Trinity 18 — The Summary of the Law

Preached October 7, 2012

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.

The teaching of the Church throughout the long season of Trinitytide is always to set before us the demands for living a holy life for our sanctification. The proper lessons chosen Sunday after Sunday keep asking us to consider these questions: What must we do to live a holy life in this world? What must our attitudes be? What are our relationships to be, both within and outside the Church? How do we conduct ourselves in each and every situation? These are profoundly practical questions for our everyday lives!

Today is the eighteenth Sunday after Trinity, coming this year on the first Sunday of October. As is the custom in our parish, we reviewed the entire Decalogue — The Ten Commandments — at the beginning of our Mass this morning, right before the Kyrie. You will recall that on Sundays other than the first Sunday of the month, we usually use the shorter Summary of the Law, spoken by the priest, at that point. This refers to a portion of our Gospel lesson for this morning, specifically: Matthew 22:37-40  37  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.  38 This is the first and great commandment.  39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. We hear these words so very often, but do we really understand what they are saying to us?

Look how very simple these words are! They are entirely familiar; most of us have heard them hundreds, perhaps thousands of times, and yet this truly is the complete summary of what the Lord God expects of us. Notice that love of God comes first, and it is complete, total love of God, involving all of our faculties – including heart, and soul, and mind. We cannot love God with our mind only, withholding our soul and heart, nor can we love God in any other partial combination. Our love of God must be complete, with our entire self. This is not easy. This demands a total transformation of our lives, from our natural selves to become people fully dedicated to God. In so doing, we will change the way we live our lives. If we think that we have given ourselves fully to God, but make no changes in our lives, we are deceiving ourselves. Dedication to God requires change in each and every one of us. Be not deceived!

Jesus said that love of God was the first and great commandment, but then He added that the second was like unto it, meaning that it was equally important. The second commandment is Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. While we might have thought the first commandment was difficult but perhaps doable, the second often strikes us as virtually impossible.  God is lovable because He is the sum of all perfections, the source of all goodness and light, and our eternal Father. When we look at our neighbors, we often do not have any similar thoughts regarding our neighbors, and thus loving them seems to present insurmountable difficulties for us. I would remind you that to love our neighbors does not mean that we must like them, that we must socialize with them, or any of the usual, everyday connotations of “love.” To love our neighbors, in the theological sense, means that we must seek the highest good for them, that they be brought close to God the Father and His Son our Lord Jesus Christ. Often, where good relations exist, we can do this by personal witness and seeking to bring them to faith in Christ. Where there is animosity and separation, we can seek to heal the breach, and we can pray for the salvation of those who know not Christ.

We can see that, even as simple, direct, and easily understood as the Summary of the Law is, left to our own devices we will be unable to live up to what is required of us, simply because of our sinful nature. We want to love God; we want to love our fellow man, but it is not in our nature to do this perfectly. We are sinful creatures. Consider then again the words of the Collect for the Day:

Lord, we beseech thee grant thy people grace to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil; and with pure hearts and minds to follow thee, the only God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

We pray to the Lord for grace that we may first be freed from the temptations of this life, namely the world, the flesh, and the devil. This is the first step, and we must first break free from the hold of these things on our life before we can really hope to grow in holiness. Only after that hold is truly broken, and our minds and hearts are made clean, then we can ask the Lord for further grace to follow in His Law, made possible only with His aid, given through our Saviour Jesus Christ.

At the practical level, this means making choices every day, in every situation in which we find ourselves. Recall that there were choices and commitments made for us at our Baptisms, for most of us quite long ago. There were also choices and commitments that we made in our Confirmations, somewhat more recently. It is only in so far as we are prepared to live in those commitments, and to renew them daily, in every aspect of our lives, that the Word of God is a reality in our lives. If we are unwilling to daily renew those commitments, then we have wandered from the true Christian faith, and we should re—evaluate our situation. Only when we are on the path laid out by Jesus Christ are we truly in union with Him!

Can we really do that? Can we really be making “mid—course corrections” to our lives on a daily basis? We look to St. Mark’s version of today’s Gospel events where we read Mark 12:34   And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. Notice that He tells the lawyer that he is not far from the kingdom of God, the point being that the lawyer is still lacking something critical, even though he has a good understanding of the Law. Knowing all of the details of the Law alone is worth nothing at all; there is the all—important doing of the Law that yet remains, and this is what the lawyer was yet lacking. But as we have just observed, we are totally unable to carryout the Law by ourselves. It is only when we acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and ask His divine aid that we are able to carry out the Law. It is not the authority of King David that applies here, but one much more mighty than David is at hand, Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, that David himself acknowledges as Lord.

Therefore, in the Collect, we prayed that God Himself will give us grace through Jesus Christ, to withstand all temptations and to follow Him with pure, unalloyed hearts and minds. This can only be by the grace of God Himself.

Finally, in today’s Epistle lesson, St. Paul gives an example of the practical fulfillment of the Christian life, and he gives thanks for the grace that enables this Christian colony in Corinth to live according to God’s Word:

1 Corinthians 1:4-8   4 I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ;  5 That in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge;  6 Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you:  7 So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ:   8 Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Could St. Paul say these same words of our parish? Surely we must strive to make it so! We must work and pray to be sure that these same spiritual gifts which Paul saw among the Corinthians are also are also evident among each of us.

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

About Father D

I am a priest of the Continuing Anglican Church, the continuation of orthodox Anglicanism into the present 21st century. My theology is definitely that of a Reformed Catholic point of view, neither Roman nor Calvinist.
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