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Sermon for the First Sunday after Trinity

“This commandment have we from him, that he who loveth God love his brother also”

“You have the poor with you always, and whensoever you will you may do them good,” Jesus famously says. But what do we will? It is a disturbing statement. What does it mean? What we will is what we love or desire and what we love or will is inescapably bound up with what we see and know in some sense or other. And what we do or do not do with the poor and with one another belongs to our knowing and loving God. That is the point and the challenge of this day.

The Epistle reading from 1 John 4. 7-21 is a theological tour-de-force. It highlights the mystery of the Trinity for us in our lives together with one another. How? By the necessary interplay of knowing and loving in God and that interplay in turn in our knowing and loving. “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love” (1 Jn. 4.8). “God sent his only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him” (1 Jn. 4.9). “Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us; because he hath given us of his Spirit” (1 John 4. 13). Everything is grounded in the mutual indwelling of God as Trinity. We live in the knowing love of God. Our loving is our knowing and vice versa.

The mystery of the Trinity perplexes us, perhaps. We may look askance at it because the images of God as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit may seem to be mere metaphors that reflect social and political power structures of our devising. This would assume that we make God in our own image and not the other way around. Yet last Sunday made us think upwards not downwards; that is the true meaning of thinking analogically. Father, Son and Holy Ghost or Spirit are not metaphors; they are the names of God revealed by Jesus which open us to the mystery of God as love. “We have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth (or abideth) in love, dwelleth (or abideth) in God, and God in him” (1 Jn. 4. 16).

This statement governs our thinking and doing especially in the Trinity season. It governs how we see and deal with one another. “This commandment,” John tells us, “have we from him, that he who loveth God love his brother also” (1 Jn 4. 21). And our “brother” is the other who is inescapably one with us in our common humanity. The brother is the one whom we see and know in some sense or other and whom we are therefore commanded to love. This is a strong ethical imperative, the radical meaning of which is illustrated in the Gospel parable of Dives or the Rich Man, and Lazarus, the poor man.

While the poor man/rich man dichotomy reflects social and economic realities, the paradox of the parable is that it reverses them. The poor man turns out to be rich, and the rich man poor but only because the parable shows that the truth of our humanity is not found simply in matters of material wealth but in how we see and love one another. That turns entirely on our knowing and loving God.

Lazarus in the parable is “a certain beggar” who is lying “at the gate” of “a certain rich man”. He is “full of sores” and desires “to be fed with the crumbs which fall from the rich man’s table.” In a wonderful economy of expression, we are given to understand that he is completely ignored and overlooked by the rich man. For it is only the dogs who have any regard for him; they “came and licked his sores.” In ignoring Lazarus, the poor man whom we see at our feet, the parable suggests that we have ignored or denied the God whom we cannot see but know in our hearts and know by way of the witness of the Scriptures. What we know is what we must love because it belongs to the objective order of being. In ignoring Lazarus, we ignore God as the Creator of the world and the Lover of our humanity. We create the abyss between ourselves and God in pretending that the other, the poor man, does not exist. Such is Hell.

Unlike the names of God, Hell actually is of our own making, we might say, because it is the negation of creation in which we also negate ourselves. One of the striking features of the parable is that it unites the Old Testament and the New Testament. The ethical demands of Moses and the prophets are not eclipsed by the Resurrection; the Resurrection in the parable is the concrete expression of the love of the law. It is about what is binding on us all in the embodied nature of our existence and life. Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham is a lovely image of our humanity as gathered to God and embraced in the love of God; our dwelling in God and God dwelling in us, as the Prayer of Humble Access suggests.

The image of the bosom of Abraham complements the strong teaching of the Epistle that distinguishes between fear and love. The fear of the Lord, we might say, is our love of God, our sense of wonder at what God has shown us. “There is no fear in love,” John tells us, “because perfect love casteth out fear.” “Be not afraid” is one of the recurring themes of Easter. It has very much to do with how we think and act. How we look upon one another and act towards and with one another has everything to do with how we know and love God, or, contrariwise, how we negate what we know and are meant to love. The parable shows us the contradiction. In ignoring Lazarus we ignore the created order and God and negate ourselves. Hell is the separation which we create between ourselves and God and one another.

We are meant to see God and ourselves in one another. In ignoring Lazarus, the rich man denies his own humanity, his own self. The parable illustrates the radical nature of the love of God. At issue is our looking upon one another in the desire or will to do one another something good rather than denying the existence of one another. Our human loves are, to be sure, flawed and limited but every movement in love towards the other is the motion of God’s love in us. The journey of our lives is the pilgrimage of love. We seek to grow in the love and knowledge of God which binds us to each other. Such is the strength and the help of God’s grace.

“This commandment have we from him, that he who loveth God love his brother also”

Fr. David Curry
Trinity 1, 2022