Homily 399 – 1st Sunday of Great Lent
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
March 8, 2020
Epistle: (329-ctr) – Hebrews 11:24-26, 32-12:2
Gospel: (5) – John 1:43-51
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.
Where should we focus?
In our world today there is so much to engage our senses. We travel, we find entertainment, we enjoy music, our senses are basically inundated, overwhelmed, with the sheer volume of experiences we have.
While that isn’t always bad, it may not always be good either. It is challenging to find a place that is as peaceful and quiet as even 75 years ago. One time on a trip to Archangel Michael skete in Northwest Missouri, I found myself there by myself.
Just outside the chapel I stood and simply enjoyed the quiet. The only noise was the sounds of the insects, birds, frogs, and breeze.
It isn’t just the city noises that distract us, either. Air conditioning and heating units make amazing amounts of noise. A refrigerator, a water heater even.
Not to mention the ever-present sounds of vehicles. And those things we don’t even really control. We can control the background of television, radio, computer, and the like.
All of this cacophony of sound and light and smell serve to cause our focus to bounce around a good bit. It is part of our nature to hear or smell or see and identify what that represents.
Do we need to be in fear? Do we need to defend, or run?
Over the past few decades, we’ve increased the noise level of our lives exponentially. As I’m writing this I can hear vehicles on the street, construction sounds from my next door neighbor, the kids across the street with the basketball.
So, one may well ask – what is the problem?
What we found in the epistle reading this morning from the epistle to the Hebrews is the singular focus the ancients had regarding their faith. They looked for the reward, focusing on it – the reward being salvation.
From Abraham through Moses and the prophets and kings. They focused on the promise of God. The promise of the Messiah.
The promise that Philip encountered in Galilee, the one he told Nathanial and Andrew and Peter about.
The promise was a person – Jesus of Nazareth, born of a virgin.
We see that birth prefigured in the Three Holy Youths in the fiery furnace. The piercing intense flames of the incarnation, yet Mary remains unharmed in her obedience.
This was the promise that was made to Abraham, to Moses, to David the King.
And this is the promise that is made also to us. Now we know – with certainty – that Jesus is the Christ, the anointed one, the Son of God and Messiah.
We are however still children of the promise. Not just the promise of everlasting life – but the promise of our salvation.
That is, our restoration to the persons God created us to be. That restoration of communion with God, of connection with Him.
The most intimate connection of all, which we call “theosis” or complete existence in God.
Great Lent is about that pursuit. Great Lent is about that discipline. Yet it isn’t just about doing without or abstinence.
It is about reducing the noise level in our lives. It is about reducing the distractions we encounter. That we might focus our attentions on Christ, and see Him in the people around us.
We are told many places in the Gospels that even in His day, Christ would retreat from the noise around him and go into the wilderness to pray, and to commune with God. He demonstrates for us the need to reduce the noise level of our lives.
We will not obtain the benefit of the promise if we just abstain from meat and dairy, from wine and oil.
We obtain the benefit by, as St. Paul writes, laying aside every weight and the sin which so easily entangles us. We obtain the benefit by laying aside every distraction, the noise, which threatens to consume us if we allow it.
So as we continue from Clean week deeper into Lent, we remember on this first Sunday that the promise of God exists in the person of Christ, and in the Church, which is Christ’s body, Christ’s bride.
We as the Church are the continued incarnation of Jesus Christ in our world.
And if we don’t incarnate Christ, and follow his example, who will?
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!