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The Simple Law of Love

A Sermon Preached on Sunday, October 23, 2011, by

The Rev. S. Randall Toms, Ph. D.,

At St. Paul’s Reformed Episcopal Church, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

 

 But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together.   Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law?   Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.   This is the first and great commandment.   And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matt. 22:34-40)

 

          If you have ever tried to help children with their homework, you know what a difficult task it can be.  You can go over and over the same principles with them, and sometimes it seems that they will never get it straight.  You often look at them and say, “This is not that hard.”  When you help them with math problems, for example, they often come up with all kinds of complicated steps and procedures trying to find the answer, and you look at them and say, “You are making this more difficult than it really is.”   But we often make that same statement to all kinds of people.  “You are making this more difficult than it really is.  My wife has always laughed at how I do household chores the hard way.  I’ll be doing a very simple job around the house, making it very difficult, and she will walk by and say, “Why don’t you just do it like this?”  Then, I’ll stand back and say, “Now why didn’t I think of that?”  We often say the same thing about our relationships with one another.  Employers and employees have difficult relationships.  Friends, even in churches, have problems with one another.  Husbands and wives have issues in their relationships.  We are left with the impression that life is very complicated, and our relationships with one another are complex.  Often, when we aren’t getting along with one another, don’t we step back and say, “We are making this harder than it should be.”  The Eagles had a song back in the 70s called “I Can’t Tell You Why,” about lovers having a difficult time with one another, trying to figure out what’s going wrong in their relationship, and there is the line, “We make it harder than it has to be.”

In other words, we shouldn’t be having this much difficulty getting along.  There’s nothing wrong.  We’re just making it harder than it has to be, and I don’t know why we are making it this difficult.  Today, I am going to make the same statement about the Christian life.  We make it harder than it has to be.

In this familiar passage of Scripture, the Pharisees are putting questions to Jesus.  They are testing him, trying to trip him up, to see if they can get him to give what they would consider to be a wrong response.  One of these Pharisees is called a lawyer, but don’t think of that word “lawyer” in the way we think of it.  This man is not an attorney.  This was a man who was an expert in the Law of Moses, one who spent most of his time probably arguing or debating about whether or not a certain action was sinful, or whether a certain action was a violation of the Law of Moses.    This expert in the Law of Moses asks Jesus a question, which was a hotly debated topic, “Which is the great commandment in the law?”  Think of all the laws that Moses gave the people.  Read Exodus–Deuteronomy and read all those laws.  There are laws about moral and immoral behavior, laws about how the community should function legally and the various punishments.  There are laws about all the sacrifices.   Then, we have to remember all the interpretations of the Law that had been handed down as traditions from one generation to another.  There were so many laws to sift through to find the most important one.   Everyone is wondering how Jesus will respond.  What is the greatest, most important commandment?  Is it “Thou shalt not kill”?   Is it, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy”?   Jesus goes through all the Law, and he doesn’t merely pick a commandment.   He chooses a commandment that summarizes all the other commandments.  He says what we say here every Sunday morning at the beginning of our service:  “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.”  Jesus adds to that one a second commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neigh as thyself.”  Then, he says, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”  Jesus has summarized what we sometimes refer to as the two tables of the Law as we find it in the Ten Commandments.  The first four describe our duties toward God, and the remaining six describe our duties toward one another.  If you want to boil all the commandments down to one simple rule, it would be “love.” If you love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind, then you will have no other gods before him, you won’t make a graven image, you won’t take his name in vain, and you will remember the Sabbath day.  If you love others, then you will honor your father and mother, you won’t kill, you won’t commit adultery, you won’t steal, you won’t lie, and you won’t covet.  St. Paul summarizes the law in the same way.  In Romans 13 he writes, “Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.   For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:8-10).   If you want a general principle about how to live your life, it’s not difficult to find it:  love God, and love one another.

