Sunday, 30 June 2019

The whole law is summed
up in … ‘You shall love
your neighbour as yourself’

‘The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control’ (Galatians 5: 22-23) … lemons ripening on a tree in a garden in C√≥rdoba (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday, 30 June 2019

The Second Sunday after Trinity

11 a.m.:
United Group Eucharist,

The Rectory, Askeaton, Co Limerick.

Readings: II Kings 2: 1-2, 6-14; Psalm 77: 1-2, 11-20; Galatians 5: 1, 13-25; Luke 9: 51-62.

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

I was walking through Cambridge late on Wednesday afternoon, after the annual conference of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

I had visited some colleges, and had spent some time – a lot of time – browsing and rummaging in some of my favourite bookshops.

So, you can imagine, in the warm afternoon sunshine, I was feeling relaxed, and easy-going.

And there, in front of Holy Trinity Church, Cambridge, I saw a large crowd had gathered in a circle in the open space on the corner of Market Street and Sidney Street.

Some of them were visibly amused, some were angry, some were heckling. They were watching and listening to a group of street preachers of the old-fashioned sort, the sort I thought had gone out of fashion many years ago, many decades ago.

And I can quote some of their posters and placards:

‘Cursed is the nation whose God is not the Lord’ ... ‘Woe to them who call evil good and good evil’ … ‘Hate crime: to let sinners go to hell with no warning’ …

When people in the crowd asked questions, they were belittled and derided. Within a short time, I had lost count of the number of times people were told they were being disrespectful of God and God’s word, the number of times people were told they and their souls were going to burn in Hell for eternity.

Not once did I see the speakers smile, not once did I hear them speak words of compassion, let alone love.

Is it any wonder that people turn away when they hear people like this claiming to represent Christ, Christianity, the Christian message and the Church?

There was a much more inviting message in the vision or slogan of the church behind them: ‘Come to Christ, Learn to Love and Love to Learn, in Cambridge and beyond.’

When people respond to preachers like this by saying ‘I don’t believe in God,’ I want to respond by saying, ‘I don’t believe in the God you don’t believe in either.’ Think about what the disciples want to do when they get a whiff of difference, an inkling of rejection.

A whiff of difference creates a whiff of sulphur. They want to burn the Samaritan village to the ground.

What have they been learning from Jesus so far about basic, fundamental Christian beliefs and values being expressed in how we love God and love one another?

What had the disciples learned from Jesus about compassion, tolerance and forbearance in the immediate weeks and months before they arrived in this Samaritan village?

How embarrassed they must have been if this was the same Samaritan village that Christ visits in Saint John’s Gospel (see John 3: 4-42), where it is a Samaritan woman, and not the disciples, who realise who Jesus really is. She is a Samaritan woman of questionable sexual moral values. But it is she, and not the disciples, who brings a whole village to faith in Christ; it is she who asks for the water of life; it is she who first suggests that indeed he may be, that he is, the Messiah.

How embarrassed they must be a little while later when Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan (see Luke 10: 29-37). The one person I want to meet on the road, on the pilgrimage in life, is not a priest or a Temple official, but the sort of man who lives in the very sort of village I have suggested, because of my religious bigotry and narrow-mindedness, should be consumed with fire, burned to the ground, all its people gobbled up.

In the Epistle reading (Galatians 5: 1, 13-25), Saint Paul tells his readers, ‘For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”.’ (Galatian 5: 14)

The command to love, to love God and to love our neighbour, is at the heart of the Gospel. It is summarised in the two great commandments in Matthew 22: 36-40 and Luke 10: 27 (see Leviticus 19: 18).

But Saint Paul, on more than one occasion, reduces it all down to this one great commandment:

‘Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments … are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law’ (Romans 13: 8-10).

And again, in the Epistle reading this morning:

‘For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”.’ (Galatians 5: 14).

In a sentence edited out of this reading, he writes:

‘The only thing that counts is faith working through love’ (Galatians 5: 6).

In other places, he writes:

Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in harmony (Colossians 3: 14).

And:

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, and compassion and sympathy. Make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind (Philippians 2: 1-2).

In a non-Pauline passage, Saint John writes in his first letter:

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them … Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also. (I John 4: 16, 20-21).

And, as Saint Paul reminds us this morning in our epistle reading, committed discipleship is costly and demanding, but rewarding. It finds its true expression in ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things’ (Galatians 5: 22-25).

Love one another. After that, everything else falls into place, including the love of God.

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

‘The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control’ (Galatians 5: 22-23) … fruit on a market stall in Tangier (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 9: 51-62:

51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53 but they did not receive him, because his face was set towards Jerusalem. 54 When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’ 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 Then they went on to another village.

57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ 58 And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ 59 To another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ 60 But Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ 61 Another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ 62 Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’

‘The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control’ (Galatians 5: 22-23) … fruit on a market stall in Rome (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Colour: Green.

The Collect:

Lord, you have taught us
that all our doings without love are nothing worth:
Send your Holy Spirit
and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of love,
the true bond of peace and of all virtues,
without which whoever lives is counted dead before you.
Grant this for your only Son Jesus Christ’s sake.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Loving Father,
we thank you for feeding us at the supper of your Son.
Sustain us with your Spirit,
that we may serve you here on earth
until our joy is complete in heaven,
and we share in the eternal banquet
with Jesus Christ our Lord.

Hymns:

421, I come with joy, a child of God (CD 25)
652, Lord us, heavenly Father, lead us (CD 37)
643: Be thou my vision (CD 37)

‘The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control’ (Galatians 5: 22-23) … fruit at breakfast-time in Rethymnon, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The hymns suggestions are provided in Sing to the Word (2000), edited by Bishop Edward Darling. The hymn numbers refer to the Church of Ireland’s Church Hymnal (5th edition, Oxford: OUP, 2000)

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.