7th Sunday After Epiphany: “Walking in Kingdom Ways”
1 Corinthians 15:42b-49
God is so good! We have nothing to complain about. He is overflowing with goodness and love. I have been away spending time with the Lord and I have the word of the Lord, “Thus saith the Lord: love one another.” It is a new commandment, but an old one; and it becomes old because we have not perfected it. We need to understand this commandment, hear it over and over again until its fullness is a reality in our hearts and in our lives.
During the time of Nehemiah, Ezra read the Law to the people for several hours. What he read to them was something that they have heard before over and over, Sabbath in, Sabbath out. They were convicted and they repented. Jesus preached the Law to His disciples. At one point, the Holy Spirit opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. This was the difference – the Holy Spirit – that opens our minds to understand, to absorb, to observe, to receive and to proclaim the gospel. The Holy Spirit teaches us, convicts our hearts us to repent, leading us back to the ancient paths, to the old ways and to our first love.
As individuals and as a Church, we experience unpleasant things like things that offend us, things that hurt us, things that make us question God, but His commandment and His Word does not change. What we should do is like what we do when we bathe a baby. We change and throw the bathwater but we do not include the baby. We have a good heritage in this Church. We started off good. We operated and walked in love; we blessed people; we wept with those who wept; and we rejoice with those with rejoice. Our desire was the good of others. This was our first love and we should not let go of these.
The gospel is no accident today. The gospel says, “Love your enemy,” which was the very word that I received from God, that is, to love one another. What is love? My definition of love is that it is the gracious, active desire for the good of others without expecting anything in return. It is not deterred by offense or hatred. Love is gracious, and grace is unmerited favor. Of course, it is easier to love somebody who is lovable. It is easier to respect someone who is respectable. It is easy to love those who loves us. All of these is the world's standard, and we, as sons of God, are supposed to be a peculiar people. Our standard is higher that proves that we are sons of God. If we love our enemies, if we love those who persecute us, who curse us, or who gives us a hard time, then, we are sons of God. If we love only those who love us or those who are worthy of our standard, then, we are no different from sinners. Sinners and Gentiles do this, but we are sons of God, we are different, and we walk on a higher level. The true mark of sons of God is love for the unlovable. Do not hate; do not get mad. Repay evil with good.
Psalm 37 says, “Trust in the Lord and His ways.” His way is to love the unlovable. “Do not fret because of evildoers and their wicked schemes.” They may be prospering, but the Lord’s ways is what we trust and they are proven. “Cease from anger; forsake wrath; it leads only to evildoing.”
The Old Testament reading leads to evildoing. It was all about Joseph who was sold as a slave by his own brothers. Joseph was offended, hurt but repaid evil with good. We don’t know the temptation he had in his heart and mind to hate his brothers. It so hurtful to know that his own brothers were the cause of his miserable life. The Lord had a plan for him and He used Joseph. The Lord worked in his heart and the greatest miracle was not that he rose to be the second in command in Egypt, but for me it was that Joseph had forgiveness and love for his brothers and he was able to repay their evil for good. This is what Jesus did for us and this is what He wants us to do likewise: to love your enemy.
Jesus said to His disciples, “Upon this rock, I will build My Church.” We could imagine Peter saying, “I am that one!” and the disciples are going to be first officers of the Church. So they asked Jesus what His plan is and He replies, “I will give My life.” Jesus’ plan was not on big programs, but to build His church on love. What greater love does anyone have, but to give one’s life! Jesus has been building His church for two thousand years on this foundation, and we can see the results.
If we want to grow, we need to die; to give of our life; and love. Unless a grain of wheat fall to the earth and dies, it remains by itself. But, when it dies, when it loves, it bears much fruit. Because of love, we became man. We were born because of love. The material world, the universe, human beings are the results of an overflow in the heart of God. He did not have to create us, but His love was so overflowing in Him so He created us – in love. The design of the universe, the grain of the universe is love. If we go against it, we will not exist.
The Collect of the Day says, “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.” The environment is designed to love. For example, except for a couple of species, fresh water fish cannot survive in salt water because the grain of the environment is for the salt water species. The grain of this universe is love and if we go against this grain, we will not survive. We will not grow because we will be accounted dead before God.
When Paul was Saul and was persecuting the Church, Jesus talked to him on the road to Damascus and said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” It was like Jesus asking, “Why are you going against the grain? Why are you going against My plan? Why are you going against love?” It is hard for us to kick against the goads or to go against the grain. We need to rest in the Lord and go with His design. This is His command and it is for our sake. It is for our flourishing, for our growth. Even if we have good church programs, but if it is not according to God’s design, nothing will happen.
