St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 1st Sunday after Trinity, June 19, 2022
“Let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.”
WHAT was the sin of the rich man against Lazarus the beggar? If he wound up in hell, burning with the flames of torment, longing for a drop of water, why did he end up there? The parable our Lord paints so lavishly centers not on the poor man, but on the damned. What made him so? When the rich man asks Abraham to send water, a comparison is drawn of his having received comforts in life, and now it’s Lazarus’ turn. Was his sin in life the possession of luxury? Are riches worthy of damnation? Or was it for a sin of omission, his failure to feed the beggar at the gate, or tend to his wounds—a sin of not doing anything when he could have acted? I will make an attempt at finding something damnation-worthy in the man we in the Church have nicknamed Dives, for we’d better discover what that central figure in Jesus’ parable did so wrong that he found himself in flames.
Christian preferences since the Reformation generally go to faith, rather than works. Faith sets aside the question of sin, according to St. Paul, whose acts against Christians before his conversion were murderous. Now that Paul believes, he knows that faith, and not good behavior, has given him the path to heaven. Did Dives believe in God? Jesus’ famous jailbird isn’t painted as an atheist. He knows right away who Abraham is. He seems confused about his position in the afterlife. He never considered that his life on earth was heading him for perdition. I don’t think Christ’s parable is about the man’s faith.
Something deeper than behavior, and even deeper than belief is at stake here. If we splice St. Paul’s argument from 1st Corinthians 13 to this, we’ll conclude that all faith, all religious exercise, all sacrifice and generosity toward the poor, in itself, would get you nowhere nearer to heaven if these actions were devoid of love. King James language renders love as “charity,” and we describe the Greek word agape as a love that cares more for the object than for the self. Apply this standard to the epicurean Mr. Dives, and our x-ray of his soul shows nothing at all in the realm of the heart. He didn’t love Lazarus. He called him a bum, never spoke a word to him as his carriage rode by the emaciated form starving in his driveway. Dives went to hell because he did not love.
When we examine spiritual laws, it’s common to draw another conclusion. Evil deeds and definitions pour from the Seven Deadly Sins of Pride, Envy, Anger, Covetousness, Gluttony, Lust and Sloth. We cringe to think our foul deeds might one day be enumerated before heaven and all humanity in the Great Judgment: a stolen possession, a cruel lie, a vicious attack, liquid lunches, a sordid affair. We can’t face our sins of commission, and have a vague dread of hearing our sins of omission—what we should have done, but failed. Perhaps this latter category reveals our worst side and God’s reason for our failure to make the grade. Things we might have achieved, were our hearts set on God’s purposes—may tell more against us than the rotten things we did against our fellow man. Omission shows up our hearts: whether we did, in fact, love.
The greatest commandment, according to the Son of God, is to love God with every ounce of your being. This is first, and goes beyond believing in God. The devil, St. James says, believes in God and trembles with fear. I have encountered many people who believe that merely thinking God exists gets them saved. No specifics, mind you, simply Somebody Up There. Some Christian sold them a counterfeit fire insurance policy, I’m afraid, at a camp meeting or revival where the gates of heaven were set pretty low. No: we are to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.
The second great commandment is to love our fellow humans with the same love we naturally give ourselves. This is often more an old-world quality than an American one. Americans cast themselves as Western heroes: brave, lonely, a law unto themselves, never staying in town to love the girl. Riding off into the sunset, the hero can’t let his heart go to the people of the town who admire him, but never get his love.
Older cultures understand the obligation each human life presents to us all, as a society. The beggar offers me an opportunity to please God and prove that I am a believer. To love your neighbor is to pick up the victim along the Jericho road, and heal his wounds. It wasn’t the first aid he is praised for so much as the Samaritan’s heart of love for his Jewish neighbor in need.
Dives drove by. He never threw a sandwich out to the beggar. Even in hell, Dives regards Lazarus as a servant who should fetch him water. He’s not glad the poor man is comforted. He’s mad that Lazarus gets a better seat. Because Dives lacks love, he’s in flames.
