Love in the midst of self-destruction.

Homily 451 – 1st Sunday of Great Lent – Sunday of Orthodoxy
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
March 21, 2021

Epistle: (329-ctr) – Hebrews 11:24-26, 32-12:2
Gospel: (5) – John 1:43-51

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

Jesus told Nathaniel that he had been seen before they met. Jesus knew who Nathaniel was.

This knowledge that Christ has isn’t just found here – He demonstrates it elsewhere in the Gospels as well – the Samaritan woman at the well, Photini. Recall that Jesus already knew who she was, and her backstory, as it were.

Of course, we are told in the Psalms that while we were in the womb of our mother God knew us. God knows all about us – the number of hairs on our head, even. He knows our tendencies and our talents and our weaknesses and our failures.

And, like Nathaniel, He calls us to be with Him. Warts and wondrousness and all.

That thought, that Christ knows us better than we can ever know ourselves – that thought is maybe a bit scary at times.

He knows every flaw and every failure, as we know. But – even with all that baggage, even though we may find it difficult to love ourselves at times – Christ loves us.

Sometimes, we hear these things so often we lose the significance of it. Maybe like me, you think, “well of course Jesus loves me.” That’s kinda who Christ is, right? Sort of His place in things?

Perhaps that is true, but as we see in the Old Testament and the Apocalyptic literature of both Testaments, God doesn’t have to respond to that Love for us with Grace for us.

The scriptures are full of examples of God’s occasions for the destruction of things He loves.

St. Gregory of Nyssa tells us that Divine judgment does not inflict punishments upon those who have sinned but only acts in separating good from evil and in drawing them to a share of blessedness.

So, we have but one conclusion – God chooses to love us. God chooses to offer Grace to us to accept, or to reject.

Doesn’t mean life becomes suddenly easy, or without trial or tribulation. Far from it!

St. Paul details the situations and circumstances of those that respond to grace with acceptance.

The faithful were, as Paul writes, “tried by mocking and scourging, yes, by chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn apart, they were tempted and they were slain with the sword. They went around in sheep and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, and ill-treated. … They wandered in deserts, mountains, caves, and the holes of the earth.”

Sounds like our definition of a perfect life, huh? I didn’t think so either.

But Paul adds, “Through faith, they overpowered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, became strong in weakness, grew mighty in war and caused foreign armies to flee.

“Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, not accepting their deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.

“And yet the world was not worthy of them!”

None of these great and glorious things were done in order that the faithful might obtain earthly power.

These things were accomplished in the faithful, by God, so that His love for us might be revealed. So that, when the trial of this time on Earth is over, we have accepted life in the Kingdom to which we are reborn.

The Kingdom of the world which is to come, and which is now. Today.

We live in that Kingdom imperfectly at best. But we are living in it. And God calls us to that Kingdom – to Him, to His Church, to our brothers and sisters in Christ, and indeed to every soul made in the image and likeness of God.

We have one thing that gets in our way. The tempter, the divider, Diabolos or Satan, does as from the beginning. He throws up our ego to get in the way.

Then, with that deception, we seem to have a choice – between God and self. You can’t have both, the evil one says.

And, the evil one is correct – except for the part he keeps hidden. That self, that ego, that is placed in opposition to God, in an either/or dilemma – that self is a false self. A fake self. A fallen self.

The irony is that our true self is found not in opposition to God – but only inside and with and in the midst of God.

That is the self that God knows, and that God loves, and that God became and chose to die in obedience, to be resurrected.

Our real, true self is not found in our ego or in our thoughts. It may be found only in God. Nathaniel found himself in God. Photini found herself in God.

As we continue beyond clean week and through lent, continue to use this opportunity to deny your false self, deny your ego, and – just as Christ did – take up the Cross, and follow Him.

Chrysostom writes that by this cross we know the gravity of sin, a departure from the perfection in Christ, and the greatness of God’s love toward us.

Gravity of sin – perhaps not meaning “seriousness” alone – but gravity of profound sadness.

That kind of gravity of sin – the sadness of separation. And the greatness of the love of God, who knows us all better than we know ourselves.

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