Seek Christ, not power.

Homily 539 – 5GL
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
April 2, 2023
Epistle:  (321-ctr) – Hebrews 9:11-14 and (208b) – Galatians 3:23-29
Gospel:  (47) – Mark 10:32-45 and (33) – Luke 7:36-50

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

You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the nations lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you!

In this passage, and in the Church at large, we learn a lot about power.  The prayer that we say during Great Lent, that wonderful prayer of St. Ephrim the Syrian, speaks asking God to take away our lust for power.

That prayer is so instructive for us, particularly about power.

When we describe the Christian life, we can use St. Ephrim’s prayer to help us.  “O Lord and master of my life, take from me the spirit of laziness, despair, lust of power, and idle talk.”

These are the things that Christians aren’t.  They aren’t lazy in the practice of their faith.  They don’t give up hope.  They don’t seek or even desire power.  They don’t gossip.  Depending on the source of translation, there is one word that is different – despondency or despair is in the Slavonic, however the Greek uses a word that translates “idle curiosity” or “meddling.”

We get the idea, which is reinforced at the end of the prayer, that we really, really need to keep to ourselves.  This is the desire of Christians.  To work out our salvation.  The Divine Liturgy mentions this aspect of Christian life also.  During the anaphora, the great prayer of offering and blessing the holy gifts, the priest says:  “Remember, Lord, all our rulers whom you have ordained to rule upon the earth, grant them deep and untroubled peace, speak good into their heart for your Church and all your people, so that we, in their tranquility, lead a calm and quiet life in all piety and godliness.”

St. Ephrim’s prayer goes on to ask:  “But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love to your servant.” And it concluded with, “Lord and King, grant me to see my own sins and not to judge my brother.”  In other words, help me keep my eyes on myself, and have no interest in the sins of anyone else.

Are we finding a theme here?  We, as Christians, are to withdraw from the world.  What we ask from God is not that the world will be conducive to our repentance.  Again, we do not ask God to conform the world to our needs or desires.

We ask God to give us peace, and that the world will leave us alone.

This is not a popular position today, particularly with the political and social situations we find ourselves in both here in the United States and truly around the world.  We see ourselves facing injustice and authoritarianism at nearly every turn.

What we desire is not that these be reversed or overturned or defeated.  What we ask God for, what we desire, is peace.  What we ask is to be left alone, essentially.

Some of you know I love the play and movie Fiddler on the Roof.  The Rabbi’s blessing for the Czar is relevant here:  May God bless and keep the Czar – far away from us!

That is truly what Christians also should desire.  To live in peace, to worship in peace, to repent in peace.

Some may say, what about injustice?  What about the marginalized in life?  Shouldn’t we fight for them?

And my opinion is that we help them, treating them with respect and dignity, honoring the image of Christ within them.  But do we get involved in the political system?  In my view, except for being a citizen and voting, the answer is likely no.  Stay out of the political system – it is dangerous.

Again, some may say, Father, that seems cruel or unpatriotic or somehow wrong.

You may be right.  I’m offering advice, not a command from God.  Some of us may be called to that role – but it is a dangerous role to seek power, and we have to understand the risks.  We are playing with literal fires.

The fires of Gehenna.

I will say this, though.  If we look at the example of the little Catholic Albanian Nun we know as Mother Teresa, we may see a proper Christian’s response.  Mother Teresa certainly advocated for the poor and infirm she served.

But first she served them.  First she met their needs.  St. James in his epistle Chapter 2 verses 15 through 17 remind us:  “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?”

First, if it is possible for you and I to do so, meet their needs.  Then, if there is something to be done to advocate for them, do so!  We don’t say “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” but neither do we say, “I’m calling my representatives in Des Moines and Washington to get them to do something.”

I pray for all of us that this Lent we can be returned to the place of peace, the place of contentment with our surroundings, the place of gratitude, and the place of giving.  I pray that we can find the internal will to shut off the news and entertainment, and get to know our neighbors in fellowship.

I pray that we will focus on our own sin, and not judge our brothers.  I pray that none of us will lord our authority over another human.  I pray that we won’t get involved in the pettiness that surrounds the life in society today.

Mostly, I pray that all of us can learn repentance, and focus on being close to Christ, and focus on our own transgressions.

So that, as we approach Holy Week, we can enter into the denial of our will along with Christ, and sacrifice our will, as did Christ, and participate in the promise of the resurrection of our Lord.

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