Two Tables of the Law
The First Sunday after Trinity is very important in the Church year, for it turns a new page, or rather to a second table.
Everyone who was instructed for Confirmation the way that the Book of Common Prayer requires, knows about the two tables of the Law. Moses came down the mountain with two Tables, and they contained words that the entire nation of Israel had heard in an audible voice from inside the smoke on Mount Sinai. They feared because of that voice that shook the earth, and so God brought Moses near for further instructions. But, we learn that the Tables, or Tablets, contained the first Ten of God's commandments. Whereas other laws were for the people of Israel in that time, the Ten Commandments are the universal moral law of God. The Books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus summarize them,1 as Jesus pointed out in that passage we all know:
Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these. (Mark 12:29-31)
The Summary of the Law with the Two Great Commandments summarizes the Ten Commandments; we have two commandments and two tables. For, in the Ten Commandments we have the first Table, with four commandments about loving God. Then we have the second table, with six commandments about loving your neighbor.
Because He first loved us
In the middle of the Church Year we turn to the second table on this day. Up until now we have concentrated on the commandments to love the Lord thy God; now we look at the commandments that tell you, and me, how to "love thy neighbor as thyself."
But, you may ask, how has the first half of the Church year taught us to love God? The first four commandments speak of our duty to God, but that is not the major emphasis of what we have been through, liturgically, from Advent until Pentecost. What we have seen is God's great saving acts. We see Jesus coming into the world on Christmas, going about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the Devil in Epiphany,2 setting His face to to Jerusalem in Lent, dying for all of our sins as the propitiation for our sins and the sins of the whole world on Good Friday, and after his burial rising again on the third day in our Feast of feasts, Easter, conquering death for us. Then, on Pentecost, we saw the risen and ascended Christ pour out the Holy Spirit to give us the gifts and power we need in this world.
Where, in all of that emphasis from Advent through Pentecost, do we concentrate on the commandments that tell us how to love God? It seems that the opposite is true. What we have seen is the proof that God loves us.
This is what St. John tells us in the Epistle reading we have heard today: "We love him, because he first loved us." The Law is weak, because of the sinful condition into which each of us was born, and so the Law cannot provide the grace to love God. We have no power to love God, which love is manifested if we obey His commandments.3 Without the grace of God made known by Jesus Christ in all his saving acts, and without the grace given to us by the Holy Spirit within us, we have no power to love God.
Love thy neighbor
We love him, because he first loved us. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he bath not seen?
So, now you know if you love God by how you treat your neighbor. Not mankind, but your neighbor. Let me repeat what I said before on this day:
"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 'the greatest good for the greatest number,' and all of that Satanic propaganda 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 grace to love your neighbor than it does to love mankind. Anyone can love mankind. Do you love your neighbor? Is Lazarus, with his unsightly sores, welcome at your table?
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.
Hearing the Word of God
One last 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, the clergy, 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 the Church has turned to the second Table of the Law, and you have been reminded that you must love your neighbor. You have learned also, from St. John, that you can indeed love God who first loved us, and therefore have the grace to love your neighbor.4 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.
1. Deut. 6:5 Lev. 19:18
2. Acts 10:38
3. John 14:15, Ex. 20:6
4. Rom. 5:5