Our choice. Our decision.

Homily 557– 12 APE
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
August 27, 2023
Epistle – (158) 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Gospel – (79) Matthew 19:16-26

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

We all have the question – what must I do to be saved?

The man offers the question on behalf of all of us.  Well, on my behalf at least.  Because initially, that is what we all want to know – am I saved or condemned?  And what do I have to do to avoid condemnation?

The answer our Lord gives is simple, but complicated at the same time.  He says obey the ten commandments, obviously.  Notice what the man responds – I’ve done all these, since I was a young person.

Not – I’ve done them to the best of my ability, or I’ve done them to the extent I was asked to do them.  He says, with perhaps a sense of pride about him, “I’ve done this – what else?”

Such confidence!  Or perhaps arrogance!  To think that you “qualify” having met the minimum standards of God.  Having accomplished what makes us human, what do I do to earn God’s respect?

As if he was trying to say, “Everybody does that – what makes me special?”  How will I know that I’m better than the others?

Or, perhaps an honest question from one who was truly desiring to follow God.  Perhaps a question more concerned with doing more.

More likely the first.  The most common question that priests receive in confession and outside of it is what do I need to do?  Really, we’re asking what the minimum is.  It’s a question that betrays our fallen state.

We’re made aware of God, and we know that we are somehow disconnected from God, and that the connection somehow matters.  So what can we do to reestablish that connection with the minimum disruption to our lives.

Most of us would be willing to do the minimum.  Doing that minimum, though, is telling.  We don’t generally do the minimum for the ones we love.  We try to maximize our efforts for the ones we love.

And, in this instance – and I imagine most of us – the ones we love most are ourselves.  That is the minimum that Christ tells the man that must be given up for eternal life.

It isn’t a trade – it isn’t a payment, it isn’t earning.  It is a simple statement – sell all you have, give to the poor and follow Christ.

In other words, deny yourself, crucify your ego, and desire only one thing – God.  Let’s circle back to those commandments.  The first commandment – have no other gods before God.  Seems like now that obedience to the first commandment has taken on a different characteristic than before.

Gods, in this context, aren’t just those beings classified as gods by humans.  It’s pretty easy to say, well, I have no idols, and no statues of Hindu gods, or Buddha’s in my house, so I’m pretty good.  The only god represented here in my life is the Christian God.  The only God I worship is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

No, have no other gods before God means that nothing, absolutely nothing, we can imagine can come before God.  Not our belongings, not our relationships, nothing.  And God provides us the reason – He is jealous.  Not of the other gods, but jealous for us – God desires our undivided attention.

He doesn’t want us to be focused on our meals, our clothes, our houses, our jobs, our retirements.  He wants us focused on Him, and Him alone.

Then, once that focus is established, our perspective on other things will perhaps change.  We learn to be content with what we have – which is another couple of commandments, do not covet your neighbor’s belongings, nor the spouse of the neighbor, nor steal what isn’t yours.

We learn to love – really love, in the comprehensive love that God has to us.  Not just the emotion, but in the true substance of love.  We love family, neighbor, community, and ultimately everyone, including those that hate us, and those we hate.

We learn to work, not for the money we receive, but as if for the Lord – for the benefit and stewardship of His creation and His creatures.  We learn to be overseers, masters, supervisors and not exploit our workers, but remember them and their needs the way that the lord of the vineyard paid his laborers, treating them as brothers and sisters, not as slaves and servants.

We learn to worship – not as we want to worship, not as we desire, but as God teaches us, the way He taught Moses, and Isaiah, and John the Theologian.

We learn to pray, not for what we need or desire, but for God’s will to be done in all things, beginning first with us.  We learn to listen in prayer, and offer glory and praise in worship.

We learn to give, not out of obligation, not out of remainder, but out of an abundance of generosity – even frivolously, knowing that all belongs to God, not us.

This is what Jesus was telling the man, by taking the one thing he loved more than God, and telling him to give it away – to remove it from his life.  Because only when we remove those things can we follow God.

We can’t go two directions at once.  We can’t follow both God and Mammon – the things of the world.  They are opposite directions.  We can’t play the middle on this.  We have to decide, one or the other.

As the man discovered, it isn’t about what you’ve done.  You can be a baptized, chrismated, communicant of the Orthodox Church and still not be (quote-unquote) “saved.”

We still have to take those things seriously, and seriously follow Christ.  Or, we can also go away sad.  God will respect our decision, to follow or not.

And wherever we end up – in the Kingdom or not – we can know that it is our choice.

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