Who are we?

Homily 583 – 38 APE
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
February 25, 2024
Epistle – (296) 2 Timothy 3:10-15
Gospel – (89) Luke 18:10-14

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

You have probably heard me say that most of the time, when I prepare my homilies, I’m preaching to me.  That is still true, and here’s what it means:  I read the epistle and gospel, and try to share with you what I find interesting.  Most frequently this is something I need to apply to my own life, and perhaps you or someone you love can benefit from this.

So what jumps out at me from this really brief passage is that our salvation is rooted deeply in our recognition that we are unworthy of it.

We are completely unworthy of everything – salvation, the Eucharist, life itself.  We don’t deserve it.  And, more than that, we can’t deserve it.  Nothing we can do, nothing that we can NOT do, will make us worthy of it.

The Pharisee does all the – quote – right things.  He thanks God.  Not for anything other than making him great.  Making him different than everyone else – and by implication better than everyone else.

He touts his own obedience to the most miniscule aspects of the Torah, the Law.  He brags about his fasting.  He brags about his tithing.

To be honest, it seems that the issue is – he brags.  Doesn’t matter what about.  He brags, and that is feeding his ego.  His self-righteousness.

But Jesus tells us that his bragging didn’t justify himself before God.  In fact, the opposite.  It was the sinner, the publican, the tax collector, who was justified.  Why?

He knew himself well enough to beg for mercy.  And, give us perhaps the most poignant and powerful prayer Christianity has ever known:  God, be merciful to me, a sinner.

All of our prayers, if we reduce them to the essential plea to God, is for His mercy.

If you are like me, perhaps you envision God in heaven, stern faced, looking down at us and saying, “Beg and grovel, insignificant creature!”  You don’t deserve Me.  You will have to jump through more hoops than that to enter My presence, you undeserving slug.”

Perhaps I’m a bit harsh in imagining God.

Yet, what we know, is that God isn’t like that at all – AT ALL.

God waits, patiently, for us to figure out that we are nothing without Him.  That we are truly wasting the most precious gift – life itself – by our self-focus.  He is waiting for us to recognize that He is even there.

Humanity is so self-absorbed at this point that it has become somewhat comical.   If not for the tragedy, it would be comical.

Back when I was in college, back in the 1900’s, everything in life from the media to even those who thought themselves Christian were proclaiming that self-focus was the answer to all our problems.

They called it the “Me” era.  That phrase was coined by an editor at New York magazine, Tom Wolfe, in 1976.  He defined the dream as being “changing one’s personality.  Remaking, remodeling, elevating, and polishing one’s very self.

He wasn’t wrong.

Our nation had just come out of the 1960s, a time of civil and social upheaval and justice.  The bohemian culture had grown into the hippie culture which had taken a mainstream turn.  The motto was “if it feels good, do it.”

That was where we began to embrace our fallen nature as “normal.”  As not in need of correcting and healing.  We, like Adam and Eve before us, said, I’ll fix it.  I’ll do it.  I don’t need God, I can do it myself.

Problem is, we can’t.  We just can’t.  Try as we might, all the self-help books, and pleasant self-improvement seminars and retreats, and all the loads of cash we pay – and we are no better.

St. Paul predicted this, by the way.  In the letter to Timothy which we read this morning, he speaks to the fact that all who desire to live Godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, and that what he calls “wicked imposters” will go from bad to worse, and deceiving others, because they are deceived.

What is the solution?

Same as it was in the beginning.  The opposite of self-acceptance and selfishness.  The solution is self-denial.

You have heard this before and will likely hear it again:  the whole of the Christian life is found in self-denial.  In crucifixion of our ego.  Christ puts it so plainly:  “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

How can we start this process?  I would offer that to begin is maybe the most difficult part of the journey.

The first step is to decide to do it.  That’s it.  Then, don’t focus on denial, nor on indulgence.  Focus on God.  Focus your attention, your thought, your very being, on God.  Focus on His love for us.  His desire for our attention.  His desire for our love.

The more you focus your attention on that one thing, the less bandwidth you have to focus on yourself.  If God consumes your every waking moment, then you will have no time remaining to focus on yourself.

Be in God’s presence.  As we begin the week without fasting, be thankful to God, over and over and over again.  Be thankful to Him who loves us and desires us and gives us life.

That, dear brothers and sisters, is humility.

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