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Going further

6th Sunday after Trinity BCP

23 July 2006 11:00 | Fr. Roderick Leece

'Pour into our hearts such love toward thee' we pray in today's collect, that desire to both possess and be possessed by God, and to please and be praised by him: 'Well done, thou good and faithful servant'. St. Augustine says 'Love God, and do what you like,' which sounds easy, but of course the love of God as the source of all our actions is rare, and the mark of heroic sanctity.

'Pour into our hearts such love'…such grace. Bishop Charles Gore, one of the founders of the Community of the Resurrection now at Mirfield, was, at the end of his life (and for the first time) a curate, licensed to one of my predecessors. This was on account of being attached to the Grosvenor Chapel, where his custom was to preach once a month and during Advent and Lent. 'Religion is love' said Bishop Gore - 'you have got to love something…God if possible…but, if need be, anything will do'. His remarks perhaps bring us back to the Lord's own words 'Her sins are forgiven, for she loved much'. 'Loving much' seems to trump any transgression of the law.

Love is the fulfilling of the law we are told by St. Paul. The gospel passage this morning highlights the importance of the commandments, but also improving on them…the Law and the Prophets find their completion in the New Law of Christ…which is love without limits. Sometimes it is said that the New Law adds a higher layer to the old, with an elevated ideal and set of rules. Thus the command 'Thou shalt not kill' of the Old Law, becomes under the New a condemnation of anger and resentment. Certainly the teaching of Christ in his Sermon on the Mount demands much more of us than simple adherence to the law of the ten commandments. But that word in the first verse (Mt 5:20)of today's gospel, which is translated 'exceeds', suggests another emphasis. 'Unless your righteousness exceeds, (goes further) than that of the scribes and Pharisees…ye shall in no case enter the kingdom of heaven'.

Christian virtue is understood not simply as a matter of doing (or not doing) the new higher ideal, but also as the purifying of the springs of virtue. The origins and source. Bad actions are the fruits of a bad frame of mind and heart…so we are told to curb that destructive anger (which can in extremis lead to murder) and actually, as a result, this disciplining of our actions helps us find it easier and more fulfilling to be obedient to the law of God's love. A virtuous circle if you like. The real difficulty for all of Christ's disciples, all of us, therefore, is not simply to keep the commandments, but the ability to discern and detect within ourselves those elements in our character that lead to sin, without pulling up elements that look very much like the unwanted roots, but are, in reality, God given. So, for example, love and lust are not the same, nor are righteous indignation and the anger that Jesus speaks about. Keeping to the letter of God's law will help us in this detection (or sifting) process, as will being honest with ourselves about our motives and tendencies. If we adopt and keep to this approach, then the light of self-knowledge will gradually emerge and begin to shine.

Mere adherence to observing the letter of the Law is certainly not enough. We have plenty of examples of Jesus himself not being punctilious about the letter of the law, when, for example he heals on the Sabbath. The Lord reveals both the purpose and the limitations of the law to free us from rigid rules but at the same time gives us the mature responsibility of observing God's loving will, in all its demanding ideals. Our aim is to be brought under God's law…what we think as well as how we behave…what is hidden as well as what is seen by others. Rules define limits, and the temptation is to go no further than explicitly demanded. This gives us a sense of 'having done our duty', and in some cases feeling virtuous. But when Jesus speaks of the Law as complete loving, all limits are swept away…as we see there is no point at which we will have completed our duty, for the duty of love in God's terms has no boundary.

'Pour into our hearts such love toward thee'…that's the spirit of the Law.
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