The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity:
(The BCP Readings for today can be found here).
The collect for today, reads like this:
Almighty and everlasting God,
give unto us the increase of faith, hope, and charity;
and, that we may obtain that which thou dost promise,
make us to love that which thou dost command;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The lovely command
“Make us to love that which thou dost command”: Isn’t that an interesting phrase? A love for God’s commandment, though biblical, can strike us as odd. We love God, we love his word, we love his character and his mighty works. But few of us open up the book of Leviticus and find ourselves overwhelmed with love.
Yet the books of the “Law” were precisely what inspired David to write Psalm 119: an ode to God’s commandments. Listen to verse 48: “I will lift up my hands towards your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes.” And 97: “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.” And 167: “My soul keeps your testimonies; I love them exceedingly” (ESV).
The psalmist loved what God had commanded because in that command he saw the character of God himself. God’s law revealed God’s heart. And in learning to obey God’s commands, he was learning how to love God with his very life.
Faith, hope, charity
Over many centuries and biblical books, the heart of God’s commandments have been explained in different ways. Listen to the words of the Old Testament prophet Micah: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (6:8 ESV) Jesus, when he gave his “summary” of the law pointed to the need to love God, and love one’s neighbour. The Apostle Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, used the language of faith, hope, and love.
It is 1 Corinthians 13:13 that today’s collect alludes to when we ask God to increase these virtues in us. Why? Because these things, working together, equip us to be obedient to the heart of God’s commandments. Faith roots us in the confident knowledge of what God has done in the past. Hope enables us to trust his promise that one day we will be with him in glory. And finally, love recalls us to the here and now, to express all of our love for God – especially by loving our neighbours.
But what does “love” mean?
We know that love is at the very centre of what we are called to. But it can be a confusing term in today’s world. How many euphemisms and allusions modern culture has that manage to muddy the waters! For the Christian, however, there need not be any confusion of what scripture means when it speaks of love.
1 John 4:8 famously declares that “God is love.” But if we read onto the next few verses, we find John speaking about propitiation – that is, the sacrifice of Christ having appeased the wrath of God. You see, love is God’s very nature, but we can best be made to understand what this means through the humbling and sacrificial work of the incarnation and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. This “love” is not a euphemism nor is it something that ignores sin. Instead it is a love that goes the distance, suffering much, in order to overcome sin and draw us into a perfect and unending fellowship with our Lord.
How can we ever hope to love the way that God does? Only with a solid faith in God’s goodness to us in the past, and a fixed hope of eternity with him in the future. Equipped with faith and hope for companions, we can take up the challenge of living out a holy love in the here and now so that, one day, we may hear our beloved Lord say, “Well done.”