We have embarked upon Trinity Season in the Church Year. It is a season marked by love, the love of God as embodied in the Holy Trinity between the three persons of God and the love of God for us as his created own. It is a long season, lasting through most of November to Advent and the new Church Year beginning again. It is a “green” season, in terms of the Kalendar, and is a growing-in-the-faith season, as we follow the teachings of Jesus, Son of God, as he walked among us. It is a love season and it is a growing season and we realize we cannot grow without God’s love moving among us, and we cannot love without God’s creative growing, his reaching to touch us and our reaching to touch him.
This movement of God among us, first in flesh as Jesus of Nazareth, then in spirit as on Pentecost, is the glory of lives faithfully lived. Without the stirrings of our soul, the confessions of our conscience, the commandments ordering our ways, and their defining judgments at the end of the day, we become creatures of the wild, no more than beasts. The poetry and prayers of our daily lives disappear without the Holy Spirit’s presence among us, breathing upon us, inspiring us to love one another.
There are those today who desire social justice and indeed, this is a product of God’s love and a commandment of Jesus. In today’s Gospel, Our Lord teaches the parable of the poor man Lazarus who begs outside the gate of a rich man:
“There was a certain rich man,” Jesus says, “which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: and there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.” (St. Luke xvi.19+, 190, BCP)
It is a vivid description of the rich and the poor (I find it interesting that the rich man is not named as is the poor man.) Jesus continues with the parable, describing what happens to each man when he dies. Lazarus is carried by angels to Heaven. The rich man, unnamed, finds himself in Hell in torment.
Every year when we hear this parable read and interpreted from the pulpit, I sense the congregation squirm, as if they hoped the poetic Epistle would be the text for the sermon (St. John on love) rather than this uncomfortable story told by the Son of God which seems to condemn riches. And Christians believe in a final and personal judgment, which includes judgment of the heart. I have heard many interpretations of this parable, some more symbolic than others, but the underlying image is too forceful to be ignored, sores and dogs and all. We are, indeed, commanded to love, as St. John says in the Epistle. And how do we love? We love our fellow man. And hence the social gospel, to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. John writes,
“We love him, because he first loved us. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.” (I St. John iv.7+, 189, BCP)
The social gospel came out of the Christian gospel. This care for the greater community, indeed, for those whom we do not even know, was a radical departure from earlier times. And this Christian commandment emerged from the Jewish sense of social justice. This was not practiced in the Classical world of master and slave. This imperative came from the belief that each person is created in the image of God, and thus is sacred, regardless of class, race, handicap, born and unborn.
Just so, it was the Christian culture in England that condemned slavery; it was the Christian imperative in America that fought the Civil War to end the barbaric practice.
I have been revisiting the history of our nation in the Hillsdale College online education class, “Land of Hope.” I am hoping I can retain some of this broad sweep of the past. Regardless, I am thoroughly enjoying the lectures given by Dr. Wilfred McClay and the many photos of earlier times. He speaks of Woodrow Wilson, one of the leaders of the “Progressive” movement, an elitist, intellectual, program to care for the poor, i.e. the imperative felt by the Christian culture of the time.
Dr. McClay contrasts this movement to the “Progressives” today. Those who claim this title and the mission of social justice today bear little resemblance to those of the early twentieth century. The key difference is that Wilsonian Progressivism was based on Christian principles that supported churches, faith, and family. Today’s Progressives marginalize, penalize, ostracize, and even criminalize Judeo-Christian faith and practice. It is a term designed to sound positive and caring, but in reality reflects a desire for power and control over the population at large. Progressivism sounds more caring than Marxism or Communism, doesn’t it?
The earlier Progressives and today’s Progressives, however, do share a few characteristics: they are elitist, see themselves as the nation’s intellectual chosen people, thus desire to remake society top-down, and require the power to do this by mandate. They also share the desire to improve the race through a version of eugenics, popular in the Darwinian early twentieth century, and seen today with gene editing and abortion, a kind of racial cleansing of the “unfit.” But again, it is to be stressed that the Wilsonians were curbed not only by their Christian assumptions in regards to human dignity, but by freedom itself, in the popular vote which welcomed Harding and Coolidge in the next round of elections.
And so we are commanded to love God, for God is love, and our fellow man, made in God’s image. It is a commandment that intersects Earth with Heaven. It is an intersection that makes all the difference, and as we remain faithful to our communities of faith and encourage others to join our Christian family of love, the two spheres – Heaven and Earth – merge within us and without us. We see more clearly. We live more courageously. We love as we are meant to love, without fear, as St. John writes.
This intersection informs the setting my recent novel, Angel Mountain (Wipf and Stock, 2020). The mountain rises to the skies like praying hands and, deep within its caverns, icons gleam reflected light, pulling our hermit Abram through their doors. And as he is pulled in, he is fed and filled. He can then go out, into the world, to embody, incarnate the love of God for his fellow man.
We are told that God resides within and without. The Spirit within urges us to do right and be righteous, to follow the commandments burned into the tablets of stone on Mount Sinai. The Spirit within nudges us to be full-filled with God himself.
For God loves us so very much. He wants our good. He desires us to be with him. He wants to fill us full of his joy.