Homily for 3 July 2011 – 14th Sunday in ordinary Time – Year A

Zechariah 9:9-10; Romans 8:9,11-13; Psalm 145; Matthew 11:25-30

St. Paul, in his letter to the Church at Rome, writes, “You are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you…If you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the spirit you put to death the evil deeds of the body, you will live.” What does it mean to live according to the flesh? Some have taken it to mean that the body and its needs are intrinsically sinful, this, however, is not the Orthodox position. To live according to the flesh means that we indulge our passions and desires for their own sake, to satisfy an impulse of the moment, rather than disciplining them to serve the Divine cause of salvation and theosis. St. Paul does not say to put to death the deeds of the body, but the EVIL deeds. By “the body” he does not mean only our hands and feet, but also our eyes and ears and tongue, our emotions, time and attention, our thoughts, words and actions. To be in the flesh means that our entire focus is on ourselves, and our choices and decisions are made solely by what serves us best, what helps us get what we want. This self-centeredness is the beginning of the eternal dying that is Hell. To live in the flesh is to reject the life-giving, healing, transforming Presence of the Spirit of God within us. This Presence enables us to truly repent and amend our lives, to live not for ourselves alone but for God and God’s people.

The decision to live by the Spirit is not one that can be made only once, it is before us every minute of our life, the big moments like our Baptism, and all the little moments that make up our day, we need to choose. And it is hard. When we are tired, or in pain, or overwhelmed by the details of life, it is hard to be always vigilant, to be watchful over our passions, over our unregenerate selfishness, over our desire to have other people serve our needs and wants. It is hard, but it is not impossible, or we would not have been commanded to do it. We cannot, however, do it by ourselves, by our own strength or will power. Only by submitting to the grace of God and allowing that grace to fill our hearts, minds, bodies and spirits, are we able to do what Our Lord has called us to do.

In our Gospel lesson from St. Matthew, Our Lord says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you.” How often do we allow the Presence of Christ to refresh us? As we struggle through each day, how often do we stop and relax and praise God for the gift of life and faith, for the miracle of just being able to stand in his Presence and be bathed by his love? Probably not often enough, I know I don’t. While very hard, the practice of our faith is also to be a source of joy, peace, strength and encouragement. Jesus goes on to say, “Take my yoke upon your shoulders and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart. Your souls will find rest, for my yoke is easy and my burden light.” As I have just been doing, and as we do a lot around here, we talk about how difficult being truly faithful is, and these words seem to contradict that, but they really don’t. The yoke of Christ is still a yoke, and his burden is still a burden, but if we learn from him to be gentle and humble of heart, and to bear the yoke and the burden with Our Lord, not by ourselves, then it will be easy and light and a source of joy and rest for our souls. A yoke is a device, usually made of wood, that allows humans, and animals, to carry or pull more weight that they can without a yoke. A poorly made yoke can chafe, rub the skin raw, and actually make the job harder, a well made yoke is a blessing, and an effective tool. The very best yokes are custom made and will fit only one person, or animal – the yoke of Christ is fitted for each one of us personally, no one else can carry our burden, or carry out what Christ has called us to do, we are not interchangeable, or dispensable. While we each have a unique role to fill in the building of God’s kingdom, we do all work together as One in Christ, toward the same goal. In the Church, as the Church, if we are willing, we will find what we are to do, how we are called, what we can do to further God’s work and serve God’s people. This also is only possible through grace, and our humble submission to it.

If we are living in the flesh then we have rejected the yoke of Christ, we have proven ourselves unwilling to bear his burden, instead of the way of life we have chosen the way of death. We can always, however, repent, change our minds, our hearts, our focus and our aim, change our lives, how we live and how we love. Christ’s yoke is easy and his burden light if received in faith and humility, but taking this yoke is not without consequences. Just as soldiers who take up arms in defense of their home know that they may suffer or die as a result of that decision, so must every Christian know that the same may happen to them. We may be rejected by those we love, our friends may think we have lost our minds, our co-workers may be uneasy around us, we may need to put aside many of the possessions or activities we once took pleasure in. And also like a soldier, we will need to discipline our minds and our bodies, so that our passions and desires serve God and not ourselves. As it says in our Post Communion prayer this morning, we need to “so deal with things temporal that we lose not our hold on things eternal.”

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