If we don’t have love, we are nothing. Indiscriminate love means we let go of all evaluations and judgments. God the Father makes the sun shine and the rain to fall to both good and evil, even to the ungrateful because this is God’s nature. The sun will always shine. The sun shining has nothing to do with whether people are good or bad. The sun’s nature is to shine. It shines whether one goes sunbathing or not because it is its nature. Its nature is independent on the reaction of those it shines on.
As children of God, we are partakers of the divine nature, which is love – the kind of love that God has. The only disposition that God has for us and the worst sinner in the world is love. It doesn’t mean that He condones evil. We love ourselves but we don’t condone everything that we do because we love ourselves.
Parents don’t condone everything that their children do, but they love them because of the divine nature of love in them. This love has nothing to do with their worthiness to receive or how they react in receiving it. Love this way and we will be sons of the Father Who is in heaven. Loving is about our godlikeness, not the receiver’s worthiness. Loving is about our compassion, not their reaction. As far as we are concerned, we continue to operate in our nature. During Offertory, we give because it is our divine nature of giving, not because the Church needs it. It is godlikeness first of all.
When we eat in a restaurant, do we give a tip dependent on how the waiter served us? What if the waiter did not attend to us according to what we think we deserve? Do we withhold the tip that is due him? What if the waiter needed it at that time for one reason or another? This is the time that he needs more of our love so we shouldn’t be withholding. We give not dependent of whether they give good service or not, but because God’s divine nature of blessing and loving is in us.
Do parents love one child more than another because he or she has better grades? They love the same. Is our correcting in love or in hate, revenge, retaliation of payback? Love is correcting but we need to make sure that it is love. As 1 Corinthians 16:14 says, let everything we do be done in love. Love is for the sake of the receiver.
Psalm 139:24 says, “See if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.” Love is for the receivers good. Do we give money to a drug addict? No, but we don’t just withhold; we give something helpful to them like a meal. Correction is not simply withholding; love is always giving, but it is giving the right thing so that the result is for whatever is good for the receiver. It is not a matter of fight or flight. If we fight, we perpetuate the violence. If we run away – flight - we encourage the wrong. Jesus is offering a third option to fight and flight. If somebody slaps us on the right cheek, offer the left also. We will not run away, but we will show what is right.
There is a story about Mother Teresa where she had with her a starving little boy. They went to a bakeshop, and when Mother Teresa approached the owner, the latter spit on her face. Mother Teresa did not leave, but wiped her face and said, “Thank you for what you gave me. Now, do you have something for the little boy?” Mother Teresa stood her ground and she showed the baker the right thing to do. Another story is that of a South African black Bishop who lived in a place where racism exists. He was walking in a muddy place so he used a very narrow makeshift elevated bridge. He met a white man in this place and the man said, “I don’t give way to gorillas.” The Bishop said, “Well, it is your lucky day because I do, so go ahead and pass. I will give way.” It is not just withholding or fleeing, but facing evil and repaying it with good.
St. Paul says in Ephesians 5:2 to live in love as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us. It is Christianity 101. Live in love because there is no off button in love. If we do even good things but not out of love, we are not sons of God. When did Jesus love us? It was when we were yet sinners; when we were yet enemies; when we were unlovable, even now, when we are many times unlovable. God loves us. We were dead in sin, children of wrath; we were giving Him every reason not to love us, and yet, He continues to love us.
In the gospel, Jesus links unconditional love with refraining from judging people. Jesus said, “Do not judge because by your standard, it will be measured to you.” We might have a high standard on how to show love for others, but do we want this to be applied to us? We might be a failure to our own standard. Jesus says to treat people the way we want them to treat us.
Think of a person/persons who have offended you greatly, have abused you, have taken advantage of you, or have sinned against you greatly. Think: did this person(s) do something worse than what the people did to Christ on the cross? What did Jesus say to them while He was on the cross? “Father, forgive them.” Love your enemies! An enemy is not someone we hate but someone who has done something wrong to us. Pray for them; bless them and say, “Father, forgive them.”
Jesus resides in us. Jesus is God and God is love; and love resides in us. We know that God loves us, which we sometimes forget, but God also wants us to walk in the same love. Some author said, “Hell is the suffering of no longer being able to love.” Love like our Father as seen in Jesus Christ and then prove to be sons of God for this is the way it is in the kingdom of our God.