Homily 218 – Second Sunday after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
July 10, 2016
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.
This passage may be one of the most important passages in the most important sermon ever preached. It is part of the Sermon on the Mount – the only sermon given by our Lord that we have recorded.
It addressed the most critical issue we face today. What do we pursue?
Do we pursue the things that the world pursues? That the people around us pursue?
Or, as followers of Christ, are we out for something different? Something unique?
In a college town, this question may be more difficult to answer than in some places. Students see their goal as obtaining a degree, pursuing a career.
Perhaps we should consider something different. Perhaps the goal is not a degree, but learning. Perhaps our time here is not about pursuing a career, but pursuing, enabling ourselves, to become a viable, vital part of God’s Kingdom.
When we read the words of our Savior, it is plain to see. We pursue, we seek first, “the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness.”
Beloved, God truly doesn’t care about our role in society, or our status in the world. He cares about our communion, our common union, with Him.
The Apostles, as the scriptures tell us in many places, were not learned men. They were subsistence fishermen.
Jesus didn’t offer a path of ease and wealth and earthly recognition. And, Christ used their background to turn them from subsistence fishermen, to fishers of men.
I had a conversation many years ago with my godfather. I was lamenting to him that I felt unsatisfied in my work, as I was, in essence, helping rich people avoid paying taxes.
Like many people in Memphis, my godfather worked for Federal Express. And he looked at me and said, “My job is to help people get their packages tomorrow, instead of the day after tomorrow.”
When Christ was crucified, the Apostles returned to fishing. There is an implication that even during the years of Christ’s earthly ministry, they did some fishing every now and then.
St. Paul, when the people didn’t provide for his needs, was a tentmaker.
I am so blessed – and we are so blessed – because I have a job that enables me to serve much as St. Paul served.
There may come a time when the needs of the community demand a full-time servant, and it will be incumbent on the community to support that servant, and his family.
Thankfully, that time isn’t now – we can focus our attention on spreading the message of our presence, the Gospel, and making disciples.
There is another aspect of this message as well. It is learning to be content with what we have.
That is a learned skill – and one that I struggle with. Intensely.
It is hard – very hard – to deny ourselves concerning the things that we see and want, particularly when the world – our society – our nation – is motivated by increasing that desire and want in us.
We are bombarded by messages that appeal to everything but the holiness within us. Our vanity, our sloth, our greed.
The message of Christianity, made explicit by St. Paul, is to learn to be content with what you have.
As Kris Kristofferson wrote, and Janice Joplin sang, (I don’t often quote Kristofferson in a Homily) freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose. Meaning, the less you have, and the less you want, the more free you become.
St. Maria of Paris maybe put it better:
“Freedom obliges, freedom calls for sacrificial self-giving, freedom determines one’s honesty and strictness with oneself and one’s path. And if we want to be strict and honest, worthy of the freedom given us, we must first of all test our own attitude toward our spiritual world. We have no right to wax tender hearted over all our past indiscriminately – much of that past is far loftier and purer than we are, but much of it is sinful and criminal. We should aspire to the lofty and combat the sinful. […] And it would be a great lie to tell searching souls: ‘Go to church, because there you will find peace.’ The opposite is true. She tells those who are at peace and asleep: ‘Go to church, because there you will feel real alarm about your sins, about your perdition, about the world’s sins and perdition. There you will feel an unappeasable hunger for Christ’s truth. There instead of lukewarm you will become ardent, instead of pacified you will become alarmed, instead of learning the wisdom of this world you will become foolish in Christ.’
It is to this foolishness, this folly in Christ, that our freedom calls us. Freedom calls us, contrary to the whole world, contrary not only to the pagans but to many who style themselves Christians, to undertake the Church’s work in what is precisely the most difficult way. And we will become fools in Christ, because we know not only the difficulty of this path but also the immense happiness of feeling God’s hand upon what we do.”
Freedom is a wonderful thing – when it is used to pursue the goal for which we were created. To seek the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness.
God knows our needs, and love us. Perhaps that doesn’t need to be said. But we should say it anyway.
The implication is that because God knows our needs, and loves us, our needs will be provided. Just as the needs of Adam and Eve were provided in the Garden.
If they had only been content with what they were given.
Because it is only after that when humanity was told that it would require our effort, our sweat, in order to provide for our needs. God still provides, to be sure – but our effort is now required.
What Christ offers us, is not wealth, nor power, nor fame. Christ offers us the Kingdom of God. That Kingdom which is received as little children – who have no concerns about their shelter, their clothing, or their food.
Children who are content with everything they have – for the most part.
St. Paul tells us the indications, the fruit, of the Spirit – how we can tell. None of those things are wealth, fame, or power, by the way.
They are love – joy – peace – patience – kindness – goodness – faith – gentleness – and self-control.
In order to achieve this, in order to allow this presence within us, we have to struggle. Not overcome, necessarily, but rather struggle. With the passions – the desires – the lusts, that beset us.
Our concern is not desires and wants. Those things which bring momentary pleasure to the flesh, and nothing else.
Rather, the concern is to grow in the love of God, and our presence in His Kingdom – where, just like in the Garden, our needs are met and we are abundantly content, in the presence and love of our Creator.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!