“We Are Justified by Faith”: a Sermon on the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost

One of the biggest challenges we face as Christians is the danger of 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: laziness, fear, lack of faith or hope that God can change us for the better or that we can muster the effort to cooperate with the Holy Spirit and learn new ways of being.
St. Paul reminds us today that we’re justified by faith. It’s faith that’s life-saving for us because it’s faith that gives us access into the deifying, life-changing, transformative grace of God, that gives us the ability to put our trust in God’s work in our lives. Through this faith, we’re called today to have hope—hope for the change God would work in us, hope to grow in our knowledge and love of God, to be furthered in faith, and deified.
In this context, he also reminds us that in our efforts to live out the Gospel, we will certainly encounter, as he puts it, “various trials.” Don’t we know it! It seems that 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. 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 the opposite of putting our trust in Him.
We experience and grow in faith to the extent we’re willing to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in us. 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 today, “in mammon,” in our material resources, reliance on one’s self. God doesn’t force Himself upon us because what He invites us into is a synergistic relationship and communion with the life that He alone is.
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 us to be in Him, then, if this is your hope—what you desire above all else—then pray, struggle to follow through, persevere in cooperating with the work of the Holy Spirit and entrusting yourself fully, 100 percent, to Him, His Church, and His use of you in the world in need around us. St. Paul assures us 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 who was given to us.”

But you have to ask yourself, in all honesty, is this really my aim, do I really desire salvation and eternal life with God? Do I want God and participation in His life more than anything else or am I content to give God just a portion of myself, my time, my talents, my resources? In this sense, we cannot just be resolved to give a tithe of ourselves and our possessions to God. If we are to grow in faith, we come to recognize that all we are and all we have entrusted to us comes from God and finds its meaning and proper place in God, submitted to God.

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, this is not Christianity. Instead, Christ 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 and not in the world, not in ourselves because we recognize that Christ is the life of all.
Christ reminds us today: “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.” When it comes to God’s Kingdom, double-mindedness will not get us into heaven.
Just as Christ does today, St. Paul also warns that we conformity to the culture, the world, and its priorities and ideas through the pursuit of our own comfort and false sense of ‘security’ is, in reality, enslavement to ‘mammon.’ 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 or our worldly success.

The world, the culture, will pull us in its own direction, may try to convince us we don’t need God or that in our striving after mammon, in holding onto our own will, our own desires, our 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, that “after all these things the Gentiles seek. At the same time, He assures us, admonishing us, today: “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”

As followers of Christ, we cannot be absorbed in, be slaves to, our desire for the things of this world and false security. Such double-mindedness, Christ reminds us, is not compatible with His eternal Kingdom: “you cannot serve God and mammon.” Instead, we’re challenged to open ourselves up to a greater generosity of spirit, of service, of giving to Christ, His Church, to those around us, knowing that He’ll give us Himself in return, that He’ll minister Himself to us through the Sacramental life of His Church and grow us in our communion with Him.
And so, here’s our choice: we can either respond to our anxieties, our problems, our 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’re in control, or, we can realize that such projections are just a hollow façade, that truly we need God, indeed, we’re created for life with God, that we need to 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 is that we cannot serve both Him and mammon. For this reason, to save our souls, so that we worship, that is, that we rely on God and glorify Him and not our material possessions and false security, Christ concludes today’s Gospel with this admonition and promise: “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
When we choose to interject faith in Christ into our struggles, our fears, our desire for financial security or personal control, then they and we can become a means for our further growth in faith and God can return to us His spiritual blessings, which are beyond anything this world can give. In the midst of our trials and tribulations, our struggles to live this life for God and not for mammon, God fills us with His promise and hope, which St. Paul assures, does not disappoint.
So choose God, put your faith into practice: serve pray, repent, entrust yourself to His loving kindness, open your hand to give back to God from what He’s entrusted and freely given you in His mercy. Step forward in faith and put your trust in Him. If we you do so, He will free you from dependence on this world, from enslavement to mammon and the world, from the despondency of trusting in yourself, from all that’s temporal and passing away, and He will grow you in the eternal life that He alone is—the well-spring of great joy, love, and peace.
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