Sermon for the 24th Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 25A ~ October 26, 2008
Holy Trinity & St. Anskar
Love your neighbor as yourself
he love of what God commands IS the fulfillment of God’s promise. The Promised Land is not a territory; it is where that which is commanded is loved. Not merely obeyed, but loved.
“What God commands” is a way of saying “what is real”. What God commands is the way things are, all appearances to the contrary notwithstanding. We may either learn to love it or we may simply resign ourselves to it (obeying without loving it) or we may fight against it, leading to death.
I will kill you with the sword
And your wives shall become become widows and your children orphans.
When Moses conveys this hair-raising threat, it is phrased in the form of a quid pro quo. “If you don’t, I’m gonna…” But even this is just a rather brutal way of emphasizing the reality of the situation ~ of what the Gospel calls the Kingdom of God ~ the rules by which God rules the world.
If we love what God commands, we are in the Promised Land, in a state of bliss. If we don’t yet love, we can at least obey, in the sense of acting in accordance with reality, and not against it. We won’t be blissful, but at least our children won’t be orphans! The choice is ours: we may coöperate with the reality and help God to create it, or we can oppose what God commands, and die.
The Promised Land doesn’t belong to us; it is not ours by right. It is a gift. Our tenancy is tied to our gratefulness toward the One Who brought us there. We were aliens (and slaves) in the land of Egypt, and we were freed and guided into the Land of Promise. We did not get here on our own and we are not entitled to its delights. To abuse or mistreat an alien in this Land is to leave it, because the Land of Promise IS the love of what God commands. To mistreat an alien is to spit on the gift and to claim it as our own by right: to imagine that we ourselves are something OTHER than aliens, and that the Land of Promise belongs to us. This is a psychotic delusion and it is the opposite of gratitude.
Grateful people are not cruel. Grateful people are generous and welcoming. And the cruel are slain by the sword. That is just the way it is, rather like the Kingdom of God as revealed in the parable of the Merciless Slave, which we heard a few weeks ago: phrased as a quid pro quo, but really an inexorable “law of nature” (as an atheist might say), but which we consider to be a law (or command) given by God.
The collect does not speak of obeying what God commands, but loving it. It is not that we obtain what God promises as a reward for obeying what God commands, but that the love of God’s law is the bliss of the Promise received. We do well to obey. We do better to love. We dwell in the Land of Promise when we love what God commands, chiefly having to do with social justice.
So, the first and great commandment is to love God with our whole being: without distraction and without illusion. To do so is bliss ~ theosis ~ the divinization of which the Russian theologian wrote last week. What is it to love God other than to love what God commands ~ to love the reality that God creates and invites us to share in creating? And to love one’s neighbor as oneself is the great key to that divinely-commanded Reality.
As I have said before, “as” here means: in the capacity of” or “ in the role of”. On Hallowe’en I will go to the party AS a pirate. (In the guise, or the role, of a pirate.) I celebrate mass AS a priest (by virtue of my state, of what I am). So “love your neighbor as yourself”, understood in this way is a mystical description of reality: your neighbor AS yourself. REGARD YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF. Come to know that separation from your neighbor is only apparent, not real, not what God commands.
What IS real is solidarity, communion, being one with each other as He and the Father are One. That is reality. That is what God commands: that our relationship with each other and with all creation be a mirror of His relationship to the Father ~ One in Being and undivided, yet at the same time forever distinct and without confusion, preserving the multiplicity of persons.
THAT is what God commands. THAT is what, if we love, we obtain the Promise. That is bliss.
COME, LORD JESUS