Homily 551 – 4 APE
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
July 2, 2023
Epistle: (93) Romans 6:18-23
Gospel: (25) Matthew 8:5-13
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.
In our popular culture, we are given a distorted image of God’s healing. The distortions are full of drama, and promises – transactional in nature. God, if you will only do this, I promise to do that.
Makes for good entertainment, perhaps, but lousy theology. It illustrates for us why the world, and everything in the world, isn’t really a good source of information about God. It also proves that theology – particularly lousy theology – can truly impact our daily lives in a meaningful, and negative, way.
We may be tempted to leave theology to the scholars and mystics and monks. That’s a mistake. We don’t have to call it theology – we can simply call it truth – but we do have to spend time with it, struggling with what is true, and what isn’t true.
Remembering of course that we don’t get to decide. That is the original sin, that is the cause of the fall.
The distorted image we get from the world around us tells us that God is angry with us, and wants to punish us. This came from the western concept of God as being preeminently just. The western Christians struggled with this question, and others, about God’s omnipotence (all-powerful) or omniscient (all-knowing). These several attributes of God seemed to dominate everything else about God.
What got lost in the struggle to get to understand the essence of God, what turned up missing, is His love. There are statements and stories throughout the scriptures where God reminds us of His love, and reminds us that our ways, our logic, is not His ways, His logic.
Think about the prophet Jonah, sent to Ninevah to declare God’s word to them. Jonah did not expect the people to accept the message he was sent to deliver, and so he set up camp in a good vantage point to witness the destruction.
But the people of Ninevah did listen, and they did obey. That made Jonah angry. He wouldn’t get to see destruction, and he couldn’t see the outcome was really what he should have been waiting for. Repentance.
Every time God appears to change His mind – it isn’t really a change of mind, it is allowing His loving nature, the essence of Love within Him, to dominate.
Yet, we still feel that God is out to get us, trying to find ways to trip us up, to deny good things to us, to deny heaven to us. To make us work for it, and to make us tap dance around made-up traps in order to gain His favor and receive His salvation and healing.
The dominant presence of Calvinism in our country encourages this belief. Calvinism basically tells us that we don’t have any choice in any matter – the future for us is already laid out and God already knows if we are saved or healed or condemned. Most protestant groups have this influence to one extent or another. Even the latin Catholic Church has aspects of this theology that have made their way into everyday life.
God doesn’t work that way. God doesn’t bargain with us. And, this is really, really important: God doesn’t have to be persuaded to help us.
Let that sink in a moment – God doesn’t have to be persuaded to help us.
Today’s Gospel reading shows this – and really, we can look at any of the accounts of healing throughout the Gospels and see the same thing. Christ encounters a need, and someone who has faith that God intends good for them. And without anything from the one who needed healing, they received it.
In today’s example, the centurion’s personal assistant, and St. Peter’s mother in law, were both healed. The centurion even refused to allow Christ to enter his home. “You don’t need to do that,” he said. “You only need to make the command, and it will be so.”
That also is an interesting revelation – the centurion understood who Christ was. That he wasn’t just a wandering preacher and rabbi, but was a powerful individual, with everything under his authority.
The centurion doesn’t try to convince Jesus to heal his servant. Neither does St. Peter’s mother in law. Jesus, in his love and compassion, heals them both.
The drama of the world’s concept of God clashes with the truth of God that the Church proclaims. The world’s concept communicates quite clearly that we depend on God’s mercy – but also communicates that God is looking for any excuse to withdraw that mercy from us.
The Church proclaims the Truth – which is the opposite of what the world offers. God offers love – we depend on God’s love – which over and over the Scriptures tell us God’s love is more than we can fathom. That God loves us more than we even know how to love. And that love gives us not despondency, nor desperation, nor fear.
In fact, that love drives out fear, as it gives us hope.
God isn’t trying to trip us up or withdraw mercy and grace and love from us. Quite the opposite – He has overabundance and wants to give us more than we can even handle.
And yet, we stubbornly remain in our worldly view of an unworldly God. Living in fear, and shame, and telling God at every turn – I got this, thanks, but I got this. Meaning, God, leave me alone. I’ll take care of this.
All we need to do is allow God to love us, to accept everything that comes to us as an expression of God’s love, whether that involve pain or pleasure or wealth or poverty or praise or persecution.
We stop identifying our circumstances with the evaluation of the world, and begin to accept, even without knowing the reason, that it is good, and for our benefit.
Thanking God for His mercy and love in all things.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!