Love everyone, help everyone

Second Sunday in Lent, February 25, 2024: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38; Psalm 22:22-30

Today Bishop David Rice joined us, and in his sermon, reflected on the gospel. Today’s gospel from Mark is one of the hard ones, where Jesus tells his disciples that those who wish to follow him must “deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”. It’s a reminder that this is a hard road. Or, as the bishop quoted G.K. Chesterton, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” The true gospel, Bishop David suggested, could be summed up by “Love everyone, help everyone”.

So how do we follow this road? I think the other part can be glimpsed from thinking about the readings from Genesis and from Paul’s letter to the Romans. Our reading from Genesis is one where we hear God making a covenant, a promise, to Abraham. Part of that promise is that he will be the ancestor of a multitude of nations: a wild promise to a 99 year old man with no children, whose elderly wife is past menopause! But it’s a promise that comes true.

Paul, in his letter to the Romans, reflects on that promise and reminds us that the promise to Abraham is not provisional: it is a result of Abraham’s faith in God’s promise, a faith that ignores the improbability of its fulfillment. Similarly, it is our faith in the risen Christ that offers us salvation.

Why does this matter? Because it is very hard to love everyone, let alone to help everyone. We live in a society that defines itself by opposition: I’m for this and against that, I support these people, I hate those. We are told that the level of polarization in the US today is higher than at any time other than just before the Civil War in 1861. Can we love those whose values are not just different from ours, but opposite to ours? Can we help everyone who needs it? We can try. But it is indeed a cross, a hard road to follow. As Chesterton noted, it is difficult.

We should love everyone and help everyone. That’s the gospel. It’s not a feeling, it’s an action. We try to love and help because of our faith in Jesus. The promise of today’s readings is that when we fail (and we all fail, trust me) it is not the end of the story. Our faith is what saves us.

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