Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48; I John 4:7-10; Psalm 98; John 15:9-17
In our lesson from the Acts of the Apostles, Peter is at the house of Cornelius, a Roman officer, who, along with his household, become the first Gentile converts to the Church, while there Peter said, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” These words, and the experiences at Cornelius’ house, for example the Holy Spirit coming upon them before they were baptized, opened the Church to the whole world. No longer was it just a strange sect of reforming Jews, it had become catholic – universal, inclusive, all encompassing. We are the direct inheritors of this catholic Church – how much more Gentile could we be living in a land, and comprised of people the first century Jews had never heard of. But the Church is not tied to any place or time, any ethnicity or race, any culture or nation. The Church is tied only to the Apostolic Tradition of the True Faith of Christ. And that is no earthly structure but the very presence of the Holy Spirit in the People of God. And how has this been handed on to us? Our Lord speaks of this in our Gospel lesson from St. John, “I no longer speak of you as slaves, for a slave does not know what his master is about. Instead, I call you friends, since I have made known to you all that I have heard from my Father. It was not you who chose me, it was I who chose you to go forth and bear fruit. Your fruit must endure, so that all you ask the Father in my name he will give you. The command I give you is this; that you love one another.” Our faith, our Church, is the enduring fruit of the Apostles’ love for God and their neighbors.
We talk a lot about love, two of our lessons today are all about love, especially our second lesson from the First letter of St. John, which says, “Love, then consists in this: not that we have loved God, but that he has loved us and sent his Son as an offering for our sins.” We understand from this that Christian love is self-giving, sacrificial, working for the Theosis of others. But what does this look like in real life, how do we DO this kind of love in the modern world in which we live our lives?
Taoiseach Ivan has been listening to some podcasts from Ancient Faith Radio by Father Michael Dehoolich, the Father relates a story of a parish council working hard to expand their Church, he was asking them what each of them had done to help, a small boy was present and he was asked what he had done and he said, “I have been a good boy.” Right there you have Christian love in action. Because he took seriously his obligation to obey his parents and behave well, his parents were able to have the time, and peace, to work for the Church. This small boy did what he was able to do, to the best of his ability, to the glory of God and the service of the Church. I’m sure he didn’t always feel like being a good boy, and I am sure he did not always succeed in being a good boy, but overall he was. And that is what we must do. Every day we must choose to be the best person we can be, to the best of our ability, to the glory of God and in service to our brothers and sisters. Even when we don’t feel like it, even when it might be easier, and more personally satisfying, to be cranky, or annoyed, or impatient, or critical. To let go of that, as petty as it seems, is a sacrifice, it is love in action, it is caring more for someone else than our own passions.
Our Lord says in the Gospel of St. John, “There is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” We are not usually called literally to lay down our lives, at least not in this country, but we may be called to lay down the life we want, the life we would prefer, the life we have dreamed and fantasized about. We may be called to give up what we want for what someone else needs. We may be called to be more than we want, or possibly less. It is not particularly difficult to figure this out. We just need to look at our lives and ask, “Who, or what, needs me most right now?” And I am talking NEEDS, not just wants. A lot of people and things may want our time and attention, but very few need them, especially when we add the condition that first we serve God. What someone else needs from us must not compromise our first loyalty, which is God and the Church. Once we have decided where we are most needed, then we need to make the decisions and choices that serve that need, that help build that corner of the Kingdom of God.
If we do this will we be happy? Maybe, sometimes, but the purpose of life is not being happy. The purpose of life is this: As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Live on in my love. You will live in my love if you keep my commandments, even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and live in his love. All this I tell you that my joy may be yours and your joy may be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you.” If we do this we will have love and we will have joy, and occasionally we will be happy, and our fruit will endure.
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