From a cultural point of view -- which is to say, from the world’s point of view, as opposed to the heavenly perspective – the word “love” many times means eros; erotic love, associated with sexual desire. Used properly, this is a gift from God, drawing a man and a woman closer to each other, making them one in holy matrimony, and establishing them as a family, as children may become, as it were, the fruit of their love. Less often, “love” might mean philos; brotherly love, which also binds us together for our good as a family – whether as having the same parents, or grandparents; and also in a larger sense, being of “one blood,” the blood of Christ, being children of God, and so brothers and sisters together. But here the evangelists are speaking of agape; the unselfish love that God has for us, and which we are called to serve as fountains on behalf of all the world. It is a love that thinks more of others and less of self; it is the love that sacrifices for the benefit of others, without thought of reward or repayment. It is the love that made it possible for our Lord Jesus Christ to endure suffering and death on the Cross for our salvation.
Perhaps you have heard some of the controversy that has been taking place during the national debate over the proposal to reform health care insurance in our nation. Ordinarily, the sermon doesn’t usually address topics of current events; but the theme of the readings from the Gospel today directly addresses these events, and so it is helpful to speak of them. It has been suggested that some of the opposition to the plan being advanced by President Obama arises as a result of racism. It is, it seems, an aspect of human nature – fallen human nature – to distrust, and even to have an irrational hatred, for those who are different. Racism, of course, is a response to a perceived difference based on the color of your skin. We are all aware of the cultural aspects of racism in American history and society: of those of African origin who were unwillingly brought to this country as slaves – an action that was acceptable in the minds of many because they were considered to be inferior. After slavery ended, the hatred and discrimination continued. You don’t need to go far outside the doors of the church here to see this: At one time, few, if any, “white” people lived south of Indian School Road; while those sometimes called, “persons of color” – blacks and Hispanics – were only permitted to buy property south of there, including this neighborhood, and surrounding ones. By God’s grace, things have been changing; but according to some, this controversy is a reminder that there is still work that needs to be done.
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Brothers and sisters, let us not be mistaken. Those of us who have been joined to Christ by baptism, and who partake of the holy Mysteries of His Body and Blood are one with Him, and are one family in Him. The relative presence or absence of melanin – the pigment that produces the color in our hair, and in our skin – is not of any significance. That is to say, there are not three races, as was once thought and taught: there is one race, the human race. Every person, regardless of the color of their skin, is a human being, made in the image and after the likeness of God, and therefore worthy of respect, dignity, honor, and love – of agape, the sacrificial love of the Cross. It is not always easy to overcome the thoughts and habits of the culture in which we grew up; but we are called to do so as children of God, and as disciples, followers, of our Lord Jesus Christ. We each need to remember that we, those baptized, the Body of Christ, share in the priesthood of all believers: to minister to the world, to show all the world the love of God for us in Jesus Christ, in what we say, in what we do – in how we treat each other.
Let us examine ourselves for any signs that we do not yet love with the love of God, and ask for grace and strength to bring this love to a world which still needs to hear the good news of salvation, so that they also may receive the love God has for each of us, so that He may be glorified, and we may be blessed to fulfill our mission of unselfish love.