3rd Sunday after Pentecost – Orthodox Homily on Battling Complacency

One of the biggest challenges we face as Christians today is becoming complacent or comfortable with our passions and sins, justifying or explaining them away as ‘necessary,’ logical, or ‘no big deal.’  What is behind such complacency varies: a form of pride, a fear of changing or conforming oneself to Christ and the Church, lack of faith or hope that we can muster the effort to cooperate with the Holy Spirit and learn new ways of being and healing, but perhaps foremost is a lack of fear of God and focus on oneself and one’s own desires.  Making it even more challenging, there’s also a prevalent Deism rampant in our culture that’s all but done away with the very notion of sin and its sad consequences on our lives.  

Whatever our excuses or fears, whatever the prevailing humanistic heresy being taught around us, God calls us to entrust ourselves and all our ‘handicaps’ to Him, to have faith that He can and will work through our desire to cooperate with His healing work in our lives.  And in this faith, we’re called today in our Epistle to the Romans to have hope—hope for the change God would work in us, hope to grow in the knowledge and love of God and be deified, hope to persevere in that struggle so we can live this life to the fullest and be received into God’s eternal Kingdom, which is never an automatic, but, rather, a gift of God.  

St. Paul reminds us today that we’re justified by such faith.  This faith is life-saving for us because it gives us access into the deifying, life-changing, transformative grace of God, that empowers us to put our trust in His work in our lives and, as St. Paul reminds us elsewhere (Phil. 2:12), to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling”—fear and tremblingbecause we come to realize what’s at stake in terms of our souls and salvation.  Complacency in our spiritual lives is a most dread foe of our salvation, dead set against the change God would work in us.  

In this context, St. James also reminds us that in our efforts to live out the Gospel, we will certainly encounter, as he puts it, “various trials,” echoing St. Paul’s words in Romans today.  And so it is… As soon as we start praying for more patience, we’re bombarded by all sorts of problems that test that patience.  As soon as we begin to plead with God for more faith, we’re hit by trials that really challenge that faith.  But we cannot grow in learning these virtues we need if they are not tested and refined. St. James reminds us of this truth, affirming that the testing of one’s faith works patience.  Many, if not most, of our sins can be traced to lack of faith in God’s power, love, healing, and salvation.  Pride, the mother of all vices, has its root in this lack of faith in God, which is so opposed to our putting our trust in God, relying on Him, confiding in Him, availing ourselves of Him, crying out to Him.

We further experience and grow in faith by putting into practice the disciplines and frame of mind and heart needed to persevere in the life in Christ.  Sadly though, we can also choose to shut out this work of God or put God on the periphery, preferring to put our trust in ourselves, or, as Christ warns us in today’s Gospel, “in mammon,” that is, in our material resources, in reliance on one’s self, to surround ourselves with such temporal ‘security’ we forget our need for growth in unity with God who is Life itself.  He never forces Himself on anyone; Instead, He invitesus into is a synergistic relationship and communion with the life that He alone is.  But here again, complacency speaks this lie to us that whatever my relationship and communion with God is now, it is enough.  Such thinking is some other religion, but it is not Orthodox Christianity.  

So, if your hope is in God that He will deify you and continue to make you into the man or woman of God He’s created you to be, then, if this is your hope—what you desire above all else-or what you want to desireabove all else—then pray!  Pray fervently, struggle, persevere in cooperating with the work of the Holy Spirit and entrusting yourself fully, 100 percent, to Him, make use of His Church, come outside yourself to love and serve and focus on the needs of those around us, a key to growing in communion with and in likeness of Christ.  St. Paul assures us today that if this is our hope it will “not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit…”  

St. Paul’s words are an echo to our Lord Jesus Christ’s own words spoken in today’s Gospel: “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33).  God keeps His word and will never disappoint. Avail yourselves of His promise. 

So ask yourself, in all honesty, is this really my aim, do I really desire salvation and eternal life with God?  Do I want God, His peace, and participation in His life more than anything else or am I content to give God just the ‘left overs’ of myself, my time, my talents, my priorities? In this sense, we cannot just be resolved to give a tithe of ourselves to God.  If we are to grow in faith, we come to recognize that all we are and all we have entrusted to us is from God and finds its meaning and proper place in God, and, therefore, must be submitted to Him.  

Our temptation is to worry, to think that we can procure everything we ‘need’ in life on our own, to be independent, self-sufficient, “balanced” (not giving God too much of our time or energy), but this is false, illusory, and is certainly not what Christ promises or demands of those who will inherit eternal life.  For this reason, He admonishes us today, saying, “Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”  As a Christian, we put our trust in God, not in the world, not in ourselves.  We recognize that Christ ismylife, the life of all.

The Lord says further: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and mammon.”  No, double-mindedness will not grow us in communion or get us into heaven.  As St. James says, the double-minded man is like “a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind… unstable in all his ways.”  Such a man, he concludes, won’t receive anything from God.

St. Paul also warns us that conformity to the culture and its priorities and ideas through the pursuit of our own comfort and false sense of ‘security’ is, in reality, enslavement to ‘mammon’  (Rom. 10).  The alternative is our transformation through a life lived for and in Christ, which, by necessity means being open to continued growth in faith, entrusting ourselves more and more to His mercy, and not relying on ourselves.

The world, our culture, will pull us in its own direction, may, in subtle ways, to try and convince us we don’t need God, or, that in our striving after mammon, and giving in to our desires and passions, and all our material provisions, we are somehow ‘safe’ or ‘prudent’.  This is the lie fed to us by a materialist and secular culture, by the devil himself.  Christ reminds us today, that “after all these things the Gentiles seek.”  Instead, He urges us to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” and promises us that, “all these things” we need will be “added to you.” 

And so, here’s our choice: we can either respond to our anxieties, our problems, our passions and lack of faith, thinking that if we hold onto our time, our gifts, our pride, our material resources more tightly, then we’re more powerful, then we’rein control, or, we can realize that such projections are just a hollow façade, that truly we each one needGod, that we needto put our trust, our faith and hope, in Him, who alone is eternal, who alone is worthy of our trust.  If we choose God, stepping forward in faith, we learn to submit all of ourselves, all we are and all we have to Him and His will.   The choice is ours; what Christ makes clear today is that we cannot serve both Him and mammon.  

When we choose to interject faith in Christ into our struggles, our fears, our need for provision, then they and we can become a means for our further growth in faith, God returns to us His spiritual blessings, which are beyond anything this world can give.  In the midst of our trials and struggles to live this life for God and not for mammon, He fills us with His promise, hope, and peace, which as St. Paul assures us today, “does not disappoint.”

Step forward in faith and put your trust in Him.   If you do so, He will free you from dependence on this world, from enslavement to mammon, from the despondency of trusting in yourself, from all that’s temporal and passing away, and He will ground you in the eternal life that He alone is—the well-spring of great joy, love, and peace.     This is His joyful promise given us this day.  

Fr. Robert Miclean

Holy Archangels Orthodox Church

July 7, 2019                                                “Seek First the Kingdom of God…”
Epistle:            Romans 5:1-10
Gospel:            Matthew 6:22-33