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  • Amelia Moffat, Youth Min.

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

August 30, 2020

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

The Rev. George C. Roberts

Exodus 3:1-15; Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28

Paul starts off by saying, “Let love be genuine.” What is that crazy thing called love? A word we hear often, assume we know. But what is Paul after? We should understand that love is between friends, spouses and children. Yet, Paul seems to say that love is much more in the kingdom that God would have us build. God’s kingdom is actually mediated by the sacrificial love of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. In fact, when Jesus is the mediator of any relationship, what can grow up in that relationship but love, whether it is between lovers, son/daughter, friend, stranger, or, yes, Jesus would say, even an enemy? Sometimes I think we forget, or refuse to acknowledge, just how far Jesus would have us go to hold fast to the image of genuine love Paul gives us in the beautiful passage from Romans today.

Yet, if Christ so desires us to love, why is love so doggone hard? We all, I hope, have known love. Love of a wife or husband, a sweet-heart or friend; of a child or even of an idea. But love is not easy to sustain and it so very often is conditional, strained, and over time may crumble and die, like so many marriages, friendships – not only ended but carrying with them animosities and enmities that border on – or drift all the way into – what appears to be hatred.

I see so much challenge in our world today, on the level of love. We tend to fear what we don’t understand, so it has always been rather easy to let ourselves despise or hate what we consider “not of us.” Whether based on racial calculations or ethnic background (let’s remember that in late 1890’s New York City, Irish born folk were often barded from community organizations, employment, and so much more because they were a) Catholic and b) well, poor and Irish).

I follow Fr. James Martin, a Jesuit priest on Facebook. He is the co-editor of the progressive (so titled) Catholic magazine, America. I don’t subscribe to the magazine, but I have enjoyed his book on his life with the saints and one on his pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He has posted, in the last week, on his FB, page two prayers: one given by him on the third night of the DNC and one given by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, a more conservative cleric, at the RNC, on the second night of their convention. Both prayers were non-partisan, in my view, both thoughtful and Christ-centered. Then I read the threads for both posts and they quickly dissolved into name-calling, smears and counter-smears, and the kind of vitriol we have become far too accustomed to on various campaign trails in recent years. Misunderstanding, fear of the other, and an unwillingness to see each other – fellow Christians, in this case – through the lens of love is consistently mystifying to me. And this is only a singular example.

I am also rereading Phillip Caputo’s Vietnam War memoir called A Rumor of War, which chronicles his 15 months in country during the early days of the conflict, March 1965 to September of 1966, as a young platoon commander. The book follows Caputo’s progression from gung-ho new Marine Corps 2nd Lt, ready for conflict and facing the enemy, to a disillusioned man, who protested the war, yet missed it when he rotated home for good. He does a lot of musing about how similar the young men he saw killed on both sides were. When we begin, somehow, to see each other as less than, worse than, different than, then conflict can break out as we fear so desperately, sometimes, that which we do not understand.

Jesus knew just a little about that, yes? He was crucified because those who held power and believed in a certain way feared him, hated him because they could not understand Him nor what drove His ministry. Jesus loved in a different way not based on what someone could do for him or what status they had but because He saw all people as a reflection of the divine light and image and loved them as such. Jesus’ command in John’s Gospel was for His disciples to love as He loved. He loved with genuine love. What is that again?

{God so loved the world, so adored His created children that He gave His only Son, Himself, the light of the world, that we might have life. But God did not do this to condemn us, to blame us, to hurt us but so that we could be saved, saved to love in His name.}

Let’s listen to Paul: “hate what is evil. Hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection … Bless those who persecute; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another … Do not repay evil with evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all … Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord. “No, if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink … Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

The Rev. Dr. MLK, Jr. famously said, “You cannot drive out hate with hate. Only love can do that.” I think that is what Jesus is saying today when he tells us that “if we would be his followers, we must first take up our cross and follow Him.” I have often said of this that each of us has a cross to take up but it is different for each of us, that sacrificial life Christ calls us to. But in this climate, this atmosphere of fear, anger, and disagreement that is bordering on - if not careening into- hate, we need to be people of genuine love. Love, that four-letter word that easily means little or comes to naught, can be the very presence of Jesus working His mediating mercy and blessing in the world.

We have seen genuine love in the world, the love of Jesus that can transform lives and communities. We have seen it in the likes of Maximillian Kolbe and Edith Stein; in Jonathan Myrick Daniels, and Rosa Parks. In the Freedom Riders and Dr, King – often people in hard circumstances who choose, are compelled, to love even in the midst of darkness, violence, and deprivation. We, my brothers and sisters in Christ, are bidden to hold onto the love that bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things and believes all things. We are called to love the world with the love that has no end because it is mediated by the One who died, in love, that we might have life.

The cross of Christ’s love is easy, and light, if we carry it in the name of Jesus, believing that we are doing his will by fostering love in a world that seems very much afraid of love, even while desperately yearning for it. Love is the only thing that the world has too little of (to quote the sappy song), but needs the most – the only thing that, in Christ’s name, can change the world.

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