Today’s Gospel reading is one of my favorite texts because it deals with a very important subject: love. Love is something we all have taken for granted at one time or another in our lives. We toss the word around every chance we get but do we really know what it means?
This morning, Jesus opens our eyes to the true nature of love by telling us: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Even the first book of Sacred Scripture, the Book of Genesis, speaks of love. We are told that God in His love created the world and mankind. Thus, we learn that life does not precede love, but that love precedes life. God loves so deeply and intently that He created the world and mankind to be the fruit of that love.
In our Gospel this morning, Jesus speaks of three directions of love: love toward God, love toward neighbor, and love toward self. Jesus is very clear on the priority or order in which we are to love. The Lord tells us that our love of God must take priority over everything else in life.
The amount of time we spend with God being in His presence, speaking with Him in prayer, is a reflection of how much we love Him. The amount of time you spend reading His Holy Word is a reflection of how much you love Him. Our lives should yearn to be in the presence of the Lord as often as possible.
I have spent the better part of my 20 years of priestly ministry and thirteen years of episcopal ministry encouraging you to spend some time in church with the Lord. I am so proud that many of you took my words to heart and made it a practice to come to the cathedral several times a week to spend time with God. I know many of you miss not being able to be in the church for those private moments but, prayerfully and hopefully, we will be able to come back to our home in the near future.
In the Orthodox Catholic Church, we do not put time limits on our worship of God. When someone asks me how long our services are I simply respond, “as long as our love of the Lord compels us to stay.”
Life is the fruit of love. This truth explains why married couples who are able to have children. Children are the fruit of a couple’s love, and God abundantly blesses that love. Even couples who are not able to have children for whatever reason are able to share their love and their life with a child who has no parents. God abundantly blesses their love too.
Let me tell you a short story. A little boy entered the family room of his home after dinner where his day was reading the newspaper. The little boy inched up beside his father and said, “Daddy, I love you.” “I love you too, son,” the father replied. Then he continued reading the paper. But the father’s response did not satisfy the child, so he went around to the other side of the chair and began rubbing his father’s arm, and said, “Daddy, I love you.” And with the slightest amount of impatience in his voice, the father again said, “I love you too, son.” But still, the little one was not satisfied. Suddenly, the little boy came crashing through the newspaper onto his father’s chest, reaching his little arms as far around his dad as he could, and said, “Daddy, I love you and I’ve just got to do something about it.”
Sometimes, we too need to be reminded how important that all-giving love is not only to those who receive it but to those who give it. Beloved, you are not living if you are not loving. Is it not the time to love God with such intensity that we need to do something about it? What is the degree of love you have for the Lord? Is it intense? Or is it lukewarm? It is time, beloved, that we really take stock of how deep and abiding our love for God is.
The love of God is what gave us life in creation. The love of God is what sought us out and offered us salvation by the Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus taught us that if love is to be fully manifested, we must love God first, others second, and ourselves last. Unfortunately, however, far too many of us have got it completely backward!
The Scriptures speak with authority. The Scriptures speak with Truth. If we love God, then and only then will our love grow. And this love of God supernaturally produces a love for others, and also for ourselves. In fact, if we love God most, we will love others best.
C.S. Lewis put it this way, "When I have learned to love God better than my earthly dearest, I shall love my earthly dearest better than I do now." Our love for God inescapably motivates us to love others, to love our neighbors. But, it can be hard to love everyone at times.
An elderly couple had a neighbor across the street who would not. for some reason give them the time of day. But that did not stop them from cheerfully saying: "Hi!" every time the neighbor was in his yard.
One day a little boy asked the couple, "Why do you all bother to say "hi" to that guy? He never even looks your way. He never says "hi" back!" The elderly couple answered...very matter of fact...no explanations…no complaints: "Because Jesus tells to love our neighbor as ourselves.” We are called to love our neighbor even if they do not reciprocate in kind.
I am sure many of you have heard these words before. Loving your neighbor is at the heart of making a friend.
We are loved and cherished by the God who created the heavens and the earth. Jesus overcame hate, evil and death through His sacrificial act of ultimate love on the Cross!!!
Just think how full this life would be if all of us practiced the love of Christ!
