Myopic Christianity.

Homily 462 – 1st APE
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
June 27, 2021
Epistle: (330) Hebrews 11:33-12:2
Gospel: (38, mid-79) Matthew 10:32-33, 37-38; 19:27-30

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

When we think about the saints, perhaps we usually think about the monks that left the world, or the martyrs that faced persecution, or maybe even those that were servants to others.

And maybe, like me, you’ve seen these as different paths to sainthood. Perhaps we can choose a path – like monasticism, or serving others – or perhaps it would be a path we would not choose, like martyrdom.

We may be understanding these incorrectly, though. Maybe the paths aren’t as separate as we think. Can we find any commonality in them?

We can perhaps start with the somewhat controversial statement of Christ about if your eye causes you to sin, to pluck it out. Or if your right-hand causes you to sin, cut it off.

Now a lot of folks, including me, would say that this is an obvious exaggeration for effect, and Christ doesn’t really want us to maim ourselves.

But maybe there is a different point? Maybe it tells us about the nature of sin itself?

Sin isn’t so much action, as a distraction. Let me say that again – sin isn’t so much action, as a distraction.

In other words – looking upon a person with lust is problematic. But the sin part is taking our eyes and our hearts off of Christ.

I’ve described the Christian life before as moving toward a target. That target is Christ. That target, to quote the Our Lord in the Gospel of St. Matthew, is to be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.

Any deviation from that target – no matter how big or small – is sin. Everything from an impure thought to outright denial that Christ is risen. It is all sin.

And that is what the evil one tries so hard to get us to do. To distract us.

Those distractions can take many, many forms. Sometimes it is big things. Death. Illness. Job loss.

Jesus describes several big things that can be distractions. He says: Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.

Anything that takes our focus from Christ, and Christ alone.

Sometimes the distractions are not so big things. Sports. Youtube videos. Online arguments. Even the ones we “win”.

Sometimes even things that are pious. How should the Church deal with different sexual and gender issues? What about what is currently in the news about denying communion to politicians based on their votes?

If we direct our thoughts to the behavior of the humans in the Church, we distract our thinking from Christ and that becomes sin.

Because the answer to all those questions is to look at Christ. Focus all of our attention on him.

Not 10%, not 50%, not 98%, not even 99 and 44/100ths percent.

100%. No less.

This is why we can never – never – preach a behavioral standard. The only solution to sin is Christ, and refocusing ourselves on Christ. Refocusing is another way to say redirecting ourselves back to the target.

Which is, of course, another way to say repentance.

That, and that alone, is our discipleship. Faith is not just mental assent to a set of facts. Faith is focusing all our attention on Christ, with the knowledge that everything else is in His loving hands.

A good part of this is going to be “fake it till you make it.” Or, more appropriately, “fake it till God makes it.”

That is the life of transfiguration. Our part is to focus, and refocus, and refocus, every moment of every day – every breath – returning to Christ.

Allowing the Holy Spirit – God – to form us, to transform us.

Sometimes, like the monastics, this may cause our retreat from the world. Sometimes, like the martyrs and confessors, this may cause our physical harm. Sometimes, like the servants, we focus on Christ by serving Christ in others.

But in every case, the attention of the saints was focused on Christ and only Christ.

That is how we too become saints. Everything the Church offers to us is offered to that end. To focus every aspect of our being – mental, physical, emotional – every part to focus on Christ.

St. Paul says it: Run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus.

And Jesus himself tells us what is at stake: Everyone who has left houses, brothers, sisters, father, mother, wife, children, or lands for my Name’s sake will receive a hundred times more and will inherit eternal life.

Brothers and sisters, we are all called to sainthood. The key is to focus only on Christ. May we all be able to cast aside the distractions in our lives, to repent from them, and to have myopic Christianity.

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