Endure, and be complete.

Homily 472 – 15th APE
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
October 3, 2021
Epistle: (176) 2 Corinthians 4:6-15
Gospel: (26) Luke 6:31-36

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

Two significant messages in the readings this morning.

In the Gospel, we are reminded that whatever is in the best interests of other people, those around us, is in our best interest too.

Even the people we don’t love. Even the people we don’t necessarily like. Even the people we actively dislike – dare I say, hate.

We do good things to them – good things for them. Expecting nothing in return.

Jesus specifically mentions material things – money. Lend, expecting nothing back. When you lend something, treat it as a gift, not a loan.

If they pay you back, thank God. If they do not, thank God.

Why? Because God is merciful, and we also must therefore be merciful. It is required. We are being formed – molded – into the image of Christ.

Now, I’ve never worked with clay or pottery, but I have a friend who does. One of the observations we can make about pottery, molding clay, is that the clay doesn’t resist our changes.

It sits there. The potter forms it, putting pressure in different places, pulling it, stretching it, collapsing it. And the clay does nothing.

This is the second point, made by St. Paul in the Epistle to the Corinthians. We are the clay. Pressed, prodded, pulled. We are being formed, molded, into the shape that Christ wants us to be.

Specifically, St. Paul mentions why this is so. Why this must be so. So that the amazing power may be from God and not from ourselves.

Our ego wants us to proclaim that we have changed ourselves. That we control ourselves. That we have molded ourselves into what God wants us to be. But nothing can be further from the truth.

Our ego wants the world to know that this is our doing – but the truth, the hard reality, is that God reveals Himself through us. It is God being revealed, not us.

So many references to this throughout scripture – St. John the Baptist saying I must decrease, that He may increase. St. Paul, struggling with wanting to be with Christ but relinquishing control to live in Christ by dying to self on the earth.

He is so specific – we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be revealed in our mortal flesh.

In OCF we are looking at the book of James, and at the very beginning of that book, St. James uses the word “endurance”.

Think on that word – everything we are told by the world is that we should, we must control our lives. Endurance, in the eyes of our society, is not living at all. And yet, there it is, bigger than life.

Endurance is defined as continuing on a path and not allowing anything to impede progress on that path. St. Paul commends us to run the race with endurance.

Endurance doesn’t involve control, though, and so society’s expectations are simply deceptive. Unsurprisingly, the world’s version of the truth is not correct.

What St. James offers as the fruit, the result, of endurance is interesting as well: perfection and completion, lacking in nothing, he writes.

If we want to be perfect, if we want to be fulfilled, if we want to be completed – in short, if we want to truly find ourselves and be our genuine selves, then endurance is the only thing required of us.

To endure in prayer. To endure in fasting. To endure in giving. To endure in whatever form of self-denial we can. Active endurance, faithfulness, with no sense of completion or no sense of the outcome.

As Archbishop Anastasios of Albania told me one time, In Christ there is no success nor failure, only faithfulness.

This seeming passiveness – active though it is – is so that we cannot say that we did anything. God does everything. He has revealed Himself to us, as we pray, but in addition, He reveals Himself to the world through us.

We don’t get credit. God gets all credit. We do nothing – He does everything. Our activity is to endure. And that activity is enough.

Look too at how St. Paul brings faith into the discussion. “We have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, ‘I believed and therefore I spoke.’” We believe, and therefore we also speak.

Faith is tied to action. Mental assent to a set of truths is insufficient.

And what is that action? Deny yourself. Live for the benefit of others. Deny yourself, and love everyone.

He goes on to add – all these things are for our benefit – your benefit, my benefit – so that as grace is extended to many, this may also cause thanksgiving to be multiplied to the glory of God.

God gets the credit – the glory. God reveals Himself in and through us. And we are made complete, and perfect, and holy, and true.

If we allow ourselves to be clay, and to endure.

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