The Second Sunday after Trinity (June 26, 2022)

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May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be alway acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
Many people say they like the New Testament God over the Old Testament God. After all, the New Testament isn’t so “legalistic,” right? Well in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus takes the Old Testament Law and spiritualizes it. Jesus himself says, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law till all be fulfilled” (Matt 5:17-18). Our Lord elevates the Law to an even higher form than what we see in the Old Testament; Jesus takes us to the heart of the Law. So, for Jesus, the spirit of the Law isn’t about avoiding the actual sin of adultery but that we shouldn’t even lust after someone not our spouse. And he’s very clear that lusting after someone is committing a kind of adultery in your heart. The same is true when it comes to anger and hatred towards another. In fact, I think St. John may have had the Sermon on the Mount in mind here. Jesus said, “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall says to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” For John, there is no middle ground: we either love or hate our brothers and sisters, depending on whether we have passed from death to life. If we love others, we know that we’re spiritually alive. If we’ve been made alive, then we will spread life through love; if we’re still dead in sin, however, we will inevitably spread death: “whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.” So hatred is a kind of murder. And it should also be pointed out that for John, hatred is not just shown in positive outbursts of anger, but can also be exhibited through sins of omission: “Whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?”
The opposite of hatred, according to St. John is love. Love is a theological virtue along with faith and hope. The theological virtues stand in contrast to the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance because the cardinal virtues can be attained by humans regardless of their relationship with God. You don’t have to be baptized to prudent or just or brave or moderate. But you cannot attain the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love outside of grace. These are infused in us by the Holy Ghost. Just like a smoldering coal can become a fire when properly tended, so we must attend to the grace God imparts to us so they can flourish. In fact, this is why St. John tells us that love is a sign we have traversed from death to life: God has bestowed in us new life at baptism and an outworking of that is that we begin to love. The object of that love is first and foremost God but love of God can only be expressed through love for others. That’s the point of the Summary of the Law: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
And so St. John exhorts his audience: “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.” In Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s book The Brothers Karmazov, one of the characters says, “The more I love humanity in general the less I love man in particular.” I’m sure we’ve all known people who are all about causes: they have all the bumper stickers on their car, they attend fundraisers, they write letters to their congressmen, etc. These aren’t necessarily bad things at all. It can often be easier to love a cause or a neat universal ideal instead of specific, messy people. But John tells us that words are empty: it’s not enough to say “I love you”; it must be put into practice. And we know this, it’s intuitive. If you’re married and you tell your spouse “I love you” but you never serve them, do your words match reality? Similarly, God doesn’t want our words, our love is demonstrated in action.
Now, it’s easy to love people who are easy to love. But, experience tells us that not everyone is easy to love. So the question is: how do we love those who are difficult to love? II think there are two pieces of practical advice we can follow.
The first comes from John 7:24 “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.” It is important that we contextualize the person we find unloveable. There are always those people who seem to rub us the wrong way—my mom called them sandpaper Christians because their roughness helps smooth us out—but if we can understand where they come from, maybe, just maybe, we can begin to find them easier to love. Why did the person cut me off in traffic? Maybe they’re a jerk but maybe they’ve had a bad day. The people who need love the most often ask for it in the most unloving ways. And so by contextualizing them, we might find it easier to forgive them, to remember that they’re human beings for whom Christ died, and need to be loved into being lovable.
Finally, it’s important that we pray for those people we might think of as enemies. I remember my prior bishop surprised some people when he said that he prayed for the members of the terrorist group ISIS. Not, of course, that they would prosper in their mission but that they would come to know God as he is revealed in Jesus Christ. Similarly, whenever we find ourselves with people we find hard to love, we should pray for them because in lifting them up in prayer, God can transform that hatred into love just like he turns hearts of stone into hearts of flesh.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
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