Monday, September 24, 2012

Decisions, decisions.

+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen. Every hour of the day we make dozens of decisions which shape and direct our lives. Once in awhile we are faced with big decisions requiring much thought, as they bear the potential to impact our lives for years to come. More often however we deal with a myriad of little decisions to which we may not give much thought at all. We make a lot of daily decisions solely on the basis of how we feel or what we may want at any given moment and often fail to consider the long-term consequences such snap decisions may bring. Does it really matter if you have oatmeal or leftover pepperoni pizza for breakfast? Well, it does if it’s a fasting day. That little decision to go with the pizza means you’re allowing yourself to be directed by the desires of your flesh while closing a little part of your heart and conscience toward God. Does it really matter if you stay home from vespers to relax or maybe watch a little TV with the family? What if you miss your morning prayers because you spent too much time on the computer before work? It’s the same thing in every case: where’s God in our daily decision-making process? If we train ourselves to follow our desires in every little decision, what makes us think we will suddenly be able to discern the will of God or even have the interest to do so in our so-called big decisions? The best way to make good big decisions in life is to learn to make good little decisions on a daily basis. This is why Orthodox spirituality calls us to little actions of self-denial every day. Our little choices may not always seem important, and often they call us to inconvenience ourselves, but they truly do set the focus and direction of our lives, determining whether or not we become true followers of Jesus Christ. This morning’s gospel lesson is a perfect illustration of this. When the exhausted fishermen were instructed by our Lord to let down their nets one more time, Peter was faced with a little decision. He knew there were no fish to be had that day. The Carpenter’s request was not only inconvenient, but downright pointless. You can hear the complaint in his voice as he replied, “Master, we toiled hard all night and caught nothing.” It was a very reasonable objection to a seemingly unreasonable demand. There was no way for Peter to have known what the Lord was about to do, or the complete change of destiny his next “little decision” would bring. “Nevertheless Lord,” he sighed, “At your bidding I will let down the nets one last time.” Did Peter make the right decision? Absolutely he did! His obedience allowed his eyes to be opened to the holiness and power of Christ, and prepared him and his fellow fishermen to enter into a new life filled with inconvenient and unreasonable requests that would draw them ever nearer to the kingdom of heaven. What if Peter had said no? He would have been within his rights and our Lord would surely not have forced him. But Jesus would have had to move on to find a man who was willing to live by faith and who did not put his own convenience first, above obedience. I hope we will examine our own decision-making process in light of this important gospel lesson. I’m sure we’ve noticed that Christian Orthodoxy is a very inconvenient religion. Not content with a Sunday-only commitment, it dares to intrude into our daily lives, asking us to pray and fast, to sell our possessions and give to the poor, to come often to the Temple to worship God, to deny ourselves, and even to lay down our lives for one another that we might all live. Rarely are we called to stand before the bloody emperor Hadrian’s court with the decision to confess Christ and die horribly or deny Him and preserve our life a bit longer. But many of the little decisions we make each day play out a very similar choice in microcosm. “He who seeks to save his life will lose it.” Why would our Lord say this except for the fact that most people, including many Christians, are actively engaged in saving their lives rather than losing them for Christ’s sake and the gospel’s? We very often want Christianity to be entirely on our terms, both in ways and to the degree of our own choosing. Is it too hard to wake up early on Sunday, pay our tithes and offerings, or serve on the parish council? Then I just won’t do it. It’s my life, after all! But once again, where is God in all of this? It is remarkably easy to forget God completely in our little decisions and make Christianity all about my convenience and personal preferences. But didn’t we become Orthodox to get away from that kind of thinking? And is it a very great surprise that we might have brought it along with us? At some point in our lives we must have realized that the challenge and difficulty of Eastern Orthodoxy promised a Christian life of substance. A kind of madness must have overtaken us to make us think we would enjoy that! Perhaps we came to see that a Christianity in which we make the rules and set the bar would ultimately reduce down to self-worship. And we wanted to become worshippers of God. The good news is we still have that opportunity. However, we need to see the importance of our daily “little decisions” and the impact they have on our Christianity. To take up our own cross daily and follow Christ is neither reasonable nor convenient, but it is the way to eternal life. If, like Peter, we can overcome ourselves and our objections to say, “Nevertheless Lord, at Your bidding…” we can discover the holiness and power of Christ in our lives and find the courage and resolve to become true followers of our Lord no matter what He may ask of us. His yoke is easy and His burden is light, especially when compared to the much more difficult yoke and heavy burden of our own desires. Let us bear the burden of our Orthodoxy joyously that we might find our life in Christ Jesus our Lord, a life that will endure for eternity. +To the glory of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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