This weekend, the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, the First Reading from the Book of Exodus is a whole list of how we should be behaving ourselves and how we should treat each other. We are told not to molest or oppress the alien (immigrant); to take care of widows and orphans (the marginalized and powerless); and to not extort the poor. A lot of these powerless and voiceless people are in the news currently; this is the challenge of our faith: to step back from fear and greed and positions of power and do what the Lord has clearly enjoined us to do.
St. Paul reminds us that we must become imitators of Christ; to live in the joy of the Holy Spirit and be models for all believers. He congratulates the Thessalonians today on the fact that they demonstrate being “imitators” of the Lord; for living in the joy of the Holy Spirit and on being “afflicted” by the Word (in other words, being bothered by their consciences for un-Christian behavior). You must ask yourself if you are you an imitator of Christ…
The Gospel this weekend has Jesus quoting the “Love Law.” “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” He goes on: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Everything in the commandments boils down to these two clear instructions and Jesus gives us a plain, lucid, and exact mandate for all our choices—for all we say and do. Today’s Gospel is about the greatest law: the one that demands love for God and love for all, and we are to do this with all our heart, our soul, our mind—our entire being. We are to love others—and yet sometimes they make it so difficult…
We should try and remember that we have more control over how we act toward others than how we feel about them, though, and by changing how we behave we have a much better chance of changing how we feel. While God might want us all to have warm, fuzzy feelings toward one another, He is more concerned with our behavior toward one another. Even the command to “love one another,” is not primarily a command to feel good about others, it is a command addressing how we behave toward others.
If we walk around with hatred in our hearts all, morally we’re just as much killers as the one who pulls the trigger. We can’t live that way and not be destroyed from within—you know the old saying that holding hate for someone is like getting revenge by drinking poison… If hate, anger, etc. is what we think and feel often for others, then we will be a death energy instead of life force in the world. (This past Thursday the Church celebrated the Memorial for St. John Paul II, Pope—remember his famous culture of death encyclical?) We cannot afford even inner disconnection from love because how we live in our minds and hearts is really our real and deepest truth.
How may we then, as baptized disciples of Christ, begin to follow this difficult love law? There is no better way to show God’s love than to work in service of the Body of Christ right here and now. Demonstrating love is actual faith in action in the world. We must work to show love—even when we don’t feel it. The verse for the Gospel Acclamation today (the Alleluia) begins with: “Whoever loves me will keep my word, says the Lord.” This is our responsibility, our directive, our instruction, our obligation as Disciples of Christ—to keep the law of love.
When we are tempted by all of our vice, sins and failings, tempted by the easy path, tempted to be first instead of last, tempted to speak or act in hate or anger—remember this: “Fake it ‘til you make it.” What do I mean by that? Act as if in love, speak as if in love, live as if in love, choose as if in love—live in love, mercy, kindness and forgiveness even when it is a challenge to do so—and maybe God’s grace will grant you His true love in your hearts and minds and souls. Pray to always be imitators of Christ—even when you are not feeling it…
Keep singing in your hearts!
Just a Note: Some of the most beautiful Scripture about love in the Bible comes from The Song of Songs—the Song of Solomon. Here is a musical setting of “Set Me As a Seal” by Rene Clauson.
Set Me As a Seal: https://youtu.be/PHcGPbUjUJ0
This hymn text reminds us that love is a covenant, a promise—especially in the last line of text. Sing along!
O God, Who Gives Us Life: https://youtu.be/zOvQtLQl-CI
“There is no other, there is no God besides me…” We hear this phrase in the Old Testament reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah this Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time. It matches the famous Gospel story today about the Pharisees trying to entrap Jesus with a question about the Roman census tax. He answers them with his well-known response: “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” The Pharisees were trying to catch Jesus; and instead the answer he gives puts them in their place. But what, exactly, belongs to God? Well, everything, of course! Today's Gospel encourages us to take a discerning look at everything we do and everything we are and asks us to put our lives and efforts in proper perspective.
Recently I read an article about sin and its various “categories.” We are well acquainted as Christians with personal sin, but the Church also calls us to consider corporate, communal, “group-propogated” sin, too. In this time of so much political division, it is important to hold up the values of our God in Jesus and to test as St. Paul reminded us couple of weekends ago: “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious…think about these things.” Human government—whether tribal, national, democratic, monarchy, authoritarian, freely elected or installed by military—is capable of both great good and terrible evil. (It is the same with every institution populated by human beings…)
As people of goodwill who care about their neighbors, Christians should be concerned about our social institutions as we are called to care for the poor, feed the hungry, cloth the naked, visit the imprisoned—we all know the long list! We are called to be concerned about ourselves and our conduct in our personal lives as well as our communal ones. We pay our taxes (having some skin in the “game) to help finance the state for its many social programs and safety nets, we encourage integrity in government along with economic and social justice in our Communities. We show ourselves to be good citizens by participating and following the laws of our land. Lately so much of our political rhetoric are personal attacks and commentary rather than an analysis based on our beliefs. It is easy to be frustrated and down-hearted when we see violence in place of diplomacy; personal gain and greed in place of the common good we are called to create as Christians in this field of souls.
Our everything: our fortunes and blessings, our effort, our entire life belongs to God. Before Jesus gives his famous answer about the coin, he asks: “Whose image is this (on the coin) and whose inscription?” This question is really about us—whose image do we bear, and where is our allegiance? The reason most unbelievers turn from our faith is because of Christians professing with their lips, but not with their lives and their votes. We all carry the sign of Baptism—but it is in what we do, in what we say, and in what our priorities are—that people know we stand for Christ. When people look at you the question is: whose image, whose imprint upon you do they see?
Read, think, support, and vote your convictions. Don’t get fooled into equating the Kingdom of God with party or confusing Messiah with candidate. We enter this life on earth with nothing and we leave here with nothing. Our lives proclaim our stewardship of what we have been given—our time, talent and treasure—all of our good gifts to be put to good use for the Kingdom and all the children of God. What belongs to God? Everything. Whose imprint is on your hearts and minds? Think about these things, pray on them. Keep singing in your hearts!
Just a Note: This piece of choral music, The Freedom Trilogy” by Paul Halley (another offering by the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Choir, my son Elliott’s group), is a three part piece that utilizes a Kyrie chant, the hymn Amazing Grace, and a joyous African Halleluya song (sung in Sotho, a language spoken in South Africa and Zimbabwe). Please listen all the way through—as all three parts of the piece are layered together in the last section.
(Btw—I have teased my son about all the pots and pans hanging behind his head in his kitchen (he is quite a chef)—and also about the big mustache—I told him he looked a bit like “The Frito Bandito” and he said sadly, that I wasn’t the only or first to say it… 😉 )
Freedom Trilogy: https://youtu.be/Ua4ds2svcd4
David J. Conrad, M.A. Theology. Our Director of Faith Formation.