(Teaching notes for Proper 23, Year B 2012 by Rev. John Gishler)
The Readings remind us of our need to develop and maintain a personal love relationship with God if we wish to have an eternal spiritual life. The Proverbs remind us that there is justice and if we fail to love others, including the poor and vulnerable there will be consequences. James comes right out and says they will “...inherit the Kingdom He promised to those who love him.” (James 2.5) Finally in the Gospel Jesus uses the example of the non-Jewish woman (who was considered outside the Covenant of Moses) to teach us that those who demonstrate love by enduring rejection and come to Him in faith will be included in the spiritual kingdom.
1. Jesus tested the Syrophoenician woman’s faith
1.1. It was brutal – he called her a dog, unworthy of God’s attention
1.2. She was not put off – she came back with a tremendous reply
1.3. She demonstrated love in challenging accepted teachings
1.4. Showed she believed God loved all people – not just the Jews
1.5. Showed she believed blessings were to be shared with others
1.6. Her love and faith were greater than her fear of religious authority
1.7. Jesus in return loved her and honoured her request
1.8. In honouring her request Jesus demonstrated love by taking a risk in offending the Jews and in revealing His power over the demonic
2. The Ten Commandments are key tests of our love of God
I sometime refer to them as The Commandment and the Nine tests or clarifications of what it looks like when we really love God. I have rephrased them as questions for self-examination in preparation for Confession and Absolution in the Anglican Holy Communion Service:
2.1. Have I given love to other gods? – sports, sex, materialism, religion
2.2. Have I divided my love of God by creating and worshiping images – as above, TV, entertainment
2.3. Have I loved God by respecting His name? – mocking
2.4. Have I loved God by keeping the Sabbath? – gift of time
2.5. Have I loved God by honouring my parents?
2.6. Have I been angry and failed to forgive anyone (murder in the heart)
2.7. Have I been completely loyal to my marriage partner?
2.8. Have I loved my neighbour and respected his property?
2.9. Have I loved God, myself and my neighbour by speaking the truth?
3. Love can die or be distracted
We all know people who have been distracted by the challenges of life and who may have lost or never experienced a love relationship with God. James is reminding us that Faith without works of love is dead (James 2.17).
3.1 Love can lost and replaced by works or dead ritual
Some Christians become so focussed on the liturgy in churches that they forget it is all supposed to be about our love of God, self and others. Lucille and I were married in a “High” Anglican Church where there was a lot of tension around the form of the worship. There was a very thin line between having perfect worship as a sign of our love of God – and slipping over into human Pride and conflict over what was perfect. We experience God’s love as we express our love for God.
3.2 James condemns those who have no works of love
· Love God only in their own minds – do not really love God
· Also have to beware the modern trap of salvation by works without personal Faith – shows contempt for God
3.3 Love can be lost and replaced by “Right Doctrine”
· Evangelical Christians are vulnerable to Theological arguments
· Extreme Theological Liberals are vulnerable to a love of God that is so vague it becomes meaningless
· Extreme Theological Conservatives are at the opposite end of a spectrum that over-defines love - the Syrophoenecian Woman
· Judging others is always a temptation to disputes and sin
3.4 Love can die if it is not nurtured
Our relationship with God and our love of God develops and grows in the same way as our relationships with other people:
· We get to know God by reading / study - the Bible
· We grow in relationship by spending emotional time with Him
· We experience Him in prayer and praise
· We particularly experience God as the Holy Spirit in daily life – building a deck etc.
Movie “Hope Springs” shows us what it looks like when the love goes out of a marriage in a way that is very funny, very instructive and very hopeful. This is probably what has happened to many people’s love of God.