October 29, 2023

Proper 25A – George Yandell

Today’s gospel has Jesus stating the great commandment of the Law: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ In short- Love God totally with your whole self.  He added, ‘A second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ and summed them up, ‘On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’ It is striking that Jesus was asked for one command and delivered two. He doesn’t mean that loving neighbor is similar to the first command, but is of equal importance and inseparable from the first. To love God is to love neighbor and vice versa. [The 3 sentences above adapted from The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol.8, p. 426, Abingdon Press, 1994.] Love passionately.  

When Christians use the word love with reference to God, to the deepest of human relationships, and toward the world, ‘love’ comes from the understanding of God’s nature as made known in Jesus. As it is revealed in the crucified and resurrected Jesus, we come to know love as unmotivated and unmanipulated, unconditional and unlimited. This love is not a feeling, but is commitment and action. [ibid. p. 425]  

Loving this way is sacramental- love is to be the outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual grace-filled response to God loving us, and it’s demonstrated with actions of love to God and neighbor. If there are no outward manifestations of love, the sacrament is void.   

The word ‘sacrament’ comes from the Latin ‘sacramentum’, meaning ‘pledge’. Sacramentum in turn translates a Greek word, ‘musterion’ which meant ‘mystery.’ Our word sacrament holds both the Latin and Greek meanings side by side- mystery and pledge- the mystery of God’s grace combined with our pledge to love God and neighbor transforms us into living sacraments.   

St. Augustine once said, “The spiritual value of a sacrament is like light; although it passes among the impure, it is not polluted.” By Augustine’s simile and by our own observation, people today might talk about sacramental love, but rarely act it out- the inward and spiritual grace is missing, so loving actions are all too rare.   

Listen to how Paul addresses the fellowship of Jesus in Thessalonica both in last week’s reading and today: “Paul, Silvanus and Timothy to the Church of the Thessalonians: We give thanks to God for all of you, constantly remembering your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ… We were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the good news of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.” They were living out the sacrament of Christ-love, and had inspired the fellowship to do the same. They had lost their old lives and lived resurrection lives.   

“For many of us, the life we need to lose is life lived for self. The life we shall then find is that of the self embedded in community. A community that connects us not only to other people but to the natural world as well. No wonder resurrection is so threatening; it forces us to abandon any illusion we may have that we are in charge of our own lives…..accountable to no one but ourselves. Resurrection requires that we replace that illusion with the reality we all rise and fall together, that we have no choice but to live in, with and for the entire community of creation.” [from The Active Life: A Spirituality of Work, Creativity, and Caring by Parker Palmer, 1990, Jossey-Bass Press, p.156]  

Living resurrection lives means we come together to renew our pledge- our pledge to love sacramentally for God and neighbor. We put flesh on that pledge through our giving to God through the fellowship of Jesus. No wonder we call an annual estimate of giving a ‘pledge’ to God. In a few weeks, we’ll all gather for Pledge Consecration Sunday. Each of us will be offered an estimate of giving card for 2024. It is a resurrection action we take individually for the whole community- our pledges make concrete the sacrament of love Jesus summed up- Love God, love neighbor as self in community. We participate in the mystery of Christ-love. It is made concrete, and we are transformed into new life.