Week of Proper 5: Thursday, Year 1   10 comments

Above:  Title of the Didache (in Greek)

Love God and Do Whatever You Please

JUNE 15, 2023


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


2 Corinthians 3:12-4:6 (An American Translation):

So since I have such a hope, I speak with great frankness, not like Moses, who used to wear a veil over his face, to keep the Israelites from gazing at the fading of the splendor from it.  Their minds were dulled.  For to this day, the same veil remains unlifted, when the read the old agreement, for only through union with Christ is it removed.  Why, to this day, whenever Moses is read, a veil hangs over their minds, but

whenever a man turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.

Now the Lord here means the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  And all of us, reflecting the splendor of the Lord in our unveiled faces, are being changed into likeness of him, from one degree of splendor to another, for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

So since by the mercy of God I am engaged in this service, I never lose heart.  I disown disgraceful, underhanded ways.  I refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s message.  It is by the open statement of truth that I would commend myself to every human conscience in the sight of God.  If the meaning of my preaching of the good news is veiled at all, it is so only in the case of those who are on the way to destruction.  In their case, the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep the light of the good news of the glorious Christ, the likeness of God, from dawning upon them.  For it is not myself but Christ Jesus that I am proclaiming as Lord; I am only a slave of yours for Jesus’ sake.  For the God who said,

Let light shine out of darkness,

has shone in my heart, to give me the light of the knowledge of God’s glory, that is on the face of Christ.

Psalm 85:7-13 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

7 Show us your mercy, O LORD,

and grant us your salvation.

8 I will listen to what the LORD God is saying,

for he is speaking peace to his faithful people

and to those who turn their hearts to him.

9 Truly, his salvation is very near those who fear him,

that his glory may dwell in our land.

10 Mercy and truth have met together;

righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

11 Truth shall spring up from the earth,

and righteousness shall look down from heaven.

12 The LORD will indeed grant prosperity,

and our land will yield its increase.

13 Righteousness shall go before him,

and peace shall be a pathway for his feet.

Matthew 5:20-26 (An American Translation):

[Jesus continued,]

For I tell you that unless your uprightness is far superior to that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never even enter the Kingdom of Heaven!

You have heard that men of old were told ‘You shall not murder,’ and ‘Whoever murders will have to answer to the court.’  But I tell you that any one who gets angry with his brother will have to answer to the court, and anyone who speaks abusively to his brother will have to answer to the great council, and anyone who says to his brother ‘You cursed fool!’ will have to answer for it in the fiery pit!  So when you are presenting your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother has any grievance against you, leave your gift right there before the altar and go and make up with your brother; then come back and present your gift.  Be quick and come to terms with your opponent while you are on the way to court with him, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison.  I tell you, you will never get out again until you have paid the last penny!


The Collect:

O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth:  Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.


Love God and do whatever you please: for the soul trained in love to God will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved.

–St. Augustine of Hippo

(Thanks to http://nickbadger.wordpress.com/2009/09/27/love-god-and-do-as-you-please/ for the whole quote.)

One of my favorite books is a slim paperback volume, Early Christian Writings:  The Apostolic Fathers, which Penguin Books publishes.  Among the Second Century C.E. documents in modern English translation in that book is the Didache, or Teachings.  The first section of the Didache explains the Way of Life (practicing good morals) and the Way of Death (living in an immoral way).  This part of the document does contain negative statements, or commands not to commit X, Y, and Z.  Yet the first section of the Didache focuses on the positive, on what God wants people to do.  This is a healthy approach to the topic, for merely stating what not to do does not indicate what one ought to do.

Jesus expands the Law of Moses in the reading from Matthew.  Our Lord and Savior mentions the Mosaic punishment for murder, for example.  Then he says that one must do better than that; one must not live in anger, from which many murders spring.  Furthermore, one must not defame another person, either.  Imagine how much better life would be if more people lived in love, not anger, and did not defame anyone.  The world would be a better place.  It would be a positive place.

I have known people who have nursed grudges for years, if not decades.  This has seemed to give them a purpose in life, albeit a negative one.  And I have met others who seemed to be in perpetual complaint mode.  Whenever I was around them, they kvetched about one thing or another.  None of this demonstrates living in freedom in God.

The Apostle Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians that there is freedom in God.  There is liberty to act as one should, to live according to what the Didache labels the Way of Life.  To borrow a thought from St. Augustine of Hippo, one trained to love God will not offend God.  So one who loves God can focus on living according to the Shema and the Golden Rule, and not obsess over hundreds of Sabbath laws, for example.

The Law of God has two parts:  the letter and the spirit.  The letter of divine law varies according to historical, cultural, and economic circumstances.  Read Leviticus, if you dare.  The literal details of many of those laws do not apply to a North American in the early Twenty-First Century C.E.  Yet the spirit of the law transcends circumstances, and that is what we need to contemplate when deciding whether actions are proper or sinful.

So why do so many people find ways to turn attempts at following God into exercises in legalism and misery?  Consider honoring the Sabbath, for example.  Slaves did not get a day off, so having a day off was a sign of freedom.  Besides, we need a day off for other reasons; nobody is a perpetual motion machine.  So the Sabbath is something we ought to relish.  Yet Pharisees in Jesus’ time and many people before and since have made it an occasion not to seem happy or to commit any other deed from a long list.  New England Puritans, for example, outlawed humming or singing to oneself in public on Sunday.  And once, when “blue laws” were in effect in South Carolina, one could not buy a light bulb legally in the state.  The emphasis for many has been on the “Thou shalt not” rules, not the list of “Thou shalt” activities.  People needed an attitude more like that of the Didache.

I am convinced that these and other misguided exercises in legalism are well-intentioned efforts to live a holy life, but that they miss the point.  The point is that God liberates us to live a holy life; God does not constrain us into one.  So let us love God then do as we please, not offending our Beloved Lord and liberator.  Let us dance with God–maybe doing the tango or the lambada, rejoicing in the company of our Beloved.  I hear that God knows how to lead.





Below:  Tango Dancers

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