The essential Christian behavior

Homily 375 – 13th after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
September 15, 2019
Epistle: (203) Galatians 2:16:20, (166) 1 Corinthians 16:13-24
Gospel: (37) Mark 8:34-9:1, (87) Matthew 21:33-42

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

There are many scriptures that are familiar to us. “For God so loved the world …” or “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God …” or “In the Beginning was the Word …”

The reading this morning should be, in my opinion, part of that mix. It is, I believe, the central behavioral tenet of the Christian faith.

Whoever wants to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.

If we claim to follow Christ, that is to be a Christian, then here our Master tells us what is required of us. Deny ourselves. Deny myself.

St. Paul elaborates on that theme. I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.

Consider the life of Paul for a moment. He was the consummate Jew. The best education, an insider in the life of the Temple. Not just an observant Jew. One of the rulers – one of the enforcers of the leadership of the Jewish people.

In modern parlance, it might be like the heir in waiting for the senior executive role. And suddenly, it changes. They change. The person they were no longer exists.

The jailer becomes an inmate. The Roman soldier becomes one of the offerings to the beasts in the arena with the other Christian martyrs. The soldier who takes the place of one of the 40 martyrs of Sebaste standing in the freezing lake.

Imagine, suddenly, no longer being who you thought you were. But in fact, throwing out everything that had come before, and being something new and something different.

That is the level of change we are contemplating in the self-denial demanded of us by Christ. That is the essence of crucifying ourselves, killing ourselves, our ego, our desire, our want.

It is doing what God places before us. And it is hard.

When someone offends you, damages your ego, and to recognize that the ego is not only not dead, but very much alive and thriving.

That happens to all of us. Sometimes it is others telling us we don’t know how to do our job, or we don’t know how to play the role we are supposed to play, and it hurts us.

That pain, that hurt, that offense – is simply God reminding us that our ego, our self, is still alive and kicking. We need to deny it again, we need to crucify it more.

It is that crucifixion of self that then allows us to find humility and joy and love in the midst of what some call abuse. When our ego and our will is crucified, we don’t feel the pain of offense any more.

This is exactly what Christ did, also.

Christ, the incarnation of God, in His inexhaustible love, stepped away from the glory of being God, and all that comes with that. I sometimes see Christ as a benevolent royal, who is expert at putting others at ease.

And yet – He is so much more! Infinitely more! He stepped away from being God and became my servant – your servant. He became everything that we are as humans.

He became poor. He became homeless. He became abused. This wasn’t a royal putting those around Him at ease. This was a royal becoming a slave.

By choice. By choice, from His love.

Ego-less love.

So: What are we to do? How are we to be? St. Paul asked the same question. Wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death?

His answer is our answer. Jesus Christ. Jesus, who set aside the privileges and the rights due to Him as God and became a slave, shows us how to do the same.

We leave our ego behind. We forget about climbing the corporate ladder, or the social ladder, and we focus on the Ladder of Divine Ascent.

We begin by reprogramming ourselves. We reboot ourselves. In addition to the prayers we say, we add the prayer that a bishop says when putting on his cross, which is the verse we started with: “Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. Always, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.”

Say that every time you put on your baptismal cross, or any time you see a cross. After time, it begins to embed itself into the soul – and we begin to live out that prayer.

Is saying this prayer essential to our salvation? Yes and no. No, simply saying the prayer will not save us.

But everything that helps us to deny ourselves – the prayer, the fasting, the almsgiving – everything contributes to our salvation in that way.

Because salvation is found in our obedience to this commandment of our Lord – deny yourself.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!