You may be asking, “Are you saying that it is really that simple?”  Yes, I am.  If it is that simple, then why is it so difficult to love God and my neighbor?  It is difficult because we make it harder than it has to be.  We deliberately make it complicated.  Sin has made everything so complex.  It should not be difficult to obey either one of these commandments.  It should not be difficult to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind.  When you go through the Scriptures, and see how God is described in all his glory, majesty, and beauty, why should it be difficult to love God?   When you consider all that he has given us, why should we find it difficult to love him?   The Psalmist wrote in the 103rd Psalm:  “Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.  Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (Ps. 103:1-2).    Then the Psalmist begins to list all the benefits we have received from God.  He forgives all your sin, heals all your diseases, saves your life from destruction, showers his lovinkindness and tender mercies all around you, he satisfies you with good things, and renews your strength.   He is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.  He has separated our sins from us as far as the east is from the west, and he pities us like a father pities his children.  It shouldn’t be difficult to love a God like that.    We make it harder than it has to be.   Why do we make this so hard?  Unlike The Eagles, “I can tell you why.”  It is sin that blinds us to all these benefits we have received.  Sin blinds us so that we cannot see God’s glory, majesty, and goodness.   Sin causes us to focus on the things of the world and the miseries in the world, and we forget all the goodness and mercy of God.

Just as it shouldn’t be difficult to love God, it shouldn’t be difficult to love our neighbor.  You may be saying, “You don’t know my neighbor.”  Remember, that I am talking about more than your next door neighbor.  We are talking about all people.  Everyone is your neighbor.  You may wonder, “How can you possibly say, ‘It is not difficult to love everyone.’”  Let us remember that we are speaking of love in the Biblical sense.  The command is not that you must “like” your neighbor.  You may not like another person at all.  You may not like their personality or their lifestyle.  There may be very much in your neighbor of which you rightly disapprove.  But remember how St. Paul defines loving your neighbor as doing no harm to your neighbor.  In other words, loving your neighbor simply means doing no harm to him, when he needs help, help him if you can, and to desire what is best for him, both temporally and spiritually.  For this reason, it shouldn’t be difficult to love your neighbor.  What good ever comes from hating your neighbor?  What good ever comes from disobeying one of these laws that has to do with our relationships to others?  What good comes from murdering another human being?  What good comes from sexual immorality?  What good comes from stealing?  What good comes from lying about another person?  What good comes from coveting what belongs to someone else?  Nothing good comes from those actions, but we can say that most of the misery and heartbreak in the world comes from doing those very things.  We should pick up our newspapers every day and read all these stories of war, murder, and theft, and realize that all this has come about because people do harm to their neighbors.  What kind of world would this be if we did no harm to our neighbors?  All of this trouble and misery has come about because of hatred, greed, and not being content with the blessings God has given us.  For this reason I say it shouldn’t be difficult to love our neighbors, because not loving them is the source of most of the pain and suffering in the world.  We should look at this simple commandment and say, “Wouldn’t it be better if we loved one another?” Again, sin has complicated these issues.   Sin causes us to hate one another.  It is sin that causes us to desire what belongs to another person.  It is sin that has caused us to actually take delight in the suffering of other human beings.  It is sin that causes us to find a way around this command to love one another, and justify our hatred and cruelty toward other people.

