And so we love Him because he first loved us. (1 John 4. 19)
TRINITY TIDE is all about the moral life rooted in our vision of truth that we see in God. Today I will speak about the friendship of God and man. Throughout the seasons of the liturgical year you and I have been illuminated progressively by the knowledge of God so that we might come to find friendship with Him. If Eastertide might be called the season of vision and knowledge, Trinity tide is one of activity, experience and living. To know God through vision, as He reveals Himself in the historical life of Jesus Christ, is not enough. Vision is knowledge, and knowledge for the Christian is the perfection of that belief that must bear fruit in our lives.
Satan tempted, distracted, and tormented Christ in order to extricate Him from His first Love and mission which was to save us, precisely because he knew that He was the Holy One of God, the Son of the Most High, who came down from Heaven to reestablish our Love for God and our neighbor. So Satan had a real knowledge of what Jesus Christ intended to do for all mankind, and he opposed Him. Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life of God made flesh. Knowledge of this reality is not sufficient to save a man. Knowledge must be translated into the desire for virtue. And what I mean to suggest is not that one must not have intellectual virtues like wisdom, understanding and prudence, but that it is moral virtue that reveals man’s participation in and application of what he knows to be God’s will for his life.
But how can a man find this truth, let alone allow it to govern his entire existence? In this morning’s Epistle, St. John reminds us that no man hath seen God at any time (1 John 4. 12).So how can we possibly know of any love or friendship approximating the Love of God? For the natural man, God is the great unknown—the imperceptible beyond, the mysterious principle or being of all existence, which speaks haltingly and obscurely in the world’s great religions. In the best of them He rules and governs the created order through the rational principles of His design. And yet such a God seems impersonally uninterested in the struggle and ordeal of human existence. A metaphysical understanding of this God becomes feasible and yet friendship with Him seems an unrealizable dream. Like the best of the ancient pagans, man knows Him, and yet cannot discover a way to become His friend. Man seems no better off and might even be worse. Because what he knows of Him does not touch him personally, at best he resigns himself to Stoic apathy or at worst he surrenders to Epicurean despair.
But St. John tells us this morning that Christians ought to know better. God is more, it turns out, than an operative principle or mechanical engineer of the universal patterns and laws that man’s mind discerns in nature’s ever-changing existence. God is Love. God is one who desires and longs for, seeks out and finds a common ground of friendship with man. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4. 10) And so we love Him because he first loved us. (1 John 4. 19) God is Love, and that Love not only makes, creates, orders, defines, governs, beautifies, and harmonizes all of nature, but He also comes to His human sons and daughters in order to redeem and reconcile them to Himself.
To know this is to begin to see and grasp a new way of living. It is to perceive and embrace a new heaven and a new earth (Rev. xxi. 1), being made by God Himself, who through Jesus Christ proclaims behold I make all things new. (Ibid, 5) St. John tells us that every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. (Idem, 7,8) We are not then called to be children of knowledge only, but children whose knowledge reveals God’s love for us in His Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. We have been touched by Him in the life of His Son. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. (1 John 4. 9) And here is the operative difference between those who live naturally in and through the world and us. God sent His only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. The knowledge that we have, the truth which we confess is nothing short of new life, life in communion with our Heavenly Father through the Son by the real and present operation of the Holy Spirit. Our knowledge of Jesus Christ is meant to form a new moral character in our lives, through which, as members of His Mystical Body, we become the new sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father.
And yet we cannot have any of this until what we know and see becomes what we desire and love. In other words, we must make an act of will that surrenders completely to Jesus Christ by forfeiting and foregoing all rights to ourselves. God is Love, and He loves us in and through His Son. This is the only true Love that can lastingly convert and carry a man back to his destiny, which is friendship with God the Father. We can be like most men of the world, good enough, but loving and living only for the here and now. They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. (1 John 4. 5) We can be like Dives– the rich man in today’s Gospel, who was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day, (St. Luke xvi. 19) whose earthly life was mollycoddled and cossetted by comfort, ease, frivolous recreational pastimes and amusements. Or, perhaps if we are not moved and defined by the kinds of riches that characterize those full of tongue and weak of mind (R.Hooker, E.P., i. viii. 2), we might be like Dives in another way—perhaps we count ourselves rich spiritually. We feast sumptuously on Christ’s Body and Blood each week, we pay our tithes and live fairly moral lives, and count ourselves blessed.
But being like Dives may mean that we are either materialistic or spiritual hoarders. In this morning’s Gospel Dives walked over Lazarus, who was laid at his gate, full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. (Ibid, 20, 21) The literal interpretation of Dives’ moral character was that he was uncompassionate, uncaring, cheap, mean, and parsimonious with his earthly treasure. The spiritual interpretation is that Dives could have cared less for the spiritual welfare of this poor beggar Lazarus who found love only from the dogs [who] came and licked his sores. (Ibid, 21) In either case the Love of God was not alive in Dives’ life. Friendship with God was of little worth when compared to his earthly desire and happiness. And so in the end, his soul is parched and tormented because he rejected the Love of God. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; and in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. (Ibid, 22,23) Dives might have known God, but his knowledge had not been converted into Love for Him or his neighbor.
Unlike Lazarus who had nothing here but longed for the more that only God can give, Dives is left with the fruits of a self-love that rejects God’s offer of loving friendship to man through Jesus Christ. Had Dives received the Love of God in Jesus Christ, he would have given liberally of his material means to poor men like Lazarus and others because he would have loved him as a spiritual brother, one worthy not only of his material bounty but also of his prayers and spiritual hopes. In other words, the Love of God in Jesus Christ would have so filled his heart that he could not help but share so great a gift and treasure with any and all of his neighbors. When the Love of God is alive in the human heart, giving to others becomes an unselfconscious expression of what lives to be passed out and on to all others.
St. John invites us this morning into the real and present operations of God’s Love. The Love he knows is both a Love received supernaturally and then a Love shared with others naturally and instinctively. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? (1 John 4. 20) If a man does not love his brother whom he sees with his natural eyes, then the invisible power of God’s Love ceases to move him, stops reaching out, and thus dies. And if this is the case, we might find ourselves with Dives in Hell when we die, where all access to Heaven is now impossible ‘because the gulf is too great’ and the time for our awakening to the Love of God has ended.
In closing let us consider this. Today we are called to be touched by the Love of God in the real and present life of Jesus Christ. The knowledge of that Love must be met with our response to it. Here is where Hope comes in. The Love we know, we desire as what alone can touch, change, and transform us. For it is only through God’s prior Love for us, that we have Hope and confidence that that same Love can change us. We pray for that Love. And we know that it has entered and lodged in the innermost core of our souls only when the same Love becomes Hope in us for all others. Then our knowledge and vision expand to include our neighbors. What we see and know in every other person is the vision of one whom God’s Love desires to touch and transform also. And then the Love of God and the Love of Man become one in us. Short of this double operation of Christ’s Love in us, we shall not be saved. Then with Dives we shall cry out for a Love ignored, untried and untested in our own lives, the only Love that could have made us the friends of God because we knew that it was given to us in order to touch and fill the hearts of all other men. Amen.