Never Ending Change and Transformation
I often sit in the car with my children, and they want to listen to their pop music. Sometimes I’m not in the mood to listen to their music and we sit in silence, or we listen to NPR. Other times, however, I listen to their music and pay close attention to the lyrics of the songs. These lyrics will sometimes lead into a discussion, where I try to compare the message of the song with the message of our faith.
Right now there’s a popular song that I have heard continuously over the past weeks entitled Same Love, which was written on behalf of gay legal rights. The refrain of the song goes, “I can’t change, even if I tried, even if I wanted to, I can’t change”
Now I realize that any sermon on the topic of homosexuality will generate heated discussion, and can quickly alienate people from one another. In fact, one of the challenges of this sensitive topic, like many such topics, is that people who hold different views often won’t hear, or even listen to, what the opposite side has to say. My dear friend, Fr. Hector Firoglanis, gave such a sermon several weeks ago in my former hometown Church in Lancaster, PA, and the reaction was swift and strong, both in defense and in opposition to what he said. An important result, however, was that it generated discussion and made some people reflect on messages that society subtly, as well as quite blatantly offer us, as well as on what the Gospel that Jesus Christ and our Church have proclaimed for the past 2000 years.
The topic of homosexuality falls under a much broader topic of sexuality, and I’m not interested in limiting today’s sermon to homosexuality alone. Maybe that’s a discussion that can take place better as a dialogue in smaller groups. What I’m interested in focusing on, however, is how over the past 50 years, and especially within the past several decades, our society’s mores and standards have radically changed on all sexual topics. And yet, in some ways, the fundamental temptations of sexuality haven’t changed at all – they are the same now as they have been for the past four thousand years.
For example, look at the fundamental temptations of our sexuality. We can read in the Old Testament about issues of adultery, fornication outside of marriage, homosexuality and the temptation of fulfilling our sexual desires without any limit. It’s interesting to note that these temptations, along with other failures of sexual purity, have always existed in the world across all religions and peoples.
That is why our Lord Jesus himself addressed these topics when He called His followers to the highest standard of sexual purity – “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery” but I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27-28) These words follow His teaching in the Beatitudes, where He says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”(Mt 5:8)
Jesus’ words challenge His followers to strive for a pure heart, a clean heart that overcomes any desires and passions and lusts of the world, and instead places His Will above our own. Before any sexual passions and desires, before any material wishes and dreams, before anything else, Christ calls each one of us to “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Mt. 6:33). He lays down the greatest call in life – “You shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Mt 5:48).
As Christians, we have to be very careful never to limit any discussion of sexual passions to simply fulfilling our sexual desires and needs. Christ and His Church call all Christians to strive for the ideal that Jesus set before us. We are called to become like Him, to become perfect, to seek above all else His kingdom, to pray for His will to be done even before our own. Do we think of this whenever we discuss various sexual temptations and challenges?
I noted how in some ways sexual temptations haven’t changed throughout the course of history. Of course, it’s quite obvious how our contemporary society has radically departed from former standards inspired by the Gospel, and this departure has happened so rapidly. Think about society’s views today, compared to simply 30 years ago. How many of our young people, including those who call themselves Christian, no longer consider marriage something important? How common and acceptable is living together before marriage? Fornication before marriage, and even extra-marital relations have become commonplace and in some ways acceptable. The frightening statistics of addiction to internet pornography reveal how drastically an entire generation of youth are allowing their understanding of the opposite sex, and sexual relations in general, to become distorted and unhealthy. Within this larger topic, we can also see how society’s view toward homosexual, bisexual and transgender issues are a part of this far-reaching change.
We Christians have to be careful not to blindly embrace each of these fundamental changes without carefully trying to understand each issue through the prism of our faith, through the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the essential teachings of the Church. Society constantly bombards us with its message and perspective, and many of us, unconsciously, accept the new standards the world sets without even knowing, or understanding well our own faith.
Well, we do believe in change, but change that leads us closer to God, not change that simply adapts to society’s whims and fads. My difficulty with the lyrics from my children’s pop music song is that our Christian journey is all about personal transformational change. Anyone who tells us “I can’t change, even if I tried, even if I wanted to. I can’t change” doesn’t understand the Gospel. Every human being is born in the image and likeness of God, but every human being is also born into a fallen world. The image of God within each of us has been distorted by the fallen world. We live in a world where we all are sinners and we are all sick. No one is exempt from this fallen-ness of society. Even the greatest of our saints would call themselves the first among sinners, highlighting how their own sins were something that separated them from God. We all are sick and our spiritual illnesses alienate us from our Creator. Our sins and illnesses come from various root causes – whether through our ego and pride, or through our distorted desires and passions – and these sins reveal themselves in countless ways - through our sexual expressions, through our material pursuits, through our controlling actions, and through so many other forms.
What is important is that all of us realize that an authentic Christian life is a journey of continual change and constant transformation, but change in the direction of God. We should never comfortably accept who we are, but we should strive to become more and more Christ-like. We all will fail along the way, and that is where the love and mercy, the grace and forgiveness of God can heal us, no matter what our sin or shortcoming. Yet each time we fail, we must get back up and continue the struggle. We must go forward in life knowing that without God we can do nothing, but with God, all things are possible. Our Creator has placed within each of us His likeness, a limitless potential to become more and more like Him. Our Faith and the Church guide us to fulfill our potential, to discover the power of God within and to become vessels of His unfathomable love.
I pray that each of us will reflect today on some of society’s new standards, especially within our understanding of sexuality, and take care not to blindly adopt what the world offers, but instead strive to learn and better understand the teachings of Christ and His Church and strive to follow His narrow and difficult path that leads to ultimate healing and transformation.
Facing Our Uncertain Future
LEARNING FROM ST NICHOLAS
Our Orthodox Faith