God has told us.

Homily 585 – 40 APE
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
March 10, 2024
Epistle – (140) – 1 Corinthians 8:8-9:2
Gospel – (106) – Matthew 25:31-46

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

What we have this morning is the absolute proof that God is not out to get us.

Many of us when we think about God, we think about rules.  We think about morality.  We see God looking, watching, waiting for something to trip us up, so that He can say “Gotcha!” and send us to the place where there is darkness and crying and gnashing of teeth.

God is seen as a judge.  A sure judge, a just judge.  A fair judge.

This portion of scripture, of the Gospel of St. Matthew, tells a different tale.  It tells of a God who so loves us – me and you – that He tells us in advance what will get us into the kingdom.

Many people ask me what is the minimum they can get by with and still be in the Kingdom of God.  They don’t outright say that.  It comes in the form of confessing that they should be doing more.  More fasting, more praying, more giving.

Don’t get me wrong – those are good and in fact necessary things for us.  Just not for salvation.  They are the responses we should be giving to God for His love for us.  They are necessary for us to begin to actually see God’s love for us.

We as humans are obsessed, and not with God.  We are obsessed with ourselves.  The one aspect of technology that I would change if I could is the free time it has given us.  You might ask why?  Isn’t free time a good thing?

Yes and no.  It is if we use that time to contemplate and love and direct our attention to God.  If we, like most of our society, use it to look inward, to see how to give ourselves comfort and pleasure and ease, then no, free time is not good.

It becomes destructive for our essence – our souls.  Free time becomes a way to become self-absorbed.  We want to make ourselves better.

We say that unironically!  We say that like it is a good thing!  We want to make ourselves better.  It sounds like a good thing.

But it isn’t.  It doesn’t recognize that we didn’t create ourselves.  We didn’t somehow will ourselves into existence.  More than that, it doesn’t recognize that we don’t know what the meaning of make ourselves better even is.

God made us.  God crafted us, before we were even born, when we were yet still in the womb even, God knows us.  He knows what is best for us.  He knows what He created us to be.

We spend time and money on self-help, and then depend on others to tell us if we are successful or not.  To tell us what successful even means.

What if I told you that the best way to help yourself is to love God with all your being?  And to love your neighbor?  That the best way to find love is to give love – to show love.

We decide that based on a self-help book or seminar or retreat, if we can just accept ourselves as we are, and convince ourselves we don’t need to change, then we will have succeeded!

We put all this effort into change, only to be told that the essence of self-help isn’t to change at all.  We focus on ourselves, thinking that in doing so, we will become the best possible person, but we can’t define what the best possible person is.

Isn’t the best possible person the one who loves?  Isn’t the best possible person the one that makes others feel respected and important?  Isn’t the best possible person the one who truly loves?

That is what Christ gives us today.  What we have seen over the past couple of weeks is that there is nothing we can do to ourselves to obtain salvation.  But there is certainly things we can do for others.

Maybe the most striking thing about this passage is that the people who are told to depart are the ones who never saw Jesus.  What they were looking for was Jesus like perhaps we see in the icons, or the miracle worker, or the one coming from on high.

They saw people in need, but said – I will only help Jesus.  I’m only interested in Jesus.

The ones who are offered eternal life, on the other hand, had no idea that they were in fact doing things for Jesus.  They just saw people in need – and had compassion.  And not only had compassion, but did something.

And with that compassion for others, they discovered much to their surprise they were doing something for and to Jesus Himself.

So we can enter into lent and focus our attention on our fasting, and adhering to the rules.  Or, we can enter into lent and fast and pray and give all of our attention to those in need around us.

I would go so far that if fasting is so challenging that it requires your whole focus, and doesn’t allow you to have the freedom to focus on God, then you might be doing it incorrectly.  Because we do that – we are so obsessed with finding the exceptions or the loopholes that we get ourselves in knots.

I know – I do it too!  I look for ways around the fasting rules.  Can I have lobster every night?  By the rules, for certain!  But my bank account won’t allow that.  At the core, I still want to use food to provide pleasure for myself – my mouth, my stomach.

Instead of eating peanut butter and jelly and pasta with marinara and not worrying about it.  Think how much simpler my life would be!  How much free time we’d have!

So, when beginning a fasting regimen, as we begin this week with not eating meat, it might even be better to simply start with showing tangible compassion to those in need around us.  To give our food no thought at all.

Because in the end, at the last judgment, that will be what provides us with our salvation.  God has told us.

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