Thursday, August 26, 2010

Our First Love

Reflections on the Readings
Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 5, 2010 - Year C
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
By Dennis S. Hankins

Readings For This Sunday

Our First Love

"So therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple." - Jesus

Eric Liddell. His first love is God.  He also loves to run.  

The movie, Chariots of Fire, is based on the true story of two athletes competing in the 1924 Olympics.  The story involves Eric Liddell, a devout Scottish Christian, who runs for the glory of God, and Harold Abrahams, an English Jew who runs to conquer prejudice.

Eric, missing a prayer meeting because he was running, is confronted by his devout sister, Jennie.  Eric responds reminding her of his commitment to return to the China mission founded by their missionary parents.  Describing the inspiration he receives while running, Eric also believes failure to run would dishonor God. Eric then says to Jennie, "I believe God made me for a purpose. But He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure."

It was while boarding the boat to Paris for the Olympics, Eric learns that the heat for his 100 metre race is scheduled on a Sunday.  In spite of pressure from the Prince of Wales, and the British Olympic Committee, Eric stood by his convictions not to compete on Sundays.  

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.

Teammate Lord Andrew Lindsay, having won a silver medal in the 400 metre hurdles, offers his position in the 400 metre Tuesday race to Liddell.  Having not even the confidence of his coach, Eric won the gold medal for the 400 metre race.  

But they that wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31

True to his missionary calling, Eric Liddell returned to his missionary work in China.  His last words at his death according to a fellow missionary were, "Its complete surrender."  These words describing Eric's complete surrender of his life to God.

Jesus' words this morning call us to a deep and personal commitment to him.  We might describe it as a full measure of devotion.  It is to the multitudes following him that Jesus speaks of counting the cost to be his disciple.  But it is not only to them.  To us also Jesus is speaking, asking us to prefer him to everything and everyone, and to renounce all that we have for his sake and that of the Gospel. (CCC 2544)

Perhaps in this regard we may remember the poor widow.  Jesus observed the poor widow dropping the gift of two copper coins into the Temple treasury.  And Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all the living that she had."

Remember God's call to Abraham?  Now the Lord said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you.  And I will make of you a great nation..."(Genesis 12:1-2) And by faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place which he was to receive as an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was to go.  By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise.(Hebrews 11:8-9)

Jesus' words to us today are in the great tradition of faith.  Today he tells us that we can't find or expect to find in anyone, not in family, not in friends, not even in ourselves what is only found in Jesus.  

No one can have faith in Jesus for you.  
No one else can do your praying for you.  
No one else can carry your cross.  
No one can be a disciple of Jesus for you.  
No one can renounce what only you can renounce.  
No one can put Jesus first for you.  

Eric Liddell stands in the convictions of his heart. Abraham of the Ur of the Chaldees pursues the promise of God and becomes our father in the faith. In the history of salvation it is Mary who says 'yes,' becoming the way our Lord not only came into our world, but the way he became one of us; yet without sin.  Mary's pregnancy caused not a few wagging heads and tongues.  But she who endured these things exclaimed, "My soul magnifies the Lord...From this day all generations will call me blessed.  And so we do.

These real people give us a picture depicting what it means to love God first; how man's desire for great things is met.  Pope Benedict notes man is often tempted to stop short and settle for "little things," that offer temporary satisfaction and pleasure.  He says, "God alone is enough.  He alone satiates the profound hunger of man." (

To have Jesus as our first love is to be truly Christian.  It is costly.  It means to let our light shine in an ever darkening world; to be the flavor and preserver of those beliefs that are uniquely Christian.  It sometimes means willingly accepting the privilege to suffer for His name's sake.  

In a recent address about living within the truth, Archbishop Chaput said, 

"We need to really believe what we say we believe. Then we need to prove it by the witness of our lives. We need to be so convinced of the truths of the Creed that we are on fire to live by these truths, to love by these truths, and to defend these truths, even to the point of our own discomfort and suffering.

We are ambassadors of the living God to a world that is on the verge of forgetting him. Our work is to make God real; to be the face of his love; to propose once more to the men and women of our day, the dialogue of salvation.

The lesson of the 20th century is that there is no cheap grace. This God whom we believe in, this God who loved the world so much that he sent his only Son to suffer and die for it, demands that we live the same bold, sacrificial pattern of life shown to us by Jesus Christ."

Jesus says, "There is no man who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom, who will not receive manifold more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life." (Luke 18:29)And those who loved not their lives even unto death overcame the world by their witness and their faith in the efficacy of the blood of the Lamb.(Revelation 12:11)

Three things are eternal: faith, hope, and love; and the greatest of these is love.  

Who do you love first on Sunday? 

Who will you love first every hour of your life?

Eternal God and Father, always, without any shadows or reluctance, you love us first, with a love that covers a multitude of sins.  Teach us to number our days, that we may love you back and each other with a pure heart.  Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen

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