God Is Love

God Is Love

Homily for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

May 14, 2023

God Is Love

Homily preached by the Rev. James LaMacchia
Trinity Parish of Newton Centre
May 14, 2023
The Sixth Sunday of Easter — Year A

Acts of the Apostles 17:22–31
Psalm 66:7–18
1 Peter 3:13–22
John 14:15–21

Our reading today from the Gospel according to Saint John is part of a longer conversation between Jesus and his disciples shortly before his Passion, Death, and Resurrection from the Dead.  Jesus is preparing them for a reality much like our own: one in which we no longer have his physical presence among us.  Having “finished” his redemptive and saving mission in this world, Jesus knows that he will return to his heavenly Father to “prepare a place” for them and for us when he comes again in power and majesty.  And having designated himself in the same longer discourse as “The Way, the Truth, and the Life,” Jesus gives specificity in this morning’s reading to our mission of bearing witness to God in Christ in the corrupted currents of our world: the world that humanity has made by continually abusing the God-given gifts of freedom and truth, resulting in sin and death.  More often than not, humanity constantly betrays its destiny as free creatures made “in the image and likeness of God,” and the last five thousand years of recorded history bear sad witness to the indisputable fact that we constantly fall into the monstrous cycle of rivalry with each other, hatred, and bloodshed.  It is no coincidence that immediately following Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden, the next incident cited in Genesis is the fratricidal murder of Abel by Cain!

Fortunately, this is not the end of the story.  The “good news” today is that In Jesus Christ, God has once more and definitively entered into human history to inaugurate the “reign of God.”  Through his perfect love, obedience, and submission to the will of the Father—“to the point of death, even death upon the Cross”—Jesus reconciles us to God and shows us how to be fully human.  Jesus Christ has revealed humankind to itself through his life, death and resurrection and has re-opened once more and definitively the gates of the garden from which humanity exiled itself following its ancestral sin.  In the words of the Eucharistic Prayer, he is “a perfect sacrifice for the sins of the whole world” (BCP).  Now, through a life of love in the truth, we too are enabled—and always by God’s grace—to unite ourselves to Christ’s sacrifice and, in fulfillment of Jesus’ exhortation, to “Be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Now this, I believe and hope, is all very true, but it leaves me and you with the very perplexing conundrum of how to fulfill the very tall order to embrace our Baptismal Covenant; to witness to the continuing presence of the Risen One in our daily lives; and to fulfill our pledge to be missionary disciples and evangelists.  Just how do we bear witness, day by petty day—with its often consuming joys and sorrows—to the transcendent joy of the Gospel?  How do we, in the words of Saint Paul, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in every circumstance”?

Well, Jesus could not possibly be more direct and explicit than he is in this morning’s Gospel.  Speaking as the Eternal Word made flesh, and as the perfection of humanity, he tells his followers that “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  And again: “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me.”  And what are those commandments? That we should love God, and that “you should love one another as I have loved you. By this the world will know that you are my disciples.”  It all sounds so simple, but is it?  God in Christ is asking for our love; but God also expects us to answer with concrete deeds: actions that participate in God’s rescue project for fallen humanity and for tikun olam, the “repair of the world.”  Following the leap of faith, we need a leap of deeds: what Saint Paul describes as “a faith that is active in love”; because “God is Love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them” (1 Jn 4:16).

In today’s Gospel, Jesus does not exhort us to live in the manner of the world’s cheap love that, all too often, is a mere cover for license and self-seeking.  If we mean to love as Jesus has loved us, we must be willing to empty ourselves and to step aside for the welfare of others as he did; to put their wellbeing before our own.  Jesus is speaking about “agape,” “caritas,” “charity,” which is “being for” others after the example of Jesus himself, who gave himself for us, even to the point of shameful death upon a cross, abandoned by his own.  It is a willingness to love others “to the end.”  All real love is sacrificial love, even suffering love, because when the the genuine love of our self-emptying God in Christ recklessly enters the murderous world of unredeemed humanity, in thrall to sin and death, it is God in Christ who inevitably dies!

And yet, there is more. Jesus does not leave us “as orphans.”  He promises to send us another “Advocate,” the “Paraclete,” the “counsel for the defense” in a legal action, as opposed to the “Accuser,” the “Diabolos,” the “counsel for the prosecution.”  That advocate, according to Jesus, is none other than the “Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth,” by whom the people of God are governed, taught, and sanctified; the One who leads us into the fullness of the truth.  This is no small gift and promise in our so-called postmodern world: a world in which there is only your truth and my truth; facts and alternative facts. A world where materialism of every sort and positivism have replaced metaphysics, and in which there is no transcendent grounding for ethics and morality.  You see, Dostoyevsky’s Ivan in The Brothers Karamazov was quite right: “If God is dead, then everything is permitted,” and we are left entirely to ourselves to live under the tyranny of relativism, subjectivity, so-called values, and the naked will to power.  In a reality in which the Creator of the Cosmos has nothing left to do, the creature eventually fades to nothingness.  But “God is Love,” and “Love never dies.”  Yet so often, we tend to think of the spiritual journey as our solitary search for God.  But in reality, God is always searching for us!  The father of Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son is always looking for us and running to meet us when we are on the winding road to meet Him from “a far country.”

The Great Fifty. Days of Eastertide are a time for “heart to speak to heart,” in the words of Saint John Henry Newman.  And in this morning’s Gospel, the sacred heart of Jesus opens itself in a farewell address to his disciples and to us before he returns to the inner life of the Holy Trinity, to fill all things with himself through his unrestricted presence—no longer voluntarily subject to the constraints of time and place.  He does not leave us in the wilderness of this world “as orphans,” because we have been, in the words of our Baptismal Rite, “sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever” (BCP). We have been anointed and adopted as daughters and sons of God!

As we move now toward the great feasts of the Ascension and Pentecost, and ponder in our hearts just what it means, as missionary disciples and evangelists, to witness in our own lives and circumstances to Jesus’ commandment “to love one another as I have loved you,” we recall that, in the words of Saint Paul, we, the baptized, “are not without hope and without God in the world.”  We have the gift of the Holy Spirit—the all-too-often forgotten member of the Holy Trinity—to lead and to guide us into all truth.  And in these days leading to the major feasts of the Ascension and Pentecost, we might reflect upon Saint Teresa of Avila’s sage advice to her Carmelite community of nuns in sixteenth-century Spain: “Remember, my daughters, that God is also in the kitchen among the pots and pans,” and “that it is more important to love much, than to think much.” AMEN.

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