Transfiguration in Great Lent

Homily 450 – 40th Sunday After Pentecost Last Judgment
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
March 14, 2021
Epistle: (112) – Romans 13:11-14:4
Gospel: (17) – Matthew 6:14-21

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

We’ve all heard that we can’t take it with us. Meaning, the things of the earth and this life stay here, and have no presence and no value in the Kingdom of God.

What if I told you that the old saying isn’t true?

We can take it with us. But it isn’t stuff. We won’t carry our cars, or houses, or money.

We take our compassion. Our love. Our relationships.

The things of the world rust. The things of the world get stolen. The things of the world deteriorate and need repair.

But not the treasures in heaven. Not the love and compassion we show to one another. Not just the ones we love, but to everyone made in the image and likeness of God.

Which is, of course, everyone.

James Forbes, the former pastor of Riverside Church in New York City, once remarked “Nobody gets to heaven without a letter of reference from the poor.”

And the letter is written in actions. Actions like we spoke about last week. Not actions that are thinly veiled transactions, with us receiving something for what we give.

Actions that are rooted in love. Love for God, and love for the creation of God.

I have to admit that the noteworthy problem I have with our society today is our misplaced value on humanity. I see that value because everyone is a child of God, with his image and likeness.

Others don’t see things that way. Success, to them, is found in doing better. Implying, doing better than someone else. It is rooted in superiority. Rooted in power.

It feeds the ego, not the soul. It is a drug – compelling us to seek more, and more, and more.

Perhaps those of us here don’t experience that as much, thank God. We understand, more than the world understands, that everything – literally everything – is from God, and will return to God.

St. Paul tells us that knowing we are not of the world, knowing that we are children transformed by and into Christ, we should dismiss the ways of the earth.

Not in parties and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and lustful acts. Not in strife or jealousy.

These are the things that feed the ego. That feed self.

And these are the things that keep us from discovering true joy and true love and true fulfillment.

Words that may apply to us today more so even than in St. Paul’s day. Either way, a testimony to the human condition throughout time.

Why do we reject steadfast joy for a fleeting feeling? To put it more bluntly, why do we reject continual communion with God, our creator, and instead taste of the forbidden fruit?

We can blame the deceiver. We can blame others. But we won’t be correct until we take responsibility for our actions and blame ourselves.

That is what we do in beginning Great Lent. We ask and offer forgiveness to one another. We will undertake that beginning this afternoon.

A common question about the service of forgiveness is “why?” Why do I ask forgiveness of everyone?

The answer is simple, but but also quite complicated. We ask forgiveness as we begin to recognize that we are responsible for our actions and impure motivations, and we ask others, and God, to forgive us.

Forgive us, so that we might repent. So that we might change.

It is being contrite for who we are, so that we can transform into who we can be. Which, paradoxically, is who we already are.

We are the caterpillar, and at the exact same time, we are the butterfly. This life is our metamorphosis, our transfiguration, our struggle to transition from who we are to who we are.

In that process, the caterpillar is destroyed – it becomes unrecognizable, a pool of life-bearing goop, if you will forgive the non-technical language.

And then the goop transitions into what the creature still is, always was – a butterfly.

This is the rebirth. This is being born again.

Importantly, critically even, the butterfly is the same person but sees the world entirely differently than that of the caterpillar.

Our world and our current vision are that of the caterpillar. Limited to climbing branches and eating leaves, and falling to the ground on occasion to writhe in the dust and dirt.

Success for a caterpillar is defined by the world it encounters. It is highly limited to that part of the world it contacts.

So too is our life after the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden. I’m always taken aback a bit by the liturgy of St. Basil which says that Adam was expelled from paradise into – quote – “this world.”

So beloved, although we are in this world, let’s not live like it. Let’s allow ourselves to ask and offer forgiveness, to practice the works of love and compassion for one another, and to repent.

For in repentance, we find the Kingdom of God.

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