O God who hast prepared for them that love Thee
such good things as pass man’s understanding…
(Collect: Trinity VI)
Trinity-tide is all about growing in the knowledge and love of God; it is the green season, and in it, we focus on God’s spiritual harvesting of fertile virtue in our souls. The green vestments and Altar hangings of the season encourage us to pursue the fecundity of spiritual love and hope. We are being readied for things whose goodness, truth, and beauty exceed our wildest imagination. Yet the promised vision hinges upon our loving God above all things. The Divine Lover will reward our love for Him if we intend above all to be taken into His embrace. Our spiritual passion must be focused upon obtaining the Divine promises. Pour into our hearts such love toward Thee, that we, loving Thee above all things, may obtain Thy promises, which exceed all that we can desire. Not only will the vision of God exceed the limitations of human thought, but the love of God will burst the bounds of all human affection.
But loving God doesn’t come easily or quickly. The virtue is not easily attained. Last week we remembered the life and witness of Saints Peter and Paul and how they surrendered themselves to the radical otherness of God in Jesus. And so with a deeper fear of the Lord, their faith and confidence in Jesus were stirred as they forsook all and followed Him. (St. Luke v. 11) As such, they were being caught up in Christ’s net. Slowly but surely they began to die to themselves as they began to love Him, who loved them with the love of the Father. To be loved inspires unanticipated responsive affection. As the Apostles were touched by the love of God from the heart of Jesus, they would then begin to cultivate and perfect reciprocal love.
If we are going to learn how to love God above all things, we had better begin with obedience, the fear of the Lord, and faith in God’s promises. Christ says to us today that except [our] righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, [we] shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. (St. Matthew v. 20) The righteousness or justice of the ancient Jews –of the Scribes and Pharisees – is the law of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Jesus makes it clear that the observance of this law reveals a kind of love that is limited, measured, and contrived to yield earthly gain. It is intent upon manipulating and controlling people so that they behave in a certain way. It judges men and then rewards or punishes the effects or results of their choices. It might even assume that human justice is ultimate and final. But, as Romano Guardini reminds us, so long as we cling to this human justice, we will never be guiltless of injustice. As long as we are entangled in wrong and revenge, blow and counterblow, aggression and defense, we will be constantly drawn into fresh wrong. (The Lord, p. 81) Think about it. We are moved and defined by evil and what is wrong. In response to it, we think that we must use only those tools that evil understands. We are actually caught in wrong and evil. We think that we are doing good but we have forgotten that we ought to overcome evil with a much greater good, the good that comes from love. We think that we have won a victory for justice when in truth we have become the unwitting victims of an unending cycle of sin. Vengeance is mine. I will repay, saith the Lord. (Romans xii. 19)
Jesus goes on to find the origin and cause of our inadequate love in the soul. Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: but I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.(Ibid, 21, 22) By reason of our fallen spiritual condition we naturally love those who love us and hate those who hate us. We love those less who do not love us enough or meet our expectations. We judge their inadequate love to be hate and we respond in kind or worse. And while there may be just cause for righteous anger in certain situations, Christ seems to imply that this is all the more reason to love with greater passion in the interests of helping an offending brother out of his sin and into righteousness. This is what God wants. Yet because of our own insecurities, we respond with, Raca or Thou Fool! The Biblical Scholars tells us that Raca means worthless or empty one. So, beginning from within the human heart and mind the man who is angry with his brother and not the cause (Idem) is in spiritual trouble. Jesus says that what happens is that the sinner and not his sin has become an object of retaliation and retribution. What has happened is that the offending party has been elevated to the status of a worthless and empty false god. If we hadn’t made him into a false god, we would hate the sin but love the sinner!
Jesus teaches us that the real threat to loving [God] above all things is internal and spiritual insecurity and fear. Anger or wrath is easier than the creative love that might help a brother or sister. Sloth also impedes the desire to help. Envy and Pride, no doubt, play their respective roles. When one hates another man, he ceases to hope for that man’s conversion and salvation. He judges his enemy –if he even is an enemy because he has never felt the healing power of God’s mercy in his own soul. He is probably afraid to be touched by God’s love. He forgets that his soul is always in need of God’s power of healing and transformation. He finds God’s love too daunting to accept because it is too dreadful to consider.
However, if God’s merciful curative love begins to touch and change the human soul, as it did with the Apostles, there is hope that it will discover God’s promises. Yet it must be pursued conscientiously with all due diligence. All potential threats to its growth in the soul must be abandoned with haste. Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother …Agree with thine adversary quickly…lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. (Ibid, 24,25) What imperils the fertility and harvest of God’s love in the human soul is other people and our judgment of them. The angry pursuit of earthly justice elevates human injury to the level of Divine importance. We may wreak vengeance on an earthly enemy, but what are we left with? A crop of self-satisfaction that quenches the spiritual discovery of those good things as pass man’s understanding…and the promises that exceed all that we can desire. What is lost is the needful and merciful love of God which longs to lift the accuser and accused above their division and difference and into God’s healing love. Anger makes [a man] smaller, while forgiveness enables him to grow beyond what he was. (Cherie Carter-Scott)
Jesus teaches us that if we long for such good things as pass man’s understanding, God’s promise to heal our souls will come true as His compassionate love corrects and cures us. Thus, anything and everything that impedes the progress of our loving God above all things must be put in its proper place. We must confess, with Dr. Jenks, that we have foolishly and wickedly forsaken the fountain of living waters, to hew to ourselves broken cisterns, that can hold no water; shutting our hearts against the love of our chiefest good…preferring trifles and vanities of this present time; and the satisfaction of our own foolish and hurtful lusts, above God and His love, which is better than life itself. (Jenks, Prayers…168)
So, Jesus tells us that if God’s love is to become our chief delight, we must agree with our adversary quickly. (Idem) This is the testing ground for our love. On it God sees whether we truly are aiming to love Him above all things. Agreeing with our adversary quickly means that we ought to endure his attack by disarming. First, we ought to listen quietly and calmly to those who have something against us. It encourages us to see our enemy as a potential brother in the Lord and to pray for rather than judge him with a harsh word or violent affection. Geoffrey Chaucer tells us that the remedy for gire and rash rage in order to discern our enemy’s sickness and pray for his cure. Patience endures the enemy’s assault out of hope for his salvation.
Both gentleness and patience are virtues that come out of the heart of Christ who loves God above all things. Christ enlarges His heart to welcome us into His loving. His gentleness and patience enabled His love to go to the Cross for us. But His love does not cease to flow back to God and out to all men in His death. His love is that Divine gentleness and patience that rises up into Resurrection and Ascension and then descends once again into Pentecostal fire. It loves God above all things and loves God in and for all things. It seeks what is above in order to penetrate and convert what is below. Because it is always returning to its source, it can bring good out of evil, right out of wrong, and love out of hate. This is the love that exceeds and passes man’s understanding. This is the love that desires to enlarge our affection that we can touch all men with the hope of Christ’s healing.
St. Paul tells us this morning that this kind of love will be found if we remember that we have been baptized into Christ’s death. (Romans vi. 3) Being baptized into Christ’s death means that the body of our sin is being destroyed. (Ibid, 5) The merciful operation by which the love of Christ is bringing sin to death in our hearts must always make us conscious of our own imperfection. There is always something better to be attained in Christ. Agree with thine adversary quickly, Jesus insists. Otherwise, we shall never find it.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons: