Attaining Godly love
Sermon: Fr Michael Fanous
Blog: Anthony Bebawi
Bible reference- Luke 14: 25-35
“Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it—lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’? Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple. “Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is neither fit for the land nor for the dunghill, but men throw it out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, One God Amen.
In the Gospel of St Luke, chapter 14, Christ Himself teaches us the harsh truth of what is required of us as the children of God so that we may attain the Kingdom of Heaven. We are generally used to Christ telling us to be joyful in that God has completed the promise of the salvation through His coming down as the Son of God. In John’s gospel Christ even says ‘Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.’ (John 16:24).
In the beginning of this gospel passage we can see that Christ now had a great multitude going with Him; you would think that, with anyone else but the Son of God, if a person has begun to attain a large following, they would take the opportunity to be a crowd pleaser so that they could continue being followed. If this happened the thousands which followed Him might have become a hundred thousand within a month, but God does not work in this way- He turned and told the congregation the difficult sayings we see in the gospel passage. He tells the multitude “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple”.
For the people it would have been very hard to hear this, they probably said to themselves “what are we supposed to do, this man tells us to love one another and next he is telling us to hate. This is difficult to understand”. The saying would have confused many, but this is the nature of God.
He says in Deuteronomy “For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God” (Deuteronomy 4:24), this is even repeated by St Paul to the Thessalonians:
“We ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure, which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer; since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Thessalonians 1:4-8)
These words may seem harsh to us, but this is the truth which God Himself tells to both the believers and the non-believers through those who were chosen by Him to preach the gospel. We call Christ the true physician who knows exactly what we need, and thus these ‘harsh statements’ are meant so that we may be healed; to remind us to keep God as the focal point of our lives- this is what will grant us the true comfort, peace and rest which is sort after in the world but never found.
In Matthew’s gospel, Christ says “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28). All people need rest; most of us go on holidays at least once a year and society as a whole spends vast amounts of money to get the best holiday possible to be able to achieve this aim, but this rest is a bodily rest which does not last. The true rest we seek is through Christ Himself-only He can grant us the living water which leads us to everlasting life. If we are to love anything else besides God, we cannot attain this rest that we all need; we cannot attain peace. He is telling us in Luke’s gospel that He should be the central point around which the rest of our lives revolve and upon which our lives depend.
If we occupy ourselves with other types of love, without first loving God, even if it may be for “father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters” we cannot attain the heavenly rest Christ desires to give us. We must first love everyone through Christ, then it is possible to obtain genuine love for everyone around us, otherwise we are worshipping a different ‘god’. Christ himself even says unless you accept this command which I give you, you cannot be my disciple.
We have many examples of people throughout the Bible and the early years of Christianity which show just how important this command Christ gave us in Luke’s gospel is:
- Adam loved his wife more than he loved God, eating from the tree of knowledge to appease his wife and thus he feel from eternal life and was exiled from Paradise.
- Samson, when he no longer kept the fear of God in his heart and loved Delilah, was led into many sins which resulted in him in breaking his covenant with God, losing both his strength and his eyes.
In contrast there are the many saints who loved God before all else, counting their lives as nothing so that they may attain eternal life and live with God:
- All the countless martyrs and saints who brought their bodies into subjection.
- Abraham who loved God more than his son Isaac, willingly giving his only son through whom the covenant was to be fulfilled, up to death. We even see that he left early in the morning to stop his wife Sarah from intervening or knowing what was going to happen. Likewise, he did not allow his servants to follow him the whole way so that they could not get between him and the duty he was given by God.
- St Demiana despite loving her earthly father, said to him when she saw him serving to idols ‘I don’t want to know you. You are not my father anymore’, placing the commandments and love of God first before that of men.
And we even have God the Father Himself who set us the most perfect example. Despite His unmeasurable love for the Son, He gave Him up to crucifixion for us so that the plan of salvation could be carried out for His creation. As we are commanded to love Him, He too loved us perfectly granting salvation to those who follow out His commandments and statutes; to love Him with all your heart, mind and soul.
We find in our lives that we are preoccupied with many things which will mean nothing for us on the final day of judgement, we are like the individuals in the parable of the ‘Great feast’ (Luke 14:16-24) – we have excuses that we use to justify why we cannot follow Christ. In order to attain the Kingdom of Heaven we must become disciples of Christ, a feat which is only possible if we empty ourselves of the concerns of this world and put Christ first in all that we do. In doing so we can truly and purely love everyone else; as soon as we put on Christ, as soon as we love Him, then we can earnestly love even those we consider our enemies.
To become the people chosen by God, we first need to get close to Him and love Him. The love of everyone else and true heavenly love for yourself, which compels you to seek salvation, naturally leads from first loving God. All the martyrs had no care for their own bodies, but they loved God and put Him first, counting their lives as nothing, readily giving them up for Him. We need to be like that, we may not be able to become physical martyrs in today’s society, but we can put all other love in our heart which is not God aside, and put our whole focus on Christ, to become martyrs of the spirit. In doing so we can attain the everlasting joy which comes from God and is not of the world- to attain the rest we so desire and in the end become His children and disciples.
Glory be to God forever. Amen