Our cross.

Homily 488 – 36th APE
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
February 27, 2022
Epistle: (140) 1 Corinthians 8:8-9:2 and (335) Hebrews 13:17-21
Gospel: (106) Matthew 25:31-46 and (36) John 10:9-16
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

There is a question that has been asked by people for over two millennia. What must I do to be saved?

That answer isn’t what I was told as a protestant – the scripture “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ” is in Acts, not in the Gospels.

In the Gospels are a couple of different statements – the command of Christ to deny ourselves and pick up our cross and follow Him, and the depiction of the Last Judgement.

The former is what He did – Jesus denied Himself in the garden of Gethsemane, and took up His cross, given Him by the Jewish and Roman rulers. Just like we have to – give up the things that we want to do, and do what is necessary, regardless of how complicated or painful or distasteful it may be.

The second part passage is found in the description of the Last Judgement. It is this description that becomes our cross, that we have to pick up and carry – it is this passage that describes what we must do after denying ourselves.

Our cross, which we struggle to pick up, is clear: Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked. Heal the sick. Shelter to the homeless. Visit the sick and imprisoned.

Now that is probably not controversial for the vast majority of us. We understand that we are to be generous.

But perhaps worth mentioning is who we are generous to.

We are to be generous to everyone. Without exception, without criteria. Those who love us, and those who hate us.

That’s where the command becomes more challenging for some.

I get a lot of calls from people about help. Sadly, I’m not able to help many directly – we refer most to the Good Neighbor program.

Occasionally I hear “I’m Orthodox” or “I’m Russian or Serbian or Ukrainian” or whatever Orthodox Country and nationality. That is to my mind a sad commentary that people believe “we take care of our own.”

I hear that from time to time. We take care of our own.

Beloved, “our own” is the whole of humanity. There is only one ethnicity in Christ – and that is “human being.”

Immigration status doesn’t matter, national origin doesn’t matter. Wealth doesn’t matter and social status doesn’t matter.

That they are breathing – have a beating heart – that is what matters.

Something that gets forgotten also is that the hungry don’t just need food. The sick don’t just need medicine. The homeless don’t just need shelter.

They also need interaction – us. They need human contact. We can give money – that’s relatively easy – but can we offer ourselves?

One of the aspects of our current crisis in Ukraine, and we pray for those who suffer and have added a petition to the Augmented Litany, but one of the aspects is that worldwide events tend to overshadow local needs.

It is only locally that we can offer not just food, not just clothing or shelter, but our presence. Our contact. The alms-seeker who begged from Peter and John was told “We have no money to give you – but we give you what we do have.”

And they gave him Christ – and healing.

Most of us are not able to offer personal support to those in the midst of war. Perhaps we can offer help to those around us who are so deeply affected. And we should! We must! Offer support to them.

While doing that, don’t lose sight of the ones we encounter personally. The good Samaritan didn’t just donate to a victim’s aid society. The Samaritan got personally involved – sharing his shelter and his medicine and his food.

To a victim not of his race, unknown to him, a victim unable to return anything except thanksgiving.

This is who we are asked to be, brothers and sisters. This is who Christians are called to be. Those who give, those who love, those who don’t walk away.

That is, frankly, our cross. We deny ourselves – fasting, almsgiving, prayer – and then take that which we have denied ourselves and offer it to those in need. That is our cross.

The wonderful thing about that cross is although we deny ourselves, this cross brings us joy. Discomfort, perhaps, but also joy. Fulfillment. A feeling like “this is what we are created to do.”

A feeling that may be very faint at first, but keep at it! The feeling grows!

As we continue through this last week before lent, and ease our way into the fast, think about the people we encounter every day. Really see them – not just “be aware of their presence” but truly see them.

See their personhood. Think that they have a family somewhere. That they have dignity and offer them respect.

Mostly, see the image of God in them – see Christ.

And pick up our cross.

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