Through the Cross, joy.

Homily 326 – 16th after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
September 16, 2018
Epistle: (203) Galatians 2:16:20; (181) 2 Corinthians 6:1-10
Gospel: (37) Mark 8:34-9:1; (105) Matthew 25:14-30

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

On Friday we celebrated the Exaltation of the Cross. At Holy Transfiguration, we’re not particularly good at Feast Day celebrations – mostly because of me and my secular schedule.

What this day commemorates for us the uncovering of the True Cross by St. Helen, the mother of the Emperor St. Constantine, some 200 years after it was buried underneath a pagan temple in Jerusalem.

Although miracles occurred on that day of discovery, it is not those miracles we celebrate. Rather, what we celebrate is the significance of the Cross itself.

In the hymns we sing: Through the Cross joy came into all the world. We sing that Christ ascended or climbed upon the Cross. That the Cross was voluntary.

We remember that in the Garden of Gethsemane, Christ prayed “Not my will but Your Will be done.” That the Father’s will would be done – which Christ admitted was different than his own human will.

It was, and remains, voluntary.

And whoever desires to follow Christ must do the same. Deny your own will, your own desires, pick up the Cross, and follow Christ. Voluntarily.

This – and only this – leads us to life.

And it must – must – be voluntary. It cannot be out of compulsion. The threat of arrest or transgression of the secular law is not the motivation.

We deny ourselves voluntarily. Because voluntary is Love.

When Christ ascends the Cross, His is a voluntary choice. Because voluntary is Love.

So what are we choosing with this voluntary denial of our own will and desire?

Let’s look a bit closer at this. We aren’t necessarily saying that our will and our desire is automatically bad, and we should automatically do the opposite.

That isn’t it at all.

What we are saying – What God asks of us – is that when our desire and will conflict with God’s will and desire, we choose God’s.

Which leads to another question – what is God’s will?

We read that last week – to love Him will all our being, and love our neighbor as ourselves.

So – when we say what does God ask of us, He asks us to put the needs of others before our own.

He asks us to be generous. Generous with ourselves – money, time, talent.

And here’s the thing. It has nothing to do with the other person.

They may or may not be deserving. That isn’t the point.

They may or may not be thankful. That isn’t the point.

They may or may not live a Christian life. That isn’t the point.

The point is about us – unconditional love, just as Christ loves us.

We are not deserving. We are not always thankful. We don’t always live a Christian life. And yet – Christ loves us.

Enough to ascend the Cross and destroy death through His Death, all for us. With no obligation on our part.

But – if we desire to follow Him – then we do have an obligation. It isn’t imposed on us, but rather our obligation out of our love, our gratitude.

There are other aspects of this self-denial and cross-carrying.

It isn’t for show. It is quiet and without fanfare, so that it may go unnoticed by everyone but our Lord, who sees everything.

We learn contentment with what we have – and thankfulness for what we are given. Because these are the things that God deems appropriate for us.

Like the parable of the talents – which we also read today – the use of the things that God gives to us is the care of our neighbor. That is how talents are multiplied. That is how we become wealthy in God’s kingdom.

Not by putting the blessings of God in savings for our own benefit – but for the benefit of everyone.

And what is in it for us?

Undeserving though we are, by denying ourselves, picking up our Cross, and following Christ, we find life.

What that means is momentous – we are no longer subject to death. Our bodies will die, and likely decay, but we will continue to exist, until that glorious day when we have reunited with our body again.

More than that – this life, before the death of our bodies – this life will be infused with joy. With meaning. With love.

Because by following Christ, eternal life begins here, and now.

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