Choices that aren’t choices at all.

Homily 323 – 13th after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
August 26, 2018
Epistle – (166) 1 Corinthians 16:13-24
Gospel – (87) Matthew 21:33-42

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

The Owner of a Household built a winepress.

And let it out to farmers. That’s the parable. The reality is that the Lord built a kingdom, a people, a nation.

He left that nation in the hands of people. Kings, priests, that sort of thing. God’s expectation was that the ones left in charge would tend to the people. Nurture them. Grow them.

Not just as a Nation or a People – but as his own. A people devoted to Him. A people who bore fruit.

Ultimately, a people who would be the people He intended Him to be, back in the Garden.

In a mystical way, this parable is quite real. God created a Garden – the wine press – and then planted us – humanity – in it.

Those God sent, the prophets, were ignored or beaten or worse. Finally, He sent His only begotten Son.

Who was then killed.

The root of all this comes from a notion that we, humanity, are masters of our own fate. When in fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

The more we try to improve ourselves, our comfort, our lot in life – the more we drift away from the intent of the true reason for our existence.

To commune with God, our Creator.

And the more we try to improve ourselves, our comfort, our lot in life – the more we have to sacrifice to return to the reason, the true reason, for our existence.

All those – quote – improvements in our lives have to be undone, because they aren’t really improvements to begin with. In fact, they are impediments.

The evil one, the deceiver, convinces us that they are improvements, and that we are better off on our own, following our own self-interest.

What we really need – the thing most needful – is communion. Communion with God, communion with one another.

Relationships – built on trust, and intimacy, and love. That brings joy. That brings contentment. That brings peace.

Now it is very true that wealth, and power, bring people into our lives. That we have relationships with them. But is that a relationship of trust? Intimacy? Love?

The problem we encounter is that even if the other person is indeed offering genuine relationship, there is still a nagging thought in the back of our minds, questioning the motives.

Even within families. The evil one is so good and has been so successful that what used to be a given – solid, a rock – like family, is now subject to questioning of motives.

That’s a lot of pressure on relationships and families. That can’t feel good. That doesn’t feel good. It isolates us – loneliness becomes our lot, our existence.

Thankfully, not everything is that way. Many have been together through good times and difficult times, through plenty and through want. It are those difficult times that solidify relationships.

When the money is tight, and the living conditions not the best. Those are the pressures we face that ultimately strengthen us.

And maybe the best news of all is that we do not have to accept the status quo. We do not have to accept what is, and allow ourselves and our relationships be defined by those who are themselves at odds with the purpose of our existence.

The great hope that we all share is that we can choose – we can decide – to base our relationships on nothing more than the relationship itself. Over time, we can reinforce with each other what we value. Trust. Intimacy. Love.

The great hope of the Gospel is just that. Our relationship with God, damaged and neglected, filled with improper motives, can return to the solid foundations on which it was created.

Our world tends to discard things that are broken, relationships and people among them. Wouldn’t it be better – more work, certainly, but better – to repair and rebuild those relationships? With one another? And with our Creator?

It is a challenge, to be sure. We have to reprogram ourselves. We can only start where we are.

There are the ascetical activities of the Church – prayer, fasting, almsgiving – which detach us from the world’s values.

When people see that money, or self-indulgence, isn’t part of your character, there is less opportunity for them to question motives in relationships.

And emotionally, we can learn a lot from an unexpected source. From the children.

Children don’t have motivation in their relationships. Children don’t value money or power. We can learn from them, and become as children ourselves, as our Lord said.

Or, we can continue to live the life that the world offers us, focused on power, and money, and self-indulgence.

We have that choice. God allows us to choose. Even if the choice isn’t really a choice at all.

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