Friday, June 10, 2016

Loyalty Rooted in Love (RCL Proper 11C, 12 June 2016)

Loyalty Rooted in Love
Reflections for Pentecost 4

RCL Proper 11C
12 June 2016

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church

            On the night of Thursday, the 11th of June 1981, in the Parish of Saint Michael the Archangel in Colorado Springs, Bishop Bill Frey of the Diocese of Colorado used his deep radio announcer’s voice to ask me, “Will you be loyal to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as this Church has received them?  Will you, in accordance with the canons of this Church, obey your bishop and other ministers who may have authority over you and your work?”  And I said, “I am ready and willing to do so . . . . “

            It was very easy for me to promise to be loyal to the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Church because I loved the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Church.  It was very easy to promise to obey the Bishop and other ministers because they, like I, had made the same promise for the same reason:  a love for this strange and wonderful community of those who have chosen to follow Jesus as Lord, a love for this difficult and at time cantankerous group of souls who sometimes lose their way and who work so hard to get back on track.

            Over the years there have been times when I have pondered whether I could keep the promises that I made thirty-five years ago and have renewed, in one way or another, many times since then.  To be sure I may have sometimes been tempted to keep my ordination promises because I was afraid.  This life is all that I have known and I was uncertain what would happen if I chucked it all in.  But I can honestly say that, when the fear passed, I realized that I have remained loyal to the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Church out of love, love for what we teach about God and being human, love for the challenge of being in community, love for the celebration in Word and Sacrament of God’s love made known to us in creation, reconciliation and renewal.

            Poor Ahab wanted to be a king like all the kings around him:  powerful, wealthy and feared by his subjects.  Unfortunately he was a king amidst a people steeped in the law and the covenant God made with Moses.  Ahab might wear nice clothes and a crown, but he was as much a subject to the law as anyone else.  Naboth was perfectly in his rights to keep his land and Ahab had a duty to honour Naboth’s choice.

            But people who want power are always afraid.  They are afraid that they won’t be taken seriously.  They are afraid that their dignity will be slighted.  They are unable to see that there are other ways to exercise authority, but fear leads them to use coercion and to manipulate people to do what serves their vanity.

            And so poor Naboth, honouring the law by keeping his heritage in the family, must go.  Ahab does not want a loyalty inspired by love; he wants an obedience motivated by fear.

            On the road to Damascus Paul’s understanding of how God was at work in the world was dealt a major blow.  He prided himself on his observance of the commandments of the Law of Moses.  He treated them as the terms of a contract:  if I, Paul, follow these rules, then you, God, will consider me righteous.  Whether this was ever how God intended the Law to be understood is the subject of another sermon, but it is the way that Paul and many of his contemporaries understood the Law.  Loyalty to the Law was the mark of a real Jew; it marked those who obeyed as among God’s favoured ones.

            But God pricked the bubble of that conceit in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  The loyalty God seeks, Jesus taught, is a loyalty based upon love, love of God and love of neighbour.  Jews were asked to follow the obligations of the Law out of love for what God had done for them by bringing them out of Egypt and into the land of promise.  Now, through Jesus, God was inviting the loyalty of Gentiles by asking them to trust, to have faith, in the life of Jesus of Nazareth and lead transformed lives out of love for that gift.

            22.34 When the Pharisees heard that [Jesus] had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.  36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”  37 He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  38 This is the greatest and first commandment.  39 And a second is like it:  ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’  40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” [1]

            These words of Jesus are not his invention; they are deeply entrenched in the rabbinic tradition.  Love God.  Love your neighbour.  Then ask how your loyalty to God is shaped by your love of God and neighbour.

            When the woman enters the home of Simon the Pharisee to wash and anoint the feet of Jesus, Simon only sees a woman who conduct violates the commandments.  But Jesus sees a woman whose loyalty is based upon the love she has witnessed in Jesus.  She is prepared to go beyond the limits set by the social expectations of the community because she knows that true loyalty is based upon God’s love and our response to that love.

            I am grateful that our society has changed over the last thirty-five years.  When I was first ordained, being a ‘church-goer’ was often an expression of conformity to cultural expectations.  It’s now possible in the eyes of our society to be a ‘good’ person who is ‘spiritual but not religious’.  You and I, ‘spiritual and religious’, are here because of love; our loyalty to the Christian community is an expression of our love for God and our love for our neighbours.  When we invite others to join us and to share the life we have found here, our message is one of love not fear, God’s eternal ‘yes’ to our yearning to find places of help, hope and home.

            All of us experience moments when our conformity is motivated more by our fears than by our love.  Becoming Christ-like, our life-long task, means finding a community such as Saint Faith’s where we can grow in love and cast God’s light in the corners of our lives where fears linger.  And then we find the perfect freedom of living in the service of God’s mission.

[1] Matthew 22.34-39

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