The Unrelenting Love of the Father

Sunday, February 10/23, 2020

Sunday of the Last Judgment (Meatfare)

1 Corinthians 8:8-9:2
Matthew 25:31-46

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Glory to Jesus Christ! What does it take to get our attention? All we have needed the hand of the Creator has provided yet sometimes it takes extraordinary measures for God to wake us up from the slumber of sin. We sinners spend far too much time wallowing in the filth of this world, being amazed at the depths of depravity to which a human soul will plunge. Our reality TV shows compete not in deeds of righteousness but in more and more bizarre acts of disgust, revenge, and betrayal. In last Sunday’s Parable of the Prodigal, we are far more interested in the prodigal’s lifestyle, the pig’s food he had stooped to eating, than in his eventual return home. And yet he did return home after he had come to himself and returned to his senses. What brought him to that moment of repentance, the moment of return? Father Patrick suggested in last week’s sermon that a better title for this parable might be “the Parable of the Loving Father” for in the end, he is the star of the story; it is his unrelenting, ever-pursuing love that brought home the prodigal.

We are faced this morning with the most extraordinary Gospel of the Last Judgment which teaches us that we have a God who tries every way possible to get our attention. He comes to us and draws us to Himself in what Mother Teresa of Calcutta called “the distressing disguise of the poor”. Indeed, our Lord’s first coming into the world which we recently celebrated was just in this way: humble and lowly. He was among the thirsty and became himself thirsty; He was among the hungry and he himself suffered great hunger and want; and finally, he visited the sick and imprisoned and became himself sick and imprisoned, even choosing voluntarily to die in the company of criminals. And now in this morning’s Gospel, as we behold “the Son of Man come in glory… sitting upon the throne of his glory,” let us not mistake him for some Greek God, capricious and remote. He is the same Lord as the loving father of last Sunday’s parable who meets his people where they are and tries everything in his power short of irresistible force to call them back home to heaven.

The father of the prodigal, the Lord of heaven and earth invites us to his everlasting banquet and he even sends his servants into the highways and byways to compel them to come in. His everlasting arm reaches down through the ages even to this present moment, compelling all kinds of sinners to their healing repentance. Closer to our own time the great spiritual writer and sometime atheist C.S. Lewis describes the unrelenting love and pursuit of the father in his autobiography Surprised by Joy:

You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing; the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape? The words “compel them to come in,” have been so abused by wicked men that we shudder at them; but, properly understood, they plumb the depth of the Divine mercy. The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.

What hinders you this morning from opening the door of repentance? If you are like me, there are at least 101 other things I would rather do and 101 other places I would rather go. But that solemn hymn of Great Lent warns us along with this morning’s Gospel of the fearful day of judgment and the later hymn from Holy Week warns us of the imminence of the Lord’s coming, “… beware therefore, Oh my soul, lest thou be given up to death and shut out of the Kingdom. So rouse yourself…” Yes, let us rouse ourselves and like David and the prodigal cry, “Have mercy on me, Oh God, according to that great mercy.”

Or perhaps your struggle this morning is not one of desire. You earnestly desire to walk the paths of Salvation but do not know where to begin or feel powerless to start. Know that the same Lord that issues the invitation to repentance also gives us the ability to repent. As the parson poet George Herbert writes in his poem titled Love:

Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back
                              Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
                             From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
                             If I lacked any thing.

A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
                             Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
                             I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
                             Who made the eyes but I?

Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
                             Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
                             My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
                             So I did sit and eat.

Source: George Herbert and the Seventeenth-Century Religious Poets  (W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1978)

As we approach the doors of Great Lent and give up for a time the meat of this world, let us learn to taste and see that the Lord is good. Please forgive and pray for me a sinner, and may our good God have mercy on us and forgive us all. Veliki Post!  Kali Tessarakosti!  Blessed Lenten journey to you all! In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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