What’s in it for us?

Homily 600 – 1 APE
Holy Transfiguration, Ames, Iowa
June 30, 2024
Epistle:  (330) – Hebrews 11:33-12:2
Gospel:  (38, mid-79) Matthew 10:32-33, 37-38; 19:27-30

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

One of the most frequent, and perhaps most unspoken, questions about Christianity, or any religious belief for that matter, is that famous quote:  “What’s in it for me?”

Personally, it is comforting to note the Apostles seem to have had the same question, and actually said it out loud.  To Jesus Himself.

Jesus tells us that we can’t love our parents or our children more than we love Him.  The implication of that is that our love for Him will direct our actions, not our love for our parents, or our children.  In doing this, He quotes Micah the prophet, chapter 7 verse 6:

For the son treats the father with contempt, the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, a man’s enemies are the men of his own house. (ESV)

Verse 7 finishes the thought:  But as for me, I will look to the Lord, I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.

So Christ has told the Apostles, and all those around Him, that God – Him – must be the greatest love.  Even at the expense of our families, the one’s closest to us, if it becomes necessary.  We become unworthy – that is to say, we reject the Love of God.

Many of us, particularly those who decide to become part of the Orthodox Church later in life, including myself, can sometimes feel that we have disappointed our parents.  We have somehow betrayed them, and are an embarrassment to them.

Sometimes it is expressed that we are rejecting Christ.  When in fact, we are rejecting false teachings.  We aren’t rejecting Christ, we aren’t even rejecting our parents.  What our decision may do is to injure their pride and ego.  Rather than accept injury to their pride and ego, they push back.

And that situation is utterly and completely sad.  It is one that none of us wishes to endure.  Yet, something, something quite strong, compels us forward.  Hopefully, that compulsion is to love Christ.  To love Truth who is Christ.  To love the Church, the bride of Christ.  It isn’t a rejection of anything, but rather an embrace of what we have discovered.

The Apostles and disciples knew this intently.  And so, St. Peter, ever the leader, unafraid to say anything that crossed his mind, asked Jesus point blank:  “We’ve left everything – everyone – to follow You.  What’s in it for us?  What will we have?”

And Christ gives the answer:  You will sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.  We need to understand here the word “judging”.  It has the meaning of “separating” or “selecting”.  In the final judgement in Matthew 25, Christ speaks of putting the goats on the left and the sheep on the right.  This is the separation.

But the separation will not be a decision by the Disciples.  St. John Chrysostom in his commentary on this passage indicates this.  He says it will be the example of the Apostles that will do the segregating or selecting.  Chrysostom tells us that the ones born under the law, that is the Jews, will say that the Law prevented them from believing in Christ, but the witness of the Apostles will indicate otherwise.

So we can’t understand this to mean that we will be given power or authority, because we won’t.  We will, however, be what the modern world likes to call “influencers.”  The most influential influencers of all time.  Not through words, but through our examples, our lives.

And, in turn, Christ tells us that whatever we have left will be restored, a hundred times.  We need to understand this also to not be a literal accounting and multiplication, but rather to mean more than we can fathom.  And, He adds for good measure, eternal life.

So, that’s what’s in it for us.  We leave behind everything here on earth – basically we don’t ignore or disregard the people of the world.  Heaven forbid!  Rather, we trust God more, and the teaching of the Church more, and we desire God’s pleasure of us and in us more, than we desire the approval of those in the world.

And to do so, we have to pick up our cross.  We’ve mentioned this before – our cross is the same cross that Christ took up in the Garden of Gethsemane.  To crucify our will, to destroy our will, voluntarily, and live for the benefit of others.  Sometimes that may mean living for our family – not out of obedience or obligation, but to pray for them and care for them both physically and spiritually.  Sometimes – dare I say frequently – we have to set aside what we want and meet the need that is set before us.

Not to say we meet the needs of the whole world – individually, even collectively, I’m not sure that is possible.  But we can meet the needs of those we encounter.  This is what the feast of All Saints is for.  To remember the saints, those known to us and those known only to God, who gave of themselves completely in the service of others.

Christ came to serve – and what we are to do, if we want to be His disciples, is follow His example.  He accumulated no wealth, He exercised no power except over the powers of evil.  He built a following of outcasts and poor.

His was not a preferred demographic.  He did all these things without seeking recognition or praise.  That is the life we sign up for as followers of Christ.  This is how the saints lived.  This is the life they led.  They prayed, they worshiped, they served others.

And for their trouble, St. Paul writes, they were mocked and scourged, put in chains and thrown into prison.  They were stoned, sawn apart, were destitute, afflicted, and ill-treated.  They were homeless.

Sounds fun, huh?  But in the very end, they, and we, will find fulfillment, and peace, and joy, the likes of which this world will never experience.  We will be one with our Creator.

We will live the absolute best possible life – and be anointed, soothed, and comforted by Christ Himself.  Even in the midst of what the world calls misery.  We will be blessed.

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