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The Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity
by J.A. Matheson
from COMMON PRAYER, Volume Six: Parochial Homilies for the Eucharist 
Based on the Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer, 1962, Canada. 
St. Peter Publications Inc. Charlottetown, PEI, Canada.  Reprinted with permission of the publisher.
Our service of Holy Communion begins in the same way every week. After the singing of the ‘Introit’ hymn, the priest says the Lord’s Prayer by himself, and the Collect for Purity, and then he does one of two things. Either he recites the Ten Commandments (which is usually done in Advent and Lent), or he recites the two ‘Great Commandments’ which begin on the bottom of page 69. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. . . . thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” On these two commandments — love God with all your being, and love your neighbour as much as you love yourself —“Hang all the law and the prophets.” That is to say, the whole of the religion of the Old Testament, everything that God taught his people through Moses, and through the Prophets (such as Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and Malachi) is summed up in those two commandments: love God; love your neighbour. 

I believe that it is a good thing that as we begin to worship God each Sunday, we are reminded of the fact that love is the very foundation of our religion, and that love is the object of our religion. That is the very reason why we are here: because of the love of God; because of the love in our hearts; and because we want an increase of that love. Now, you would think that there should be no reason to say such a thing, that love is the foundation and the object of religion, and I wish it were not necessary, but the truth is that throughout history, and throughout the world, religion has as often been the cause of hatred and violence as of love. Think of the hundreds of battles recorded in the Old Testament, of the Crusades and Holy Wars of the Middle Ages, of the violence and terrorism going on in Ireland and England today, and you will know that love has not always been the most important thing for religious people. Even in our own country and province of New Brunswick there is a history of mistrust and jealousy between Christian denominations — between Roman Catholic and Protestant, between Anglicans and Pentecostals. All this is despite the fact that Jesus said “Love your enemies,” and St. John asks “How can you say that you love God whom you cannot see when you hate your brother whom you can see.” (1 John 4.20) Yes, we need to be reminded what we are about as religious people, as serious Christians. 

How, then, does this love manifest itself? You will notice that in the same passage in which Jesus says “Love God, Love your neighbour,” he also says, “The Lord our God is one God.” Love manifests itself in oneness, in unity, in togetherness. So, if our religion is based on love, and consists of loving, then that which unifies, that which brings us into what St. Paul calls the “unity of the spirit in the bond of peace,” (Ephesians 4.3) is the fulfillment of our religion. 

I think of the wonderful co-operation that exists in this parish: of the vestry meetings and corporation meetings, of everyone doing their part to clean the churches and the halls, of the dedicated Sunday School teachers and Wardens. I think of the way that members of our parish rally around those who are sick, and those who mourn the loss of a loved one, and around the elderly shut-ins. I think of so many of you coming together each week for Bible Study, and I thank God for the manifestation of love, of the unity and co-operation of which true religion consists, that exists in this parish. 

I also see how many of you are serious about your family life, concerned about the education of your children, about your hus-band’s or wife’s welfare. I see you out in the world, engaged in what cannot be called “religious activities” — in business, in teaching school, in politics. In all these ways you struggle to bring the love of God into reality from day to day, and I tell you, that is true religion —manifesting the love of God, the unity which God is, within the sphere of our Church community, in your families, and in the community at large. 

There is a lot of talk these days about who is a real Christian, and who is not, about who is “saved” and who is not. Various churches, various preachers set up criteria to determine who is “in” and who is “out.” They will ask you: Do you speak in tongues? Have you had a “conversion experience?” Have you got the Holy Ghost? All of these criteria tend to divide, tend to put up barriers and contribute to pride and bigotry. But we know that true religion, religion founded upon love, unifies, brings people together. The only criterion I find in the Bible to discern true believers from false is the litmus test of love. St. Paul tells us (1 Corinthians 12 and 13) that there are many gifts, but the same Spirit, and that we should seek the higher gifts, and that the highest gift is love. 

Do you want to know if you are saved? Do you want to know if you are going to be saved? Then ask yourself if you are a loving person. Ask yourself if you do whatever you can to bring unity and co-operation to birth within our parish, in your family, in your community. If you seek this unity, then you are moved by God. “God is love; and he that abideth in love abideth in God, and God in him” (1 John 4.16). 

Our service of Holy Communion, which the hymn writer calls our “sweet feast of love divine,” is our weekly reminder of the love which Jesus Christ had for God and for his neighbour. “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15.13) His body was broken, his blood shed, out of obedience to God the Father, out of devotion to his fellow man. And this service is not an ordinary reminder, because it is literally what inspires us to greater love, for God and for one another. It gives us the strength to be the Christians we should be. Our service begins with a reminder of what the service is about, what true religion is about, and what our lives are about. And it ends with the blessing: The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God. . . It ends with a reminder of what we can have, that is to say, peace and contentment, if only we will practice that love which is the essence of our religion, a peace and contentment of which we taste in this life when we are loving people, and which will be fulfilled and completed in the Kingdom of Heaven. 

Jesus said, “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another even as I have loved you.” (John 13.34) Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us make love our aim.