This homily was given at St. Anthony the Great Orthodox Church in San Antonio, TX, on 7-24-2011

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

This morning I would like us to look at the Epistle reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. The reading is basically in two parts: the first part encouraging us to use the gifts that God has given us (vv 6-8), and the second part (vv 9-14) giving us an image of what the Christian life should actually look like. I’d like us to spend a few moments looking at each of these two parts.

Concerning the gifts of the Spirit – the Scriptures are very clear that every member of the Body of Christ, every member of the Church, is given spiritual gifts to be used in conjunction with everyone else’s gifts, all of these making up the Body of Christ. There is a certain temptation in the Church to think that perhaps the bishops and the priests should do the ‘work’ of the Church, or maybe even to include the parish council or the sisterhood in that group. To basically live as though only a select few members of the Body have gifts, and the rest of us are ‘just members of the Body.’ But St. Paul is very clear this morning that each of us has a spiritual gift (at least one), given to us by the Holy Spirit, and we’re called to use this gift within the Body of Christ. I heard Fr. Hopko say one time that one of the primary functions of the priest in the community is to help people figure out what our spiritual gifts may be, and then to facilitate the members in using those gifts within the Church. St. Paul gives us several examples of spiritual gifts in this morning’s Epistle reading – prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation (encouragement), ruling (leading), charity – and in other places he lists additional gifts like mercy, wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, working miracles. These gifts are present in every parish community for the building up of the Body of Christ, and equally important, for the sharing of the Faith with people outside of the Church.

Now I’d like to move on to the second part of today’s reading, where St. Paul gives us an image of what the Christian life should look like. And you know, these two parts of this Epistle are not unrelated – to really see what God has given us (gifts), and to truly be a properly functioning member of the Body of Christ, we have to be living a Christian life. The brief description that St. Paul gives us is not earth-shattering, it’s the same thing we hear throughout the Gospels. “Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. Be kindly affected to one another…not slothful…serving the Lord…rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing instant in prayer…” The concepts are very familiar to us, but as St. Paul says in another place, we can find it very difficult to do the things that we know are the right things to do. It’s important for us to remember that it will be virtually impossible to share Christ with the world if we’re not struggling to live the life that Christ has called us to.

He has called us to be like Him – this is the central movement of our life here on earth – a movement away from sin and self-centeredness, towards love and Christ-likeness. All of the virtues St. Paul calls us to in the Epistle reading are virtues that flow from the life of Christ: love (this is the central commandment, love God and love our fellow man), prayer, mercy, hospitality, blessing. As we embody these virtues, we align our lives with the life of Christ – we become, as the Scripture says, like unto Him. Our faith is not a moral structure giving us rules to live by – our Faith is life in Christ. The virtues to which we’re called make us to be like Christ – we live as Him so that we can be with Him. There’s a synergy – He gives us the grace to follow Him, as struggle to follow Him we become more like Him, and He pours out His grace on us all the more as we continue the struggle.

So as we prepare now to receive the life-giving mysteries of Christ, let us daily continue the struggle to keep the grace that our Lord gives us and to struggle to align our lives ever more with His, that He then can work through us for our salvation and the salvation of the world.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!