Homily 555– 10 APE
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
August 13, 2023
Epistle – (131) 1 Corinthians 4:9-16 and (318) Hebrews 7:26-8:2
Gospel – (72) Matthew 17:14-23 and (11) Matthew 5:14-19
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.
There are a couple of sayings in the popular culture and mindset. The first is preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words.
The second is that life so that the gospel can be reconstructed from your life.
Our Lord alludes to that when He says, “I did not come to destroy the law or the prophets. I did not come to destroy, but to fulfill.”
And yet, the Church, maybe a couple of decades or less later, decided that Gentiles need not comply with the Jewish ritual law. And the discussion begins – what about the Law? What about the commandments and the 613 laws of Judaism that guard those commandments?
Another way to ask that question is to ask, what was the purpose of the Law? Maybe it was like those riders that musical acts put on their contracts, asking for things like no red M&Ms. Silly things, really, that only serve the purpose of ensuring the whole agreement has been read and is being followed.
But God is not that petty. No, the commandments, and the resulting laws, have a theme. If we look at having no other Gods, for instance, that tells us that humanity wants to worship something. Resting on the Sabbath – humanity won’t rest, because humanity doesn’t trust God. The several commandments about desiring the things one doesn’t have.
All these things tell us to curb our desires. That we can’t have everything we want, particularly those things that have been given to others and not us.
Or, as Jesus said, to deny yourself.
The whole of the Jewish Law is about self-denial and following the commandments of God instead of the desires of our flesh. The whole of the Prophets is the story of how God used His Prophets to illustrate to the people their selfishness, their disregard, and ultimately their disobedience and betrayal of God their Creator.
The Law and the Prophets were embodied by our Lord. He gave up everything – denied everything to which He was entitled to have – in order to sacrifice the Humanity of His Incarnation for us.
To show us how to do it.
And we continue to struggle with the idea of God’s will for us. That is plainly spelled out – God’s will is that we pursue only Him, only Love, and express that Love in Creation with the whole of our being.
Nothing else matters. Nothing else, my brothers and sisters, matters.
St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians in pretty gritty detail: We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You have honor, but we have dishonor. Even to this present hour, we hunger and thirst, we are naked, beaten, and we wander from place to place! We work hard, with our own hands. When people curse us, we bless in return. When we are persecuted, we endure.
When we are defamed, we try to conciliate. We are made as the filth of the world, as the dirt wiped off by all, even until now. I do not write these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For although you have ten thousand tutors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers. For in Christ Jesus, I became your father through the Good News. I beg you therefore, be imitators of me.
Be like Paul – not as you are now, strong, wise, honored. But as Paul is – fools, weak, dishonored. Don’t give a thought to what others think of you. Only give crazy Love, give blessings and thank those who curse and demean you; endure and be faithful, even when the world says you are crazy for doing so.
The Christian life is not one that fits into the worldly pattern. It is foolish to the world. It is something confusing to even the religious establishment.
In other words, the Christian life of denying self and loving all with the love of Christ is maddeningly radical.
Several of my favorite saints are the ones called “fools for Christ.” In many respects, we should all aspire to that calling. St. Xenia of Petersburg exhibited many of these traits. She dressed in her husband’s military uniform and demanded to be called by his name, so that perhaps it would have been him that lived while she was the one who died suddenly.
And doing so not just for her husband, but for the world. Living in a graveyard. Offering scandalous advice to women seeking marriage or children. Trusting God, through the generosity of the faithful, for each day’s morsel of food.
Abandoning her earthly support.
Are we that faithful? Are we moving mountains, or are we as Christ says the perverse generation, the generation without faith?
Or, will we be full of the Holy Spirit? St. Paisios of Mt. Athos writes:
For the Saint approaching martyrdom, the love for Christ is stronger than the pain; it neutralizes it. The Martyrs felt the executioner’s sword to be sweeter than the bow of a violin. Martyrdom becomes a festival; fire refreshes better than a bath. Divine love takes hold of the heart, takes hold of the mind, and man goes “mad.” He does not feel the pain of anything else, because his mind is on Christ; and his heart is overflowing with joy.
When we become consumed with the Divine Love, the world sees madness. But we experience the world differently – vastly differently. Fire becomes water, as with the three Holy youth in the furnace. The pain vanishes like darkness when a candle is lit.
Brothers and sisters – our life is only complete with self-denial. As counter intuitive as it sounds – the pathway to bliss is through our self-sacrifice.
And the self-sacrifice is enough to move mountains, or to heal those that cannot be healed.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!