Homily 548 – 1 APE
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
June 11, 2023
Epistle: (330) – Hebrews 11:33-12:2
Gospel: (38, mid-79) Matthew 10:32-33, 37-38; 19:27-30
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.
Perhaps sometimes the Church, by emphasizing hagiography and the extreme exploits and capabilities of the saints, makes them appear more than they actually are.
We read the lives of the saints, and hear of the miracles, and of the exploits, and of the wisdom, those saints embody. Unfortunately, often, our reaction to those stories is one of, how can we describe it, unattainableness?
We can’t get there? We know ourselves and whatever the saints have, we don’t have it. We don’t have the endurance, the drive, the whatever-it-is they have. As a result, we ask their prayers, then give up on becoming them.
St. Paul would like to tell us that view is not accurate. That we can certainly be as the righteous. He reminds us that they are like us. In every way. Abraham, Moses, Noah, Joseph, King David, King Solomon, Prophet Elijah, Prophet Elisha, St. John the Forerunner.
Just like us.
St. Paul didn’t name names – but what he describes is the same. And, his central point, is that they were not to reach perfection apart from us.
We perhaps don’t see a way that we can become saints, and so we give up. But St. Paul encourages us by reminding us of these people of faith, that we can run with endurance.
All we have to do is decide that becoming holy is important to us. That we are willing to learn to be content with what we have. That we are willing to not live by the standards of success that the world offers to us. That we are willing to love the unlovable, to feed the hungry, to house the homeless, to share of our blessings and ourselves. That we are willing to be last – and be ok with being last.
We don’t have to save the world. St. Peter says “we’ve left everything to follow you.” We don’t have to do that. All we have to do is decide to do it, then start doing it.
Our Lord tells us the same thing. Translations don’t really help us here. In English, the idea of love and hate are emotions. But in Biblical times, in Hebrew particularly, love and hate were words of action – they were decisions.
To love Christ meant to choose Christ, and to hate one’s mother and father meant to not choose those things. Our choice makes a difference. We have to choose Christ, and not choose anything else. That doesn’t mean we don’t emotionally love, nor that we don’t choose to help our families.
We choose to follow Christ, and that choice itself demands we care for our families if we are able.
It is that choice to follow Christ that allows us to be truly loving to others – family, friends, strangers, and enemies. Those that love us and those that hate us.
When we try to love family first, care for and choose family first, our love and care is incomplete. It is deficient. We have to choose Christ first, because choosing Christ, loving Christ, completes us and makes us whole.
So, to be a saint, to be numbered as a saint in the eyes of God, what we have to do is simple – choose Christ. Decide to follow. Decide to set your goal in life on two things: starving your ego to death, and building up and caring for others at every opportunity.
It is exactly that simple. It is also exactly that hard. Deciding, and doing, are two different exercises. Deciding and not doing won’t get us anywhere. Doing without deciding will make progress, but is that really going to allow us to stick to it?
The experience of most of us is that we decide to do it, then fail to do it. Or we do it until it gets hard, or painful, or some other thing that gives us the reason our ego looks for to quit.
That’s the thing that keeps us from being saints, you know. Our ego. Our ego fights with everything – our determination, our decisions, our logic. And mostly, our God-receptors, what the Greeks named the “nous”. That part of us that receives and detects God.
What are we to do?
The answer Jesus gives us by His teaching, but mostly by His example, is that we crucify our ego. We destroy it. And we start to destroy it by not feeding it. The easiest way to not feed it, that I’ve found at least, is to acknowledge that every single thing we accomplish is because of God, not us.
Which is the truth, by the way. God gives us talents and abilities. We work and practice and develop the knowledge and skills and techniques. Ultimately, we only work with what God gives us.
So, give thanks to God for everything. Everything we think that we’ve accomplished, everything we think we’re good at – literally everything. Give God the credit. Not just to others, either. To ourselves.
We can’t really be like those athletes and entertainers and musicians we see on TV who want to thank God for their successful exploits. We want to believe it ourselves. We want to know, as a fact, that it is God working through our damaged, corrupt selves that does things.
We aren’t out to convince others – we are convincing ourselves. So be thankful, in every situation, even the situations that are unpleasant, even painful.
And second, don’t evaluate anything. God isn’t finished with it. If an event or occurrence causes us to turn to God, it is good, even if it is painful. If it causes us to turn away from God, to consider yourself self-sufficient, it is bad, even if quite pleasurable.
These two things will do more than anything else to get us on the road to sainthood. The final thing – repent. When we stray, bring ourselves back to reality, that God is in control, not us.
Repent, for the Kingdom is right here, right now.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!