The slavery of freedom

Homily 366 – 4th after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
July 14, 2019
Epistle: – (93) Romans 6:18-23 and (334) Hebrews 13:7-16 (Holy Fathers)
Gospel: (25) – Matthew 8:5-13 and (56) – John 17:1-13 (Holy Fathers)

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

St. Paul tells us that we have been released from sin, so we are now slaves of righteousness.

This is one of the difficult concepts in the Church. I’m not sure we ever get comfortable with it. If we’re honest with ourselves, and I hope we all are, we enjoy sin.

We like it where we are. In the moment – that brief moment – it provides us with something, it tweaks our emotion.

In sin, we revert to the fallen state – the state where the prime object of everything is me. That most unholy of trinities – me, myself, and I.

It feels good. It feels right. We are the center. We are the object and purpose of everything.

That is, for us, a carefully crafted lie of the deceiver in chief. It feels good in the same way that illicit drugs feel good – until you are enslaved to them.

St. Gregory of Nyssa, in the work “Glory to Glory” speaks of this. He tells us that each of these impulses, when it takes control, becomes the master and we the slave.

In other words, it’s a trap.

A trap from which our Lord frees us. We are freed from sin – free to change, to repent.

Why would we pursue such a thing? Why would we want to leave the comfort of sin? The comfort of setting our own direction and our own course?

To be blunt, it isn’t something we initiate. It is something we are called to – called by God, through the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

It is that voice inside us that proclaims, softly, the truth. The voice that says to us the pleasure is fleeting, the realization that the only desire we have is for more, and we can never, ever satisfy that desire through our own pleasure.

That the pleasure we derive is not in an object itself, or an image, or an experience – but that pleasure we derive is through appreciation, and thankfulness, for the Creator of all.

It is the voice that drives us to relationship, away from the loneliness that self-focus brings. And the voice that recognizes pain when we are rejected because of that self-focus.

It is the understanding that we can never replace joy with adrenaline. We can never feel power through humiliation. We can never enjoy blessings when others have none.

So – we feel and hear the calling. How do we react? We do have a choice – we are allowed to continue enslaved to sin. This enslavement is at a cost, though.

First, we are never satisfied. Second, we are cut off from the source of life.

Or, we can choose to change. We can repent – change the direction of our lives. Repentance is not a feeling, but an activity.

Through repentance, we become what St. Paul says – slaves to righteousness. This slavery is unlike the other, because while slavery to sin dominates us, slavery to righteousness floods us with God’s love.

The burden of such slavery is light, our Lord tells us.

It might be said that the slavery to righteousness is actually slavery disguised as freedom. Slavery disguised as joy. Slavery disguised as love.

The kind of slavery we might actually, and actively, pursue! There is a saying: Do what you love and you will never work a day in your life.

That is what this slavery is – the effort isn’t work! The effort is joy!

And, to be clear, the effort is also power. For our Lord tells us that we are no longer slaves, but friends, and joint-heirs with Him in the Kingdom of God.

In power, the Gospel today proclaims that the Centurion had power – not because of his righteousness. Rather, because of his faith. And that faith – not necessarily in Christ, as he understood Christ as a worker of miracles, certainly, maybe even a prophet, but perhaps not the anointed one of God.

He did have faith in how power worked – how authority was manifest. That was his experience. It was that experience that communicated his faith. Without saying anything other than “I am not worthy”, the Centurion expressed his understanding that Christ was an authority.

And that was all it took. The Centurion found the Kingdom of God.

Don’t be discouraged or dissuaded by the “slave to righteousness.” Allow yourself to choose it, and to become what you are called to be. You will then find that this type of slavery brings unending joy, everlasting peace, and eternal life.

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