Preached October 3rd, 2010
1 Corinthians 1:4–8
St. Matthew 22:34–46
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
We have considered the principal inward graces of the Christian life – love, purity, singleness of heart, patience and humility. But it is not sufficient to simply have these in our hearts without putting them into practice in our daily lives. We must act on these inward thoughts to actually live a holy life. This will occupy us today and for several Sundays into the future.
We are most fortunate to have the Book of Common Prayer in which the wisdom of the Church is so carefully laid out for our edification in an orderly sequence. It is a valuable guide both for private meditation and for public teaching and preaching. This is particularly true in the Daily Offices and the associated Lectionary readings.
For today, we take up a summary of the life of active Christian duty.
Our Epistle lesson for today is taken from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Corinth was the largest, most cosmopolitan, and most decadent city in Greece. It was a great commercial center and port for the region. Fully two thirds of its population of nearly 3/4 million were slaves, and much of the commerce was in human flesh. It was in many ways an “advanced” society with all that this suggests regarding moral corruption and decay. Paul had been in Corinth in the yeas AD 51 and 52, where he had preached with great success. This letter to the Church at Corinth is written some four or five years after Paul had left the city and the Church was struggling in the moral morass in which it found itself. The overall theme of the letter is that Christians are called to be different from the crowd, to stand up and stand out, to be different even when it means social ostracism.
Standing up, being different because we are Christians, is definitely our calling, but as we all know from personal experience, this requires strength of character, the courage to face the rest of the world around us and be unafraid to be different. This can only be done through the grace of God; no man is strong enough to do this alone. We all crave acceptance, to be accepted by those around us. To stand up and say “I am different because of Jesus Christ,” requires an inward strength that is available only through Christ Himself. St. Paul says in the Epistle lesson for today that he gives thanks to God for the grace that has been given to them for this purpose. He is reminding them of the fact that they have received these blessings, that the grace of Christ has been poured out upon them, and that they have only to call upon this grace in order to have the strength that they need to live the distinctive lives to which they are called.
But St. Paul, in addressing the entire congregation, makes it clear that these gifts are available only in the continuing fellowship of the Church, not in isolation. We are not to look for the grace of God separated from the Church, but rather within the Body of Christ, the Church, by means of the Word and Sacraments. The Sacraments are social ordinances, binding us to God, but also to each other in an ever more perfect fellowship in Christ. In the Church, no one lives for himself, but each is given work to do for the benefit of all, and the power to do that work comes from God Himself. In this way, the Church prospers, the Word is extended into the world, and every Christian is moved along the way of sanctification.
Grace comes to the Church in many forms, as St. Paul says, 1 Corinthians 1:5 That in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge; They have been given everything necessary for the Christian life, in knowledge of God and in the ability to proclaim that knowledge. The enriching and perfecting of the Church, the Body of Christ, is certainly the goal for every Christian, but this can only be done in bits and pieces. The full riches of Christ are not given to any one Christian, but are only found in the Church taken all together.
Even as St. Paul tells the Corinthians that they have received the full grace of God, he also speaks of continuing to grow in grace. They, and we, are not to think of ourselves as having received the full grace of God and being therefore complete and finished. They, and we, are to be ever looking forward and waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and as we do, we are to be continuing to grow in grace as we approach that time. The goal is that they, and we, may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. We must not be afraid to be different as we grow for the sake of Jesus Christ!
The Gospel lesson for today begins with the familiar exchange between Jesus and the lawyer who asks Jesus what is the great commandment of the Law? Jesus responds with the passage that we know as the Summary of the Law.
The first part is, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. When we think in terms of our service to God, the most essential aspect of doing proper service to God is the desire to serve Him perfectly. That desire is expressed in this statement of the First Great Commandment. When we serve with anything less than this attitude, then our failings are no longer because of our human failings but rather because of our human negligence, our lack of perfect intent. When anything less than perfection is the goal, to plead our human imperfections as an excuse for our failings does not suffice because perfection was never the objective.
The second part of the Summary is, And the second is like unto it. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. The words, the second is like unto it, make it clear that although this is the second part, it is of similar importance to the first part. This is not just some secondary statement that may be treated as minor in comparison to the first part, but rather, it is every bit as important as the first part. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves. The same God who created us also created our neighbor. He created both of us as rational creatures, able to know Him and to love Him. I am to love my neighbor because God loves him as God also loves me. God sent His Son to die for both me and for my neighbor.
There is often much confusion about what it means to love my neighbor. It is often confused with being friendly with my neighbor, baking cookies for him, visiting, lending things, etc., in short, being neighborly. There is certainly nothing wrong with any of these things, but they do not necessarily show love for my neighbor. To love my neighbor means to desire that he may love God. We put this in concrete form by showing the love of God to our neighbor and telling the Good News of Jesus Christ to him, but that is not necessarily the same thing as those things usually called “neighborly.”
But the Gospel lesson did not end with the expected words that usually close the Summary of the Law, On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets. No, it continues on with a question from Jesus to the Pharisees, Matthew 22:42-45 42 Saying, What think ye of Christ? whose son is he? They say unto him, The Son of David. 43 He saith unto them, How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying, 44 The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool? 45 If David then call him Lord, how is he his son?
This implies yet another commandment, a requirement to believe on Christ in His humanity as the Son of David, and in His divinity as David’s Lord. Is this an additional burden imposed upon us?
Not really, because —
1) Faith in Christ has removed a barrier between man and God. By the sacrifice of Himself on the Cross, Jesus has removed the fear caused by guilt for which God is seen as an object of dread. Fear casts out love, but Christ has cast out fear.
2) Faith in Christ makes it easier to love other men, following His example, and for His sake.
Thus, if faith in Christ is a third commandment, it is actually the source of grace that enables us to fulfill the two original duties. The love of God and the love of man is made possible for all who believe in Jesus Christ who is both God and man in one.
We are definitely called to live lives that will separate us from the world, lives that will expose us to the judgment of the world, to ridicule, to criticism, and possibly to outright condemnation. We need to be strong in our Christian faith, strengthened by the continuing growth in grace that comes through His Church, so that we may be found blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.