Sermon delivered February 22, 2009.
If any of us watch late night television, we may have seen the sitcom "Friends" which broadcasts old episodes. Now in syndication, it was popular during the 1990s. Back then I didn't like the show because of its numerous perverted and distorted messages about life. I was reminded of that when I watched it the other night and Ross and Rachel were trying to figure out if they were "in love" after conceiving a child together out of wedlock. Their discussion epitomizes how many in society misunderstand the nature of love thinking that it is solely or primarily a romantic feeling.
The epistle readings from the previous week present us with an alternate teaching on love. They all come from the First and Second Catholic/Universal Epistles of John (starting with 1John 2:18 -3:8; 3:9-22; 3:21 - 4:11; 4:20 - 5:21; and ending with 2John 1:1-13). They are a lead-in, building up to the exposition on love that Christ Himself gives (without even using the word 'love') in today's gospel of Meatfare or Judgment Sunday (Matthew 25:31-46).
Let us look more closely at some of the highlights. First, we hear in 1John:
Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as He is pure. Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil; for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.
Right from the beginning the whole theme of love is cast against the backdrop of the return, the Second Coming of Christ to render final judgment. This obviously connects directly with the opening of today's gospel which says: "When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats (Mt. 25:31-32)"
In the next passage also from chapter three, John the Evangelist restates Jesus' own teaching and commandment in the Gospel of John 15 which says: "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends. These things I command you, that you love one another." He states:
For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us-and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.
Lest we misunderstand the origin and source of love, John goes on to say:
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God's love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.
Thus love does not come from us. Whether we realize it or not, all acts of love, goodness and righteousness are rooted in God Himself. This is important because our judgment and salvation not only depend upon our actions. They also depend on the condition of our heart. So actions of love, done for selfish or self-centered reasons, while helping others, will be of no use to us when the books are opened.
Finally in chapter four, John teaches us that love is not an esoteric belief or feeling.
Those who say, "I love God," and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen." The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also. Also, in chapter three he says, "How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?"
God's love is real and tangible. Jesus truly suffered and died on the Cross for our sake. We must make real and tangible sacrifices to help people in need and to demonstrate that we do indeed love God and neighbor. Jesus said the first and great commandment is: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind" (Mt.22:37). He said the second greatest commandment is like it: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (vv.38-39).
Fr. Richard Demetrius Andrews is the pastor of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Fr. Andrews is the past president of Minnesota Eastern Orthodox Christian Clergy Association (MEOCCA), and a volunteer chaplain with the St. Paul Police Department.