Broken and unchanging.

Homily 348 – 39th Sunday after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
February 24, 2019
Epistle: (135) – 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 and (176) – 2 Corinthians 4:6-15 (Forerunner)
Gospel: (79) – Luke 15:11-32 and (40) – Matthew 11:2-15 (Forerunner)

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

What do we expect of the Church? Of God?

If we look around us today, there seems to be a race to see who has the most to offer. Society shops for Churches like some shop for cars or houses – what’s the benefit, and at what cost?

The criteria is usually similar – I want to feel something. I want to feel good about myself. I want to feel connected to something bigger. It is about how we feel. And, perhaps, about how others feel about us.

Maybe we want some other things. Some want social justice, inclusion. Some want conservatism and constraint.

But what we typically don’t want is change. That cost is too much for many of our society. If you can’t take me as I am, then I’m done. I’ll find a place that will.

In this process, we need to recognize a few things.

First – we are fallen. We, sometimes, all of us, do bad things, think bad thoughts. That goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden, and the description of the temptation of Eve, and the decision of Adam and Eve to trust themselves instead of God.

Since then, humanity has placed ourselves, our judgement, our will at the center of our decision-making. In so doing, we fail to remember to recognize the second thing.

We are not self-existing. We are created. We are formed by something other than ourselves.

We cannot take nothingness and make something out of it. Much less, make something living and conscious from it.

The whole of our world – our society – is placing ourselves, humanity, above everything. The world, as we know it, revolves around us.

We decide what is true and what is false. Even though it can and frequently does change. We decide what is right and what is wrong, which is also something that changes frequently. We decide what is important and what is not.

Being in a university town, perhaps we have one advantage that others do not – we see change, frequently, as new observations are made and new facts are uncovered.

But that doesn’t tend to change our society’s belief that humanity is the ultimate arbiter of everything.

The words of the Old Testament are so seemingly harsh – but if we read them carefully, with faith that the message they communicate is truth, and is unchanging, then perhaps we can better understand our own condition.

We can read of God’s admonition of Job – who was completely innocent of everything except questioning God with “Why?”. And we can understand that our presence in creation is solely, singularly, because of God.

In very direct terms, the central issue we face is that God created us so that He could love us – and so that we could love Him. And we had to have free will, because love that is not freely given is not love at all.

And so a God who created us out of love, who desires our love, found Himself rejected by the corruption of the will we were given to enable us to love.

When the prodigal son asks for his inheritance and leaves town, it is exactly like us. We take the love we have, the free will which activates love, and we shower it not on the One who gave it to us, but ourselves.

At some point, many of us will recognize that we are broke. That we are broken. That we are incomplete, wounded.

And it seems today that people run to Churches after this realization and say, to God “Father, take me back as a hired servant. But don’t heal me – rather accept me as I choose to be.”

Like going to a hospital and saying “Tell me I’ll be fine.” Don’t heal, don’t prescribe – just accept what is happening and tell me that it’s fine, nothing to be concerned with, nothing limiting us.

We won’t die. It isn’t illness. It isn’t the truth.

When we return to God, it isn’t simply returning to a place at a time where we can be accepted, or (God forbid) simply entertained.

We return to God when we place Him at the center of our existence. When our thoughts and dreams and desires are about Him, and those He loves.

Without expectations – without conditions.

We choose to place our free will in the purpose of loving God.

Our lives become a day to day, moment to moment, turning our focus back to God. And it is hard. It is frequently painful. Frequently we don’t understand it.

The promise of the Prodigal Son is that God will also run to meet us – where we are – but not necessarily how we are. He raises us to the level that we formerly had – the level we rejected, as sons and daughters of God.

The Church also meets us where we are – inclusively – but doesn’t accept that we can stay there. We are formed. Transformed even. Transfigured, as Christ was transfigured on Mount Tabor.

Restored as the blind man was restored and the lame were restored and the woman with the issue of blood was restored.

We are changed – as St. Paul was changed.

In the troparia last night at Great Vespers, one of the hymns says “Brothers, our purpose is to know the power of God’s goodness.”

This is the promise of Great Lent. If we choose to accept it.

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