You’ve seen the bumper sticker “Practice Random Acts of Kindness.” I confess I’ve seen them all over and my reaction to this altruistic admonition ranges (depending on my mood) from mild annoyance to a twinge of guilt. But rarely does this bumper sticker psychology move me to action. But, hey, that’s the weakness of a bumper sticker mindset!
And yet, I click on the stories and watch the viral videos of the team filming acts of kindness to the homeless; the police officer who goes and buys a new pair of boots for the homeless man on his beat; the kid who befriends the poor guy living under a bridge and brings him food; you know the videos. And each time I see one, tears come, and a mix of emotions that whisper in my heart “I should do something like this” or “I wish more people would do this” or “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all did this from time to time.” And then I go about my day and easily forget that moment when my heart had room for selfless acts and thoughts. After all, I AM very busy! Yeah.
So, why is it so easy to be moved but never changed? Why do I respond with tears of joy and empathy and that, alone, isn’t enough to modify my behavior or actions? Why isn’t the feeling enough? Or better, Why don’t my feelings have a stronger tie to my will? My grandmother use to tell me that her “want to” was broke! She would say she knew what she should do but her “want to” was broken! There has never been a better description of just what our Orthodox Faith was meant to fix in us than that! Our “want to” is broken and we need it repaired and healed!
In today’s Gospel Lesson we read the familiar scene about St. John and his troubles with Herod the King and a Voice that comes from heaven at the Lord’s baptism declaring “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”(Luke 3:22) And in our Epistle Lesson in Galatians 4:28-31; 5:1-10 St. Paul tells the Galatians that the path to real freedom must always be “faith working through love.” (Galatians 5:6)
Look at Galatians 5:1-6: For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Now I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who receives circumcision that he is bound to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love. You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?
The Voice from heaven announcing the Father’s love for His Son and His pleasure in His Son wasn’t given for the Lord’s benefit, but for ours, to draw us to the life-changing relationship with Jesus precisely for our freedom from a broken “want to!” And St. Paul reveals this wisdom to the Galatians who have been influenced by certain teachers that wanted to confuse “obedience” with love. By the way love always obeys, but the difference is in the astronomically important motivation for obedience! If one obeys from fear then one is still an infant, but obedience motivated by faith and love brings freedom and salvation, not condemnation! Huge difference!
Today, I won’t move from my emotional (and fleeting) feelings of “I need to do better” to an actual change of life until I embrace the hard work of reorienting my motivations from mere “I should do XXXX” to “I love God and I love my neighbor as myself.” No shortcuts here, dear one, and no plan “B.” This is the path of “faith working through love.” Love is what heals my “want to.” Love is what makes my motivation for the hard spiritual labor of a purposeful faith consistent and worth the effort. Love, the robust and selfless love God has shone to us through His Son, is the only motivation strong enough to move me from my temporary feelings to actual life change. When I stumble, I can ALWAYS trace it back to a deficiency of love. Always.
God never does anything for Himself, since He is already complete and whole. Everything He has ever done, said, or taught, has been for you and me. This is our path, dear one to true freedom and a healed “want to.” The Path of robust love sets me free to a selfless liberty that makes me like my Creator. Risky? Yes. Painful? You bet. Is it worth it? Only if you call eternal joy and peace and discovering and becoming who you were really meant to be worth it.
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