Better value.

Homily 354 – Fourth Sunday of Great Lent
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
April 7, 2019
Epistle: (314) – Hebrews 6:13-20 and (229) – Ephesians 5:9-19
Gospel: (40) – Mark 9:17-31 and (10) – Matthew 4:25-5:12

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

In St. John’s gospel there is a statement that causes me to pause:

Many believed in Christ, but would not acknowledge him on account of the Pharisees, for fear of being banned from the synagogue. For they valued human reputation rather than the honor which comes from God.

They valued human reputation rather than the honor which comes from God.

That is a challenging statement, but one we all must encounter for ourselves. Which do we value?

The honor that comes from God, or the reputation and status we have amongst our fellow human beings?

This is not a quick answer for most of us – including me. I will admit that during seminary it was maybe a bit easier to be devoted to pursuit of God.

But even there – even now – if a clergyman is honest with you, they will admit that even with a life dedicated to God, there are elements of the opinion of others that matters to us.

As a dual-vocation priest, I struggle with this constantly. In my day job, I have to balance the opinions and thoughts of others, particularly as I am a leader in the organization.

At least that is what I understand the expectation to be. But that conflicts with the pursuit of theosis – the climbing of the Ladder, which we commemorate today.

Not only in John’s Gospel, but in the Ladder of Divine Assent, the very first step is renunciation of the world.

That means, valuing the honor that comes from God more than the opinion of others.

Which brings to mind many images – does that mean I should leave the world and enter monastic life? Likely not – although it is a possibility.

The struggle, as Christ puts it in His great high-priestly prayer for us, is to be living physically in this world, but not by the standards of the world.

The struggle is real.

It is worth contemplating why we are so attached to the world, and find it so difficult to reject the world’s standards while following the standards of God.

First and foremost, in my own contemplation, is the comfort, the security, we receive from the world. We want to be part of it – part of something. Family, community, team.

We want to connect with others – to not be alone. For to be alone is the ultimate punishment for any of us.

Imagine if you will Adam and Eve – in the garden, they aren’t alone at all. God is with them. Being cast out of the garden, they find themselves, for the very first time, alone.

No other humans, at all. God no longer with them in the same way as before. Exiled from the home that they knew – the only home they knew.

Even today, the ultimate punishment we give as a society to individuals who are incarcerated is solitary confinement.

In the Church, we are supposed to find that support, that comfort and meaning with each other. And, to an extent, I believe we do. But it certainly isn’t like the support we get being in the world.

Our contact time is vastly different. We are in the Church, the presence of our brothers and sisters, perhaps 10 hours a week if we are here every time the doors are open during Lent.

There are 168 hours in a week. We spend (on average) 40 or 50 in the workplace, perhaps 3 or 4 in commuting, perhaps 55 or 60 sleeping, and the remainder with family, or perhaps even alone.

So it is easy for us to see that under the best of circumstances our presence with others in Christ is around 6% of our life.

When the man in the Gospel tells Christ “I believe – help my unbelief!” we maybe understand more. I believe – yet that belief doesn’t drive my existence as it should. I believe, but I still feel alone in that belief.

I believe, but I don’t have faith. I don’t trust.

How is that trust developed? Like most things, it begins with a decision – a determination on our part that we desire to please God over our society.

We pray that God will show us when we are valuing the world more than the Kingdom. Lord, help my unbelief!

We then take that determination, understanding that we will fail, we will slip, we will fall. And when it happens, we begin again. We repent. We redirect our target to the Kingdom.

Our prayer and our practice, over time, is that we can identify that occurrence closer and closer to the event itself. We correct our course quicker.

Eventually, we begin to discover it as it occurs. And after that, we begin to discover it before it occurs – we see it coming.

And we can take steps to avoid it.

In this way, we learn, through practice, over and over and over again, to renounce the world, and to value the glory of God over the opinions of a fallen humanity.

In this way, Christ helps our unbelief. In this way, we begin – we take the first step – on the ladder of divine ascent.

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