The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark. (8:34-9:1)
My dear brothers and sisters, to preach is a joyous but also a grave endeavor. The gospel teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ is not something boring or mundane. It is something powerful and life giving. Since it is dynamic and spirit filled and powerful, we should have a reaction to the words of the gospel. Our reaction should be negative towards ourselves and positive towards the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ. Why should it be negative towards ourselves? That seems like a strange thing to say. We live in a society that coddles every individual and emphasizes self-esteem as the focus of development. The problem is that this leads us to become prideful and self-sufficient, and if we are prideful and self-sufficient, we are under the delusion that we have no need for God in our lives. We fall under the impression that we have nothing to learn and certainly don’t need to waste our time developing a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ and His saints. We begin to have faith in ourselves and we trust our opinions as good or trustworthy or important. So this is why I tell you that you should have a negative reaction to yourselves, which will lead you to repentance and to have a humble spirit that can learn at the feet of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
But today’s society is a direct result of what I have just mentioned. It is a society that has been bred on self-esteem and pride. This has infected nearly every aspect of life. Actions and works that ought to cause shame, are a point of pride and society has even gone so far as to condone and celebrate those awful and shameful things. I will not speak of them because there are children present and they don’t need to be exposed to and corrupted by such things.
But the opposite has also happened in our society, the greatest wisdom ever given to the world, the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ has become taboo. We are ashamed of the words of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are afraid to stand up for our faith and our beliefs. So the world is upside down. What should bring us confidence and joy, instead brings us shame and we are silent in the midst of those who hate our God and our way of life. Yet we are not ashamed of the things of this world, it’s corruption and false teachings and the ways that will lead to spiritual death. Our Lord Jesus says “For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?”
I started by telling you that preaching is a joyous and yet a grave endeavor and this is precisely why: I will be judged on whether I have taught you and warned you. I am responsible. The task of preaching is also joyous and yet a grave endeavor because the gospel forces us to pick a side and to change our very way of life. It never allows one to remain static in life. Either they are living faithfully or faithlessly, although there is a spectrum of faithfulness. That is why I tell you that we should have a negative view of ourselves and a positive view of Christ and His words of life. So if you hear something that you do not like, understand that one of the goals of a homily or sermon is to bring the gospel to life and to activate it in your heart. But understand that it cannot be activated unless our heart and mind are pricked and we begin to realize that we have to change our way of life. So the sermon is never meant to pick on anyone. It is not meant to attack. It is meant to expose our darkness (yours and mine) to the light of Christian truth.
When we’ve been in the dark for a long time and someone shines a light at our face, we will squint and draw away from the light. We will have the perception that the light is awful and terrible and painful. Yet this is not really the case, but only our perception because we’ve been in the darkness for so long. We’ve grown accustomed to it and have not been regularly exposed to the light. That is how it is when we read and study the Scriptures and hear the gospels and the homilies that are based on the gospels. When we become accustomed to the word of God, we are changed and transformed by exposure to the light.
Today, we live fairly comfortable lives. We have what we need and then some. We are entertained and informed nearly 24 hours a day. On this note let me say that we need to be vigilant with our own senses and with our children and the media and screen time they consume. It not only affects their psychology and development, but it also creates an imprint on their souls. Balance and moderation are necessary. I know that you love your children, take the task seriously and do not trust the television or computer to do the job.
We live comfortable, wealthy lives. We have so much and yet according to our Lord Jesus Christ, if we don’t have His teaching in our lives, we are really empty. More than this, we are already dead. As Christians we are called to live radical lives and that will not look anything like the radicals you see on the news. The radical way of the Christian is the way of obedience to the teachings of Christ and the radical way of love. When we live this radical love, we will probably be attacked and misunderstood. But that is precisely our cross in this world. Listen to the words of the Lord “If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for My sake and the Gospel’s will save it.”
What are we willing to compromise in order to be comfortable or safe in this world? On the other hand, what are we willing to sacrifice in this world in order to be comfortable in the presence of God and His angels and saints? Because we can’t escape that reality. One day, we have to meet God. We will be in His presence. What are you willing to deny yourself for the hope of knowing God more intimately? Will we deny ourselves some of the time we spend on social media or Netflix? Will we deny ourselves some of the time we spend socializing and playing games? Will we deny ourselves some of the time we spend working on our projects and taking on additional work? The time and attention we have are finite. What might happen to us if we dedicated some of these finite resources to the infinite God? Time and energy is given to you as great and precious gifts? How will you answer for these gifts and how you redeemed them?
In today’s reading the Lord said, “If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” I want to leave you with a quote from St. Nicholai of Zicha, he writes, “What does it mean to take up your cross? It means the willing acceptance, at the hand of Providence, of every means of healing, that is offered, bitter though it may be. Do great catastrophies fall on you? Be obedient to God’s will, as Noah was. Is sacrifice demanded of you? Give yourself into God’s hands with the same faith as Abram had when he went to sacrifice his son. Is your property ruined? Do your children die suddenly? Suffer it all with patience, cleaving to God in your heart, as Job did. Do your friends forsake you, and you find yourself surrounded by enemies? Bear it all without grumbling, and with faith that God’s help is at hand, as the apostles did.”
If we do this we will have great joy because we will be following the Lord truly. AMEN.