No competition in Christianity.

Homily 528 – 30 APE
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
January 8, 2023
Epistle:  (224-ctr) – Ephesians 4:7-13
Gospel:  (8) – Matthew 4:12-17

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

We are coming out of one of the more intense periods of the liturgical year.  The Nativity Season, followed closely by the Theophany of our Lord, with the circumcision and St. Basil in the middle, is a time when there are a lot of services, the fasting and feasting schedules are disrupted, and our general routine is disrupted.

While that disruption can be stressful, it is for most of us, beneficial.  In the midst of routine, we shake it up – and yet the disruption is also routine.

Like most things in Orthodoxy, it is a paradox.  Disruptions become routine.  Or, put another way, we swap one routine for another.

The significant take away from all of this routine and disruption is that, for the Christian, God receives our full attention.

In the midst of that, I’m troubled that the world offers a pretty compelling counter-narrative.  We have of course the commercialization of Christmas, the focus on buying and receiving gifts, but even in other ways.

I’ve watched with some interest the political happenings with the selection of the Speaker of the House.  I’ve watched the near-tragedy that occurred with the young professional football player.  I’ve seen the utter debauchery of the celebration of the New Year.

All of which are distractions from the real meaning of life.  All are distractions from Christ.  All promote, to a degree, or at least approve, self-indulgence.  We watch these things – and they influence us, whether we know it or not.

Now, many times we may think of our life in Christ as one of seriousness, or sober reflection.  I don’t imagine many of us take our life in Christ and laugh and smile.

Yet the Church Fathers and Mothers, the Scriptures, and the Tradition of the Church tell us that it is exactly joy – laughter, communion with God, communion with one another – that is a fruit of the Holy Spirit.

We can, and should, laugh, smile, enjoy the creation which God has so generously given to us.  And we can do that, and still give thanks to the Creator who made it and gave it for us to enjoy.  We can enjoy the companionship of others, and still see in them the image and likeness of God.

The world only offers us joy – at least as far as I can see – in the superiority of ourselves over others.  We are only joyful when we win – and by win, meaning that others, all others, lose.

That’s what the world offers us – that’s what every one of us is being taught, formally and informally.  It’s a dog-eat-dog world.  Success is securing more of the creation for yourself at the exclusion of all others.  Joy is found in power and authority and exercising that power and authority.

Maybe we don’t need to say it, but I’ll say it anyway.  That isn’t what we believe.

That isn’t what Christ taught, that isn’t what the Fathers and Mothers taught.  Our joy is when all of us, every single one of us, is in communion with one another in Christ.

There is a story I heard a long time ago about the need for a yard.  In most of the United States, houses are detached from one another and have a yard around them.  The phrase “Get off my lawn” has become part of the collective psyche.  “Not in my backyard,” we say.

Yet people in large urban areas don’t have yards.  And somehow, they are still seemingly happy?  How can this be?

It’s easy when your yard is Central Park.  It’s easy when your living room is a public house, with your neighbors, and music, and discussion, and chat.

There is joy, there is value, in communion with one another.  All our political differences and social distinctions and, frankly, our ego goes pretty much away when we share with one another.  When we share with one another, the collective good becomes as important, if not more important, than the individual good.

We can see that in other societies.  But we see it less and less in our own United States.

The basic distinction that can be detected is that the world values isolation from one another – the individual good.  The Christian life values communion with one another – the collective good.

In our day, we’re focused by our media on what is happening in Des Moines, or Washington, or London, or Moscow, or Beijing, or Kiev.  And while those things are perhaps important, they shouldn’t distract us from seeing and addressing the needs of our neighbors.

After all, it is pretty easy for us to look outside our sphere and have opinions and express our outrage for what is going on in a place where, if we are honest, we can have absolutely zero impact.

The unfortunate, and un-God-like, result of this is that we simply don’t see the needs that we absolutely can impact.  We are isolated, and so we don’t know the needs of our neighbors.  Sometimes we don’t even know their names!  Much less their needs.

We can’t share in joy, or sorrow, or burden, of those we don’t know and especially those we are not in proximity with.  Christ tells the story of the woman who loses a coin, and when she finds it, invites her neighbors to celebrate with her.  Or the shepherd that has 100 sheep and lost one, and found it, and invites friends and neighbors to celebrate.

If you don’t know your neighbors, those scenarios don’t make sense at all.

It might be true that we no longer live in villages, but that doesn’t relieve us of our Christian obligation to be concerned for our neighbors.

Going forward, our resolution for the new civil year is clear:  Know our neighbors, their needs, their joys, their sorrows – and share them.  That is also the beginning of self-denial, and the beginning of our journey into the Kingdom.

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