Friday, June 12, 2009

First Sunday after Trinity

I John 4:7-21
Luke 16:19-31

The Scriptures today contain these two major points.

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.

Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith.
THOU shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.

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.


Justin said...

This was truly moving. Thank you!

poetreader said...

hese are hard words of Our Lord, words that should cause us to look at others differently. I wrote this a couple of years ago ...

March 7, 2007, Holy Saturday. I was driving to a meeting when these thoughts hit me hard. Jesus was the Friend of sinners, and spent his time with them rather than the religious leaders. Christians, all too often, insulate themselves from the world, and associate with those of whom they approve. Those others are made to feel outside, unwanted, unworthy. If only we could hear His voice …

My Friends

You love the Book.
You hold the Book.
You read the Book.
You teach the Book.
You memorize its words.
You know the facts.
You say the creeds.
You pray the prayers.
You have it right.
But do you know?
Can you see Me?
Would you know to speak My Name?
- if I wore no royal robes?
- if My friends were not your kind?
Would you know me?
- with the poor,
- and those that beg?
- with the thieves,
- and those that beat and kill?
- or with the whores and boy-whores,
- and those that prowl?
My friends.
with whom I sit and share a meal,
for whom I hung upon that cross.
My friends.
You will meet Me with My friends.
Are you there?
Do you love them?
Do you like them?
Do you see Me?
I am there.
I saw you,
as you stepped aside, avoiding
- avoiding My friends.
I saw you,
your sneer,
the twisting of your lip.
I saw you.
I don’t know you.

----------ed pacht

RC Cola said...

The other day I heard a rock star who just won an award what he would do if he were God. He said that he would ban religion for a year and see how that goes.

I can tell him that it would go poorly. Religion was banned in every communist country and they slaughtered millions of their own and their neighbors.

We Christians are always castigated for being hypocrites. We are told that we are responsible for countless deaths and untold misery. (Ironically enough these accusations began as Protestant polemics against the Catholic Church, and now we find that atheists have taken the Protestant polemic and applied it to Christians across the board. I digress.)

And yet somehow they gloss over Stalin's 15 million, Mao's 25 million, Poll Pot had his Killing Fields to name but a few. And yet we hear that these are mere excesses that happened not because they abandoned God, but because they had yet to "actualize" the Revolution.

It's true they did not actualize the Revolution, but they put their faith in the wrong Revolution. The Revolutionary teaching is really that of Jesus, not of Marx , who just rehashed the same old garbage the human race has had since Cain killed Abel.

It seems to me that if the aforementioned rock star had wanted to say something truly radical when asked what he would do if he were God, rather than banning religion for a year he should have suggested that as God he would make everyone live according to our religion for a year and see how that goes.

We already know what happens when religion is banned. I reckon that a world in which everyone lived by what we claim to believe is utterly incomprehensible. Perhaps that is why so many people choose the easy path of giving up on God rather than taking up his challenge.

poetreader said...

RC Cola,
I'd be 100% with you on this otherwise fine comment except for this:

(Ironically enough these accusations began as Protestant polemics against the Catholic Church, and now we find that atheists have taken the Protestant polemic and applied it to Christians across the board. I digress.)

which is the rather gratuitous insertion of an anti-Protestant polemic into an otherwise accurate observation.

I think we're back to the speck and beam parable again. Can't we all just admit to the horrible things we have done, all of us, in the name of religion, and find out where it is that we ourselves have failed to follow what we profess to believe. The horrible things done by Christians to Jews, to Moslems, to other unbelievers, and, God help us, even to other Christians, in the name of religion are, quite simply a matter of record, and were being commented upon well before the Reformation. Roman Catholics most certainly have perpetrated evils in the name of the Faith -- and so have Protestants. None of this demonstrates the evil of religion in general or of a particular church, but rather the result of the very spiritual pride of which Our Lord accused the most reputable religious leaders of His day, the Pharisees.

Can't we discuss our own failings without hurling brickbats at others? Actually, the atheists are partially right, in that religion that is subverted to serve the ends of men is extraordinarily dangerous, but they are wrong in failing to see that religion that is subject to God is an unalloyed good.


Albion Land said...

As GK Chesterton said, "Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried."

RC Cola said...


I see your point, but I disagree. I may have been polemical, but I stand by my statement that the origin of many atheistic accusations against Christians have their origin in Reformer accusations against the RCC. The atheists didn't get those ideas from the Orthodox.

What you said about Atheists being partially right could be said of the protestant reformers "in that [the Church] subverted to serve the ends of men is extraordinarily dangerous, but they are wrong in failing to see that [the Church] that is subject to God is an unalloyed good."

They were partly right. There were some serious problems in the Church. But there were enough real problems without the crazy accusations. They failed to see the great good the Church did for the world. Only within the past few years have RCC writers been able to come up with alternatives to Henry Charles Lea's universe.

I really do believe that origin of modern atheism is the Reformation. Is there time to write it down here? No, but given time and financial support for a PhD program and I could at least make a good solid, academic, non-polemic, case for that opinion.

poetreader said...

My point remains that assigning blame is a negative and ultimately hurtful endeavor. There's plenty to go around. Of course the "Enlightenment" and the rise of Atheism are connected with the events of the Reformation, but those events resulted from a direct (if often misguided) response to very real abuses. The "crazy accusations", I'm afraid often had far more substance than the theological quibbles, and almost all of them were also being made by very loyal Catholics. Moral lapses and political machinations were endemic, and were tending to obscure the good the Church had long been doing. If the papacy had been able to listen to the first Reformers, to free itself from the political maneuvering, and to address the moral sewer found in many of the hioghest levels of the Church, I don't believe the great division would have occured. Trent attempted to answer some of that, but a bit late, after the damage had become pretty much irreversible.

The other thing often missed is that both parties of the
reformation were committed ti an intensely rationalistic approach that had been hardening among the late medieval schoolmen. Both Trent and the Protestant confessions evidence a way of thinking unlike that of the Fathers, si reliant on reason that on both camps a questioning was certain to grow and dominate. Freemasonry, freethought, and a will to disbelieve arose just about simultaneously in Orotestant Germany and in Catholic France, producing waves of atheism and agnosticism in both milieux.

Yes, there is truth in your observation, but let me repeat, that dragging such concepts into a discussion of this sort is to subvert the discussion of the real issues and of our responsibility to correrct them into yet another tiresome Protestant/RC dispute. You did follow your statement with, "I digress", and you certainly had done so.

The charges I presented in my poem are, in substance, the charges leveled by Our Lord against the most reliable religious leaders. I believe that is still His focus. If I believe myself to be more correct in my belief than others, then my job is to become what I'm claiming I want to be.

As an Anglican it isn't my job to reform the Roman Church -- but it is my job to reform the church of which I am part, and even then, primarily by working with the Holy Spirit to reform myself. It's the beam in my own eye I need to tend to. We'd be much better off if all the disputants would remember this concept.