We make this harder than it has to be.  God’s commandments are pretty simple, but we make them complicated so that we can get around obeying them.   We want to find the loophole.  Let me give you a good example that our Lord ran into time and again.  The fourth commandment says, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.    Six days shalt thou labor, and do all that thou has to do, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God.  In it thou shalt do no manner of work…”  That seems like a simple commandment.   But the question arises, “What is work?” Down through the centuries, the Jews had accumulated thousands of rules and regulations about what was work, and had even gotten to the place where they said that healing someone on the Sabbath was work.  Jesus kept telling them that showing mercy was more important than rules and regulations about how to keep the Sabbath.  As you know, the Puritans did the same thing, devising long lists about what was a violation of the Sabbath day.  Those of us who have tried in times past to observe the Puritan Sabbath know how complicated that can get.  Is it a violation of the Sabbath to eat at a restaurant, watch a ball game, play sports, go fishing, or use electricity?  When you make all these rules , the Sabbath does become a burden rather than a delight.  One of the things I like about Anglicanism is that it is simple.  If you go through our Prayer Book, can you find anything here about how we should observe the Sabbath?  Several times in the Prayer Book we have a discussion about the Ten Commandments.  Do you find there a list of do’s and don’ts about the Sabbath?  If you want to follow along, look on page 288 of the Book of Common Prayer, and you will find how our offices of instruction summarize the first four commandments.   You will notice how commandments 1, 2, 3, and 4 are summarized.  How do we obey the first two commandments? Obedience to these two commandments means to worship him, to give him thanks, to put my whole trust in him, and to call upon him.  To obey the third commandment means to honor God’s holy Name and his word.   What does it mean to obey the Fourth Commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy”?  The Prayer Book says that to obey this commandment means to serve God truly all the days of my life.  The first time I read that I said, “What?”  I was expecting a long list of what to do and what not to do on the Sabbath, and all we get is, “Serve him truly all the days of my life.”   Then, if you want to look at some of the others, like the sixth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” we are told that obedience to his commandment means, “To hurt nobody by word or deed:  to bear no malice or hatred in my heart.”  That sounds simple enough.

Now, turn over to page 291 of the Book of Common Prayer.   You find the question, “What is your bounden duty as a member of the Church? Answer.  My bound bounden duty is to follow Christ, worship God every Sunday in his Church; and to work and pray and give for the spread of his kingdom.”  Your duty to the church is summarized in to those three duties.   Again, there is no long list about what to do on the Sabbath, except, “worship God in his church every Sunday.”

But we are determined to make these commandments complicated.  You remember one of the accounts when this issue of  loving our neighbors came up.  We are told, “And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?   He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?  And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.  And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.  (Luke 10:25-28).   The lawyer knew the correct answer.   Love God, and love your neighbor.  But what does the lawyer do next?   He’s going to make it complicated, for we read in verse 29, “But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?”  We have a simple commandment:  Love your neighbor.   But we are going to complicate that commandment by asking, “Who is my neighbor?  Is it the person next door?  Is an ungodly man my neighbor?  Are the Gentiles my neighbors?  Are those racially mixed, heretical Samaritans my neighbor? The lawyer is doing what we all do. We complicate it so that we can find a way around obeying it.  It’s complicated, it’s difficult, because sin has corrupted our hearts, and we make complicated something that we really know the answer to already.   We just don’t want to admit that we already know what we should do.  In I Thess. 4:9, St. Paul said, “But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another.”  We would have expected Paul to go into some long, elaborate explanation on this theme about what brotherly love means.   We would expect him to explain, “Who is your brother?  What does it mean to love your brother?”  St. Paul doesn’t complicate this issue.  He says, “I don’t have to write to you about brotherly love, because God has already taught you what this means.”

If you look at the history of the Christian faith, you would get the impression that the Christian life is really complicated.  How many thousands of books have been written about how to live the Christian life?  Every day it seems that someone comes out with a new book, and they have found the key.  They have found the answer.  Have you ever wondered how people learned to live the Christian life before the invention of the printing press?   Think of it, there were Christians thriving in the world 1400 years before the printing press arrived, and most of them were illiterate.  They must have been terrible Christians, not being able to read the next best seller on the Christian market.  If we could be transported back in time we would probably be shocked at how little they actually knew.  I suppose they were all terrible failures as Christians.  But I wonder if they knew how to love God and how to love their neighbors without all the hundreds of books that have to go into so much detail about how to do that?  I’ll bet they did, because God has already done what is necessary to help us love in this way.

The first thing God did was send his Son into the world, and Jesus showed us what love is.  He went about doing good, he healed the sick, he had compassion on those who were suffering, and he gave himself sacrificially on the cross.   We already know from his example what love is.  He told us that he had given us this example of love so that we should love one another in that way.  He said, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another” (John 13:34).  He goes on to say, “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you” (John 15:12).    When John is writing his little epistle of I John he says, “In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.  For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another” (I John 3:10-11).   John reminds them that when he was setting down for them the basic truths about the Christian life, one of the first things he taught them was to love one another.  It should be simple, but it’s difficult for us because of the sin that is in our hearts.

