Sun, 9 September 2018
Homily Notes: Being Nice is NOT Enough
Gospel Lesson: St. Matthew 22:35-46 (The Great Commandment)
Great lesson for the start of the school year: “what is the most important thing ever?” Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind!
CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA: To love God with the whole heart is the cause of every good. The second commandment includes the righteous acts we do toward other people. The first commandment prepares the way for the second and in turn is established by the second. For the person who is grounded in the love of God clearly also loves his neighbor in all things himself. The kind of person who fulfills these two commandments experiences all the commandments. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (pp. 157–158). InterVarsity Press.
Why is it so important? What can't we just skip to the second one, as the non-believers do? Isn't it enough just to love?
No. We have to be intentionally connected to the SOURCE of love. It's like how our homes need to be connected to the generators through the power grid. We might be able to create enough energy “off-grid” to power some things some of the time, but in order for it to be consistent, we need to be on the grid, and that grid needs to be connected to the generators.
Without that, our “love” of your neighbor is going to be based on how we are feeling, and that is a terrible way to love. We can see how well this works just by looking around. Everyone can be nice and sacrificial and patient when it feels right; but who is willing to do it when it is hard and unpleasant?
Loving God with complete openness, humility, and awe allows His love to strengthen us; it also grants the ability to see God in our neighbor – even our enemy – so that when we are serving Him we are also serving Him and thus remain “hooked up to the grid”, so to speak.
There is another point worth making because our context hides it from us: this openness, humility, and awe – this love of God with the whole heart, soul, and mind – needs to be done in community. It is made to be done within the Church. The Church is not just for us; it is the place where the conduit of love connecting us with God and one another is the purest and strongest.
Of course we can create connections without God, playing with institutions and laws and the distribution of power in hopes of finding an optimal solution [and we've done a pretty good job of that in our country because we have tried to create a system where the drive to take care of the self and the family requires one to find ways to serve the needs of others and where the earnest desire to serve others is rewarded with the ability to care for oneself and one's family]... but even so, this can only go so far.
Without the connection to God and the ability to see the image of God in all our neighbors, we are still governed and limited by our own power and our own feelings and motivations. Without reliable access to the source of Goodness, Patience, Love, and Courage, even our system will either break down into an anarchy of competing feelings or calcify into a totalitarianism where one group's idea of love – rooted in fallen ideologies and tribal egoism – will create a hell on earth.
It is not enough to be connected to one another and to try to “be nice.” Let me give one more example before I conclude. Many of us are connected to zillions of neighbors through social media. And when it works well, it is wonderful. But have you noticed how often it sours? How, even those we love and know to be good post things that create pain and division? Even groups that are explicitly Christian can dissolve into into hellish pits of division, hurt feelings, and wickedness. We've all seen it, it isn't good, and there has to be a better way.
There is, and what we are called to do, that thing we called “Orthodox Christianity” is it.
Being nice is not enough. Being “Christian” is not enough. That niceness and that “Christianity” need to be continually reinforced by the grace of God. This is only done through love, and this love is meant to be cultivated, experience, and shared within the Church and from the Church to the world.
The fullness of that Church is meant to be found here at St. Mary's. If we open our hearts and our community to God through sincere worship and immersion in the sacraments; if we open our hearts to and serve one another and the hurting neighbors in our community; the conduit of love will be opened to maximum throttle and the grace of God will light us up and turn us into a beacon of hope and security to the world.
May our light so shine among men that they will see our good deeds and be drawn to worship the God who is in heaven.