Homily for November 3

Homily for the Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
Scriptures for today's Mass

When the bible speaks about love you can be sure of on thing:
it’s not talking about romantic love.

The scriptures were written in the days of arranged marriages.
Folks didn’t marry because they had fallen in love,
they married because their parents had arranged for them to do so.
A couple might indeed fall in love
over the course of time in their marriage
- but that wasn’t guaranteed.

Does that mean that marriages were “loveless?” 
It might seem that way to us as we look back to ancient times.
But there was room for plenty of love in arranged marriages -
- all depending on how you define love.

In our own times, we often tend to understand love as an emotion,
a feeling,  an affection, a desire, a sentiment, a delight, an energy -
and therein lies a problem.

What happens when emotions fade and fade away?
What happens when feelings dissipate, when affections wane?
What happens when  the heat of desire cools,
when our energy is spent, when sentiments change,
when delight diminishes?

There’s a reason why the scriptures speak of love as law,
why Jesus speaks of love as a commandment.

I can promise to obey a law.  I can pledge to keep a commandment.
But I can neither promise nor pledge
to maintain an emotion or keep a feeling alive.

Feelings and emotions can strengthen and deepen a pledge of love,
but feelings and emotions alone aren’t enough,
aren’t strong enough, not constant enough, to keep love alive.

When I make a promise to love and then things get difficult
it’s not always love that gets me through the hard times,
rather, it’s my promise that provides the bridge over troubled waters
and keeps me faithful to the love I pledged.

Understood this way, love is at least as much a function of the will
as it is an affair of the heart.
And this is the kind of love that God, through Moses,
enjoined on the people of Israel
in the words of today’s first reading.

For Jewish people the words of this law of love have become a prayer.
It’s called the Shema since in Hebrew it begins with the words,
Shema, Israel,  Hear, O Israel:
Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone!
Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God,
with all your heart, and with all your soul,
and with all your strength.

This is the law, the love that Jesus quotes and teaches
as the greatest of all the commandments,
of all the statutes and laws of God, this is the greatest.

Even to this day,
observant Jews recite these words from Deuteronomy
twice each day: in the morning and in the evening.

Recalling that these words form the creedal and moral basis
of our nation’s two largest faith groups,
it would seem that in many important ways we have allowed
feelings and emotions to override promise and pledge
when it comes to keeping that commandment
deemed the greatest by Jews and Christians alike.

It may be well past the time when we should study
which dynamics of love drive our faith and shape our moral lives
especially when it comes to relationships,
and in particular, marriage;
and when it comes to justice,
especially for the marginalized and displaced,
and when it comes to morality, especially when its demands infringe
on our personal convenience and comfort and wealth.

And the starting point for examining such realities
is in my own life and yours.

Is my response, is your response
to the commandment to love God and neighbor
something that changes with the tides of emotions and feelings
- or is it grounded in a pledge to live as God calls us to live,
to make decisions and choices in terms of greater goods,
to understand love as at least as much a matter of the will
as it is an affair of the heart?

Which dynamics are modeled for us
in the stories and decisions and choices we see
in movies, in literature, in popular culture, in politics?

Do we live and love by emotions and affections
or in faithful response to a law of love
that we’re called to follow, that we’ve pledged to follow?

A week ago, tragedy struck Pittsburgh and our whole nation.
The people gathered at the Tree of Life Synagogue
were people who would have prayed their morning Shema
just hours before the peace of their worship
was shattered by violence.

On Friday nights, our Jewish neighbors in Concord
gather at Karem Shalom, Concord’s synagogue
for their weekly Shabbat service
which includes the prayer, Shema Israel.

The night before last, as a sign of our solidarity with Jews everywhere,
Concord Christians gathered in a great arcing semi-circle
in front of Kerem Shalom, about 150 of us.

We held candles, sang songs and carried signs which read,
Shabbat Shalom:  Sabbath Peace!
from West Concord Union Church, from Holy Family Parish,
from TriCon, from First Parish, from Trinity Episcopal.

Our purpose was to assure our neighbors of our support
and our pledge to provide a safe place for them to live and worship.
We stood there not because it felt good -
although our doing so generated many good feelings.
We stood there because that is what our faith invites us to do,
what our faith calls us to do, indeed,
what our faith commands us to do.

At the heart of our weekly prayer on our Sabbath, the Lord’s Day,
we gather in the shadow of the Cross,
 a Cross Jesus carried upon his shoulders - not because it felt good -
but because he chose to live,
faithful to the love his Father asked of him.
Or, as Jesus himself put it,
 “Not my will, but your will be done…”

May the sacrament we celebrate and receive at this table,
remembering Jesus’ love for us,
nourish and strengthen us
to love as we have been commanded to love
and to do the will of God whose love for us knows no bounds.


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