Why is love the great command? Jesus, in his statement about commandments, says that on these two laws of love hang all the law and the prophets. Everything we’ve been shown of the will of God centers around love: love being the fulfillment of every commandment. How is that? Why love? Why not obedience? Why not purity? Why not faith?
These things are right and good, but they can’t provide motivation. We can do and do and do right things, but if done just to buy our time-share in heaven, or treasure inside the Pearly Gates, we’ve failed to understand. God is love. No one got this better than the Apostle John.
John enjoins us to love each other. Jesus’ New Commandment is the special seal on a New Covenant people that He calls out of the world. Love each other as He loves us, to the max, without reservation, self-sacrificing, thinking of others first. This is a high standard. But do you see that this love results in every other right behavior? Faith in God is shot all through this loving society, but the life’s blood of the faithful is the love of God and for one another. If we love, it’s because we’re born from God, and know God—by faith and in love, living in obedience.
Love was why God sent His Son. Love is given by God to us. If He loves us so much, we ought to love each other that much. We can’t see God, but we can see each other. If love passes between you and me, we’ve witnessed the God of love at work in us.
How does that love come to us? We have received the Holy Spirit who lives in us and gives our spirits life. God’s Spirit has all the nature of God, the God who is love. God’s huge love is as close as our heartbeat. Ask Him for the Spirit to enlarge your heart of love. And you will have it.
And what will such love look like? The characteristics of love should show themselves in the society of a loving church. How should that look?
We will be courteous. Respect of others is valuing the person you see as a whole, eternal being, called and saved by God, a person for whom Christ died. I must look on every Christian as a saint who will someday shine in the light of the Savior. So, I use polite language, hold open the door, smile and inquire about life, health, family, and work because this person is important. Important people require our courtesy, and every Christian is important to those who love.
We will show generosity. Our congregation provide refreshments every Sunday, not by assignment, but by those who give others this little pleasure. Social gatherings require food, and if we think of others, we want them to have something at the table where they sit and share life. If you never bring food, remember love. If you don’t have anything to give, God bless you and don’t hang back. Enjoy it, and then if you think of it, serve the rest of us by clearing and cleaning up. Coffee hour is the 8th Sacrament, our time of love in the Body. It’s important. Be intentional in serving others at that time, and don’t just go home.
Visit each other in good times as well as in need. We’re not a church only when we’re in the building. We all have needs. We all have places to go. Someone needs a ride to the doctor—think of your church members. Someone is sick at home—call your brothers and sisters, or call me and let me arrange it. How are we to be the sheep, and not the goats, to visit the sick, feed the hungry and give drink to those who thirst, if we don’t even know the needs of others, and we don’t inquire?
Talk with each other. The simple gift of speech you may limit to those you know best. Get over it. Talk to someone new. Stop sitting with the same people, week after week. Get off that chair and move, introduce yourself, if need be, and show interest in the person you’ve never spoken to. Spread the joy. Give yourself to more than just your favorites. Get over it. Get out of small circles.
If we start exercising our muscles of Christian love here in the safe boundaries of Church and coffee hour, we will surprise ourselves how much we enjoy the company of Christians, and might even seek others to enjoy, may I even say, Love? - who are not yet part of this or any other Church? If you worry about poor church attendance, try coming to Church yourselves, I mean placing all your heart within the compass of our great Lord’s new society.
I only admonish you here because it’s easy to come to church, put in your hour and a half, and just go home. Our service is so God-directed that in only one direction you meet just Him in that time. For the other 359 degrees, you may not have stuck around long enough to know the rest of us. We have Bible studies, week-night services, feasts, and time to be a Church more than in the liturgy.
God is love.
There is no fear in love. Love gets rid of fear.
Don’t fear, little flock.
Stop protecting your hearts.
We, who love God, love you too.