Let Us Love One Another
by the Rev. David Copley, December 6, 2007, Christ the Lord Chapel, Episcopal Church Center, New York, New York
Feast of Saint Nicholas
1 John 4.7–14
Let us love one another, because love is from God, everyone who loves is born of God and knows God . . . .
God is love.
If we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.
Today is the feast of St Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, in modern day Turkey. There are many stories about St Nicholas although it is generally believed that he was born of wealthy parents who died when he was quite young. Nicholas, obeying Jesus' words to "sell what you own and give the money to the poor," Nicholas, we are told, used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick and the suffering. The Bishop of Myra became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, his love for children and his concern for humanity . . . . According to the internet he is patron saint of over 100 groups, including everything from sailors to pirates, virgins to prostitutes and lawyers to prisoners . . . .
St Nicholas is very much an equal opportunity saint!
If we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us . . . .
Loving one another is always easy when we love those who we like and when love is seen as a noun and not necessarily as a verb . . . or one of those words that means there is some kind of action involved.
Saint Nicholas acted on the gospel message and not just theorized, exegeted, and analyzed the text.
St Nicholas lived out his faith in a very practical way; for him loving your neighbor meant responding to the needs of others, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and standing up for the disenfranchised of society.
Basil the Great who lived during the same time period as the Bishop of Myra was even more pragmatic, in commenting on giving to the poor he said . . .
What keeps you from giving now? Isn't the poor person there? Aren't your own warehouses full? Isn't the reward promised? The command is clear: the hungry person is dying now, the naked person is freezing now, the person in debt is beaten now-and you want to wait until tomorrow? "I'm not doing any harm," you say. "I just want to keep what I own, that's all." You own! You are like someone who sits down in a theater and keeps everyone else away, saying that what is there for everyone's use is your own . . . . If everyone took only what they needed and gave the rest to those in need, there would be no such thing as rich and poor. After all, didn't you come into life naked, and won't you return naked to the earth?
I am sure that Basil and Nicholas would be accused by many as being socialists, yet they were just living out the gospel message, living out the words found in First John at the end of the chapter we heard today; those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
The reading today from First John reflects the theology of both Basil and Nicholas in both their thoughts and actions. The commentator Moody Smith says that the reading from First John is one of the most eloquent statements about love in the New Testament.
But this love is not the romantic kind reserved for the wedding ceremonies that this passage is so often reserved for, but the kind of love that responds to the needs of others and a kind of love that is an equal opportunity provider, loving those whom we can relate to and those who with whom we disagree or do not understand.
So often we go for the soft option in our interpretation of our faith, preferring the Santa Claus gift giving image, rather than the social justice character of Saint Nicholas and the sugar coated Christmas tree commercialized Christmas celebration rather than the Christ centered celebration which always has a little bit of an edge to it. Remember, even the words spoken by Mary as she greeted Elizabeth with the news of her pregnancy had a call for social justice . . . . In this verse known as Mary’s song or the Magnificat Mary says,
he has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
The words from First John call us to love one another and to love God. On this feast of Saint Nicholas we are reminded that this love that we share with others must not be a passive form of love. How can we truly love "the other" when we pay so little attention to their suffering?
Today I celebrate the fourth anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood, a journey which began for me in Liberia where I was working as a nurse and a relief worker. My faith was transformed in that country by the witness of the missionaries I worked alongside, missionaries who shared their love for God and for others by living and working sacrificially with and amongst the poorest of the poor. I am grateful for their witness which for me was one of the most influential and profound interpretations of the Gospel message that I have ever experienced. I am also grateful for the Episcopal missionaries that we currently have working overseas who continue to inspire and encourage myself and many others in their faith.
Living the gospel message of loving one another does not necessarily mean we have to live the heroic lives of the saints, but living the gospel does mean that we are called to make choices in our lives. The gospel imperative to love God and one another calls us to opt for St Nicholas rather than Santa Claus, to opt for a Holy Christmas rather than a frenetic commercialized "Holiday season," to love and respond to the needs of our brothers and sisters rather than being paternalistic and unresponsive.
If we love one another, God lives in us and his love is perfected in us.
By the Rev. David Copley, Mission Personnel Officer, the Office of Anglican and Global Relations, the Episcopal Church Center, New York, New York. Used by permission.