Homily 430 – 15th Sunday after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
September 20, 2020
Epistle: (203) Galatians 2:16-20 (Sunday After) and (176) 2 Corinthians 4:6-15 (Resurrection)
Gospel: (37) Mark 8:34-9:1 (Sunday After) and (92) Matthew 22:35-46 (Resurrection)
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.
The essence of Christianity is self-denial. It is difficult for us to hear, perhaps. For me, I am certain that I struggle with self-denial. Particularly since our society seems to be about self-indulgence.
If this mortal life is all there is – if God does not exist, if there is no afterlife – then self-indulgence is the way to go. Narcissism should be our defining rule. But the resurrection of our Lord proves that assertion wrong.
In the Jewish world, the agreement of two witnesses was sufficient to indicate truth. More was obviously better – but two was enough to establish a fact.
Jesus had way more than two witnesses. That is exactly what early Christianity was – providing testimony, being a witness, to the truth of the Resurrected Christ Jesus. That is what St. Paul writes about – testimony to the Resurrection, and the implications of the Resurrection.
Over time, not that long of a time really, the truth of the Resurrection led us – led Christians – to understand that life was not as we had thought. In the second gospel reading today we have a discussion about the law – the commandments.
The Law was, taken as a whole, about self-denial. The Law of God, the Law of Moses, was given in order that humanity might see in the Jews that to follow one’s own desire was not the way of God.
Instead, we were – we are – to love God, and love our fellow humans. Without qualification, without restriction.
Jesus is explicit – it isn’t about the thinks of the fallen world. It isn’t about gaining material blessings, or power, or fame. It is about what is good for others.
To deny ourselves – to the point of the loss of our life. Not for the sake of self-denial. But for the sake of those around us – every single person we encounter.
Part of the struggle for me is that my world is too big – or too small, I’m not really sure how that works.
I see and hear about injustices and exploitation and wars – that I can do absolutely nothing about, except pray. Are they bad things? Wrong things? I have to say yes.
But – and this is the question – what can I do about them? Apart from issuing a strongly-worded statement on Twitter and Facebook?
Can I change those situations? Can I go to the border and provide comfort to those attempting to enter our country without the right blessing?
Can I go and change the situation for people of color and how they deal with authority, and how authority deals with them?
Can I provide the oversight to the world that makes our world fair and equitable for every human being that exists within it?
No. I can’t. But –
I can shelter the young family who is contemplating abortion. I can provide food for those I know are suffering from hunger or even food insecurity. I can provide clothing for those that cannot clothe themselves.
This is not just what we as Christians do. It is who we are. As Christians, we don’t just sit back and wait to be asked. We seek out these opportunities to give of ourselves.
Our parish here is in it’s infancy still. We are only 7 years old. The community in the parish has changed in those 7 years. Nearly 100% turnover. But our mission hasn’t changed.
It is why we have a little food pantry. It is why we have a prayer garden. And, as God wills, one day we may be able to provide shelter to a family or more than one family who needs shelter.
Perhaps we can even mature enough to provide job training and parental counseling and language learning and afterschool tutoring.
And through it all, proclaim Christ, and Him crucified and resurrected.
That, dear brothers and sisters, is what we pray for in our worship. That is our law. We pray for the civil authorities – not that they will solve our problems. During the hymn to the Theotokos at the Divine Liturgy, the priest offers a prayer “for our rulers, the whole civil service and all their armies; grant them, Lord, peaceful governance so that we, in their tranquility, lead a calm and quiet life in all piety and godliness.”
That, and that alone, is what we ask from our government and civil authorities. That we may, in a tranquil society, lead a calm and quiet life in all piety and godliness.
The rest is up to us. We, the ones who proclaim to follow Christ, will take care of those in need. At least the ones that we have access to. As I’ve said in the past – start with your neighbors – those who live nearest to you.
Then your street. Then your neighborhood. Then your city.
That is what self-denial looks like.
That is what Christ did for us. That is what Christ does for us.
If we are to be united to Christ, that is what we must do for one another.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!