To help us to love one another, God gave us the Holy Spirit.  As we yield to the Holy Spirit, we love as Christ loved for the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ.  Remember that when St. Paul described the fruit of the Spirit, the first characteristic of that fruit is “love.”  In these days when there is so much talk about the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts, we forget that the primary reason the Holy Spirit is given to us is to give the power to love as Christ loved.  You remember in I Corinthians, St. Paul is dealing with the problem of spiritual gifts in Corinth, and they are fighting about tongues, miracles, healing, and prophesy.   Paul deals with all of those issues and then says, “But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.”  The more excellent way was “love.”  Paul tells them that they are concerned with spiritual gifts, but the most important thing is love.   Look at that passage in its context, and I will substitute the word “love” for “charity,” because the Greek word used here for love is “agape.”  “…And yet show I unto you a more excellent way.   Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.  And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing.   And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing….  And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (I Cor. 12:31; I Cor. 13:1-3, 13).    Love is the greatest of all gifts that the Holy Spirit brings to us.

Love God, and love your neighbor.  Those two commands are complicated only because we allow the sin in our hearts to complicate them.  But the Lord Jesus Christ came into the world, to cleanse our hearts of the hatred and bitterness people feel toward one another.  He gave us his Holy Spirit to place this love in our hearts, for the promise of the New Covenant was, “But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people (Jer. 31:34).  Christ came to give us new hearts, and in these new hearts he would write his law.  That simple law is, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, soul, and mind, and thy neighbor as thyself.”  Amen.

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Perfected Love

A Sermon preached on Sunday, June 26, 2011 by

The Rev. S. Randall Toms, Ph. D., at St. Paul’s Reformed Episcopal Church, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

(click here to listen to the audio recording of this sermon)

Text for this sermon pending

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“Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.”
I John 4:10-11

Many of us spend most of our lives trying to make ourselves lovable.   We are taught by our culture that if we do certain things, act a certain way, look a certain way, then we will be loved.  The media, in their advertisements, constantly bombard us with the images of the desirable, the cool, the hip, the beautiful.  We get the impression that if talk a certain way, if we wear certain clothes, drive particular types of vehicles, we will win the admiration, respect, and love of the people around us.    Sadly, what we call “love” in our culture is based on such things.  For us, we love those who are lovable.  We love those who please us in some way, or satisfy our needs.  Since we love only the lovable, we feel that we have to transform ourselves into those kinds of people that please others according to the standards that they set for us.  If we want to be loved, we must please others, whatever their idea of pleasure might be.  If a certain person doesn’t love us, then it must mean that I failed in some way to be lovable.  If a relationship fails, we blame ourselves, wondering what we could have done differently that would not have resulted in the loss of that person’s love.

                Unfortunately, we transfer our concepts of love and being worthy of love, to God.  We think that we must do something, be something, in order for God to love us.    I know that we often parrot the words that we have heard all our lives that God loves even though we are sinners, but really, deep down inside, in the back of our minds, don’t we still harbor the idea that we have to do something to earn the love of God; that we have to be a certain way to ensure that God is going to continue to love us.    So, we think that we have to do certain good works, we have to attend the worship services Church, we have to spend so many hours each day in prayer, a certain amount of time in Bible study, and if we will do all of that, then God will love us and continue to love us.  We even may think that if we don’t love God, God won’t love us.  We even turn our love of God into something that we think will earn God’s love for us, as though we are praying, “God, please help me to love you, because if I don’t love you, I know that you won’t love me.”

