Homily 425 – 10th Sunday after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
August 16, 2020
Epistle: (131) 1 Corinthians 4:9-16 and (250) Colossians 1:12-18 (“Icon not-made-by-hands”)
Gospel: (72) Matthew 17:14-23 and (48) Luke 9:51-56; 10:22-24 (“Icon not-made-by-hands”)
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.
What is faith? Christ tells us this morning that the lack of faith prevents miracles. That the smallest amount of faith can move mountains. So what is faith?
First, faith isn’t a verb. It isn’t something we do. We can’t “believe harder” and hope to increase our faith. The demons believe more than we do – but they have no faith.
There is a passage in the Gospel according to St. Luke where the disciples ask Christ to increase their faith. This question is asking for knowledge. In the modern-day, in the monastic realm, one approaches an elder or father and says “Geronda – literally, “old man” – Geronda, he says, give me a word.
It is asking for instruction. Our Lord responds in Luke’s Gospel by again using the imagery of a mustard seed, but instead of a mountain, it is a mulberry tree that can be cast into the sea. One of the little details from the oral traditions that the Gospels make no effort to harmonize.
Christ expounds on that theme – He goes on in Luke to say that as servants, we are expected to serve. Servants do not expect their masters to invite them into the home and serve them dinner.
Rather, the master expects the servants to do that for him. The servants, oddly enough, serve.
Now, we have two pretty distinct concepts going on. Faith, and service. Jesus seems to say that service is the verb, the action, that increases faith. That faith increases by being obedient.
So we are beginning to see that faith is not something that exists on its own. It is not something that we choose. We are beginning to see that faith is what we might call a lifestyle. That lifestyle of service.
Christ came and served, although He is the Master. That wasn’t because He wanted us to expect Him to serve us. Rather, He plainly tells us that He serves the Apostles and Disciples in order to demonstrate human life to us.
We are here for service. Giving ourselves, just as Christ gave Himself for us.
We don’t lead, we follow. We follow by obeying the commands of the Master.
We follow by serving others and ignoring ourselves. We follow by striking the phrase “I want …” from our vocabularies.
Even when what “I want …” is a good thing, like health or salvation. Our attitude must be one of a servant, prepared to act, prepared to serve. In Christ, we are not allowed to want anything.
And yet – without wanting anything, God gives us everything. He treats us like children, His children. The servants become part of the family.
In the middle of that family, we still serve – not because of obligation, but because of love. Love for our Father. The Father who created us, the Father that watched as we made a mess of everything.
The Father who loves us in return, in spite of the mess we made. In fact, a Father that loves us so much that He sent His Son to us, to show us how to be human.
If we can see that love, and we can respond in love, and serve, we then have faith. The life we live becomes faith. Faith becomes active – it morphs from what we have, that is, what we possess, into what we do, into the activity of life itself.
Life isn’t found in breathing and heartbeats and brain waves. Life is found in service.
That service is not directed to our want, our desire, but to others. It is selfless. It is giving, self-emptying. It isn’t tarnished by pride or self-interest.
Now, this is a difficult thing – our society, the society in which we operate, unabashedly relies on self-interest. The democratic ideas we cherish, the capitalist economic decisions we make – all are predicated on us acting in our self-interest.
And yet as Christians, that is not what we are called to do. We who follow Christ, we who are the faithful, are called to act in the interest of our fellow humans – the others.
It is interesting that Christ only asked one thing for Himself during the time on Earth – “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not my will but your will be done.” God answered the prayer with “it is not possible to let the cup pass.”
So we act in the interest of others, even when that would be contrary to our self-interest. And that is difficult to do. What is the impact on our society of such counter-cultural behavior?
The answer I get from God is “that is not your concern.” “Let me worry about that,” God says. We then have to have faith that God actually knows what He is doing in the world of His creation.
How many times do we question our parents about a chosen course of action, only to be told, “because I said so.”
That is because we, as children and servants, perhaps can’t understand the complexities of the actions we are asked to take. Perhaps we aren’t ready for that knowledge.
And so, all that is left is obedience. It is interesting that the other word for obedience is “faithfulness.”
I’ve offered before the story of asking Archbishop Anastasios of Albania about what he learned from failures he had, and his response to me was that in Christ, there are no failures, and no successes – only faithfulness.
Beloved of God, brothers and sisters, be faithful. Be servants. Rid yourself of the noose of self-interest that binds you. For it is in service that we find the faith to move mountains.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!