There are many stars in the bible. The greatest of them of course is the Lord Jesus himself, but this morning here in the Cathedral we meet three of the most glittering stars of the whole bible. They come to us from the book of Exodus which we have just heard. It speaks of the Widow, the Stranger, by which is meant the foreigner or refugee, and the orphan. Why does the bible make such a fuss about widows, refugees and orphans? It does so because it sees in them the truth of every human being including everyone sitting in this Cathedral or even me standing.
What is the truth? The truth of us, whatever about the illusions, is that we are very, very vulnerable. We are fragile; all of us, and that was the truth of the widow, the refugee and the orphan in this time and culture. They had no social welfare, there was no safety net. Your only hope in situations where you were vulnerable was the extended family and that was the problem. The widow was often deprived of that protection; so too the refugee and the orphan. They were very much at risk; they were exposed, and so are we. The risk that they faced was that they would be trodden into the dirt. They would be just swept aside and that remains true for each of us.
So what are we going to do in the midst of our vulnerability? What are we going to do given how fragile and exposed we are? What are we going to do about our weakness? To answer that crucial question we listen to the words of Christ himself because no one else can answer the question for us. And what we hear from him this morning is this – what are you to do? You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. So that’s where it starts. The only remedy for our vulnerability, the only way of turning our weakness to strength is to take the path of love and that begins by turning to the one who is the source of all love. Love can’t come from anywhere else. It’s like I have an iPhone. I don’t know much about it but I do know that if I don’t charge it by plugging it in it runs down and eventually doesn’t work. It’s the same with plugging into God, the source of all love. If we don’t do that then sooner or later we are going to run down and we won’t work. We will be at the mercy of our vulnerability; we will be crushed by our weakness.
So love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. Plug into the one who is the source of the love which is our only hope and remedy. Yet there is still more from Christ, because he says not only do you have to love God, you also have to love your neighbour. You can’t have one without the other. In one very real sense its only love of neighbour that saves love of God; and its only love of God that saves love of neighbour. Try and imagine love of God without love of neighbour. In some cases you don’t have to imagine it. Have a look at what is happening in the middle-East, particularly in Iraq, where there are people, most of them men, appealing to God and saying ‘God is great’ but they haven’t got a clue what love of neighbour might look like. That is what happens when love of God is separated from love of neighbour; it will turn demonic. God save us from a love of God, so-called, that is divorced from love of neighbour. Yet equally love of neighbour that is divorced from Love of God will eventually wither into a kind of do-goodism at best because it won’t be plugged in to the source of all love. It might be well disposed towards those who are of my tribe but it will never have that element of self-sacrifice for my neighbour, especially the most needy; the element of self-sacrifice without which we do not have love. We have something else.
So what is the way out of our vulnerability? What is the way out of a world where there is only weakness? It is to love God and to love our neighbour. Not one or the other but two together. If that is the truth of our life as Christians then what we will find happening is that our weakness becomes strength. We will enter a world where the widow, the refugee and the orphan are in fact the true stars. We will be drawn into the life of the God who makes human vulnerability his own. Have a look at the crucified Jesus and you understand what I am saying. The truth of God whom we love is a God who not only understands human vulnerability but he actually enters into the very heart of our vulnerability and turns our weakness into his strength. Brothers and sisters that the good news of Easter. Once he has risen from the dead ultimate weakness is turned to ultimate strength and that’s the great truth we proclaim on this, the day of resurrection – the Lords’ day.
In writing to the church in Thessalonika, Paul says “you were led to become imitators of us and of the Lord”. Now what does it mean for us to imitate the Lord. Not just to be a good boy or girl like Jesus, but to imitate him in the pattern of his death and resurrection; to go down into vulnerability, not denying or running away from it. Not dressing it up as something else but going to the heart of vulnerability; your own and others. Reaching out to embrace the wounded but knowing that in doing that you will become imitators of the Lord who went to the heart of weakness but rose from there to become the one who is strength forever. So here are we on this his day saying ‘yes’ to him who calls us to imitate him, as those who go down into weakness but rise forever as strength. Amen.
Most Rev Mark Coleridge
Archbishop of Brisbane
October 26, 2014