Kingdom life in the world.

Homily 601 – 2 APE
Holy Transfiguration, Ames, Iowa
July 7, 2024
Epistle:  (81-ctr) – Romans 2:10-16 and (330) – Hebrews 11:33-12:2
Gospel:  (9) Matthew 4:18-23 and (10) Matthew 4:25-5:12

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

This Sunday we celebrate the Saints of America.  We had the celebration and remembrance of our declaring independence from England.  And a few other things happened this week, which I’m confident you have heard about.

I’m not going to be specific, but I will be sort of political this morning.  Not in favor or in opposition to any person, candidate, or governmental entity.  What we pray for in the Divine Liturgy, when we pray for the government, is that we can be left in peace to work out our salvation, and practice repentance.

What I want to speak about today, in the presence of the Saints of North America – St. Herman of Alaska, who was never actually part of America, since he died in Russian Alaska, before the transfer.  St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco, St. Innocent, St. Alexis of Minneapolis, St. Patriarch Tikhon, apostle to America and Patriarch of Moscow, St. Raphael of Brooklyn, St. Olga – all the American saints, what I want to speak about is how we need to live in our environment, since the environment has demonstrably changed.

I’m not going to tell you how to be a good citizen, or a good resident.  I’m not even going to tell you how to be a good neighbor.  I’m not telling anyone how to vote, or who to support, or who to criticize or who to praise.

Because the future is now – we have to begin to recognize that our society, even here in the US, “land that I love”, is not and will never be our salvation.  It will never be our fulfillment, our joy.  It will never be our savior.

I am guilty of saying, over and over, that the Kingdom of God transcends this world, and that remains true.  But I’ve done a disservice in describing what that means – because while the Kingdom of God transcends the world, this world, we still have to live in it.

The scriptures tell us that we do owe allegiance and obedience to those rulers placed in authority over us by God.  How do we offer allegiance and obedience when those rulers don’t allow us to practice our repentance and our faith?

What happens when the homeless are arrested?  What happens when it is illegal to feed the hungry?  What happens when the migrant and so-called undocumented are rounded up and treated horribly and put into camps?  Do we obey?

As I said, I’m not intending to be political here.  But what I will continue to do, now, and God willing, as long as I have breath, is preach what kind of life we are to live in Christ.  Because in Christ, we live the Beatitudes, which we read for the Gospel to commemorate the Saints.  We must be merciful, we must be peacemakers, we must be poor, and strive to be pure in heart, by God’s grace and help.  We will be reviled and persecuted, and have evil said against us.

And we continue in Matthew 25, we must continue to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, visit and comfort the sick and imprisoned.  We are told even in the Old Testament to treat the sojourner with respect, as one of us.  Sojourner is another word for migrant, by the way.

Regardless of the legality of a particular act of mercy and caring, we must do it.  Because Christ did it.  And the Saints did it.  And we follow Christ, and the Saints.

That means, beloved, that we do what they did.  Now, in our day, in certain places, it is illegal for people to feed the hungry.  It is NOT illegal to invite the hungry into our homes and lives and share meals with them.  It is illegal in places to allow the homeless to stay in public places.  It is NOT illegal to invite the homeless into our communities and our homes to share a place of warmth and shelter.

And if it was illegal?  We can look at many examples throughout the history of the people of God who defied the authorities and disobeyed their proclamations.  The Three Holy Youths in the furnace, who refused to worship the Babylonian gods.  St. Patriarch Tikhon, who defied the Russian government, accepting unjust and untrue accusations and actions, even causing him to be deposed as patriarch.  He did speak out against what he saw as anti-Christian actions.

And all of them – to a person – who followed Christ’s commands and Christ’s actions never asked that they receive an accommodation from the Government.  What happened, they accepted.  During the Soviet time in Russia, the Church itself was forced underground.  The catacomb Church period.  You can today read the accounts of the participants in that Church – and I urge you to do so.  What they went through, what they endured, to practice their faith.

The most current one is the book called Women of the Catecombs, which is the account of two Jewish women who became Christian in Stalinist Russia.  One of the children of one of those women became Fr. Alexander Men, the notable priest and theologian of the Russian Church, who was murdered in 1990.

We need to begin to prepare ourselves to live this way.  Honestly, I hope and pray that we never experience that – and I personally don’t believe it will ever get to that extreme, where our worship itself becomes illegal.  But we may be persecuted and ridiculed for our beliefs, and we need to prepare for that.  We need to begin telling ourselves now that the Church, our salvation, is the most precious and important thing we can ever have.  And that we will suffer whatever we must in pursuit of Christ.

That is where we begin.  And I’d like to offer this quotation from Fr. Alexander’s book “Son of Man”:

“Christ was far from morbid exaltation, from the frantic fanaticism characteristic of many zealots and founders of religions. An illuminating sobriety was one of the chief traits of his character. When He spoke about unusual things, when he called people to difficult deeds and bravery, he did it without false pathos and strain. He could converse simply with people at the well or at the holiday meal, and he could pronounce words that shook everyone— “I am the Bread of life.’ He spoke of trials and struggle, and he carried light everywhere, blessing and transforming life.”

May God strengthen our resolve, and our faith, as the world changes around us.

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