Homily for 27 July 2014 - 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

I Kings 3:5,7-12; Romans 8:28-30; Psalm 119; Matthew 13:44-52

One of the tasks required of us as Christians, if we take our journey of Theosis seriously, is that of self-examination. An honest appraisal of our thoughts, words, actions, attitudes, choices and priorities. What we are looking for when we do this is; what is the center, purpose and foundation of our life. If it is not God and God’s kingdom, then it is time to repent, reprioritize and start again. Anything we do, unless the thing itself is sinful, can be done to the glory of God. Like Solomon, in our first lesson, we should ask for what we need to do our job well, whatever that job is. A student can study, do class work and take tests to God’s glory, a homemaker can wash dishes, make bread and mop floors to further God’s kingdom, if what we do is done prayerfully, honestly and to the best of our ability we are building the reign of God.

The kingdom of God is not a mental construct, an idea that we give intellectual consent to, it is our personal, intimate relationship with God, it is the Church, the Body of Christ. About the parables in our Gospel lesson, the Orthodox Study Bible says, “The parable of the treasure hidden in a field illustrates those who unintentionally stumble onto Christ and his Church, yet receive him with great eagerness. The parable of the pearl of great price illustrates those who have been searching in their hearts for him and finally find him and his Church. The other pearls represent all the various teachings and philosophies of the world. These treasures are hidden in that they are neither recognized nor valued by those immersed in worldliness. In both parables, receiving the treasure requires that everything else must be sold, that is, a person must surrender all things in order to receive Christ.” What does it mean that we must surrender all things in order to receive Christ? In this case surrender does not mean sell or give away, we don’t need to become beggars to receive Christ. It does mean that we must let go of all things, like in the phrase, “Let go and let God”. We must let go of all illusion of control and acknowledge God’s sovereignty in every aspect of our life. There can be no holding back, no dark corners, no hedging our bets and keeping one foot out the door, it is all or nothing. The reign of God means just that - God Reigns, God is in charge, it is not, to quote Monty Python and the Holy Grail, “a cooperative collective”, it is not a democracy. However, under God’s rule is the only place and only way we can be truly free.

St. Paul, in our second lesson from Romans, mentions predestination, and since this is a common belief now days, I want to make some things clear, again from the Orthodox Study Bible, “Predestined must not be understood as overpowering man’s free response, for man’s free will is a gift from God. Nor does the term apply to individuals. Rather this term (which can also be translated “preordained”) means that God has a specific calling for his people from before the beginning of the world…Based on his foreknowledge, God assures, or predestines, that those who will choose to love him will be conformed to the image of his Son, that is; glorified.” This is how, “all things work together for good for those who love God”, because we are with God and God is with us. That “us” is important. When we are working for the glory of God we are not working alone, and we are not working for ourselves. If we are self-centered we are not God-centered. We do not work for our own success or for our own gain. We may succeed, we may get rich, but those should be side effects, not the primary goal.

Self-examination includes an examination of our surroundings. Is there anything in our environment that makes it difficult to concentrate on living in the kingdom? If there is, can we do anything about it? If we can, we need to do it, if we can’t, we need to pray that God will give us what we need to overcome its influence. We can live in the kingdom anywhere we are because God is anywhere we can be, and living in the kingdom is living in God. All the parables and the lessons lead to this one truth, to live in the kingdom is to be the Church, the Body of Christ in the world. We are in the kingdom now, but just being here is no guarantee, that is the meaning of the parable of the dragnet. The net gathering the good and bad fish together illustrates that even those gathered into the Church will be judged. Two important things are said about judgment in the Scriptures: One, that we will be judged in the same way that we judge others, and Two, that we will be judged on our actions. That is why we examine ourselves, repent, amend, fast and pray. That is why we pray every night “The day is over, O God, and I commend its failures as well as its successes into your hands for healing, for reconciling, for forgiveness and as an offering. May all I have done this day serve, by grace, to build the reign of God and be a blessing to your holy people.”

To live and work, in and for the reign of God, is to be a blessing to those around us, and a blessing to the world.