The Sunday Sermon – Holy Cross: A Community of Love
+In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
The first stanza of one of my favorite hymns, written by Sir Henry Baker, goes like this:
The King of love my shepherd is,
whose goodness faileth never.
I nothing lack if I am his,
and he is mine forever.
This wonderful hymn addresses two themes that we are considering this morning. First, since today is the Last Sunday after Pentecost, it is the Feast of Christ the King, where we consider Christ, the king of all creation, but also Christ the King of our hearts.
And that’s where the Second theme of our worship comes in this morning. Over the last two Sundays, we have been considering the two theological virtues of Faith and Hope. Today, we I want us to consider the final virtue, Love.
Paul teaches us that in this world Faith, Hope, and Love abide. That is to say, in this world, Faith, Hope, and Love are present realities. But even as we live in Faith and Hope in God in this present world, we recognize, that our faith and hope and our love aren’t perfect. We make mistakes, and to borrow a phrase from Paul, “ We sin and fall short of the Glory of God.”
In that world to come, we will see God face to face. In this present world, we see in a mirror dimly. And when we see God perfectly, Faith and Love pass away because they are based on a view of the world to come that is obscured and partial. But when the fullness of knowledge comes, when perfect knowledge of God is ours in the world to come, one thing remains, and that is love.
Of the three virtues we have been considering these past few weeks, the one that Saint Paul exhorts us to pursue and to grow up in is the love of God because love never ends. Even when all else has passed away, when heaven and earth have passed away, when the sun and the moon endure no more, love continues on.
And in he wonderful goodness, God in his care for us has given us our Lord, to be for us an example of Love. As the hymn so wonderfully proclaims, our Heavenly Father has given to you and to me, a King of Love, to be our shepherd. And when we have him as our shepherd, and we are his beloved flock, we know that we need nothing more.
Now, we throw this word, “Love” around a lot, now-a-days. We use that word “love” to mean many things. We use it for profound things like, “I love God” or “I love my spouse.” And we use it for such common things as our favorite food: “I love that Steak I had for dinner last night.” And we also use it to describe things like “I love my Church family,” or “I love the people I work with.”
But when we say, “I love God”, or “I love my spouse”, or “I love steak”, or “I love my friends”, we don’t really mean that we feel the same each about them. Sometimes, I may love steak in a more powerful and meaningful way than my friends, but I would never say that I love steak, or even my friends, in the same way that I love God.
When we speak of loving different things, we speak of different kinds of love, really.
The greek language, which our New Testament was written in, used three different words for our singular word “Love.”
Now, I’m not going to go into a full blown Greek Lesson here. Rather, what I want us to understand is that the earliest Christians, when they spoke of how they were to “love one another” and how they were to love God, took one of those words and ran with it. They took the word “Agape.” But what’s siginifcant, I think, is that our ancestors in faith took the word for love that was used the least.
They didn’t use the word “Eros” which was the kind of love one had for one’s spouse, and they didn’t use “Philos” which was a sort of “Brotherly affection.”
No, they took a word for love which wasn’t really used all that much.
And I want to suggest to you that the reason they did that was because these two other words for “love” were over used. Or maybe it wasn’t that they were over used, but it was that these words just didn’t convey the kind of love they knew God had for them, and that they were to have for God, and in Christ, the kind of love they were to have for one another.
Our Early Christian ancestors took a word which had little or no use in the polytheistic religions of their day. And perhaps they did so because they wanted to talk about God’s love without confusing it with other kinds of love.
When John wrote the words of our Lord that we have come to know as John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whosever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” He didn’t use the word for brotherly love, or intimate love, of which the word “eros” had connotations. No, John used the word “agape” to translate our lord’s speech.
And when our Lord tells us “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” John again uses the word “agape.”
And yet again, when Jesus says “By this all people will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” John translates his Aramaic word with the Greek word “Agape.”
And I say all that because Scripture shows us that God’s love for us, and our Love for him, and our love for one another, the love which is a witness to the world of our Christian Faith, is supposed to be one and the same type of love.
One apologist and theologian, describes the three different kinds of love I’ve been talking about like this:
“Ero[s] love is egoistic. It says ‘My first and last consideration is myself.”
In other words, that kind of love is all about my interests and me. I don’t care about loving others, I love myself and that’s it.
“Phil[os] love is mutualistic. It says ‘I will give as long as I receive.’”
That is to say, I will love another, I’ll do good things for people, and care about people, but only so long and as far as I benefit from doing so. When I stop benefiting from my goodness, I’m going to stop loving.
Finally, he says
“Agap[e] love, on the other hand is altruistic, saying ‘I’ll give, requiring nothing in return.’”
That’s the kind of love that God has for you and for me. It’s a love that he gives us first, before we love him. As Paul tells us in Romans 5, “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
God’s love is, in other words, Christ our Lord, Christ the King of Love, our Good Shepherd.
And his love comes to us before we love him, when we fail to love him, even when we turn from that love. From now until the day of Judgement, that Good Shepherd, who will someday separate the sheep from the sheep, is now the Good Shepherd, who leaves the 99 Sheep to go in search of the one lost sheep, when you and I stray from the flock.
That’s the Love that God is calling us to: a love that endures through all eternity.
On the night of his arrest, our Lord, our King, after he had given his disciples heavenly food, his own flesh and blood, in the heavenly bread, and heavenly drink, Took off his outer garment, and tied a towel around his waist, and washed his disciples feet. And when he had finished being to them as a servant would be, he sat back down and told them: “A new commandment I give to you, that you ‘agape’ one another. Just as I have ‘agaped’ you, so also are you to ‘agape’ one another.
May it be our vision, to walk together, in faith, and hope and love. And, guided by the example of his great love for us, may we continually grow in those wonderful virtues, until that day, when all else passes away and we are his, his is our, forever. Amen.