Homily 443 – 31st Sunday After Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
January 10, 2021
Epistle: (224-ctr) – Ephesians 4:7-13
Gospel: (8) – Matthew 4:12-17
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.
As I was contemplating the Gospel, it seems that the world turned more upside down and sideways this week.
In the Gospel, John is arrested. Jesus has a telling reaction – He withdraws to a quiet place, a backwater province called Galilee, and eventually makes his way to Capernaum.
Now the reaction was vastly different in our nation’s capital this week.
I was a bit perplexed by the presence of “Jesus” flags along with the other banners in Washington at the Capitol. I had to consider, would Jesus endorse this behavior?
The answer, to me, was quite easy. Of course not. But why? Where do I get this surety? What evidence of this do I have?
First, here in the reading today. Along with the other times Christ left rather than confront.
We only see one confrontation by Christ in the Gospel, and that was with the entrepreneurs and business people in the Temple.
Even in the Garden, when the posse was sent to arrest Him, Peter goes to defend Him, and Christ rejects the defense. Put your sword away – He heals the person who was there to arrest Him, whom Peter attacked.
All of this leads us to one statement, which Christ made to Pontius Pilate. My Kingdom is not of this world.
My Kingdom is not of this world.
Have we forgotten? The Kingdom which we are seeking is not to be found in this world. It is the Kingdom of Heaven.
As Christ mentions, though, the call is to repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. That is to say, the Kingdom of Heaven is right here, right now, in this place.
It exists in this world but is not part of this world. Neither are we.
We also are to exist in the world but not be part of the world.
So, for us, as people who follow Christ, we are explicitly told not to seek power. We are specifically told not to seek wealth.
We find in the witness of the treatment of the Apostles in the Book of Acts of the Apostles that they did not protest, nor object, nor riot, when they were persecuted and abused.
They rejoiced. They were beaten, and they rejoiced. Not that revenge would be coming, not that those who beat them would be defeated.
They rejoiced because that indicated they were found worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven. They rejoiced because the world had rejected them, and this indicated to the Apostles that they were doing the right thing in preaching about Christ, crucified and raised from the dead.
We recognize truth – the Truth – that the world will never see. That this world and everything in it was created good – in the case of humanity, very good. But now – it is fallen, and no longer serving the purpose for which it was created.
Neither are we. We are also fallen, unable to fulfill our purpose in God’s Kingdom without adopting a completely new set of rules.
Rules that don’t apply to the world, or even to other Christians, but only to us – to me.
Some say, “But Father, what about the instruction to take our complaints to the individual then with two or three and then to the Church?”
In that passage, Matthew 18:15 begins with a phrase: “If your brother sins against you”. Not “if your brother sins.” Huge difference. If your brother sins against you.
And even then, if the brother refuses to correct his behavior toward you, then the consequence is not punishment or physical harm or anything other than exclusion from the assembly.
In other words, if you aren’t going to behave as one of the assembly, then you can’t be part of the assembly.
Even this is followed nearly immediately by the commandment to forgive seventy times seven – meaning, always forgive. This is further immediately followed by the Parable of the Talents, where the one who is forgiven fails to forgive, and is cast aside.
It goes on and on and on.
We all need to take time and contemplate whether or not we will be in this world, or the Kingdom of God. We all have a choice to make. We will continue to exist in this world, but that doesn’t mean we live by the standards here.
The scriptures and the witness of the Church Fathers and Mothers throughout time tell us a consistent message. Our concern is with a Kingdom that is not of this world.
So – it leaves us with a dilemma. What are we to do with the world – what are we supposed to do with the things that happen around us?
I can’t answer that for you. What I can say is that for me, like Paul, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. To depart and to be with Christ is far better.
For me, I will defend the immigrant, the orphan, the widow, the homeless, the hungry, and the poor. I will not seek power, or influence, in any way. Because it is only in that scenario – with my weakness and powerlessness – that God will work. Because it is Him that will get credit and glory, not me.
God works through weakness, not strength. God works through weakness, not strength.
This world belongs to the evil one. And while Satan is defeated, he is still in control here. So don’t be deceived, my brothers and sisters. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!