Converted to Love
Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, November 11, 2018 at St. Mary Orthodox Church in Cambridge, MA.
The lawyer came to Jesus to put him to the test and then he found himself put to the test by Jesus. The Lord often did that. By answering a question with a question and following with a parable, Jesus sought to challenge and lead those he encountered to see God more clearly and discern more accurately their purpose in this world.
The lawyer asked, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus said to him, "What is written in the law? How do you read?" And he answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." And he said to him, "You have answered right; do this, and you will live."
As an aside, here’s a story from the Babylonian Talmud.
Once there was a gentile who came before Shammai, and said to him: "I will convert on the condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot. Shammai pushed him aside… The same fellow came before Hillel, and Hillel converted him, saying: That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it."
In the same spirit Jesus answers with his own distillation of the Torah in the Great Commandment we just heard. Jesus speaks from the heart of his tradition and from the heart of God.
I love the perspective the great scientist and theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin gave us which is illustrated so beautifully in this quote: “The day will come when, after harnessing space, winds, the tide and gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And, on that day, for the second time in history, the world, will have discovered fire.”
The parable of the Good Samaritan illustrates for us the way we should live, lives filled with love to transform our suffering world, always ready to help, to share, and to heal. The Lord Jesus came as a healing presence in the world and calls us to join him in this mission. He even tells us that we will do greater works than he did and if that doesn’t mean bringing his love into the world in which we live our daily lives, I don’t know what else it could possibly mean. I have no power to raise the dead or cure cancer or change water into wine. What I do have is the power to share what I have and who I am with people in need and reach out my hand to those who need it, and give love to the loveless, and be kind…we can always be kind, can’t we?
In the Parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus meant to shake the self-righteous lawyer to his core. If we read it correctly, it will shake us as well. Whom do we hate? Whom do we fear? Is there anyone we secretly believe to be our inferiors? Do we harbor hidden prejudices? What are the hindrances in us that keep us from loving as Christ loved and giving as God gives? We should rejoice when we discover them for they indicate for us what there is in us that needs transforming. Metropolitan Anthony Bloom has something to say about this.
Unless we look at a person and see the beauty there is in this person, we can contribute nothing to him. One does not help a person by discerning what is wrong, what is ugly, what is distorted. Christ looked at everyone he met, at the prostitute, at the thief, and saw the beauty hidden there. Perhaps it was distorted, perhaps damaged, but it was beauty none the less, and what he did was to call out this beauty.
This is what Jesus did and what we are called to do; call out the beauty in everyone we meet. I learned something interesting and I think it is true. All human beings share 99.9% of the very same DNA. That doesn’t leave much room for hate does it? And since we are not born hateful (or fearful), we have to be taught to be that way. And if we can learn to be hateful, we can unlearn it as well. We can become converts to love! We can change our minds. The brain is elastic. And we can deliberately choose how we want to change it. In a way, we can literally recreate our own lives by changing how and what we think. That is called repentance. I heard it called this morning “Neural-hacking.” We can hack into our brains and tweak them. You can teach an old dog new tricks.
So, we have a choice. The world is a garden. What seeds will we plant? Seeds of love or hate, compassion or judgment, kindness or unkindness? Whatever seeds we plant will determine what fruit we harvest.
Distilling Chardin’s brilliance, Louis Savary and Patricia Berne wrote these words: “God created this evolving universe because God is love and each of us is God’s gift to the world. Our life purpose is to make a difference in transforming that world…” That is the mission statement of Christianity: to make a positive difference in transforming this world.
My whole approach to parish ministry is based on love and compassion. I do not believe there is any other way that is faithful to Christ. When the Bible says God is love, I sincerely believe it to be true. I was told recently by a well-known female educator that whenever she can she directs people to St. Mary’s where she says, “You can find a place of refuge.” She inspired me to continue the path we have taken and to expand our service to the world in every possible way. So many of you here also believe as I do.
It is only when we come to realize that we do not live for ourselves alone that we become followers of the One who gave himself so completely for us. The truly and authentically human response to suffering is to come out of ourselves and console. So, let us all consciously and deliberately keep our hearts open and choose always the good and give glory to our Father in heaven.