February 20: The Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany

The sermon for Sunday, February 20, was preached by Tom Mawlam using the manuscript below. Tom is a congregant of St. Hilda St. Patrick, primarily virtually. Tom is student and lives in Southwestern Ontario.

Love; Love; Love! Today’s Gospel on love is fitting, as we celebrated St. Valentine’s Day this past week … but I’m afraid this sermon might burst that seasonal bubble.

“All you need is love / love is all you need” … “Love is the answer and you know that for sure” … “You’d think that people would’ve had enough of silly love songs / but I look around me and I see it isn’t so!”

I think it’s ironic, that within our platitudes about “love,” we often lose touch with what love really is … this is certainly true within the Christian context.

As Christians, we often boil down the central tenets of Christianity to “love others” … but in doing so; we gloss over the fact that at the core of Christ’s teachings, we are commanded to love in two very specific ways. First, Christ told us to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” After that, we are told to “love our neighbour as ourselves.”

But, I think an important question to ask in response to that command is “who exactly is our neighbour?” Answers to this can be found throughout the Bible; of course, our friends, our spouses, our children are all our neighbours … the Mosaic Law extends this to the orphan, the widow, and the stranger, whenever they may cross our paths … the Parable of the Good Samaritan goes so far as to extend the title of “neighbour” to the outcast; the despised; the hated; the pariah

But in today’s text, Jesus goes even further than that … He goes so far as to extend this category of “neighbour” to our enemies… not just those we dislike or disagree with … but to those persons who actively hate us … those who curse us and wish evil upon us.

This is just one of the many paradoxes of Christianity … and it leads us back to the greatest paradox in the whole of Christianity.

Salvation is simple to receive … “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved!” God’s grace through Jesus Christ is a gift … one which is given freely and generously … it’s after we receive that gift when things become complicated.

By all means, keep loving your family and friends … you’re commanded to do that too, throughout the Bible! … But if your love only extends to them, then there’s no place in the Kingdom for that kind of love.

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them!”

Going back to my earlier point, another problem with the “Hallmark Card” version of love, is that it rarely offers us a practical understanding of what love is.

Biblically, St. Paul gives us an idea of what love looks like … “love is patient; love is kind; it is not quick to anger; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing or evil (even if it’s inflicted on someone we think may deserve it).” A brief side note; isn’t it ironic that we often call on St. Paul’s description of love at weddings … when it seems to offer an equally fitting demonstration of what loving our enemies looks like.

Moving beyond that, Jesus Christ goes even further than this in today’s text … his commands here are also things which we are actively called to do for our enemies … we’re told to “bless those who curse us, and pray for those who spitefully use us; to him who strikes us on the one cheek, offer the other also; give to everyone who asks of you” … “Judge not! Condemn not! Forgive!”

It should be said, that another sentimental platitude I dislike is the idea that Christians are called to passivity (an interpretation often drawn out of today’s text) … just like there’s no room in the Kingdom for love that is exclusive and selective, there’s also no room for complacency or cowardice.

If we’re being literal, flipping tables and chairs is technically a Christ-like action.

So go forth and have the courage to change the things that can be changed; do what needs to be done to correct the situation at hand … but perhaps the loving choice is to focus on correction as opposed to retribution.

I heard a saying recently that “there’s nothing more dangerous than somebody who believes they’re on the side of justice, but also has no accountability” … perhaps accountability is what today’s text is offering us.

Go ahead; right the wrongs of the world and fight injustice … but do so with guidance from the Holy Spirit … and if the fruits of your labour are judgment, resentment, and vengeance, then you know something’s gone wrong.

I should clarify though … none of this is easy to do!

I have a clergy friend who once preached a sermon on this passage; it was in a mainline church; a “sit down-stand up-sing a hymn-be quiet” church … and in the middle of the sermon, as he drew the congregation’s attention to Jesus’s command to “bless those who curse you; give to everyone who begs from you,” a woman in the congregation interrupted him to say “But don’t you know how hard that would be?”

Loving your enemies is hard; if it was easy, everyone would do it … I wish there was an easy way to do it … and if I knew of one, I’d gladly share it with you right now ?

But I suppose as Christians we’re asked to do a lot of things that are hard, if not impossible … all we can really do is recognize what loving our enemies looks like, and just do it ?

Not on our own of course; we have the Spirit to help us with this task … and each other; remember that through the waters of baptism, we are brought into one body, strong enough to do the impossible; and also remember that this body is strengthened every time we come together at the Table.

Perhaps, if I can ask that you do one thing specifically, it would be to ask that as we come together and share one cup and one table in a moment, that you be mindful of the impossible things we can do as the members of one unified body; the body which this Table is and represents.


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