The Church is not a Cafeteria

It may be popular these days to pick and choose what we believe and like about the Church, but is that going to help us get to heaven? Christ invites each of us, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.” The Christian way of life is not a life of self-indulgence and easy living. It is the hard way, the way of the Cross. When Christ invites us to deny ourselves and take up our cross, He is reminding us that we have to move beyond ourselves in order to follow Him to heaven, and it begins with our ability to embrace the teachings and way of life of the Church in its entirety. If we think we can pick and choose what we believe and how we want to live, we haven’t yet begun to deny ourselves.

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Thank you for tuning in to another episode of Be Transfigured, where we invite you to live a new life in Christ. We pray that this episode is a blessing to you and will inspire you to rededicate your life to Jesus Christ. We invite you to join us for worship or study, at the Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Tarpon Springs, Florida, where visitors are always welcome. We'll be back in a few moments to share some more information about our ministry.

It seems my brothers and sisters that these days, it has become fashionable to choose our own religion. Even those of us in the church, we tend to go through life choosing for ourselves what we are going to acknowledge is true about God. And I hear it all the time, "I don't believe that." Whatever that that might be in a particular conversation. We learn and we hear the teaching of the church, we learn and we hear the teachings of Christ, which are the same. And we decide because that particular teaching doesn't, we can say suit our fancy, that we choose just to ignore it. We don't want to believe that particular thing.

And we go through life as if the church is a cafeteria. Like we're going to go through the buffet line. You've gone through the buffet line, right? How many of us take every single thing on the buffet, whether we like it or not? No. You go through the buffet and you say, "I like this. I'm going to take this. I don't like that. I'm not going to take it." Unless someone is watching who made that and then we take it, but we put it underneath the bread so we don't have to eat it later.

But the truth is we go through life and we're constantly pleasing ourselves. At every turn, from the moment we wake up until the moment we go to sleep, we're going through life pleasing ourselves, and yet in this morning's gospel, the Lord says, "Whoever desires to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."

That denying of ourselves my brothers and sisters is the core of understanding our Christian faith and our relationship with Jesus Christ. Because until we learn that life does not revolve around us, until we accept and welcome the truth that we don't have to worry always about our own way of things, then we'll be able to pick up the cross of life. Because the Christian life, especially the Orthodox life is a difficult life. It is not the way of the easy path. It is the difficult path. And Christ says deny yourself before he says take up your cross, because if we are so preoccupied with ourselves, we'll never follow the difficult path. Because we're constantly looking for the easy way.

Think about that for the moment. Whether it is simple things like going through traffic, we're always looking for the easy way. Imagine what your drive would be like if you woke up and said, "I'm going to find the difficult way to drive somewhere." Would you get in the car? I don't think so. Especially if you have to go to Tampa because even the easy way is difficult to get the Tampa from here. When we focus on our own pleasures we'll never choose the difficult way in life. And the way of the cross, the way of Christ, the life of the church is the difficult way.

And so my brothers and sisters, this Sunday after the Holy Cross, the Lord reminds us if we want to follow him, the first step is to deny ourselves. To learn, we can say in our modern English, to get over ourselves. And then to pick up our cross, then to embrace willingly and lovingly and thankfully the difficult Christian life that awaits us. Difficult not because Christ wants us to have a hard life, difficult because the world is run by the devil. And every time we try and go away from the devil, he is going to continue to throw obstacles in our way. The easy way is the worldly way. The easy way is to follow the devil, but Christ wants us to follow him. And so I invite you to continue our journey.

Remember, we've declared this an acceptable year of the Lord, and so I invite you to listen to the words of this morning's gospel to deny yourself, to take up your cross. Embrace the difficult way life of the church, not because God wants us to suffer, but because the easy way out follows the wrong king. Follows the king of deceit, the devil, the evil one.

Christ goes on to say, "For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?" What good does it do us if we build up an empire and our soul is lost in darkness? What good would that empire do us in the ground? You hear the saying, "You can't take this stuff with you. I've never seen a hearse pulling a u-haul."

In the ground, we are the same whether we are rich or poor, and so what are we willing to exchange for our soul? Are we willing to go the easy way and to chase the riches of life? And those riches, oh, are they tempting? They're going to lead us to a life of comfort. They're going to lead us to a life of prestige and being honored and being elevated by society as the great ones of our society. You don't believe me? Turn on the news and what is always the indicator of good times in our society, but money.

If the economy is going well, they say we are a good thing. That's chasing the wealth, that's chasing the worldly life. Of course, we need money to pay our bills, so we have to go to work and we have to work hard, but we cannot forget our life in Christ. "Whoever desires to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me." Because Christ is sitting there inviting us but not compelling us. You see, that's the difference between us and the world. Christ invites us to embrace him and to welcome him into our lives. The world compels us to behave in a certain way, to say a certain thing, but God is a God of love and of freedom. And so it is our choice to follow him. He does not force us into his kingdom, but the way is not easy.

So I invite you, an acceptable year of the Lord, embrace the life of the church, a life of prayer and fasting and coming to church on time. Fasting as the church teaches us to fast, reading the Scriptures, reading the lives of the saints, paying attention to what's going on around us and praying for those who are struggling in the world. That's the Christian way, that's the difficult way, but that's the blessed way. And fight the temptation, my brothers and sisters, to pick and choose what parts of the church you are going to follow.

The church is not a cafeteria. It is the blessed life of Christ. It is a cross. It is difficult, but it is not a cafeteria. It is the whole menu and we can take, and we can receive it, and we can live it, and we can find ourselves in the kingdom of God. Glory to God for all things.

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