Being family.

Homily 369 – 7th after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
August 4, 2019
Epistle: (116) – Romans 15:1-7
Gospel: (33) – Matthew 9:27-35

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

St. Paul tells us this morning that we should bear the weaknesses of the weak and not just please ourselves.

A few years ago, perhaps even now, there was a saying – What would Jesus Do? That appeared everywhere. But we know what Jesus would do. St. Paul tells us to imitate Christ, who did not please himself.

Sometimes I struggle to understand what that looks like. What I’m beginning to learn is that our society is so absolutely focused on pleasing ourselves, even if we strive not to, it is difficult. We are shaped by our world to put ourselves first, to please ourselves.

If one tries to please someone else, it is generally because we have no opinion ourselves. It is frivolous, but I’m reminded of it every time we travel and we try to decide where to have dinner. Then, we’re very interested in what others want.

Where do you want to go? I dunno, where do you want to go?

In this country, I can’t speak for other parts of the world, but in the United States, it seems the last time we focused outside ourselves was World War II. Amazing, and tragic, how war can unite us more than love ever has.

Since that time, our society has been continually focused inward. What’s best for me. If it feels good, do it. Freedom to live without norms or rules. Which is in fact bondage.

We went so far down that road that for those of us who remember the 1970s and1980s it was referred to as the “Me” decade and the “Me” generation, even.

The result of this extreme inward focus is that we as a society and as individuals have moved further and further away from the idea of pleasing our neighbor and not ourselves.

And that makes our repentance, our change, much more significant. Much more challenging. And in most cases much more extreme.

When society encourages us to define the adjectives used about us for ourselves, we begin to buy into that idea. And returning to a neighbor-first perspective seems more than daunting.

That isn’t to say that the feelings we experience aren’t valid – we do in fact feel the way we feel. All of us, even those of us who aren’t under the throes of self-absorption.

So we cannot put ourselves in a position to judge or even evaluate where others are.

We can only point the way by following St. Paul’s advice to accept the insults of another as directed to us. When someone calls someone else a derogatory name, or threatens them, or demeans them – even for things that are not in accordance with our beliefs – we still have to take them as if they were directed toward ourselves.

And respond accordingly – to defend them, even when we disagree with them.

In so doing, we remind them, and each other, that we live by a different standard – one of self-denial. And in so doing, we follow Christ.

We accept others, warts and wounds and all, because that is the way that Christ accepts us.

We are accepted into the Kingdom – into the immediate family, or household – of our Creator, our Lord, our God.

And in this house, in this family, this is simply the way we live. We hear the commandments of God – but they aren’t commandments at all. They are the way of life in the family of God, of which we all belong.

We behave in a certain way not because we were threatened, but because we were accepted, just like the prodigal. Just like the publican.

Because we are with the ones we love. We want to know the desires of the ones we love and the ones that love us.

And we then strive to do those things, not out of obligation, but rather because it is pleasing for us to bring joy and pleasure to the ones we love.

When I was a child, I loved Christmas because of the things I received. Now, I experience the joy of giving exponentially more than receiving. Watching my children, and my grandchildren, and my spiritual children receive gifts brings me great and lasting joy.

And we are family as well. With one another – those we know, and the strangers around us and in our midst.

The gospel reminds us that pursuing this path isn’t without critics and ridicule. “He casts out demons by the prince of demons.”

The society – the ones deluded into thinking that self-gratification is the meaning of life – will mock us, and deride us, and attempt to discredit us.

Once again – what did Jesus do? Basically, ignored it. Went on about his business, his purpose, spreading healing and the Good News that Christ is in our midst.

Even to His ascension of the Cross for our sake. For my sake. For your sake. Even as we are, flawed, wounded, and unrepentant – unwilling to change.

We will not be deceived. We know the truth. The truth doesn’t come from society.

Follow the Truth, who is Christ the Lord and Master of us all. And Christ who is our brother.

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