Live and Love as God wants

The Commandments of God, whether they are in the Old Testament, the New Testament, or the Holy Canons of the Church, are meant for one singular purpose. We do not obey the laws of the Church just for the sake of being obedient, but to train our hearts to learn to live and to love as God wants us to live and to love. God invites us to leave everything else aside to follow Him and to love others more than we love ourselves. Keeping the Commandments of God, if we are willing, will shape us.

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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.

I was thinking to myself, how yet again appropriate this morning's gospel is for the times in which we live because it is very easy to get sidetracked and to get distracted by the many rules the church asks us to follow. How beautiful that this morning's gospel includes a passage about keeping the commandments.

This young man, this young, very wealthy man comes to Jesus and the very first lesson we have here is that when he calls Jesus good teacher, Christ says, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but one that is God." He goes on, "But if you want to enter life, keep the commandments." Now, this is another place where it is very easy for us to get you could say bogged down in the details. He says, "Which ones?" Now keep in mind in the Old Testament, there were over a thousand commandments and laws. I guess it's a practical question, "Well, of all these, God" as if God didn't give them all to begin with. As if he hadn't received what we call the Old Testament, but in the Jewish tradition, their Bible, as if they hadn't received that from God, he dares to ask God, "Which of the commandments should I follow?"

Obviously, he had no intention of following all of them. Otherwise, he wouldn't have asked the question, and we tend to do the same thing. Several years ago, I heard a priest in Texas reminding his people the church is not a cafeteria. The church is not a place where we come and we pick and choose which things from the church we want and which we do not want. That image came to my mind in this morning's gospel because this man clearly did not want to keep all the commandments. Christ lays out for him among the 10 commandments, right? Although he doesn't list them all, the implication is the commandments. Christ says, "You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness. Honor your father and your mother. You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

These commandments, my brothers and sisters, the very basis of our Christian life and he says, "Well, I've kept all those from my youth." "Okay, fine," he says. "If you want to be perfect, sell everything you have and give it to the poor and come and follow me." The gospel says he turned around very sad because he was very rich and he left. He refused eternal life just because he didn't want to give up his wealth. You see my brothers and sisters, the commandments of God, whether they are in the Old Testament, whether they are in the New Testament, whether they are the traditions and practices and canons of the church, all have one purpose: To train our hearts, to live and love as God wants us to live and love.

Just going back to the commandments that he mentioned this morning: You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness. All of these things, my brothers and sisters, is how we interact with other human beings. It isn't just that we follow the rules, but this man's heart was not tuned into the rules. When the ultimate law comes and Christ says, "If you want to be perfect, give it all up and come and follow me"

My brothers and sisters, the same invitation is for us today. If we want to be perfect, God asks us to give it all up for him. Now he doesn't ask us to not eat. He doesn't ask us to not have clothing. He doesn't ask us to not have a house. He doesn't expect us to not go with the bare necessities of life, as we say. But what he does expect us is that we can love others more than we love ourselves. That we can honor, not just our father and mother, but all our brothers and sisters. Not just that we won't murder someone, but that we will not kill them with our words. You see, my brothers and sisters, the laws of the church, the Old Testament, the New Testament, the canons of the Fathers, all have this one thing in common: To train our heart to live and love as God wants us to live and love.

We fast forward to 2020. Now, because of the pandemic, we are faced with new and special, albeit temporary rules, and wouldn't you know it? We're arguing about the rules. "I shouldn't have to come to church to wear a mask," some are saying, including some clergy. "I shouldn't have to this. I shouldn't have to that. I shouldn't have to this. I. I. I. I. I." Again, we are losing the focus of the traditions of our church. It is not what we want for ourselves but that we learn to live and love as God wants us to live and love.

As this Church year comes to an end, as we are about to begin a new ecclesiastical year, my invitation, my brothers and sisters, is to don't just follow the church rules because they are rules. Allow the church life to shape us. Don't fast just because the calendar says to fast. Fast, because when we fast as Saint John Chrysostom says, "When we fast, we learn how not to want, and when we learn how not to want, then we can be generous to other people." Read the scriptures not because the church says read the scriptures, but because reading the word of God becomes a part of us and becomes part of our language. Next thing you know, whether we can remember the actual chapter numbers and verse numbers, those things don't matter. But if the words become part of us, we begin to live the words of God.

Finally, don't fall into the trap of picking and choosing which rules of the church, which traditions of the church we're going to keep because then we have lost the purpose. We have not allowed the traditions and the laws to shape us. Instead, we have simply stopped off at the cafeteria and picked, "I like this thing. Oh, I don't like that. This thing gave me heartburn and I'm not going to take that."

In orthodoxy, my brothers and sisters, it's all or nothing. Either we accept the Orthodox life the way it's given to us by the fathers or we do not. But trust that this entire life is created and designed and guided by the Holy Spirit to lead us to God. God is saying to us today, "Come and follow me.” Here's our opportunity to not go away sad because we don't want to follow. Instead, remember the words that we're about to sing for the Cherubic hymn. Let us lay aside all the worldly cares so that we may receive the King of all and he will welcome us into his Kingdom. Glory to God for all things.

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