Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Passionate Tough Love of God

Proper 25+A            26 October, 2014       The Reverend Robert R.M. Bagwell+
Preached at All Saints' Parish, Hampton, SC
Deuteronomy 34:1-12                                                                                                    Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8                                                                                                       Matthew 22:34-46
In the collect, we prayed: "God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command."  Is this not a convoluted statement or request, quite reflective of the seemingly contradictory nature of our human condition and God's relationship to us.

Today is Reformation Sunday.  On this day near to the Eve of All Hallows or All Saints, an innocent, sincere, meticulous monk in Wittenberg, Germany posted 95 Theses or topics for debate on the public bulletin boardCthe door of the parish church in Wittenberg.  This simple act unleashed a fire storm that had been building for generations and "protestantism" was born. This Sunday is "Reformation Sunday" for the Lutheran Church and an important point for all of the "protestant" bodies. Protestant does not mean to oppose, but rather to stand up for something from the Latin prōtestantēs, plural of present participle of prōtestārī to bear public witness." This Sunday let us remember that our witness is a testimony for our Lord Jesus Christ!  Beginning here and flowing out to the Mission Field for each of us.  Where we go, Jesus goes.  Our lives are an unending mission for the sake of Jesus.

From the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 22 , we read these words, AAnd one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question, to test him.  >Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?= And he said to him, >You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the first and great commandment.  And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.@

What is it anyway to Alove the Lord Your God?@ What is our natural inclination toward God and neighbor? I believe that most of us don=t think of ourselves as Ahateful@ individuals.  We may even say things like AI love everybody@.  I did however once hear a corollary to that statement from an evangelist: AI love everybody, it=s just people I can=t stand.@  We usually love people because of our experience with them. Sort of like we love our pets. But let one of our pets destroy our new genuine Persian rug, chew up our 100 dollar dress shoes, gnaw off the irreplaceable carvings on a table leg, and we like our pets less at least for a while.  Let them hurt us physically and we usually get rid of them.  This is often how we treat our neighbor.  We like our friends because of positive experiences with them. But let them use us, abuse us, lie to us, whatever, often a friendship is ruined.  We might even become enemies!  I sometimes wonder if we love God this way. I think too often we presume his love (unlike other world religions) and we presume his grace.  If God does what we think is good for us and others, we love him, maybe even like him, but let God do, or allow something that we think he ought not and I hear things like: Ahow could a God of love  allow that@? And the blaming of God for whatever happens whereby Aour@ will was not done.  And yet we are commanded to love God! 

Jesus and the gospels challenge us beyond this completely natural and fleshly understanding of love.  We are to love neighbor as self.   It is interesting how we humans love - even we Christians.  The scripture presumes self-love and Jesus affirms it.   He  accepts it as a measure of love for our neighbors. We sometimes love them a little less than we love ourselves.  this helps us get our own way.   Sometimes we love them a little more than we love ourselves. It can make the person who sacrifices his or her own interests for the sake of another look like a saint or martyr.  But to love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves?  This is a determined and non-heroic act and one that does not call attention to itself.  We ask God to help us so love.  Many tacitly assume that they observe the first commandment simply by coming to church.  They also naively assume that they need not take the second too seriously, not realizing that the two are intricately linked together. In other words, we all too often do not understand that the first and greatest cannot stand on its own.  It requires a balance.  That is why St. John wrote in his first letter: A If anyone says, >I love God, yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.  And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. A (I Jn. 4:20 & 21)  We show God we love him by loving the others: the unlovely, the unlovable, those who refuse to love us in return or for whom there is no personal benefit to us.  We must allow God to love others through us.  We must let the mystery of love unfold by grace and not by self-assertion or manipulation.  We are to love God with our Ahearts@ - with emotion because we are in a relationship with him as a person AOur Father@.We are to love God with our Asouls@: from the whole being that is in us that will last forever; our material selves, possessions and our own personal legacy. We are to love God with all our Aminds@ : that we lead our thoughts to dwell upon him as Creator, Father, & Lord and to make our reason take account of his ways and intentionally seek to walk, live and follow them.  We are to be in awe of him. Loving God with the "mind" is a departure from the Jewish Law that commanded love with all of our might.  All true love must include awe theologian Peter Kreeft said.  It is one of the great truths about love and marriage that our age has forgotten.  Do we really understand about love?  I think that again the confusion comes to us far too often.  Remember what I said before about our pets and God and others?  What I was really speaking about was Alike@.  We often confuse love and like. Those who have experienced a difficult child know about this: they may love their child to the point of ultimate sacrifice, but not like them very much or approve of them.  Love for the Christian is difficult love.  It is unconditional. It is God's love. Perhaps you have heard the old Lutheran hymn: "Great is Thy Faithfulness" but do you know the verse that that chorus comes from?  Lamentations 3: 22 & 23 ""Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,  for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning;  great is your faithfulness"  Why does God delay judgment?  His great love.  Why did Jesus die?  God's great love.  Paul wrote "in him we live and move and have our being."  (Acts 17:28)  When we receive Christ Jesus, we become beings of love, working toward perfection in love.

Love is expressed in loving action.  How did the Jews express love for God in the Older Testament?  By seeking to be Aholy@ that is Aset apart, dedicated to God@  .  Our job as Christians is to become better lovers of God and humanity. 

Will we risk loving God by trusting him with all that we are?  If not, why bother to trust him at all?  We manifest what we love by where we put our time and treasure.  And we must always remember that we are storing up treasure for eternity, not doing so by our works, but how delicately, genuinely and passionately we love and by our giving of treasure, time and talents to God.  As the collect said how can God increase in us the GIFTS of FAITH, HOPE, and CHARITY or love!  By our receiving of God's unconditional, accepting and un-buyable love and letting it flow through us to others.

Paul reflects this in his letter this morning.  He was not trying to "get" anything from the Thessalonian Christians.  He was about giving.  Until we understand that our mission in Christ is not about us, but about those who are not a part of us, the gospel will not be good news to us or anyone else.   This is further illustrated by Moses.  What did he EVER get out of his service to God other than God's love to him and the "gifts" of the complaining, griping, backstabbing Israelites???  On your web page you state that your mission is: To Love, Serve, and Grow through Jesus Christ.  This collect then is perfect for you as well of the rest of Christendom.  Emmanuel, God with us, is in us both to will and do God's will, if we will let Him.   You mean God's cares about our will???  As Fr. Terry Fullam, one of my mentors, used to say: "God is a perfect gentleman, he will not MAKE you ANYTHING".


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