Seeking happiness will never make us happy.

Homily 501 – 7th Pascha
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
June 5, 2022
Epistle: (44) – Acts 20:16-18, 28-36
Gospel: (56) – John 17:1-13
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

It’s our turn. Gun violence, horrible and tragic as it is, had, until Thursday, been “somewhere else.” Thursday it became “here and now.”

Frankly, I’m surprised it took this long. After all, we live in a country and time that tells us having a gun provides peace of mind. A good guy with a gun is the only option when there are bad guys with guns. When stand your ground and protect what is yours takes precedence over the lives of other people. When power is expressed not in influence and respect, but by engendering raw fear of us in those around us.

When you feel threatened, a weapon is the answer. Thursday, a 33-year-old man going through a breakup with a college student, and charged with harassment, shot and killed his 21-year-old ex and her friend, then shot himself.

His problem, to him, was now solved.

To the families of the two young women, of their friends, of those present when their lives were taken – their problems are only beginning. But the feelings and issues and needs of the other people involved are not part of the equation of the shooter. Because ultimately, the taking of another life is an act of utter selfishness, and that selfishness is the sin that we all bear from the fall of humanity until now.

It doesn’t have to be this way. It really doesn’t. But until we attack the central issue of selfishness, until those who call themselves Christians begin to heed the call of Jesus Christ to “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow [him]” we will get absolutely nowhere.

I’m not sure we truly understand how utterly demonic selfishness is. We don’t understand how damaging it is – not just to others but to ourselves as well. Dangerous to the point of being life-threatening. To us.

It is the separation from God which leads to corruption. And corruption – another word is decay – is death. Our death.

The lie we are told is that by indulging ourselves, we make ourselves happy. Are you happy? I’ll admit that I’m not happy. Much less joyful.

Happiness is fleeting. Sure, happiness as a child was maybe eating all the chocolate – but as an adult, we realize the happiness we feel will be followed by misery. Hopefully, we realize that.

Our happiness, as I look at the world, is vested in whatever we don’t have. We want more – a bigger house, another house, a nicer car, more money, more status. And it is never enough.

Never. And never will be enough. There will always be someone with more or better or nicer or bigger – and we won’t be happy anymore.

Not only are we no longer happy – because in truth, we never were truly happy – but now we are angry. We are jealous. We are frustrated. All the emotions wash over us, and none of them are happy emotions.

We’ve been deceived again. I can’t think of one thing the world tells us that results in true happiness, or even satisfaction. It’s all a lie – and I think that if we are honest with ourselves, we know that it is a lie.

We try to convince ourselves it isn’t – after all, all these people we know can’t be wrong, can they? Maybe it’s us – maybe we’re doing it wrong. Maybe we’re deformed somehow and can’t appreciate what others can.

All these things run through our heads – and we expend a lot of energy and effort trying to convince ourselves that the pursuit of happiness, which we know to be the pursuit of selfishness, is OK.

And it is surely not. It is not OK – because, beloved, it is a lie. It will never be true.

The only Truth is Jesus Christ. That is easy to say – what does it mean? As a statement, OK, I can agree with that. But what does it mean to build a life around Truth is Jesus Christ?

To start, we have to believe what He told us. That He is God, that He and the Father and the Spirit love us, and want us to be reconciled to Him, and that all we need is Him. We need nothing else. We should desire nothing else.

Let me say that differently – We must desire communion with God, every moment of every day, to the exclusion of everything else in our lives. Everything.

Because that is what He did for us, and because by doing that, we will fulfill everything we were created to be – all of God’s will for us is wrapped up in that one thing – desiring God to the exclusion, the elimination, of everything else.

Everything else – and again, I say everything – is a distraction, and to desire it so that it detracts from our ability to desire God completely, is imperfect – and not even good.

Those things can and must be enjoyed as part of seeking and desiring God. Then, and only then, can we enjoy them as God desires for us to enjoy them. Which is to say, enjoy them perfectly, and fully, and joyfully, and eternally.

If I desire a spouse more than God, or better said, if my desire for my spouse distracts me from my desire for God, it becomes imperfect and a deception and completely and wholly unsatisfying.

The same can be said of our ascetical practices – if we fast and keep vigil and give alms that we may be thought well by others, it becomes useless and even dangerous. But if we do those things out of our response to desire for God, they become righteous and holy.

But – if I desire God with everything that is me, then I can love my spouse perfectly, and my desire for my spouse will be perfect because that desire is in the correct alignment with the desire for God.

My ascetical practices become useful and perfecting because they are in the correct alignment with our desire for God.

The exact same thing – desire for my spouse – can be debilitating or empowering, depending on the relationship of that desire to my desire for God.

Christ tells us to seek first the Kingdom, and all the rest will be added to us. Do we believe that? And if we do believe, is that based on our understanding of what will be added, or God’s? Our timing, or God’s timing?

We pray, and should pray, for everything that is good for our salvation – and then expect that what we receive and experience is exactly that – from God, for our good, and for our salvation.

And so it goes with everything we desire – all the things that we believe will make us happy and content, but never will.

Only God can fill that void. And He will – if we will let Him.

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