In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit
Not long ago, there was a man who said “I’d like to meet with you, Father.” I met with him and he said, “I want to be baptized.” I said. “That’s joyous news!”
We had watched this man at every house blessing. In the beginning, his family would be a part of the house blessing but he was somewhere else. In the second year I could see him from the corner of my eye, watching from the back while I was making the prayers and walking around, blessing the home. In the third year, he joined the procession. Fourth year, he held a candle, and led the procession! What he experienced there was love. It was that simple. He experienced, in this community, a place for his heart to be near God.
In our Gospel lesson this morning Our Master reminds us what it’s all about, what all this boils down to—it’s love. The first commandment he offers us is to love God, to love God with all one’s heart and soul and mind. God is the source of love. Saint John reminds us: God is love. Anyone who loves is, in a sense, worshiping God, for, in loving someone else, we participate in God. Also, we realize, when we try to love God, that the source of love is God. That is, it’s difficult to love other people unless we receive this love.
Those of us who have been in careers in social work and similar occupations, and anyone who has been a parent or teacher or, somebody who has worked with others, truly realizes there is a limit. In our minds and in our hearts we want to say, “I love you no matter what; I have unconditional love for you.” But anyone who has really tried that over time realizes there is a place, where you realize: this is where my love stops. I need love, a love that’s greater than myself.
The first commandment Our Lord gives us is to love God, “with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” And then he says, immediately, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Another colleague of mine was working with a very troubled man. This Orthodox priest was working with this man, who was filled with anger and rage. He sought the love of God, but the love of the neighbor? -- He couldn’t see that connection. In fact, in many ways he was under the impression that to love God first, meant then to not like those who did not love God, to be kind of “God’s Mafia”! The priest told me that this man was actually involved in one of the shootings that took place in the South. And the poor priest, who was just working with this man, got labeled in the newspaper as the confessor of a racist. Now how do you think the Orthodox faith looked at that moment? How many came flocking to that Church after that incident? How many other times have humans, wearing the cloak of God, kept others from God?
But also, Love is not simply agreeing with everybody else. Love is not where “anything goes”! Because what we see in the experiences of those who think that love is something we feel, and that there’s no truth, and that anything goes, and that whatever you feel is the truth -- we see that, paradoxically, if you don’t go along with that, you’re not loved by them. We have to be very careful when we ask, “What is love?” Love is based on truth. And the love of God is much more than emotion. Now, did Our Lord love from the Cross? Yes. Did He like all of the things that He was going through? No. We see in Holy Week, it caused Him grief and suffering. He prayed that the people wouldn’t be like this. He didn’t like that, He wasn’t masochistic in that regard, but He loved despite everything. Someone once asked me, “Can I love someone I don’t like?” What do you think?
There was a man who told me, at the seminary, that for many years he was trying to find God, and to learn about God. He said, “You know the interesting thing was that there were groups of people who made me angry, whom I couldn’t love. I realized over time, that the problem was that there was something going on inside of me. It wasn’t them; it was me! I realized that these other people simply exposed my own weaknesses in faith. I thought to myself, “Are they right? Is our Lord really the Messiah?” He said, “I realized that the extent to which I really didn’t believe for myself, was the extent to which I blamed (and disliked) these others.”
The Saints say that the very things that trouble us about others are our own sins within ourselves. As the great hospital, the Church teaches us that when we feel hatred, when we feel a lack of love, it’s like having a doctor who places his hand on us and says, “Is this where it hurts? That’s the place we need to fix.” We come to the church, this wonderful spiritual hospital. All the prayers, the Creed, the readings, and all the asceticism, lead to the summit of one thing: love. Love in a divine way.
May God, Who is love, help us to grow. May we remember the wonderful prayer, the last prayer in our congregation books, the prayer of the Optina Elders monastery, as medicine for the heart every day. O Lord teach me to believe, to hope, to pray, to forgive, to love.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory Forever!