Homily 374 – 12th after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
September 8, 2019
Epistle: (215) – Galatians 6:11-18, (158) – 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, (240) – Philippians 2:5-11
Gospel: (9) – John 3:13-17 (Sunday before the Elevation), (79) – Matthew 19:16-26, (54) – Luke 10:38-42; 11:27-28 (Nativity of the Theotokos)
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.
Last week I noted that having three epistle readings and three gospel readings was really unusual. And we have it again this week! We remember today the nativity of our Lady, the Most Holy Theotokos, we remember the resurrection (as we do every Sunday), and we prepare for the feast of the Exaltation of the Precious and Life-giving Cross.
So, this morning, we have three different things that need to happen so that we might be saved. And they are all related.
First, the Cross is likened to the serpent raised in the wilderness by Moses. That is found in Numbers 21: And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.”
“This worthless food” that they loathed was manna. They loathed what God had given them for their very life. Sometimes, just maybe, we also complain about our lot in life.
“… Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you. Pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us.” …”
If we wonder why painful and tragic things happen, this event gives us a clue: to get our attention. To recognize God for who He is – the source of it all, the source of life itself.
“… So Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived. …”
If you were bitten by a snake and saw the snake on a pole, you would live. Likewise, if you are human, bitten by being fallen, and you see Christ on the Cross, you would live.
Christ doesn’t ascend the Cross in judgment – He ascends for our healing. We must take time and gaze upon the Cross.
Second, a man asks a question: What good thing must I do to find eternal life? Christ tells him the obvious: follow the commandments, the ones delivered to Moses. You know, the 10 big things.
The man says – done that. Anything else? And what Christ tells us is that following the commandments isn’t just about compliance with rules. It is about a way of living.
Christ tells the man, one more thing – sell all that you have and give it to the poor, then follow me. And the man went away sad because he was rich.
He valued his possessions and his wealth more than his own eternal life. He wasn’t pursuing perfection. He was happy with just doing the minimum. The fact that Christ gave His all, means that we should also.
Finally, the busyness of Martha and the contemplation of Mary. Mary, Christ tells us, chose a good path. Martha was “distracted.” We too get distracted, sometimes distracted in the life of the Church itself.
We also get distracted by obscure rubrics, or very fine theological points, or church politics. Perhaps we get distracted by the culture wars, advocating for the rights of others.
Note that these are good things! But everything in balance. Too much imbalance and we neglect the other needs – like gazing on the Cross or detaching from our wealth.
Jesus is less interested in our service to Him, and more interested in our communion with Him. Service to others is another matter, but implied in Martha’s busyness is that she was serving Christ, not the poor.
It is a very slight but important distinction. We do need to serve the poor, we do need to ensure that our wealth benefits those who are in need. But sometimes we get busy with church stuff and neglect the important aspects of communion with God.
That is part of the motivation for having our meditation garden out front – to give people the chance to rest, and to be in God’s presence. Consciously, deliberately.
We need to find those places where we can experience the stillness because it is there we encounter God.
We need to create those places – especially in our homes – where we can have quiet. Stillness.
Sometimes we have to leave our homes to find those places – a garden, a park, wherever we can be still.
I went to St. Michael’s Monastery in Missouri a while back, and no one was there. The monks and nuns had gone to run an errand, and it was just me. I stood on the deck outside the chapel, overlooking the lake, and experienced the stillness. Experienced the sounds of nature – only nature.
No AC units running in the background. No radios. No televisions. No street noises. Just the sounds of animals and insects and water.
Another time, I was at a monastery in Michigan, and went wandering and ended up in their cemetery. Such peace and quiet and the ability to contemplate our Lord and the end of our time on Earth, and our own entrance into the Kingdom and presence of God.
It is in that stillness that we hear God, that we gaze upon our Lord, and we become one with Him and experience our healing. It is in that stillness that we understand the role that the wealth around us really serves – helping others, and keeping only what we need.
That stillness – that lack of distractions. Our society doesn’t prioritize.
But our Lord does. And we would be wise to prioritize it also.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!