St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Sean C. Kim
10, September 2023
As many of you know, the head of our national church, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, is ill. Hospitalized twice this year for internal bleeding, he was scheduled to have surgery this past Friday, September 8, but that has been postponed to September 20. Please keep him in your prayers.
Bishop Curry was elected Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church in 2015, the first African American to hold the position. The Presiding Bishop serves as the Chief Pastor, President, and Chief Executive Officer of our denomination for a term of nine years.
Since his election, Bishop Curry’s tenure has been marked by one simple message: love. Wherever he has gone, he has preached the Christian faith as the “Way of Love.” He points out that before Christians came to be called “Christians,” the movement that Jesus began was called “the Way,” and that it was “a community of people whose lives were centered on Jesus Christ and committed to living the way of God’s unconditional, unselfish, sacrificial, and redemptive love.”
Some of you may have seen Bishop Curry on TV, preaching at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding in 2018. I had the privilege of seeing him preach in person right in the middle of the Power and Light District on his Visitation to Kansas City in May of 2017. He is a powerful and inspiring preacher. If you haven’t seen him preach, I would recommend looking him up on YouTube. In addition to his preaching, Bishop Curry has also written books on the subject of love and developed a rule of life centered on the practice of love. Bishop Curry is, in short, a modern apostle of love.
In today’s Epistle, we find the Apostle Paul preaching love. We read in Romans: “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments…are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:8-10). There are many passages on love in the Gospels and other parts of Scripture, but what I find striking about today’s text is the word “owe”: “Owe no one anything, except to love one another.” Love is, in other words, an obligation, something we owe others.
Paul’s injunction to owe no one anything is, of course, impossible to follow, except perhaps for monastics. For the rest of us, I don’t think it’s meant to be taken literally. Our lives are filled with various forms of obligations. We have financial obligations to pay our mortgage on our homes or cars. We have professional obligations at our jobs, tasked with specific responsibilities and duties. We have social obligations. If someone does a favor for us, then the proper thing to do is reciprocate or at least send a thank you note.
So, to owe no one anything is unreasonable. And I think Paul here intends it as hyperbole to make the point that love is the ultimate obligation. All other obligations are secondary and unimportant in the light of the supreme obligation to love.
Paul’s view of love as an obligation is rooted in Jesus’ command to love. In the Gospel of John, at the Last Supper, Jesus tells his disciples, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13:34). This verse is the origin of our commemoration of Maundy Thursday during Holy Week. The term “maundy” is Middle English for the Latin word, mandatum, commandment.
You may be asking at this point: why do we have to be commanded to love? Why is love an obligation? Shouldn’t love come naturally? Well, love does, of course, come naturally to us for some people, such as family and friends. But Christ commands us to love not just those close to us and those whom we like but everyone, including the stranger and the enemy. Now, that doesn’t come naturally.
Throughout the pages of Christian history, Jesus’ command to love everyone has inspired the faithful to extraordinary acts of courage and compassion. On the Episcopal Calendar of Saints, yesterday was the feast day of Constance and Her Companions. Constance was an Episcopal nun, belonging to the Sisterhood of St. Mary. In 1873, she and other sisters in the order went to Memphis, Tennessee to establish a school for girls. The city was soon struck by a yellow fever epidemic. While others fled the city, the sisters remained to care for the sick, and Constance and several of the sisters died from the disease. What motivated them to minister to sick strangers even at the cost of their lives? Jesus’ command to love. On the Roman Catholic calendar, yesterday was the feast of St. Peter Claver, a Jesuit missionary to Latin America in the seventeenth century. Peter ministered in the slave ships that arrived in Colombia. Under the horrific conditions in the slaves ships, he spent most of his waking hours burying the dead, transporting the sick to hospitals, and preaching the Gospel to all who would hear him. When he wasn’t ministering to the slaves, he labored in a nearby leper colony. Why did he do the work that no one else wanted to do? Jesus’ command to love.
We may not be called to the same kinds of heroic self-sacrifice that we read about in the annals of the saints. But we are all called to obey the same command to love everyone. So, the next time you see the homeless on the street corner, you might remember Jesus’ command to love. The next time you are cut off on the road by a reckless driver, you might remember Jesus’ command to love. The next time you have to deal with the annoying colleague at work, you might remember Jesus’ command to love.
This past week, I came across a shocking statistic. During one of the meetings at church, I learned that sixty percent of nursing home residents do not have outside visitors. And many die alone. A few of us have begun to discuss how we as a church might address this crisis and develop a ministry. We owe the aged and the lonely our love. Jesus commands us.
But, the fact is, it’s one thing to have good intentions. To actually carry out Jesus’ command to love all, is no easy task. Our egos and self-interest get in the way. In fact, we cannot fulfill our obligation to love on our own. We need God’s help. At the end of our passage from Romans, Paul addresses this need for outside, divine help. After listing the various ways in which our egos and selfish desires lead us astray, he proposes a solution: “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14).
In a moment, we will approach the altar for Holy Communion. And it is there that we will not only be reminded but empowered to fulfill our obligation to love. For it is in the mystery of the Blessed Sacrament that we are united with Christ. We die to ourselves and rise to new life in Christ. Or to put it another way, we take off our old clothes, stained by selfish desires, and we put on new clothes, the armor of light that is Christ. When we put on the Lord Jesus Christ, we will find the courage and strength that we need to love. So, dear sisters and brothers, come. Come to the altar to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, our holy food. And, when the service is ended, let us go forth into the world to be Christ to one another and to the world, proclaiming the Way of Love.
The sermons preached at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!
To the Glory of God and in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary
St. Mary's is a parish of the Diocese of West Missouri, The Episcopal Church, and the Anglican Communion.