There are two extremely powerful yet simple principles that can transform any relationship almost overnight. The first is this: When it comes to love, say it! Others need to hear it, especially in this crazy world where the reality of true love is lost in the muck and mire of a sexually permissive and promiscuous culture.
The second principle is this: When it comes to love, show it! Love must not only be articulated but it needs to be demonstrated. Love is more than just “love is.” Love also does. Love is proactive. It is tangible. It is practical. It is real. It is profound. It endures all things.
A simple touch or a hug can convey an incredible sense of love, of affirmation, of acceptance. When we, as Orthodox Catholic Christians, greet each other in the name of Christ, who is the source of all love, we normally do so by kissing one another three times on the cheek, an act which calls to memory the love of the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
There was a study done several years ago, I believe it was conducted by UCLA, about relationships. The study found that to maintain good physical and emotional health, men and women need 8 to 10 meaningful physical contacts a day. They were not speaking about sexual activities, but rather, meaningful touches. The researchers defined a meaningful touch as a gentle tap, a caress, a hug, or a kiss given by someone who was “significant in their life” like a husband, wife, parent, child, or friend.
Remember the television commercial which asked parents: “Have you hugged your kids today?” At no other time in human existence is that question as relevant as it is today. Showing our love to those who are important to us, especially our children, our parents, and our grandparents, is what makes life beautiful, special, and wonderful.
And if we can show our love to those who are important to us, how much more should we show our love to the God who has given us everything that is good? We would have nothing: not our spouses, not our children, not our friends, not our material possessions, not even life if God did not love us.
Beloved, love sets off a divine chain reaction. Love changes lives; it opens our eyes to a better and more fulfilling existence. Love is the spark that kindles the fire of compassion. Compassion is the fire that lights the candle of service. Service is the candle that ignites the torch of hope. Hope is the torch that lights the beacon of faith. Faith is the beacon that reflects the power and majesty of God, and God is the One who creates the miracle of love.
Jesus said that we should love our neighbors as ourselves. On the surface, some might see this as a mandate for self-love. But when we consider His words in context, we see that the principle Jesus gave us is both radically new and wonderfully refreshing.
Essentially, Jesus declared that when we love God the way we ought to love Him, we will love others the way we ought to truly love them. And when we love God and others as Scripture commands us, we will find a peace and happiness that surpasses all understanding.
As Christians, we need to yield to the Holy Spirit and allow God to enable us to become better at loving. Allowing God’s love to flow through us to others involves change, it involves risk. But it will bring a tidal wave of joy that washes and cleanses your very soul, even in the most difficult moments of life.
How can we who have encountered the risen Christ do anything else but love? Only those who have encountered Christ will persevere to finish the race and to finish well.
Beloved, passionately love the Lord God with all your heart. Passionately love your neighbor as yourself. God knows your heart. He knows where our affections lay and what our priorities are.
The way God knows that we love Him is by how we treat people. Whenever we demonstrate kindness, patience or gentleness, we see the Lord’s love at work through us, especially when the other person has been unkind and does not deserve such pleasant treatment. Our relationships with others demand priority over things that will not last or will not matter in a few years. If we love God and love people, we will naturally obey the rest of the Commandments. That is only natural. After all, the two Great Commandments are an example of the Golden Rule.
It is our assurance that God loves us that makes us able to love ourselves and therefore be grateful for the gift of ourselves. This awareness of life as a gift is what we mean by loving God. When we love ourselves, we are grateful to God, and this gratitude sets us free to love other people. When we truly love people, we value them as gifts of God.
Jesus’ teaching is not about how we feel about God and our neighbor, but what we will do. We are to love God with all our lives, including our work. Doing so restricts our activity to the straight and narrow path that God has created for us to walk on. It is the basis of our obedience to God. It shows that our love for God is number one in our lives. Love for God and love for all of those who are made in His image form the backbone of everything God says to us in His word. In the words of the Apostle Paul in his Epistle to the Romans, “Love is the fulfillment of the law”.
Let us, therefore, reorder our priorities to align them with what Christ has told us this morning. Let us show our love for God, for our neighbor, and for ourselves not only with words but with deeds.