We love Him because he first loved us.
(1 St. John iv. 19)
Trinity Tide is the season of green. The Churches of Christendom are draped in green, the sacred ministers don the same color, for it symbolizes green and fertile growth, fecundity and new life that the soul first finds imaged in nature and then wishes to imitate in the spiritual life. This is the season in which we focus specifically upon the growth of the virtues in the human soul.
Now prior to this season we have witnessed the appearance and growth of God’s Word in the sacred humanity of Jesus Christ. From Advent to Trinity Sunday we have observed God at work in the particular, individual, human life of Jesus Christ. Following Pentecost and moving towards Trinity Sunday we observe that something has changed. What we see is that the glorified Risen life of Jesus Christ, having fulfilled the Father’s will and purpose completely and fully in the Ascension, now turns around and opens up once again as He expands to create a new Body out of faith in His Grace. We are, in other words, invited into the life of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. We are beckoned to become members of Christ’s new Body, the Church, which he forms and molds from the Heaven of his unity with the Father. And so, salvation is not a matter for the future, but rather a process that must begin here and now if we hope to find ourselves at home with God on judgment day. Christ is our yes to God. We say yes to God in Christ, and if this be the case, that yes must become our yes to God as we begin to embrace the virtues that the Holy Spirit engenders.
So from our Epistle today we are taught about what it means to make our yes to God inwardly and spiritually. St. John, the beloved disciple, tells us in his First Epistle that our yes to God is all about receiving what God and His Son Jesus Christ truly are. God is love (1 St. John iv. 8), and what we are to receive first and foremost is the love of God, and what that love is. Our definitive and determined yes to God means saying yes in our hearts and souls to the virtue of His love. And what we say yes to is a love that has come to us, visited us, even insinuated itself into our own human nature and condition in order to save us. In this was manifested the love of God towards us, because that God sent his only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. (Ibid, 9) God is love, and he sent His Son Jesus Christ into the world that we might live in His love. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent his Son to be a propitiation for our sins. (Ibid, 10) Love is God’s true nature. We are called to say yes to God because He is that love that has come out of Himself, down from His own perfection, to reconcile us with Himself. In Jesus Christ we have been visited by the infinite love of God. Jesus Christ is that perfect yes to God and the yes to man. His yes to God combines perfect love for the Father with uninterrupted obedience. His yes to us is a perfect love for all men expressed as His uninterrupted desire for our salvation. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. (Ibid, 12) If we say yes in Jesus Christ, we shall begin to love and obey the Father, and then love our neighbors and desire their salvation. Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us; because he hath given us of his Spirit. (Ibid, 13) His Spirit is the love that enables us to love both God and our fellow men. If we say yes to his Spirit, we say yes to the virtue of His love. God is love, and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God and God in him. Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as he is, so are we in this world. (Ibid, 16)
St. John tells us more. Perfect love casts out all fear. (1 St. John iv. 18) Fear of people, places, and situations threatens to kill the birth of all virtue in the soul, and especially love. Fear hath torment. (Ibid, 18) Fear is characteristic of one who has not embraced the forgiveness of sins, has not cherished the priceless treasure of Christ’s merciful love in his heart. What is there to fear if God in Jesus Christ calls us out of our no to him, no matter how great our sin, and into the new yes to his power, his wisdom, and his love? We love him, because he first loved us. (Ibid, 19) We love him because his love has destroyed our division and separation from himself. He makes the first move. He comes to us to destroy our sin and death. He comes to offer to us the priceless treasure of his life, that we might live through him. (Ibid 9)
Yet still, if we will embrace the love that is God, then we must acquire other virtues that ensure our habitual yes to it. First we must embrace the courage and fortitude that God’s Grace generates. God says this morning to Joshua, Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper withersoever thou goest. (Joshua i. 7) Courage and fortitude are gifts from God that enable the soul to focus exclusively on God, to trust in Him, and to keep his commandments. Courage invests a man with the strength to face adversity in the knowledge that God is our hope and strength, a very present help in times of trouble. (Ps. xlvi. 1) When we say no to God, and fail to keep his commandments, neglect the fear of the Lord, dismiss the courage and fortitude that he lends to us, we consume away in [God’s] displeasure, and are afraid at [His] wrathful indignation. For when thou art angry all our days are gone…. (Ps. xc. 7,9) Preliminary to the reception of God as Love is the preparation necessary to the soul’s purification. From God this comes first in the form of tough love. Tough love demands that the soul ready itself for the deeper in-presencing of God’s merciful healing and transformative power. Tough love then demands that we confess seriously the soul’s fallen condition, that we repent with sorrow over lingering sins, and that finally we reach out to the Lord for healing and relief. The penitent is always a man poor in spirit who reaches out for the mercy and healing touch that God alone can give. Show thy servants thy work; and their children thy glory, (Ps. xc. 16) we cry, for we know that without them we are doomed and damned.
