1. To love our neighbor
2. To hear the Scriptures, that is, to take to heart the word God has revealed.
The First Sunday after Trinity marks a turning point, and it represents in the second half of the year what we call the Second Table of the Law. We have turned now to the Second Table; and so you may ask what the Second Table of the Law refers to. If you were taught from the Offices of Instruction, that part of our Book of Common Prayer that expounds on the Catechism, as preparation for your own Confirmation, you ought to know right away (if not, you need a refresher course even if it has been 50 years). You know the Summary of the Law, and we quote it from the Gospel of Matthew in the service of Holy Communion, where Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy and Leviticus.
So, think back on when you were being prepared for Confirmation (and for our Confirmation students, think back a couple of weeks ago). If you think about the Ten Commandments, you will see that the first four teach you to love God, and the last six teach you to love your neighbor. The first half of the Church year begins on the first Sunday in Advent. From Advent through Trinity Sunday our main focus is on the things God has done for us in his Son; and because of God's love revealed to us in everything Jesus did for us, the emphasis on the commandment to love God comes across with the grace of the New Covenant, and the greater glory of the Gospel. So we look at today's Epistle and realize that we have the grace to love God because he first loved us. Listen again to part of the Epistle we heard already:
In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins...We love him, because he first loved us.
The commandment to love God, the first and Great Commandment that summarizes everything in the first four commandments of the Decalogue, is our focus from Advent through Passiontide, into Easter and Pentecost. And, following the teaching of St. John, we emphasize the commandment to love God by recalling how greatly He first loved us. Every time we see the crucifix, we must take personally the great love wherewith God loved us, in that Jesus came into the world to save us.
John, the Beloved Disciple, then takes us from the first Table of the Law, our love for God, quickly and simply:
Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another...And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.
Do you see how John gives us a summary of the Summary of the Law? And, do you see that the Law comes to us, in the New Covenant, in the marvelous context of Divine grace? We are able to love God because he first loved us, taking away our sin and giving us life all over again. He gives us a new heart in the process so we can love him, despite the fact that we had been disabled from love due to sin. And, this grace, that we may love God, takes root and bears fruit in that we may love our neighbor. By the Holy Spirit in us, we now possess the power to love, by all that God has done for us in Jesus Christ his Son.
Today we read the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. We know that this was a popular story told by the Jewish people to teach them the danger of failing to love one's neighbor. The rich man is in Hell. Jesus changed the story, but not the part that warns about the consequences of going through life without love for our neighbor. He leaves Hell in the story. He makes only one change, which is at the end of the story, and which we will get to.
The rich man sent out his scraps to the beggar; he gave at the office. He did his bit for mankind, that big impersonal thing we call the human race. Frankly, everyone from respectable religious people to the most violent revolutionaries and tyrannical regimes have done what they considered to be good for mankind. I am going to quote myself for a moment:
"The righteous man considers the life of his beast. But, the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel" says the Book of Proverbs (12:10). Utopian ideologues since the French Revolution, such as Marx and his followers, spoke lofty words about what was best for mankind. It reminds me of one of Charles Schultz’s Peanuts cartoons. Linus tells his sister Lucy that he wants to be a doctor, a great doctor. She tells him "you cannot be a great doctor. You know why? Because a doctor must love mankind. You don’t love mankind." Linus, stunned, retorts "I do love mankind…It’s people I can’t stand!" The ideologues have always loved mankind; and they have made many people suffer for it. They have offered millions of innocent victims to some idea of "good for the highest number," and all of that Satanic balderdash about what is best for humanity. Crowds enjoying the spectacle of heads being cut off in Paris, Communists dictating who should live, who should die, and who must go to the camps, and, indeed, the Nazis destroying millions in order to advance human evolution to the state of perfection, believed they were lovers of mankind, saviors of that abstract and impersonal thing called "humanity."
Do you remember the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats? Let us look at part of it:
Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was hungry, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee hungry, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
Everyone seems to quote this wrong. As much as I enjoy the mini series Jesus of Nazareth from the 1970s, it gets this wrong. And, I have quoted it wrong a few times myself. He did not say, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." No, what he said was, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." Do you see the difference?
The rich man did his bit for mankind, but not for Lazarus!
The love of God does not hide behind mankind, but rather the love of God, in the heart of a true Christian, sees the one. Do you see your brother? Your sister? Your neighbor? It is your neighbor you are to love as yourself, not a big impersonal mankind. This is why gestures do not impress God. It takes a lot more to love your neighbor than it does to love mankind.
And, in case you forget where the rich man ended up, listen to what Jesus also said in the Parable of the sheep and the goats: "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was hungry, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not...Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. "
The second point is that we must hear the word of God. Here is what Jesus added to this well-known story in order to make his own point:
Then [the rich man] said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send [Lazarus] to my father's house: for I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.
A heart that cannot hear the word of God will not be persuaded by anything, and that includes the astonishing fact that they will not be moved to repent even by a miracle. The army of Pharaoh followed the Israelites into the Red Sea; Judas betrayed the Lord after seeing miracles practically every day.
But, how can you hear the word of God if you are too busy to open your Bible and prayerfully read it? We must be hearers of the word, and we must be doers of the word; but until we have time for the word, how can we hear it? If we never listen to the word, how can we hear it? The Hebrew word sh'mai means "hear." The same word means "obey." "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, (i.e. if they obey not Moses and the prophets) neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead."
If you can't hear what I am saying from this pulpit, you are not spending enough time hearing the word of God throughout the week, at least not prayerfully and sincerely. Knowing the Bible is your own responsibility; we can't do that for you. Obeying the word of God is your own responsibility; we can't do it for you. Moses, the prophets and now the Apostles, were God's messengers. Anyone who cannot hear them could never be turned away from sin to God, not even if he had witnessed the resurrection of Christ. God's grace, in your heart, responds as readily to his word as it would to any miracle you may ever see, even the sight of the Risen Christ.
This Sunday we have turned to the second Table of the Law, and we have been reminded that we must love our neighbor. We have learned also, from St. John, that we actually can love God who first loved us, and therefore we actually can love our neighbor. We have been given that grace. That grace comes as we hear the word of God, because it is all about having a new heart that is right with God.