I was able to give a sermon on July 1st, 2018, at St. Peter's Anglican Cathedral. Unfortunately, there were problems with the recording; because of this, I decided to simply have the homily reproduced in text:
I hope you’re not hungry or tired, because my sermon is titled, “One Hundred and Twenty Seven Ways We Can Love our Neighbor”.
No, I’m kidding, but we are going to talk about Love today, a subject which we as a society know almost nothing about. Which is sad, because we talk about love ALL of the time; it is the most common subject of the most popular songs. It is the subject in some form of almost every movie. It is even in our advertising. We hear about newfound “love” or lost “love” or breaking up with one you “love”. But...are they really talking about love?
I mean, what is love? (*softly sings "Baby don't hurt me"*)
This problem is not only found within the secular society today; it is among self-professing Christians as well. I think we as the People of God do not always know what love is, exactly, for two reasons. The first one has been touched upon: we have been fed this understanding of love in which it is little more than a good feeling we receive from someone else. If that is the case, love is really only that feeling. If love is a feeling that we receive from thinking about or being with someone, then love is a commodity to be bought and sold, like anything else in the marketplace.
I think that this mindset causes the second reason we don’t know what love is, even as Christians: when the understanding of love becomes skewed, people follow that understanding, and those people become our examples of love. This can happen on the societal level: From horribly cheesy romantic comedies, to Disney movies teaching us that you can find “the one” after a three day adventure involving a magic carpet ride.
It can also be found on the personal level. From abusive fathers to neglectful mothers. From friends telling you that they care, only to never be found when the days are dark, to spouses walking out the door never to be seen again. All of these examples, and so many more, are bad example after bad example of love. They’re counterfeit love.
This is perhaps why my generation is so afraid of commitment; if half the marriages are ending up in divorce, why marry? Just live with the person, and when the infatuation and benefits end, leave; it’s cheaper that way. After all, love is only a feeling. When that feeling is no longer there, why continue with a charade?
This is why we need to get our understanding of love from God Himself, Who has revealed in Scripture what love is and how it works.
I want to look at three levels of love. Each of these levels goes deeper into what it means to love.
Love will have inconvenience.
More than that, love will havel dedication.
And finally, love will have self-sacrifice.
Inconvenience. Dedication. Self-sacrifice.
In the Old Testament reading for today (Deuteronomy 15:7-11), we see a command from God concerning what is known as the “year of release”.
You see, at this time, God had made in the Torah a law that debts were to be forgiven, among other things, every seven years...This sounds like a law that *cough* many of my fellow college and graduate students wouldn’t mind seeing on the books here in the US. Please write your representatives. It was part of a seven year Sabbath, a release from what binds us down.
So it would make sense, under the law of the ancient Israelites, to not give loans out to people when that seventh year was swinging around. Of course that makes sense! Until...you get to the reading today in Deuteronomy.
“Take heed lest there be a base thought in your heart, and you say, ‘The seventh year, the year of release is near,’ and your eye be hostile to your poor brother, and you give him nothing”. Ouch. That’s a hard rule.
First of all, hear this: this passage is NOT saying, nor am I claiming, that you give money simply to anyone who asks, or be poor stewards of your money. PLEASE understand that. Nor is this actually a sermon on tithing or telling you how to manage your money. My point here is simply this: love is not always convenient. In fact, love is most inconvenient.
It’s inconvenient when you find out your stupid brother was in a car accident, and you travel 400 miles with less than twelve hours’ notice to spend a weekend helping him out, as my brother did (which would make me the stupid brother, of course), when you have five kids and a wife at home and on top of that you foster children. That’s inconvenient. That’s love.
It’s easy to demonstrate love when doing so benefits you. It’s easy to do an act of kindness, to be seen by men. Jesus tells us about the worthiness of actions done in order to impress others. But when that act puts you in your discomfort zone, it begins to be more of that sort of love that is tough to emulate.
Let’s look at the New Testament reading (2 Corinthians 8:1-9, 13-15). Here, we have the often-troubled Church in Corinth being told by St. Paul about the beautiful example of Love the Macedonians are giving. This part of the passage sort of jumps out from the page for me; you can almost hear the excitement in St. Paul’s voice:
“We want you to know, brethren, about the grace of God which has been shown in the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of liberality on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own free will, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints”
“In a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of liberality on their part” Wow. This goes beyond inconvenience. This is dedication. This is when love hurts you, but you empty yourself anyway. And this can take many forms: I know people who have moved their families across the country to be with their mother or father in the last years of life. I know a gentleman at this parish who, every day, goes to the nursing home to spend his time from morning to evening with his wife there. Dedication goes beyond inconvenience.
Finally, we have the last level; that of self-sacrifice. More than a mere inconvenience, more than even dedication, we see the ultimate example of this in whom? C’mon, He’s right there! (At this part I point to the Tabernacle.) Yes! Jesus! Take a look at the beautiful Crucifix for a moment. (At this point I point to the Crucifix and pause for an uncomfortably long time.) That act goes beyond inconvenience, beyond dedication. That act is self-sacrifice in its most literal sense.
Look again at the Corinthians reading for today, verse nine: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” We are not talking about a mere financial poverty, here. We are talking about the very sacrifice of God, the Creator of the Cosmos, for the sake of the whole world.
“Greater love hath no man than this; that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
On Calvary Jesus did not give us some of Himself. Jesus didn’t tithe on the Cross.
He gave us all.
So what is Love? We’ve talked about its beginnings being inconvenience, then dedication, and finally pouring forth ultimately as self-sacrifice. This is radically different from what we are taught today. Is there a better word for it? How about this: whenever you hear the word Love being used, or whenever you use it yourself, try to associate it with the word “DEVOTION”. It’s easy to love your spouse, by the world's definition of love, when he or she looks beautiful on your wedding day and honeymoon. But when dark storms in the marriage appear, Disney’s version of love won’t be able to withstand the rough waters.
We need something more than infatuation. We need something more than a passing fancy. We need something more than mere attraction. We have our example literally before us (Points to Tabernacle and Crucifix). If we want to change this messed up world, let us go and do likewise.
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.