Loving God, loving our neighbours, and God's love for us all
Sermon for the 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time, 14th July 2019 – preached at St. Michael's Croydon.
Bible readings: Deuteronomy 30:10-14; Colossians 1:15-20; Luke 10:25-37, C.f. Genesis 1, Deuteronomy 30:19; 1 Corinthians 12; Galatians 3:28; Kierkegaard, King & Peasant Girl.
May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord our strength and redeemer. Amen. Please be seated.
Imagine that you're a member of the Royal Family. You're studying at university, or college. It's been the end of a busy day of lectures, and you're off to the pub with some friends to relax. You also happen to be single, and – completely by surprise – that special someone captures your heart. You're Royalty; surely if they're single too, you could easily make them fall in love with you! But you don't want to risk it being a forced, one-way relationship. You want the other person to genuinely, freely express their love for you too, just as you express it to them.
This is a modernised version of the analogy of the King and the Peasant Girl, by the 19th Century Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. His analogy might help us in understanding how God asks us to respond to His love for us; He wants us to freely choose to genuinely love Him and our neighbours, rather than to force us.
In our readings today, we are reminded of the importance of loving God and our neighbours. These are two of the greatest commandments God gives to us, and we are commissioned to always carry this mission out as best as we can. But let's briefly consider just why we are asked to do this? God is omnipotent – that is, He is all-powerful, and could therefore easily force us to – and He would probably do a better job of it than we sometimes do. Yet, God gives us many gifts – including those of free will, reason and conscience. These are some of the properties which define us as human beings, who are all created in God's own image – and it is by these gifts that God wants us to choose to genuinely love Him and our neighbours. God's infinite love for us comes from Him – our love for God and our neighbours must come from us. So, how might we do this most effectively?
In our first reading today, we are reminded of the importance of obeying God and His commandments. Elsewhere in Deuteronomy, we read that it is our calling to “choose life;” it really is in our hands, to respond to God's love for us by expressing love ourselves. It is our duty – our joy – our responsibility – to use our free will as best as we can. Thinking back to the Book of Exodus, remember the Ten Commandments – these collectively instruct us to love God and our neighbours.
Jesus very helpfully affirms these in today's Gospel reading, when the instruction to love God and our neighbours is recalled by the lawyer with whom our Lord is speaking. This a well-known and well-loved parable of Jesus; even before studying Theology at university, this has always been one of Jesus's parables that has particularly struck me.
Who is the neighbour? Well, it seems obvious from today's Gospel passage, and it's not the person we would have expected. Samaritans and Jews did not normally speak to each other, and yet it is the Samaritan who comes to the fallen man's help. Note how those we might expect to help just pass by. Was this because of embarrassment? Or not knowing what to do? Perhaps being set in their ways, they just would not associate with someone they assumed had been stricken down because of his sin, or maybe they were just too preoccupied with what they were on their way to do.
St. Luke himself, as far as we know, was not himself Jewish. He was a Gentile Christian; a Christian who was not of Jewish heritage, rather than someone like St. Matthew who, having originally being Jewish, converted to Christianity. And this parable of Jesus, as recorded by Luke, breaks down the barriers between peoples of different religions and nations. Let us consider the words of St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians – that “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
St. Paul in our second reading today reminds all of us that we are all God's children. Christ is the first and the last; He is the Alpha and the Omega. He is supreme to all – for He is fully divine as well as fully human. And yet, as we read in the creation accounts of the Book of Genesis with today's Epistle, all people are created in the image of God and through Christ. All people – you, me, those who come to our Church regularly, those who do not, and indeed all adults, children, babies both born and unborn – all people. Life itself, together with what is in it, is a gift from God to us; this is the sanctity of all human life, and – seeing God in all people – it is so important to always serve those around us, just as it is to serve God.
What a huge task, you might be thinking – but you're probably already doing it, on an everyday basis – even when you're not conscious of it! In his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul describes how the one and same Holy Spirit dwells within us, and moves us in a whole variety of different ways. We are all gifted in different ways, and are called to serve God and His people in all kinds of different ways.
A nurse. A doctor. A teacher. A priest. A chaplain. A farmer. A professional driver. A politician. A foster carer. An adoptive parent. A gardener. A musician. You. These are just some of the many ways in which God calls us to serve Him and His people; we all have our distinctive God-given vocations and callings in life.
How good are we at this? Sometimes we're very successful in loving God and our neighbours; and sometimes maybe less so. Sometimes, it may come naturally; other times less so. But we are still called to. And God is infinitely understanding and patient with us – even if our understanding and patience is limited. It is God who loved us first, and is the source of all love so that we might love others, as well as loving God. How well do we welcome our neighbours? How might we do better? Wherever we may be in this, Christ Himself is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
I've certainly felt very welcome here at St. Michael's, and at our chaplaincies at Croydon College, Croydon University Hospital and at the refugee centre, where I have ministered once a week alongside being here over the past academic year. I have felt welcomed, encouraged, and fully supported throughout, and I feel both ready and excited to be embarking on the next steps in my journey towards fulfilling my calling to ordination, as I prepare to start at theological College from this September for the next two years. So thank you all, and I will of course be back to visit!
God the Word Himself, is very near to us – and is here with us – in our mouths and in our hearts. And through His great love for us, He invites us all to share in glory with Him – both in the future, and also here and now as we prepare to meet Christ in the Eucharist. Let us always respond to this great love He has for us, by loving Him and our neighbours as best we can. And we are not alone in this; God is always here with us. Let us give thanks for His presence with us now, and in all our lives. In the name of God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.