Preached August 29th, 2010
St. Luke 10:23–37
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Today, at the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity, we begin the second half of the Trinity season. In the first half of the season, we considered God’s love for us, our responsibilities arising from being accepting as adopted sons of God, and finally the sufficiency of God’s grace to meet our needs. Now we begin to deal more directly with how a Christian ought to live — with Christian character and virtue in our daily lives. Today we begin a five Sunday sequence in which we consider the internal graces of love, holiness, singleness of heart, patience, and humility. That series will be followed by another dealing with more external graces required in our daily lives, but the second will come several weeks from now.
What was the relation of Abraham to God? Was Abraham under the Law of Moses? No, it is evident that cannot be if you simply recall that Abraham predates Moses by hundreds of years. So the relation of Abraham to God cannot possibly have been that of one under the Law of Moses. Rather recall how St. Paul describes it in our Epistle lesson for today, Galatians 3:16 Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. God had made a Covenant with Abraham and his family to be the Chosen People of God. This was a happy relationship, without compunction or legalism involved, and in this happy relationship, all of the natural obligations of service flowed in a most simple, natural, loving way.
Little is actually said about the service obligations that existed in this relation, although there is one striking example that we should notice. In the 22nd Chapter of Genesis, when the Lord God tests Abraham’s obedience by asking Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac on Mount Moriah, Abraham sets out with a heavy heart, but with every intention to carry through with the command as given. Abraham was in tune with the will of God. The son Isaac was a gift from God, a part of God’s promise; if God required that Isaac be sacrificed on the mountain, Abraham was prepared to do whatever God asked for him to do. Abraham listened to, and responded to God in this very easy relationship of love that existed with God before the giving of the Law.
You will recall, of course, what happened. When famine forced the Hebrews to go to Egypt in search of food, they wound up there as slaves for 400 years. Over the course of that time, they lost track of their heritage, the Covenant that had been given to their forefather Abraham, and they were no longer observant of the responsibilities that were attendant upon that relationship with the Lord God. In short, they fell away. When God sent His servant Moses to rescue them from the Egyptians, the people were no longer following in the Covenant relation to Him as they previously had. For this reason, a new relation had to be defined, and that was done with the giving of the Ten Commandments, the Law of Moses. This, of course, was soon much expanded to include a wide variety of ceremonial, dietary, and other laws as well.
The giving of the Law cannot really be regarded as progress, but rather as a step backward, a step away from the free and loving relation between Abraham and God to one that was now constrained by legal requirements. St. Paul gives the reason for the Law when he says, Galatians 3:19a Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, To put it plainly, the Law was added because men were doing that which was wrong, and they had to be given strict guidance as to God’s will. Simple conscience had failed to do the job as it was intended to do, the conscience guided by our natural sense of right and wrong as given to every man that is born. Written rules had become a necessity when conscience failed and no longer responded to the unwritten natural laws of duty.
This meant, however, that the relation between God and men was definitely changed because every honest man was then forced to look at himself in the mirror of the Law to see where he stood with God. This meant that serving God was no longer what was in the heart of man, but rather was guided by the written rules, written on paper, or clay, or stone. God was definitely moved further away from man. He was no longer the loving intimate that he had been with Abraham. St. Paul tells us, Galatians 3:19 Wherefore then serveth the law? …. it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. He is telling us that the Law was given by the angels to Moses, all of which puts quite a lot of distance now between God and the common man. Thus a major transition from the simple, intimate religion of the Jewish Patriarchs has developed into a very distant, impersonal, legalistic religion with Heaven very far away.
The Christian faith is a return to something much more nearly like the primitive faith of the Jewish Patriarchs, a faith quite different from that of Moses. Throughout the entire lesson, St. Paul is expressing the idea that the Christian Church is the seed of Abraham, the continuation of the faith of Abraham, and he is not at all connecting the Christian Church to Moses. He sets aside the Law as having been necessary for a while, but as now replaced by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He does not condemn the Law as having been bad or a mistake, and we know it certainly is not. But he simply says that is not the way to salvation. Salvation is through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord. It is a terrible mistake to turn from this much higher way of life, the Gospel way, back to the lower way of life under the Law.
We need to remember that, in being made members of Christ’s body, the Church, through our Baptism, we are each made a child of promise, just as Isaac was to Abraham and Sarah. We become the possessors of a grand inheritance and heir of the rich promises of Heaven.
Living in this relationship of Love with God must motivate true and laudable service, the proper service of true sons of God, just as Abraham served God in his day. We have to bear in mind that this is voluntary service, the service of sons, not compulsory service dragged out of us unwilling slaves. If we do not serve in this manner, we have missed the point and we are not living as true sons of God.
