Giving what we are given.

Homily 468 – 8th APE
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
August 15, 2021 (Dormition)
Epistle: (124) 1 Corinthians 1:10-18 and (240) Philippians 2:5-11
Gospel: (58) Matthew 14:14-22 and (54) Luke 10:38-42; 11:27-28

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

Today we combine two great events. We transport ourselves to the feeding of the 5,000. We also transport ourselves to the Dormition, the Falling Asleep, of the Most Holy Birthgiver of God and Ever-Virgin Mary.

In thinking of the Dormition, I’m particularly struck by the account of the funeral procession of the Theotokos. We read an excerpt from it last night after vespers.

The Jewish priest Athonios, full of spite and hatred, looked to topple the funeral bier and cause the body of the Theotokos to fall to the ground in shame. For his efforts, he was rewarded by God invisibly cutting off his hands.

Reminiscent of the time when the Israelites were carrying the Ark of the Covenant, and Uzzah reached out to steady the Ark and touched it. And then died.

This is what happens when we take matters into our own hands, instead of allowing God to remain in control. When we decide – like Adam and Eve in the Garden decided for themselves – we take God’s plan and twist it and mangle it and trash it.

God’s instructions – God’s commands – are offered to us in love. It is the loving parent telling their beloved child to not touch the stove, or run into the street.

To respect the boundaries, which are there to keep us safe, even in ways we don’t understand.

God’s instructions for us were clear – don’t eat the fruit of this particular tree. Don’t touch the Ark of the Covenant.

And, because the funeral procession was for the true Ark of the Covenant, the Ark which carried Christ our Lord and Incarnate God, don’t touch the funeral bier.

In this case, though, God was and is merciful to the Jewish priest. He repented and confessed the truth of the Birthgiver of God to be the true Ark of the True Covenant, and he was healed and continued to follow Christ.

The account in the Gospel of the feeding of the 5,000 brings many images to mind as well. Most notably, perhaps, is the foreshadowing of the Eucharistic feast itself, which we participate in here this morning.

The Lord took 5 loaves and two fish and fed 5,000. Today, in this moment, the Lord offers us Himself and feeds millions. The whole of the Church, both living and those who have reposed before us, and those yet to become part of our world.

Everyone participates in this feast. In the Kingdom of God, that Kingdom unbounded by time itself, unrestricted to the sphere of death and life and corruption and time, there is but one feast – and we are all there.

An eternal feast, where Christ offers us Himself eternally. Not as a point in time, but continually, always.

It is a mystery to be sure. We need mystery – we need that sense of awe and wonder and the inability to explain our experiences. We need something larger than ourselves – infinitely bigger than us.

It reminds us that we shouldn’t have too high of an opinion of ourselves. We are created – and as such we exist at the whim and desire of God our Creator.

We like to think we have a say over things. We like to think that we work and earn what we have – creating our own wealth, creating our own life. The truth is that we don’t. We are given it by God, who provides everything for us that we need.

Just like he provided for the 5,000. Just like He provides for us at this moment.

Because of that gift, we can only be one thing – thankful. That is where it all starts. That is where self-denial starts. The realization that we didn’t really do anything.

We are thankful for what we are given, just as the 5,000 were thankful for what they were given.

Whether we have nothing, or little, or much, or an abundance, it doesn’t matter. It isn’t an indication of God’s blessing us, individually. That is a temptation that we do well to avoid.

Rather, the blessings we hold, the blessings we have custody over, are God’s blessings for the world. He asks us to give freely of those blessings.

And if we have nothing, we still have much to give. We give thanks. We offer continual thanks for the ability to have life. We offer thanks to those who extend to us food and shelter, just as the 5,000 gave thanks.

If you will remember, in the other accounts, the Gospel speaks of the people being asked to sit in groups. Jesus didn’t directly give to each person – He gave through others. He gave to the disciples, and they gave to the group, and the group distributed it among themselves.

We are no different today – we are waiting for the distribution. Some receive much – and are required to share with those around them. This is not optional. This is part of the reality of the communal meal, the table at which we all partake.

We are created to share. We are created to offer what we have been given to others.

We are created to give. That is the instruction of our Lord – deny yourself, and follow me. Do what I do – give of yourself, knowing that the Lord provides for you, and through you – to all those around you.

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