The Daily Offices

The Daily Offices from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, (Canada 1962), including daily Bible readings and occasional sermons from the Cathedral of the Annunication of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Ottawa

Monday, July 04, 2005

Trinity VI 2005

by Fr. Carl Reid

Three weeks ago, on the Third Sunday after Trinity, prompted by St. Peter’s exhortation in the Epistle reading for the day, “all of you be subject to one another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble,” I preached a somewhat forthright sermon on the need for this small Christian family at 289 Spencer Street to get along with each other. That sermon could have been preached just as topically on the following Sunday – Trinity IV when the Gospel reading from St. Luke was the passage about judging not, and the need to expel first the log in our own eye before we offer to remove the speck in anyone else’s eye. And then last Sunday – Trinity V – the Epistle reading, again from St. Peter, “have compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous; not rendering evil for evil,” might just as easily have served for the same message.

Clearly, this was an important exhortation, yea commandment, from Jesus and the Apostles to the young Church. If followers of Christ are not able to get along with each other, then why in the world would any non-believer find this religion to be anything different than that which goes on in the mean streets of our cities?

In my sermon, which was clearly aimed at our getting along with our fellow Annunciation members, I did make a passing reference for the need, once we leave these premises, of being examples to a fallen world. I made what some took to be a humorous example of where that might begin – behind the wheel of our automobiles.

Now, at the risk of raising some hackles, I must observe that, while perhaps most of the seed did indeed fall on good ground (time will tell), there was some seed that appears to have fallen on quite rocky ground indeed. Perhaps instead of mentioning driving habits, I should have said something about being pleasant and civil to restaurant staff. A few examples in the past three weeks, by members of this congregation, were, shall we say, less than Christ-like advertisements for a “loving-congregation-won’t-you-come-and-join-us.” I mention this because when we come to today’s Gospel reading – well, how in the world can any of us “love our enemies,” a direct command from Jesus, if we can’t even be civil towards those who aren’t our enemies?

“Love your enemies.” Of course, in human terms, a completely impossible directive. And yet there it is, a moral imperative from the lips of God incarnate – a human impossibility but yet a divine necessity.

So why in the world would Jesus command us to do something that is quite impossible? Because He, uniquely, makes it possible. The Epistle reading, which at first glance may appear to be unrelated to the Gospel passage, is that brilliant bit from St. Paul in his letter to the Romans that describes that which takes place in the souls of all who undergo Christian Baptism. Yes, it is beyond our human understanding, just in the same way that we cannot ever understand how Jesus becomes truly present in the bread and wine – and yet, we know that to be true.

So how can morally frail, emotionally protective humans ever truly love their enemies? To paraphrase St. Paul – in our Baptism, our old natures are buried symbolically with Christ; and, just as He rose to a new and more glorious life, we too, having been regenerated in the Sacrament, being washed from our sins, are given the grace to walk a new life. St. Paul concludes the passage, “likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

(It bears repeating here that in Baptism we are indeed regenerated, washed from our sins; however, the gift that is at the same time both wondrous and dangerous – free will – pretty much guarantees that we will not remain in the state of purity that occurs at the moment of our Baptism. But in our Baptism, just as in the Eucharist, we receive grace, by which, when we turn those free wills to be in accordance with God’s will, we make tiny steps along the lifelong road towards sanctification, holiness. With Christ dwelling in us by the power of His Holy Spirit, Whom we receive in these Sacraments, His grace gives us the potential to accomplish the humanly impossible command to love our enemies.)

It is thus by our living with Christ, with Him in us and we in Him, as we say in the Prayer of Humble Access just prior to every partaking of the precious Body and Blood, that we might accomplish that which is humanly impossible – loving our enemies.

But what does, “love your enemies” mean? It does not mean that our love has bent them to our will for them. News flash! It may come as a rather rude surprise for us to acknowledge that, even in fulfilling this commandment through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the enmities are quite likely to remain. When we accept this probability, then we begin to understand that this type of love expects no recognition, reward or reciprocation. The Divine Love, because if we truly love our enemies, we become a sort of reflection of that true Love, the Divine Love does not depend on anything outside of itself.

“Love your enemies” – they may still be our enemies; “… do good to them which hate you,” – their hatred for us might very likely remain; “… bless them that curse you,” – their vitriol and epithets both in word and posture may be evident for all to see; “…pray for them which despitefully use you.” – their abuse of our good-will may continue.

How very topical this is for us today when the Church is increasingly under attack from various groups in our ever more post-Christian society. There are some groups who have publicly stated that one of their driving purposes is to destroy the Church. I guess that we would have to recognize them as enemies. And how do we respond to their animosity?

“Love your enemies.” Within the walls of 289 Spencer Street, within our small community that is a part of the Body of Christ, there are some pretty hateful comments directed towards some of those who are our enemies. Is that what Jesus meant?

“Love your enemies.” It’s not a suggestion.