                To correct that way of thinking, the apostle John tells us in I John 4:10, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”  God doesn’t love you because you loved God first, because, as a matter of fact, you didn’t love him first.  Before the love of God entered our lives, we were self-centered, loving only ourselves and had no place for God in our lives.  He was crowded by our sin, by our self-indulgence.  But in spite of the fact that we had no love for God, God loved us.  So, there is nothing you can do that would ever cause God to love you, because, in the sight of God, there is nothing in you that is lovable.  Now, I realize that they might sound like a terrible thing to say, something that would be depressing and cause you to run away from God.  But actually, the truth that I am not lovable in the sight of God is one of the most liberating truths that you could ever understand.    I am a sinner, and because I am a sinner, I am unholy, and therefore, unworthy of God’s love, his favor, and his blessing.  But the wonderful truth of the Gospel is that even though I am unlovable, God loves me, love me infinitely, and that there is nothing that can ever separate me from that love.  There is nothing that I could ever do that would impress him, that would cause him to love me more.  The wonderful truth of Scriputre is that God does not love us because of something he sees in us, something to make us worthy of his love.  He loves us because it is his very nature to love.  That is why John says, “God is love.”  From all eternity past, it was his nature to love.  Last week was Trinity Sunday, and on Trinity Sunday we think of the eternal love that all the members of the Holy Trinity have for one another.  The eternal Trinity is an incredible illustration of the fact that God is love.  The Trinity is not only a truth,  a true doctrine, it is an absolute necessity because of the fact that God is love, and love is expressed in relationship, the relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  From all eternity past, God has been love, and from all eternity past until this present time, he has loved you, not because of anything that you have ever done, but simply because it his nature to love.

                I know that sometimes it is difficult for us to believe that God loves us, not because of anything we have done, but simply because it is his very nature to love.  But if it is difficult for us to believe, God has gone far beyond telling us that it is so.  He has acted in such a way to demonstrate that he loves us in spite of what we are.  John tells us that he gave his Son Jesus Christ to be the  propitiation for our sins.  That is, God loved us so much, he gave his Son to die on the cross in our place so that we might be forgiven all our sins and have eternal fellowship with him.  If I ever need any proof that God loves me, I only have to go to the cross.  He is not dying there because I am good and lovable.  He is dying there because I am not good and lovable.  So, the Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 5: 6-10:  For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.  For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die.  But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.   Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.  For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.  Look at all the words the Apostle Paul uses to describe us:  without strength, ungodly, sinners, enemies.  Have you ever seen yourself as all of those things.  Whether you realize that these words describe your character or not, they are true of you. 

And yet, God loves you though you are without strength, though you are ungodly, a sinner, his enemy.  And how did he demonstrate that love.  He did more than write you a letter in which he told you that he loved you.  He sent his Son to die on the cross for you.  You need no other, no greater proof of his love than this:  God gave his son to be the  propitiation for your sins.  Propitiation means that God’s justice has been satisfied by the death of his son on the cross.  But even at this point, we must be careful.  Sometimes, when we think of the death of Jesus on the cross, we think God hated us until Christ died on the cross, and then after that, God could love us.  The cross did not make God loving towards us.  The cross did not even purchase God’s love.  No, first, God loved us, and then, in order that we might be forgiven, because he desired to forgive us, he sent his Son to die on the cross for our sins.  So, the cross did not make it possible for God to love you; God’s love made possible the cross.  Because God is love, and because he desires to forgives us, he gave his Son to die for us.  And even now, even when we sin now, the love of God towards us does not cease, for Christ is still the propitiation for our sin.  Each Sunday morning, in the section of our worship service that we call the Comfortable Words of Scripture, I quote I John 2:2, If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and he is the propitiation for our sins.”  The whole passage reads, “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:  And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (I John 2:1-2).  God sent him into the world to be the propitiation, and even now, when we sin, he is still the propitiation, the continual expression of the love of God for sinners, forgiving our sins as a result of his sacrifice for us.  It is God’s will for us that he doesn’t want us to sin, but if we sin, we have an advocate who is still our propitiation.  Therefore, my sin does not in the least diminish God’s love for me.  Any goodness I might have had was not the cause of God’s love for me.  Any sin in my life never prohibited the love of God for me.

