations of the other person were.

That is what needs to be confessed.  Self-denial, the cross we all bear, doesn’t permit expectations of others.  Some will say, “Well, that isn’t fair – they have expectations of me, don’t they?”

That question itself betrays our own lack of self-denial.  They don’t enter the picture at all.  Self-denial means being unconcerned with what others are doing to us.  Paradoxically, self-denial means only being focused on how we are being selfish, by examining ourselves.

What St. Paul, and the prophet Isaiah, are telling us is that the important thing is God, and our pursuit of Him, and only Him.  In this way we cleanse ourselves of the impurity of selfishness and self-gratification.

In this way we learn to follow Christ, who emptied Himself and took up the form of a servant, through His astonishing and miraculous incarnation.

In this way, we become approved vessels of God.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!