Listen again to what St.Paul tells us in today’s passage from his Letter to the Romans: “Owe no one anything, except to love one another.”
Owe no one anything, except to love one another. Promote charity—Christian love—for that is the chief grace of our faith. Here we have what it’s all about. If we succeed with this, we have done everything. If we fail with this, then we have done nothing.
The charity, this Christian love, does not originate with us. It starts with God.
• It was to share the divine love that the Creator launched the cosmos and formed the human race.
• It was love that brought heaven to earth in Christ Jesus, and it was love that led him to accept the cross, and it was love that burst open his tomb on the first Easter Day.
• And this divine love came to reside among his first disciples. It still dwells in human hearts and manifests itself in a myriad of gifts, all of them grace at work in the world, the action of the Holy Spirit.
For the God we Christians serve is not the creature of anybody’s culture, but a God sovereign in love and action, whose gospel judges and changes every culture, and whose reign will remain forever.
This divine love is the cause of our lives. It is the source of any love we experience which is worthy of the name. And our calling as Christian people is to serve as nothing less than the agents of this love.
Here we have it, my friends: the great struggle, worthy of all our best efforts. To serve as agents of God’s love is what we have been put here to do.
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Opportunities for this appear to us in life’s ordinary transactions as we move among the people we know. But our opportunities to love also extend beyond the horizon of our sight. We can strive for God’s peace to extend among people we barely know, even people we will never meet here on earth. We can work for right relationships to prevail among disparate groups and peoples in the sphere of politics, in the sphere of economics. Yes, divine love wants to work through us to establish everywhere that justice and peace—that network of right relationships which the Bible calls shalom.
The Spanish mystic St.John of the Cross tells us that “In the evening of life, we will be judged on love alone.” This absolute priority of love challenges us, yet it also sets us free. We will not be judged on success or wealth or knowledge or anything else the world often counts as ultimate. However, we will be judged on love.
So love is the chief of Christian graces. It is the one thing we always owe to one another. At life’s end, it will be the deciding criterion. All this requires that as God’s Church, we be a community that is learning to love.
There is much in this world that counters and blocks the progress of love. Hearts and relationships and communities all can become infected. So love in action must often take the form of reconciliation, the mending of torn relationships.
We must not deny that clashes and conflicts occur. We must not pretend they are not there or paper them over. Nor must we keep them alive and hurtful, like a skin rash constantly scratched. There is an alternative to both aggression and denial. That alternative is to resolve whatever conflicts we have with one another. This can happen. And when we labor thus for reconciliation, we experience something more of that love which is greater than any of us and is available to all of us.
There is much for anybody to learn in the schools sponsored by our society, including its great and noble public universities. Yet the Church stands as a unique school because here and only here we commit ourselves to learn together how to love after the pattern of God in Christ. This is the true capstone of any education.
Learning to love is lifelong learning. We never complete it, whether here or hereafter. We remain always beginners in love. It is always too soon for any of us to end this learning. And—please remember this—it is never too late to begin this learning, or to begin it yet again.
As I look around this assembly, I see people of several generations. I ask each of you, in whatever portion of life lies of ahead of you, to take part in our grand project as a congregation, which is learning how to love after the example of Jesus Christ. May each one of us commit ourselves afresh, in Christian freedom, to the practice of this same love. Then, imperfect though we are, we can become what God would have us be: agents of divine love, lights of the world in our place and time.
In words from the Book of Common Prayer, let us pray:
“O Lord, you have taught us that without love,
whatever we do is worth nothing:
Send your Holy Spirit
and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love,
the true bond of peace and of all virtue,
without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you.
Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and ever. Amen.”
Copyright 2010, Charles Hoffacker. Used by permission. Fr. Hoffacker is the author of A Matter of Life and Death: Preaching at Funerals (Cowley Publications), a book devoted to helping clergy prepare funeral homilies that are faithful, pastoral, and personal.