Homily 534– 7 APE
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
July 23, 2023
Epistle: (116) Romans 15:1-7
Gospel: (33) Matthew 9:27-35
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.
St. Paul says the strangest things sometimes. This morning, he tells the Romans that they should do not what makes them happy, but what makes our neighbor happy, what benefits our neighbor.
This isn’t just Paul talking crazy though. It is exactly what Christ preached to us as well. Treat your neighbor as you want to be treated. Not as they treat you. As you want to be treated. If you want respect, treat others with respect – even when they are not respectful. If you want compassion, be compassionate, even when they aren’t compassionate to you.
Some might say, and they might be right in saying, this is a good recipe for becoming a doormat. A pushover. For being taken advantage of.
And that is absolutely correct, and may even be the point. Is there a better way to describe what Christ did in coming down from the Throne of God, taking up humanity, and living on earth?
He chose to be a doormat, and he asks us to do the same. Deny yourself, He says. Wash the feet of others, He says. Be a servant, He says.
We get comfortable with our compromises, though. We believe somehow that if we can get power and authority, we can then be more benevolent and offer more to the poor and more to the needy.
Perhaps that is so. That isn’t what Christ asks of us, though. Christ asks us to live as if this life doesn’t matter, except for its impact on the life to come. Christ asks us to live as if those around us matter more than we do. That those around us are more important than we are.
That’s the way He lived.
Why – why brothers and sisters – do we not take Christ seriously in this? Why do we avoid being the one insulted, as St. Paul says?
It isn’t pleasant. It isn’t positive. It isn’t self-care focused.
So, if it isn’t these things, then what is it? It is strong. We forget that in service we demonstrate strength. We demonstrate self-confidence. We demonstrate our identity, and our confidence in that identity.
We demonstrate who we are – the reality of who we are – and that we’re OK with that.
We read the scriptures that the Apostles will be set as judges over Israel and we think to ourselves, oh boy! Power! Authority! Let’s get started!
That’s wrong. That’s oh, so very wrong. Before we can be judges – before we can be rulers – we have to be servants. We have to be slaves. I will go so far as to say, and this is just my opinion, that if we are not servants and slaves in this life, we will be in life to come, even in the Kingdom of God. We’ll be in the Kingdom, but we won’t be rulers nor authorities nor judges.
The first will be last and the last will be first in the Kingdom of God.
Lazarus, the beggar at the rich man’s gate, was tortured in this life, and was comforted in the life to come. The opposite for the rich man.
What are we to do? How do we get there? The journey always begins with a single step. Decide that you want to follow Christ. And – this is huge – be willing to do whatever Christ tells you, through scripture or through services or whatever means, regardless of what it is.
Set aside our own desires and goals and wants. The only thing we want is the success of others in their own life. Our only desire is their best interest.
We begin to collect what might be called essential principles. Live generously with abandon, not a slave to money or power or social status.
Deny our own ego at every opportunity. Shift the focus away from us, and onto others.
Father Ambrose of Optina tells us we are to live simply. Do not wrack your brain. Pray to God. The Lord will arrange everything, just live more simply. Do not agonize over how and what to do; let things take their course. That is what it means to live simply.
We overthink nearly everything. We overplan everything. Even when Christ tells us not to – because He says, don’t formulate what you will say (and by extension, what you will do) beforehand. You will be given direction by the Holy Spirit in that moment.
That doesn’t mean that you’ll hear a voice or be told what action to take. Rather, what it means is that in that moment, what you say and do will be the direction of the Holy Spirit and you won’t even understand it.
That is what happens to me every time I hear a confession. Most times I’m surprised at what I say, sometimes I don’t even understand what I am saying. I trust and believe that the Holy Spirit is providing those words, that counsel.
The same will happen to you, in that moment when you need it. The one thing noteworthy about God’s direction particularly in the Old Testament is that He never provides the full route beforehand. Only the next step.
We shouldn’t expect the full routing from God. I daresay if He provided it to us, we would all reject it out of utter terror. No way would I have undertaken anything in my life if God had laid out the full plan ahead of time.
And yet, as St. Paul writes, the God of encouragement and endurance will be with us, providing us strength in that moment. Direction and strength only for the next step, not for the journey all at once.
Brothers and sisters, it can be unnerving, even frightening, to contemplate the path Christ asks us to take. But His promise is that through that path, we will find union with Him, we will find a light burden, we will find joy overflowing.
And His promise to be with us every single step of the way.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!