                Of course, when someone says things like I just said, no doubt someone will object and say, “Then you are saying that we may live any way that we please.”  No, I’m not saying that, any more than John did in this epistle.  In the very next verse, John says, Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. (I John 4:11).  If we have really experienced the love of God in our own lives, then the natural response should be to love others in the way that God loved us.  But again, let me emphasize the point that our love for others does not cause God to love us.  Our love for others is not a bribe, whereby we can say, “OK God, see how much I love others.  Now, you love me as a reward.”  No, our love for others does not cause God to love us.  God’s love for us, causes us to love one another.  Throughout this epistle, John makes a great point that if we don’t love one another, we have never really understood and experienced the love of God ourselves.  For if we understood that God loved us though we were unlovable, then we would love others, no matter how unlovable they might be.

                It is interesting that the compilers of our Prayer Book chose this epistle reading to be used in conjunction with the gospel reading about the rich man and Lazarus.  Why would they combine a reading about the love of God with a reading about hell?    Well, let us take a look at Lazarus.  He is one of the unlovable.  He was poor.  He was a beggar.  He was starving.  He had sores and the dogs came and licked his sores.  And each and every day, the rich man, saw Lazarus sitting at his gate, but he ignored him and  never even gave him the crumbs that might fall from his table.   But after death, the tables are turned.  Lazarus is found in the bosom of Abraham and the rich man is in hell.  What was the great sin of this rich man?  It wasn’t that he was rich.  The Bible is filled with stories of rich people who were also godly.  Nor is Lazarus in paradise simply because he was poor in this life.  Poor people can be as proud, arrogant, and sinful as the rich man.  What was the great sin of the rich man?  Luke tells us that these sayings of Jesus in Luke 16 were directed to the Pharisees who were lovers of money.  The rich man’s sin was not that he had money, but that he loved it so much he would not share it with the poor.  In other words, the rich man had never opened his own heart to the love of God.  If he had experienced the love of God in his own heart and soul, then he would have responded by loving the unlovable, the unlovable Lazarus.  In this same epistle, St. John wrote, “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.   Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.   But 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? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. (I John 3:15-18)  What the rich man had done was to shut up the bowels of his compassion for Lazarus.  And John asks the question, “How does the love of God dwell in such a person?”  The answer, of course, is that it does not.  So, John tells us that we must not love merely in word or in tongue, but in deed and truth.  In other words, we must love others as God loved us.  God didn’t love us merely in word, merely telling us that he loved us.  He loved us in deeds, in actions, by sending his Son to die for us.

                The evidence that we have experienced the love of God in our own lives is that we love those who are the unlovable.  As Jesus put it, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48).  It’s very difficult to love our enemies, to bless those that curse us, to pray for those who despitefully use us and persecute us.  But remember it is those very people whom God loves.  And remember that God didn’t let what you are stand in the way of his love for you.  Why do we find it so difficult to love the unlovable?  There is really only one reason.  We have never truly experienced the love of God in our own lives.  We have never seen how undeserving we are of the love of God and have never rejoiced day by day in the knowledge that God has always loved us and continues to love us in spite of our constant failures.  Let us truly understand that God first loved us and gave himself for us, and then we will first love others, and give ourselves for them.   With that in mind, let us constantly be praying the prayer I gave you this morning from Dean Henry Alford, which, in part reads,

Herein is Love, not that we loved Thee, but that Thou didst love us, and didst send Thy Son to be a propitiation for our sins.

O God, we have known and believed the love that Thou hadst for us.  May we, by dwelling in Thy Love, dwell in Thee, and Thou in us.  May we learn to love Thee whom we have not seen, by loving our brethren whom we have seen.  Let us not be living at ease and faring sumptuously, while want and distress are lying neglected at our door.  Let us not be having our good things in this life, regardless that the lot of others is hard. Teach us, O heavenly Father, the love wherewith Thou hast loved us:  fashion us, O blessed Saviour, after Thine own example of love:  shed abroad, O Thou holy Spirit of Love, the love of God and man in our hearts. 

Amen.

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