Sunday, February 15, 2015

Homily for Quinquagesima

Luke 18:31-43; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; 1 Samuel 16:1-13

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Ok, so yesterday was Valentine’s Day, so how many of you took your beloved to see 50 Shades of Grey? ZERO! Good! That’s what I wanted to see [hands covering eyes]. That’s not what love looks like. That’s what lust looks like – and manipulation, and power, and greed, and fear, and hatred too. So, what does love look like? Well, our culture tells you that love is mostly sexual attraction and maybe warm feelings, happiness, a contractual agreement to share your money and possessions, etc. But, that’s not love either. Thankfully, today you heard the timeless and perfect description of love from the words of St. Paul, inspired by God the Holy Spirit: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” Sounds just like 50 Shades of Grey, right? Um, no.
Unfortunately, because of sin, we have a real hard time knowing and understanding what love looks like. In fact, when it comes to knowing and understanding love, we are pretty much blind. And so, St. Paul’s description of love strikes us as odd, poetic, archaic, or worse. Still, it does mention the word love several times, and so we are obliged to have it read at our weddings. And, though it’s somewhat ironic, that’s actually a good thing, for, if we are ever to truly understand God’s purpose in the institution of marriage, we are going to have to better understand the true nature of love.
And, here it is: Love is sacrifice – period. What else does Paul mean when he describes love as patient and kind, but not envious, arrogant, rude, irritable, or resentful, but that love is selfless, self-effacing, and self-sacrificing? That is to say that love simply isn’t concerned with the self, but love is concerned only with the other, with the beloved. And thus, St. John teaches us that “God is love.” Now, there’s a profound statement! To many, God is mysterious and unknowable, but here we have a simple description and definition of God in a simple, logical proposition: “God is love.” Or course, the problem is, as I stated earlier, we don’t understand what love is! If we could truly understand love, then we ought to be able to better understand God. So, St. Paul teaches us that love is sacrifice. Therefore, if love is sacrifice, and God is love, it follows that God must be sacrifice. But, does this pan out? Does Scripture teach this? Yes, it most certainly does! In fact St. John records for us our Lord Jesus’ teaching about love saying, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man would lay down His life for His friends.” What does this mean? Well, essentially, Jesus is saying that there is no greater possible love than self-sacrifice for a friend, a brother, a neighbor, the beloved. And then, your Lord Jesus commands you, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so must you also love one another.” What does this mean but that you are to sacrifice yourself for your friend, your brother, your neighbor, and your beloved? No, truly 50 Shades of Grey is not about love. Much of our Valentine’s Day tradition is not about love. And, because our culture does not hold this understanding about love, too often our marriages and our relationships are not founded in and ruled by this understanding of love.
Our failure to love carries over to our life as the Church, the body of Christ, outside of these walls, when we leave this place and witness to the world, in the world, but not of the world. Too often we are like Jesus’ disciples and the crowds following Jesus who, with their fleshly eyes, saw only an irritating, blind beggar along the roadside pestering their Rabbit and Master. They tried to shut him up and to shut him out. And yet, this blind beggar saw what the seeing did not see, that Jesus was not merely a Rabbi or a Master, but the Messianic Son of David promised by God from of old. The blind man cried out for mercy from the Man he recognized to be the love of God incarnate, but the disciples and the crowds did not love – they were not selfless and self-sacrificing – and, selfishly, they had no mercy for the blind beggar and, hypocritically, they thought they were serving their Master by casting away this man who called upon His Lord in faith.
They say that love is blind. Well, that’s true if we’re talking about being blind to outward appearances. For, indeed, love does not judge a person by what the eyes see alone; love does not judge at all. This is why love is the fulfilling of the Law of God, because love does no wrong to a neighbor. It’s safe to say that, if you are doing the loving thing, the truly loving thing, you are doing good, you are obeying God’s command. But, you can’t do the loving thing simply by trying harder or by being intentional about it, because you simply don’t have it in you. What I mean is, God is love, not you, and so, if you are going to love, you are going to have to love with God – you are going to have to love with God’s love. That means that God’s love has to be upon you. God’s love has to be in you. God’s love has to flow through you. Well, God is love – that’s the truth. And, God loves you – that’s the truth too. And so, God’s love is there, but, will you permit it to fill you and flow from you? Or, will you reject it, or selfishly keep it for yourself? Either way, you risk losing God’s love for yourself by hardening your heart so that it cannot enter therein and bear fruit.