All of us have occasion from time to time to stand in a queue, whether it be at the bank, the grocery store, or the movie theater. You know that you can see just a few people ahead of you, and a few people behind you, even if the queue is quite long. If you look over their heads, you can see the features of the building, both ahead and behind you, even if they are quite distant from you. Now keep that image in mind, but think of it as the Church. In the Church, we can only see a relative few people close around us, but we know that the line in which we stand is the Communion of Saints, extending from the distant past and going on into the future. Far behind us, we can see the Cross, the final revelation of God’s love for mankind. Still looking behind us, but much closer, we see our own parents and grand parents, the ones who brought us into the Church in most cases. These are the ones who brought us to Holy Baptism as infants, who made sure that we grew in the faith, and that we were ready for Holy Communion when we got older. Thus they not only gave us physical life but they also guided our spiritual steps into the ways of eternal life as well. When we look on ahead, we see whatever years of life and work remain for us, and then the hope of a holy death at the end. With this last is the expectation that we will hear the voice of Christ in Paradise. This is the blessing of seeing in Jesus Christ the forgiveness of our sins here and now, the promise of grace for our lives today, and the hope of glory to come. This is the blessedness of the whole Church, and each and every Christian, to be able to see the love of God, and to know that they live under God’s love in this marvelous queue called the Communion of Saints.
There are really just two essentials to Love. We know them from the Summary of the Law: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all soul, and with all thy mind. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. But we cannot love God without loving our neighbor, nor can we love our neighbor without loving God. Thus these two commandments really come down to a single commandment because they must be fulfilled jointly.
To love our neighbor means to love him as a rational creature, made like us in the image of God and capable of loving God. The motive for this is the same as our motive for loving God, namely the goodness of God. We love our neighbor because God loves him and gave Himself for our neighbor. The good that we wish for our neighbor is that he, like us, may love God; this is what it means to love our neighbor.
Notice that we do not have to like our neighbor in order to love him. Notice also that no man can love his neighbor who does not himself love God. No man can love his neighbor who does not love God, because to love the neighbor means to desire that the neighbor be brought to love God. That desire is the heart of neighborly love.
In today’s Gospel lesson, the Good Samaritan is the example of love. This is a particularly effective argument against all sorts of prejudice and principles of exclusion in terms of service to others. Recall that the Samaritans were a despised people as far as the Jews were concerned, so casting the Samaritan as the “good guy” here is quite a slap in the face to the smug, self–righteous Jews who would immediately look down upon the Samaritan. The Samaritan displays three essential marks of the service of love.
The first point is that the Samaritan asked no questions. Remember that the telling of this parable came about because of a lawyer who had asked the question, who is my neighbor? The lawyer was afraid of loving too widely. But the Samaritan asked no questions, did not concern himself with the man’s ancestry, with his religion, with his family status, or any similar matters. He simply proceeded to do what was needed to help the man who had been beaten and robbed.
The second point is that the Samaritan did not consider any objections to helping. He did not consider whether it was safe — the robbers might still be nearby — or if this would delay his business trip unacceptably, or the fact that he was going to have to walk some distance to the inn. We can imagine he had a few of those thoughts, but the important point is that he chose to stay and help rather than keep moving. There are always many “good reasons” for playing it safe and not getting involved in helping other people. We should remember, however, that it was Love that left Heaven to come down to earth, and it is a serious question as to whether selfishness will ever reach that journey’s end. The Priest and the Levite were so concerned to save their souls that they would not risk them for the injured man, and it is doubtful that they will in fact actually save them after all. Heaven is not found on the other side of the road.
The third point is that the good Samaritan does not spare the expense once begun on the work. Once he committed to help the man, the Samaritan uses his own means freely, his supplies of oil and wine, and then his own beast of burden to transport the man to the inn. After caring for him a night, the Samaritan leaves money for further care and guarantees the bill for expenses beyond that amount. He makes sure that nothing needed is lacking for the completion of this work, even if he cannot personally remain to see it through. The work will not fail for lack of resources because he has pledged to make good whatever the cost may be.
Although not the way the parable is told, Jesus Christ himself is the good Samaritan, having lived a life of love just as He preached love. Jesus never asked questions that resulted in excluding anyone from His healing or other miracles, and he never despised to help anyone because of their social position or lack of status. As we know, there was never any lack of supplies available for Jesus miracles, even if was only a few loaves and fishes!
We are caught up in the love of God, surrounded in it as we live our lives within the Church. Let us never become so numbed to this wonder that supports us in our daily lives that we do not appreciate it, or that it causes us to neglect to do the service of sons in love as we are bound to do.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.