Sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday After Trinity

Sermon digest by Sister Mary Stephen for The Thirteenth Sunday After Trinity, 6th September 2020.

Romans 13:8 and 9b – 10                                                        

Owe no one anything except to love one another…

Love your neighbour as yourself.  Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

Matthew 18:15

If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone…

  • Love one another ….

A wonderful aim. The second of the two greatest commandments. But what a challenge. If you’re of my generation, you may remember – I saw it when I was at college – a film called ‘Love Story’.  Ryan O’Neill and Ali McGraw played two students idyllically in love. They marry, She contracts a terminal illness. Cut to death bed scene. Her dying words were ‘Love means never having to say you’re sorry.’ I was in tears, and that phrase stayed with me for ages. But I did come out of that pink cloud of perfection to realise that, sadly, those words are absolute tosh. We’re human, of course we make mistakes. An important part of our worship is our confession. Yes, perfect love does cast out sin, and that’s what we desire, but we slip by the wayside  ‘Sorry’ becomes an essential part of our vocabulary, both to God and to each other. We do our best and with God’s grace we can achieve so much. We are able to give and receive love in abundance, and when we do slip God’s forgiveness is there for us all.

Now we move on to …

  • Love your neighbour as yourself.

Well, that’s a tough one. Two things strike me. The first one is that sometimes my neighbour…and even my most loved ones, are so difficult to love. On a bad day we may be getting on each others’ nerves, or there may be a really difficult situation in which one of us causes pain to the other, or both of us end in distress. We’ve all been there. Love one another? We’ve all been where we simply can’t do it. 

This was an issue I took to confession many years ago, and the answer I got lifted an enormous weight from me. The priest said, ‘Love isn’t the same as ‘like’. Love is about wanting the best for people, not wishing them any real harm, trying to love them, because God loves them. But liking them is another matter.’ He went on to say that we all meet people we don’t or can’t like, because of our own human nature. We can offer our feelings to God in our prayer, and for the grace to change.

Sometimes, too, we need to practice ‘tough love’ as shown in our second reading. We need to challenge others sometimes about perceived wrongdoing, first of all alone, then if necessary with someone else to back up what we are saying. We need to be challenged too. Tough love is sometimes essential.

  • And loving yourself?

Yes. Always? Sometimes? Never? It’s impossible to answer this unless we move on to the first of the two great commandments. Loving God with all our heart, soul and spirit. We do our best…we don’t always manage it. But God’s love is different. God loves you…and me, completely and utterly. Now, then and in the future. We don’t deserve it, we can’t earn it, we’re not always aware of it.  Some of us can’t believe it. God loves us. Full stop. God’s love is free, and is always there for us.

‘God can’t possibly love someone as awful as me’ isn’t an uncommon feeling. I said it to my spiritual director some years ago, and was shaken by his answer. ‘Mary, that’s blasphemy.’ And it is.

If you can’t love yourself, you can pray for the grace of bi-focal vision. Spiritual bi-focal vision where we see ourselves as we are and as we feel now – and then ask God to show us how he sees us, with love and understanding. Imagine Jesus looking at you with love, as you ask for this grace.

(Take a minute’s silence to do this…two or three minutes if you can.)

You can do nothing to make God love you more.

You can do nothing to make God love you less.

God loves you.

God is love.