Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Law of Love

EASTER 5  +  Year B                   Fr. Robert R.M. Bagwell+
3,  May  2015                    The Law of Love
Acts 8:26-40                                                                                 Psalm 22:24-30  
1 John 4:7-21                                                                                John 15:1-8

After a very long and boring sermon the parishioners filed out of the church saying nothing to the preacher. Towards the end of the line was a thoughtful person who always commented on the sermons."Pastor, today your sermon reminded me of the peace and love of God!" The pastor was thrilled. "No-one has ever said anything like that about my preaching before. Tell me why." "Well - it reminded me of the Peace of God because it passed all understanding and the Love of God because it endured forever!"

What do we do with the God of "knowing"? What do we do with the God who is LOVE?  This passage is both profoundly moving and profoundly challenging.

In his famous work,  The Road Less Traveled  author and psychiatrist, M. Scott Peck defined "love" in this manner:  "the will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth." (p.81)  The Christian gospel and experience are born out of the Love of God for his errant people who by nature neither desire or deserve God's Love.

Love...the Christian gospel is a unique religion in that it claims,  in defiance of the majority of other religions of the world that "God is love."  The texts we are faced with today deal with issues of  love.  We might then expect them to be easy to listen to,  but that is not the case.  In these few verses from John's epistle the word love is mentioned 29 times! For the Christian,  love is no pushover virtue. " Love is as strong as  death," the Song of Solomon  tells us (8:6)  Love and love alone sent the sinless Son of God to death,  to die for you and me,  20 centuries later.   Jesus said to his apostles, "love one another as I have loved you."  (John 13:34)   We all want to be loved.  Most of us confuse love and like.  But love is tougher.  Love inevitably will cause personal pain and the opposite of love will always be the easy way,  the short cut,  the way of death.  Love is a Way of living and  being.  It is much easier to talk about loving than to love

 You may have noticed that Dr. Peck said that love is a matter of "the will." The marriage encounter movement has long said that Alove is a decision.@ We can will to love and if the Spirit of God is Lord in us at all, we will be challenged to a love that is above the standards and understandings of the secular world around us. St. Paul says AGod has "poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit."  This is why St. John could say in his epistle today,  "we know that we have passed out of death into live because we love the brethren.  He who does not love,  remains in death."Maybe you have noticed, some of the brethren are hard to love! This gives us the uncomfortable position of realizing the Anot to love, is a decision.@   I occasionally hear Christians excusing themselves from these standards of love of neighbor by saying things like, Awell, I=ll pray about it.@  

 Isn't it strange that we think that we have to "pray about"  things that the  Lord commands of us!  Jesus commands us to love!  He doesn't merely suggest that it might be a good idea!  We pray about the ability to do it!  I John 4:20 says, " 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." Today if each one of us were asked, Ado you love God@ what would we say?  The answer might be, AI=m trying@ or AI hope so@ or if you are a well tried and tested lover of the brothers and sisters of the family of God, perhaps even,..@yes.@

You see,  the charism, the spiritual gift,   the job,  the vocation of the Christian is to be a lover of the people of this world for the sake of and in the Name of Jesus the Christ, God=s own portrait of Love.  To be born from above is to receive and share the love of God in Jesus. This is not an easy love.  It causes people to give up everything that this world values and to pursue it willingly. It can seem irrational:  like when pope John Paul II went to visit the young terrorist who tried to kill him and told him that he forgave him.

You notice that First  John says,  "Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him."  Such strong words John! Yet so fundamental to our motivation is this principle that we must at all personal costs seek to live it. The text says,  "let us not love in word or speech but in deed and truth."   If God is in our lives,  we will know in our hearts if we are guilty of not loving,  unless we have hardened our hearts against the Holy Spirit. Romans 12:9 says, "love must be sincere".    Have you ever seen insincere love?  The cold cordiality, "hello,  nice to see you"  Its all very civil but without any extension of the self.  And with that Oscar winning performance AChurch Face@ all shining (with gross insincerity).   

Sometimes we have insincere love when people hurt us;  Hurt is a deflation of the ego,  suddenly we feel smaller than the other  person,  put down,  devalued.  We want to get them back.  We think:  "I'll show them!"  Insincere love it about the self.  It is eros love - self satisfying and selfish. The idea of willing self to extend self for the purpose of the nurture of another's spiritual growth in such a setting is unthinkable.  And this is when the sin within us and our actions with it will separate the men from the boys,  or the women from the girls in the Spiritual life.  AMe?@  AExtend myself for >her= or him=?@  We think.

But have you ever really looked at how God tells us to love as God loves?  If not, this will come as a shocker! Turn the other cheek.;  Love your enemies; Pray for those who persecute you;  Give and expect nothing in return; Follow me;  Go and sin no more. There=s more...shall I go on? It may be a Maalox moment for some of you!  The Bible is God's manual of human relations.  Fundamentally it is concerned with Spiritual Growth. That means growth in "Godliness"  (God-like-ness) Growth into God own way of thinking, being, living.  God extended himself for our Spiritual Growth:  before he did ,  we were   spiritually dead.  Love is a matter of action.

I have counseled couples who are having marital difficulties to act in a loving way toward the other partner because love begets love and the feelings will often follow.  Marriage is after all, not about meeting my needs. That is only a by-product.  It is about meeting another=s long as you both shall live.  Amazingly, when this is followed, these people are often HAPPY!!  You may have notice the uncomfortable words of Jesus,  "If you love me,        you will keep my commandments."  Now why did he have to say that?   He says it so matter a factly, that  I must ask,  "do I love him?" 
What is the latest tally on God's score card on my keeping his commandments?  Remember that love is not "sugar and spice and everything nice."  It is a matter of the redeemed human soul.  In our own day, the Middle Eastern Christians are astounding the ISIS murderers when they display forgiveness and love to those who are committing such destruction and atrocities toward them. WOW!  I don't know if I could do that but perhaps with the Divine Love shining through it is possible. 

You may be thinking:  "how can I be so loving?  at personal cost and humility?  keeping Jesus' commandments?  Do not despair:  look at the end of the gospel. Jesus says, "I will not leave you desolate"  the word desolate is "orphans".  He won=t abandon us to this task!    He will send the Counselor (Parakletos)  that means the one to come along side us.  We cannot love like this without the help of Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit living within us.  What he seeks from us is an active open will.

It is so easy to focus on the Ten Commandment sins as though they were the only real ones. But the reality is that it is the sins of the heart that destroy us and the Christian Community. It is a matter of daily discipline:  surrender to the Holy Spirit;  a willingness to do whatever at whatever personal cost to love and forgive and  walk in love, one day at a time;  day by day.  God's Spirit is the "quickener"  the one who makes us alive spiritually He is the Empowerer who give us the strength to accomplish the impossible.  The love of God.

Today we are met with a challenge that strikes at the root of our being and identity.  Are we truly loving?  Are we willing to extend ourselves for the purpose of our own or another's spiritual growth?"  or will we let that be someone else's responsibility.   I Peter 4:8 says that "love will cover a multitude of sins." 

Paul writes in I Corinthians 13 these challenging words: "Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy,  it does not boast.  it is not proud it is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."  

Let us pray this day and every day for such a love for we are God's loving emissaries sent to a lost and dying world

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