The Freedom of Slavery

Homily 219 – Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
July 17, 2016

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

Today, St. Paul tells us something absolutely startling.

He tells us that we are slaves. We were slaves – and we remain slaves.

Those of you who were paying attention last Sunday will say “Hang on. Last week we spoke of freedom. Now you tell us that we are, were, and will continue to be slaves.”

That is correct.

Not me – St. Paul.

But both times, St. Paul is absolutely correct. We are indeed slaves, and we are indeed free.

The slavery that St. Paul describes is slavery to sin. As we’ve discussed many times, being slaves to sin means being slaves to imperfection – slaves to selfishness and narcissism.

Sin is that which separates us from the source of all Life – God. Being separated from God, the source of life, means death. The absence of life.

So, we are slaves to death, which St. Paul calls the payment, the wages, of sin.

There is no righteousness there – no life. We cannot be slaves to righteousness and to sin. We have to be enlivened. Made alive.

Christ does that – he makes us alive, by restoring us to God, the source of all Life. He restores us to the nature we had before the fall – the humanity he took on in the incarnation.

He heals us. The most extreme healing possible – like Lazarus, healed from death to life.

However, it is more than reuniting our soul and our body. That’s what happened to Lazarus.

We are made complete, our healing restores our nature – Christ’s nature – Human Nature – to the condition that nature had prior to the fall.

Christ becomes, from within his own person, the second Adam. He created the first one, and becomes the second one.

This, in turn, puts us in the realm of righteousness. The world of life – the world of anastasis, of resurrection.

And it is this slavery to righteousness that is true freedom. And we are slaves to one or the other. Either Death, or Life. Sin, or Righteousness.

It is the enslavement to righteousness that unifies us, our nature, our being, to God. What the epistle calls “sanctification.” We sometimes call it “theosis.”

But what it really is – is freedom.

Freedom, true freedom as God intended, as we discussed last week, is the freedom that allows us to depend fully on God, on his provision, and on his salvation for us.

It is a freedom of carelessness. Without care – care-less.

Knowing that Christ has the ability, and the desire, to care for us, to heal and to keep us.

That is what the Centurion recognized – that Christ had the authority to do what he desires, even without being physically present. Because, as God, He is everywhere present, filling all things.

And that St. Peter’s mother in law found, as she was healed also. For what purpose?

To serve Christ – by also serving those with Christ. That is what St. Peter’s mother in law did. She was healed, and she got up, and served.

She was a slave to righteousness. By her free will – expressed by her faith, and the faith of those around her – she became a slave to Life.

All these things are complicated to understand, perhaps. What I’m learning, and what I want to share with you, is that we don’t need to understand it. We need to simply allow it to form us.

Formation is a strange thing for most of us. It is more than training. It is more than conditioning. It is breaking the spirit without breaking the spirit – or, better said perhaps, breaking the self-will without breaking the spirit.

It can be understood – but only in hindsight. Understanding it before living it is not formation, and we run the very real risk of getting out ahead of God.

And if we’re ahead of God, we’re on our own.

Rather than putting ideas into action, we simply contemplate ideas, and get nowhere, doing nothing.

But when we put them into action, we find that over time, they form us – shape us – so that we don’t even have to think about it.

These things are then stronger – because they become part of us unconsciously, or nearly so.

We feed and nurture this righteousness given to us by the messages we surround ourselves with. That is the real danger in the modern world – the messages are all around us, forming us in ways we don’t see, and can’t control.

This may be where a relationship with a spiritual father or guide may be helpful – to provide perspective that we can’t otherwise see.

Know too that this doesn’t require our abdication to think, and to make decisions for ourselves, however.

We still have to make a myriad of decisions and choices every day. What it does mean is that we make them in the best way we know how, for the benefit of everyone.

We don’t make them selfishly, or to anyone’s detriment. Our focus is on our salvation, our righteousness, and not the criteria by which the world makes decisions.

It is often said that our role is not to be effective or efficient – it isn’t about results.

Our job is about faithfulness. Being a slave to righteousness. Being formed so that righteousness is all we allow to take root within us.

That we may find the reward – our healing, our union with God, which is life everlasting.

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