We do not love, in part, because we judge by what our physical eyes see. But, this is blindness. As the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on [a man’s] appearance or on the height of his stature, …. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” Both Samuel and Jesse failed to consider lowly David because he had not the appearance and stature of a man they thought could be king. Likewise, Jesus’ disciples and the crowds that followed Him judged the blind beggar unworthy of the Master’s time and attention. And yet, David was the anointed of the LORD, His chosen king over His people. And, that blind beggar could see what the seeing disciples and crowds could not see with their healthy and fully functioning eyes, that Jesus was the promised Son of David, the Messiah, and the true King of the Jews. The blind man saw with eyes of faith, while the disciples were blinded by human reason and wisdom and by the sins of the flesh.
Likewise, we can be blind when we look at our Lord Jesus with only our fleshly eyes. Our fleshly eyes see only a pitiable figure who made great claims, yet was unable to keep Himself from being arrested, tried, convicted, and executed as a common criminal and rabble rouser. We must have the eyes of faith, and such vision is a gift of God the Holy Spirit, by grace alone. Indeed, this account of the blind man who could truly see and the seeing men who were blind follows directly on the heels of Jesus’ teaching about His coming Passion, death, and resurrection on the third day. Jesus taught them saying, “See – we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For He will be delivered over the to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging Him, they will kill Him, and on the third day He will rise.” But, they did not see. In fact, “this saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” That Jesus’ teaching was “hidden from them” is a clear indication that it can only be seen, it can only be comprehended, through the eyes of faith – a kind of sight that is not natural or fleshly, but spiritual; a kind of sight which must be given and received as a gift of God the Holy Spirit by grace through faith.
The blind beggar could see Jesus for the incarnate God and Savior He was. The blind beggar saw Jesus’ love. He knew that Jesus had come to have mercy and compassion upon sin-fallen and broken humanity, and so he did not boast of any works or place his trust in his faith or obedience, but he opened himself up to Jesus that he might be filled with His love and mercy. The disciples and the crowds, who could not see as the blind beggar could, had other ends in mind: manipulation, power, greed, fear, and hatred too. They had not faith as the blind beggar and so they could not see God’s love incarnate there in their midst. They had not love, because they were not open as the blind beggar, and so they could not be filled with Jesus’ love and mercy. Thus, the love that the Lord would fill them with, the love that He would have flow through them, and overflow out from them, was inhibited and fruitless. As St. Paul teaches, even holy works such as tongues and prophecy, knowledge of divine mysteries and miraculous powers, done without love are as useless and fruitless as noisy gongs and clanging cymbals. Even bodily sacrifice, without love, gains nothing. However, on the other hand, even the humblest works and deeds done in love are glorifying of, and pleasing to, our Lord and God.
And so, you are an emissary of God’s love, which has been poured out for and upon you, which fills you until you are full and overflowing with the love of God in Christ Jesus. But, be careful not to be deceived by the outward appearance, but trust in the Word of the Lord who sees a thing, and who sees the heart, as it is, remembering that there is no law against love, but love is the fulfilling of the Law of God. Truly, against such things as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control there is no law, but these are the fruits borne in you by the Spirit of God. Now, come and be filled with the body and blood of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, who is the fruit of God’s love poured out for you, that you may be filled with His love and bear the fruit of His love in sacrificial love and service of others in the world, but not of the world, to the glory of His Name – love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things – love that never ends.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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