St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

Love is My Name

 

Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (8:41-56)

Jairus’ 12 year old daughter was dead. Jesus, seeing the anguish of her father, brought her back to life.  The Lord did not inquire about his or her worthiness or piety or anything else.  Seeing the father’s anguish, Jesus responded with compassion.  There were no conditions, no requirements, no legal hoops for Jairus to leap through.  The Lord was not much for jumping through hoops.

The Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath.  It seems that to our Lord no tradition was too sacred to call into question especially if it stood in the path of his Love.  Love bows to no law. As the great Isaac Asimov one wrote, “Never let your sense of morality keep you from doing what is right.” Jesus responded with compassion to each moment’s need, always loving, always caring, always healing. 

To legalists the goal of human life is to be moral. Christ has introduced to us a different goal.  Love is infinitely greater than morality.

“Our job,” writes Thomas Merton, “is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody's business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.” 

We spend far too much time worrying about other people’s morality especially since in Christianity morality is not the point, God is. Morality is a byproduct of our relationship with Him not a prerequisite for it.  Then again we spend so much time worrying about the worthiness of others that we are happy to let ourselves off the hook. Was this not the point of the Lord’s condemnation of the Pharisees?  Hypocrisy hides easily behind piety.  But, again, worthiness, my neighbor’s or mine, is far from the point.

judging people, defining people, distancing ourselves from people -- who are we to build walls when love demands that we build bridges?  Jesus not only built bridges he was himself the bridge between heaven and earth, between God and humanity and between people and people.  The Incarnation unifies. How often our words and actions are at cross purposes with God’s.

One of the great Desert Fathers said on his deathbed, “I have struggled all my life to see all humanity as one.”  The ego divides, Jesus unites. 

Can we not see how clearly the line is drawn?  “My ways are not your ways, my thoughts are not your thoughts,” says the Lord.  We must always be prepared and eager to question our own perceptions.  Do my core beliefs match up to the teaching of Jesus?  The Gospels are the gold standard for us so I believe we need desperately to return to the Gospels.  I tend to be suspicious of any teaching that does not come from the Lord. 

The Woman with the Issue of Blood presents an unusual situation.  Weighed down by legal and social prescriptions, it was she and not the Lord, who risked the breaking of taboos.  All the guilt and shame society was able to concoct was placed on her. She was labeled “unclean” and like the Gadarene Demoniac of a couple of weeks ago, the stigma was as much part of the disease as the disease itself.

But God did not want her secrecy to prevail!  He told Jairus and those who witnessed his daughter’s healing to tell no one about it because for the little girl there was no public stigma to remove.  Jesus knew he had to remove the stigma of the Woman’s public shame to make the healing resonate in her community.  He took care of her disease and, at the same time, pushed against the mores of society that added insult to her injury. 

It is interesting that when she touched him healing power surged from him apart from his consciousness. Why?  Because he did not have to think to love.  He simply was love.  There was no discrepancy between who he thought he was and who he was as there is in most of us.  Jesus did not have identity issues. The truth is that one does not have to think to be, one has to be to think. 

Once again, he did not test her morality, or condemn her for breaking the law.  Her suffering trumped the law.  The alleviation of human suffering must never take a backseat to legalism or ideology. Love bows to nothing.

We and society are quite willing to stigmatize those with whom we are uncomfortable or see as a threat to the generally us. Jesus would have no qualm about calling us out as he did the Pharisees. When the law stood in the path of love, Jesus broke it!  Setting us free from the burden of the law, as St. Paul insists, he reveals the truth at the heart of God and the truth of what it means to be human.

“To say that I am made in the image of God is to say that love is the reason for my existence, for God is love. Love is my true identity. Selflessness is my true self. Love is my true character. Love is my name.” 
      ― Thomas Merton

I wonder what would happen if we actually did the work Christ called us to do.  I wonder what would happen if we actually fed the poor and clothed the naked and visited those who are sick or in prison and welcome the stranger into our house and at our dinner table. What if we turned from everything except love and went about doing good?  What if we cared at least as much for alleviating the suffering of our neighbors as for the gilding of our churches?  What if we dropped the insistence that the world serve us before we started serving the world?  What if we stopped living in the glorious, dead past and became fully present in our day and age?  What if we simply chose to adopt the simple Gospel of Jesus and followed him who is fully and wondrously present right now?

It would be good to listen to the wisdom of the martyr and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer who wrote, “God does not love some ideal person, but rather human beings just as we are, not some ideal world, but rather the real world.”  Wanting the world to conform to our ideals is the opposite of humble service.  That is not the way of Christ and since it is not, it must not be our way.

It is Christ who transforms, it is Christ who heals.  It is our job to point to him and make sure we do not get in his way.