9 Sep 2007
“Whoever loves God must also love his brother and sister.” (1 John 4:21) In the name …
Fr. Randy Calvo
We have been celebrating this unique feast day of our church denomination for 101 years, and God willing we will be celebrating it for another 101 years. The story is told of the apostle John who alone of the disciples lived well into old age. As the last of the apostles, he was greatly revered by the church. He could not do too much because of his age, but every Sunday he would address the congregation in the city of Ephesus, and every Sunday he would say the exact same thing: “Brothers and sisters, love one another.” Then, he would sit down. One week a member of the church asked John if he could offer any other words to the congregation, to which John replied: “When you have learned to live this lesson, I will move on to another.” In the same way, we have celebrated the Feast of Brotherly Love for little more than a century, and it is still a lesson that needs to be learned.
A parishioner sent me an e-mail that contained a simple line drawing of a school bus. (It’s the picture on the back of your song sheet this morning.) It looked completely symmetrical. If you cut it in half, both sides looked identical. The question that came along with the drawing was whether the bus was heading to the right or to the left. The e-mail also let you know that 90% of pre-schoolers answered correctly. I looked for a little driver, an exhaust pipe, a windshield. I saw nothing and eventually gave up. Then down at the bottom of the e-mail was the answer. The bus was heading to the left of the page because there was no door on the side facing the viewer. A child of 4 could see the obvious, a man of 47 could not.
Let me share with you another story from a parishioner about a pre-schooler. Some of you will know who I’m talking about. A young mother is at home with her pre-school aged children. She’s in the kitchen making them sandwiches for lunch. They live by railroad tracks. The father is off to work. A man comes by, knocks on the kitchen door and asks if there is any work that he can do so that he can earn a meal. The mother is understandably nervous because of this stranger at the door, and her being home alone with her children. The first thing that she can manage to say in reply is that down the road there’s a working farm and he may be able to find some work there. After the stranger leaves, the pre-schooler asked about why that man had come to the door. The mother replied that he didn’t have a job or any money and that he was hungry. The child of four replied innocently enough while looking at the sandwiches her mother was making at the time and said, “Why didn’t you just give him a sandwich?” That day is remembered as if it were yesterday by the mother, and she’s now a grandmother. We all know you have to be careful. Adults are all too well aware of the dangers that can come knocking on any of our doors. But the innocent wisdom of that child is hard to ignore: just give him a sandwich. It’s the obvious answer that we adults can often times overlook, just like with the drawing of the school bus.
Today’s Lesson is that simple, obvious, oft-repeated message that as Christians one of the priorities of our faith is to love one another. By the looks of our world, we need to preach this message over and over again. It simply cannot be said often enough. It comes from the First Epistle of St. John. The words are beautiful and resilient. They state concisely what it means to be a person of faith throughout the ages: “Whoever loves God must also love his brother and sister.” (4:21) But something that we don’t often talk about is that John is writing only about his community of faith when he says brother and sister. Everyone within the community must have Christian love for one another. The outside world doesn’t enter into the picture. This may seem like a let-down from the grander image of a universal love. But I don’t think John is lowering his standards from that of Jesus and the parable of the Good Samaritan, probably one of the most loved and most famous of Jesus’ parables.
I think, instead, that John is just being practical. I think it’s like that story of an elderly apostle preaching several times over: “Brothers and sisters, love one another.” I think that if we can learn how to love as a community of faith and within an actual community of faith, then we are getting our practice on how to love like Jesus challenges us to love in the parable of the Good Samaritan, so that we can love all people, that we can love intuitively like a child saying, “Just give him a sandwich.” This is one of the main reasons why being a part of a church is such an important part of our faith.
Some of the letters of Mother Theresa have been made public. I think many people were shocked by them. She speaks of how distant Christ seemed to her. In one letter from this month 28 years ago, she writes: “Jesus has a very special love for you. As for me, the silence and the emptiness [are] so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear.” She saw abject poverty, suffering and disease every day. In the face of all that pain and suffering, she had to wonder, “Where is God? Where is Christ? How can this be?” We don’t need to make our saints into cartoon characters rather than real people. After what she saw day in and day out, we can only wonder how she didn’t have even more such feelings. This is the same Mother Theresa who once said, “The commandment is: Love thy neighbour. In other words, love the person near to you.” It’s hard to love the world. St. John the apostle knew this, and Mother Theresa knew this, and this is also why it is so important that churches be places where we practice Brotherly Love.
Let us pray that we may learn and practice Christian love here. The lesson is obvious to see, but difficult to do. It can never be taken for granted. And then let us strive and struggle to even practice the love of the Good Samaritan so that we can love beyond this community. On this special feast day, these are the things we pray for, in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)