This brings us to the Gospel parable for today. The parable is really all about what follows if we decide to say no or yes to God. What we learn from it is that an habitual no to God ends up revealing our separation from God because we think we have no need for His mercy and love. Because it says no to God’s love, it says no also to the love of neighbor. In the parable we read of a certain rich man [who] was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. (St. Luke xvi. 19-21) What we conclude is that the rich man stepped over and disregarded poor Lazarus, as he came and went in his luxurious living. We do not read that Lazarus ate of the crumbs that fell from [the rich man’s] table, but that he was left to the sympathy of the dogs whose tongues assuaged the smart of his wounds. The rich man had clearly never felt the need for God’s love. He that loveth not, loveth not God. (1 St. John iv. 8) So the one of whom all may have spoken well, who dwelt at ease, avoided all pain and pursued all pleasure (A’d. R.C. Trench, N.P.’s p. 346) died, went to hell, and was tormented. We should not conclude that the rich man was a glutton, winebibber, or notorious liver, but that he loved neither God nor his fellow man. (Ibid) His sin was not in being rich. Rather it lies in his indifference to the love of God and thus the love of neighbor. And so, in the end, he finds himself in hell, separated from the beggar…who was carried into Abraham’s bosom. (St. Luke xvi. 22) Lazarus was saved because he desired to be fed with the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. (Ibid, 21) While Lazarus virtuously realized his need for mercy, the rich man's vice lay in his supposed ability to take care of himself. What is essential is the desire for mercy because to desire mercy is to desire God. The need for mercy says yes to God. God’s mercy is his love, and without the demand for it and the expression of it in our lives, we are doomed and destined for hell.
Meister Eckhart says this about the difference between those rich in this world’s goods but spiritually destitute, and the poor. The poor man, by taking a handout, gets closer to God than he who gives one hundred dollars ‘for God’s sake’. The rich giver is glad to be so good natured and proud of what he does, but the poor taker has to subdue his feelings and despise his status. The rich giver is much courted for his gifts whereas the beggar is despised and rejected for being a taker. (M.E. Fragment #6) Lazarus, the poor man, is saved because he sees that he cannot be self-sufficient, and is thus wholly dependent upon the mercy of another. No man is an island, John Donne has said. Lazarus is saved because he needs mercy, compassion, pity, forgiveness, and the love of God. Lazarus has no possessions, no riches, not so much as a morsel of food; he is sick, wounded, and abandoned. He has neither strength nor power. And so he cries out to be possessed, to be loved, to be helped, and to be healed. And in the end he was, and so becomes a model for our own needful poverty of spirit. For we shall not be saved unless and until we become truly needy for what God alone can give to us.
My friends, today let us all become poor like Lazarus in the Gospel. The name Lazarus means God is my help. Let us need God’s help and mercy, let us receive and cherish his forgiving love, let us courageously embrace it in the fear of the Lord. We love Him, because he first loved us…and sent his Son to be a propitiation for our sins. (1 St. John iv. 19, 10) God loves us with a love that we neither desire nor deserve. In value and worth it is a treasure whose worth far surpasses all the earthly happiness that man’s money can buy. Besides, earthly happiness may cost us our eternal salvation. For the priceless gift of God’s love for us, if received sincerely and thankfully, cannot help but overflow into the lives of others. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. (1 St. John iv. 121 And, God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. (Ibid, 16) Amen.
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St. Michael and All Angels Sermons